It must have been an hour before the bell rang sharply in the silence and the lever swept back instantly. A dozen men started to their feet and waited tensely. Next moment there was a wild, exultant cheer.
For Tregarth had stepped from the cage with a limp figure in his arms, and after him Davis, his arm around the shoulder of a drenched, staggering youth, who had a bleeding cut across his cheek. Through all the grime that covered the wounded miner the pallor of exhaustion showed itself.
But beaten and buffeted as the man had plainly been in his fight for life, the clean, supple strength and the invincible courage of him still shone in his eye and trod in his bearing. It was even now the salient thing about him, though he had but come, alive and no more, from a wrestle with death itself.
He sank to a bench, and looked around on his friends with shining eyes.
“’Twas nip and tuck, boys. The water caught us in the tunnel, and I thought we were gone. It swept us right to the cage,” he panted.
“She didn’t sweep Tom there, boss; ye went back after un,” corrected the Cornishman.
“Anyhow, we made it in the nick o’ time. Tom all right, Doctor?”
The doctor looked up from his examination.
“No bones broken. He seems sound. If there are no internal injuries it will be a matter of only a day or two in bed.”
“Good. That’s the way to talk. You got to make him good as new, Doctor. You ought to have seen the way he stayed by that drill when the water was pouring through the cracks in the granite. Have him taken to the hospital, and send the bill to me.”
Tregarth boomed out in a heavy bass:
“What’s the matter with the boss? Both of un? They be all right. Bean’t they, lads?”
It was just after the answering chorus that Pesquiera came forward and bowed magnificently to the young mine operator. The New Mexican’s eyes were blazing with admiration, for he was of Castilian blood and cherished courage as the chief of virtues.
“I have the honor to salute a hero, senor” he cried enthusiastically. “Your deed is of a most fine bravery. I, Manuel Pesquiera, say it. Have I the right in thinking him of the name of Mr. Richard Gordon?”
Something that was almost disgust filmed the gray eyes of the young miner. He had the Anglo-Saxon horror of heroics. What he had done was all in the day’s work, and he was the last man in the world to enjoy having a fuss made over it.
“My name is Gordon,” he said quietly.
The Spaniard bowed again.
“I have the honor to be your servant to command, Don Manuel Pesquiera. I believe myself to be, sir, a messenger of fortune to you—a Mercury from the favoring gods, with news of good import. I, therefore, ask the honor of an audience at your convenience.”
Dick flung the wet hat from his curly head and took a look at the card which the Spaniard had presented him. From it his humorous gaze went back to the posturing owner of the pasteboard. Suppressing a grin, he answered with perfect gravity.