THE CAVE OF GOLD
A Tale of California in '49
Author of "Fighting with Fremont," "In Texas with Davy Crockett," "With Kit Carson in the Rockies," Etc.
New York E. P. Dutton & Company 681 Fifth Ave.
First Printing, January, 1911 Second Printing, August. 1919 Third Printing, June, 1926 Printed in the U.S.A.
TO THE DESCENDANTS YOUNG OR OLD OF THE HARDY FORTY-NINERS THIS STORY OF THE EXCITING DAYS OF THE DISCOVERY OF GOLD IN CALIFORNIA IS HOPEFULLY DEDICATED
On a cold January morning of 1848, James Wilson Marshall picked up two yellow bits of metal, about the size and the shape of split peas, from the tail-race of the sawmill he was building on the South Fork of the American River, some forty-five miles northeast of Sutter's Fort, now Sacramento City. These two yellow pellets proved to be gold; and soon it was discovered that all the region thereabouts was thickly sown with shining particles of the same precious yellow metal. A few months later and all the world was pouring its most adventurous spirits into the wilderness of California.
This discovery of gold in California and the remarkable inpouring of men that followed, meant very much to the United States. In a few months it cleared a wilderness and built up a great state. In one step it advanced the interests and the importance of the United States half a century in the policies and the commerce of the Pacific. It threw wide open the great doors of the West and invited the world to enter. It poured into the pockets of the people and into the treasury of the United States a vast amount of gold—alas! soon to be sorely needed to defray the expenses of the most costly war of the ages. Indeed, when the length and the breadth of its influence is considered, this discovery of gold in California becomes one of the most important factors in the developing of our nation, the great corner-stone in the upbuilding of the West; and, as such, it deserves a much more important place in the history of the United States than any historian has yet given to it.
In the present story an attempt has been made, not only to tell an interesting tale, but to interest the younger generation in this remarkable and dramatic phase of our national development, possibly the most picturesque and dramatic period in the history of the nation: to picture to them how these knights of the pick and the shovel lived and worked, how they found and wrested the gold from the hard hand of nature, and to give to them something of an idea of the hardships and the perils they were obliged to endure while doing it.
The period was a dramatic period, crowded with unusual and startling happenings, as far removed as possible from the quiet commonplaceness and routine life of the average boy and girl of to-day; and the reader is cautioned to remember this—if disposed at any time to think the incidents narrated in the present tale too improbable or too startling to have ever happened—that they could not happen to-day, even in California; but they might have all happened then and there in California.
The author is one of those who believe that the boys and the girls of to-day should know something of the foundation stones on which the superstructure of our national greatness rests, and how and with what toils and perils they were laid; and, it is in the hope that the reading of this story will interest them in this, the laying of the great corner-stone in the upbuilding of the West, that this tale of the Discovery of Gold in California has been written.
No nation can afford to forget its builders.
I. El Feroz
II. Death of the Miner
III. The Skin Map
IV. At the Conroyal Rancho
V. Off for the Gold-Mines
VI. The Sign of the Two Red Thumbs
VII. Caught in the Flood
VIII. Accused of Murder
IX. The Testimony of Bill Ugger
X. The Missing Button
XI. An Unexpected Witness
XII. Hammer Jones
XIV. The Luck of Dickson
XV. Around the Supper Table
XVI. Unexpected Company
XVII. Pockface Again
XVIII. Story of the Great Discovery
XIX. Some Exciting Moments
XXII. The Mystery of the Tent
XXIII. On the Shore of Goose Neck Lake
XXIV. In Lot's Canyon
XXV. The Cave of Gold
XXVI. The Catastrophe
"You lie!" and the hard fist landed squarely on the man's chin
The skin map
"You can turn your horses around and ride back the way you came"
"Is there any! just look there! and there! and there!"
Bud bent and stretched his free hand down to Marshall
"It is gold! it is gold! and enough of it to make us all rich beyond our fondest dreams"
The Cave of Gold
"Whoa!"—"whoa!" With quick jerks on their bridle reins Thure Conroyal and Bud Randolph pulled up their horses and listened shiveringly.
Again that same shrill whistling scream of dreadful agony and fear, that had caused them to rein up their horses so suddenly a moment before, came from the valley beyond the brow of the little hill up which they had been slowly riding, and chilled the very marrow in their bones with the terrible intensity of its fear and anguish. Then all was still.
"What—what was it?" and Thure turned a startled face to Bud. "It didn't sound human and I never heard an animal scream like that before. What can it be?"
"I don't know," Bud answered, his face whitening a little; "but I am going to find out. Come on," and, swinging his rifle into position where it would be ready for instant use, he started up the hill, his eyes fixed in the direction whence had come those fearful screams.
"We'd better go a little slow, until we find out what it is," cautioned Thure, as he quickly fell in by the side of Bud, his own rifle held ready for instant use. "It might be Indian devilment of some kind. You know dad's last letter from the mines said that the Indians were getting ugly; and if it is hostile Indians, we want to see them first."
"You bet we do," was Bud's emphatic rejoinder, as he again pulled up his horse. "Now, just hold Gray Cloud and I'll scout on ahead and see what's going on down there in the valley before we show ourselves," and, sliding swiftly from Gray Cloud's back, he tossed his bridle rein to Thure, and, rifle in hand, started swiftly and as silently as an Indian toward a thick clump of bushes that grew directly on the top of the little hill.
Thure deftly caught the bridle rein; and then sat silent and motionless on the back of his horse, his eyes on his comrade, waiting in tense expectancy for the moment when he would reach the clump of bushes and look down into the valley beyond and see the cause of those strange and terrible cries that had so suddenly and so fearfully startled them.
Bud, carrying his cocked rifle at trail, his form bent so that the least possible part of his body showed above the grass of the hillside, ran swiftly until he had almost reached the brow of the hill and the clump of bushes. Then, crouching closer to the ground, he crept cautiously and slowly to the bushes and, gently working himself into their midst, carefully parted the branches in front of his face until he had a clear view of the little valley below. At the first sight he uttered an exclamation of surprise and wrath and threw his rifle to his shoulder; but, with a regretful shake of his head, he almost instantly lowered the gun, and, turning quickly about, motioned excitedly for Thure to advance with the horses and started on the run to meet him.
"Indians! Is it Indians?" Thure cried anxiously, the moment Bud was at his side.
"No," panted the boy, as he leaped into his saddle. "It's El Feroz; and if I've got anything to say about it, he has made his last kill. Come on," and his eyes glinted with wrath and excitement, as he dug his spurs into the flanks of Gray Cloud and galloped furiously up the hill.
"El Feroz! Bully!" and Thure, with an exultant yell, struck the spurs into his horse and galloped along by his side.
At the top of the hill both boys pulled up their horses and looked down into the valley. The valley was small, not more than half a mile across, and through its center ran a little stream of water, fringed with bushes and small trees. On the near side of this fringe of trees and bushes and only a short distance from where our two young friends sat on the backs of their horses, crouched a huge grizzly bear over the body of a horse that was still quivering in the death agony.
"The brute!" exclaimed Thure angrily, the moment his eyes had taken in this scene of violence. "So that was the death scream of a horse we heard! Well, I never want to hear another! But, we've got you now, you old villain!" and his eyes swept over the little valley, free, except for the fringe of trees and bushes, of all obstructions, exultingly. "If we let you get away from this, we'll both deserve to be shot. Now," and he turned to Bud, "you ride to the right and I'll go to the left and we will have the brute between us, so that if he charges either of us, the other can take after him and shoot or rope him."
"Good!" agreed Bud. "But, say, let's rope him first. Just shooting is too good for El Feroz. Remember Manuel and Old Pedro, whom he killed, and Jim Bevins, whom he tore nearly to pieces and crippled for life, to say nothing of the cattle and the horses he has killed. And now that we have him where he can't get away, I am for showing him that man is his master, strong and ferocious as he is, before killing him. We could not have picked out a better place for roping him, if we had been doing the picking," and his eyes glanced over the smooth level of the little valley. "We'll let him chase us until we get him away from the trees and bushes along the creek, and then we'll have some fun with the big brute with our ropes, before sending him to Kingdom Come with our bullets. What do you say, Thure?"
"Well," grinned Thure reminiscently, "if it don't turn out better than did our attempt to rope a grizzly when I was with Fremont, I say shoot the grizzly first and rope him afterward. Now, it won't be no joke roping El Feroz, even if everything is in our favor," and his face sobered. "Still, I reckon, our horses can keep us at a safe distance from his ugly claws and teeth; and it will be all right to have a try with the ropes before we use bullets, but we've got to be careful. El Feroz is the largest and ugliest grizzly ever seen anywhere around here, and could kill one of our horses with one blow of his huge paw. Mexican Juan says that an Indian devil has taken possession of the big brute and that only a silver bullet blessed by a priest can kill him; and, in proof of his belief, he told me that he himself had shot five lead bullets at El Feroz and that he had heard the devil laugh when the bullets struck and fell hot and flattened to the ground. Now he always carries a silver bullet with him that he had a priest bless when he was down to San Francisco last fall; and the next time he meets El Feroz he expects to kill him with the holy bullet. He showed me the silver bullet," and Thure laughed. "But I'm willing to put my trust in lead, if it hits the right spot, Indian devil or no devil. Now, look at El Feroz. He doesn't seem to be worrying none over our presence. Appears to think the filling of his greedy belly too important an operation to be interrupted by us," and Thure's eyes turned to where the huge grizzly was tearing with teeth and claws the carcass of the horse, his wicked little eyes turned in their direction, but otherwise giving them not the slightest attention. Evidently El Feroz had only contempt for the puny prowess of man.
"Well, we'll soon teach him better manners, the ugly brute! Come on," and Bud Randolph and Thure Conroyal both started slowly toward the grizzly, loosening the strong ropes that hung from the pommels of their saddles as they rode.
There was no need of haste. El Feroz would not run away—not from a good dinner like that he was now eating—for all the men in California. For four years he had terrorized this part of California, had never once turned his back to a man, but had seen the backs of many men turned to him; and now the killing of the horse had aroused all the ferocity of his savage nature, and he was ready to fight anything and everything that threatened to rob him of his prey.
