All Gold Canyon
by Jack London
It was the green heart of the canyon, where the walls swerved back
from the rigid plan and relieved their harshness of line by making a
little sheltered nook and filling it to the brim with sweetness and
roundness and softness. Here all things rested. Even the narrow
stream ceased its turbulent down-rush long enough to form a quiet
pool. Knee-deep in the water, with drooping head and half-shut eyes,
drowsed a red-coated, many-antlered buck.
On one side, beginning at the very lip of the pool, was a tiny
meadow, a cool, resilient surface of green that extended to the base
of the frowning wall. Beyond the pool a gentle slope of earth ran up
and up to meet the opposing wall. Fine grass covered the slope—grass
that was spangled with flowers, with here and there patches of color,
orange and purple and golden. Below, the canyon was shut in. There was
no view. The walls leaned together abruptly and the canyon ended in a
chaos of rocks, moss-covered and hidden by a green screen of vines and
creepers and boughs of trees. Up the canyon rose far hills and peaks,
the big foothills, pine-covered and remote. And far beyond, like
clouds upon the border of the slay, towered minarets of white, where
the Sierra's eternal snows flashed austerely the blazes of the sun.
There was no dust in the canyon. The leaves and flowers were clean
and virginal. The grass was young velvet. Over the pool three
cottonwoods sent their scurvy fluffs fluttering down the quiet air.
On the slope the blossoms of the wine-wooded manzanita filled the air
with springtime odors, while the leaves, wise with experience, were
already beginning their vertical twist against the coming aridity of
summer. In the open spaces on the slope, beyond the farthest
shadow-reach of the manzanita, poised the mariposa lilies, like so
many flights of jewelled moths suddenly arrested and on the verge of
trembling into flight again. Here and there that woods harlequin, the
madrone, permitting itself to be caught in the act of changing its
pea-green trunk to madder-red, breathed its fragrance into the air
from great clusters of waxen bells. Creamy white were these bells,
shaped like lilies-of-the-valley, with the sweetness of perfume that
is of the springtime.
There was not a sigh of wind. The air was drowsy with its weight of
perfume. It was a sweetness that would have been cloying had the air
been heavy and humid. But the air was sharp and thin. It was as
starlight transmuted into atmosphere, shot through and warmed by
sunshine, and flower-drenched with sweetness.
An occasional butterfly drifted in and out through the patches of
light and shade. And from all about rose the low and sleepy hum of
mountain bees—feasting Sybarites that jostled one another
good-naturedly at the board, nor found time for rough discourtesy. So
quietly did the little stream drip and ripple its way through the
canyon that it spoke only in faint and occasional gurgles. The voice
of the stream was as a drowsy whisper, ever interrupted by dozings
and silences, ever lifted again in the awakenings.
The motion of all things was a drifting in the heart of the canyon.
Sunshine and butterflies drifted in and out among the trees. The hum
of the bees and the whisper of the stream were a drifting of sound.
And the drifting sound and drifting color seemed to weave together in
the making of a delicate and intangible fabric which was the spirit of
the place. It was a spirit of peace that was not of death, but of
smooth-pulsing life, of quietude that was not silence, of movement
that was not action, of repose that was quick with existence without
being violent with struggle and travail. The spirit of the place was
the spirit of the peace of the living, somnolent with the easement and
content of prosperity, and undisturbed by rumors of far wars.
The red-coated, many-antlered buck acknowledged the lordship of the
spirit of the place and dozed knee-deep in the cool, shaded pool.
There seemed no flies to vex him and he was languid with rest.
Sometimes his ears moved when the stream awoke and whispered; but
they moved lazily, with, foreknowledge that it was merely the stream
grown garrulous at discovery that it had slept.
But there came a time when the buck's ears lifted and tensed with
swift eagerness for sound. His head was turned down the canyon. His
sensitive, quivering nostrils scented the air. His eyes could not
pierce the green screen through which the stream rippled away, but to
his ears came the voice of a man. It was a steady, monotonous,
singsong voice. Once the buck heard the harsh clash of metal upon
rock. At the sound he snorted with a sudden start that jerked him
through the air from water to meadow, and his feet sank into the
young velvet, while he pricked his ears and again scented the air.
Then he stole across the tiny meadow, pausing once and again to
listen, and faded away out of the canyon like a wraith, soft-footed
and without sound.
The clash of steel-shod soles against the rocks began to be heard,
and the man's voice grew louder. It was raised in a sort of chant and
became distinct with nearness, so that the words could be heard:
"Turn around an' tu'n yo' face
Untoe them sweet hills of grace
(D' pow'rs of sin yo' am scornin'!).
