THE WAY IT WAS (7 pg)
THEM THAR HILLS Chapter two
Fortunately, the trunk of Sam’s car was large. They had no problems stashing the four folding lounges they had bought, plus the picnic basket into it. After gathering at Jill’s house a few days after their last pond trip, they were once again heading for the pond. Today they would make a full day of it and a day in comfort. The girls had packed a very nice picnic and the guys had even brought along blankets to lay out on the rocks. They would lounge, talk about schoolmates, tan on all sides, eat while reclining in comfort and be the very best they could at portraying wealthy high school students on Summer vacation.
Betty said, “Wasn’t that Sonya a bed hopper, though? And, what about Terrance?”
Jill said, “Yeah, what about him?” Nobody was too sure if he had any interest in girls, but they could prove nothing, yet.
Don was explaining to Sam some of the parts he had seen Rich carry out of the parts store for his car. “He’s going to end up with the fastest car in town at this rate. His buddy, Paul is helping him and, you know Paul. His dad is a race car mechanic, so they’re sure to know what they’re doing.”
Sam was finding it hard to follow all that was being said. In fact, he was having trouble keeping his eyes open. The warm sun, the comfort of the new lounge, The girls with them. Ah, this was the life.
Suddenly, he asked Don, “Say, do you realize that we never did get to the end of that cable we were following when we spotted the old shed?” The old shed in question was an abandoned shed in which thieves had stashed the money from a bank robbery. From that, the kids had reclaimed the money, received a reward and, that was why they were basking upon new folding beach lounges. A very nice reward it had been.
“So, would you want to someday follow it again and see where it leads? It probably just has an end laying somewhere up there in the dirt. I wouldn’t expect much, since it was obviously put here a long, long time ago.” reminded Don.
“Well, maybe, someday we could check it out. Wouldn’t hurt anything and, I’ll admit it seems more than a little out of place here. Might be a story there.” said Sam as his lids became heavier from the heat.
Before they knew it, all had drifted off and, when they awoke, the shade from nearby trees was across them. They had slept through lunch time.
The sandwiches were delicious and the sodas were cold and refreshing. Fruit topped off the meal and they all were now very much awake. Looking from one to the other, the common, unspoken question appeared to be, ‘What do we do now?’
“I’m still curious about that cable. Suppose we take a dip and cool off, get our clothes and shoes on and go back to where we quit following it the other day?”, suggested Sam. Now reminded of it, the girls managed to show a little enthusiasm and admitted they, too, wondered about it. Sure, that sounded like a plan. First the swim.
Once on the slope again with the cable showing up at odd intervals, as parts of it were found exposed above leaves and debris, all four perked up and began following the scent of a new mystery. Far beyond the old shack, the cable could be seen ahead where it was draped loosely over a gigantic pulley. The pulley had once been mounted on beams clamped to stumps set into the ground. However, rot had taken its’ toll and it now looked like a stiff breeze would topple the entire affair. The cable draped down the far side of the pulley and again disappeared into the leaves and foliage of the forest floor. They were finally nearing the top of the slope, but the trees were still a thickened mass that heavily shaded everything, giving their surroundings a slightly unreal feeling. However, the cable continued to show up from time to time. Just enough to continue whetting their curiosity.
At last, as they arrived at a break where they could see the crest of the hill, they were also treated, on the skyline, to the view of another large pulley. This one, also held the weight of the cable, although again loosely draped and leading off, this time, downhill.
Didn’t this cable ever end? How could one so long have ever been made, let alone brought to such a remote location? Still, it went on and they continued to follow it as sections of it were exposed now and then on its’ way down the steep slope toward the far side.
The afternoon was rapidly closing in on them and they realized that, before long, they would need to head back toward the car. Attempting to navigate through this dense timber after dark would be hopeless. They would never find their way out after darkness fell.
Finally, all agreed to go back and they would check this out the next time they returned to the pond. Maybe also bring flashlights in case they again found themselves threatened by darkness. The sun was still shining, although low in the West, when they came out of the trees and had finally gathered their things and begun the drive home.
Sam dropped each one off at their homes and was inside his own in time to shower before dinner. At the table, he casually mentioned to his dad what they had been up to that day. “This pursuit of the endless cable has really got to us all. Even the girls are watching for it and making their own guesses at what might be at the end. Very curious.”
