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How Tom Connor Went Boring For Oil








From: The Boys Of Crawford's Basin

One thing was plain at any rate: we could do nothing towards finding the
source of the underground stream until the snow cleared off the
mountain, and that was likely to be later than usual this year, for the
fall had been exceedingly heavy in the higher parts. We could see from
the ranch that many of the familiar hollows were obliterated--leveled
off by the great masses of snow which had drifted into them and filled
them up.

We therefore went about our work of hauling stone, and so continued
while the cold weather lasted, interrupted only once by a heavy storm
about the end of January, which, while it added another two feet to the
thick blanket of snow already covering the mountains, quickly melted off
down in the snug hollow where the ranch lay, so that our work was not
delayed more than two or three days.

One advantage to us of this storm was that it enabled us to learn
something--not much, certainly, but still something--regarding the
source of the stream in the fissure. It did not show us where that
source was, but it proved to us pretty clearly where it was not.

On the morning of the storm, Joe, at breakfast-time, turning to my
father, said:

"Wouldn't it be a good plan to go and measure the flow of the water down
in the crevice, Mr. Crawford? We might be able to find out, by watching
its rise and fall, whether the melting of the snow on the Second Mesa,
or on the foot-hills beyond, or on the mountain itself affects it most."

"That's a very good idea, Joe," my father replied. "Yes; as soon as we
have fed the stock you can make a measuring-stick and go up there; and
what's more, you had better make a practice of measuring it every day.
The increase or decrease of the flow might be an important guide as to
where it comes from."

This we did, and thereby ascertained pretty conclusively that the source
was nowhere on the Second Mesa, for in the course of a couple of weeks
the heavy fall of new snow covering that wide stretch of country melted
off without making any perceptible difference in the volume of the
stream.

Though there were several other falls of snow up in the mountains later
in the season, this was the last one of any consequence down on the
mesas. The winter was about over as far as we were concerned, and by the
middle of the next month, the surface of "the bottomless forty rods"
beginning to soften again, the freighters, who had been coming our way
ever since the early part of November, deserted us and once more went
back to the hill road--to our mutual regret. For a few days longer the
stage-coach kept to our road, but very soon it, too, abandoned us, after
which, except for an occasional horseback-rider, we had scarcely a
passer-by.

As was natural, we greatly missed this constant coming and going, though
we should have missed it a good deal more but for the fact that with the
softening of the ground our spring work began, when, Marsden's cattle
having been removed by their owner, Joe and I started plowing for oats.
With the prospect of a steady season's work before us, we entered upon
our labors with enthusiasm. We had never felt so "fit" before, for our
long spell of stone-hauling had put us into such good trim that we were
in condition to tackle anything.

At the same time, we did not forget our underground stream, keeping
strict watch upon it as the snow-line retreated up the foot-hills of
Mount Lincoln. But though one of us visited the stream every day, taking
careful measurement of the flow, we could not see that it had increased
at all. The intake must be either high on the mountain, or, as I had
suggested, the spring must come up through the sandstone underlying the
Second Mesa and was therefore not affected by the running off of the
snow-water on the surface.

As the town of Sulphide was so situated that its inhabitants could not
see Mount Lincoln on account of a big spur of Elkhorn Mountain which cut
off their view, any one in that town wishing to find out how the snow
was going off on the former mountain was obliged to ride down in our
direction about three miles in order to get a sight of it.

Tom Connor, having neither the time to spare nor the money to spend on
horse-hire, could not do this for himself, but, knowing that the
mountain was visible to us any day and all day, he had requested us to
notify him when the foot-hills began to get bare. This time had now
arrived--it was then towards the end of March--and my father
consequently wrote to Tom, telling him so; at the same time inviting him
to come down to us and make his start from the ranch whenever he was
ready.

