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    Chapter 16

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    Chapter 17
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    ON TO BLACK CAT CAMP

    "You go!" cried Dave.

    "I thought you had given up prospecting," exclaimed Roger.

    "Not but that we'd be glad to have you along," put in Phil, hastily.

    "Well, I have given up prospecting," answered Mr. Dillon, with that broad smile still on his face. "But I like to go out once in a while, just for the sake of old times. Besides that, I was interested in the Landslide Mine myself in a way."

    "How so?" asked the senator's son.

    "Well, when Maurice Harrison staked the claim I came along and staked a claim a bit further up the trail. It wasn't near so good a prospect as was the Landslide, but it was pretty fair, and I was sorry to see that landslide come along an' knock us all out. So, if we find the lost Landslide Mine maybe we'll locate my mine, too."

    "Come by all means, and welcome, Mr. Dillon!" cried Roger. "If you had that mine you speak about you must know as much about that district as Abe Blower--maybe more."

    "I think I know as much, but not any more, lads. Abe is a good prospector, and he knows Montana from end to end, an' Idaho, too, as well as other gold fields. He has made money, too, but he allers spent the cash lookin' fer bigger things, while I salted a good bit o' mine away!" And Tom Dillon chuckled broadly.

    The matter was talked over for the best part of an hour, and it was decided to begin the hunt for the Landslide Mine on the following morning.

    "There ain't no ust bein' in too much o' a hurry," said Mr. Dillon. "That mine ain't goin' to walk away, and Abe Blower an' those with him ain't goin' to find it right plumb to onct, believe me! I guess the only reason those others hurried so was because they feared you would come along and queer their game with Abe."

    "I think that myself," said Roger.

    "Abe had a prospectin' outfit all ready--he allers has--up to Black Cat Camp. That's the startin'-point for the Rodman trail, on which the Landslide Mine an' my mine was located. Now we haven't any outfit, so we'll have to git one right here in Butte."

    "We'll get whatever you say," answered Roger. "Of course, I don't want to make this too expensive," he added, thinking of something his father had told him--that just at present finances in the Morr family were not at their best.

    "We can hire hosses--I know where to git just the right animals," said Tom Dillon. "And we won't pay no fortune for 'em either. And then you'll want some different clothes," and he looked critically at the well-dressed youths.

    "Oh, we know that--we have roughed it before," returned Dave. And he mentioned their trip to Star Ranch, to Cave Island, and to the South Sea Islands, Norway, and other out-of-the-way places.

    "Well, you sure have traveled some!" exclaimed Tom Dillon. "You'll do for this trip. I'm glad you know how to rough it. I onct had a bunch of tenderfeet along--young fellers from the East, who had never roughed it before--and, believe me, what those chaps didn't know would fill a boomer's wagon twict over. Why, they couldn't wash less'n they had a basin to do it in an' a towel to dry on, an' it mixed 'em all up to try to sleep on the ground rolled in a blanket. An' when it come to grub, well, they was a-lookin' for napkins an' bread-an'-butter plates, an' finger bowls, an' I don't know what all! It jest made me plumb tired, it sure did!" And the old miner sighed deeply.

    "We won't give you any trouble that way," said Dave, with a grin. "Regular camp food is good enough for us, and I can sleep almost anywhere if I am tired enough."

    "And you can't beat Dave riding," broke in Roger. "When he was at Star Ranch he busted the wildest bronco you ever saw."

    "Is that so! Well, I don't like no wild broncos. I like a good, steady hoss, one as can climb the mountain trails and is sure-footed on the edge o' a cliff. That's the kind we'll git," concluded Tom Dillon.

    The remainder of the day proved a busy one. The boys went out with the old miner to secure the horses and such an outfit as he deemed necessary. Then they spent part of the evening in writing letters to the folks in Yellowstone Park and at home. Only one letter came in for them--one from Senator Morr to his son--and this made Roger look very sober.

    "No bad news, I hope," said Dave, kindly.

    "It's about dad's private affairs," was the reply. "Things have taken something of a turn for the worse financially." Roger gave a sigh. "Oh, I do hope we can locate that lost mine!"

    "We all hope that!" said Dave.

    "Indeed, we do!" cried Phil. "We've just got to do it," he added, enthusiastically.

    Now that he had made up his mind to undertake the expedition, old Tom Dillon brightened up wonderfully, and to the boys he appeared ten years younger than when they had first met him. He was a fatherly kind of a man, and the more they saw of him the better they liked him. He selected the outfit with care, securing five good horses--one for each of them and an extra animal for the camp stuff, and other things they were to take along.

    In a place like Butte, where Tom Dillon was so well known, it soon became noised around that he was going on a prospecting tour. Some asked him where he was going, but he merely replied that he was going along with his young friends to show them the mining districts.

    "It won't do to let 'em know we are going to look for a mine," he explained, in private. "If we did that, we'd have a crowd at our heels in no time."

    The news concerning the expedition reached the ears of Sol Blugg and his cronies, and this, coupled with the sudden departure of Abe Blower, set that crowd to wondering what was up.

    "Maybe it's another gold strike," suggested Larry Jaley.

    "It might be," said the fellow called Staver.

