Help via Ko-Fi


by Julius Grinnell Furthmann

IT WAS at Sixty-Mile, on the edge of the Mojave, where the mountains met the desert; where Grant Brothers & McCann were pushing a hard-rock grade toward Reno for the California & Nevada Southwestern; where the sun was dropping down behind the hills, and the light it cast becoming softened and romantic; where, of a sudden, the great peaks shook.


There was no wind; only this low, sullen roar came back over the hills.


They were firing the evening round. Out on the grade, down in the tunnels, dynamite was finishing the day's work. Shot succeeded shot; the mountains flung back the echoes; the earth seemed to reel under the measured crash on crash. It was as if several batteries of big guns had suddenly gone into action.

In the deathly quiet that fell with the last of it, two men slowly mounted the rocky path that chipped its way up the steep wail of the canon leading into the far side of camp. They were an oddly assorted pair. One was a squat, burly little man in corduroys, with a chest like a gorilla, extraordinarily long arms and a pug nose. The other was rather tall, of lank bulk every way; a young giant with short red hair, eyes packed away under heavy brows, and a great clean-shaven jaw that always looked cheerfully grim.

A stiff climb brought them to the path winch, swinging around a bend, led to the little yellow commissary shack, and beyond that to the long, low-built wooden structure, hereafter known as the cook-house.

"Ha," said the little man, stopping short.

The other swung his head.

"What's the matter?"

"Look who's come to camp!"

A chuck-wagon had just pulled up in front of the commissary'. The speaker indicated a big young man, taking his ease on the seat. The driver had jumped down and disappeared in the little company store.

The red-headed young man laughed, a hard, soundless laugh, through closed lips.

"Gunner Gallegher!" he said in a low voice.

At this moment the other looked up and saw them. He did not move, but just sat there looking down at them, his dark face lighting up with the grim, inquisitive expression that is so near smiling and vet so different in effect.

They walked over.

"Hello, Gunner," said the red-headed young man.

Gallegher nodded.

Hi, Bonfire," said he, then jerked his head toward the other's companion. "Who's your friend?"

"Burns. Tom Burns. You remember him from the North Bank, don't you?"

"Oh, yes. He had the timber gang; that's right. Hi, Burns."

"Hello, Gallegher," the little timberman nodded back. "How's everything?"

"Pretty good. Made a short stake in the D. & R. G. tunnels out of Grand Junction. How's tricks, Bonfire?" added Gallegher, turning to the other.

"Fair enough," said Bonfire. "I'm day shifter over in South Thirty-Five."

"What's the pay?"

"Four dollars and cakes."

To the initiate the foregoing meant that Bonfire was day foreman in the tunnel known as South Thirty-Five and that his wages were four dollars a day and board.

"Humph; that's not so bad," observed Gallegher half to himself.

"Oh, I don't know. But jobs are scarce in this man's camp," muttered Bonfire. "I tell you, Gunner, they ain't hiring a soul these days. New orders or something from Los."

"That's what they told me down at the siding," Gallegher nodded. "But I'd heard that you'd come up this wray, Bonfire, so I jacked up and came on."

"Well, I been looking for you," said Bonfire. "I been looking for you to show up for the last two weeks; I have, for a fact, Gunner. Got kind of restless, too, like; so any time you're ready now, there's a nice piece of ground up there back of the bunkhouse. How d'you feel?"

For reply Gallegher jumped down from the wagon-seat. He stood there, stretching his long arms and showing the depth and breadth of his big chest.

"I feel fine," said he. "Why?"

"I was just wondering. Thought you might be a little tired with your ride or something. Two days on that desert road ain't no fun. I know what it is myself," nodded Bonfire. "We could wait till tomorrow, you know."

Gallegher shook his head.

"Not for me. How about yourself?" he added a little anxiously.

"Oh, I'm all right. Put in a pretty big day underground; but I guess I'm good for a half hour of your fastest."

"It won't take that long," said Gunner Gallegher.

The other gave him a bleak stare.

"What d'you mean?" he muttered, advancing a step.

Gallegher faced him with a grin.

"Nothing," said he, and let his long arms swing free.

At this juncture the little timberman Burns stepped up, breaking a long, rather diffident, silence.

