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Title: The Golden Chimney

A Boy's Mine

Author: Elizabeth Gerberding
Release Date: October 29, 2021 [eBook #66628]
Language: English
Character set encoding: UTF-8
Produced by: Martin Pettit and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)



The Golden Chimney

The Golden Chimney.

title page

[Pg 1]









[Pg 2]




The Murdock Press
San Francisco

[Pg 3]


[Pg 5]


Chapter Page
I.   Discovery of the Mine 9
II.   The Purchase 31
III.   The Smugglers’ Cache is Found 52
IV.   Funds for the Enterprise 64
V.   Ben’s Partner Proves a Trump 72
VI.   The Mule Auction 78
VII.   Building the Arastra 93
VIII.   Gold in the “Jigger” 111
IX.   The Mysterious Chinese 123
X.   Work Stopped 136
XI.   A Midnight Fight 156
XII.   In the Sickroom 166
XIII.   The Opium Raid 180
XIV.   A Crime Discovered 190
XV.   Ben Chooses a Profession 200

[Pg 7]


“The Golden Chimney” Frontispiece
Facing Page
“Our Boy Miner” 136
“As Ben approached he saw Ng Quong
leaning against the iron balustrade”
“‘Rockin’ on the beach of San Francisco
and makin’ our two and three hundred
a day,’ said Mundon”

[Pg 9]



Ben Ralston and his cousin Beth were sitting on the northern slope of Russian Hill, one of the many hills of San Francisco. At the foot of the elevation the black buildings and smokeless chimney of an abandoned smelting-works rose from the beach which skirted the hill. Beyond, the blue bay sparkled in the sunlight, except where fleeting cloud-shadows raced across its surface.

“I was born just about forty years too late,” the boy remarked with emphasis.

“But the city’s a big place, and it’s getting bigger and bigger,—I heard a man say so to-day.”

[Pg 10]

“I know all that, Beth; and the reason is, there are more people coming all the time. Every one who comes lessens my chances to get on. Forty years ago there weren’t many folks here, but there were a heap of chances.”

“I had a feeling when I came up here to-day that you weren’t going to take that place in Stratton’s store.”

“What made you think so?”

“O, I just guessed so from the way you talked. You always talk that way when you’re blue.” She buried one of her hands in the shining sand on which it rested.

“Think,”—he pointed to the huge chimney at the foot of the hill,—“think of the gold the fire of that chimney has melted! And then expect me to be an errand boy at three dollars a week, with a chance of a raise to four in six months! I tell you, Beth, I can’t do it. I’m not that kind. I’d get so wild thinking of it all. If it were [Pg 11]something more to do, or something where I could get ahead quicker, I wouldn’t be so dead set against it.”

“Syd would like the place, I think, if you’re positive you’ll not take it.”

“Well, he’s welcome to it. Perhaps he’s the plodding kind,—though I never thought he was; but I’ve got two hundred dollars, and it’s got to help me to something better.”

“I thought you said it was three hundred?”

“So it was; but some more bills turned up and had to be paid, so it’s dwindled. I’ve got it in the savings bank.”

The girl looked at the massive pillar which reared itself before them.

“I should think some of the gold would have stuck to the chimney,” she remarked.

Her companion suddenly grasped her wrist.

“Beth!” he exclaimed. His eyes[Pg 12] glowed with excitement, and he sprang to his feet and whirled his hat around his head as he gave a cheer. Then he stood quite still and gazed at the chimney.

The girl looked at him in wonder. “What is it?” she asked.

“I don’t know myself—exactly. Maybe, it’s nothing, and maybe,—you’ve found my fortune.”


“Yes, you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why, goosey, don’t you see it yet? To buy the right to mine the soot for gold, the gold of the early days. Somehow, I’ve always felt that that would be the stuff to put me on my feet,—and here it is. Maybe, I’ve been mistaken,—maybe, I wasn’t born too late, after all.”

“Mine the soot! How can you?”

“Why not? I’ve heard of its having been done.” His face shone[Pg 13] with hope. “No one’s ever thought of this!” he exclaimed. “Don’t you see it’s a big thing?” he questioned, as she did not speak.

“If you can only do it. Will old Madge give you leave?”

“He will if I pay him for it. He’d give me the right, too, to tear down the old sheds; and of course there’s gold under the crazy ramshackle things. They had so much of it in the early days that they weren’t any too careful.”

“Mr. Madge would be foolish to give you the right, if the gold is there.”

“He is sort of fool-crazy over his mines. He’s always telling every one all about them, how rich they are and all that. The biggest vein ever seen is always just ahead. He wouldn’t come down to mining soot.”

“But wouldn’t it be his gold if you found it on his land?”

“No, ’twouldn’t. Not any more his than mine. The Works were just[Pg 14] a mill to crush everybody’s ore; and what’s left is for the sweeper. Besides, the land is only leased, anyway, and if I go open-handed and buy the right to sweep, what I find’s mine.”

“I should think that some of it would be his, too.”

“I don’t see it that way. A girl’s always got such cranky ideas of business.”

“Well, we won’t quarrel about it until you get it. Shall you put in all your money?”

“Every cent, if I have to. I’d like mighty well to have some left, though, for the expense of working the thing.”

“O, Ben, suppose you shouldn’t find any gold?”

“That’s the chance I’ve got to take. But you shall have anything you want, Beth.”

Her face flushed as she saw him glance at her shabby shoes and frock, and she tried to cover her feet with the hem of her dress.

[Pg 15]

“These are trifles,” she bravely said, pointing to them; “but what I should like would be more schooling.”

“You shall go to school, and before I get any gold either. I know a way to fix it.”

“Don’t anger Mr. Hodges, will you, Ben?” She turned an anxious face toward him.

“I won’t. I didn’t tell you that I found a note of his for ninety dollars among father’s papers.”

“No. You don’t expect to get it?”

“Of course not; but I can hold it over his head for nearly two years yet.”

Her face brightened. “And make him let me go to school! That isn’t a bad scheme.”

“We’re doing great things in schemes to-day. Let’s go through the old Works!” He seized her hand and they tore down the hillside, until they stood, out of breath, before the nailed gates.

[Pg 16]

Grim and gaunt the building faced them. Boards were nailed over the broken windows, and there were gaping sags in the roof.

Ben found an aperture in the fence, and they squeezed themselves through it into the yard.

“Here,” he cried, “is where they dumped the ore! Beth, millions have lain were we are standing!”

She did not appear to be greatly impressed by this dramatic statement, and nervously glanced about.

“I should think tramps would sleep here.”

“No fear of that,” he replied; “it’s too cold. Come inside!”

She followed him timorously, feeling the mystery of a vacant house, the unseen presence of former occupants.

“See!” Ben eagerly exclaimed, “there is where the boilers stood. And there,”—he pointed to where some twisted and rusty pipes loosely hung[Pg 17] against the wall, like petrified serpents,—“is where the tanks stood in which they washed the gold. They washed it before melting it into bricks. Father has told me how the men used to stand knee-deep in it in the tanks and shovel it out, just as if they were shoveling coal.”

“They must have lost a lot.”

“It couldn’t be helped. And no one’s ever worked it over!”

“What was that!”

“Nothing but a loose shingle in the roof. Why, Beth, I didn’t know you were such a coward.”

“I’m not a coward; but I don’t like spooky places.” She looked apprehensively toward a dark corner.

“Spooky! Well, I hope some old miner’s ghost will kindly show me where to dig, that’s all. See how wide the cracks are in the floor of this shed,” he said, as he looked through an opening which led to an adjoining building.[Pg 18] “There are thousands of dollars in the dirt under it—probably.”

They peered into the black cracks and could almost fancy they saw the glitter of the precious metal. The boy threw back his head and gazed at the massive brickwork of the chimney.

“It’s a chance, of course, but I’m going to take it. It’s funny to think of mining for gold in the heart of San Francisco in 1901!” He laughed and gave a low whistle.

“I’m so afraid you’ll lose all you’ve got,” she said. Then she suddenly made up her mind to side with him. “But, after all, there’s a risk in everything. I’d do it, if I were you, Ben,” she stoutly affirmed. “There’s lots of risks I’d take if I were a man.”

“That’s got some grit to it,” Ben approvingly replied. His seventeen-year-old vanity was flattered by being called a man.

“You see,” he continued, “if I’d[Pg 19] been taught a trade it would be different; or if father had had any business to leave me. But he was just like old Madge,—wouldn’t do anything but trade in mines. He always had a big fortune just in sight, but it never came near enough to catch.”

“That’s a hard way to live.”

“Yes. It wore mother out; never to know from month to month whether we were going to stay or move on, or what our income would be. I believe all old miners are alike. Once a miner, always a miner. The gold fever of early times bewitched them for all the rest of their lives.”

“Take care you’re not bewitched, too.”

“It’s entirely different with me,” he began.

“No, it isn’t,” she interrupted. “But I’m with you, Ben. O, what a crazy scheme it is!” She laughed at his troubled face. “What was that? It is something in the house!”

[Pg 20]

“It’s some one in the yard,” Ben replied, looking out.

A man’s figure appeared in the doorway.

“Good-afternoon, Mr. Madge,” Ben said. “We are viewing your property. With a floor, this would make a first-rate skating-rink.”

The man came toward them. Of medium stature, with a halting gait, as though his joints were rusty, he helped himself along by the aid of a stout hooked cane. A sparse gray beard covered the lower part of his face, which was flushed from liquor. He looked uncomfortably warm, and he took off his shabby broad-brimmed hat and ran his fingers through his hair until it stood erect in tufts.

“A skating-rink! Like as not ’twould come down about your heads. Run home, girl,” he said to Beth; “this is no place for you.”

“We were just going when you came[Pg 21] in,” Ben replied, before she could answer. “Good-night.”

“Didn’t you want to talk to him about the scheme?” she asked, when they were out of hearing.

“Not when he’s in that condition. I wouldn’t take advantage of him. Run home, now, before Mrs. Hodges has a chance to scold.”

“She’ll scold, anyway,” the girl replied. Then she shrugged her shoulders as if to dismiss an unpleasant subject, and her face brightened. “Race you to the Point, Ben!” she cried, placing one foot forward for the start.

He did not respond, but gazed at her with a preoccupied air.

“One, two!” Still he made no answer. Her expectant attitude changed and her arms fell to her sides, while a look of disappointment spread over her face. “I think it’s just horrid if you’re going to be poky and grown-up! I don’t see why people can’t work and[Pg 22] play too; but it seems they never do. Just because you’re three years older than me, you think you’re grown up!”

“Why, Beth, what’s come over you?”

“You’re a man all at once; that’s all. I s’pose now we can’t have any more fun with stilts and tar-barrels. Nor fly kites, nor run races, nor—nor do anything we used to do! I hate the scheme,—I do!”

Ben laughed. “Come on,” he said; “I’ll race you.”

Off they went, flying along the beach until they came up, breathless, against the wooded slopes of Black Point. They climbed up the bank until they reached the ramparts.

“That was fine!” Beth said, seating herself on the grassy slope. “Now, you can tell me some more about your plan. I don’t hate it any more.”

Spread before them was the bay, dotted with craft. Across the channel[Pg 23] the Marin County hills rose abruptly from the water’s edge. At Fort Point, which jutted out beyond the promontory on which they were sitting, some experiments in a new explosive were being made. They watched the flash and report and the little cloud of dust the charge made when it struck the opposite shore. Above them, on a higher embankment, a sentry paced to and fro, his bayonet glistening in the sunlight.

“So, Dame Trot scolds a good deal, does she?” Ben remarked, ignoring the invitation to expatiate on the scheme. “I must stop calling her that. Her name’s Mrs. Hodges.”

“Yes, she does. I don’t think she means to, though,” she added. “I think she’s been disappointed in so many things that it’s made her cross with everything. If it wasn’t for poor little Sue I couldn’t stand it.”

“Sue would miss you—if you should go away.”

[Pg 24]

“I know she would—terribly.”

“You’ve thought of going, then?”

“O, sometimes I think of it; but when Sue turns her poor little face and looks at me, I can’t bear to think any more about it.”

“Doesn’t she look so at her mother, too?”

“Yes; but her mother always seems to want to get her out of her sight. She wouldn’t hurt her, of course; but it seems as if she held a grudge against God and Sue for her being so deformed. Somehow, she acts as if she held both of them responsible for the child’s misery.”

“Most mothers would be more tender to such a child.”

“I know it,—just cuddle it up in their arms, away from all the rest of the world! But she doesn’t. I guess it’s because she’s so selfish. She wants everything of hers to be the best. Of course it isn’t, and so she’s always complaining.”

[Pg 25]

“I know. And I say, Beth, do you know that ill-humor’s catching? I don’t like to hear you say that you ‘hate’ things.”

“You know I don’t mean it.”

“Then, don’t say it. But how are the boys? Are they good to Sue?”

“O, yes; how could they help it? Even Hodges is different to her.”

“How’s Syd? Somehow, I’ve got sort of turned against him lately.”

“He’s just the same old Syd. You say you’ve turned against him lately; but you know, Ben Ralston, that you never liked him.”

Ben laughed. “I can’t fool you, can I, Beth? I think I was trying to fool myself the most. Tell me about him.”

“His mother favors him always, and that spoils him. He’s envious and suspicious, always imagining that some one’s going to slight him; and she makes this silly feeling worse by encouraging him in it.”

[Pg 26]

“I know he always looks sidewise at me, as though he thought I meant to trip him up, or eat his share of the treat, or get the best of him somehow.”

“Perhaps you’d rather I wouldn’t tell him about that place?”

“Tell him, if you want to; but I don’t believe you’ll get any thanks for it. He’ll think it’s some sort of a trap we’ve set for him.”

“How do you suppose he ever got into such a habit?”

“Partly disposition, partly habit. It’s a habit that grows, till after a while he will not trust any one. But don’t let’s talk of him when we can talk about the scheme. Beth, if it pans out, I’ll always think you were my fairy godmother.”

“I? Why, I haven’t done anything at all!”

“Yes, you have. You’ve shown me the way, just like the fairy godmother who pointed out the ring in the [Pg 27]tree-trunk to Aladdin and told him to pull and a door would open that would lead down to the treasure-house.”

“That wasn’t a fairy godmother; it was a magician, an old Chinaman; so I don’t feel complimented.”

Ben did not reply. He was busily planning how to reach his treasure.

“I’ll have to have machinery and things; and at least one man to help me, I suppose,” he said. “I don’t know, exactly, what I’d better do first. But I can find out,” he added, with a rather blank look.

A few minutes before he had exulted in the fact that he was his own master, to negotiate the business and carry it on unaided; but already he found himself wishing for some friend of experience with whom he could consult. A few of the difficulties to be surmounted had dawned upon him.

“Why not ask Hodges about it?”

“I don’t want to do that if I can[Pg 28] help it. I know just how he’d sneer and throw cold water on it all.”

“Couldn’t you find a partner?”

“I’m not sure that I want to. If I let others into it I’d be afraid they’d freeze me out. Men with more money than he had did that to father lots of times.”

“O, I hope you won’t get cheated, Ben!” She clasped her hands and looked so distressed that he laughed.

“I’ll be too many for them. I’d better paddle my own canoe, though, and then there won’t be any danger.”

“I don’t see why there need be any such thing as cheating in the world.”

“It’s a queer old world. Mother used to say that sometimes she thought it was the lunatic asylum of the universe.”

“I should think, for instance, that in case you work over the old Works and get out the gold, everybody would be glad that you’d succeeded, and would go on with their own work and earn[Pg 29] their own money, without wanting to cheat you out of yours.”

“I know, Beth, that’s the fair way to look at it; but all men don’t feel that way. Those that don’t are the ones I’ve got to look out for.”

“When men are so selfish, it makes life just a big fight.”

“Yes,” Ben replied. “And ’most every man is fierce to down every other one. It’s just like a big school. You despise the bullies and sneaks, of course, but you’ve got to look out for them. I don’t mean to leave a crack for a rascal to get the better of me in this business. I’d rather make forty blunders myself than to have some one jam me in the door.”

“Don’t you wish you knew whether you could get it or not?”

“Yes. First ‘catch your hare.’ Thunder! I wish I didn’t have to wait till to-morrow. Waiting’s the hardest thing in the world!”

[Pg 30]

The cousins slowly walked back on the beach where they had raced a half-hour before.

“I’ll let you know just as soon as I can,” Ben said at parting. “You gave me the idea, and who knows what’ll come of it?”

[Pg 31]


“I’d like to speak to you on a matter of business.”

Ben’s face flushed in spite of the effort he made to look unconcerned, and it vexed him that his voice trembled.

The old man addressed surveyed the boyish figure before him.

“Business?” he questioned.

“Yes. It’s about the Works.”

“Well, what about ’em?”

“I should think there’d be a good deal of lumber in the frame and bricks in the chimney.”

“Yes, I s’pose there is; but what’s that to you?”

“I want to know what you’ll take for the whole concern as it stands? I suppose the lease you’ve got won’t run forever.”

[Pg 32]

“No, I guess it won’t.” Mr. Madge meditated for a moment. He needed money badly, to finish a pet tunnel in his “Bonanza Princess” mine. The sum that Ben could give would be a small one, he knew, but it would be better than nothing. As for the lease—“The leas’ said about that the better,” he said to himself, with a chuckle at his own wit. He sat down on a pile of boards and motioned to Ben to take a seat beside him. Then he hung his hooked cane on his left arm.

“How much’d you have left after your father’s affairs was settled up? Must’ve been quite a tidy little sum, I reckon.”

Ben had resolved not to furnish any information in regard to his finances, unless obliged to do so.

“There wasn’t much left, after the debts were paid,” he replied.

“Didn’t he give you all he had ’fore he died?”

[Pg 33]

“Yes. There wasn’t any one else to leave it to, except my cousin, Beth Morton; and my father knew that if he left her anything, Mr. Hodges would take it.”

