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CHAPTER XXII.


DIGGING FOR GOLD.


A nugget worth two hundred dollars! Randy could scarcely believe his eyes and ears. He gazed at his uncle for a moment in open-mouthed wonder.

"You're in luck, and no mistake!" broke in Earl, as he also examined the yellowish lump. "Say, but that's a strike to start on, isn't it!"

He had hoped to make the first find himself, but he was too unselfish to begrudge his brother that pleasure. Leaving the lump in his uncle's possession. Randy led the way back to where the find had been made, and all three set to work without delay to empty the "pocket," as Foster Portney called it, and examine the contents.

"Here's another!" cried Earl, presently. "It's not quite so large, though."

"But it's worth at least a hundred dollars, Earl," answered his uncle. "And see, here are a number of little fellows worth from ten dollars to fifty each. Randy has struck a bonanza beyond a doubt. Don't scatter that dirt too much, for we must wash out every ounce of it for little nuggets and dust."

"And maybe there is a vein of gold back there," said Randy, proudly. "If there is, we can all work it, can't we?"

"Yes, unless the captain and the doctor have struck something equally good. There, that seems to be the last of the nuggets. Let us count them. Fourteen in all, and worth at least four hundred dollars. It paid to stay over in spite of what that miner said, didn't it?" And Foster Portney laughed, and the boys joined in readily, for the discovery of so much gold had put all into the best of humor.

The nuggets picked out, they set to work to wash out the sand and dirt. While Foster Portney filled the pan and washed, the two boys took turns in bringing up water from the pool, using for the purpose a rubber water bag the man had thoughtfully provided for just such an emergency. The washings continued until it was quite dark, and by that time half of the dirt had been gone over and something like two ounces of gold dust extracted.

"Not so bad," said Mr. Portney. "Perhaps tomorrow we'll do even better."

"I could keep on all night," declared Randy, who was loath to quit the locality. "Somebody may come in and take the claim away from us before morning."

"We'll leave the pick and the shovel in it, and that will prevent them," was the answer; and this was done. No miner dares to touch another's "prospect" so long as any tools remain in it.

When they got back to camp they found the doctor and the captain already there. The two had tried half a dozen spots, but only one had yielded sufficient gold dust to warrant their continuing to work it. They listened with keen interest to the account of the find made by Randy, and were quite willing to take a hand at prospecting that locality the next day.

Eight o'clock found all hard at work. While the captain and Earl washed, the others went into the opening of the cliff and brought out all that remained of the dirt and loose stones. There was not a great deal, and shortly after noon every shovelful was heaped up close to the artificial pool of water Dr. Barwaithe had constructed. While the washing continued, Foster Portney examined the sides and the bottom of the opening, and then moved forward through a tangled mass of brushwood and tundra until he came to the bed of a second gulch a hundred feet distance from the first.

"There is nothing more in the pocket," he declared. "And if there is any more gold, it is either in that gulch or this, and I am half inclined to think it is over there, although we may as well prospect this gulch thoroughly first."

By the morrow the washings from the pocket came to an end, with four more ounces of gold to the credit of the prospectors, making in all a find of about five hundred dollars. Previous to going into camp it had been decided that for the present everything found sliould be divided into five parts, one to go to the captain, one to the doctor, and three to Foster Portney for himself and his nephews. The Portney share, as we know, was to be divided, one-half to Mr. Portney and one-quarter to each of the boys. Thus the boys received each three-twentieths of the entire amount found; not a large portion, but then they had nothing to pay out for expenses, which were bound to be considerable, and each was perfectly willing that his uncle should have the one-tenth extra of the whole amount on that account.

"Three-twentieths of five hundred dollars is seventyfive dollars," said Randy to Earl, when they were alone. "We've each earned that, free and clear, so far. That's not bad."

"If only we can continue, we'll make our fortunes," replied Earl, earnestly. "But the pocket's at an end, and now we've got to prospect elsewhere."

The days went by, and they tried the first of the gulches from end to end, sometimes working together, and then each man and boy for himself. But though they struck gold often it was never in paying quantities, and the end of the week saw them somewhat discouraged.

"It wouldn't be so bad, only we made such a fine start," grumbled Randy. "Now there's no telling when we shall find gold again."

"That's the fortunes o' prospectin'," said the captain. "It may be we won't git a smell o' gold in the hull district ag'in!"

"I move we try that other gulch on Monday," put in the doctor. "It's full of loose sand, isn't it?" he went on to Foster Portney.

"Yes, the sand and gravel are at least two feet thick," was the answer. "I believe there is gold there, as I said before, but to clear off the brush and moss will be no easy task."

"We came out here for work," said Earl. "I didn't expect to sit around and sun myself." And all laughed at this remark.

It was Sunday, and late on Saturday night a miner had been around announcing a religious meeting to be held over at the Bottom at noon. Mr. Portney, the boys, and the doctor walked over, nearly half a mile, leaving the captain in charge of the camp. They found about fifty miners collected around an improvised platform, where an earnest-looking young man was reading a chapter from his Bible. A song by three of the women present followed, and then came a short sermon on the brotherhood of man and the value of a faith which would carry a man above the temptation to do wrong, even in that desolate region. At the close of the service a collection was taken up, for the preacher's benefit, some of the miners giving ordinary money, and others pouring gold dust into the little chamois bag the preacher had provided for that purpose.

At this meeting the Portneys again met the Wodley crowd, who had located about a mile up Gold Bottom Creek, at a place called Rosebud, a name particularly inappropriate, since no roses were to be found in the vicinity. Wodley and his companions were doing fairly well, and thought the "doctor's flock" might do worse than to locate just above them.

"We'll remember that," said Foster Portney. "But first we are going to try again over where we are."

Wodley had heard again from Tom Roland and Guardley. He said the gang, as he termed it, which they had joined had gone up Hunker Creek and staked out three claims somewhere above Discovery, as the first claim on a creek or gulch is called. The claims had overlapped some already staked out, and the miners in that section had had several fights and had threatened to drive out all the newcomers if they did not do what was right.

"I was going over to Hunker Creek myself," concluded Wodley. "But I don't want to quarrel with anybody."

Monday morning found the entire Portney crowd over to Tangle Gulch, as Mr. Portney christened it. It was a name well chosen, for the tangle of bushes, vines, and moss was "simply out of sight," so Earl said, although as a matter of fact it was very much in sight—that and nothing else. No one could move forward more than a yard before having to stop to loosen himself, either from the bushes and vines or the clinging moss, and muck under the moss. And to add to their discomfort they stirred up a legion of mosquitoes, gnats, and black flies, which hovered over their heads like a cloud.

"Let us burn the brush first of all," said the doctor, when at last the middle of the gulch was reached. "That will clear the surface and scatter those pests overhead. Oh, my!" He broke off short as he went down into a concealed water hole which was several feet deep. "Here's another of the pleasures of hunting gold in Alaska!" and this was said so comically that everybody roared.

Axes and knives had been brought along, and soon a large pile of the brush had been cut and piled in a heap and set on fire. As it was green, it burnt slowly and raised a large smoke, which made the mosquitoes scatter immediately. From that day until the end of the summer they kept a smudge fire for protection. The brush cleared from the sides of the gulch, which was very narrow, they went at the tundra, throwing the moss wherever it would be out of the way. This took a long time, and it was not until almost nightfall that they got down to the sand and gravel of the choked-up watercourse.

"Now we'll see if there is anything in this gulch or not," said the captain, as he scooped up the first panful off the bedrock. "If there isn't, then we've had most all-fired hard work fer nuthin', eh?" And he started in to wash up the sand, gravel, and dirt, while the others looked on in breathless interest.