To our great surprise, we received a reply from him next afternoon,
brought down by young Seth Appleby, the widow Appleby's ten-year-old
boy, in which he stated that he could not start just yet as he was out
of funds, but that he was hoping to raise one hundred and fifty dollars
by a mortgage on his little house, which would be all he would need, and
more, to keep him going for the summer.

"Why, what's the meaning of this!" exclaimed my father, when he had read
the letter. "How does Tom come to be out of funds at this time of year?
He's been at work all winter at high wages and he ought to have saved up
quite a tidy sum--in fact, he was counting on doing so. What's the
matter, I wonder? Did he tell you anything about it, Seth?"

"No," replied the youngster, "he didn't tell me, but he did tell mother,
and then mother, she asked all the miners who come to our store, and
they told her all about it. It was mother that sent me down with the
letter, and she told me I was to be sure and 'splain all about it to
you."

"That was kind of Mrs. Appleby," said my father. "But come in, Seth, and
have something to eat, and then you can give us your mother's message."

Seated at the table, with a big loaf, a plate of honey and a pitcher of
milk before him, young Seth, after he had taken off the fine edge of a
remarkably healthy appetite, related to us between bites the story he
had been sent down to tell. It was a long and complicated story as he
told it, and even when it was finished we could not be quite sure that
we had it right; but supposing that we had, it came to this:

Tom had worked faithfully on the Pelican, never having missed a day, and
had earned a very considerable sum of money, of which he had, with
commendable--and, for him, unusual--discretion, invested the greater
part in a little house, putting by one hundred and fifty dollars for his
own use during the coming summer. The fund reserved would have been
sufficient to see him through the prospecting season had he stuck to
it; but this was just what he had not done.

Two years before, a friend of his had been killed in one of the mines by
that most frequent of accidents: picking out a missed shot; since which
time the widow, a bustling, hearty Irishwoman, had supported herself and
her five children. But during the changeable weather of early spring,
Mrs. Murphy had been taken down with a severe attack of pneumonia--a
disease particularly dangerous at high altitudes--and distress reigned
in the family. As a matter of course, Tom, ever on the lookout to do
somebody a good turn, at once hopped in and took charge of everything;
providing a doctor and a nurse for his old friend's widow, and seeing
that the children wanted for nothing; and all with such success that he
brought his patient triumphantly out of her sickness; while as for
himself, when he modestly retired from the fray, he found that he was
just as poor as he had been at the beginning of winter.

It is not to be supposed, however, that this worried Tom. Not a bit of
it. It was unlucky, of course, but as it could not be helped there was
no more to be said; and so long as he owned that house of his he could
always raise one hundred and fifty dollars on it--it was worth three or
four times as much, at least.

As the prospecting season was now approaching, he therefore let it be
known that he desired to raise this money, and then quietly went on with
his work again, feeling confident that some one would presently make his
appearance, cash in hand, anxious to secure so good a loan. Up to that
morning, Seth believed, the expected capitalist had not turned up.

As the boy finished his story, and--with a sigh at having reached his
capacity--his meal as well, my father rose from his chair, exclaiming:

"What a good fellow that is! When it comes to practical charity, Tom
Connor leads us all. In fact, he is in a class by himself:--There is no
Tom but Tom, and"--smiling at the little messenger--"Seth Appleby is his
prophet--on this occasion."

At which Seth opened his eyes, wondering what on earth my father was
talking about.

"Now, I'll tell you what we'll do," the latter continued. "Seth says his
mother wants another thousand pounds of potatoes; so you shall take
them up this afternoon, Phil; have a good talk with her; find out the
rights of this matter; and then, if there is anything we can do to help,
we can do it understandingly."

I was very glad to do this, and with Seth on the seat beside me and his
pony tied behind the wagon, away I went.

As I had permission to stay in town over night if I liked, and as Mrs.
Appleby urged me to do so, saying that I could share Seth's room, I
decided to accept her offer, and after supper we were seated in the
store talking over Tom Connor's affairs--which I found to be just about
as Seth had described them--when who should burst in upon us but Tom
himself. Evidently my presence was a surprise to him, for on seeing me
he exclaimed:

"Hallo, Phil! You here! Got my message, did you?"