“And you don’t mean to tell me ’t you paid his debts outen it, when you wasn’t obliged to!”

“Every last one of them!” the boy said with emphasis.

“Well, Ben Ralston, you are an odd stick!” He regarded his cane with a speculative air, as though he were comparing it with Ben. “Guess I must be gittin’ along hom’ards, now,” he added, as he slowly rose.

Ben was busily speculating upon his intentions. “The old sharper means to find out exactly how much money I’ve got, and then make a stand to get it all,” he thought. He instantly decided to furnish the information himself.

“I’ve got just two hundred dollars,—not a cent more,—and my board’s paid[Pg 34] to the first of the month. So you see I’ve got to get to work at once,” he said.

Mr. Madge resumed his seat. “Make me an offer,” he replied, with a shrewd glance at Ben from his watery eyes.

“That’s my offer: all I’ve got.”

“U-m-m! It’s little enough for the stuff.”

As he paused, Ben nerved himself for the hardest part of all—the disclosure of his object in buying the Works. The temptation not to unfold his plan was very strong, but he resisted it.

“Lumber’s tol’rable high now,” the old man continued, “and it’s bound to go higher ’fore the year’s out.” A remembrance of the lease urged him to close the bargain at once. “But, if you’re smart enough to sell at a profit—”

“Before we come to a settlement, Mr. Madge,” Ben interrupted, “I want[Pg 35] to tell you of one reason I have in buying your property. I mean to work over the bricks and soot of the chimney and the ground for gold.”

The old man was visibly astonished.

“So? For gold! Well, that’s another thing altogether!” he remarked, as the instinct to get the better of a bargain demanded precedence over all others. Then a gleam of avarice shone in his eyes. “Tell you what, boy, if you’re anxious to mine, I kin show you some splendid properties!” He waved his cane in his excitement. “The place to look for gold is in a virgin mine, not in forty-year-old soot!”

“I don’t want any mine that can be bought for two hundred dollars,” Ben said with decision. “And I must invest in something right off. I can’t leave my offer open either,” he added as he saw the other make a move to go. “If I don’t buy your ruin, I’ll have to get into something else.”

[Pg 36]

“You are in a hurry, ain’t you? I wish ’t I could persude you to go into a mine. ’Tain’t no use, eh?” he added as Ben shook his head. “Well,” he rose stiffly, “I’ll see you to-morrow ’bout it.”

“To-morrow will do. I’ll meet you at the Works at ten o’clock. I’ve got something on hand for the afternoon,” Ben answered.

When he was alone the boy tried to formulate a plan of operation, should he succeed in buying the property. His most difficult task was to control his impatience.

“I suppose I’ll have to do some more waiting,” he said to himself. “How I wish to-morrow were here!”

He knew as well as if Mr. Madge had told him so, that his statement in regard to his funds would not be believed without verification.

“He couldn’t take my word for it,” Ben reflected; “but all his digging[Pg 37] can’t bring up anything more than the truth. It’s just two hundred dollars,—not a cent more.”

Shortly before ten o’clock on the following morning, Ben approached the Works. He crossed the lumpy, uneven ground of the yard and entered the building. As he gazed at the black walls of the structure and through the many holes in the roof where the blue sky looked down, he wished that they might speak and foretell the success or failure of his venture.

The side of the building next to the water was built upon piles driven into the beach, and through an opening in the wall he could see the waves running back and forth, until they almost touched the building.

He was very much excited, and involuntarily he kept his hand over the pocket which held his money. The responsibility of the step he was about[Pg 38] to take weighed heavily upon him. Never before had he felt so utterly alone in the world. His visionary father had been the one heretofore to whom he had naturally turned for advice, even when he felt grave doubts as to his judgment. Now he was about to risk his all in a speculation which might yield no return. He was buoyant with hope; yet the doubt which always accompanies a first trial steadied him.

A rope hung from one of the joists of the flooring, and he idly watched the waves wash it backward and forward. At another time he would have questioned the presence of a deep furrow and some footprints in the sand which the incoming tide was rapidly obliterating; but now he was too preoccupied to notice them. He turned and saw Mr. Madge entering the building.

“So, you got here ’fore me,” the old man began. “It’s a good thing[Pg 39] to be prompt. I don’t know of any one thing I like more in a young man than punctooality. Allers practice it and you’ll never be sorry for it.” He deliberately seated himself. “I recollec’ once, way back in the early ’50’s, how punctooality paid me in one of the pootiest mines that mortal man ever see. Clear white quartz, with lumps of yellow gold peppered all through it! ’Twas this here way,” he continued as he hung his cane on his arm—“the mine b’longed to a man who’d gone back East, and hadn’t touched a pick to it for ’most a year; so another man and me was both a-watchin’ for the day when the year’d be up, so’s we could take up the claim.”

Ben fidgeted during this recital, but the other did not appear to notice his impatience.

“The other feller,” continued Mr. Madge, “he got up at dawn,—’twas summer time, ’bout three o’clock,—but[Pg 40] when he clim’ up the hill to the mine, there I was a-settin’, havin’ planted my claim two hours before. I’d been there sence midnight!” He laughed at his story, regardless of Ben’s inattention. “’Nother time, up in the Comstocks,—this time I was just a-tellin’ you ’bout was in Nevada County of this State,—I recollec’ how bein’ prompt saved a good mine and kept a hull concern from goin’ to rack and ruin. ’Twas a silver mine—as beautiful green ore as ever you see—”

“But I’d like to know, first,—before I hear about it, Mr. Madge,—whether you’re going to accept my offer or not,” Ben interrupted, for he could no longer control his impatience.

“Well, I’ve ben thinkin’ over your offer, Ben, and I’ve ’bout made up my mind that it ain’t no price for the property, considerin’ the gold that’s lyin’ hid on it. No price at all; in fact—”

[Pg 41]

“But it’s a chance whether I find any gold or not,” Ben impatiently exclaimed. “When you buy a mine do you pay as much for it as you expect to get out of it?” His heart sank with fear that his offer might not be accepted. He felt that he must meet the old man on his own ground, and he was on his mettle.

“It ain’t much of a price for the buildin’ material that’s in it, let alone the gold,” Mr. Madge continued, as if he had not heard the question. “I ain’t willin’ to let it go at your figure; but I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll go shares with you, if you’ll pay me the two hundred, and put up the coin for the machinery. I s’pose a ’rastra will do for the crushin’.”

“I don’t care to take a partner,” Ben firmly replied. His heart was growing heavier with every second that failure seemed more certain.

He nerved himself for a final effort.[Pg 42] “If you don’t care to accept my offer, Mr. Madge, there’s no use wasting any more words over the matter,” he said, and turned to go.

A vindictive gleam shot from the old man’s eyes. He did not reply for a moment, but stopped Ben as he was going out of the door.

“I need the money,” he briefly said; “so I’ll take your offer; but I’m just a-givin’ it to you.”

Ben dived in his pocket with alacrity and produced a bill of sale for the lumber and bricks and also an agreement permitting him to work over the ground until the expiration of the lease. The dates of the latter he had omitted, as he did not know them.

He had opened his purse to pay over the money before he recalled the omission. It flashed upon him, too, that the paper should be signed in the presence of witnesses. He put his purse back in his pocket.

[Pg 43]

“Come to Hodges’ shop,—we must have witnesses,” Ben said.

Mr. Hodges was a locksmith, and owned a small shop in the old part of the city known as North Beach. He was Beth’s stepfather; and as she was Ben’s cousin, the boy naturally turned to him as a friend.

He looked up in surprise when his visitors entered, and gave them a gruff welcome.

Mr. Madge was in great haste to sign the papers and get possession of the money.

“The dates of the lease must be put in first,” said Ben. “What are they?”

“Well, let me see,” said Mr. Madge. “’Twas thirty-five years ago, and we got it ’cause ’twasn’t needed by the owners. Afterwards, ’twas made over to me by the company.”

“That would make it 1866,” said Ben. He lifted the pen. “What was the month?”

[Pg 44]

“Let me see,” the other replied, as if striving to remember. “We begun in November, I think,—yes, we drove the first pile for the foundation on the fifteenth day of November, 1866.” He brought his cane down with a thump, to emphasize the statement. “I remember the time partic’larly, ’cause ’twas in that same month that I made a fortune up in Tuolumne County. I owned the pootiest mine on the Mother Lode ’t ever you see!”

“I think you’ve told me about that before, Mr. Madge,” Ben replied as he filled in the dates. “Now, this paper gives me the sole right to work over the ground, bricks, and rubbish of the Smelting Works, until the expiration of the lease. And that will be until—” Ben waited for Mr. Madge to supply the rest of the sentence.

“Certainly it does,” the latter said. “You talk like a regular lawyer, Ben.”

“Business is business. Now, as I[Pg 45] understand it, the lease will expire on the fifteenth of November,—that’s three months off. The Works are mine till then.”

“They’re yours until the lease expires,” replied Mr. Madge, with considerable impatience. “I’m ready to sign if you are. Let’s get through with it.”

Ben passed the papers toward him and he affixed his signature. Ben followed with his, and then he turned to Hodges.

“Will you sign here, Mr. Hodges?” he said.

“Yes, I’ll sign the tomfoolery to oblige you,” replied the locksmith. But before he put his name to the paper he relieved his mind by making several sneering remarks.

“Talk about di’monds and coal being the same! Why, that won’t be in it, when it comes to findin’ gold in soot and bricks!” he said. “Ben, you’ll[Pg 46] be a regular what-do-you-call-it—chemist?”

“An alchemist? I hope so,” Ben replied with flushed cheeks. “We ought to have another witness,” he added.

A man who was examining some keys in the back part of the shop came forward.

“I’ll sign, if you want me to,” he said. “I heard the whole business,—couldn’t help it.”

They agreed and he wrote his name, “Andrew Mundon,” in a good bold hand.

Ben then paid Mr. Madge the coveted twenties and the party separated.

Ben was eager to make his escape. He shrank from the coarse sarcasm which he knew would be his share if he remained in the vicinity of the shop, and he wanted to be alone to think over the matter.

“Whew! I’m in for it now!” he[Pg 47] exclaimed as he strode along the street, with a hand in each empty pocket. He threw back his head and stepped briskly along. “And I want to tell you one thing right here,” he addressed himself,—“there’s to be no looking backward!”

He whistled a lively air and quickened his steps as exciting thoughts crowded fast upon him. Turning a corner suddenly, he collided with a boy of his own age.

“Hello, Syd!”

The boy addressed, gave a grunt in reply.

“How do you like the place?” Ben continued.

“O, it’s well enough for a while. I’ve got another one at forty dollars a month, in view.”

“Indeed! How soon do expect to make the change?” Ben inquired.

“O, I ain’t going to work for this money long,” Syd aggressively replied,[Pg 48] as though his employer were doing him an injury. “I’ve had two offers—one’ll pay ten dollars more; but there’s more work and longer hours. I haven’t made up my mind yet which one I’ll take.”

Doubt was plainly written in Ben’s face. Syd always had some such rose-colored yarn as this to tell about himself.

“You’re lucky to have two such good chances,” Ben remarked. “You’ll have to look out and take the right one.” He turned to go, but the other stopped him.

“What are you doing nowadays? Beth said something about your having a tiptop place.”

“I don’t think she could have said that, Syd.”

“Yes, she did, too, or words to that effect. You don’t mean to doubt my word, do you?” he defiantly added.

“I’d rather not,” Ben quietly [Pg 49]replied. “We’ve fought all our lives on the slightest cause, and we’re too old for that sort of thing, now.”

“I don’t want to quarrel,—but that’s what she said.”

“I don’t see how that is possible, when I haven’t any place at all.”

“Haven’t any? Ain’t you working?”

“Yes, I’m going to work,—but for myself. It isn’t a secret any longer; so you may as well know it, since you are so interested in my affairs. I’ve bought the old Smelting Works, to work them for gold.”

Ben thoroughly enjoyed making this announcement. Between Syd and himself there had always been a rivalry; and after Syd’s foolish bragging about something that both knew to be false, it was a satisfaction to Ben to impart his news.

“For gold!” Syd repeated in surprise.

[Pg 50]

“Yes, for gold; and I expect to find a pile.”

“Well, I hope you won’t be disappointed. Just give me a lump to have set in a scarf-pin, will you?” He laughed in derision.

“All right,—a small nugget will do, I suppose. I must be going now; good morning.”

Syd gave a grunt in reply and slouched away. Tall and awkward, he thrust his head forward when he walked and kept his eyes fixed on the ground.

Ben turned and watched him for a moment. “How he would rejoice in my failure!” he said to himself. “It’s odd that some people find their pleasure in just such things. Well, I hope he’ll not have that joy at my expense, that’s all.”

He regretted that he had yielded to the impulse to tell Syd.

“I wish I’d waited until I could[Pg 51] have shown him the color of my gold,” he reflected. “Perhaps I sha’n’t find a pinch of it.”

Glancing up he saw that he had nearly reached Market Street, and, obeying a sudden impulse, he crossed that great artery and turned his steps toward the foundries.

He was glad to have something to divert his thoughts from his interview with Syd, and he spent the rest of the day in looking at machinery, more especially that used in mining.

The clash and clamor of the busy hives brought the difficulties of his undertaking glaringly before him. His own ignorance seemed appalling. How could he hope to compete with this skilled labor and wonderful machinery!

“I am not competing,” he told himself. “I am doing something which no one else has thought of. The idea is original,—here, at any rate,—and ideas can be made to pay.”

[Pg 52]


“S’pose you’re goin’ to put in a ’rastra?”

Ben turned and saw the man who had signed as a witness to the agreement.

“How do you do, Mr. Mundon?” he replied. “Yes, I think it will need an arastra to crush the bricks.” His grave face showed that already the cares of the undertaking were preying upon him.

“Don’t you mind the sneers and laughs of anybody,” the man said, with a sturdy independence that Ben liked. “You’ve got a good proposition. I’ve seen it done in Australia and a big pile cleaned up. They do it in this country, too; and if this old chap you bought it from didn’t have the mining fever so bad, he’d have done it years ago.”

[Pg 53]

“Evidently, it hasn’t occurred to him—or anybody,” said Ben.

“No; he’s too high to be a gleaner; wants real mines with drifts and tunnels and mills to make his money melt. Now’f I was goin’ to do this job, I’d put in a rough ’rastra—just a round bed of bricks, with a two-foot wall ’round it.”

Ben did not reply, but he tried to look wise.

“That’s about your plan, I reckon?”

“Yes,” the boy said, “I’ve been thinking that an arastra, such as you describe, would be the best thing.”

“Then you know all about one, of course?”

“No, I don’t; not by a long sight. I’ve seen one at work, but I didn’t pay much attention to it—I was so young at the time.”

“O, in that case p’raps you’d like to have me describe one to you?”

“I would, indeed,” Ben fervently replied.

[Pg 54]

“Well, it’s just a round bed of bricks, with a two-foot wall ’round it. I’d build that the first thing, if I was you, and put in the rubbish, a little at a time. You want to put in some quicksilver with it. Then I’d get a horse or a mule ter drag ’round a weight till the bricks and mortar was well crushed.”

“Would you put the stuff in wet or dry?”

“Wet; and you want consid’able water, too. I tell you, it’s pretty to see how the quicksilver’ll pick up ’most every mite of gold and hug to the bottom with it!”

Ben’s eyes shone. “It must be!” he said. “And afterwards—what do you do next? I’ve heard, but I’ve kind of forgotten just what comes next.”

“You throw off your coarse stuff from the top and strain the quicksilver through buckskin.”

“Will it go through?”

[Pg 55]

“Will it? Well, you just ought ter see it come through the buckskin till there’s little looking-glass tears all over it.”

“And after that?”

“Well, you finish it all off in a retort with a long tube. Build a fire under it, and your quicksilver that’s left will ’vaporate, leavin’ the gold behind.”

“I should think you’d lose a lot.”

“Of quicksilver, you mean? No, you don’t; ’cause you got ter keep the tube cold and have the end of it sunk in water. Then the quicksilver’ll condense again—so you won’t lose much of it. My! how them lumps of gold will shine to you, eh?”

The boy’s eyes sparkled with delight, but he only nodded. He was thinking very hard. Here, evidently, was just the man he needed. He had seen an arastra at work in one of his father’s mines, but he knew nothing about the practical details necessary to the [Pg 56]construction of one. Should he offer to employ this man, or should he offer him a percentage of the profits? The latter proposition seemed the more feasible; for, although it might cost him more in the end, he had no ready money to pay out in wages. His mind was quickly made up.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do, Mr. Mundon. If you’ll help me with the scheme,—I don’t mean just by talking, but with day’s work,—I’ll give you one third of the net proceeds.”

“That’s a square offer,—seein’ as how I aint got nothin’ to put in,—and I’ll take it. I’m out of a job just now, through waitin’ fur a friend from Australia. I expect he’ll be here in a month more,—or mebbe ’twill be several,—and then we’ll try Colorado together. I’d reely like this work to fill up the time. There’s something sort of venturesome ’bout it, that ’peals to me.”

[Pg 57]

“And I’m very glad to get you to help me,” Ben replied; “I’ve been worrying a good deal since I bought it.”

“I’d thought of it a little, myself; and I come out here to-day ’cause I kinder thought I’d find you a-hangin’ ’round somewheres near this place.”

“Let’s go in and look over the ground,” said Ben.

They entered the inclosure and Mundon selected the most suitable place for the arastra.

“The next question is, where am I to get the money for the things we need?” Ben remarked. “I could get them on credit, I think, from an old mining friend of my father’s; but I hate to go in debt, especially on an uncertainty. I’ve been thinking about offering him a small percentage in exchange for the materials. Then, it would be his own risk whether he got his money or not.”

“Pshaw! You don’t want to give[Pg 58] away any more percentages. A man’s got to go in debt—more or less—in ’most every business. Besides, your money’s right in sight, as it were.”