"Say, I don't want to be offensive," he began, "but what's the row?"

Gallegher turned his head.

"Nothing much," he said quietly. "Me and him's got some unfinished business, that's all. I thought you'd heard about it Burns. Why, less than three months ago Bonlire blew into Shoshone Gap and took me to the worst licking I ever had in my life——"

The little timberman nodded.

"I remember now," he said, grinning. "You had a job, and he fought you for it. Some of the boys were talking about it the other night. It ain't the first time either, is it?"


"That you two have pulled this stunt?"

"Not by half. Been at it nearly two years now, off and on. But we ain't the only ones that do it. I know lots of lads who won't go to work any other way. It's an old game among short-stake men; and a good game, too, when two lads are feeling their silk and jobs are few and far between. It's been turn-and-tum-about with Bonfire and me so far. The last time he beat me and beat me good; beat me out of bunk and bindle and job. That's the hard-rock game. Winner take all, eh, Bonfire?"

The latter was unbuttoning his corduroy jacket.

"Something like that," he answered, pulling it off.

The little timberman Bums chuckled and grinned, casting* an appraising glance from one to the other of the two big young men.

"Well," he said in a minute, "I wouldn't bet a nickel either way myself."

Five minutes later, stripped to the waist, Gunner Gallegher and Bonfire stood facing each other in a ring of shouting men. Plenty of daylight lingered; the purple mountain leaned against the vermillion sky; and in the blue, an immense height above, lolled an eagle, lazy of wing, in lordly indolence. The crowd stood twenty deep; a typical hard-rock crew—tall, barbaric-looking men in khaki and corduroy, careless of speech and gay at heart.

"Now, Gunner."

"Go in, Bonfire."

"I saw the Shoshone scrap."

"They fought two hours."

THE two men were well matched. One was as tall as the other, and as broad; and it would have been hard to say, if there was any advantage in weight, just where it fell. The two men sparred warily, moving after each other with the quiet ease of two huge cats. There is a certain beauty in strength, and then there is a certain ugliness; but that usually comes with age. These two men were beautifully young and strong, and their lithe white nakedness gleamed in the twilight.

"Time!" roared the men.

"No hurry," muttered Bonfire, and snapped in a light lead. It was a flashing dart of wrist and mitt, and the Gunner's lip streamed red as he recovered with a rush and a shower of sledge-hammer blows.

First blood set the crowd to yelling.

Bonfire ducked gamely. He had all he could do to save his head. There was no evading that avalanche of big-bodied bone and muscle. He stood his ground and took and gave smash for smash, though the play was not up to his fancy; for the Gunner's long game was to give and take, Bonfire's to hit and get away; but there was no help for it now. He caught Gallegher in full dash, and, playing for the body, drove home his left and right with a force that jerked forth a grunt with each blow.

Gallegher halted, grinning for more; and Bonfire stepped into a full swing that gave him a taste of his own salt blood; he saw red, and the rue. For another savage swing beat down his guard, and as he dived in for a hanging clinch to save himself, his jaw came full on the peak of a sidelong uppercut which started at the Gunner's right hip, the big fist traveling less than six inches, the shoulder nine.

It was a terrific bunt. Bonfire found himself on his knees watching a gay fanfare of lightning crazily filming his brain. Blood trickled from Ills nose and ears. He saw the Gunner dragging himself On all fours out of the hurly-burly of the yelling mob. For the body-English of the blow had carried him headlong over his man. Then, reeling to their feet, the two men went at it again.

Back and forth they footed it, struggling for holds. Twice Bonfire tore loose and, staggering the Gunner with a straight right and left, he clinched again. To and fro they clipped once more, with the crowd roaring for a break; but the two men paid no heed, and in the wrestling Gallegher began to show who was the stronger man. Again and again he beat Bonfire to his knees, using the sheer weight of body and fist. It was terrible punishment; yet there must have been something of the Antaeus in the man, for with each fall Bonfire seemed to gain fresh wind and new heart for the fray.

He began to come back to something like his old snap-shot form. He began to fight with his head and feet as well as his hands. Up to now he had given way and been clubbed down. The Gunner still rushed him fiercely, wildly; but now Bonfire moved like a wind-driven shadow, hitting hard and fast at ever)' turn. He gave his adversary respect withal, cutting and slashing at long range, until the rushes began to fall short, grow more unsteady, more wild, which must be expected if you don't get your man; and then, taking his time, Bonfire began to cut the Gunner to pieces.

