By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
Illustrated by C. Nelson White
“What is the matter here? Are you two having a sleeping contest sitting up?” Laura opened her eyes to see her father standing over her.
“Daddy. Daddy. Oh, I am so thankful you are here.” Laura threw herself into her father’s arms and then to his astonishment burst into hysterical tears.
“Here. Here. What is the matter? You didn’t get that lonesome did you? Mr. Jenkins and I would like some lunch.”
“So you weren’t hurt?” Janet tried to hide the fact that she too was near tears.
“So that is what you are crying about? No, we were not hurt but we stopped to help the men that were. That is why we were so long getting home. Now tell me what you did.”
“Eat something first,” Laura evaded. “Then we will tell you a long story. Were you successful in your search?” she asked when the meal had been spread and the men were eating.
“No, we weren’t,” Mr. Carter answered, “but we haven’t given up yet.”
By this time Janet was ready to explode. In spite of their fears about the men she and Laura had gone to sleep in their chairs and now that her body was refreshed she wanted to tell their story. In spite of Laura’s warning glances she cried out:
“Well, we found something if you didn’t.”
Mr. Carter searched their faces with a keen glance. “What happened? I noticed you both looked tired.”
“We had –” Laura began but Janet interrupted.
“We had a perfectly wonderful time. We found a cave and a cabin and a dead man but the gold was not there or at least it might have been but we were afraid to go back and look –”
“Wait a minute. Wait a minute,” Mr. Carter laughed. “We need it in shorter doses, please. Suppose you start at the beginning.”
Laura began but again Janet took it up. Together they spilled the story with the speed of apples pouring from an overturned basket and with about as much order.
“Let me see your map, or symbols,” Mr. Jenkins asked quietly and Laura spread it on the table before them. The men studied it. Then Janet told of finding the secret opening and of how it led them to the cave; and of finding the skeleton and the sack of first class mail. When they brought forth the letters the men reached eagerly for them.
“Here is one for Grandfather,” Laura handed it to her father. “We wanted to open it but thought we had better bring it to you.”
Mr. Carter looked at it closely then thrust it into his pocket. “We will take care of it later. Just now we will look at the others.”
“We must turn these over to the postal authorities. They may be able to get in touch with the rightful owners. What a risk you girls took. It makes me a little out of patience with you. Never again go into the mountains without telling someone where you are going. If you had not come back I would never have known where to look for you.”
“We shall be more careful next time. Really we shall,” Janet told them contritely. “But now please come with us to the cave to see if the gold is there. And hurry. We marked the spot with a hankie but someone might come along and take it. Please, let’s hurry.”
This was all uttered in one breath without pause or punctuation and Mr. Carter turned to the other man.
“I think we had better go before these adventurers lose their chance of becoming rich and famous. What is that you have in your hand?”
“Oh, that,” Janet answered for Mr. Jenkins. “That is Laura’s keepsake from the cave. She is always collecting ore samples.”
The mining man passed it to the other. “It was in the pail with the others.”
Mr. Carter looked at it from all sides. “I think,” he said, rising as he put the sample in his pocket, “that we should see into this cave business at once.”
Their car was at the door and they all rushed into it.
“Tell me where to go,” Mr. Carter said when he had his hands on the wheel.
“Take the road by the boarding house, go back of the mill and follow the road around the mountain,” Laura directed him. “It is just over the crest of the hill back of the tram.”
On the way the girls went over the story in greater detail.
“I cannot account for the skeleton,” Mr. Carter was plainly puzzled.
“It may be old Bill Casper as the girls suggested,” the other man answered. “To me the letters prove conclusively that he had something to do with it. The postmarks coincide with his last holdup. Old Bill escaped the posse and it was rumored he had a hideout somewhere not far from here but no one was ever able to learn the truth of it. His accomplice may have gotten away with the gold.”
“How does he know so much about it?” Laura whispered.
“S-sh,” Janet did not wish to miss what her uncle was saying.
“A hundred fifty pounds of dust would make a noticeable mound under dust. The girls would likely have seen it if it were there. But it stands to reason the two would be together. The mail sack and the gold, I mean.”
“Not necessarily. Someone during the past thirty years may have found the cave but because of the gold not reported it.”
As the car neared the spot where the girls had emerged from the forest they saw the handkerchief still clinging to the tree.
“We shall have to walk from here,” Janet told her uncle. “It isn’t very far.”
Mr. Carter drove his car to the side of the narrow road and set his emergency brakes. As the men stepped out Mr. Jenkins looked about in surprise.
“That is my handkerchief you have there. Where did you get it?”
‘We found it by a locked up cabin.” Janet turned her eyes full upon him as she said it.
“Must have dropped it.” He answered shortly and turned to follow the others.
“How far, honey?” Mr. Carter had taken Laura’s hand.
“Only a little farther.”
“Why, then you were not far away after all. All this side of the gulch is included in the Morning Star property.”
The girls preferred to stay outside in the sunshine while the men went in the cave to find what they could find. They were gone such a long time the two outside began to worry. When they did return they were empty handed.
“Where is the gold?” Janet demanded.
“No gold.” Mr. Jenkins answered shortly.
“What did you do with IT?” Laura wanted to know.
“Left it for the proper authorities.”
Both men seemed curiously unconcerned about the gold. Their attention was centered upon the mouth of the cave and the ground where the tree had been uprooted.