“No, it isn’t,” Ben stoutly replied. “That’s just the trouble; I think it is, but I don’t know it. What right have I to promise to pay a man out of my thinking?”

“There ain’t any other way. You’ve just got to do it; or borrow the money from some one else, which amounts to the same thing.” He paused for a reply, but as he noticed Ben’s hesitation he hastened to divert him from his weighing of right and wrong. “I recollec’ a chimney on one of Senator Fair’s mills up in Nevada, that yielded a pile of gold and silver when ’twas broke up. Why, they found one solid lump of silver half as big as my fist, in a crack in the masonry. You see, the gold what stays in the furnaces, works right into the mortar and bricks in a[Pg 59] dust so fine you can’t see it. That’s why you need a ’rastra. But, sometimes, fine particles of precip’tated silver’ll get blown into a crack, until there’s a big lump formed.”

They peered up the gaping black mouth of the chimney. The furnaces had been roughly torn out and large openings marked where they had joined the chimney.

“Tell you what, Ben,” exclaimed Mundon, “s’pose I skin up and see what I kin see?”

“No, let me go!” the boy eagerly replied.

He was a trifle ashamed of the jealousy he had already begun to feel of this man’s wider experience. If there were lumps of gold and silver glittering in his chimney, he wanted to be the first to see them.

“It’s a dirty job; but I’ve got on old clothes,” he said as he began to climb up the black funnel.

[Pg 60]

Somehow, it was not nearly so sooty as he had expected to find it, and the projecting corners of the bricks that afforded him a slight foothold were quite light-colored.

He had climbed about ten feet when he saw a curious cavity in the side of the chimney. A glitter in the dim light made his heart beat very fast. Striking a taper match he was surprised to see a pile of small tin boxes nearly filling a cavity in the side of the chimney. Looking upward, he saw several similar breaks in the brickwork. He took one of the boxes and climbed down.

“What have you got?” cried Mundon, with more surprise in his voice than gave great credit to the tale he had just recounted.

They bent over the box, which emitted a sickishly sweet odor.

“Opium!” Mundon exclaimed.

For a moment they looked at each other in silent astonishment. Then[Pg 61] Ben grasped Mundon’s arm and dragged him to the gap in the side of the building next the water.

“It’s been smuggled!” he cried. “And here’s where they’ve landed the boats!” He pointed to the beach at their feet. The waves were still playing with the dangling rope’s end.

“Was there any more?” questioned Mundon.

“Whole stacks of it.”

“Then you’ve got all the money you’re in need of, many times over. Right in sight this time, sure!”

“How so?”

“Why, don’t you know ’t the law gives an informer thirty-three per cent. of the value of the find? ’Course it does. All you’ve got to do is to notify the Custom House men of the find ’n’ they’ll do the rest.”

“You think it’s been landed here, don’t you?” asked Ben.

“Sure. It’s ben landed from the[Pg 62] China steamers, sure’s you’re born! There couldn’t have ben a better place for ’em, if it had ben made on purpose. Prob’ly they muffled their oars ’fore they landed.”

“It isn’t ten minutes’ row from the steamers,” said Ben.

“No. Like as not the butcher, or some one like that, after the ship’s trade, is one of the gang. You’ve seen the flock of small boats that follow like gulls after a big ocean steamer?”

Ben nodded. He was stupefied with surprise. His good fortune seemed too good to be true.

“Tell you what, Ben, like as not those Custom House fellers’ll want to leave the stuff here and set a watch ter ketch the gang.”

“I don’t care what they do—if I can get the money.”

“You can’t b’lieve it yet, eh? I tell you, you’re jest as sure of that there money, as if you had it in your pocket this minute.”

[Pg 63]

“It’s like magic!”

“So ’tis, so ’tis—’tis the bag at the foot of a rainbow, sure enough.” He pointed at the massive shaft of the chimney.

“Fairy gold!” Ben waved the little box at Mundon.

“That’s all right. You’ll find out that the gold you get for that’s as good as twenty-dollar pieces are made of. Want me ter go down and inform, or prefer ter do it yourself?”

“I’ll go.”

“Jest as you say. You’re boss here. You found it on your property, and it’s proper you should go. I’ll stay and keep watch.”

[Pg 64]


Ben’s first impulse was to go home and change his clothes, which showed the contact of dust and soot; but it was past three o’clock and he was afraid if he did not make haste he would not see the proper authorities.

He stopped at Hodges’ shop to wash his face and hands.

Mr. Hodges was fitting a key to a metal box.

“Hello!” he remarked as Ben hurried past him to the rear of the shop. “You look as if you’d found your fortune already.”

“Maybe I have,” Ben replied. “I’ll let you know when I’ve verified the find.”

Mr. Hodge stared. He had a lurking suspicion that he was being made game of.

[Pg 65]

“A young feller always knows it all,” he commented. “He’s always so cocksure.”

“Wonder if I am that way,” thought Ben, as he pursued his way down the street. “Anyway, I’d rather fail than never have been through it. There’s something doing, and I’m in it!”

He was so preoccupied as he hurried along that once he narrowly escaped being run down by a whizzing electric car.

The prospect opening before him fairly made him dizzy with delight. He felt that he had suddenly become a man, and dimly wondered how it was possible that a month before he had played “shinny” and “pee-wee” with the other boys, as if there were nothing else to live for. And now—he had gone into business! He would succeed—he must succeed!

Mingled with his delight at his sudden good luck, there was a feeling of[Pg 66] relief that he had resisted the temptation to go into debt.

At length he came in sight of the Custom House, a dilapidated brick building, the first floor of which was used as the main post-office. Ben slowly climbed the winding stone stairs. He suddenly wanted more time than the elevator would allow to think of how he should tell his story.

After a short delay he was ushered into the presence of the Collector of the Port. Ben explained his plan and his accidental discovery of the opium.

He fancied that the official and a gentleman who was sitting in the room seemed to be much more interested in his scheme to work over the bricks and rubbish of the old Smelting Works for gold, than they were in the discovery of the opium.

He noted that the visitor was addressed as “Mr. Hale,” and he wondered if he were the well-known lawyer[Pg 67] of whom he had heard. This gentleman asked Ben several questions in relation to his plan; and although his eyes and voice were kind, the boy’s sensitive spirit shrank under the tone of the questioner. The amusement in his eyes seemed to foretell the failure of the venture.

The attention of the chief being called to other matters, he sent for a deputy to whom he referred Ben’s case. This official, also, appeared to be much interested in Ben’s private affairs, and plied him with questions, some of which were, apparently, irrelevant.

Nettled, he knew not why, by the man’s manner and questions, Ben finally asserted himself.

“I bought the property to work over for what I could get out of it,” he said. “By accident I found a lot of opium hidden on the premises, and I expect to get the thirty-three per cent. which the law allows.” The look which [Pg 68]accompanied this speech said plainer than words, “Now, what are you going to do about it?”

Mr. Cutter meditatively regarded the speaker. “We’ll set a watch there to-night and catch some of the gang if we can,” he finally remarked. “You’re a pretty smart boy,”—he brought his hand down on Ben’s shoulder,—“can you keep a secret?”

Ben nodded.

“See that you do, then. And caution the friend who was with you to tell no one,—absolutely no one. Such news goes like wildfire.”

“We wouldn’t be apt to tell and run the risk of losing the reward.”

“Umph! Some folks couldn’t keep a secret if their lives depended upon it. That’s all,” he curtly added. “When I want you I’ll send for you.”

Without knowing why, Ben mistrusted this man. “Cutter is your name, and I sha’n’t forget you,” he said[Pg 69] to himself, as he retraced his steps to North Beach.

Mundon was anxiously awaiting his return.

“Did they snub you? Did you see the head?” he asked.

Ben related his experience.

“You were in luck to see the Collector,” commented Mundon.

“My belief is that the chief’s all right in such cases,—a big man who won’t stoop to no dirty business and who’ll listen to a feller’s story and treat him fair. He’s got a sense of what he’s ben put in office for, by the people, to serve the people. But a smarty clerk who takes delight in snubbing the people who really give him his bread and butter—deliver me from him! He’s gen’rally a failure, a ne’er-do-well, who’s got his place through his second cousin’s husband havin’ a pull, and because he couldn’t support himself and had to be taken care of by[Pg 70] his family,—and he just thinks he runs this whole government.”

“They’ll be here about dark, I suppose,” Ben remarked. “I’m going to watch, too.”

“Well, I think I’ll be excused,” Mundon remarked. “In my opinion, there ain’t one chance in a hundred of their catchin’ ’em.”

“Why shouldn’t they catch them if they come back here for the opium?” Ben innocently inquired.

“Why, boy, there’s more plaguey ramifications to a gang like that. From what you’ve told me, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that this man Cutter’s in it himself. Most likely every move you’ve made has ben known to ’em; and they’d hev taken the stuff away if they’d got a chance.”

All that night the Custom House men kept a watch at the Works.

Ben watched with them, looking off on the waters of the bay and listening[Pg 71] for the dip of muffled oars. More than once he fancied he heard the smugglers approaching, and his heart beat fast as he waited to be sure before calling the men.

He felt a great distaste for his position, and correctly attributed Mundon’s refusal to join in the watch to the same reason. When morning dawned he experienced a distinct relief that nothing had occurred during the night to place him in the position of an informer.

[Pg 72]


The watch was continued for several nights, but in vain. As none came to claim the opium, it was taken away and a valuation of two thousand dollars was placed upon it, of which Ben’s share amounted to nearly seven hundred dollars.

It did not seem possible that those little boxes, filled with a sticky substance which looked like very black and thick molasses, could be worth so much. The readiness with which a broker advanced Ben the money due on his claim, however, was tangible evidence, and he found no fault with the exorbitant rate of interest exacted.

There was one phase of the affair that was most unpleasant to Ben,—the suspicion with which the Government officials regarded Mundon and himself.

[Pg 73]

“Some one blabbed,” one of them pointedly said to him, “or else the parties who stowed that stuff away would have come back for it.”

Another time he overheard one man remark to another, “I don’t agree with you. I think the boy’s honest enough; but that fellow with him looks like a slippery one.”

“But the boy’s the one who gets the reward.”

“I know. But that fellow’ll get it out of him before he’s through with him.”

A thought that this might be true came into Ben’s mind, but he dismissed it at once as unworthy. Yet it is hard to get rid of a vicious weed, and this doubt presented itself to him from time to time.

Mundon proved more useful to Ben as time went on and his own ignorance and inexperience became more marked. He congratulated himself many times[Pg 74] upon the good luck which had sent this man across his path.

“Gee-willikens, Mundon! How are we ever going to get this chimney down?” Ben looked up at the massive pillar of brick which reared itself above him. “It looks about a mile high, when you stand close to it. Why,” he added with a blank look, “it’ll take us months to level it.”

“You was a-calculatin’ to level it?” Mundon laconically asked.

“Of course. How else can we work over the bricks that are in it?”

“Um! How’d you think you’d git it down?”

“Well—that’s what’s worrying me. I had a sort of plan to scrape down the soot. But the bricks—how are we going to get at them?”

“Your idee is good—as fur as it goes; but I think I can give you a better one than scrapin’ the chimney of soot.”

[Pg 75]

“Let’s have it.”

“I’d rig a cross-piece—shaped just like a cross—to work inside the chimney, from a rope over the top, like an elevator.”

Ben caught his breath. “How would you ever get a rope over the top?” he asked.

“O, that’s easy. I haven’t ben a sailor fur nothin’. Then, I’d chip off the whole inside of the chimney.”

“We’d work just the inside?”

“That’s all we want, ain’t it? It’s the golden linin’ we’re after. We don’t want the rest.”

“No; and it will save time and strength to leave the rest alone.”

“We’ll leave the balance of the bricks for those that come after us. ’Twon’t hurt the chimney a mite, neither.”

“Mundon, you’re a brick!” exclaimed Ben.

Mundon waited a moment before[Pg 76] replying. He liked the frank admiration that shone in Ben’s eyes.

“There ain’t nothin’ sure in this world, Ben, and it’s mighty oncertain sometimes to draw conclusions from things you’ve ben told. What’s more, you can’t b’lieve all you hear.”

“You’re preparing me to be disappointed, Mundon,” said Ben. “But I’m bracing myself for that, too. I know it’s a chance.”

“Most everythin’ is—’cept runnin’ a peanut-stand near a monkey’s cage.”

Ben laughed. “How you’re ever going to get a rope over that top?” He looked up and shook his head in despair.

“No fear—I’ll manage that. Just let me get some stuff for a scaffoldin’ and I’ll show you the trick in a jiffy.”

“You’re a wonder,” Ben replied.

The question as to what he should have done without Mundon’s help occurred to him again, but he did not express it.

[Pg 77]

“I heard when I was up town this mornin’ that there was goin’ to be a sale of mules to-morrow.”

“You think we’ll need one to work the arastra?”

“Couldn’t hev nothin’ better. This sale’s goin’ to be at a horse-market out near the Potrero. S’pose you see if you kin get one cheap.”

“Yes; I’ll go to the sale.” Ben paused. “I say, Mundon, what is cheap—for a mule?”

“’Bout fifteen dollars ought to git one good enough, at an auction.”

“That was about the figure I had in mind. Of course, I don’t ask your opinion, Mundon, so much to get advice as I do to compare notes. I like to see if your judgment and mine agree.”

Mundon did not look up, but went steadily on with his work. “I understand—of course,” he replied.

[Pg 78]


“A mule is very much like a horse, isn’t it?” Ben questioned, on the following morning.

“Yes; they are somewhat similar,” Mundon replied, going on with the task of untangling some old harness.

“Yet they’re different, too.”

“That’s so; they are.”

Ben did not like to admit his ignorance, but he very much desired some further information on the subject of mules before he entered the arena of the auction. He had a guilty consciousness that he had made Mundon feel that he resented his superior wisdom in many things connected with their undertaking, and that he was unreasonably jealous of his worldly knowledge. He regretted and was ashamed[Pg 79] of his ingratitude toward this man who had proved invaluable to him, and he hoped that the other would overlook it.

“If you were going to buy a horse, Mundon, what particular points would you look for in the animal?”

“Well, I’d see that he had a broad forehead, good straight, clean legs, round hoofs, small ears, clear eyes, and, most of all, a wide chest. But, of course, these don’t hold good in a mule.”

“No; I suppose not.”

“Then, he oughter be in good perportion. I’ve seen horses with a fine-lookin’ front and a back all shrunk up. And I’ve seen some with a fine back and a front that had a stunted look. An animal like that ain’t apt to have much strength or wearin’ qualities. Then, there’s exceptions. I remember one of the best horses for pullin’ I ever saw had a sort of stunted front. But, of course, none of these things hold good in a mule.”

[Pg 80]

“No; nothing seems to apply to a mule.” Ben picked up a strap which dangled from the harness and began untangling it. “Haven’t the teeth something to do with it?”

“Sure! They’re the most important point, ’cause that’s the way you kin tell a horse’s age—by his teeth. If they’re long, he’s old. You want to see that they ain’t ben filed, too.”

“Do you think the point about the teeth would apply to a mule?” Ben asked.

“There ain’t nothin’ that applies to a mule except—patience. You’ve got to have everlastin’ patience when you come near a mule. But, they’re knowin’. Lordy! I’ve had ’em teamin’ up in the mountains when they knew a sight more’n most men. I’d talk to ’em just like they was humans. ‘Sal,’ I’d say, ‘don’t you know better’n to hug so close to that bank?’ And before the words was out of my mouth,[Pg 81] Sal would be a-standin’ way off from the bank. And all I had to do to git one of ’em over the chain,—there’s a chain runs between ’em in place of a pole, you know, and mebbe I’d have sixteen or twenty strung along in pairs,—and if I wanted to git one of ’em over it I’d jest call out the name, and that mule would jump the chain quick as lightnin’. A horse has got a heap of sense, but, in my opinion, a mule kin discount him every time.”

“We’re safer, then, in buying a mule than a horse?”

“Law, yes! For the work you want done, you are.”

“Well, I’ll be going along, I guess,” remarked Ben. “I want to look over the field before the sale begins.”

“That’d be a good idee.”

Ben boarded an electric car which crossed the city. He was dubious as to his ability for the task he had undertaken, and regretted that he had not[Pg 82] asked Mundon to go in his place. He ran over the directions for buying a horse.

“Round-hoofed, small-eared, broad-headed, clear-eyed, short-teethed, clean-legged, wide-chested, and good-proportioned,” he enumerated. “I’m primed for a horse-sale, if I ever need to go to one; but I’m all at sea about a mule.”

Mundon had seemed to be singularly averse to offering to make the purchase, Ben reflected, although he had been given ample opportunity to do so, and he was so well qualified to select exactly the animal needed.

He had appeared anxious to get Ben out of the way. Could it be possible that he meant to make the attempt to get the rope over the top of the chimney during his absence? How would he manage it? It seemed a colossal, impossible task.

The car clanged its bell along Kearny Street, whizzed across Market and[Pg 83] swung into Third Street, on its way to the Potrero. A wild idea occurred to Ben. “If there’s a mule in the inclosure that points his ears at me, I’ll buy him,” he decided.

Association with his father had implanted superstition in the boy’s character. Ben had seen it sway his father many times, as indeed it exerted an influence more or less potent upon all miners.

A recollection of the sum he had resolved to expend reminded Ben that the occult must be confined within the limits of fifteen dollars.

“I don’t know the first thing about it, anyway, and I might as well be guided by chance as anything else,” he reflected.

He was a trifle ashamed of this decision, and half hoped that the mules themselves would render its execution impossible, by all laying back or all pointing their ears in unison.

[Pg 84]

When he entered the gate of the vacant lot where the sale was to be held, a rough-haired, forlorn-looking specimen of a mule raised two weather-beaten ears and disconsolately surveyed him.

