Boring for Oil

THERE needs no skill of ready pen or graphic pencil to portray the Land of the Lamp — kerosene — to dwellers in Western Pennsylvania, or to the Eastern strangers who came thither to seek fortune at the bottom of a well. Too often, alas! she was missing at the third sand-rock,” and they had naught but a “ dry hole ” to show for their trouble; but at least the strangers carried away with them memories of a singularly wild and picturesque country. Doubtless Berks’s fertile plains were dearer than ever to the Dutchman who had been beguiled into transporting oil and oil equipments over Venango’s steep and barren hills. Hills they are to Pennsylvanians, but mountains to easygoing Marylanders, or to the “ smart ” Western Yankees from Ohio, who look upon the face of the earth as a racecourse, and consider the slightest elevation of surface an abnormal and undesirable development.

“ I say! ” called out a traveler, drawing rein beside a dilapidated old stone farm-house.

The master of the house slowly made his way to the front door. “If it’s the road to the oil-well you want, it’s straight over the hill.”

“ We have been there before, thank you; I want to know the name of that mountain,” in clear, curt, decisive tones. A city lawyer, one would say, from tone and manner, used to make his questions go straight to the point. Plain as his request had been, the words seemed to miss their mark, for the man only looked at him with a blank stare.

“I said,” —the lawyer raised his voice in case his hearer should be deaf, — “I asked you what was the name of that mountain? ” The traveler pointed across the gleaming river to the steep crag that loomed up, darkly purple against the pale green of the evening sky.

That ! A mountain, d ’ye say, mister? I don't know nothin’ ’bout mountains; we don’t hev sich lifts in these parts; hut if it’s that little rise ye want to know ’bout, I ’ve seen that hill every day since ever I kin mind seem’, an’ I never heard it called a thing but WoollyCreek Hill, till a stranger chap took it into his head to ask if ’t was n’t a mountain! ”

“ Sharp, the old fellow was, wasn’t he? ” said the gentleman to his companion, with a laugh, as he urged his horses forward. “ I ought to have known better than to call that peak a mountain; only the Alleghany range has that title here. But I wonder what kind of idea our friend has of a mountain? ”

“ Nothing lower than five miles admitted to the royal circle,” returned the other. “I think he might find the Himalayas tame.”

And truly, “ mountain ” is a misnomer, for the lofty, darkling aspect of the hills comes less from actual height than from abrupt inclination. Some rivers flow broad and calm through fertile, smiling valleys, whence the hills slowly lift themselves in successive ranges, bluer as they rise, the loftiest one tint deeper than the clouds that flit above; and the whole landscape, seen from the river-bank, suggests the profanely prosaic idea of a company of school-children marshaled on a platform, the babies in front and the big boys and girls behind. Other rivers have no broad borders; the line of green that runs on either side is the merest ribbon in the world; and the hills stand dark and grim, full of water-worn caverns and unearthly echoes. Here is no holiday parade; say, rather, the grave, stern, expectant look of veteran soldiers ready for the battle.

To the latter class of streams does the Alleghany belong; and it is among such sentinel hills that speculators seek what they call “oil territory;” changed, by easy transmutation, into “ turritory.” Many are the theories of such speculators: now the best oil sites are on the hill-tops; now it is useless to buy land anywhere save in a valley, and then the favored tracts lie only within a certain limit from the stream running through it; now the oil is gathered in a basin, now it is distributed through a belt. One thing only seems thoroughly proved by experience in the Alleghany district in which my particular well is located: where the hills are steepest and ruggedest, where the barren land contributes its worthlessness to the scanty vegetation that covers it, where the trees are poor and stunted, and the oak, king of the forest that he is, has grown so ashamed of his degenerate self that he hides trunk and timber underground, and protrudes only a mean little bush to the light of day, to be henceforth recognized as “ scrub-oak,” — in such a quarter as this, oil is apt to be found; the shabby cup holds liquid gold; and you may set up your derrick and go to boring, with the flattering unction laid to your soul that at least outside appearances are in your favor.

I do not know whether it be so elsewhere, in more thickly settled districts; but the removals westward that I remember, — removals to Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, — have oftener been from the driving pressure of bustling city, or the dull stagnation of country town, than from the hard labor of the farm, albeit that farm was poor to begin with, and thoroughly worked out at last.

Such a farm as this had descended to William Maxwell by inheritance; and he and his wife had been content to remain there, both active, strong, and young, and both showing, before thirty years had passed over their heads, the marks of their hard, careful life. Eliza Maxwell was a good woman, and a sound Presbyterian; but one sentence there was of the Master’s own speaking that troubled her greatly: “Take no thought for the morrow.” How was it to be done? The children must be cared for, the cows must be milked, the butter must be churned, the harvesters must have their five meals a day! Not that she grudged the toil and care that were making her grow old early, as her mother, the farmer’s wife on the other side of the hill, had grown old before her — but could it all be done without taking thought? What if that taking thought was not a matter of her own free-will? what if she were predestined to be lost forever by the very work given her to do?

Something like this she said to her husband, in shy, halting words, as they sat one restful Sunday evening, enjoying the quiet hour between the children’s bed-time and their own. Busy people know the charm of Sunday evening converse, when, after the day’s refreshment to soul and body, hearts and tongues make the most of their holiday, dimly descrying Monday morning in the distance. Such charm the time had for William Maxwell and his wife; weekday sunsets often found them too tired to wish to speak one unnecessary word ; but this evening there had been leisure for Eliza to touch on such shadowy fears, and for William to listen, in spite of visions of a meadow where the grass was growing all too ripe, and of a cupboard wherein was just bread enough for breakfast.

The woman’s thin, white, eager face sought her husband’s as she asked at the end, “ What do you think, William ? ”

It was a commonplace face that met her gaze, with coarse features, deeplyset eyes, and hair and skin that plainly showed they had known little shelter from sun or wind; but the brow was fine, and the countenance lighted by that subtle something we call “ expression,” and fancy the riddle read because we have given it a name. Looking at the man, you would have said that the neighbors were wise in deferring to William Maxwell’s judgment as they did, and safe in reckoning on his sweet, steady temper. There was a smile in his eyes, but his lips were grave and reverent as he answered, “I don’t know, Eliza. It’s too hard a matter for me; but I ’m sure of one thing: the good Lord has made you a farmer’s wife, and he will never blame you for doing your best to be a good one.” So Eliza’s fancies were chased away that harvesttime.

The hay was stacked, the wheat and oats were in the barn, and there was a breathing-time before the ripened corn would be ready for the crib. For months back, William Maxwell had been pondering over the late oil strikes in a new and hitherto untried quarter, some miles away. In the winter, when the hardfrozen ground rang under his footsteps, he had wondered whether Jack Frost and oil tools worked well together; in the spring, turning up the soil, all too light a brown, he had speculated on the results of going deeper; and now that harvest was over, the plan of sinking a well began to take more tangible form.

He talked of it to his wife, half jesting, half in earnest. She took it all as “ Will’s fun; ” something that was good to turn a fret into a laugh, or to satisfy the children’s cravings for the glories of Brandon stores. “ You shall have it when father’s ship comes home, Willy,” she said, gently urging the reluctant boy past a window where pranced a hobbyhorse, resplendent with trappings of gold and scarlet.

“ What ship? and when will it come?” inquired unbelieving Willy.

“ When father strikes oil,” was the reply.

“ O-h-h! ” returned the child, much better satisfied; for had he not been over to Davis Landing with his father in the spring, and seen a great tank full of oil with his own eyes?

One later trip Maxwell had taken, to see a man who had acquired great distinction in the neighborhood. Whether Mr. Gray by carried a lucky-stone in his pocket, whether the spectacles that rested on his long, inquisitive nose helped him to see to the centre of the planet, or whether he were a walking wand of witch-hazel, drawn by occult magnetic influence to the right spot, none could tell; but all averred that he had never yet failed in his prophecies, either for himself or for other people. William Maxwell pished and pshawed at the Brandon gossip about the marvelous stranger; but when news came one day that an old well, long abandoned, and sold to the prophet for a mere song, had given forth its treasure after a fortnight’s boring, he owned, “ The man may know something about the matter, seeing he makes it his lawful business. At any rate, it will do no harm to go and see him.”

“ No barm in the world,” laughed Eliza, not checking her needle in its task of darning and patching.

“ And no good either, I know you think,” returned her husband, giving the fire a vigorous poke that shivered the great piece of coal into a thousand fragments, and sent a shower of bright lights about the room. She only laughed again; and again he poked the fire. “ I know I ’m half a fool about it,” he said, drumming with the poker on the bars of the grate. “But I can’t get rid of the notion that there’s oil on this farm.”

Eliza’s mouth was still twitching at the corners. “ Half a fool must feel bad enough,” she said. “But mightn’t a whole one feel worse? ”

He groaned aloud, “ ’Liza, ’Liza! That you should talk to me like that, and we not seven years married yet! Perhaps if you had a little more money and a little easier time, you would n’t be quite so sharp on a fellow; so I reckon I ’ll go at the oil well to-morrow, and not mind thrashing out that buckwheat.”

Nervous, sensitive, tired as she was, the touch of blame implied in the goodhumored teasing, made Mrs. Maxwell’s face flush. “ Oh, William, you know I didn’t mean that! I only meant we have to work hard now, but things might be a great deal worse; and if we put all we have into an oil well, and it comes to no good, what will become of us? ”

“ We need n’t put all in,” answered William, cheerily. “ Lambert wants that land near Brandon, and will give forty-five hundred for it. I think that is about what they say it costs to bore — that is, if you are careful, and see to things yourself. So that money could go into a hole in the ground, and we not miss it much; d’ye see? ”

“ Y-yes,” with rather a doubtful inflection.

“ That means, you don’t. Well, that is where it is to go.” Maxwell spoke decidedly, getting up to give the fire a final stab, that sent a hail-storm of cinders rattling through the bars. “I ’ll ride over to the Landing to-morrow, and ask Grayby to come and take a look at the Double Hill. Perhaps I can bring him back with me; but I ought to make an early start, so let’s to bed now,”

It was a rough, hilly road to Davis Landing that Maxwell traveled next morning; the nine miles passed, he put up his horses and set out to seek Mr. Grayby among the groups of men scattered along the river-bank and the hillside above. He found him by the side of Little George, this George being not a small boy, but a thriving well. Beside Little George Sister Anne was rapidly descending, as told the sound of the sharp tool drilling through solid rock; and a rough-looking company were discussing the feasibility of putting down a third well, that should be known to the world as Uncle Pete.

“ In my opinion, gentlemen, you had better not put down another well,” spoke Grayby. “ The risk is too great. Uncle Pete would probably be dry; and if you take my advice, you will give up Anne, and let George have the field to himself. There is not room enough for so large a family.”

“ That’s so! ” agreed the spokesman of the party. “ Lonesome for George, but better for us. ”

“ Exactly,” said Grayby, wheeling round to where William Maxwell stood. “ Are you looking for any one, sir? ”

“ For you, sir, if you are Mr. Grayby.”

“ Yes, at your service.”

William had grown slightly ashamed of his errand at the last, and thought, “ As if I ought n’t to know more about my own farm than a stranger! But I’m in for it now.” So, clearing his throat, he told his story, winding up with “ Can you come over and look at my farm? ”

The revealer of hidden things had fidgeted about a good deal while William was talking, and did not answer for some moments. “I ’ll tell you what it is, Mr. Maxwell,” he said at last. “ I don’t believe my opinion is worth that to you,” with a snap of his fingers. “ The one I gave a moment ago was worth something, for those numskulls had not the wit to see that there would only be one vein of oil for three wells, and that multiplying outlets was just an expensive way of wasting fluid. I am an engineer by profession, and used of course to note how the land lies; I have been through all these petroleum districts, and sometimes I think the more I see of such places, the less I know about them! This belt theory, now; as yet I see no reason why it may not be true; but if you get oil — didn’t you say your land lay nine miles west of this place, and sloped to another stream? ” William nodded. “ Then if you get oil, that’s the last of the belt.”

“ Bad for the belt,” gravely responded William.

“ Very,” laughed Mr. Grayby. “ That would not hurt you or any one much, unless you had been buying land, or were one of the sort who think the inside and outside of the world were made by their pattern. I tell you plainly, I don’t value my own opinion on such matters, and I never take money for it,” glancing at the wallet in Maxwell’s hand. “ Nor do I attempt to explain my own success. But I do want to get out of this wretched atmosphere for a day; and if convenient, I should like to drive over with you and take a look at the farm to-morrow.”

William gladly agreed, and greatly enjoyed his companion’s bright, fresh talk about men and tilings during the drive home. But neither then nor that evening would Mr. Grayby talk about oil. He told pleasant stories of foreign countries, making his listeners laugh over divers odd experiences of travel; and later, when all were gathered about the fire, he chatted to Mrs. Maxwell of the household where he was the youngest son. " Maxwell may bore for oil to-morrow if he likes,” was the man’s thought. “I’m determined he shall not bore me with it to-night.”

Next morning he was early ready for action, and, breakfast over, the two started off to the Double Hill. It formed the most deserted quarter of the farm: for the homestead looked out upon comparatively level fields, and the orchard slope stretched lazily to the south, as if to get the full benefit of the sunlight; yet even there the clear, keen air made one conscious of the elevation of the country. Mr. Grayby and William Maxwell had touched the northern boundary of the plateau that lifted itself in the centre of the county, when they stood on the eastern crest of the Double Hill and looked down into the little hollow that lay between twin peaks clothed from base to summit in a mean, yet not unpicturesque mantle of scrub-oak. There was a tradition in the neighborhood that the sun never climbed above the eastern peak till after ten o’clock, and that he sank behind the western summit before two; certainly there was a much scantier supply of daylight there than elsewhere.

“ Humph! ” said Mr. Grayby, as they paused. “ Any way of getting down into that hollow? ” pointing to the narrow cleft below them.

“ This way,” said William, taking the narrow foot-path that successive generations of cows had worn down the hill to the muddy little stream at its base. “ Ugh! ” muttered Grayby, as a low oakbranch thrust itself in his face. “ When cattle lay out roads, why can’t thev guess that their betters will come after them, and make them just a little wider? ”

At last they stood between the two hills. It was still early morning, and the air of the valley, chill and damp at noonday, made both men shiver. Maxwell was too anxious to ask many questions, and only watched the reputed wise man, busy prying up the loose soil with his cane, scanning horizon lines, and noting the dip of the strata where a ledge of rock cropped out from the starveling bushes. “Well,” he said at last, speaking slowly and deliberately, “ from what I can tell, I do not see but that you run as good a chance of striking oil here as over at the river.”

“ Then you think this land would do to bore ? ” Maxwell spoke quickly and eagerly.

“ I should think it would do better to bore than to farm,” returned the other, shrugging his shoulders. “Mind, I am very far from saying that there is oil here. You say your farm does not slope to the river? ”

“No, the other way; it slopes down to a little creek that runs into a larger one south of this; they don’t go to the Ohio by way of the Alleghany.”

“ That is against you; it shows that you are outside of one oil-bearing section. As I said yesterday, there ’s no belt I know of wide enough to take you in; but, if I had not more wells than enough on my hands already, I’d go in with you, and try my luck here.”

“ You think it sure enough for that? ” Mr. Grayby eyed the questioner narrowly. “ Sure enough,” he said, “for me, who have twenty-five flowing wells to make up for the loss of one. But it is probably another thing to you, Maxwell. How many of your neighbors would join with you? ”

“ Four — or five,” counted Maxwell, vainly trying to think of others who had means to risk in such a venture.

“Four or five. Well, that would not be so bad. But if it involve your own affairs, let it alone, man! Don’t stake all you have got on a game like this. It’s not worth it!” Mr. Grayby was growing emphatic and excited. “You may go on boring and boring, through first, second, third sandstone, until you have lost money and health and peace of mind, and are ready to make the well your grave, if it were only wide enough to take you in. I say again, the place looks like a first-rate oil site; but don’t let this miserable hollow give you the oil fever! ”

Maxwell shook his head. “Thank you, sir,” he said. “ Your advice about that comes too late; I ’ve had it these six months.”

Mr. Grayby groaned. “ Then there’s no use in my talking; but I wish you may never rue the day when you came over to Davis after me. I wish I had n’t come! ” turning on his heel in comical disgust.

“ You did me a great favor, sir, and I am very much obliged to you.”

“ Time enough for thanks when you come to oil,” returned the other, making an effort to shake off his vexation. “ Come, let us get to the top of the hill; if oil fever is about, so is intermittent. ”

The mail-wagon passed the Maxwells house on Mondays and Thursdays; and the old man who drove it carried Mr. Grayby away with him that afternoon. He did not find the engineer sociably inclined, and set him down as “ a sassy chap, mighty savin’ of his tongue; it was too good to waste on common people, p'r'aps.”All the while, his passenger was fretting that he had ever seen the Double Hill. “ Nice fellow, that Maxwell; nice wife, too; and here I have been and put him in the way to ruin himself. I declare, I was ashamed to look that woman in the face at dinner! There is one comfort, though: if his mind had not been pretty well made up beforehand, he never would have taken the trouble of coming over to see me.”

The last thought was a relief. Still, the matter worried him; and he was glad to have his reverie ended by the sudden jerk that not only announced that the wagon had stopped, but nearly unloaded it of its freight. There was a telegram awaiting him from the New York shippers of petroleum, and in another hour he had taken the evening train for the city and forgotten the Double Hill in his own business perplexities.

But he had left William Maxwell in high spirits, only shown, however, by a clearer ring in the cheerful voice, and a quickening of his steady, even pace. Eliza allowed that there was encouragement in what Mr. Grayby had said, but— It was plain to be seen that Mrs. Maxwell was not the stuff for a pioneer. Not a spark of the spirit of prophetic enterprise fired her breast, and she owned that she could not believe in that barren, desolate Double Hill ever making any one rich.

During the next fortnight, Maxwell went from one to another of the neighboring farm-houses, in search of stockholders for an oil company. All in vain; few had any funds to spare, and none were willing to risk what they had in developing land which might or might not prove oil territory. Everywhere Maxwell had “ No ” for an answer; till coming to the last house he found that he was just too late: the master had only that week decided to invest in Western lands, and was now dreaming about Missouri dividends.

However, Brandon remained untried; and some wealthy people lived there. Some of them, too, had grown rich by oil speculation; and with Mr. Grayby’s words as a sort of letter of credit, William Maxwell introduced the Double Hill to the moneyed men of the town. No better luck; (he gentlemen pricked up their ears when Mr. Grayby’s name was mentioned, listened attentively to the report of his dicta, but drew back when Maxwell invited them to join him in putting down a well in the valley. Money was scarce; oil was low; good reasons were as thick as hops; but, underlying all excuses, Maxwell saw the truth shine through: “ Too poor a prospect for such risk.”

A little disheartened but no whit less determined, Maxwell left Brandon behind him, and went home to plan out operations by himself. Hu had sold the Two-Mile Farm, — so called on account of its distance from Brandon,—and the money lay in the bank. Next week he would go to the city and see about the engine and tools; also, he must have some one over from Davis Landing to superintend the work until he himself should have learned how to manage the drilling.

“ William,” said Eliza one night, as he sat conning over a schedule of necessary expenses, trying hard to devise some way of lessening them, “ don’t you sometimes feel afraid you ’ll get too much bound up in that oil well? ”

“ You never said that to me in harvest-time, Eliza,” he returned, his eyes twinkling.

“ No; but that was different.”

“ I don’t think it was. Then I was trying to do my best with the old farm: and as far as my lights show me, that’s just what I ’m trying to-day. Make the best of what you have, Eliza; I thought that was one of your women’s tests for a good cook or housekeeper.”

She could not gainsay him here, the more because her work was on his side, she being busy “ making the best ” of a merino that had seen seven years’ service.

One thing came of Mr. Grayby’s opinion, as sent abroad by Maxwell’s Brandon expedition. Four or five gentlemen managed to buy up a goodly number of acres in the neighborhood of the Double Hill. The land was poor, and the owners were glad to find it marketable, until it oozed out that a land company was forming, whose tracts would be priceless in case of an oil strike. This brought the buying and selling to a speedy end; but it showed William that Brandon merchants deemed the project worth some thought and a little money. Boor encouragement, doubtless; but yet, better than none at all.

All was ready at last, after considerable outlay of time and moneys The boring was to begin Monday morning; and Saturday night William Maxwell went to sleep with the comfortable feeling that all was in readiness for work, with a quiet day before beginning it. There was religious service that Sunday in the little brown school-house, and a stranger preached, taking for his text, “ Thy will be done.” Perhaps the worn, weatherbeaten faces that looked up at him saved the preacher from what is hardly an error, yet surely only half a truth. Preachers and poets are apt to read that holy scripture as setting forth passive submission rather than active effort; they fashion us a resignation from wax rather than from marble, a recumbent form with closed eyes and folded hands, and miss, by some strange chance, the calm, grave, steadfast figure, with eyes that see the lions in the way, but with band on sword-hilt, and feet that swerve not from the appointed path.

“ The will of God is to be done as well as borne; obedience to that will is oftener an act than a state of feeling.” So Mr. Hepworth closed his sermon, and gave out

” Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve! ”

for a finish. The people waited about the door to have a word with him, stranger as he was; the habit had come down to them from the elder generations. Among the rest, William Maxwell put out his hand, saying heartily, “ I’m very glad I came to church this morning, sir.”

“ And I’m very glad to hear you say so,” returned the minister, His quick eye taking in at a glance man, wife, and wagon. “ I hope you are in the habit of coming? ”

“ Oil, yes,” returned Maxwell. “ But you see, my wife and I do not always agree.”

“ That is a pity; still, neither of you look as if it was a serious matter,” said Mr. Hepworth,—his laugh reassuring Eliza, who had felt doubtful as to what the minister might think of such levity on Sunday. “I suppose nobody ’s to blame? ”

“ That’s just it, sir,” answered Maxwell. “ But I thought that sermon of yours to-day had saving doctrine for us both. You see, Mr. Hepworth, I have one of these old scrub-oak farms that barely give people a living. I don’t want to abuse the land; it does the best it can; but the best’s bad. So, I’ve thought the matter over and taken advice about it, and have sold another piece of land, — but perhaps, sir, you don’t wish to hear about buying and selling, to-day? ’’

“ I do not see what my sermon lias to do with it,” said the minister, smiling but puzzled.

“ Just this, Mr. Hepworth. The place looks like oil, so say the folks that know, but it is a great venture for me; and my wife, here, is afraid to have me try, for she thinks I’m sure either to fail, and lose my money, or to find, and lose my soul.”

“ Oh, William! I never said that,” exclaimed Eliza, deeply horrified.

“No, Eliza, you never did; but that is where the risk comes in, and you felt it. Well, sir, you stood up and preached about the Lord’s will; and it seemed to me that what you said was just a few good words over that well I ’m going to work at to-morrow. As far as I see, it is no more his will that I should scratch the face of the earth for a poor living than it is that I should go farther down to find a better one; and to me, the first way looks like laziness or cowardice until the other has been tried! ”

Mr. Hep worth looked closely at him. “ So far, so good. Two things come after: Granted, that it is his will you should find what you seek, he is to be honored in the using of it; but what if that will be that you fail? ”

William drew his mouth up closely for a minute. “ Well,” he said at last, “ I hope if he helped me to begin boring, he would help me to give it up! ”

“ Then I think your husband is pretty safe, Mrs. Maxwell,” said Mr. Hepworth, shaking hands. “ I should like to see your farm, if I had not to be back in Brandon to-morrow morning. Goodby; and I wish you success, whether your well proves one or not.”

“ What did he mean by that, I wonder? ” pondered William, as he turned the horses’ heads homewards.

“ A man’s life consistetli not in the abundance of the things which he possessed,” softly quoted his wife.

It was early spring when the derrick was set up in the cleft of the Double Hill. Before long, William Maxwell had fathomed the mysteries of the engine, and the workman from Davis Landing went home again, wishing his employer “ile by the tank-full.” To tell the truth, the farm suffered a little that season; for, though he tried hard, the master could not be in two places at once, and hired laborers ill supplied his place; and in September the crops showed the difference. Nevertheless, there was plenty for the household; not so much to sell that fall as in other years, but that loss could be balanced by buying less, and accounts would still be even at the end of the year.

All through the summer and autumn, the little tool — I do not know its name, but it suggests a sharpened iron pencil, — went deeper and deeper into the heart of the rock, tapping so as to compel admittance; but November came, and still it struck only sandstone, and that the first of the three strata.

“ Hallo, you there! Puttin’ down a well?” called out a passer-by, driving his wagon along the ridge of the eastern hill.

“ Yes,” Maxwell shouted back. “ How far down ha’ ye got? ” “Six hundred feet.” “Hi! What sand are ye in? third? ” “ First,” came sharply back. “ Third, did ye say? ” “ First,” shouted Maxwell again. “Whew-w-w!” whistled the questioner, driving on. “ Ef I had gone six hundred feet into one sand-rock, I’d think my chances further down were pretty slim.”

So also thought the neighbors; Maxwell may have been more of a mind with them than he cared to own, but he never showed discouragement, and laughed, as the tool kept on its downward way, over his seven hundred feet of good, soft, yellowish sand stone. “ I might set up a quarry, but — the stone is n’t good for anything. ”

However, the first sandstone did come to an end at the depth of eight hundred feet. Maxwell felt as if he saw the oil spouting up already, and was surprised at Ins wife’s indifference as to what sandstone they were working in. But when he had drilled two hundred feet into the second layer of rock, friends thought it their duty to remonstrate with the deluded dreamer. Did he not know there was no well along the river more than a thousand feet deep? ”

He did. “ The sandstones are thinner there.”

“ But it stands to sense, they are too thick here for you to get through them! ”

“ At any rate, I ’ll go as far as I can go,” was the answer.

“You are wasting your money; and it’s a sight easier to send dollars out than to bring them home again. You have a wife and family, remember.”

Remember ! He drew his arm closer about the little daughter on his knee. “I’ll have stopped boring for oil long before I forget that, neighbor,” he said quietly.

Others came and discoursed to the same effect, and to no better purpose.

Every spare day, Maxwell was to be seen by the derrick. “ Maxwell’s mad, and his wife ’s a martyr,” was the general opinion; while the members of the Brandon land company were twitted about their ventures: what would they take for an acre now ? or how soon did they hope to be millionaires?

The little pencil was now fourteen hundred feet from the surface. “ Bound for China?” queried a ragged urchin, whose cow had made her way down the hill-side, and stood viciously horning the derrick.

“ Yes, by a bee-line.”

The money! At first it had seemed a bountiful supply, but there had been many unreckoned expenses, with some accidents to machinery; and one evening Maxwell showed his wife the last hundred in the wallet. “ The best part of this must go to repairing the engine,” he said. “ What is left will carry us down a few feet farther, perhaps to the third sandstone; who knows ? Anyhow, I could n’t borrow if I wanted to; every one thinks me a fool now. Besides, I think it will be safe to make the bottom of my purse the turning-place; when my money’s done, I ’ll take it as a sign that it is time to give up, and not try mortgaging the farm.”

“ You know there is the five hundred Uncle Silas left me. It has been in the bank these six years, and never been touched.”

“ Yes; and I mean it to stay there for you. No, Eliza; I won’t squander your money on my whim.”

She was setting the table, and her back was towards him as he spoke; but she turned on him, the butter-plate in her hand, and indignation in her eye. “ I wonder you ’re not ashamed of yourself, William Maxwell! One would think, to hear you, I was n’t your wife at all! ”

An outburst of wrath from the gentle little woman was such a novelty that her husband only stared at her blankly. “ I’ve heard of husband and wife keeping their money separate, and living like two strangers; but I never thought you had any such notions in your head! And if you don’t take that money and put it into the well, I ’ll — I ’ll go and do it myself!” with a vast amount of explosive stress on the last sentence.

“Run the engine yourself, — hey? Don’t be unreasonable, Eliza; I did not mean to vex you, but ’t is well for you to have that bit of money laid by, in case anything should happen to me. And the children will be growing up, too. ”

But the idea of “ something happening ” Eliza flatly refused to consider at all; and as for the children, what comparison could be made between an oil well and five hundred dollars ? So the discussion ended in the injured wife having her own way, and sending her uncle’s legacy down into the sandstone with what remained of the sale - money of the Two-Mile Farm.

Fourteen hundred and fifty feet, and lo, a sudden jet of oil and gas that burst into flame on reaching upper air, lighting the sky for miles around! Brandon people saw the illumination, and drove out the next day to find a great puddle of oil, a new derrick, with the charred timbers of the old one beside it, and Maxwell busy at work, congratulating himself on having saved the engine, not on the oil vein he had reached. For in the second sandstone an oil strike was rather a bad sign than good, generally indicating that the lower vein was poor, if indeed it were there at all; and now that oil was down in the market, a pumping well fifteen hundred feet deep would not be worth the working.

That bubble burst, the Brandon gentlemen went home again; and the engine kept driving the pencil through the rock, until, eighty feet deeper, Maxwell found that he had tunneled the second sandstone. He was anything but a nervous man; but eighteen months of toil, anxiety, and discouragement had told upon him, and when he found himself nearing the test rock, his head grew dizzy and confused, and his hand unsteady. At last he gave up, and turned to the half-grown boy who was his only helper: “ We've got through two rocks, Jem; let’s take a holiday to ourselves before we go to work on number three.

Put out the fire; I reckon the engine needs a rest, too.”

Jem obeyed right willingly, and scrambled up the hill as fast as his long legs could carry him; was not the circus to be in Brandon that very afternoon ? Maxwell went home at quite a different pace, gravely thinking over the past, hardly daring to glance at the future. “ We have come to the third rock, Eliza,” he said, sitting down in the doorway.

“The third sandstone? You don’t mean it, William! ”

He laughed at her excitement. “I think you and I have changed places lately, Eliza. You have put your money in at the last, and just begin to hope now.”

“But isn’t there always oil in the third sandstone? ”

He laughed again at her woman’s wisdom. “ No; sometimes there’s a vein of coal through it; but that would hardly pay for the working, when the one at Willard’s crops out right by the roadside.”

This was rather a damper. “ But why should you be so discouraged now, after all your work? ”

“ After all my work; I guess that’s just what ’$ the matter. I tell you, Eliza, I stopped work to-day just because I was afraid to go on! If it is cowardly, I can’t help it.”

Maxwell was not given to moods, and his wife hardly knew what to do with him in one. Fortunately, she had the good sense to see that the best thing to do was to let him alone; and held her peace about sandstones, first, second, or third, while he sat silent all the evening. Eight o’clock came, and with it the commending of the little household to God; and for once in his life the man’s voice broke over the familiar prayer, “ that we may know thy will, and do it.”

“ That sets it right,” he said, after the children had gone up-stairs. “ I believe it was right to put that well down, even if it has taken all my spare cash and yours. Next week we stop; and if ” — he drew a long breath — “if we fail, it is his will. There ’s many a riddle in soils and stones as well as in books; and if I made a mistake in reading this one, I’ve no one to blame but myself.”

“ Mr. Grayby,” quickly suggested his wife.

“No; he told me he did not set much by his own opinion. I fancy Grayby’s had the starch taken out of him by some pretty hard rubs. And I tell you, Eliza, this oil well has made a difference in me. I don’t feel quite so sure as I used to, that when a poor fellow fails it’s all his own fault; and I don’t feel quite so sure of doing things myself.”

“ You never did brag, William,” interrupted Eliza, not liking to hear her husband blame himself.

“ Not out loud; but there’s no telling what I thought to myself. Oil wells would n’t be counted the best sort of places to experience religion ; but I don’t know. That seems to be a little like the oil itself; only the good Lord can say where it is, and where it is n’t.”

Another day’s boring in the longlooked-for third sand follows. At sundown the engine stops working, and surely the little pencil has a glisten different from the brightness due to constant friction! Examination shows the tool greasy, with an odor not exactly that of Araby the blest, but sweeter than attar of rose in the nostrils of eager fortune-hunters. Certainly they are nearing oil! Maxwell and Jem have had company at their work to-day; for the news that the third sand is reached has drawn half a dozen neighbors to the place; and these now begin to talk, surmise, suggest, advise, till Maxwell is almost beside himself.

“ Start the engine again, Will, and let us see how the tools look.”

“ No, let it alone till morning; what’d you do if you struck oil now, with no tanks ready? ”

“ Had n’t I better go over to the landing and order a tank? Maybe it would be as well to say two,” volunteers a third.

“ Strange you didn’t think to have tanks ready, when you’ve been at work so long,” puts in an old opponent of the enterprise, seemingly oblivious of former objections, as also of the fact that oil vessels are not to be had for the asking.

“ I guess when I have waited so long, I can afford to wait till to-morrow,” Maxwell good-humoredly answers. “ Put out the fire, Jem. You ’ll all be here to-morrow, boys? ”

“ For sure,” all agree, as they start on their different ways. The neighborhood is astir late that night, and the Double Hill is the one theme of conversation. Many are the new oil theories propounded, calculated to make a geologist’s hair stand erect with horror. The hill’s owner, too, comes up for discussion; yesterday, his obstinate pig-headedness made him rather a disgrace to his neighbors; to-night, they glory over his plucky perseverance.

They are early on the ground next morning, and the engine begins work again, with the dull, monotonous sound that has so often been pain and weariness to William Maxwell’s ears during the past year. Presently they have proof that admits of no gainsaying; a drop of real, genuine petroleum has run down the tool, and fallen on Jem’s outstretched hand. “ Hi! ” shouts Jem, and turns a somersault; after which he extends his greasy palm for the admiration of the company. Soon, a spectator verifies the fact for himself; and the Double Hill rings with cheers.

But there is no time for nonsense. They are nearing the vein, and have no vessels ready; therefore one of the party must ride off to Davis at once and order a tank to be made and sent over. They hope to have it by evening, for the dealers in such articles are used to filling orders at short notice.

Up and down goes the iron pencil, the group of men around it growing silent from very eagerness. There is a sudden gurgle, as if a giant choked below.

“It’s coming, I tell you! Put out that fire there, quick! ” shouted one, more experienced than the rest. They stumbled back in haste, and Maxwell rushed to the engine. Too late, however. With one spurt the imprisoned fountain leaped high into the air, drawing to its breast the fire that it loved.

Derrick, engine, grass, trees, all were alike shrouded in the flame, and the men ran for their lives, not stopping till beyond the turn of the winding path they paused to count heads, and found that Maxwell and Jem were missing.

To venture back was running into the very jaws of death, yet two volunteered. They were met by Jem, who, badly burned about face and hands, had yet made shift to drag Maxwell from the very heart of the fire, and now was vainly trying to carry him up the hill. The fire was spreading through the woods; and while one division of the company carried home William Maxwell, conscious only of maddening pain in the crowning moment of success, another hurried off to seek help to extinguish the fire; so the grand fountain, a magnificent jet of flame one hundred and fifty feet high, burned on for some hours, absolutely unheeded. The giant had been long imprisoned, but he took his revenge that autumn morning; and the Double Hill shows to-day the sears of the encounter.

