“Mr. Reade,” Walsh declared, this time without glancing at the other men, and there was a slight huskiness in the big miner’s voice, “we wouldn’t feel right if we went anywhere else to work. We’ve never worked under men as fair and square as you three men have been. You’ve treated all of us white. Now, what kind of fellows would we be if we cleared out and left you just because the snow had come and the money had gone. No, sir! By your leave, gentlemen, we’ll stay here as long as you do, and the money can take care of itself until it shows up again. Mr. Reade, and gentlemen, we stick as long as you’ll let us!”
Tom felt slightly staggered, as his face showed it.
“Men,” he protested, “this is magnificent on your part. But it wouldn’t be fair to let you do it. You are all of you working for your living.”
“Well, aren’t you three working for your living, too?” grinned Walsh.
“Yes; but we stand to make the big stake here, in case of victory at last.”
“And I reckon we stand a show of having a little extra coming to us, if we do right by you at this minute,” laughed Walsh.
“Yes, you do—–if we strike the rich vein for which we’re hunting. Yet have you men any idea a how little chance we may have of striking that vein? Men, the mine may—–perhaps I would better say probably will—–turn out a fizzle. I am afraid you men are voting for some weeks of wasted work and a hungry tramp back to Dugout City at the end. As much as we want to go on with the work, we hate to see you all stand to lose so much.”
“You’re no fool, Mr. Reade. Neither is Mr. Hazelton,” returned Walsh bluntly. “You’re both engineers, and not green ones, either. You’ve been studying mines and mining, and it isn’t just guess-work with you when you say that you feel sure of striking rich ore.”
“Only one of us is sure,” smiled Tom Reade wistfully. “I’m the sure one. As for my partners, I’m certain that they’re sticking to me just because they’re too loyal to desert a partner. For myself, I wouldn’t blame them if they left me any day. As for you men, I shall be glad to have you stay and stand by us, now that you know the state of affairs, but I won’t blame you if you decide to take your money and the path back to Dugout City.”
“It’s no use, Mr. Reade,” laughed Walsh, shaking his shaggy head. “You couldn’t persuade one of us to leave you now.”
“And I’d thrash any man who tried to,” declared another miner.
“Men, I thank you,” Tom declared, his eyes shining, “and I hope that we shall all win out together.”
“Now, what do you want us to do?” asked Walsh.
“We have timbers and boards here,” Tom replied. “If the big snows are likely to be upon us within a week, then we can’t lose any time in getting our shaft protected. At the same time we must use other timber for putting up two or three more shacks. The tents will have to come down until spring.”