“That settles it,” said Ben to himself. “After all it’s something to have the matter decided for one.”

The man in charge was anxious to show Ben the superior animals within the inclosure; but he manifested so little interest in them that their owner began to have doubts as to his being a bona fide purchaser.

“Like as not the rest will all go above my price,” thought Ben; “but I think I can get ‘Despair’—” for so he had designated the mule he had settled upon—“for fifteen.”

It was a long wait, and Ben was anxious to return to the Works; but the owner seemed to be in no hurry to begin, and, evidently, was waiting for a larger audience.

[Pg 85]

When a dozen or more men had arrived, the sale was opened. It was confusing, the way in which the auctioneer rattled on, discovering invisible buyers in corners and on the outskirts of the crowd.

Ben wondered how he should be able to keep his head when his time should come; and he realized that this thought made his heart beat rapidly.

He witnessed some close buying that was bewildering to the inexperienced, and he saw one man badly kicked by the glossiest, plumpest mule in the lot.

“Another mark in favor of ‘Despair,’” Ben noted. “You can’t tell anything by looks; but I don’t believe he’d do that.”

It was late in the afternoon before the mule which Ben had selected—or, rather, the mule which had selected Ben—was offered.

“We’ll start him at— What’ll we start him at, gentlemen?”

[Pg 86]

“Five dollars,” said a voice.

“Five dollars!” The auctioneer scornfully repeated. “Somebody here expects to get a good workin’ animal for nothing just because his coat’s a little rough. Five dollars would be just a-givin’ him away. Why, all he needs to be a playmate for the children is a clippin’ and a red ribbon tied round his tail. What am I bid, bid, bid—what am I bid? Ten dollars, young man, did you say?” He pointed to Ben, and the latter nodded.

“Here’s a young gentleman who knows a good animal for the saddle when he sees one.”

This sally brought a laugh from the crowd and added to Ben’s discomfiture.

“Ten dollars! Who’ll raise the bid? Twelve?” He pointed to a man on the edge of the group. “Who’ll give me twelve dollars for this reliable mule? Twelve dollars?”

“Fifteen,” said Ben.

[Pg 87]

A smile rippled over the faces of the crowd, and Ben became painfully conscious that he had made an error. He could feel his face growing uncomfortably warm.

“Fifteen dollars!” called the auctioneer. “Will no one raise it? Is there no one here wants this mule more than this young gentleman? Fifteen once—fifteen twice—fifteen three times, and sold to—”—he turned expectantly toward Ben,—“Mr.—”

“Ralston,” said Ben.

The money was paid, and Ben started for the Works with his purchase.

“You must hev wanted that mule powerful bad, young feller,” a bystander remarked, as the pair issued from the gate.

“Think so?” the boy replied, anxious to make his escape.

“Yes—it rather looks as though you did. To wait till the last and worst-lookin’ mule in the bunch was[Pg 88] offered,” the man continued, “and then to raise your own bid twice.” There was a laugh from the crowd. “You could hev got him for twelve dollars, sure, and you might hev got him for ten.”

“Well, that’s my affair,” Ben retorted.

He led the mule along a street in the direction of the city, not without a misgiving, however, as to the docility of the animal. A fear that he might balk or suddenly whirl and kick, to the amusement of the spectators, made Ben eager to increase the distance between the mule-market and himself.

It was a long distance from the Potrero to North Beach, for they marked opposite boundaries of the city, and Ben had ample opportunity for reflection. He made a detour and skirted the sea-wall, in order to avoid the more crowded streets. As he trudged along, the mule seemed docile and easily led;[Pg 89] but Ben bought some carrots from a passing vegetable-wagon, to make assurance doubly sure.

He regretted that he had yielded to the impulse of trusting to chance. He was conscious that the act was unworthy and degrading, that he had taken a step backward.

“If I’m going to act in that fool way,” he said to himself, “there’s no telling where I’ll land. It’s as bad as the things Tom Sawyer did,—worse, because he didn’t trust an important piece of business to black art. It’s just the kind of thing that the lowest order of a negro would be capable of. But no one knows it,” he added with emphasis, “nor ever shall. ‘Despair’ and I can keep the secret. That name won’t do—it might hoodoo the scheme.” He turned and reflectively surveyed the mule.

“You’ve got to have a name that’s a winner. A cheerful, humming, booming sort of a name,” he said.

[Pg 90]

As if in reply, the animal raised his long ears and pointed them at his interlocutor.

When they reached Montgomery Avenue, where Mr. Hodges’ shop was situated, Ben pulled his hat over his eyes. He endeavored to hasten the pace of the mule. In this he was unsuccessful, but, fortunately, there was no one in sight whom he knew.

“If I were sure of success I wouldn’t mind the whole town’s seeing every move I make,” the boy reflected. “But it makes a heap of difference in people’s opinions whether you succeed or not. If you don’t, then, you’re looked upon as a fool, and everything you’ve done is fool-business; but if you do, then, you’re called wise, and everything you’ve done is smart as lightning.”

They reached the slight rise and began to descend toward the bay. Outlined against the vista of the blue water washing the base of the Sausalito hills, rose the massive pillar of the chimney.

[Pg 91]

Ben paused an instant in amazement. Mundon had been true to his word; for reaching from the top to the bottom was a cable that looked the thickness of a thread against the solid round bulk of the chimney.

Ben could hardly believe his eyes. How had it been accomplished?

He was obliged to control his impatience until the mule’s deliberate gait brought them at length to the Works.

“Mundon, where are you!” Ben called as he dashed into the building.

“Ahoy there!” A voice replied from the flue.

Peering up the mouth, Ben saw Mundon on a cross-piece which was fastened by two lines to the main rope, after the manner of a trapeze.

“I’ll do the chippin’,” Mundon remarked from his perch, about twenty feet from the ground. “Take your head away a minute and we’ll drive the first blow.”

[Pg 92]

Ben retreated and Mundon struck the chisel he held a blow that sent down a shower of soot, broken brick, and mortar.

“We’ll soon know now,” Ben said to himself, and his heart beat rapidly, when he thought of all it meant to him.

[Pg 93]


“We’ve got to find a place to keep the mule. It’s too cold to leave him outside,” said Ben.

“That’s easy,” Mundon replied. “One of the sheds’ll do first-rate. He’ll have a box-stall,—same as a racer.”

“I’ll fix it up for him right now. He looks sort of forlorn, tied out there in the fog,” said Ben.

“There’s two other animals we ought to find quarters for, too.”

“Two others? O, you mean ourselves.”

“Yes. With all this room goin’ to waste, why shouldn’t we get our room rent free?”

“That’s a good idea, Mundon. We’ll have to do it, or hire a [Pg 94]watchman, as soon as we begin to work the stuff. We might as well get used to it first as last.”

“I’ll build the room for us. Over there against that east wall will be a good place for it.”

“Perhaps there won’t be anything to need watching,” Ben said, with a grim smile; “but we’ll soon know now.”

“There’s got to be somethin’. It ain’t in reason that there ain’t no gold left over in all this mess,” emphatically replied the other.

“Well, we’ll hope so, till we know to the contrary. We’ll have to have some furniture, I suppose.”


“Why, a couple of beds, anyway.”

“O, I’ll knock up a couple of bunks that’ll do for the time we’ll be here. I can make first-rate arm-chairs, too,—reg’lar sleepy hollers,—out of those barrels.”

“That’ll be fine! I suppose we’d[Pg 95] better use the boards out of that first shed?”

“No; I’d put the mule in that one. Then he’d be farther away from our quarters. I’d knock down the second shed, the one where the roof is half gone. Found a name yet fur your mule?”

“I’ve named him ‘Alchemist.’”

“‘Alchymist’? Don’t that mean turnin’ no ’count things inter gold?”


“Well, that’s ’propriate; ’cause he’ll work the ’rastra. Then, we kin call him ‘Alchy’ till we know the result; and if we don’t get anythin’ worth mentionin’ out of it we kin call him ‘Missed.’ That’ll be ’propriate, too.”

“‘Alchy’ goes, then. And here’s to be his home. I think I’ll leave one window for his professorship. We’ll separate his apartments from ours.” He struck the dilapidated shed a blow as he spoke.

[Pg 96]

“’Twill be more ’ristocratic,” observed Mundon. “S’pose I start the ’rastra while you’re doin’ that?”

“Wish you would. Everything seems unimportant—where we sleep or where the mule sleeps—compared to the real business.”

“A man’s got to be comfortable, or he can’t do good work. This here’s the best place for the ’rastra.” He took several long steps across a spot in the center of the floor. “I’ll level this off a little, so to have the floor of it even.”

“You’re going to use those bricks?” Ben pointed to some bricks which marked the location of the furnaces.

“I was calculatin’ to. But first we’ve got to remember that we’ve got to have a furnace, too.”

“We have? What for?”

“Why, we’ve got to melt our gold—after we git it.”

“O! Well, why not leave that[Pg 97] part of the old furnace that’s standing there?”

“I was a-thinkin’ of doin’ that. We’ll build a rough chimney on the outside.”

“Then we’ll have to have a crucible.”

“Yes; that’s another thing I was goin’ to mention. Ever seen it done—gold melted in one?”

“Yes; I’ve been watching them do it in Smith’s assay office.”

“O, you have, have you?”

“Yes. And the other day I went to the Mint and saw a lot. Mr. Hale, the gentleman I met at the Custom House, gave me a card. It’s funny, Mundon, how different everything there looked to me from the last time I was there. Every schoolboy in this town goes, and of course I went; but it didn’t seem to me that I could be the same boy who’d been there. Everything interested me so much more this time.”

[Pg 98]

Mundon had been marking a circle in the center of the floor.

“Now, Ben,” he said, “we’re ready for the corner-stone, and you’re the proper person to lay it. You just git one of those bricks and put it here.” He struck the center of the circle a blow with his spade.

“I didn’t know you could corner a circle,” said Ben, as he placed a brick upon the spot indicated.

“You kin corner anythin’, if you only find out how to do it. There,” he added, with satisfaction, “the first brick’s laid. Now, she’ll go a-hummin’!”

“Let me help you,” said Ben. “It’s more interesting than building the mule-shed. I can fix that by-and-by.”

“All right.”

Mundon watched Ben lay the bricks.

“How clumsy I am!” the latter exclaimed when the bricks refused to lie evenly. “I’ve often watched [Pg 99]bricklayers at work. It looks as easy as breathing; but it isn’t,—not by a long sight!”

“It’s a trade,” Mundon laconically remarked.

“Then you must be Jack of them all,” said Ben, “for there’s nothing you can’t do.”

“I’ve ben in most of ’em. It’s mean to try to do things when you don’t know how. Sometimes, a job I wasn’t used to would take a powerful long time; though in the first stages, I thought I was workin’ mighty fast—a reg’lar lightnin’-striker.”

“Of course, anything that isn’t regular work takes longer.”

“Exactly. The more you work at a thing, the more skillful you git. Sometimes, when I’d git through with a new worrisome job, I’d wonder what I’d better tackle next. And ’t would always remind me of a story my mother used to tell ’bout a tailor who was a[Pg 100] powerful slow worker, but thought he was lightnin’. He took a whole week to make a vest, and then said, ‘What’ll I fly at next?’”

During the following two weeks the partners were very busy. The arastra was finished and the furnace in readiness for the precious metals. Lastly, a pile of soot, brickdust, and mortar, representing a part of the lining of the chimney, and a retort and some quicksilver awaited the trial.

A fairly good sleeping-room, with a tiny galley adjoining, made the place comfortable.

Mundon proved to be a good cook, and Ben was fond of watching him at his culinary labors. The kitchen was constructed like the galley of a ship, and, when the cook was seated, everything was within his reach.

“I’ve been camping out in vacations,” Ben remarked; “but this beats that all to pieces.”

[Pg 101]

“It’s ’cause this combines business with pleasure,” Mundon replied, as he neatly cut long fingers of potato, preparatory to frying them. “There’s twice as much fun to be had in doin’ the work you really like to do than there is in anythin’ that’s called ‘fun.’”

“So I’ve found out.”

“Fun’s like society. When it hunts you,—comes of its own accord, natural like,—it’s fine. But when you hunt it, it don’t amount to shucks.”

“I guess you’re about right. I know I’ve never enjoyed anything in my life as I have this.”

“’Cause why? ’Cause it’s work you like. That’s the reason. But it takes some folks a lifetime to find that out; and even then they don’t see it.”

Ben was looking at the pile of rubble as if fascinated.

“How much longer before we know?”

“It won’t be long now, I reckon.”

[Pg 102]

“O, Mundon, how can I ever wait!”

On the following morning Mundon went down-town to make some necessary purchases.

“I heard something to-day,” he said, when he returned, “that I wish I’d known in the beginnin’.”

“What’s that?” inquired Ben.

“Why, you see, when I was inquirin’ ’bout the price of quicksilver I run up against a man as knew all about this sort of thing—or said he did. ’Course, I didn’t tell him our plan; but what he says is needed fur it is a jigger.”

“A what?”

“A jigger machine. I got him to describe it, and I think I’ve got enough idee as to how it’s made to make one myself. He’d used one, up in Nevada, he said.”

Mundon extracted a piece of chalk from his pocket, and on the board wall he drew a plan of the machine.

“Your jigger is a box made of[Pg 103] wood,” he said. “Well, really, it’s a tank—six foot long by four high. You fill it with water. At one end you have a tray filled with dirt and hung from a pole which is balanced by a weight at the end. T’ other end of the pole works up and down, like the handle of a bellus. The tray is dipped into the tank and all the loose dirt is washed out and the gold sinks to the bottom. That’s the coarse gold; you’ve got to ketch the fine gold on a table in the tank, under the tray. The waste dirt works inter the fur part of the tank. This man says—and he seems ter know what he’s talkin’ about—that you can’t git the val’able particles nohow, without a jigger.”

“What luck you were in to meet him!”

“Wasn’t I, though! I believe I’ll git the lumber,—it oughter be made out of new lumber,—and knock the thing together this afternoon,” [Pg 104]Mundon replied, as he walked to the rear wall of the building. “Say, Ben,” he remarked, picking up a little of the earth from the floor and letting it sift through his fingers, “I think we oughter locate our find a little before we begin operations.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why, this here place is like a ruin deserted by the folks who used to live here. For instance,” he pointed to some grass-covered excavations, “these were the furnaces.”

“Well,” said Ben thoughtfully, “then, if they followed the process used in all smelting-works, the bullion was melted in crucibles and cast into bars.”

“Exactly. Then, jest use your natural sense and think out how they got the bars ter the bullion-room? Why, they piled ’em on hand-cars and run ’em on a track.” He suddenly knelt down and ran his hand along the ground in front of the excavations. “Here’s[Pg 105] the groove where the track was laid,—sure’s you’re born!”

Ben dropped beside him. “There is a groove!” he cried. “We’re regular detectives, Mundon!”

“It couldn’t run anywhere else,” the other said, as if to himself.

“Than to the bullion-room? Of course, it couldn’t, and it didn’t. It ran over there, didn’t it?” Ben pointed to the opposite wall.

“Yes,” said Mundon, “it must. My! They were careless in those days, if this was like any smeltin’-works ever I see, and I s’pose it was. They jest slung the stuff ’round like it was mud. They always counted on losin’ lots of it in splashin’.”

“I should think so. With no flooring in the furnace-rooms and all this dust being trampled into the earth floor year after year, I should think they’d have lost a fortune!”

“Mebbe they did.”

[Pg 106]

“We hope so; for they made enough as it was.”

“You see, sometimes a furnace would get ter leakin’. Well, mebbe ’twould be quite a while before anybody found it out. Then, p’raps they’d run tons of base bullion inter a trench, thinkin’ they’d go over the ground when they got time. Um— Well, sometimes they never got the time, they was so busy makin’ money. We must look ’round, some time, fur traces of a trench of that sort.”

“I’ve got an idea,” said Ben, “that it would be a good plan to wash the soil here and there with an ordinary gold-pan. We could tell something, I should think, about where the richest dirt lay then.”

“’Twouldn’t do no harm. But the richest dirt is bound ter be near the furnaces and in the bullion-room. We’ll finish with the chimney first, ’cause if there are any nuggets they’ll be there.”

[Pg 107]

“Wouldn’t any tin pan do?”

“O, you better have the real thing. I see one a-hangin’ up outside of a junk-shop on Stockton Street that I’ll git when I go to git the lumber. Mebbe it might be a relic of ’49, and give you some of the spirit of those days. Not that you ain’t got the true minin’ spirit already,” he added, with a glance at Ben’s eager face.

On the following day the pan was purchased, and Ben was initiated, and became for the first time a real miner. He scooped some dirt from what was thought to be a favorable spot, put it in the pan, and poured some water upon it.

Mundon showed him how to shake the pan from side to side, allowing a little water to flow constantly from the top, until a small amount of very ordinary-looking dirt remained in the bottom. It was exhilarating to think of what it might contain.

[Pg 108]

“It looks exactly like the mud pies my mother’s boy used to make,” said Ben with an anxious air.

“There’s a little color there, or I’m mistaken,” Mundon wisely remarked, as he scanned the sediment.

“Yellow’s the color I’m looking for.”

“Well, there’s some yellow in that. Hold it up to the light. Now, it does shine! I’ll be hanged if it don’t!”

“Goodness knows, I want to see it as much as any one!” said Ben; “but I’m afraid this is too much like imagination. It reminds me of the time people thought they saw flying-machines in the sky.”

Mundon shook his head. “I ain’t that kind,” he remarked, as he returned to his work of constructing the “jigger.” “After all,” he continued, “you can’t tell much about it till you make the ’speriment in the proper way. This machine’ll settle it one way or the other.”

[Pg 109]

He worked rapidly and skillfully, and by the following night the “jigger” was completed.

“My!” he exclaimed as he drove the last nails. “It was luck, blind luck, my meetin’ that feller and his tellin’ me jest exactly what I wanted to know!”

