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´╗┐Title: My "Pardner" and I - Gray Rocks, A Story Of The Middle-West, Illustrated
Author: Emerson, Willis George
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "My "Pardner" and I - Gray Rocks, A Story Of The Middle-West, Illustrated" ***

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MY "PARDNER" AND I

(_Gray Rocks_)

A Story Of The Middle-West

Illustrated

By Willis George Emerson

Chicago: Laird & Lee, Publishers

1894



```"Beneath yon rocky peak that hides

```In fleecy clouds its snow-flecked crest;

```Beneath those crimson crags abides

```The fairest queen of all the West."



[Illustration: 0009]


[Illustration: 0010]


[Illustration: 0011]



PREFACE.

The breaking of a twig in some vast forest, or the dull echo of a
miner's pick in a rugged mountain canyon, alike suggest the solitude
of Nature. The unwritten history of mining prospectors who search for
yellow gold, or the advance guards of our civilization in the rich
valleys of the West, are replete-with interest and dramatic incident.
The "boom" town builder also plays a most conspicuous part in this
unwritten drama.

There are no frayed-out remnants of a former greatness to be found on
the frontier. A man sells for his intrinsic worth--no more, no less.
Conditions that made men great in former generations are here active.
and develop manhood in its highest form.

There is hardly a cross-road hamlet without its hotel, and usually a
"Dick Ballard" presides. "Brainy men." such as composed the Waterville
Town Company, may be found wherever a new town is building, while a
"Rufus Grim" is usually the autocrat of the mining camp.

The old "Colonel" represents a class of sturdy miners whose untiring
labor occasionally gives to the world the golden keys of some fabulously
rich discovery; while the greater number dedicate their lives to a
fruitless search for hidden treasures, and finally die of disappointment
and a broken heart.

"Louise," in her unswerving devotion to her father, is a specimen of
superior womanhood whose duplicate may be found in many a ranchman's
home throughout the nestling valleys of our y re at West.

Sometimes I imagine I was with "J. Arthur Boast" in his hiding place
when he wrote that last letter and saw the spectral ghost that ever kept
him company. The retribution perhaps was just, yet my sympathy lingers
around the old prospect shaft.

Many of my readers will doubtless desire to express their criticism of
GRAY ROCKS. Nothing will afford me more pleasure than to receive just
criticisms, for it will at least enable me to escape similar errors in
other stories that I am now engaged in writing.

Sincerely,

WILLIS GEORGE EMERSON.

ELM REST, August 20, 1894.

No. 1363 Central Park Boulevard, Chicago.



PARTIAL LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


 I. The Mr. Gilder for Whom I am Looking is a Much Older Gentleman.....14

 II. He Clasped Vance's Hand Warmly....................................21

 III. A Letter Was Handed to Him.......................................30

 IV. My Salary Has Been Raised,........................................37

 V. Hello, Pardner! How D'Ye Do........................................41

 VI. He Offered Vance Some Havanas,....................................50

 VII. This 'ere Town is Comin' Out of the Kinks in Fine Shape..........60

 VIII. He Forgot Time,.................................................68

 IX. I Am Going to Give Him a Piece of My Mind.........................70

 X. Vance Turned and Saw J. Arthur Boast...............................82

 XI. "You're the Young Man, I Reckon," Said Grim, "From New York,".....87

 XII. Don't You Think I Am Horrid to Go on Talking this Way to You?....96

 XIII. The Stage Ride.................................................108

 XIV. Gentlemen, We Deliberate Upon the Destiny of Waterville.........114

 XV. Vance Was Presented to Miss Virginia Bonifield,..................121

 XVI. We Have Cross-cut Into Whar' the Vein Ought to Be...............135

 XVII. "Lost Your Position?" Said Louise, with Unmistakable Concern...143

 XVIII. Vance Handed Marcus Donald a Copy.............................151

 XIX. They Are the Brainiest Lot of Men This Country Has Produced.....162

 XX. They Started Pell-mell Down the Mountain Load....................171

 XXI. You Will Not Be Angry With Father, Will You?....................179

 XXII. There Are Times, When It's Necessary to Put My Foot Down.......189

 XXIII. "Yes," Whispered Bertha, "I Love You So Much,"................207

 XXIV. A Dark Form Crouched Near,.....................................215

 XXV. Where Is the Powder?............................................228

 XXVI. A Guilty Conscience Needs No Accuser...........................236

 XXVII. Such Tender Things of Earth Are Sanctified in Heaven..........253



CHAPTER I.--VANCE GILDER.


[Illustration: 9019]

ANCE GILDER {11}had an ambition. It was to be a great journalist.

The sunshine that gleamed in at his western windows disclosed
most luxurious apartments--indicating refinement and culture. The
bric-a-brac; the leathern walls stamped with gilt; the frieze of
palm-leaves; the chandelier; the richly carved book-case, filled with
tawny-covered volumes; the upright piano, and a guitar which stood
sentinel-like in a retired corner; together with India rugs and tiger
skins on the floor before an open grate, half hidden by a large Japanese
fan--bespoke wealth as well as refined taste.

Seated at an open escritoire with writing materials before him, on the
evening of a June day, was Vance Gilder.

He was not more than twenty-five, of medium height, dark brown hair,
soft and wavy as the silk of Indian corn, large brown eyes, a clear
complexion, an aquiline nose, {12}and a rather heavy, dark moustache,
which in part hid a well-formed mouth.

Before him lay numerous packages of papers, but they were not claiming
his attention. He was perusing a billet-doux written in a lady's hand.

There was a refinement and gentleness in his face, while his dress and
surroundings indicated a serious elegance, rich but unaffected.

"Who can she be?" was the exclamation that escaped him as he again read
the letter which he held in his hand.

Tossing it down, he walked back and forth across the room with
measured strides.

Stopping before the mantel, he lighted a cigar. "Louise Bonifield," he
ejaculated, between puffs of smoke, which he blew away in rings toward
the ceiling, "where have I met her?


[Illustration: 9020]


Where have I seen that name?"

Walking back to the escritoire, he took up the letter and read aloud:


Murray Hill Hotel, June 18.

Kind Sir:

Father and I arrived in the city last night. He wishes me to call on
you at three o'clock this afternoon; business of special importance to
himself.

Respectfully,

LOUISE BONIFIELD.

To Vance Gilder, Esq.


"No," he said aloud, "I do not remember Miss Louise Bonifield. It is
doubtless very stupid of me, and all that, but if ever I even heard the
name before, it certainly has {13}passed from my memory. She says three
o'clock," and glancing at the French time-piece which helped to make up
the furniture of his room, he saw it was preparing to strike the hour of
three.

Scarcely had the sound of the mellow cathedral bell died away, when the
door-bell clanged out like a harsh echo of the clock's last stroke.

[Illustration: 9021]

The servant brought in a card bearing the name of "Louise Bonifield,"
and received instructions to admit the visitor at once.

The rustling of skirts was soon heard in the hallway.

With the deportment of a queen, she accepted the proffered chair and
raised to Vance's face a pair of laughing blue eyes that might be
dangerous. The parting of her rosy lips displayed her ivory teeth
to advantage, while her evident embarrassment tinged with pink her
beautiful cheeks.

"I called," she stammered, "to see Mr. Vance Gilder."

"At your service," he replied, bowing low.

"But really, sir, are you Mr. Gilder?"

"I believe," he replied, "that I enjoy the doubtful honor of that
appellation."

The half-hesitation of the visitor as she stood in the open door might
have suggested momentary confusion, but reassurance seemed to assert
itself as she complied with the melodious invitation of Vance Gilder to
enter and be seated.

This vision of loveliness that entered the bachelor apartments of Vance
Gilder might have been eighteen years old, but certainly no more. In
stature she was of medium height, rather slender, and sustained herself
{14}"It must be," she faltered, with increasing embarrassment, "all a
mistake."

[Illustration: 0022]

Vance Gilder, with all his boasted matter-of-fact principles, was
wonderfully interested in his fair visitor. She evidently was a stranger
in the city, or a skilled actress. In referring to her afterwards, he
spoke of her as a "dream of loveliness."

He was too chivalrous to permit his visitor's embarrassment to increase
if he could help it and quickly {15}assured her that it was not a very
serious mistake, and asked in what way he could serve her, at the
same time saying he regretted exceedingly that he did not answer the
description of the Vance Gilder for whom she was seeking.

"The Mr. Gilder for whom I am looking," said his fair visitor, "is a
much older gentleman than you. He visited father some three years ago,
at Gold Bluff, Idaho, and owns an interest in Gray Rocks, my father's
mine. My father is very anxious to meet Mr. Gilder; in fact, we have
come all the way from Idaho expressly for that purpose. He would have
called in person, but was taken ill last evening--so ill, indeed, that
we found it necessary to summon a physician. We are stopping at the
Murray Hill Hotel. I fear my father will be greatly disappointed."

A shade of sadness stole over the usually buoyant face of Vance Gilder.

"I think I understand," said he. "I bear the name of my father, who,
after spending several months in the mining districts of Idaho, went
to California, where he remained over a year, endeavoring to regain
his health. He returned home a little less than two years ago and died
within two months after his arrival.

"As his living representative, and in honor of his memory," said he,
with feeling, "if there is any way in which he could have served you
or your father, had he lived, I will volunteer, to the extent of my
ability, to act in his stead."

"It certainly is very kind of you," she replied, "but I am distressed at
this intelligence, and know my father will be also. We learned to think
a great deal of Mr. Gilder {16}during his few months' stay at Gold
Bluff. You can certainly do my father a great service by calling on
him."

"I shall take great pleasure," said Vance, in his earnest way, "in
doing so. I am employed on the _Banner_, and my duties will prevent
me calling before tomorrow at ten o'clock, but at that hour, tell your
father he may expect me."

She had risen while he was speaking, and with a face full of sympathy
and kindness, thanked him for his promise; and before he realized what
was transpiring, the hall door closed and she was gone.

The house from which she had taken her leave was one of the best
overlooking Central Park, in New York City. Vance Gilder, the elder, was
a man of great determination of character, and had accumulated a fortune
while yet in the prime of life. He built for himself this house. It was
surrounded by elegantly kept gardens and velvet lawns.

He retired from business late in the '60's, intending to devote himself
to his wife and only son, then a mere child, and his library. Scarcely
a year of such enjoyment was allowed him before his wife sickened and
died, leaving him his son and his fortune. It was hardly more than
natural that he should lavish a great deal of attention and wealth upon
his child.

As his son grew to manhood, his father discovered a recklessness and
extravagance which was sadly at variance with those economic principles
which he himself had so studiously practiced. Vance stood fairly well
in his classes, and after graduating at Princeton, went abroad, visiting
the principal cities of Europe, and spending money in such a lavish way
that at the expiration of a {17}year his father summoned him home and
remonstrated with him severely on his manner of living and his expensive
habits.

Piqued at the rebuke, he quarreled with his father, and started out to
make his way in the world alone. The estrangement was of short duration,
however, and soon after the reconciliation he secured a position on the
__Banner_ _, and assiduously devoted himself to the study of journalism.
He gave up his follies and fast living, and found more enjoyment in
his work on the _Banner_ than he had ever found in swell dinners and
midnight carousals at his club.



CHAPTER II.--THE OLD MINER.


[Illustration: 9026]

ROOM {18}in which we have introduced Vance Gilder to the reader, in the
home overlooking Central Park, had been his from childhood, and
furnished by his father in its present luxurious style, as a reward for
his devotion to the profession of journalism.

His father had invested his income in real estate, and in the lapse of
years found himself possessed of a fortune many times greater than he
had ever anticipated. He traveled a great deal over the west, and at
Gold Bluff, Idaho, he found in Ben Bonifield, the owner of Gray Rocks, a
playmate of his youth.

Ben Bonifield had staked out a claim which he called "Gray Rocks," and
had worked away for several years with pick and shovel, believing that
some day he would "strike it rich"--and from the output of other mining
properties in that vicinity, it seemed as if his expectations might be
realized some day.

He deeded a half interest in his mine to the elder Gilder, in
consideration of certain moneys advanced him to develop the property.
This one investment was the only one that Mr. Gilder ever made outside
of New York {19}City, and it is quite probable that in making this one
it was not so much an investment as a desire to assist his boyhood's
friend. The deed which Ben Bonifield gave had been duly recorded, but in
his travels on the Pacific coast he had in some way mislaid it, and on
his return to New York City he had died without ever having mentioned
the matter to his son. When his father died, Vance was bowed down with
grief, while the old Scotch house-keeper and her husband could not have
mourned more sincerely had the elder Gilder been related by the nearest
ties of blood.

Vance found his father had not only left a fortune, but also a will. The
date of this instrument showed that it was executed during the months
of their estrangement, and had never been changed. The important part of
the will, for this narrative, was a clause limiting Vance to an annuity
of $5,000, provided he remained at the old homestead and gave employment
and a home to the Scotch house-keeper and her husband; but the title to
the vast property which he owned was not to pass into his custody until
he was forty years of age.

To the credit of the son, it can be said that he entertained no enmity
towards his father because of this provision, but regarded it as simple
justice. In the meantime, he devoted himself with more energy than ever
to his profession, was economical in his habits, and had the consolation
of knowing that he was being advanced from time to time on the _Banner_,
until he was now regarded as one of the most trusted men on that great
journal.

To be a member of the _Banner_ staff of newsgatherers was a position
to be envied by those similarly employed on less imposing journals.
His associates--the city {20}editor, the religious editor, the
dramatic critic, the police reporter, and the heads of several other
departments--were in the habit of discussing the topics of the times
from a strictly democratic standpoint, with the regularity with which
day follows night.

The "old man," or managing editor, could not take a deeper interest in
the columns of the _Banner_ than did his faithful coterie of assistants.
The managing editor prided himself on his ability to recognize and
command intellectual forces.

With the breaking of the dawn anew paper, filled with news deftly
gathered from the four corners of the earth, was ushered into life,
teeming with the world's history of a day, to be discussed by the
banker, the politician, and the professional and non-professional
classes over the breakfast-table. Each issue was a daily history
possessing a soul and character distinctly its own, which collectively
made up the policy of one of the greatest journals of New York City.
Before high noon of each day a newspaper has generally served its
purpose--dies; is a thing of the past, and the record of events found in
its columns becomes ancient history.

The following morning at ten o'clock, agreeable to his promise, Vance
Gilder was at the Murray Hill Hotel, and sent up his card to Ben
Bonifield. Instead of receiving in his room, the old gentleman joined
Vance in the lobby. He was a typical character--once seen, never
forgotten. An old Virginian by birth and education, he still retained
the courtly polish of one of the southern aristocracy, which many years
of mining life had not been able to wholly destroy. In stature he was
fully six feet, and rather portly; his oval face was smooth-shaven, save
an {21}iron-gray moustache. He wore his hair rather long, and the rim
of his black felt hat was broad as a sombrero. His Prince Albert coat
of broad-cloth was of old-time date, and suggested a revival of ancient
gentility.

"Glad to see yo', suh; am delighted to meet a son of my old friend,
Colonel Gilder."

[Illustration: 0029]

He clasped Vance's hand warmly, and his face was full of sympathy as
he referred to the recent information he had received concerning Mr.
Gilder's death. They {22}soon found seats in a retired corner of the
lobby, and after assuring Vance that he had entirely recovered from his
recent illness, the old gentleman plunged into business.

"Yo' know, of cou'se, that yo'r father owned a one-half interest in Gray
Rocks?"

"No, I was not aware of the fact until your daughter named it to me
yesterday," replied Vance.

"Yo' su'prise me, suh, yo' really do," said the old miner, "but it is
true, nevertheless, and the deed is on record; and what is mo', suh,
Gray Rocks is destined to be the richest gold mine in Idaho. Yo' see, I
have been workin' away on Gray Rocks for seven years--kep' right at it,
winter an' summer, and while I have not 'struck it' yet, I am positive,
suh, that if I had a little mo' money to push the work, my most sanguine
expectations would be mo' than re'lized. We are now on the 200 foot
level, but it seems, suh, it is not deep enough. A most wonderful
showin', in my opinion, suh, will be made when the 300 foot level is
reached, and we have cross-cut into the vein."

"I am not very well versed in regard to mining, in fact know next to
nothing about it, but of course, as I am a half owner in a gold mine, I
am naturally interested in having it developed."

"Well, suh," said the old gentleman, "yo' see I am. I know all about
mines. Yes, suh, I assure yo, on my honor, that I can tell 'pay dirt' as
far as I can see it, suh, if I am sixty-five years old, Yo' see, suh,"
continued the old miner, "let us suppose this table is the top of the
mountain. Now, where I place this ink-stand, is Gray Rocks; just beyond,
here where I lay this pen-stalk, is the Peacock mine. It joins us
directly on the nawth. The {23}Excelsior is at this point, where I lay
my eye-glasses, directly south of Gray Rocks. Both of them, suh, are
payin' immense dividends, and befo' a year, with proper management, Gray
Rocks will be doin' the same. When he learned, suh, that I only had a
half interest, he refused to talk with me any mo' about it. He said he
wanted all or none. Confidentially, Mr. Gilder, I consider old Grim the
most ill-mannered man in the Fish River minin' district, and us miners,
suh, usually form a pretty correct idea of mankind in gene'l. I have
been minin' it now fo' over thirty years, and while I have never 'struck
it' yet, I assure yo' on my word, suh, that I have mo' confidence in
Gray Rocks to-day than ever befo'."

"Of course, Col. Bonifield," said Vance, "I know nothing about your
technical expressions of 'sinking-shafts,' 'cross-cutting,' and all
that sort of thing, but I remember now of my father speaking of you on
several occasions, and I doubt not, if he were living, he would gladly
assist you in any way in his power. Personally, my means are limited,
but if your wants are not too great, I will gladly give you my
assistance."

"Give me yo're hand, suh! Why, Mr. Gilder, yo're a gentleman that I'm
proud to meet, suh.

"What we must do, suh, is to sink the shaft on Gray Rocks to a 300 foot
level, and we will cross-cut into a vein of wealth, suh, that will
make yo' rich as a Vanterbilt. Yes, suh; take my word fo' it. Now," he
continued, "there is old Grim; he owns a majority of the stock in the
Peacock, and he wanted to buy out Gray Rocks, but {24}of the old school,
belonging to one of the oldest and proudest families of Virginia--yes,
suh. Now, you have a half interest in Gray Rocks, and if yo' can furnish
the money, Mr. Gilder, to sink the shaft to the 300 foot level, I will
go back to Gold Bluff and immediately commence the work--and mind, Mr.
Gilder, I give yo' my word that yo' will never lose a dollar; no, suh,
Gray Rocks is a sure winner. The claim is patented and our title is
perfect; but we must do mo', suh; we must sink our shaft, and it costs
money to sink shafts, and a pow'ful sight of hard work into the bargain,
suh. I came to New York especially to see yo're father and have him help
me by advancin' a little mo' money. He paid me $1,000, suh, fo' a half
interest in Gray Rocks. I told him, and I tell yo' now, it will bring
yo' a million. Yes, suh, I pledge yo' my word it will."

The old gentleman's words, his enthusiasm, his southern courtliness,
and his unmistakable belief in Gray Rocks, carried Vance quite away, in
anticipation of his half-ownership in a gold mine. He mentally computed
the amount of money he had in the bank, and felt that he would willingly
check out his last half-dollar to sink the shaft on Gray Rocks to a 300
foot level.

He had to his credit in the Chemical National Bank some fifteen thousand
dollars, and finally ventured to ask about how much it would take to do
the work.

"Why, yo' see, suh," replied the old miner, "the mo' a fellow has, the
quicker he can sink a shaft. Now, I could get along at present with, say
$1,500, but $2,000 would be betteh, and $2,500 would be a great plenty."

"Very well," replied Vance, "I'll advance you $2,500, and can bring it
to you within a couple of hours."

{25}The old gentleman was highly delighted with Vance's ready
acquiescence in the matter, and shook his hand warmly, assuring him that
he was a very true Virginian. Taking his leave, he quitted the hotel,
and in less than two hours paid to Col. Bonifield $2,500.

The old gentleman was very urgent for Vance to remain and lunch with
him.

"My Louise, suh," he said, "will be delighted to see yo'.

[Illustration: 8033]

Now, suh, there's one girl in a thousand. I call her a diamond in the
rough, suh. She stays by the old man, and has just as much faith in the
ultimate outcome of Gray Rocks as I have, I sometimes think, suh, that I
ought not to keep her away so far from civil'zation, so to speak, among
the mountains; but she says, 'We will wait until we strike it.' I assure
yo', suh, she is a wonderful comfort to me."

Vance endeavored to persuade the old gentleman to bring his daughter and
stop at his house for a few days, but the old miner explained that his
stay could not be prolonged; that he was impatient to begin work on
the mine, sinking the shaft to the 300 foot level, and then commence
cross-cutting. He insisted that he must start for Gold Bluff by the
evening train.

Ascending to the ladies' parlor, Vance waited until the old miner
brought his daughter to bid him good-bye. As she came into the room on
the arm of her stately father, Vance had hard work to convince himself
that such a queenly girl as stood before him could have grown to such
loveliness among the mountains of the northwest.



CHAPTER III.--THE BANNER FORCE.


[Illustration: 9034]

GREAT {26}metropolitan journal like the _Banner_, has a tendency to
swallow up individual characteristics in its own self-importance. A man
may be ever so clever with his pen, and contribute the most readable
articles day after day and year after year, and yet not one reader in
ten thousand has any idea whose composition he is perusing.

Vance Gilder was only one of the force, and yet he was a favorite with
his associates. He sometimes dreamed of promotion, and the time when
he would be a correspondent of note, or possibly at the head of some
important department on that great paper. Visions of special work which
would call him not only to different parts of his own country, but to
foreign parts as well, charmed him into contentment and renewed energy.

Only once during his connection with the _Banner_ had he made anything
like a "hit." He had on one solitary occasion succeeded in "scooping"
the other New York journals in a most masterly manner. Indeed, to Vance
belonged the credit of having completely humiliated the other dailies
with an article under flaming headlines and double-leaded. As a
compensation, he was sent for by {27}the chief, and received that august
person's special thanks. This was a mark of distinction, for it was
seldom that he paid compliments. On the other hand, if the work was not
up to the standard, the staff generally heard from him in a volley of
profanity that caused them to doubt the permanency of their positions.

On the night after Ben Bonfield started for Gold Bluff, Vance found
himself thinking a great deal about Gray Rocks. To a young man of
twenty-five, fifteen years seems a long time to wait for the possession
of one's property. There is a certain fascination about the idea of
owning a gold mine, and this charm had taken possession of Vance to a
degree far beyond that which he was willing to admit, and between the
lines of copy, he speculated on the future and built many castles in the
air.

The half interest which his father owned in Gray Rocks had not been
named in the will, and as Vance was his only heir, it naturally occurred
to him that in case the old miner should "strike it rich," he would find
himself with a handsome competency long before his fortieth birthday.

For the first time during the years of his connection with the _Banner_,
a feeling of dissatisfaction stole over him, and he was glad Colonel
Bonfield had been so prompt in returning to Gold Bluff, for he felt
the work of sinking the shaft on Gray Rocks should be commenced at the
earliest possible moment. There was also a feeling of regret deep down
in his heart that he had not had an opportunity to know more of the fair
Louise, the remembrance of whose laughing blue eyes and perfect freedom
from affectation hovered near him with a distinctness that he had never
before experienced with any of his young lady friends. {28}He was in
this state of mind when the police reporter came in and declared that he
was disgusted with the scarcity of crime.

"I say, Vance," said he, "it's getting to be a pretty pass when a fellow
has to rummage all over the city for a few crumbs of accidental deaths,
street brawls and shooting affairs."

[Illustration: 9036]

Before Vance had time to reply, the religious editor commenced swearing
about the uninteresting sermons he was compelled to write of late.

The dramatic critic observed that lie presumed writing sermons was a
rather stupid business, but if the reading public could endure them, the
religious editor ought to be able to, at $60 a week.

The religious editor said, "by Gad! old boy, you're about right," and
begged a cigarette of the dramatic critic, declaring that he did not
know with whom he would rather smoke than a representative of the
footlights. He then slapped Vance on the shoulder in a jocular way, and
asked him what made him so quiet.

"Scoops are scarce," replied Vance, without lifting his eyes from the
copy he was revising.

"Scarce!" chimed in the city editor, "I should say so. We have not had
such a thing as a 'scoop' about the office for six months."

"Journalism," observed the dramatic critic, "is, without question, the
king of professions. Here we see life in its every phase."

"I am beginning to think," said Vance, "that journalism is a drudgery
without hope or reward."

"You astonish me," replied the religious editor. "Why, Vance," he
continued, knocking the ashes from his cigarette, "a fellow with as
bright a future in the profession as you have, making such a remark
as that, causes me to think you are growing cynical. Think of the
opportunities which journalism affords."

"What opportunities," replied Vance, "have I, or you, or any other
members of the staff, excepting those we have no right to take advantage
of? I freely admit that there is a fascination about the profession of
journalism; an influence, if you please, that holds us in the rut, much
the same as the current of a mighty river--always drawing everything
into the center where the current is swiftest--but the individuality of
the most talented among us is completely lost in the great octopus that
we are _daily_ and nightly striving with our best efforts of brawn and
brain to keep supplied with news."

"Bravo!" shouted the police reporter. "There is not an ordinary
prize-fighter in the land but has more individual reputation than any of
us. Vance is about right in his position."

At this juncture of their conversation, a note was handed to Vance.
It was a polite request to report at the chief's private room at ten
o'clock the next morning. After hastily glancing over it, Vance read it
aloud.

"I say, Vance, old boy, that's a little rough; and still," continued the
religious editor, between vigorous puffs of his cigarette, "it may be a
step up."

It was an open question with members of the force whether a formal
summons into the presence of the chief, without any intimation of the
nature of the interview, was a good omen or otherwise.

"Possibly," responded Vance, "but I rather surmise it is a step out."

[Illustration: 0038]

"The evil is sufficient unto the day thereof," observed the dramatic
critic. "It is twelve o'clock, boys; let us adjourn to the 'realm of
pie,' and there we will discuss the unlooked-for summons."

A half dozen as jolly young fellows as could be found anywhere, were
soon seated in a private room at Thompson's cafe, partaking of the
reporter's stereotyped lunch. {31}As a result of their deliberations,
there were many hopeful expressions made for the benefit of Vance. There
was an under-current, however, of unmistakable belief, which Vance was
not slow to perceive and share, that his interview with the chief would
not result satisfactorily.

The dramatic critic soon drifted to the leeward of the question, and
with almost forced vivaciousness recounted the latest hit of a jolly
little soubrette dancer at Madison Square Gardens. His description was
not only interesting, but a welcome diversion from the somber subject
that might mean a separation of Vance from the staff. The religious
editor took up the cue where the dramatic critic let go, and commenced
swearing in newspaper parlance about the unsatisfactory work he was
doing in his department.

[Illustration: 8039]

The police reporter came in for a description of a "knock-out" he had
witnessed in the Bowery, and for the edification of his associates,
explained the difference between a "shoulder-strike" and an "undercut."

On returning to their respective posts of duty, there was but little
said, but it was noticeable that Vance was bid good night with more
consideration than usual.

As Vance hurried along toward the elevated road, his thoughts were again
filled with that demure little Louise, a product of the great mountains
of the west. With her had come a hope--perhaps only a visionary
one--stimulated by the enthusiasm of the old miner. He did not pause to
analyze {32}the sustaining hope which he experienced; he only knew that
it took off the keen edge of anxiety which otherwise he would have felt
concerning his coming interview with the chief.



CHAPTER IV--A SUPPER PARTY.


[Illustration: 9041]

T TEN {33}O'CLOCK the following morning, Vance sent in his card to the
chief, and was immediately admitted to his presence. "Good morning, Mr.
Gilder."

"Good morning, sir," was Vance's prompt reply.

"I sent for you," said the chief, as he industriously looked over a
bundle of papers on his desk, "To discuss a matter I have had in mind
for some time."

"Yes, sir," was Vance's laconic reply.

The chief having found the paper he evidently had been searching for,
motioned Vance to be seated, and turning to him, asked:

"Have you ever traveled much in the west?"

"Have never been west of Buffalo."

"Your work," observed the chief, "has been very satisfactory--I may say,
especially so--and it is the policy of the _Banner_ not only to reward
those who have talent, but also to keep pace with the times, and give
its readers reliable information upon all questions of moment and
importance. The great Northwest has been opening up for the last half
century. There have been booms and counter-booms out in that country,
spasmodically, for {34}many years, and a great many fortunes have been
lost by ill advised investors, but I am not personally familiar with
anyone who has bettered his condition in western speculations. Just
at the present time the northwest is attracting, as you are doubtless
aware, considerable attention, and the effort to popularize it by the
western press, seems unabating. Our eastern people, even some of the
oldest families of New York, are becoming poisoned with the virus of
western investments. My private opinion is that instead of receiving
dividends on these holdings, they will lose principal and all.

"We want," said he, "a level-headed correspondent in that western
country. Mark, I say level-headed, for the reason that not infrequently
an eastern man, especially if he is unacquainted with the wonderland of
the west, loses his head, figuratively speaking, and becomes won over
by the fairy tales of prospective wealth, as told by the average real
estate boomer.

"You, Mr. Gilder," said the chief, eying Vance with great directness,
"have been selected for this important position of trust. I might," he
continued, as if it were an afterthought, "modify my remarks by saying
there are some places in the west worthy of credence, possessing real
merit; but in nine cases out of ten, the new towns that are ringing
up throughout the north western portion of the United States are, in my
judgment, intangible as moonshine. In short, there is entirely too much
capital flowing from the east into those wildcat western speculations,
and we desire to give a series of letters descriptive of that country
to the readers of the _Banner_, containing the facts stripped of all
allurement, and dissuade them from such unstable investments as are
daily being made.

{35}"I deem," continued the chief, "these few suggestions necessary for
your good in governing the character of your correspondence from that
western country to the columns of the _Banner_. I shall expect you to be
ready tomorrow evening, and start on the six o'clock train. As you will
probably be away for some time, it would be well for you to arrange your
private affairs accordingly.

[Illustration: 8043]

Call tomorrow at eleven o'clock, and I will have ready the necessary
credentials, transports and instructions."

Vance bowed his acquiescence and turned to go, when the chief said, "By
the way, instead of $40 a week, your present salary, you will receive
$60 and expenses, which doubtless will be satisfactory."

Vance attempted to express his appreciation of the confidence that had
been reposed in him, of so important an undertaking; but the chief waved
him to silence and muttered something about "time being money," and at
once turned to other affairs that were awaiting his attention.

That afternoon Vance was not found among the staff, and a new man
occupied his chair. He called on Thomas Patten, Esq., the attorney
who had represented the Gilder family for many years, and named in his
father's will as trustee, and explained to him his promotion, telling
him he would start for the west the next evening.

His old associates at the _Banner_ were asking questions of one another
as to what had transpired between Vance and the chief, but no one seemed
to know anything about it, except that a new man was on duty and Vance
absent.

{36}At half past eleven o'clock that night the dramatic critic hurried
in from the street and passed word around among the coterie that a
surprise was waiting for them over at Thompson's cafe. Thompson's is,
and has been for many years, a favorite resort for newspaper men. Vance
Gilder was well known to the manager as a member of the _Banner_ staff,
and when that afternoon he requested that a lunch something better than
the ordinary be prepared, he was assured that everything would be in
readiness.

The dramatic critic ushered his associates into a private room precisely
at twelve o'clock. Vance was in waiting, and a warm greeting was
exchanged. The religious editor declared that he believed a conspiracy
of gigantic proportions had been laid to entrap the meek and lowly, but,
nevertheless, he took his place with alacrity at the table to enjoy the
modest but excellent feast prepared for the occasion.

A few bottles of rare old wine added interest to the surprise which Vance
had so cleverly arranged. After the glasses had been tilled and drained,
the political editor moved that an explanation was in order.

"My friends," said Vance, "the most important disclosure I have to make
is that my salary has been raised to $60 a week."

The religious editor said, "By Gad," and fell from his chair, declaring
that his nerves were so unstrung that it would require another glass of
wine to restore them. After Vance had carefully narrated his interview
with the chief, he received the hearty congratulations of his
associates. Each vied with the others in wishing him unbounded success
as a western correspondent for the _Banner_. {37}"I understand," said
the political editor, after clearing his throat with a glass of wine,
"that the west is teeming with opportunities in a political way; and I
would not be surprised," he added, "if the Honorable Vance Gilder would
be the next thing we hear of, as mayor of some municipality in the Rocky
Mountain region, or possibly as a member of Congress from the Third
District."

[Illustration: 0045]

"Or still better," observed the religious editor, "president of one
of those bonanza gold mines that advertise {38}themselves as being the
greatest dividend paying properties in the world."

"What's the matter," said the police reporter, "of being moderate in
your expectations? Suppose Vance secures the position of judge of the
police court in one of those western towns, where from a dozen to twenty
drunks and brawls occur every twenty-four hours--ye gods! what a country
for rich morsels of crime!"

It was conceded by all that Vance would have abundant opportunity
for making investments here and there in the growing west that would
materially increase his financial prospects.

[Illustration: 8046]

"Sixty dollars," said the dramatic critic, as he finished his third
glass of wine, "is quite a step up, but evidently a mere bagatelle to
the 'pick-ups' on the side, in a new country that is just developing
like the west is at the present time."

That Vance was one of the luckiest fellows living was the verdict of all
his associates. After the lunch had been disposed of and a good-night
glass of wine drunk to Vance's success, he bade his companions
good-night, and was soon being driven rapidly up Eighth Avenue to
Central Park, west.

On reaching his room he began to feel more than ever that he had
awakened to find himself famous, and that a great honor had been thrust
upon him.

His gratitude to his chief was unbounded, but like the young and
ambitious everywhere, his own personal advancement in a financial sense
was a consideration not to be overlooked. {39}While he knew personally
very little about the Western country, the many allusions of his
companions to the rare opportunities which awaited him in the new world
he was about to visit filled him with a vague, indescribable sense of
importance.

As he retired for the night, he assured himself that Gold Bluff, Idaho,
would be one of his objective points, and hoped he would be there when
the shaft reached the 300 foot level. He was beginning to share the old
miner's enthusiasm and confidence in Gray Rocks.

He drifted away into a restful sleep, while visions of a lovely girl in
early womanhood, with beautiful blue eyes, "gentle grace and sovereign
sweetness," rose in a mist before him, and he dreamed he was at Gold
Bluff.



CHAPTER V.--AN ODD CHARACTER.


[Illustration: 9048]

TRIP from New York to the inter-mountain country of the west, with the
present railroad facilities of palatial Pullmans and dining cars, is now
an every-day affair. The traveler is surrounded by every comfort. Vance
Gilder was more than ever in love with the change, as the cars rumbled
on through dell and forest, across broad stretches of beautiful valley
country, and ever and anon rushing over an iron bridge that spanned some
beautiful stream of water, some of them calm and peaceful, and others
rushing madly along, breaking into white spray over rocky ripples, and
then hurrying on again as if they were running a race with time.

As he approached the Rocky Mountain country, and for the first time in
his life gazed upon that mighty range of Nature's towering masonry, he
was almost intoxicated with the new sights to be seen on the "crown of
the continent."

Notwithstanding his enjoyment of the new and varied scenery, he was glad
enough to abandon the cars at Butte City, after four days and nights of
continuous riding.

