A BOY'S SEARCH FOR FORTUNE.
A Story of the Pacific Coast.
HORATIO ALGER, JR.,
AUTHOR OF "RAGGED DICK," "TATTERED TOM," "LUCK AND PLUCK," "BRAVE AND BOLD SERIES," ETC., ETC.
THE JOHN C. WINSTON CO., PHILADELPHIA, CHICAGO, TORONTO.
COPYRIGHT BY HORATIO ALGER, JR., 1882.
Three San Francisco Boys,
JOSEPH AND MAXEY SLOSS AND CLARENCE WALTER,
IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED.
"Ben's Nugget" is the concluding volume of the Pacific Series. Though it is complete in itself, and may be read independently, the chief characters introduced will be recognized as old friends by the readers of "The Young Explorer," the volume just preceding, not omitting Ki Sing, the faithful Chinaman, whose virtues may go far to diminish the prejudice which, justly or unjustly, is now felt toward his countrymen.
Though Ben Stanton may be considered rather young for a miner, not a few as young as he drifted to the gold-fields in the early days of California. Mining is carried on now in a very different manner, and I can hardly encourage any of my young readers to follow his example in seeking fortune so far from home.
New York, May 19, 1882.
CHAPTER I. PAGE THE MOUNTAIN-CABIN 13
CHAPTER II. THE MISSING CHINAMAN 23
CHAPTER III. TWO GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD 30
CHAPTER IV. KI SING IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY 38
CHAPTER V. FURTHER ADVENTURES OF BILL MOSELY 46
CHAPTER VI. AN UNEQUAL CONTEST 54
CHAPTER VII. TIED TO A TREE 62
CHAPTER VIII. TURNING THE TABLES 70
CHAPTER IX. BRADLEY'S SIGNAL VICTORY 78
CHAPTER X. "THE BEST OF FRIENDS MUST PART" 87
CHAPTER XI. PLANS FOR DEPARTURE 95
CHAPTER XII. THE PROFITS OF MINING 100
CHAPTER XIII. KI SING'S RIDE 104
CHAPTER XIV. GOLDEN GULCH HOTEL 113
CHAPTER XV. BILL MOSELY REAPPEARS 122
CHAPTER XVI. A TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE 131
CHAPTER XVII. LYNCH LAW 139
CHAPTER XVIII. AFTER THE EXECUTION 147
CHAPTER XIX. BEN WINS LAURELS AS A SINGER 151
CHAPTER XX. A LITTLE RETROSPECT 158
CHAPTER XXI. MR. CAMPBELL RECEIVES TIDINGS OF HIS WARD 165
CHAPTER XXII. A MORNING CALL 174
CHAPTER XXIII. A SECRET CONFERENCE 183
CHAPTER XXIV. MISS DOUGLAS RECEIVES A MESSAGE 188
CHAPTER XXV. WALKING INTO A TRAP 195
CHAPTER XXVI. A HARD-HEARTED JAILER 201
CHAPTER XXVII. A STAR IN THE CLOUD 210
CHAPTER XXVIII. JONES CHECKMATES ORTON CAMPBELL 219
CHAPTER XXIX. A WEDDING RECEPTION 229
CHAPTER XXX. THE NUGGET 237
CHAPTER XXXI. JOB STANTON'S MISTAKE 246
CHAPTER XXXII. THE HOUSE IS MORTGAGED 255
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE BLOW ABOUT TO FALL 260
CHAPTER XXXIV. CONCLUSION 265
A BOY'S SEARCH FOR FORTUNE.
"What's the news, Ben? You didn't happen to bring an evenin' paper, did you?"
The speaker was a tall, loose-jointed man, dressed as a miner in a garb that appeared to have seen considerable service. His beard was long and untrimmed, and on his head he wore a Mexican sombrero.
This was Jake Bradley, a rough but good-hearted miner, who was stretched carelessly upon the ground in front of a rude hut crowning a high eminence in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Ben Stanton, whom he addressed, was a boy of sixteen, with a pleasant face and a manly bearing.
"No, Jake," he answered with a smile, "I didn't meet a newsboy."
"There ain't many in this neighborhood, I reckon," said Bradley. "I tell you, Ben, I'd give an ounce of dust for a New York or Boston paper. Who knows what may have happened since we've been confined here in this lonely mountain-hut? Uncle Sam may have gone to war, for aught we know. P'r'haps the British may be bombarding New York this moment."
"I guess not," said Ben, smiling.
"I don't think it likely myself," said Bradley, filling his pipe. "Still, there may be some astonishin' news if we could only get hold of it."
"I don't think we can complain, Jake," said Ben, turning to a pleasanter subject. "We've made considerable money out of Mr. Dewey's claim."
"That's so. The three weeks we've spent here haven't been thrown away, by a long chalk. We shall be pretty well paid for accommodatin' Dick Dewey by stayin' and takin' care of him."
"How much gold-dust do you think we're got, Mr. Bradley?"
"What!" exclaimed Bradley, taking the pipe from his mouth; "hadn't you better call me the Honorable Mr. Bradley, and done with it? Don't you feel acquainted with me yet, that you put the handle on to my name?"
"Excuse me, Jake," said Ben; "that's what I meant to say, but I was thinking of Mr. Dewey and that's how I happened to call you Mister."
"That's a different matter. Dick's got a kind of dignity, so that it seems natural to call him Mister; but as for me, I'm Jake Bradley, not a bad sort of fellow, but I don't wear store-clo'es, and I'd rather be called Jake by them as know me well."
"All right, Jake; but you haven't answered my question."
"Oh yes. Well, I should say that the dust we've got out must be worth nigh on to five hundred dollars."
"So much as that?" asked Ben, his eyes sparkling.
"Yes, all of that. That claim of Dewey's is a splendid one, and no mistake. I think we ought to pay him a commission for allowing us to work it."
"I think so too, Jake."
They were sitting outside the rude hut which had been roughly put together on the summit of the mountain. The door was open, and what they said could be heard by the occupant, who was stretched on a hard pallet in one corner of the cabin.
"Come in, you two," he called out.
"Sartin, Dick," said Bradley; and he entered the cabin, followed by Ben.
"What was that you were saying just now?" asked Richard Dewey.
"Tell him, Ben," said Bradley.
"Jake was saying that we ought to pay you a commission on the gold-dust we took from your claim, Mr. Dewey," said our hero, for that is Ben's position in our story.
"Why should you?" asked Dewey.
"Because it's yours. You found it, and you ought to get some good of it."
"So I have, Jake. In the first place, I got a thousand dollars out of it before I fell sick—that is, sprained my ankle."
"But you ain't gettin' anything out of it now."
"I think I am," said Dewey, smiling and looking gratefully at his two friends. "I am getting the care and attention of two faithful friends, who will see that I do not suffer while I am laid up in this lonely hut."
"We don't want to be paid for that, Dick."
"I know that, Bradley; but I don't call it paying you to let you work the claim which I don't intend to work myself."
"But you would work it if you were well."
"No, I wouldn't," answered Dewey, with energy. "I would leave this place instantly and take the shortest path to San Francisco."
"To see the gal that sent us out after you?"
"Yes. But, Jake, suppose you call her the young lady."
"Of course. You mustn't mind me, Dick. I don't know much about manners. I was raised kind of rough, and never had no chance to learn politeness. Ben, here, knows ten times as much as I do about how to behave among fashionable folks."
"I don't know about that, Jake," said Ben. "I was brought up in the country, and I know precious little about fashionable folks."
"Oh, well, you know how to talk. Besides, didn't you bring out Miss Douglas from the States?"
"She brought me," said Ben.
"It seems to me we are wandering from the subject," said Dewey. "It was a piece of good luck for me when you two happened upon this cabin where I lay helpless, with no one to look after me but Ki Sing."
"Ki Sing took pretty good care of you for a haythen," said Bradley.
"So he did. He is a good fellow, if he is a Chinaman, and far more grateful than many of his white brothers; but I was sighing for the sight of one of my own color, who would understand my wants better than that poor fellow, faithful as he is."
"I reckon the news we brought you helped you some, Dick," said Jake Bradley.
"Yes. It put fresh life into me to learn that Florence Douglas, my own dear Florence, had come out to this distant coast to search for me. But I tell you, Jake, it's rather tantalizing to think that she is waiting for me in San Francisco, while I am tied by the ankle to this lonely cabin so many miles away."
"It won't be for long now, Dick," said Bradley. "You feel a good deal better, don't you?"
"Yes; my ankle is much stronger than it was. Yesterday I walked about the cabin, and even went out of doors. I felt rather tired afterward, but it didn't hurt me."
"All you want is a little patience, Dick. You mustn't get up too soon. A sprain is worse than a break, so I've often heard: I can't say I know from experience."
"I hope you won't. It's a very trying experience, as I can testify."
"You'd get well quicker if we had some doctor's stuff to put on it, but I reckon anyhow you'll be out in a week or ten days."
"I hope so. If I could only write to Florence and let her know where and how I am, I wouldn't mind so much the waiting."
"Don't worry about her. She's in 'Frisco, where nothing can't happen to her," said Bradley, whose loose grammar I cannot recommend my young readers to imitate.
"I am not sure about that. Her guardian might find out where she is, and follow her even to San Francisco. If I were on the spot he could do no harm."
"I tell you, Dick, that gal—excuse me, I mean that young lady—is a smart one, and I reckon she can get ahead of her guardian if she wants to. Ben here told me how she circumvented him at the Astor House over in York. She'll hold her own ag'in him, even if he does track her to 'Frisco."
Some of my readers may desire to know more about Dewey and his two friends, and I will sketch for their benefit the events to which Bradley referred.
