« PreviousContinue »
tanks ranged in three rows, twelve in a the Death Valley region, unearthed the row, along the brow of a barren butte. big ledge of Colemanite embedded Twenty miles to the south near Bennett's Mount Blanco, he upturned the borax inWell, the Frenchman Isidore Daunet, a dustry more than William Troup and his noted desert character, operated the Eagle "cotton-balls.” Previous to Lee's discovBorax Works, a smaller plant. Perhaps ery, mineralogists had never considered fifty men labored in the sweltering soli- the existence of a borate ore. But once tude. By day they toiled over the blind. the identity of the new mineral was estabing salt sump, gathering “cotton-balls,” to lished, there was another borax stampede lie down at night in a wind-swept camp after Colemanite ledges. Strangely enough, and sleep till sunrise and another day's the man whose name was given to the ore work. Unbroken was this labor, for out from which the present borax supply is on the desert there is no Sabbath. Save gained, and who, for a time, owned enough for the semi-weekly arrivals of the borax Colemanite ledges to supply the world's team, the men were marooned as on a borax for centuries, never profited a dollar dead planet. A month behind the world from his rich properties. His business their lives wore away.
collapse came just as this borate ore was Those were the Homeric days of the appreciated for what it was. borax traffic. After half a decade of But the discovery of Calemanite took fighting the hardships and handicaps of the borax harvest away from Death Valthe region and keen competition in the ley. Colmanite ledges were found nearer
markets of trade, the Death Valley enter- the railroad. "Cotton-ball” gathering
it is on the threshold of Death Valley. When Philander Lee, a squawman of The next step will carry its mining into
the silent knolls of Furnace Creek Can- most sinister region. From the high hogs
back, slag mountains, ash heap hills and Poetic justice, it is true, demands this dust dunes sag with the fall of a great return to Death Valley, but the call of watershed, till twenty-two miles away trade is more compelling. While this cry they melt into the gray flat of Death Valas yet is not clamorous, it at least has ley's salt sump. Not a sprig of green given warning that some day it will draw spots this parched area, either at its on Death Valley's borate beds. In truth, cream-colored core or on its fan-like rim the American market must in the near of motleyed browns, burnt blues, and and far future depend upon this once for- brickish reds. Canyons and ravines, bidding region for the bulk of its borax, gorges and gullies, etch the sweeping slope. because deposits elsewhere—they never Through the heart of this bank of burnedwere numerous—have been eaten up dur- out earth, the torrents of cloud bursts ing the last two decades. Once the ledges have riven a huge, jagged gash that of the Lila C mine, the source of the cleaves the landscape to Death Valley's present borax supply, are gutted, as were nearer side. It is a healed wound from the Colemanite seams down Borate, Death which wrinkling scars twist into trackless Valley's successor, the industry must en- hills. They call this monstrous gash ter again the vale below the sea. But Furnace Creek Canyon. It gives one gatethere is no menace of a borax famine. Be- way into Death Valley. yond the desert hogsback which barri- The scalding and scorifying of primecades the westward way from “Lila C," val fires are branded on this barren tract. sinks a barbaric waste, whose wealth can Its upheaved mountains, its twisted sustain centuries of most gluttonous min- ranges, record the writhing of the earth's ing
early agonies. This is the sinister zone of the desert's Here nature hoarded her borax.
Through volcano throats and chasm rents chalks the painted foothills of the Sierra the boron of the inner earth welled up and Nevada Mountains. poured into crevice and fissure. Miles and A thousand feet above the nearest node miles of borate dyke interlard the hills towers Mount Blanco, a mountain of Coleand mountains. Cloudbursts wearing manite, the largest single borate deposit away the outer soil have laid bare but a in the world. Calculation cannot commeagre portion. Yet on every hand is the pute the ages necessary to exhaust this imglint of borax. It flecks the crest and measurable store. Death Valley borax cheek of hummocks, knaps, and knolls. It will outlast all save its romance.
This morn I went to the attic, to a trunk all padded gray,
Ah! How well do I remember he danced upon my knee
Yes, here is the battered rattle and here is the little frock;
0! Poor little shoe how empty, for the tiny feet lie still,
N SPITE of the Comet’s indiffer- the water trough, “Ay tank that Tommy ence to the higher branches of mule- coom down the grade late purty of'n now, ology, he claimed first place in the and eet hees supper after we com away.
three-cornered race for the queen of Sandy better bane late, too, or Tommy get the foothills, which did not improve his the girl.” But Sandy was not there to standing at the feedyard.
face the laugh, and when Pete went up to Nor was his popularity increased fill his canteen, he found the four under by the wearing of clean clothes and the use the oak tree by the well. of correct language; “if he ever raised any They were discussing the night, and dust he'd get that shirt dirty," they said the Comet had with accuracy explained
. Star gazing, census taking, apple raising the brightness of the moon. Tommy had and range renting didn't make up a man's delivered a tribute to the granite dome of work.