“One thing will be very funny,” said Ben. “I was just thinking that we’ll have to ship our bullion—when we get it—up to the Searby Smelting Works at Vallejo to be resmelted and cast into bars. They were the original owners of it.”

“Funny enough for us,” Mundon replied. “But I don’t count on shippin’ ’em any.”

“How’ll we get it into bars?”

“I’ll git it into bars, myself. You didn’t know that I was an assayer, too, did you?”

“No,” Ben thoughtfully replied. “I think I’ve found my trade at last. Mundon, if I’ve got brains enough I’ll be an assayer.”

[Pg 110]

“Why not a mining engineer? Might as well aim fur the highest while you’re about it.”

“That’s so. But that takes more money. If I get enough out of this, I’ll try for it.”

[Pg 111]


“It’s nearly time for us to know ’bout where we stand,” remarked Mundon, as he flung several shovelfuls of mortar, brickdust, and soot into the “jigger.” He then added some quicksilver to the mass. “There, I guess that’ll do fur this time. Now, we’ll churn the cream and see if we kin git any butter.”

“Perhaps it isn’t cream,” Ben suggested, more to hear Mundon reassure him than anything else.

“No; p’raps it ain’t,—p’raps it’s only skim milk. Well, in that case we won’t git any butter. But I’m a-bettin’ on it’s bein’ cream.”

When Mundon took some of the amalgam from the dirty water and washed it clean, Ben knew that the time of reckoning had arrived.

[Pg 112]

“Ain’t feelin’ faint, are you, Ben?” Mundon facetiously inquired. “I orter brought some smellin’-salts along. Well, I’ve got a ticklish sort of feelin’ myself.”

He placed the amalgam in a piece of buckskin. This he squeezed until the larger part of the quicksilver had been pressed through the skin.

He did not tell Ben, but he knew from long experience that the result was satisfactory. Ben read his thoughts in his face.

“Tell me it’s all right, Mundon! I can see by your face that it is, but I’d like to hear you say it! Tell me!”

“There’s gold in this ball—or I’m not alive,” the other replied.

“Wo-o-w!” Ben flung his cap among the rafters, and, seizing the ball of amalgam, he sent it after the cap.

“Here, young feller, don’t you go plumb crazy! That’s heavy! Want ter kill us? Give me that ball—I ain’t through with it yet.”

[Pg 113]

Ben returned the ball. “I had to let off steam or bust!” he said.

“Now, we’ll see what we’ll see,” said Mundon, as he repeated the process he had followed with the first handful of amalgam, until he had three good-sized lumps.

“The gold’s inside of them?” Ben asked.

“Course it is,—that is, we’ve reason to s’pose so.”

“How ever are we going to get it out! I say, Mundon, I’d have made a pretty fizzle of this business without you.”

“You’d have had to found somebody else, that’s all,” Mundon modestly replied.

“Next, I take the retort,—see that it’s cold,—and chalk it well. Watch me, Ben,—most anybody can set an egg on end after they’ve seen it done. Next, I wrap these here baseballs—base is good!—in paper and put ’em in[Pg 114] the retort,—so. Then I jam the cover down tight. Now, give me a lift, Ben. This here’s pretty heavy, I reckon.”

The retort did not seem heavy to Ben as they lifted it to the furnace; and he concluded that Mundon had asked him to help him, in order that he might feel that he was more than a spectator.

“He’s got the finest feelings,” Ben said to himself. “He’s always trying to make a fellow feel comfortable.”

They built a roaring fire in the furnace.

“Now, you kin tend that fire fur two hours, Ben,” said Mundon, “while I go down-town and see ’bout gittin’ some more coal and a few little things we need. I’ll be right back. Don’t forget—you got to keep that there retort red-hot the whole time.”

“Yes, yes. And then what do we do?”

“Well, you got to keep the retort[Pg 115] red-hot for two hours, as I told you, just a dull red-hot; but at the last you pile on the coal till it’s a reel cherry-red.”

“And after that?”

“O, I’ll be here to show you what to do afterwards.”

During the following two hours Ben watched the furnace and plied it with coal. A rap on the doors attracted his attention, and he admitted Beth and little Sue.

“Mother asked us to tell her when you got the first gold from your Golconda. Have you got any yet?” Sue asked. “I know what that means, too, for Beth told me the story.”

“Not yet, Sue,” Ben replied. “Maybe you’re just in time to see some, though. We’re nearly ready to open the retort.” He flung in a shovelful of coal. “I’m glad you came down, Beth, to see it; for if we get any it’ll be the result of your idea.”

[Pg 116]

“Nonsense, Ben! O, Sue,” she exclaimed as she looked up the long funnel of the chimney to where it pierced the blue sky, “think of any one’s sitting on those little sticks and being hoisted up that frightful distance! It makes me dizzy to think of it. How did you ever get the rope over the top?” she inquired of Ben.

“Mundon did it,” Ben explained, “one day, when he sent me off to buy the mule.”

“Did he climb up on the outside?”

“No, goosey; of course not. He built a rough scaffolding inside, somehow, as he went along, until he could throw a rope over the top. The rest was easy.”

“And is he going to chip off the whole inside? O-o-h! How can he bear to sit on that thing and let you haul him to the top?”

“O, he doesn’t mind it; he’s been a sailor. He says it’s safer than lots[Pg 117] of high places he’s been in, because there’s no wind.”

So interested had all three been in peering up the chimney that they had not noticed the entrance of several men who were curiously inspecting the interior.

Sydney Chalmers was one of them; and while Ben was annoyed by his presence at this particular time, he did not like to ask him to leave.

Syd walked about with a supercilious stare which so irritated Ben that he relieved his feelings by flinging shovelfuls of coal into the furnace.

The two hours were nearly up, and Mundon must soon return.

One of the self-invited visitors proved to be a reporter who walked about, notebook in hand, scanning the surroundings.

When Mundon returned, Ben suggested that the strangers be asked to leave; but Mundon did not approve of this.

[Pg 118]

“It never did anybody any harm to be on the good side of the newspapers, and it gen’rally does a body heaps of harm to be on the bad side of ’em,” he sagely remarked. “Let him get his scoop. That’s a real cherry-red,” he added as he looked at the retort. “Give us a hand, Ben.”

They lifted the retort from the furnace.

“It’s got to chill now,” said Mundon, and he turned his attention to the reporter, whom he regaled with such Munchausen tales that that experienced gentleman had hard work to separate fiction from fact.

“S’pose you think your fortune’s in sight?” Syd contemptuously looked at the retort.

“I hope so, Syd; and I know all my friends do, too,” Ben replied.

“Hoping’s cheap.”

Ben turned away. “Isn’t it cool enough yet?” he called to Mundon.

[Pg 119]

“Reckon it is,” said Mundon. “Now, when I knock off the cover, we got to jump back quick as lightnin’. The fumes of quicksilver’s deadly, you know.”

“All right. Knock her off!” Ben responded.

“You folks better stand well back,” Mundon said to the others.

He struck the cover a few hard blows, and as it flew off they sprang back to a place of safety.

“Whew! This is being an alchemist with a vengeance! Fancy our turning that old rubble into gold!” Ben said to Mundon, who was holding him by the arm. “O, I say, isn’t it time to see, now?”

“I guess so. Come along.”

Visitors and workmen eagerly crowded around the retort. A little sponge of gold was all that remained in it.

Mundon took it out and weighed it while the others curiously watched him.

[Pg 120]

Ben was visibly horribly disappointed. He had a sickening conviction that the whole thing was a failure. He could read the triumph in Syd’s face, and it cost him an effort to put on a bold front and see them all through the gates.

“It’s no go, I’m afraid,” he whispered to Beth. For answer she pressed his hand. He closed the gates and turned to Mundon.

“Well,—it’s a failure. You needn’t tell me—I know it.”

“Failure? No, ’tain’t a failure.”

“Are you saying that to let me down easy?”

“Before God, I ain’t! Why, boy, what you got tears in your eyes fur? Brace up and be a man!”

“I’m trying to, Mundon.” Ben’s voice shook.

“I dunno what’s this all about? Did you expect that there crucible’d be half-full of gold? Mebbe you [Pg 121]thought ’twould be plumb full.” There was no reply. “Why, on a rough calculation, I reckon this undertakin’ ’s goin’ to come out all right.”

“You mean that it’s going to pay?”

“’Course I do. What ails you?”

“It seems such a small quantity,” Ben faltered.

“It’ll seem smaller yet, when it’s cast in a bar. I’ve got to melt this again to git it into shape. Besides, I reckon ’bout half of it’s silver.”

“Silver! And silver’s worth only fifty cents an ounce!” Ben sat down on some lumber and gloomily watched Mundon melt the gold in a crucible.

“Yes, so ’tis; but gold’s worth twenty dollars an ounce. Didn’t expect ’twould be all gold, did you? I’m a-figurin’ roughly on the tons of stuff you’ve got in sight and the amount of gold you’ve got out of one jiggerful, and—you’ve got a good[Pg 122] thing all right, Ben. But you’re just like all kids,—beggin’ pardon,—onreasonable.”

[Pg 123]


On the night following the first clean-up, Ben was awakened about midnight. He had been sleeping so heavily that for some minutes after awakening he did not realize where he was. Then the outlines of the rough walls of the room and the regular breathing of Mundon recalled him to his surroundings. He was too wide-awake to sleep again, and he reviewed the events of the day, and then fell to speculating upon the plans for the morrow.

Suddenly he sat bolt upright, every faculty alert. There was a sound of stealthy footsteps in the outer room.

Ben knew now the cause of his sudden awakening. Some one had entered the building, and was creeping about[Pg 124] searching for—what? “The gold!” he instantly replied to the question.

Ben knew that Mundon had placed the gold in a box underneath his bunk. There was so little of it as yet that this had been thought to be a sufficiently safe place.

Should he awaken Mundon? It hardly seemed necessary. He crept from his bed and crossed the room to the door. The stealthy footsteps could be heard at intervals, as though the person constantly paused to listen. The noise appeared to come from the corner of the building in which the “jigger” was situated; and Ben concluded that the man was searching there for the gold. Feeling that he could keep quiet no longer, Ben grasped Mundon’s arm.

“Hush!” he whispered. “Don’t speak! Some one’s out there—looking for the gold!”

Mundon was thoroughly awake in an[Pg 125] instant. Together they crept to the door. The noise suddenly ceased, and there followed a long interval of silence.

“I’m afraid we’ve frightened him off,” whispered Mundon.

Just then a slight sound told them that the burglar was still there. A flash of light through the cracks of the door told them that he carried a dark lantern.

“Be ready!” Mundon directed. “I’ll unlock the door and we’ll rush for the gates!”

He unlocked the door and the partners tore across the rough floor to the gates. They were somewhat surprised to find them locked.

“Who’s there? Stop, or I’ll fire!” cried Ben.

They listened, trying to locate the intruder in the darkness; but the silence following this challenge remained unbroken.

“He must hev run up the beach to[Pg 126] climb the bulkhead,” said Mundon. “I’ll go out and head him off. You stay here and watch. If he’s hidin’ here, and makes a sound, you call me.”

Left alone in the darkness, Ben fancied several times that he heard the burglar moving in the black shadows of the interior. But a careful investigation, with the aid of a lantern when Mundon returned, proved that the place was empty.

“I don’t see how he could hev got over that bulkhead so quick,” Mundon remarked, as he related his unsuccessful attempt to capture the man. “Must hev ben mighty lively, and an acrobat in the bargain, to git out of sight in that time. Let’s see what mischief he’s ben up to.”

The “jigger” was undisturbed, but they found footprints in the moist ground near the furnace.

“Mebbe he came in a boat,” [Pg 127]Mundon suddenly suggested. “Mebbe he wasn’t after our gold at all.”

Ben stared in surprise. “Not after the gold!” he exclaimed. “Then what in thunder was he after?”

“Can’t you guess?”


“Well, I was thinkin’ that mebbe there’s more opium hidden away here that we ain’t found.”


“Well, we found one lot here. Why shouldn’t we find some more. Who’s to say that we found all there was stowed here?”

“They would have taken it away before this.”

“How could they? They didn’t dare come back while there was a chance of them Custom House fellers bein’ ’round. And lately we haven’t let this place out our sight.”

“That’s so,” replied Ben. “You think there’s more opium hidden somewhere round this furnace?”

[Pg 128]

“That’s it.”

“Well, I’ll take out those loose bricks in the morning—those on the side next the water, that we didn’t touch.”

In the morning a thorough search was made, but no opium was found. No satisfactory explanation of the presence of the midnight visitor offered itself, but matters of greater importance soon occupied the thoughts of the partners.

News of the venture spread. The scoop was read by thousands, and many of the curiously inclined were attracted to the spot.

On the second day the crowd was so large that Ben was compelled to close the gates. There were several reporters, who took notes, photographed Ben and the interior of the building, and interviewed the partners as to their enterprise.

[Pg 129]

Although Ben was feeling better, he was not entirely at ease. The whole thing seemed so theatrical. It was like working on the stage of a theater. Besides, he was not yet assured of success.

While the presence of spectators was flattering, it was rather embarrassing to the workmen. They would have preferred to have made their clean-up without an audience. Skepticism, along with curiosity, was written on the faces of all. And, like all sensation-seekers, they withheld any decided opinion until the result should be known.

In imagination Ben could already hear the jeering laughter of the crowd over his failure, and this added to his nervousness. His cheeks were flushed with excitement, and he stole over to where Beth and little Sue were standing and said in an anxious whisper, “It’s just awful not to know how it’s going to pan out!”

When at length the crucial moment[Pg 130] arrived, and he saw Mundon scoop up some particles of yellow metal with one hand while with the other he waved his hat, everything seemed to swim before Ben’s eyes.

The crowd gave a hearty cheer, in which he joined as if in a dream.

It was pleasant to be congratulated; and it must be confessed that the boy miner enjoyed being looked upon as a marvel of enterprise.

Old Madge appeared to be wonderfully interested in the proceedings; and Ben did not quite like the expression of his countenance when he looked upon the gold. Neither did he like a look of envy which could be seen upon the faces of some others.

“Can’t please everybody,” Ben said to himself, with a shrug. “Some people never like to see any one else succeed.”

The rest of it was pleasant enough. There was a sort of Fourth-of-July[Pg 131] excitement about it that was most exhilarating.

After the last hanger-on had gone and the gates were shut for the night, Mundon remarked that he would go down-town to get a new fitting that was needed.

“We got twice as much gold to-day as we did yesterday,” he said as he turned to go. “Mebbe we’ll get twice as much as this to-morrer—it’s bound to vary. But, anyway, we’re all right. Well, so long! I’ll be back inside of an hour.”

“So long!” Ben replied.

Left alone on the scene of his triumph, Ben surveyed the mass of rubbish and endeavored to estimate how much it would yield.

He had supposed himself to be alone, and was surprised to see a Chinaman standing in the opening above the little strip of beach.

“What do you want here?” Ben demanded.

[Pg 132]

“I come to see you on business,” the man replied in excellent English.

“How’d you get here?”

“O, I come in when other people come; and I wait till your partner go, because I want to see you alone.”

With a quick motion of his arm the man threw back one of his voluminous sleeves and pointed with his claw-like fingers to the roof and walls. Ben noted that his dress marked him as a member of the ordinary merchant class of Chinese.

“You work with the bricks and dirt,” he said, pointing to the piles of rubbish. “What you intend to do with building?”

Ben’s suspicions were aroused. “He wants to drive some bargain with me about that opium business,” he thought.

“O, I’ll sell it for lumber to some builder, I guess,” he indifferently replied.

“Not worth very much.”

[Pg 133]

“No; not very much.”

“I notice you have plenty of room here; so I think perhaps you like to rent this place to me to store my goods.” He darted one of his capacious sleeves inside his blouse and drew forth a card, which he handed to Ben.

“I give you my card.”

Ben glanced at the card. “Ng Quong Lee, Fruitpacker; Factory, 792 Jackson Street,” it read.

“I shall be here for only a short time,” Ben said. “The lease of this building expires in a few months. Besides, you couldn’t store anything here; there are too many holes in the walls and roofs.”

“O, that wouldn’t matter,—my goods are canned. My factory too crowded at this time of year. Fruit season now, you know. For a few months I like to rent another place.”

“I’m sorry I can’t accommodate you,” Ben said, turning away, “but I need all the place myself.”

[Pg 134]

“I give you thirty dollars a month,” the Chinese said, with a shrewd glance.

This offer increased Ben’s suspicion, and he flatly refused to consider it.

“You make too much money,” the other said in conclusion. “You too rich, I think. Well, I leave my card. Perhaps some time you come to see me. Some time,” he looked Ben squarely in the face, “if Mr. Fish make you trouble, you come to see me.” With which enigmatical remark he politely bowed and took his departure.

“I wonder what he was after and what he meant by that last?” Ben reflected, when he had fastened the gates after his strange visitor. “There’s something wrong about it, or he wouldn’t offer me thirty dollars a month for a part of this crazy old shed. He’ll wait a long time, I’m thinking, before he receives a call from me.”

After thinking the matter over, Ben concluded not to mention it to [Pg 135]Mundon. He was afraid he might urge him to accept it, and this he did not wish to do.

[Pg 136]


The next morning Ben saw a picture of himself above the title “Our Boy Miner,” in one of the daily papers. He felt the sensationalism of it, but he could not deny that it pleased him.

“Publicity was the penalty one had to pay for being prominent,” he told himself. And the thought pulled him very erect, like a balloon tugging at his neckband.

He was elated with success. All doubts which he had previously felt about speculation being a hazardous way of making money vanished like mists before the sun. The warnings he had heard all his life from the wiseacres about the slow way being the sure way he now felt to be all nonsense. Indeed, so egotistical is success, that he even[Pg 137] wondered that he could ever have felt any doubts.