His dad thought that, yes, he also couldn’t imagine a cable like that in such a place. He cautioned that they be careful that none of the group fell and was hurt and suggested that Sam take his mother’s cell phone along the next time just in case anything went wrong. Not a bad idea. A TV show and, a few yawns later, Sam gave up and decided his exercise that day was catching up with him. On his way to his room, the phone rang and it was for him. Taking it, he heard Don on the other end rattling on about the cable. What? Don thought they should go back the next day and follow through with their exploration. He said that Betty had called him and she was sort of wound up about it, too.
Calling Jill and finding she thought it was a great idea, he called Don back and told him it was a go. He would collect them about nine the next morning. Off to bed for a good nights’ rest.
Ten o’clock on a beautiful day found them grouped below the pond, loading up beside the car, dressed for their steep trek and equipped with flashlights, backpacks that carried lunch and water and, Sam had remembered to bring along his mothers’ cell phone. They were headed for the hills. Again. And, the other end of that endless cable.
Nothing was gained by again tracing the cable and its’ ascent to the ridge. They now knew where to go to continue their search, so, hot on the trail, they worked their way to the ridge and began down where the cable fell from the top pulley. It surely couldn’t be far now.
Somewhat steeper than the side they had first climbed up, the footing was a little more risky and each one picked their own path as felt best to provide the most safety and traction. Less trees on this side, also. But, the cable went on and was exposed just inconsistently enough to keep them guessing. Another large pulley loomed before them and, it appeared, also a very slight turn to the left for the path of the cable below.
As they neared this pulley, the cable as well as the terrain dropped from it more sharply. Climbing downward became more of a challenge. Soon, they came to a drop they could not navigate. Far too steep. They didn’t even dare get close enough to the edge to see what was down there. From the little they could see, it appeared to be just rocks and rubble spewing down the mountain side as if from a natural slide. Wouldn’t do to try going down the face of it and falling onto that sharp and uneven mess. Searching the rocks, they at last decided upon a route to their right and along a more gently sloping section. It appeared this would gradually get them down to the level where the cable had disappeared, although far to the right of it. No problem, just hike back toward it at that level and carry on after it was found again.
Slipping and grabbing for nonexistent handholds, all four finally made it down the slope to where they could look back to their left and see the pile of rubble they had looked down on from above. From that distance, they were unable to make out the cable, though. So, they tightened their backpack straps and trudged onward.
Slowly, a recessed hole appeared in the face of the wall. A darkened shadow that may have gone into the mountain ten feet or may have been only a deeply, naturally dished out area. All were craning their necks and trying to make out what they were seeing when the path they had taken moved them outward and away from the face somewhat further and, then it was plain what this had been.
The rubble they had seen tumbling off down the slope was the result of the face having been blasted or dug out to create a tunnel right back into the mountain. A pitch black tunnel after the first few feet. The light from the sun came in at an angle that did nothing to light the interior and, even worse, created blackness within by comparison to the outer glare.
Someone had once industriously hacked a hole into the mountain. Now, no tools were visible, no buildings, and no people for as far as the eye could see. Sam, always the most inquisitive of the four, spoke for them all. “Well, let’s get out our flashlights and go inside. There must be some reason someone did all this work. Maybe we can get a clue if we poke around in there.”
At first, the girls weren’t all that sure. Maybe they should stay outside just in case it fell in on the boys and they needed help. However, the walls appeared to be solid rock and, since they saw no beams or other support, they decided it should hold up with them in there. After all, it hadn’t caved in, yet, and it was anybody’s guess how many years since someone dug it out. Backpacks still on and flashlights in hand, they crept forward. Once they were deep enough into the shadows, the lights were much more effective and they relaxed a bit, seeing no animals charge out or whatever else could have been inside. One very strange place, though. Swinging lights up onto the walls, all that was seen was rock and more rock. Still no picks or shovels or sign that man had once inhabited the interior or, more likely by far, created it. This had to have been a mine. Mining for what was the question. None of them knew anything about geology nor would they recognize a precious stone in the raw if it hung in front of them on the walls.
Once they were back from the exterior face about fifty feet or so, their light seemed to brighten the interior even better. With four flashlights throwing their beams around, it no longer felt like a dark, forbidding place to explore. The ceiling was a good seven feet high, meaning they had no need to stoop or crawl in order to observe their surroundings and every surface that had been exposed. They could merely stroll along in comfort.
It was Don who pointed this out. “Can you imagine the amount of work that had to go into carving out this hole? It’s huge and open feeling, but when it was done, each stone had to be shattered and carried away in pieces just to gain inches. Can you imagine that kind of back-breaking labor?” he exclaimed. “Maybe there were a lot of people working on it at the time. One poor guy alone would have spent a lifetime doing what we see here.”