old Baldy towering over his big stone Tommy Ayres was a close second, for feet. They were walking on conversaTommy was the real thing in ladies' men, tional stilts, and Sandy said little, only and he knew it. He could swing down the shadows hit his contempt for this hifathe grade in the dust of six big mules, lutin' talk. When the Comet asserted drop off his near-wheeler with the grace that such a bright night reminded him of of a stage cowboy, and with entire self- the poet who sang of one whose eyes were possession, salute a queen, should any so bright they shone at night and drove chance to be present, which was usually the moon away, he groaned audibly and the case at the Widow Weeks. On his said: “Well, folks, I be goin'; good-night, down-trip, Tommy filled the evenings Miss Nina.” with nonsense and flattery till most of the The stock of fine phrases suitable for men drifted off to the yard, “Not carin' public courtship being exhausted, Tommy to play aujience to a one-man show." and the Comet retired in good order, leavThen there
there was Sandy McClellan, ing Nina with her head on her hands, gazScotch, straw-haired and stubborn. That ing vacantly out over the valley. At the was all, except his devotion to his eight sound of an apologetic cough, she started, sleek mules and Nina Weeks. His chances and then she smiled at Sandy, back again were small enough, for he was not versed on the old stone step at her feet. in the ways of the stars, celestial or femi- "I thought you'd gone,” she said, in nine, but he served for contrast with his feigned surprise. "It getting late for a rivals.
man off the grade to-day.” As for Nina herself, if any man of them Sandy ignored the remark and went were blessed with her morning smile, he straight to the point, the only method of hid it away for reference through the day, approach he knew. for she was twenty and rosy, and the boys “Nina," he said, and she started. felt at home with her, and she treated im- “Nina, you know why I'm back, and you partially all comers to the stopping place know where I stand, and I can't stand that her father had located at the foot here much longer without falling off, unof the grade where he could "catch 'em less I have something to hold to. I have comin' and goin',” which excellent sys- not touched a drop since you said you'd tem fascinating Nina had adopted as her never marry a man that drank, and if it's
a go, I can keep on to the end of the chap“Ay tank,” Pete was saying down by ter. But I can't hold out forever this
way. How long are you going to keep place, and he will be hauling early apples me waiting ?”
then." “I know all that Sandy,” she answered Sandy rose to protest, but he knew the frankly, “but somehow I can't make up signs of a closed mind, and no more commy mind. I like you and I like Tommy fort could he get from this piece of femiand I like the C—Mr. Brown, and oh, lots nine uncertainty than that she would treat of people, but I always like the last one all the boys alike. best, and I can't settle down to just one Thus it happened that ere two more man for life. Perhaps something will suns had set, all parties to the unequal happen sometime to settle it, and then contest knew that after the examination, I will know which is the one."
which of them first reached this foothill "I don't know what you want—I never Eden, might hope to transplant the fair felt that way—and I've got to know some- flower to his own garden, provided only thing one way or the other. How long that the coming test should end in failure, you going to keep me up in the air ?” which they were assured would be the case.
"Oh," she temporized, "it's nice to live By no very occult process, it happened in the air, like a bird. I know how it is. that everybody came to know it too, and I have been studying for two years for the
there was a lot of comment and some teacher's examination. I'm in the air, uncultured jokes on the outcome, not to too.”
mention the good money held as stakes Sandy groaned. Everybody knew of by the store keeper who reported in conNina's ambitions, and Sandy knew of the fidence that the Comet was a close secComet's envied hours spent in tutoring ond to Tommy, with Sandy barely visible her efforts at books.
in the distance. “This thing's no matter of a paper cer- It was not strange that relations betificate to me. It's Heaven or it's—the came tense. Nina's books shut out all but other place. I'm not much, but it's all the Comet. Tommy and Sandy made trips yours, if you want me.
I haven't got on the same schedule, avoiding each other. much but the place and the outfit, but Capable Mrs. Weeks, fair and forty, mainyou'll never want for anything you need, tained an inscrutable silence, saying only and I'd roll off the grade for you. I guess that she guessed that Nina was old enough if there's nothing doin', the sooner the bet- to know her mind and would marry the ter.”
man she wanted anyway, arguing from "How you do talk!” she chirped, but both observation and experience on her she went on more seriously. “I'll tell you part. what I'll do. When I come back from the Nina left, declining to set a date for examination next month I'll settle it for her return, saying they would find it out one of you."
soon enough anyway, and the days dragged "Which one?” protested Sandy. "Which by. One hot morning in July, the widow one, I'd like to know ?”
looked over her family of teamsters at “Why, the first one I meet after I get breakfast and remarked carelessly that back, I suppose. That'll give you all a Nina would be home to-morrow- if nothfair chance, and I can't tell when you are ing happened. all together!"
“Did she pass the zamanate ?” inquired “Then I'll lay off the rest of the season, Pete. so as to be here when you come home. I'll “I don't know—she only said she'd be go down to Fresno and wait at the door. home.” Besides, you'll pass, and then what?” “My team needs shoein' all round,” be
"Not much," asserted Nina, with vigor. gan Tommy, but the chorus that met his "If you do, it's all off. I won't have any remark, changed his mind. man that will neglect his work. If any- "Ay tank somebody better go tell the body misses a single trip over this, it's Komuck," drawled Pete. "Yesterday he all off.”
go Polaski.” “But the Comet don't make no trips,” “ "Never mind; he'll know it argued Sandy. “That ain't fair."
enough," groaned Tommy. "Yes, but it's ten miles over to his The widow smiled a comprehending