It was the green heart of the canyon, where the walls swerved back from the
rigid plan and relieved their harshness of line by making a little sheltered
nook and filling it to the brim with sweetness and roundness and softness.
Here all things rested. Even the narrow stream ceased its turbulent down-rush
long enough to form a quiet pool. Knee-deep in the water, with drooping head
and half-shut eyes, drowsed a red-coated, many-antlered buck.
On one side, beginning at the very lip of the pool, was a tiny meadow, a cool,
resilient surface of green that extended to the base of the frowning wall.
Beyond the pool a gentle slope of earth ran up and up to meet the opposing
wall. Fine grass covered the slope--grass that was spangled with flowers, with
here and there patches of color, orange and purple and golden. Below, the
canyon was shut in. There was no view. The walls leaned together abruptly and
the canyon ended in a chaos of rocks, moss-covered and hidden by a green
screen of vines and creepers and boughs of trees. Up the canyon rose far hills
and peaks, the big foothills, pine-covered and remote. And far beyond, like
clouds upon the border of the slay, towered minarets of white, where the
Sierra's eternal snows flashed austerely the blazes of the sun.
There was no dust in the canyon. The leaves and flowers were clean and
virginal. The grass was young velvet. Over the pool three cottonwoods sent
their scurvy fluffs fluttering down the quiet air. On the slope the blossoms
of the wine-wooded manzanita filled the air with springtime odors, while the
leaves, wise with experience, were already beginning their vertical twist
against the coming aridity of summer. In the open spaces on the slope, beyond
the farthest shadow-reach of the manzanita, poised the mariposa lilies, like
so many flights of jewelled moths suddenly arrested and on the verge of
trembling into flight again. Here and there that woods harlequin, the madrone,
permitting itself to be caught in the act of changing its pea-green trunk to
madder-red, breathed its fragrance into the air from great clusters of waxen
bells. Creamy white were these bells, shaped like lilies-of-the-valley, with
the sweetness of perfume that is of the springtime.
There was not a sigh of wind. The air was drowsy with its weight of perfume.
It was a sweetness that would have been cloying had the air been heavy and
humid. But the air was sharp and thin. It was as starlight transmuted into
atmosphere, shot through and warmed by sunshine, and flower-drenched with
An occasional butterfly drifted in and out through the patches of light and
shade. And from all about rose the low and sleepy hum of mountain
bees--feasting Sybarites that jostled one another good-naturedly at the board,
nor found time for rough discourtesy. So quietly did the little stream drip
and ripple its way through the canyon that it spoke only in faint and
occasional gurgles. The voice of the stream was as a drowsy whisper, ever
interrupted by dozings and silences, ever lifted again in the awakenings.
The motion of all things was a drifting in the heart of the canyon. Sunshine
and butterflies drifted in and out among the trees. The hum of the bees and
the whisper of the stream were a drifting of sound. And the drifting sound and
drifting color seemed to weave together in the making of a delicate and
intangible fabric which was the spirit of the place. It was a spirit of peace
that was not of death, but of smooth-pulsing life, of quietude that was not
silence, of movement that was not action, of repose that was quick with
existence without being violent with struggle and travail. The spirit of the
place was the spirit of the peace of the living, somnolent with the easement
and content of prosperity, and undisturbed by rumors of far wars.
The red-coated, many-antlered buck acknowledged the lordship of the spirit of
the place and dozed knee-deep in the cool, shaded pool. There seemed no flies
to vex him and he was languid with rest. Sometimes his ears moved when the
stream awoke and whispered; but they moved lazily, with, foreknowledge that it
was merely the stream grown garrulous at discovery that it had slept.
But there came a time when the buck's ears lifted and tensed with swift
eagerness for sound. His head was turned down the canyon. His sensitive,
quivering nostrils scented the air. His eyes could not pierce the green screen
through which the stream rippled away, but to his ears came the voice of a
man. It was a steady, monotonous, singsong voice. Once the buck heard the
harsh clash of metal upon rock. At the sound he snorted with a sudden start
that jerked him through the air from water to meadow, and his feet sank into
the young velvet, while he pricked his ears and again scented the air. Then he
stole across the tiny meadow, pausing once and again to listen, and faded away
out of the canyon like a wraith, soft-footed and without sound.
The clash of steel-shod soles against the rocks began to be heard, and the
man's voice grew louder. It was raised in a sort of chant and became distinct
with nearness, so that the words could be heard:
"Turn around an' tu'n yo' face
Untoe them sweet hills of grace
(D' pow'rs of sin yo' am scornin'!).
Look about an' look aroun',
Fling yo' sin-pack on d' groun'
(Yo' will meet wid d' Lord in d' mornin'!)."