Florence Douglas was the ward of the Albany merchant, John Campbell, who by the terms of her father's will was entrusted with the care of her large property till she had attained the age of twenty-five, a period nearly a year distant. Mr. Campbell, anxious to secure his ward's large property for his son, sought to induce Florence to marry the said son, but this she distinctly declined to do. Irritated and disappointed, Mr. Campbell darkly intimated that should her opposition continue he would procure from two pliant physicians a certificate of her insanity and have her confined in that most terrible of prisons, a mad-house. The fear that he would carry his threat into execution nerved Florence to a bold movement. Being mistress of a fortune of thirty thousand dollars, left by her mother, she had funds enough for her purpose. She fled to New York, where chance made her acquainted with our hero, Ben Stanton, under whose escort she safely reached San Francisco, paying Ben's expenses in return for his protection.
Arrived in San Francisco, she furnished Ben with the necessary funds to seek out Richard Dewey (to whom, without her guardian's knowledge, she was privately betrothed) and inform him of her presence in California. After a series of adventures Ben and his companion had found Dewey, laid up with a sprained ankle in a rude hut high up among the mountains. He had met with an accident while successfully working a rich claim near by.
Of course Richard Dewey was overjoyed to meet friends of his own race who could provide for him better than his faithful attendant, Ki Sing. As he could not yet leave the spot, he offered to Ben and Bradley the privilege of working his claim.
In the next chapter I will briefly explain Ben's position, and the object which brought him to California, and then we shall be able to proceed with our story.
THE MISSING CHINAMAN.
If Florence Douglas was an heiress, our young hero, Ben Stanton, was likewise possessed of property, though his inheritance was not a very large one. When his father's estate was settled it was found that it amounted to three hundred and sixty-five dollars. Though rather a large sum in Ben's eyes, he was quite aware that the interest of this amount would not support him. Accordingly, being ambitious, he drew from his uncle, Job Stanton, a worthy shoemaker, the sum of seventy-five dollars, and went to New York, hoping to obtain employment.
In this he was disappointed, but he had the good fortune to meet Miss Florence Douglas, by whom he was invited to accompany her to California as her escort, his expenses of course being paid by his patroness. It is needless to say that Ben accepted this proposal with alacrity, and, embarking on a steamer, landed in less than a month at San Francisco. He did not remain here long, but started for the mining-districts, still employed by Miss Douglas, in search of Richard Dewey, her affianced husband, whom her guardian had forbidden her to marry. As we have already said, Ben and his chosen companion, Jake Bradley, succeeded in their mission, but as yet had been unable to communicate tidings of their success to Miss Douglas, there being no chance to send a letter to San Francisco from the lonely hut where they were at present living.
Besides carrying out the wishes of his patroness, Ben intended to try his hand at mining, and had employed the interval of three weeks since he discovered Mr. Dewey in working the latter's claim, with the success already referred to.
The time when the two friends are introduced to the reader is at the close of the day, when, fatigued by their work on the claim, they are glad to rest and chat. Mr. Bradley has a pipe in his mouth, and evidently takes considerable comfort in his evening smoke.
"I wish I had a pipe for you, Ben," he said. "You don't know how it rests me to smoke."
"I'll take your word for it, Jake," returned Ben, smiling.
"Won't you take a whiff? You don't know how soothin' it is."
"I don't need to be soothed, Jake. I'm glad you enjoy it, but I don't envy you a particle."
"Well, p'r'aps you're right, Ben. Our old doctor used to say smokin' wasn't good for boys, but I've smoked more or less since I was twelve years old."
"There's something I'd like better than smoking just now," said Ben.
"Just so. I wonder where that heathen Ki Sing is?"
Ki Sing was cook and general servant to the little party, and performed his duties in a very satisfactory manner—better than either Ben or Bradley could have done—and left his white employers freer to work at the more congenial occupation of searching for gold.
"Ki Sing is unusually late," said Richard Dewey. "I wonder what can have detained him? I am beginning to feel hungry myself."
"The heathen is usually on time," said Bradley, "though he hasn't got a watch, any more than I have.—Dick, what time is it?"
"Half-past six," answered Richard Dewey, who, though a miner, had not been willing to dispense with all the appliances of civilization.
"Maybe Ki Sing has found another place," suggested Ben, jocosely.
"He is faithful; I will vouch for that," said Dewey. "I am more afraid that he has met with some accident—like mine, for instance."
"You won't catch a Chinaman spraining his ankle," said Bradley; "they're too spry for that. They'll squeeze through where a white man can't, and I wouldn't wonder if they could turn themselves inside out if they tried hard."
"It is possible," suggested Dewey, "that Ki Sing may have met with some of our own race who have treated him roughly. You know the strong prejudice that is felt against the poor fellows by some who are far less deserving than they. They think it good sport to torment a Chinaman."
"I can't say I like 'em much myself," said Bradley; "but I don't mind saying that Ki Sing is a gentleman. He is the best heathen I know of, and if I should come across any fellow harmin' him I reckon I'd be ready to take a hand myself."
"We couldn't get along very well without him, Jake," said Ben.
"That's where you're right, Ben. He's made himself useful to us, and no mistake."
"I have reason to feel indebted to him," said Dewey. "Injured as I was, I should have fared badly but for his faithful services. I am not at all sure that I should have been living at this moment had not the grateful fellow cared for me and supplied my wants."
It may be explained here that Richard Dewey had at one time rescued Ki Sing from some rough companions who had made up their minds to cut off the Chinaman's queue, thereby, in accordance with Chinese custom, preventing him ever returning to his native country. It was the thought of this service that had prompted Ki Sing to faithful service when he found his benefactor in need of it.
Half an hour passed, and still the Chinaman did not appear.
All three became anxious, especially Dewey. "Bradley," said he, "would you mind going out to look for Ki Sing? I'm sure something has happened to him."
"Just what I was thinkin' of myself," said Bradley. "I'll go, and I'll bring him back if he's above ground."
"I'll go with you, Jake," said Ben, rising from the ground on which he was seated.
"You'd better stay with Dick Dewey," said Bradley; "maybe he'll want you."
"I forgot that. Yes, I will stay."
"No; I would rather you would go with Bradley," said the invalid. "Two will stand a better chance of success than one. I sha'n't need anything while you are away."
"Just as you say, Dick.—Well, Ben, let's start along. I reckon we'll find Ki Sing before long, and then we'll have some supper."
As the two started on their errand Richard Dewey breathed a sigh of relief. "I really believe I'm getting attached to Ki Sing," he said to himself. "He's a good fellow, if he is a Chinaman, and if ever I am prosperous I will take him into my service and see that he is comfortably provided for."
The poor Chinaman, though Dewey did not suspect it, was at that moment in a very uncomfortable position indeed, and he himself was menaced by a peril already near at hand against which his helpless condition allowed of no defence. His lonely and monotonous life was destined to be varied that evening in an unpleasant manner.
TWO GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD.
Perhaps two hours earlier two horsemen might have been seen riding slowly over a lower slope of the mountain. The horses they bestrode were of the Mexican breed, or, in common parlance, mustangs. They were themselves dressed in Mexican style, and bore a strong resemblance to bandits as we are apt to picture them.
These gentlemen were Bill Mosely and Tom Hadley, hailing originally from Missouri, but not reflecting any particular credit on their native State. They were in fact adventurers, having a strong objection to honest work and a decided preference for gaining a living by unlawful means. The very horses they bestrode were stolen, having once belonged to Jake Bradley and Ben Stanton. The circumstances under which they were stolen will be remembered by readers of The Young Explorer.
"Beastly place, this, Tom!" said Bill Mosely, with a strong expression of disgust.
"I should say so," answered Hadley, who was wont by this phrase to echo the sentiments expressed by his companion and leader.
"I wouldn't have come up here if it had proved safe to stay lower down," continued Bill Mosely. "That last man we relieved of his gold-dust might prove troublesome if we should fall in with him again—eh, Tom?"
"I should say so," remarked Mr. Hadley in a tone of sincere conviction.
"I should like to see him when he wakes up and finds his bag of dust missing," said Mosely, with a laugh.
As he spoke he drew from his pocket a good-sized bag which appeared to be nearly full of dust. "There must be several hundred dollars' worth there," he said, complacently.
He expected to hear Hadley answer in his usual style, but was disappointed.
"When are we going to divide?" asked Hadley, with an expression of interest not unmingled with anxiety.
"You'd better let me carry it, Tom; it's all the same."
"I should say so. No, I would prefer to take charge of my part," said Hadley, "or at least to carry the bag part of the time."
Bill Mosely frowned darkly, and he brought his hand near the pocket in which he carried his pistol. "Hadley," he said, sternly, "do you doubt my honor?"
"I should say—not," answered Tom Hadley in a dissatisfied tone, bringing out the last word after a slight pause; "but I don't see why I shouldn't carry the bag part of the time."
"Had you doubted my honor," continued Mosely with a grand air, "though you are my friend, I should have been compelled to take your life. I never take any back talk. I chaw up any one who insults me. I'm a regular out-and-out desperado, I am, when I'm riled."
"I've heard all that before," said Tom Hadley, rather impatiently.
It was quite true, for this was the style in which Bill Mosely was accustomed to address new acquaintances. It had not succeeded with Jake Bradley, who had enough knowledge of human nature to detect the falsity of Mosely's pretensions and the sham character of his valor.
"You've heard it before," said Mosely, severely, "but ain't it true? That's what I ask you, Tom Hadley."
"I should say so," slipped out almost unconsciously from the lips of the habitual echo.
"'Tis well," said Mosely, waving his hand. "You know it and you believe it. I'm a bad man to insult, I am. I generally chaw up them that stand in my way."
Tom Hadley was really a braver man than Mosely, and he answered obstinately, "Give me half that gold-dust, or I'll take it."
Bill Mosely saw his determined face and felt that it was necessary to back down. "I don't know why I don't shoot you," he said, trying to keep up his air of domination.
"Because two can play at that game," said Hadley, doggedly.
He produced a pouch, and Bill Mosely, much against his will, was compelled to divide the contents of the stolen bag, managing, however, to retain the larger share himself.
