UNDER THE SWORD OF DAMOCLES.
We built our cabin high on the slopes of the Sangre de Christo range, overlooking the broad, level San Luis Valley, in Colorado. At the rear of the cabin rose a towering cliff or rather a huge slab of rock standing edgewise more than two hundred feet high, apparently the upheaval of some mighty convulsion of nature in ages gone. Near the base of this cliff flowed a clear crystal spring.
Some hundred yards west of the cabin was the mouth of a tunnel into which we had drifted with pick, shovel and giant powder, a distance of 300 feet in five months of hard toil. A trail led from the tunnel to the cabin along the mountain side, which was thickly studded with tall pines. Another trail led down the mountain slopes in a winding way to the valley, almost a mile below. Above, reaching far into the blue dome of the sky, rose the peaks of the snow-capped Sangre de Christo, glistening in the morning sunlight, which threw gaunt, fantastic shadows in cañon and deep ravine.
It was a wild, weird scene, where man, in strength and vigor, seems to imbibe a portion of the divine essence that lives, and moves, and has its being in the vast solitudes.
We struck pay rock at the first thirty feet of tunneling, so Amos’ assay showed, and the rock had gradually increased in value, week by week. Buchan would take samples of the ore every week or ten days and walk a distance of twenty-five miles to Saguache, where old man Amos, expert geologist and assayer, would for two dollars and fifty cents make out a clean printed slip with figures in red ink, showing so many ounces of lead, copper, silver and gold to the ton.
The ore had not yet reached a value which would pay to ship it, but the increase of values was so steady, and Amos was so extravagantly encouraging, that we were always in buoyant expectation of rich ore. He would say, “You boys have a wonderful prospect. Keep right on with your work; it is getting richer with every stroke of your pick and you are likely to uncover a million dollar drift any day.”
Buchan would bring the assay certificate back to the cabin, where we would sit late by the light of the pine knots in the fire place and talk of the golden millions which capitalists would yet gladly pay for a half interest in the “Aberdeen.”
That was the name Buchan had given the mine, after his home town in Scotland, of which he always spoke with a fond tenderness.
Winter had come and we, John Buchan, Will Carson, and myself, had chipped in almost our last dollar and brought a wagon load of flour, bacon and canned goods from Saguache to the foot of the mountains, then carried them on our backs to the cabin. We quit work on the mine for ten days and chopped firewood, which we corded at the rear of our house. All hands felt that we were as snugly housed for the winter as the big grizzly bears in their lairs among the rocks.
Snow had been falling for several days and it lay deep on the mountain slopes and in the wide expanse of the valley below. We had not had an assay for two weeks and all were anxious for another report from Amos....