Thus the tide turned, and at last Gallegher halted, blinded, gasping. He spat, and a tooth lay on the ground. He stood still, glowering like a stricken bull; Ills breath came in great sobs; blow by blow, he was being worn down to the quick; then, on the verge of his stubborn relapse, surprisingly, as if drawing on the last ounce of hrs reserve energy, the Gunner made a snarling rush, slugging out with both fists.

Bonfire side-stepped neatly, parading some pretty foot-work. He ducked under a full right-swing, and driving left and right to the ribs, got away. Gallegher reeled under the savage impact, but turned and came back gamely; he rocked a little as he stood opposite his man, and his arms drooped as if he felt his fists to be an unutterable weight. His face showed terrible punishment. Every breath he drew' seemed a great actuality. The man was smashed, all in at last.

"Finish him!" bellowed the crowd.

It was the beginning of the end, and the mob was not to be denied. Bonfire smiled. His eyes were quiet, even pensive; but his face was terrible livid with the strange, almost unearthly russet pallor that follows the stormy pageant of red-headed men like a curse of God. A sudden hush fell on the crowd, which had drawn back a little, so the two men in the middle might have plenty room to make an end.

Bonfire took his time. The Gunner looked all in, and all that; but Bonfire knew his man. He had beaten him before, he had him beaten now; but Bonfire was not going to take any chances. Hard rock is hard rock. You may pierce it with sharp steel and break it with dynamite, but you can't kill it. It is smashed; at the same time it lives, ready to strike back. There are men like that. They work in hard rock.

Bonfire made no mistake. He crept around the motionless figure in the middle of the ring; he stalked it deliberately, coolly, confidently, like a big cat waiting for the moment to spring. One punch, just one, that was all he wanted.

Suddenly he sprang in. Whatever was passing in the Gunner's mind at this moment is not known, but he seemed barely able to raise his hands to meet the other's rush. He attempted a right swing, which Bonfire dropped his guard to sweep aside.

Then something happened which can not be explained. For, with his foeman once more within easy reach, weariness seemed to fall from Gallegher's shoulders like a blanket; he grinned with awful expression, and the rest was sharp work, grim and swift and terrible. His right swing was only a feint; now he sank it like a flash, and as he followed through with a quick, curious shifting of his feet, his left fist shot in over Bonfire's lowered guard. It struck directly over the heart—a two hundred and ten pound jolt—and Bonfire straightened up slowly, then fell forward like a stricken tree, face down in the soft white dust.

It was the end. Gallegher knew it; so did the crowd, by its silence. It was a full minute perhaps before the prostrate figure stirred; then, surprisingly, the man rolled over on his back and sat up, raising himself slowly upon his outspread arms. He looked around stupidly.

Gallegher broke the silence.

"Had enough?" he asked, standing over his man; Bonfire looked up, wetting his lips.

"No," he said in a minute. "No, I ain't done yet!" And he tried to get up on his feet.

He fell back on one knee, and then suddenly made it after a fashion, rocking and swaying in front of the Gunner like a drunken man.

"Good boy," said somebody in the crowd. Bonfire staggered out and around the Gunner. He tried to lift his hands, but could not.

"Come on," he said thickly.

Gallegher hesitated no longer. He advanced a step, his fist rising at his side. Another blow would finish it; but the Gunner paused in full stride, his arm poising in mid-swing.

"WAIT a minute!"

A burly figure barred his way.

It all happened in the tick of the clock. The newcomer held up his hand. He was a powerful, wide-girthed fellow with a heavy, brutal face and a scowling brow, which, as his grin faded, matched a hardset mouth. A respectful commotion rose at his back.

"What's the matter with you boys?" he growled.

Bonfire reeled weakly at his elbow.

"Get out of my way!" roared the Gunner. The other laughed in his face. He spoke with authority.

"Wait a minute, there. What d'you want to do—kill the man?"

Gallegher breathed in once, hard.

"I would," he said, and once more Bonfire staggered out.