A sound of scrambling accompanied the song, and the spirit of the place fled
away on the heels of the red-coated buck. The green screen was burst asunder,
and a man peered out at the meadow and the pool and the sloping side-hill. He
was a deliberate sort of man. He took in the scene with one embracing glance,
then ran his eyes over the details to verify the general impression. Then, and
not until then, did he open his mouth in vivid and solemn approval:
"Smoke of life an' snakes of purgatory! Will you just look at that! Wood an'
water an' grass an' a side-hill! A pocket-hunter's delight an' a cayuse's
paradise! Cool green for tired eyes! Pink pills for pale people ain't in it. A
secret pasture for prospectors and a resting-place for tired burros, by damn!"
He was a sandy-complexioned man in whose face geniality and humor seemed the
salient characteristics. It was a mobile face, quick-changing to inward mood
and thought. Thinking was in him a visible process. Ideas chased across his
face like wind-flaws across the surface of a lake. His hair, sparse and
unkempt of growth, was as indeterminate and colorless as his complexion. It
would seem that all the color of his frame had gone into his eyes, for they
were startlingly blue. Also, they were laughing and merry eyes, within them
much of the naivete and wonder of the child; and yet, in an unassertive way.
they contained much of calm self-reliance and strength of purpose founded upon
self-experience and experience of the world.
From out the screen of vines and creepers he flung ahead of him a miner's
pick and shovel and gold-pan. Then he crawled out himself into the open. He
was clad in faded overalls and black cotton shirt, with hobnailed brogans on
his feet, and on his head a hat whose shapelessness and stains advertised the
rough usage of wind and rain and sun and camp-smoke. He stood erect, seeing
wide-eyed the secrecy of the scene and sensuously inhaling the warm, sweet
breath of the canyon-garden through nostrils that dilated and quivered with
delight. His eyes narrowed to laughing slits of blue, his face wreathed itself
in joy, and his mouth curled in a smile as he cried aloud:
"Jumping dandelions and happy hollyhocks, but that smells good to me! Talk
about your attar o' roses an' cologne factories! They ain't in it!"
He had the habit of soliloquy. His quick-changing facial expressions might
tell every thought and mood, but the tongue, perforce, ran hard after,
repeating, like a second Boswell.
The man lay down on the lip of the pool and drank long and deep of its water.
"Tastes good to me," he murmured, lifting his head and gazing across the pool
at the side-hill, while he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. The
side-hill attracted his attention. Still lying on his stomach, he studied the
hill formation long and carefully. It was a practised eye that travelled up
the slope to the crumbling canyon-wall and back and down again to the edge of
the pool. He scrambled to his feet and favored the side-hill with a second
"Looks good to me," he concluded, picking up his pick and shovel and gold-pan.
He crossed the stream below the pool, stepping agilely from stone to stone.
Where the sidehill touched the water he dug up a shovelful of dirt and put it
into the gold-pan. He squatted down, holding the pan in his two hands, and
partly immersing it in the stream. Then he imparted to the pan a deft circular
motion that sent the water sluicing in and out through the dirt and gravel.
The larger and the lighter particles worked to the surface, and these, by a
skilful dipping movement of the pan, he spilled out and over the edge.
Occasionally, to expedite matters, he rested the pan and with his fingers
raked out the large pebbles and pieces of rock.
The contents of the pan diminished rapidly until only fine dirt and the
smallest bits of gravel remained. At this stage he began to work very
deliberately and carefully. It was fine washing, and he washed fine and finer,
with a keen scrutiny and delicate and fastidious touch. At last the pan seemed
empty of everything but water; but with a quick semicircular flirt that sent
the water flying over the shallow rim into the stream, he disclosed a layer of
black sand on the bottom of the pan. So thin was this layer that it was like a
streak of paint. He examined it closely. In the midst of it was a tiny golden
speck. He dribbled a little water in over the depressed edge of the pan. With
a quick flirt he sent the water sluicing across the bottom, turning the grains
of black sand over and over A second tiny golden speck rewarded his effort.
The washing had now become very fine--fine beyond all need of ordinary
placer-mining. He worked the black sand, a small portion at a time, up the
shallow rim of the pan. Each small portion he examined sharply, so that his
eyes saw every grain of it before he allowed it to slide over the edge and
away. Jealously, bit by bit, he let the black sand slip away. A golden speck,
no larger than a pin-point, appeared on the rim, and by his manipulation of
the riveter it returned to the bottom of tile pan. And in such fashion another
speck was disclosed, and another. Great was his care of them. Like a shepherd
he herded his flock of golden specks so that not one should be lost. At last,
of the pan of dirt nothing remained but his golden herd. He counted it, and
then, after all his labor, sent it flying out of the pan with one final swirl
But his blue eyes were shining with desire as he rose to his feet. "Seven," he
muttered aloud, asserting the sum of the specks for which he had toiled so
hard and which he had so wantonly thrown away. "Seven," he repeated, with the
emphasis of one trying to impress a number on his memory.
