Jim looked carefully into the magazine of his repeating ride, then saw to it that his ammunition belt was filled.
“Ready when you gentlemen are,” he announced.
“Say, won’t you take me with you?” pleaded Alf.
“You wouldn’t be of any use to us,” Reade answered.
“But I—–I am afraid to stay here alone.”
“Do you believe yourself to be so valuable that any one will want to steal you?” Tom laughed.
Alf made a wry face and watched the others depart. Then, filled with needless alarm, he crawled out into a thicket and hid himself. He didn’t mean to be trapped by prowlers!
Tom led the way for nearly a mile. At last the trio climbed a slight ascent, halting at the top of the ridge.
“You see, Jim,” Tom explained, “this ridge runs southwesterly from here.”
“I see it does?” nodded the guide.
“Now, to the northeastward I don’t believe there are any croppings that look good enough. But just keep along to the southeast, picking up a specimen here and there. Some of the rock looks good to me.”
Jim Ferrers didn’t answer in words, though his eyes gleamed with the old fever that he had known before.
“Here’s a pretty piece of stone,” called the guide in a low tone. He stood holding a fragment about as big as his two fists.
“It’s streaked” pretty well with yellow, you see, gentlemen,” he remarked;
“It is,” Tom agreed, taking the specimen.
“Does the vein run with the top of the ridge?” demanded Harry eagerly.
“It runs a little more to eastward, from this point, I think,” Tom made answer. “But let us walk along, in three parallel lines, and see who finds the best indications.”
By noon all three were fairly tired out by the steep climbing over the rocky ground. Each had as many specimens as he could carry. The result of the exploration had tended to confirm Tom’s notion as to where the vein lay.
“Now, let’s see about where we’d stake the claim,” Tom proposed. “Of course, we want to get the best rock obtainable. We don’t want to leave the best part of this slope for some one else to stake out. It seems to me that the claim ought to start up by that blasted tree. What do you say, Jim?”
“Well, I don’t like to make mistakes where you young gentleman are concerned,” Ferrers answered, taking off his felt hat and scratching his head. “You see, it isn’t my claim.”
“The dickens it isn’t!” Reade retorted.
“Why, you—–you gentlemen didn’t plan to take me in, did you,” asked Ferrers, opening his eyes very wide in his amazement over the idea. “You see I—–I can’t contribute my share of the brains, along with a pair like you,” continued the guide. “Look at you two—–engineers already! Then look at me—–more’n twice as old as either of you, and yet I’m only a cook.”
“You’re an honest man, aren’t you, Jim?” demanded Reade.