Thure Conroyal and Bud Randolph did not for a moment expect El Feroz to run, when they rode toward him. They knew grizzly nature, especially the ferocious nature of El Feroz, too well to dream of such a thing. They knew he would fight; and, if they had been afoot, they would not have dared to attack the evil monster, armed though they were with rifles and so skilful in their use that they could cut the head off a wild goose at a hundred yards. But, seated on the backs of their fleet and well-trained horses and on a smooth and open field like the one before them, they did not fear even El Feroz himself. If their ropes did not hold or their bullets kill at once, the swift legs of their horses could be counted on to keep them out of danger, unless some unforeseen mischance happened.
The lassoing or roping of grizzly bears was a sport often indulged in by the native Californians, who were among the most skilful horsemen in the world and marvelously expert with their lassos or reatas, as they called the long rope, usually made of hide or woven horsehair, which they used to catch their horses and cattle; and Thure Conroyal and Bud Randolph had become as expert as any native with their reatas, and, consequently, felt equal to the roping of even as ferocious and as huge a beast as El Feroz himself, the most dreaded grizzly in the California mountains.
Thure and Bud rode slowly toward the grizzly, one turning a little to the left and the other to the right as he advanced, so that when they drew near to El Feroz there were some five rods of space between them. They had fastened their rifles to the saddles in front of them, to hold them safe and yet have them where they could be quickly seized in case of sudden need and to give them free use of both of their hands in throwing their ropes and in managing their horses; and now, as they advanced toward the bear, they uncoiled their reatas and began slowly swinging the loops around their heads in readiness for the throw, while every faculty of their minds quickened and every muscle of their young bodies tightened in expectation of the coming battle that might mean death to one or both, if either blundered.
The grizzly glared furiously, first at one horseman then at the other, and tore more savagely than ever at the flesh of the horse, until both boys were almost upon him. Then, with a roar so savage and fearful that both horses, well-trained as they were, jumped violently, he reared up suddenly on his hind legs, the blood of the horse dripping from his reddened teeth, and, growling ferociously and swaying his huge head from side to side, he stood, for a moment, apparently trying to decide which one of those two venturesome humans he should tear to pieces first.
"Quick! Rope him around the neck before he charges!" yelled Thure. "I'll try to get one of his hind legs."
As Thure spoke Bud's lasso shot through the air; and the loop glided swiftly over the great head and tightened suddenly around the hairy neck, just at the moment the bear came to the decision to charge Thure and sprang toward him, with the result that the sudden unexpectedness of the jerk of Bud's rope yanked him off his feet and hurled him on his back.
Thure instantly saw his opportunity and before the huge beast could right himself, he had swiftly cast the loop of his rope around one of the sprawling hind legs and drawn it tight.
"Hurrah! We've got him!" yelled Bud triumphantly, as Gray Cloud whirled about and stood facing the grizzly, his strong body braced backward so that he held the rope taut, as all well-broken California horses were trained to do the moment the thrown rope caught its victim.
"Got him! You bet we've got him!" echoed Thure, as his own horse whirled into position, with both front legs strongly braced, and drew the lasso tight about bruin's hind leg, thus stretching him out between the ends of the two reatas.
But they had not "got him"—not yet; for, just at that moment, all the ferocious bulk of raging bone and muscle that had given El Feroz his name of terror, gave a tremendous heave, whirled over on its feet; and, before either boy knew what was happening, Bud's lasso broke and about a ton of angry bear was hurling itself toward Thure.
The unforeseen mischance had happened with a vengeance!
Bud uttered a yell of warning and horror and caught at his rifle; but, almost before his hands could touch the gun, El Feroz was upon Thure and only a tremendous jump sideways of his brave little horse saved him from the sweep of one of those saber-armed paws.
The grizzly bear, for an animal of his huge bulk, is astonishingly agile and speedy, when once his fighting blood is aroused; and, if ever a grizzly was fighting mad, that grizzly was now El Feroz. The instant he saw that he had missed the horse and man, he whirled about and was after them again; and, so swift was his turn and so sudden his charge, that, once again, only the superior horsemanship of Thure and the agility of the horse saved them from a sweeping blow of one of the great paws that came so close that Thure could feel the rush of its wind against his face.
"Out run him! Out run him!" yelled Bud excitedly. "Try to throw him with your rope; and I'll see if I can get a bullet in him," and he suddenly jerked up Gray Cloud, so that he could make his aim more sure, threw his rifle to his shoulder, and fired.
The ball struck the grizzly, but did not disable him. Indeed, the wound seemed rather to increase the terrible energy and rage with which he was striving to reach Thure and his horse with one of those powerful paws; and, for a dreadful moment, it appeared to Bud as if the huge beast might even overtake the speedy horse. Then he saw that Thure was slowly gaining, that the rope, which still clutched the hind leg of the grizzly, was slowly tightening; and, with breathless haste, he began reloading his rifle. He had had all the roping of El Feroz he wanted; and now his only desire was to get a bullet into the huge body, where it would kill quickly, as speedily as possible. Suddenly, just as he was driving the bullet down into the barrel of his rifle, he heard a wild yell of exultation from Thure, and looked up just in time to see the hind part of the grizzly shoot upward into the air; and the next moment his astonished eyes saw the huge body dangling from a strong limb of an old oak tree, that thrust itself out from the sturdy trunk some fifteen feet above the ground, and held there by the grip of Thure's rope around one of the hind legs.
It needed but a glance for Bud to understand how this seemingly marvelous feat had been accomplished. The quick eyes of Thure had seen the tree, with its sturdy limb thrust out some fifteen feet above the ground, almost directly in the line of his flight; and, swerving a little to one side, so as to pass close to it, and slowing up his horse a bit, he had gathered up the slack of the rope in his hand, and, as he passed the tree, he had thrown it so that the middle of the rope had fallen over the top of the limb not far from the trunk; and then, of course, the rope had jerked the bear up into the air, and Thure had whirled his horse about, and now the well-trained animal stood, his fore legs braced, holding the struggling grizzly up to the limb.
"Shoot, shoot him quick, before the limb or the rope breaks!" yelled Bud, the moment his eyes had taken in the situation, and, ramming the bullet swiftly home, he spurred Gray Cloud toward the dangling bear.
Thure at once seized his rifle; but so furious were the struggles of the grizzly—he hung just so that his fore paws touched the ground—as he twisted and turned and frantically pawed up the dirt, insane with rage, that it was impossible to get accurate aim from where he sat on his horse; and Thure jumped from his saddle and ran quickly close up to the swinging grizzly, now struggling more furiously than ever at the near approach of his hated enemy.
"Don't! Look out! Can't you see how the limb is bending and shaking?" yelled Bud excitedly. "The limb or the rope might break at any moment!" and Bud shuddered at the horror of the thought of what then might happen and urged his horse more desperately than ever toward the scene.
And, indeed, the huge body of the grizzly, twisting and swinging at the end of the rope, the blood flowing from the wound made by Bud's bullet, his little red eyes glowing like coals of fire, his strong jaws snapping and growling, and his huge paws striking furiously in the direction of Thure, did make a sight to chill the marrow in the bones of any man.
Thure, now that he was so close to the bear that he could have touched him with the muzzle of his rifle, realized that, in his haste, he had done a fool-hardy thing; but he was not the kind of a lad to back down from a position once taken, not until he had to do so, and, quickly bringing his rifle to his shoulder, he waited until the swaying body presented a fatal spot to his aim, pulled the trigger, and leaped backward from the bear.
It was fortunate for Thure that he made that backward jump; for, at the crack of his rifle, El Feroz made such a tremendous lunge toward him, that the creaking limb bent nearly double, and, with a sound like the report of a gun, broke off close to the trunk and crashed to the ground on top of the grizzly.
For a moment El Feroz lay stunned by his wounds and fall and the crash of the heavy limb; and then, with a roar, he struggled to his feet, just as Bud jerked Gray Cloud to a halt not a rod away, and, instantly throwing his rifle to his shoulder, fired. Even then the ferocious beast plunged desperately toward his new enemy, staggering blindly, and fell dead on the exact spot where Thure had stood.
"Jumping buffaloes, but that was a narrow escape for you, Thure!" and, throwing himself out of his saddle, Bud rushed up to where Thure stood, white and trembling, now that the danger was over, not ten feet from where the bear lay dead.
"But, we've got him! Got El Feroz himself!" and the blood surged back to Thure's face. "The biggest grizzly in all California! Say, but won't the Mexicans and the Indians think we are great hunters now? And won't Ruth and Iola stare, when we throw down the hide of El Feroz in front of them to-night?"
No wonder Thure felt a little vainglorious over their achievement; for there was not a hunter in all that country who would not have considered the killing of El Feroz the crowning exploit of his life, so great had become the monster grizzly's reputation for savage ferocity and fearlessness of man.
"Well, I reckon we won't do any more hunting to-day," Bud declared, as he began swiftly reloading his rifle. In that country at that time no experienced hunter ever allowed his rifle to remain unloaded a moment longer than was necessary. "When we get the hide off that monster, it will be time to be starting for home," and his eyes turned to the dead grizzly. "Whew, but isn't he a whopper! I'll bet that he will weigh nearly a ton! You are right, the girls will be surprised some, when we throw down that hide in front of them," and his face flushed a little at the thought of the glory that would soon be theirs. "But, come, now that our guns are loaded, let's get busy with our knives and get this big hide off," and, pulling out his hunting-knife from its sheath, he bent over the huge carcass of El Feroz.
"I'll be with you as soon as I free Buck," and Thure, slipping the noose of his reata off the hind leg of the dead grizzly and coiling it around his arm, hastened to where his gallant little horse still stood; and, after fastening the rope in its place on the pommel of the saddle, he hurried back to where Bud was bending over the grizzly.
There was no need of tying their horses. All the rope required to hold them fast was the rope of love they bore their young masters, and so the two animals were left free, while the two boys busied themselves getting the pelt off the bear.
