Meanwhile, Seymour had called to the gateman for more water, and himself joining the gang, armed now with flat metal scoops, they all began to turn over and throw back against the stream the debris in the bottom of the boxes, giving the water another chance to wash out the lighter stuff and clean the gold from all impurity. Away went the last of the sand, and away went the pebbles, dark or bright, away went much of the heavy magnetic iron. Scowl Austin, at the end of the line, had a corn-whisk with which he swept the floor of the box, always upstream, gathering the contents in a heap, now on this side, now on that, letting the water play and sort and carry away, condensing, hastening the process that for ages had been concentrating gold in the Arctic placers.
“Say, look here!” shouted Austin to the Boy, already limping up the hill.
When he had reached the sluice again he found that all Scowl Austin wanted, apparently, was to show him how, when he held the water back with the whisk, it eddied softly at each side of the broad little broom, leaving exposed the swept-up pile.
“What’s all that?”
“What do you think?”
“Looks like a heap o’ sawdust.”
Austin actually laughed.
“See if it feels like sawdust. Take it up like this,” he ordered.
His visitor obeyed, lifting a double handful out of the water and holding it over the box, dripping, gleaming, the most beautiful thing that comes out of the earth, save only life, and the assertion may stand, even if the distinction is without difference, if the crystal is born, grows old, and dies as undeniably as the rose.
The Boy held the double handful of well-washed gold up to the sunshine, feeling to the full the immemorial spell cast by the King of Metals. Nothing that men had ever made out of gold was so entirely beautiful as this.
Scowl Austin’s grim gratification was openly heightened with the rich man’s sense of superiority, but his visitor seemed to have forgotten him.
“Colonel! here a minute. We thought it looked wonderful enough on the Big Chimney table—but Lord! to see it like this, out o’ doors, mixed with sunshine and water!”
Still he stood there fascinated, leaning heavily against the sluice-box, still with his dripping hands full, when, after a hurried glance, the Colonel returned to his own box. None of the gang ever talked in the presence of the owner.
“Guess that looks good to you.” Austin slightly stressed the pronoun. He had taken a reasonless liking for the young man, who from the first had smiled into his frowning face, and treated him as he treated others. Or perhaps Austin liked him because, although the Boy did a good deal of “gassin’ with the gang,” he had never hung about at clean-ups. At all events, he should stay to-night, partly because when the blue devils were down on Scowl Austin nothing cheered him like showing his “luck” off