“What’s the matter?” Corliss asked.
“Hell!” he repeated in a passionless way, knocking the dirt-covered roots against the pan.
Corliss went over and stooped to closer inspection. “Hold on!” he cried, picking up two or three grimy bits of dirt and rubbing them with his fingers. A bright yellow flashed forth.
“Hell!” the pocket-miner reiterated tonelessly. “First rattle out the box. Begins at the grass roots and goes all the way down.”
Head turned to the side and up, eyes closed, nostrils distended and quivering, he rose suddenly to his feet and sniffed the air. Corliss looked up wonderingly.
“Huh!” the pocket-miner grunted. Then he drew a deep breath. “Can’t you smell them oranges?”
The stampede to French Hill was on by the beginning of Christmas week. Corliss and Bishop had been in no hurry to record for they looked the ground over carefully before blazing their stakes, and let a few close friends into the secret,—Harney, Welse, Trethaway, a Dutch chechaquo who had forfeited both feet to the frost, a couple of the mounted police, an old pal with whom Del had prospected through the Black Hills Country, the washerwoman at the Forks, and last, and notably, Lucile. Corliss was responsible for her getting in on the lay, and he drove and marked her stakes himself, though it fell to the colonel to deliver the invitation to her to come and be rich.
In accordance with the custom of the country, those thus benefited offered to sign over half-interests to the two discoverers. Corliss would not tolerate the proposition. Del was similarly minded, though swayed by no ethical reasons. He had enough as it stood. “Got my fruit ranch paid for, double the size I was calculatin’ on,” he explained; “and if I had any more, I wouldn’t know what to do with it, sure.”
After the strike, Corliss took it upon himself as a matter of course to look about for another man; but when he brought a keen-eyed Californian into camp, Del was duly wroth.
“Not on your life,” he stormed.
“But you are rich now,” Vance answered, “and have no need to work.”
“Rich, hell!” the pocket-miner rejoined. “Accordin’ to covenant, you can’t fire me; and I’m goin’ to hold the job down as long as my sweet will’ll let me. Savve?”
On Friday morning, early, all interested parties appeared before the Gold Commissioner to record their claims. The news went abroad immediately. In five minutes the first stampeders were hitting the trail. At the end of half an hour the town was afoot. To prevent mistakes on their property,—jumping, moving of stakes, and mutilation of notices,—Vance and Del, after promptly recording, started to return. But with the government seal attached to their holdings, they took it leisurely, the stampeders sliding past them in a steady stream. Midway, Del chanced to look behind. St. Vincent was in sight, footing it at a lively pace, the regulation stampeding pack on his shoulders. The trail made a sharp bend at that place, and with the exception of the three of them no one was in sight.