Butte City is said to be, not only the greatest mining {41}camp in
Montana, but the greatest in the world. They boast of the many millions
that are brought to the light of day by the magic wand of the miner's
pick. Vance found lodging at the Mercury Hotel, and early the next
morning, after breakfasting heartily, started for a walk.

[Illustration: 0049]

The town is built on a side-hill, gently rising from the depot grounds
westward to a very considerable elevation. He paused now and then to
inspect the architecture of some of the buildings, and then looked away
toward the smelter districts, at the black clouds of smoke which the
{42}chimneys were belching forth, and falling over the city like a veil
of mourning.

Presently he was accosted by an individual of grizzly beard and
good-matured countenance, who said: "Hello, pard; how d'ye do? Sizin'
up these diggins' be ye?"

As Vance eyed his questioner rather critically and acknowledged the
salutation, the fellow reached him a card which bore the name "Hank
Casey." While Vance was glancing at the card, his new acquaintance said:

"I reckon you be from down east? I come from thar a long time ago.
You'll notice from my card that I'm in the real estate business; also
have some fine minin' propositions."

"Yes," replied Vance, "I am from the east, but do not know as I care to
make any investments."

"Well, now, look'ee? here, stranger. I 'spect I might give you a pinter
or two that may not come amiss. This 'ere town is chuck up full of dead
beats and black legs, who make it their business to run every new feller
in that comes from down east. Now Hank Casey do a straight-for'ard,
legitimate business--that's me," said he, as he tucked his thumbs into
the armholes of his vest and straightened himself to his fullest height.

Vance was amused by this odd character, and determined to learn from
him what he could concerning Butte City and the claims made for it. He
therefore asked, "What population have you and what are your resources?"

"Over fifty thousand people, above an' below. You see, thar's several
thousand of us in this town below ground, workin' away with shovel an'
pick. I reckon as how you'll see a fair sample of our miners if you're
on the {43}streets tonight. As for resources--why, pardner, thar's no
end to 'em. We took out mighty near forty million dollars from our mines
last year, an' thar's ore enough in sight to keep on minin' at the same
rate for a hundred years to come. What d'ye think o' that?"

Vance replied that it certainly was a most extraordinary statement.

[Illustration: 8051]

"What other towns have you in this state," asked Vance.

"None to speak of," was the prompt reply. "Butte City is the pertest
town in any o' these western diggings. Thar's not another town in
Montana as can tech one side of us, for money, marbles, or chalk. To be
sure," he went on, in a condescending tone, "we have lots o' towns in
this 'ere state, sech as they be; lots o' minin' camps, but they are
merely blacksmith-shops-on-the-crossroads,' compared with Butte City.
D'ye see that Corner lot over thar'? Five years ago I owned the ground
whar' that buildin' stands. I bought it for $300, held it just thirteen
months, and sold it for $4,000 spot cash."

"Why that was an immense profit," said Vance, with more interest than he
had yet manifested in Hank Casey's description of Butte City. Hank Casey
smiled contentedly and expectorated an accumulation of tobacco juice
with a resounding "pit-tew" on the side walk, and said: "You call that
a good profit? Why, pardner, I bought stock in the Blackbird mine at
twelve cents a share when the company was fust organized, and now its
worth $300 a share and payin' an immense dividend monthly. That's what I
call a good investment; but as fer that speck," {44}said he, jerking
his thumb over his shoulder at the corner lot, "that don't amount to
nothin'."

"Do you know where Gold Bluff, Idaho, is?" asked Vance.

"I reckon I ought to know," replied the boomer; "me an' Steve Gibbons
were the fust prospectors in that 'neck o' the woods.' Steve an' I claim
to own the Peacock, but old Rufus Grim, the biggest scoundrel in Idaho
yes, the biggest in this whole minin' country claims to own it, and has
got possession, and I've learned, in this western country 'specially,
that possession is not only nine points of the law, but mighty near ten.
Of course, a gold mine like the Peacock is a mighty handy thing to have
in the family, but as a general rule, they're mighty unsartin. Give me
a silver or copper mine every time."

Vance assured his new-found acquaintance that he was under many
obligations for the information received, and said he hoped to meet him
again. Hank Casey, however, was not to be disposed of in this way,
and walked along with Vance. Presently he called his attention to some
vacant lots across the street.

"D'ye see them lots over thar? I can sell you one o' them fifty-foot
lots at $3,500. an I'll bet diamonds against peanuts it'll be a rich
buy at $10,000 before two years. By the way, stranger, what's the matter
with you takin a leetle 'flyer' in Butte City dirt? Buy a few lots, stop
here with us for six months, sell 'em out agin for 100 per cent, profit,
an' that'll pay all the expenses of your western trip. See? said he,
touching Vance gently in the ribs with his elbow.

"Yes; I see," said Vance, "I see very clearly, or would, {45}were it not
for the smoke. It smells like sulphur. Does it come from some of your
mills or smelters?"

"Now, look'ee here, pard, you're just like every other down-easter.
They're always kickin' 'bout this smoke.

[Illustration: 9053]

Now, let me tell you; if we didn't have that 'ar smoke we wouldn't have
any Butte City, and besides, it kills the bacteria, molecules, an'
all that sort o thing. It's mighty healthy here, I can tell you, an' a
mighty pert town into the bargain."

Vance coughed immoderately, but Hank Casey who was acclimated, assured
him that he was at that moment breathing the healthiest air that ever
his lungs were filled with.

In the course of their walk, the boomer kept up a constant conversation,
explaining different points of interest, pointing out the different
mining properties in sight and telling their names, until Vance felt
that he had been very fortunate in falling in with one so conversant
with Butte City. At parting, Vance bade his new-found friend good day,
and promised to call at his office before leaving the city.

When he returned to the hotel, he commenced his first letter to the
_Banner_, but it was not finished until late that night. When it
appeared in the great New York journal it surprised, in point of
brilliancy and interest, even his warmest friends. His descriptions were
so vivid and lifelike, and his characters so droll, and withal teeming
with information, that a score of letters came to the managing editor,
assuring him of the great pleasure and profit they had experienced in
its perusal. Of course, Vance knew {46}nothing of this at the time,
but devoted himself with unceasing diligence in searching out reliable
information, and then training it into weekly letters.

Butte City began to impress him as a place of more importance than he
had at first thought. He learned that almost one million of dollars was
paid out monthly to the miners alone, and they, as a class, are "hail
fellows well met," who believe in the doctrine of keeping money in
constant circulation.

He noticed in many of the mercantile houses that when the day clerks
went off duty at six o'clock in the evening, another set of clerks came
on, and the shops and stores, by the aid of brilliant electric lights,
continued business twenty-four hours out of the day the year around.

Vance frequently thought of his conversation with the managing editor,
and what he had said about western towns and the over-enthusiastic town
boomer. In Hank Casey he felt he had found a typical character
that fully came up to all the managing editor had inferred, and had
frequently used him as an inspiration, but was becoming more and more
convinced that Butte City was one of those solid, substantial places
which the managing editor had classed as exceptions to the rule.



CHAPTER VI--THE TOWN BOOMER.


[Illustration: 9055]

BOUT TWO WEEKS after Vance Gilder arrived in Butte City, he noticed one
morning that everybody was talking about a new town, and each was asking
the others what they thought about it. Glancing at the hotel register,
he saw the name, Homer Winthrop, of Waterville, Idaho.

In looking over the _Butte City Miner_ and the _Inter-Mountain Blade_,
both healthy dailies and well edited, he was somewhat astonished to
find a full-page advertisement in each of the papers, setting forth
in blazing splendor the great Thief River Valley, and signed by Homer
Winthrop as agent, announcing that he would be at the Mercury Hotel
for a short time, and inviting those who were interested in investing a
little money in a purely agricultural city, to come early and "get in on
the ground floor."

The advertisement represented Waterville as being in the midst of the
great Thief River Valley, with the largest water power in the country,
surrounded by an agricultural district of two million acres of the
richest land the sun ever shone down upon. He termed the new town of
{48}Waterville the "City of Destiny," and said the price of town lots
would quadruple in a few years' time.

Vance was at once interested. "Here," said he to himself, "is a genuine
town boomer, and as the fellow is stopping at this hotel, it will be an
easy matter to learn just how this boom business is operated. It will
make an excellent article for the _Banner_."

Accordingly, about eleven o'clock that forenoon he called to see the
irrepressible town boomer and hear what sort of a marvelous story he had
to tell about Waterville.

[Illustration: 8056]

He was quickly admitted into a reception room by a young gentleman who
assured him that Mr. Winthrop would soon be at leisure, and begged him
to be seated, calling his attention to the numerous maps on the walls,
one of which covered nearly the entire side of the room.

Winthrop's young assistant seemed to know his business, and at once
commenced the preliminary skirmish of interesting Vance in the great
Thief River Valley, and especially town lots in Waterville; but as Vance
did not evince any inclination to purchase, the young fellow endeavored
to so impress him by calling his attention to the advertisements in the
morning papers. Every once in a while he would tip-toe over to the
door where the great town-boomer, Homer Winthrop, was holding a private
conversation with a would-be purchaser. He would put his ear to the
keyhole and listen for a moment, and then come tip-toeing back and
assure Vance Mr. Winthrop would soon be at leisure.

Presently the door opened and a gentleman in miner's garb came out, and
Vance was immediately shown in. As he entered the private room of Homer
Winthrop, he involuntarily paused to study, if but for a moment, the
face of the man who had arrived in Butte City late the night before, and
now had everyone in the place agog over the prospects of a new town that
had just been laid out on paper in the Thief River Valley.

Homer Winthrop, with all the easy grace of a Chesterfield, motioned his
visitor to a seat, pushing a box of very superior Havanas toward him,
and invited him to join him in burning a weed. He was a man above the
average height, inclined to be rather slender, and possessed a rather
good looking face, beaming with good nature and apparent frankness;
a pair of intelligent dark eyes that laughed and smiled with as much
expression as the face, changeable, however, into intenseness and
earnestness seldom met with; a broad, intellectual forehead; a rather
square chin, indicating great determination of character. To this add
a luxuriant head of dark hair, and moustache, otherwise a clean-shaven
face, and the reader will have a fair idea of his appearance.

He was evidently an adept in reading human nature, and knew his man
on sight; had seen much of western life--and yet it required no second
interview to discover in him the polished manners and easy grace of one
who has seen much of refinement and culture. He could have entered into
the gaieties of a reception in a Fifth Avenue mansion with as little
effort as he had stirred up a city of 50,000 people in a few hours
over the magnificent prospects of a new town that was just budding into
existence.

[Illustration: 0058]

Vance accepted the proffered cigar, and they easily engaged in
conversation. They discussed the great out put of ore from the mines of
Butte City, and the wonder{50}ful development of the western country
during recent years; the magnificent mining properties that had been
opened up; and, in fact, nearly everything except Waterville and the
great Thief River Valley. Homer Winthrop with the skill of a tactician,
narrated incidents and legends of different miners who had devoted a
lifetime in searching for the precious metal and finally "struck it
rich" in some out-of-the-way, unexpected place.

Vance finally inquired in regard to the new town of {51}Waterville, and
was not a little surprised at the conservative reply he received, wholly
devoid of any enthusiasm.

"Oh," said Winthrop, "we have a very excellent agricultural country in
the valley. We are building our new town of Waterville on the rapids of
the Thief River. It has, perhaps, the greatest water power of any inland
city in the United States. Many believe a great citv will eventually be
built at that point. We also have a great deal of capital invested in
the construction of irrigating canals, reclaiming the valley lands from
their present arid condition and converting them into productive farms."
He also went on, in a voice full of rhythm that was almost musical in
its intonation, explaining in a modest way why many people believed in
the future of the place, touching on the numerous natural resources that
were apparent to everyone sufficiently interested to visit the valley
and see for himself.

Vance was deeply interested in Homer Winthrop's appearance, and later
found himself charmed with his new acquaintance more than he cared to
admit, even to himself. On taking his leave, he promised to call again
the next day. As Vance stepped into the reception room, he found
it almost filled with miners and tradesmen who were waiting for an
interview' with Mr. Winthrop, and he rightly guessed that a profitable
business was being done.

In thinking over his interview with the town boomer of Waterville,
Vance was compelled to admit that he was one of the most attractive
individuals with whom he had ever come in contact. That afternoon he
finished a letter to the _Banner_, but it contained no reference to
Waterville.

The result of his second interview was that he accepted an invitation
to visit the new town, which was some two {52}hundred miles distant.
Agreeable to this arrangement, they left Butte City early one morning,
and that evening reached Waterville.

Vance was not particularly attracted by the general appearance and "lay"
of the new town site. It appeared crude and unfinished, and abounded
with sage brush and sand. The waters of the rapids, however, in their
mad rushing as they went foaming down the narrows like race horses,
impressed him with a belief that nothing had been overdrawn in regard
to this great natural power, which had been idling its time away for
centuries.

[Illustration: 9060]

Homer stood by his side on the rocky bank, but said nothing.

Presently Vance looked up and said: "What a wonderful power is going to
waste in these rapids!"

"It will soon be harnessed," replied Winthrop, "and this vast power
utilized in many manufacturing enterprises. I do not feel," he
continued, "that I am over-estimating facts, Mr. Gilder, when I say
there is power enough here to turn every spindle in every woolen mill
and factory in the United States."

"My only surprise," replied Vance, "is that these waters have not been
put to use long before this."

That night at the hotel Vance felt he was indeed "roughing it." He rose
in the morning feeling but little refreshed, and sat down to a very
unpalatable breakfast, and immediately afterwards started with Homer
Winthrop on a drive through the valley.

The farmers were busy harvesting their grain, and on {53}inquiry they
learned the yield of wheat was from forty to seventy bushels to the
acre, and that oats yielded from sixty to one hundred bushels to the
acre. Vance was greatly astonished, and became almost enthusiastic over
the agricultural possibilities of the valley.

"Why," said he, "Mr. Winthrop, there is no question but this is destined
to be one of the richest agricultural valleys in the world. In my work
on the _Banner_ I have had occasion to look up statistics on grain
products, and if these farmers are telling the truth in regard to the
yield of their crops, there is no other place like it in the United
States."

A moment after, he was chagrined to think he had given way to such
a burst of enthusiasm. It would have been better for him to remain
a listener, and allow Winthrop to grow enthusiastic in praise of the
country. Winthrop, however, took no advantage of Vance's earnestness.

The day was a perfect one; the sun was shining, and yet there was a
cool, invigorating breeze sweeping gently down from the snow-capped
Tetons. Driving rapidly and pleasantly along, they at last found
themselves near the foot-hills on a slight elevation overlooking
the valley to the west. Alighting from the carriage, Vance followed
Winthrop's lead, and soon they found themselves on a table rock, at a
sufficient elevation to see for many miles to the north, south and west.
For a few minutes Vance contemplated the sight in silence, and then
said: "This is indeed a grand sight." Turning to Winthrop, he continued:

"I have seen many beautiful sights--the Green and White Mountains of New
England, the Cumberland of {54}Virginia, and the mighty Rocky Mountains
through Colorado but standing here on the foot hills, with the mountains
rising behind us to the sky, with their hoary crests even on this July
day capped with snow, and these mountain streams, foaming cataracts, all
shimmering in the sunshine, making sweet and restful harmony in their
ceaseless flow, surpasses anything I have ever seen. The valley itself
looks like a vast green sward stretching before us like a map. The
yellow shocks of golden grain in the farming districts are suggestive
of what may be in years to come. No man can look upon such a promising
picture and not be convinced of the commercial importance which will
attend the development of this valley."

During Vance's outburst of ecstacy, Homer Winthrop said nothing, merely
acquiescing, in a modest way, to all Vance expressed.

Returning to Waterville, they partook of a sumptuous repast, which
Winthrop had ordered especially prepared, Consisting principally of
mountain trout, caught that morning in the Thief River.

After lunch Vance accepted an invitation to smoke and walk out over the
town site.

"This," said Winthrop, "is block fourteen of Eagle's addition. You see it
is less than three blocks from the center of the town. It is one of the
choicest blocks we have. If you want me to give you some advice, Mr.
Gilder, I will do so, and say, buy a few of these lots. The price is
only $100 each, and, in my judgment, they will be worth $500 before five
years from to-day."

Vance looked away into the distance at the farm lands, and the music of
the sickle was borne lazily to him by a gentle breeze; then he turned
his gaze toward the river, where the roaring waters were crowding down
the rapids, proclaiming in thundering tones that Waterville was an
exception to the rule. After a little he turned to Homer Winthrop and
said: "I have been advised to keep clear of these new towns. The person
who gave me this advice told me there were a few honorable exceptions to
the rule. I must believe, from what I have seen, that Waterville is an
exception. I will take twenty-five of these lots, and you may fix up the
deed for them as soon as possible."

The deed and abstract were delivered to Vance that afternoon, and his
check for $2,500 was duly deposited in Homer Winthrop's pocket.

"I may have been foolish," said Vance, "to act so hastily in this
matter."

Winthrop turned to him, and placing a hand on either shoulder, looked
squarely into his companion's eyes, and said:

"My belief, Mr. Gilder, is that you have acted wisely, and if you
will keep these lots five years, you will thank me for suggesting
the advisability of making the purchase. I have but one request to
make--that you will wait five years before passing judgment on my
advice."

"Your request is cheerfully granted," replied Vance with great
earnestness, and the two men clasped hands, and a bond of friendship was
thereby woven.



CHAPTER VII.--A VISIT TO WATERVILLE


[Illustration: 9064]

NEW WESTERN TOWN is usually provided with a public square, and the
business houses and shops are arranged along the four sides of it in
sentinel-like position, the corner lots going at a premium, and where
the most substantial buildings are erected. Waterville, however could
not boast of a public square, but it had two iron bridges spanning the
Thief River.

A large stone grist mill had been built on the side of the river
opposite the town, and on the elevated ground beyond, it was said the
State Agricultural College was to be built.

It was a favorite pastime with the real estate agents to sit on the
depot platform, and while waiting for the incoming trains, to whittle
pine sticks into shavings, telling of the different manufactories, state
institutions, colleges and asylums, etc., that would be located in the
near future at Waterville.

That evening after Vance had made his purchase of town lots he strolled
away by himself across the great iron bridge, and gave himself up to
meditation. Had he acted wisely? Would Waterville after all prove
a "boom town" and his investment a losing one? Was Homer Winthrop,
{57}with his suave manners and great earnestness, which at times seemed
to carry conviction to the hearts of all who heard him express
himself, the noble specimen of manhood he appeared to be, or were his
fascinations merely the arts of the ordinary skilled western boomer?
Would the managing editor approve his action in purchasing lots in such
a new and undeveloped place as Waterville?

It is a common experience with mankind, that after a doubtful
transaction has been consummated, we can deliberate with far more
intentness of thought than before the trade was made.

A peculiarity of a western town is its plentifulness of real estate
agents, who seem to travel in swarms, and find an abiding place in the
town that promises the greatest activity.

[Illustration: 9065]

After a reaction sets in and hard times overtake them, this peculiar
class usually pick up their "ink-horns" and fly, as from a pestilence.

Another peculiarity is, that if a trade is made with a "tender-foot"
everyone in the village usually knows of it in a very few hours.

As Vance was returning from his walk he was met on the outskirts of the
village by a number of this class of hangers-on, who make their living
by selling town lots on commission. Each one was desirous of saying
"just a word" to Vance in private.

The story of one was practically the story of all. They advised him
to stop and think what he was losing by not buying more property in
Waterville. One particularly long, lank individual, who wore a sombrero
and high-{58}topped boots, assured him that "the opportunity of a
lifetime was at that very minute knocking at his door; it might never
come again."

"You might go away from Waterville," said he, "and come back here in
a few mouths' time, and you'll find the town lots I can sell you to-day
for a mere song, going at ten times the price that you can buy them for
now. My name is Steve Gibbons, and I presume I am doing the biggest
real estate business in Waterville. I sell more lots than any other half
dozen agents in town. You've made a great mistake, Mr. Gilder," said he,
"in buying of the Town Company. Of course, this is confidential, but if
you had come to me instead of buying of Winthrop, I could have saved you
big money."

"What do you mean by 'the company'?" asked Vance.

"Why, you see, the Waterville Town Company own mighty near all the
property in town.

[Illustration: 9066]

That man Winthrop is a member of the company. Now, while I have not as
many lots for sale as the Town Company, my prices beat them all holler."

"Do you think," asked Vance, "that Mr. Winthrop charged me too much for
my lots?"

"Think!" said Steve Gibbons, "think? why, pardner, all the agents in
town are laughin' about it; he took you in."

Vance bit his lips, and mentally concluded to investigate very
thoroughly before he quit Waterville.

"You see," Gibbons went on, "all us fellers are down on the Town
Company. We don't like corporations, nohow; they don't give us
honorable-intentioned fellers a fair chance. We are the men that's
buildin' up this here town--givin' it the bone, and the sinew, and the
standin', so to speak. Don't you see?"

"Yes," said Vance, "I understand," and begging to be excused, he turned
and walked away from the "honorable-intentioned" Steve Gibbons, and soon
after sought the privacy of his own room in the Ballard House.

Dick Ballard was a Grand Army man, and kept the only hotel of any
importance in Waterville. The only thing first-class about it was the
price for lodging. Immediately after the average traveler settled his
bill at the Ballard, there was generally a half-distinct impression
in his mind that he had been stopping at a first-class hotel, but the
remembrance of three kinds of meat cooked in the same kettle was not
easily forgotten.

As Vance sat in his room, in anything but a pleasant frame of mind,
there came a gentle knock on his door. He quickly admitted his visitor,
and found it was Dick Ballard, the proprietor.

"I reckon," said he, as soon as he stepped in, "you'll be one of us by
and by. Bought property already, and a mighty good buy you've made of
it, too. Oh, you know a good thing when you see it; you bet yer life you
do."

"Do you think," said Vance, "the lots I purchased were reasonable at the
price?"

"I should say so; yes, sir, mighty cheap. This here town is comin out
of the kinks in fine shape. We'll have a drum corps in our State militia
before another year; you bet we will. I presume you know we have the
finest drilled company at Waterville, outside the regular army, in the
state?"

"I have been told," said Vance, "that I paid too much {60}for the
property. I am more interested in learning the truth or untruth of the
statement than I am about your militia company."

[Illustration: 0068]

"Who told you that:" asked Ballard, with indignation. As Vance did not
answer, the hotel proprietor went on to say: "I'll bet it was J. Arthur
Boast. Now, look'ee here, Mr. Gilder, you can't believe everything these
fellers tell you."

The truth of this remark pressed itself on Vance so {61}forcibly, and
his indignation getting the better of him, he turned upon Dick Ballard
and said bitterly:

"Who in thunderation can I believe?"

"You can believe me, sir, and I'll produce prima facie evidence of
everything I say. This town is all right; your investment is a good one,
and the man who says it is not is surely trying to stick his nose into
other people's business--but, say, hold on a minute," said Ballard, as
if he had forgotten something, "will you take a drink?" and he produced
a bottle from his pocket.

"No, thank you," said Vance.

"Well, if you don't mind, I will," said the landlord, as he proceeded to
treat himself to a liberal portion of the contents of his bottle.

"Now," said he, as he sat down smacking his lips, "everything I tell you
is prima facie. I know how it is; some of these fellows have been trying
to make you dissatisfied with your purchase. I am not selling town
lots. My business is to run this hotel and see that everybody has a fair
deal."

"Who is the Town Company?" asked Vance.

"The Town Company, sir, consists of some of the most remarkable men in
this country. They are strong men, brainy men; they are hustlers; and
I," said Ballard, rising to his feet, "I am their friend. This man,
Homer Winthrop," he went on, "carries more gray matter about on his
brain than all the shark real estate agents in Waterville put together.
He is one of the company, but you'll see them all before long; and when
you do, I know you'll agree with me in saying they are the cleanest
cut lot of men on the continent. Winthrop is a great man, but there are
others in the company that are a mighty {62}sight stronger than he is.
They are all men of honor, and their integrity is prima facie."

"Prima facie" seemed to be a favorite expression of Dick Ballard's.
After he had delivered himself in the strongest language at his command,
he treated himself to another drink and retired.

Vance sat far into the night, looking out at his window into the mellow
moonlight, listening to the ceaseless roar of the waters and the yelping
coyotes in the distance, which were answered by half a dozen dogs in
different parts of the town. At times he regretted his purchase, and
again he felt it must, in the very nature of things, increase many times
in value in a few years.

The moon came up the eastern sky, and seemed to hang in space like
a ball of fire, beckoning him to return to his eastern home before
disaster overtook him. The three great Tetons of the mountain range
bearing their name stood out in bold relief, throwing long, menacing
shadows directly towards him. The shimmering of the soft moonbeams
glistened on the restless waters of the musical river, whose alluring
song of promise and power was wafted to him on the night wind.



CHAPTER VIII.--AT THE MINE


[Illustration: 9071]

HE {63}next morning Vance was rather late in rising. Soon after he had
taken his seat at the breakfast table, he was joined by an individual
small in stature but tastily dressed. His eyes were restless, and he
seemed on the point of making an observation several times before he
finally did so.

"Very pleasant morning," said he, looking up at

Vance and then hastily glancing at the sunshine that streamed in at the
window.

"Yes, delightful," was Vance's reply.

Presently the stranger observed: "Sunny days are the rule, cloudy days
the exception, at Waterville. At least that's my experience during a
year's sojourn among the good people of this village." There was a
quaking sound in the fellow's voice that attracted Vance's attention,
because it was different from others more than because there was
anything charming about it. Vance wondered if this individual was not
also in the real estate business. It seemed as if every one with whom
you come in contact was a real estate agent. He was on the point of
asking him what line of business he {64}was engaged in, when the fellow,
looking up from his plate, said, "Real estate is my line. My office is
just across the street; you can see my sign from the window." Looking
out at the window, Vance saw a large real estate sign, with gold letters
on a black back-ground, bearing the name of "J. Arthur Boast."

"You are Mr. Boast, I presume," said Vance, turning from the window.

"J. Arthur Boast, at your service."

Half an hour later Vance Gilder was seated in the real estate office of
J. Arthur Boast, looking over his special bargain list; not with a view
of buying, but rather to gain information.

[Illustration: 9072]

Boast talked a great deal, and in his fawning, insinuating manner,
advised Vance, without saying so in so many words, to keep his eyes open
when dealing with the Town Company. After Vance had carefully scanned
his list of town lots, he was better satisfied than ever with his
purchases.

Taking a bottle from his desk, Boast held it up toward the sunlight,
and asked Vance if he would have some "red liquor." Vance declined with
thanks. Boast walked back and forth with the bottle in his hand, and in
a quaking voice, meant to be confidential, told Vance that he had got
to quit drinking; that red liquor was getting an awful hold on him.
He seemed to be desirous of giving the impression that he was a hard
drinker. Finally he poured out some of the contents of the bottle into
a glass, and drank it down at one swallow. Afterwards he seemed quite
wretched and his eyes were filled {65}with tears. Vance concluded,
notwithstanding all he had said against himself, that J. Arthur Boast
was not a drinking man.

"That liquor is all right," said Boast; "a very superior article, but
it is a little early in the day for me to commence. It always half
strangles me in the morning."

As Vance was seeking information from which he could draw his own
conclusions, he gave Boast all the opportunities possible to express
himself in regard to Waterville and its people.

[Illustration: 8073]

The fellow said nothing positive, yet there was an evil vein of
insinuation in all that he did say not only in regard to the Waterville
Town Company and every other real estate agent, but also against
everybody in the town generally. Vance very much disliked the fellow,
and afterwards learned that he was universally disliked and shunned by
everyone in Waterville.

Instead of returning to Butte City with Winthrop that afternoon, Vance
remained in Waterville, and arranged to take the early stage next
morning for Gold Bluff, which was located some sixty miles northwest of
Waterville, in the Fish River Mining District. He arrived in that Idaho
mining town late the following night, registered at the Bluff House, and
after a late supper retired to his room for a much needed rest.

The next morning he found, on inquiry, that Ben Bonifield's mine was
located about half a mile from town upon the mountain side, and he
at once started out in {66}that direction, to see how the work on the
shaft, bound for the 300 foot level, was progressing.

The town of Gold Bluff was cozily nestled in a little valley, with
abrupt mountains lowering away to the sky on either side of it. The
mountains were covered with spruce and pine and mountain poplars up to
the snow line, above which the barren rocks rose majestically towards
the heavens. A refreshing stream meandered its course through the town,
on one side of which were stores and shops, and on the other residences.
Vance noticed that some of them were of modern architecture and neatly
painted, while others were primitive in the extreme--relics of early
mining; days. The town was rather quaint and picturesque, and made more
so by a profusion of shade trees.

"Good morning," said Vance, as he came up to Ben Bonifield, who, in
miner's costume, was working vigorously away at the frame-work of the
shaft over Gray Rocks. The old man looked up with an astonished air, and
said:

[Illustration: 8074]

"Good mawnin', suh." Then, recognizing his visitor, he threw down his
hammer and gave Vance's hand such a squeeze in his powerful grasp that
it almost made him cry out with pain.

"Why, suh," cried the old miner, "I am almost pa'alyzed to see yo'. I
am indeed, suh. Mr. Gilder, I welcome yo' suh, to Gold Bluff and to
Gray Rocks. Here, suh, are our possessions," waving his hand toward
the shaft. "Immediately upon my return from the city, Mr. Gilder, we
commenced work in earnest, suh, and befo' many weeks, I am proud to say,
suh, we will reach the 300 foot level and be ready to cross-cut into
the vein, suh. Yo' don't know," said the old miner, again taking Vance's
hand, "how proud I am--yes, proud, suh, proud to be honored with a visit
from yo', I very much desire that yo' pu'son'lly inspect the mine; and
there is no better time than the present."

Vance entered heartily into the tour of inspection, and at the old
miner's invitation, went down in the bucket, where the miners were at
work. The old gentleman kept him there until he had explained everything
to the minutest detail, and when Vance at last reached the top of the
shaft he felt he had a far better idea of sinking shafts on mines than
ever before.

"Come," said the old miner, "my Louise will be most delighted to see
yo', suh; she will indeed." Then turning, he gave some instruction
to his foreman, telling him he would not return that afternoon, and
together the old gentleman and Vance walked down the mountain side to
the village of Gold bluff.

The old miner's residence was a modest one, situated well back from the
street, near some huge boulders--a natural pyramid of rocks, while a
beautiful little spring of water flowed from near its base. There was a
very pretty yard in front, filled with growing evergreens and mountain
ash.

"I planted these trees myself, suh," said the old miner, "years ago.
They remind me of my old Virginia home. I was the fust one to set out
shade trees in Gold Bluff; yes, still, the fust one."

As Vance entered the yard, he paused a moment to contemplate the beauty
and home-like appearance of the {68}yard, and Ben Bonifield's home,
with its wide porches in front literally covered with honeysuckles, ivy,
and vining roses.

[Illustration: 0076]

Vance found Louise dressed as a mountain maid, instead of the
fashionable young lady who had called on him in his New York home. She
was not such a woman as poets rave about, and yet, withal, there was a
grace--a charm--about her, that commanded admiration. Her hair, in the
sunlight, was like one beautiful sheen of gold, {69}with little ringlets
here and there; her complexion was pink and white, and when under deep
excitement a ruddy glow would mantle her cheeks. Her nose, while well
formed, neither large nor small, was quite ordinary. Her mouth was a
perfect Cupid's bow, with lips like two red cherries. As Vance conversed
with her that afternoon, he forgot the hair, forgot the delicately
formed, rosy lips, forgot even the glow of pink which came and went over
her fair cheeks, in looking into her talking eyes--so clear, so blue,
and yet to trustful; even forgot the long brown lashes that fringed
them with gentle protection. Her eyes were the crowning feature of her
expressive face, which may not have been a beautiful one in the parlance
of fashion, yet it was one that a student of human nature would term
a face of intelligence; and after all, to the cultured, is there aught
more beautiful?

As Vance sat with the old miner and his daughter on the porch of their
cozy dwelling that afternoon, he forgot time. The sun went down behind
the western mountains, leaving the beauty of an afterglow reflected on
the waters of the mountain brooklet. The moon that was climbing up over
the eastern hills threw its rays aslant through the clinging roses that
grew in profusion about the porch. A feeling of peace, and possibly
a dangerous contentment, stole into his heart, and he murmured a
thanksgiving to the fates. The unseen, potent force that binds us
all, sooner or later, with a silken cord, was thonging him to a future
destiny.



CHAPTER IX.--THE STAGE DRIVER.


[Illustration: 9078]

ROM {70}Gold Bluff Vance sent to the _Banner_ one of his strongest
descriptive letters. The inspiration of the new west, with its gorges,
mountains, beautiful valleys and gurgling streams abounding with trout,
tinged its every sentence.

His vivacious style, which had won for him the place he occupied on the
_Banner_, was reinforced with the new and intoxicating sights of
the picturesque. For two weeks he did little else than tramp through
valleys, following up mountain streams on fishing jaunts, and felt that
he was "roughing it" in a most delightful fashion. One night, coming in
from a long tramp far up in the mountains, he found a large bundle of
mail awaiting him that had been forwarded from Butte Citv. Among his
letters was one from the chief, which read as follows:

_Banner_ Office,

New York City, July

Dear Sir:

Your letters to the _Banner_, in one sense of the word, are all and even
more than I expected. They are giving excellent satisfaction. As yet
you have expressed no decided opinion in regard to the desirability of
Western investments.

My ideas are to educate our readers against unstable investments. Nine
out of every ten of the mining shafts in Montana, {71}in my judgment,
have had more money put into them than ever has or ever will be taken
out. You will also find many Western towns where they are selling lots
at from one to two hundred dollars each, which, in reality, would be
expensive property to own at the government price of $1.25 per acre. Of
course, there are, perhaps, a few honorable exceptions.

To Vance Gilder, Esq.

Respectfully,

J. R. S., Chief.

When one is seeking an excuse for his convictions, especially if
they are as strong as Vance's had become in regard to Butte City and
Waterville, the one little sentence, "Of course, there are, perhaps, a
few honorable exceptions," in the chief's letter saves him a great
deal of worry. Vance was too light hearted to be cast down by the
half-criticism of the class of correspondence he was sending in.

He had an engagement that evening with Louise Bonifield and her father;
indeed, his was a standing invitation at the Bonifields', and almost
every afternoon since his arrival at Gold Bluff found him at their
mountain home.

[Illustration: 9079]

As he started from the hotel he was accosted by a familiar voice:
"Hello, pard; how d' ye do?" and Steve Gibbons thrust out his long arm
to shake Vance's hand in western fashion. He still wore his sombrero and
high-topped boots.

Vance assured Gibbons that he was delighted to see him.

"I knew you would be," said Gibbons, "You see, I have given up the real
estate t {72}business clown at Waterville, and am turned stage driver.
Of course, every man in this 'ere country is lookin' for promotion. I
don't reckon I'm any smarter than other people, but I've had my eye on
this job for several months; but you can bet your life them other real
estate agents didn't know nothin' about it. I tell you, pardner, it's a
mighty elevatin' position to drive a six-horse team through these deep
mountain gorges in all kinds of wind and weather. Had to give a mighty
stout bond, too, for we handle all the express matter, and there's a
good deal of gold dust hauled down from this 'ere camp."

Vance was glad to meet anyone, however slight the acquaintance had been,
and in the course of their conversation Steve Gibbons confessed to him
that he was "givin' it to him just a leetle" in regard to the town lots
which Vance had purchased of the Town Company.