Our Boy Miner

"Our Boy Miner"

“After I’ve made my fortune, I’ll be old-fogyish and save the cents,” he reflected. “This mining venture is quite as sure a way of making money as clerking in a store—and much more rapid.” His attention was attracted by something Mundon was saying to a reporter who was making a “story” of their experience.

“O, ’taint no trouble to show you our operations,” Mundon remarked; “no trouble at all. If ’twas a real mine underground that’d be another thing. Folks was so curious ’bout a mine I once had up in Placer County that I trained a dog I had to show ’em ’round. I’d fasten a candle to a strap that went ’round his forehead and he’d take ’em all over that mine. Got so knowin’ at last that when he’d pass any rich ore he’d stop and bark. Sure!” He added, as the hearer’s smile [Pg 138]proclaimed his incredulity, “You kin put that in your paper, and I’ll vouch for it.”

“I wish Mundon wouldn’t yarn it so,” Ben said to himself. “And I wish all these folks would go home before we make the clean-up.” He drew Mundon aside. “Can’t you get rid of them before we melt the stuff?”

“Don’t know. They ’pear to be powerful interested in what we’re doin’,” the other replied.

“That’s just it; they’re too much interested. We’ve got gold on both days; but there’s no knowing how long that luck will last. Suppose we opened the crucible some night and didn’t get anything?”

“Well, ’twouldn’t kill us if we didn’t—just once.”

“Just think what they’d say!”

Mundon smiled. “What do we care what they say?” he sturdily asserted. “I tell you, Ben, I wouldn’t be a bit[Pg 139] sorry if it got noised ’round that we weren’t makin’ such a bloomin’ lot.”


“Well, it’d keep folks from gettin’ envious, for one thing.”

The result of the day’s work did not greatly vary from those of the other two. About the same small quantity of gold-sponge remained in the crucible, and the crowd seemed slightly disappointed.

“That little bit wouldn’t make anybody very envious,” remarked Ben. “In fact, I doubt if most people would work as hard as we have for it.”

“You think it wouldn’t; but you don’t know much ’bout envy, and you don’t know men. This is the stuff,” Mundon said, as he carefully took the gold from the crucible, “be it much or little of it, that makes wild beasts of men. ’Most all the sins that make a man into a beast can be laid to this pretty shinin’ dirt.”

[Pg 140]

On the afternoon of the fourth day Ben and Mundon were working like beavers.

“’Bout five minutes now, and we’ll take out the amalgam,” Mundon remarked. “I b’lieve it’ll carry more than twice as much as yesterday’s. Somehow, the stuff shined more when we broke it up. I reckon I’ve got ’bout a quarter of the chimney chipped.”

“That’s slick,” said Ben. “When do you think we’d better tackle the ground?”

“O, that’ll keep till we’re through with the chimney. You see, a good deal works through the cracks now, and we kin make a thorough clean-up afterwards. I b’lieve there’s lots of copper as well as gold and silver in that slag under the old wharf.”

“You do?”

“I’m ’most as certain of it as I am of the chimney. If we make as much as the opium brought, I s’pose you’ll be satisfied?”

[Pg 141]

“That would be good enough.”

“Queer them smuggler fellers never showed up, ain’t it? The more I think of it the more certain I am that that was what the burglar was after.”

“But we couldn’t find any traces of the drug.”

“Mebbe he got it before we run out. Well, most likely some one of those Government chaps warned ’em not to come here while the watch was bein’ kept up. There’s gen’rally some one gits wind of such a plan in time to make fools of the rest. I s’pose the temptation to be tricky is too much for ’em.”

“Yes. And I suppose there are many temptations to a man in such a position.”

“Bless you! I guess there is! There’s lots of men who’d be square enough, if they was let alone; but put ’em in a place where there’s a chance to cheat and some one to show ’em the[Pg 142] way, and they don’t need no coaxin’. Did you suspicion any of ’em in partic’lar?”

“Well,” Ben hesitated, “it’s an awful mean thing to say about a man when you’ve got no proof,”—he dropped his voice,—“but you know I didn’t like the man who was put in charge of the case.”

“What’s his name?”

“Cutter. I couldn’t help feeling that he wasn’t straight. He didn’t seem sincere.”

“He wasn’t ’round here at all, was he?”

“No. But there wasn’t any need of his coming. He just stays in the office and directs others. How easily he could warn the men who stowed away the stuff here not to come after it!”

“They made me mad with their suspicions!” Mundon exclaimed. “I should think that ’sperience would have taught ’em to suspect one of [Pg 143]theirselves sooner than us. ’Twas only one man as showed any suspicions outright, and like as not he was one of the rogues himself. I was half a mind to tell him so once, but I knowed ’twouldn’t do no good.”

“Not a bit,” Ben agreed; “and it might do harm.”

“Mining’s a curious business. It’s the only business on earth, though, where you ain’t cuttin’ the ground away from under some other man’s feet. You’re just a-gettin’ somethin’ that everybody wants and needs, and, consequently, everybody’s glad you’re gettin’ it. It’s a gamble, and that’s why it’s so thunderin’ fascinatin’. There’s one drawback, though; it makes a man distrustful of his kind,—I s’pose ’cause it’s so mighty easy to get fooled. An old miner doesn’t b’lieve in any one but just himself—from principle. It’s astonishin’, how completely he kin pin his faith to rocks,[Pg 144] and how he balks when it comes to tryin’ it on human nature.”

“Father wasn’t much so,” remarked Ben; “but he was an exception, I suppose.”

“He wasn’t rich, was he?”

“No; although he often thought he was. His riches never came near enough to capture.”

“That’s it, you see. But you take an old miner who’s made his fortunes, and lost ’em through havin’ salted mines worked off on him,—if he ain’t the scariest bird ever seen! Talk about saltin’ a bird’s tail! Why, he wouldn’t trust his own twin brother!”

“Well, there’s no danger of ours being salted.”

“No; ’cause ’twasn’t thought to be a mine. I’ve seen some queer tricks played in that line. Once I knew a man who went to look at a mine. He saw the samples taken from all over the mine, put ’em in canvas bags himself,[Pg 145] and never took his eyes off these bags till they was sealed up with his private seal. Just as the rest of the party was gettin’ into the stage to leave, the man who was a-thinkin’ of buyin’ the mine had a kind of a feelin’ that he’d ben fooled. He couldn’t explain it nohow, but he just had that feelin’. So, he wouldn’t get on that stage, but he went all over the mine a second time and took another set of samples. Well, the assays told the story. The first set went more’n a hundred dollars to the ton, and the last set went less ’n a dollar.”

“How did they break the seals?”

“They didn’t break ’em. They salted the bags after he sealed ’em by squeezin’ a quill toothpick through the canvas and blowin’ gold-dust into ’em. I don’t wonder that——”

Mundon was interrupted by a pounding on the gates.

“I’ll go,” said Ben.

[Pg 146]

When he had unfastened the gates, two men walked into the yard. The first handed Ben a paper.

“What does this mean?” Ben wonderingly asked. He did not at first comprehend the meaning of the proceeding, but his eye caught the word “injunction,” and he knew that meant “stop.”

“It’s an injunction served upon you,” the man replied.

“Are you an officer?”

“I am.”

“What ground—” Ben stopped, for he felt his voice tremble.

“It’s to compel you to stop working another man’s property.”

“But I bought the right to work it—from the owner!” Ben cried.

“That he did,” Mundon spoke up stoutly, “and I signed as a witness.”

“Where is the owner? Where is old Madge? I’ve got his signature to the paper! He can’t go back on that!”[Pg 147] the boy exclaimed. “He’s done this from spite, because I refused to take him into partnership!”

“Don’t get excited,” the officer said. “Mr. Madge has nothing to do with this.”

There was an angry light in Ben’s eyes.

“Well, who has, then?” he defiantly inquired.

“I have,” the other man replied.

He had not spoken before, and he seemed to enjoy the boy’s distress. He was a small man, shabbily dressed, and there was nothing about his appearance to indicate that he could be possessed of wealth.

He paused after those two words and appeared to relish prolonging the suspense.

Ben turned upon him. “What have you got to do with it?” he asked.

“I happen to be the owner of the land—and improvements.”

[Pg 148]

“But you leased it, and the lease does not expire until next November. The improvements belong to the man who leased the land and put them on it.”

“The lease expired a month ago.”

“That is false!” Ben’s indignation was so great that he could hardly speak.

“Mr. Madge told us that the lease ran for thirty-five years, and commenced in November, 1866!”

“That was the date on which the building was commenced; the lease dated from four months earlier.”

Ben turned to Mundon sick at heart. “Can’t you remember what he said when I filled in the dates?”

“He said the first pile for the buildin’ was drove in November, 1866; but he meant fur us to think that were the date of the lease, too. ’Pears like we’ve ben taken in, Ben.”

“The building belongs to me and the rubbish that’s here. I’ve paid for it[Pg 149] fairly and squarely, and it’s only right that I should be allowed to work here until November. I bought the right to do it.”

“We’re not talking about any rights now, young man, except those the law allows,” the owner remarked with a dryness that was irritating. “You can’t trespass on another man’s property to work anything.” He turned to Mundon, who was bending over the “jigger.” “Stop that! That’s mine!” he cried.

Mundon straightened himself. In his hand he held a wide-mouthed bottle partly filled with amalgam.

“No, it ain’t,” he replied. “It b’longs to this young man. He’d just about finished with his day’s work when you came in,—and it b’longs to him.”

“I’ve got the law on my side. He can’t take anything off this property—my property—now.”

“Well then,” responded Mundon, setting the bottle on the floor of the[Pg 150] “jigger,” “neither kin you. If you touch this stuff before this thing’s settled, I’ll have the law on you.”

The two men looked at each other for a moment.

Then Mundon drew Ben aside. “’Tain’t no use talkin’ to him. I know him—his name’s Fish and he’s a reg’lar old shark. Rich as anythin’—owns piles of tenements and grinds his tenants down ter their marrer bones. I saw him nosin’ ’round here on the day we made our first clean-up. The question is, What are you goin’ to do?”

“O, I don’t know!” Ben cried in despair.

The two strangers were leisurely surveying the arastra and its contents.

“Know any lawyer?” Mundon asked.


A recollection of Mr. Hale, who had been in the Collector’s office on the day of his visit, flashed before him. He[Pg 151] believed him to be the great lawyer of whom he had heard. He had appeared interested in the venture, if skeptical; and since then the scheme had proved a success. Ben was thinking very hard.

“’Cause if you do,” Mundon continued, “he might find some hole fur us to crawl out of.”

This view of the situation was humiliating, but Ben was forced to accept it.

“Stay here and watch things, while I go down town and see what can be done,” he answered. He was angrier than he had ever been in his life. The injustice of being made a victim of fraud seemed to sear his spirit like hot iron. To be tricked, cheated, and have no redress was such a monstrous wrong!

“To think,” he said to himself on his way down-town, “how I resisted the temptation not to tell old Madge my whole plan! This is the reward I[Pg 152] get for being too conscientious. I ought not to have told a soul!”

Bitter thoughts crowded fast upon him as he hurried along. He recalled a conversation he had once heard between two young men. One had said that there was not a rich man living who had acquired his wealth—unless it had been inherited—honestly and with a clear conscience. Ben had been impressed with this statement and had repeated it to his father, who had denounced it as false. “There are plenty of knaves among rich men, but there are honest men, too,” his father had said. “It must have been a poor man, envious of the wealth of others who said that thing.”

Still, Ben reflected that his father had been a poor man, credulous, trusting in all men, to his own disadvantage sometimes.

“In order to get on in the world was it necessary to deceive and cheat?” the[Pg 153] boy questioned. “No, it isn’t true!” he exclaimed aloud, causing the passers-by to regard him curiously. “I’d rather be in my place and know that I’ve done the square thing than be in his! I wouldn’t stain my immortal soul for gold!”

Sustained by this thought, he found courage to make his appeal.

Mr. Hale was in his office, and in a few words Ben told him what had happened.

“So, you’ve come to grief already, my boy,” the lawyer said. “Well, let’s see what can be done.”

He asked Ben a few questions and dispatched a messenger to the City Hall to search for the recording of the lease.

“Now, go home and wait,” he said in conclusion. “And don’t worry about it any more than you can help.”

“Thank you. About paying you, Mr. Hale,—” Ben began, but the other interrupted him.

[Pg 154]

“Never mind about that. I don’t expect any pay. I sometimes do things for pure love of humanity. Queer way to do business, isn’t it? But I made my own way in the world, boy, and I know what it is. Why, when I first went in for law, it was like climbing a greased pole backwards.”

Ben left the office with a lighter heart; as, indeed, did most people. Like them, too, he had a conviction that the lawyer would find a way out of the dilemma.

Mr. Hale had told Ben that he had no right to occupy or work the property while the injunction was pending; so he hastened back to consult with Mundon as to the best course to be pursued.

He found the latter disconsolately sitting upon the fence. The mule was tied to a post alongside, and the pair presented a sorry appearance.

The men had departed, Mundon said, after nailing up the gates.

[Pg 155]

The partners agreed to take turns in keeping guard over the premises until the result of Mr. Hale’s search was known; and it was decided that Ben should take the first night.

“It’s exasperating not to know how much there is in the amalgam. In all justice, it’s mine!” said Ben, with flashing eyes. “And I intend to watch it,—and fight for it too, if need be.”

“You’ve got to fight such mean sneaks with one weapon—and only one—and that’s the law,” remarked Mundon, carefully whittling a stick he held. “There ain’t no other way you kin git the best of ’em.” He pointed up the hillside. “There’s your cousin now. She’s ben down here askin’ after you.”

“Come out on the Point for a while, Ben,” said Beth. “It will rest you.”

With a grave face he joined her, and they slowly walked along the beach.

[Pg 156]


“I’ve met one square man, and that’s Mr. Hale,” Ben said with emphasis, after he had told her about his trouble.

“Then, you don’t think Mundon’s square?”

Ben stopped and faced her. “What have you heard?” he asked.

“They say that he was in with the smugglers and led you to discover their opium so that you’d get the reward,—and then he’d cheat you out of it.”

“What nonsense! How could he?”

“O, I don’t know,—somehow.”

“I suppose Mr. Hodges and his wife started that. What more did they say?” He stooped and picked up a smooth bit of driftwood which he flung far out into the water. “I don’t care that for their opinion!”

[Pg 157]

“They say that you’ll never get your money back; that Mr. Fish is the meanest man in town; that he won’t give you any show at all, and won’t let you take another cent out of the Works.”

“Then, they’ve heard about it already?” he asked. She nodded. “Quick work! And that it serves me right. I dare say that’s another thing they say?”

The girl’s face flushed. “Yes, they did. Mrs. Hodges was the worst. She said that Mundon was a sharper and that you were a greeny.”

“Well, it isn’t over yet.”

They walked on for a few moments in silence. Although Ben spoke up stoutly, he was very despondent.

“Tell you what I wish you’d do, Beth?” he suddenly said. “I’m going to watch to-night at the Works; and if you should hear me blow a whistle, do you blow Hodges’ as loud as you can. Three times, you know. Does he still keep one at the house?”

[Pg 158]

“Yes. Ever since he had that trouble about the land it has hung behind the kitchen door. I can easily take it up to my room.”

“All right. Your house is so near that you’d be sure to hear me. The gates are nailed up, but I can’t help feeling a little nervous. Keep what I’ve told you to yourself.”

“Do you think you will lose it all, Ben?”

“I can’t tell. I’m going to make a fight for it.”

“You’re awfully worried. I can tell by your face.”

“Well, what if I am? Most men are—most of the time. It’s life.” Beth sighed. “We’re rushed along, just as if we were on a river, and all we can do is to do the best we can. If we do that, it’s enough.”

He stopped and ground the heel of his shoe in the damp sand. “I heard a man describe it oddly once. He[Pg 159] likened life to a dog-pit. He called it an ‘arena,’ but he meant a dog-pit. And he said a man had to take hold with a bulldog’s grip to succeed. I thought it was horrible then, but somehow it comes back to me now.”

“I never saw you in fighting mood before.”

“Haven’t I had enough to make me so? To have that rich old miser take what belongs to me! It’s mine, and he knows it, and so does everybody else! And if he sneaks through this hole he’s found in the lease and takes my gold, he’s just as much a thief as if he’d broken into my house and stolen what didn’t belong to him! I don’t care if the law does back him up,—it’s dishonest trickery!”

“Maybe you won’t be a millionaire, after all.” The girl’s face wore a blank expression. Then she suddenly brightened. “But millionaires always go through this sort of thing, don’t they?[Pg 160] Mr. Palmer landed in San Francisco with only fifty cents in his pocket and chopped wood to earn his dinner. I’ve heard him tell about it lots of times. I think he’d rather talk about it than anything else in the world. Perhaps,” she glanced at Ben, “you’re too well dressed, Ben, to turn out a millionaire. Perhaps you ought to go barefooted, or, at least, wear ragged shoes first.”

Her companion smiled. “Girls are always thinking of appearances,” he said. “But I think you had better give up the hope of my being a millionaire; that’s a fairy tale. If I make a few thousand out of this,—provided I can beat this old devil-fish,—I’ll be satisfied.”

“I’d set my heart on a million,” she replied; “but if you’re satisfied, I ought to be. You think girls are funny to be always thinking of looks. How can we help it? We’re never really in[Pg 161] anything; we have to stand one side and see the boys do things.”

“Fighting, for instance,” Ben remarked.

They had retraced their steps, and were again at the entrance of the Works. Mundon still sat on the fence, thoughtfully gazing at the nailed gates. The mule was wistfully looking at them, too, with an injured air; as indeed was quite fitting in a tenant who had been evicted.

“Good-night,” said Ben. “Don’t forget.”

“I won’t,” Beth replied. Then she added in an undertone, “Don’t tell him,”—she indicated Mundon,—“that I’m going to listen.” She turned quickly away, before Ben had time to reply.