"Yes," I replied, "we got it all right; and very much astonished we
were."

Forthwith I tackled him on the subject, and though at first Tom was
disposed to be evasive in his answers, finding that I had all the facts,
he at length admitted the truth of the story.

"But, bless you!" cried he. "That's nothing. I can raise a hundred and
fifty easy enough on my house and pay it off again next winter, so
there's nothing to fuss about. And now, ma'am," turning to Mrs. Appleby,
and abruptly cutting off any further discussion of the topic, "now,
ma'am, I'll give you a little order for groceries, if you please--which
was what I came in for."

So saying, he took a scrap of paper out of his pocket and proceeded to
read out item after item: flour and bacon, molasses and dried apples, a
little tea and a great deal of coffee, and so on, and so on, until at
last he crumpled up his list between his two big hands, saying:

"There! And we'll top off with a gallon of coal oil, if you please."

"Ah," said the widow, laying down her pencil--she was a slight, nervous
little woman--"I was afraid you'd come to coal oil presently. I haven't
a pint of it in the house."

"Well, that's a pity," said her customer. "Then I suppose I'll have to
go down to Yetmore's for coal oil after all."

"Yes, Yetmore can let you have it, I know," replied the widow, in a
tone of voice which caused us both to look at her inquiringly.

"He's got a barrel of it," she continued. "A whole barrel of
it--belonging to me."

"Eh! What's that?" cried Tom. "Belonging to you?"

"Yes. And he won't give it up. You see, it was this way. I ordered a
barrel from the wholesale people in San Remo, and they sent it up two
days ago. Here's the bill of lading. 'One barrel coal oil, No. 668, by
Slaughter's freight line.' The freighters made a mistake and delivered
it at Yetmore's, and now he won't give it up."

"Won't, eh!" cried Tom, with sudden heat. "We'll just look into that."

"It's no use," interposed Mrs. Appleby, holding up her hand
deprecatingly. "You can't take it by force; and I've tried persuasion.
He's got my barrel; there's no mistake about that, because Seth went
down and identified the number; but he says he ordered a barrel himself
from the same firm and it isn't his fault if they didn't put the right
number on."

"Well, that's coming it pretty strong," said Tom, indignantly.

"Yes, and it's hard on me," replied the widow, "because people come in
here for coal oil, and when they find I haven't any they go off to
Yetmore's, and of course he gets the rest of their order. I might go to
law," she added, "but I can't afford that; and by the time my case was
settled Yetmore's barrel will have arrived and he'll send it over here
and pretend to be sorry for the mistake."

"I see. Well, ma'am, you put me down for a gallon of coal oil just the
same, and get my order together as soon as you like. I'm going out now
to take a bit of a stroll around town."

Though he spoke calmly, the big miner was, in fact, swelling with wrath
at the widow's tale of petty tyranny. Without saying a word more to her,
and forgetting my existence, apparently, he marched off down the street
with the determination of going into Yetmore's and denouncing the
storekeeper before his customers. But, no sooner had he come within
sight of the store than he suddenly changed his mind.

"Ho, ho!" he laughed, stopping short and shoving his hands deep into his
pockets. "Ho, ho! Here's a game! He keeps it in the back end of the
store, I know. I'll just meander in and prospect a bit."

The store was a long, plainly-constructed building, such as may be seen
in plenty in any Colorado mining camp, standing on the hillside with its
back to the creek. In front its foundation was level with the street,
but in the rear it was supported upon posts four feet high, leaving a
large vacant space beneath--a favorite "roosting" place for pigs. It was
the sight of these four-foot posts which caused the widow's champion so
suddenly to change his mind.