"You see," said he, "the facts are, the Town Company of Waterville has
made that 'ere town, and are still makin' it. It's a mighty pert place,
and is growin' perter all the time."

Vance mentally wondered if all the "honest intentioned" fellows of
Waterville would talk in the same way about the Town Company if they
were occupying positions where their interests were no longer adverse to
the Company's.

"Then you don't think I paid too much for my lots?" asked Vance,
looking up with a quizzical expression.

"No," said Steve Gibbons, "them lots are all right, pardner, and will
make you a barrel if you hold on to 'em. They sold 'em to you cheap
enough. That was just a leetle competition talk I was givin' you that
night down at Waterville. Business is business, you know, {73}when you
are sellin' town lots, and a man has got to talk for hisself. I really
did want to sell you some lots, that's a fact, 'cause I wanted to rake
in the commission; but it's all over with now. I have throwed up the
whole darned business of sellin' lots since I was promoted. Old Dick
Ballard," said he, "is jest as _prima facie_ as ever, and says his
company is the finest drilled militia in the state. By the way," he
continued, "the Town Company has had a meetin', and the people are
feelin' mighty good jess now'."

"How's that?" asked Vance.

"Oh," replied Gibbons, "about once a month the Town Company have a
meetin', and pass resolutions, declar' dividends and get up a new'
prospectus of different manufacturin' enterprises that's goin' to
be built thar; also, of colleges and state institutions that will be
located at Waterville this comin' year, and that always makes the people
feel high-spirited for the next week or ten days, anyhow. Most of the
people go on a spree after one o' them encouragin' meetin's."

"I presume," said Vance, "that Homer Winthrop is one of the leading
spirits of the Company."

"He is one of the Company," said Gibbons, as he filled his pipe and lit
it, "but he lacks a good deal, I can tell you, of bein' the biggest toad
in the puddle. There's old Colonel Alexander, he's the fellow that
lays out the plans on a gigantic scale. Then there's General Ira House.
I 'spect he has the biggest reputation of any town boomer on the western
half of the continent--I allow as what he has. And when you're talkin'
about smart ones, you don't want to forget B. Webster Legal; he's the
corporation attorney, and you can bet your last {74}half dollar the
company will never run agin' any shoals as long as he stands at the
wheel and writes up contracts. Oh, he's a hummer, and no mistake."

"It's reported down thar' that half a dozen different railroad companies
are tryin' mighty hard to get him for their attorney, but he saws, 'Not
much; I have cast my fortune with my friends and with Waterville, and
I'll stick by the enterprise as long as a town lot can be sold.'"

"The Town Company is mighty cute," he went on, "they never have any law
suits, 'cause their contracts are drawn up with knots tied knee deep all
over the fellow they're dealin' with."

It is probable that Steve Gibbons would have gone on indefinitely had
not Vance begged to be excused, pleading a previous engagement. They
bade each other good night, Gibbons starting for the stables to look
after his horses, and Vance walked leisurely along toward the Bonifield's
home.

That afternoon Louise had accepted his invitation to go on a fishing
jaunt some day during the week to a place called Silver Point Lake, some
two miles away.

[Illustration: 8082]

Her simplicity of manner and frankness, though possessing, withal, a
demure humor, which was one of her charming characteristics, had greatly
fascinated him.

They were standing on the cottage porch in the soft summer twilight,
while a mountain breeze was tossing the ringlets of Louise's hair about,
as if coquetting with them. Vance was studying her face while she was
looking far away toward the western {75}mountains, where the sun had
left a reddened glow on the sky, which, he said, was a promise of fair
weather for the fishing excursion the next day. Presently, a creaky
voice commenced calling:

"Louise! Louise! where is your par?" and before Vance's fair companion
could explain, a woman well advanced in years came out on the porch, and
seemed surprised at seeing Vance, and eyed him critically.

"Aunt Sally," said Louise, "this is Mr. Gilder, papa's friend. Mr.
Gilder, this is my Aunt Sally, father's sister."

Aunt Sally acknowledged the introduction with a stately bow. Her apparel
was of the fashion of a quarter of a century ago.

"Am very glad to see you, suh," she said, addressing Vance. "I
understand you are interested with my brother in his mine. I can give
you, Mr. Gilder, some very excellent advice; I can, indeed, suh, but I
will defer it until some other time." Then turning to Louise, she said,
"Do you know where your par's gone?"

"I do not," replied Louise, sweetly, "I think he will be here in a few
moments."

"I just allow he's grub-stakin' some of them pesky prospectin' miners
again," cried Aunt Sally. "Mr. Gilder," she continued, "I have to watch
over my brother very closely, I do, indeed, suh. He's been plantin'
money all over these mountains for many years, but there's no crop ever
been harvested. I allow I'll give him a piece of my mind when he comes
home." Saying this, she turned and disappeared into the house. Louise
was evidently confused, and regretted her aunt's words, while Vance was
at a loss to understand the import of the spinster s remarks.

{76}"I am very sorry, Mr. Gilder," said Louise--and he noticed she was
trembling like a frightened bird--"sorry that Aunt Sally should so far
forget herself as to speak so before a stranger."

[Illustration: 0084]

Vance declared there was no reason for being disturbed, but Louise was
not wholly reassured by his words. "I know papa will be very angry with
Aunt Sally."

"There surely is no cause for that," replied Vance.

{77}"You see," said Louise, "mamma died when Virginia and I were little
girls, and Aunt Sally has been a mother to us. Ever since papa commenced
work on Gray Rocks she has continually opposed him. She says he will
never find a dollar s worth of gold if he sinks his shaft a thousand
feet. I sometimes think she has influenced sister Virgie. Sister is away
from home now, teaching school at Waterville. I do not know whether papa
is wrong or not, but if he is, then I am also, for I believe with all my
heart that some time papa will find the wealth he has so persistently
labored for so many years. And I sincerely hope," she continued, laying
her hand on Vance's arm and looking pleadingly up into his face, "that
you will not be influenced by anything that Aunt Sally may have said,
will you?"

Vance was only human; he could not withstand such an appeal, If doubts
had ever come to him, the trembling girl at his side, by her looks and
words, had put them to flight. "No," he replied, "my faith is as firm as
the rocks in your father's mine."



CHAPTER X.--PROPERTY HAS GONE UP.


[Illustration: 9086]

MMEDIATELY {78}after breakfast the following morning, Vance was waited
upon by Col. Bonifield. The old miner bore a troubled expression on his
face. Vance invited him to his room.

"Mr. Gilder," said the old miner, as he raised himself to his full
height, and with the dignity of a general addressed Vance: "I assure
yo', suh, I am greatly pained at the uncalled fo' remarks which my
sister made in yo'r presence last evening; I am indeed, suh.

"I assure you," replied Vance, "there is no occasion to refer to the
matter at all. I assured your daughter, and I now assure you, that I
have every confidence in the mine, and will continue to have until you
yourself have sufficient reason to shake your faith. I certainly cannot
say more, and under the circumstances could not say less."

"Mr. Gilder," said the old miner, "yo', suh, are a very honorable
gentleman, and I am very proud of my partnership with yo'; I am indeed,
suh. In regard to my sister--in her younger days, I assure yo', she
was one of the most rema'kable women of Virginia; yes, suh, a vehy
rema'kable woman. She certainly has been a true sister to me, suh, and a
faithful mother to my daughters, but in {79}some way she disbelieves in
Gray Rocks, and would yo' believe it, suh, she has gone so far at
times as to intimate that I am crazy as a March hare in regard to ever
'strikin' it rich' on our minin' property; yes, suh, she certainly has
said some vehy bitter things against Gray Rocks, but fo' all that,
she is a vehy rema'kable woman, even to this day. Yes, suh, quite
rema'kable."

"I now have a matter, Mr. Gilder," he continued, "of vehy great
importance to discuss with yo." Vance offered the old miner a cigar,
which he accepted, and soon they were discussing the "important matter,"
which of course referred to Gray Rocks.

[Illustration: 8087]

"We are not far away, Mr. Gilder, from the 300 foot level. Our machinery
and pumps, suh, have been workin' rema'kably well. Two weeks mo' and our
shaft will be finished; yes, suh, finished. Then we will cross-cut, and
my opinion is, it will be well fo' yo' to remain in Gold Bluff and
be ready to send in yo'r resignation as cor'spondent of that New York
paper; yes, suh that is my advice. It is only proper, suh, that yo'
should enjoy the riches that await yo'."

"But supposing, Col. Bonifield," said Vance, "supposing that you do not
find any pay ore when you crosscut into the vein, as you say; in that
event, I suppose you agree with me that it would be a pretty good idea
for me to hold my position on the _Banner?_"

"Of cou'se, suh," replied the old miner, "but there is but one chance in
ten thousand that we won't strike it. I admit of this one chance against
us, suh, fo' the sake of {80}argument alone. Mr. Grim is now takin' out
of the Peacock some of the richest ore I ever saw in my life, he is indeed,
suh--and his mine joins ours, as yo' know, directly on the nawth."

Vance was silent for a few moments, and then said: "In the event, Col.
Bonifield, we do not strike it; what then? Will you be discouraged?"

"No, suh; if we fail at the 300 foot level, suh, and yo' can furnish
the money, we will start the next mornin' fo' the 400 foot level; but
I assure yo', suh, I have no idea yo 'll have to furnish any mo' money.
Gray Rocks is a sure winner; it is indeed, suh. The oldest miners in
the camp say that if we stick to Gray Rocks it will be worth mo' in five
years than Rufus Grim's Peacock mine. When I was yo'r age, Mr. Gilder,"
he continued, blowing a cloud of smoke away out of the window toward
Gray Rocks, "I could not have stuck to that property year after year as
I have been doin'. Why suh, it took a quarter of a century's experience
fo' me to learn that a rollin' stone gathers no moss'; it did indeed,
suh. Now I have observed the fellows that strike it, in nine cases out
of ten, are the ones who follow up and hold on after they once strike
a trail. Why, suh, if yo' had seen the float rock that I found befo'
stakin' out Gray Rocks, yo' would know why I believe there is an entire
hill full of wealth over yonder."

While they were talking there came a gentle rap on the door. Vance
called out for them to "come in. The door opened, and a boy sidled into
the room with a letter in his hand and asked for Col. Bonifield.

"At yo'r service, suh," said the old miner' rising with much dignity.
"Thank yo', suh," said he, taking the {81}letter. The boy took himself
off, closing the door behind him, while the colonel, adjusting his
glasses, read aloud the address, "Miss Louise Bonifield."

Dropping his glasses from his eyes, he placed the letter in his pocket
and said: "Mr. Boast has evidently returned to Gold Bluff."

"Mr. Boast, did you say?" asked Vance.

"Yes, suh, Mr. Boast--a young man in whom I have only the slightest
confidence. His full name is J. Arthur Boast. His father, Colonel Boast,
lives on a ranch about three miles from here."

Vance could never explain why, but the unfavorable opinion he had formed
of J. Arthur Boast while at Waterville was in the twinkling of an eye
changed to hatred. Soon after, Colonel Bonifield took his departure, and
Vance commenced preparing for his next day's fishing-jaunt. His door had
been left ajar, and presently he heard a squeaky, ill-omened voice that
he well remembered.

"How do you do, Mr. Gilder?"

Vance turned and saw J. Arthur Boast standing at his door. "How do you
do," said Vance, rather abruptly.

"I did not expect to find you at Gold Bluff," said Boast in an
insinuating tone of voice.

"Why not?" said Vance; without deigning to look up.

"Oh, you eastern fellows, and newspaper men in particular, never stay
very long in one place. So you've met my old mining friend, Colonel
Bonifield?"

"Yes," replied Vance.

"I presume you've met his daughter, Miss Louise?" As he made this remark
he looked out of the corners of his restless eyes in a manner that was
intended to be cunning. {82}Vance was full of resentment, and dared not
trust himself to make and immediate reply. Presently Boast continued:
"They are old friends, of mine; a most respectable family. I used to
live in Gold Bluff; may live here again. One can't say what may happen,
you know."

[Illustration: 0090]

"I thought," said Vance, "you were in love with Waterville."

"One's in love where one's possessions are, don't you see?"

Vance did not reply to the question, but busied himself with his fishing
tackle. Presently Boast took a bottle from his pocket, and said:

"Will you have a drink of red liquor Vance replied in the negative.

"Well, I suppose," said Boast, "I ought not to drink so much. The truth
is, I am a pretty devilish hard citizen. I am drinking entirely too much
of the stuff, but no one takes interest enough in me to tell me so; yet
I know I'm going to the bad. The habit is formed and what is a fellow
going to do about it?"

He waited some time for a reply, but as Vance made none, he proceeded to
pour out a small portion of the contents of the bottle into a glass, and
then added some water to it and stood looking out of the window.

"Won't you be seated?" asked Vance.

"Thank you, I believe I will," replied Boast, and sat down with the
glass of liquor in his hand, and said nothing for several minutes. He
acted as if he dreaded the ordeal of swallowing the portion, but felt it
would not do to set it aside after all he had said in regard to being
a hard drinker. Finally he gulped it down at a single swallow, and then
drank a great quantity of water immediately afterward. He strangled
considerably and his eyes became very red, and evidently was glad the
trial was over. Presently he said:

"Mr. Gilder, there are things going to happen down at Waterville in
the next ninety days that will surprise everyone. Some very large
manufacturing enterprises wall soon be located there."

"That certainly is very welcome news," replied Vance, "as a property
owner in the new city, I am naturally interested in its development."


{84}"Property has gone up ten per cent since you were there."

"Is that so?" said Vance, looking up in some surprise. "Of course,"
Boast continued, "I am selling my special bargain list at the same old
prices, but the Company and other real estate agents who have desk room
here and there over the town, are trying very hard to inflate prices. I
am holding them level, however, and intend to keep on doing so. I don't
propose having Waterville killed by a lot of town boomers, who are
trying to get prices away above intrinsic values."

"It is very fortunate," replied Vance, "that Waterville has such a
conservative citizen as yourself."

"It's very complimentary for you to say so, I am sure," replied Boast.
"Of course. Mr. Gilder, I would not say anything detrimental about
anyone."

"Certainly not," replied Vance. The tenor of his conversation was
decidedly wicked in its insinuations; indeed, one to hear him talk would
naturally think the destiny of Waterville rested entirely with J. Arthur
Boast. Presently, in a high, creaking voice, he said:

"How do you like Miss Louise?"

"Miss Louise?" repeated Vance, with a perplexed look on his face.

"Yes, Miss Louise Bonifield. How do you like her? Pretty fair specimen
for the west, ain't she?"

"My likes and dislikes," said Vance, "are hardly to be taken into
consideration. One seldom forms an opinion until he is acquainted. Of
course, there are exceptions to the rule. I have known people for a very
short time, and yet instinctively taken a great dislike to them. Miss
Bonifield," continued Vance, without looking up, {85}"has the appearance
of a lady of refinement and culture, but as my observations have been
limited, I can hardly say more than that I am well pleased with both the
young lady and her father." At this Vance prepared to leave the room.

"You'd better drink with me," said Boast, taking up his bottle again.

[Illustration: 9093]

"I am liable to drink every drop of this liquor before I let up, and
you'd only be doing me a kindness by dividing it up with me a little."

"No, thank you," replied Vance. "Very well," said Boast "I shall remain
in Gold Bluff several days, and hope to see you often."

Vance closed the door after Boast had left his room, and the one word,
"Scoundrel!" hissed through his teeth.



CHAPTER XI.--OWNER OF THE PEACOCK MINE.


[Illustration: 9094]

HE next {86}morning Vance was up at an early hour for a morning walk.
He followed the winding road up the hill-side toward Gray Rocks. The
air was fresh and invigorating; the sun was just rising over the eastern
mountains. Robins and mountain thrushes were twittering gaily their
morning songs. He mentally compared the stifled life so prevalent in the
great cities to the healthful and exhilarating prospect about him.

A shadow flitted across his mind. It was J. Arthur Boast's inquiry in
regard to Louise Bonifield. "But why should I be so ready to come to
her rescue? What right have I to be her champion? They may be old
acquaintances, but they certainly are not friends. She is too noble a
character to form an alliance of friendship with such an individual as
Boast. He is critical, cold, calculating, and, I believe, unprincipled."

Walking on in an aimless way, he followed a path that led by Gray Rocks
on toward the Peacock. Presently he saw a well-dressed man in middle
life walking toward him. There was an unmistakable look of good living
and prosperity--a general air of superiority about him. His round, fat
face was smooth shaven, except a {87}bristly dark moustache. His nose
was large and obtrusive. In his shirt front glistened a diamond of great
value, while its counterpart reflected the morning sun from a massive
ring on one of his fat, short fingers.

"Good morning," said he.

[Illustration: 0095]

Vance returned the salutation, and presently the pompous stranger
introduced himself as Rufus Grim, owner of the Peacock.

"Yes, I have heard of you," replied Vance.

{88}"You're the young man from New York, I reckon," said Grim.

"New York is my home."

"Yes, I have heard about you. I rather expected you over to see me. I
assure you, Mr. Gilder," he went on, "it would afford me great pleasure
to show you through the Peacock. She is a fine piece of property, I can
tell you; none better. If you'll walk down this way a little we can see
the old prospect shaft where the precious metal of the Peacock was first
discovered."

Vance readily consented, and presently they came to an old, open shaft
near the brow of the mountain overlooking the village of Gold Bluff and
the valley below.

"Here," said Rufus Grim, with a wave of his fat hand, "is where I
commenced prospecting fifteen years ago. I was one of the pioneers
in this mining camp. Sometimes I did not know where the next meal was
coming from, but I worked on, day after day; first for wages, and then
for an interest in what, at the time, was looked upon as a labor and
money losing investment. I stuck to it; the other fellows didn't.
Finally I bought out the other fellows, and if you have heard very much
about the history of Gold Bluff and the prosperity of her mines,
of course you have heard about me. In fact," he said, with vulgar
braggadocio, "the history of the Peacock and my own are so interwoven
that you couldn't very well hear of one and not know all about the
other."

"Yes," replied Vance, "I have heard a great deal of you. Mr. Grim, and
am delighted to have the pleasure of knowing you personally."

"Yes, I presume," said Grim, as he looked away toward the valley that
nestled beneath their feet, "I presume you've heard a great deal about
Rufus Grim that is not true, and precious little to my credit. I have
not a doubt but what the busy-bodies of Gold Bluff have told you that
old, worn-out story about Steve Gibbons and Hank Casey, and how unjustly
I treated them; but I can tell you," he continued with warmth, "there's
not a word of truth in all that you may have heard. No, sir, I have
climbed the ladder step by step and built up my own fortune, and
whatever I am to-day, I have nobody to thank but myself."

"I assure you," said Vance, "I have heard nothing particularly to your
discredit. In fact, I have heard next to nothing at all, except that you
were the owner of the Peacock, and that it is a paying property."

Rufus Grim looked at Vance at first as if he doubted him, and then
expressed his surprise that no one had told him what a mean man he was.
"If you get acquainted with that young scoundrel, Boast, he'll tell you
quick enough--a miserable story; how I cheated Casey and Gibbons out
of their share of the mine; but I say it's false," he continued, as
he brought his fat hands down together, "not a word of truth in any
of their statements. No, sir. You see," he went on, turning to the
old prospect shaft, "I have put a wall around this so that it may be
preserved. It gratifies me to come here occasionally and think over the
hard times of my prospecting life and the change that has come. It came,
sir, because I made it come. Yonder is my home," said he, waving his
hand toward an elegant residence located in the suburbs of the village,
with beautiful grounds about it. "If there is any better in the Fish
River mining district, I don't know it."

{90}"You're home," said Vance, "is certainly a lovely looking place."

"You are at liberty," said Grim "to come and see me whenever you desire.
I can't promise you more than this, that you will be welcome." Grim made
this last remark as if he was bestowing a great favor upon a stranger
within the gates of Gold Bluff; indeed, one might have imagined him
Lord Mayor of some municipality granting the freedom of the city to some
favored guest.

Vance thanked him for the invitation. With a stately bow to Vance, Grim
turned and walked toward the works on the Peacock, and Vance returned
to the hotel refreshed from his walk, and interested in the fragments of
the story he had heard from the owner of the Peacock.

At the appointed hour he called for Louise, and, together, they walked
briskly toward Silver Point Lake.

Louise was all animation and life, and thought nothing of the two miles'
walk which lay before them.

[Illustration: 9098]

Indeed, she had followed these mountain paths from her early childhood,
and felt less fatigue after a tramp of a half-dozen miles than many a
city belle after walking a half-dozen blocks.

It might be well to explain that Louise's mother was a lady of great
culture and refinement, and belonged to one of the oldest families of
Baltimore. She died when Louise was only four years old. A spinster
sister of Colonel Bonifield tried to persuade her brother to give up his
daughters while he was leading a life in the mountains, and let than
be reared to womanhood at the old Bonifield home in Virginia, but Ben
Bonifield could not do this. The loss of his wife was a severe blow, and
to part with his daughters, Virginia and Louise, could not be thought
of. Therefore, Aunt Sully had accepted her brother's invitation to make
her home in the mountains, and take upon herself the care and training
of her brother's children.

Aunt Sally was a lady in the olden time possessed of uncommon gifts
and a finished education, not only in classical literature, but also in
music and painting. Louise had proven a more apt scholar than her elder
sister, Virginia. Aunt Sally had been a most painstaking instructress,
and her wards had grown up with minds enriched and cultured, while
their physical development was in keeping with the wild freedom of a
health-sustaining mountain country.

In her later years, however, Aunt Sally had become greatly dissatisfied
with her brother and his attachment for Gray Rocks, and she had
developed a querulous disposition, which, at times, was very annoying to
Ben Bonifield. She lost no opportunity to express her opinion that "he
was fooling his time away" while working on Gray Rocks.

As Vance and Louise walked along that morning toward Silver Point Lake,
he could not help glancing at the ruddy glow on the fair cheeks of his
companion. He listened to her childish talk of the many excursions which
she had made with her father far over some of the tallest mountains that
lav before them, and of numerous "fish frys" they had enjoyed at Silver
Point Lake.

While he listened to the sweet music of her voice, he {92}mentally
speculated as to what sort of a friendship, if any, could possibly exist
between such a fair creature and J. Arthur Boast. Presently, looking up
at Vance with her large blue eyes, she said:

"We may have company at the lake."

"Why, how is that?" inquired Vance in some surprise.

"I received a note," replied Louise, "from Bertha Allen, inviting me
to go horseback riding to-day. In my reply I explained my previous
engagement with you. Just before starting this morning I received a note
from her saying that she and her cousin, Arthur Boast, would try to join
our fishing party. Of course," she said, with a sweet little laugh, "you
do not know who Bertha Allen is. Bertha Allen," she went on, "is Mr.
Rufus Grim's step-daughter. Mr. Grim married Mrs. Allen when Bertha was
a girl in her early teens. Mrs. Allen is Colonel Boast's sister, and
Bertha and Arthur are, therefore, cousins."

Vance did not fancy the prospect of meeting Boast, and felt that his
happiness for the day would certainly be very incomplete if Boast was to
be one of the fishing party.

"I have met Mr. Boast," said Vance, with just a tinge of resentment in
his voice.

"I hope you like him," said Louise, as she turned her lovely face toward
him with a pleading look in her eyes.

"May I ask you why you hope so?" asked Vance, in almost a defiant tone.

There was no maidenly blush on Louise's cheeks as she replied with the
simplicity of a child:

"Why, Mr. Gilder, there is hardly anybody that likes Arthur, and I
sometimes feel sorry for him. Mr. Grim {93}says very hard things about
him, and no one seems to be his friend."

"Perhaps he is unworthy," replied Vance.

For a moment Louise was silent, and then said:

"The judgment of the world, Mr. Gilder, is often at fault. We may judge
with a degree of accuracy art, music, fame, or power, but it is hardly
wise to apply the same rule to a human being."

[Illustration: 0101]



CHAPTER XII--TROUT FISHING.


[Illustration: 0102]

RRIVING at {94}the lake by a circuitous path, they found themselves
on the banks of a lovely sheet of water, several hundred feet wide and
perhaps a mile in length. The distinct reflection of the foliage, trees
and mountains, which rose several hundred feet on the opposite side,
made a double picture of enchanting loveliness.

"We have been waiting for you," said Bertha Allen, in a flute-like
voice. She was a cooing sort of a young lady, with a dainty lisp, which
she evidently regarded as becoming. She embraced Louise and gave her one
of her sweetest kisses, and in a half sotto voice lisped, "how beautiful
you look to-day!"

Vance was presented, and Bertha honored him with one of her stateliest
bows. There was no alternative, as Boast extended his hand and observed
that he had met Mr. Gilder before, but to accept the situation and make
the best of it.

Vance saw in Bertha Allen a young lady of about five and twenty, rather
tall and slender, with a wasp-like waist. She had a small head and face,
with heavy braids of dark brown hair, which corresponded with her long
eyelashes of a dark hue. Her eyes never looked straight at anyone,
but she continually practiced a bewitching habit of shy observation,
evidently considering it fasci{95}nating. Her mouth was small, and a
noticeable dimple was in her chin. There was a delicate pink upon her
cheeks, which Vance noticed as the day wore on, did not come and go,
but remained as one of her permanent features. There was a poetry in
her movements, however, which admirably fitted her slow, soft tone of
lisping-speech. Her slender form was robed in a pretty costume of pink,
with black lace and ribbons. It was a costume of frills and laces,
coquetishly arranged, making her graceful figure more symmetrical
in arrangement. There were puffings here and there, which concealed
defects, if any existed, and revealed her womanly charms to the best
advantage. She talked a good deal, and called Louise her own "dear
darling." Here every sentence was a lisp, and she told Cousin Arthur he
was "simply horrid to kill the poor worms in baiting the hooks."

Vance noticed that Roast was ready at any time to neglect his stylish
cousin to engage in conversation with Louise. He found himself
interpreting Bertha Allen's attempts to entertain and interest him, as
the act of an accomplice, to enable Boast to have a tete-a-tete with
Louise. There was consolation, however, in the fact that he did not
believe Louise favored Arthur Boast's attentions.

"How Arthur and Louise are enjoying themselves!" lisped Bertha Allen, in
a sweet, confiding way, to Vance.

"Do you think their enjoyment is superior to ours?" asked Vance.

"No more than mine," she replied demurely, "but possibly more than
yours." This was followed by a silvery little laugh.

"I fear I am not very entertaining," said Vance.

{96}"On the contrary, Mr. Gilder," replied Bertha, "I think you are a
very charming companion. Are you from Virginia?" she asked.

"No; my people were from Virginia. I was born and reared in New York
City."

[Illustration: 0104]

"The Bonifields are Virginians. They seem to think," continued Bertha,
"that all good people come from Virginia or Baltimore. I sometimes wish
I had been born in Virginia."

{97}"I never noticed that peculiarity," replied Vance, "in either
Colonel Bonifield or his daughter."

"Oh, I don't mean, Mr. Gilder, they are affected. Don't you think I am
horrid to go on talking this way to you? But really, is not Louise one
of the sweetest little darlings in the world?"

Vance was bored, but turning toward Bertha Allen and smiling at her
pretty up-turned face, replied:

"You ask me so many questions, Miss Allen, that I do not know which to
answer first."

She looked archly at Vance, and said: "Do not answer either of them, for
I know I would be dissatisfied with your reply. Is not that a beautiful
botanical specimen? Really, Mr. Gilder," she continued, "I sometimes do
not know what I am saying. I know you will think me awfully stupid."

The well modulated and lisping voice of Bertha Allen possessed a
charm of its own, and Vance found himself interested in studying
the difference between the sweet, simple, unaffected Louise, and the
affected, calculating Miss Allen.

"Don't you think, Mr. Gilder, that Louise has great individuality?"

"I believe her to be a most exemplary young lady," replied Vance, "and
possessed of a good mind."

"Oh, you think that, do you?" said Bertha, lisping and laughing like the
silvery tones of a flute. "You are not the only one, Mr. Gilder, that
thinks that way. I mean Cousin Arthur. Oh, he's awfully smitten."

"Indeed!" replied Vance.

"What a beautiful picture," said Bertha presently. "The waters mirror
the trees and the mountains so {98}distinctly. Let us look over the bank
at our own reflections."

"Permit me to hold your hand," said Vance, "and I will prevent your
falling. There--can you see yourself?"

"Oh, just splendidly!" lisped Bertha, "it is clear as a French plate
mirror. Shall I support you, Mr. Gilder, while you look?"

"No, thank you," replied Vance, "I am not fond of looking at homeliness.
I would rather look at you."

"Oh, Mr. Gilder, you men are such flatterers! I thought better things of
you."

"And why of me?" asked Vance, teasingly.

"Louise has spoken of you so many' times," she replied, "and in such
flattering terms, that I was very anxious to meet you. Indeed, I had
quite made up my mind that you were different from other men. Let us
turn down this way, Mr. Gilder. Let me see--what was I saying? I thought
you must be different; but I guess men are all about alike."

"I feel highly honored," replied Vance, "to think that Miss Bonifield
should have spoken of me at all."

Bertha stopped and looked at Vance for a moment in silence, and then
said:

"Men are so conceited. There is no sentiment, I assure you, in Louise."

"Your frankness is quite charming, Miss Allen."

"Oh, do you think so?" said Bertha, with a sweet lisp.

"Yes: and as to Miss Bonifield, I beg to differ from you. She certainly
possesses in a high degree that sentiment peculiar to the children of
nature. She loves all that is natural, and in the tenderness of her
heart, pities the assumed."

{99}"How unfortunate, Mr. Gilder," said Bertha, "that love is not
reciprocal."

Before Vance could reply, Louise called to them and soon after she and
Boast came up, declaring the day had been a great success. Arthur and
Vance divided the catch equally, and soon with their baskets swinging
from their shoulders, they started for home. Bertha was profuse in her
invitations to Mr. Gilder to call, and he promised to do so. He was
quite glad, however, when they finally separated and he had Louise all
to himself.

"I hope you have enjoyed the day as much as you anticipated, Mr.
Gilder," said Louise.

"If I am anything," replied Vance, "I am frank; and therefore confess
I would have enjoyed it far more without Boast and his pretty cousin."

"I knew you would think her pretty," said Louise; "everyone does."

"And do you think she is pretty?" asked Vance.

"Yes, indeed," replied Louise, "I have seen no one, even in your great
city of New York, half so handsome as Bertha."

"You are certainly generous in your compliments," said Vance.

"Bertha has such a sweet way about her, and she always makes one feel so
at his ease."

Before Vance had time to reply, Colonel Bonifield waved his pipe
and blew out a cloud of smoke as an act of welcome to the returning
fishermen. Vance displayed his long string of speckled beauties, and the
Colonel assured him they had made a great success. "I have been thinkin'
of yo' all day," he continued, "and had half a mind, upon my honor I
did, suh, to come oveh and help yo' out." {100}Soon after. Vance took
leave of the Bonifields, and started for the hotel. His respect for
generous-hearted Louise was increasing. "Yes," said Vance to himself,
"she is a child of nature. She does not know how to dissemble, and her
heart is too pure to be resentful." His pleasant reverie was broken by
encountering Boast at the hotel, who had arrived a little before him.

His shoes had been exchanged for polished ones, yet he complained about
his negligee appearance, and stooped to brush the least speck of dust
or cigar ashes that might have found lodgment on his trousers or coat
sleeves, and kept assuring Vance that he knew he "looked rougher than a
miner."

[Illustration: 9108]

As a matter of fact, he was spotlessly at-attired, as was his custom.
Even in his office at Waterville, he seemed backward about doing any
business, for fear of soiling his hands in ink, or getting his desk out
of order. Stepping into the bar-room of the hotel, they found seats near
an open door, and Vance determined to gain as much information as he
could from what Boast might have to say. As they seated themselves,
Vance said:

"I met Mr. Grim this morning."

"Oh. did you?" replied Boast. "There is a man," he continued, "that
ought to be hung. He's a robber!"

"A robber?" asked Vance.

"Yes. Fifteen years ago," continued Boast, "my father was the richest
man in this part of Idaho. He was engaged then as now in the cattle and
horse ranching business. He owns a very large ranch three miles from
here down the valley. Grim came to the mining camp {101}without a dollar
in his pocket and worked by the day. An opportunity presented itself for
him to steal from his associates. He not only stole everything in sight,
but by fraud and misrepresentation secured possession of the Peacock.

[Illustration: 8109]

"He is an ignorant old boor.

"Ten years ago he married my aunt, the widow Allen, who is fully fifteen
years his senior. He wanted a position in society and a home. My aunt
is a stickler on all that's polite, but notwithstanding her training and
all of old Grim's wealth, she has been unable to gild him over with
even an appearance of culture, learning or decency. I never call at his
house. They own perhaps the finest residence in the state of Idaho. If
you will talk with Rufus Grim half an hour, it will be a wonder if
he does not tell you that I am the biggest scoundrel outside the
penitentiary; and it is all because my cousin Bertha is my friend.
Sometimes I think he is afraid I will marry her. I believe he is in love
with Bertha himself, and is only waiting for my aunt to die. It may be
unwise for me to talk so plainly, Mr. Gilder, but when I think of that
old reprobate, I become desperate."

There was certainly no half insinuation in this statement, but rather a
fiendish denunciation of the rich miner.

"I think," said Boast, "we'd better have something to drink. I have a
bottle in my pocket, but you are not very sociable, and I don't presume
you will drink with me."

"No," said Vance, "I am just as much obliged, but I do not feel the need
of any stimulant this evening."

{102}"I have abstained all day," said Boast, "out of respect for the
ladies." His voice began to sound piping, and his restless eyes no
longer looked squarely at Vance, but confined themselves to side-long
glances, as if he were trying to discover what his feelings were toward
his cousin and Miss Louise. "They are pretty fair specimens, eh, for the
mountains? The ladies, I mean; the ladies."

Vance answered in the affirmative.

"My cousin is terribly taken with you, Mr. Gilder; if she was not my
cousin I would feel jealous of you." As Vance made no reply, Boast
continued: "I know I am going down hill at a pretty rapid rate, all on
account of this red liquor." Tipping up the bottle, he took a swallow,
coughed immoderately afterward, and made wry faces, as if he were
mentally damning all the "red liquor" to perdition.

"There's only one thing that will ever save Bertha Allen, and that is
for old Grim to _die_. My aunt would inherit the wealth, and of course,
in that event, Bertha would be an heiress. At present, she is entirely
dependent upon his generosity. I understand," continued Boast, "Colonel
Bonifield has about reached the 300 foot level. If I have one hope
greater than another, it is that he will strike it ten times richer
than old Grim ever did. In that event," he continued, while he furtively
glanced at Vance, "there will be another heiress in Gold Bluff."

That night, after Vance found the seclusion of his room, he worked far
into the early hours of morning, finishing a letter to the _Banner, a
letter full of decided opinions_.



CHAPTER XIII.--THE STAGE RIDE.


[Illustration: 9111]

HE {103}following morning Vance forwarded to the _Banner_ office a
two column article, which he considered the finest of all his western
letters.

The chief was at Buzzard's Bay enjoying a much needed rest, when Vance's
letter was received. The assistant managing editor did little more than
glance over the manuscript and observe to the dramatic critic, as
he hung the copy on the hook, that "Young Gilder was sending in some
excellent articles from the Northwest." The article was headed "Two
Honorable Exceptions." It proceeded, in a most logical manner, to give
the output of precious metals from the mining town of Butte City.