Look about an' look aroun',
Fling yo' sin-pack on d' groun'
(Yo' will meet wid d' Lord in d' mornin'!)."
A sound of scrambling accompanied the song, and the spirit of the
place fled away on the heels of the red-coated buck. The green screen
was burst asunder, and a man peered out at the meadow and the pool and
the sloping side-hill. He was a deliberate sort of man. He took in the
scene with one embracing glance, then ran his eyes over the details to
verify the general impression. Then, and not until then, did he open
his mouth in vivid and solemn approval:
"Smoke of life an' snakes of purgatory! Will you just look at that!
Wood an' water an' grass an' a side-hill! A pocket-hunter's delight
an' a cayuse's paradise! Cool green for tired eyes! Pink pills for
pale people ain't in it. A secret pasture for prospectors and a
resting-place for tired burros, by damn!"
He was a sandy-complexioned man in whose face geniality and humor
seemed the salient characteristics. It was a mobile face,
quick-changing to inward mood and thought. Thinking was in him a
visible process. Ideas chased across his face like wind-flaws across
the surface of a lake. His hair, sparse and unkempt of growth, was as
indeterminate and colorless as his complexion. It would seem that all
the color of his frame had gone into his eyes, for they were
startlingly blue. Also, they were laughing and merry eyes, within
them much of the naivete and wonder of the child; and yet, in an
unassertive way, they contained much of calm self-reliance and
strength of purpose founded upon self-experience and experience of
From out the screen of vines and creepers he flung ahead of him a
miner's pick and shovel and gold-pan. Then he crawled out himself
into the open. He was clad in faded overalls and black cotton shirt,
with hobnailed brogans on his feet, and on his head a hat whose
shapelessness and stains advertised the rough usage of wind and rain
and sun and camp-smoke. He stood erect, seeing wide-eyed the secrecy
of the scene and sensuously inhaling the warm, sweet breath of the
canyon-garden through nostrils that dilated and quivered with delight.
His eyes narrowed to laughing slits of blue, his face wreathed itself
in joy, and his mouth curled in a smile as he cried aloud:
"Jumping dandelions and happy hollyhocks, but that smells good to
me! Talk about your attar o' roses an' cologne factories! They ain't
He had the habit of soliloquy. His quick-changing facial
expressions might tell every thought and mood, but the tongue,
perforce, ran hard after, repeating, like a second Boswell.
The man lay down on the lip of the pool and drank long and deep of
its water. "Tastes good to me," he murmured, lifting his head and
gazing across the pool at the side-hill, while he wiped his mouth
with the back of his hand. The side-hill attracted his attention.
Still lying on his stomach, he studied the hill formation long and
carefully. It was a practised eye that travelled up the slope to the
crumbling canyon-wall and back and down again to the edge of the
pool. He scrambled to his feet and favored the side-hill with a
"Looks good to me," he concluded, picking up his pick and shovel
He crossed the stream below the pool, stepping agilely from stone
to stone. Where the sidehill touched the water he dug up a shovelful
of dirt and put it into the gold-pan. He squatted down, holding the
pan in his two hands, and partly immersing it in the stream. Then he
imparted to the pan a deft circular motion that sent the water
sluicing in and out through the dirt and gravel. The larger and the
lighter particles worked to the surface, and these, by a skilful
dipping movement of the pan, he spilled out and over the edge.
Occasionally, to expedite matters, he rested the pan and with his
fingers raked out the large pebbles and pieces of rock.
The contents of the pan diminished rapidly until only fine dirt and
the smallest bits of gravel remained. At this stage he began to work
very deliberately and carefully. It was fine washing, and he washed
fine and finer, with a keen scrutiny and delicate and fastidious
touch. At last the pan seemed empty of everything but water; but with
a quick semicircular flirt that sent the water flying over the shallow
rim into the stream, he disclosed a layer of black sand on the bottom
of the pan. So thin was this layer that it was like a streak of paint.
He examined it closely. In the midst of it was a tiny golden speck. He
dribbled a little water in over the depressed edge of the pan. With a
quick flirt he sent the water sluicing across the bottom, turning the
grains of black sand over and over. A second tiny golden speck
rewarded his effort.
The washing had now become very fine—fine beyond all need of
ordinary placer-mining. He worked the black sand, a small portion at
a time, up the shallow rim of the pan. Each small portion he examined
sharply, so that his eyes saw every grain of it before he allowed it
to slide over the edge and away. Jealously, bit by bit, he let the
black sand slip away. A golden speck, no larger than a pin-point,
appeared on the rim, and by his manipulation of the riveter it
returned to the bottom of tile pan. And in such fashion another speck
was disclosed, and another. Great was his care of them. Like a
shepherd he herded his flock of golden specks so that not one should
be lost. At last, of the pan of dirt nothing remained but his golden
herd. He counted it, and then, after all his labor, sent it flying out
of the pan with one final swirl of water.