To tell the truth, Tom Connor, in spite of his forty years, was no more
than an overgrown boy, in whose simple character the love of justice and
the love of fun jostled each other for first place. He believed he had
discovered an opportunity to "take a rise" out of Yetmore and at the
same time to compel the misappropriator of other people's goods to
restore the widow's property. That the contemplated act might savor of
illegality did not trouble him--did not occur to him, in fact. He was
sure that he had justice on his side, and that was enough for him.

Full of his idea, Tom walked into the store, where he found Yetmore
very busy serving customers, for it was near closing time, and to an
inquiry as to what he wanted, he replied:

"Nothing just now, thank ye. I'll just mosey around and take a look at
things."

To this Yetmore nodded assent; for though he and the miner had no
affection for each other, they were outwardly on good terms, and it was
no unusual thing for Tom to come into the store.

Connor "moseyed" accordingly, and kept on "moseying" until he reached
the back of the building, and there, standing upright against the rear
wall, was the barrel, and beside it, mounted on a chair, a putty-faced
boy, a stranger to Tom, who was busy boring a hole in the top of it.

"Trade pretty brisk?" inquired Connor, sauntering up.

"You bet," replied the youth, laconically.

"What does '668' stand for?" asked the miner, tapping the top of the
barrel with his finger.

"That's the number of the barrel," was the reply. "The wholesalers down
in San Remo always cut a number in their barrels when they send 'em
out."

"Your boss must be a right smart business man to run a 'stablishment
like this," remarked Tom, after a pause, glancing about the store.

"That's what," replied the boy, admiringly. "You'll have to get up early
to get around the boss. Why, this barrel here----" He stopped short, as
though suddenly remembering the value of silence, and screwing up one
eye as if to indicate that he could tell things if he liked, he added,
"Well, when the boss gets his hands on a thing he don't let go easy, I
tell you that."

"Ah! Smart fellow, the boss."

"You bet," remarked the youth once more.

All this time Tom had been taking notes. The thin, unplastered wall of
the store was constructed of upright planks with battens over the
joints. It was pierced with one window; and Tom noted that between the
edge of the window and the centre of the barrel were four boards. He
noted also that the barrel stood firm and square upon the floor and that
the floor itself was water-tight.

While he was making these observations, the boy finished his boring
operation and having inserted a vent-peg in the hole, walked off. As
soon as he was out of sight, Tom stepped up to the barrel, pulled out
the vent-peg, dropped it into his pocket, and having done so, sauntered
leisurely up the store again and went out.

For a little while he hung around on the other side of the street and
presently he had the satisfaction of seeing the lights in the store
extinguished, soon after which Yetmore came out and locking the door
behind him, walked away to his house.

"Ah! So the putty-faced boy sleeps in the store, does he?" remarked Tom
to himself; a conclusion in which he was confirmed when he saw a candle
lighted and the boy making up his bed under the counter. A few minutes
later the candle was blown out, when Tom set off briskly up the street
for the widow's store.

He found Mrs. Appleby and Seth tidying up preparatory to closing the
store, and stepping in, he said, "You don't take in lodgers, I suppose,
ma'am? I'm intending to stay down town to-night."

"No, we don't," replied the widow. "The house is not large enough. But
if you've nowhere to sleep, you're welcome to make up a bed on the
floor--I can let you have some blankets."

"Thank ye, ma'am, I'll be glad to do it, if you please."

Accordingly, after the widow had retired up-stairs to her room and Seth
and I to ours, Tom spread his blankets on the floor and went to bed
himself.

All was dark and silent when, at one o'clock in the morning, Tom sat up
in bed, and after fumbling about for a minute, found a match and lighted
a candle.

"Have to get up early to get around the boss, eh?" said he to himself,
with a chuckle. "Wonder if this is early enough."

In his stocking-feet he walked to the back door and opened it wide.
After pausing for an instant to listen, he came back, and lifting the
empty oil barrel from its stand he carried it outside. Next he selected
two buckets, and having reached down from a high shelf a large funnel,
an auger and a faucet, he carried them and his boots into the back yard,
and having locked the door behind him, walked off into the darkness.

