THE MINERS WHO “STUCK”
“Hey, Tom!” Harry called down, from the top of their shaft, now one hundred and thirty feet down into the ground.
“Yes!” Reade answered from below, making a trumpet of his hands.
“Doing anything?” Harry bawled.
“Not much. Why?”
“If you want to come up I’ll show you something.”
“The first snow of winter is falling.” Harry tried to speak jovially, but his tone was almost sepulchral.
“Yes, I’ll come up, then,” Tom Reade answered. “It’s high time for us to see to building a shelter that will keep out of the shaft the big snows that are coming.”
“The big snows are likely to be here, now, within a week,” remarked one of the miners who had paused to rest from digging for a moment. “Men!” bawled Tom, stepping from the long into the short tunnel. “All hands knock off and go up to the surface.”
There was a tub hand-hoist for carrying up ore, but the men always used the series of ladders that had been built in on the side of the shaft. Two minutes later these ladders swarmed with men going above.
As they stepped out into the world the first soft flakes of winter floated into their faces.
“Reade, we’ll have to start building the cover to the shaft,” spoke Jim Ferrers, who stood beside Hamilton.
“I know it,” Tom nodded. “However, first of all, I want a few words with you and Harry.”
The three partners stepped aside, waiting in silence while a whispered consultation went on around Tom.
At length Reade stepped back.
“Men” he began, and every eye was turned in his direction. “You are waiting for orders to start on shedding over the shaft, and the lumber is ready. However, we mean to be fair with you. You all know that this claim has been going badly. When my partners and I started we had some capital. Before we do any more work here it is only fair to tell you something. We now have money enough left so that we can pay you your wages up to Saturday. When we’ve paid that we shall have a few dollars left. If you men want to quit now we’ll pay you up to Saturday, and you’ll have time to be in Dugout before your time here is up.”
“Do you want us to go, Mr. Reade?” asked Tim Walsh.”
“Why, no, of course not,” Tom smiled. “If we had the money we’d want to keep you here all winter. But we haven’t, and so we’ve no right to ask you to stay.”
Walsh glanced around him, as though to inquire whether the men were willing that he be their spokesman. Receiving their nods the big miner went on:
“Mr. Reade, sir, we’ve seen this coming, though, of course, we didn’t know just how big your pile was. We’ve talked it over some, and I know what the fellows think. If you don’t pay us our wages, but put the money into grub only, you can keep a-going here some weeks yet.”
“Yes,” Tom nodded. “But in that case, if the mine didn’t pan out, we wouldn’t have a cent left out of which to pay you off. At least, not until Reade and I had been at work for months, perhaps a year, on some salaried job. So you see that we can’t fairly encourage you men to remain here.”