But his blue eyes were shining with desire as he rose to his feet.
"Seven," he muttered aloud, asserting the sum of the specks for which
he had toiled so hard and which he had so wantonly thrown away.
"Seven," he repeated, with the emphasis of one trying to impress a
number on his memory.
He stood still a long while, surveying the hill-side. In his eyes
was a curiosity, new-aroused and burning. There was an exultance
about his bearing and a keenness like that of a hunting animal
catching the fresh scent of game.
He moved down the stream a few steps and took a second panful of
Again came the careful washing, the jealous herding of the golden
specks, and the wantonness with which he sent them flying into the
stream when he had counted their number.
"Five," he muttered, and repeated, "five."
He could not forbear another survey of the hill before filling the
pan farther down the stream. His golden herds diminished. "Four,
three, two, two, one," were his memory-tabulations as he moved down
the stream. When but one speck of gold rewarded his washing, he
stopped and built a fire of dry twigs. Into this he thrust the
gold-pan and burned it till it was blue-black. He held up the pan and
examined it critically. Then he nodded approbation. Against such a
color-background he could defy the tiniest yellow speck to elude him.
Still moving down the stream, he panned again. A single speck was
his reward. A third pan contained no gold at all. Not satisfied with
this, he panned three times again, taking his shovels of dirt within
a foot of one another. Each pan proved empty of gold, and the fact,
instead of discouraging him, seemed to give him satisfaction. His
elation increased with each barren washing, until he arose,
"If it ain't the real thing, may God knock off my head with sour
Returning to where he had started operations, he began to pan up
the stream. At first his golden herds increased—increased
prodigiously. "Fourteen, eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-six," ran his
memory tabulations. Just above the pool he struck his richest
"Almost enough to save," he remarked regretfully as he allowed the
water to sweep them away.
The sun climbed to the top of the sky. The man worked on. Pan by
pan, he went up the stream, the tally of results steadily decreasing.
"It's just booful, the way it peters out," he exulted when a
shovelful of dirt contained no more than a single speck of gold.
And when no specks at all were found in several pans, he
straightened up and favored the hillside with a confident glance.
"Ah, ha! Mr. Pocket!" he cried out, as though to an auditor hidden
somewhere above him beneath the surface of the slope. "Ah, ha! Mr.
Pocket! I'm a-comin', I'm a-comin', an' I'm shorely gwine to get yer!
You heah me, Mr. Pocket? I'm gwine to get yer as shore as punkins
He turned and flung a measuring glance at the sun poised above him
in the azure of the cloudless sky. Then he went down the canyon,
following the line of shovel-holes he had made in filling the pans.
He crossed the stream below the pool and disappeared through the
green screen. There was little opportunity for the spirit of the
place to return with its quietude and repose, for the man's voice,
raised in ragtime song, still dominated the canyon with possession.
After a time, with a greater clashing of steel-shod feet on rock,
he returned. The green screen was tremendously agitated. It surged
back and forth in the throes of a struggle. There was a loud grating
and clanging of metal. The man's voice leaped to a higher pitch and
was sharp with imperativeness. A large body plunged and panted. There
was a snapping and ripping and rending, and amid a shower of falling
leaves a horse burst through the screen. On its back was a pack, and
from this trailed broken vines and torn creepers. The animal gazed
with astonished eyes at the scene into which it had been precipitated,
then dropped its head to the grass and began contentedly to graze. A
second horse scrambled into view, slipping once on the mossy rocks and
regaining equilibrium when its hoofs sank into the yielding surface of
the meadow. It was riderless, though on its back was a high-horned
Mexican saddle, scarred and discolored by long usage.
The man brought up the rear. He threw off pack and saddle, with an
eye to camp location, and gave the animals their freedom to graze. He
unpacked his food and got out frying-pan and coffee-pot. He gathered
an armful of dry wood, and with a few stones made a place for his
"My!" he said, "but I've got an appetite. I could scoff
iron-filings an' horseshoe nails an' thank you kindly, ma'am, for a
He straightened up, and, while he reached for matches in the pocket
of his overalls, his eyes travelled across the pool to the side-hill.
His fingers had clutched the match-box, but they relaxed their hold
and the hand came out empty. The man wavered perceptibly. He looked at
his preparations for cooking and he looked at the hill.
"Guess I'll take another whack at her," he concluded, starting to
cross the stream.
"They ain't no sense in it, I know," he mumbled apologetically.