The skinning of a grizzly bear, especially when the bear is as huge and as tough as was El Feroz, is no light undertaking; but Thure and Bud were no novices at this kind of labor, and, after half an hour's hard work, the great pelt was off and stretched out on the ground, skin side up.
"There, I am glad that job is done!" Thure exclaimed, with satisfaction, as he wiped his bloody knife on the grass. "Say, but he sure was a whopper!" and his eyes glanced exultantly over the great hide, now looking larger than ever as it lay spread out on the grass. "Great Moses, look at all those old bullet marks!—Fifteen of them! No wonder that Mexican Juan thought El Feroz was protected by the devil!—Hello, what is the matter now?" and Thure jumped up quickly from the hide, over which he had been bending counting El Feroz's old bullet wounds, at a sudden exclamation of alarm from Bud.
"There! There! Look there!" Bud was pointing excitedly up the valley.
"Mother of men, they are murdering him!" "Come on!" and Thure, grabbing up his rifle, made a jump for his horse, followed by Bud.
Three-quarters of a mile up the valley from where our young friends had slain the big grizzly, a spur of rocks projected down into the valley, reaching like a long finger almost to the fringe of trees along the creek; and around this spur of rocks three men had slowly ridden, and, just as they had come in sight from where the boys stood, Bud, whose eyes had happened to be turned in that direction, had seen two of the men suddenly and apparently without warning set upon the third man and, after a short struggle, knock him off his horse. It was this sight that had caused his sudden cry of alarm, followed by Thure's exclamation of horror, "They are murdering him!" and the quick jump of both boys for their horses.
It took Thure and Bud less than a minute to reach their horses and to spring up into their saddles; but, in that brief time, the unequal struggle up the valley was over, and the two men were bending over the prostrate body of their victim, apparently searching for valuables, when the two boys, with loud yells, spurred their horses at full speed toward them.
At the sound of their voices, the two men looked suddenly up, saw them coming, hastily grabbed up a few things from the ground, evidently taken from the man they were robbing, jumped to their feet, sprang on the backs of their horses, and, before either boy was near enough to shoot, both had disappeared around the spur of rocks, lashing and spurring their horses frantically.
Thure and Bud jerked up their horses by the side of the fallen man and, jumping from their saddles, bent quickly over him.
"They've murdered him!" cried Bud, the moment his horrified eyes saw the white face and the bloodstained breast of the stricken man. "They have stabbed him! The cowardly curs!"
"No, he is not dead! I can feel his heart beat. The stab was too low to reach his heart. Quick, we must do something to stop this flow of blood, or he soon will be dead," and Thure tore open the bosom of the rough flannel shirt, exposing the red mouth of a knife wound from which the blood was flowing freely.
Thure and Bud were both familiar with the rough surgery of the plains and the mountains; and soon their deft hands had swiftly untied the silk scarfs from around their necks, plugged the wound with one of them and used the other to tightly bind and hold it in place.
"There, I think that will stop the blood! Now, let's see what other hurts he has," and Thure passed his hands gently over the man's head. "Two bumps—whoppers! Either enough to knock the senses out of an ox; but, I reckon, they've done no mortal damage. It's the stab wound that I am most afraid of. What do you make out of it all anyway?" and Thure turned to Bud.
"Plain robbery and attempted murder," Bud answered gravely. "The man is evidently a miner," and his eyes rested on the long unkempt hair and beard, the weather-bronzed skin, and the rough worn clothing of the wounded man; "and was, probably, on his way from the mines to San Francisco with his gold-dust, when those two cowardly curs met him and, finding out that he was from the mines, attempted to murder him for his gold."
"Reckon you're right," agreed Thure. "Leastwise there's no use of speculating over it longer now. The thing to do is to get him home as soon as we can. Mother is powerful good doctoring hurts. Just see if you can get him up on the saddle in front of me. I reckon that'll be the safest way to carry him," and Thure mounted his horse, while Bud thrust his sturdy young arms under the body of the insensible man and, as gently as possible, lifted him to the saddle, where the strong arms of Thure held him as comfortably as possible.
"Now, I'll strike out straight for home," Thure said, as he started Buck off on a walk with his double burden; "and you can ride back and get the hide of El Feroz, and soon catch up with me."
"All right. I'll be with you again as soon as I can," and Bud sprang on the back of Gray Cloud and started off on a gallop for the scene of the contest with the grizzly.
How wonderful it is that the tenor of our whole after lives may be, nay, frequently is, completely changed by some seemingly unimportant circumstance or unexpected happening. If Thure Conroyal and Bud Randolph had not heard the death-cry of that horse and had not turned aside to see what had caused those agonizing sounds, they would not have been delayed, by their contest with the grizzly, until the coming of the three men, nor have witnessed the attack on the miner; and, if they had not seen this attack on the miner and hurried to his rescue, they never would have heard the miner's marvelous tale, nor have secured the skin map; and, if they had not heard the miner's tale and secured the skin map—But, I must let the story itself tell you all that resulted from these unexpected and seemingly unimportant happenings.
DEATH OF THE MINER
California and 1849! Magical combination of Place and Date! The Land of Gold and the Time of Gold! The Date and the Place of the opening of Nature's richest treasure-house! Gold—free for all who would stoop and pick or dig it out of the rocks and the dirt! The beginning of the most wonderful exodus of gold-mad men in the history of the world! "Gold! Gold!! GOLD!!! CALIFORNIA GOLD!" The nations of the world heard the cry; and the most enterprising and daring and venturesome—the wicked as well as the good—of the nations of the world started straightway for California. Towns and cities sprang up, like mushrooms, in a night, where the day before the grizzly bear had hunted. In a year a wilderness became a populous state. A marvelous work to accomplish, even for an Anglo-Saxon-American nation; but, get down your histories of California, boys, and you will learn that we did accomplish that very thing—built a great state out of a wilderness in some twelve months of time!
Of course, Thure and Bud (Bud with the grizzly's hide had soon overtaken Thure), as they rode along over the soft grass of the Sacramento Valley, on this clear July afternoon of the eventful year of 1849, did not realize that all these wonderful things were happening or were about to happen in their loved California. They knew that a great gold discovery had been made in the region of the American River some forty miles northeast of Sutter's Fort. Indeed, for the last year, all California had gone gold-mad over this same discovery; and now every able-bodied man in the country, who could possibly get there, was at the mines. Stores, ranches, ships, pulpits, all businesses and all professions had been deserted for the alluring smiles of the yellow god, gold, until it might be truthfully said, that in all California there was but one business and that one business was gold-digging.
The devastating gold-fever had swept over the Conroyal and the Randolph ranchos; and had left, of all the grown-up males, only Thure and Bud, who, not yet being of age, had been compelled to stay, much against their wills, to care for the women folks and the ranchos, while their fathers and brothers and all the able-bodied help had rushed off, like madmen, to the mines; and only their loyalty to their loved mothers and fathers had kept them from following. Now, the one great hope of their lives was to win permission to go to the mines, where men were winning fortunes in a day, and try their luck at gold-digging.
The Conroyal rancho, the Randolph and the Conroyal families had united, when the men went to the mines, and both families were now living at the Conroyal rancho, was some five miles from the scene of the robbery and attempted murder of the miner; and, for the first two miles of the homeward ride, the wounded man lay unconscious and motionless in Thure's arms. Then he began to move restlessly and to mutter unintelligible things.
"He sure isn't dead," Thure declared, as the struggles of the man nearly pitched both of them out of the saddle. "Just give me a hand, Bud; for, I reckon, we'll have to lower him to the ground until he gets his right senses back or quits this twitching and jerking. I am afraid he will start the wound to bleeding again."
Bud quickly sprang off the back of his horse; and together and as gently as possible the two boys lowered the wounded miner from the saddle and laid him down on a little mound of grass. A few rods away a small stream of water wound its way, half-hidden by tall grass and bushes and low trees, through the little valley where they had stopped.
"Get your hat full of water," Thure said, as he bent down to see if the bandage over the wound was still in its place. "Seems to me he ought to be getting his senses back by this time."
Bud at once started off on the run for the water and soon was back with his broad-brimmed felt hat full of the cooling fluid; and, kneeling down by the side of the wounded man, who now lay quiet, with eyes closed, although he was still muttering incoherently, he bathed the hot forehead and the swollen lumps on the back of his head.
Suddenly the miner's eyes opened and stared wonderingly around him and up into the faces of the two boys. For a minute he did not seem to be able to comprehend what had happened. Then the blank wondering look suddenly left his eyes.
"Did they get the gold?" and his hand went quickly to his waist. There was no belt there. "Gone! A good twenty pounds of as fine gold as was ever dug from the earth, gone!—Gods, if they had but given me any kind of a show, they would not have got it so easily!" and his eyes flamed and he attempted to sit up, but fell back with a groan and a whitening face.
For a minute or two he lay with eyes closed, breathing heavily. Evidently he was trying to collect his thoughts, to realize his situation. When he opened his eyes again there was a solemn, an awed look in them that had not been there before, and the anger had gone.
"I have been stabbed," he said slowly, "and I am dying."
"No, no. The knife did not go near your heart. It struck too low. You will soon be all right again. Wait until we get you home and mother will soon make a whole man of you. Mother is about the best nurse in all California," and Thure gripped one of the hard toil-worn hands and smiled encouragingly.
"No." As the man spoke his eyes never once left Thure's face. "No, I am dying. I know. I was once a surgeon, an army surgeon." For a moment his eyes darkened, as if with bitter recollections. "But, what matters the past now? Let it bury its dead," and he smiled grimly. "This is death. I know. I have seen many die just this way. Internal hemorrhage, we doctors called it. The blood from the wound is flowing into my body. I can feel it. I have half an hour, possibly an hour to live; and then—" The awed look in the eyes deepened, and, for a couple of minutes, he did not speak, but lay staring straight up into the blue skies. Suddenly his white lips tightened and he turned to Thure.
"How far is it to your home and to your mother?" he asked abruptly.
