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VINCENT came into the diningroom with such a calamitous expression on his full-moon face that one accustomed, as I was, to his habitual radiance could not ignore it. He sank into the chair opposite, and gave an order for soft boiled eggs and coffee.

"Is there a competent dentist in this place?" he inquired dejectedly.

I named one of good repute in the calling. "Toothache, I suppose?"

"Loose filling. I suppose I'll have to live on liquid diet now, until it's fixed. You see," he complained, as his ascetic breakfast was put before him, "I've been eating dry toast to keep down fat, and I'll have to cut that out until this tooth is fixed. You can't eat dry toast with a loose filling rattling around in your tooth like a roulette-ball when the wheel slows down."

I conceded the point, and reverted to the business in hand. "When we get out there to-day," I counselled, "don't just take Black's word for everything. Make some soundings for yourself."

Instantly his native optimism came to the front, and the clouds began to disappear. "You're soured, George," he returned lightly. "They haven't all had your luck. Besides, how on earth can they salt a placer mine? It's preposterous!"

"I don't know," I replied doggedly. "I don't know whether they can or whether they can't. All that I am laboring to get into your head is that you can't believe all Black says. Mind, I don't say that Black ever did salt a mine. But I do know that he sold a couple of bonanzas to Easterners like you and by some mysterious law of Nature they ceased to produce just about as soon as the purchase price was paid over."

Vincent nodded indulgently. "Quartz. Any fool can salt a quartz mine—shoot it in with a shotgun, mix it in the dump, squirt chloride of gold into the sample sack with a syringe—forty ways. That's easy. But now you talk to me about salting a placer—where you just shovel up the dirt and pan it out—acres and acres of it. I say it's out of the question."

Vincent had made his money in the East in commerce, and a man that can do that without help, as he had, is ordinarily able to take care of himself. On the other hand, this was Montana and gold mines, and, be adman's business ability what it may, any Easterner is a tenderfoot when it comes to mining. It was no fault of mine that he had fallen under Black's spell, though I did introduce Vincent in the club where Black got to him. But the man who has suffered himself from the mining fever—and I had— feels an obligation to protect the unwary from exposure. Moreover, as Vincent had done me a good turn once, I conceived it my duty to throw cold water.

"Placer mining is not what it used to be," I stated disparagingly.

But my shot went wild. He began to spout statistics like an eruption of Old Faithful. "Of course not!" he assented with animation. "Neither are methods what they were. The old-timer with his pan and sluice-box let enough gold escape him to pay the national debt. Look at the fortunes that have been made by cyaniding the old dumps! Look at the low-grade ore they work these days! Look at the old placers worked over for the third time at a profit! Why, do you know how much you need to make placer ground pay now under improved methods? Ten cents a yard, in the right places! Twenty-five cents is big. Give me a piece of ground that runs twenty-five cents to the yard and I'll make a fortune. Your old-time prospector wouldn't fool with ground that didn't run five cents a shovel. Generally they wanted about ten dollars to the pan."

"Oh, if you've got the ground——" I began He made a sweep with his egg-spoon that left golden traces on the white tablecloth. "Ground! That's the point. Black says there's oodles of it. He says it runs forty cents to the yard as far as he has tried it. That's all I want."

"Yes, that's what Black says," I returned grudgingly, unwilling to yield. "I've had a little experience with mines myself, and I've seen a few of them sold that——"

Again he stopped me. "Quartz," he repeated serenely and exasperatingly. "And furthermore, George," he continued with dignity, rising from the table, "I am perhaps not a complete ass, despite the fact that I wasn't born west of the Mississippi!"

THROUGH the windows a big touring-car could be seen lazily rolling up to the curb at the hotel entrance. "There they are," remarked Vincent with a sigh of relief. "Get your coat and we'll be going."

I maneuvered Black into the front seat with the driver. I hadn't yet resigned my trust as guardian angel, even if the job was a thankless one, and I didn't propose to leave Vincent with Black where I couldn't hear all that was said. So Black was forced to lean over his seat and expound his theories in the face of my openly exhibited skepticism. He treated Vincent to a highly scientific disquisition on placers, full of such phrases as "mother lode in the neighborhood," "old river channel," "pay streaks," "volcanic upheavals," and something about "only a foot and a half to bed-rock," while I assumed a look of exquisite boredom, as one to whom it was all ancient and stale.

The day was such as is seen only in the high altitudes of the Rockies—a clear June morning filled with the tang of pure air, dry and cool. The car sped faultlessly over the hard, smooth road. On such a day even my settled habit of suspicion slowly yielded to my sensuous appreciation of the weather and the environment." Gold is where you find it," sayeth the proverb. The fact that I had failed was no evidence that Black hadn't found it. Plenty of others had.

About noon we reached the river and the placer ground. A little stream of crystal water raced madly down between two mountains and debouched upon a flat too suddenly to select its own course, and was broken and spread out into a wide estuary of numberless tiny rivulets between flat, black sand-bars with surfaces almost flush with the water and level as billiard-tables. At the junction with the river these bars were gradually submerged, but for a considerable distance downstream the left bank was filled in with the same character of deposit.