"But keepin' grub back an hour ain't goin' to hurt none, I reckon."
A few feet back from his first line of test-pans he started a
second line. The sun dropped down the western sky, the shadows
lengthened, but the man worked on. He began a third line of test-pans.
He was cross-cutting the hillside, line by line, as he ascended. The
centre of each line produced the richest pans, while the ends came
where no colors showed in the pan. And as he ascended the hillside the
lines grew perceptibly shorter. The regularity with which their length
diminished served to indicate that somewhere up the slope the last
line would be so short as to have scarcely length at all, and that
beyond could come only a point. The design was growing into an
inverted "V." The converging sides of this "V" marked the boundaries
of the gold-bearing dirt.
The apex of the "V" was evidently the man's goal. Often he ran his
eye along the converging sides and on up the hill, trying to divine
the apex, the point where the gold-bearing dirt must cease. Here
resided "Mr. Pocket"—for so the man familiarly addressed the
imaginary point above him on the slope, crying out:
"Come down out o' that, Mr. Pocket! Be right smart an' agreeable,
an' come down!"
"All right," he would add later, in a voice resigned to
determination. "All right, Mr. Pocket. It's plain to me I got to come
right up an' snatch you out bald-headed. An' I'll do it! I'll do it!"
he would threaten still later.
Each pan he carried down to the water to wash, and as he went
higher up the hill the pans grew richer, until he began to save the
gold in an empty baking-powder can which he carried carelessly in his
hip-pocket. So engrossed was he in his toil that he did not notice
the long twilight of oncoming night. It was not until he tried vainly
to see the gold colors in the bottom of the pan that he realized the
passage of time. He straightened up abruptly. An expression of
whimsical wonderment and awe overspread his face as he drawled:
"Gosh darn my buttons! if I didn't plumb forget dinner!"
He stumbled across the stream in the darkness and lighted his
long-delayed fire. Flapjacks and bacon and warmed-over beans
constituted his supper. Then he smoked a pipe by the smouldering
coals, listening to the night noises and watching the moonlight
stream through the canyon. After that he unrolled his bed, took off
his heavy shoes, and pulled the blankets up to his chin. His face
showed white in the moonlight, like the face of a corpse. But it was
a corpse that knew its resurrection, for the man rose suddenly on one
elbow and gazed across at his hillside.
"Good night, Mr. Pocket," he called sleepily. "Good night."
He slept through the early gray of morning until the direct rays of
the sun smote his closed eyelids, when he awoke with a start and
looked about him until he had established the continuity of his
existence and identified his present self with the days previously
To dress, he had merely to buckle on his shoes. He glanced at his
fireplace and at his hillside, wavered, but fought down the
temptation and started the fire.
"Keep yer shirt on, Bill; keep yer shirt on," he admonished
himself. "What's the good of rushin'? No use in gettin' all het up an'
sweaty. Mr. Pocket'll wait for you. He ain't a-runnin' away before
you can get yer breakfast. Now, what you want, Bill, is something
fresh in yer bill o' fare. So it's up to you to go an' get it."
He cut a short pole at the water's edge and drew from one of his
pockets a bit of line and a draggled fly that had once been a royal
"Mebbe they'll bite in the early morning," he muttered, as he made
his first cast into the pool. And a moment later he was gleefully
crying: "What'd I tell you, eh? What'd I tell you?"
He had no reel, nor any inclination to waste time, and by main
strength, and swiftly, he drew out of the water a flashing ten-inch
trout. Three more, caught in rapid succession, furnished his
breakfast. When he came to the stepping-stones on his way to his
hillside, he was struck by a sudden thought, and paused.
"I'd just better take a hike down-stream a ways," he said. "There's
no tellin' what cuss may be snoopin' around."
But he crossed over on the stones, and with a "I really oughter
take that hike," the need of the precaution passed out of his mind and
he fell to work.
At nightfall he straightened up. The small of his back was stiff
from stooping toil, and as he put his hand behind him to soothe the
protesting muscles, he said:
"Now what d'ye think of that, by damn? I clean forgot my dinner
again! If I don't watch out, I'll sure be degeneratin' into a
"Pockets is the damnedest things I ever see for makin' a man
absent-minded," he communed that night, as he crawled into his
blankets. Nor did he forget to call up the hillside, "Good night, Mr.
Pocket! Good night!"
