At Hollis Dunton’s Gem Mine
This excerpt from Robert’s novel in progress, Mining Chalk Pond, recently appeared in Maine’s Bethel Living Magazine.
Hollis Dunton of Newry stood at the top edge of a shallow, but wide, pit and made a big circular motion with both arms to catch the attention of all six guest prospectors. His mine was a wide expanse of boulders and broken rocks piled one on another in dangerous disarray. Around its perimeter lay fallen pines and stumps which had been pulled from the ground when he had blasted with dynamite. Beyond the edge of this wasteland were stands of first growth pine for which western Maine north of Bethel was known.
“Folks, this here pit is the Dunton family mine. Don’t look like much now, but the prospect for finding gemmy crystals in abundance is very, very good. Ask Mr. Hallett here what he found a week ago. Just ask anyone who has poked around in this pit. There are good pegmatite pockets sure to be found.
You’re welcome to dig for yer self. Jes be careful. We blasted some two days ago so the rock is all broken and loose. You fall and you likely will cut yer self. You ladies might want to sit off to the side where there is still some grass growing. Perhaps yer men might bring a few rocks over for you to clean in one of them rain barrels.
Before you start prospecting I need to make one request. Since several of you here are partners in this here mine, I don’t think you will disagree with my askin’ you to allow me to inspect every rock you might want to take home. This is a profit making business and we partners may want to keep any crystals that we could sell for jewelry making purposes.”
As finished speaking Nathan Hallett of Bridgton and son Nate hurried to the spot they had worked two weeks before, buckets and hammers in hand. Daughter Franny Hallett and friend Lottie Ritchie, both of whom would not likely be sitting ladylike in the sun, moved behind a wagon, stepped out of their crinolines and tucked skirt hems into the waists of their pantaloons. Nathan’s wife Hattie thought the idea of a safe seat was a good one, so she carried a lunch basket up to a grassy knoll where she might keep an eye on everyone. Clarence Potter, a miner from Nova Scotia who was a friend of Dunton’s, took a seat on a big boulder near Hattie and stared silently across the rough rubble, while the two young girlfriends stood behind him.
“Okay,” he said after a few minutes. “Okay, I think I know where there will be a good little pocket to be opened. Why don’t you two come with me and see if I am right?”
Making their way carefully across the field of broken stones the three went directly to an area of shattered white quartzite. Clarence kneeled and began to clear debris away from a small dark hole.
“What are you doing?” asked Lottie. “These rocks that you are tossing aside are so shiny and lustrous. Perhaps we might break them apart to find a crystal.”
He paid no attention until he had cleared a space large enough for the three of them to kneel. After pulling away a few loose stones he reached into the hole and pulled out a handful of wet white gravel. Reaching into the hole with his other hand, he pulled out the same mud. When the gravel was laid out on the ground, a single green speck stood out. He passed it to Lottie and said “Please wipe the film off this chip. Let’s see what it looks like in sunlight.”
She spat on the small rock and rubbed it on the cloth of her skirt. It was no bigger than a salt crystal, but when held up to the sun between thumb and forefinger, it’s lime green color became radiant. “Oh, Franny, Clarence, look what we have found” she exclaimed.
He put his hand into the hole once more. This time the gravel which came out was filled with little green crystals the size and shape of pencil leads. Lottie was so excited she jumped to her feet and nearly fell back against a jagged boulder. Franny grabbed her arm just in time to stop the fall.
“Lottie,” whispered Clarence. “Why don’t you reach in and see what you can find. The mud is cold, but if you feel around you will locate some big pieces.”
On her knees once again she squealed as her hand disappeared into the hole. “Oh, so cold and clammy. I don’t like the feel of this stuff. Wait! Wait! I think I have a larger piece. A couple of them!”
“Well, dummy,” demanded Franny. “will you take them out so that I can see what you found. Don’t just sit there stammering, silly.”