"About three miles; but I can carry you so easily that I am sure—"
"Too far," the wounded man broke in impatiently. "I might die before I got there. No, this shall be my deathbed—the soft green grass, canopied by the blue skies—a fitting end, a fitting end," he added gloomily.
"Come, come," and Thure tried to make his voice sound cheery and full of hope. "Never say die, until you are dead. Just wait until we get home and mother will put new life into you. Now, I'll get on my horse, and Bud will lift you up into my arms, and we'll be home before you know it," and Thure jumped to his feet and started toward his horse.
"No, come back," and the miner impatiently lifted himself up on one elbow. "Come back. I have no time to waste riding three miles for a deathbed. I—" Again the keen eyes searched the faces of the two boys. "I have much to say and little time in which to say it. Get that bearskin off your horse and make me as comfortable as possible on it. And be quick about it; for I am going fast, and, before I go, I want to make you two boys my heirs for saving me from those two villains. The cowardly curs! They hit me from behind!" and again the eyes flamed with anger. "They got the gold I had with me and they got me; but they did not get the secret of Crooked Arm Gulch, nor learn how to find its Golden Elbow. Curse them! If I could but live, I'd—But, what's the use?" and he sank back white-lipped on the grass. "That knife stab in the breast has done for me. And just when the golden key that unlocks all the doors of pleasure and power was tight-gripped in my very fingers! Just my luck! But," and the look of somber resignation came back into the pain-racked eyes, "I'll not die like a snarling, whining coyote. I'll meet death, as I have met life—face to face, with both eyes wide open. Now," and he turned to Bud, who had hurried to his horse and, unloosening the bear-skin, had hastened back with it and spread it out on the grass, soft hair up, by the side of the wounded man, "lay me on the skin and stuff something under my head and shoulders, so as to keep the blood from flooding my lungs and heart as long as possible; for I have that to tell that must not wait, even for death," and the white lips tightened firmly.
Thure and Bud, anxious to do everything possible to ease the last moments of the dying man, now carefully lifted him and laid him down on the skin of the grizzly bear as gently as possible. Then, taking off one of the saddles and their own coats, they placed the saddle, softened by the folded coats and the bearskin, under the head and the shoulders of the miner; and only the white tight-drawn lips and the burning eyes told of the intense pain that he must have suffered while the change was being made.
For a couple of minutes the wounded man lay silent on the bearskin, with closed eyes, breathing heavily. Then he suddenly opened his eyes and turned them resolutely on the two boys, who stood, one on each side, bending anxiously over him.
"There, that is better," he said. "That is all you can do for me. Now, sit down close to my head, so that you can hear every word that I say; for never did dying lips have a more important message to utter, never did mortal leave a richer inheritance to mortal than I am about to leave to you. Gold—a cave paved with gold! Gold—a cave walled with seams of gold! Gold—bushels, barrels of gold nuggets, to be picked up, as you pick up pebbles from the stony bed of a river! Gods, if I could but live!" Again the blood flushed back into the white cheeks and the eyes glowed with feverish excitement.
"There! There!" and Thure laid a cool hand on the hot forehead. "Never mind the gold now. When you have rested a bit and have recovered some of your strength, Bud and I will rig up a stretcher out of the bearskin and carry you home between us; and then, when you are comfortably fixed in a soft bed, you can tell us all about this wonderful cave of gold."
No wonder Thure thought all this wild talk about the marvelous cave of gold but the delirium of a dying man and tried to quiet the sufferer; but the miner would not be quieted, and, roughly brushing the hand from his forehead, he turned his glowing eyes full on Thure's face.
"You think I am raving," he said, "that this cave of gold exists only in the disordered fancy of a dying man. Well, I will show you. Thrust your hand under my shirt, beneath my right shoulder, and pull out the small bag you will find there. Quick!" he cried impatiently, as Thure hesitated. "You forget that I am a dying man and have not a minute of time to waste."
Thus admonished, Thure hastily thrust his right hand under the miner's shirt, as directed, and pulled out a small buckskin bag, fastened by a buckskin thong about the miner's shoulder. The weight of the bag, for it was only some seven inches long by three inches wide, surprised him.
"Cut the strings and open the bag," commanded the miner.
Thure quickly did as bidden.
"Now, see what is inside of the bag."
Thure thrust his hand into the bag and drew out a long, tightly rolled piece of white parchment-like skin.
"That is the skin map. Never mind that now. Turn the bag bottom side up and shake it."
Thure caught hold of the bottom of the bag with his fingers, turned it over and gave it a vigorous shake; and then sat staring wildly at the object that had fallen, with a thud, on the bearskin by his side. He was looking at a solid nugget of gold nearly as large as, and shaped very much like his fist!
"Pick it up! Lift it!" urged the miner, his eyes shining with excitement. "It is gold, pure, virgin gold, just as God made it! I picked it up off the bottom of the cave, where there are thousands of other smaller nuggets. In the light of my torch they sparkled and shone until the floor of the cave seemed flooded with golden light. In the two hours I was there I gathered up the Five Thousand Dollars' worth of gold nuggets the robbers stole from me and that nugget, all that I dared take with me; for the way out of Crooked Arm Gulch is not a road over which a man more heavily burdened would care to venture. I had no food with me, no horses; and I must hurry back, where food, on which to live, and horses, on which to carry my supplies to the cave and the gold away from it, could be bought. I—"
"And you found this hunk of gold on the floor of that cave?" Thure who had been lifting and examining the nugget with widening eyes, could control his excitement no longer. "And you say that there are thousands of other nuggets where this came from?"
"Yes, yes! I have been telling you God's truth," and the face grew white and drawn with pain again. "But, don't interrupt me. I—I have only a few minutes left. The nugget, the gold, all is yours. I—I bequeath it to you with my dying breath. The map—the skin map—will tell you where to find it—North—northeast from Hangtown—a good five days' tramp—No miners there yet—Deep—steep canyon—Lot's Canyon—Tall white pillar of rock standing near Crooked Arm Gulch—Must look—sharp—to find gulch opening—Blocked by great—rocks—Big tree—Climb to third limb. Remember—climb to third limb—third limb—third—My God!—My God!" and both hands clutched madly at his throat.
His breath was now coming in quick heaving gasps; and only by a supreme effort of will was he able longer to command his wavering reason.
"Quick—quick," he gasped, his voice coming in a hoarse whisper. "Bend your heads close. Beware of the two men who robbed and murdered me—I—I told—them of the cave of gold; but I did—did not tell them where it is; and—and they—can—cannot find it without the skin map—They—they murdered me for—for that map; but they did not get it—It—it was not in—in my money-belt, as they thought. Guard that map—They—they would kill—kill you to get it. One is a huge red-haired man with a broken nose—The other is—is small, with pock-marked face—Beware—beware pock—pock-marked face and—and broken nose—I—God—I—"
Again he clutched violently at his throat; and then a great wondering look of awe came into his eyes, now staring straight up into the blue skies, and his form stiffened suddenly.
Thure and Bud could endure the dreadful sight no longer and turned their horrified eyes away; and, when, a couple of minutes later, they again looked on the face of the miner, he was dead, with a smile on his grim lips and a look of peace on his face, as if the coming of Death, at the very last, had been a most pleasant and joyous event.
THE SKIN MAP
No mortal can look on death unmoved. Savage or civilized, Christian or pagan, a great awe, a questioning wonder thrills the spirits of all who stand in the presence of the dread, unsolvable mystery, death. The soul asks questions that cannot be answered, that the ages have left unanswered. And, as Thure and Bud now stood, with uncovered heads, looking down on the quiet, peaceful face and the motionless, rigid form of the dead miner, the world-old awe and wondering concerning death thrilled their hearts. For a couple of minutes neither spoke, neither moved. Then Thure's eyes sought the face of Bud.
"He is dead," he said solemnly.
"He is dead," answered Bud, not moving his awed eyes from the still face.
"Dead!" and Thure bent and reverently straightened out the bent legs and arms and smoothed back the matted hair from the forehead. "Dead, yes, as dead as a stone; and yet a few minutes ago he was breathing and talking! What a queer thing life is anyhow! Well, it won't do neither him nor us any good to stand here thinking and talking about it. Now we must get the body to the house and give it as decent a burial as possible. I'll carry the body across the saddle in front of me. Come, let's hurry. I am getting anxious to have it over."
For the moment, so great had been the shock of the miner's sudden death, Thure and Bud had forgotten all about the dead man's marvelous tale of the Cave of Gold; but now, as Bud stooped to help lift the body from the bearskin, his eyes caught the yellow glow of the gold nugget, which lay on the skin by the side of its unfortunate finder, and the sight recalled the wondrous tale.
"What do you think of his story about finding that nugget in a cave where the floor is covered with gold nuggets as thickly as pebbles on the bed of a stony river? Do you suppose it is true or, just one of the queer notions that sometimes come to the dying?" and Bud looked wonderingly from the nugget to Thure's face.
"Great Moses, I forgot all about the gold!" and Thure's face flushed with excitement. "Quick, let's get the body on the grass and then we'll have another look at the nugget. That was a powerful queer story he told; but it might be true. And if it is true," and his eyes sparkled, "then we've just got to go to the mines and hunt up our dads and the others and get them to help us find that cave."
In a moment more they had lifted the body off the bearskin and had laid it down on the grass; and the gold nugget was in their hands.
"Glory! But isn't it heavy?" and Bud balanced the nugget in one hand. "And it looks and feels and weighs like gold! It must be gold."
"It sure does look like gold," agreed Thure. "It looks and feels just like the nuggets dad sent home, only larger. Oh, if we only could find the cave where it came from! Let me see, he said that it was in the Golden Elbow of Crooked Arm Gulch, in Lot's Canyon, near a white pillar of rock and a big tree that we must climb to the third limb—a mighty queer place I call that to find a cave! I reckon he must have been lunaticy," and Thure turned a disappointed face to Bud.
"Well, he certainly found gold, and this proves it," and Bud tossed the big nugget up in the air and caught it as it came down, "to say nothing of the five thousand dollars' worth of gold nuggets that he claims his murderers stole from him. But, didn't he say something about a map, a skin map, that would tell us how to find the cave?" and his face lighted.
