Published in the Boston Evening Transcript, May 4, 5, 1898.
It was in the early mining days of Black Rock, when rumors of gold in the surrounding hills were first whispered around, that Jack Burgitt and Dick Hamilton formed a partnership and started out prospecting. They had ample territory to work in, for other more brilliant fields of operation in California had attracted most of the fortune-hunters and only a few sanguine men had pinned their faith to Black Rock and scattered themselves along the banks of the neighboring streams to wash the precious metal.
Hamilton and Burgitt penetrated a dozen miles into the hills and settled upon the bank of a tiny brook whose sands showed traces of gold. They built a rough shanty, containing bunks, a table and a bench, rigged up a rude, old-fashioned fireplace, and then devoted their days to persistent search for “the dust.”
They were simple, patient, courageous fellows, each owning an ambition to amass a fortune and return to his old home to enjoy it. Dick had a pretty, black-eyed girl waiting for him somewhere in Ohio, and Jack longed to be able to assist his old mother and her numerous brood of younger children. They had met by accident, and forming one of the sudden friendships so common in the West, had joined fortunes in their search for gold.
After a month’s hard work, their provisions being exhausted, they resolved to carry their dust to Black Rock and trade it for a further supply of groceries. They realized they had not been very successful, but were too inexperienced to know how valuable the little bags of glittering atoms might be. So they barred the door of their shanty and started on the twelve-mile walk to the village.
Quincy Brown was in those days the proprietor of the store, bank, real estate office and saloon, and did a thriving business in default of serious competition. To him the two men took their little bag of dust and asked him to weigh it.
Brown tossed the bag carelessly upon the scales, and then, after securing the weight, laboriously figured its value in dollars and cents, while Dick and Jack stood by with bated breaths and watched every mark of the pencil.
“Thirty-four dollars and a half,” announced old Brown, at length, as he pushed the paper toward them for confirmation.
“Thirty-four dollars,” repeated Jack, a bit huskily; “that’s about seventeen dollars apiece, Dick, an’ it means a month’s hard work.”
“Rather discouragin’, ain’t it?” replied Dick; “guess we’d better give up these diggin’s, ol’ man, an’ try fer a job at somethin’ else.”
“Nonsense,” said Brown, tossing the bag into a drawer of his safe, “these hills is full o’ gold, an’ no mistake. Why, on’y half an hour afore you come in I weighted up two thousan’ dollars’ wuth o’ dust an’ nuggets for one man, an’ he’s on’y been three weeks a’ work.”
Jack drew a long breath.
“Two thousan’ dollars!” he exclaimed, “why, thet’s most a fortune by itself. Who was the feller?”
“Hawks, his name is; quite a old man, too, fer sech a job. I dunno where his claim is, an’ I don’t suppose he’d tell me ef I asked him; but he’s out in the grocery, now, ef ye wanter see how he looks. ’T ain’t my business to give away other folkses secrets, an’ ye’d better keep dark what I told ye; but I thought as how it’d incourage of ye to know there was gold in these yere hills, an’ plenty of it, too.”
“I guess,” said Jack, with hesitation, “we’d better try it another month, Dick.”
“Jest as you like,” responded Dick; “it may be as our luck’ll change.”
“There’s your check, boys,” said old Brown; “ye’ll want to trade it out, I s’pose?”
They nodded and followed him into the store room. There were a few loafers idling about. A thin, gray-haired man was quietly purchasing a supply of bacon and tobacco. Brown jerked his thumb toward the latter with a significant wink, and the boys eyed their more fortunate rival as respectfully as if it were Croesus himself.
The old gentleman soon concluded his purchases, packed them carefully into a basket and started down the street to return to his camp. He looked back more than once to see that no one followed him, and he walked in several different directions before finally striking a straight path that would lead him to his destination.
Dick and Jack invested their check in enough provisions to last another month, including a big bottle of very indifferent whiskey and a dozen plugs of “navy,” and then they also set out upon their return, having no fears whatever that anyone would care to follow them.