He stood still a long while, surveying the hill-side. In his eyes was a
curiosity, new-aroused and burning. There was an exultance about his bearing
and a keenness like that of a hunting animal catching the fresh scent of game.
He moved down the stream a few steps and took a second panful of dirt.
Again came the careful washing, the jealous herding of the golden specks, and
the wantonness with which he sent them flying into the stream when he had
counted their number.
"Five," he muttered, and repeated, "five."
He could not forbear another survey of the hill before filling the pan farther
down the stream. His golden herds diminished. " Four, three, two, two, one,"
were his memory-tabulations as he moved down the stream. When but one speck of
gold rewarded his washing, he stopped and built a fire of dry twigs. Into this
he thrust the gold-pan and burned it till it was blue-black. He held up the
pan and examined it critically. Then he nodded approbation. Against such a
color-background he could defy the tiniest yellow speck to elude him.
Still moving down the stream, he panned again. A single speck was his reward.
A third pan contained no gold at all. Not satisfied with this, he panned three
times again, taking his shovels of dirt within a foot of one another. Each pan
proved empty of gold, and the fact, instead of discouraging him, seemed to
give him satisfaction. His elation increased with each barren washing, until
he arose, exclaiming jubilantly:
"If it ain't the real thing, may God knock off my head with sour apples!"
Returning to where he had started operations, he began to pan up the stream.
At first his golden herds increased--increased prodigiously. " Fourteen,
eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-six," ran his memory tabulations. Just above the
pool he struck his richest pan--thirty-five colors.
"Almost enough to save," he remarked regretfully as he allowed the water to
sweep them away.
The sun climbed to the top of the sky. The man worked on. Pan by pan, he went
up the stream, the tally of results steadily decreasing.
"It's just booful, the way it peters out," he exulted when a shovelful of dirt
contained no more than a single speck of gold.
And when no specks at all were found in several pans, he straightened up and
favored the hillside with a confident glance.
"Ah, ha! Mr. Pocket!" he cried out, as though to an auditor hidden somewhere
above him beneath the surface of the slope. "Ah, ha! Mr. Pocket! I'm a-comin',
I'm a-comin', an' I'm shorely gwine to get yer! You heah me, Mr. Pocket? I'm
gwine to get yer as shore as punkins ain't cauliflowers!"
He turned and flung a measuring glance at the sun poised above him in the
azure of the cloudless sky. Then he went down the canyon, following the line
of shovel-holes he had made in filling the pans. He crossed the stream below
the pool and disappeared through the green screen. There was little
opportunity for the spirit of the place to return with its quietude and
repose, for the man's voice, raised in ragtime song, still dominated the
canyon with possession.
After a time, with a greater clashing of steel-shod feet on rock, he returned.
The green screen was tremendously agitated. It surged back and forth in the
throes of a struggle. There was a loud grating and clanging of metal. The
man's voice leaped to a higher pitch and was sharp with imperativeness. A
large body plunged and panted. There was a snapping and ripping and rending,
and amid a shower of falling leaves a horse burst through the screen. On its
back was a pack, and from this trailed broken vines and torn creepers. The
animal gazed with astonished eyes at the scene into which it had been
precipitated, then dropped its head to the grass and began contentedly to
graze. A second horse scrambled into view, slipping once on the mossy rocks
and regaining equilibrium when its hoofs sank into the yielding surface of the
meadow. It was riderless, though on its back was a high-horned Mexican saddle,
scarred and discolored by long usage.
The man brought up the rear. He threw off pack and saddle, with an eye to camp
location, and gave the animals their freedom to graze. He unpacked his food
and got out frying-pan and coffee-pot. He gathered an armful of dry wood, and
with a few stones made a place for his fire.
"My!" he said, "but I've got an appetite. I could scoff iron-filings an'
horseshoe nails an' thank you kindly, ma'am, for a second helpin'."
He straightened up, and, while he reached for matches in the pocket of his
overalls, his eyes travelled across the pool to the side-hill. His fingers had
clutched the match-box, but they relaxed their hold and the hand came out
empty. The man wavered perceptibly. He looked at his preparations for cooking
and he looked at the hill.
