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Just a Little More - a short story

Updated on April 16, 2012
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Just a Little More.


It was an old, leather tobacco pouch, and badly weathered, so he almost ignored it until curiosity made him wonder why it was under a small pile of rocks. It had obviously been hidden by someone, but why? He bent to retrieve it, and that’s when he spotted the gleam visible through a crack in the deteriorating pouch. He found a slab of bark from a dead mesquite, and gingerly slid it under the bag so that the contents would be safe.

It was at least five hundred dollars in gold dust and nuggets. But where had it come from? He had been sample panning the small stream for weeks, and had found little. And what happened to the man who owned the pouch? Jed Blalock was a deliberate and thoughtful man, so he sat on a flat rock on the far side of the stream and pondered the find while he ate his lunch.

The stream had been worked some fifty years ago until the placers played out. It was a minor rush in the Territory, and the tailings piles were still readily visible. He’d been told that more than a thousand miners had worked this stream, but he also knew that there was always an undiscovered concentration for the man willing to look for it and figure out the stream.

The gold in the pouch puzzled him. Placer gold is gold that weathering has released from the mother rock and has washed downhill into a stream, where it has been pounded by rocks during thousands of years of periodic floods, until it’s smooth and worn. But the gold in the pouch was far rougher than most placer gold, meaning that it had not been subjected to eons of wear. But where was the mother rock?

The bank on the far side of the stream was about ten feet high, and the meadow had good grass, so he decided he would move his burros over there after eating. Beyond the grass was a bench some fifty to sixty feet high, and then desert, sloping upward toward the distant blue mountains. Something on the bench looked out of place, and he realized it was a long pole resting against its face. He decided to look at it after he picketed his burros.

The pole had been cleaned with an ax, and a similar pole lay on the ground five feet away. About seven feet up was the remains of a crosspiece, still bound by weathered rawhide. Similar crosspieces lay scattered about. It had been a ladder. For the second time that day, Jed Blalock sat and studied the situation.

The lower part of the bench was fractured granite, populated by various types of vegetation that had succeeded in gaining a precarious root-hold in the cracks. Around twenty feet up however, the face changed dramatically. It was weathered and rounded rock and gravel, cemented together with ancient mud that was now stone hard. Near the top of the pole was something white protruding from the gravels. It might be a piece of quartz.

Jed Blalock realized that he was looking at an ancient streambed, or what was left of it. It ran for perhaps a thousand feet and then disappeared, eroded away centuries ago. Above what looked like a piece of quartz was a small section of gravels that had collapsed, and Jed was a curious man. He set about repairing the ladder.

He had been a surgeon’s helper during the war, so he knew instantly what was in front of his face. The white object was the remains of a human ankle and it was still attached to the lower leg bones. That and the now obvious collapse of the gravels and river rock told the tale. The owner of that leg was buried along with it, and crushed under tons of rock. Ancient stream beds were sometimes fabulously rich with placer gold at bedrock, but tunneling under a streambed’s precariously balanced rocks, sand, and gravels to retrieve the gold was fraught with danger. This miner had gambled and lost.

Now he knew the source of the gold, but getting it out was in doubt. There was at least thirty feet of streambed to remove to get at the bed rock, so that was out of the question. Tunneling was far easier and cheaper, but one mistake meant death. He climbed down and sat on a boulder, studying the problem.

Some fifteen feet to the left of the collapsed tunnel, he spotted a crack in the bedrock that was nearly a foot wide and perhaps two feet deep. If that had been there when the stream was running, it would have acted as a trap, and could be rich with gold. He would try that, and then decide.

Two days later, he made up his mind. He had moved the ladder to the crack, and using a hand pick, dislodged some of the materials caught in it. With a hammer on a flat rock, he crushed it up and panned it out in the stream. He found good color immediately, and the deeper he dug, the better it got. Now he was in about two feet, but that was as far as he could reach. If he wanted to continue cleaning out the crack, he would have to tunnel. He decided to cut shoring. It wasn't fool proof, but if a man was careful...

Two months later, Jed Blalock had lost nearly twenty pounds, and his eyes were haunted. He had tunneled in nearly twenty feet, following the crack which was now wider, deeper, and richer. He had a Dutch oven hidden away in a tree hollow that was half full of dust and nuggets. He already had enough to retire in luxury or buy a good sized ranch, so he promised himself that tomorrow would be his last day. It was a promise he had made and broken several times, but this time, he intended to keep it, no matter what.

The day dawned gray and cold, with the promise of rain. Jed ate a small breakfast and picked up his tools. He untied the burros and turned them loose, as he had done every other day. If anything happened, they could fend for themselves. He walked to the foot of the bench, and looked up. Finally, he swallowed hard and began to climb the ladder.