“If we don’t have better luck this month,” said Jack, as they trudged along, “we’ll up stakes and go a bit further into the hills. If one ol’ man can wash two thousan’ dollars’ wuth in three weeks, it stands to reason there’s gold to be found, an’ we’re jest as likely to find it as anyone.”
“True ‘nough,” agreed Dick, laconically. He usually did agree with Jack, and that was one reason why they got along so nicely together.
The next morning found them working more eagerly than ever, but the days passed slowly by and their efforts were no better rewarded than before.
“We’d best give it up, ol’ man,” Dick would say, at times.
“No,” answered his partner, “we said we’d stick the month out, an’ so we will,” and whatever Jack decreed was sure to be convincing to his friend.
When two weeks had passed Jack took an afternoon off and went into the hills with his gun to hunt for game. To Dick’s surprise he was back within the hour, destitute of game, but with an eager expression upon his face that betokened a discovery of some sort.
“Dick,” he said, hurrying up to his partner, “guess what I’ve seen!”
“What?” demanded Dick, without attempting to guess the riddle.
“I’ve seen ol’ man Hawks goin’ over to Black Rock with a sack o’ dust so heavy he could hardly tote it. An’ it’s on’y two weeks sense he put two thousan’ dollars in ol’ Brown’s bank!”
Dick sat down upon a rock and gave a long whistle of amazement.
“Where’d ye see him?” he inquired.
“Not more’n thirty rode away—over by the edge of the bush.”
“Did he see you?”
“No, I kep’ out o’ sight, knowin’ he wouldn’t want no one to see where he come from.”
For a few minutes they sat regarding each other thoughtfully. Then Jack whispered,
“Dick, that were the doggondest heaviest bag o’ dust you ever seen!”
Again there was a period of silence.
“What’s we best do, Jack?” asked Hamilton, at last.
“I’ll tell ye what was on my mind, Dick, an’ you can see what ye think of it. It’s plain ’nough that that ol’ feller has struck it rich, while we’re a ploddin’ away fer a bare livin’. How would it be to watch fer him when he comes back an’ foller him to his claim? We might strike a spot that’d pay us as well as his’n.”
“I b’lieve thet’s the best thing to be done,” replied Dick, thoughtfully. “O’ course it ’pears like a underhanded act to trail the ol’ man to his find, but we’ve got ourselves to look after.”
“That’s jest it,” answered Jack, quickly, “it’s every man fer himself in this country, an’ no one’ll help us ef we don’t help ourselves. So I’ll get back to the trail after supper, an’ watch till Hawks comes along.”
“Don’t let him see you,” warned Dick, “or he’ll throw you off’n the track.”
“Never you fear—I’ll do the job right,” was the rejoinder; and the programme being thus agreeably settled, each indulged in another drink.
Jack succeeded in following his man, and located the claim about two miles farther into the hills. It was oddly situated, at the foot of a high, rocky precipice covered with brush, where a small stream issued from the hill and flowed in many windings down the valley. Old Hawks had built a lean-to against the hill, which so effectually protected his claim that our two friends could see no possible way of profiting by their discovery.
The next day they abandoned all work and sat thoughtfully at the door of their shanty, consuming so much whiskey at intervals that before long the big bottle was entirely empty.
After that they grew surly, and all most quarrelled with one another over the most trifling things. Burgitt smoked his pipe persistently, and lay upon the grass hour after hour, buried in deep thought, while Hamilton made fierce inroads into the “navy” as he sat pondering upon a rock.
“It don’t seem right,” said Jack, one evening, “fer that ol’ man to be makin’ his pile while we’re doin’ nothin’.”
“No,” responded Dick, slowly; “it don’t seem right.”
“Someone,” continued Burgitt, “will light onter him some day, an’ stick a knife in him, an’ jump his claim.”
“Very likely,” agreed Dick, soberly, “sech things happen at times.”
The conversation languished here, and both returned to their former musings, only to resume the topic the following morning.
