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HARD ROCK

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.

Boom!

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

Boom-m!

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.

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