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CHAPTER XXV


DOWN IN A GOLD MINE


"It's going to take over two hours to get out there," said Dick, as he and his companions tramped on. "I don't know how long we'll stay. It all depends on circumstances. If they discover us we'll not stay as long as we otherwise would," and he laughed. "But I guess it's an all-night job. Well, the road is a good one, and it's a nice night."

"That's what it is," answered Frank. "That moon looks as if it was pure silver, hung up there in the sky."

"You're getting poetical," commented Dick.

"Dat oughter be a gold moon to be right in de swim," was Tim's opinion.

"What do you expect to do when you get to the mine?" asked Frank, as, now that they were beyond the borders of Yazoo City, they were not afraid to talk of their object.

"I hardly know," answered Dick. "What I want to find out is whether or not that mine is a fake one."

"How do youse tell a fake gold mine?" asked Tim. "Is it like a lead nickel or counterfeit money so youse can tell by bitin' a chunk of it?"

"Hardly," replied Dick, with a laugh. "I've been reading up about mines lately, and, according to the book, the most common way of making a fake mine is to 'salt' it, or *sweat' it."

"Salt it?" repeated Frank. "I've heard of salting cattle, but never mines."

"That doesn't describe it very well," went on Dick, "but that's what they call it. Sometimes it is termed 'sweating.' By either way it means making the ore in the mine look as if it was filled with gold, when, in fact, the gold had only been put there by some man who wanted a worthless mine to look like a good one."

"How do they do it?" asked Tim.

"The most common way is to take some real gold dust, put it into a shotgun, load it heavily with powder and shoot it at the side of the mine. The gold particles are shot into the rock a little way and it appears like real ore. They do this several times down the sides of a rocky mine and it looks very much like the real thing. After a man has bought the mine and begins to dig, he discovers it's all a fake."

"Wow!" exclaimed Tim. "T'ink of shootin' gold out of a gun. I wish somebody'd take a few shots at me. Easy ones, of course, so's I could live to enjoy it."

"There are other ways of making fake mines," went on Dick, "but I didn't read much about them."

"Do you think the Hop Toad and Dolphin mines are fakes?" asked Frank.

"That's what I'm afraid of. But I'm pretty sure Smith and his confederates didn't use any such method as shooting the gold into the rocks. It's in too deep for that, and they could hardly hope to fool the assayer that way. No, they must have some new scheme, and maybe I can discover it."

The boys walked along briskly, and, almost before they realized it, they saw that they were approaching the mine.

"Now, go easy," advised Dick. "We first want to see if there is anyone in sight. If not, we'll take a trip down."

Near the mouth of the shaft was some machinery used to lift the bucket from the mine. The boys could see the dull gleam of the coals under the boiler of the hoisting apparatus, for the fire had been banked. But there was no sign of anyone around, and, after peering cautiously about, the boys reached the edge of the shaft.

"Now, if dey had an elevator fer us it would be dead easy," spoke Tim. "But I don't see how youse is goin' to git down."

"Wait until I take a look," replied Dick.

He approached the mouth of the mine and uttered an exclamation that brought the other boys to his side.

"There's a ladder leading down," he said. "We can use that. Now to explore a gold mine."

Seeing that he had his candles and matches ready, Dick began to descend. The other boys waited until he was down some distance and then followed. The ladder, as they could see, was built against the side of the shaft, and it was far enough away so that the ascending or descending bucket did not touch it.

"Hold on!" cried Dick, from the dark depths. "I'm going to light a candle."

Presently a faint gleam came up the shaft, and Tim and Frank could make out Dick's form standing below them on a rung of the ladder. They also lighted candles, and the descent continued. In about a minute Dick called again:

"Easy now, fellows; I've struck bottom. Got down to the first level, I guess."

In a little while Tim and Frank joined him. They found they were standing in a sort of cave, hollowed out under ground. Resting at the foot of the shaft was a big bucket, attached to the wire cable that extended to the hoisting drum.