Little warning had Eliza Maxwell of the shock in store for her. She had sent the children to the orchard for apples, and stood watching them, as they vainly tried to steady the basket they had filled to overflowing. Some oue spoke over her shoulder: “They have struck oil, and the well is on fire. They are bringing William home; he is burned.” And just beyond were the rest with their burden. That picture is burned into the woman’s brain for life: the still, sweet October morning, the laughing children, the basket heaped with scarlet fruit, the man’s frightened face, and the writhing figure that the others carried. It is more distinct now than it was then, for the need of action chased away feeling; her husband wanted care too much for anything else, even her own pain, to be present to her consciousness.

But alas, there was so little she might do! The others were kind and helpful, and it was not long till the doctor came. But his skill was of no use here. The burning gas had penetrated wherever it could find a lodgment, and life could only be reckoned by hours. Eliza turned sharply on the physician as he spoke the words that sounded like a death-warrant in her ears, but by sunset she had only one thought, one prayer — that the agony might soon be over.

And it did end soon. There came a brief respite of pain before the last, as if the exhausted nerves had borne all that they could bear, and had died before the soul departed. At the beginning of that quiet hour, before the lethargy of death crept on, William Maxwell’s eyes looked into his wife’s; the old, bright look came back for an instant to his poor, marred face, and the burned lips whispered, “ God’s will! ” That is the other picture for remembrance that Eliza Maxwell cherishes in her heart to-day.

Mr. Warden’s house is one of the pleasantest of Brandon homes, and it looks cheerier than ever in the October twilight, with the firelight illuminating the windows, and the hall door hospitably open. But the lady of the house seems uneasy, and moves restlessly from door to windows, while her ears keep basely deceiving her by hearing wheels that never come any nearer. She has some ground for uneasiness; husband, brother, and cousin have all gone to the Double Hill; and the road thither is narrow and steep, and Mr. Warden’s horses entirely too spirited for his wife to approve of.

At last the real wheels are heard, and the gentlemen hurry in, bringing with them a current of fresh, keen, outside air. “Well, Annie, I’ll own it at last,” says the eynieal brother, who thinks his sister buried in a wilderness, “ Brandon lias got up something worth going to see; I never saw anything like the force of that oil stream.”

“What did you say the average yield was, John?” from the other visitor, busy getting rid of his overcoat.

“ Three hundred barrels a day, they tell me; and there’s no saying how further boring may increase the yield.”

“ What do you suppose they have called the place, Annie? ”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” returns the lady. “ There are so many Petroleums and Petrolias, I should think they would be puzzled for a new variation.”

“It is Leipsic; nothing less. Some old German from Leipsic is the largest land owner in the township, so it is Leipsic to please him. Fancy the bookish, musical old city’s horror of its greasy namesake! ”

“ Funny to see the name written on a shingle nailed to a tree,” lazily says the brother, taking out a cigar. “ I have seen cities in their prime, also towns that had come to their life’s end; and saving your presence, my dear sister and brother, I always thought Brandon belonged to the latter class. But I never before saw a town beginning the world.”

“ What did you say that land was leased for, John? What is the royalty reserved? ”

This question opens a long oil discussion, and Mrs. Warden slips into the dining-room, sure that the excursionists have come home in a state of starvation, and anxious to put the last touches to her dainty tea-table with her own fingers. Her eyes are so busy inspecting glass and china, that her ears hear nothing of the talk that floats in through the open door, of stocks and bonds, pipes and tanks, Virginia dividends and Antwerp securities. Some stray word attracts her attention at last, for she sets down the sugar-bowl and goes to the door-way.

“ John, did you see the man? ”

“ Your land? Yes, ma’am, I saw the lovely spot. Teddy Maguire is putting up ‘ The Brandon Hotel ’ just beside it; Teddy’s a small man, but his house is going to be rather a tight fit for him. And, Mrs. Warden, in the course of six months I expect to see that beauteous half-acre of yours as full of derricks as to-day it is of ground oaks! Did you know Annie was a land-holder, Harry and Ned? I made her one last January, and have rued it ever since; she has grown fearfully independent. It is no use for any one in the family to think of buying her out; she asks too exorbitant a price; she 'll have to fleece some Down-Easter. Then she ’ll either found a hospital or go to Europe; one takes just about as much money as the other, according to her notion. What is the matter, ma’am? You don’t look quite comfortable in your mind! ”

“I shouldn’t think I would! You never hear a half or a quarter of what I say to you! ”

“Ahem! I never contradict a lady; but I feel as if my memory had improved wonderfully! I know I hear a good deal; but what was the last sweet thing I missed, Mrs. Warden? ”

“ I did n’t ask you about land; I hear enough of oil talk. I wanted to know if you saw the man — the man who put down the well ? ”

“ The man? Why, didn’t you hear yesterday ? It is odd; I certainly thought I had told you. He’s dead, poor soul! ”

B. W.