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Yetmore's Mistake








From: The Boys Of Crawford's Basin

Three months had elapsed when Tom Connor turned up one day with a very
long face. All his drilling had brought no result; he was at the end of
his tether; he could see no possible chance of ever repaying the
borrowed money, and so, said he, would my father take his interest in
the drill in settlement of the debt?

Very reluctantly my father consented--for what did he want with a
one-third share in a core-drill?--whereupon Tom, the load of debt being
off his mind, brightened up again in an instant--he was a most mercurial
fellow--and forthwith he fell to begging my father's consent to his
making one more attempt--just one. He was sure of striking it this time,
he had studied the formation carefully and he had selected a spot where
the chances of disappointment were, as he declared, "next-to-nothing."

My father knew Tom well enough to know that he had been just as sure
twenty times before, but Tom was so eager and so plausible that at last
he agreed that he should sink one more hole--but no more.

"And mind you, Tom," said he, "I won't spend more than fifty dollars;
that is the very utmost I can afford, and I believe I am only throwing
that away. But I'll spend fifty just to satisfy you--but that's all,
mind you."

"Fifty dollars!" exclaimed Tom. "Fifty! Bless you, that'll be more than
enough. Twenty ought to do it. I'm going to make your fortune for twenty
dollars, Mr. Crawford, and glad of the chance. You've treated me
'white,' and the more I can make for you the better I'll be pleased.
Inside of a week I'll be coming back here with a lead-mine in my
pocket--you see if I don't."

"All right, Tom," said my father, laughing, as he shook hands with him.
"I shall be glad to have it, even if it is only a pocket edition. So,
good-bye, old man, and good luck to you."

It was two days after this that my father at breakfast time turned to us
and said:

"Boys, how would you like to take your ponies and go and see Tom Connor
at work? There is not much to do on the ranch just now, and an outing of
two or three days will do you good."

Needless to say, we jumped at the chance, and as soon as we could get
off, away we went, delighted at the prospect of making an expedition
into the mountains.

The place where Tom was at work was thirty miles beyond Sulphide, a long
ride, nearly all up hill, and it was not till towards sunset that we
approached his camp. As we did so, a very surprising sight met our gaze:
three men, close together, with their backs to us, down on their hands
and knees, like Mahomedans saying their prayers.

"What are they up to?" asked Joe. "Have they lost something?"

At this moment, my horse's hoof striking a stone caused the three men to
look up. One was Connor, one was his helper, and the other, to our
surprise, was Yetmore.

Connor sprang to his feet and ran towards us, crying:

"What did I tell you, boys! What did I tell you! Get off your ponies,
quick, and come and see!"

He was wild with excitement.

We slid from our horses, and joining the other two, went down on our
knees beside them. Upon the ground before them lay the object of their
worship: a "core" from the drill, neatly pieced together, about eight
feet long and something less than an inch in diameter. Of this core,
four feet or more at one end and about half a foot at the other was
composed of some kind of stone, but in between, for a length of three
feet and an inch or two, it was all smooth, shining lead-ore.

Tom Connor had struck it, and no mistake!

"Tom," said Yetmore, as we all rose to our feet again, "this looks
like a pretty fair strike; but you've got to remember that we know
nothing about the extent of the vein--one hole doesn't prove much. It is
three feet thick at this particular point, but it may be only three
inches five feet away; and as to its length and breadth, why, that's all
pure speculation. All the same I'm ready to make a deal with you. I'll
buy your interest or I'll sell you mine. What do you say?"

"What's the use of that kind of talk?" growled Connor. "You know I
haven't a cent to my name. Besides, I haven't any interest."

"You--what!--you haven't any interest!" cried the other. "What do you
mean?"

"I've sold it."

"Sold it! Who to?"

"To Mr. Crawford, two days ago."

"Well, you are a----" Yetmore began; but catching sight of Tom's
glowering face he stopped and substituted, "Well, I'm sorry to hear it."

"Well, I ain't," said Tom, shortly. "If Mr. Crawford makes a fortune out
of it I'll be mighty well pleased. He's treated me 'white,' he has."