"Come on, Gunner," he begged. "I ain't done yet——"

The newcomer shouldered him off.

"There won't be any more scrapping tonight," he said, as if that settled it. A low murmur bespoke the displeasure of the crowd.

As for the Gunner, he drew a whistling breath and batted an eye at Bonfire, and a strange thing happened. Both men turned and made for the other man, their arms swinging loose, murderously, like those in a common cause. The other stood his ground; he laughed, and at the sound Bonfire stopped and shook himself dazedly.

"Wait a second," he said, catching the Gunner's arm, "it's Jeff Call, the Walker!"

"You're a fine rock foreman!" sneered the walking-boss. "You're a fine guy, you are! Who's going to hole South Thirty-Five if you get put out?"

The question had at once the physical effect of oil and a barb. There was a low murmur of assent from the crowd. Bonfire winced.

"What are you butting in for?"

The walking-boss met the parry with a curse.

"What am I butting in for? Well, you can bet all your old shoes it wasn't because I was worrying about your hide! I'll tell you why—I ain't taking any chances. If South Thirty-Five is holed tomorrow it means a two thousand dollar bonus for the camp. Ain't that what we been working for day and night for the last month?"

The crowd was impressed.

"That's so," muttered a few.

The walking-boss saw his advantage and pursued it.

"Listen, boys. See if I ain't right! South Thirty-Five is in three thousand and four feet. The engineers told me this morning that the work in North Thirty-Five— on the other side of the hill—was only twenty-six foot away. Our grade and theirs is the like, and I've stopped their side of the work. Too dangerous. The day shot broke an even nine foot in the tunnel. I figure on the night shift doing the same, so with a little luck, Bonfire ought to hole her out tomorrow and grab the bonus!"

Bonfire smiled a wan smile.

"Oh, I'll hole her all right," he said proudly.

Instantly the walking-boss clinched his argument.

"Then what's the use of taking any chances? Bonfire knows the old girl like a book. If he gets licked today the Gunner gets his job. He may be a good man—I know he is—but we've got to think about our bonus. If they want to fight it out again let them wait till the shift comes off tomorrow afternoon. It's all the same to me then; what I'm thinking about is the bonus. The camp wants the money and the record. The Gunner can take a machine under Bonfire if he likes and share with the rest. What d'you say?"

The crowd was with him to a man.

"Fair enough," said Bonfire.

The Gunner gave a short nod.

"But say, Jeff Call," he addressed the walking-boss, "since you're such a good hand at fixing things, maybe you'd like to try a little of the same?"

"What d'you mean?"

"You know what I mean—when Bonfire and I get through. Winner take all," said the Gunner, looidng sly, "bunk, and bindle, and job."

Some of the men laughed. The walking-boss gave a surprised curse, then scowled thoughtfully.

"I don't know, Gunner. I'll have to see. You and Bonfire better go and have a wash before supper. I like your nerve; I may give you a chance if you put Bonfire away. I ain't had a good scrap since that set-to with Red Cobleigh up on the North Bank—nearly two years ago. I'll see, Gunner; I'll see about it."

"No hurry, Jeff," said the Gunner, looking at his knuckles.

Bonfire touched his arm.

"Come on, Gunner," he said. "Let's go and wash up."

Late that night the shift struck springs in the heading, so when Bonfire and the day shift came on the next morning the delayed shot was just being pulled. The denotations cracked forth from the portal of the tunnel with a certain deliberation, as from the mouth of a big gun.

The men of the night shift looked haggard and wan from their long vigil at the machines.

BONFIRE saw that the air-pumps were set to work, then entered the tunnel. The Gunner followed him without a word. Each carried a flaring stub of candle. Halfway in, creeping foot-high along the narrow muck-car track, an acrid yellow smoke met them; the ghost of the blast. They pressed on, coughing as this sub-floor of gas and smoke grew thick, wall-like, reducing the yellow flame of the candles to mere spots in the murk.

In the heading, however, they found the air clean and sweet, made so by the suck and drive of the two great tin air-pipes which hung against the left wall of the long drift. It sounded like a giant coughing and gagging.

A huge pile of broken stone, the product of the shot, confronted them, and back of it, gleaming, sheer, blank, rose the clean white breast of living rock. The two rockmen crouched on the towering pile, inspecting the grim work of steel, giant powder and flame.

