Shall begin on it within three or four weeks-- strike the ledge in July."
Again, later in the month:
"I have been at work all day, blasting and digging in one of our new claims, 'Dashaway,' which I don't think a great deal of, but which I am willing to try. We are down now ten or twelve feet."
It must have been disheartening work, picking away at the flinty ledges. There is no further mention of the "Dashaway," but we hear of the "Flyaway," the "Annipolitan," the "Live Yankee," and of many another, each of which holds out a beacon of hope for a brief moment, then passes from notice forever. Still, he was not discouraged. Once he wrote:
"I am a citizen here and I am satisfied, though 'Ratio and I are 'strapped' and we haven't three days' rations in the house. I shall work the "Monitor" and the other claims with my own hands.
"The pick and shovel are the only claims I have confidence in now," he wrote, later; "my back is sore and my hands are blistered with handling them to-day."
His letters began to take on a weary tone. Once in midsummer he wrote that it was still snowing up there in the hills, and added, "It always snows here I expect. If we strike it rich, I've lost my guess, that's all." And the final heartsick line, "Don't you suppose they have pretty much quit writing at home?"
In time he went to work in a quartz-mill at ten dollars a week, though it was not entirely for the money, as in "Roughing It" he would have us believe. Samuel Clemens learned thoroughly what he undertook, and he proposed to master the science of mining. From Phillips and Higbie he had learned what there was to know about prospecting. He went to the mill to learn refining, so that, when his claims developed, he could establish a mill and personally superintend the work. His stay was brief. He contracted a severe cold and came near getting poisoned by the chemicals. Recovering, he went with Higbie for an outing to Mono Lake, a ghastly, lifeless alkali sea among the hills, vividly described in "Roughing It."
At another time he went with Higbie on a walking trip to the Yosemite, where they camped and fished undisturbed, for in those days few human beings came to that far isolation. Discouragement did not reach them there--amid that vast grandeur and quiet the quest for gold hardly seemed worth while. Now and again that summer he went alone into the wilderness to find his balance and to get entirely away from humankind.
In "Roughing It" Mark Twain tells the story of how he and Higbie finally located a "blind lead," which made them really millionaires, until they forfeited their claim through the sharp practice of some rival miners and their own neglect. It is true that the "Wide West" claim was forfeited in some such manner, but the size of the loss was magnified in "Roughing It," to make a good story. There was never a fortune in "Wide West," except the one sunk in it by its final owners. The story as told in "Roughing It" is a tale of what might have happened, and ends the author's days in the mines with a good story-book touch.
The mining career of Samuel Clemens really came to a close gradually, and with no showy climax. He fought hard and surrendered little by little, without owning, even to the end, that he was surrendering at all. It was the gift of resolution that all his life would make his defeats long and costly--his victories supreme.
By the end of July the money situation in the Aurora camp was getting desperate. Orion's depleted salary would no longer pay for food, tools, and blasting-powder, and the miner began to cast about far means to earn an additional sum, however small. The "Josh" letters to the "Enterprise" had awakened interest as to their author, and Orion had not failed to let "Josh's" identity be known. The result had been that here and there a coast paper had invited contributions and even suggested payment. A letter written by the Aurora miner at the end of July tells this part of the story:
"My debts are greater than I thought for .