From the tone and manner of this remark it was easy to guess that Tom
did not love Mr. Yetmore: he had found him a difficult partner to get
along with, probably.

"I certainly hope he will," said Yetmore, smiling, "for if he does I
shall. Sold it to Mr. Crawford, eh? So that accounts for you two boys
being up here. Got here just in time, didn't you? You'll stay over
to-morrow, of course, and see Tom uncover the vein?"

"Are you proposing to uncover it, Tom?" I asked.

"Yes. It's only four feet down; one shot will do it. You'll stay too, I
suppose, Mr. Yetmore?"

"Certainly," replied the other. But as he said it, I saw a change come
over his face--it was a leathery face, with a large, long nose. Some
idea had occurred to him I was sure, especially when, seeing that I was
looking at him, he dropped his eyes, as though fearing they might betray
him.

Whatever the idea might be, however, I ceased to think of it when Tom
suggested that it was getting late and that we had better adjourn to the
cabin for supper.

Taking our ponies over to the log stable, therefore, we gave them a good
feed of oats, and soon afterwards were ourselves seated before a
steaming hot meal of ham, bread and coffee; after which we spent an hour
talking over the great strike, and then, crawling into the bunks, we
very quickly fell asleep.

Early next morning we walked about half a mile up the mountain to the
scene of the strike, when, having first shoveled away two or three feet
of loose stuff, Tom and his helper set to work, one holding the drill
and the other plying the hammer, drilling a hole a little to one side of
the spot whence the core had come.

They were no more than well started when Yetmore, remarking that he had
forgotten his tobacco, walked back to the cabin to get it--an action to
which Joe and I, being interested in the drilling, paid little
attention. It was only when Connor, turning to select a fresh drill,
asked where he was, that we remembered how long he had been gone.

"Gone back to the cabin, has he?" remarked Tom. "Well, he's welcome to
stay there as far as I'm concerned."

The work went on, until presently Tom declared that they had gone deep
enough, and while we others cleared away the tools, Connor himself
loaded and tamped the hole.

"Now, get out of the way!" cried he; and while we ran off and hid behind
convenient trees, Tom struck a match and lighted the fuse. The dull thud
of an explosion shortly followed; but on walking back to the spot we
were all greatly surprised to see that the rock had remained intact--it
was as solid as ever.

"Well, that beats all!" exclaimed Tom. "The thing has shot downward; it
must be hollow underneath. We'll have to put in some short holes and
crack it up."

It did not take long to put in three short holes, and these being
charged and tamped, we once more took refuge behind the trees while Tom
touched them off. This time there were three sharp explosions, a shower
of fragments rattled through the branches above our heads, and on going
to inspect the result we found that the rock had been so shattered that
it was an easy matter to pry out the pieces with pick and crowbar--a
task of which Joe and I did our share.

At length, the hole being now about three feet deep, Joe, who was
working with a crowbar, gave a mighty prod at a loose piece of rock,
when, to the astonishment of himself and everybody else, the bottom of
the hole fell through, and rock, crowbar and all, disappeared into the
cavity beneath.

"Well, what kind of a vein is it, anyhow?" cried Tom, going down upon
his knees and peering into the darkness. "Blest if there isn't a sort of
cave down here. Knock out some more, boys, and let me get down. This is
the queerest thing I've struck in a long time."

We soon had the hole sufficiently enlarged, when, by means of a rope
attached to a tree, Tom slid down into it, and lighting a candle, peered
about.

Poor old Tom! The change on his face would have been ludicrous had we
not felt so sorry for him, when, looking up at us he said in lugubrious
tones: "Done again, boys! Come down and see for yourselves."

We quickly slid down the rope, when, our eyes having become accustomed
to the light, Tom pointed out to us the extraordinary accident that had
caused him to believe he had struck a three-foot vein of galena.