"Yes, yes, that was the little roll of white skin I pulled first out of the bag," and Thure's eyes searched eagerly the ground. "Here it is!" and, stooping quickly, he picked up the little roll of white parchment-like skin that he had pulled out of the little bag and dropped on the ground, and began unrolling it with fingers that trembled with excitement, while Bud crowded close to his side, his eyes on the unrolling piece of tanned skin.
The skin was some ten inches long by seven inches wide, of a somewhat stiff texture, and tanned so that it was nearly white. On the inner side an unskilled hand had rudely drawn a map; and beneath the map was written the words:
Map, showing the location of the Cave of Gold in the Golden Elbow of Crooked Arm Gulch, which opens into Lot's Canyon near the white pillar of rock and the big tree, made by John Stackpole, the discoverer of the Cave of Gold.—1849.
In the lower left-hand corner of the map was a rudely drawn tree, with three huge limbs, and, from near the end of the upper and third limb, an arrow pointed slantingly downward, away from the trunk of the tree. In the lower right-hand corner was a hand holding a flaming torch. Between the tree and the torch was a cross, marked with the four main points of the compass. In the lower left-hand corner of the map itself was a small circle, marked "Hangtown"; and from there a crooked line trailed in a northeasterly direction to the upper right-hand quarter of the skin, where a map of Lot's Canyon and Crooked Arm Gulch was drawn with considerable detail.
For a couple of minutes the two boys studied this map in silence, while the conviction that the Cave of Gold was no deathbed hallucination, but a wonderful reality, grew upon them; or else, how came the skin map, which evidently had been made many days ago?
"Hangtown!" and Thure pointed excitedly to the name on the map. "That's the name of the mining camp where dad was when he wrote last. And here," and his finger followed up the trail marked on the map, "is Lot's Canyon! and the Big Tree! and Crooked Arm Gulch! and the Golden Elbow! and—and this black spot, marked 'cave,' right at the point of the Golden Elbow, must be the Cave of Gold! Great Moses, but I believe the miner did actually find that Cave of Gold, just as he said he did!" and Thure's eyes and face glowed with excitement.
"So do I," Bud agreed emphatically. "The skin map, the gold nugget—why, even his murder! all go to prove the truth of his tale. The robbers killed him to get this map. They could have got the gold without killing and got away all right; but they knew of the Cave of Gold and the map—the miner said he told them—and, expecting to get the map along with the gold, they killed him to get him out of the way, so that they could have all the gold in the cave to themselves. Say, but let's hurry home and tell our mothers. They can't refuse to let us go to the mines now! And we must start just as soon as possible. Come," and, for the moment, in his excitement, forgetting the dead body of the miner, he started to mount his horse.
"But, we can't leave him there!" and Thure pointed to the body. "Just help me to get him up on the horse in front of me and then we'll get home as soon as possible," and, picking up the little buckskin bag, he slipped the nugget and the map back into it, thrust it into his pocket, and soon, with the help of Bud, was on his horse, with the body of the dead miner in front of him.
Bud now quickly threw the grizzly bearskin back on his horse, jumped into his saddle, and the homeward journey was resumed.
AT THE CONROYAL RANCHO
When Thure, bearing in his arms the dead body of a man, and Bud, with the huge skin of a grizzly bear hanging across the back of his horse behind the saddle, rode into the open court in front of the Conroyal rancho, there was great excitement; and, even before they could dismount, they were surrounded by a crowd of gesticulating, question-shouting women and children and old decrepit men, all wild with curiosity to know what had happened. In the midst of all this excitement, the door of the house was flung open and two young ladies catapulted themselves through the crowd to where Thure and Bud sat on their horses.
"Mercy! What has happened?" and Iola Conroyal, her horrified eyes fixed on the face of the dead miner, came to a sudden halt by the side of Thure, with Ruth Randolph, round-eyed and white-faced, clinging to one of her arms. "Is—is he dead?"
"Yes, he is dead," Thure answered gravely. "Murdered for his gold." Then, seeing how white the faces of the two girls had suddenly grown, he added quickly: "You girls hurry right back into the house and tell your mothers that we found a miner, who had been robbed and stabbed, and started to bring him home with us, but that he died before we got here; and ask them to have some blankets laid on the floor of the sala for the body to lie on and a sheet to cover it. Now, hurry. We'll tell you how it all happened later," and not until the two girls were back in the house did Thure make a move to get rid of his ghastly burden. Then, reverently the body of the dead miner was lowered from the horse, and borne into the large hall-like room of the house known as the sala, and laid down on the blankets there prepared for it, and covered over with a sheet.
In the meantime Bud had thrown the great hide of the grizzly to the ground with the information that it was the skin of El Feroz himself.
"How did you kill him?" "Who shot him?" and, with shouts of wonder and delight, all the men and the boys, who had not gone into the sala with the body of the dead miner, crowded around the skin of the fallen monarch.
"Thure and I found the old villain just after he had killed a horse, and shot him," Bud answered hastily, anxious to get to his mother with the wonderful news of the Cave of Gold as quickly as possible. "Here, Angelo!" and he turned to a young Mexican boy standing near, "Take my horse and see that he is properly cared for. And you, Juan, take the hide of El Feroz and let us see how fine a robe you can make out of it."
"Si, si, senor," answered the old Mexican exultingly. "He, the ugly brute, kill my wife's brother, Pedro, whom I, like my own brother, loved, and 'twill give my soul peace one fine robe to make out of his big skin. A great glory, the killing of El Feroz, senor," and his old eyes kindled. "Your fame like a swift horse will travel."
"Shucks! Any hunter could have got him the same as we did," and Bud hurried into the house, all care for the glory of killing El Feroz having been driven out of his head by the dying miner's remarkable revelations.
At the door of the house Bud was met by his mother and Mrs. Conroyal, with Ruth and Iola close behind them. The bringing of the dead body of the murdered miner into the house had greatly excited both women.
"My son," Mrs. Randolph cried the moment she caught sight of Bud, "what means this tale of murder and robbery and the bringing of the dead body of a strange man into the house?"
"Oh, mother, mother," and Bud excitedly caught hold of his mother's hand, "the most wonderful, the most marvelous thing has happened!"
"What?" and the astonished and horrified woman caught hold of both of his shoulders and shook him. "Have you gone clean crazy, Bud Randolph, to speak of murder and robbery like that?"
"I—I," stammered Bud, "I forgot the dead miner. We were too late to save him; but he lived long enough to tell us—" He stopped abruptly and glanced swiftly around the room. The secret of the Cave of Gold must not be proclaimed from the housetops! There was no one in the room with himself, but the two women and the two girls. "Mother, Mrs. Conroyal," he continued, lowering his voice, "the old miner before he died told Thure and me of a wonderful Cave of Gold that he had discovered in a gulch somewhere in the mountains; and he made Thure and me his heirs, and gave us a map, showing the way to the cave, and a huge gold nugget, which the robbers did not get, that he said he had found in the cave, and he—But here is Thure! He has the—"
"Hush! Not so loud!" and Thure, who at that moment stepped into the room from the sala, where the body of the dead miner lay, lifted a warning hand. "There are many ears in there," and he pointed to the door he had just closed behind him, "that must not hear what we have to tell. Come, let us go to your room, mother, where there won't be any danger of what we have to tell you being overheard," and he started for Mrs. Conroyal's private room, followed by Bud and the two wondering women and the girls.
"I—I," and Thure stopped at the door of his mother's room and looked hesitatingly at Iola and Ruth, "I—I reckon it is too great a secret to tell you two girls just now. You had better wait—"
"No!"—"No!" broke in both girls indignantly, while Ruth, looking as if she would like to box Thure's ears, declared:
"We girls can keep a secret just as well as you boys can, and you know it; for, haven't we saved you from many a licking by not telling your dads what you had been up to? But if this is the way you are going to treat us, we'll fix you next time," and she shook her head threateningly.
"Besides," supplemented Iola triumphantly, "we know most of the secret already. It's about a Cave of Gold and a map and—"
"Oh, Christmas! You couldn't keep nothing from the girls!" and the face Thure turned to Bud showed his disgust.
"Well, I reckon the secret is just as safe with them as it is with us," protested Bud stoutly, flushing a little, "especially when they know how important it is to keep it secret. You will never tell a word of it to anybody, will you girls? It—it might mean murder, if you did."
"No, no," affirmed Iola emphatically. "We'll not breathe a word of it to a living human being. We'll die first. We'll not disappoint your trust in us, Bud," and she glanced a bit scornfully from Bud to her brother. "Will we, Ruth?"
"Never," and Ruth's red lips closed tightly over her pearly teeth. "Do you suppose we'd betray those we love?" and her eyes flashed indignantly.
"All right. See that you don't, then," and Thure's face cleared. To tell the truth he was just a little ashamed of the lack of confidence he had shown in his sister and Ruth. "Anyhow, you know so much now that you might as well be told the rest, so come on," and he opened the door and carefully closed and locked it, when all had entered the room.
It did not take many minutes for the two eager boys to tell the story of the day's remarkable experiences, from the killing of the great grizzly to the death of the old miner; for the narrative, under the lash of their active tongues, proceeded in running jumps, from the beginning to the end and was never allowed to lag an instant.
"And now," concluded Thure excitedly, when the last of the wonderful tale had been told, "Bud and I must both start for the mines just as soon as we can get ready; and get father and Rex and Dill and Uncle Frank and Hammer Jones to help us find this Cave of Gold; and when we have found it—"
"But," broke in Mrs. Conroyal, smiling at Thure's enthusiasm, although her own face was flushed and her eyes were sparkling with excitement, "where is this wonderful gold nugget and skin map, that you tell us the miner gave you in proof of his remarkable story? You seem to forget that you have not yet shown us your proof."
"Here, here it is!" and the excited boy thrust one hand into his pocket and triumphantly pulled out the small buckskin bag; and, swiftly turning the bag bottom side up, dumped its contents into his mother's lap; and the next moment, the two women and the two girls were as excitedly examining the big nugget and the rude skin map as ever they had been examined by the two boys.
