“’Tain’t worth mentionin’,” Casey protested awkwardly, and got out.
“I’ve been wondering if I could get a couple of you men to do the work on my claims,” she went on. “I’m paying four dollars and board, and it would be a great nuisance to make the long trip to town and find a couple of men I would dare trust. In fact, it’s going to be pretty hard for me to trust any one, after this experience. If you men can take the time from your own business—”
“I don’t know about the rest,” Casey hedged uncomfortably. “They was figurin’ on doing something else. But I guess I could finish up the work for yuh, all right. How deep is your shaft?”
“It’s a tunnel,” she corrected. “My husband started four years ago to drift in to the contact. He’d gone fifty feet when he died. I don’t know that I’ll strike the body of ore when I do reach the contact, but it’s the only hope. I’m working the four claims as a group, and the tunnel is now eighty feet. Those two brigands have wasted a month for me, or it would be a hundred. One man can manage, though of course it’s slower and harder. I have powder enough, unless they stole it from me. They did about five feet all told, and tore down part of my wall, I discovered to-day, chasing a stringer of fairly rich ore, thinking, I suppose, that it would lead to a pocket. The old man I had last year found a pocket of high grade that netted me a thousand dollars.”
Casey threw up his head. “Gold?” he asked.
“Mostly silver. I sent a truck out from town after the ore, shipped it by express and still made a thousand dollars clear. There wasn’t quite a ton and a half of it, though. You’ll come, then, and work for me? I wish you could persuade one of your partners to help. It’s getting well into September already.”
“I wouldn’t depend on ’em,” Casey demurred uncomfortably. “I can do it alone. And I’ll board m’self, if you’d ruther. I’ve got grub enough. I guess I better be gittin’ along back to camp—if you ain’t afraid to stay alone. Them two couldn’t git back much b’fore daylight, if they run all the way; and by that time I’ll be up and on the lookout,” and Casey swung off without waiting for an answer.
Casey was out of his blankets long before daylight the next morning and sitting behind a bush on the ridge just back of the cabin, his rifle across his knees. He hoped that his mention of three other men would discourage those two from the attempt to revenge themselves, much as a lone woman would tempt them. But he was not going to take any risk whatever.
At sunrise he went back to his camp—which he had moved closer to the cabin, by the way, just barely keeping it out of sight—and cooked a hasty breakfast. When he returned the little woman was ready to show him her claims, and she seemed to have forgotten those two who had been so ignominiously hauled away and dropped like unwanted cats beside the road. She inquired again about Casey’s partners, and Casey lied once more and said that they had gone on over the range, prospecting.