"I don't want to quarrel with a friend," said Bill, more mildly, "but you don't act friendly to-day."
"It's all right now," said Hadley, satisfied.
"Maybe you think I don't want to act fair," continued Mosely in an injured tone. "Why, the very horse you are riding is a proof to the contrary. I didn't ask for both horses, did I?"
"You couldn't ride both," answered Tom Hadley, with practical good sense.
"I wonder where the fellows are we took them from?" said Mosely, with a change of subject. "The man was a regular fire-eater: I wouldn't like to meet him again."
"I should say so," chimed in Hadley, emphatically.
Bradley had paid Mosely in his own coin, and boasted of his prowess even more extravagantly than that braggadocio, claiming to have killed from seventy to eighty men in the course of his experience. Mosely had been taken in by his confident tone, and knowing that he was himself a sham desperado, though a genuine thief and highwayman, had been made to feel uneasy while in Bradley's company.
"I wonder what became of them?" continued Mosely, thoughtfully.
As Tom Hadley's special phrase could not come in here appropriately, he forbore to make any remark.
"He thought he would scare me by his fierce talk," said Mosely, who would hardly have spoken so confidently had he known that Bradley was only two miles distant from him at that identical moment. "It takes a good deal to scare a man like me—eh, Tom?"
"I should say so," returned Hadley, but it was noticeable that he spoke rather dubiously, and not with his usual positiveness.
"I'm a hard man to handle," continued Mosely, complacently, relapsing into the style of talk which he most enjoyed. "I'm as bad as they make 'em."
"I should say so," chimed in Tom Hadley; and there was nothing doubtful in his tone now.
Bill Mosely looked at him as if he suspected there was something suspicious under this speech, but Tom Hadley wore his usual look, and his companion dismissed his momentary doubt. "You never saw me afraid of any living man—eh, Tom?"
"I should say so," answered Hadley.
There was something equivocal in this speech, and Bill Mosely looked vexed.
"Can't you say anything but that?" he grumbled. "It looks as if you doubted my statement. No man doubt my word—and lives."
Tom Hadley merely shrugged his shoulders. He was not a man of brilliant intellectual ability or of rare penetration, but there were times when even he was led to suspect that his companion was a humbug. Yet Mosely had greater force of character, and took uncommon pains to retain his ascendency over his more simple-minded companion, and had in the main been successful, though in the matter of the gold-dust he had been obliged to score a defeat.
As Hadley did not see fit to express any doubt of this last statement, Bill Mosely was content to let the matter drop, assuming that he had gained a victory and recovered his ascendency over his echo.
They had met no one for some hours, and did not look for an encounter with anything wearing the semblance of humanity, when all at once Tom Hadley uttered an exclamation.
"What is it, Tom?" asked Mosely.
"Look there!" was the only answer, as Hadley, with outstretched finger, pointed to a Chinaman walking slowly up the hill.
"It's a heathen Chinee!" exclaimed Mosely with animation.
"I should say so," echoed Hadley.
Mosely urged his mustang to greater speed, and soon overtook Ki Sing, for it was Richard Dewey's attendant whom the two adventurers had fallen in with.
KI SING IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY.
Ki Sing turned when he heard the sound of horses' feet, for in that mountain-solitude such a sound was unusual. He was not reassured by the appearance of the two men, whose intention seemed to be to overtake him, and he turned aside from the path with the intention of getting out of the way.
"Stop there, you heathen!" called Bill Mosely in his fiercest tone.
Ki Sing halted, and an expression of uneasiness came over his broad, flat face.
"What are you doing here, you Chinese loafer?"
Ki Sing did not exactly comprehend this speech, but answered mildly, "How do, Melican man?"
"How do?" echoed Bill Mosely, laughing rather boisterously.—"Tom, the heathen wants to know how I do.—Well, heathen, I'm so's to be around, and wouldn't mind chawing up a dozen Chinamen. Where do you live?"
"Up mountain," answered Ki Sing.
The Chinaman pointed in the right direction.
"What do you do for a living?"
"Wait on Melican man—cookee, washee."
"So you are a servant to a white man, John?"
"Don't you call me John, you yellow mummy! I'm not one of your countrymen, I reckon.—What do you say to that, Tom? The fellow's gettin' familiar."
"I should say so," remarked Tom Hadley, with his usual originality.
"What's the name of the Melican man you work for?" continued Mosely, after a slight pause.
"Dickee Dewee," answered Ki Sing, repeating the familiar name applied by Bradley to the invalid. The name seemed still more odd as the Chinaman pronounced it.
"Well, he's got a queer name, that's all I can say," continued Mosely. "What's your name?"
"Ki Sing? How's Mrs. Ki Sing?" asked Mosely, who was disposed, like the cat, to play with his victim before turning and rending him.
"Me got no wifee," said the Chinaman, stolidly.
"Then you're in the market. Do you want to marry?"
"Me no want to mally?"
"So much the worse for the ladies. Well, as to this Dickee, as you call him? What does he do?"
"He sick—lie down on bedee."
"He's sick, is he? What's the matter with him?"
"Fall down and hurt leggee."
"Oh, that was it? What did he do before he hurt himself?"
Bill Mosely became more interested. "Did he find much gold?" he asked eagerly.
"Yes, muchee," answered Ki Sing, unsuspiciously.
"Does he keep it with him?"
Bill Mosely betrayed a little too much interest when he asked this question, and the Chinaman, hitherto unsuspicious, became on his guard.
"Why you wantee know?" he asked shrewdly.
"Do you dare give me any of your back talk, you yellow heathen?" exclaimed Mosely, angrily. "Answer my question, or I'll chaw you up in less'n a minute."
"What you ask?" said Ki Sing, innocently.
"You know well enough. Where does this Dickee keep the gold he found before he met with an accident?"
"He no tellee me," answered Ki Sing.
This might be true, so that Mosely did not feel sure that the Chinaman's ignorance was feigned. Still, he resolved to push the inquiry, in the hope of eliciting some information that might be of value, for already a plan had come into his mind which was in accordance with his general character and reputation—that of relieving the invalid of his hoard of gold-dust.
"Where do you think he keeps the gold, John?" he asked mildly.
Ki Sing looked particularly vacant as he expressed his ignorance on this subject.
"Has he got a cabin up there?" asked Mosely.
"And how far might it be?"
"Long way," answered Ki Sing, who wished to divert Mosely from the plan which the faithful servant could see he had in view.
Bill Mosely was keen enough to understand the Chinaman's meaning, and answered, "Long or not, I will go and see your master. I am a doctor," he added, winking to Hadley, "and perhaps I can help him.—Ain't I a doctor, Tom?"
"I should say so," answered Hadley, whose respect for truth did not interfere with his corroborating in his usual style anything which his companion saw fit to assert.
Ki Sing did not express any opinion on the subject of Bill Mosely's medical pretensions, though he was quite incredulous.
"Lead the way, John," said Mosely.
"Where me go?" asked the Chinaman innocently.
"Go? Go to the cabin where your master lives, and that by the shortest path. Do you hear?"
Ki Sing, however, still faithful to the man who had befriended him in the hour of danger, did not direct his course toward Richard Dewey's cabin, but guided the two adventurers in a different direction. The course he took was a circuitous one, taking him no farther away from the cabin, but encircling the summit and drawing no nearer to it. He hoped that the two men, whose purpose he suspected was not honest nor friendly, would become tired and would give up the quest.
He did not, however, understand the perseverance of Mosely when he felt that he was on the scent of gold.
Finally, Mosely spoke. "John," he said, "is the cabin near by?"
Ki Sing shook his head. "Long way," he answered.
"How did you happen to get so far away from it, then, I should like to know?" and he examined the face of his guide sharply.
But Ki Sing's broad face seemed utterly void of expression as, neglecting to answer the question, he reiterated his statement, "Housee long way."
"The man's a fool, Tom," said Mosely, turning to his companion.
"I should say so," was all the help he got from Hadley.
"Do you know what I mean to do, Hadley?—Here, you yellow mummy, go a little ahead." (The Chinaman did so.)—"There's a bonanza up there in that cabin, wherever it is. The Chinaman says that this man with the queer name had got out a good deal of gold before he met with an accident—broke his leg, likely. Well, it stands to reason he's got the gold now. There ain't no chance here of sendin' off the dust, and of course he's got it hid somewhere in his cabin. Do you see the point, Tom?"
"I should say so."
"And I should say so too. It strikes me as a particularly good chance. This man is disabled and helpless. He can't prevent us walking off with his gold, can he?"
"Suppose he won't tell us where it is?" suggested Tom Hadley with extraordinary mental acuteness.
"Why, we'll knock him on the head or put a bullet in him, Hadley. It's a pity if two fire-eaters like us can't tackle a man with a broken leg. What do you say?"
"I should say so."
Fifteen minutes more passed, and they seemed to be getting no nearer their destination. At any rate, no cabin was in sight. Ki Sing only answered, when interrogated, "Long way."
"Hadley," said Bill Mosely, "I begin to believe that heathen's misleading us. What do you say?"
"I should say so."
"Then I'll attend to his case.—Here, you heathen!"
Bill Mosely sprang from his mustang, seized Ki Sing, and, in spite of howls, with Hadley's assistance tied him to a small tree with a strong cord he had in his pocket.
"That disposes of you, my friend," he said, mounting his mustang. "I think we shall find the cabin better without you."
The two men rode off, leaving poor Ki Sing in what appeared, considering the loneliness of the spot, to be hopeless captivity.
FURTHER ADVENTURES OF BILL MOSELY.
Bill Mosley and his companion pushed on after leaving the poor Chinaman tied to the tree.
"The yellow heathen may starve, for all I care," said Mosely, carelessly. "It's all his own fault. Why didn't he speak up like a man and tell me what I wanted to know?"
"I should say so," chimed in Tom Hadley.