"And the miner told you that the bottom of the cave was covered with gold nuggets like this?" queried Mrs. Randolph, her eyes shining, as she held up the nugget.
"Yes, yes," answered Bud. "Thousands of them, only smaller. Of course he picked up the biggest that he could see. We can go to the mines now, can't we, mother?"
"And this queer skin map tells you how to find this wonderful Cave of Gold?" and Mrs. Conroyal spread out the map on her lap and stared wonderingly at it. "I can't see how all this jumble of crooked lines and letters can tell you anything."
"Why, it's easy, mother," and Thure bent eagerly over the map. "You see you start from Hangtown and go in a northeasterly direction to Humbug Canyon and Three Tree Mountain and Goose Neck Lake and the Devil's Slide to Lot's Canyon; and then up Lot's Canyon until you come to Crooked Arm Gulch, and then up Crooked Arm Gulch until you come to the Golden Elbow; and the cave, you see, is right in the point of the elbow," and Thure's finger rested excitedly on the black spot on the map marked "cave." "The cave is about five days from Hangtown, the miner said. We can go to the mines now, can't we, mother?"
"Hangtown! What a horrid name!" and Mrs. Conroyal shuddered. "But," and she started to her feet excitedly, "wasn't your father's last letter sent from Hangtown? I am sure it was," and she hurried to her writing desk, picked up a letter and glanced eagerly at its heading. "See! It was! Here is the name," and she pointed triumphantly to the letter.
"You see, it won't be difficult to find the Cave of Gold from the map, mother, not with dad's help. And, mother, we must start for the mines just as soon as we can get ready to go. You surely will let us go now!" and Thure caught hold of his mother's hand. "Say, yes, mother, now; because Bud and I want to start to-morrow morning, and there is much to be done before we go."
"My boy," and Mrs. Conroyal's face sobered, "you are all the man that the mines have left me. Husband, son, servants, all have gone to the mines, until now you and Bud are the only able-bodied men left on the rancho—and now the mines are calling you!"
"But, mother, think of what the finding of such a mine means to us all! And father and Mr. Randolph, if they knew about the Cave of Gold and the skin map, I am sure would want us to come; and Old Juan and Manuel and the boys can take care of the rancho; and, you know, if we find the Cave of Gold and get the gold, then all of us, father and the rest, will be back soon; and we will be rich; and dad can build you the new house that you want and furnish it the way that you want it furnished; and Bud and I can go East and get the education that we need to fit us to do a man's work in the great new State of California that is bound to be made out of this country, now that it has become a part of the United States. It is yes, isn't it, mother? And we can start, can't we, to-morrow morning?" and Thure's arm went round his mother and he drew her appealingly to him.
For a minute or two Mrs. Conroyal did not answer. She was battling with her mother-love. She knew what this quest of the Cave of Gold might mean—hardships, dangers, even death for those she loved. But she was of pioneer stock, had often seen her dearest go forth to face the dangers of the unknown wilderness; and, at last, with something of Spartan-like fortitude, she turned to Thure.
"Yes, my son, you may go," she said. "You may go to your father and tell him all; and he will decide about the search for the Cave of Gold."
"Hurrah! We can go! Mother says I can go!" and Thure swung his free hand around his head.
"And mother says I can go! Hurrah for the gold-mines!" and Bud clapped his sister on the back, by way of letting off some of the surplus steam of his enthusiasm. "It will be great! And I'll bring you back a necklace of gold nuggets, sister mine. Now, we must be getting ready."
"But, first we all have a solemn duty to perform," Mrs. Conroyal said gravely. "We must give the dead miner decent burial, as we would wish our own dear ones buried, should they die amongst strangers. See that the grave is dug, my son; and notify all that the funeral will be held in the house-sala at the going down of the sun. Come, we will make ready the house for the funeral," and, followed by Mrs. Randolph and the two girls, she hurried from the room.
A half an hour later, all who were left on the rancho gathered in the sala to pay the last respects of the living, who soon must die, to the dead, who but a short time before lived. There was no minister, no priest to be had. Mrs. Conroyal read the church service for the dead over the body of the unfortunate miner; and then six of the oldest and strongest boys gently lifted the boards on which the corpse lay to their shoulders and, just as the rays of the setting sun redden the tops of the western mountains, bore the body slowly to its last resting place, beneath the outstretched arms of a sturdy oak, on the top of a little hillock, near the murmuring waters of a small stream that flowed close by the house.
That night was a busy night at the Conroyal rancho. Everything must be got ready for the going of Thure and Bud in the morning; and it was surprising how many things there were that needed doing. But, at length, long after midnight, everything was in readiness and the two boys entered their sleeping room for their last night's rest, for they knew not how long, in the dear old home-house.
"I can hardly realize that we are to start for the mines in the morning," Thure said, as he quickly undressed and jumped into bed. "All that has happened to-day seems more like a dream than the reality; and I am almost afraid that I will wake up in the morning and find that I have been only dreaming."
"Well," declared Bud, "if it's only dreaming, I'm going to get into bed and dream some more as quick as I can; so, not meaning to be impolite, shut up and good night," and he settled himself down comfortably in the bed and closed his eyes. And, in five minutes, in spite of the feverish excitements of the day, the two tired boys were sound asleep.
OFF FOR THE GOLD-MINES
The next morning when the sun rose, in all the golden glory of dawning day in beautiful California, above the tops of the eastern mountains and shone down into the Valley of the Sacramento, its rays fell on an interesting scene in front of the Conroyal house, where nearly all the men, women and children of the place had gathered about two heavily laden pack-horses, four saddled horses, and two boys, and two girls. The two boys were Thure and Bud, ready to start for the mines, the two girls were Iola and Ruth, who were to ride with the boys for an hour or so on their way, the four saddled horses were their riding horses, and the two pack-horses bore the outfits of the young miners, as well as sundry tokens of love and affection sent to the dear ones at the mines. The boys stood at their horses' heads, ready to mount. The very moment of departure had come.
"Well, I reckon we must be going now. Good-by, mother," and Thure turned for a last embrace in those dear arms, and then swung himself up into his saddle.
"God bless you, and protect you, and bring you safe home, my son," and Mrs. Conroyal, trying in vain to keep back the tears from her eyes and the sobs from her voice, embraced and kissed Thure farewell and bravely saw him mount.
Bud tried very hard to control his feelings, but his voice choked a little and there were tears in his eyes, as he kissed his mother good-by and jumped into his saddle; and then, just to break the gloom that seemed to be gathering too thickly about the parting, he jerked off his hat, and, swinging it around his head, shouted: "Hurrah, for the gold-mines! Hurrah, we're off for the mines!"
And everybody shouted with him; and, in the midst of the shouting, the two boys, leading their pack-horses and with Iola and Ruth on their horses by their sides, rode out of the house-court and started across the valley toward the distant eastern mountains.
The search for the dead miner's Cave of Gold had begun.
Iola Conroyal and Ruth Randolph were two very lively and high-spirited girls, just old enough to see all the romance and little of the rough reality and danger of such a quest as their two brothers had begun. The wonderful tale of the dying miner, with its Cave of Gold, its rough-drawn map and its big gold nugget, had appealed very strongly to their vivid and romantic imaginations; and the starting of Thure and Bud in search of this marvelous cave had surrounded them, in their eyes, with something of the glamour that gilds the heroes of romance. They envied them their quest; they would have gone joyfully with them, if they could; and now, as they rode along by their sides in the cool morning air, they could think or talk of little else than this wonderful quest and of what would happen, if the boys should really and truly find that marvelous Cave of Gold.
"Will you—will you promise to give me the first gold nugget you pick up in this wonderful cave?" Ruth said, after they had been riding and talking for some little while, glancing up a bit shyly into Thure's face. "I will have a breastpin made out of it and always wear it in remembrance of that great event—and—and of you," she added in a lower voice, her face flushing a little.
"Sure I will! I—that is exactly what I had planned to do anyhow," Thure declared. "And I'll see that it is a big one, Ruth, the biggest that I can find. And the next nugget I pick up you shall have for a ring; and then I'll pick up a lot of little nuggets and make you a gold necklace out of them."
"That will be glorious," and Ruth's eyes shone. "And—and I shall prize them all very much. Oh, dear, I don't see why we girls were just born girls and not boys! I never wanted to do anything as much as I want to go with you and Bud, and help hunt for this Cave of Gold. I'd go anyway, if mother would let me."
"So would I," Iola declared, her dark eyes and cheeks glowing at the thought. "It is terrible to be just a girl, when there is anything like this to be done. We, at least Ruth and I, do not want to be put in a cage and fed, like canary birds. We want to do things, too; and we could do things, too, if folks would only let us."
"Hoity-toity!" laughed Thure. "I reckon God knew what He was about when He made you 'just girls'—just sisters, sweethearts, wives, mothers, the dearest words spoken in every language the world over; and, for one, I am powerful glad that He did make you 'just girls.'"
"So am I," Bud agreed, so emphatically that all laughed.
"But, it really does seem too bad that Iola and I have got to stay at home with our mothers, where nothing exciting ever happens," persisted Ruth, "while you two, just because you are boys, can go hunting caves of gold and have all sorts of wonderful adventures—not that I really and truly would like to be a boy," she added hastily and a little contradictorily. "Boys are so awkward and have such big feet and hands, and—and—"
"And are such good fellows to wait on girls," grinned Bud provokingly.
"Which shows girls' real superiority," smiled back Ruth.
"Well, if you are satisfied, what are you kicking for? You haven't heard Thure and me wishing that we were girls, have you?" queried Bud triumphantly.
"Well, I should say not, not when you are off on a hunt like this anyhow!" Ruth rejoined. "Oh, but I do hope you will find that Cave of Gold! And come back covered with gold nuggets and glory!"
By this time our young friends had reached the foot of the ridge, on whose top it had been agreed they were to say farewell to one another; and the thought of the nearness of the parting was suddenly pressed home to each heart, and they rode to the top of the ridge without speaking a word. Here they pulled up their horses; and, for a moment, their eyes looked wistfully into one another's faces, while they sat silent in their saddles.