His statistics were carefully revised, showing there was five times
as much capital per capita in the mining camp of Butte City, with her
50,000 people, as in the cities of New York, Philadelphia or Boston.

Vance had spent a good deal of time in preparing the article, and every
statement was supplemented with irrefragable proof. The latter half of
the article was devoted to Waterville and the agricultural resources of
the Thief River Valley. The exports of surplus crops had increased
{104}from 100 carloads per annum to 3,000 carloads in four years' time,
and a clever comparison was drawn between the farmers of eastern and New
England states and the farmers of the great Thief River Valley, showing
that for a given amount of labor, the farmer in the Thief River Valley
received at least three dollars where the eastern farmer received only
one.

The wonderful water power in the rapids of the Thief River, where the
new town of Waterville was building, was also dwelt upon, as well as
the centrality of location of the new city--not only from a local
standpoint, but as to the entire northwestern section of the United
States. The yield of wheat and other cereals was briefly referred to,
all showing that Gilder had been most painstaking in preparing the
article.

The managing editor, at Buzzard's Bay, was enjoying his morning smoke
when the _Banner_ was laid on his table. Glancing it over leisurely, his
eye caught the head-lines, "Two Honorable Exceptions." In a moment he
was all animation. His cigar was permitted to go out in his general
neglect of everything else, in devouring every sentence and word of the
article. He then paced back and forth across his room and swore like a
pirate, declaring he would not have had the article appear in the
columns of the _Banner_ for $10,000.

"Just to think," said he, "the very thing I sent that young fool of a
Gilder into the west to accomplish, he has in this one article spoiled
forever. Half a dozen of my friends have been asking me about mining
invest{105}ments in Butte City. I have pleaded ignorance, but assured
them we had sent a trusty man to inspect the merits of such investments,
and they could expect reliable information in the columns of the
_Banner_. Here it is, and a pretty mess he has made of it. He has,"
continued the managing editor, angrily, "completely lost his head; only
one thing will bring him to his senses, and that is a prompt dismissal
from the _Banner_ force."

Accordingly he wired the assistant managing editor, directing him to
notify Mr. Gilder by letter that his services were no longer required.
He also instructed his assistant to send the clearest headed man on the
force immediately to Butte City, Montana, and Waterville, Idaho,
and have an article for the coming Sunday issue that would entirely
counteract the effect of Mr. Gilder's communication.

While these arrangements were being made at the _Banner_ office, Vance
was preparing to return to Butte City by way of Waterville, in order to
make some investigations and secure additional information for his next
letter to the _Banner_.

The old miner, Ben Bonifield, had assured him they would reach the 300
foot level by the following Saturday night, and Vance promised to return
to Gold Bluff early the following week. Vance waited over one stage in
order to travel in the one driven by Steve Gibbons.

As a special mark of distinction to Vance, Gibbons invited him to a seat
on the top of the stage. As they were whirled away from the beautiful
little village of Gold Bluff, the sun was beginning to gild with gold
the eastern hills. Vance felt it was a sight never to be forgotten. The
evening before starting he was at the Bonifields. {106}When Louise said
good-bye, with the sweet truthfulness of youth, and assured him that she
would be lonely when he was gone, he felt like declaring then and there,
he would stay forever if she would but make the request. She gave Vance
a letter of introduction to her sister Virginia, whom Vance promised to
call upon as soon as possible after reaching Waterville.

Steve Gibbons was in his element on top of the stage coach.

[Illustration: 8114]

He chatted away in a vivacious manner, recounting various reminiscences
of the different mountain gorges, here and there, where fine specimens
of float rock had been discovered at different times. Again he would
tell of some thrilling adventure with the Indians, and marvelous
hair-breadth escapes. Gibbons invariably figured in these narratives as
one of the principal characters. Presently he said:

"I don't reckon you met Grim, did you?"

"Rufus Grim?" said Vance; "yes, I had the pleasure of meeting him only a
few days ago."

"I 'spect," said Gibbons, "that Rufus Grim is the biggest scoundrel
unhung in these diggins. He thinks he's mighty pert, but Hank Casey
and me 'll teach him afore long that other people can be a mighty sight
perter than what he is. The only hearty, overgrown regret that I've
never been able to get rid of is that I didn't twist his neck ten years
ago."

"What grievance have you," asked Vance, "against Mr. Grim? One would
naturally suppose the owner of the richest mine in the Fish River Mining
District would be respected instead of disliked." {107}Steve Gibbons
pushed his sombrero back from his forehead, as if to relieve his pent up
feelings, swung his long whip twice around his head, and made the welkin
ring as he cracked it over the backs of his dappled leaders.

He then expectorated a vigorous "pit-tew" of tobacco juice, and said:
"I reckon one can't always judge by appearances. When Steve Gibbons says
that Rufus Grim is a scoundrel, he is a pretty good jedge of what he is
sayin', and he mighty near means what he says, pardner. Somebody's goin'
to be jerked out of the kinks 'fore long, and--'twixt ourselves--I think
that somebody is Rufus Grim. Hank Casey an' me are old pards, and
we've employed B. Webster Legal. He's the corporation attorney for the
Waterville Town Company. You won't be takin' no chances, pardner, of
bettin' your last dollar that old Grim will think somebody's after him
with a sharp stick and a diamond drill in the end of it 'afore B. Webster
Legal gets through with him. I tell you, Jedge Legal is a cuss in
the court room. He can whip his weight in wild-cats in a law suit. Of
course, I don't mean that he's goin' to leave the Town Company; he'll
never do that as long as a lot can be sold--he says so his-self. Hank
and I hev made a bargain with him, and old Grim is goin' to be ousted.
The Peacock belongs to Hank Casey and me. What do you think of that?"

"I assure you," replied Vance, "you interest me very much. I supposed
Mr. Grim was the owner of the Peacock."

Again Steve Gibbons' long whip cracked like a pistol shot over the backs
of his horses. Presently he said:

"I don't tell everybody, pardner, but I 'spect it makes no difference
with you. You see, when Rufus Grim came {108}to Gold Bluff some fifteen
years ago, he was so darnation poor he couldn't buy a meal of victuals.
Hank and I had staked out the Peacock.

[Illustration: 0116]

We had found some mighty rich float rock in that part of the mountain,
and knew the precious stuff was not very far away. We 'grub-staked'
Grim and put him to work on wages, and while he was workin', he struck
a 'pocket' and found free gold--a regular vault full of yellow stuff. He
commenced his treachery by stealin' every grain of it, and then cleverly
walled up that part of the shaft and continued diggin' in the opposite
direction, endeavorin' to get as far away from the place where he had
made the discovery as possible. Well, by and by Hank Casey and me got
tired of payin' out money, and we sold out the Peacock for a mere song
to Grim. Soon after, the name of Rufus Grim was known all over the
mountain district as a bonanza king. He organized an immense company,
and owns most of the stock himself. Within six months after we were
defrauded of our rights in the Peacock, he was a rich man, and has
been gettin' richer ever since. Hank Casey and me have a whole lot of
evidence. B. Webster Legal says if we can prove what we claim, that we
have got a lead pipe cinch on the Peacock. The papers are bein' drawn
up, and things are goin' to be sizzlin' hot for Rufus Grim before many
moons go over his head."

Vance expressed much surprise and sympathy at the injustice he had
sustained.

"Say, pardner," said Steve, "I kind o' reckon you're shinin' up a little
toward old Bonifield's gal, ain't you?" and he nudged Vance in the ribs
with his elbow.

The question was so unexpected that Vance hardly knew how to reply. "I
hope," replied Vance, "that I am not in disfavor with the young lady, or
her father either. I own an interest in Gray Rocks."

"The dickens you do!" said Steve Gibbons. "Well, if there's any man in
these mountains, pardner, who ought to strike it, old Ben Bonifield is
the one. He's been stickin to Gray Rocks for a good many years, and is
one of the squarest men in the Fish River Minin' District, while that
gal of his---why, she is the gem of all these diggins. I did think J.
Arthur Boast had the inside {110}track on the Bonifield ranch, but here
lately I 'lowed as maybe Boast was playin' second fiddle; but then you
can't tell how a game is goin' to end until the last card is played."

Vance made no reply, but ground his teeth in silent anger at the mention
of Boast's name.

It was late that night when they arrived at Waterville.



CHAPTER XIV.--THE TOWN COMPANY'S MEETING.


[Illustration: 9119]

ARLY {111}the next morning Dick Ballard rapped on Vance's door, and
being admitted, greeted him warmly, and assured him he was mighty glad
to see him again.

"There's goin' to be a meetin' of the Town Company."

"Is that so?" said Vance.

"Yes; the hul kit and bilin' of 'em are here," replied Ballard. "There's
Colonel Alexander, Homer Winthrop, General Ira House and his brother,
Jack House, B. Webster Legal and Marcus Donald. Donald is the resident
director of the Town Company." Vance said he would be glad to meet them.

"Well, you'll see the keenest lot of men," said Ballard, "this here
country has ever pulled together. Every one of 'em is a strong man and
a hustler from the word go. What I say about 'em you'll find is _prima
facie_." After a little, Dick Ballard winked one eye at Vance and said:
"I feel a bottle in my pocket, and I wouldn't wonder a mite there was
suthin' in it that wouldn't taste bad. A little spirits is mighty good
for a feller when he has had a hard day's ride."

Vance assured him that he was much obliged, but was {112}thoroughly
refreshed by his night's rest, and a light breakfast was all he wanted.

"We usually," replied Ballard, "accommodate fellows that want that kind
of a breakfast; in fact, some of our breakfasts are too darned light.
I'll go down and see what I can skirmish up for you."

At the door Dick Ballard turned and said, "Oh, yes, have you heard the
news?"

"No, I do not remember of having heard anything of a startling
character," replied Vance.

"Well, by Ned, I supposed you had heard all about it," said Ballard, as
he leaned against the door and looked wise.

"Well, what is it?" queried Vance.

"Well, sir, our militia company has got a new snare drum, and, gosh all
fish hooks! but she is a rat-tat-tat-to-or from away back!" The door
closed and Old Dick Ballard retreated, merrily whistling "Away down in
Dixie."

After breakfast, Vance was escorted to the Town Company's office, where
he met the different members of the company. Each vied with the other in
showing him courtesies.

"I presume," said Homer Winthrop, as they drew a little aside from the
others, "that you have never met as remarkable men as you see in my
associates." He looked radiant, inserted his thumbs in the armholes of
his vest, and continued:

"Colonel Alexander is possessed of one of the richest brains of any man
I ever knew. Our attorney, Mr. Legal is a star of the first magnitude in
his profession, and can whip a small army in a lawsuit, while Gen. Ira
{113}House has a reputation superior to any man in the Rocky Mountains
as a town builder. Now, if he," continued Winthrop, "should go into the
midst of a desert and say, 'Here a great city shall be built,' you would
make no mistake in taking a 'flyer' on some dirt in that vicinity. Then
there is Jack House, the General's brother, who is, in his specialty,
a most remarkable man. He is sometimes called 'the Conspirator' of our
gang, because of his ability to set up jobs on the enemy and down 'em."

"By Jove, look," said Winthrop, pointing out of the window, while his
face became animated, "do you see that young lady on the other side of
the street? That's Miss Virgie Bonifield, and I venture to say she's one
of the loveliest girls in the Rocky Mountains."

"I have a message for her, sent by her sister," replied Vance. "I will
be under many obligations if you'll introduce me to the young lady."

"With pleasure," replied Winthrop, "as soon as the town meeting
adjourns we will call upon her."

The meeting was called to order, with Colonel Alexander in the chair.

The chairman cleared his throat several times with marked vehemence, and
said:

"Gentlemen, we have again met to deliberate upon the destiny of
Waterville and the great Thief River Valley. It is no small matter for
gigantic intellects to thus assemble as a deliberative body, to arrange,
by resolutions or otherwise, questions of great moment. The leading
question to-day, gentlemen, is that of mind over matter. We have said to
one another, 'Waterville shall become a great city;' our united efforts
are concentrated {114}in this work. The story of the bundle of sticks is
as true to-day as when the fable was first written.

[Illustration: 0122]

"The wealth, gentlemen, of our united intellects is bearing down in
concentrated rays against every opposition, and with hammer and tongs we
are reaching out in every direction, and are making one of the grandest
campaigns the country has ever witnessed. Gentlemen, what is the
pleasure of this meeting?"

The Colonel's earnestness could not be doubted. When {115}he sat down
he fondled his gold-headed cane with apparent tenderness, as if he
were ashamed of the way he had abused it in emphasizing his remarks by
punching it into the floor in a most merciless fashion.

B. Webster Legal, addressing the chairman, said: "I am proud again to
meet my distinguished associates as a deliberative body. For the benefit
of our beloved citizens of Waterville, who are crowding into this room
of deliberation, and standing in front of the windows eagerly listening
to the important proceedings of this meeting, I will say that only men
in the broadest term--men with an abundance of gray matter clinging
to their brains--could possibly have accomplished the feats which
have characterized the acts of the Waterville Town Company from
its organization up to the present time. I feel, Mr. President and
gentlemen, that our untiring efforts are about to be crowned with a
success little dreamed of by the most hopeful.

"From a legal point of view, I am proud to assure you that the
Waterville Town Company is in a most safe and healthy condition. I have
frequently observed, and will again say, I am not a seller of lots,
but I assure each and every one of you that I am here to stay by
this company as long as a lot can be sold. So far as legal knots are
concerned, I will untie them; or, failing to do so, will, with the sharp
edge of the law, cleave them asunder."

The attorney's remarks were greeted with applause as he sat down.

The chairman jarred the frail building by again clearing his throat,
and requested C. Webster Legal to make a report of the assets of the
Waterville Town Company.

{116}"Mr. Chairman," said B. Webster Legal, "I have recently looked over
the list of property owned by the Waterville Town Company, and find that
we have assets amounting to some two millions of dollars."

As the attorney sat down there was a satisfied look upon his face
suggestive of the millionaire.

The chairman looked over his spectacles and said, "Gentlemen, you
have heard, and no doubt with pardonable elation, the statement of our
honored associate, Judge Legal. There are eight of us," he continued,
"and two millions means a quarter of a million each. Within two years,
sirs, these assets will have doubled in value. There are men whose
statements I would not rely implicitly upon without discounting
them--say, fifty or seventy-five per cent--but, gentlemen, when it comes
to downright conservatism, why, my level-headed friend the Judge takes
the jackpot. Yes, sir, I undertake to say, gentlemen, he is the king
bee of us all in cutting square into the heart of a proposition, and
analyzing it with a precision that is truly remarkable; and when he says
two millions, I have no hesitancy, gentlemen, in staking my reputation
that it is three millions if it is a cent."

As the chairman sat down he looked carefully at his gold-headed cane
again to make sure it had sustained no injury.

Marcus Donald, the resident Town Company's director, addressed the
meeting, and said:

"Mr. Chairman, I never felt so rich in my life as I do at the present
moment. I regret that my ancestors are not alive to rejoice with me in
the prosperity I am now enjoying. There is a reason in this
contemplated prosperity. First, the great natural opportunities in this
{117}wonderful valley, and, second, the unity of action on the part of
the members of our Town Company.

"I have here a small matter to which I wish to call the directors'
attention.

[Illustration: 9125]

It is a livery bill of some eighty dollars that is past due, and,
perhaps, we had better arrange for it."

Judge Legal rose to a point of order. He said that such small details
as paying livery bills had no place in the deliberations of this body of
men. "It is the duty of the auditing committee to first approve and then
look after the payments of small items like expense bills."

Director Donald stated in reply that B. Webster Legal was a member of
the auditing committee as well as himself, and, doubtless, knew the bill
had been approved of long ago, but that there were no funds with which--

"Order!" shouted the chairman, punching his goldheaded cane vigorously
into the floor. "I sustain the point of order made by this corporation's
attorney. Let us now proceed with the deliberations of weighty and
progressive questions."

Gen. Ira House sat propped back in his chair in a retired corner of
the room, and until now had maintained silence, save the fetching and
labored puffs of his cigar, which almost completely enveloped him in a
cloud of smoke. As he straightened himself up, he pushed his chair in
front of him, elevated one foot to the seat and rested his left elbow
on his elevated knee. He wore an expression on his face becoming
a philosopher. {118}"Mr. Chairman," said he, "it seems to me we're
drifting." He looked wise and waited a moment for his remark to take
effect. "Drifting," he continued, "is weakness. If we drift, we scatter;
if we scatter, we fall. Now, gentlemen," he continued, "we must not
drift. There are important business matters awaiting our attention. I
hold in my hand a letter from a party who wants to know if Waterville
would not be a good place to start a foundry. Now, gentlemen, do we want
a foundry at Waterville, or do we not? That is the question before this
meeting."

As Gen. House sat down, the crowd cheered him lustily, stamped their
feet, clapped their hands, and cries of "Good!"

"That's business!" "That's the talk!" were heard on all sides among the
citizens who were listening with bated breath to the proceedings of the
Town Company's meeting.

"I move," said Jack House, "that we want a foundry at Waterville, and
resolutions to that effect be prepared, inviting the party, whoever he
is, to locate his foundry here."

"Order, gentlemen!" shouted the chairman, again clearing his throat.
"Mr. Secretary, please record in the minutes of this meeting, if there
are no objections, the unanimous vote in favor of the foundry, and
prepare a set of elaborate resolutions, which we will sign, inviting the
party making the inquiry to come at once to Waterville and locate his
foundry."

The throng of citizens broke into cheers at this announcement, and the
word was soon passed through the throng to the outer circle, that a
foundry was to be located at Waterville. Presently, three cheers and a
{119}tiger were proposed for the new foundry, and the deliberations of
the Town Company were necessarily delayed until the cheering had ceased.

Marcus Donald, addressing the chairman, said: "I have received a
communication from the owners of a sash, blind and door factory,
who seem quite desirous of casting their lot with us. I suggest the
importance of taking official notice of their communication."

The throng of citizens waited almost breathlessly, and with a fair
degree of patience, to see what was to be done in regard to the sash,
blind and door factory. Judge Legal moved that the suggestion offered by
Director Donald be acted upon, and that a resolution favoring the
sash, blind and door factory be voted upon. As he sat down, three other
directors seconded the motion.

"You have heard the question," said the chairman. "Unless there is some
opposition, we will regard it as carried unanimously." He looked over
his spectacles a moment, and as no one offered an objection, he brought
his gold-headed cane down with a sharp rap upon the floor, and said
"Carried!"

Again the word was passed from citizen to citizen onto the waiting mob
without, that Waterville was to have a sash, blind and door factory.
Again huzzas and cheering rent the air, and impeded, to a certain
degree, the deliberations of the Town Company's meeting.

At this juncture, a clerk of the local bank--the only one that
Waterville could boast of--presented himself and asked permission to
address the directors.

"What is the nature of your business, young man?" asked Col. Alexander,
clearing his throat threateningly and looking hard at the clerk over his
spectacles.

{120}"I have a sight draft for $50, drawn on the Waterville Town Company
for printing stock certificates."

The chairman and his seven colleagues came to their they cried,
almost in unison. Several of the directors shouted, "Mr. Chairman!
Mr. Chairman!" at the top of their voice, but in his indignation the
chairman failed to take notice of them.

[Illustration: 8128]

Presently a silence, caused by sheer consternation, succeeded the first
burst of surprise. Judge Legal, mounting a chair, said:

"Mr. Chairman! I move you that article 57 of our by-laws be copied
and certified to under our corporate seal and delivered to this young
gentleman, that he may return it with the sight draft. Here is the
wording of article 57: 'Further, that this corporation, the Waterville
Town Company refuses to honor or pay sight drafts from any and all
sources.'"

"You have heard the question," said the excited chairman, bringing his
cane down with great vehemence. "Do I hear a second?"

"We all second it."

Silence having been restored, Judge Legal again addressed the chair:

"Mr. Secretary," said the chairman, "record the question as carried
unanimously."

"Mr. Chairman," said he, "{121}in the future all printing by the
Waterville Town Company will be sent to another printing establishment."

"Unless there is opposition, we will consider the question as carried
unanimously," said the chairman. At this juncture the chairman took the
floor, and addressing the directors, said:

"There are times when, notwithstanding the power of our united
intellects, questions of a very exasperating nature confront us, and,
momentarily, we are at a loss to know just what to do; but it is only
momentarily--we meet every crisis. It takes us a very short time to
decide; and, with us, decision is action.

"In my experience I have observed that, occasionally, storms of
opposition sweep down upon men like an irresistible avalanche. At such
times it is well to retreat to some protected place and let the storm
tire itself out--beat itself into exhaustion, so to speak--until its
very protest becomes a dead silence. Refreshed with the rest we have
had, we may then safely sally forth, and, with renewed vigor, arrange a
flank movement on the enemy, and everlastingly choke opposition into a
corpse."

When the chairman sat down he motioned Vance to his side, and said,
_sotto voce_: "Was not that a master stroke, Mr. Gilder? Do not we meet
and dispose of questions that would simply stump any ordinary body of
men into inaction? Opposition does not faze us; no sir, we know our
rights, and are here to fight for them."

The citizens were very much elated over the prospects of a foundry and a
sash, blind and door factory at Waterville. Their gratitude to the Town
Company was very marked, and was evidenced by three hearty cheers and
many huzzas. {122}Presently the meeting of the Town Company adjourned,
and then there was much clapping of hands and more cheering. Each member
of the company crowded around Vance and shook him warmly by the hand,
and assured him they had had one of the most profitable meetings that
had ever taken place.



CHAPTER XV.--MISS VIRGINIA BONIFIELD.


[Illustration: 9131]

|ANCE {123}had become so thoroughly interested during his first visit to
Waterville, that he was prepared, in a degree, to share in a general way
the enthusiasm of the citizens and the members of the Waterville Town
Company which prevailed after the meeting adjourned.

Buoyant with hope of the future, without hardly understanding why,
and with a blind belief that his investment would yield him a splendid
return, he began to feel that it was indeed a lucky day when the chief
of the _Banner_ sent him to the northwest, and still luckier when he
fell in with the members of the Waterville Town Company.

That afternoon, accompanied by Homer Winthrop, he called on Miss
Virginia Bonifield.

That young lady received her callers with a cultured grace and dignity
that would have done honor to even one who had seen much more of the
world. She was rather tall and a pronounced brunette. Her well poised
head was in keeping with her graceful figure. One could not say she was
strikingly beautiful, but there was some{124}thing in her face as
well as manner that made one forget to desire her different than
the interesting person she was. Both vivacious and intelligent, she
possessed the rare charm, in her conversation, of reflecting the mood of
those about her. Addressing Vance, she said:

"Louise has written me so much about you that I have been quite
impatient to form your acquaintance. I presume that papa is still
working away on Gray Rocks?"

[Illustration: 0132]

"Yes," replied Vance, "he will soon reach the 300 foot level."

{125}"And the old story will be told again, I dare say," said Virginia,
laughing.

"Miss Virginia is not an enthusiast," said Winthrop, "in regard to
untold millions that have not yet been discovered in mining shafts."

"My observations," retorted Virginia, "have caused me to be less
sentimental, if not more practical, than my good sister Louise."

"I fear," said Vance, "you do not share in your father's belief in
regard to the future of Gray Rocks?"

"I am a Bonifield," replied Virginia, "and believe implicitly in
my father; and, in my way, love him as tenderly, I dare say, as any
daughter ever loved a parent, but sometimes I fear he is mistaken--but,
to change the subject," she continued, "how do you like the west?"

"I am very favorably impressed with what I have seen. In the east we
have many brilliants that are not diamonds; in the west we have many
rough ashlars that are diamonds unpolished."

"Thank you," replied Virginia, "I consider that a compliment."

"It is our intention," said Winthrop, "to claim Mr. Gilder as a western
man before another year; and if Waterville continues to grow, as we
expect it will, we may persuade him to edit our first daily paper."

Soon after, they rose to go. "I shall hope," said Miss Virginia, "that I
will be honored by a call from you whenever you are in Waterville."

"Thank you," replied Vance, "it will afford me great pleasure."

Winthrop remained behind a few moments, while Vance walked up and down
the sidewalk. The sun was {126}well toward the western horizon. A bluish
haze lay against the mountains in the distance. It was an Indian summer
afternoon, full of quiet rest, with a gentle, invigorating mountain
breeze as a constant tonic.

Presently Winthrop joined him, and they hurried down to the depot, for
it was nearing train time, and they had arranged to travel together to
Butte City.

"How are you impressed with Miss Bonifield?" asked Winthrop.

"Quite favorably," replied Vance. "She is, however, an entirely
different type from her sister, Miss Louise; indeed, I can discover no
family resemblance. Miss Louise is quite fair, while Miss Virginia is a
decided brunette."

Soon after, the train came in, and they secured comfortable seats in
a Pullman. As the train started, Vance looked out of the window at the
turbulent waters in the river, and asked Winthrop where the foundry, and
sash, blind and door factory would be located.

"We have not decided as yet," replied Winthrop. "That will be an easy
matter to arrange when the party or parties are ready to commence
building."

"I presume you are selling a good many lots?" said Vance.

"Well, yes," replied Winthrop, hesitatingly. "We are interesting a
good many people; and it takes people to build a city. Where a man's
possessions are, his heart is generally not far away."

"I should judge from your complimentary remarks about Miss Virginia
Bonifield, and the delightful expression of your face when we called
this afternoon, that your heart abides quite permanently at Waterville."
{127}Winthrop seemed confused and looked out of the window. Presently
lie said:

"Miss Bonifield is one of the most practical young ladies it has ever
been my good fortune to meet. She is a most exemplary young lady, and
the good people of Waterville hold her in high esteem. This is her
second year in the public school at that place."

"I judge from her remarks," said Vance, "that her faith is very limited
in her father's mine."

"Yes," replied 'Winthrop, "I consider her the most practical member of
the Bonifield family."

Vance blushed scarlet and turned resentfully in his seat toward
Winthrop. "Ho! ho!" said Winthrop, laughing, "I was merely expressing my
own private opinion. I see, without your saying it, that your opinion is
quite different. How fortunate it is that all men, especially you and
I, Mr. Gilder, are not of the same opinion. This very difference of
opinion," Winthrop went on, "may, as the months come and go, weld our
friendship more and more firmly."

Vance saw that he had betrayed his feelings, and good-naturedly observed
that he always was quite partial to blondes. "I presume," he went on,
"when I become editor of the first daily paper in Waterville, you will,
doubtless, be president of some great banking house."

"I hope so," replied Winthrop, thoughtfully. "If many people are
interested in our new town it will help us in more ways than one. They
will ultimately move to Waterville, erect homes, and engage in business;
but we must not be impatient and expect too much for the first year, or
the second, for that matter. 'Rome was not {128}built in a day.' I
fully believe," continued Winthrop, "that parties purchasing lots at the
present prices will receive most excellent returns on their investments.
You see," continued Winthrop in a confidential way, "the Waterville
Town Company was compelled to go into debt very heavily at the time it
commenced its operations, but by persistent and continued efforts on
the part of various members of the company, we have greatly reduced the
indebtedness, and if the sale of lots continues for a week longer we
will, probably, not owe a dollar.

[Illustration: 9136]

We will then divide our property, each member receiving a deed for his
respective share."

Winthrop seemed so happy in anticipation of the joyful time when the
company' would be out of debt, and was so confidential and frank in
regard to the matter, that Vance, hardly knowing why, found himself
deeply interested in the work of selling lots, and suggested to Winthrop
that he would write to some of the members of the _Banner_ force who
were particular friends of his, and advise them to send on their surplus
earnings for investment.

The town boomer was at once on the alert, and, in not an over-anxious
way, heartily advised the step. Accordingly, that night at the hotel in
Butte City, Vance wrote a letter to his friends advising an investment
in Waterville.

The dramatic critic, the religious editor, the police reporter, and
the heads of the several departments of the _Banner_ at once acted on
Vance's advice. They knew nothing of the chief's action in regard to
Vance's dismissal. They wired Vance, authorizing him to sight {129}draft
them for $2,500, and invest the proceeds in town lots in Waterville.

He at once complied with the instructions, turned the money over to
Winthrop, and instructed him to forward the deeds to his friends in New
York city.

He was not a little gratified to find his last letter to the _Banner_
copied in full by the _Intermountain Blade_ and the _Butte City Miner_,
with editorials referring to the article as particularly able, and to
the writer as having the "courage of his convictions."

The article had a most salutary effect on Homer Winthrop's lot selling
enterprise, and during the next few days he sold more Waterville town
lots than his most sanguine expectations had caused him to hope for.

Toward the last of the week Vance left Butte City for Gold Bluff, via
Waterville. He had in his possession additional data and statistics to
support and corroborate his recent letter to the _Banner_.

At first the west was distasteful to him, but as he became better
acquainted with its customs and habits he began to recognize the true
manhood that is not unfrequently found under the miner's garb.

There is an uncouth, whole-soul generosity met with on the frontier of
which the effete easterner knows nothing.

Arriving at Waterville the following morning too late for the Gold Bluff
stage, he was compelled to put in another day at Waterville. Remembering
Miss Virginia Bonifield's invitation, he called on her that evening, and
was most hospitably received. In the course of their conversation she
said:

"I understand, Mr. Gilder, that you are interested with my father in
Gray Rocks I hope you did not mis{130}understand me or my motive when
I spoke discouragingly of my father's mining prospects."

"May I ask," said Vance, "what reason you have for your pessimistic
views, if I may term them such?"

"I presume," she replied, a little nettled, "they are about as
tangible and equally hard to explain as those of an optimist. I have a
presentiment that father will never find what he is looking for in the
Gray Rocks mine. My sister, Louise, encourages faith in what to me seems
a mad belief."

"Your sister may be right," replied Vance.

"My greatest hope," she replied, "is that I am wrong and that my sweet
sister is right; but I really fear, Mr. Gilder, you will never see your
money again that you have been investing with my father."

"I cannot doubt your sincerity," replied Vance, "but I am glad to have
more faith than you have."

"Why should I have any faith," she replied. "Have I not seen my father
clinging to that false hope year after year, and every day resulting in
a fresh disappointment? Long ago I made up my mind that Aunt Sally is
about right. She says that father has been planting money with different
prospectors all over the mountains, and none of it has ever found its
way back. She also predicts that father will work away on Gray Rocks
until he dies, and never have his hopes realized. I love my father
tenderly, and feel very sorry for him. A stranger cannot understand his
personal charms and grandeur as one of his family. He is certainly one
of the sweetest characters in the world. His persuasive powers, as you
evidently have reason to know, are very great, and I feel it my duty
to thus warn you for your own protection. Papa is {131}so sane on
everything else excepting Gray Rocks, and is so foolish about that,
notwithstanding his many years of lost labor."

"If your father has a 'wheel in his head' on the subject of Gray Rocks,
I must admit that I, too, have one in mine," replied Vance.

The blush that overspread Virginia's face suggested that she felt keenly
the rebuke.

"Pardon me, Mr. Gilder," said she, "I had forgotten that I am not 'my
brother's keeper'. I promise never to refer to the subject again."

That evening, after Vance had taken leave of Miss Virginia Bonifield, he
experienced a strange unrest and dissatisfaction, and while he did not
admit it to himself, the glamour of his day-dreams had been broken.

[Illustration: 8139]

Presently, as he walked along, the face of Louise came before him, and,
in a moment, he forgot his unsatisfactory evening; forgot hope's broken
glamour, and basked again in the alluring belief that the future held no
clouds for him.

It was late when he reached the hotel.

Looking through the window, he saw old Dick Ballard, who was alone in
the barroom entertaining himself with an evening drill.

He carried a long, iron poker at "carry arms," and was marching back
and forth with military tread. Arriving at the end of the room, he would
call out "Halt! About face! March!"

Vance was very much amused at old Dick Ballard's pantomime drill, but
finally opened the door and walked in. The transformation scene was
wonderful. Old Dick {132}Ballard was vigorously poking in the stove,
notwithstanding it was a July night.

"Hello, Mr. Gilder," said he, looking up, "I saw a mighty big rat run in
this stove a minute ago, and I am after it."

"Better charge your entire militia company on the enemy," said Vance,
laughing.

"Oh, you saw me, did you," said Ballard. "I was jes' drillin' up a
little for dress parade. Well, pardner, I'll set 'em up, and you say
nothin' about it."

Vance declined to be entertained, but Ballard drank copiously from his
ever ready bottle.

"I tell you, Waterville's got it and no mistake," said he, putting his
bottle carefully away.

"Got what," asked Vance, as he turned to go to his room.

"Got the crack military company of the state," replied Ballard. "You
ought to see 'em drill once. There is nothin' in New York city or
anywhere else can tech one side of 'em for big money."



CHAPTER XVI.--THE OLD COLONEL'S DISAPPOINTMENT.


[Illustration: 9141]

HE FOLLOWING {133}morning Vance took the stage for Gold Bluff. As
he neared that little mining town, he found himself experiencing an
impatience once more to see Louise Bonifield that was strangely at
variance with any former sensation of his life. It seemed to him the
stage coach was traveling at a snail's pace, and even the good natured,
"honest intentioned" Steve Gibbons, with all his droll talk of frontier
adventure, failed to interest him. Arriving at the hotel, he found the
old miner, Ben Bonifield, waiting for him.

"Am delighted to see yo', Mr. Gilder; I am indeed, suh. I presume yo'r
almost famished; pow'ful tiresome ridin' in a stage coach all day, suh.
After yo' have refreshed yo'self, I shall be pleased to join yo' in
yo'r room. I have a matteh of vehy great impo'tance to discuss with yo',
suh."

"All right," said Vance, in his cheeriest tones. "I trust Miss Louise is
well?"

"Quite well, suh; quite well, thank yo'."

As Vance ate his supper a satisfied feeling of contentment with the
whole world intruded itself upon him. His advancement in his profession
was certainly gratifying. He had received several valuable hints while
in {134}Butte City in regard to a new silver mining company that was
about to be organized, in which he was thinking seriously of investing
a little money. The price was only ten cents a share, which he had been
assured, on what seemed to him very excellent authority, would be
worth a dollar a share before twelve months' time. His investment at
Waterville was certainly a good one, and he heartily believed Col.
Bonifield had good news to tell him about Gray Rocks. In addition to
this, he was once more near Louise, that fair vision of loveliness,
whose tender blue eyes seemed ever near him. He dropped a coin into the
hand of the waiter as he rose from the table, and stopped in the hallway
to caress a lovely little child which he found playing hide-and-seek
with an older companion, and then made each a present of money with
which to buy bon-bons. He hummed softly to himself the air of an old
love song as he went leisurely to his room.

Soon after, he was enjoying a choice Havana with Col. Bonifield sitting
in a chair opposite him, smoking his briar-root, blowing blue rings
of smoke leisurely toward the ceiling. Vance was animated, and spoke
glowingly of the prospects of Waterville. Presently Col. Bonifield said:

"Mr. Gilder, we have reached the 300 foot level, suh," and then lapsed
into silence.

"Have you cross-cut into the vein yet?" asked Vance.

"Mr. Gilder," said the old miner, as he rose from his chair and walked
back and forth in a stately manner, "we have cross-cut, suh, into where
the vein ought to have been, but it is not there, suh. I must confess to
yo', suh, that I am greatly disappointed, but the disappoint{135}ment,
I am sure, suh, is only tempoary. Of course it is much richer, suh, than
it was at the 200 foot level, but it is not rich enough, suh, to work,
by a pow'ful sight."