“As a rule,” Jack announced, abruptly, “I b’lieve in bein’ honest. Mother allus said that a man as kep’ honest would prosper better in the long run. But when I think o’ the ol’ lady slavin’ her life away at home to bring up that lot o’ brats, an’ how comf’table I could make her if I had the dust, I’m ‘most tempted to jump ol’ Hawkses claim myself.”
Dick looked at him curiously a minute.
“Jack,” he whispered, hoarsely, “I’ve ben thinkin’ o’ that myself. With Hawks’s gold I could go back an’ marry Susie; only—”
“Only what?” demanded Jack.
“I couldn’t bear the sight o’ her clear eyes ef I knowed I’d stuck a man to git the money!”
Jack moved uneasily upon the grass and turned his back to his partner. Presently he said:
“It’s near time fer the ol’ man to make another trip. He must hev’ quite a heap o’ dust on hand by this time.”
“I was thinkin’ o’ that,” said Dick, softly.
An hour dragged slowly by without further remark. Then Jack sat up and addressed his friend in a quick, decided voice:
“It’s no use beatin’ around the bush, Dick. This here is our big opportunity, an’ you know mighty well the job’s got to be did! I don’t like it no more ’n you do, but the money means a deal more to us than to that ol’ chap, who’s got one foot already in the grave. When we’re rich no one’ll ask any questions. Now, then, who’s to do the work—you or me?”
Dick shrank away with a look of fear upon his face.
“Not me, Jack—not me! Think o’ Susie!”
“I hev thought,” said Jack, doggedly, “an’ I’ve thought o’ mother, an’ her prayers fer me. But men do these things, an’ they’re never found out—not in the cases o’ this kind. I know it’s wrong, but it seems like a devil had got hold o’ me an’ wouldn’t let go, an’ sooner or later I’ve got to give in. One of us has got to do the job, pard, and you’re no better nor I am!”
“We’ll draw cuts,” said Dick, desperately.
“Thet’s sensible,” returned Jack, springing to his feet, “an’ it sounds like business. If I hed to think o’ this thing much longer, I should go crazy. Which does the job—the long or the short?”
“Short!” said Dick, faintly.
Dick reached out a trembling hand and drew the long blade of grass. Then they looked into each other’s eyes a moment and turned away.
Soon after Jack emerged from the shanty in his coat and hat. The butt of a revolver protruded from his pocket and his bowie was stuck in his belt. His white face wore a stern expression as he walked up to Dick and reached out his hand.
“Shake, pard,” he said, grimly, “it’s the last time I can hold out an innercent hand!”
“Don’t go, Jack!” exclaimed Dick, with almost a sob; “don’t go, ol’ man!”
“I must,” was the reply, “there’s no backing out now.” And he marched away toward the brush.
Old Hawks was busily at work that afternoon when a gruff voice at his side startled him.
He looked up to see Jack Burgitt standing near, his eyes fixed eagerly upon a nugget of gold which had just been washed out. Hawks examined the face of his visitor with shrewd intentness, and shrank from what he saw there.
“Where did you come from?” he asked, slowly, as he thoughtfully considered the consequences of this visit and the character of the man before him.
Jack made a motion with his head.
“Down the valley,” he answered.
“Yes. I see you’ve struck it rich.”
“Fair; only fair,” replied Hawks, with a sigh.
Jack looked at the ground, at the little pile of dust in the tin at Hawks’s feet, anywhere except at the face of the old man.
“Kin ye give me a bunk fer the night?” he asked at length.
“Certainly,” answered Hawks, promptly, concealing his fears and glancing briefly at the sun. “It’s near supper time, now, and I’ll stop work and fry us a bit of bacon. You’re welcome to stay and rest as long as you please.”
Hawks was a fair judge of human nature, and while he knew perfectly well from his visitor’s actions that the man had come to rob if not to murder him, there was somehow a look of innate honesty in Jack’s face that puzzled him. As he cooked the supper he reflected how he could best extricate himself from his uncomfortable position. By a few casual remarks he drew Jack out, and soon discovered that he already knew of his rich find and that Hawks had carried large quantities of dust to Brown’s Bank at Black Rock.