    "If I thought it was a gold strike I'd follow 'em," announced Sol Blugg. "Tom Dillon allers was a good one at strikes, an' so was Abe Blower. They know enough to keep away from anything thet looks like a wildcat. I'm a-goin' to look into this," he concluded. And after that the Blugg crowd kept close watch on Dave and his friends.

    The departure was made from Butte about noon of the next day. It was clear and warm, with a gentle breeze blowing from the west.

    "We might have taken a train for the first forty miles," remarked Tom Dillon. "But it wouldn't have helped us a great deal, for we'd have to side-track for ten miles. We'll go the old way--the way we went afore there was any railroads."

    "There must be a lot of mines in Montana," remarked Phil, as they rode out of Butte.

    "Somebody told me there had been over fifteen thousand minin' claims staked and recorded," answered the old miner. "O' course, lots of 'em ain't never been developed. But a good many of 'em have."

    "They must produce a lot of gold," said Dave.

    "Yes, lad, the output runs up into the millions every year. Oh, a good mine is a bonanza!" added Tom Dillon, emphatically.

    "Then I trust we locate the Landslide Mine, and that it proves a bonanza," returned Roger, eagerly.

    On the way they passed mine after mine, and the boys were much interested in watching the process of getting out ore, and also in the work of the huge quartz-crushers. Whenever they passed a mine there would be sure to be somebody to wave a friendly hand to Tom Dillon.

    "He certainly is well known," whispered Roger to Dave.

    "Yes, and we were mighty lucky to fall in with him--after missing that Abe Blower," was the reply.

    It was not until about five o'clock in the afternoon that they reached a small settlement known as Robby's. Here they rested and had supper. They inquired about Abe Blower and his party, but could find out nothing concerning them.

    "They must have gone around by Tilton," said Tom Dillon. "That's just as good a trail and about as short. We'll hear from them at Black Cat Camp."

    It had been decided to push on to Black Cat Camp after supper, the old miner stating they ought to make the distance in three hours. Soon they were on the way again, just as the sun was sinking behind the great mountains in the west.

    "I hope Abe Blower stopped for the day at Black Cat Camp," said Roger to his chums. "I'd like to meet him and confront Link Merwell--and Job Haskers, too, if he is with them."

    "So would I," added Dave and Phil, in a breath.

    It was more agreeable riding, now that the heat of the day was over. At noon it had been very hot, but none of the boys had complained, although they had perspired freely.

    As it became darker they could see the twinkling lights of many a mining town and camp shining out in the mountains and the valleys below.

    "It didn't used to be so, when first I came to Montana," remarked Tom Dillon. "In them days you could ride out here all night an' not see a light. But the State has settled putty fast in the last twenty-five years. They are buildin' railroads everywhere, an' towns spring up over night, like toadstools."

    "Are there any wild animals out here?" questioned Phil.

    "Heaps of 'em, further away from the cities. Bears, an' mountain lions, an' wildcats, an' wolves. An' then we have plenty o' mule an' other deer, an' elk, as well as Rocky Mountain goats, an' mountain sheep."

    "Perhaps we'll get a chance to do some hunting!" exclaimed Phil.

    "Not much, this time o' year, lad. But you might hunt a bear--if he cornered you!" And Tom Dillon laughed at his little joke.

    "Did a bear ever corner you?" asked Dave.

    "Onct, just onct, and it was the wust experience I ever had with a wild beast," replied the old miner. "I was out prospectin' when I got on a narrow ledge o' rock. All to onct I discovered a grizzly on the tudder end o' the ledge. We was both sitooated, as the sayin' is, so I couldn't pass the bear an' he couldn't pass me. I had fired my gun an' missed him. When I tried to pass by he riz up an' growled an' when he tried to pass me I swung my gun a-tryin' to knock off his head. An' so we had it fer about an hour, nip an' tuck, an' nobuddy doin' nuthin."

    "But you escaped," said Roger. "How did you do it?"

    "I didn't do it--your uncle, Maurice Harrison, done it. It was a favor I owed him that I never got paid back," responded Tom Dillon, feelingly. "The bear got mad and all to onct sprung at me. I swung the gun an' he knocked it outer my hand. Then I heerd a report from another ledge above us, and over rolled Mr. Bear, shot through the heart. An' Maurice Harrison done it."

    "Good for Uncle Maurice!" cried Roger.

    "That shot came just in time," went on the old miner. "If it hadn't--well, I wouldn't be here, lookin' for the Landslide Mine," concluded Tom Dillon.

    "I don't know that I want a bear to corner me," said Phil, with a shiver.

    "No, we'll leave the bears alone, if they'll leave us alone," returned Dave.

    It was a little before nine o'clock when they came in sight of Black Cat Camp, a typical mining community, perched on the side of one of the foothills leading to the mountains. There was one main street, stretched out for the best part of a quarter of a mile. All the buildings were of wood and none of them over two stories in height.

    "We'll go to Dick Logan's place," said Mr. Dillon. "That is where Abe Blower used to keep his outfit."

    The boys found Logan's place to consist of a general store, with a sort of boarding-house and stables attached. Dick Logan was behind the counter of the store, in his shirtsleeves. He greeted the old miner with a smile, and shook hands cordially.

    "Is Abe Blower around?" demanded Tom Dillon, without preliminaries of any kind.

    "He was around, Tom, yesterday," was Dick Logan's answer. "But he left here about the middle of the afternoon."
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