From the Children’s Friend, 1937-38 –
By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
Illustrated by C. Nelson White
Laura Carter looked up from her sewing as her father came into the living room. “Why, Dad, I thought you had gone.”
“I am leaving in about an hour,” Mr. Carter answered. “I thought perhaps you and Janet would like to go along.”
“Do you mean it? May we? Oh, we’d love to go.”
“Hey, that’s not fair,” Laura’s younger brother threw down the book he was reading. “You know I have wanted to go to Quartzburg for ages.”
“Come and go,” his father answered, “there is plenty of room.”
“But I would miss Scout Camp,” he wailed.
“Take your choice. We shall be gone three or four days.”
Rather reluctantly Jack picked up his book and stretched his length on the rug before the fireplace. “All right. all right,” he grumbled good-naturedly. “I will stay with the scouts. It wouldn’t be fun with the girls anyway.”
“You think not?” Laura was instantly on the defensive. “We have as much fun as boys.”
“Phooey,” Jack shrugged his shoulders in disdain.
“You shall find out,” Laura challenged him, but Mr. Carter interrupted.
“Shouldn’t you see about Janet? Mr. Jenkins will be here in about an hour and I want to leave immediately afterward.”
“Who is Mr. Jenkins?” Jack asked, forgetting his book for the moment.
“He is a mining engineer from Seattle. I am taking him out to look over the Morning Star property.”
Laura had started for the door but she stopped to ask, “Shall I take some sugar to make some huckleberry jelly?”
“Jelly,” Jack exploded. “Jelly. Is that your idea of a good time? If that is what you a re going to do you may as well stay home and help me get ready for Scout Camp. What will I do with no one but the housekeeper and Aunt Emily?”
Mr. Carter looked up from some papers he was examining. “A good scout can get himself away.”
“Now, Dad. You spoil all my good times. I like to have the women fuss over me. Making jelly and looking after someone is the height of Laura’s ambition. She was already getting steamed up over me getting ready by myself.”
“Why, Jack Carter. Watch me do anything for you again. You’ll not get one taste of my jelly when I do make it.”
“Still counting on making it?” Jack tantalized. “I’m not afraid but what I shall get my share. You couldn’t resist me. But if you are going to Quartzburg for fun you should wait until I can go along. It takes a boy to start things. Girls haven’t any initiative. Hey, was that the right word?”
Laura’s eyes snapped. “All right, Smartie. When we get back you’ll see if we haven’t had more fun than we ever had with you along. And we will – we will have adventure, too.”
“You will be a female Huckleberry Finn, I suppose.”
“If we don’t have a more exciting adventure than you ever had I will give you …”
“Will you give me Grandfather’s hunting knife?”
Laura blinked at that but she was not to be outdone. “Yes. I will give you Grandfather’s hunting knife.” Grandfather Beamer had, years ago, given Laura a hunting knife he had carried all through his days of pioneering. Jack had always wished to have it and now he thought he saw an opportunity to get it.
“All right, Sister Huck, might as well give it to me now.”
“No, it is still mine.” Laura slammed the door and ran down the walk and through a gate that opened into a private park. Half hidden among the trees was a very large and very comfortable looking house with two cupolas and atop each a saucy red weather cock. From the time she could remember Laura had wished to climb the roof and touch one of the metal feathers. Today she did not even notice them. She let herself in the front door.
“Yoo-hoo,” she called.
“We’re in the study,” her cousin Janet Beamer answered. Janet, who was an orphan, was just Laura’s age and lived with her father’s sister, Emily Beamer. As Laura entered the study she looked up from the lounge where she lay curled. “What’s happened?” She sat up at sight of her cousin’s face.
“Nothing has happened,” Laura answered, “but something is going to happen.” She was already slightly regretting the promise she had made her brother. “That Jack. He thinks all I care about is housekeeping. I am going to show him for once I can have as much fun as he. We are going to Quartzburg …”
“Quartzburg.” With one leap Janet was on her feet. “Auntie, did you hear that? May I go with them? I might learn something up there.”
Miss Beamer looked up. She smiled at the girl’s excitement.
“You may go, but don’t expect to find any startling facts. Father and I made several trips up there but we could never learn anything. Anything that was really a help, I mean.”
“Learn anything?” Laura looked from her cousin to her Aunt in perplexity. “What are you talking about?”
“May I tell her?” Janet asked.
“Later; but don’t take time for it now. Did your father’s man come, Laura?”
“Yes. He is going with us.”
“What man?” It was Janet’s turn to be curious.
“A mining man who is going to look over the Morning Star property. If you want to go you must hurry.”
