Dick Hamilton's Fortune/26
Dick gave a hurried look behind him. He could see something shining in Smith's hand—something that the light from the torch glinted on.
"Keep on!" hoarsely whispered Tim. "He can't hit us down here. Keep on!"
Stumbling, almost falling, their candles showing but faint blue points of light as the flame flickered away from the wicks because of their speed, the boys ran toward the bottom of the shaft.
"If we reach the ladder I think we can get away," said Frank, panting from his exertion.
It seemed as if it was a mile back to the shaft, but it was only a few hundred feet. The boys expected every minute to hear the shot ring out. They caught the sounds of the footfalls of their pursuer and they sounded nearer and nearer. He was familiar with the gallery and his torch gave him better light to go by than did the candles give the boys.
Once more the angry miner's voice called:
"Hold on, whoever you are, or I'll shoot!"
"Quick! There's the shaft!" exclaimed Dick, pointing to where the big bucket rested at the bottom of the opening.
The boys made a rush for it. At the same instant a shot rang out in the darkness, the flash from the revolver lighting up the mine cavern with sudden glare. They could hear the bullet strike far above their heads with a vicious "ping!" Clearly, Smith was only firing to scare them, and did not want to run any chances of hurting them, as he had aimed high.
Then a strange thing happened. The cable, attached to the bucket, began to wind upward. There was considerable slack to it and the bucket did not immediately follow. It was evident that the machinery at the shaft mouth had started and that the ore-carrier was about to be hoisted up. An inspiration came to Dick.
"Into the bucket!" he called. It's big enough to hold us all and we'll be hauled to the top! We can escape that way!"
Tim and Frank needed no further urging. They clambered over the iron sides of the bucket, followed by Dick. And not a second too soon, for, as he set his feet on the iron bottom, the cable tauted and the bucket started upward.
"Come back here!" yelled Smith, reaching the bottom of the shaft just in time to see the conveyor disappearing. He made an ineffectual grab for it, but, as his torch flared up when he threw it on the ground, the better to use his hands, Dick, looking over the edge of the iron receptacle, saw that the ugly miner was fifteen feet below them.
"Pull your head in!" advised Frank. "He might shoot!"
But Smith had no such intentions. Making a sort of megaphone of his hands, he shouted up the shaft:
"Nash! Nash! Stop the engine! Don't hoist the bucket! We're not in it!"
But the engineer at the mouth of the shaft never heard him. Higher and higher went the bucket, carrying the boys. They looked up the black opening and could see the moon shining overhead.
"Lucky escape!" murmured Dick. "I wonder how that bucket came to go up just when we needed it most?"
He learned a minute later. As the conveyor reached the surface and stopped, Dick and his friends stepped out. They saw that the fire under the boiler was burning brightly, and that a man, who had not been there when they arrived, was attending to the hoisting engine. As he caught sight of them he exclaimed:
"Who are you? Where's Smith?"
"Down there," replied Dick, not caring to go into details. "Come on, boys."
"But something's wrong," went on Nash, the engineer. "I was told to come here about one o'clock, get up steam and be ready to hoist the bucket when I heard a revolver shot. I heard it and I hoisted. away. But where's Smith and his men? He told me he'd fire a shot when he was ready to come up. I heard it plain enough, but who are you?"
"Smith will explain," replied Dick. "We came up first, that's all," he added, coolly. "Come on, boys."
Leaving behind them a much-puzzled engineer, the three boys hurried away from the mine. They were soon on the road leading back to Yazoo City.
"Do you think they'll chase us?" asked Frank.
"I don't believe so," replied Dick. "I guess Smith is worried enough as it is. He may suspect who we were, but I don't believe he knows for certain. However, we'll keep in the shadows for a way."
This they did, but there was no need of apprehension, for none of the miners pursued them.
"Well, youse had your money's worth of excitement, anyway," commented Tim. "Say, I t'ought it was all up wid me dere, one spell. But youse had your nerve wid you, Mr. Dick."
"Well, we had some luck with us, too," replied the millionaire's son. "Those fellows played right into our hands. They must have gone down the mine early in the evening, and arranged with the engineer to come back, when they were finished with their 'salting' process, to hoist up their tools and things so as to leave nothing suspicious around. When Smith fired at us the engineer, who arrived after we had gone down the mine, thought it was the signal agreed upon and he hoisted away. I guess he was surprised when he saw us get out of the bucket."
"And I guess Smith will be surprised when he finds out you know how he and his gang fixed up the fake mine," remarked Frank.
"I guess the best plan will be to say nothing to him about it," said Dick. "I don't see anything for me to do but go back home and report to dad. We've been swindled, and I'm out two thousand dollars. I don't know how much he lost. The Hop Toad and Dolphin mines aren't worth anything, I'm afraid."
"Did youse lose two t'ousand dollars?" asked Tim, as the boys hurried along the moonlit road.
"I'm afraid so."