Hawks valued money, but after all life was much sweeter to him than gold, and he decided to bend all efforts toward saving his life.
Therefore he conversed frankly with his visitor, and as Jack became more at his ease Hawks found himself thinking that his guest was far from being a hardened criminal, and under other circumstances might possess many admirable qualities.
“It is this horrible thirst for gold that has mastered the fellow,” thought the old man, “and made him capable of a crime in order to obtain it. Very well, as I am too weak to cope with him, I shall sacrifice a part of my wealth to purchase my life.”
Jack was eating his supper slowly and swallowing each morsel with great difficulty. His face retained its pallor, but also bore an expression of stern resolve. Old Hawks looked at him slyly and trembled.
“Will you be returning to Black Rock tomorrow?” he asked.
“Then you can do me a great favor.”
“How is that?”
“I have a large quantity of gold on hand, and if you will take it to Brown’s for me and deposit it to my account it will save my making the trip.”
Jack stared at him in amazement.
“How much is there?” he demanded.
“About twenty-five hundred dollars’ worth,” replied Hawks, after a moment’s hesitation, during which he resolved to make the stake large enough to save himself beyond question. “It will be heavy, I know, but I shall be glad to pay you for your trouble.”
Burgitt pushed back from the table, his face flushing a deep red.
“An’ you’d trust me with all that dust?” he demanded.
“Yes,” answered the old man, with a smile that was rather forced. “I can see well enough you’re an honest chap, and I’m safe to trust to your honor.”
Jack winced, and to cover his confusion pulled out his red handkerchief and slowly wiped his brow.
“All right, pard,” he said, shortly; “I’ll take it.”
“The gold is in gunny-sacks, stowed away in this crevice of the rock,” continued Hawks, who had decided it was better to betray his hiding-place voluntarily. Jack nodded.
“It’s easy got at, if once you know where it is,” explained the old man, “but as a rule no one would ever think of looking in that crevice for it.”
“Why did you tell me about it?” asked Burgitt, with a frown.
“Because,” repeated Hawks dryly, “I believe you to be an honest man.” He did not think it wise to say that a knowledge of the hiding-place would render it unnecessary for his guest to murder him in order to search for the gold at his leisure. Now that he had told him plainly where to find it, he felt assured his gold and his visitor would disappear together during the night.
But, to his surprise, Jack was there the next morning, and the gold as well. After breakfast, during which he had many disturbed thoughts, Hawks brought out the bags and placed them in Jack’s hands.
“I’d like you to see old Brown weigh it,” he said, to keep up appearances, “for then he won’t dare to cheat me.”
“I will,” replied Jack.
Hawks stood in his doorway and watched the powerful form of his late visitor move down the valley.
“There goes the result of two weeks’ hard labor,” he said, with a sigh, “but there is more to be washed out, and after all, I have escaped very cheaply.”
Jack walked into the camp, where Dick sat stolidly upon his rock, and threw down the heavy sacks of gold.
Dick shuddered and turned away his eyes.
“Is he dead?” he whispered, hoarsely.
“No,” replied Jack, in quite a cheerful tone, “He’s alive an’ well, fer all I know.” Then he sat down beside his partner and told him how old Hawks had innocently taken him for an honest man, and trusted him to carry his wealth to the bank.
“I’m glad ye didn’t hev to kill him,” said Dick, when he had heard the story, “for I should never ’a’ felt like the same man. I didn’t sleep a wink las’ night, Jack. But I s’pose we’d better git our traps together an’ make tracks. It’s a pretty good strike fer us, when you think how easy it was come by.”
“What d’ye mean?” asked Jack, fiercely.
“As how?” returned Dick, in surprise.
“About our makin’ tracks. D’ye s’pose I’d steal the dust?”
“Why—didn’t ye start out to—to—” stammered Dick, and then he stopped short and looked at Burgitt with an expression of intense relief.
“See here, Dick Hamilton,” said Jack, proudly, “ol’ Hawks said as he’d trust to my honor. Did ye ever know me to break my word?”