"The question is now, 'Whereabouts is that cabin we are in search of?'"
Hadley appeared to have no idea, and no suggestion to offer.
"It strikes me it must be somewhere near the top of the mountain," said Mosely. "What do you say?"
"I should say so."
"Then we'll take the shortest way to the summit. I tell you, Tom, we're on the track of something rich. We'll take all this fellow's gold-dust, and he can't help himself. It'll be richer than any claim we've worked yet, if it pans out as well as I expect—eh, Tom?"
"I should say so, Bill," answered Hadley, with an expression of interest.
"I tell you, Tom," said Bill Mosely, complacently, "you were in luck when you fell in with me. We've done pretty well since we j'ined hosses, pard."
"I should say so—but," added Hadley, after a pause, "it would go hard with us if we got caught."
"We don't mean to get caught," said Mosely, promptly. "As for this new job, there's no danger in it. This man is down with a broken leg, and he can't help our taking his gold. The Chinaman's out of the way, and we've got a clear field. Take a good look, Tom, for your eyes are better than mine, and tell me if you see anything that looks like a cabin anywhere around?"
This inquiry was made some twenty minutes after they had left Ki Sing. They had pursued a circuitous course, or in half the time they might have been as near the cabin as they now were.
Tom Hadley didn't answer in his customary phrase, but instead raised himself erect on his mustang and looked sharply about him.
"Well?" demanded Mosely, impatiently.
"I don't see anything that looks like a cabin," said Hadley, deliberately, "but I think I see smoke."
"Where?" asked his companion in an eager tone.
"There," said Tom Hadley, pointing with his whip in a particular direction.
Mosely strained his eyes, but he was a trifle near-sighted and could see nothing.
"I can't see anything," he said, "but that proves nothing. If there's smoke, there's a house. There's no question about that, and there's not likely to be more than one cabin about here. Steer in the direction of the smoke, Tom, and I'll follow in your tracks. My horse is getting tired; he'll be glad to rest for the night."
"Will it be safe?" queried Hadley.
"Safe enough. The Chinaman is disposed of, and as for this broken-legged Dewey, we'll bind him fast and set him outside of the cabin while we make ourselves comfortable within. I shall be sorry to inconvenience him, but when a man has company he must expect to be put out—eh, Tom?"
"I should say so, Bill."
The two worthy gentlemen kept on their way till, making a sudden turn, the house, which had hitherto been concealed from them by a cliff, stood plainly revealed.
"There it is, Tom!" cried Mosely, joyfully. "We've found it, in spite of that lying heathen. It seems good to see a house after wandering about for weeks without a chance to sleep under a roof—eh, Tom?"
"I should say so, Bill."
It will be observed that Mr. William Mosely was fond of designating Ki Sing as a heathen, evidently appreciating his own superiority as a Christian. Yet I am inclined to think that a heathen like the Chinaman possessed more moral worth than a dozen Christians of the type of Mosely. From youth he had preyed upon the community, and his aim had been to get a living in any way that did not involve labor. Honesty was an obsolete word in his vocabulary, and a successful theft yielded him a satisfaction such as other men derive from the consciousness of well-doing. In fact, Mosely's moral nature was warped, and there was very little chance of his reformation.
Now that the cabin was near at hand, the two men did not quicken their speed, for the ascent was somewhat steep and their animals were tired.
"Take it easy, Tom. The whole thing's in our hands. Wonder whether Dewey's expectin' visitors?" he added, chuckling. "I say, Hadley, he'll be glad to see us—don't you think so?"
"I should say so," returned Hadley, before the joke dawned upon him.
"You see, we are going to relieve him of the care of that gold-dust of his. We're two bankers from 'Frisco, that's what we are, and we'll take care of all the gold-dust we can take in."
"I shall want my half," said Tom Hadley, unexpectedly deviating from his customary formula.
Mosely shrugged his shoulders. He did not quite like this new disposition of Hadley's to look after his own interests, but at present did not think it politic to say much about it. Though Tom Hadley had generally been subservient to him, he knew very well that if any difficulty should arise between them Tom would be a formidable antagonist. Fortunately for him, Hadley did not know his own power, or he would not have remained in subjection to a man whom he could have overcome had he been so disposed. He did not fully believe Bill Mosely's ridiculous boasts of his own prowess, but he was nevertheless disposed to overrate the man who made so many pretensions. All he asked was a fair share of the booty which the two together managed to secure, and this he had made up his mind to have.
They reached the cabin at last, and halted their horses before the door.
Both sprang off, and Bill Mosely, with a sign to his companion to remain in charge of them, entered at the open door.
"Is that you, Ki Sing?" asked Dewey, whose face was turned toward the wall.
Bill Mosely could not tell from the way he lay on the pallet, covered with a blanket, whether his leg were broken or not, but believed that this was the case. "That doesn't happen to be my name, stranger," he answered.
Richard Dewey turned suddenly on his low bed and fixed his eyes on the intruder. "Who are you? what do you want?" he demanded suspiciously.
"I thought I'd come round and make you a call, being in the neighborhood," answered Mosely, with a smile.
"Who are you?"
"Well, I'm not the President of the United States, nor I ain't Queen Victoria, as I know of," said Mosely.
"You look more like a horse-thief," said Richard Dewey, bluntly.
"Do you mean to insult me?" exclaimed Bill Mosely, fiercely. "Do you know who I am?"
Dewey was not easily frightened, and he answered coolly, "You haven't told me yet."
"Well, I'm Bill Mosely from the State of Missouri. I'm a regular tearer, I am. I don't take no back talk. When a man insults me I kill him."
"Very well. Now I know who you are," said Richard Dewey, calmly. "Now, what do you want?"
"How much gold-dust have you in this cabin? We may as well come to business."
"None at all."
"I know better. You can't pull wool over my eyes. Your Chinaman tells a different story."
"Ha! Have you seen Ki Sing?" asked Dewey, interested at last.
"Yes, I had the pleasure of meeting the heathen you refer to."
"Where is he now? Can you tell me?"
"To the best of my knowledge he is tied to a tree a mile or so from here. I don't think he will get away very easily."
"Scoundrel! you shall answer for this!" exclaimed Richard Dewey, springing to his feet, and thereby showing that neither of his legs was broken.
AN UNEQUAL CONTEST.
Bill Mosely was decidedly startled when the man whom he thought helpless sprang up so suddenly and approached him in a menacing manner. He rose precipitately from the rude seat on which he had settled himself comfortably, his face wearing an expression of alarm.
Richard Dewey paused and confronted him. A frown was on his face, and he appeared very much in earnest in the question he next asked. "Have you dared to ill-treat my servant, you scoundrel?" he demanded.
"Look here, stranger," said Mosely, with a faint attempt at bluster, "you'd better take care what you say to me. I'm a bad man, I am."
"I don't doubt it," said Dewey, contemptuously.
This was not altogether satisfactory to Bill Mosely, though it expressed confidence in the truth of his statement.
"You haven't answered my question," continued Dewey. "What have you done with my servant?"
"Perhaps he wasn't your servant," said Bill Mosely, evasively.
"There is but one Chinaman in this neighborhood," said Richard Dewey impatiently, "and he is my faithful servant. Did you tie him to a tree?"
"He was impudent to me," answered Bill Mosely, uneasily.
"Ki Sing is never impudent to any one," returned Dewey, his eyes flashing with anger. "Tell me what you did with him, or I will fell you to the ground."
"I didn't harm him," said Bill Mosely, hastily. "I wanted to teach him a lesson; that is all."
"And so you tied him to a tree, did you?"
"Then go back and release him instantly, or it will be the worse for you. I would go with you, to make sure that you did so, but my ankle is weak. Where did you leave him?"
"A little way down the hill."
"Then go at once and release him. If you fail to do it, some day I shall meet you again and I will make you bitterly repent it."
"All right, stranger; make your mind easy."
Bill Mosely turned to leave the cabin, and Richard Dewey threw himself down on the pallet once more.
But Mosely had no intention of letting the matter rest there. Had he been alone he would not have ventured on any further conflict with Dewey, who, invalid as he was, had shown so much spirit; but he felt considerable confidence in his companion, who was strong and powerful.
He approached Tom Hadley and whispered in his ear. Tom nodded his head, and the two stealthily approached the entrance again and re-entered the cabin.
Richard Dewey had laid himself down on the pallet, thinking that Bill Mosely had gone about his business, when Tom Hadley, who had been assigned to this duty by his more timid companion, threw himself upon the invalid and overpowered him.
"Perhaps you'll insult a gentleman again," exclaimed Mosely tauntingly as he stood by and witnessed the ineffectual struggles of Tom's victim, who had been taken at disadvantage.—"Here's the cord, Tom, tie his hands and feet."
"You're contemptible cowards," exclaimed Dewey. "It takes two of you to overpower a sick man."
"You don't look very sick," said Mosely, tauntingly.
"I have sprained my ankle or I would defy both of you."
"Talk's cheap!" retorted Bill Mosely.
"What is your object in this outrageous assault upon a stranger?" demanded Dewey.
"We'll tell you presently," answered Mosely.—"Now tie his feet, Tom."
"Be careful of my ankle—it is sore and sensitive," said Dewey, addressing himself to Tom Hadley. "You need not tie me further. In my present condition I am no match for you both. Tell me why it is you have chosen to attack a man who has never harmed you?"
Tom Hadley looked to Mosely to answer.
"I'll tell you what we want, Dewey, if that is your name," said the superior rascal. "We want that gold-dust you've got hidden about here somewhere."
"Who told you I had any gold-dust?" inquired the invalid.
"Your servant. He let it out without thinking, but when we wanted him to guide us here, he wouldn't. That's why we left him tied to a tree—isn't it, Tom?"
"I should say so."
"Poor fellow! I am glad to hear he was faithful even when he found himself in the power of two such ruffians as you."
