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The Ore-theft








From: The Boys Of Crawford's Basin

At half past five next morning Joe and I slipped out of bed, leaving Tom
Connor, who had to go to work again at seven, still fast asleep. While
Joe quietly prepared breakfast, I went out to examine by daylight the
scene of last night's explosion.

The first discovery I made was the imprint in the mud of footsteps, half
obliterated by the rain. The tracks were very large and very far apart,
proving that the owner of the boots that made them was a big man, and
that he had gone off at a great pace; a discovery which tended to
confirm in my mind Tom's guess that it was indeed Long John who had done
the mischief.

At this moment the tenant of the house next to the east came out--Hughy
Hughes was his name; a Welshman--and as he walked towards me I saw him
stoop to pick up something.

"That was a rascally piece of work, wasn't it?" said he, as he joined
me. "Scared us 'most to death, it did. See, here's the fuse he used. I
just picked it up; fifteen feet of it. Wonder who the fellow was. Pretty
state of things when folks take to blowing up each other's houses. Like
enough Yetmore has his enemies, but it's a pretty mean enemy as 'd try
to get even by any such scalawag trick as this."

This speech enlightened me as to what would be the general theory
regarding the outrage. It would be set down as an act of revenge on the
part of some enemy of Yetmore's; and so Tom and Joe thought, too, when I
went back to the house and told them about it.

"That'll be the theory, all right," said Tom. "And as far as I see, we
may as well let it go at that. We have no evidence to present, and it
would look rather like malice on our part if we were to charge Long John
with blowing his best friend's house to pieces just because we happen to
suspect him of it. And so, I guess, boys, we may as well lay low for the
present: we shan't do any good by putting forward our own theories.

"I dare say," he went on, after a moment's reflection, "I dare say, if
we were to go around telling what we thought and why we thought it, we
might influence public opinion; but, when you come to think of it, we
have no real proof; so we'll just hold our tongues. Are you in a hurry
to get home?"

"No," I replied. "We shan't be able to plow for two days at the very
least, so there is nothing to hurry home for."

"Well, then," said Tom, "I'll tell you what I wish you'd do. I must go
back to work in a few minutes, but I wish you two would go down town and
hear what folks have to say about this business, and then come back here
and have dinner with me at twelve. Will you?"

"All right," said I. "We'll do that."

We found the town in a great state of excitement. Everybody was talking
about the explosion, which, as the newspaper said, "would cast a blight
upon the fair fame of Sulphide." Yetmore's store was crowded with
people, shaking hands with him and expressing their indignation at the
outrage; the universal opinion being, as we had anticipated, that some
miscreant had done it out of revenge.

Joe and I, squeezing in with the rest, presently found ourselves near
the counter, when Yetmore, catching my eye, nodded to me and said:

"How are you, Phil? I didn't know you were in town."

"Yes," said I, "we came in last evening and spent the night in Tom
Connor's house."

Yetmore started and turned pale.

"In Tom Connor's house?" he repeated, huskily.

"Yes," I replied. "We were asleep in his back room when that explosion
woke us up."

At this Yetmore stared at me for a moment, and then, as he realized how
narrowly he had missed being party to a murder, he turned a dreadful
white color, staggered, and I believe might have fallen had he not sat
himself down quickly upon a sack of potatoes.

A draft of water soon brought back his color, when, addressing the
sympathizing crowd, Yetmore said:

"It made me feel a bit sick to think what chances these boys ran last
night. Every one knows how hard it is to tell those houses apart; and
that fellow might easily have made a mistake and blown up Tom Connor's
house on one side or Hughy Hughes' on the other."

"Yes," said I; "and all the more so as Joe and I last evening put a
second window into Tom's house, so that any one coming across lots
after dark might just as well have taken Tom's house for old Snyder's."

"Phew!" whistled one of the men in the crowd. "Then it's Hughy Hughes
that's to be congratulated. If that rascal had made such a mistake,
and had chosen the second house from Tom's instead of the second house
from Snyder's we'd have been making arrangements for six funerals about
now. Hughy has four children, hasn't he?"

I could not help feeling sorry for Yetmore. Convinced as I was that he
had at least connived in a plot to destroy Tom's house, I felt sure that
he had been far from intending personal injury to any one; and I felt
sure, too, that he was thoroughly sincere, when, rising from his seat
and addressing the assemblage, he said:

"Men, I'm sorry to lose my house, of course--that goes without
saying--but when I think of what might have happened it doesn't trouble
me that much"--snapping his finger and thumb. "I tell you, men, I'm
downright thankful it was my house that was blown up and nobody
else's."