"Oh, come, let's have the agony over!" and Bud tried to make his voice sound cheery and unconcerned. "Good-by, Ruth," and, urging his horse up close to the side of his sister's horse, he leaned over, threw his arms around her neck and kissed her. Then he turned and quickly served Iola in the same way; and, striking spurs into his horse, started off, his pack-horse tugging at the rope behind him.
Thure hesitated a moment; and then, following Bud's example, quickly kissed Iola and Ruth good-by, and started after Bud.
"Don't forget that you have promised me the first gold nugget that you pick up in the cave!" called Ruth.
"Nor the gold necklace!" warned Iola.
Thure and Bud waved their hands and shouted in reply; but rode steadily on.
The two girls sat on their horses and watched them, until, with final shouts and the waving of their hats, they passed over the top of a distant ridge and vanished from sight. Then Iola and Ruth turned their horses homeward and rode silently down the other side of the ridge. They did not care to talk, even about the wonderful Cave of Gold, just then.
They had ridden something like a couple of miles on their way homeward and their tongues were just beginning to wag, girl-like, again, when both were considerably startled by a loud hallo, coming from behind. They turned quickly and saw two horsemen, who had just ridden out from behind a small grove of trees, some twenty rods back and to the right, and who were now riding toward them.
"I wonder who they can be!" exclaimed Ruth. "I am sure that I never saw them before; but I suppose we had better wait and find out what they want. They might be lost. They look like strangers to this part of the country," and she pulled up her horse.
"Yes," agreed Iola, halting her horse by the side of Ruth. "They are probably foreigners on their way to the mines; and we had better wait to see if we can be of any help to them."
In the holster that hung from the pommel of the saddle of each girl there was a double-barreled pistol, loaded and ready for instant use; and it was not there for ornament. Both girls had been trained to use the rifle and the pistol; and never, since Iola's frightful experience with the Mexican desperado, Padilla, some three years before, had either girl been permitted to ride, even a short distance from the house, without having one or both of these weapons with her. Consequently, trained and armed as they were, they saw nothing to fear in meeting the two strange horsemen, although they were alone in a little valley and out of sight and hearing of every other human being, so far as they knew.
[Footnote 1: For an account of this adventure, see Fighting With Fremont, the preceding book of this series.]
The two horsemen came up on a slow gallop; and pulled up their horses a dozen feet from the girls.
"We asks your pardon, ladies," said the larger of the two men—a big red-headed man with a broken nose—as he awkwardly doffed his hat. "But, seein' you ridin' by, an' thinkin' you might be able tew give us sum information, we bein' strangers in this part of Californy, we made bold tew hallo tew you," and he paused, his bold eyes staring admiringly into the dark face of Iola.
"We will be very glad to help you, if we can," answered Iola, a bit shortly, for she did not like the looks of the big man with the broken nose. "What is it you would like to know?"
"Wal," answered the man, glancing toward his companion, "me an' my pardner was tew meet a man over yonder by that big rock that sticks itself out of th' ground, like a nose on a man's face," and he pointed to a huge rock a mile or more away that shot up out of the level of the valley, not unlike the nose on a man's face. "He was tew git thar 'bout noon yisterday; an' we haven't seen hide nor ha'r of him yit; an', gittin' powerful tired of waitin' an' thinkin' you ladies might have seen him, we stops you tew ask."
"An' bein' a leetle afeared he might have come tew harm," the other horseman, a small man with a pock-marked face, here broke in, "seein' that he was a comin' from th' diggin's an' was supposed tew have considerable gold-dust with him, we makes bold tew stop you ladies tew ask about him, jest as my pardner says, thinkin' you might have seen him."
"What—what did he look like?" Iola asked anxiously, the moment the man paused; for her thoughts had gone instantly to the dead man they had buried last night, when he had spoken of the man they were looking for as being on his way back from the diggings.
"Wal, he won't exactly what you ladies would call a beauty," answered the big man, grinning, "seein' that he'd let his whiskers an' ha'r grow long an' scraggly all over his face an' head; but you'd a-knowed him, if you'd a-seen him, by a peecoolyer scar over his left eye, shaped sumthin' like a hoss-shoe, with th' ends of th' shoe pointin' t'ord th' corners of th' eye."
"Why," and Iola's face whitened, "he must have been the man our brothers, Thure and Bud, brought home with them yesterday afternoon! He had a scar on his forehead like that. Didn't you notice it?" and she turned to Ruth.
"Yes," Ruth answered, "and he was from the mines."
"Wal, now, that's good news," declared the big man, glancing out of the corners of his eyes at his companion. "We was afeared sum harm had come tew him. An' so he's restin' safe an' easy at your home. Now, whar might that be, if I may be so bold as tew ask?"
"But, he'd been robbed—murdered!" exclaimed Iola. "And it was his dead body that had been brought to our house. We buried him last night."
"Robbed! Murdered!" almost yelled the big man. "Do you hear that, Spike?" and he turned excitedly to his companion. "Sumone got him for his gold, jest as he was afeared they would. An' you say 'twas your brothers who found him, an' took th' body home with them, an' gave it decent burial. Now I call that decent, don't you, Spike?" and he glanced sharply at his companion.
"White an' decent," agreed Spike. "But," and his small snake-like eyes shifted swiftly from face to face of the two girls, as he spoke, "did he—did he leave any message for his friends; or, was he dead when your brothers found him?"
"He lived only a little while," answered Iola. "He had been stabbed by one of the cowards, and he died before they could get him to the house. I don't think he left any message. I don't remember of hearing our brothers say anything about a message, do you?" and she turned to Ruth.
"No," replied Ruth. "He—he left no word for any friend. He only—" she stopped abruptly, and just in time; for, unthinkingly, she had been about to speak of the skin map and the Cave of Gold.
Both men started slightly at her words and abrupt stop and flashed swift glances into each other's eyes.
"Now, that's tew bad," declared the big man. "We sure thought he would leave a message for us, seein' that he knowed we was here a-waitin' for him. But, I reckon, we'd better ride on tew th' house with you ladies an' see them brothers of your'n personal. You see we wants tew make sart'in 'twas our friend that was robbed and murdered, besides he might have left sum word for Spike an' me, an' your brothers not have mentioned it, bein' naturally excited-like over th' robbery an' murder."
"But, you can't see them now!" exclaimed Iola, impulsively. "They left for the mines this very morning. Why, we parted from them not more than an hour ago."
Both men started violently at this news, and again the swift suspicious glances flashed from eyes to eyes, and an ugly threatening look came into their faces.
"Gone tew th' mines! An' started sudden, this very mornin'!" exclaimed Spike excitedly. "Did—Did th' old miner say an'thing 'bout whar he found his gold afore he died?" and his beady black eyes glowed angrily into the faces of the two girls. "We're his friends, an' have a right tew know, an' we want tew know, an' we're goin' tew know," and he urged his horse nearer to the girls.
Both girls were badly frightened by this sudden and unexpected change in the two men; for there was no mistaking the ugly and dangerous look on their faces; but neither girl lost her head.
"You will not come a step closer than you now are," and the white hand of Iola flashed to the pistol in her holster; and Spike, to his evident horror, suddenly found himself looking straight down into two little round holes that seemed to his startled eyes as big as the mouths of cannons.
"And you, too, stay right where you are," and Ruth's pistol suddenly turned the big man with a broken nose into a wildly staring equestrian statue. "We two girls are not going to take any chances with you two men; and—and now that we have given you all the information that we have for you, you can turn your horses around and ride back the way you came."
The faces of both girls had suddenly grown as white as milk; for, almost at the same moment, each had remembered that the dying miner had described his two murderers as a big red-headed man with a broken nose and a small man with a pock-marked face—and they were now looking straight into the faces of two such men. But the hands that held the pistols did not tremble; and there was no mistaking the look in the shining eyes back of the little round holes. They would shoot; and, if they shot, they would not miss; and it did not take the two men two seconds to discover these facts.
"Oh, come, this ain't no hold up game, is it, ladies?" and the big man tried to look as if he considered the whole affair a huge joke; but he was very careful not to make a threatening move; and he kept his eyes fixed on the two little round holes of Ruth's pistol, in a horrible staring way that Ruth never forgot.
"No," Ruth answered shortly. "It is not a hold up; and there is going to be no hold up in this case," she added significantly; "so just turn your horses around and gallop back the way you came; and be very careful not to let your hands go near your belts or to look back while doing it," she warned.
"Oh, say, now," began the small man. "This ain't hospital-like. We ain't meanin' you ladies no harm. We—"
"Drop the talk and turn your horses around and get," Iola commanded so imperatively, so threateningly that both men, in a sudden panic of fear—like nearly all rascals they were cowards and those two pistols in those two girlish hands might go off at any instant—whirled their horses around and galloped off, while a bullet from one of the barrels of Iola's pistol, whistling between their heads, added to their panic and speed.
"Do you," and Ruth turned her white face to Iola, the moment the two men were at a safe distance, "do you really think they were the two men who murdered the miner?"
"Yes," answered Iola, as she began reloading her pistol, with hands that trembled now so that she could hardly pour the powder into the barrel. "I am sure they were. Ugh! But what a dreadful fright they gave me! I felt certain they were going to murder us, when they started toward us."
"And—and do you suppose they were trying to find out about that skin map and the Cave of Gold?" and Ruth's face again began whitening.
"Yes, that is it!" and Iola started. "That was what made them so angry and ugly, when we told them that Thure and Bud had already started for the mines. They at once suspicioned that the boys had the map and that they had started out to find the Cave of Gold. Oh, Ruth," and a look of horror came into Iola's face, "do you suppose they will start on the trail of Thure and Bud and try to get the map from them? Why, they might murder them!"