Rising with the sun, and snatching a hasty breakfast, he was early
at work. A fever seemed to be growing in him, nor did the increasing
richness of the test-pans allay this fever. There was a flush in his
cheek other than that made by the heat of the sun, and he was
oblivious to fatigue and the passage of time. When he filled a pan
with dirt, he ran down the hill to wash it; nor could he forbear
running up the hill again, panting and stumbling profanely, to refill
He was now a hundred yards from the water, and the inverted "V" was
assuming definite proportions. The width of the pay-dirt steadily
decreased, and the man extended in his mind's eye the sides of the
"V" to their meeting-place far up the hill. This was his goal, the
apex of the "V," and he panned many times to locate it.
"Just about two yards above that manzanita bush an' a yard to the
right," he finally concluded.
Then the temptation seized him. "As plain as the nose on your
face," he said, as he abandoned his laborious cross-cutting and
climbed to the indicated apex. He filled a pan and carried it down the
hill to wash. It contained no trace of gold. He dug deep, and he dug
shallow, filling and washing a dozen pans, and was unrewarded even by
the tiniest golden speck. He was enraged at having yielded to the
temptation, and cursed himself blasphemously and pridelessly. Then he
went down the hill and took up the cross-cutting.
"Slow an' certain, Bill; slow an' certain," he crooned. "Short-cuts
to fortune ain't in your line, an' it's about time you know it. Get
wise, Bill; get wise. Slow an' certain's the only hand you can play;
so go to it, an' keep to it, too."
As the cross-cuts decreased, showing that the sides of the "V" were
converging, the depth of the "V" increased. The gold-trace was
dipping into the hill. It was only at thirty inches beneath the
surface that he could get colors in his pan. The dirt he found at
twenty-five inches from the surface, and at thirty-five inches,
yielded barren pans. At the base of the "V," by the water's edge, he
had found the gold colors at the grass roots. The higher he went up
the hill, the deeper the gold dipped.
To dig a hole three feet deep in order to get one test-pan was a
task of no mean magnitude; while between the man and the apex
intervened an untold number of such holes to be. "An' there's no
tellin' how much deeper it'll pitch," he sighed, in a moment's pause,
while his fingers soothed his aching back.
Feverish with desire, with aching back and stiffening muscles, with
pick and shovel gouging and mauling the soft brown earth, the man
toiled up the hill. Before him was the smooth slope, spangled with
flowers and made sweet with their breath. Behind him was devastation.
It looked like some terrible eruption breaking out on the smooth skin
of the hill. His slow progress was like that of a slug, befouling
beauty with a monstrous trail.
Though the dipping gold-trace increased the man's work, he found
consolation in the increasing richness of the pans. Twenty cents,
thirty cents, fifty cents, sixty cents, were the values of the gold
found in the pans, and at nightfall he washed his banner pan, which
gave him a dollar's worth of gold-dust from a shovelful of dirt.
"I'll just bet it's my luck to have some inquisitive cuss come
buttin' in here on my pasture," he mumbled sleepily that night as he
pulled the blankets up to his chin.
Suddenly he sat upright. "Bill!" he called sharply. "Now, listen to
me, Bill; d'ye hear! It's up to you, to-morrow mornin', to mosey
round an' see what you can see. Understand? Tomorrow morning, an'
don't you forget it!"
He yawned and glanced across at his side-hill. "Good night, Mr.
Pocket," he called.
In the morning he stole a march on the sun, for he had finished
breakfast when its first rays caught him, and he was climbing the
wall of the canyon where it crumbled away and gave footing. From the
outlook at the top he found himself in the midst of loneliness. As far
as he could see, chain after chain of mountains heaved themselves into
his vision. To the east his eyes, leaping the miles between range and
range and between many ranges, brought up at last against the
white-peaked Sierras—the main crest, where the backbone of the
Western world reared itself against the sky. To the north and south he
could see more distinctly the cross-systems that broke through the
main trend of the sea of mountains. To the west the ranges fell away,
one behind the other, diminishing and fading into the gentle foothills
that, in turn, descended into the great valley which he could not see.
And in all that mighty sweep of earth he saw no sign of man nor of
the handiwork of man—save only the torn bosom of the hillside at his
feet. The man looked long and carefully. Once, far down his own
canyon, he thought he saw in the air a faint hint of smoke. He looked
again and decided that it was the purple haze of the hills made dark
by a convolution of the canyon wall at its back.
"Hey, you, Mr. Pocket!" he called down into the canyon. "Stand out
from under! I'm a-comin', Mr. Pocket! I'm a-comin'!"
The heavy brogans on the man's feet made him appear clumsy-footed,
but he swung down from the giddy height as lightly and airily as a
mountain goat. A rock, turning under his foot on the edge of the
precipice, did not disconcert him. He seemed to know the precise time
required for the turn to culminate in disaster, and in the meantime he
utilized the false footing itself for the momentary earth-contact
necessary to carry him on into safety. Where the earth sloped so
steeply that it was impossible to stand for a second upright, the man
did not hesitate. His foot pressed the impossible surface for but a
fraction of the fatal second and gave him the bound that carried him
onward. Again, where even the fraction of a second's footing was out
of the question, he would swing his body past by a moment's hand-grip
on a jutting knob of rock, a crevice, or a precariously rooted shrub.