“You wouldn’t think gold meant anything in their lives,” Janet complained.
“They seem awfully excited about something, though,” Laura touched her father’s sleeve. “What is it? Why are you examining the ground so closely?”
“It must be the same lode,” Mr. Carter turned a radiant face to them. “To make a long story understandable to you, it is the thing we have been hunting for. For want of a better expression, I will say it is the lost vein. Not technically perhaps but it means the same to the Beamer estate. And perhaps more.”
“Is it really, Father?”
“Yes. It seems inconceivable that this lode could have been overlooked for so long. I thought we had combed every inch of this hill. Thanks to the storm and you girls, it showed up.”
“Then we’re, we’re –”
“We are safe. You found more than Bill Gasper’s gold.”
“It is queer about that map. May I look at it again?” Mr. Jenkins asked Laura. She handed it to him. The men studied the symbols closely. They went into the cabin, through the passage and out of the cave again.
“It doesn’t make sense to me.” Mr. Jenkins handed the paper back to Laura. “Your guess about the upright and the door might be correct. It might even be that the opening of this cave at one time resembled the third symbol.” He pointed to it as Laura still held the paper open before them. “But if so, it was made so long ago the lines of the cliff have been changed by storms and such.”
“That is very likely what it was,” Mr. Carter stated in a tone that plainly indicated the symbols were of small moment after all.
“It is my guess,” Mr. Jenkins went on, “that the map has nothing to do with the cabin or the cave but to something still undiscovered. Here are three more letters I found inside. None of them, however, were registered.”
“That reminds me,” Janet said sitting on a stump. “You have not opened grandfather’s letter yet. It is a big fat one. Perhaps there is money in it.”
They all sat down upon the warm earth and Mr. Carter drew the letter from his pocket.
“Hum. I wonder what weighty problems have been so long on their way. Let me see. The return is from, hum, A Mr. Shields. Never heard of him.”
“Let me see it.” With what the girls thought great discourteousness, Mr. Jenkins reached suddenly and took the envelope from Mr. Carter. With trembling fingers he tore it open. There were three letters inside it.
“One of them looks like a document,” Laura whispered. “See how his hands shake. What do you suppose the matter is?”
For some minutes Mr. Jenkins continued to stare at the papers he had drawn from the envelope. The other man, sensing something unusual, waited. Then the mining man turned his eyes to them and his look made the girls catch their breath.
“What a fool I have been. Two lives ruined by pride.”
“This,” Mr. Jenkins handed his companion the legal looking paper, “is the bill of sale showing the transfer of certain mining stock from one Robert Waite to Estes Shields. This,” he passed over the less bulky of the remaining papers, “is a letter from Estes Shields to your father-in-law. It tells him of gold dust paid me for my share in the Tina Warden mine. This,” Mr. Jenkins placed the last letter in his pocket, “is a letter I wrote thirty-five years ago to Emily Beamer. In it I asked her to write me by return mail. The answer never came.”
“But,” Janet demanded, “what does it mean? Who are you?”
“I am Robert Jenkins Waite,” the smile he gave them was rather forlorn. “When I was asked to go on this survey I recognized the names and thought I should like to look over the situation unembarrassed by an old problem. I was at one time engaged to your Aunt Emily Beamer. Later I was accused of having stolen gold in my possession. And …”
“And what happened? Why did you leave?”
“Pride,” Mr. Jenkins Waite answered. “I was so anxious to have this misunderstanding cleared away I could hardly wait to get this letter mailed. Mr. Shields and I had come over from Pineville purposely to put it on the stage. When the answer did not come by the next two stages I skipped out. I thought Miss Beamer still considered me guilty. I did not dream she had never received the letter.”
“Didn’t you know the stage was robbed?” Janet demanded.
“Yes, I knew a stage was robbed but it never occurred to me that the mail sack was carried away.”
“Why didn’t Mr. Shields tell grandfather he had bought the mining stock from you?”
“Mr. Shields never saw your grandfather. He had a chance to sell the property he purchased from me at a good profit so we went away together. Until he died we were partners.”
“And all the time she hadn’t received the letter.” Janet sighed deeply but her eyes were shining. “That accounts for your hanky being at the Robert Waite cabin. I knew it all the time.”
Mr. Carter sighed much as Janet had done. “What a train of events you girls uncovered by getting yourselves lost. You found the vein. Now my worries are over. Aunt Emily …” he stopped and looked at Mr. Waite. With a soft laugh the other finished the sentence for him.
“… may also be free from worries. Do you girls think she will care to be friends with me again?”
“Give the letter to her,” Janet suggested softly. “She couldn’t resist one that had been thirty-five years on the way.”
“I will, but I shall deliver it in person this time. I am not trusting Uncle Sam again, you may be sure.”
“That is all very well,” Laura told them briskly, “but I am thinking of old Jack’s face when he sees the papers. ‘Two daring girls discover Robber’s Cave.” Will that make him eat humble pie. He will call me Sister Huck but not in the way he did before.”
“And Grandfather’s hunting knife is safe,” Janet reminded her.
For a moment Laura’s face clouded. Then she grinned broadly. “After all Jack should have the hunting knife. It is more for a boy than a girl. I will give it to him for his birthday. Then he won’t feel so badly about us having such a glorious adventure.”
“Still the same old Laura,” Mr. Carter said, putting his arm over her shoulder. “But that is why we love you.”