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Tom Chester's Silver Mine by A. A. Hayes


Tom Chester's father lives in a pleasant town in New England, and Tom himself grew up like other boys in that part of the country. In winter he went to the village school, in an old red building with a great stove in one corner, and on his way home "coasted" down the long hill at the foot of which he lived. In summer he helped the hay-makers, and rode on the high-piled cart, and went on picnics to Blue Mountain, and bathed in the clear brook under the willows. He grew to be stout, hardy, and red-cheeked, very unlike his father, who pored over his books, and took no exercise, and grew paler and thinner each year.

One day, as Tom was sitting on the door-step making a whistle out of a slip of willow, he saw old Dr. W—— drive up in his old-fashioned "sulky," tie his horse to a post, and go to his father's library, bidding him good-morning as he passed. He remained some time with Mr. Chester, and as he came out Tom heard him say,

"Very well, then, we will call that settled. And mind, the sooner you start, the sooner you may expect to find yourself better and stronger."

Mr. Chester, who had followed the doctor to the door, saw the inquiring look on Tom's face, and asked him, with a smile, how he would like to go to Colorado.

"What! to dig for silver?" cried Tom.

"No; to seek for what is more valuable than silver—health," said his father. "Dr. W—— says that I must go to the Rocky Mountains, and we shall start in a few days."

It was dark when the train rolled into Denver, and Tom, even if he had not been tired and sleepy, could have seen nothing of the town as they drove to the hotel. But in the morning, when he woke up and looked out of the windows of his room, which was on the western side of the house, he cried aloud with surprise and delight. All along the horizon rose a great range of mountains, with two lofty peaks towering over the others, one at the north and the other at the south. They seemed so near that Tom thought he could walk to them; but when he had dressed himself and gone down to the office, he asked the clerk how long it would take, and the man looked at him, and said, "I wouldn't advise you to try, you little tender-foot."

"My feet are not tender," replied Tom, sharply.

The people in the room all laughed, and a miner in a blue flannel shirt patted Tom on the back, and said, "That's right, my boy. You remind me of a kid of my own up at Fairplay. The fellow's only chaffing you. When any one's been just a little while in the country, they always call him a 'tender-foot.' You mustn't mind that."

Then he went on to explain to Tom that the foot-hills which looked so near were at least fifteen or twenty miles away. Then he told him about the mining towns, or "camps," as they are called, and how the men who look for mines, called "prospectors," search through the mountains, seeking signs of silver ore; and that when they find them, they put stakes in the ground to mark the "claims" which the law allows, or the right to dig in a space 1500 feet one way and 300 the other. Then he described how they dig down in hopes of finding what they call "pay gravel," or ore which contains enough silver to make it worth sending to the works. He mentioned some men whom he knew who had sold "prospect holes," as he called them (or shafts partly sunk, and not yet proved to be good mines), for large sums. Tom was immensely interested in these narrations, and was eagerly listening when his father came in to find him.

"Guess you'd better let me have that boy of yourn to make a miner of, Colonel," said this new friend to Mr. Chester. "He's got plenty of sand."

Mr. Chester knew that people in the West give titles to almost every one, but it was some time before either he or Tom found out that it was a great compliment to say that any one had "sand," which means, in the rough but very expressive language of the mountains, that one possesses bravery and great strength and force of character.

After seeing all the sights of Denver, Tom and his father took the train one morning for a little town called Golden, near the foot-hills. Here they were transferred to a railroad only three feet wide, and found an open or "observation" car, from which they could see very well. The train entered what is called a cañon, or gorge, down which poured the waters of Clear Creek (which, by-the-way, were not clear at all, but very muddy). It wound up this cañon, the walls of which seemed to come together away over the heads of the passengers. No boy who is fortunate enough to make a journey to Colorado should fail to see this remarkable place. The little engine tugged at the train, and dragged it up the steep cañon, and by the side of the winding stream, until it came to a valley surrounded by high hills, where is the town of Idaho Springs. Here Tom and his father left the train, and walked to a neat-looking hotel, where they took up their quarters. Mr. Chester already felt the benefit of the change of climate, and he wanted to spend much time in excursions to different points. He and Tom went up by the railroad to Georgetown, and drove to Central City, and at both places they saw a great many mines. They went down in buckets, lowered by great ropes, six and seven hundred feet into the shafts, and then sometimes came out by tunnels cut from the sides of the hills. They saw mills in which gold ore was crushed by stamps, or great iron bars falling heavily on it, and works where silver ore was put into hot furnaces—in fact, they saw so many things that Tom became rather bewildered. All the time, however, he found himself thinking about what the miner had told him in Denver, and longing to try his own hand at prospecting. When he told his father, one day, that he would like to go up on the hill-sides or in some of the cañons and look for a mine, the latter at first laughed, and then grew rather serious, and began to talk about the danger of being led away by this desire to be suddenly rich without labor.