“Hey, what’s this?” called out Jill from where she had stopped about twenty feet further in from the others.
They gathered by her side and shone their lights where she was probing at something high on the rock wall. “It has real pretty color, but seems almost transparent in my light.” she exclaimed. I wonder if it’s worth anything. And, look, here are more of them over here.” She had shifted her beam while Don was attempting to pry loose the one she had first spotted.
At that point, they all realized the walls this far in were ablaze with these chunks of colored stone. You had to wonder what they had used for lighting at the time this mine was being worked. Lanterns? Probably. Would the stones have been as readily seen by lantern or candle light?
Don had succeeded in removing the first stone by chipping at the spot with a loose rock found near his feet and Sam was working on another. The girls soon got into the adventure and began their own efforts to get a souvenir of their own. Several nice pieces later, with some for each of them, it was mutually agreed that they should head back. Once they reached the mouth and stood again in bright sunlight with the rubble pile slewing away beneath them, Sam stooped and pawed through what had been tossed aside. “There’s nothing here to indicate they threw out any of those stones. Either they took away any they found or they had just barely come to them when they stopped.” Sam remarked casually. “Funny, the way this was done here in the middle of nowhere. There must be records of some sort if we knew where to look.”
Once back at the pond, they all had their dip. Then, after eating their remaining lunches, they agreed to go on back home.
They gathered at Jill’s house and she called her older brother who was an archeologist. He had returned from a dig several days before, so she expected to use the fact that he was home and pick his brain about their find.
Amethyst! Unseen, but by their descriptions, he felt certain they had stumbled upon an old amethyst mine. However, he would be right over to see for himself. He couldn’t quite believe that he was right. If he was, this could be worth a fortune!
Bryan had brought along a lens with which he could better determine what their stones really were, so he set right to work. Setting up the correct lighting, he began examining the first stone that Jill handed him.
Sitting back at last and looking at the expectant faces of the kids, Bryan slowly let his breath out and gave them his opinion. “Not only is it amethyst, but this appears to be of the very highest quality yet found. The pile you all took from your pockets would surpass a years salary for ten people. Of course, there’s the cutting and polishing to be done if they are really to show their light and be used as settings in jewelry pieces. But, that expense taken off the top still leaves you with a healthy bundle. My question has to be, are they yours for the taking or does that mine belong to someone who knows of its’ value? When you sell anything like this, you are required to show proof that they are yours and you owned the mine they came from. That leaves an iffy proposition. I don’t see how you can benefit from them legally except to have and admire these as they are. According to your story, you don’t have legal claim to these.
Talk about taking the wind out of their sails! Well, there must be a solution. There must. Would the owner perhaps sell them the land? Betty’s mom was a realtor. They decided to ask her if she could find out who owned that mountain. After calling her and being assured she could get their answer, they hung up and all sat dejectedly, thinking of what might have been. If only.
Sam took the rest home finally and, after his own parents were home and settled, he pulled his stones from his pocket and laid them out before them.
“Pretty rocks.” stated his mother.
“These should have some value” stated his dad.
Yep, they sure should. Sam then explained what had transpired that day. Both about the mine they had found and about these rocks they had pried from the interior walls. He explained what Bryan had said they were and that they had considerable value. If. Only, if they could claim them legally.
About then, the phone rang and Sam, who was nearest, picked it up. It was Betty’s mom with the information on the ownership of the land where the mine was. She had already called and told Betty, but Betty had asked her to let Sam know. They all seemed to feel that, if a decision was to be made, it had to be made by Sam. At least a guideline was expected to come from Sam.
The next morning, the four gathered to discuss their problem. Sam had an easy suggestion for starters. Why not just call the guy who was listed as owner and, without mentioning the mine, ask him if he would consider selling them the mountain the mine was on. Couldn’t hurt anything to try.
So, as spokesman for the four, Sam made the call. Mr. Hendricks even answered the call promptly. When asked about selling the property, he admitted he had often thought about it. After all, it only cost him tax money the way it was. Not a lot per year, but he had been paying property taxes on that worthless piece of property since he had inherited it from some long dead uncle over fifty years ago. Himself, retired now, he felt no attachment to the place. Five hundred acres of steep slopes and rocks and trees. He knew it had a nice pond on it and had even taken his family there once. They had wondered at what the inheritance would look like, but discovered only a steep hill with trees. The property was too far from the nearest town to offer chances of development. Since his home was in Utah, he had never returned.