As he said this he looked at Joe and me, and I felt convinced that it
was to us and not to the assembled throng that he addressed his remark.
The people, however, not knowing what we did, loudly applauded the
magnanimity of the sentiment, and many of them pressed forward to shake
hands again.

Yetmore had never been so popular as he was at that moment. Everybody
sympathized with him over his loss; everybody admired the dignified way
in which he accepted it; and everybody would have been delighted to hear
that some compensating piece of good fortune had befallen him.

Strange to say, at that very moment that very thing happened.

Suddenly we were all attracted by a distant shouting up the street.
Looking through the front window, we saw that all the people outside had
turned and were gazing in that direction. By one impulse everybody in
the store surged out through the doorways, when we saw, still some
distance away, a man running down the middle of the street, waving his
cap and shouting some words we could not distinguish. We were all on
tiptoe with expectation.

At length the man approached, broke through the group, ran up to
Yetmore, who was standing on his door-step, shook hands with him, and
then turning round, he shouted out:

"Great strike in the Pelican, boys! In the old workings above the
fifth--Yetmore's lease. One of those pockets of tellurium that's never
been known to run less than twenty thousand to the ton. Hooray for
Yetmore!"

The shout that went up was genuinely hearty. Once more the mayor was
mobbed by his enthusiastic fellow citizens and once more he shook hands
till his arm ached--during which proceeding Joe and I slipped away.

We had not gone far when I heard my name called, and turning round I saw
a man on horseback who handed me a letter.

"I've just come up through your place," said he, "and your father asked
me to give you this if I should see you."

The note was to the effect that the rain had been heavy on the ranch, no
plowing was possible, and so we were to stay in town that day and come
down on the morrow after the mail from the south came in, as he was
expecting an important letter, and it would thus save another trip up
and down.

We were glad enough to do this, so, making our way up the street past
the knots of people, all talking over and over again the two exciting
topics of the day, we retraced our steps to Tom's house, where we got
ready the dinner against Tom's return. Shortly after twelve he came in,
when we related to him what we had learned in town; demanding in our
turn particulars of the great strike.

"It's a rich strike, all right," said Tom, "but there isn't much of
it--about five hundred pounds--just a pocket, and not a very large one.
But it is very rich stuff, carrying over three thousand ounces of silver
and a thousand of gold to the ton. The five hundred pounds should be
worth ten or twelve dollars a pound. They've found the same stuff
several times before in the Pelican, always unexpectedly and always in
pockets."

"Then," remarked Joe, "Yetmore will have made, perhaps, six thousand
dollars this morning."

"No, no," said Tom; "he won't have done anything of the sort; though I
don't wonder you should think so after the way the people have been
carrying on down town. They've just been led away by their enthusiasm.
Most of 'em know the terms of Yetmore's lease well enough, but they have
forgotten them for the moment. Yetmore pays the company a certain
percentage of all the ore he gets out, and it is specially provided in
the lease that should he come upon any of the well-known tellurium ore,
the company is to have three-fifths of the proceeds and Yetmore only
two-fifths. He'll make a good thing out of it though, anyway."

"You say there's about five hundred pounds of the ore: have they taken
it all out already?" asked Joe.

"Yes, taken it out, sorted it, sacked it in little fifty-pound sacks,
sewed up the sacks and piled them in one of the drifts, all ready to
ship down to San Remo to-morrow by express."

"Why do they leave it in the mine?" I asked. "Is it safer than taking it
down to the express office?"

"Yes: it would be pretty difficult to steal it out of the mine, with all
the lights going and all the miners about, whereas, if it was just
stacked in the express office, somebody might----"

"Somebody might cut a hole in the floor and drop it through," remarked
Joe, laughing.

"That's so," said Tom, adding, "I tell you what it is, boys: I begin to
think I wasn't quite so smart as I thought I was when I got back that
coal oil for the widow. I wouldn't wonder a particle if it wasn't just
that that decided Yetmore to come and blow my house to smithereens."

"I shouldn't either," said Joe.

Tom having departed to his work again, Joe and I once more went into
town, where we spent the time going about, listening to the talk of the
people, who were still standing in groups on the street corners,
discussing the great events of the day.

But if the people were excited, as they certainly were, their excitement
was a mere flutter in comparison with the storm which swept over the
community next morning.

The ten sacks of high-grade ore had been stolen during the night!

The news came down about eight o'clock in the morning, when, at once,
and with one accord, all the men in the place who could get away swarmed
up to the Pelican--we among them.

The thief, whoever he was, was evidently familiar with the workings of
the mine, for, going round into Stony Gulch, he had forced the door at
the exit of the old tunnel, cutting out the staple with auger and saw,
and then, clambering through the disused, waste-encumbered drifts, he
had carried out the little sacks one by one and made away with them
somehow.