Black got out first and removed a pan and shovel from the bottom of the car. "This is the place," he said, waving his arm toward the sand-bars. "Fred, you run the car over to Miller's and see if you can get some gasoline from him. I'm afraid we're short. Come back here for us."

We climbed out and Vincent surveyed the expanse with delight in his eyes, calculating its extent.

"All the land you can use," said Black, replying to Vincent's look. "And a riverful of water to work it—and no expense for pumping."

"Has it all been tested—prospected?" asked Vincent, nodding toward a couple of shallow holes in the bar opposite.

Black shook his head. "By no means. Haven't had the time for it. But you can see for yourself the formation is the same all over the flat. What holds good for one part of it must hold good for it all. Come, and I'll show you."

He stepped across the little stream at his feet and advanced to the middle of the bar. We followed him. The driver had already turned his car about and disappeared behind the shoulder of a hill. Black confidently thrust his shovel into the sand and dumped the contents into the wash-pan. This he carried to the water's edge and half filled with water, which he proceeded to slush this way and that, spilling it out now and then with the mud and gravel, and continuing the motion until all of the water and most of the dirt had been poured away.

"See here!" he said at last, holding up the pan.

He pointed to some tiny, yellowish particles at the lower edge of the black dirt remaining in the pan. It was perhaps as much as five cents in gold.

"But," he added, "that isn't saying that's all there was in the pan. Washing with a pan is the most primitive of methods. Now let's see what we get here."

He made several trials, six in all, I believe. Five out of the six showed colors. Not one of the washings produced as much as. twenty-five cents in gold—and that wasn't expected—but on the whole the showing was good and Vincent was plainly impressed. I saw that it was no longer a question of his buying, but simply one of price: We returned to dry ground, found a comfortable seat under a scrub pine, and they began to discuss terms.

"IF YOU all are going to sit here and dicker," I said, "I am going to take a walk about and stretch my legs."

I had a little plan of my own and I wanted to see that chauffeur. It was a good mile to the farmhouse whither he had gone, and after I had seen him and transacted my business I returned to the scene of the bargaining;

"Fred says there's something out of whack with that machine," I announced as I came up to them.

Black's eyebrows contracted with annoyance. "Let him fix it, then!" he answered irritably.

"He says he can't do it," I informed him. "Why, what in thunder is the matter?" he demanded.

"That's more than I know," said I, sitting down. "I'm not a mechanic."

He got up in great disgust and began to dust his trousers. "Well, I'll be everlastingly and eternally—I wonder what that kid thinks he's fit for, anyway! The car was all right this morning. We'll have to go over there and see what's the trouble, I suppose."

I deliberately took my pipe from my pocket and filled it. "I am supposing I'm not going to walk that mile again!" I said with finality. "I've got a prickly-pear needle sticking a full inch into my foot, and I've decided to wait here. You can come back this way for me. I'll be here."

He favored me with a side-long scowl, and I could see he didn't like it. "Would you like to walk over, Vincent?" he suggested.

Under cover of my hands raised to light my pipe, I gave Vincent a wink and he declined the suggestion, and after a little further fretting Black was compelled to set off by himself.

I gave him plenty of time to get out of sight and hearing. Then I took up the pan and shovel myself.

"We'll do a little prospecting on our own hook!" I laughed. "I thought I'd manage to get rid of him somehow."

I chose a spot some distance from where Black had taken his dirt. We filled the pan and washed it out. We got nothing.

"However, that really doesn't prove anything," said Vincent hopefully.

"Not a thing," I admitted, and dug up another panful. This time we got two little colors, almost microscopic and of no calculable value. I shifted ground and washed again. No showing.

"Do you know what I begin to believe, Vincent?" I said.

"Yes. But you might be off the pay-streak, you know."

Like Hamlet and his friends we once more removed our ground. "I thought I knew our friend Black pretty well!" I chuckled. Again I heaved the black sand into the pan and dipped up water and swished it about and spilled it over the rim, while Vincent leaned over my shoulder and watched intently.

"Let me have it." he urged finally. "You go at it too carelessly."

I resigned the pan to him, and stood aside while he scooped up more water and carefully slopped it over the brim, a spoonful at a time. I thought he would never have done. Tired at length with standing still, I took a turn up and down the bars. I tried to find evidence on the surface of the ground, hut the bars all lay so low that the least rise in the creek would overflow them, and search was useless. Passing by Vincent on my still hunt I heard him suddenly catch his breath, and stopped to see what was the matter.

"Suffering Sassafras!" he ejaculated awesomely. "Come, look here, George!"

I looked, and just peeping up out of the handful of mud left in the pan I beheld the smooth, yellow top of a gold nugget as big as a pea! With tremulous fingers Vincent picked it out and contemplated it with rapture. Finally he handed it over to me. It was a good nugget, pure gold, and worth two dollars at the least!

"I take it all back, Vincent," I said. "That's 'the real thing, Annie.' Nobody salted that here! I reckon this is a placer claim all right."

"Let's hurry up and see if we can find any more before Black gets back!" proposed Vincent, grabbing the pan. " Why, this may be another Alder Gulch!"