In a short time he reappeared, leading a horse, to which was harnessed a
low wood-sled. Upon this sled he firmly lashed the barrel, and gathering
up the other implements he took the horse by the bridle and led him
away down the silent street; for the town of Sulphide as yet boasted
neither a lighting system nor a police force--or, rather, the police
force was accustomed to betake himself to bed with the rest of the
community--so Tom had the dark and empty street entirely to himself.

In a few minutes he drew up at the rear of Yetmore's store, where,
leaving the horse standing, he proceeded to count four planks from the
edge of the window. Having marked the right plank, he took the auger,
and crawling beneath the store, set to work boring a hole up through the
floor. Presently the auger broke through, coming with a thump against
the bottom of the barrel above, when Tom withdrew the instrument, and
taking out his knife enlarged the hole considerably.

So far, so good. Next he set a bucket beneath the hole, took the faucet
between his teeth in order to have it handy, and inserting the auger, he
set to, boring a hole in the bottom of the barrel. Soon the tool popped
through, when Tom hastily substituted the faucet, which he drove firmly
in with a blow of his horny palm.

The putty-faced boy inside the store stirred in his blankets, muttered
something about "them pigs," and went to sleep again.

Tom waited a moment to listen, and then drew off a bucket of oil. As
soon as this was full he replaced it with the other bucket and emptied
the first one into the barrel on the sled. This process he repeated
until the oil began to dribble, when he carefully knocked out the
faucet, and having collected his tools and emptied the last bucket into
the barrel, he again took the horse by the bridle and silently led him
away.

Arrived once more in the widow's back yard, Tom unshipped the barrel and
went off to restore the horse to its stable. He soon returned, and
having unlocked the back door and re-lighted his candle, he proceeded to
get the barrel into the house and back upon its stand; a work of immense
labor, rendered all the harder by the necessity of keeping silence. Tom
was a man of great strength, however, and at last he had the
satisfaction of seeing the barrel once more in its place without having
heard a sound from the sleepers overhead. Having washed the buckets and
tools, he put them back where they came from, locked the door, and for
the second time that night went to bed.

It was about half-past six in the morning that Tom, happening to look
out of the front window, saw Yetmore coming hurriedly up the street,
like a hound following the trail of the sled. Stepping to the little
window at the rear, Tom peeped out and saw the storekeeper enter the
back yard, walk to the spot where the sled had stopped, and stand for a
minute examining the marks in the soil. Having apparently satisfied
himself, he turned about and went off down the street again.

"What's he going to do about it, I wonder?" said Tom to himself. "Reckon
I'll just mosey down to the store and see."

As he heard Seth coming down the stairs, he unlocked the front door and
stepping outside, walked down to Yetmore's.

"Morning," said he, cheerfully. "It's a bit early for customers, I
suppose, but I'm in a hurry this morning and I'd like to know whether
you can let me have a gallon of coal oil."

"Sorry to say I can't," replied the storekeeper. "Our only barrel sprang
a leak last night and every drop ran out."

"You don't say!" exclaimed Tom, with an air of concern. "Then I suppose
I'll have to go up to the widow Appleby's. She's got plenty, I know."

As he said this he looked hard at Yetmore, who in turn looked hard at
him.

"Maybe," said the storekeeper presently, "maybe you know something about
that leak?"

Tom nodded. "I do," said he. "I know all about it; and I'm the only
one that does. I know the whole story, too, from one end to the other.
The widow has got her barrel of oil; and you and I can make a sort of a
guess as to how she got it. As to your barrel, it unfortunately sprung a
leak. Is that the story?"

Yetmore stood for a minute glowering at the big miner, and then said,
shortly, "That's the story."

"All right," replied Tom; and turning on his heel, he went out.





Next: Tom's Second Window

Previous: The Underground Stream



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