At last, with a wild leap and yell, he exchanged the face of the wall
for an earth-slide and finished the descent in the midst of several
tons of sliding earth and gravel.
His first pan of the morning washed out over two dollars in coarse
gold. It was from the centre of the "V." To either side the
diminution in the values of the pans was swift. His lines of
crosscutting holes were growing very short. The converging sides of
the inverted "V" were only a few yards apart. Their meeting-point was
only a few yards above him. But the pay-streak was dipping deeper and
deeper into the earth. By early afternoon he was sinking the
test-holes five feet before the pans could show the gold-trace.
For that matter, the gold-trace had become something more than a
trace; it was a placer mine in itself, and the man resolved to come
back after he had found the pocket and work over the ground. But the
increasing richness of the pans began to worry him. By late afternoon
the worth of the pans had grown to three and four dollars. The man
scratched his head perplexedly and looked a few feet up the hill at
the manzanita bush that marked approximately the apex of the "V." He
nodded his head and said oracularly:
"It's one o' two things, Bill; one o' two things. Either Mr.
Pocket's spilled himself all out an' down the hill, or else Mr.
Pocket's that damned rich you maybe won't be able to carry him all
away with you. And that'd be hell, wouldn't it, now?" He chuckled at
contemplation of so pleasant a dilemma.
Nightfall found him by the edge of the stream his eyes wrestling
with the gathering darkness over the washing of a five-dollar pan.
"Wisht I had an electric light to go on working." he said.
He found sleep difficult that night. Many times he composed himself
and closed his eyes for slumber to overtake him; but his blood
pounded with too strong desire, and as many times his eyes opened and
he murmured wearily, "Wisht it was sun-up."
Sleep came to him in the end, but his eyes were open with the first
paling of the stars, and the gray of dawn caught him with breakfast
finished and climbing the hillside in the direction of the secret
abiding-place of Mr. Pocket.
The first cross-cut the man made, there was space for only three
holes, so narrow had become the pay-streak and so close was he to the
fountainhead of the golden stream he had been following for four days.
"Be ca'm, Bill; be ca'm," he admonished himself, as he broke ground
for the final hole where the sides of the "V" had at last come
together in a point.
"I've got the almighty cinch on you, Mr. Pocket, an' you can't lose
me," he said many times as he sank the hole deeper and deeper.
Four feet, five feet, six feet, he dug his way down into the earth.
The digging grew harder. His pick grated on broken rock. He examined
the rock. "Rotten quartz," was his conclusion as, with the shovel, he
cleared the bottom of the hole of loose dirt. He attacked the
crumbling quartz with the pick, bursting the disintegrating rock
asunder with every stroke.
He thrust his shovel into the loose mass. His eye caught a gleam of
yellow. He dropped the shovel and squatted suddenly on his heels. As
a farmer rubs the clinging earth from fresh-dug potatoes, so the man,
a piece of rotten quartz held in both hands, rubbed the dirt away.
"Sufferin' Sardanopolis!" he cried. "Lumps an' chunks of it! Lumps
an' chunks of it!"
It was only half rock he held in his hand. The other half was
virgin gold. He dropped it into his pan and examined another piece.
Little yellow was to be seen, but with his strong fingers he crumbled
the rotten quartz away till both hands were filled with glowing
yellow. He rubbed the dirt away from fragment after fragment, tossing
them into the gold-pan. It was a treasure-hole. So much had the quartz
rotted away that there was less of it than there was of gold. Now and
again he found a piece to which no rock clung—a piece that was all
gold. A chunk, where the pick had laid open the heart of the gold,
glittered like a handful of yellow jewels, and he cocked his head at
it and slowly turned it around and over to observe the rich play of
the light upon it.
"Talk about yer Too Much Gold diggin's!" the man snorted
contemptuously. "Why, this diggin' 'd make it look like thirty cents.
This diggin' is All Gold. An' right here an' now I name this yere
canyon 'All Gold Canyon,' b' gosh!"
Still squatting on his heels, he continued examining the fragments
and tossing them into the pan. Suddenly there came to him a
premonition of danger. It seemed a shadow had fallen upon him. But
there was no shadow. His heart had given a great jump up into his
throat and was choking him. Then his blood slowly chilled and he felt
the sweat of his shirt cold against his flesh.