"Look here, Dewey: don't give us any of your back talk. It ain't safe—eh, Tom?"
"I should say so, Bill."
"I intend to express my opinion of you and your villainous conduct," said Dewey, undaunted, "whatever you choose to call it. So Ki Sing wouldn't guide you here?"
"No, he led us round in a circle. When we found it out we settled his hash pretty quick—"
"Like cowards, as you were."
"Are we going to stand this, Tom?" asked Bill, fiercely.
Tom Hadley shrugged his shoulder. He did not enjoy what Bill Mosely called "back talk" as well as his partner, and it struck him as so much waste of time. He wanted to come to business, and said briefly, "Where's the gold?"
"Yes, Dewey, let us know what you have done with your gold."
"So you are thieves, you two?"
"I should say so," interjected Tom Hadley.
"You're a fool," ejaculated Bill Mosely, frowning. "What makes you give yourself away?"
"Because," said Hadley, bluntly, "we are thieves, or we wouldn't be after this man's gold."
"That ain't the way to put it," said Bill Mosely, who shrank from accepting the title to which his actions entitled him. "We're bankers from 'Frisco, and we are going to take care of Dewey's gold, as he ain't in a situation to take care of it himself."
"You are very kind," said Dewey, who, embarrassing as his position was, rather enjoyed the humor of the situation. "So you are a banker, and your friend a thief? I believe I have more respect for the thief, who openly avows his objects.—Tom, if that is your name, I am sorry that you are not in a better business. That man is wholly bad, but I believe you could lead an honest life."
Tom Hadley said nothing, but he looked thoughtful. His life had been a lawless one, but he was not the thorough-going scoundrel that Bill Mosely was, and would have been glad if circumstances had favored a more creditable mode of life.
"We're wastin' time, Dewey," said Bill Mosely. "Where's the gold-dust?"
"Sure you know I have it? I leave you to find it for yourself," answered the sick man, who was never lacking for courage, and did not tremble, though wholly in the power of these men.
"What shall we do, Tom?" asked Mosely.
"Hunt for the gold," suggested Tom Hadley.
If Mosely had judged it of any use to threaten Dewey, he would have done so, hoping to force him to reveal the hiding-place of the gold; but the undaunted spirit thus far displayed by his victim convinced him that the attempt would be unsuccessful. He therefore proceeded, with the help of his companion, to search the hut. The floor was of earth, and he occupied himself in digging down into it, considering that the most likely place of concealment for the treasure.
Richard Dewey watched the work going on in silence.
"If only Ben and Bradley would come back," he said to himself, "I should soon be free of these rascals. They won't find the gold where they are looking, but I needn't tell them that."
TIED TO A TREE.
When Ben and his friend Bradley left the cabin in search of Ki Sing, they were puzzled to fix upon the direction in which it was best to go. There was no particular reason to decide in favor of any one against the others.
"Shall we separate, Jake, or shall we go together?" asked Ben.
"I think we had better stick together, Ben. Otherwise, if one succeeds he won't have any way of letting the other know."
"Besides, we may need each other's help," added Bradley.
"You mean in case Ki Sing has met with an accident?"
"Well, no; I don't exactly mean that, Ben."
"Perhaps," said Ben, laughing, "you think two pairs of eyes better than one."
"That's true, Ben; but you haven't caught my idea."
"Then, suppose you catch it for me and give me the benefit of it."
"I think," said Bradley, not smiling at this sally of Ben's, "that our Chinese friend has fallen in with some rough fellows who have done him harm."
"I hope not," said Ben, sobered by this suggestion.
"So do I. Ki Sing is a good fellow, if he is a heathen, and I'd like to scalp the man that ill-treats him."
"There are not many travellers among these mountains."
"No, but there are some. Some men are always pulling up stakes and looking for better claims. Besides, we are here, and why shouldn't others come here as well?"
"That is so."
"I think, Ben, we'll keep along in this direction," said Bradley, indicating a path on the eastern slope of the hill. "I haven't any particular reason for it, but I've got a sort of idea that this is the right way."
"All right, Jake; I will be guided by you. I hope you're mistaken about Ki Sing's fate. Why couldn't he have fallen and sprained his ankle, like Mr. Dewey?"
"Of course he could, but it isn't likely he has."
"Because Chinamen, I have always noticed, are cautious and supple. They are some like cats; they fall on their feet. They are not rash like white men, but know better how to take care of their lives and limbs. That's why I don't think Ki Sing has tumbled down or hurt himself in any way."
"Of course he wouldn't leave us without notice," said Ben, musingly.
"Certainly not: that isn't Ki Sing's way. He's faithful to Dick Dewey, and won't leave him as long as Dick is laid up. I never had much idea of Chinamen before, and I don't know as I have now, but Ki Sing is a good fellow, whatever you may say of his countrymen. They're not all honest. I was once robbed by a Chinaman, but I'll bet something on Ki Sing. He might have robbed Dick when he was helpless and dependent, before we came along, but he didn't do it. There are plenty of white men you couldn't say that of."
"For instance, the gentlemen who stole our horses."
"It makes me mad whenever I think of that little transaction," said Bradley. "As for that braggart, Mosely, he'll come to grief some of these days. He'll probably die with his boots on and his feet some way from the ground. Before that happens I'd like a little whack at him myself."
"I owe him a debt too," said Ben. "His running off with my mustang cost me a good many weary hours. But hark! what's that?" said Ben, suddenly.
"I thought I heard a cry."
"To the left."
Jake Bradley halted and inclined his ear to listen.
"Ben," said he, looking up, "I believe we're on the scent. That cry came either from a Chinaman or a cat."
Ben couldn't help laughing, in spite of the apprehensions which the words of his companion suggested. "Let us push on, then," he said.
Three minutes later the two came in sight of poor Ki Sing, chafing in his forced captivity and making ineffectual attempts to release himself from his confinement.
"That's he, sure enough," exclaimed Jake Bradley, excited. "The poor fellow's regularly treed."
The Chinaman had not yet seen the approach of his friends, for he happened to be looking in another direction.
"Ki Sing!" called Ben.
An expression of relief and joy overspread the countenance of the unfortunate captive when he saw our hero and Bradley.
"How came you here, Ki Sing?" asked Bradley. "Did you tie yourself to the tree?"
"No, no," replied the Chinaman, earnestly. "Velly bad men tie Ki Sing."
"How many of them bad men were there?" queried Bradley.
"That's one apiece for us, Ben," said Bradley. "There a job ahead for us."
At the same time he busied himself in cutting the cord that confined the poor Chinaman to the tree, and Ki Sing, with an expression of great relief and contentment, stretched his limbs and chafed his wrists and ankles, which were sore from the cutting of the cord.
"Now, Ki Sing, tell us a little more about them men. What did they look like?"
The Chinaman, in the best English he had at command, described the two men who had perpetrated the outrage.
"Did you hear either of them call the other by name?" inquired Bradley.
"One Billee; the other Tommee," answered Ki Sing, who remembered the way in which they addressed each other.
"Why, those are the names of the men who stole our horses!" said Ben, in surprise.
"That's so!" exclaimed Bradley, in excitement. "It would be just like them scamps to tie up a poor fellow like Ki Sing.—I say, Ki, did them fellows have horses?"
"Yes," answered the Chinaman.
"I believe they're the very fellows," cried Bradley. "I hope they are, for there's a chance of overhauling them.—Why did they tie you, Ki Sing?"
Ki Sing explained that they had tried to induce him to guide them to Richard Dewey's cabin, but that he was sure they wanted to steal his gold, and he had led them astray.
"That's the sort of fellow Ki Sing is," said Bradley, nodding to Ben; "you see, he wouldn't betray his master."
"So they tie me to tlee," continued the poor fellow. "I thought I stay here all night."
"You didn't take us into the account, Ki Sing. When these scoundrels left you where did they go?"
Ki Sing pointed.
"And you think they went in search of the cabin?"
"Yes—they say so."
"Did they know we were there—Ben and I?"
"No; me only say Dickee Dewey."
"Did you say that Dewey was sick?"
"It is clear," said Bradley, turning to Ben, "that them rascals were bent on mischief. From what Ki Sing told them they concluded that Dewey would be unable to resist them, and that they would have a soft thing stealing his gold-dust."
"They may have found the cabin and be at work there now," suggested Ben.
"So they may," answered Bradley, hastily. "What a fool I am to be chattering here when Dick may be in danger!—Stir your stumps, Ki Sing. We're goin' back to the cabin as fast as our legs can carry us. I only hope we'll be in time to catch the scoundrels."
Not without anxiety the three friends retraced their steps toward the little mountain-hut which was at present their only home.
TURNING THE TABLES.
When the three friends came in view of the cabin, the first sight which attracted their attention was the two mustangs, who stood, in patient enjoyment of the rest they so much needed, just outside. Their unlawful owners, as we know, were engaged inside in searching for gold-dust, without the slightest apprehension or expectation of interference.
"That's my mustang," exclaimed Bradley in a tone of suppressed excitement. "I never looked to lay eyes on him again, but, thank the Lord! the thief has walked into a trap which I didn't set for him. We'll have a reckoning, and that pretty soon."
"How do you know it's your mustang?" asked Ben.
"There's a white spot on the left flank. The other one's yours: I know it by his make, though I can't lay hold of any sign. Even if I didn't know him, his bein' in company with mine makes it stand to reason that it belongs to you."
"I shall be glad to have it again," said Ben, "but we may have a tussle for them."
"I'm ready," said Jake Bradley, grimly.
By this time they had come to a halt to consider the situation.
"I don't hear anything," said Bradley, listening intently. "I expect the skunks must be inside. Pray Heaven they haven't harmed poor Dewey!"
Just then Dewey's voice was heard, and they were so near that they could distinguish his words.
"Well, gentlemen," he said, "how are you getting on? Have you found anything yet?"
"No, curse it!" responded Mosely. "Suppose you give us a hint."