"Fine white muck," said Bonfire, sifting some. "Clean and dry as a wisp. No more water, glory be!"

Then the men came in. Bonfire told them that a scant nine feet of white limestone lay between them and the big bonus. He drove the shovelers at the great pile of broken rock. They caught something of his own virile impatience. By and by, hauled by the little electric motor-engine, car after car of muck shot out to the dump. Even the Gunner condescended to put a hand to a shovel and speedily cleared a place against the breast of rock to set his big air-drill.

Then a muck-car loaded with sharp steel drills rolled into the heading. The nipper boy stood them in the rack and presently the narrow drift was filled with the brazen song and scream of steel biting into hard rock.

Candles stuck in broken ledges of the passage threw an unearthly yellow glare over all.

The drills were changed every three minutes. Within two hours the muck pile was a slender heap. Bonfire stood at the naked backs of his men, contentedly drinking in the din. The Gunner worked like a demon. He arrayed himself with steel and air which screamed and hissed and sang against the ugly face of the stubborn rock. Bonfire patted his streaming shoulder approvingly. The Gunner was setting a terrific pace for the rest of the men.

"Don't wear yourself out, Gunner," advised Bonfire, with a grin. "Remember you've got a little unfinished business for this afternoon."

"I'm remembering," returned the Gunner grimly. He grinned, but there was a keen, half-cruel look about the tight lips and impatient eyes.

At three o'clock the round was set down and load ed. It consisted of fourteen holes loaded with about three or four hundred pounds of dynamite. Each hole was capped with a primer and a fuse. Ten of the holes were three inches in diameter and eight feet deep in the rock. The four remaining holes were four inches in diameter and six feet deep.

These last four were bored diagonally into the rock about two feet above the ground. They required almost as heavy a load as the rest of the holes combined; they were called the lifters. The fuses of these loads were cut and timed so as to fire last, that each great shot might have a separate opportunity to heave up through its quarter of the rock, rending and tearing all.

It is the lifter that smashes hard rock into small fine bits. So, on occasion, would it smash a man.

The men stood back a little as Bonfire and the Gunner made ready to fire the round. Black lengths of fuse dangled over the white face of the rock like the tenacles of a huge devil-fish. The four top-holes were fired first; they ranged across the top of the breast, about two feet from the roof. The first fuse, which was cut at nine feet, spat a wicked stream of fire over the Gunner's candle.

Instantly a curious commotion appeared among the men. They began a hoarse cry—

"Fire in the heading!"

It passed quickly from mouth to mouth, and echoed out and through the far, glimmering portal.

Each foot of fuse represented sixty seconds of time. When Bonfire and the Gunner set fire to the six breast-holes which lay across the middle of the rock, the first fuse in the top-hole measured less than six feet and spat fire and hissed like an angry snake. The lifters were fired last. Then, candle in hand, Bonfire drove his men toward the motor-engine waiting in the heading to carry them all to safety. Gallegher walked at his side.

The men clumsily piled into the depths of three empty muck-cars coupled to the motor-engine, while Bonfire and the Gunner climbed up on opposite sides of a fourth car, which was nearly full of broken rock bound for the dump.

"All aboard," said Bonfire, and the little train started with a jerk.

And, as they got under way, the Gunner leaned over his side of the car and said—

"Well, Bonfire, if——"

He never finished the sentence. For, even as he spoke, the loaded muck-car reeled under them and gave a sudden lurch. Bonfire sprang backwards to see the car heel and crash into the ditch on the Gunner's side.

THE Gunner himself disappeared. The motor-engine leapt ahead, carrying three cars and a snapped coupling. It stopped within five lengths, and some of the men came running back. The muck-car lay on its side in the ditch; and the Gunner, who had been pinned under it in some way, cried out suffocatedly.

Another cry answered him.

"Fire in the heading!"

And a small band of Mexican shovelers piled out of the cars and ran helter-skelter for the portal. Bonfire stood gazing down at the wrecked car, his men behind him.

"How are you fixed, Gunner!" he shouted.

The buried man's voice came back.