Though there was no sign of such a thing on the surface, it was evident
that the place in which we stood had at one time been a narrow,
water-worn gully in the mountain-side. Ages ago there had been a
landslide, filling the little gully with enormous boulders. That these
rocks came from the vein of the Samson higher up the mountain was also
pretty certain, for among them was one pear-shaped boulder of galena
ore, standing upright, upon the apex of which rested the immense
four-foot slab of stone through which Tom had bored his drill-hole. By a
chance that was truly marvelous, the drill, after piercing the great
slab, had struck the very point of the galena boulder and had gone
through it from end to end, so that when the core came up it was no
wonder that even Tom, experienced miner though he was, should have been
deceived into the belief that he had discovered a three-foot vein of
lead-ore.

As a matter of fact, there was no vein at all--just one single chunk of
galena, not worth the trouble of getting it out. Connor's lead-mine
after all had turned out to be only a "pocket edition."

Tom's disappointment was naturally extreme, but, as usual, his low
spirits were only momentary. We had hardly climbed up out of the hole
again when he suddenly burst out laughing.

"Ho, ho, ho!" he went, slapping his leg. "What will Yetmore say? I'm
sorry, Phil, that I couldn't keep my promise to your father, but I'll
own up that as far as Yetmore is concerned I'm rather glad. I don't like
the Honorable Simon, and that's a fact. What's he doing down at the
cabin all this time, I wonder. Come! Let's gather up the tools and go
down there: there's nothing more to be done here."

On arriving at the cabin, Yetmore's non-appearance was at once
explained. Fastened to the table with a fork was a piece of paper, upon
which was written in pencil, "Gone to look for the horses."

Of course, Joe and I at once ran over to the stable. It was empty; all
three of the horses were gone.

"Queer," remarked Joe. "I feel sure I tied mine securely, but you see
halters and all are gone."

"Yes," I replied. "And I should have relied upon our ponies' staying
even if they had not been tied up; you know what good camp horses they
are. Let's go out and see which way they went."

We made a cast all round the stable, and presently Joe called out, "Here
they are, all three of them." I thought he had found the horses, but it
was only their tracks he had discovered, which with much difficulty we
followed over the stony ground, until, after half an hour of careful
trailing, they led us to the dusty road some distance below camp, where
they were plainly visible.

"Our ponies have followed Yetmore's horse," said Joe, after a brief
inspection. "Do you see, Phil, they tread in his tracks all the time?"

For the tracks left by our own ponies were easily distinguishable from
those of Yetmore's big horse, our animals being unshod.

"What puzzles me though, Joe," said I, "is that there are no marks of
the halter-ropes trailing in the dust; and yet they went off with their
halters."

"That's true. I don't understand it. And there's another thing, Phil:
Yetmore hasn't got on their trail yet, apparently; see, the marks of his
boots don't show anywhere. He must be wandering in the woods still."

"I suppose so. Well, let us go on and see if they haven't stopped to
feed somewhere."

We went on for half a mile when we came to a spot where the tracks
puzzled us still more. For the first time a man's footmarks appeared.
That they were Yetmore's I knew, for I had noticed the pattern of the
nails in the soles of his boots as he had sat with his feet resting on a
chair the night before. But where had he dropped from so suddenly? We
could find no tracks on either side of the road--though certainly the
ground was stony and would not take an impression easily--yet here they
were all at once right on top of the horses' hoof-prints.

Moreover, his appearance seemed to have been the signal for a new
arrangement in the position of the horses, for our ponies had here taken
the lead, while Yetmore's horse came treading in their tracks.
Moreover, again, twenty yards farther on, the horses had all broken into
a gallop. What did it mean?

"Well, this is a puzzler!" exclaimed Joe, taking off his hat and
rumpling his hair, as his habit was in such circumstances. "How do you
figure it out, Phil?"

"Why," said I. "I'll tell you what I think. Yetmore has caught sight of
the horses strolling down the road and has followed them, keeping away
from the road himself for fear they should see him and take alarm.
Dodging through the scrub-oak and cutting across corners, he has come
near enough to them to speak to his own horse; the horse has stopped and
Yetmore has caught him. That was where his tracks first showed in the
road. Then he has jumped upon his horse and galloped after our ponies,
which appear to have bolted."

"That sounds reasonable," Joe assented; "and in that case he'll head
them and drive them back; so we may as well walk up to the cabin again
and wait for him."