“Well, I won’t begin now. Thet gold’s goin’ inter ol’ Brown’s bank an’ to Hawks’s credit, or else my name ain’t Jack Burgitt!”
Dick held out his hand.
“You’re right, pard,” he said, “an’ we’ve been a pair o’ low scoundrels! You jest tote them bags over to Brown’s, an’ I’ll begin washin’ fer dust agin. Our claim ain’t so durned bad, after all, ef it’s well worked.”
When Jack carried Brown’s receipt up to Hawks, the old man was nearly paralyzed with amazement.
“I owe you an apology, my friend,” he said, when he had recovered his breath; “my worry over this confounded gold has made me suspicious of everyone. I took you for a thief that night, and thought you meant to murder me!”
“I did,” said Jack, simply, “but when you trusted to my honor, why you jest knocked me clean out.”
And then he frankly told Hawkes [sic] the whole story, and the old man was so affected that he invite the two partners to join him at once in working his rich claim.
“I’ve got nearly as much as I need already,” he said, “and there’s plenty left to make us all rich. Besides, it’s dangerous working alone, and I shall feel safer with your protection. I’ve prospected in different parts of the country for six years, and I know that gold is hard to find, but an honest man, Jack Burgitt, is scarcer in these diggings that gold itself!”
A year later, when Jack took his fortune to his old mother and smiled delightedly at her amazement, he kissed her and said:
“It’s honestly come by, mother, ev’ry cent! An’ yet, that ain’t altogether my fault, but the mistake that old Hawks made when he took me fer an honest man!”
Originally published in the Oakland Tribune, April 7, 1918
The Substitute King of Supposyville
“My love”—the good Supposy King
With finger tips together
And thoughtful mein addressed his Queen—
“This lovely April weather
Has made me long to get away
And leave all pomp behind.
The only thing’s to find a King
Of fair and generous mind
To substitute while we are gone.”
The Queen jumped up in glee.
“Why, I can think of plenty. There’s
The royal tailor—he
Has always seemed an honest man
Industrious and steady.
And there’s the blacksmith. While you choose
I’ll run off and get ready.”
The good King chuckled: “Choose I will
And from the humble folk who serve,
And he who takes the message best
Shall have the honor he’ll deserve,”
And thereupon he wrote four notes
And fixed his royal seal.
“At three o’clock you will be King
For two weeks, woe or weal!”
Then chuckling once again, of snuff
He took a mighty sniff,
And in the corner of each note
He put a little “if.”
Off galloped now the couriers.
’Twas two o’clock. The first
His message did the tailor reach,
And pshaw! he nearly burst
The buttons off his homespun coat—
He dropped his tape and shears,
Dismissed his helpers sternly and
With trembling hands, my dears,
Pulled on a suit he’d lately made
To please his Royal Highness.
Pushing his wife aside, he hurried
Out in pride and fineness!
The baker got his next. He flung
His board upon the floor,
And leaving all his ovens full
Dash [sic] pell mell out the door.
The gardener read the note, threw down
His tools and even faster
Rushed off; the hose left to itself
Worked ruin and disaster
Among the beds, while through the gate,
Left wide, the chickens scurried
And ate up all the seeds and bulbs
Unscolded and unhurried.
The blacksmith got his message last—
’Twas twenty after two—
“My! my! I’ll have to hurry up
To get my work all through!”
He muttered and blew up his fire
And hammered blow on blow,
And not till every horse was shod
Did he prepare to go.
He begged his young assistant to
Keep shop while he was gone,
And kissing all his family put
His leather jerkin on
And set out for the castle. In the
The time appointed came—the other
Three met at the door.
The King received them kindly.
The blacksmith was quite late
And when he came the King began:
“The minister of state
Has gone to see which one of you
Has left his own affair
In the best manner and to him
I’ll trust my crown and cares
While I’m away,” Uneasily
The baker screwed about,
The tailor started for the door,
The gardener’s tongue hung out.
The blacksmith sat serenely, and
No doubt you now have guessed;
The King chose him for substitute
Because he’d stood the test.