"Guess I'll take another whack at her," he concluded, starting to cross the
"They ain't no sense in it, I know," he mumbled apologetically. "But keepin'
grub back an hour ain't goin' to hurt none, I reckon."
A few feet back from his first line of test-pans he started a second line. The
sun dropped down the western sky, the shadows lengthened, but the man worked
on. He began a third line of test-pans. He was cross-cutting the hillside,
line by line, as he ascended. The centre of each line produced the richest
pans, while the ends came where no colors showed in the pan. And as he
ascended the hillside the lines grew perceptibly shorter. The regularity with
which their length diminished served to indicate that somewhere up the slope
the last line would be so short as to have scarcely length at all, and that
beyond could come only a point. The design was growing into an inverted "V."
The converging sides of this "V" marked the boundaries of the gold-bearing
The apex of the "V" was evidently the man's goal. Often he ran his eye along
the converging sides and on up the hill, trying to divine the apex, the point
where the gold-bearing dirt must cease. Here resided "Mr. Pocket"--for so the
man familiarly addressed the imaginary point above him on the slope, crying
"Come down out o' that, Mr. Pocket! Be right smart an' agreeable, an' come
"All right," he would add later, in a voice resigned to determination. "All
right, Mr. Pocket. It's plain to me I got to come right up an' snatch you out
bald-headed. An' I'll do it! I'll do it!" he would threaten still later.
Each pan he carried down to the water to wash, and as he went higher up the
hill the pans grew richer, until he began to save the gold in an empty
baking-powder can which he carried carelessly in his hip-pocket. So engrossed
was he in his toil that he did not notice the long twilight of oncoming night.
It was not until he tried vainly to see the gold colors in the bottom of the
pan that he realized the passage of time. He straightened up abruptly. An
expression of whimsical wonderment and awe overspread his face as he drawled:
"Gosh darn my buttons! if I didn't plumb forget dinner!"
He stumbled across the stream in the darkness and lighted his long-delayed
fire. Flapjacks and bacon and warmed-over beans constituted his supper. Then
he smoked a pipe by the smouldering coals, listening to the night noises and
watching the moonlight stream through the canyon. After that he unrolled his
bed, took off his heavy shoes, and pulled the blankets up to his chin. His
face showed white in the moonlight, like the face of a corpse. But it was a
corpse that knew its resurrection, for the man rose suddenly on one elbow and
gazed across at his hillside.
"Good night, Mr. Pocket," he called sleepily. "Good night."
He slept through the early gray of morning until the direct rays of the sun
smote his closed eyelids, when he awoke with a start and looked about him
until he had established the continuity of his existence and identified his
present self with the days previously lived.
To dress, he had merely to buckle on his shoes. He glanced at his fireplace
and at his hillside, wavered, but fought down the temptation and started the
"Keep yer shirt on, Bill; keep yer shirt on," he admonished himself. "What's
the good of rushin'? No use in gettin' all het up an' sweaty. Mr. Pocket'll
wait for you. He ain't a-runnin' away before you can get yer breakfast. Now,
what you want, Bill, is something fresh in yer bill o' fare. So it's up to you
to go an' get it."
He cut a short pole at the water's edge and drew from one of his pockets a bit
of line and a draggled fly that had once been a royal coachman.
"Mebbe they'll bite in the early morning," he muttered, as he made his first
cast into the pool. And a moment later he was gleefully crying: "What'd I tell
you, eh? What'd I tell you?"
He had no reel, nor any inclination to waste time, and by main strength, and
swiftly, he drew out of the water a flashing ten-inch trout. Three more,
caught in rapid succession, furnished his breakfast. When he came to the
stepping-stones on his way to his hillside, he was struck by a sudden thought,
"I'd just better take a hike down-stream a ways," he said. "There's no tellin'
what cuss may be snoopin' around."
But he crossed over on the stones, and with a "I really oughter take that
hike," the need of the precaution passed out of his mind and he fell to work.
At nightfall he straightened up. The small of his back was stiff from stooping
toil, and as he put his hand behind him to soothe the protesting muscles, he
"Now what d'ye think of that, by damn? I clean forgot my dinner again! If I
don't watch out, I'll sure be degeneratin' into a two-meal-a-day crank."
"Pockets is the damnedest things I ever see for makin' a man absent-minded,"
he communed that night, as he crawled into his blankets. Nor did he forget to
call up the hillside, "Good night, Mr. Pocket! Good night!"
Rising with the sun, and snatching a hasty breakfast, he was early at work. A
fever seemed to be growing in him, nor did the increasing richness of the
test-pans allay this fever. There was a flush in his cheek other than that
made by the heat of the sun, and he was oblivious to fatigue and the passage
of time. When he filled a pan with dirt, he ran down the hill to wash it; nor
could he forbear running up the hill again, panting and stumbling profanely,
to refill the pan.