"You hear, my boy," he said, "about the one, two, or three men who succeed, but not a word about the hundreds, and even thousands, who make failure after failure, and pass their lives in the misery of 'hope deferred.'"

Tom listened respectfully to his father, but could not make up his mind that it would not be a fine thing to find a silver mine. He began to take walks by himself, and look out for the signs about which various miners had told him. At times he would think that he had found something, and he would bring little pieces of rock to show to a friend whose acquaintance he had made in the little town. This was an old miner named Sam, a rough but very kind-hearted man, who did not laugh at all, but told him pleasantly that he had not yet found any mine.

One day, while walking in a cañon near the hotel, and chipping with a hammer at the broken rock, he saw two poorly dressed men carrying bundles, as if on a journey, who stopped and asked what he was doing. They told him that there was no use in searching in that place, but that they had an excellent prospect hole, already showing "pay gravel," which they had been compelled to abandon on account of pressing engagements elsewhere, and which, although it was worth many thousands, they would sell him for ten dollars. Poor little Tom had just that sum, which his father had given him on his birthday, and to which he had proposed to add his savings, for the purpose of buying some fishing-tackle. Perhaps his slight "craze" about a mine made him less cautious than usual. At all events, he accepted the men's offer, and promised to meet them that afternoon near a tree which they pointed out.

He was there on the minute, with his ten dollars in his pocket. The men took him up the hill, and showed him a rather deep hole, into which a rough ladder led. Down this they went, and Tom saw some ore of just the kind that his friend Sam had told him he ought to find. Then the men set two stakes in the ground, on which they rudely marked "T. C.," took his money, and walked hastily away. Tom went down to the hotel full of his purchase. His father had gone to Georgetown, but Sam was there, and to him Tom eagerly narrated what he thought his good fortune. Sam heard him without remark, and then put on his hat, and taking pick and shovel, asked Tom to show him the mine. Arriving there, he shovelled up some of the ore which Tom had seen, and disclosed quite a different rock below. On this lay a piece of board, which he handed to Tom, who read thereon,

"u ar sold bad u yung tender-fut this aint no mine."

For a moment he did not understand; then came a shock of disappointment, and then a sense of indignation, not so much against the men who had deceived him as at himself for his delusion and stupidity.

Sam looked kindly at him. "Pretty rough on you, Tom, wasn't it?" he said. "Why, my boy, this is an old claim of mine, which I gave up long ago as no good. They've just gone and salted it—I mean, put some good ore in to deceive you. So they walked off with your ten dollars, the miserable scamps! Tell me what they looked like."

Tom described them.

"Ho! ho!" said Sam. "I saw those same fellows taking the train for Denver. I'm going down there to-morrow, and the Chief of Police is a friend of mine. Perhaps we'll run across them some day."

As they walked home, he tried to cheer Tom up by telling him stories of clever men who had been served in similar ways; but Tom was sober, not on account of his loss, but because it had come to his mind how foolish he had been from the first. He felt easier when he had told his father the whole story.

The latter laughed heartily, and said, "Well, Tom, my boy, considering how badly you had the mining fever, I do not think that ten dollars was a large price to pay for a cure."

Some time after Tom had returned to his home he received a letter from Colorado, which proved to be from his friend Sam, reading partly as follows:

"... I am glad to tell you that we catched them two claim-jumpers [men who steal claims]. They'd spent all your stamps, sure enough, and you won't never see them no more; but it's a comfort that they got two years at Cañon City [where the penitentiary is]. Better luck next time. Come out again next summer, and I'll help you find an A1 mine...."

But Tom says that if he ever has any money at all, it will be earned in some good old-fashioned way; that he is not a "tender-foot," and that he does not want any more interest in prospect holes.