BY Unknown (Scribner's Magazine.)
THEY were both old when they came to Cripple Creek from some farm neighborhood in Nebraska, this man and his wife, and their backing was some small gathering of neighborhood capital. The man was a post-graduate prospector of an earlier day; and when he had chosen a location on one of the gray-green hillsides the story began.
It was the old story of neighborhood syndicates with one man in the field. In a short time the money was exhausted, and the neighborhood purse shut with the click of finality. Tears and prayers, post-carried, were of no avail. If the man choose to go on digging in barren granite at his own charges, well and good; but as for the the syndicate, it had washed its hands of the matter, once for all.
The old man did go on digging, he and his old wife with sublime faith and enthusiasm undaunted, while the scanty larder grew barer and famine beckoned. Two able-bodied men are the scantiest quota for shaft-sinking at moderate depths, and the aged couple had not between them the strength of one.
Their toilings were infinite. The man would go down the ladder, drill the holes by hand, and fix the charges; firing the latter with long fuses so that he might have time to climb to the surface before the explosions. Then he would clamber back into the stifling pit to load the bucket with the broken rock, and when this was done he must re-ascend to help his wife at the windlass.
One day the struggle with the granite ended and the shaft went down into a "dike" of bluish material unfamiliar to the old man. He knew little of nature's freaks in this newest of the gold-fields, and his dump was well covered with the "dike" rock when a stranger rode up from the trail one morning to ask "What luck?"
Whereupon one may fancy the old man pointing with pardonable pride to the work of four weak hands, and making courageous rejoinder.
"Oh, it's there, and we'll find it if we ever make out to get down through this 'lime horse' streak that we've struck. But it does seem as if there's no end to that plagued stuff!"
The stranger was sympathetic, as who should not be, and inquired if tests had been made of the "dike." And when the old man scoffed at the idea of assaying "blue limestone" for gold, the horseman pocketed a handful of the rock and went his way.
Later in the day he came back laughing. The two old ones were toiling at the windlass, and the visitor dismounted to lend a hand. When the bucket was safely landed he took from his pocket the handful of fragments. They were no longer flinty and bluish-gray; they were brown and friable, and thickly studded with tiny buttons of gold.
"That's some of your 'blue limestone," he said, laughing again at the growing joy-panic in the two old faces. "I thought it looked pretty rich, so I took a handful of it down to camp and roasted it on a shovel. I guess you two old folks needn't dig any more by your lonesome hovel. You've got enough on the dump now to last you from now on if you never take out any more."
They did not die of joy, these two brave old ones. They are happily alive to this day. But there is doubtless much gnashing of teeth in a certain rural neighborhood in wind-swept Nebraska.