"Fine, lad. Kind of short of breath, account of this load of muck on my chest. But outside of that I guess I'm all together. You lads better go while you can——"

For answer Bonfire sprang into the ditch and tugged at the high side of the overturned muck-car with a futile, frantic grip. His torso muscles leashed and creaked under the unequal strain. His men went at it, too, on all sides of the car, but to no good. It was too much for them, and presently they all stood back gasping.

"Fire in the heading!"

The cry rang back from the narrow walls. A few of the men glanced at the blazing fuses in the heading and ran. The motorman asked Bonfire for orders.

"No hurry," said Bonfire coolly. "At that, I guess we ain't got time to unload this muck car."

The slender band of men who remained cast furtive looks in the direction of the sparking and hissing rock. A few whimpered for Bonfire to come on. But he shook them off.

"Go on with you," urged the buried man. "There, ain't no use of you fellows sticking around. I'm just as good as dead. Go on, Bonfire, or the first thing you know she ll be licking all of you out along with me— d'you hear? Bonfire—Bonfire, lad—you haven't gone yet?"

"No," said Bonfire.

The men had shrunk back a little and left him standing there. Nothing seemed to move the man.

"No hurry," he muttered, glancing at a piece of iron rod he held in his right hand. It was about two feet long and spoon-shaped at one end; a miner's spoon, an implement used by rockmen for removing fuse and primer from a hole when a misfire or something is the matter.

"Come on, Bonfire," begged the men. "It won't do any good to stand here. You heard what the Gunner said. Look at the burning drift!"

Bonfire trimmed a stub of candle with his knife.

"Fire in the heading!" shrilled the relentless cry.

It fell to a piteous screech.

"Go on, then!" Bonfire roared of a sudden and the men fell back before the cold fire that was in his eyes.

"What are you going to do?" muttered one.

"Nothing," said Bonfire. "I'm going to stay and pull that load."

He swung around.

"Aw, say, Bonfire," growled the man under the muck car.

"Fire in the heading!"

The motor-engine roared out toward the portal as Bonfire turned and ran back into the sparking breast. A deathly quiet fell in the narrow drift. The dark was like doom. It was accentuated rather than disturbed by that ominous hiss and flash. Bonfire and the Gunner were alone with...

"Fire in the heading!"

At the portal the men of the day shift waited in characteristic attitudes. Many cursed. They named the powder and the rock horribly. Others rolled cigarettes. The Mexicans shrilled prayers for the dying until Burns, the little timberman, made out a few words of the gibberish and began a fusillade of sharp rock.

"Ain't you a fine bunch of grave diggers!" he roared. "Get out of this!"

Some of the men jumped up and ran toward camp, screaming the news along road and path.

"Fire in the heading!" moaned the siren on the hill.

"He can't make it," muttered Burns. "He's got less than four minutes to pull the whole load. There ain't a chance in the world for him to get down to those bloody lifters. And one of them, mind, will fire the whole round!"

Then, suddenly, there came a short, whiplike roar close at hand.

"One," counted the men mechanically.

BONFIRE'S first act on entering the drift had been to reach for a sputtering length of fuse which dangled from the top hole at the left. This fuse had been fired first. He pulled lightly. A shower of fine sand and a yellow stick of giant powder slid into his hand. He gnashed at the spark in the fuse with his knife. It flamed within three feet and a half from the primer.

Three and one-half minutes of life!

Bonfire worked swiftly with knife and hand, guttering fuse and primer. For light in that dark and narrow place he clenched the four-inch stub of candle between his strong white teeth. When he reached the four breast-holes, the first fuse read like a ticker.

One minute and thirty seconds!

Bonfire began to curse the living rock. And each red eye in that rugged face seemed to twinkle back with infinite mirth. It winked at him in a huge grin. Bonfire whimpered as he stabbed at the terrible eyes. Great rivulets of sweat ran down his cheeks. He could feel the hot stream dripping on his breast, welling under his armpits.

His curses broke out afresh. He personified everything. He had a profane name for the rock, for the powder, for the Gunner, for the men who waited at the portal. The very rock seemed possessed. It clutched and clung to the imp of death in its vitals like a mother to her child. When a primer and a fuse came readily to his hand he cursed it endearingly; and when it evaded him almost cunningly, he bellowed like an angry bull.