To this I agreed, and we therefore turned round and retraced our steps.

"There's only one thing about this that I can't understand," remarked
Joe, as we trudged up the hill, "and that is about the halters--why they
leave no trail. That does beat me."

"Yes, that is certainly a queer thing; unless they managed to scrape
them off against the trees before they took to the road. In that case,
though, we ought to have found them; and anyhow it is hard to believe
that all three horses should have done the same thing."

We found Tom very busy packing up when we reached the cabin, and on our
telling him the result of our horse-hunt he merely nodded, saying,
"Well, they'll be back soon, I suppose, and then I'll ride down with
you."

"Why, are you going to quit, Tom?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied. "Your father limited me to one more hole, you
remember, and if I know him he'll stick to it; and as to working any
longer for Yetmore, no thank you; I've had enough of it."

So saying, Tom, who had already cleaned and put away the tools, began
tumbling his scanty wardrobe into a gunny-sack, and this being done, he
turned to us and said:

"I've got a pony out at pasture about a mile up the valley. I'll go and
bring him down; and while I'm gone you might as well pitch in and get
dinner ready. You needn't provide for Sandy Yates: he's gone off already
to see if he can get a job up at the Samson."

Sandy Yates was the helper.

In an hour or less Tom was back and we were seated at dinner, without
Yetmore, who had not yet turned up, when the conversation naturally fell
upon the subject of the runaway horses. We related to Tom how we had
trailed them through the woods down to the road, told him of the sudden
appearance of Yetmore's tracks, and how the horses had then set off at a
run, followed by Yetmore.

"But the thing I cannot understand," said Joe, harking back to the old
subject, "is why the halter-ropes don't show in the dust."

"Don't they?" exclaimed Tom, suddenly sitting bolt upright and clapping
his knife and fork down upon the table. "Don't they? Just you wait a
minute."

With that he jumped up, strode out of the cabin, and went straight
across to the stable. In two minutes he was back again, and standing in
the doorway, with his hands in his pockets, he said:

"Boys, I've got another surprise for you: Yetmore's saddle's gone!"

"His saddle gone!" I exclaimed. "Is that why you went to the stable? Did
you expect to find it gone?"

"That's just what I did."

"You did! Why?"

Without replying directly, Tom came in, sat down, and leaning his elbows
on the table, said, with a quiet chuckle, the meaning of which we could
not understand:

"Should you like to know, boys, what Yetmore did when he came down for
his tobacco this morning? He went to the stable, saddled his horse,
untied your two ponies and led them out. Then he mounted his horse and
taking the halter-ropes in his hand he led your ponies by a roundabout
way through the woods down to the road. After leading them at a walk
along the road for half a mile he dismounted--that was where his tracks
showed--and either took off the halters and threw them away, or what is
more likely, tied them up around the ponies' necks so that they
shouldn't step on them. Then he mounted again and went off at a gallop,
driving your ponies ahead of him."

As Tom concluded, he leaned back in his chair, bubbling with suppressed
merriment, until the sight of our round-eyed wonder was too much for him
and he burst into uproarious laughter, which was so infectious that we
could not help joining in, though the cause of it was a perfect mystery
to us both.

At length, when he had laughed himself out, he leaned forward again, and
rubbing the tears out of his eyes with the back of his hand, he said:

"Can't you guess, boys, why Yetmore has gone off with your horses?"

I shook my head. "No," said I, "unless he wants to steal them, and he'd
hardly do that, I suppose."

"No; anyhow not in such a bare-faced way as that. What he's after is to
make you boys walk home."

"Make us walk home!" cried Joe. "What should he want to do that for?"

Tom grinned, and in reply, said: "Yetmore thought that as soon as we
uncovered that fine three-foot vein of galena you would be for getting
your ponies and galloping off home to tell Mr. Crawford of the great
strike, and as he wanted to get there first he stole your
ponies--temporarily--to make sure of doing it."

"But why should he want to get there first?" I asked. "You are talking
in riddles, Tom, and we haven't the key."

"No, I know you haven't. You don't know Yetmore. I do. He's gone down to
buy your father's share in the claim for next-to-nothing before he hears
of the strike!"

The whole thing was plain and clear now; and the hilarity of our friend,
Connor, was explained. He had no liking for Yetmore, as we have seen,
and it delighted him immeasurably to think of that too astute gentleman
rushing off to buy my father's share of a valuable mine, and, if he
succeeded, finding himself the owner of a worthless boulder instead.

For myself, I was much puzzled how to act. Naturally, I felt pretty
indignant at Yetmore's action, and it seemed to me that if, in trying to
cheat my father, he should only succeed in cheating himself, it would be
no more than just that he should be allowed to do so. But at the same
time I thought that my father ought to be informed of the state of the
case as soon as possible--he, not I, was the one to judge--and so,
turning to Connor, I asked him to lend me his pony so that I might set
off at once.

"What! And spoil the deal!" cried Connor; and at first he was disposed
to refuse. But on consideration, he added: "Well, perhaps you're right.
Your father's an honest man, if ever there was one, and I doubt if he'd
let even a man like Yetmore cheat himself if he could help it; and so I
suppose you must go and tell him the particulars as soon as you can. All
I hope is that he will have made his deal before you get there. Yes, you
can take the pony."

But it was not necessary to borrow Connor's steed after all, for when we
stepped outside the cabin, there were our own ponies coming up the road.
The halters were fastened up round their necks, and they showed evident
signs of having been run hard some time during the morning. Presumably
Yetmore had abandoned them somewhere on the road and they had walked
leisurely back.

"Well, boys," said Connor, "we may as well all start together now; but
as your ponies have had a good morning's work already, we can't expect
to make the whole distance this evening. We'll stop over night at
Thornburg's, twenty miles down, and go on again first thing in the
morning."

This we did, and by ten o'clock we reached home, where the first person
we encountered was my father.

"Well, Tom," he cried, as the miner slipped down from his horse. "So you
made a strike, did you?"

At this Tom opened his eyes pretty widely. "How did you know?" he asked.

"I didn't know," my father replied, smiling, "but I guessed. Does it
amount to much?"

"Well, no, I can't say it does," Tom replied, as he covered his mouth
with his hand to hide the grin which would come to the surface.
"Yetmore's been here, I suppose?" he added, inquiringly.

"Yes, he has," answered my father, surprised in his turn. "Why do you
ask?"

"Oh, I just thought he might have, that's all."

"Yes, he was here yesterday afternoon. I sold him my one-third share."

"Did you?" asked Tom, eagerly. "I hope you got a good price."

"Yes, I made a very satisfactory bargain. I traded my share for his
thirty acres here, so that now, at last, I own the whole of Crawford's
Basin, I'm glad to say."

"Bully!" cried Tom, clapping his hands together with a report which made
his pony shy. "That's great! Tell us about it, Mr. Crawford."

"Why, Yetmore rode in yesterday afternoon, as I told you, on his way to
town--he said. But I rather suspected the truth of his statement. He had
come in a desperate hurry, for his horse was in a lather, and if he was
in such haste to get to town, why did he waste time talking to me, as he
did for twenty minutes? But when, just as he was starting off again, he
turned back and asked me if I wanted to sell my share in the drill and
claim, I knew that that was what he had come about, and I had a strong
suspicion that he had heard of a strike of some sort and was trying to
get the better of me. So when he asked what I wanted for my share, I
said I would take his thirty acres, and in spite of his protestations
that I was asking far too much, I stuck to it. The final result was that
I rode on with him to town, where we exchanged deeds and the bargain was
completed."

"That's great!" exclaimed Connor once more, rubbing his hands. "And now
I'll tell you our part of the story."

When he had finished, my father stood thinking for a minute, and then
said: "Well, the deal will have to stand. Yetmore believed we had a
three-foot vein of galena, and it is perfectly evident that he meant to
get my share out of me at a trifling price before I was aware of its
value. It was a shabby trick. If he had dealt squarely with me, I would
have offered to give him back his deed, but, as it is, I shan't. The
deal will have to stand."

Thus it was that my father became sole owner of Crawford's Basin.





Next: Lost In The Clouds

Previous: Crawford's Basin



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