Pulling her hand out from the slimy hole, the Massachusetts girl threw a mix of wet gravel and clay on the ground an then wiped the slime on her now dirty dress. Clarence sorted through the mix and pulled out three green crystals each more than two inches long by an inch wide. There were more smaller pieces as well, but the three larger ones were staggering in their beauty and luster. Both young ladies began to scream so loud with delight that the others stopped what they were doing and began to approach the trio.
Dunton, who had been sitting on a hemlock log, came up close to them. Hattie neared, but only as far as the edge of the rubble field. Lottie and Franny ran to her and placed the crystals in her outstretched hand. “Here, Mother, please hold these wonderful tourmalines for us,” exclaimed her daughter, “while we harvest many, many more.”
Clarence enlarged the hole with his chipping hammer until it was wide open enough for him to dip a bucket into the little chamber. Out it came filled to the brim with the white solution. To the astonishment of all, as the water was drained away, tens of green, white, black, rose and orange crystals lay in a pile. They had found a pegmatite lode that none of them would ever forget.
Dunton stood above the excited team of amateur prospectors, clapped his hands loudly and shouted his congratulations. “Folks, what a find! Now you see why I decided to buy this rocky place. Let’s wash all this gravel down and see what we have. You have all done a great job.”
Nathan stood. “Thanks be to our Canadian friend. He’s the one who figured where to dig.”
“Yes, yes, he has a good nose for finding a lode, that’s for sure. But, I say ‘Thanks be to God’ who put these beautiful rocks together for us to find” said the mine owner as he filled a bucket with sediment from the pocket using a small shovel drawn and unfolded from a sheath on his belt. The others placed their own pails, four in all, next to the muddy hole to be filled. Then they carried them to one of the rain barrels near where Hattie had been sitting. When each load had been dumped on the ground Hollis and Nathan took pails of water from the bucket and poured them on the gravel.
“Oh, my God” exclaimed Hattie as white mud was washed away revealing so many shiny objects. “There are so many different colors in the mix.”
As Lottie, Franny and Nate went down on their knees and began clawing through the piles, more stones glistened in sunlight. There were green tourmalines: some clustered in white quartz and others standing alone. There were black schorl splinters which broke easily as they were uncovered. Several glittering specimens showed a layered mix of green crystal in the center surrounded by orange edges, identified by Nathan as “watermelon tourmaline”. Some pieces of white quartz contained colorful specks of rose and smokey gray. Most pieces were small, but one green tourmaline was huge, more than three by four inches with one end, or termination, which came to a five-sided pyramidal point.
Dunton picked up the large crystal and spit on it to get its facets cleaner. “I’ll have to take this one back to my shop. And perhaps a few more of those small gemmy ones, as well. We can sell these to a couple jewellers in Bethel and West Paris. These will help us cover our costs. Don’t you agree, Nathan?”
“Of course, you’re right, Hollis. Even though it may be disappointing to the children, we are all partners, as you say.”
Dunton addressed the miner directly. “And you, Clarence, do you understand what I am doing? Your were the finder here and I don’t want to offend you, but it is my claim.”
The Canadian shook his head in agreement. “Just as long as the kids can keep all the smaller crystals and the specimens still held in clusters. These will prove to be the start of a wonderful collection. I don’t need anything for myself, at least at this point. If in the future you have a job for me, I would have a great interest in working such a valuable mine.” All parties looked at him, the partners shaking their heads in agreement with that prospect. Lottie held her hand out to shake Clarence’s. “When I return home to Winchester I will remember what you found for us today. You have a sixth sense about what is in the ground. Thank you so much.”
As the party sat on large nearby boulders and ate lunch, Clarence sat off by himself. In his pants pocket he felt three medium size crystals which he and the girls had first found. These had not made it into any bucket, and in the excitement no one had noticed their absence.
Photos by Robert W. Spencer, from the Waldeier Collection in Waterford, ME.