THE MINER’S STORY.
Have you ever lived in a hole in a hill, any of you? Well. I have ; for months and months. I needn’t tell you why—all prospectors know. I had a mate once—Muffles—Jim Mufties. Jim was a queer fish. He was a little, fat fellow of fifty, with hair and beard as white as the falling snow outside. He was prematurely old and broken. I met him at El Paso in the tavern there ; we drank and talked together; I liked him, for an Ohio man, less oily than most of that sort, and Jim took to me; so we hitched horses for a pull at mining among the mountains of New Mexico, setting off next morning for the Sangre de Cristo. We dug and broke ore on the sides and summits of that giant range clear up to the borders of Colorado, with but small luck and less hope. We even tried a few dodges common to miners. We salted a shaft, blowing dust into the rock a couple of inches with an old navy revolver cut off in the barrel. We came the tobacco game, Jim talking like fun to some tenderfect from Chicago, telling them of the rich free gold lying loose in the bed of the run, while I chewed up a loaded quid as I strained away at the cradle, every now and again squirting some of the yellow grains straight into the sieve. But we were soon found out and threatened with a wire-halter by the respectable sisters. Dishonesty didn’t pay, and we remained poor, when we perforce became honest. We ate bear and jack-rabbit then and mined ore. We had a dug-out at the top of a tall peak, and a trunk of a tree for a door. I had bought a dog, a streaky mongrel, from an adjacent miner, naming the cur Pat after my grandfather (peace to his ashes!) Patrick Maguire, of Pittsburg. Well, Jim hated that dog at first sight, and the dog hated Jim at the first scent. Never did man and beast hate, mutually hate each other, anything like it. And my mate and I grew cool toward one another on account of the animal. “Love me, love my dog ‘ ” said I to Jim one day. • I’ll see both on you darned first l” was in y mate’s surly answer to me—and he meant it. we had been prospecting thus for a couple of years on the crests of the Sangre de Cristo, walking all day, pick in hand and rifle on shoulder for fear of silver-tips and wild-cats, when one night (as black a night as ever I see) as I was getting supper ready over a slow cotton-bough fire, having been the first in from the tramp, I heard a yell like the wild shriek of a terrified woman, and into the room sprang Pat and fell dead flat at my feet. His bowels were cut out as if by a knife. • Curse you, Jim Muffles!” cried I, “I’ll have your heart’s blood for this ” I flung the carcase of my poor pet over the crags to the falls below and waited in anger and impatience for the arrival of my mate. He strode in in an hour and saying, quite unmoved, “How are you, Ches. !” sat down, heavy with fatigue, on the broad bed of blankets and boughs which we shared between us. “Mate,” said I, slow and strong with suppressed rage, “ you’ve done a dirty, mean, unmanly deed this night. Not a bite do you eat, by gracious, until you fight me for killing my pet.” “what do you mean 2″ said he, coolly. “What I say !” I answered, with fury. “Up with your fists and fight if you’re a man, and not a mean, sneaking critter. Or shall we use knives?” “ where is the dog? What’s chanced the dog? What do you mean auyhow 7″ said Jim, natural like. “Th it won’t do,” said I, ” the dog is dead. and you know it.” “I swear,” exclaimed Jim, seeming ruffled by surprise from his serenity, “I don’t know anything of the dog, I never hurt the dog, and I haven’t seen the dog all day.” “Liar,” I retorted, drawing my bear-knife, “I’ll lick you for that lie within an inch of your contemptible life.” “Stop, Ches. Maguire, I’m not a coward, but I swear to you I never harmed a hair of your vile cur’s hide, however I hated him. You’ll repent till your dying day if you touch a hair of my head or force me to hurt you. I take my oath of the truth of my sworn words.” There was something in the tone of the man that stayed my stroke and stilled my passion, hot as it was, and, after staring in his eye for a moment, I sheathed my weapon and turned away with a grunt of only half conviction. In silence we had our supper, and sullenly we slipped into bed and went to sleep. It might have been midnight, when I was awakened by a blast of hot, fetid breath on my face. Instantly I sprang up, saying: “Jim Muffles, none of your murdering tricks on me!” It was as dark as pitch : I could see nothing : but at the sound of my startled voice I felt a sharp wound in my shoulder and a fierce cutting at my forehead. I clawed out with my hands, catching for breath, and fell, with loss of blood, in a swoon.
When I recovered, all was still with a death-like stillness. It was yet pitch dark, and the air chilly with frost. Groping for my tinder-box. I struck a spark and lit the candle. What did I see ? Poor Jim Muffles was indeed innocent of the death of my dog Pat ; nay, the brave hero had generously given up the best thing he had to give—his blessed lifefor the sake of his partner. I wept like a child, for bleeding and torn on the earthern floor, knife in hand and dead and torn and cold, lay my mate, by his side a monstrous mountain-lion in the last paroxysms of agony. As I gazed, the beast ceased to struggle. Both man and lion were stone dead. It was that hungry brute, and not my noble mate, which had torn out the ent rails of the dog ; and Muffles, the gallant miner and my magnanimous defender, had devotedly saved the life of
is angry defamer at the precious price..and penalty of his own,
“A brave fellow !” murmured the soldierly-looking stranger, “ and worthy of a better fate. But your stories are somewhat sad, as I have said. Another pull at the punch, and let us have, if you are quite willing, gentlemen, something in a merrier mood. This is the Christinas season, and the heart should be light and the sririts cheery.”
“Well,” said Jem Harpe, the scout, “I believe I’m equal to a comic story, after I fill my pipe again. But life is most too stern a matter out here in the earnest, serious West for frivolity. However, if it’s Mr. Hickok’s humor to be jolly, here goes and welcome: