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