Wrapping his feet in old rags in order to disguise his foot-prints, he
had taken the sacks of ore across the gulch to the stony ground beyond,
where his boots would leave no impression, and there all trace of him
was lost. Whether he had buried the sacks somewhere near by, or, if not,
how he had managed to spirit them away, were matters of general
speculation; though to most minds the question was settled when one of
Yetmore's clerks came hastily up to the mine and called out that the
roan pony and the two-wheeled delivery cart, used to carry packages up
to the mines, were missing. The thief, seemingly, had not only stolen
Yetmore's ore, but had borrowed Yetmore's horse and cart to convey it
away.

If this were true, it proved that the thief must have an intimate
knowledge of the country, for, in spite of the heavy rain of the night
before, not a sign of a wheel-mark was there to be found: the cart had
been conducted over the rocks with such skill as to leave no trace
whatever. Cart, pony, ore and thief had vanished as completely as though
the earth had opened and swallowed them.

At first everybody sympathized with Yetmore over his loss, but presently
an ugly rumor began to get about when people bethought them of the terms
of the lease. Those who did not like the storekeeper, and they were not
a few, began to pull long faces, nudge each other with their elbows, and
whisper together that perhaps Yetmore knew more of this matter than he
pretended.

Joe and I were at a loss to understand what they were driving at, until
one man, more malicious or less discreet than the others, spoke up.

"How are we to know," said he, "that Yetmore didn't steal this ore
himself? Three-fifths of it belongs to the company--he'd make a mighty
good thing by it. I'm not saying he did do it, but----"

He ended with a closing of one eye and a sideways jerk of his head more
expressive than words.

"Oh, that's ridiculous!" Joe blurted out. "Yetmore isn't
over-scrupulous, I dare say, but he's a long way from being a fool, and
he'd never make such a blunder as to steal the ore and then use his own
horse and cart to carry it off."

"Well, I don't know," said the man. "It might be just a trick of his to
put folks off the scent."

And though Joe and I, for our part, felt sure that Yetmore had had
nothing to do with it, we found that many people shared this man's
suspicions; the consequence being that the mayor's popularity of the day
before waned again as suddenly as it had arisen.

In the midst of this excitement the mail-coach from the south came in,
when Joe and I, carrying with us the expected letter for my father, set
off home again; little suspecting--as how should we suspect--that the
ore-thief, whoever he might be, was about to render us a service of
greater value by far than the ore and the cart and the pony combined.

We were jogging along on the homeward road, and were just rounding the
spur of Elkhorn Mountain which divided our valley from Sulphide, when
Joe suddenly laid his hand on my arm and cried: "Pull up, Phil. Stop a
minute."

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Get down and come back a few steps," Joe answered; and on my joining
him, he pointed out to me in a sandy patch at the mouth of a steep draw
coming in from the left, some deeply-indented wheel-marks.

"Well, what of that, Joe?" said I, laughing. "Are you thinking you've
found the trail of the ore-thief?"

"No," Joe replied, "I'm not jumping at any such conclusion; but, at the
same time, it's possible. If the ore-thief started northward from the
Pelican, and the chances are he did, for we know he carried the sacks
across to the north side of Stony Gulch, this would be the natural place
for him to come down into the road; for it is plain to any one that he
could never get a loaded cart--or an empty one either, for that
matter--over the rocky ridge which crowns this spur. If he was making
his way north, he had to get into the road sooner or later, and this
gully was his last chance to come down."

"That's true," I assented; "and this cart--it's a two-wheeler, you
see--was heavily loaded. Look how it cuts into the sand."

"Yes," said Joe; "and it was drawn by one smallish horse, led by a man;
a big man, too: look at his tracks."

"But the ore-thief, Joe, had his feet wrapped up in rags, and these are
the marks of a number twelve boot."

"Well, you don't suppose the thief would walk over this rough mountain
with his feet wrapped up in rags, do you? In the dark, too. They'd be
catching against everything. No; he would take off the rags as soon as
he reached hard ground and throw them into the cart; for it is not to be
expected either that he would leave them lying on his trail to show
people which way he had gone."

"No, of course not. But which way did he go, Joe; across the road or
down it?"

"Down it. See. The wheel-tracks bear to the left. And if you want
evidence that he came down in the dark, here you are. Look how one wheel
skidded over this half-buried, water-worn boulder and slid off and
scraped the spokes against this projecting rock. Look at the blue paint
it left on the rock."

"Blue paint!" I cried. "Joe, Yetmore's cart was painted blue! I remember
it very well. A very strongly-built cart, as it had to be to scramble up
those rough roads that lead to the mines, painted blue with black
trimmings. Joe, I begin to believe this is the ore-thief, after all."