By then, he was aware that he was talking to a young boy. With this in mind, he couldn’t expect much of an offer and probably not even enough to persuade him to sell to the young man. Accordingly, he set what he thought was a realistic figure and, if the kid couldn’t handle it, nothing was lost. He’d just keep paying the taxes.
“Fifty thousand? Well,” Sam told him, “That’s a bundle for that hill. Let me ask you. Since it’s so far from town, my three friends and I thought we might spend our Summer vacation from school out there and enjoy the pond. Maybe even dig around here and there just to see if we could come up with anything of value. Lots of rocks out there. Does a sale of the property include all the mineral rights, too?” Bryan had been the one to advise him of this need.
“Oh, yes. He left me some trees on ground too steep to bother timbering off and the mineral rights, free and clear. But, I doubt you’ll find anything worth digging up. My uncle was into that sort of thing in his day and would have mentioned it if he thought the land worth digging up.” explained Mr. Hendricks. “Can’t be anything of much value there, since the property taxes are only sixty two dollars a year.”
Telling him they would call back very soon, Sam hung up and turned to tell the others all he had learned while on the phone. “If all he wants is fifty thousand, we could swing that. Split it four ways and use some of the money we received as a reward for finding that stolen bank money. What do you think?”
Calls were made to the parents of each at their jobs. This was a decision they needed to make now. Without delay. But, it was a big decision and nothing they could make without the advice of their parents. Besides, as Jill pointed out, they may need their folks signatures on the deal just to make it legal. They weren’t 21 yet and maybe you needed to be to legally contract to buy property. All these questions needed answers.
Well, so far their needs had been well covered by family members and, with Betty’s dad being an attorney, that might even handle their legal questions for them. A call was made. Explanations given and questions posed. Research would be done.
Betty’s dad, Paul, had called back to suggest they all get together that night and go over the problems. See how it could work out. Legally. All parents and the four teen agers were present at Sam’s house that night.
“Now, as I see it,” began Paul, “holding title to some land is no problem for these kids at their age. The potential problems would come about later when they need to work up contracts with venders and such. In order to develop this old mine, health and safety would be of prime importance and the modern mining methods would have to be adhered to. You’d need to be working with people who know mining. Then, to oversee the mining operation and ascertain that all is aboveboard, you would need a team of managers. They would handle sales, also. I would suggest getting bids from established mining firms and going from there. Let the professionals handle that part. There’s enough money to be made for everyone, but only if properly controlled and administered.”
A mine of their own. An actual working mine! The kids were jumping around, hugging one another in their excitement.
“Now,” Paul continued, “contracts of the nature that would be required could only be signed by people of legal age. Over twenty one. My suggestion would be that each parent be equally responsible on any contract as acting on behalf of their under-age children. That would help when it’s time to seriously talk to anyone you’ll deal with to make this happen.”
And, so, it was agreed upon. An attorney who specialized in this sort of legal work was contacted and, once he drew up the papers that would start the ball rolling, the four were informed that, without hesitation, they could each consider themselves to now be very wealthy.
Two days later, the purchase of the property was completed and a certified check for fifty thousand dollars was in the hands of the previous owner, Mr. Hendricks. Now he had cash from property he had never cared about and would never again need to pay those annual property taxes. His remaining retirement years should now be a little more comfortable.
As papers were signed and details came to their attention, all four youngsters agreed that, once they graduated from high school, they would each focus on accounting and business management courses in college. A week ago, none had a clue what they might study in college, if they even went. None of them had felt any particular driving interests. Now, it had become obvious that, not they, nor even their parents, knew nearly enough to be certain their hired managers wouldn’t pocket profits behind their backs. They needed to, in time, become their own project managers and pool the knowledge they could attain from their college courses. Learning what they needed to know to survive in this world had only begun.
Might relationships grow more serious for either couple? Time would tell. However, they would share a long & prosperous partnership in business.
Maybe they would even have a little cabana built among the trees just above the pond. Maybe constructed so it could be closed in as sort of a job-site office for them, with computers and all that. Their own generator. Maybe a refrigerator for cold drinks. Ideas were flying in each of their minds. How about a chair lift in the general area where the old cable once ran? It could deliver them from the pond, over to the other side where mining would be going on.
Could you believe it? One more year of high school, yet and, here they were, worrying about how to handle their money and their very own company. Perhaps the mine had yielded no gold, but there were jewels in them thar hills. Hey, how about that! They would also share in the fringe benefit of owning their very own hill with their very own pond for Summer day swims - when time permitted. Rusty old cable and all.
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