[Illustration: 0143]

This information was a great disappointment to Vance, for he had fully
shared the old miner's belief that they would strike the rich ore at the
300 foot level.

"I will admit, Col. Bonifield, that I am somewhat disappointed, and of
course you are. Under the circumstances, what do you advise?"

{136}"Yo' honor me, suh, indeed yo' do, Mr. Gilder, to ask my advice,
because, suh, I know my advice is good. Whether yo', Mr. Gilder, will so
regard it, remains to be seen. If yo' can furnish about four thousand
dollars mo' money, I will start to-morrow mornin' fo' the 400 foot
level, and we will then cross-cut, suh, into a vein of pow'ful rich ore.
I assure yo', suh, I never was mo' sincere in my life than I am in
makin' this statement, suh."

Vance possessed the confidence of youth, and his belief in Gray Rocks
was not to be shaken at the first disappointment, while before him rose
up, as from a mist, the pleading face of Louise, and he fancied she was
asking him to still believe in her father.

[Illustration: 9144]

He took his check book from his pocket and wrote a check for $4,000,
and signing it, handed it to the old miner, saying: "How long, with the
present force of men, will it take to reach the 400 foot level?"

"My dear Mr. Gilder," said the colonel, accepting his check, and
clasping his hand, "yo' quite ovehpow'r me, yo' do indeed, suh. Yo' may
have been bawn in the nawth but yo' are a Virginian still at heart,
with the warm blood cou'sin'through yo'r veins I think, suh, that within
three or fou' mouths we can reach the fou' hund'ed foot level. I told
yo'r father that Gray Rocks was a sure winner, and I am proud, suh, to
repeat the statement to you."

"I don't know," said Vance, "whether you will strike it at the four
hundred foot level or not, but I assure you, Colonel Bonifield, that I
have every faith in your sincerity, and I am anxious to develop the mine
as rapidly as possible. If my investment should prove a total loss, I
assure you I would never hold you responsible."

"I am gettin' along in years, Mr. Gilder," said the Colonel, "and while
I have not struck it yet, I have every confidence, suh, that we will
if we stay by Gray Rocks. My little Louise, of cou'se, was disappointed
like myself. We both feared, suh, yo' would be veihy much disappointed;
and I assure yo', suh, we cared a great deal mo' about yo'r
disappointment than we did about our own. To tell yo' the truth, suh,
that little girl of mine had mo' faith in yo'r looking at this matteh
philosophically than I did; but," continued the Colonel, pressing
Vance's hand, "I misjudged yo', Mr. Gilder, I did indeed, suh, and I
apologize fo' it."

After Colonel Bonifield had taken his departure, Vance commenced looking
over his accumulated mail. The first thing that claimed his attention
was a copy of the _Banner_ containing his article, "Two Honorable
Exceptions." He read it carefully through again with evident pride. Not
a word or a single sentence had been cut out. This was gratifying to
him, and seemed proof that the managing editor had confidence in his
ability to select the wheat from the chaff. He laid down the paper and
began opening his letters. Presently the song he was humming died on his
lips. He sat upright and stared at a letter which he held in his hand.
It read as follows:


_Banner_ Office, New York City.

DEAR SIR:--

I am directed by the managing editor to advise you that your services
are no longer required. Enclosed find check in payment of your salary to
date.

J Respectfully,

J. M. M.,

Ass't Managing Editor.

To Vance Gilder, Esq.


{138}He arose from his chair and rapidly paced the room, while great
beads of perspiration stood on his forehead. What had he done to merit
such humiliation? The idea that it might be a practical joke for a
moment found lodgment in his thoughts, but he quickly dismissed the
hallucination. Again he took up the paper and re-read the article, "Two
Honorable Exceptions." He endeavored logically to think out a solution
of his dismissal.

[Illustration: 8146]

The more earnestly he thought over the situation, the more distinctly he
remembered the prejudiced views the chief seemed to entertain in regard
to western enterprises and investments. "He certainly wants the truth,"
soliloquized Vance, "and I will stake my life there is not a sentence
in this article," and he struck the paper vigorously with his hand, "but
what is true. The article might almost be regarded as an advertisement
for the great mining camp of Butte City, yet it was news, and not nearly
so strong as it might be and still keep within the bounds of truth.
The same is equally true as to what I have said in regard to the
agricultural and other resources of Waterville."

He sat far into the night, discussing with himself this unlooked for
calamity. Once, and only once, did the idea occur to him that possibly
the chief had sent him into the northwest to systematically destroy
confidence concerning western investments. He was too honorable,
however, to harbor the thought, and quickly dismissed it as too
contemptible to be entertained. The only consolation he could find--and
that was certainly a very {139}meager one--was that in all probability a
letter of explanation would soon come, that would clear away the
misunderstanding. In the meantime he would patiently wait, keeping his
own counsel.

He looked over his check book, and found he had, all told, some six
thousand dollars to his credit, besides the four thousand dollars he
had that evening given to Colonel Bonifield. He sat by his window
and considered the advisability of returning at once to New York and
demanding an explanation. Such a course would take him away from Gold
Bluff, from Gray Rocks, and from Louise.



CHAPTER XVII.--An AWAKENING.


[Illustration: 9148]

ANCE GILDER {140}was not of a morose nature. The following morning he
ate as hearty a breakfast as ever, and while smoking his morning cigar,
acknowledged to himself that he had fallen in love with the picturesque
scenery of the mountains, rivers, valleys and everything about him
was restful, while an alluring contentment stole into his heart. He
congratulated himself that he was far away from the hot and crowded
metropolis of the Atlantic seaboard. Here, far removed from "the busy
marts of men," and the restless commotion of commerce and traffic, he
could rest and wait.

The day passed quickly by; the afternoons and evenings usually in the
society of Louise. They were bewildering days in their completeness. The
night claimed the day all too soon when in her society.

He was surprised, after the first shock of disappointment had passed
away, to find how indifferent he was becoming in regard to the loss of
his position on the _Banner_.

One morning he awakened to a keen sense of incompleteness where
completeness had dwelt. Also around Gold Bluff, he {141}covered
a vein of discontent where contentment had reigned supreme. His love of
the mountains, the rivers, and the picturesque scenery was but a prelude
of promise, thumbing sweetly of the great, unselfish love awakened in
him for Louise.

This unrest dated from a certain evening when Louise first sang for him.
He was quite entranced by the full, rich volume of her contralto voice.

She began by striking the chords in a hesitating way; but presently the
genius of her musical nature seized her with its wonderful power, and
she sang with wild abandon:=

```'We seemed to those who saw us meet

````The casual friends of every day;

```His courtesy was frank and sweet,

````My smile was unrestrained and gay.=


```But yet, if one the other's name

````In some unguarded moment heard,

```The heart you thought so free and tame

````Would flutter like a frightened bird."=

As she sang Vance gave himself up to the intoxication of the moment. His
soul broke through the barriers and went out to hers, and as the song
died on her lips, and the music ceased with a few reluctant farewell
chords, he knew that a great and tender love had sprung up in his
heart--a love that was not for a day, but for all time.

"Miss Bonifield," said Vance, with emotion, "you are, indeed, a constant
surprise to me. Your playing is {142}certainly superb, while your voice;
not only soft and musical, but has great range. To hear you sing fills
me with a longing to be a better man."

"Thank you," said Louise, "I seldom play or sing excepting for papa.
Your compliment, however, is highly appreciated."

"As long as I remain in Gold Bluff I hope I will be privileged in
hearing you sing occasionally."

"We will promise not to ostracize you altogether, Mr. Gilder," said
Louise, laughingly, "but may I ask how long you expect to remain
with us?" There was just enough hesitation in the question to suggest
interest.

"I do not know," replied Vance. "I presume you think it is strange that
I have remained as long as I have. To be frank with you, Miss Bonifield,
I have lost my position on the _Banner_."

"Lost your position!" said Louise, with unmistakable concern.

"I am indeed sorry," replied Vance, "whether it is a misfortune or not.
I had an offer to-day to take charge of the _Gold Bluff Prospector_, and
am thinking seriously of accepting."

"You quite astonish me," said Louise, "but I know papa will be delighted
if you conclude to remain permanently in Gold Bluff."

"Of course," said Vance thoughtfully, "there is quite a difference
between the New York _Banner_ and the _Gold Bluff Prospector_--one a
cosmopolitan daily and the other a country newspaper without any special
circulation. It would only be profitable to me as I increased its
circulation and its importance to advertisers. I shall not decide for a
few days. I may receive some explanation from the _Banner_ that will put
a different light upon my dismissal."

[Illustration: 0151]

"I have almost made up my mind that I should like to remain in Gold
Bluff," continued Vance, looking inquiringly at Louise. "My confidence
in Gray Rocks is growing daily, and I believe it is only a question of a
short time until your father's efforts will be crowned with success."

"Mr. Gilder," replied Louise, feelingly, "I thank you for your
confidence and faith in my father. It seems that nearly every one
disbelieves in his final success. I cannot tell why, yet my faith
is unbounded. Even sister Virgie has lost hope, and at times papa is
greatly discouraged because sister and Aunt Sally talk as they do; but I
am sure in time he will be able to fully prove how mistaken they are in
their judgment."

As Vance rose to go he took her hand and said "Miss Bonifield, you
certainly are a noble daughter, and your father is pardonable for
wishing to keep you with him in this western country. I am beginning to
understand what a great strength and support you must be to him."

"Thank you," replied Louise, "I am sure you overestimate the assistance
I am to my father, but my greatest pride is in doing something that will
add to his comfort, and I am sure papa cannot want me with him more than
I wish to remain."

Vance had become accustomed to Louise's frankness of speech, yet he
received a shock that thrilled him with delight when she said, "I shall
be very happy, Mr. Gilder, if you conclude to remain in Gold Bluff. You
have no idea how lonesome I should be if you were to go away."

Vance's heart beat wildly, and something seemed to rise up in his throat
as he attempted to thank her. The expression of his face evidently
betrayed his feelings, for she quickly drew away, and with a formality
that was new to Vance she bowed stiffly and said "Good night." After
leaving the Bonifield's home, he followed the road which led up the
mountain side toward Gray Rocks. The moon, large and round, was just
lifting itself above the eastern horizon. He walked on past the shaft,
where the {145}night force of men were busy working away toward the 400
foot level, and soon found himself near the old prospect shaft on the
Peacock. The valley where the little city of Gold Bluff nestled was far
beneath him. He saw a light glimmering from one of the windows in the
Bonifield home, and interpreted it as a beacon of hope.

[Illustration: 9153]

He repeated over and over again Louise's words relative to his remaining
in Gold Bluff.

"Yes," said he, "I will remain, no matter what the explanation may be
from the _Banner_ office," and filled with this decision, he returned to
his hotel.

One evening, about a week after receiving the letter dismissing him
from the _Banner_ force, the mail brought a copy of that great New
York paper. Vance eagerly perused it to see if it contained his last
communication. No, it had been rejected, but in its stead he found an
article entitled "Two Western Towns." It was a three-column article
devoted to Butte City and Waterville. It referred in the most vindictive
manner to the members of the Waterville Town Company, and classed them
as a lot of town site boomers. It warned eastern people not to be caught
and misled by such wildcat speculations as were offered by them in the
great Thief River Valley.

It said the valley was one immense lava bed, interspersed with
sage brush thickets, alkali swamps and basalt plains. The wonderful
water-power, it claimed, was an absolute myth; and, in fact, the printed
statements in the circulars of these "town boomers" were deliberate
lies. {146}Another thing which eastern investors should bear in mind,
the paper went on to say, was the fact that the property which had been
platted into town lots was still government land. The town company
had no title, and, perhaps, never would have. It branded the whole
enterprise as the most gigantic confidence game that had ever been
perpetrated on an unsuspecting public.

It further said the swindling operations of these irresponsible and
restless town boomers of Waterville were only exceeded in point of
adroitness by the mining operations in and around Butte City, Montana.
The article said the mountain sides at Butte City were perforated with
prospect holes, where hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars of
eastern people's money had been expended by local managers in riotous
living and debauchery, and claimed that it was a safe estimate to say
that for every thousand dollars put into prospect shafts in and about
Butte City, not more than one dollar had been taken out.

It spoke of the inhabitants of both Butte City and Waterville as
plebians of the lowest sort and condition of life.

The worst cut of all to Vance, however, was the closing paragraph, where
it stated that it was the habit of promoters of these western towns to
bribe indiscriminately correspondents of eastern papers, and that many
were weak enough to fall, which was not only unfortunate for the journal
publishing these flattering falsehoods, but a base injustice to the
eastern investor, who was led captive with his savings into western
"booms" through the machinations of unprincipled correspondents.

If Vance had been nonplussed on receipt of the assistant's letter, he
was now stunned. He thought very little about his own investment in
Waterville, but rather, what would his old associates on the _Banner_
think of him? He regarded the article as a direct thrust at himself and
his integrity.

After waiting a few days and receiving no further communication from the
_Banner_ office, and feeling too much humiliation to write to his city
friends until time had dulled the blow, he concluded to go to Waterville
and see if he could not make arrangements with the Town Company whereby
he could return at once the money invested by his old associates in
Waterville town lots.

The more he thought over the refuting article in the _Banner_ the more
indignant he became. "There is not a manufacturer or other institution
in the east rich enough," said he to himself, "to stand such wholesale
boycotting as this western country is constantly subjected to by the
eastern press. It is not conservatism; it is downright injustice. I have
not been long in the west, it is true, but my respect for it and its
people is growing. Even Chicago, with all her greatness, energy and
achievements, is belittled by the boycotting press of the east!

"By birth I am a Gothamite, and by education I am an eastern man, but my
patriotism for America and all that is American has never prevented me
from turning up my trousers when there is a heavy fog in London?"



CHAPTER XVIII.--VANCE RETURNS TO WATERVILLE.


[Illustration: 9156]

T {148}was on an October morning that Vance started for Waterville. A
light frost the night before had made the air sharp and crisp. The frost
disappeared, however, before the genial warmth of the rising sun, while
the russet leaves grew brownerer and as the wind stirred them, sang
brokenly of old age.

October is the scenic month in the mountains. You seem to stand in
Nature's picture gallery. The box-alder leaves are as changeable in
color as a blushing maiden. From the low foothills on up the sides of
the mountains to the timber line, the elms, the box-alders, and poplars
grow in profusion. The leaves vary in color from the deepest green to
the brightest scarlet, the most golden yellow, or the somberest brown.
The colors are intermingled in this gorgeous panoramic scene with
a charm and beauty that baffles the most skilled artist's touch to
reproduce on canvas.

Vance was seated beside Steve Gibbons on the top of the stage coach, as
they whirled along in meditative silence. The evening before Louise
had sung for him. It was music fit for the gods--so rich, so deep, so
plaintively low, so fascinating. He could see her even now, standing
on the wide old porch as she bade him good-bye. {149}The mild October
breeze that stirred the ringlets of her golden hair seemed laden with
worshipers of hope for Vance, the lover, and he interpreted her every
word and smile as a token reciprocal of his own deep love.

Presently Vance was brought back from his day dreams to the present by
Steve Gibbons remarking:

"Things ain't so powerful brisk down at Waterville jes' now."

"Why, how is that?' asked Vance.

"Oh, I dunno," replied Gibbons, as he waked up his leaders with a
spirited crack of his whip, "can't say jes' what is the matter. But I
can tell ye one thing, pardner," he went on, "I'm mighty glad I'm not
in the real estate business. In my opinion, them real estate agents down
thar will be jumpin' sideways for a sandwich before the winter's over."

Vance was noticeably depressed by Gibbons' remarks. He was going to
Waterville for the express purpose of disposing of his New York friends'
property, in which they had invested on his recommendation. He cared
very little about his own investment. He was willing to wait, or even to
lose it all, if he could only prevent them from sustaining loss on their
purchase.

It was late that night when they reached Waterville. Vance was delighted
to find that Homer Winthrop was registered at the hotel. They met the
following morning at the breakfast table. The conduct of the usually
polite and entertaining Winthrop was changed to a sternness for which
Vance was at a loss to account. As they arose from the table, Vance
went out with Winthrop and asked him how he was progressing in the lot
selling business.

"How am I progressing?" repeated Winthrop, as he {150}turned and looked
coldly at Vance. "I am through. I have left Butte City for good."

"Why, how is that?" asked Vance in some surprise. Winthrop was silent
for a moment, and then replied: "It is rather strange, Mr. Gilder, for
you to ask such a question after writing the article you did for that
New York paper. The _Inter Mountain Blade_ and the _Butte City Miner_
both copied the letter. It is hardly necessary for me to observe," he
went on, "that it rendered it impossible for me to sell another lot in
Butte City. Those who had purchased became so infuriated that I deemed
it best for personal safety to leave the town."

Saying this, Winthrop turned abruptly and left Vance, who was for a
moment unable to make a reply. Homer Winthrop's words both astonished
and chilled him.

A little later he visited the Town Company's office, where he found
Marcus Donald, the resident director, and Homer Winthrop in deep
consultation. Donald was a man of commanding presence. His associates
often remarked that Marcus Donald's face was worth $10,000 in an
important trade of any kind. He was dignified and commanding in
appearance, and when one talked with him, the most skeptical fell
into the habit of believing every word that fell from his lips. Vance
discovered that he was not wanted, but he determined to vindicate
himself, and said:

"Gentlemen, pardon me for interrupting, but I must ask your indulgence
for a few moments. I wish you would read this article. I am humiliated
enough without any further complications or misunderstandings."

He handed Marcus Donald a copy of the _Banner_. Donald adjusted his
gold-rimmed spectacles and read aloud the entire article, "Two Western
Towns." When he had concluded, Vance turned toward Winthrop.

"Is that the letter you referred to?"

[Illustration: 0159]

"Why, yes," said Winthrop, "but how is this?" said he, picking up the
paper. "The Butte City papers published only that part of the article
referring to Waterville; but how came you to write such a letter at all,
Mr. Gilder? You certainly know there is not a syllable of truth in it
from beginning to finish."

Vance looked first at Winthrop and then at Donald, {152}and replied,
"I did not write it." He then proceeded to give them a history of his
dismissal.

"This was written," tapping the paper with the back of his hand,
"evidently to counteract the influence and effect of what I had written
the week before."

"Of course that puts it in a different light," said Donald, rising and
extending his hand to Vance. "I could not believe it possible that you,
Mr. Gilder, could be guilty of writing such a libelous article as this
is."

Winthrop also accepted the explanation as eminently satisfactory, and
sympathized with Vance in the loss of his position on the great New York
daily.

"It has completely killed the lot selling business for me in Butte
City," said he, "but fortunately for us, we have made some very
excellent sales during the past few weeks, and the Town Company' has
sufficient money in the treasury to pay all its debts, and the last
obligation will be paid off before twelve o'clock to-day."

"Yes," said Marcus Donald, "they will all be paid off, but it will leave
the treasury in a depleted condition; but the future, I believe, is
all right. I hope you will not lose faith, Mr. Gilder, in Waterville's
prospects."

"No," said Vance, "I have unbounded faith in Waterville, but I would
like very much to have the Town Company, if possible, return the
$2,500 which I invested for my New York friends. It would save me much
embarrassment if I could return them their money'. They doubtless know
I have been dismissed from the force, and have read this last article,
which puts an entirely' different coloring on this western country' from
what I represented."

{153}"You must know," said Winthrop, "that what you seek is next to
impossible. The money has been paid into the treasury, and no difference
how friendly I personally feel toward you, or how much the resident
director, Mr. Donald, may wish to return the money, it cannot possibly
be done without an action of the directors."

At this juncture, Marcus Donald invited Vance to take a scat by his
desk, and he would explain to him carefully and fully the situation, and
believed he could prove to him conclusively why he was acting for his
New York friends' best interests in leaving the investment as it was.

[Illustration: 8161]

Donald produced a great many maps and carefully spread them out on the
table, adjusted his spectacles carefully, and with his $10,000 face
looked squarely into Vance's, and proceeded to go over the old, old
story of the unlimited natural resources of the valley. He discussed at
length, and in a very entertaining and convincing manner, the number
of acres of land already in cultivation, the probable annual increase
acreage of farm land; figured out results that amounted to millions of
dollars. He then carried Vance from one side of the map to the other,
up to the top, then down to the bottom and back again to the point where
they had first started; indeed, he quite enthused Vance in regard to the
future prospects and final outcome of Waterville.

He also confirmed Winthrop's statement in regard to their inability
to take any money out of the treasury for {154}the purpose suggested
without first having an action of the directors.

"I advise you to write to your New York friends," continued Donald, "and
tell them their investment is all right, _if_--mark, I say _if_--they
have the nerve to stay with it a year or such a matter. Of course this
article in the _Banner_ hurts us immensely. It is simply a highhanded
piece of boycotting; but the west has received similar injustice at the
hands of the great New York dailies times without number in years gone
by."

Acting on Marcus Donald's advice, Vance wrote a letter that day to his
New York friends, and afterwards felt better for having done so. He
determined to remain a week or two at Waterville, and see if there was
any demand for real estate. Before many days, he began to understand
the wonderful, far-reaching effects of the late article in the _Banner_.
Rival surrounding towns copied it, and with double-leaded editorials
called attention to a town that had over-reached itself. They denounced
the various members of the Waterville Town Company as villainous sharks,
and predicted that the boom had been pricked with a needle that would
let all the wind out of it.

The transient class of real estate agents and hangers-on, who had been
doing a rather thriving business, said, "Boys, this ends it," as they
blew the foam from their glasses of beer, "we might as well go somewhere
else as wait and see the dog-fennel grow in the streets of Waterville."

One day Vance called on J. Arthur Boast at his office. He found him
as elegantly dressed as ever, and engaged in tying up bundles of legal
papers, deeds, contracts, etc. {155}"Are you getting ready to move away
from Waterville?" asked Vance.

"No, I am not going away; that is, not permanently," replied Boast, as
he stooped to brush a speck of dust from his highly polished shoes, "but
I do not presume we will have any use for deeds or contracts for some
time to come, and I am therefore putting them away out of the dust until
the boom opens up again."

"You talk a little discouragingly," said Vance.

"Discouragingly!" said Boast, as he seated himself on the table in front
of Vance. "Discouragingly! Why, didn't I tell you the Town Company would
ruin Waterville? I was away only two weeks visiting, as you know, at
Gold Bluff, but while I was gone they inflated prices of property; made
promises right and left that were quite impossible for them to fulfill.
The newspapers all over the country are denouncing them, and the result
of it is that Waterville is dead! I say dead, and I mean dead, and all
on account of the Town Company."

"Do you suppose," asked Vance, "that you could possibly' sell my
twenty-five lots?"

Boast looked absently' out of the window and said, "I might sell them in
time by putting them on my special bargain list."

"At what price?" Vance ventured to ask.

"Let me see," said Boast, "you paid $2,500 for them, did you not?"

"Yes," replied Vance.

"Oh, well," said Boast, "I might be able to get $500 for them, but it
would be a pretty green sort of a tenderfoot that I could load them on
at even that price. But what's the use," said he, facing around toward
Vance {156}and still sitting on the table, "what's the use of losing
your nerve? Within one or two years Waterville will be all right. She
can't be kept down. She has natural resources; the richest farm lands
in the world; the greatest water power of any inland city in the
United States; marvelous veins of coal; inexhaustible quarries of rock;
unsurpassed forests of timber; and abundance of water for irrigating
purposes.

[Illustration: 8164]

Why, dang it, old fellow," said he, slapping Vance on the shoulder,
"Waterville s all right. All you've got to do is to hold on to your
nerve and your lots, and you will come out on top."

"That's all very well," replied Vance, "but the ray of hope you hold out
is too far away to be very satisfactory at the present time."

"Every tenderfoot," replied Boast, "needs a certain amount of experience
in order to acclimate him to this western country. Your experience is
just now beginning. After a little Colonel Bonifield will strike it rich
on Gray Rocks, Waterville will also come out of the kinks, and there you
are, a rich man. By the way, the Colonel must be pretty well along
toward the 400 foot level, Waterville will also come out of the kinks,
and there you are, a rich man. By the way, the Colonel must be pretty
well along toward the 400 foot level, is he not:"

"I believe he is making very satisfactory progress," replied Vance.

"If the old man should strike it rich," said Boast, "I would not mind
connecting myself with his family. Of course, I am not so hard to
please as you New York fellows." He looked archly at Vance and smiled
wickedly as he made this remark.

Vance was indignant at the cold-blooded insinuation of Boast, and
replied: {157}"While you may have no objections, I don't doubt you will
meet some pretty knotty ones before you succeed in winning Miss
Bonifield."

"Possibly," replied Boast, coolly. "Nevertheless, if the old Colonel
strikes it in Gray Rocks, it's worth a trial, anyway; but come, there's
no use in quarreling over something that hasn't happened, or being
down-hearted about a busted boom, so long as a fellow has a bottle of
red liquor."

Vance did not wait for him to go through the ordeal of condemning
himself as a drunken profligate, but let him to finish tying up his
papers and drink the contents of his bottle alone.



CHAPTER XIX.--THE INDIGNATION MEETING


[Illustration: 9166]

ANCE had been in Waterville something over a week, and his enthusiasm
was noticeably subdued. One evening he discovered that a great many
citizens were assembling in the Town Hall. He joined the crowd, and
found it was composed of representative of nearly every family in
Waterville.

The meeting was called to order with J. Arthur Boast in the chair. It
was an indignation meeting. Instead of huzzaing for the Waterville
Town Company, its members were being vigorously denounced. A speaker
addressed the chair, and among other things said:

"Where is our sash, blind and door factory? Where is our foundry? Where
is our woolen mill? Where are our canning factories? Where is our great
smelting plant, and other manufacturing enterprises which have been
promised us by the Waterville Town Company? When we see anything in
a newspaper we have a right to believe what it says. Outside of
Waterville, the newspapers claim the members of the Waterville Town
Company to be a lot of restless town site boomers. I believe what I see
in the papers. The dog-fennel is already growing in our streets--our
town is dead; not one stranger in a week alights from the train at
Waterville. {159}We have been deceived, and it is now time for an
indignant community to assert its rights, take the reins of government,
so to speak, in our own hands, and give the Waterville Town Company to
understand that no more bonds of any kind will be voted or subsidies
given."

A number of other speakers expressed themselves in bitter terms against
the Waterville Town Company. The chairman, J. Arthur Boast, finally
addressed the meeting, and with his thin, piping voice advise
moderation.

He said it was true that, during his absence, prices had been
unfortunately inflated, and a reaction had set in. He reminded his
hearers that he was still in the real estate business, and by listing
their property with him he would try to put it on his "special bargain
list," and thought possibly he could, in time, re-establish confidence
and create a new era of activity in the real estate business.

Boast was very careful not to openly charge the depression in Waterville
to anyone in particular, but his insinuations left no room to doubt he
meant the Waterville Town Company.

It seemed to be the sense of the meeting that retrenchment was in order.
One speaker advised the closing of the public school. The suggestion
seemed to meet with favor. Old Dick Ballard pushed his way through
the crowd, and addressing the chairman, begged the crowd to listen to
reason. "You know," he continued, "that I'm your school director in this
township. The office sought me; I didn't seek the office. Retrenchment
in any other line exceptin' the closin' down of our public school is,
perhaps, all right; but do not take a step backward. Our public school
system is our pride, and should appeal to the patriotism of every one
here." {160}In conclusion, he offered to give an entertainment with
his State Militia Company for the benefit of the public school of
Waterville. Hi is remarks would probably have been effective had not a
fiery speaker followed him and advanced the idea that by discontinuing
the public school it would be a direct rebuke to the Waterville Town
Company.

"Let it be noised abroad," said he, "that the residents of Waterville
refuse to pay any school taxes, and then the Waterville town Company
will begin to understand that we must be consulted, or we will thwart
their schemes of booming this town. All they care for, anyway, is the
money there is in selling town lots."

The speaker then asked Dick Ballard how much money was in the teacher's
fund of the school treasury. Ballard said he did not know, but he could
find out in a day or two. The speaker then addressed the chair, and
said:

"I move you, sir, that it is the sense of this public demonstration that
we quit paying taxes to support a public school in Waterville, and when
the funds now on hand are exhausted that our school be closed." The
motion almost unanimously prevailed. There were a few feeble protests,
but they were not recognized by the presiding officer.

A little later Vance felt some one plucking at his sleeve, and old Dick
Ballard motioned him to follow.

"Now, sir," said Ballard, in a deep whisper when they were alone, "there
is some mighty important work to be done. Be in the parlor of my hotel
in half an hour from now. Say nothin'." At this Dick Ballard, with a
mysterious look on his face, turned and hurried away.

A little later Vance walked over to the hotel and found {161}Dick
Ballard, Homer Winthrop, and Marcus Donald. They apparently were waiting
for him. Ballard was very careful to lock the door securely.

[Illustration: 9169]

He then turned and said: "Now, gentlemen, we have business of importance
on hand. Yes, sir, the time has come for us to act, and act promptly.
Hold on--just wait a moment until I read you a letter. This is private,"
said he, tapping a letter which he unfolded with a great flourish. "This
is from General Ira House, the greatest town builder in the world. Now,
here's what he says:

"'I will settle my board bill, no, hold on; that isn't the place. Here
it is: 'Tell the people to be patient. The darkest hour is just before
the dawn. Waterville is all right.'"

"What do you think of that, gentlemen?" said he, folding the letter and
putting it into his pocket. "I tell you, General House can come as near
breakin' the shell and gettin' at the meat of the kernel as any man
I ever knew'. He's brainy, and no mistake. Our citizens are excited,"
Ballard went on, "and in their excitement they are foolish. They're
attemptin' to bite the hand that is feedin' us all. 'The Town Company has
made this town. I address my remarks, Mr. Gilder, to you. Modesty
forbids, sir, that I should say to my friends, Mr. Donald and Mr.
Winthrop, that which I unhesitatingly proclaim to an outside party. Now
let me ask, Mr. Gilder, if I didn't tell you long ago that the members
of the Waterville Town Company were the brainiest men this country had
ever produced?"

{162}"I believe you made that remark," replied Vance.

[Illustration: 0170]

"Yes, sir, and I am proud to repeat the statement, and in the letter
which I have just read to you I have the evidence, the _prima facie_
evidence, that Watcrville is only restin', as it were, preparatory to
enterin' the free-for-all hurdle race, and makin' the fastest time
on record. Yes, sir, her time will be a record breaker, and she will
distance all would-be competitors, notwithstandin' the slanderous
{163}and libelous articles now goin' the rounds in the press.'

"We now," continued Mallard, "are a ways-and-means committee. The
closing of our public school would indeed be a calamity. They asked me
over at the town meetin' how much money was in the school treasury. I
told them I didn't know. I beg you gentlemen's pardon for my reply, I
do know. There is not a cent. I was forced into the awkward position of
tellin' a falsehood for the good of my adopted city, Waterville. Now,
gentle men, what do you advise?"

"I think," said Donald, "that our taxpayers proper are not objecting
to the expense of our public school. The Waterville Town Company owns
fully three-fourths of all the property in Waterville, and we want the
school to go on. The citizens who are the loudest in denouncing the
expense, and calling most vigorously for retrenchment, as a matter of
fact, do not pay a penny of tax."

"You're right," said Dick Ballard, glowingly, "that's the talk! There's
argument in your remarks, Mr. Donald, and if I had them printed on
dodgers I would regard it as a personal privilege to deliver copies to
members of my State Militia Company, and issue a general order to have
them distributed over the entire town."

"I wish to call your attention to one thing," continued Ballard. "No
member of my State Militia Company voted to discontinue our public
school; no, sir, not one."

Winthrop was called on for remarks, and observed that the demonstration
was a hasty action that would not be approved, probably, by the
people themselves on mature reflection. {164}"A few weeks ago," he went
on, "these same people were hurrahing; for the Waterville Town Company.
They expect us to perform wonders in a few weeks' time, that in reality
require months, and even years. I fully believe the present depression
will be followed by a healthy activity that will satisfy the most
pronounced pessimist in Waterville."

"Gentlemen." said Dick Ballard, "there are four of us. Miss Virginia
Bonifield is a most exemplary young lady, while, as a teacher, she is
without a peer. I stand ready to pledge myself for one-fourth of her
salary. Her salary for the entire year is $500.

"Put me down for one fourth," said Vance.

"I will gladly pay one fourth," said Marcus Donald, "and my check is
ready at any time."

"Count me in on the deal," said Homer Winthrop "Just one thing,
gentlemen," said Dick Ballard, "I am pretty well acquainted with Miss
Virginia Bonifield.

[Illustration: 9172]

She posseses the spirit of independence to a very large degree. She is,
indeed, the daughter of her father, Colonel Bonifield. If she knew that
her salary was comin' from a private source, why, you could not get
her to touch a dollar of it, therefore I think it best to consider this
compact and agreement strictly confidential."

Dick Ballard's views met with the approval of his associates, and then
the conversation became general. Vance inquired when the Town Company
would probably hold another meeting.

{165}"Not for some time, from present indications," replied Winthrop.

"No," replied Marcus Donald, "I have to-day received a letter from
Colonel Alexander, and he says it will be necessary, on account of
pressing business in the Wharfage and Dockage Company down on the Gulf
coast, to defer holding another Town Company meeting for some months.
The only thing we can do," continued Donald, "is to keep a good grip
on our holdings here and wait. The dark days will roll by like so
many clouds and the sun will shine again. Waterville will be in the
ascendency. Strangers will be coming in, bringing money for internal
improvements; this great valley will be settled up, and successful
activity, in my judgment, will take the place of the present unfortunate
depression."

Vance continued his stay in Waterville several days longer than he had
at intended. His frequent consultations with Horner Winthrop and Marcus
Donald led him to believe they were two of the most honorable men he had
ever met. Possibly they were wrong in their judgment about Waterville,
but they certainly were sincere. They seemed like men who had been
fighting for a goal against bitter odds. The goal was finally reached
when the last obligation of the Waterville Town Company had been paid.
They were left practically penniless, or at best, with very little
money; yet they were content to wait until time should lift then out of
the trough of the sea upon the waves of commercial activity again, which
they fully believed would come.

When Vance started for Gold Bluff, he said he might see them again in
a couple of weeks, and again, he might {166}not see them for a year or
longer. He was wholly undecided what to do.

Arriving at Gold Bluff in the evening, Vance made a hasty toilet and
called upon the woman he secretly loved so devotedly. She welcomed him
warmly. Soon after, they were seated in the little parlor where Vance
had spent so many happy evenings.

The Colonel greeted him enthusiastically.

[Illustration: 8174]

The open grate was crackling and burning cheerily with a bright wood
fire, and seemed to add warmth to the welcome extended.

"Am delighted to see yo', Mr. Gilder, I am indeed, still. We have at
last reached the 400 foot level. Tempo'ary embarrassments will soon be
relegated into antiquity, yes, suh; a few days longer, a few days mo' of
waitin', suh, and the struggle for a livin' will be oveh with. No matteh
how much we may fight against it, we are bound to be wealthy. Of cou'se
it'll take a few days yet, but only a few."

It was evident that the Colonel was greatly in earnest. It was a welcome
hope to Vance. He briefly related to the Colonel and Louise concerning
the depression at Waterville, but that he still had hopes that
eventually--he did not pretend to say exactly when, but some time in the
future--his investment in Waterville town lots would turn out all right.