"It does look like it. But where was he going? Not down to the smelter
at San Remo, surely."

"Not he," I replied. "He would know better than that. The smelter has
undoubtedly been notified of the robbery by this time, and the character
of the Pelican tellurium is so well known that any one offering any of
it for sale would have to give a very clear story as to how he came by
it. No; this fellow will have to hide or bury the ore and leave it lying
till he thinks the robbery is forgotten; and even then he will probably
have to dispose of it at a distance in small lots or broken up very fine
and mixed with other ore."

"In that case," said Joe, "we shall find his trail leaving the road
again on one side or the other."

"I expect so. We'll keep a lookout. But come on, now, Joe: we mustn't
delay any longer."

The road had been traveled over by several vehicles since last night,
and the trail of the cart was undistinguishable with any certainty until
we had passed the point where the highway branched off to the right to
go down to San Remo; after which it appeared again, apparently headed
straight for the ranch.

"Do you suppose he can have crossed our valley, Phil?" asked my
companion.

"No, I expect not," I replied. "Keep your eyes open; we shall find the
tracks going off to one side or the other pretty soon--to the left most
likely, for the best hiding-places would be up in the mountains."

Sure enough, after traversing a bare, rocky stretch of road, we found
that the tracks no longer showed ahead of us. The man had taken
advantage of the hard ground to turn off. Pulling up our ponies, we both
jumped to the ground once more, and going back a short distance, we made
a cast on the western side of the road. In a few minutes Joe called out:

"Here we are, Phil! See! The wheel touched the edge of this little sandy
spot, and if you look ahead about forty yards you'll see where it ran
over an ant-hill. It seems as though he were heading for our canyon. Do
you think that's likely?"

"Yes," I replied. "I think it is very likely. There is one place where
he can get down, you remember, and then, by following up the bed of the
stream for a short distance he will come to a draw which will lead him
to the top of the Second Mesa--just the place he would make for. For, to
any one knowing the country, as he evidently does, there would be a
thousand good hiding-places in which to stow away ten small sacks of
ore--you might search for years and not find them."

"Yes," said Joe. "But there's the horse and cart, Phil. How will he
dispose of them?"

"Oh, that will be easy enough. He would tumble the cart into some canyon,
perhaps, turn loose the horse, and be back in Sulphide before morning.
But come on, Joe. We really mustn't waste any more time; it's getting on
for six now."

It was fortunate we did not delay any longer, for we found my father
anxiously pacing up and down the room, wondering what was keeping us.
Without heeding our explanation at the moment, he hastily tore open the
letter we had brought, read it through, and then stepping to the foot of
the stairs, called out:

"Get your things on, mother. We must start at once. The train leaves at
seven forty-five. There's no time to lose."

Turning to us, he went on: "Boys, I have to go to Denver. I may be gone
five or six days--can't tell how long. I leave you in charge. If you can
get at the plowing, go ahead; but I'm afraid you won't have the chance.
If I'm not mistaken, there's another rain coming--wettest season I
remember. Joe, run out and hitch up the big bay to the buckboard. Phil,
you will have to drive down to San Remo with us and bring back the rig.
Go in and get some supper now; it's all ready on the table."

In ten minutes we were off, I sitting on a little trunk at the back of
the carriage, explaining to my father over his shoulder as we drove
along the events of the last two days, and how it was we had taken so
much time coming down from Sulphide.

"It certainly does look as though the thief had come down this way,"
said he; "and though we are not personally concerned in the matter, I
think one of you ought to ride up to Sulphide again on Monday and give
your information. Hunt up Tom Connor and tell him. And I believe"--he
paused to consider--"yes, I believe I would tell Yetmore, too. I'm sure
he is not concerned in this robbery; and I'm even more sure that if he
was a party to the blowing up of that house, he never intended any harm
to you. Yes, I think I'd tell Yetmore. It will prove to him that we bear
him no ill-will, and may have a good effect."

Having seen them off on the train, I turned homeward again, going
slowly, for the clouds were low and it was very dark. The consequence
was that it was nearly ten by the time I reached the ranch, and before I
did so the rain was coming down hard once more.

"Wet night, Joe," said I, as I pulled off my overcoat. "No plowing for a
week, I'm afraid."

"I expect not," replied my companion. "It isn't often we have to
complain of too much rain in Colorado, but we are certainly getting an
over supply just now. There's one man, though, who'll be glad of it."

"Who's that?"

"That ore-thief. It will wash out his tracks completely."





Next: The Snow-slide

Previous: Tom Connor's Scare



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