“I jist want t’ ask ye if that tarnal varmit, Williams, has been botherin’ yew fellers any sence he started work on that new claim o’ hisn. If they ever was a sneakin’ whelp, he’s it. He couldn’t get possession o’ Tad’s tunnel; he darsent touch it, so he’s gone an’ started a tunnel on the other side o’ that dyke. He’s been workin’ it, now, off an’ on all this fall, but I didn’t know it till they brought a wounded man from there yesterday. Seem a stone mashed his foot bad. They stopped here to rest a bit, an’ I seed the feller. I’ve knowed him these ten years, an’ he’s a devil. Does dirty work fer any tarnal critter at’ll pay him well fer it. Served him right. I s’pose you saw something of them last night, as they went back up to the mine. There was three of ’em and a mean lookin’ dog.” Mr. Allen listened in silence. He was wondering just what Old Ben knew of this Williams, and why he should be so interested in the boys at the cabin.
“Ben,” he said, and he looked the old man straight in the eye, “do you know a man named Tad Kieser?” Ben dropped his eyes and shuffled his foot aimlessly on the floor.
“Yep, I know him, boy, an’ a finer man never walked these here hills. Too fine a man to get along with varmits!”
“Is he still living, Ben?”
“Yep, still livin’. He’ll be a poppin’ up in these parts one o’ these days, an’ then you’ll see who’s boss at that tunnel up yonder. I’ve always said they was gold there, but Tad never would go into the mine again after the accident. That varmit, Williams, believes same as I do, or he wouldn’t be a diggin’ that hole on t’ other side o’ the dyke. If he er any o’ the rest o’ them fellers bothers ye any at the cabin, jist let me know; I’ll take ker o’ them fer ye. Good-night.” He went inside and closed the door. Mr. Allen hurried along, and, catching up with the crowd, he called Willis aside to tell him what Ben had said—all except that Tad was living and Ben knew where he was. That much he kept secret. Willis listened intently, then he told of how he heard the dog bark in the night.
When Willis reached the Association that evening he was handed a telephone call. He noted that it was the home number, and he realized in an instant what had happened. His aunt had grown very much worse Friday night, and had died early Saturday morning. He hastened home to do what he could and to comfort his mother.
The Opened Door
It was nearly Thanksgiving time, and it seemed months to Willis since he had been to Buffalo Roost. Mrs. Thornton had almost decided to return to her father’s since the death of her sister, but Willis had objected seriously. He was determined to unravel the mine mystery before they left. They were still living at the Williams’s home, but they saw very little of the uncle. The death of his wife had been a severe blow to him, and he had been spending long periods of time in the mountains—no one seemed to know just where.