"On gen'al principles," said Colonel Bonifield, "I am not favo'able to
real estate spec'lations. I presume, suh, the reason is I know so vehy
little about them, but when {167}it comes to a mine, suh,'specially like
Gray Rocks, I inva'ably know, suh, what I am talkin' about. Louise,"
said the Colonel, looking at his daughter, "let us have some music.
I see Mr. Gilder is vehy tired, and we will talk no mo' business this
evenin'."

Louise opened the piano and sang for them. There was a plaintive
sweetness in the girl's voice that made Vance's heart pulse with
delicious contentment. Hope played back and forth among the chords as
the music swelled and surged in sweet, symphonious strains. While she
was singing, he felt how easy it would be to declare his love, but when
she had ceased, and the last vibrations of music had died away, he knew
he lacked the courage.

Vance would be called a brave man in the daily walks of life, and yet,
as Louise's lover, he was the most arrant of cowards.



CHAPTER XX.--THE STAGE IS ROBBED.


[Illustration: 9176]

HE {168}next morning Vance met his old acquaintance, Hank Casey.

"Good morning, Mr. Casey," said Vance, cheerily.

"Hello, pardner," was the laconic and somewhat dejected reply.

"I haven't seen you for some time," said Vance.

"No, I've been prospectin' round these 'ere diggin's, but I guess I
won't stay much longer. The court decided agin Steve Gibbons an' me. I
think I'll go back to Butte City afore long. She's the pertest minin'
camp in the 'hull country."

"You say the court has decided against you?" repeated Vance.

"Yes," he replied, "Steve Gibbons an' we had a law suit agin' Rufus Grim
over the Peacock. B. Webster Legal is a pretty cute lawyer, an' for a
time he made it bilin' hot for old Grim, but somehow on the show-down
we got done up. It don't make much difference how cute a feller's lawyer
is, when the court's prejudiced all out o' shape. I sometimes think old
Grim has a 'nuf sight better title to the court of this 'ere district
than he has to the Peacock mine."

"Your friend Gibbons," said Vance, "told me sonnies {169}thing of this
law suit, and I rather expected, with the assistance of an attorney like
B. Webster Legal, you would succeed in establishing your claim. You have
my sympathy if an injustice has been done you."

"Oh, it wa'n't no fault of Lawyer Legal, I can tell you, he's a hummer,
and a mighty social chap in the bargain; but this 'ere game isn't played
to a finish yet, pardner, not by several great, big moves on the chess
board. You see, we've appealed it to the higher courts, but they're so
dangnation slow that a feller had better get a hustle on hisself while
he's waitin' for a decision or he'll starve. When old Grim has his
neck broken, honest people may then get their just deserts." He seemed
dejected, and soon after took his leave, saying that he was going into
the mountains to do a little prospecting.

The Peacock mine was constantly increasing its output of the yellow
metal. Nearly every stage carried shipments of gold bullion to the
mints. Rufus Grim was growing richer and more pompous. His satellites
and admirers noticeably increased after the courts had decided in his
favor.

In the meantime the pumps in Gray Rocks had broken down and delayed the
work several weeks. Vance was in a state of feverish anxiety. He longed
to be relieved from the mental strain and know whether he was a half
owner in a gold mine that produced in paying quantities, or only a half
owner in a worthless shaft in the mountain side.

He retired one evening at an early hour, tired out and thoroughly
disgusted with his achievements in the west. He was awakened about two
o'clock in the morning by a great commotion going on below. Hastily
dressing himself, he went down to the bar-room, where he found
everything was wild with excitement. {170}The stage coach had been
robbed, and it was reported that Steve Gibbons was dead. Hasty
preparations were being made to form a posse and start in pursuit of the
highwaymen.

[Illustration: 9178]

The express company had some heavy consignments of gold bullion sent
from the Peacock mine, and it was reported missing. Vance signified his
willingness to join in the pursuit, and was furnished with a horse, and
soon after they started pell-mell down the mountain road from Gold Bluff
in the direction of Waterville, to the point where the robbery had taken
place.

Rufus Grim offered $1,000 for the capture of the perpetrators, which,
together with a large sum offered by the express company, stimulated a
feverish interest in the chase.

The sun was just coming up when they reached the place where the robbers
had sallied forth from a neighboring mountain gorge the morning before
and committed their lawless work. About two miles beyond, they found the
only two passengers of the ill-fated stage coach. A gentleman and his
wife from the east had been visiting Colonel Boast, the rich rancher
who lived near Gold Bluff, and were returning to their eastern home. The
gentleman had been relieved of his wallet, containing some $2,000, also
his watch, diamond pin, and his wife of her jewelry. They were left in
a destitute condition, and were waiting to take the next stage back to
Gold Bluff to secure such aid from Colonel Boast as would enable them to
continue their homeward journey.

They said there were five of the robbers. When they commanded Steve
Gibbons to stop, he whipped up his horses, and received a bullet through
his body for his attempted bravery. He fell from the stage coach and
sustained serious injuries.

[Illustration: 0179]

The robbers quickly stopped the horses, relieved the two passengers
of their possessions, secured the express matter and started for the
mountain wilds, taking with them the four dapple-gray horses that Steve
Gibbons had prided himself so much in driving.

Gibbons had been carefully cared for by the mountain rancher and his
wife, where the two passengers were {172}stopping. A physician had been
sent for and dressed his wounds. He said Gibbons would get well; the
bullet had struck a rib and glanced off.

After learning these meager details, the posse pushed on into the
mountains in hot pursuit. They were under command of the sheriff of the
county. The trail of the desperadoes was easily followed. Along in the
afternoon, the sheriff called a halt for refreshments. The horses were
tethered with lariats to some trees that grew near a mountain stream,
and permitted to graze while the men refreshed themselves with lunches
which they had brought along.

"We're twenty-four hours behind the rascals," said the sheriff, "and
I don't know whether we'll overtake them or not." Some of the men were
eager to go on, and others were ready to give up the chase. After a rest
of an hour or such a matter, the order was given to again mount, and the
trail was followed until darkness set in. Sleeping on the ground with
the starry canopy for a covering was a new experience for Vance, but
he was determined not to show the white feather. What others endured he
would endure.

About ten o'clock the next morning, they came to a mountain gorge and
followed the trail to a point where it seemed quite impossible for a
horseman to ascend, it was so steep and rugged. The sheriff and a few of
his men dismounted and went on ahead, looking for the trail. They found
horses' tracks, but where could they have gone? The grass was deep and
heavy in the center of the gulch, and fringed with trees and boulders
on either side. Finally the sheriff returned and reported the trail as
lost. {173}"They have evidently come into this 'pocket' of a canon to
throw us off their trail. We will have to return to the mouth of the
gorge and see in what other direction the trail leads."

The afternoon was spent in searching for the lost trail. Night overtook
the party again, and rations were very short. Their meal was a frugal
one, and far from satisfying the hunger of men who had ridden hard all
day. The horses were securely fastened and the party lay down to
sleep. Vance made his bed on some bunch grass that grew under the
wide-spreading branches of a mountain pine. He could plainly hear the
rippling of a stream which ran near by, and when deep silence settled
down over the landscape, save the occasional snort of one of the horses,
the singing of the stream grew louder and louder. The smell of pine
added to the deliciousness of his novel and strange surroundings.
Weariness soon overcame the discomforts of his improvised bed, and he
sank to sleep. Suddenly he awoke in the middle of the night, but found
everyone else was deep in slumber, save the two guards that had been
left on duty a few yards from the camp. The stars were winking at him
from above; a wolf was howling a dismal cadence, and was answered by
another far away in a different direction. An owl hooted its discordant
strain from the dead branch of a tree a short distance away.

He closed his eyes, and thought of the wonderful change that a few
months had brought into his life; but these thoughts one after another
vanished; and still other fancies went pell-mell through his imagination
in the panorama of thought. Presently a face appeared on this mental
canvas--so sweet, so tender, so trusting, and {174}wreathed in that
smile he knew so well. He started, opened his eye and murmured,
"Louise."

The wolf howled again in the distance, and he thought he detected a
snappish twang in its concluding barks, and wondered if it foreboded
danger. Occasionally one of the horses would snort and stamp on the
ground, and then go on munching, munching, the grass on which they were
feeding. Finally he dozed again and slept. He thought it was only a
moment afterward, when someone shook his shoulder and told him to get
up. He opened his eyes and found it was morning.

He hastily sprang up and found there was considerable excitement among
his associates. The sheriff was missing. About a half hour later he came
into camp and said he had been out looking for the trail, but could find
nothing of it. He said they might as well return home.

Vance was not sorry of this decision, for he was hungry and tired and
sore. There were mutterings, however, among some of the sheriff's posse,
and they whispered among themselves as if they suspected their chief of
crooked work.

It took them two days to return to Gold Bluff. They found Steve Gibbons
at the hotel, and able to sit up. The robbers had all worn masks, and
it was impossible for him to give a description of any of them. The
representative of the express company was evidently disappointed that
the sheriff had not been able to find the desperadoes; $10,000 of gold
bullion had been stolen, as well as other valuable express matter.

A few days later, Steve Gibbons declared that he was able to resume his
place on the stage coach, but it transpired that two of his bondsmen had
asked to be relieved {175}This was an insinuation that some one regarded
him as an accomplice in the unfortunate stage robbery. He investigated
and found it was Rufus Grim who had advised two of his bondsmen to be
a little careful. During the day, through Vance's assistance, Gibbons
succeeded in giving a satisfactory bond.

That evening, a little the worse for drink, he accosted Rufus Grim at
the post office, where the Gold bluff villagers were wont to congregate
on the arrival of the evening coach.

[Illustration: 9183]

Steve Gibbons was evidently the agressor. "Look'ee here, Mr. Grim,"
said Steve Gibbons, approaching him, "you've been interferin' with me
for a good many years, and it's time you was lettin' up."

"I don't know, Mr. Gibbons," said Grim, "that I have ever interfered
with you. I have plenty of business of my own to look after, without
bothering with other people's."

"That's all right, pardner," said Gibbons, "but there's somebody likely
to wish they'd never been born if they don't quit foolin' with me. You
advised some of my bondsmen to take their names off from the bond, but
I've got other friends, and jes' as many of 'em as you have, and don't
you forget it!"

"There must be some mistake, Mr. Gibbons," said Grim, very coolly.

"I know," said Gibbons, "jes' what I'm talkin' about. You have tried to
infer that I was mixed up in the robbery of the stage coach, and I say
you are an unprincipled old scoundrel, and a liar in the bargain. If I
was as strong as I was before I was shot, I'd maul the {176}earth with
you. You stole the Peacock mine from Hank Casey an' me, an' I've my
suspicions that you bought judge and jury to beat us in our law suit."

One would have thought that Grim would have become very angry, but
instead, he tried to pacify the irate and angry Steve Gibbons. It seemed
to anger Gibbons beyond description that he could not disturb the even
temper of Rufus Grim, and finally, in a burst of anger at Grim, Gibbons
said: "You'd better have your life insured, old man, for somebody's
goin' to be revenged, and the day of judgment ain't very far 'way,
nuther."

At this threat, Grim turned quickly and reached for his revolver.
Gibbons was unarmed. A moment later, Grim seemed to master himself, and
turning away, walked down the street.

Hank Casey put his arm through Steve Gibbon's and led him to the hotel.
Gibbons was hilarious, but Casey felt that in his hilarity he had been
very indiscreet. The next morning, however, he mounted the stage coach
on his regular run between Gold Bluff and Waterville.



CHAPTER XXI.--REACHING THE 400 FOOT LEVEL.


[Illustration: 9185]

N the{177} excitement incident to Col. Bonifield's cross-cutting into
the vein, the stage robbery, and the bewildering evenings spent in the
society of Louise, Vance quite forgot about his hopes and fears relative
to his investment in Waterville.

One evening he was out for a walk near the Bonifields'. Louise was
standing on the porch. He lifted his hat, and she waved a dainty little
handkerchief, and came down the road to meet him. There was a troubled
expression on her face which Vance had never seen before. It cut him to
the heart, and he feared some great calamity had befallen her.

"Mr. Gilder," said she, after the morning salutation, "my father is very
despondent this morning, and while he desires greatly to see you, yet
he is so broken down that I do not know whether he will be able to see
anyone until this afternoon."

"Why, what has happened?" asked Vance, in alarm. They were walking along
toward the Bonifield residence as they talked.

"So you have not heard?" said Louise, looking up with her big, blue
eyes. Vance looked at her in astonishment. {178}"You have not heard,"
she repeated, "that they have finished cross-cutting?"

"No," replied Vance.

"Yes, they have finished the work," repeated Louise, and then almost
broke down in tears. He led her to a seat on the broad porch where the
morning sun shone full and warm, and begged her to calm herself, and
tell him what had happened to her father.

"Is it not quite enough?" said she, looking up at Vance through her
tears, "another disappointment is father's only reward."

Vance was shocked, for this disappointment meant a great deal to him.

"Is it possible," he ejaculated, "and your father was so confident only
the other night!"

"You will not be angry with father?" said Louise, laving her hand on
Vance's arm.

"Angry," replied Vance, "no; why should I be? He and I are jointly
interested in results. If they are unfavorable, why, he cannot be more
disappointed than I am. Had he been successful, we would have been equal
partners as well."

"Thank you," said Louise, "I pity my poor father so much." She dried her
eyes a little and then went on: "Aunt Sally was so querulous with papa
last evening when she heard the result, and it made papa very unhappy;
indeed, he did not sleep any during the night, though I have comforted
him as well as I could."

"And have not slept a wink?" said Vance, looking at her keenly.

"How could I, when papa was so troubled?"

Vance was silent. Presently he spoke: "I will confess I never was
more disappointed in my life. I was so hopeful your father would be
successful. Mind," he continued, hastily, glancing at Louise, "I attach
no blame to him."

[Illustration: 0187]

"Thank you," she murmured, and Vance went on, "No, I do not blame him,
neither do I blame myself. Hundreds, yes, thousands have pursued the
same course. Some of them have been successful, and others, ourselves
included, have not. I regret that your father should {180}have spent so
many years of his life in that useless prospect shaft."

"There is hope yet, Mr. Gilder."

"Hope," said Vance quickly, "where?"

"The ore," she continued, "is richer than at the 300 foot level."

"And do you believe--?" commenced Vance.

"Do not ask me, please, Mr. Gilder, what I believe at this time. Mr.
Grim was here early this morning and left a proposition with papa. He
has not the heart, he says, to tell you of it, and requested me to do
so. You know, Mr. Grim," she continued, "is said to be a very good
business man. He has examined the ore found at the 400 foot level, and
says it is much richer than at the 300 foot level. He offers now, if you
and papa will give him a half interest in the mine, to furnish the money
to sink the shaft to the 500 foot level."

"So," said Vance, reflectively. Presently he said: "If Rufus Grim has
confidence to go to the 500 foot level, why not your father and I?"

"But it will cost $6,000, Mr. Gilder, and neither papa nor I could think
of asking you to put any more money into Gray Rocks."

"I do not think your father should take it to heart so; indeed, I do
not."

"He does not care for himself, and neither do I care for myself, Mr.
Gilder, but we do care for you." Vance started and the blood mounted to
his face "You have been so kind to my father and placed such unbounded
confidence in his judgment, and now it seems as if it were impossible
for him ever to repay you, unless--," she hesitated.

"Unless what?" asked Vance, impatiently.

"Unless you would be willing to join father in giving a half interest in
Gray Rocks to Mr. Grim, and let him go on and develop the mine."

"What does your father advise? What does he say?"

"He wants to go on to the 500 foot level, Mr. Gilder, and says he will
give his own half interest in Gray Rocks to Mr. Grim rather than let the
work stop at the 400 foot level. Father believes that at the 500 foot
level they will strike ore as rich as any that has been discovered on
the Peacock, and it looks as if Mr. Grim thought the same way, else he
would not be so willing to advance the money."

"Have you confidence in Mr. Grim?" asked Vance.

"We have always distrusted him," replied Louise, "but perhaps he is not
so bad and mean as we have thought."

"And do you think," asked Vance, "that ore will be discovered at the 500
foot level?"

"I don't know," she replied, "but I hope so."

"Would it not be better," urged Vance, "to give it all up and leave
these wild mountains and return to civilization, so to speak, where
your father could enjoy the remaining years of his life in peace and
contentment?" His words were full of earnestness, and he spoke with
great deliberation.

"If such an opportunity should present itself," said Louise, "I know
my father would refuse it, for he is so high-spirited, and moreover, he
believes that a little more work, and a little more time and expense on
Gray Rocks, and his prophecy will be fulfilled."

Vance rose to go, but still lingered near the beautiful {182}girl, as if
she were a balm to his evident disappointment. Finally he said: "You say
it will require $6,000. Now, if you had $6,000, Miss Louise, and it was
every dollar you had in the world, what would you do with it?"

"I would sink the shaft on Gray Rocks to the 500 foot level," she
replied quickly. "Shall I tell my father," she asked, as Vance started
to go, "that you are favorable to Mr. Grim's proposition?"

"No," replied Vance, doggedly, "I have no confidence in Rufus Grim.
You may tell your father that I say not to worry any more. With your
permission, I will return in a couple of hours, and will then be glad to
see him."

Louise seemed ignorant of any knowledge of Vance's passionate love for
her. Her mind and thoughts were so entirely in sympathy with her father,
whom she loved so dearly and so devotedly. As Vance bade her good-bye,
she took his outstretched hand as if he had been her benefactor, instead
of only her father's friend.

"Your judgment," said Vance, "has decided me; we will go on
blasting--down, down, down--through solid rock toward an unknown doom.
How it will end remains to be seen." Before Louise could make a reply,
he had turned and walked rapidly away toward his hotel.

Looking carefully over his accounts, he found he still had to his
credit, in the Chemical National Bank of New York city, barely $6,000.
He paced the floor for a full half-hour in deep thought. Finally he
paused and said aloud, "she would advance her last dollar to sink the
shaft to the 500 foot level--a weak, little, lovely woman, yet stronger
in her affections and devotion than a regiment of soldiers. Yes, I will
do it; I will gamble my {183}last dollar--for it is nothing better than
a gamble, and yet--well, who knows? We may strike it after all."

He drew a check for the amount, making it payable to Colonel Ben
Bonifield. Before signing it, he looked at it long and thoughtfully.
"Why do I do this? Is it my faith in Gray Rocks? No. Is it my faith in
Colonel Bonifield? No. Is it my faith in Louise? Yes, a thousand times,
yes." His hand trembled a little as he signed his name to the check. It
was the last throw of the dice. He felt that he had in a measure passed
his word to Louise. There was a question of daily bread that must now
be solved. The question was immediately ahead of him. He would call on
Colonel Bonifield and then devote himself to the bread question. Yes, he
would solve it.

Strong with resolution, and with a judgment sadly warped because of his
love for Louise, he returned to the Bonifield home. Louise met him at
the door, and he went with her into the spacious parlor, where a wood
fire was burning brightly in the open grate.

"I delivered your message to my father," she said, "and he has fallen
into a restful sleep."

"Do not disturb him," said Vance, "in this envelope is a check for
$6,000. Tell him to start to-morrow morning for the 500 foot level."

The impulsive Louise took the proffered envelope from Vance with hands
that trembled noticeably, while two great tears dimmed her lustrous blue
eyes. "Why have you done this?" she asked.

It is probable that Vance would then and there have told her why, had
not Colonel Bonifield appeared in the door. "Mr. Gilder," said he,
"Yo'r presence in my house brings sunshine with it. Yo' know the worst.
{184}Louise tells me she has informed yo of the unfo'tunate geological
fo'mation to be found at the 400 foot level in Gray Rocks?"

Louise turned from Vance to her father while he was speaking, and buried
her face on his breast, weeping in stilled sobs. When Colonel Bonifield
asked her why she was weeping, she handed him the envelope, and pillowed
her head deeper on his breast. He opened the envelope and carefully
scanned the check. The old man's eyes were dimmed with tears of
gratitude.

[Illustration: 9192]

One arm was about his daughter, and the other he extended toward Vance,
who accepted the proffered hand.

"Suh," said the Colonel, "Yo' ovehpoweh me with yo'r confidence. I have
been workin' away so long on Gray Rocks, suh, that I can't blame my
friends if they should lose heart. But, suh, somethin' keeps a tellin'
me that my effo'ts will yet be rewarded. Yo' honor me by sharin' my
confidence in the outcome of Gray Rocks; yo' do, indeed, suh. There's
good blood, Mr. Gilder, cou'sin' through yo'r veins, and there's a crown
awaitin' yo' when once we've reached the 500 foot level; yes, suh. I may
neveh have mentioned it to yo', but I once told yo'r father that if
he would stay by Gray Rocks, it would make him a millionaire. I have
forgotten whether I ever made the obse'vation to yo' or not, but I wish
to assure yo' at this time, Mr. Gilder, in the presence of Louise, suh,
that yo'r confidence in Gray Rocks is well-founded, and she will make
yo' richer than all the possessions left yo' by yo'r worthy father; yes,
suh, much richer." {185}Louise dried her tears and soon was cheerful
as a mountain thrush that had never known a sorrow. The old Colonel
declared he had never felt better in his life, and that work should be
commenced early the following morning.

On his way back to the hotel, Vance called at the office of the Gold
Bluff _Prospector_.

"Where is your typo?" asked Vance in the course of the conversation.

"Haven't got any," replied the proprietor, "he left this morning on
the stage. We'll not be able to get out an issue of the paper this week
unless we find someone that can set type. Say," said he, "why can't I
sell my printing office to you?"

"I'm not able to buy," replied Vance.

"Well, I'll lease it to you."

"On what terms," asked Vance.

"I'd lease it to you for one year for half its earnings," replied the
good-natured proprietor, who never was known to have enough energy to
walk across the street to solicit an advertisement.

"What will it earn in a year?"

"Oh, twelve or fifteen hundred dollars--subscriptions and
advertisements. I own the building. I call this the reception and
editorial room; the other is the composing room, while the one back of
where we are sitting is where the printer usually sleeps."

In Vance's college days, he had been one of the trio who had edited
a college paper, set their own type, made up their own forms and
circulated the issue after night, contenting themselves, for a
compensation, with the general wonderment of their fellow-students as
to who were the publishers. He felt that he was capable of acting
as type-setter, as well as writing editorials, on the Gold Bluff
_Prospector_. He examined the room designated as the sleeping apartment
of the printer, and found it comfortable, yet very plain.

He told the proprietor he thought very favorably of his proposition, and
believed he would accept it. The printing was done on an old-fashioned
hand press, which would require the assistance of a boy for a couple of
hours once a week.

[Illustration: 9194]

Aside from this, Vance believed he was competent to handle all the
details and labor connected with the paper. Before he retired that
night, arrangements had all been made, the lease drawn and signed, and
Vance commenced operations the next morning as the proprietor of the
Gold Bluff _Prospector_. He moved his trunk and personal effects
into the shabby back room, to be used in the future as his sleeping
apartment. He settled his hotel bill, and found that he had less than
$3.00 in his pocket on which to begin the struggle for bread.

It was a new experience, not without its novelty and excitement in
anticipation, however. After he had arranged his room quite tidily,
he commenced setting type, and smiled good humoredly to himself as
he thought of the change from the great New York _Banner_ to the
_Prospector_. Yes, he had made sacrifices; and would he not willingly
make any more to remain near the woman he loved with a love that
surpasseth understanding.



CHAPTER XXII.--STARTING THE BOOM.


[Illustration: 9195]

IXTEEN {187}hours a day for three days was Vance's first experience on
the _Prospector_. All day and far into the evening he set type and
made up forms, until finally the paper was ready to be brought out.
It contained the retiring proprietor's bow to the public, and Vance's
announcement.

The next evening he called at the Bonifields'. Louise greeted him
more kindly than ever. The Colonel, after assuring him that excellent
progress was being made on Gray Rocks, turned the conversation to
Vance's new venture.

"Vehy creditable, suh; vehy creditable, indeed," said he, glancing at a
copy of the _Prospector_ which he had been reading. "Louise and I think
yo've made an excellent beginnin', suh, vehy excellent."

"Indeed we do," said Louise; "we have often heard, though, that editors
were quite exclusive, and we didn't know but that was the reason you
have not called on us for so long a time."

"Well, that is the reason," responded Vance, jestingly. "As managing
editor of the _Prospector_, I have been exclusively engaged in setting
type, making up forms, etc."

They laughed at Vance's remark, and complimented {188}him on being able
to impersonate all the functionaries of a printing establishment. In
the midst of their conversation, Aunt Sally appeared at the door of the
parlor, and courtesying low to Vance, said:

"Good evenin', Mr. Gilder; I 'low I've been wantin' to sec yo' fo' some
time, suh."

Vance returned the salutation by rising and bowing politely. As he sat
down he noticed the Colonel was greatly disturbed, as if he feared a
storm was approaching.

"Mr. Gilder," commenced Aunt Sally', "I consider it my duty to inform
yo' that yo' are makin' as big a fool of yo'self as my brother is of
hisself."

"Come, sister," said the Colonel, "come, come."

"Benjamin," said Aunt Sally, looking hard at him over her spectacles, "I
shall have my say. I consideh it a duty that I owe Mr. Gilder to inform
him that he is squanderin' his money. There is not a chance in ten
thousand; no, suh, not one, fo' yo' to eveh get back a penny of the
money yo've given my brother. Besides, yo're only encouragin' Benjamin
to fool his time away. I have mighty neah worn my life out takin' care
of him, Virgie and Louise. Virginia has a good deal of sense--a heap
mo', I am proud to say, than Benjamin or Louise has."

"I hope, Mr. Gilder," observed the Colonel, "that yo'll remember an
obse'vation I made some time ago in regard to my sister----"

"What have yo' been sayin' about me?" asked Aunt Sally, and she looked
threateningly at him. The Colonel paid no attention to his sister's
remark, and went on:

"Yo' will remember I obse'ved at one time, suh, that my sister was a
most ext'ao'dina'y woman; yes, suh, {189}most ext'ao'dina'y; she is
possessed of a most rema'kable intellect.

[Illustration: 0197]

There is, however, a slight disagreement in regard to our judgment
relative to Gray Rocks. She is vehy set in her ways, vehy, indeed; and,
I am sorry to say, doesn't share in our belief relative to the final
outcome of our minin' property."

"Benjamin," said Aunt Sally, still looking at him over her spectacles,
"it is not a _slight_ difference of opinion; it's a vehy _wide_ one,
indeed. If yo' had a hundred thousand {190}dollars to-day, suh, yo'd be
grub-stakin' all the pesky mines in the mountains around Gold Bluff; yo'
know yo' would. There are times, suh, when it's necessary fo' me to
put my foot down, and I ain't goin' to neglect my duty any longer. Mr.
Gilder has got to know the true situation, and if he has no mo' sense
than to go on givin' yo' money to dig a worthless hole in the earth,
why, I'll wash my hands of him, and have the consolation of knowin'
that I told him befo' hand what he might expect." Vance would have been
amused, had he not observed the pained expression on Louise's face and
the evident discomfiture of Colonel Bonifield. In reality, it was an
opportune time for him to make an observation that he had long wanted
understood between the Colonel and himself, and therefore he said:

"I am highly honored, Miss Bonifield, by your advice. Your brother, the
Colonel, has been very enthusiastic in regard to Gray Rocks."

"Don't I know it?" interrupted Aunt Sally. "Haven't I told him he was
makin a fool of hisself?"

"Well," continued Vance, "I will not go quite so far in my remarks as
that, but I will say this--that it would please me very much to have
the Colonel's assurance that if he fails to find the wealth he has been
looking for so many years when the 500 foot level is reached, that he
will abandon work on Gray Rocks and accept certain offers of a pecuniary
nature in the east, which I have in mind."

"Well, if I knew," replied Aunt Sally, "that there was to be an end to
this thing, I'd have mo' patience in waitin' but my land! he no sooner
gets to one level than he wants to push on to the next hund'ed foot
level, and {191}goodness gracious! there's no end to it! Why, if
Benjamin had his way, and his life was spared long enough, I 'low he'd
have a hole clear through the earth!"

The Colonel was noticeably disturbed. He had risen and was walking back
and forth in a nervous, yet dignified way.

"Yo'r request, Mr. Gilder," he finally said, "shall be complied with,
suh, and in complyin' with it, I hope that I also pacify my sister. I
give yo' my word of honor, suh, that when the 500 foot level is reached,
and we have cross-cut into the vein of wealth that I feel positive, yes,
suh, positive, is waitin' to be brought to the light of day--if, I say,
we should again be disappointed, then I am ready to give up my labors on
Gray Rocks; yes suh, give up my life's work. Of course, suh, yo' cannot
undehstand and perhaps neveh will, the magnitude of this promise."
There were tears in the Colonel's voice, as well as in his eyes, when he
ceased speaking.

"Thank the Lord!" exclaimed Aunt Sally, as she raised her hands in an
attitude of supplication and thanksgiving. "I feel now there's goin'
to be an end of this tomfoolery, and I'll not say another word, nary a
word, until the 500 foot level is reached." She turned to Vance as she
started to leave the room, and bade him good-evening, and assured him
that in her opinion she had accomplished a "mighty sight of good."

As soon as the door closed behind her, Vance turned to the Colonel and
begged him not to take the slightest notice of what his sister had
said, for he knew her peculiarities and thought nothing of them. He also
thanked him for his promise. Vance's words seemed to relieve the Colonel
greatly, and he became almost himself again {192}before the evening was
over, and narrated to Vance with a fair degree of enthusiasm how nicely
the pumps and other machinery in the mine were working.

Afterwards Louise favored them with music, and Vance quite forgot
himself, so pleasantly was he entertained, until, glancing at his
watch, he found it was almost eleven o'clock. Soon after, he took his
departure, and with a light heart wended his way to the printing office.

His infatuation for Louise was of an ennobling character. He was a
fatalist in this: that he believed when the time came for him to speak
his heart to her he would have courage to do so, and contented himself
in loving blindly on.

When he awoke next morning he found a heavy snow had fallen. Nothing
like it had happened in Gold Bluff before in many years. A great many of
the mines were necessarily shut down on account of the scarcity of fuel
to operate the engines. During the next four weeks snows kept falling
heavier and heavier, and in a measure cut off communication with the
outer world.

Vance applied himself industriously to his paper, widening
his acquaintanceship among the people of Gold Bluff, solicited
advertisements, and succeeded far beyond his expectations.

His friends complimented him on the neat appearance of the _Prospector_.
It was filled with excellent reading matter, and its circulation was
constantly increasing.

Another heavy snow storm during the holidays rendered the roads quite
impassable and finally work on Gray Rocks was necessarily suspended,
nor was it resumed until late the following spring. {193}In the meantime
matters were progressing slowly in the great Thief River Valley. There
had been no meeting of the Waterville Town Company. Homer Winthrop
and Marcus Donald regularly opened up the Town Company's office every
morning and closed it every evening. Time hung heavy on their hands.
Thus passed the winter months away in weary waiting for a boom in real
estate that seemed stubborn and would not come.

Dick Ballard called one afternoon in early April, and suggested that his
finances were running rather low, and if it would be convenient he would
like a check for Homer Winthrop's board.

[Illustration: 8201]

Winthrop was a proud fellow and disliked to admit that he was, in the
ordinary parlance, "broke."

Homer suggested to Ballard the advisability of purchasing a few lots in
Eagle's Addition to Waterville. "Or," said Winthrop, "We can let you have
a couple of lots adjoining your hotel. You've been a good friend of ours
and we would let you have them cheap, awfully cheap."

Dick Ballard sat back in his chair, inserted his thumbs in the arm-holes
of his vest, and said: "Now, lookee here, Winthrop, I have been your
friend, haven't I?" Winthrop acknowledged that he had. "I've been your
friend, Mr. Donald, haven't I?" said Ballard, pointing his index finger
straight at Donald.

"I think you have," replied Donald, laughingly.

"Yes, I've been Colonel Alexander's friend; I've been General Ira
House's friend; I've been B. Webster Legal's friend; in fact, gentlemen,
I've been a friend to the {194}Waterville Town Company from start to
finish." He brought his hand clown upon the table in front of him with
threat vehemence as he made this remark. "Yes sir," he went on, "I have
been a friend to you and to your enterprise, but when it comes, Homer
Winthrop, to selling your uncle any Waterville town lots, why, you
don't know me. Oh, no; Dick Ballard usually knows which side his bread's
buttered on, and, between ourselves, I wouldn't give you a square meal
of victuals for any lot you've got in Eagle's addition. No, sir, Mr.
Winthrop, money is what I want, and pardon me for observing, money
is what I, politely, but nevertheless firmly, insist that you must
produce--if not to-day, perhaps tomorrow, and liquidate that little
matter of board which has now been running for some three months."

Presently he walked over toward the window and looked wistfully out
over the sage brush landscape. "The grass is beginin' to grow," said
he, "and I see it is startin' in the streets as well as on the beautiful
lots you have for sale. Remember, gentlemen," said Ballard, as he turned
and expectorated a vigorous "pit-tew" of tobacco juice toward the stove,
"what I have said to you never has, nor never will, escape the lips of
Dick Ballard; no, sir, I'm your friend, but don't try to work me with
any town lots in payin' board bills."

Winthrop was noticeably' non-plussed. Donald was laughing contentedly
and quietly' to himself at Winthrop's discomfiture. Ballard looked on
and chuckled, as much as to say, "I am a heap sight smarter than you
fellows give me credit for." Finally he broke the silence by suddenly
asking:

"Mr. Winthrop, what is your lot worth next to my hotel?"

"Five hundred dollars," replied Winthrop, looking up.

"I hope you'll get it," said Ballard; "yes, I hope you'll sell it for
a thousand--but I'll tell you somethin'," said he, shutting one eye
and looking hard at Winthrop with the other, "I wouldn't trade you our
militia company's new snare drum for both those condemned lots; no,
sir," and he turned laughingly toward the door.

Just here he came face to face with Miss Virginia Bonifield.

Ballard lifted his hat and bowed low, for she was one of his boarders
who paid promptly. After speaking pleasantly to Marcus Donald and Homer
Winthrop, she said:

"I am very glad you are here, Mr. Ballard, I want to ask your advice."
Dick Ballard was all attention, for if there was any one thing he liked
to do better than another--barring a drill exercise with his state
militia company--it was to give advice. Homer Winthrop, noticeably
confused, pushed the best chair forward and invited Miss Bonifield to be
seated.

"Thank you," said she, looking kindly at Homer, who, in turn,
hushed scarlet. "What I wish to ask is in regard to an investment in
Waterville.'

"Why, in what way?" asked Dick Ballard.

"In regard to making a purchase of town lots as an investment."

Ballard coughed immoderately, cleared his throat several times,
"a-hemmed," got red in the face, looked helplessly toward Marcus Donald,
and finally said:

"Nothin' like it in the world, Miss Bonifield; best investment on earth.
There's not another place in the {196}United States will come out of
the kinks like Waterville. No, sir; if I had a million I'd plant every
dollar of it in Waterville, every dollar. My land!" said he, glancing
at his watch, "it is three o'clock! Well, I must be goin'." With this he
took up his hat and hastily left the room.

"Is this a map of the town?" asked Miss Virgie Bonifield, rising and
approaching a map that hung on the wall near where Marcus Donald was
seated.

"Yes, that is one of the best maps that has ever been gotten out," said
Marcus Donald, adjusting his gold-rimmed spectacles.

"And where is Eagle's Addition?" Marcus Donald pointed it out.

"And what are you selling lots for in that part of town?"