Through the long hours of the night, as Ben sat in the shadow of a wall across the street from the Works, he had plenty[Pg 162] of time for reflection. Although he had indignantly refused to believe the imputation against Mundon’s honesty, still it kept persistently recurring to him.

“Can it be possible that he was in with that smuggling gang, and that fear of personal safety made him use me as a catspaw to inform on them?” he asked himself, but dismissed this as being highly improbable. Mundon’s surprise when the opium was discovered had been too genuine to be doubted.

Besides, had he been a party to the smuggling, by exposing it he would have put an end to the business in the future, as far as he was concerned. The Custom House authorities had held a theory that he had been one of the ring, from the fact that no one came to remove the opium. As an offset to this Mundon maintained that one or more of the Government employees must have been in with the smugglers and warned them. It was a block-puzzle, [Pg 163]the pieces of which Ben placed in many different positions as the night wore on.

How long that night seemed to him! His brain was too excited to permit sleep to trouble him, and his position harassed him.

About two o’clock in the morning he saw a figure stealing along in the shadow of the building. The moon was shining and Ben could see that the man stopped and looked around, as if to make sure that he was not observed.

“He’s going to climb up and drop through that hole in the roof!” Ben said to himself. “That’s the way he got in before. I’ve got the burglar at last!”

The figure paused as if to listen, and then cautiously climbed up the rough side of the building and disappeared through the hole in the roof.

Ben decided to go around the building and enter through the opening on[Pg 164] the water side. He was obliged to climb the high bulkhead which ran out into the bay, and then he swiftly ran along the beach. Peering within, he saw the man stooping over the “jigger” and searching for its contents by the aid of a bull’s-eye lantern. He was of slight physique, and there was something about the figure that was strangely familiar. Just then the man raised his head in a listening attitude, and Ben recognized him.

“Syd!” he exclaimed. “I always knew he was a mean sneak, but I never thought he’d be a thief!”

Ben sprang toward him and grasped his arm. “That’s mine! You are stealing my gold!” he cried.

The other tried to shake off his accuser. “Let go!” he screamed.

But Ben did not relax his hold. “Not till you give me what you’ve stolen!”

“I won’t! I’ve as much right to what I find as you have,” Syd [Pg 165]doggedly replied; “and I’m goin’ to keep what I’ve got. Let go, I say!”

For answer Ben flung himself upon him.

They were about equally matched and both fought desperately. A misstep on the ground sent them sprawling among the broken bricks and rubbish.

Ben was uppermost, and soon would have vanquished his adversary, when something flashed before his eyes and he felt the thrust of a knife in his breast.

With his remaining strength he blew a blast on his police-whistle, and then a faintness overpowered him and he knew nothing more.

[Pg 166]


The house in which Beth lived was a dreary structure perched on the northern slope of the steep hill above the Works. A dispute, common in the settlement of property boundaries in California, had arisen in regard to the land on which the house stood, and in consequence it had never been painted nor the ground around it inclosed by a fence.

From the interior, however, one overlooked these deficiencies, because of the gorgeous panorama of bay, mountain, and sky that was framed by every window.

Dame Trot, as Ben called her, was the wife of Beth’s stepfather; for the girl’s own mother had died shortly after her second marriage. The home was[Pg 167] not congenial to the young girl; but as Mr. Hodges had used all the money which her mother had left, she was compelled to remain under his roof.

Sydney Chalmers was the son of the present Mrs. Hodges by a former marriage.

It was in Mr. Hodges’ house that Ben regained consciousness on the morning of the encounter at the Works.

He was conscious of a severe pain in his head and a feeling of great weakness. Some one was talking, and gradually a dim realization came to Ben that he was the subject of the conversation.

He recognized the voice of Mr. Hodges.

“He’s been trying to mine the inside of the old Smelting Works, and Fish the owner served an injunction on him yesterday, just as he was going to get the clean-up for his day’s work.”

“That’s a strange enterprise,” some[Pg 168] one replied. Ben recognized the doctor’s voice.

“Yes; I’m thinking he’s throwing his money away. ’Course he got a little gold, but in my opinion there ain’t enough in the whole shebang to pay for the mule he’s bought.”

“Then, he put money into the scheme?”

“Every cent he had in the world went into it. Crazy! Might just as well stand on the sea-wall and fling his dollars into the bay. Mine chimneys! Don’t you suppose if there was any gold in that chimney, old Madge, who leased the property, would have got it out years ago? He’s got Ben’s two hundred dollars, though; that’s what suits him better than mining soot.” He laughed at his poor witticism.

“Don’t talk about it now,” the doctor said. “He’ll come to, presently.”

Ben opened his eyes to see the doctor bending over him.

[Pg 169]

“It’s all right, my boy,” he said. “Don’t be frightened.”

Ben dimly wondered where he was. The wound in his breast was painful and he felt very weak.

He noticed that Mr. Hodges was standing at the foot of the bed and he surmised that he must have been carried to his house. He closed his eyes and tried to think over the events of the previous night.

“It wasn’t much of a knife,” the doctor said, “or it would have done more damage. When you feel able to talk,” he kindly said to Ben, “you can tell us all about it.”

The patient nodded and closed his eyes again. Everything seemed slipping from him.

“Guess there ain’t much to tell,” Hodges said gruffly. “It’s pretty certain who done it.”

Ben’s senses faintly rallied at this remark.

[Pg 170]

“Could it be possible,” he thought, “that they did not know who his assailant was?” He instantly surmised that Hodges suspected Mundon. “Syd must have made good his escape before they found me,” he mentally concluded. “What a coward!”

He lay with his eyes closed a great deal of the time and reviewed the situation. Should he expose Syd? It was hard to keep from doing so when he thought of all he had suffered at his hands. He had been such a brazen thief, too, so shameless in his villainy.

Still, by the ramifications of marriage, he occupied the relation of a brother to Beth; at least she treated him as one, and he lived under the same roof with her. Besides, his family had received Ben in his helpless state and were caring for him.

A sudden generosity pleaded with him not to expose the culprit. It was such a noble impulse, so far above the[Pg 171] standards to which he was accustomed that he was almost ashamed to follow it, and tried to belittle it by placing a value upon it. He said to himself half-contemptuously: “There wasn’t more than thirty or forty dollars in the amalgam, anyway, and that’s a low price for a reputation. When he finds out that I haven’t told on him he can return the gold. At any rate, I’m going to give him a chance.” He resolved upon this course, although it annoyed him that Mundon should be suspected, and he felt that he must exonerate the latter.

“You said just now, Mr. Hodges, that you were pretty certain who—who did this to me.”

“Yes, I did; and I am,” emphatically replied Mr. Hodges. “It’s that man Mundon you’ve been taken in by who’s done it.”

“You’re all wrong,” Ben answered. “He had nothing to do with it.”

[Pg 172]

“Where was he then? Where is he now?”

“He had to find a place for the mule; then he went down-town to sleep. Of course, he couldn’t sleep in the room we built, because the place doesn’t belong to us, they say.”

Mr. Hodges looked the doubt he felt.

“Let him give an account of himself first, Ben, before you’re too sure of his innocence.”

“He’ll come around just as soon as he hears of this.” Ben closed his eyes wearily, but suddenly opened them again. “There he is now. I can hear his voice!” he cried, as Mundon appeared.

“Well, Ben my boy, how’d this happen?” Mundon’s distress was too genuine to be doubted.

“I saw a man taking the amalgam, and I tried to stop him. We got into a fight over it and he scratched me a little; that’s all.”

[Pg 173]

“All! Isn’t it enough?” Mundon indignantly cried. “How white you are, Ben! Why, you’re almost faintin’ away now.”

“No; I’m all right,” Ben hastened to say.

“You don’t look it. What sort of a lookin’ man was he?”

Ben closed his eyes. “I don’t know. It was dark, you know.”

“’Twas bright moonlight,—and there’s a lot shines through the holes in the roof on a clear night. Ain’t you got no idee what he looked like?”

Ben shook his head.

Mundon reflected a moment. “That’s queer, Ben. You don’t tell us enough about the man for us to git hold of anything,” he said. “I’d like to git at him. You had a tussle with him, yet you don’t say whether he was fat or thin, or tall or short. We ain’t got nothin’ ter go by.”

Ben smiled faintly. “What’s the[Pg 174] use of going? We couldn’t afford to hire a detective; it would cost more than the clean-up amounted to. Besides, the fellow’s got away by this time.”

“You ’pear to take it mighty easy like. Might have killed you. I’d like ter give him a good drubbing on my own account,” said Mundon.

Hodges cast a lowering look from one to the other. He was too stubborn to relinquish at once his theory that Mundon was guilty; yet the man’s bearing and conversation were puzzling.

“He’s the boldest chap that ever lived, and Ben’s the greatest fool, or else I’m on the wrong tack,” he reflected. “I b’lieve I’ll find out whether he turned up at his hotel at three o’clock in the morning or not.”

As soon as he heard the front door close upon Mundon, Ben called out to little Jim, who hung around the bed in mute sympathy, “Where’s Syd?”

[Pg 175]

“He didn’t sleep at home last night,” the boy replied.

Mr. Hodges looked surprised, and there was an awkward pause, during which Ben thought best to close his eyes again.

“He said last night that he was goin’ to stay all night with Tom Miles, ’cause they was goin’ clammin’ early this mornin’,” Jim added.

“Then, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” his father said, as he strode from the room.

Ben’s pale cheeks had grown quite pink.

“Jim,” he said in a low voice, “will you do something for me!”


“Well, I wish you’d find out where Syd is and tell him I want to see him. You can tell him how I got hurt, and that nobody knows who did it. Tell him that the doctor says I’ll be all right in a few days.”

[Pg 176]

“Is there anything else you’d like, Ben? ’Cause if there is, I’ve got a dollar and fifty-five cents what I’m a-savin’ up to buy a ‘safety’ with, and I’d jest as soon take some of it as not.”

“No, thank you. Just do that one favor for me, and it’s all I’ll ask.”

Jim departed, and in an hour or so reported that Sydney could not be found. Tom Miles had expected to dig for clams, but as Sydney had failed to put in an appearance he had given it up. Inquiry at the store where Sydney was employed developed the fact that he had not been seen there since the evening before.

Shortly afterwards Beth and little Sue paid Ben a visit. By a few adroit questions Ben saw that they had no suspicion of Syd’s part in the night’s work.

“If you’d only made the thief give up the gold it would have been some satisfaction,” Beth said.

[Pg 177]

“Yes, that’s so. But this is only a scratch, anyway.”

“You’ll have to be careful, the doctor says.”

“I mean to be; but it frets me so to stay in bed that it does more harm than good. I want to see Mr. Hale.”

“Yes; and you want to find the robber.”

“Of course, if I can,” Ben wearily agreed. “But I sha’n’t waste much time on him.”

Ben had plenty of time for reflection during his enforced stay in bed. Ever since the day of the injunction, when Mundon had mentioned the name of the owner of the land, he had been haunted by the thought that he had known or heard something of the man before, but it was not until the second day after the robbery that it suddenly flashed upon him that he was the man of whom the mysterious Chinaman had spoken.

[Pg 178]

“Fish!” he exclaimed, and little Jim, who was hovering about his bed, was for getting him some at once.

“I was only thinking aloud,” Ben explained. “I don’t want any fish,” and added with a grim smile, “I’ve had enough of that article already.” At which Jim looked thoroughly puzzled.

“What possible connection could there have been between a band of Chinese smugglers and Mr. Fish, the wealthy miser?” Ben asked himself. “He was there on that first day, so Mundon said, and the Chinaman may have overheard something of his plans. I’ll fight him—see if I don’t, when I get out of this!”

His impatience to be able to investigate the affair increased hourly. He must see the Chinese and find out what he had meant by his strange warning.

As he had not told Mundon about the Chinaman’s offer, he decided not to tell him of his resolve to visit him.[Pg 179] Aside from his former suspicions, a love of adventure made him anxious to undertake the thing alone.

He was forced to wait a week before he was well enough to leave the house. During this time Sydney had not been heard from. His mother would not permit a public announcement to be made of his disappearance, claiming that it was probable that he had met a cousin from San Jose and had gone to that city for a visit. Whether she had any suspicion of the truth or not, Ben could not determine; but she put an end to all open speculation on the part of the family as to the whereabouts of the absent one, by emphatically declaring, “Syd’s old enough to take care of himself. He’s my flesh and blood, and so long as I don’t fret about him I don’t see as any one else needs to.”

[Pg 180]


Although Ben had been eager to go in search of his strange informer, yet when he set forth he almost regretted not having brought a companion. He knew that the address given must be in the heart of the Chinese quarter, and, like most San Francisco boys, he knew something of that dangerous locality. He had heard of the mysterious murders which at times were of almost daily occurrence; of the sick thrust into the street to die; and of the opium dens, where white people were hidden. He had heard, too, of the fierce dogs which were kept on the roofs of the houses; of secret passages leading from house to house, until the place was a vast honeycomb of runways, through which[Pg 181] the Chinese slipped like rats in their holes.

Chinatown may present a peaceful appearance in the daytime, but at night, with the weird effects caused by the many-colored lanterns, the inky recesses of the doorways, the depths of underground burrows trod by velvet-footed shadows, it is transformed into a region to strike terror to the bravest.

Perhaps a thought of these dangers induced Ben to choose broad daylight for his quest. He found the address easily enough—a house of several stories that in some earlier period of the city had been an imposing residence, but was now used by the Chinese for a fruit-canning factory. The casing of the door was plastered with gaudy bills covered with Chinese characters, and through the broken window-panes could be seen countless piles of cans.

A short flight of steps led downward from the sidewalk to a basement [Pg 182]entrance, and as Ben approached he saw a Chinese leaning against the iron balustrade. He recognized Ng Quong, with a feeling of relief that he should not be obliged to enter the house.

As Ben approached

As Ben approached he saw Ng Quong
leaning against the iron balustrade.

In this he was mistaken, for the man would not talk upon the public street, where the very gutters might have ears.

He conducted Ben through several corridors and stairways to an upper room where a number of Chinese were seated at a repast of rice and tea. Ben did not like to broach the object of his visit before such an audience, and waited until the meal was finished and the others had departed.

“You wish to rent part of your house?” his host blandly inquired.

“I haven’t any house to rent at present,” Ben replied. “I want to find out what you mean when you say Mr. Fish make me plenty trouble—you sabe?” The language used by the man was a rebuke.

[Pg 183]

“Ah, that man make you trouble already?”

“Yes, trouble enough. Come, tell me what you know about him?”

“For what object should I tell you? Perhaps, it might make me trouble.”

“You say when I have trouble come and see you. I have trouble,—I come. You tell me what you know,—I give you ten dollars.”

The Chinese regarded him with a sphinx-like stare. “O, ten dollars is not much money to me,” he remarked, indifferently. “I like to rent from you; that’s all. On that day I speak to you I go with the crowd to see what you do. I hear Mr. Fish talk to old man.”

“Old man with a big gray hat and a cane?” Ben eagerly inquired.

“Yes. I suppose those men think I not understand much English, for they not pay much attention to me. Mr. Fish say to old man that it too bad to lose so much money. They mean your[Pg 184] gold—they watch it. Then they talk about a lease; and old man say it not good any more. Mr. Fish say he will fix book at City Hall, then stop you and work for gold himself. He say he will give the old man some.”

“I can’t understand,” said Ben, “why, if the lease has expired, he should need to fix the record? Did he say anything else?”

“No; that’s all I hear.”

“Well, that’s helped me some, perhaps. Here’s your ten dollars.”

Ben paid him the money with some regret. It seemed a good deal for the information; still it might be a clue to ravel the tangle.

Suddenly there was a loud knock at the door, followed by a noisy pounding. Ben had not noticed that the door had been locked after him, and he turned to Ng Quong in surprise.

The Chinese did not respond to the summons, but hurried with an ashen[Pg 185] face through the inner door, which he closed and locked behind him. Ben heard some heavy bolts shot into place and realized that he was in a very unpleasant position.

The pounding increased, and he saw that the door could not withstand the assault much longer. Alone in a locked room, into which the police were forcing an entrance! Suddenly, it flashed into his head that his visit to the house might have been noticed; that his connection with the opium found at the Works might have strengthened the suspicions of the police and caused the raid. If this were the case, he knew it was better for him to have remained where he was than to have followed the Chinaman, even if he had been given the opportunity. In a few moments the door gave way with a crash and two policemen and several Customs officials burst into the room. Ben recognized one of the men who had been stationed to watch the Works.

[Pg 186]

“O, it’s you, is it?” the man triumphantly exclaimed. “They thought you were too innocent-looking to be in with the gang; but I knew better all the time! We’ve caught you now.”

“Caught me!” Ben indignantly repeated. “At what, I’d like to know! I came here to get some information from the proprietor of this fruit-canning factory.”

“Information! Fruit factory!” the man sneered. “That’s a likely story! This place has been under suspicion for some time as being one of the biggest opium-dens and smuggler’s storehouses in town.”

During this conversation the other men had turned everything in the room topsy-turvy. They found nothing to reward their search in the front room, and turned their attention to the door which led to the inner room. It took some little time to demolish this, and when at length they gained entrance not[Pg 187] a Chinese was to be found. One inmate they dragged forth from one of the rooms; but as there was no evidence against him, no charge could be preferred.

Ben took him by the arm. “Come home, Syd,” he said. “It’s all right,—I haven’t told a soul.”

They pushed their way through the curious crowd which had invaded the house. When they were quite away from the neighborhood, Sydney broke down.

“You’re mighty good to me, Ben,—I don’t deserve it!”

“It’s nothing at all,” Ben replied. “Isn’t your good name worth a little forbearance from one who’s known you all your life? How’d you come to be in that place?” he sharply questioned.

“I didn’t know where else to hide. I was afraid I’d killed you and I got Ng Quong to let me stay there and make out some bills and accounts for him.”