Mechanically, his motions were perfect. There was no faltering, no trick of the hand or eye wasted, and no wavering of heart. The man appeared to array himself against the grim breast of the rock with superb effrontry. Now he laughed and sang at intervals.

Then the first lifter! Less than a foot of fuse lay between his knife and the primer. He chuckled. Less than sixty seconds to death! He tore at the second lifter-hole, and the fuse, brittle and rotten with the flying spark, came away in his scorched and bleeding hands.

For an awful jiffy of terror he was minded to tear at the stubborn rock with his bare mitts. He dug furiously in the lifter-hole, reaching for the hidden primer with the miner's spoon. He nicked the spark without a glance. There was no time. The third lifter rose easily, and Bonfire laughed. His knife touched the brass primer on one side and the spark on the other. Less than fifteen ticks of the clock between him and...

One hole remained.

He squatted on the floor, driving the spoon warily against the wall of the hole, for the lightest touch would drop that hot spark into the primer.

Bonfire felt the spoon catch hold. A cold sweat broke and welled all over him. He raised the spoon carefully, so that its precious burden might not joggle and then, as he nipped the protruding yellow stick with its stub of fuse, he knew that he held Death spitting in his hands.

He turned and threw it toward the portal with all his might. It hurtled through the air and fell a good fifty feet beyond where the Gunner lay under the overturned muckcar.

Then he crumpled against the side of the rock, which received him on its huge white breast almost gently. He wondered at the sullen roar and the shock of air which flattened him out.

And when the men came upon him, a little later, he was lying face-down in a little pile of primers and fuse beside the stingless breast of rock. He breathed jerkily. With gentle hands they turned him over on his back. He seemed to grin at them, and the grotesque effect was heightened by a twisted stub of candle jauntily coked in the comer of his mouth like a cherished perfecto.

"Awfully tired," he said suddenly. Then he wandered a little. "That you, Gunner? No hurry; I'll be ready for you in a minute. Give me a smoke, somebody," he added, sitting up.

As they half carried him past the Mexicans shoveling muck from tire car which still pinned the Gunner in the ditch, he stood free.

"Hello, Gunner?" he called.

"That you, Bonfire?"

"How d'you feel?"

"Pretty good. How's yourself?"

"Oh, I'm all right. Have you got anything broke, Gunner?"

"No; I don't think so." The buried man seemed to hesitate. "Say, lad," he began.


"That was a grand piece of work you just put over. I'd liked to have done it myself."

"Oh, you would, eh?"

"You heard me. And say, let me tell you something, fellow. You wait till they get this load of muck off ray chest. Then you look out for yourself!" The muffled voice broke off. Then, "D'you hear?"

Bonfire laughed a hard, soundless laugh through closed lips.

"Oh, I'll wait for you," he said.

That was all. Bonfire laughed again, and started back into the heading to look over the reloading of the day shot.

Hard rock is hard rock.

TWO days later an empty chuck-wagon returned to Sixty-Mile Siding. A big young man sat on the scat beside the driver. He dismounted as they pulled up in front of the little company offices. Inside he asked for the division engineer.

A young man in spectacles came up to the counter.

"What can I do for you?"

"I want a pass to Mojave. Been working up at Sixty-Mile."

Without further ceremony the engineer drew forward a book of blue railroad transportation. His fountain-pen paused.


The big young man turned his face, the sole attractions of which were a twisted nose, a spreading patch of purple under each eye, some caked mud and blood, and a swollen lip, to his questioner.

"Cobleigh. Bonfire Cobleigh," was his answer.

The engineer stared at him.

"Bonfire Cobleigh? Why, only the other day a big fellow was in here asking for you. I sent him up to Sixty-Mile. You must have met him——"

Bonfire nodded grimly.

"I met him, all right. And I wasn't the only one either. It might interest you to know that you've got a new walking-boss up there now. Take a slant at my face; it's a quince, but it ain't a marker to what the old Gunner handed to the Walker, Jeff Call, when he got through with me! He got my job, and then he got Jeff's—but say!"

Bonfire had his pass; now he paused in the door, flashing a rare bright look upon the bewildered young man in spectacles.

"If anybody comes in here asking for me, tell him which way I went, will you, kid?"