He was now a hundred yards from the water, and the inverted "V" was assuming
definite proportions. The width of the pay-dirt steadily decreased, and the
man extended in his mind's eye the sides of the "V" to their meeting-place far
up the hill. This was his goal, the apex of the "V," and he panned many times
to locate it.
"Just about two yards above that manzanita bush an' a yard to the right," he
Then the temptation seized him. " s plain as the nose on your face," he said,
as he abandoned his laborious cross-cutting and climbed to the indicated apex.
He filled a pan and carried it down the hill to wash. It contained no trace of
gold. He dug deep, and he dug shallow, filling and washing a dozen pans, and
was unrewarded even by the tiniest golden speck. He was enraged at having
yielded to the temptation, and cursed himself blasphemously and pridelessly.
Then he went down the hill and took up the cross-cutting.
"Slow an' certain, Bill; slow an' certain," he crooned. "Short-cuts to fortune
ain't in your line, an' it's about time you know it. Get wise, Bill; get wise.
Slow an' certain's the only hand you can play; so go to it, an' keep to it,
As the cross-cuts decreased, showing that the sides of the "V" were
converging, the depth of the " V " increased. The gold-trace was dipping into
the hill. It was only at thirty inches beneath the surface that he could get
colors in his pan. The dirt he found at twenty-five inches from the surface,
and at thirty-five inches, yielded barren pans. At the base of the "V," by the
water's edge, he had found the gold colors at the grass roots. The higher he
went up the hill, the deeper the gold dipped.
To dig a hole three feet deep in order to get one test-pan was a task of no
mean magnitude; while between the man and the apex intervened an untold number
of such holes to be. "An' there's no tellin' how much deeper it'll pitch," he
sighed, in a moment's pause, while his fingers soothed his aching back.
Feverish with desire, with aching back and stiffening muscles, with pick and
shovel gouging and mauling the soft brown earth, the man toiled up the hill.
Before him was the smooth slope, spangled with flowers and made sweet with
their breath. Behind him was devastation. It looked like some terrible
eruption breaking out on the smooth skin of the hill. His slow progress was
like that of a slug, befouling beauty with a monstrous trail.
Though the dipping gold-trace increased the man's work, he found consolation
in the increasing richness of the pans. Twenty cents, thirty cents, fifty
cents, sixty cents, were the values of the gold found in the pans, and at
nightfall he washed his banner pan, which gave him a dollar's worth of
gold-dust from a shovelful of dirt.
"I'll just bet it's my luck to have some inquisitive cuss come buttin' in here
on my pasture," he mumbled sleepily that night as he pulled the blankets up to
Suddenly he sat upright. "Bill!" he called sharply. "Now, listen to me, Bill;
d'ye hear! It's up to you, to-morrow mornin', to mosey round an' see what you
can see. Understand? Tomorrow morning, an' don't you forget it!"
He yawned and glanced across at his side-hill. "Good night, Mr. Pocket," he
In the morning he stole a march on the sun, for he had finished breakfast when
its first rays caught him, and he was climbing the wall of the canyon where it
crumbled away and gave footing. From the outlook at the top he found himself
in the midst of loneliness. As far as he could see, chain after chain of
mountains heaved themselves into his vision. To the east his eyes, leaping the
miles between range and range and between many ranges, brought up at last
against the white-peaked Sierras--the main crest, where the backbone of the
Western world reared itself against the sky. To the north and south he could
see more distinctly the cross-systems that broke through the main trend of the
sea of mountains. To the west the ranges fell away, one behind the other,
diminishing and fading into the gentle foothills that, in turn, descended into
the great valley which he could not see.
And in all that mighty sweep of earth he saw no sign of man nor of the
handiwork of man--save only the torn bosom of the hillside at his feet. The
man looked long and carefully. Once, far down his own canyon, he thought he
saw in the air a faint hint of smoke. He looked again and decided that it was
the purple haze of the hills made dark by a convolution of the canyon wall at
"Hey, you, Mr. Pocket!" he called down into the canyon. "Stand out from under!
I'm a-comin', Mr. Pocket! I'm a-comin'!"
The heavy brogans on the man's feet made him appear clumsy-footed, but he
swung down from the giddy height as lightly and airily as a mountain goat. A
rock, turning under his foot on the edge of the precipice, did not disconcert
him. He seemed to know the precise time required for the turn to culminate in
disaster, and in the meantime he utilized the false footing itself for the
momentary earth-contact necessary to carry him on into safety. Where the earth
sloped so steeply that it was impossible to stand for a second upright, the
man did not hesitate. His foot pressed the impossible surface for but a
fraction of the fatal second and gave him the bound that carried him onward.
Again, where even the fraction of a second's footing was out of the question,
he would swing his body past by a moment's hand-grip on a jutting knob of
rock, a crevice, or a precariously rooted shrub. At last, with a wild leap and
yell, he exchanged the face of the wall for an earth-slide and finished the
descent in the midst of several tons of sliding earth and gravel.
His first pan of the morning washed out over two dollars in coarse gold. It
was from the centre of the "V." To either side the diminution in the values of
the pans was swift. His lines of crosscutting holes were growing very short.
The converging sides of the inverted "V" were only a few yards apart. Their
meeting-point was only a few yards above him. But the pay-streak was dipping
deeper and deeper into the earth. By early afternoon he was sinking the
test-holes five feet before the pans could show the gold-trace.
For that matter, the gold-trace had become something more than a trace; it was
a placer mine in itself, and the man resolved to come back after he had found
the pocket and work over the ground. But the increasing richness of the pans
began to worry him. By late afternoon the worth of the pans had grown to three
and four dollars. The man scratched his head perplexedly and looked a few feet
up the hill at the manzanita bush that marked approximately the apex of the
"V." He nodded his head and said oracularly:
"It's one o' two things, Bill; one o' two things. Either Mr. Pocket's spilled
himself all out an' down the hill, or else Mr. Pocket's that damned rich you
maybe won't be able to carry him all away with you. And that'd be hell,
wouldn't it, now?" He chuckled at contemplation of so pleasant a dilemma.
Nightfall found him by the edge of the stream his eyes wrestling with the
gathering darkness over the washing of a five-dollar pan.
"Wisht I had an electric light to go on working." he said.
He found sleep difficult that night. Many times he composed himself and closed
his eyes for slumber to overtake him; but his blood pounded with too strong
desire, and as many times his eyes opened and he murmured wearily, "Wisht it
was sun-up." Sleep came to him in the end, but his eyes were open with the
first paling or the stars, and the gray of dawn caught him with breakfast
finished and climbing the hillside in the direction of the secret
abiding-place of Mr. Pocket.
The first cross-cut the man made, there was space for only three holes, so
narrow had become the pay-streak and so close was he to the fountainhead of
the golden stream he had been following for four days.
"Be ca'm, Bill; be calm," he admonished himself, as he broke ground for the
final hole where the sides of the "V" had at last come together in a point.
"I've got the almighty cinch on you, Mr. Pocket, an' you can't lose me," he
said many times as he sank the hole deeper and deeper.
Four feet, five feet, six feet, he dug his way down into the earth. The
digging grew harder. His pick grated on broken rock. He examined the rock.
"Rotten quartz," was his conclusion as, with the shovel, he cleared the bottom
of the hole of loose dirt. He attacked the crumbling quartz with the pick,
bursting the disintegrating rock asunder with every stroke.
He thrust his shovel into the loose mass. His eye caught a gleam of yellow. He
dropped the shovel and squatted suddenly on his heels. As a farmer rubs the
clinging earth from fresh-dug potatoes, so the man, a piece of rotten quartz
held in both hands, rubbed the dirt away.
"Sufferin' Sardanopolis!" he cried. "Lumps an' chunks of it! Lumps an' chunks
It was only half rock he held in his hand. The other half was virgin gold. He
dropped it into his pan and examined another piece. Little yellow was to be
seen, but with his strong fingers he crumbled the rotten quartz away till both
hands were filled with glowing yellow. He rubbed the dirt away from fragment
after fragment, tossing them into the gold-pan. It was a treasure-hole. So
much had the quartz rotted away that there was less of it than there was of
gold. Now and again he found a piece to which no rock clung--a piece that was
all gold. A chunk, where the pick had laid open the heart of the gold,
glittered like a handful of yellow jewels, and he cocked his head at it and
slowly turned it around and over to observe the rich play of the light upon
"Talk about yer Too Much Gold diggin's!" the man snorted contemptuously. "Why,
this diggin' 'd make it look like thirty cents. This diggin' is All Gold. An'
right here an' now I name this yere canyon 'All Gold Canyon,' b' gosh!"
Still squatting on his heels, he continued examining the fragments and tossing
them into the pan. Suddenly there came to him a premonition of danger. It
seemed a shadow had fallen upon him. But there was no shadow. His heart had
given a great jump up into his throat and was choking him. Then his blood
slowly chilled and he felt the sweat of his shirt cold against his flesh.