His gunny sack was as full as he allowed it to be, and he was making ready to back out of his tunnel when he heard a low rumble. In a panic, he began to scramble backwards, still holding on to his sack. He was less than ten feet from the entrance when he saw the blinding flash of light, followed instantly by a clap of thunder. A storm! It was just a storm and thunder. His shoulders began to shake as he laughed at himself.

At last, he began again to back out of the tunnel, and for the last time. He felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders. It was over, and he had won!

His sack caught on something, and in his jubilation, he unthinkingly gave it a hard tug. In the light from the tunnel mouth, he saw the pieces of shoring fall away. For a horrifying second, he froze and then the tunnel collapsed. The air from his crushed lungs blew out of his mouth and nose, and his last thought was of Mary. What was to become of Mary?

...

Big Albert unconsciously tugged at his beard as he studied the situation. What had happened was obvious. He had climbed the ladder and found the remains of leg bones jutting from the first collapsed tunnel, and had caught the faint odor of death from the second tunnel. He also found the hollow tree and the Dutch oven by following the tracks, so he understood the reasons. He was an honest man, so he looked around for a way to identify the dead men, and send their gold to relatives, but he found nothing.

As a miner, he understood instantly the risk and the reasons, including the cleaned out crack in the granite. In fact, he had found another crack that looked even more promising. At last he made up his mind. He would shore up the tunnel, and only go in a few feet. That was a promise, he told himself. Only a few feet.

He picked up the ax, and began to cut shoring.


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    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you!

    • bmcoll3278 profile image

      bmcoll3278 5 years ago from Longmont, Colorado

      As with the others I was drawn in from the start. Great story.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I don't mind at all, Peg. In fact, I'm pleased and flattered!

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi Will, I hope you won't mind if I link this one on my profile among my writer recommendations. You are a great writer. Peg

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, kittyjj!

    • kittyjj profile image

      Ann Leung 5 years ago from San Jose, California

      Wow, another great story - the greediness that kills. Thank you for sharing! :)

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, services4all!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thanks, Doc!

    • services4all profile image

      services4all 5 years ago from U.S.

      Interesting story. I like it. Keep posting.

    • pandula77 profile image

      pandula77 5 years ago from Norway

      Its a pleasure reading your short story...a talent not gone wasted. Voted up++

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Cyd!

    • profile image

      Cyd Wise 5 years ago

      Interesting story! I, also, picked up on the moral to this story.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Beth, and thank you for picking up on that!

      ^_^

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi mckbirdbks. Can I buy you breakfast at the Emerald?

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Diane,

      One guy from New York bought a claim across the road from my friend Dewey's property, and posted no trepassing signs all over the place. Then the property owner showed up with the Sheriff and kicked him off!

      The sophisticated city dude had bought a claim he could not use because it was on private property! We got a big laugh out of that one.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Sueswan,

      The lure of gold is overwhelming, and it has killed countless people over the centuries.

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 5 years ago from Tennesee

      Will, you're dangerously close to becoming philosophic. Don't stop.

      Great allegory, love it!

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      You have to dig around on hubpages, but after a bit of tunneling, you strike gold when you arrive at WillStarr's hub page.

    • profile image

      Diane Reece 5 years ago

      I have panned for gold a few times and it is very exciting but only from creek beds so we felt pretty safe. My husband and I camped out one time up in the Bradshaw Mountains just out in the middle of nowhere or so we thought. We were just sitting around and then happened to notice an Prince Albert tobacco can wired to a stake stuck in the ground and went to investigate and sure enough in the can was claim form. To say we were a little afraid was putting it mildly. Fortunately for us there was no one around at the time but we did decide to move on just to be on the safe side. Good memories!

    • profile image

      Sueswan 5 years ago

      Hi Will!

      Great story telling as always.

      Greed, overtakes common sense.

      Voted up and away!

      Take care

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Suzie!

      It's also the lure of discovery. What's over the next hill or around the next curve? Maybe the next foot will yield a huge nugget, or an ultra-rich deposit!

      Humans just can't resist it!

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC

      What great description in this story. Such intelligent men making such bad decisions. I'm not sure if it was greed or obsession. Like working at a puzzle you can't put down only far more dangerous. Thanks for the great read.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi PegCole17!

      We can put ourselves at risk, but not our animals.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi b.Malin,

      Was it greed or need? Most of the gold-rush miners had plans should they strike it rich, like buying a ranch or farm, or maybe building a business. They accepted the inherent risks as part of mining. Of course, greed was always there too.

      Which was it for our unfortunate miners?

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Another fascinating read, Will. I'm so glad you put in the part about letting the burros graze on their own or I would have worried about them.