He did not spring up nor look around. He did not move. He was
considering the nature of the premonition he had received, trying to
locate the source of the mysterious force that had warned him,
striving to sense the imperative presence of the unseen thing that
threatened him. There is an aura of things hostile, made manifest by
messengers refined for the senses to know; and this aura he felt, but
knew not how he felt it. His was the feeling as when a cloud passes
over the sun. It seemed that between him and life had passed something
dark and smothering and menacing; a gloom, as it were, that swallowed
up life and made for death—his death.
Every force of his being impelled him to spring up and confront the
unseen danger, but his soul dominated the panic, and he remained
squatting on his heels, in his hands a chunk of gold. He did not dare
to look around, but he knew by now that there was something behind him
and above him. He made believe to be interested in the gold in his
hand. He examined it critically, turned it over and over, and rubbed
the dirt from it. And all the time he knew that something behind him
was looking at the gold over his shoulder.
Still feigning interest in the chunk of gold in his hand, he
listened intently and he heard the breathing of the thing behind him.
His eyes searched the ground in front of him for a weapon, but they
saw only the uprooted gold, worthless to him now in his extremity.
There was his pick, a handy weapon on occasion; but this was not such
an occasion. The man realized his predicament. He was in a narrow hole
that was seven feet deep. His head did not come to the surface of the
ground. He was in a trap.
He remained squatting on his heels. He was quite cool and
collected; but his mind, considering every factor, showed him only his
helplessness. He continued rubbing the dirt from the quartz fragments
and throwing the gold into the pan. There was nothing else for him to
do. Yet he knew that he would have to rise up, sooner or later, and
face the danger that breathed at his back.
The minutes passed, and with the passage of each minute he knew
that by so much he was nearer the time when he must stand up, or
else—and his wet shirt went cold against his flesh again at the
thought—or else he might receive death as he stooped there over his
Still he squatted on his heels, rubbing dirt from gold and debating
in just what manner he should rise up. He might rise up with a rush
and claw his way out of the hole to meet whatever threatened on the
even footing above ground. Or he might rise up slowly and carelessly,
and feign casually to discover the thing that breathed at his back.
His instinct and every fighting fibre of his body favored the mad,
clawing rush to the surface. His intellect, and the craft thereof,
favored the slow and cautious meeting with the thing that menaced and
which he could not see. And while he debated, a loud, crashing noise
burst on his ear. At the same instant he received a stunning blow on
the left side of the back, and from the point of impact felt a rush of
flame through his flesh. He sprang up in the air, but halfway to his
feet collapsed. His body crumpled in like a leaf withered in sudden
heat, and he came down, his chest across his pan of gold, his face in
the dirt and rock, his legs tangled and twisted because of the
restricted space at the bottom of the hole. His legs twitched
convulsively several times. His body was shaken as with a mighty ague.
There was a slow expansion of the lungs, accompanied by a deep sigh.
Then the air was slowly, very slowly, exhaled, and his body as slowly
flattened itself down into inertness.
Above, revolver in hand, a man was peering down over the edge of
the hole. He peered for a long time at the prone and motionless body
beneath him. After a while the stranger sat down on the edge of the
hole so that he could see into it, and rested the revolver on his
knee. Reaching his hand into a pocket, he drew out a wisp of brown
paper. Into this he dropped a few crumbs of tobacco. The combination
became a cigarette, brown and squat, with the ends turned in. Not
once did he take his eyes from the body at the bottom of the hole. He
lighted the cigarette and drew its smoke into his lungs with a
caressing intake of the breath. He smoked slowly. Once the cigarette
went out and he relighted it. And all the while he studied the body
In the end he tossed the cigarette stub away and rose to his feet.
He moved to the edge of the hole. Spanning it, a hand resting on each
edge, and with the revolver still in the right hand, he muscled his
body down into the hole. While his feet were yet a yard from the
bottom he released his hands and dropped down.
At the instant his feet struck bottom he saw the pocket-miner's arm
leap out, and his own legs knew a swift, jerking grip that overthrew
him. In the nature of the jump his revolver-hand was above his head.
Swiftly as the grip had flashed about his legs, just as swiftly he
brought the revolver down. He was still in the air, his fall in
process of completion, when he pulled the trigger. The explosion was
deafening in the confined space. The smoke filled the hole so that he
could see nothing. He struck the bottom on his back, and like a cat's
the pocket-miner's body was on top of him. Even as the miner's body
passed on top, the stranger crooked in his right arm to fire; and even
in that instant the miner, with a quick thrust of elbow, struck his
wrist. The muzzle was thrown up and the bullet thudded into the dirt
of the side of the hole.
The next instant the stranger felt the miner's hand grip his wrist.
