They ran as one man across the road to Charlie's cabin. It was empty.
"He was callin' 'Help'," said the round-eyed boy.
"Yes, we heard him," added the sheriff.
They had come up the road. They started back down the trail.
Charlie had got nearly home when he began to worry about a deep prospect hole near the trail known as "Rosenhammer's Shaft." He must be careful to avoid it. Suddenly his foot slipped on a pebble. He clutched unavailingly at a manzanita and rolled into a circle of inky blackness. Rosenhammer's Shaft! Now he was lost, indeed.
But, no. As he slid he came against a sturdy live-oak bush which he clutched, managing to stop his descent into the next world for the time being. He even, swung one leg over a wiry limb, and there he clung, puttering sailors' argot, considering his sins, and roaring for help in his best fortissimo tone.
The shaft was said to be a hundred feet deep. It was filled part way with oily water, and inhabited by snakes and monsters of the subterranean deeps. People had fallen in and drowned, and had been known never to rise again. The ghost of a Chinaman who had been murdered and flung down, was said to float up from its depths at night to range the earth, seeking the perpetrator of the fiendish deed.
Charlie wished that he had led a more blameless life that he had not so thoroughly beaten the Indian who had sold him a salted mine; that he had not made Lizzie plow; that, above all, he had married the Widow Schmitt when she had so plainly shown her liking for him.