JUST then the chugging of the machine came to our ears. For a moment Vincent hesitated, then gave it up. "We haven't time," he murmured disappointedly, bending down to wash the pan clean. Then we went back to the dry ground again, regaining our place just as the car rounded the hill. I still held the precious nugget in my hand.

"Put that thing in your pocket!" Vincent commanded excitedly. "For heaven's sake don't let Black see it! He'd triple the price of this land. And keep quiet about it, too!"

Black himself was driving the auto, the driver having been relegated to the back seat in disgrace. I knew why.

"Nothing in the world the matter but a spark-plug blown out!" Black explained wrathfully as he brought the car to a stop. "Any fool ought to know how to fix that!"

Vincent and Black sat together on the way back and sparred for points all the way in. The agreement was eventually reached just a short way from town by a concession on Black's part, which I am certain he was ready to yield all the time rather than not make the sale.

At the hotel we parted, Black going to find his attorney to prepare the necessary documents. Vincent was elated. The day in the open-had given us both splendid appetites and we had a sumptuous dinner. Vincent threw all his dietary injunctions to the four winds and ate like a wolf. When we finally got down to the cheese and watercrackers he sighed like a young simoon and announced that he would have to fast for a month to get back into shape.

"But I did a good piece of work to-day, George," he remarked, by way of justification, at the same time adding a piece of cheese and bite of bread to the burden. His mouth closed upon the morsel appreciatively while a wave of gastronomic delight spread itself from chin to eyebrows. My amused study of his perfect satisfaction, however, was rudely disturbed when he suddenly leaped to his feet and dapped his hand to his cheek, his whole countenance twisted in a spasm of pain.

"Crucified Cuspidores!" he yelled in a voice that filled the room.

"Why, what on earth?" I inquired in surprise.

Without answering he made a sudden dart for the door. Half-way there he wheeled and as suddenly rushed back to me. "What's Black's 'phone number?" he cried wildly.

"I don't know. Ask the clerk. What's the matter?"

He took his hand from his mouth. "Matter enough! That magnificent, transcendant, potential, glimmering gold-mine of ours is nothing more than a vainglorious, inflated burlesque and fraud! That's what's the matter!"

I was bewildered. "What makes you think that?"

With an effort he regained his composure and resumed his seat. "Anyway, I can call the deal off when he comes here to-night," he said. "The reason why I think it," he added sullenly, "is because that nugget we thought so much of is nothing more nor less than the filling out of my tooth!"

"The filling of your tooth!" I echoed incredulously.

"Just that! And we thought it was a gold-mine! That filling was loose this morning. Must have slipped out of the cavity while I was staring like a petrified catfish with its mouth open at you washing out that mud to-day!"

I drew the supposed nugget from my pocket and inspected it. He was correct. The precious lump upon which we had predicated a gold mine was merely a dentist's filling. Under an enlightened scrutiny its shape betrayed the previous character of its servitude.

"I'll call the deal off," repeated Vincent determinedly. "What do I want with his desert of black sand? I'll show your friend how he'll salt mud-geysers and buffalo-wallows and what-not and shove 'em off on me for gold-mines!"

A bell-boy appeared at the entrance to the dining-room, glanced about the tables and loudly called, "Vincent!"

Vincent hastily drew back from the table. "That's Black, now!" he exclaimed. "I'll favor that gentleman with a statement of my opinion of the ethics of this little game of his!"

I finished my coffee, and in a few moments followed him. I located him and Black in the deserted writing-room, Vincent very warm and scowling, Black quite composed and smiling. The promoter of bonanzas fingered a little slip of paper as he spoke:

"You seemed rather anxious to secure the property on the way in to-day," he was saying, with a mocking note in his voice. "Here is a little memorandum of the terms of sale that we made out for the lawyers' guidance."

"But the whole thing is a blame fraud!" retorted Vincent hotly. "I was buying that for a gold-mine. And it turns out that what I took to be placer gold was just a tooth-filling! What do you suppose want with that sand-bar unless it's what I took it to be?"

Black rose with the air of a man weary of discussion. "I am sure I can't say, Mr. Vincent," he returned coolly. "I only know that I have here your signed-agreed ment to buy the property at the price stated. In our State that is sufficient to enforce £he carrying out of the contract—which I shall certainly do, by suit at law, if necessary. And here," he concluded, placing a neatly folded document on the settee, "is your deed, properly executed. I wish you goodevening and good luck!" And he passed out of the hotel.

I turned to Vincent, who had picked up the deed. He shrugged his shoulders. "My own fault," he murmured. "I suspected he was tricky, and I wanted something to hold him, so I suggested that infernal memorandum. Confound that tooth!"

HOWEVER, as has been remarked by others, Dame Fortune is a fickle lady who sometimes, jests as she turns the wheel. Winners are not winners till the game is all played, and lottery prizes go by chance, not favor.

"I notice," I remarked, laying aside the newspaper as Black came into the club a few days since, "that Vincent has, just made another big clean-up at that placer mine you sold him last Summer."

He favored me with such scowl as he might have given me had I stepped on his favorite corn. "Oh, ——!" he growled, and went on into the bar.