"Thank you, but I don't see how that's going to benefit me. If you find the money you mean to take it, don't you?"
"I should say so," answered Tom Hadley, frankly.
Richard Dewey smiled. "I commend your frankness," he said. "Well, you can't expect a man to assist in robbing himself, can you?"
"You're mighty cool," growled Bill Mosely.
"On the contrary, my indignation is very warm, I assure you."
"Look here, Dewey," said Mosely, pausing: "I'm goin' to make you a proposition."
"Of course we shall find this gold-dust of yours, but it's rather hard and troublesome work; so I'll tell you what we'll do. If you'll tell us where to find it, we'll leave a third of it for you. That'll be square, won't it? One part for me, one for my pard, and one for you? What do you say?"
"That you are very kind to allow me a third of what belongs wholly to me. But even if I should think this a profitable arrangement to enter into, how am I to feel secure against your carrying off all of the treasure?"
"You can trust to the honor of a gentleman," laid Mr. William Mosely, pompously.
"Meaning you?" asked Dewey, with a laugh.
"Meaning me, of course, and when perhaps for myself, perhaps for my pard also—eh, Tom?"
"I should say so, Bill."
"I've heard there's honor among thieves," said Dewey, smiling, "and this appears to be an illustration of it. Well, gentlemen, I'm sorry to say I don't feel that confidence in your honor or your word which would justify me in accepting your kind proposal."
"Do you doubt my word?" blustered Mosely.
"I feel no doubt on the subject," answered Dewey.
"I accept your apology," said Mosely; "it's lucky you made it. Me and my friend don't stand no insults. We don't take no back talk. We're bad men when we get into a scrimmage—eh, Tom?"
"I don't doubt your word in the least," said Dewey. "It gives me pleasure to assent cordially to the description you give of yourselves."
Tom Hadley, who was rather obtuse, took this as a compliment, but Mosely was not altogether clear whether Dewey was not chaffing them. "That sounds all right," said he, suspiciously, "if you mean it."
"Oh, set your mind quite at rest on that subject, Bill, if that is your name. You may be sure that I mean everything I say."
"Then you won't give us a hint where to dig?"
"I am sorry to disoblige you, but I really couldn't."
"Do you hear that, Ben?" said Jake Bradley, his mouth distended with a grin. "Dick's chaffin' them scoundrels, and they can't see it. It looks as if they was huntin' for the gold-dust. They haven't found anything yet, and they haven't hurt Dick, or he wouldn't talk as cool as he does."
There was a brief conference, and then the first movement was made by the besieging-party.
Ki Sing, by Bradley's direction, walked to the entrance of the hut and looked placidly in.
As Mosely looked up he saw the Chinaman's face looking like a full moon, and for an instant he was stupefied. He could not conceive how his victim could have escaped from his captivity.
"Tom," he ejaculated, pointing to the doorway, "look there!"
"I should say so!" ejaculated Tom Hadley, no less surprised than his friend.
"How did you get here?" demanded Bill Mosely, addressing the Chinaman.
"Me walk up hill," answered Ki Sing, with a bland smile.
"How did you get away from the tree? That's what I mean, you stupid."
"Fliend come along—cut stling," answered the Chinaman, pronouncing his words in Mongolian fashion.
Bill Mosely was startled. So Ki Sing had a friend. Was the friend with him? "Where is your friend?" he asked abruptly.
"That my fliend," said the crafty Ki Sing, pointing to his master on the pallet in the corner.
"Yes, Ki Sing," said Dewey, "we are friends and will remain so, my good fellow."
Though he did not quite understand why Ben and Jake Bradley did not present themselves, he felt sure that they were close at hand, and that his unwelcome visitors would very soon find it getting hot for them.
"Look here, you yellow baboon!" said Bill Mosely, angrily, "you know what I mean. This man here didn't free you from the tree. Anyway, you were a fool to come back. Do you know what I am going to do with you?"
Ki Sing shook his head placidly.
"I am going to tie you hand and foot and roll you down hill. You'd better have stayed where you were."
"No want loll down hillee," said the Chinaman, without, however, betraying any fear.
"I sha'n't ask whether you like it or not. But stop! Perhaps you can help us. Do you know where the gold-dust is?"
"Yes," answered Ki Sing.
Bill Mosely's face lighted up with pleasure. He thought he saw the way out of his difficulty.
"That's the very thing!" he cried, turning to his partner—"eh, Tom?"
"I should say so, Bill."
"Just show us where it is, and we won't do you any harm."
"If my fliend, Dickee Dewee, tell me to, I will," said Ki Sing.
Dewey, thus appealed to, said, "No, Ki Sing; they only want to rob me, and I am not willing to have you show them."
"You'd better shut up, Dewey," said Mosely, insolently; "you're a dead duck, and you're only gettin' this foolish heathen into trouble. We've got tired of waitin' 'round here, and—"
"I am ready to excuse you any time," said Dewey. "Don't stay on my account, I beg. In fact, the sooner you leave the better it will please me."
Bill Mosely, who didn't fancy Dewey's sarcasm, frowned fiercely and turned again to Ki Sing. "Will you show us or not?" he demanded.
"Velly solly," said Ki Sing, with a childish smile, "but Dickee Dewee won't let me."
With an oath Mosely sprang to the doorway and tried to clutch the Chinaman, when the latter slid to one side and Jake Bradley confronted him.
"You'd better begin with me, Bill Mosely," he said.
BRADLEY'S SIGNAL VICTORY.
Bill Mosely started back as if he had seen a rattlesnake, and stared at Jake Bradley in mingled surprise and dismay.
"You didn't expect to see me, I reckon?" said Bradley, dryly.
Mosely still stared at him, uncertain what to say or what to do.
"I take it very kind of you to bring back the hosses you borrowed a few weeks since. You took 'em rather sudden, without askin' leave; it was a kind of oversight on your part."
"I don't know what you mean," answered Mosely, determined to brazen it out and keep the horses if possible, for he was lazy and a pedestrian tramp would not have suited him very well.
"You know what I mean well enough, Bill Mosely. If you don't, them mustangs outside may refresh your recollection. They look kinder fagged out. You've worked 'em too hard, Mosely."
"Those mustangs are ours. We bought 'em," said Mosely, boldly.—"Didn't we, Tom?"
"I should say so," remarked Hadley, with striking originality.
"That's a lie, Tom," remarked Bradley, calmly, "and you know it as well as I do."
"Are we goin' to stand that, Tom?" blustered Mosely, whose courage was beginning to revive, as he had thus far only seen Bradley, and considered that the odds were two to one in his favor. Of course the Chinaman counted for nothing.
Tom Hadley looked a little doubtful, for he could see that the enemy, though apparently single-handed, was a man of powerful frame and apparently fearless even to recklessness. He had a strong suspicion that Bill Mosely was a coward and would afford him very little assistance in the event of a scrimmage.
"If you can't stand it," said Bradley, "sit down, if you want to."
Thus far, Richard Dewey had remained silent, but he wished to participate in the defence of their property if there should be need, and of course must be released first.
"Jake," said he, "these fellows have tied me hand and foot. They couldn't have done it if I had not been partially disabled. Send in Ki Sing to cut the cords."
"They dared to tie you?" said Bradley, sternly.—"Mosely, what was that for?"
"To remove one obstacle in the way of plunder," Dewey answered for them.
"They're not only hoss-thieves, but thieves through and through. Since they tied you, they must untie you.—Mosely, go and cut the cords."
"I am not a slave to be ordered round," returned Mosely, haughtily.
"What are you, then?"
"Then you'll be a dead gentleman in less than a minute if you don't do as I tell you."
As he spoke he drew out his revolver and levelled it at Mosely.
The latter turned pale. "Don't handle that we'pon so careless, stranger," he said. "It might go off."
"So it might—as like as not," answered Bradley, calmly.
"Put it up," said Mosely, nervously.—"Tom, just cut them cords."
"Tom, you needn't do it.—Mosely, you're the man for that duty. Do you hear?"
Bill Mosely hesitated. He didn't like to yield and be humiliated before the man over whom he had retained so long an ascendency.
"You'd better be quick about it," said Bradley, warningly. "This here we'pon goes off terrible easily. I don't want to shoot you, but there might be an accident. I've killed twenty-one men with it already. You'll be the twenty-second."
That was hint enough. Pride gave way, and Bill Mosely knelt down and cut the cords which confined Dewey, and the invalid, with a sense of relief, sat up on his pallet and watched the conference.
"There! are you satisfied?" asked Mosely, sullenly.
"It'll do as far as it goes, Mosely," said Bradley. "I wouldn't advise you to try any more of them tricks."
He lowered his weapon, and was about to replace it, when Mosely, who had made a secret sign to his companion, sprang forward simultaneously with Tom Hadley and seized the intrepid Bradley.
The attack was sudden, and also unexpected, for Bradley had such a contempt for the prowess of William Mosely that he had not supposed him capable of planning or carrying out so bold an attack. It must be admitted that he was taken at disadvantage, and might have been temporarily overpowered, for Tom Hadley was strong, and Mosely, though a coward, was nerved by desperation.
Richard Dewey saw his friend's danger, but, unhappily, he had no weapon at hand.
But help was not long in coming.
Concealed by the walls of the cabin, Ben had heard all that had been said, and observed the attack upon his comrade.
He did not hesitate a moment, but sprang forward and showed himself at Bradley's side.
"Let him go, or I'll shoot," he exclaimed in a tone of command, pointing at Mosely the twin brother of the revolver which Bradley owned.
"Confusion!" ejaculated Mosely, in fresh dismay.
"Let go," repeated Ben, firmly.
Bill Mosely released Bradley, and the latter threw off the grasp of Tom Hadley.
"Now," said he, as standing side by side with Ben he confronted the two thieves, "shall we shoot?"
"No, no," said Mosely, nervously.