"That is exactly what I am afraid they will do," declared Ruth, her own face reflecting the horror in Iola's face. "But you may be sure that two cowards like them will never get the best of our brothers, unless they do it in some sneaking underhanded way; and the boys have been warned to look out for them. It won't take Thure and Bud as long to discover who they are, as it did us. The instant they see that broken nose and pock-marked face, they will be on their guard. But I do wish we had said nothing about the boys starting for the mines. Anyhow that is about all the information they did get from us that will do them any good, thank goodness! And they will have a mighty hard time finding and following their trail, unless they are old hunters and trappers; and they did not look as if they were. Anyhow it can't be helped now; and the best thing that we can do is to get back home as quickly as we can."
"I don't think we had better say anything to our mothers about meeting the two men," Iola said, as with a final look in the direction of the two horsemen, who were still galloping up the valley, they turned their horses homeward. "It wouldn't do any good to tell them and they'd worry a lot."
"You're right. Mum's the word," agreed Ruth; and then both girls struck their horses sharply and started on a swift gallop for the Conroyal rancho, where we must leave them for the present and return to Thure and Bud.
THE SIGN OF THE TWO RED THUMBS
At the date of the happenings here recorded, 1849, the greater part of California was still an unbroken wilderness, inhabited only by scattered tribes of Indians and the wild beasts. For some three hundred years the Spaniards and the Mexicans had occupied a few choice spots along the coast, with now and then an isolated ranchero in the great interior valleys of the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers. Then, in 1846, had come the War with Mexico and the Conquest of California by the Americans, swiftly followed by the discovery of gold in 1848 and the great inflow of gold-seekers from all parts of the world of 1849 and later, who, of course, all rushed pell-mell to the gold regions, leaving the rest of California more thinly populated than ever. Indeed, in 1849, all California, except the gold regions, was practically deserted; and, since the gold regions were located in what had been, a few weeks before, a mountainous wilderness, nearly everybody in California was living in the wilderness, and, necessarily, living under primitive wilderness conditions—a wild, free, independent sort of a life that quickly brought to the surface the real character of each individual.
Such, then, was the California of 1849, the California of Thure and Bud; and such were the conditions of the life, the wild romantic life of the wilderness mining camps, toward which we left our young friends hastening, their unwilling pack-horses pulling and tugging on the ropes which were dragging them away from the home-pastures, when we rode a little way on the homeward journey with Iola and Ruth.
Now, to return to Thure and Bud.
The Conroyal rancho was situated in the Lower Sacramento Valley, some two-days' journey from Sutter's Fort, near which the City of Sacramento on the Sacramento River had sprung into a sudden and marvelous existence; and, as Sacramento City was then the final rendezvous of all those bound for the mines, some forty miles in the wilderness of mountains to the east, Thure and Bud, naturally, had headed straight for this town, intending, when there, to find someone going to Hangtown, with whom they might journey to this mining camp, where they hoped to find their fathers and their friends. Both boys were well acquainted with the trail to Sutter's Fort, having been there frequently with their fathers; and, since Sacramento City was only a couple of miles or so from Sutter's Fort, they would have no difficulty in finding their way thither. The trail, for the greater part of the distance, ran through beautiful valleys and over low-lying hills, where nature still reigned unfretted by man and where a human being was seldom seen, consequently Thure and Bud expected to have a lonely ride to Sacramento City.
For some little while after the departure of the two girls neither boy spoke. Somehow they did not feel like talking, not even about the wonderful Cave of Gold, nor the skin map, nor the death of the old miner. They were thinking of home and the dear ones from whom they had parted for they knew not how long; and, when boys are thinking deeply of such things, they do not like talking. But, gloom and sadness cannot long conquer the spirits of any normal boy; and, at the end of an hour's riding they were their own lively and talkative selves again.
"I wonder if we can make our old camping-ground to-night?" Thure questioned doubtfully, as they came to a halt, a little before noon, on the top of a steep ridge to give their horses a short rest. "If I remember right, this ridge is not nearly half-way to the place where dad and I always camped when we went to Sutter's Fort; and it must be nearly noon now," and he glanced upward at the sun, which was fast nearing the zenith. "Say, but these old pack-horses are as slow as oxen. I wonder if we can't do something to hurry them up?"
"We've got to make the old camping-ground tonight, if it takes us till midnight," Bud answered emphatically. "That is, we've got to, if we expect to get to Sacramento City to-morrow; and that's where I, for one, expect to be sometime to-morrow night. I reckon, we'll have to drive them pack-horses in front of us and use the whip a little."
"A bully idea," Thure agreed. "I wonder why we did not think of it before. Here, you old slowpoke, get up!" and, whirling his horse around, he suddenly rode up behind his pack-horse and gave that animal a quick blow with his whip.
The scheme worked splendidly; and the two boys were soon on their way again and moving at a considerably increased speed. But, notwithstanding their accelerated motion, it was not until some three hours after sunset that the two tired boys and the four tired horses reached the old camping-grounds, where there was an abundance of water for themselves and horses and fuel for the camp-fire.
"Well, I swun I am tired!" Thure exclaimed, as he threw himself down with a sigh of satisfaction on his blanket before the camp-fire, when, at last, the horses had been unsaddled and unbridled and unpacked and picketed where they could feed on the rich grass, and the two boys had eaten their rude meal of broiled venison—they had shot a young deer on their way—and homemade bread, washed down by a huge tin cup full of coffee of their own brewing.
"I reckon you are not the only tired boy in this camp to-night," and Bud spread out his blanket on the ground by the side of Thure's and stretched himself out on it. "Every bone and muscle in my body has been just a-teasing me for the last two hours to let up and give them a rest. Well, we got here anyhow; and I guess we can now make Sacramento City all right to-morrow night. Say," and he sat up on his blanket with a jerk at the thought that had suddenly come to him, "do you suppose those two villains, who robbed and killed the old miner, have found out that we have the skin map that they committed murder in vain to get? If they have, I reckon we'll have to be on the lookout for them good and sharp. Why, they might be on our trail even now!"
"You are right," and Thure sat up quickly. "But I can't see just how they could know that we have the map. They certainly didn't wait for introductions when we charged down upon them; and I don't believe they followed us home—they were too scart, the cowards! But, as Kit Carson says: 'The time to be cautious is before the Indians get your scalp—not afterwards.' I reckon that means that we've got to keep guard to-night; and I don't believe I ever felt more sleepy," and Thure sighed. "But, if Brokennose and Pockface should happen to be on our trail, they couldn't ask for anything better than to get us two here alone and asleep to-night. They sure would have the skin map in the morning, and, probably, our horses and supplies, and, possibly, our lives. Say, but I just would like to meet them two cowards when I am awake!" and Thure's eyes glinted wrathfully.
"Well, I should not be surprised if we had that pleasure before long," and Bud's face hardened. "If the old miner told them of the Cave of Gold and the skin map, and he said he did, they sure will be on the lookout for the party with the map; and it wouldn't take much inquiring for them to find out that it was us that brought the dead miner home; and then, I reckon, it won't take them two minutes to guess what started us so sudden-like for the mines. I sure hope they won't find us until we get to our dads and Rex and Dill and Hammer Jones. I'd feel safe enough then. You see, we are guarding not only our lives, but also the Cave of Gold; and the finding of that cave means a lot to all of us."
"It sure does," Thure agreed. "Luck has been against both of our dads lately; and, well, we've just got to find that Cave of Gold; and we are going to find it, in spite of all the broken noses and pockmarked faces in the world. But, it won't do to sit here talking all night. We must get all the sleep we can. Who will stand guard first?"
"I will," Bud answered, picking up his rifle and rising; "so get into your blanket and asleep as quick as you can. It must be almost midnight now."
"All right," and Thure began rolling himself up in his blanket. "Wake me in about two hours, and I'll stand guard the rest of the night. We want to be on our way as soon as it is light enough to see. Good night," and in five minutes Thure was as dead to his surroundings as the log near which he lay.
Bud picked up his blanket and moved off into the dark shadows of the low-hanging branches of an evergreen oak and out of the light of the camp-fire, where he could watch, seeing but unseen.
The night had grown dark and cool—all California nights are chilly; and Bud wrapped his blanket around him and, leaning up against the trunk of the tree, looked out into the darkness surrounding the lone camp-fire. In the distance a coyote was making the night hideous with his demoniacal howlings. From a near tree came the lonesome hoot of an owl. All else was still, save from all around came the mysterious sounds of the wilderness at night, suggestive of the low whisperings and talking of uneasy spirits.
But all this was commonplace to Bud. He had often spent the night out in the open, had often stood guard by a lonely camp-fire, when darkness was all around and only the weird voices of the night were heard; and he gave little thought to these things. He was very tired and very sleepy and it took about all the thought power he had to compel himself to stay awake.
An hour past. There had not been a suspicious sound nor movement; and Bud began to feel more secure, began to relax some of his vigilance, began to close his eyes now and then for a brief moment, began to lean more comfortably against the trunk of the tree—then, suddenly, he straightened himself up with a jerk, his eyes wide open, his cocked rifle held ready for instant use. Sure he had heard a sound, a sound that did not belong to the night, a thud like the fall of some heavy body on soft ground, and coming from the direction of the camp-fire! For a moment he stared, tense with excitement, toward the camp-fire, now glowing dully; but he saw nothing unusual, heard nothing unusual. Thure still lay by the side of the log, his form showing faintly in the dull light. The horses were grazing quietly—he could just distinguish their forms through the darkness. They showed no alarm.
"Queer! I certainly heard something fall; and right near! Well, I reckon I had better make sure that everything is all right with Thure," and Bud very cautiously stepped out from the shadows of the tree and, moving softly, crept up to where Thure lay. His deep regular breathing told him that he was sound asleep and that all was well with him.
"Must have been dreaming," he muttered in disgust, and returned to his station under the tree; but he did not close his eyes again.
There were no other suspicious sounds during the remainder of his watch, nor during the watch of Thure; and the dawning of morning found both boys and all their belongings safe and sound.
"Did you see or hear anything suspicious during your watch?" was Bud's first query, when Thure awoke him the next morning.
"No. Why?" answered Thure. "Did you?"
"Well, I—I don't know," and Bud jumped to his feet and began looking sharply around over the ground near the camp-fire.