He did not spring up nor look around. He did not move. He was considering the
nature of the premonition he had received, trying to locate the source of the
mysterious force that had warned him, striving to sense the imperative
presence of the unseen thing that threatened him. There is an aura of things
hostile, made manifest by messengers refined for the senses to know; and this
aura he felt, but knew not how he felt it. His was the feeling as when a cloud
passes over the sun. It seemed that between him and life had passed something
dark and smothering and menacing; a gloom, as it were, that swallowed up life
and made for death--his death.
Every force of his being impelled him to spring up and confront the unseen
danger, but his soul dominated the panic, and he remained squatting on his
heels, in his hands a chunk of gold. He did not dare to look around, but he
knew by now that there was something behind him and above him. He made believe
to be interested in the gold in his hand. He examined it critically, turned it
over and over, and rubbed the dirt from it. And all the time he knew that
something behind him was looking at the gold over his shoulder.
Still feigning interest in the chunk of gold in his hand, he listened intently
and he heard the breathing of the thing behind him. His eyes searched the
ground in front of him for a weapon, but they saw only the uprooted gold,
worthless to him now in his extremity. There was his pick, a handy weapon on
occasion; but this was not such an occasion. The man realized his predicament.
He was in a narrow hole that was seven feet deep. His head did not come to the
surface of the ground. He was in a trap.
He remained squatting on his heels. He was quite cool and collected; but his
mind, considering every factor, showed him only his helplessness. He continued
rubbing the dirt from the quartz fragments and throwing the gold into the pan.
There was nothing else for him to do. Yet he knew that he would have to rise
up, sooner or later, and face the danger that breathed at his back.
The minutes passed, and with the passage of each minute he knew that by so
much he was nearer the time when he must stand up, or else--and his wet shirt
went cold against his flesh again at the thought--or else he might receive
death as he stooped there over his treasure.
Still he squatted on his heels, rubbing dirt from gold and debating in just
what manner he should rise up. He might rise up with a rush and claw his way
out of the hole to meet whatever threatened on the even footing above ground.
Or he might rise up slowly and carelessly, and feign casually to discover the
thing that breathed at his back. His instinct and every fighting fibre of his
body favored the mad, clawing rush to the surface. His intellect, and the
craft thereof, favored the slow and cautious meeting with the thing that
menaced and which he could not see. And while he debated, a loud, crashing
noise burst on his ear. At the same instant he received a stunning blow on the
left side of the back, and from the point of impact felt a rush of flame
through his flesh. He sprang up in the air, but halfway to his feet collapsed.
His body crumpled in like a leaf withered in sudden heat, and he came down,
his chest across his pan of gold, his face in the dirt and rock, his legs
tangled and twisted because of the restricted space at the bottom of the hole.
His legs twitched convulsively several times. His body was shaken as with a
mighty ague. There was a slow expansion of the lungs, accompanied by a deep
sigh. Then the air was slowly, very slowly, exhaled, and his body as slowly
flattened itself down into inertness.
Above, revolver in hand, a man was peering down over the edge of the hole. He
peered for a long time at the prone and motionless body beneath him. After a
while the stranger sat down on the edge of the hole so that he could see into
it, and rested the revolver on his knee. Reaching his hand into a pocket, he
drew out a wisp of brown paper. Into this he dropped a few crumbs of tobacco.
The combination became a cigarette, brown and squat, with the ends turned in.
Not once did he take his eyes from the body at the bottom of the hole. He
lighted the cigarette and drew its smoke into his lungs with a caressing
intake of the breath. He smoked slowly. Once the cigarette went out and he
relighted it. And all the while he studied the body beneath him.
In the end he tossed the cigarette stub away and rose to his feet. He moved to
the edge of the hole. Spanning it, a hand resting on each edge, and with the
revolver still in the right hand, he muscled his body down into the hole.
While his feet were yet a yard from the bottom he released his hands and
At the instant his feet struck bottom he saw the pocket-miner's arm leap out,
and his own legs knew a swift, jerking grip that overthrew him. In the nature
of the jump his revolver-hand was above his head. Swiftly as the grip had
flashed about his legs, just as swiftly he brought the revolver down. He was
still in the air, his fall in process of completion, when he pulled the
trigger. The explosion was deafening in the confined space. The smoke filled
the hole so that he could see nothing. He struck the bottom on his back, and
like a cat's the pocket-miner's body was on top of him. Even as the miner's
body passed on top, the stranger crooked in his right arm to fire; and even in
that instant the miner, with a quick trust of elbow, struck his wrist. The
muzzle was thrown up and the bullet thudded into the dirt of the side of the
The next instant the stranger felt the miner's hand grip his wrist. The
struggle was now for the revolver. each man strove to turn it against the
other's body. The smoke in the hole was clearing. The stranger, lying on his
back, was beginning to see dimly. But suddenly he was blinded by a handful of
dirt deliberately flung into his eyes by his antagonist. In that moment of
shock his grip on the revolver was broken. In the next moment he felt a
smashing darkness descend upon his brain, and in the midst of the darkness
even the darkness ceased.