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 5 years ago

      Ah the Greed in all of us...What would you do, what would you do...And so there is a Moral to Every story. And another fine tale has been told by the Master of Old West Tales.

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 5 years ago from United States

      Great story ..Thanks for that

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      How right you are, James!

    • SubRon7 profile image

      James W. Nelson 5 years ago from eastern North Dakota

      Great story, Will, absolutely, just a little more, and that lure holds true for so many, many, things.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      True, the lure of gold has killed many a man, G-Ma Johnson!

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 5 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Gold Gold...Money Money the root of all evil!!! Will we ever learn to be grateful for what we do have?

      Ha Ha I am quilty with spending too much time on Bejeweled...ssshhhh.

      Another great story voted up up up...God Bless...:O) Hugs G-Ma

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Gail!

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 5 years ago from South Carolina

      Loved this, mostly because the story itself is so great but also because it teaches about old fashioned mining for gold in such an entertaining way.

      Voted up across the board except for funny.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Docmo!

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 5 years ago from UK

      Ah will, your writing is exquisite. I realise I haven't been back here for a while to read and I have found myself a personal treasure trove of your stories to catch up on. The atmosphere and the telling are vivid and you are a very visual story teller who takes us right there. I am coming back, greed or no greed as I cant resist prospecting for more gold in your territory. voted up!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi, ImKarn23, and I'm glad I could hold your attention!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hey, Fred!

      It was more of a low, tight crawl space than a proper mine, and his shoring was a make-do affair.

      Let's see how Big Albert makes out!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Ronnie!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi drbj, and that earned another groan!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi marshacanada!

      We understand because we've all been tempted.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi, Ruby!

      Risk and greed are soul mates.

    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 5 years ago

      Why is it human nature to never be satisfied? Why is enough never enough? I adored this hub, and how it was written! Your style drew me in and kept me close - which - happens fairly infrequently! Thanks for this and the great lesson within!

    • profile image

      Ghost32 5 years ago

      As a onetime underground miner (yeah, I've done that, too), my predominant thought is not for the lesson of avarice vs. wisdom. Instead, all I can think is, "...thoughtful person, my left foot. His stulls were so lightly tapped in place that a yank on a GUNNYSACK could bring the whole thing down? What an IDIOT!"

      The Montana phosphate mine in which I worked did occasionally kill people that way. Not for gold, but through the avarice, if you will, of the bosses. Two days after I left the mine to return to college in September of 1968, two stopers were caught when the hanging came down. One was crushed to death, the other (I reckon) crushed emotionally.

      They had KNOWN they needed to stop, take a day to shore up that stope a few dozen more yards upslope, but the shifter (foreman) had pushed them to get in "one more round"...and, needing to keep their jobs, they'd caved in a few hours before the hanging rock did likewise.

      Voted Up as Always.

    • resspenser profile image

      Ronnie Sowell 5 years ago from South Carolina

      Another good one, Will. I enjoyed it, thanks.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      I guess the moral for this great short story, Will, could be: Don't bite off more than you can hew!

    • marshacanada profile image

      marshacanada 5 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Lovely story about the psychology of greed. I love how you get inside the guy's head.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Wow, This was another story with a reminder, quit while you're ahead. I can't keep from wondering about Big Albert? Great story Will...

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Joyce. (BTW, I love the name Joyce!)

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

      Great story loved it. Voted up and awesome, Joyce.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Dex,

      I suppose all stories have a moral basis somewhere, no matter how skewed that may be.

      Thanks for a great comment!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hey Ginn! Good to see you!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Lynn!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi dahoglund,

      I've seen gamblers win fortunes, and then lose it all again, trying for more.

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 5 years ago from United States

      Hi Will! This may not have been your intention, but thanks for using a fictional story from yesteryear to teach a lesson for today.

      I look forward to reading your work. A good story should make one think and consider. You are a master at this.

    • Ginn Navarre profile image

      Ginn Navarre 5 years ago

      Hey Will,as always you spin a great story with a moral.

      "To hazard much to get much has more of avarice then wisdom"---William Penn

    • profile image

      Lynn S. Murphy 5 years ago

      I love how you put a story together.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Will, only a few feet. Just one more spin of the wheel.It's human nature, I guess.Good story.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thanks, Becky!

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      And the circle continues. Good story again.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Susan,

      It still happens today. Gold collects under boulders too, and people have been crushed by a boulder rolling over on them because they dug too far under it!

      It's not worth dying for.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi, LABrashear, and I love your stuff too!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I think there's a moral to this story. Quit while you're ahead and don't get too greedy. Great story Bill!

    • LABrashear profile image

      LABrashear 5 years ago from My Perfect Place, USA

      I love your stories. You have a beautiful way with words. I cannot think of anything more to tell you than that - words cannot do your work justice. Voted up!