"Serve you right if we did. So you thought you'd got me, did you? You didn't know about Ben, there. He ain't half your size, but he's got twice the courage.—Ben, what shall we do with them?"
Bill Mosely turned toward Ben, anxious to hear what our hero would say. He was entirely in the power of the two friends, as he realized.
"Serve them as they served Ki Sing," suggested Ben.
"That's a good idea, that is!—Here, you two rascals, trot out here."
Following directions, the two men emerged from the cabin and stood on one side of the doorway, feeling that they would gladly be in some other part of California at that precise moment.
"Mosely, do you see that tree?"
"Go to it."
Bill Mosely slowly and unwillingly proceeded to do as he was told.
"Ki Sing," said Jake Bradley to the Chinaman, who was standing near at hand, his face wearing a bland and contented smile, "have you any cord in your pocket?"
"Yes," answered the Celestial.
"Tie that man to the tree."
Ki Sing approached to follow instructions, when Bill Mosely shouted, "I'll brain you, you yaller heathen, if you dare to touch me!"
"Just as you say, squire," said Bradley, nonchalantly raising his revolver; "if you'd prefer to be shot I'm a very accommodatin' man, and I'll oblige you. I guess it'll be better, as we'll save all trouble."
"Stop! stop!" cried Mosely, in dismay. "He can tie me."
"You've changed your mind. I thought you would," said Bradley.—"Ki Sing, go ahead."
With native dexterity, and not without a feeling of satisfaction easily understood under the circumstances, Ki Sing proceeded to tie his former captor, but present captive, to a stout sapling.
"Is it strong?" asked Bradley.
"Velly stlong," answered the Chinaman, with a satisfied look.
"That's good.—Now, Tom, it's your turn. There's your tree! Annex yourself to it."
Tom Hadley saw the futility of resistance, and quietly allowed himself to be confined in the same manner as his companion.
When both were thus disposed of Jake Bradley turned to the Chinaman:
"Now, Ki Sing, let us have some supper as soon as possible. We've been doin' considerable business, Ben and I, and we're as hungry as bears.—Good-night, Mosely. Hope you'll have a good night's rest!"
"You are not going to leave us here all night, are you?" said Bill Mosely, uneasily.
"That's just what I'm goin' to do. I'll let you go in the mornin' if you behave yourself. Still, if you'd rather be shot I can accommodate you."
"What a bloodthirsty brute!" ejaculated the unhappy Mosely as Bradley disappeared within the doorway.
"I should say so!" echoed Tom Hadley from the other tree.
"THE BEST OF FRIENDS MUST PART."
Mosely and his companion continued in captivity through the night. Some of my readers may consider the punishment a severe one, and it must be admitted that it was attended with no small share of discomfort. But for that time it was an exceedingly mild penalty for the offence which the two men had committed. In the early days of California, theft was generally punished in the most summary manner by hanging the culprit from a limb of the nearest tree, and that, in the majority of cases, would have been the fate of Bill Mosely and Tom Hadley.
But neither Bradley nor Ben was willing to go to such extremes. Jake Bradley had had rough experiences, and he was no soft-hearted sentimentalist, but he had a natural repugnance to taking the life of his fellow-creatures.
"Money," he said on one occasion to Ben, "ain't to be measured ag'in a man's life. I don't say I wouldn't kill a man for some things, though I should hate to mightily, but it wouldn't be on account of robbery. I wouldn't have a man's blood on my conscience for such a thing as that."
It is needless to say that our young hero, whose heart was warm and humane, agreed fully with his older companion.
When the two friends got up in the morning and went out of the cabin, they found their two captives in the same position in which they had left them. They looked weary and were stiff in the limbs, as well they might be.
"Well, my friends," said Bradley, "I hope you've passed a pleasant night."
"I'm almost dead," growled Bill Mosely. "I feel as if I'd been here a week."
"Do you feel the same way?" inquired Bradley, addressing Tom Hadley.
"I should say so," answered Hadley, in a voice of intense disgust.
"It was your own choice, Mosely," said Jake Bradley. "It was either all night braced up against a tree, or to be shot at once and put out of your misery."
"Who wants to be shot?" returned Mosely. "That would be worse than stayin' here all night. You might have let us go last night."
"So I might, but I wanted to teach you a lesson. You know very well, Bill Mosely, you'd have fared a good deal worse with some men. You'd have been swingin' from the nearest bough, and so would your friend. You'll come to that some time, but I'd rather some one else would hang you. It ain't a job I hanker after."
"Are you goin' to set us free?" asked Mosely, impatiently, not enjoying Bradley's prediction as to his future fate.
"Yes, I think I will—on one condition."
"Go ahead! I'll agree to anything."
"That you'll leave this part of California and not come back. I don't want you to cross my path ag'in."
"You can bet I don't mean to," said Mosely; and there is no doubt he was entirely in earnest.
"Do you make the same promise, Tom?" asked Bradley, turning to Hadley.
"I should say so," returned Hadley; and there is no reason to doubt his sincerity also.
"You see, my friends, you don't appear to know the difference between your property and mine, particularly when it comes to hosses. It is an unfortunate little peculiarity of yours that will bring your life to an untimely end some of these days. If you should ever reform and set up as respectable men, I might be willin' to know you, but there's about as much chance of that, accordin' to my reckonin', as of water runnin' up hill."
While he was expressing himself thus he was cutting the cords of his prisoners, and they took the first chance to stretch their cramped limbs.
"Feel better, don't you?" asked Bradley, smiling.
"I should say so," answered Hadley.
"Couldn't you give us something to eat?" asked Mosely; "I haven't eaten a mouthful since yesterday noon, and I feel faint."
"Ki Sing," said Bradley, "bring out some victuals. These men are not particular friends of mine, but we won't send them away hungry. I've known what it is to fast for thirty-six hours at a stretch, and I understand how it feels."
Ki Sing brought out some cold meat and other plain food, which the two adventurers ate as if they were famished. Their long fast and exposure during the night had sharpened their appetites and lent a keener zest to their enjoyment of the meal.
When they had finished Jake Bradley pointed down the mountain. "You've had your breakfast," he said, "and now there is only one thing more. I want to see you travel."
Bill Mosely looked askance at the two mustangs, which were tied only a few rods off.
Jake Bradley caught the direction of his glance. "It's no go, my friend," he said. "You don't borrow our mustangs this time. We shall have occasion to use them ourselves. It won't do you any harm to try your own legs for a while."
Bill Mosely wasn't easily abashed. He was lazy, and the prospect of tramping all day was by no means agreeable to him. Thanks to his last robbery, he and his companion were tolerably well supplied with gold-dust, which was a common circulating medium in California at that time. An idea struck him, which he lost no time in carrying out. "What value do you set on them horses?" he asked.
"What makes you ask?" inquired Jake Bradley, with some curiosity.
"We'll buy 'em if you'll take a fair price."
"Buy our mustangs! Have you got the money?"
"We've got gold-dust."
"Where did you get it? I'll warrant you didn't work for it."
"That's our business," answered Mosely, stiffly. "The question is, Do you want to sell?"
"No, I don't; and if I did I should want to know whose money I was takin'."
Bill Mosely was disappointed. In that lonely neighborhood it was hardly likely there would be any other opportunity of obtaining horses, and there was nothing for it but to walk.
"You haven't got any other business, have you, Mosely?" asked Bradley.
"No.—Tom, come on."
"Good-bye, then. Our acquaintance has been brief, Mosely, but I know you as well as if we'd lived in the same town for years. You're a fine man, you are, and an ornament to your native State; but if you ain't a little more careful you'll be likely to die young, and the world will lose a man who in his line can't be beat."
Bill Mosely did not attempt any reply to this farewell, but strode down the sloping path, closely followed by Tom Hadley.
When he had got out of hearing of his late captors he turned to Hadley and said, "I hate that man! He has put a stain on my honor; he has insulted and outraged me."
"I should say so," observed Tom Hadley.
"He has treated you just as badly, Hadley; that stain must be washed out in blood."
"When?" inquired his companion, in a matter-of-fact manner.
"I don't know. Some time. He has had the advantage over us this time, but we shall meet again. Do you hear that, Tom Hadley?" continued Mosely, in a theatrical tone, raising his voice at the same time—"we shall meet again."
"I don't want to meet him again," said Hadley.
"You don't comprehend me. When we meet it will be our turn to deal with him."
"Just as you say," returned Tom Hadley, varying his usual formula.
"It's very unlucky we went up to that cabin," said Bill, after a pause.
"I should say so," chimed in Tom, very emphatically.
"It was cursed ill-luck, but how could we know that that dare-devil was a friend of Dewey's? If we'd let well enough alone, we shouldn't have lost our horses and been compelled to tramp on foot over these mountains."
"Where are we going?" asked Tom Hadley.
"Down hill," answered Mosely briefly.
This answer did not appear to Tom Hadley to contain much information, but his mind was not active enough to frame another question, and the two plodded along in silence.
PLANS FOR DEPARTURE.
The recovery of the horses was in one respect especially fortunate. Richard Dewey was anxious to leave the mountain-cabin as soon as possible and make his way to San Francisco, where, as we know, his promised wife was anxiously awaiting him. But there was considerable danger that his ankle, which had been severely sprained, would not be in a condition for travelling for a considerable time yet. The rough mountain-paths would have tried it, and perhaps a second sprain would have resulted.
Now, however, he would be able to ride on one of the horses, and need not walk at all if he pleased.
This idea occurred to Jake Bradley, who suggested it to Richard Dewey.
Dewey's face brightened up, for he was secretly chafing over the delay made necessary by his accident. "But, my friend," he said, "it would be selfish in me to take your horse and leave you to go on foot."
"Look here, Dick Dewey," said Bradley: "what do you take me for? Do you think I'm so delicate I can't walk? I wasn't brought up in no such way. I can do my regular share of trampin', whether on the prairie or on the mountain. I ain't no tender-foot."