But the pocket-miner fired again and again, until the revolver was empty. Then
he tossed it from him and, breathing heavily, sat down on the dead man's legs.
The miner was sobbing and struggling for breath. "Measly skunk!" he panted;
"a-campin' on my trail an' lettin' me do the work, an' then shootin' me in the
He was half crying from anger and exhaustion, He peered at the face of the
dead man. It was sprinkled with loose dirt and gravel, and it was difficult to
distinguish the features.
"Never laid eyes on him before," the miner concluded his scrutiny. "Just a
common an' ordinary thief, damn him! An' he shot me in the back! He shot me in
He opened his shirt and felt himself, front and back, on his left side.
"Went clean through, and no harm done!" he cried jubilantly. "I'll bet he
aimed right all right, but he drew the gun over when he pulled the
trigger--the cuss! But I fixed 'm! Oh, I fixed 'm!"
His fingers were investigating the bullet-hole in his side, and a shade of
regret passed over his face. "It's goin' to be stiffer'n hell," he said. "An'
it's up to me to get mended an' get out o' here."
He crawled out of the hole and went down the hill to his camp. Half an hour
later he returned, leading his pack-horse. His open shirt disclosed the rude
bandages with which he had dressed his wound. He was slow and awkward with his
left-hand movements, but that did not prevent his using the arm.
The bight of the pack-rope under the dead man's shoulders enabled him to heave
the body out of the hole. Then he set to work gathering up his gold. He worked
steadily for several hours, pausing often to rest his stiffening shoulder and
"He shot me in the back, the measly skunk! He shot me in the back!"
When his treasure was guise cleaned up and wrapped securely into a number of
blanket-covered parcels, he made an estimate of its value.
"Four hundred pounds, or I'm a Hottentot," he concluded. "Say two hundred in
quartz an' dirt--that leaves two hundred pounds of gold. Bill! Wake up! Two
hundred pounds of gold! Forty thousand dollars! An' it's yourn--all yourn!"
He scratched his head delightedly and his fingers blundered into an unfamiliar
groove. They quested along it for several inches. It was a crease through his
scalp where the second bullet had ploughed.
He walked angrily over to the dead man.
"You would, would you?" he bullied. "You would, eh? Well, I fixed you good an'
plenty, an' I'll give you decent burial, too. That's more'n you'd have done
He dragged the body to the edge of the hole and toppled it in. It struck the
bottom with a dull crash, on its side, the face twisted up to the light. The
miner peered down at it.
"An' you shot me in the back!" he said accusingly.
With pick and shovel he filled the hole. Then he loaded the gold on his horse.
It was too great a load for the animal, and when he had gained his camp he
transferred part of it to his saddle-horse. Even so, he was compelled to
abandon a portion of his outfit--pick and shovel and gold-pan, extra food and
cooking utensils, and divers odds and ends.
The sun was at the zenith when the man forced the horses at the screen of
vines and creepers. To climb the huge boulders the animals were compelled to
uprear and struggle blindly through the tangled mass of vegetation. Once the
saddle-horse fell heavily and the man removed the pack to get the animal on
its feet. After it started on its way again the man thrust his head out from
among the leaves and peered up at the hillside.
"The measly skunk!" he said, and disappeared.
There was a ripping and tearing of vines and boughs. The trees surged back and
forth, marking the passage of the animals through the midst of them. There was
a clashing of steel-shod hoofs on stone, and now and again an oath or a sharp
cry of command. Then the voice of the man was raised in song:--
"Tu'n around an' tu'n yo' face
Untoe them sweet hills of grace
(D' pow'rs of sin yo' am scornin'!).
Look about an, look aroun',
Fling yo' sin-pack on d' groun'
(Yo' will meet wid d' Lord in d' mornin'!)."
The song grew faint and fainter, and through the silence crept back the spirit
of the place. The stream once more drowsed and whispered; the hum of the
mountain bees rose sleepily. Down through the perfume-weighted air fluttered
the snowy fluffs of the cottonwoods. The butterflies drifted in and out among
the trees, and over all blazed the quiet sunshine. Only remained the
hoof-marks in the meadow and the torn hillside to mark the boisterous trail of
the life that had broken the peace of the place and passed on.