"An' youse ain't agoin' to faint over it? Say, youse has got nerve, youse has," added the newsboy, admiringly. "Youse oughter be in N' York. How'd you come to put so much money in a fake mine?"
"I didn't know it was a fake," replied the wealthy youth.
The boys reached their hotel in the gray dawn of the early morning. They were worn out and tired from their long tramp and the excitement of the night. As they entered the lobby, where a sleepy clerk was on duty behind the desk, the latter called to them:
"I say, is one of you named Dick Hamilton?"
"I am," replied the millionaire's son.
"Well, IVe got a message for you from a lad named Simon Scardale."
"Simon Scardale?" repeated Dick.
"Yes. He was badly hurt last night by a fall from a horse he was riding. He's over at the other hotel, and he sent word that he wanted to see Dick Hamilton as soon as he came in. I looked over the register, but I couldn't see anyone by that name, and I thought he'd made a mistake."
Dick recalled his scrawling signature on the book, and did not wonder that the clerk could not make it out.
Telling Tim and Frank to go upstairs and notify Bricktop and Walter of their safe arrival, Dick started for the Imperial Inn. He found the night clerk on duty, and, telling his object, was shown upstairs by a sleepy bell-boy.
As he entered the room he saw Simon in bed. The youth's face was pale, and his head was covered with bandages. Two doctors were within call.
"Is that you, Dick Hamilton?" he asked in a weak voice.
"Yes. What do you want, Simon?" inquired Dick, softly, for the sight of Simon's sufferings banished all resentment.
"I'm afrad I'm badly hurt," went on Simon, "and I want to tell you something before—before I go away from here. Come closer."
"Now don't excite yourself," advised one of the doctors.
"I won't, but I must tell Dick," went on Simon. "I'm sorry I put up that game to steal Grit," he said, almost in a whisper. "But I needed money very much and I didn't see any other way to get it. Guy didn't have anything to do with it."
"I know," said Dick, softly.
"I played another mean trick on you," went on the injured youth. "I've been spying on you for Vanderhoof. After 1 got Grit and you saw me that day at the hotel, I was afraid. I knew Vanderhoof, or Colonel Dendon, as he sometimes calls himself, and I went to him. He said he could give me a job out West and he sent me here. Then, I guess it must have been the day you started, he telegraphed me to be on the lookout for you, and to inform Forty-niner Smith when you arrived. I did."
"Were you in the game to help work off a worthless mine on me?" asked Dick, a little resentfully.
"No, no," replied Simon, earnestly. "I only learned of that by accident. When I found out the mines were no good I was going to have nothing more to do with any of the gang. But Smith told me your father had once got the best of Vanderhoof in a business deal and that this was the only way they could get their money back— to sell him a worthless mine. They said it was done every day and—and I believed them. I only kept them informed of your movements so they could fix things up to—to deceive you, I suppose."
"Yes," assented Dick.
"But I'm done with 'em now," went on Simon. "I was riding out to the mine to-night, after I saw you three start for it. Oh, I kept close watch on you," he said in answer to Dick's look of surprise. "I started for the mine to warn them you were coming, as I knew they were going to do some 'salting.' My horse threw me before I'd gone far and—well, I'm pretty badly hurt, I guess."
"Now that will do," interrupted one of the physicians. "You can tell the rest another time. You must be quiet now."
"There isn't any more to tell," said Simon, in a whisper. "That's all, Dick, but I feel better for having told you."
"Well, Simon," said the millionaire's son, "I'm sorry you are hurt. I forgive you. I guess you didn't realize what you were doing."
"That's it. I never realized what bad men Vanderhoof, Smith and the others were. I'm done with them forever. I guess I can go to sleep now."
He turned over and closed his eyes. Dick softly left the room, followed by one of the doctors.
"Is he badly hurt?" he asked of the medical man, when they were out in the corridor.
"Well, he is hurt internally. I think we can pull him through with careful nursing. Is he a friend of yours?"
"I used to think he was," answered Dick. "I guess he got into bad company, that's the trouble. I'd like to help him if I could. Here, doctor, take this and see that he has good nursing, will you, please," and Dick thrust a hundred-dollar bill into the physician's hand.
"But this—this is quite a sum of money."
"Well, I guess dad would want me to spend it," replied Dick. "I've got lots more. Anyhow, I couldn't bear to think of Simon suffering, even if he did do me some mean turns. Will you look after him, doctor? I've got to go back East."
"I will, young man, and he can thank you for befriending him. I guess those men won't have anything more to do with him after this, and it's hard for a lad like him to be sick in a wild country like this. I'll see that he has the best of care."
Pondering over the strange events of the last few hours, Dick went back to his hotel. It was now nearly breakfast-time and he was ready for the meal, especially the hot coffee. Tim and Frank, also, did full justice to it, and then, being very sleepy, they went to bed, as did Dick.
"We'll start back home to-morrow," the millionaire's son said to his chums as he went to his room.