The struggle was now for the revolver. Each man strove to turn it
against the other's body. The smoke in the hole was clearing. The
stranger, lying on his back, was beginning to see dimly. But suddenly
he was blinded by a handful of dirt deliberately flung into his eyes
by his antagonist. In that moment of shock his grip on the revolver
was broken. In the next moment he felt a smashing darkness descend
upon his brain, and in the midst of the darkness even the darkness
But the pocket-miner fired again and again, until the revolver was
empty. Then he tossed it from him and, breathing heavily, sat down on
the dead man's legs.
The miner was sobbing and struggling for breath. "Measly skunk!" he
panted; "a-campin' on my trail an' lettin' me do the work, an' then
shootin' me in the back!"
He was half crying from anger and exhaustion, He peered at the face
of the dead man. It was sprinkled with loose dirt and gravel, and it
was difficult to distinguish the features.
"Never laid eyes on him before," the miner concluded his scrutiny.
"Just a common an' ordinary thief, damn him! An' he shot me in the
back! He shot me in the back!"
He opened his shirt and felt himself, front and back, on his left
"Went clean through, and no harm done!" he cried jubilantly. "I'll
bet he aimed right all right, but he drew the gun over when he pulled
the trigger—the cuss! But I fixed 'm! Oh, I fixed 'm!"
His fingers were investigating the bullet-hole in his side, and a
shade of regret passed over his face. "It's goin' to be stiffer'n
hell," he said. "An' it's up to me to get mended an' get out o'
He crawled out of the hole and went down the hill to his camp. Half
an hour later he returned, leading his pack-horse. His open shirt
disclosed the rude bandages with which he had dressed his wound. He
was slow and awkward with his left-hand movements, but that did not
prevent his using the arm.
The bight of the pack-rope under the dead man's shoulders enabled
him to heave the body out of the hole. Then he set to work gathering
up his gold. He worked steadily for several hours, pausing often to
rest his stiffening shoulder and to exclaim:
"He shot me in the back, the measly skunk! He shot me in the back!"
When his treasure was quite cleaned up and wrapped securely into a
number of blanket-covered parcels, he made an estimate of its value.
"Four hundred pounds, or I'm a Hottentot," he concluded. "Say two
hundred in quartz an' dirt—that leaves two hundred pounds of gold.
Bill! Wake up! Two hundred pounds of gold! Forty thousand dollars!
An' it's yourn—all yourn!"
He scratched his head delightedly and his fingers blundered into an
unfamiliar groove. They quested along it for several inches. It was a
crease through his scalp where the second bullet had ploughed.
He walked angrily over to the dead man.
"You would, would you?" he bullied. "You would, eh? Well, I fixed
you good an' plenty, an' I'll give you decent burial, too. That's
more'n you'd have done for me."
He dragged the body to the edge of the hole and toppled it in. It
struck the bottom with a dull crash, on its side, the face twisted up
to the light. The miner peered down at it.
"An' you shot me in the back!" he said accusingly.
With pick and shovel he filled the hole. Then he loaded the gold on
his horse. It was too great a load for the animal, and when he had
gained his camp he transferred part of it to his saddle-horse. Even
so, he was compelled to abandon a portion of his outfit—pick and
shovel and gold-pan, extra food and cooking utensils, and divers odds
The sun was at the zenith when the man forced the horses at the
screen of vines and creepers. To climb the huge boulders the animals
were compelled to uprear and struggle blindly through the tangled
mass of vegetation. Once the saddle-horse fell heavily and the man
removed the pack to get the animal on its feet. After it started on
its way again the man thrust his head out from among the leaves and
peered up at the hillside.
"The measly skunk!" he said, and disappeared.
There was a ripping and tearing of vines and boughs. The trees
surged back and forth, marking the passage of the animals through the
midst of them. There was a clashing of steel-shod hoofs on stone, and
now and again an oath or a sharp cry of command. Then the voice of the
man was raised in song:—
"Tu'n around an' tu'n yo' face
Untoe them sweet hills of grace
(D' pow'rs of sin yo' am scornin'!).
Look about an, look aroun',
Fling yo' sin-pack on d' groun'
(Yo' will meet wid d' Lord in d' mornin'!)."
The song grew faint and fainter, and through the silence crept back
the spirit of the place. The stream once more drowsed and whispered;
the hum of the mountain bees rose sleepily. Down through the
perfume-weighted air fluttered the snowy fluffs of the cottonwoods.
The butterflies drifted in and out among the trees, and over all
blazed the quiet sunshine. Only remained the hoof-marks in the meadow
and the torn hillside to mark the boisterous trail of the life that
had broken the peace of the place and passed on.