[Pg 188]

“Then, you’ve earned your keep—honestly?”

Syd looked him squarely in the face. “Yes,” he said.

Ben gave a sigh of relief. “It might have made a fuss,” he remarked.

“Why,—did they try to find me?”

“No; because your mother said she felt sure you had gone to San Jose.”

“To San Jose?” Syd repeated in surprise. After a pause he added, “Mothers are queer—sometimes.”

Ben did not reply, for he knew that Syd thought that his mother suspected the truth.

“I meant to venture out to-night, to try to find out how you were and give you your gold,” Syd continued. “Here it is.” He held out the vial. “I hope I’ll never pass such a week of torture again!”

“It has been a mean experience for us both,” Ben replied as he took the vial, “but maybe it’s done us both[Pg 189] good. I’ll keep a nugget or a lump out of this,” he held up the vial containing the amalgam, “for the scarf-pin I promised you once.”

“No, thank you, Ben; I’d rather not take it,” Syd replied.

“Just as you say,” Ben put out his hand, for they had reached the foot of the hill. Syd took the proffered hand with such a hearty grasp that Ben felt that the experience had made them better friends than they had ever been.

“That’s over, I’m thankful to say,” said Ben to himself, as he rapidly walked down the street. “And now for Mr. Hale.”

[Pg 190]


Mr. Hale was in his office, when Ben reached there; but the latter concluded that he would hear the result of the lawyer’s investigation first, reserving his bit of information until afterwards.

“Well, my boy,” said Mr. Hale, whirling around in his chair, “I’m sorry not to have better news for you.” A kind light shone in his eyes. “We’ve got a hard old customer to deal with, I’m afraid. I’ve had the records searched and the entries of the lease were found to have been duly and properly made.” He tilted back in his revolving chair and put the tips of his fingers together. “I don’t see what we’re going to do about it. We’ve run up against a stone wall, without,[Pg 191] apparently, a cranny in it. I say apparently, because one never knows what developments may turn up. It’s a case of manifest injustice, but such cases are of daily occurrence.”

“Something has turned up,” Ben said, when Mr. Hale had finished.

“Ah, so you’ve got some news. Let’s have it.”

Ben related his conversation with the Chinese.

Mr. Hale was astonished. “I can scarcely believe that that old miser would meddle with the records,” he exclaimed. “It looks very like it. Yes—if what Ng Quong says is true, Fish is a grasping old shark; but—what object could he have?” he mused.

“I’ll tell you!” exclaimed Ben. “The lease is just as he says it is. But there must have been some mistake in placing the dates on the record, and that mistake was in our favor.”

“It may be so. And the old fellow[Pg 192] was so angered in being baffled after he’d made sure that the law was on his side,—he was so angered that he went to the length of changing the figures.”

“That sounds like the truth, Mr. Hale.”

“I think you’ve struck it, Ben; but it’s such an amazing thing that it seems incredible. He’s shrewd, but he’s overreached this time. Yes. For a man of his means to tamper with the records for the sake of the money you expect to make! To what length will not money-grasping take a man!”

“What are you going to do about it, Mr. Hale?” Ben could not resist asking the question.

“I’m going to have a microscopic examination made of the records, and if what we think is so, he shall pay dearly”—he brought his fist down on the desk in front of him—“for his bad work. I’ve got several old scores to his account that I’d like to settle.”

[Pg 193]

“How long will it take?”

“To make the examination? About five minutes.”

“What a weapon it will be!”

“Exactly. But you must cultivate patience when you have anything to do with the law.”

“Do you think he’s alone in the matter? I mean do you think he did it himself?”

“No. Undoubtedly he hired some one to do it. We must find his tool.” Mr. Hale was as eager as a sportsman when he has caught sight of his game. “We can get the Grand Jury after him—if it’s true,” he gleefully added.

Ben rose.

“Then there is nothing to do at present but—”

“Wait,” supplied Mr. Hale, smiling. “Come in to-morrow at this time. I may have some news.”

Ben resolved not to tell Mundon of the new developments in the case until[Pg 194] he knew the result of Mr. Hale’s investigation. It was hard work keeping the new hope to himself. Mundon was so depressed that Ben longed to brighten him with the story of the day’s events.

On the afternoon of the following day Ben found himself impatiently awaiting Mr. Hale’s return from court.

When he caught sight of the latter’s beaming face he knew that the result was favorable.

“It’s all right, my boy,” the lawyer exclaimed. “It’s just as we thought. I’ll have you mining again, before you’re many days older.”

“The dates had been changed?” Ben’s voice was a little uncertain.

“Yes—and a bad, bungling job they made of it, too. I’m surprised my clerk didn’t notice it in the first place. But, of course, he wasn’t looking for such sharp work as that. By the way, I told a reporter on the Gazette—you know they keep a man around[Pg 195] the City Hall on the lookout for news—who came to see what my expert was about.”

“Then it’ll be in the papers.”

“Well, I told him all he wanted to know. You’re not afraid of the papers, are you?”

“No,—I’ve done nothing that I’m ashamed of.”

“Exactly. To-morrow morning Mr. Fish’s large circle of enemies will read with pleasure that he has been caught at last.”

“There’s another reason why I’m glad the whole story’s going into print.”

“About that opium business?”

“Yes. I think it will clear me from any suspicion of being connected with the ring. I’d like the real reason to be known for my being in Ng Quong’s house.”

“Well, ’twill be now.”

Ben went straight from the lawyer’s office to Mundon. The latter was [Pg 196]looking more disconsolate than ever. Even the mule seemed to have caught his state of abject misery.

“I’ve just ben thinkin’ how I could get out of this old town,” Mundon said. “If I could manage to get to Cripple Creek, I’d be able to get on my feet again.”

Ben did not reply, and Mundon glanced at his face.

“Why, Ben, you look as you’d heard some good news.”

“So I have, partner, mighty good news. Wo-o-w!” He flung his cap above their heads. “We’re going to beat that muckery pair, Fish and Madge, sure’s you’re born!”

“Either you’ve gone plumb crazy, Ben, or else— Tell me ’bout it, boy! How’d you down ’em?”

During the recital of the story, Mundon gave Ben a keen glance when he came to the part relating to Ng Quong.

It was an awkward moment for both;[Pg 197] and Ben regretted his silence at the time the incident occurred.

“You forgot to mention the Chinaman’s visit at the time,” Mundon remarked. “But time’ll tell, Ben, and I ain’t never ben afraid of time.”

On the day following the investigation, the Gazette published the story of the “Smelting Works Claim.”

Ben read the account aloud to Mundon, sitting on the fence outside the Works. Of course, in the tale, Ben was made a hero and Mr. Fish a double-dyed villain.

“They haven’t got him black enough to suit me,” said Mundon, fiercely whittling the stick he held. “I hope they’ll paint him blacker and blacker every day for a year.”

There were two items of news in the article, however, that Ben had not foreseen,—the simultaneous disappearance[Pg 198] of Mr. Fish and one of the clerks in the City Hall.

“Now that there’s no one here to stop us, I’d like to smash open those gates and finish our work.”

Mundon shook his fist at the gates, which glowered back at him. “I’ve ben turnin’ over in my mind all that there slag that’s under the old wharf. I b’lieve there’s heaps of copper and lead buried there.”

“No wonder you’ve been depressed—with all that on your mind,” commented Ben. “I’m to know to-day just how long it will be before the injunction can be raised. Mr. Hale says this hard-luck story of ours will hurry things—it’s going to create sympathy for our case.”

“Well, it oughter. Say, Ben, just let me drop through that hole in the roof and do a little work on the quiet?” Ben shook his head. “’Twon’t do no harm. You kin set here and watch.”

[Pg 199]

“No, Mundon, not for a million!”

“How easy it is to talk about refusin’ a million—when you’re young!”

“This thing’s going to be square on my part. I’ve made up my mind to stick to that,” Ben answered. “Hello! That boy looks like Mr. Hale’s office boy.”

He sprang down from the fence and tore open the envelope which the boy gave him.

“Hurrah! Mundon—we’ve won!” Ben cried. “It’s ours, and you can smash those gates as soon as you please!”

Mundon slid down from his perch and, seizing a piece of scantling, struck the old gates a mighty blow that started the nails from the wood.

“There!” he said. “That does me good! I’ve wanted to smash ’em ever since those smarties came and nailed ’em up.”

[Pg 200]


Within the Works they found everything, with the exception of the amalgam which Syd had taken, exactly as they had left it. Mundon was particularly pleased to find the “jigger” undisturbed.

“Here’s the slag I mean, Ben. I’ve dreamt about that there identical lump fur three nights runnin’.” Mundon pointed to the rugged top of a lava-like bowlder, which reared itself from a corner of the earthen floor.

“I guess you’re right about the metals there are in it,” said Ben; “but it might be an aerolite for all I know.”

“What’s that? Say it again.”

“An aerolite? It’s the lump of metal they find when a meteor falls and it’s unlike anything found on this earth.”

[Pg 201]

“O, a fallin’ star. I knew a man who wrote some poetry about one that fell in Australia. He called it ‘stardust,’ but I s’pose a hard-as-nails professor would call it—by the name that you do.” While speaking, Mundon was surveying the ground.

“I’ve got a scheme, Ben, to grade all this stuff ’cordin’ to its value.”

“How do mean?”

“Why we’ve had ’sperience enough to see that’d be the best way to economize our time and labor. We’ll assay it and grade it till we know ’bout where we stand.”

“It’ll be an awful lot of work to do it.”

“Yes, it’ll be tejus, but it’ll pay better in the end. We’ll—if you say so, Ben, ’course it’s your own business; but I’m jest tellin’ you how I’d do if ’twere mine—we’ll sep’rate the stuff ’cordin’ to size first, and then ’cordin’ to value.”

[Pg 202]

“It’s a good plan. Don’t defer to me any more—you idiot! It makes me feel so mean when you do it. You know as well as I do that I don’t know the first thing about this business.”

“You’re the boss, Ben,” Mundon laconically replied.

“I don’t doubt that the slag and muck and all the rest of it are valuable,” said Ben; “but the chimney—our golden chimney—is the thing we’re sure of now. Maybe the day’s cleanup ’ll be more, or maybe it’ll be less, but we know it’ll be gold!”

“You’re right—we’ve tested that and we’re sure of it. But we mustn’t despise the rest, on that account. Now, here’s where the roaster stood—it must hev stood here, ’cause it couldn’t hev stood any place else. Well, I’m goin’ to sink a shaft here.” Mundon stooped as he spoke, and with his pocket-knife he dug a small hole, from which he unearthed several small lumps of metal.

[Pg 203]

“Just as I thought,” he said as he weighed them in his hand,—“lead ore that’ll assay heavy in silver.”

“Then, there are those dumps,—made when the furnaces were put in, you thought. We haven’t touched those yet.”

“You mean outside, where the old fence stood?”

“Yes. Why, just look here.” Ben drew Mundon outside the gates to where some mounds rose from the beach. “It’s my opinion that this board that’s nailed on the fence here, opposite these heaps, was put here to mark them.”

“They’re heaps of waste, most likely. Somethin’ ’s ben scratched into the wood. Let’s see what it is.”

They carefully examined the board, and Ben deciphered the inscription, “Waste Bullion.”

“Just think!” he cried, “that old Madge has let this pile of stuff that’s[Pg 204] one third solid silver, maybe, stay here all these years! And Mr. Fish, close as he is, too,” he added. “It’s awfully funny!”

“It ain’t funny that Fish didn’t do nothin’ with it, ’cause he’s the kind that just collects rents and forecloses mortgages. He wouldn’t put up a cent in any venture like this; he’d call it oncertain. But old Madge is a born miner. Well, it is funny. He’ll be wild.”

“There used to be a shed inside the old fence, in a sort of an outside yard,” Ben remarked, “but they both fell down years ago.”

“That so?” Mundon replied, as he stooped and carefully examined the ground. “Yes, here’s the posts the shed rested on. We’ll excavate five or six feet deep here, on the site of the old shed. It’s bound to pay us fur our trouble.”

[Pg 205]

“After it’s been all these years on the open beach?”

“What’s that got to do with it? Nobody’s ever mined here. It stands to reason that they’d hev stored more val’able stuff in the shed than they would in the open. And there’s the signboard, a-tellin’ us that these dumps are waste bullion.”

During the weeks that followed their return to their claim the partners worked industriously. They sifted the result of their labors in three dumps, graded according to value. The first was coarse base bullion, which assayed at two hundred dollars a ton. One piece, the largest, weighed about twenty pounds; the smallest pieces were the size of peas. The second pile consisted of fine bullion, its component particles ranging in size from a pea to a pinhead. This assayed at one hundred and fifty dollars a ton. A third pile averaged from[Pg 206] seventy-five dollars to one hundred dollars a ton. The total product of this, representing a week’s work, they estimated to be about seventeen hundred dollars.

The site of the old shed was excavated, and water was brought to the spot in a flume; for Mundon thought best to wash the ground in a rocker before putting it through the “jigger.”

The result amply repaid them for their trouble.

“This beats me! Rockin’ on the beach of San Francisco and makin’ our two and three hundred dollars a day,” said Mundon, one day as they were digging several feet below the surface.

Rockin on the beach of San Francisco

‘Rockin’ on the beach of San Francisco and makin’
our two and three hundred a day,’ said Mundon.

“It beats anything I ever heard of,” Ben replied; “but I’m willing it should.”

Ben worked so hard during the day that he was too tired when night came to do anything but go to bed as quickly as possible.

[Pg 207]

One Sunday afternoon he paid a visit to Beth. He had not seen her for some time, and was anxious to know what progress she was making at school. She saw him coming and came running to meet him.

“Will you walk out to the Point, Ben?”

“Yes. We don’t do any work on Sunday.”

“Well, it’s come true, Beth,” he said when they were well away from the house; “most of it has, at any rate.”

“O, I’m so glad!”

“We’re far enough along now to form a pretty correct figure of what there is in sight, and we’ve got four weeks more to work in.”

“How much will you make?”

“Well, how much do you guess?”

“O, I don’t know,” the girl earnestly replied. “You say it’s come true, and you must mean your fortune we used to talk about; so I guess you’re not[Pg 208] disappointed. Everybody’s so curious to know what you’re making.”

“They can keep on being curious. I had enough of people’s curiosity before,” he grimly added. “The work on the beach we have to do outside, but we don’t allow a soul inside the gates now.”

“I know you don’t; and they say the reason is that you’re not cleaning up anything and don’t want any one to know it.”

Ben gave a dry laugh. “Or else we don’t want any one to know how much we’re making. Why wouldn’t it work that way?”

“It would,” said Beth. “Do tell me, Ben; I’m just dying to know! How much will it be?”

“From ten to twelve thousand dollars.”

“What! You don’t really mean it?”

“Indeed I do. But you mustn’t tell yet a while.”

[Pg 209]

When they reached the house on their return, Mrs. Hodges awaited them in the doorway.

“Found any nuggets, Ben?” she facetiously remarked.

“No,” he laughed. “That yarn about finding them in chimneys was a fairy tale, I think. But we’ve found the stuff to make them out of, which answers our purpose quite as well.”

Her husband looked over her shoulder.

“If the lease was never recorded, or was done wrong, Ben, couldn’t Fish oust you if he wanted to?”

“I suppose he could, strictly speaking,” Ben replied. “But, you see, he overreached. He played a mean, dishonest trick in having a false entry made in the record, and now he doesn’t dare to come back for fear of being arrested.”

“But he’ll come back some time when the thing’s blown over.”

[Pg 210]

“Well, I’ll be through with the Works by that time,” Ben remarked as he bade them good-night.

When the last day came it was with considerable regret that the partners made preparations to leave the Works forever.

“I don’t want to stay one day longer than the time I’m entitled to,” said Ben. “It’s paid us well for our work, but I wouldn’t care to go through it all again.”

“It has been sort of a worrisome job,” Mundon replied. “Still it’s big pay. Seven thousand dollars for a boy like you to make in three months! Besides, there’s worry in all sorts of business, and a man’s jest got to make the best out of it,” he philosophically added. “Do you know, Ben,—now that it’s all over, I kin tell you,—I know there was a time when you mistrusted me; not exactly mistrusted, either, but[Pg 211] you had the thoughts out of which mistrust is made. O, you needn’t say you didn’t,” he exclaimed as Ben made a gesture of dissent. “I knew jest as well as if you’d told me so that you did. I ain’t a-holdin’ it up agin you, neither. I know how many there was to put sech things into your head agin a stranger, like I was.”

“Well, I didn’t let them stay there, Mundon. I trusted you all through.”

They heartily shook hands.

“I b’lieve you did, boy; I b’lieve you did. It’s ben a tough job, though, in places. What with the smugglin’ business, and your gettin’ cut, and the injunction, too. But takin’ it all through, jest lumpin’ it, you don’t regret it, do you?”

“No,” Ben replied. “We got through by the skin of our teeth, in places,” he continued. “It was a chance, though, that I didn’t lose every cent I had in the world. It was just the merest [Pg 212]accident that that Chinaman overheard those two rascals and put us on their track. Besides, we weren’t dead sure—we couldn’t be—that there was any gold in the old ramshackle Works when I bought them. It’s too much like gambling to suit me. I’m not saying a word against your going into whatever you want to, but, for myself, I’m going to choose something that’s slower and surer.”

“Made up your mind, yet, what it’ll be?”

“Yes,—I’m going to Berkeley,—to college—to fit myself to be a mining engineer.”

“That’s the very best thing you can do.”

“I’m glad that you approve. You see, I’ve got money enough to carry me through; and if I’ve got brains enough, too, I’m all right.”

“Goin’ to stick to minin’—I see.”

[Pg 213]

“Yes, Mundon, but with this difference, I’m going to equip myself to mine for others—I needn’t mine for myself unless I choose to.”

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