"Is dis all dere is to de mine?" asked Tim.

"No, there seems to be a gallery leading off to no one knows where," replied Dick, pointing to a gloomy hole. "Come on, boys, I haven't seen any gold yet," and he waved his candle to and fro. It flickered over the rocky walls of the mine. They glistened with water that oozed from many crevices, but there was no glitter of the precious metal.

The boys walked cautiously along the gallery, or tunnel, that extended at right angles to the perpendicular shaft. Suddenly, Dick, who was in the lead, stopped short.

"Hush!" he exclaimed, in a whisper. "I hear voices."

The boys listened. From somewhere in the darkness ahead of them came an indistinct murmur.

"Come ahead, easy!" whispered the millionaire's son.

They advanced on tiptoes. The murmur of voices became louder. Then, as the boys made a turn in the tunnel, a strange scene was suddenly presented to them.

In a sort of cave, formed by the widening of the gallery, a number of men stood in a group. Several torches, stuck into cracks in the rocky wall, gave light. But, strangest of all, was the occupation of the men.

One of them was stirring what seemed like a mass of mortar in a wooden box, such as masons use. Into it another was pouring from a sack, gleaming, golden, yellow particles, which, as the light gleamed on them, glittered like gold.

"Seems like throwing the yellow stuff away," remarked the man who held the sack.

"What of it. We'll get it back five times over," replied the one who, with a hoe, was stirring the stuff. "It's like planting gold in a garden. It grows, you know. This mine is our garden."

"They're 'salting' the mine," whispered Dick to his companions.

Off to one side another man was drilling holes in the soft rock. The musical clink of his hammer on the drill sounded faint and far off, so muffled was it.

"Haven't you got that stuff ready yet?" called the man with the drill. "I've got all the holes bored. Hurry up and get it in or it won't be hard by to-morrow, and there's no telling when that Hamilton kid may take a notion to drop in and visit his mine," and he laughed.

"Oh, I guess I can keep him away for a few days yet," answered one, whom Dick recognized as Forty-niner Smith. "I've got a game I haven't played. But I guess this stuff is mixed enough. Say, it's the best scheme I've struck yet for 'sweating' a mine. Beats the shotguns all to pieces."

From their hiding place the boys watched what the men did. The mixture with the gold particles in it was poured into the holes the man had dug. The boys could see now that it was not mortar, but concrete, which was being used. To Dick the whole scheme was now plain.

The men poured a lot of gold dust into some concrete, and mixed it up with water until it was about as thick as paste. Then they put it into holes drilled in the rocky walls of the mine. The concrete hardened and became almost like the rock itself. Then, when a blast was set off, the rock, concrete and gold was all blown into small pieces, so that it looked as if the ore was of good, gold-bearing quality, whereas it was nothing but ordinary rock "salted."

That was how the men were working to fool investors. They had taken an abandoned mine, from which all the gold had been dug, and, by this ingenious method, made it look, to the ignorant, as though it was a regular bonanza.

"Well," remarked Dick, in a whisper, "we've discovered the trick. I guess dad's money and mine, too, is 'gone up the flume,' as the miners say. But I'm glad—"

At that moment, Frank, who was balancing himself on a bit of rock, in order to see better, stumbled and fell, making quite a noise. The men turned as if a shot had been fired.

"What's that?" asked Smith, in a hoarse whisper.

"Some loose rock caving in," answered one of the men. "Come on, finish up. We've only got one more hole to fill, and by that time Nash will be ready to hoist us up."

"That wasn't falling rock!" declared Smith. "Boys, I believe someone is spying on us. I'm joing to take a look."

Seizing one of the torches he started toward where Dick and his companions were hiding.

"Come on!" exclaimed the millionaire's son, pulling Tim and Frank by the arm. "We've got to get out of this!"

They turned and ran, their footsteps echoing on the rocky floor of the mine. They could hear Smith coming after them. His torch flashed around the turn in the gallery. He caught sight of them.

"Stop!" he cried. "Stop or I'll shoot!"