“I am practically ready now.” She rushed into her bedroom but called back. “That is the mine the Beamer estate owns, isn’t it? Are you trying to sell it or something?”
“No,” Aunt Emily told her. “We are merely trying to make it pay. The paying vein has run out. It is costing us more to operate than we are getting from it. We are trying to locate the vein.”
“But I don’t understand.” Janet was rushing in and out of rooms and calling over her shoulder. “When a mine is – when it has been worked out it is finished, isn’t it?”
“Not always.” Miss Beamer was slipping a sheet of paper into her typewriter. “Sometimes there is a slip or fault in the strata that beds the ore. A mining man would know where to look for the broken vein. That is why Uncle Charles sent for this man. But run along, my dear. You must not keep them waiting.”
“How long do we stay and where?” Janet asked Laura.
“Where we always do, in Dad’s cabin. Take good hiking clothes for we shall be gone several days and I am going to have an adventure if I have to manufacture one.”
Presently Janet came back into the study. She was in jodhpurs and sweater. In one hand she carried a small bag and in the other a twenty-two. She stooped to kiss her Aunt.
“‘Bye, Auntie. Wish us luck.”
“I should like to go with you. I used to be as keen for adventure as Laura seems to be just now.”
“Why not go along?” Laura asked.
“Thanks, but I cannot do it this time. You may bring me some huckleberries.”
Laura was still smarting from Jack’s challenge. She was a quiet home-loving girl, who was trying to take her mother’s place in the life of her younger brother. She hadn’t realized that she was becoming too quiet and inactive for a girl of fifteen. While Jack’s words hurt, carelessly as they had been spoken, she knew they were the truth. She knew, too, down in her heart, that Jack would rather she would be more of a companion and not so much of a housekeeper. It wasn’t too late. She could still enjoy clean fun; and she would not give up that hunting knife.
“I am not picking berries if I have to sit in the car all the time we are gone,” she answered with spirit. “I told Jack if I didn’t have as much fun as he ever had I would give him Grandfather’s hunting knife. So I am going to bring home something more than berries.”
Miss Beamer laughed. “I am happy to hear you say that, Laura. I have been sorry to see your interest narrowing. But run along both of you.”
There were so many last minute preparations Laura forgot the question she had wanted to know. It was not until they were nearing the hills that she remembered.
“What was it Aunt Emily said you might tell me?” she asked Janet. The two girls were riding in the back seat of the car.
“Oh, yes. She did say I might tell you. Perhaps you know some of it already.” Janet lowered her voice so the men in the front seat could not catch her words. “Have you ever wondered why Auntie hasn’t married?”
“Yes. I asked Mother once and she said she would tell me when I got older but she didn’t get to.”
Janet drew a deep breath and plunged into her story. “It all happened when Auntie was about twenty years old. She was to marry a young mining engineer who was working for the Bonanza Bar Company. They had some gold dust ready for shipment when it suddenly disappeared. There was no reason for suspicioning him except that he had left town that day and when they found him he had some gold dust with him.”
“That was terrible but he could tell them where he got it.”
“That is just the point. He said he had sold some shares of mining stock. When they didn’t believe him he offered to go to Pineville and get a statement from his pardner. Days and weeks went by and neither he nor the statement came.”
“Oh, he wouldn’t do that,” Laura protested.
“What do you mean he wouldn’t do that? Either he was guilty and skipped out or something happened to him. Grandfather tried to look up the man he said he had sold the shares to but couldn’t locate him, either. In those days there were so many men coming and going and property changed hands so often there was nothing unusual about the affair.”
“What does Aunt Emily think?”
“She thinks he is innocent, of course. There wasn’t enough evidence to arrest him but even a suspicion was enough for Grandfather. Auntie thinks the truth will come out some day. The last time he was seen he was at Quartzburg.”
“Who was at Quartzburg?” Mr. Carter, who had caught the last sentence, asked. Mr. Jenkins also turned slightly toward them. Janet had no wish to share the story with a stranger so answered lightly:
“A man Auntie told me about.”
Laura Carter and Janet Beamer lived in the west. The mountain range north of the home had been in the early days the center of great mining activities. Quartzburg, where they were going, had been one of the earliest and richest mining regions in the west. Many of the mines were still producing but others, like the Morning Star, were hardly paying expenses. During the time they had been talking the car had been climbing steadily. Now about fifteen miles into the foothills they reached a summit from which they coasted down a long winding road to a village that nestled among the brown hills. Beyond it the road ran parallel with the river. It was new and wide and full of twists and turns. The dashing foaming river was on their right, the hills on their left, but they caught only glimpses of either. Pines, tall and straight, covered the mountain side like a fragrant blanket. Scrub growth tried to hide the water from the travelers.
