Bowers, who mined on Misery Hill, near Pike City,
never had a partner, and he never took kindly to the rough crowd about
the place. One day he was missing. They traced his steps through the
snow from his cabin to the brink of a great slope where he had been
prospecting, but there they vanished, for a landslide had blotted them
out. His body was exhumed far below and decently buried, yet it was
said that it was so often seen walking about the mouth of his old
shaft that other men avoided the spot.
Brandon, in a spasm of industry, began work on the abandoned mine, and
for a while he made it pay, for he got money and squared accounts with
his creditors; but after a time it appeared that somebody else was
working on the claim, for every morning he found that the sluice had
been tampered with and the water turned on. He searched for the
trespasser in vain, and told "the boys" that if they called that
joking it had grown tiresome.
One night he loaded his rifle, and, from a
convenient nook, he watched for the intruder. The tamaracks crooned in
the wind, the Yuba mumbled in the canon, the Sierras lay in a line of
white against the stars. As he crept along to a point of better
vantage he came to a tree with something tacked on it--something that
shone in the dark like a match. In its own light he read, "Notice! I,
Thomas Bowers, claim this ground for placer mining." Raising his hand
to tear off the paper, he was amazed to feel a thrill pass through it,
and his arm fell palsied at his side. But the notice was gone.
Now came the sound of
water flowing, and, as he angrily caught his gun and turned toward the
sluice, the letters shone again in phosphorescence on the tree. There was
the sound of a pick in the gravel now, and, crawling stealthily towards
the sluice, he saw, at work there, Tom Bowers--dead, lank, his head and
face covered with white hair, his eyes glowing from black sockets. Half
unconsciously Jim brought his rifle to his shoulder and fired. A yell
followed the report, then the dead man came running at him like the wind,
with pick and shovel in either hand.
Away went Brandon, and
the spectre followed, up hill, in and out of woods, over ditches, through
scrub, on toward Pike City. The miners were celebrating a new find with
liberal potations and a dance in the saloon when, high above the crash of
boots, the shouted jokes, the laughter, and the clink of glasses, came a
sound of falling, a scream-then silence.
They hurried into the road. There lay
Brandon's rifle, and a pick and shovel with "T. B." cut in the handles.
Jim returned no more, and the sluice is running every night on Misery
of America, updated January,