"I don't doubt your strength and endurance, friend Bradley," said Dewey, "but a man doesn't always like to do what he is fully able to do."
"Then we needn't say no more about it. There's a gal—I beg your pardon, a young lady—in 'Frisco that's pinin' to see you, Dick Dewey, and that hoss'll get you there sooner'n if you waited till you could walk."
"I am too selfish to resist your arguments, my good friend," said Dewey. "I think I can venture to start within a week, as I am to ride."
"No doubt of it."
"You'd better let me buy your horse, and then if we don't meet again, or anything happens to it, you won't be the loser."
"'If we don't meet again'?" repeated Bradley, puzzled. "You don't mean to say you are goin' to set out alone?"
"I don't want to take you and Ben away from your claim. It isn't half exhausted yet."
"Then let somebody else exhaust it," returned Bradley. "You don't suppose, Dick, we are goin' to let you go off alone?"
"I shall not be alone. My faithful attendant, Ki Sing, will be with me."
"And what good would Ki Sing be in case you fell in with a grizzly? I want to know that," asked Bradley. "I don't say anything against the heathen; he's squarer than many a white man I've met with, and he's worth a dozen such men as Bill Mosely and Tom Hadley; but, all the same, he wouldn't be much in a scrimmage. Them Chinamen are half women, accordin' to my reckonin'. They look like it and speak like it. No, Ben and I go when you do, and the first man that comes along is welcome to the claim."
"I shall certainly be delighted to have you both with me," said Richard Dewey. "You're a good fellow, Jake Bradley, and I trust you more than any man I have met since I came to California. Ben acted as escort to Florence, and I owe him a debt for that which I hope some day to repay."
"Then it's all fixed," said Bradley, in a tone of satisfaction. "We four are to keep together till we see you within reach of 'Frisco. When you and your young lady meet you won't need us any more."
Richard Dewey smiled. "Florence will wish to thank you for your kind care of me, Bradley," he said.
"I've no objection to that. You can invite me to the weddin', Dick."
"I give you that invitation now, and hope you may not have long to wait for the occasion. All difficulties are not yet removed, but I hope they may vanish speedily. I get impatient sometimes, but I try to curb my impatient feeling."
"I reckon I would feel so myself if I was in your fix," observed Bradley.
"I hope you may be, Jake."
Bradley shook his head.
"I'm a cross-grained old bachelor," he said, "and I reckon no gal would look at me twice."
THE PROFITS OF MINING.
A few evenings later Ben and Bradley were sitting just outside the cabin as the twilight deepened.
"It doesn't seem as if this was our last night in the old shanty," said Jake Bradley, taking the pipe from his mouth. "It ain't a palace, but I shall kinder hate to leave it."
"I've got to feel very much at home here myself, Jake; still, I should like to get somewhere where it isn't quite so far out of the world."
"There's something in that, Ben."
"I haven't heard anything from home for a good many weeks; I wish I knew whether my uncle's family are all well."
"How many is there in the family, Ben?"
"There's Uncle Job and Aunt Hannah and Cousin Jennie."
"That's just what I thought," said Jake.
"I don't understand you," said Ben, puzzled. "What did you think?"
"I thought there was a Cousin Jennie."
Our hero laughed, and, it may be, blushed a little. "What made you think that?"
"There generally is, I notice," said Mr. Bradley, eagerly. "Is Cousin Jennie pretty?"
"To be sure she is."
"I thought that too, Ben."
"What are you driving at, Jake?"
"I was sure there was some one besides the old folks that you was anxious about."
"Well, you happen to be right," said Ben, laughing. "But I must tell you that Jennie is only fourteen, and I am only sixteen."
"You'll both of you be older some day, Ben. But there's a matter that we must settle before we go."
"About the gold we have found since we've been here. We must have some arrangement about dividin' it."
"We sha'n't quarrel about that, Jake."
"No, there's no danger of that. That'll be easy enough. We'll divide it into two piles, one for you, and the other for me."
"Jake, I have no right to half of it. You ought to have two-thirds."
"I'd like to argy that matter, Ben. Why should I have two-thirds?"
"Because you earned it. You understood mining better than I."
"We're equal partners, Ben. I stick to that, and I mean to have my way. I've been making a little calculation, and I reckon there's nigh on to a thousand dollars for the two of us."
"As much as that, Jake?" said Ben, eagerly.
"I reckon there is, though I can't justly tell."
"It doesn't seem possible I can be worth five hundred dollars," said Ben, thoughtfully. "We've only been here four weeks. That makes a hundred and twenty-five dollars a week."
"So it does. That's pretty high pay for a boy."
"Before I left home," said Ben, "there was an old farmer, Deacon Pitkins, who wanted to hire me for a year. What do you think he offered me?"
"Twenty dollars a year and board," answered Ben.
"I reckon you did better to come to Californy."
"It looks so now. How the old deacon would stare if he knew how I had been prospering at the mines! I wish there was any way of sending part of this money home. I would like to make a present to Uncle Job."
"When you get to 'Frisco you won't have any trouble about sendin' it."
"Uncle Job thought it was very risky for a boy like me to leave home and seek my fortune in California. I would like to prove to him that I didn't make a mistake."
"It's likely you haven't, Ben," said Bradley cautiously, "but you ain't out of the woods yet. I hope things will go on as well as they have, and you'll be able to carry a pile home. But we've got to start in good season to-morrow, and we may as well turn in and go to sleep."
KI SING'S RIDE.
The next morning after breakfast the party got off. Fortunately, there were no trunks or heavy luggage to carry. California pioneers had no occasion for Saratoga trunks, and the amount of clothing they carried in addition to what they had on was very small.
"Ki Sing," said Bradley, jocosely, "I am afraid we can't carry your trunk with us."
"'Tlunk'!" repeated the Chinaman, looking puzzled.
"Yes, trunk, or 'tlunk,' as you call it. Haven't you a trunk to carry your clothes?"
"Got clothes on," said Ki Sing, pointing to his blouse and wide pants.
"I see," said Bradley, laughing. "We're all about in the same fix. The clothes of the whole party wouldn't half fill a trunk."
The two horses were brought out and saddled.
Bradley assisted Richard Dewey to mount one, and motioned to Ben to mount the other. "Get on, Ben," he said. "It's time the procession was moving."
Ben shook his head. "No, Jake," he said. "You are older than I am. It is proper that you should ride."
"If I'm older than you," said Bradley, "I am stronger than you, and am better able to walk."
"I am strong enough, Jake. I sha'n't get tired."
"One of us ought to ride. There's no use in havin' a horse if you ain't going to use him."
"Suppose," suggested Ben, laughing, "we let Ki Sing ride?"
Bradley saw that a joke was intended, and he turned gravely to the Chinaman. "Ki Sing," he said, "come here and mount this mustang. We are goin' to let you ride."
An expression of alarm overspread the Chinaman's broad face. He had never been on a horse's back in his life, but he knew something of the Californian mustangs. More than once he had seen them buck and throw the ill-fated riders over their heads, and, not being of a daring or venturesome nature, he preferred to walk rather than trust himself to mount the back of so treacherous an animal.
"Ki Sing no wantee lide," he said, starting back in alarm.
"But, Ki Sing, you will get tired tramping over these hills. It will be much easier to ride on a mustang."
"No likee mustang—mustang buckee," objected the Chinaman.
"You are right, Ki Sing. They do buck sometimes, but this animal is as mild and peaceful as a lamb. However, we won't insist on your riding now. Some other day, when you have found out how safe he is, you shall try him."
The Chinaman seemed much relieved at the privilege accorded him of walking, and with his small bundle prepared to take his place in the procession.
"Ben," said Bradley, "the best way for us to arrange will be to take turns in riding. I'd a good deal rather walk half the way. My legs get cramped when I am on horseback too long. You remember I used to get off and lead the horse when we had one apiece. You may take your turn first, and as you are riding I will give you a bag to carry. Mind you don't lose it, for it contains our store of gold-dust."
"All right, Jake. I'll ride first, if you say so." In truth, Ben was pleased to find himself once more on the back of a horse. He had not had much practice in riding at the East, but the practice he had had in California had already made him a good rider, and even if the mustang had taken a fancy to buck he would have found it rather hard to dislodge our young hero. The animal he bestrode, however, was very well-behaved, especially when he felt that his rider had the mastery over him. Any horse, with any spirit, is apt to take advantage of a timid or unpractised rider, and the animal is very quick to learn when this is the case.
During the first day the mustang behaved remarkably well. To begin with, both Ben and Bradley were good riders. Moreover, the path was very uneven, chiefly up and down hill, and the horse was too sensible to go much beyond a walk.
As for Dewey, he got on very comfortably. His ankle was nearly as strong as at first, but if he had been compelled to use it for a day's tramp it would undoubtedly have ached and become sensitive. On the back of his horse—or rather Bradley's—there was of course no danger of injury. When he became tired of his constrained position he got off and walked a quarter or half a mile, and experienced the needed relief.
At the end of the first day they had got well down the mountain, and the commencement of the second day's ride was over a nearly level plateau.
"This is a good place for Ki Sing to ride," suggested Ben.
"Just so," said Bradley, taking the hint.—"Ki Sing, you must take your turn now."
"No wantee lide," said the Chinaman, but he did not greet the proposal with so much alarm as on the morning previous. He had noticed the quiet behavior and regular pace of the two mustangs, and concluded that they were of a different kind from those he had seen misbehave on former occasions.
"Oh, you'll like it well enough when you try it, Ki Sing," said Bradley. "Were you ever on a horse's back?"
"Me never lide," answered the Chinaman.
"Then it is high time you began. You see, Ki Sing, it isn't exactly fair that Ben and I should ride half the time and leave you to walk all the way."
"Likee walk," said Ki Sing.
"That's because you never tried riding. You see, these two hosses of ours are jest like lambs. They're so gentle they could be rid by a two-year-old baby."