"Well, really, Miss Bonifield," said Donald, stammering a little, "we
haven't been selling very many lots--that is, not recently. I will refer
you to Mr. Winthrop; he has charge of all such matters, and perhaps he
can give you better advice than I can."

"But what do _you_ advise in regard to investments in Waterville?" she
asked, abruptly.

"Oh, you know we believe in Waterville, Miss Bonifield; we believe it
is destined to be one of the greatest cities in the United States. Of
course there has not been any marked activity during the past winter,
but we are expecting business to open up well, most any time now."

She turned to Winthrop, and seating herself beside his desk, asked him
to point out what he considered one of the most desirable corners in
Eagle's Addition. Usually Winthrop prided himself on his ability to
make sales of lots, and he was quite willing to sell to anybody rather
{197}than the woman by his side. He had been so hard pressed for
ready-money during the winter and spring that he had shut himself out,
so to speak, from all society, for the reason that he was destitute of
even spending money of the most ordinary character. After studying some
time, he put his pencil reluctantly down on the map and said:

"I consider these lots as desirable as any in Eagle's Addition."

"And what are you selling them for?"

"We are asking $100 a lot," said he, "but we are not selling any just
now, Miss Bonifield, at all."

She looked at the map a few minutes, and then said, "You think these
are about the best lots in the Addition, do you?"

Winthrop almost inaudibly assented. "Well, no--hardly--Miss Bonifield;
the fact is," he faltered, "we do not care to make any sales at the
present time. We are rather expecting some information a little later;
we--we expect to hold a Town Company meeting, and may conclude to reduce
the price of lots--and--"

"Or you may raise the prices," said she, looking archly at Homer. "Is it
not so."

"P--possibly," replied Winthrop.

"Well, I wish to purchase four lots on the corner you have indicated.
Here is the money," said she, laying down a roll of bills on his desk,
"please fix up the deed and leave it at the hotel for me as soon as it
is convenient."

"But--hold on," said Homer. She had risen and started toward the door.
"You do not mean to make a purchase of lots? I really have not advised
it; you'd better reconsider--think it over a few days." All of this was
stammered out by Winthrop in a hurried and confused manner.

"But I have considered," said Miss Virginia Bonifield, smiling in her
own imperious way. "I have fully considered, Mr. Winthrop, and desire to
make the purchase. Good day." She was gone.

Donald sat looking over his spectacles, while an astonished and amused
smile played over his "$10,000 face." Winthrop looked at the roll
of bills spread out before him, and then turning to Marcus Donald,
ejaculated, "Thank God, the boom has started!"



CHAPTER XXIII.--RUFUS GRIM S AMBITION.


[Illustration: 9207]

UFUS GRIM {199}was not pleased with Vance's management of the Gold Bluff
_Prospector_. A number of items had appeared in the columns of that
paper which tended to vindicate Steve Gibbons from all suspicion
or connection with the stage coach robbery. Grim considered this an
indirect thrust at himself. His money had made him a lion among the
people of Gold Bluff, but for some unaccountable reason he was unable to
secure Vance Gilder's good opinion.

He secretly had an ambition to represent the people of Idaho in the
halls of congress, and felt it would never do to let matters go on with
his own town paper prejudiced against him. On several occasions he had
made overtures to Vance of a friendly nature, but had, invariably, been
repulsed. On one occasion he had endeavored to compliment Vance, and
told him patronizingly, in his uncouth, pompous way, that he was very
glad such a scholarly gentleman had charge of the _Prospector_, and that
he considered him the most refined and cultured gentleman in Gold Bluff.
{200}Vance had coldly replied, "It is an admirable thing, Mr. Grim, to
be a cultured and refined man, but it is far better to be a manly man."
Grim had agreed with him, while Vance went quietly on setting type.
The rich miner was irritated at his own lack of words when in Vance's
society. With others he was boastful as ever--bragged of his gold, and
in his own domineering way, attempted to subdue everything with which he
came in contact.

[Illustration: 9208]

Those who knew his home life best said he was afraid of his wife. She
was all formality, and Grim, in his way, honored her, and at the same
time, feared her. It was whispered that he found more pleasure in his
stepdaughter's society than in his wife's.

Bertha, with her handsome face and lisping speech, humored her mother's
whims of formality, and tickled the uncouth vanity of her step-father,
on whose bounty she was dependent. She was an artful, cooing, little
woman, full of strategy and deceit, and hopelessly untruthful. Her
clandestine meetings with her cousin, Arthur Boast, were numerous, while
in her heart she felt an infatuation for Vance Gilder, and was secretly
intensely jealous of Louise Bonifield. Outwardly, she courted Louise,
and never missed an opportunity of calling her "her own dear darling,"
and telling her how very pretty she was.

In the early days of June Arthur Boast returned permanently to Gold
Bluff, and at first paid a great deal of attention to Louise, not as a
lover, but rather as a friend of the family, and by every artifice
known to his cunning endeavored to enlist her sympathy. He frequently
{201}observed that no one was his friend, and it pleased him to hear
Louise say that "she was his friend, and always had been." He said
nothing derogatory of Vance's character, but his insinuations were of a
wicked nature.

Vance was at a loss to understand why Boast had left Waterville,
especially as it was rumored that a great boom was going on at that
place.

One day Vance received a note from Arthur Boast asking him to call at
the hotel that evening. He said he was indisposed and could not leave
his room, otherwise he would call at the printing office.

It was after eight o'clock when Vance called at the hotel, and was at
once ushered into J. Arthur Boast's room. He found Boast dressed as
elegantly as ever, in fact, he was scrupulously attired, and resting
on a divan. He seemed weak, and was quite pale. He no longer spoke in a
thin, piping voice, but in a quiet, manly way, that at once interested
Vance.

"I sent for you, Mr. Gilder, because I was lonely and wanted to talk
with you. I suppose you think I am supremely selfish in this, as
everything else, but I have been almost sick for the last week."

"We are admonished to visit the sick," said Vance, good-naturedly, "and
I am sure it is only natural that one indisposed should like company."

"It is very kind of you to come, I'm sure," Boast went on, "I have been
worried a good deal about a certain misunderstanding that
seemingly exists between us." Vance assured him that he knew of no
misunderstanding.

"No," said Boast, "not an open misunderstanding; but then I feel that
you have misunderstood me from the {202}first, Mr. Gilder, and perhaps,
in a measure, I have done you the injustice of not always interpreting
your acts as I should have done. I do not know whether there is any
philosophy in the circumstances which seem to shape my life or not."

"We are told," said Vance, "that in our strength and manhood we should
shape circumstances rather than let circumstances shape us."

"That's it," said Boast, "the eternal trying to shape circumstances
brings on an endless conflict, not only between men, but a conflict
with one's own self. I have almost made up my mind that it is quite
impossible for a man to shape his destiny. Now, as a matter of fact, I
respect you, Mr. Gilder, highly, and have confidence in your ability and
judgment. I think you are making a great success of the _Prospector_.
It is impossible," he went on, "for me to tell you why I have this
confidence or this respect. I also know that you cordially dislike me,
but why, I do not know, and perhaps you could not tell yourself."

Vance was surprised at this philosophic turn of mind, and began to think
he had misunderstood J. Arthur Boast all along.

"I cannot help but feel complimented," said Vance, "by your kind words.
I will admit that I have never stopped to analyze my feelings very
closely in regard to yourself, and will not deny that I have been unable
to discover any affinity between us. Perhaps I have misjudged you. If
so, I can do no less than make proper amends."

"You speak as if you would be my friend." said Boast, "friends with me
are very scarce. My highest ambition has ever been to make friends, and
yet it requires no words of mine to tell you what a miserable failure
I have made of it all. I would like to be Rufus Grim's friend, but he
won't let me. He does everything he can to influence my cousin, Bertha
Allen, against me, but in that he is making a complete failure. She is
my friend," said he with animation. "I suppose you know that Mrs. Grim
is very ill?"

"No," said Vance; "I had not heard of it."

"Yes, she has never been very rugged, and I understand her present
illness is of a very serious nature. She is so many years older than her
pompous lord and master, that it would not be surprising to hear of her
death at any time. Personally, I should regret it, not only on account
of my aunt, but also on account of Bertha. I dread to think what may
happen if my aunt should die."

"You do not regard her sickness so seriously as that?" asked Vance.

"She is certainly very ill," was Boast's reply. "I would like to go and
see her, but I do not presume Rufus Grim would let me into the house.
But what I desired most to say," continued Boast, brightening up and
changing the conversation, "is this: I would like to have you be my
friend. I wish to be yours."

Vance was astonished, and for a moment could not reply. Finally he said,
"I cannot do less, Mr. Boast, than meet you half way in such a laudable
ambition, I am sure."

"Ambition," repeated Boast, "what a detestable word! I sometimes think
ambition has been the cause of all my misfortune. I have wanted wealth
all my life, but have not succeeded to any great extent. I ought to be
in Waterville now, selling town lots and lands. There's {204}great
activity down there. I have the ambition but not the strength. You may
not know it, but my health is seriously impaired. I do not seem to have
any vitality."

Vance expressed his sympathy, but Boast seemingly did not notice his
remarks, and said, "if a man has a clearly defined principle of life to
follow, why cannot he adhere to it?"

"I think he can," replied Vance. "No life, in my judgment, has ever been
a success unless a well-defined principle of action is first laid out,
and then lived up to."

"I wish I could believe your philosophy," said Boast. "The dual nature
in me continually divides me.

[Illustration: 9212]

I go to sleep at night filled with the most laudable ambitions; I wake
up the next morning and pursue an entirely different course, and therein
lies the conflict--but I know, Mr. Gilder, I am boring you."

Vance assured him that he was not, but soon afterward took his leave,
and as he walked along toward his home, he mused thoughtfully over his
interview with J. Arthur Boast. What a different light had been
thrown on his character! "Yes," said he, "I will be his friend. I have
misunderstood him."

The next morning the town was startled by the announcement that Mrs.
Grim was dead. The church bell tolled fifty-six times. Bertha Allen was
prostrated with grief, while the rich mine owner had the entire sympathy
of the people of Gold Bluff. Rufus Grim did nothing by halves, and there
could not have {205}been a more splendid show of grief than that for
which his arrangements provided.

The works on the Peacock were stopped, and the men, on full pay, invited
to the funeral. It was an imposing affair. The crape on Mr. Grim's hat
was of the widest pattern, and jet studs took the place of his diamond.
His black suit fit his plump form well, and he seemed subdued with
genuine grief. Bertha Allen looked very fair and interesting in her
costume of black. She clung dependently to Mr. Grim's arm during the
burial service, and looked unusually pretty, notwithstanding the marks
of grief and weeping upon her handsome face; indeed, she enlisted the
sympathy of all who saw her.

The following day work on the Peacock was started up again, and the
deep, resounding blasts down below the earth's surface told of more gold
flowing towards the coffers of Rufus Grim.

The machinery in Gray Rocks mine had been behaving badly. Several big
breaks had occurred, and work had been delayed at one time for two
weeks. The days glided by, and October had come again. The rocks high
up the mountain, overlooking Gold Bluff, reflected the autumn sun,
while the forests on the mountain side were ablaze with fiery autumn
tints--nature's superb clothing.

Colonel Bonifield had ceased, in part, to be the enthusiast of former
days. Perhaps he felt that he had passed his word to give up work
on Gray Rocks if disappointment should again reward his efforts, and
possibly it saddened him.

One evening Vance and Louise had called on Bertha Allen. She was
beautiful as ever, and lisped in sweet intonation. Her dress indicated
the grief that still rested {206}upon her. That evening, after her
callers had taken their leave, Rufus Grim joined Bertha in the parlor
of his luxuriant home. The weeks that had intervened since the death
of his wife had not made him entirely forget the proper melancholy tone
which formality, at least, demanded he should exhibit.

Bertha seemed frightened with some secret fear and anxiety. She knew too
well that a crisis in her life was approaching. Yes, Rufus Grim came to
declare himself.

He was confident, as he always was, of the result, nevertheless, there
was a timidity that prevented him from feeling the full assurance
that he would have liked. He sat down beside her, and after a few
common-place remarks, he said, in a voice low, yet audible: "Bertha, I
have something to say to you."

"Yes," she lisped innocently enough, and looked up into his face.

"What I have to say," Grim went on, in a husky voice, "cannot be a matter
of news to you. You must know that I love you; yes, love you with my
whole heart." His hands trembled and his voice was unsteady.

"You've always been so very kind to me," lisped Bertha, and there was
gratitude in her voice.

"Heaven knows I have tried to be, and that I have guarded you with
jealous care ever since you were a little girl and came under my
protection." He had taken her hands, but they were unresponsive. "No
man," continued Grim, "could love you more than I have for many years.
Of course you knew what my feelings were--you must have known, for have
I ever failed to satisfy your every wish and want?"

{207}"Never," murmured Bertha, as she leaned her head against his breast

"Yes, I have protected you," he went on, as he laid one arm about her
slender form, "I have kept you from the young scape-grace, your cousin,
Arthur Boast. I feared he was trying to make love to you, and for that
reason forbade him the house."

[Illustration: 0215]

"Oh, how could you think such a thing?" said she, in her soft, cooing
way, yet with a half-indignant intonation in her voice.

{208}"Oh, I am perfectly content now," replied Grim, and his old,
pompous air and manner of speech began to assert themselves. "Of course
I could not show you my heart in all its tenderness--I was a husband and
had to control myself--but now, it seems as if all obstacles have been
removed. Do you love me, Bertha? I have thought many times that I could
read my answer in your eyes, but I long to hear you say so."

"Yes," whispered Bertha, "I love you so much."

In his daily walks, Rufus Grim was an over-bearing, selfish man, but now
he was softened, and his emotion was very great. He looked tenderly and
longingly on the drooping head beside him, and was for a time completely
absorbed in the intensity of his love for the artful girl at his side.

Yes, she was fooling him. She was the affianced wife of J. Arthur Boast,
and yet she must play her part.

"And may I one day call you wife?" said Rufus Grim, pressing her closely
to him and kissing her reverently on the forehead. "Say in a year from
now," he pleaded.

"Yes," she lisped, gently pressing his hand, "it shall be as you say."
As a matter of truth, she was mentally speculating how she could get out
of this horrible scrape. He had said in a year--that was a long time.
She would have ample opportunity to free herself in some way. Arthur
must help her.



CHAPTER XXIV.--THE GOLDEN MAUSOLEUM.


[Illustration: 9217]

GRIM {209}was a happy man. He would conceal his joy for one short year,
and then--and then--. He had at last reached the top-most craig of all
his worldly hopes. Wealth was his, and now he had secured the promise of
Bertha Allen to be his wife. He called at his lawyer's office the next
day and told him he wished to add a codicil to his will. He spoke in his
usual loud and confident way, and seemed to constantly remember that he
was not only the richest man in Gold Bluff, but, by big odds, the most
fortunate.

The lawyer knew his client. He knew his whims and wisely humored his
eccentricities. It needed but little encouragement and flattery to set
Rufus Grim going, recounting the steps he had carved out for himself on
life's journey, and the pinnacle to which he had climbed.

Arthur Boast came in and took a seat in the outer room, Grim requested
the lawyer to close the door, and asked him what he let that young
scoundrel come about the premises for. Then he seemed to remember that
he was the victor, and why should he still hold malice? After a little,
he again referred to the matter of changing his will, and when the
lawyer was ready, he {210}dictated a codicil bequeathing all his
possessions unconditionally to Bertha Allen, to which he attached his
signature. The lawyer showed no signs of astonishment at Rufus Grim's
action, though he guessed the relationship that existed between his
client and Bertha Allen.

That evening a clandestine meeting between Bertha and her cousin, Arthur
Boast, had been arranged.

[Illustration: 9218]

Her first words, after the greeting and a kiss of welcome, were in
regard to the ordeal she had passed through with Mr. Grim.

"To think, Arthur," lisped Bertha, "of that old fool asking me to be his
wife! Why, I really thought I would die, I did indeed!"

"And what did you say?" asked Boast.

"Why, you sweet old darling, what could I say but give him to understand
that perhaps I was willing? I told him to wait a year, and then--."

"Yes, and then?" hissed Arthur, through his teeth.

"Oh, don't be foolish, my own darling," said she, slipping her arms
about his neck, "you know I was only pretending; you know that I loathe
him, but I have been dependent on his bounty for so many years. I am
only too ready, Arthur, to go with you; yes, to the ends of the earth."
She caressed him tenderly, and Arthur's ill-feeling gave way before her
tender entreaties.

He had heard Rufus Grim dictating the codicil to his will, and had been
fired with a mad jealousy, but she had confessed all at their first
meeting, and he felt relieved. He would not tell her of the codicil to
the will; no, not now.

{211}"We must not delay our marriage much longer," said Bertha, sweetly,
"we really must not, Arthur; you must save me from that old bear. Oh,
how I hate him!"

"Did he attempt to caress you?" asked Arthur.

"Yes," replied Bertha, slowly, "but he only kissed me once."

"Only kissed you once!" cried Arthur, and with a savage oath he pushed
her from him.

"Arthur, you'll break my heart," she cried in stifled pain, and creeping
closer to him she clasped his arm with both her hands. "He kissed me
on the forehead. How could I help it? He is so overbearing and so
determined--I did not know but he would turn me away from his home
unless I humored and fooled him. Won't you forgive me? How could I help
it?"

"Yes," said Arthur, clasping her passionately to his breast, "yes, I'll
forgive you; but you must go away from Rufus Grim's house, and I will
arrange matters and soon we will be married."

"You make me so happy, Arthur; I could starve, yes, starve willingly
with you, rather than live with any other man on earth."

"I think we had better be married soon," said Arthur, "say in two
weeks?"

"Impossible!" lisped Bertha.

"No, not impossible," replied Boast, almost savagely,

"I say we must be married in two weeks. I will take you to my father's
for a little while, after which we will commence housekeeping."

"Why, Arthur," protested Bertha, "you are the most unreasonable man
living; you are, indeed. How can I {212}be married in two weeks? It's
such a short time since mamma died."

"It must be as I say," replied Arthur, determinedly, "it is for your
good. You are left alone in the world, and, Bertha, I love you with the
only love that I have ever given to any human being. There, don't cry;
dry your eyes, my darling, and make up your mind that I know what is
for your good." She finally gave in, and the compact was sealed with a
lover's kiss and a tender embrace.

The next day was one to be long remembered. Colonel Bonifield called at
the _Prospector_ office and told Vance that, at last, they had reached
the 500 foot level.

[Illustration: 9220]

"Yes," said the Colonel, with more enthusiasm than he had exhibited for
some months, "we have cert'nly had mo' trouble, suh, in goin' these last
hund'ed feet than all the other distance put together, but we have kep'
right along, and finally, suh, we are 500 feet below the groun'. Of
cou'se, there's a lot of work yet to do; in fact, a pow'ful lot, in
cross-cutting into the vein, but a week's work, with my present fo'ce of
men, will finish the drift-shaft. It's a vehy proud moment of my life,
suh, to tell yo' that afteh all the trials and delays we have had, that
finally we are down to the 500 foot level. There's a little matteh,
Mr. Gilder, that I want to speak to yo' about. I'm goin' to be a little
short of money. I think, possibly, suh, I have enough fo' about three or
fou' days' work yet. We have about fo'ty men workin', and I am anxious
to keep them until we finish cross-cuttin'."

Vance was aghast. He knew not what to do, and he frankly confessed to
the Colonel that the $6,000 which he had given him was, practically,
every cent he had in the world of ready money; that he had written to
Judge Patton, who had charge of his estate in New York city, and the
judge interpreted his father's will to require his residence in New York
city in order to enjoy the annuity.

The Colonel thought a moment, and then said: "Don't bother yo'self, Mr.
Gilder, it's a matteh of vehy little importance, anyway, I assure yo',
suh; I know my men. Most of them have been workin' fo' me oveh a year,
and I feel perfectly confident they will stand by me until we finish the
work, even if I haven't the ready money with which to pay them. They're
a grand lot of fellows, I assure yo' they are, and between yo' and
me, every one of them has great confidence in Gray Rocks; wonde'ful
confidence, yes, suh."

The Colonel bade Vance good-day and started for his mine, and Vance
turned to his case with a heavy heart.

The winter was late in coming; though it was the first of November, yet
the air was comparatively mild, and the breezes soft, yet invigorating.

That evening, Rufus Grim walked back and forth on his wide porch
contemplating his own importance. After a little, he walked down through
the village and followed a by-path along the mountain side, up
toward the old prospect shaft on the Peacock. The night was still and
beautiful. The moon was in the last quarter; but her rays were obscured
by lazy, drifting clouds, that hung idly in the heavens.

Arriving at the old prospect shaft, he took off his hat, and pushed his
fat fingers through his heavy hair. He {214}even unbuttoned his coat and
leaned against the low wall about the old shaft. Far below him were the
lights of Gold Bluff shining from many windows. He looked toward his
home and thought of Bertha.

"Yes, she loves me," he mused aloud, "she is a darling little angel. I
always thought she returned my love, and now I know it. What a coy way
she has about her! What slender hands! Gad; but it was an ordeal, the
declaring of my love for her, but I fancy no one could have done better.
No, sir, Rufus Grim is always equal to any occasion.

"I have made myself what I am. After we are married, we will go to New
York city and Washington. They will say I have the loveliest little wife
in America--they cannot say otherwise. The men will envy me for owning
such a jewel. How different she is from other women!

"Bertha!" he mused, "the loveliest name in the world! The little minx!
Yes, she suspected that I loved her. She refused 'em all for me; that
scoundrel J. Arthur Boast, among the rest. He is a clever dog, though,
and I rather feared him, but now it is all over.

"I wish my law-suit was settled; that is the only speck on my horizon,
but the decision in the courts above, I feel sure, will be the same as
in the lower courts. Yes, I am lucky; there's none luckier on the whole
face of the earth. I came into this camp with nothing--now look at my
possessions." He chuckled to himself, and in an absent way kicked his
foot against the old wall.

"Here is the place I made the discovery. I presume I ought not to blame
the dogs of war for being on my track, of course, they want a share of
this rich mine, but d------ 'em, they can't have it. No, sir, it belongs
to Rufus {215}Grim! The gold I have will protect the unmined millions in
the Peacock.

"Neither court nor jury shall stand before my ambition. My first, yes, my
abiding ambition, is for gold, but with it has come a love that knows no
brooking for Bertha. God bless her! She is so tender and so refined---my
cup is full to overflowing.

"They say I am successful. Whom shall I thank but {216}myself? No one. I
have climbed the rugged and uneven path alone, unaided. I have bent men
to my way of thinking; I am greater than all of them; yes, greater than
all. I'll make my marriage a success too, and with my gold and my
beautiful wife, I will commence living. No, I have never lived; I have
merely slaved and existed, but now I am getting ready to commence."

Thus Rufus Grim fed himself on his own egotism, and recounted life's
victories, resulting from his own exertions.

[Illustration: 0223]

A dark form crouched near him, dimly outlined in the uncertain light.
Presently it crept stealthily up behind him. There was a hurried rush,
a whistling noise cut sharply through the air; a stifled cry, a heavy
fall, and Rufus Grinds body plunged forward into the yawning mouth of
the old prospect shaft, and his life's work was over.

His anticipated happiness, his pompous joy, his earthly prosperity, his
vanity and vain-glory, all were over. Had he died by any other method,
it might have been said that it was well that his death occurred before
he discovered that Bertha Allen, to whom he had given all that was
tender in his coarse and pompous life, had cruelly deceived him.

It mattered not now, the decision of the higher courts of earth, but
rather the decision of that higher court in heaven. A sounding splash
from murky waters far below resounded back to the outer world like a
farewell echo, and Rufus Grim's mangled remains rested near the gold he
loved so well. Yes, in the vault where his manhood had been bartered for
gold, he slept. There was gold on {217}every side--gold above him and
gold beneath him--a priceless mausoleum.

Yes, at last, all that was mortal of the man of inordinate worldly
ambition and restless energy, reposed in the monotonous sleep of
unbroken stillness.



CHAPTER XXV.--CROSS-CUTTING IN THE MINE.


[Illustration: 0226]

HE next{218} day Rufus Grim was missed from the Peacock. His manager
could not understand it. Never before had he absented himself from his
office without giving the most detailed instructions in regard to work
in the mine. When the following morning came and he was still absent,
the manager's fears ripened into genuine alarm and soon all the people
of Gold Bluff were discussing the mystery of Rufus Grim's disappearance.

A vigorous search was instituted, which resulted a few days later in
finding his lifeless body at the bottom of the old prospect shaft. At
the coroner's inquest it was decided that he had been murdered, as was
evidenced by peculiar wounds on the back of his head.

He was laid to rest by the side of his deceased wife, with a
demonstration that far excelled any funeral that had ever taken place in
Gold Bluff. Such a cowardly murder excited the sympathy of all who knew
him. They forgot the pompous, over-bearing owner of the Peacock, in
listening to the minister's pious words of commendation over the mangled
remains of Rufus Grim, the citizen.

The mystery surrounding his demise appealed to all law-abiding citizens
to help hunt down the assassin. In {219}the feverish excitement it was
remembered that Hank Casey and Steve Gibbons were sworn enemies of the
rich mine owner; indeed, the latter had even threatened his life in the
presence of numerous witnesses.

The sheriff who had so ignominiously failed in running down the stage
robbers, took the lead in trying to ferret out the murderer and bring
him to justice. A few days after this, warrants were sworn out for the
arrest of Steve Gibbons and Hank Casey, charging them with the crime.
Gibbons was arrested, but Hank Casey could not be found. He had
disappeared a few days after the murder, and no one knew where he had
gone. Gibbons maintained a dogged silence and seemed much subdued and
humiliated that not one of his many supposed friends came forward to
sign his bond. Handcuffed and accompanied by the sheriff, heavily armed,
he appealed in vain to many, but without success. Vance made himself
quite unpopular by offering to sign Steve Gibbons' bond. The people were
indignant and said it was carrying his ill-feeling toward Rufus Grim
entirely too far. As he had no property excepting an interest in Gray
Rocks mine, which was undeveloped, he was considered incompetent as a
bondsman and promptly rejected.

One evening Vance worked very late setting type on the _Prospector_.
It was past midnight when he went to his sleeping room. He was about to
retire when he heard some one knocking at the printing office door. He
admitted the visitor and found it to be J. Arthur Boast.

"Good evening, Mr. Gilder," said he, "I have come to see you on a little
matter of great importance to myself."

"Come in," said Vance, "I have no light in this room; come on into my
bedroom."

{220}"You will remember a conversation we had," said Boast, "some time
ago at the hotel." Vance assented that he did. "Well, I have come tonight
to claim a little of the reciprocal friendship which you promised
me."

"Circumstances," said Boast, "indeed, shape the destiny of man. Of this
I am more and more convinced. To think of us sitting down together as
friends a month ago would have been preposterous, and yet I am happy
to know we meet as such to-night. What impelled me to send for you the
night you visited me at the hotel, I am unable to explain; an impulse
that I was not strong enough to overcome, compelled me to do it. I feel,
Mr. Gilder, that I have much to be thankful for in your friendship, and
yet it has all been brought about by a circumstance over which I had
no control. It was not the result of a premeditated judgment, but the
outcome of an impulse."

"I hope," said Vance, as he reached Boast a cigar and lit one himself,
"that you have no regrets in regard to our late friendly understanding."

"No, indeed," replied Boast, "on the contrary I feel that I am one of
the most fortunate men living. By the way," he continued, "this is an
excellent cigar."

"Yes," replied Vance, "I received a box from one of my New York friends.
It is a luxury that I am not able to indulge in very freely, unless some
old chum happens to remember my isolation in these Western mountains and
takes pity on me."

"Have I told you," asked Boast, "that I have quit drinking?"

"No!" replied Vance, in some surprise.

"Yes, I have given up red liquor altogether. The habit got a pretty
strong hold on me and I was going down hill at a very rapid pace;
indeed, I had quite given up any hope of ever being anything but a hard
drinker. Scarcely had I reconciled myself to that belief, than a whim,
a caprice, an impulse, or whatever you may call it, took hold of me and
said, 'No more liquor, J. Arthur Boast; not another drop,' and from that
day to this I have not tasted the abominable stuff."

[Illustration: 0229]

Vance assured him he was glad to hear of the reformation.

"I am in love; desperately so,'" said Boast.

"In love?" repeated Vance.

"Yes, I am in love with my cousin, Bertha Allen, and she reciprocates
my own tender affection. On her account, if not for my own, I am indeed
glad the red liquor craze has been overcome, and that reminds me of the
object of my visit.

"Bertha is such a stickler on formalities and so sensitive that I have
had hard work to convince her our marriage should take place so soon
after her mother's death. Our arrangements were made to be married the
day after to-morrow. Her step-father's death, of course, complicated
matters a little, and she thought we ought to postpone the affair. As
usual, however," continued Boast, "I have convinced her that she is
wrong and I am right, and have finally gained her consent, on one
condition, that you and Miss Louise will favor us with your presence and
act as groomsman and bridesmaid."

Vance was non-plussed at Boast's remarks, and for a moment did not know
what to say.

"It will be a very quiet affair," continued Boast, "immediate relatives
and all that--she has none, and neither have I, save my father and
mother. We are to be married at my father's. There's no one Bertha
thinks so much of as Louise. They have been chums for many years, and
since you profess friendship for me, I feel sure you'll not refuse my
request."

Vance promised to consider the matter and let him know the next day,
after consulting Louise.

"Very well," said Boast, "I will call to-morrow. It's really too bad,"
he went on, "that a weak little woman like Bertha should have had so
much suffering during the last few months. Actuated by sympathy as well
as love, I feel it my duty to set formalities aside, marry her, and thus
insure to myself the privilege of protecting and caring for her as she
deserves."

"Yes," said Vance, "she has had a great deal to endure. By the way, Mr.
Boast, do you believe Steve Gibbons guilty of Mr. Grim's murder?"

Boast relit his cigar before answering. "Mr. Gilder," said he, after
deliberating, "I hope Mr. Gibbons is innocent. I have tried to look
calmly at his case, shrouded in mystery as it is. I have tried to blunt
my ears to whisperings and prejudices and not jump with the multitude
toward a hasty conclusion Of course, the circumstantial evidence against
Mr. Gibbous is rather damaging. Mr. Casey's disappearance and Gibbon's
continued silence as to his whereabouts, makes it look still worse.
The probabilities are that nine out of ten of the people of Gold Bluff
believe him to be guilty. They have built up a wall of circumstantial
evidence that seems to be impregnable, and unless the public pulse is
permitted to cool before his trial comes off, they very likely will
convict him, To me, mercy seems much more preferable than a hasty
judgment, Well, good-night, Mr. Gilder. I am sorry to have been
compelled to call on you at such a late hour, but you know," said he,
with a jocular laugh, "it is an urgent case, and when you are as near to
your nuptials as I am, I'll forgive you if you should rout me out of bed
at all hours of the night."

"A strange man!" said Vance to himself when Boast was gone, "he talks
like a philosopher. His judgment is seasoned with mercy. How could I
have misunderstood him as I did? It's rather odd that he and Bertha
Allen are to be married. I know Louise will be surprised. After all,
it's best that he should marry Miss Allen, and the very fact that he
makes her his wife at this time when she is left completely alone,
really ennobles the fellow to me."

The following day a favorable answer was given to Boast, and the
marriage took place the next evening. It was indeed a quiet affair.
Whether Colonel Boast and his wife approved of their only son marrying
his cousin or not, Vance was unable to satisfactorily decide in his own
mind; but he and Louise both acknowledged that they felt freed from an
indescribable restraint after taking their departure.

Almost simultaneously with the announcement of J. Arthur Boast's
marriage was the discovery that Bertha Allen was the heiress of all the
vast possessions of the murdered mine owner. Rufus Grims attorney
became Arthur Boast's trusted adviser. Work in the great Peacock mine
continued, and within a week J. Arthur Boast was in control of affairs;
indeed, he seemed a changed {224}man. His responsibilities seemed to
subdue without irritating him. The people were quick to discover new
elements of strength in the controller of the Peacock, and vied with
each other in giving him encouragement.

Work on Gray Rocks had not been progressing so smoothly. Old Colonel
Bonifield, fired with the enthusiasm of a Ponce de Leon, believed the
forty odd men employed in cross-cutting the drift shaft from the 500
foot level would remain with him, although his finances were exhausted.

It was on Saturday night that he called his men about him and explained
his temporary embarrassments.

[Illustration: 8232]

He paid them off in full, and assured them that three or four more days'
work with their united assistance, was all that was necessary to reach
the gold he had been looking for so many weary years, and expressed
confidence, in his chivalrous way, that all his employes would report
the next Monday morning for work, and stay with him until the drift was
finished. The following Monday morning, however, found but a half
dozen men reporting for work, much to Colonel Bonifield's surprise and
disappointment.

The old Colonel went into the mine with his faithful adherents,
and encouraged them by his undaunted energy. What could have been
accomplished by forty men in the space of three days, would require
fifteen or twenty days with his half dozen assistants. They lessened the
size of the drift shaft, however, and this would make quite a saving of
time. Throughout the week, the Colonel, with his handful of assistants,
labored incessantly. When the next Monday morning came around, he found
that only three reported for duty. This was indeed discouraging, but
with a determination that knew no brooking, he went on.

Two days later, his three assistants advised him that their families
were in want of the necessities of life, and while they still had
unbounded faith in Gray Rocks, yet they owed a duty to their families
first and before all else, and could not remain with him any longer.

After this, the engineer and fireman took turns in helping the Colonel.
One man remaining in the engine room performed the work of both. After
a couple of days of monotonous drilling and blasting, the Colonel one
evening told Louise of his great discouragement.

"My deah daughter," said the Colonel, "they have all dese'ted me; I am
left alone to finish the work in the mine as best I can. It's pow'ful
humiliatin' to be dese'ted just when I am reachin' fo' the last round
in the laddeh." Louise had slipped her arms around his neck while he was
speaking.

"My dear father," she said, "why not go to Mr. Gilder; he has been so
true to you, and I am sure, now that you are so near finishing your
work, he will give you what assistance is needed."

The old man stroked his daughter's hair affectionately. "Yes, suh, yo'
are right; he would help me if he could. No one seems to undehstand me,
Louise, my deah child, except'n' yo'self and Mr. Gilder. I may as well
tell yo' that I called on Mr. Gilder sev'al days ago fo' a little mo'
money, and he told me the $6,000 which he had given us was practically
every dollar he had in the world. It made my old heart bleed to see the
pained expression on the {226}noble young fellow's face--pained because
he couldn't help me mo'. I explained to him that it made no diff'ence;
that my men--the rascals who have so shamefully dese'ted me--had
confidence in Gray Rocks, and that they would stand by me fo' a few days
longeh."

The Colonel walked back and forth in an agitated way, and held his head
between his hands. "My God, it will drive me crazy," he exclaimed,
"if the work is not finished." Louise was startled at his manner. She
noticed that he appeared older than ever before, and condemned herself
for not giving him more encouragement and help.

"Father, how can I help you?" she asked, imploringly.

"There is no way, my precious little child; come here to me." He seated
himself and she nestled on his lap.

"To-morrow morning, father," said she, "now listen, for I am going to
have my way--to-morrow morning I am going with you down to the 500 foot
level and help you with the work. I'm not afraid, and I'm very strong,
too."

"Why, what would Mr. Gilder say if he knew my little girl was down in a
mine workin'?" said the Colonel, half amused at her earnestness, while
he pressed her close and closer to him.