“When I first came to this country,” Mr. Jenkins said suddenly, “it would have taken us days to have come this far. Had there been cars then they would never have ventured into these hills.”
“Have you been here before?” Mr. Carter asked politely.
“Once.” The answer was so short Janet did not ask the question that came to her lips.
Laura asked, “Did you freight through here, Daddy?”
“No. The railroad was doing the freighting when I came west. But Janet’s father and grandfather did.”
Janet looked up. Near the summit of the mountain a line wound in and out through the trees. From that distance it looked like a mere thread. Then she looked at the road over which they were skimming.
“Imagine freighting over this road; and they drove teams on that seam up there. Wouldn’t it have been awful?”
Awesome was the word Laura would have used. The road had been forced to leave the river and now clung precariously to the side of the mountain. On one side they could almost reach the pines and on the other side a chasm yawned, deep and threatening. Some miles farther on the road crept back to the river level again. Then on and on; around turns and through narrow passes where the road and river crowded each other in their efforts to get by. At one such place Mr. Jenkins looked up at the frowning walls and said:
“An ideal place for a holdup. I suppose if this canyon could speak it could tell of many.”
“I am sure it could,” Mr. Carter answered. “My father-in-law was a pioneer in this section. I have heard him tell of many holdups.”
The new road had merged with the old and was narrow and tortuous. Laura shuddered. “Imagine a clumsy old stagecoach, like the one at the State House, coming dashing around one of these curves. I am thankful I didn’t have to ride in one of them.”
“I should like it,” Janet declared.
“I should rather have ridden in one of Grandfather’s long freight trains. I think it would have been much more safe.”
“You can tell by the old road what it was like,” Mr. Carter told them. “It is rough and barely wide enough for teams to get by. But speaking of holdups. I think the last real western holdup attempted in this section was staged in this canyon. It was just about the time the stagecoach was being crowded out by the railroad.”
“I haven’t heard that.”
“Tell us about it.”
“I think it was about thirty years ago. A notorious highwayman by the name of Bill Gasper held up the Quartzburg stage and got away with about fifty thousand dollars worth of gold, besides the mail which meant a little more. He got quite an amount from the passengers. The job was laid to Bill Gasper but no one knows for certain.”
“What happened then?” Janet wanted to know.
“It seems he was unwise in his choice of time. Westerners were tired of such things. A posse trailed him to a cabin somewhere in these mountains but eventually he got away. The sheriff was sure he had been injured but he was never heard of again.”
“Was the loot recovered?” Mr. Jenkins asked as he polished his glasses with a large white silk handkerchief.
“I think some of it was. That was a great deal for him to carry.”
“How heavy would it be, Uncle Charles?”
“I understand that much gold dust would weigh one hundred fifty pounds. What he got from the mail and the passengers would not amount to a great deal but even one hundred fifty pounds would be too heavy for a pursued man to carry far.”
“Then some of it might still be in this canyon.”
Mr. Carter laughed. “No chance. Hunting gold is a favorite pastime for some people. I doubt if the truth is ever known; if it should be it will happen by accident and not by design.”
The road had been climbing steadily again and by three o’clock they came to a grade that taxed the engine to the last ounce of its power. The road turned and twisted in a way that made Laura writhe in any agony of fear. The river was now hundreds of feet below the perpendicular wall at their feet.
“I wish you would let me get out and walk along here,” Laura told her father.
“Don’t be ‘fraidy-cat,” Janet rebuked her sarcastically.
“It is a mean grade,” Mr. Jenkins added.
Mr. Carter scarcely heard them. He was giving all his attention to the wheel. For seven long miles the road followed that canyon, then as if released from suspense it sprang away to go bounding through the hills to a summit where they stopped to cool the engine.
Below them, miles and miles away, lay quartzburg. It’s mill with cabins clustered about it looked for all the world like a ruffled old hen trying to hover her chickens. On the many slopes and in the gullies were dark spots that meant stopes opening into the mountain side. From a high peak back of it a tram reached down to the mill.
“I wonder which of those cabins was Robert Waite’s?” Janet whispered.
“Who was he?” Laura asked.
“Didn’t I tell you? He was Aunt Emily’s boy friend.”
But Laura was not interested in Aunt Emily’s problem just now. Her thoughts were on Jack and what he had called her. “Sister Huck.” Huh. that was a stiff order. She would have to coax an adventure her way. As the car slipped down the long winding road she planned many things but even her wildest hopes could not touch the thing that waited for her down there among the somber pines and treacherous looking shadows.