"Mr. Gilder?" repeated Louise, looking dreamily into the bed of red
coals in the open grate, "we won't tell him. How heroic it was of him to
give you every dollar he had in the world! Tell me, father, do you think
any one else would have done so much?"

"No, suh," replied the Colonel, "there's betteh blood cou'sin' through
his veins than any man I eveh saw. To be sure, he's a nawth'n man--that
is, he was bawn in the nawth; but even the old state of Virginia neveh
produced a manlier man."

True to her promise, the next morning found Louise with her father in
the drift shaft, 500 feet underground. They had carried with them
a well-filled lunch basket, and worked with a determination born of
despair. Holes were drilled deep in the solid rock and filled with giant
powder, then after lighting the fuse, they would retreat until the blast
resounded in hollow mockery through the caverns of the earth. No sooner
would the smoke clear away than they would drill again.

While Louise was drilling and putting forth all her strength in work
that would have tried the courage of the hardiest miner, her father
would take turns with her, and again he would measure the distance from
the shaft to see how much farther they had to drift.

It was late in the evening, and _they_ had been working on some time in
silence, when the Colonel, after making a last measurement, shouted out
in the stillness, "Well finish it to-night! Bring the powdeh, while
I drill!" and presently another blast resounded like a death knell to
hope, tearing away great sections of the adamantine rock. On, on they
worked--drilling and blasting.

Louise had become well-nigh exhausted, and rested for a moment, when the
Colonel shouted: "Drill on! Drill on! There's no time to lose!"

"But, father," cried Louise, "the powder is all gone. Shall we not
send the engineer for more? There's hardly enough for more than another
blast."

"No!" yelled the Colonel, almost like a maniac in vehemence, "I have no
money fo' mo' powdeh. Let us use what we have. Scrape the cans and put
it all in one great blast. I will drill."

[Illustration: 0236]

Louise was frightened. She feared her father was losing his mind. It
might be, after all, that instead of benefitting him by her constant
encouragement and belief in Gray Rocks, she had but added to his vain
hallucination, and the shock of another failure might dethrone his
reason. While she was thinking, she industriously applied herself to
gathering from the different cans that had contained the giant powder
all that was left into one. Yes, there was enough for one more blast,
but not enough for two.

"Where is the powdeh?" cried the Colonel. She looked at her father,
whose face was almost as white as the disheveled hair of his uncovered
head. He had thrown aside his hat and coat, and was wrought up to the
highest pitch of excitement.

"A moment, father," said Louise, laying her hand on his arm.

"Let me alone, I have no time to wait," he said.

"But listen, father, won't you? Listen to me just a moment."

"Well, what is it?" said he, impatiently, wiping the perspiration from
his brow.

"For thirteen years, father, you've been striving and striving to find
gold in Gray Rocks; what if you are no nearer now than you were thirteen
years ago? Will you be so terribly disappointed, father? Come, tell
me you will not." She had her arms about his neck and was looking
pleadingly up into his face. He pushed her from him.

"Yo' talk as if yo' doubted," said he. "I'm thirteen years nearer
success to-night than the day I commenced. It's vehy humiliatin' to me
to think that yo', Louise, should doubt yo'r old father's judgment. Have
yo' forgotten that my blood cou'ses in yo'r veins? Are yo', too, turnin'
against me at the vehy last?"

"Oh, father," cried Louise, as she clung to him and buried her head on
his breast, sobbing wildly, "don't speak to me so harshly! It will kill
me! Have I not," said she, between her sobs, "stood by you and believed
{230}with you, though all others, unless it was Mr. Gilder, turned
against you? I believe now that you are right, father, but it may be
deeper down, and I was only trying to make the disappointment less hard
in case disappointment should again be the result of our efforts."

"There, there, little girl," said the Colonel, stroking her head
affectionately, "I do forgive yo', and yo' must forgive yo'r old,
excitable father. Let us put in the powdeh; let us make the last blast,
and let its resoundin' peals tell the whole world that we've done our
best!"

"Yes, father; that we have indeed done our utmost; and after this blast
we will go home and still have faith in Gray Rocks, though the whole
world disbelieves."

"We have plenty of powdeh here," said the old Colonel, picking up the
can, "to tear ten tons of rock into shreds."

The fuse was lighted and they retired for protection until the powder
should ignite. Presently there was a deafening roar, as if the mountains
were being split asunder. The Colonel grasped his daughter's hand with
such a vise-like grip that it almost made her cry out with pain.

"The last blast!" shouted the old Colonel, when the reverberations had
ceased, "the smoke will soon clear away, and then we shall see, yes,
suh, we shall see!"



CHAPTER XXVI.--A STARTLING EDITORIAL.


[Illustration: 9239]

ANCE knew{231} nothing of Colonel Bonifield's discouraging labors in
the mine. Indeed, he had been so busy with other matters that he had not
found time to call on the Bonifield's for over a week--a very unusual
occurrence.

A few days prior to Louise's experience in her father's mine, Vance had
been routed up by some one knocking on his window in the middle of
the night. It proved to be none other than the missing Hank Casey,
accompanied by Marcus Donald of Waterville. A consultation that lasted
several hours followed. An understanding was finally reached, and it
was agreed that Hank Casey should remain concealed during the daytime in
Vance's room, and await developments.

"I may be laying myself liable to the law," said Vance, laughingly, "in
concealing a man for whom a warrant has been issued, but, nevertheless,
I believe what you tell me, and on our mutual friend, Marcus Donald's
advice, I shall act my part unflinchingly."

"Of course," said Marcus Donald, "it's none of my affairs in one sense
of the word, but when Mr. Casey came to Waterville, having walked all
the way from Gold Bluff by a circuitous route, in order to avoid meeting
any {232}one, and told me that Mr. Gibbons was about to be unjustly
arrested for murder, I at once became interested, especially with Mr.
Casey's knowledge of the affair."

"Ye see, pardner," said Hank Casey, addressing Vance, "I 'lowed things
was goin' to be pipin' hot in these 'ere diggin's, fer I heered a rumour
that Steve an' I was both to be arrested. I knowed' t'wan't no use fer
both of us to lay 'round here till our hands an' feet were tied, so,
sez I to Steve Gibbons, sez I, 'Steve, you make your perch here in Gold
Bluff, an' don't you run nary an inch, and I'll scoot out an' try an'
scare up some help an' turn the tables on these 'ere chaps. Of course,
nuther of us liked Rufus Grim any too well; that is, we had no hankerin'
love for him; but I 'low were not quite low enough down to commence
murderin' people, even if they did cheat us out of a rich mine like the
Peacock. This game ain't out yet," he went on, "the higher courts may
reverse the decision of the court below, and in that event Steve an' I
will yet have justice, though it s been dangnation slow 'bout comin'."

"I am greatly astonished," said Vance, "at your revelation. It is
entirely contrary to my theory of the case. I am beginning to feel,
however, that my judgment amounts to but very little in this western
country, though I must say I have received great encouragement from your
words, Mr. Donald, in regard to Waterville property. I will throw a bomb
into the enemy's camp by writing an editorial for the _Prospector_ that
will touch a tender place, if Mr. Casey is correct in his statement."

It so happened that on the very day that Louise and her father were
working in the mine, the _Prospector_ was issued, and contained the
following editorial: {233}


THE RUFUS GRIM MURDER.

The history of Rufus Grim's demise, though still shrouded
in mystery, will doubtless, when the facts are known, startle the people
of Gold Bluff even more than the murder itself. It is true that Steve
Gibbons is accused and languishes in the county jail, and that a
warrant is out for the arrest of his old associate, Hank Casey. In the
excitement of the hour, our people may have interpreted circumstantial
evidence as proof of guilt. As a matter of fact, not one jot or tittle
of damaging evidence, in the _Prospector's_ judgment, can be produced
against these men.

The idea of suicide has been effectually set aside by the findings at
the coroner's inquest. No one doubts that it was a cold-blooded, cowardly
murder. We believe the murderer is in Gold Bluff to-day, and like the
wolf of old, is clad in sheep's raiment.

Our people should understand the difference between circumstantial and
real evidence. It is probably true that both Steve Gibbons and Hank
Casey were on anything but friendly terms with Rufus Grim, but they
were not his only enemies; indeed, there is one in Gold Bluff who was
secretly, if not openly, a much greater enemy to the rich mine owner
than either of the suspected parties.

It is time that prejudice gave way to reason, and that others, who
_profited_ much more by Rufus Grim's removal, should not only
be suspected, but subjected to the crucial test of a thorough
investigation.

This article set the people of Gold Bluff agog. The entire camp, from
center to circumference, seemed startled by the boldness of Vance
Gilder's double-leaded editorial. When J. Arthur Boast read the article,
he was dazed by its audacity. He sent for his attorney, and throughout
the afternoon a consultation that lasted far into the night was held.

Work on the Peacock was shut down the following {234}morning at
Boast's request, and the men assembled at the company's office. Boast,
addressing the miners, said:

"You, doubtless, have read the editorial in yesterday's _Prospector_,
written by a stranger and interloper in our midst, Mr. Vance Gilder, who
foully accuses me of murdering Rufus Grim.

[Illustration: 9242]

I am now going down to the office of the _Prospector_, and shall demand
an _amende honorable_. So many of you as see fit may accompany me."

"Ay, ay!" the crowd shouted, "we are ready!" Indeed, the citizens of
Gold Bluff almost to a man, sided with Boast, and said Vance was showing
a cowardly venom at J. Arthur Boast's unexpected success and good
fortune, that was neither dignified nor just. Boast led the way to the
_Prospector_ office, and was followed by a throng of determined miners
and angry citizens, who were in a frame of mind that boded no good for
Vance Gilder.

Louise Bonifield had just come over to the Prospector office with a
message from her father, and met Arthur Boast at the office door. Louise
tripped lightly into the office and saluted Vance with a cheery smile
and good morning, while Boast paused in the doorway.

"Good morning, Mr. Gilder," said he, savagely.

"Good morning," replied Vance.

"Who wrote this editorial?" asked Boast, striking vigorously a copy
of the _Prospector_ which he held in his hand. "I tell you," continued
Boast, "I never murdered Rufus Grim, and any man that says I did is a
liar, abase scoundrel, and a contemptible whelp!"

{235}"That's right! Ay, ay!" exclaimed the mob that was standing behind
Boast, ready at a moment's notice to loot the printing office.

Vance was cool and collected. He noticed that Boast spoke in his
old-time thin, piping voice, and his eyes were restless and glittered
like a fiend's. The element of manhood and of the philosopher had wholly
disappeared.

Louise stepped quickly forward before Vance could make a reply, and
laying her hand on Boast's arm, said: "Arthur, you know I have always
been your friend. I am sure Mr. Gilder has never accused you of
murdering Mr. Grim. What do you mean?"

"But he has accused me," retorted Boast. "Read this!"

Vance stepped hurriedly from behind the case, and drawing Louise gently
back, stood face to face with Arthur Boast. He was calm and determined.
"Where," said he, "where have I accused you of murdering Rufus Grim?
Point out the sentence in the article where your name even appears?"

"Well, you haven't used my name, but you might as well have done so."

"No," said Vance, as his eyes gleamed with fiercest indignation and
anger, "I have not accused you, Arthur Boast, but you, by this act, with
your mob of hirelings behind you, have accused yourself. Now you must,
and by the eternals, shall answer to the law. A guilty conscience," he
continued, "needs no accuser, and it is your accusing conscience that
has prompted you to come here and publicly charge yourself with
the crime. Neither you, nor your host of admirers on full pay,
can intimidate me. If you can pass through the test of a thorough
investigation, and can be proved innocent, then I will have {236}no more
to say, but until you do this, I shall publicly accuse you and denounce
you as the murderer of Rufus Grim!"

Vance towered up like a giant before the writhing and shriveling form of
J. Arthur Boast.

[Illustration: 0244]

"Well, I don't know that you have accused me in this editorial," whined
Boast, "and I don't know as I need to take any steps of revenge until
you dare to use my name in your paper. I guess I'll wait and see what my
{237}lawyer advises. Fall back, boys, I have nothing farther to say at
this interview."

"But I have," said Vance, in thundering tones, "and before long I shall
have much to say."

"Well, you won't say it through the columns of the Gold Bluff
_Prospector_. It is my property; I have the bill of sale in my pocket."

"Yes," said Vance, "yours is the weapon of a coward; the unholy use
of the power of money, but your plan of securing possession of the
Prospector has no terrors for me. The copy of the _Prospector_ that you
hold in your hand contains the last editorial I ever expect to write for
the paper. It may please you to know that my last dollar is gone; I am
penniless, and without interference from you the _Prospector_ has been
issued for the last time under my management. I have been typo, managing
editor, devil, form setter, city editor, publisher and everything else,
trying hard to make an honest living. I am now through. You and
your host of satellites will oblige me by leaving the premises. Come
to-morrow morning and take possession. You'll not find me in the way."

Boast turned, and facing his mob of backers said, with the forced laugh
of a whipped man:

"I thought I would squelch him, boys; he had to cave in, you bet." His
voice was shrill and squeaky, and his braggadocio air, as he led his
admirers away, hid but poorly his nervousness and agitation.

Vance and Louise were alone. Louise had stood by during the interview,
startled and alarmed. She marvelled at Vance's strength; at his
grandeur; at his nobleness; and when she heard him say that now he was
penniless, she remembered the sacrifices he had made to help her
father. He turned toward her and their eyes met. It came to her like an
inspiration, that her respect and admiration for him in times past had
been but a prelude to the pulsing love she now felt for him. She reached
out both her hands toward him; he took them, and a moment later she was
sobbing on his breast. No word had been spoken, but volumes had been
interchanged in that one look.

The doorway was darkened. They quickly looked up, Louise through her
tears, and Vance with a beaming countenance. Colonel Bonifield was
surveying the situation with a look of genuine surprise on his face.

"Yo' almost pa'lyze me, suh," said the Colonel, "indeed yo' do. Why, Mr.
Gilder, I sent my little girl oveh here to tell yo' that I had a matteh
of vehy great impo'tance to talk oveh with yo', but she was gone so
long, suh, that I became impatient and came oveh myself."

"Oh, papa," said Louise, "Mr. Gilder and Arthur have had a terrible
quarrel!"

"A quarrel, suh; why, how is that?"

"I am always ready to talk with you, Colonel," said Vance, in a confused
way, and unconsciously retaining one of Louise's hands.

"Well, now, if my little girl," said the Colonel "God bless her! will go
oveh home and see about preparin' dinneh and lay an extra plate fo' yo',
we'll have our talk and come oveh a little lateh."

While no word had been spoken between Vance and Louise, yet he believed
that his great love had been understood and rewarded. He lifted her
hand to his lips as she started to go, with that chivalrous respect
so becoming in the knights of old. When she was gone, Vance turned and
thought he saw a smile chasing rapidly over the Colonel's face.

"Wait a moment, Colonel," said Vance, "I have some choice cigars that
were sent me from New York. Here, try this one."

"Thank yo'," said the Colonel, "I neveh felt mo' like smokin' in my
life than I do this mawnin' As they lit their cigars, they walked out
in front of the printing office. The morning sun mellowed the crisp and
invigorating mountain air. Vance narrated his interview with Boast. The
Colonel's face clouded with a troubled expression. Presently he said:

"Mr. Gilder, we have at last finished our work on Gray Rocks."

"I am very glad," was Vance's reply.

"Yo' fo'ced me, suh, at one time," said the Colonel, "to make a promise.
When I pledge my word of honor, suh, as I did to yo', it is sacred.
Heretofore yo' most naturally, Mr. Gilder, have asked me what I advised.
I now come to yo' and ask, what do yo' advise?"

"Colonel Bonifield," said Vance, "I am glad you ask me what I advise.
You know, Colonel, when you first came to New York city, you thought
that if you could only get to the 300 foot level you would cross-cut
into a mine of untold wealth."

"Yes, suh," replied the Colonel, "that is so, and yo' freely gave me the
money to push the work."

"Yes," said Vance, and unconsciously with the toe of his boot he dug in
the sand as if he was seeking the 300 foot level, "at the 300 foot
level your efforts were not rewarded. Then you started for the 400 foot
level."

{240}"Yes, suh," said the Colonel, "and again you gave me the money."

"Yes, yes," said Vance, as the toe of his boot dug still deeper in the
sand, "but again you failed. Then I gave you the last dollar of ready
money I had in the world to sink the shaft on down to the 500 foot
level."

"Vehy true," said the Colonel, "and would have given me mo' if yo' had
had it."

"Most assuredly," said Vance, as his boot struck the rock that lay
beneath the sand. "Yes," said he, planting his heel firmly on the
rock, "you have at last reached the 500 foot level. Heretofore, I have
listened to your advice, and now I hope you will be guided by mine. I
have been away from New York over two years. I have not left Gold Bluff
for more than a year. I have remained close to Gray Rocks, alternately
hoping and doubting that you would be successful. Colonel Bonifield,
I have no regrets. You have been earnest and sincere, though sadly
mistaken, in regard to this mining venture."

"Well, well, suh," said the Colonel, as he waited for Vance to go on.

"I have something to say to you, Colonel--I love your daughter with my
whole heart, and more devotedly, it seems to me, than ever man loved
woman before. I have a beautiful home in New York city, with ample means
to care for her and you. My advice is that you and your lovely daughter,
with those dependent upon you, come with me and we will leave these
western wilds, so associated with disappointment, and go to my city
home. This morning, for the first time, I have had reason to believe
that your daughter reciprocated the great love I bear her. You are now
an old man, Colonel, and while I have not a doubt in the world that if
you would sink your shaft to the 600 foot level, say, or, perhaps to the
700 foot level, you would strike the vein of gold you have been looking
for so many years; yet, what is the use, Colonel Bonifield, what is
the use? My love for your daughter is very great, and I believe it is
unselfish. A home of plenty awaits us. Hardships and disappointment
alone have been the reward of our earnest efforts. Why not go away
from it all? Yes, let us go and forget the trials, hardships, and
hopes deferred of a frontiersman's life, and let me help you spend the
remaining years of your life in quiet, peace, and contentment."

"Yo' do me honor, suh," replied the Colonel, as he brushed a mist from
his eyes, "bawn in the nawth, yet yo' possess the true chivalry of a
southern gentleman. Yes, suh, yo' do, indeed. It is true we sunk the
shaft to the 300 foot level, and finally, to the 500 foot level, and
you, suh, have fu'nished the money fo' this great work. I thought my men
would stay with me and help cross-cut into the vein, but I found, when
I spoke to them about the matteh, that they only had confidence in Gray
Rocks so long as there was money in my purse to pay their wages every
Saturday night. When they dese'ted me, suh, I worked away alone, and
finally that little girl, Louise, went down with me yeste'day early
in the mawnin', and we didn't get home until after nine o'clock last
night."

{242}"What!" said Vance, "Louise been working down in the mine?"

"Yes, suh, the hardest day's work I eveh put in on Gray Rocks was
yeste'day."

"Why did you not let me know?" asked Vance, "I would have come and
helped you most cheerfully, rather than have let her do the work of a
man, and 500 feet under ground at that."

"Well, hold on, Mr. Gilder, let me tell yo'. We had a goodly portion of
giant powder yeste'day mawnin', and yo've no idea how much assistance
Louise gave me. I took the measu'ments a dozen times, suh, durin' the
day, and it seemed to me that by workin' a little late, we might finally
blast through into the vein."

"Yes, Colonel, 'where the vein might have been,'" said Vance, with a
merry twinkle in his eye, while he struck his heel in an absent way
against the rock. The Colonel paid no attention to the interruption.

"Finally, suh, we made our last, drill, and filled it up with every
grain of powdeh we had left. My little Louise had to dust every powdeh
can in ordeh to have enough to make the last blast. We retired, suh, as
usual, afteh I had lit the fuse, and yo' ought to have heard that
last blast go off! My daughter, suh, God bless her, tried to dull the
disappointment that she felt sure was awaitin' our effo'ts by gettin' me
to promise not to be too much disappointed; but I had confidence; yes,
suh, right up to the last. Well, suh, the smoke finally cleared away,
and my God! suh, my old eyes wept for joy!"

"What!" exclaimed Vance.

"Look at this piece of ore, Mr. Gilder; richer, yes, suh, richer than
anything ever discovered in the Peacock. {243}Yes, suh, my deah Gilder,
we have made our last blast, and Gray Rocks is worth two million
dollars. The agent of a rich minin' corporation of Butte City made me an
offer of that sum this mawnin'."



CHAPTER XXVII.--AT LAST!


[Illustration: 9252]

EFFECT {244}on the people of a mining camp of one of those fabulously
rich "strikes" like Gray Recks mine proved to be, may be imagined but
cannot be described in words. Shopkeeper, citizen and miner alike, go
wild with enthusiasm over so important a discovery. Congratulations were
showered upon Colonel Bonifield and Vance from every quarter. Every one
in Gold Bluff felt it his privilege to call at Colonel Bonifield's home
and pay his respects to one who had lived so long in their midst, and
who had so persistently and so patiently maintained unbounded confidence
in a proposition that was looked upon by others as a money-losing
venture.

Independent of the fortune left him by his father, Vance was now a
millionaire. In his prosperity he did not forget his old friends. He
called on the sheriff and again offered himself as bondsman for Steve
Gibbons. The bond was accepted, and a half hour later, Gibbons was
released. Hank Casey surrendered himself, and was also immediately
bailed out of custody.

One evening the stage coach brought to Gold Bluff Homer Winthrop and
his young bride, _nee_ Virgie Bonifield. It was a great surprise to the
Bonifield household.

{245}"And this accounts," said Vance to Homer, after he had
congratulated him, "this accounts for Marcus Donald hastening away from
Gold Bluff."

"Yes," said Homer, "I could not think of having the ceremony take place
without my old friend and associate, Marcus Donald, being present. We
have traveled together so long, in adversity as well as in prosperity,
that we are quite inseparable."

"He is a great character," replied Vance, "his disinterested assistance
and help I have recently seen demonstrated in a marked degree."

"He is one of the 'salt of the earth,'" replied Winthrop,
enthusiastically, "he is not only a sunny day friend, but one in the
hour of need--indeed, he is a man among men. By the way," he continued,
"I want to congratulate you with all my heart on the great Gray Rocks
strike."

"Thank you," replied Vance, "the prosperity could never have come at
a more opportune time. My finances was reduced to the last dollar when
Colonel Bonifield broke the news to me."

"I received your letter, written some ten days ago," said Winthrop, "and
have sold those twenty-five lots your New York friends purchased."

"Thank God for that!" ejaculated Vance.

"Yes, I sold them for $800 apiece, or $20,000. As they only paid $2,500
for them, I hardly think they can complain at the profits. Oh, you have
no idea what a city Waterville has become. The great waterpower has
been effectually harnessed, the streets are paved; electric car lines,
planing mills, and scores of other manufacturing concerns are in full
operation. Our population is now {240}numbered by thousands, instead
of hundreds, while busy activity and prosperity are apparent on every
hand."

"You quite astonish me, old fellow," replied Vance, "indeed you do; but
I needed no greater proof of Waterville's prosperity than your report
of the sale of lots belonging to my New York friends. Once, old fellow,
I gave you my promise to wait five years before passing judgment on your
enterprise. Hardly half that time has elapsed, yet it gives me pleasure
to assure you that I am already better satisfied with Waterville than I
ever dared hope for."

"Thank you," said Homer, "your 'Two Honorable Exceptions' article in the
New York _Banner_ was indeed prophetic."

"Yes," said Vance, "while the prophecies of Col. Alexander, B. Webster
Legal, Gen. Ira House, and other members of your Waterville Town
Company, have been more than realized."

"My associates," said Homer, "in the great work of building up
Waterville, have at last met with a compensation which I cannot but feel
is a just one. Taking it all and all, they are a grand lot of fellows,
each one a study within himself; nevertheless, collectively a phalanx of
strength."

"By the way," he continued, "it was my noble little wife, Virgie, that
started the boom last spring. She learned in some mysterious way that
a private school fund had been created for her special benefit, and in
order to return the money, purchased the first lots that we had sold for
months and months, and from that day the boom started, until now--well,
you'll have to see the place to realize the wonderful changes and
improvements."

{247}"Hers," said Vance, "is certainty a sweet and noble character."

"Yes, indeed," replied Winthrop, laughingly, "I still think she is the
most practical member of the Bonifield family."

"Indeed," said Vance, "I remember the allusion, and I beg to assure you
that my opinion remains unchanged in regard to Louise."

"I notice," said Winthrop, "that our old acquaintance, J. Arthur Boast,
has had quite a rise in the world--at the head of the Peacock mine, I
understand."

"Yes," replied Vance, while a sorrowful expression swept over his face,
"I fear his rise preceeds a mighty fall. Gibbons and Casey have been
arrested for the Grim murder, but have given bonds, and are waiting
for their attorney, B. Webster Legal, and to use one of Steve Gibbons'
expressions, 'Things are liable to be sizzlin' hot for Boast before
long. '"

"Why," interrupted Winthrop, "you cannot mean--"

"Yes," continued Vance, "I do mean that J. Arthur Boast murdered Rufus
Grim. I have the evidence. Hank Casey saw the act."

"Why, you astonish me!"

"Casey," continued Vance, "was at first afraid to report the matter, nor
did he until he went to Waterville. You were away at the time, and he
confided to Mr. Donald. His own and Steve Gibbons' long years of warfare
with Grim over the Peacock, he was afraid, would cause people to suspect
them of the crime. He divined rightly. There is a great prejudice
against both of them."

"I never was more surprised in my life!" said Winthrop, {248}"and while I
never liked the fellow, yet I had no idea he would commit murder."

The next day a warrant was issued for the arrest of J. Arthur Boast,
charging him with the murder of Rufus Grim. A most diligent search was
made, but the officer was unable to find him. His wife was in tears and
prostrated with grief, declaring she had no idea of his whereabouts.

It was the morning before Thanksgiving that Vance received a certain
letter. It was from Arthur Boast, and read as follows:

At Home.

Dear Sir:

Why I write to you above all others, is more than I can tell. An
impulse, actuated by some wandering spirit from the regions of darkness
and the damned, forces me to it. The things I want to do, I am unable
to accomplish. The acts I loathe and abhor, I am made a cat's-paw of to
perform by some unknown impelling force.

It may be that some men can shape their own destiny--mine has been
shaped for me.

I have never seen the time I did not fear you, and cannot remember
the time I did not hate and despise you. I sought your friendship for
protection. When I needed your support, you turned against me.

Rufus Grim was my evil genius in this life, and he is more unbearable
dead than living. Every night since I murdered him--yes, it was I who
did the deed--he has visited me in my dreams All night long he walks up
and down my bed-room--back and forth--and curses me. Sometimes I pull
the covers well over my head, and try to sleep, but he pulls them off
and rubs his cold, clammy hands threateningly over my face. He has found
out also that I robbed the stage coach and bribed the sheriff.

I am tired of it all. I have not slept for ten nights. My brain {249}is
on fire. You want vengeance, but I intend to cheat you--yes? I will
cheat you--and in this way I find my only consolation.

An hour ago my attorney came to my hiding-place, and told me the higher
courts had reversed the decision. When this is known all Gold Bluff will
turn against me. Even now I can hear them hissing the words. Scoundrel!
scoundrel! murderer! murderer! in tantalizing scorn.

My ambition has always been to be wealthy. Now I am so poor that if I
continued to live and was not hunted down and sent to prison, I would
not even have a crust of bread to eat.

Yes, Gibbons and Casey are now the owners of the Peacock mine--the
higher courts have so decided. With their money, they'll join you in
persecuting me--but I'll cheat them as well as you. Your longing for
revenge shall not be satisfied.

At the old prospect shaft on the Peacock, where I struck the fatal blow
that hurled Rufus Grim into eternity, you will find all that remains of
the persecuted, despised and hated.

J. Arthur Boast.

To Vance Gilder.


A search was at once made, and his lifeless body found near the old
prospect shaft.

[Illustration: 9257]

A bullet wound in his temple, and the weapon still clutched in his hand,
told of the maniac's suicide.

The people of Gold Bluff were astonished at the rapidity with which
history was being made. The sheriff was missing, and his absence gave
color to Boast's statement about the sheriff being an accomplice in the
stage robbery.

The undisputed owners of the Peacock mine, Casey and Gibbons, the
multi-millionaires, were entirely vindicated by Boast's letter, and not
{250}a shadow of suspicion rested against them; indeed, the citizens of
Gold Bluff suddenly remembered that Mr. Henry Casey and Stephen Gibbons,
Esq., were most excellent gentlemen. It was astonishing to find how many
"friends" flocked around them to tender their congratulations.

It was Thanksgiving night, and Vance, with the members of the Bonifield
household, was seated before the open grate, where a cheerful fire
burned brightly. They had been talking it all over, and the Colonel, in
a subdued but satisfied way, thanked God that he had been permitted to
live long enough to see a fulfillment of his life's dream.

[Illustration: 8258]

Both Louise and Virgie were animated and happy, and Homer Winthrop had
been dilating upon Waterville's wonderful prosperity.

Presently the door opened, and Aunt Sally came in. "Good evenin', Mr.
Gilder," said she, in her rich Southern accent, "I 'low this is the
happiest day of our lives."

"Yes, indeed," replied Vance, "we owe many apologies to your brother for
our seeming lack of confidence in Gray Rocks."

She looked at him quickly over her spectacles, and replied, "Lack of
confidence, Mr. Gilder? I'd like to know who lacked confidence in my
brother Benjamin's mine! Fo' myself, I have believed from the first
that Benjamin would strike it if I could only keep him workin' away long
enough."

Vance was non-plussed, and was about to reply, when the Colonel
interposed. "Yo' see, suh," said he, with a knowing twinkle in his eye,
"I have often obse'ved to yo' that my sisteh is a most ext'ao'dina'y
person; yes, suh, most ext'ao'dina'y indeed. She has been a powehful
support to me, suh, in my effo'ts."

This seemed to partially pacify Aunt Sally. Presently she said, "I
'spect, Mr. Gilder, yo' are thinkin' 'bout a convehsation we had a few
months ago in regard to sinkin' the shaft. Of cou'se yo' didn't know how
much strategy I had to resort to that I might keep Benjamin from getting
disheartened. Of cou'se I won't allow nobody to say anythin' against my
brother, but I 'low he is the contrariest man livin', I do indeed, suh.
Time and again I have been fo'ced to pretend that I was opposin' him,
just to make him go on work in' and sinkin' that shaft, but at last it
is all over with, and I've much to be thankful fo' that I was spared
so that I could keep on naggin' at Benjamin and spurrin' him up, until
finally his effo'ts were rewa'ded." Soon after, she embraced Louise and
Virgie tenderly, and retired.

When she was gone, the Colonel looked up from the crackling fire, into
which he had been gazing long and earnestly, and said, "I presume, Mr.
Gilder, my sisteh is without question one of the greatest characters
that ever lived, I do indeed, suh. I'm discoverin', even to this day,
new traits of superio'ity and strength in her. Indeed, suh, she is
no o'dina'y woman. Though bawn in the South, and possessin' in a high
degree the very great refinement peculiar to our Southern ladies, yet at
the same time her diplomacy in accomplishin' great results equals
the shrewdest Nawthe'n Yankee. Indeed, suh, she is a most rema'kable
character; yes, suh, most rema'kable." {252}A little later Homer
and Virgie retired, pleading weariness. "Do you know," said Colonel
Bonifield, looking up from the fire again, "since our great discovery
was made, I seem to want to do all my sleeping in the mawnin'?"

"Papa," said Louise, "is too busy thinking over and over again his
great good fortune to get sleepy; but my! how late he does sleep in the
morning!"

"He has justly earned," said Vance, "the rest he claims.'

"Indeed he has," replied Louise, approaching her father and pushing
gently back his long white locks, "you are my darling old papa," she
continued in a caressing way, "and may sit up as late as you like, and
sleep until noon every day if it is your wish."

"I'll tell yo', Mr. Gilder," said the Colonel, rising and standing
before the fire, "this little girl of mine is bound to spoil me; yes,
suh; she always did humor me eveh since I can remembeh, and she is worse
now than eveh befo' Well, well, you'll have to excuse me until I have
another pipe of tobacco." His elegant suit of black of the latest
pattern added to his dignified appearance, and made a strange contrast,
Vance thought, with the miner's garb he had worn for so many years. He
pushed through the portieres that opened into the library, and Louise
and Vance were left alone, for the first time since the rich discovery
had been announced.

A doubt came into Vance's mind whether he was glad of it or not.
Heretofore this noble girl whom he had loved so long and patiently had
been in a measure dependent upon him--now she was an heiress. He fancied
he detected a restraint in her conversation that was embarrassing.
His own unworthiness rose up before him, and he was engulfed in the
cowardice of a lover! What if she should refuse him? Cross-cutting
into a pinched-out vein would be nothing in comparison with such a
disappointment. Presently, at his request, she went to the piano, and
sang for him.

She sang with far more feeling than ever before. Her heart was filled
with a maiden's dearest happiness--a deep, reciprocal, unspoken love of
limitless depth. Yes, with the unerring divination of a woman, she knew
that Vance's love was wholly hers. There was a love song before her, and
under its cover, she would declare her own without restraint. She sang
with the rapture of a mountain thrush, in notes so rich, so innocent, so
plaintively low, so delightfully thrilling.

Vance listened with bated breath. There are pleasures so keen as to be
painful. "I am so inferior to her," he thought, with unselfish humility,
"but to live without her is impossible." Finally she ceased playing and
turned toward him with the music of her soul radiant upon her face. A
momentary silence followed.

"Louise," said Vance, and there was a tremulous rhythm in his voice,
notwithstanding he tried to crush it into naturalness, "it may be news
to you, but I can no more help loving you than I can help breathing."
He walked back and forth before the open grate. "Please do not look
away from me," he went on, "as if I were so unworthy--I know that well
enough. I would rather love you without hope than have the unselfish
devotion of all the other women of the earth at my feet."

She had lifted her hands and covered her face. Her happiness was very
great. She fears he would see it, vet he must know it, else she would be
miserable.

"What I have said," Vance went on, "may be nothing to you, but it is
either life or death to me. To-morrow I shall leave Gold Bluff for ever
unless you wish me to remain." Vance stood before the open grate still
and motionless, and when she looked up, she saw his face was white as
marble. She rose from the piano with tear-stained cheeks, flushing pink
as La France roses with morning dew-drops upon them. She came forward a
few steps, and then paused. Her golden wealth of hair {255}reflected the
forelight, and made a halo about her girlish face and form. Her full red
lips were parted with the tender smile of youth, purity and love. She
was thinking, "I am certain of his love; I am sure of mine for him, and
I will give myself entirely, yes, wholly into his keeping." With one
hand over her beating heart, she held the other toward Vance. In a
moment he was by her side, and raising her hand, pressed it passionately
to his lips. In the deliciousness of love's dream, he led her to a divan
and seated himself beside her. His arms stole about her, her head rested
on her breast, and there a devout lover's affection was sealed with
love's first kiss.

A moment later the portieres parted, and in the doorway stood the
Colonel. His long white hair fell back from his temples, and there was
a look of gladness upon his countenance. He lifted up his face toward
Heaven, and in tones that were scarcely audible, said: "Such tender and
sacred things of earth are sanctified in Heaven."

Yes, again the Shuttle of Fate wove into the web of Destiny the better
attributes of a manly man and the ennobling love of a gentle woman.

[Illustration: 0261]

[Illustration: 0263]





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