Digging for Goldñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“But at mining you may strike it rich any day, you know,” returned Grant cheerfully. “Tom has really reason to feel encouraged, and may surprise you by making his fortune yet.”
“Those aint the kind of surprises that grow on every bush,” and Mr. Cooper once more sagely shook his head.
After accepting of the hospitality of the kindly blacksmith and his wife, Grant proceeded on his journey.
He was lucky enough to secure the only remaining seat in the next coach for San Francisco, and was soon started on the last stage of his progress toward the Golden Gate. Of his fellow passengers two were miners, two farmers, one a school-teacher, another a boy of about Grant’s age, and the seventh a black-eyed gentleman, who listened attentively to all that was said, but made very few remarks himself.
Grant was glad to find his place next to the youngest member of the party, who gave his name as Robert Campbell, and stated that he had been on a visit to a relative in Sacramento.
“I trust we don’t fall in with the road agents,” remarked one of the miners, soon after they had got under way.
“Why, do you think there is any danger of it?” inquired the school-teacher anxiously.
“Well, that’s one of the things we may expect on such a trip as we are taking,” returned the miner, adding: “I’d much prefer they wouldn’t make me hold up my hands this time, however.”
A STARTLING INCIDENT
The passengers in the stage now compared notes, and each gave an idea of the amount of his possessions. One of the miners owned up to five hundred dollars, another to eight hundred, and the teacher to two hundred. The farmers were still better provided.
“I’ve got about fifteen hundred myself,” said the black-eyed passenger. “Of course it belongs to my principal, not to me, but I shall be held responsible if I am robbed.”
“The boys haven’t spoken,” said one of the miners, jestingly. “Who knows but they may be the richest in the crowd.”
“If the road agent comes along,” he said, “he’ll get so much from me,” and he produced twenty dollars in gold.
“I’ve got so much,” said Grant, producing three quarter eagles, fifteen dollars.
“You are better off than I thought,” said Robert.
“I didn’t think to include my wardrobe,” added Grant.
“If you won’t be offended,” said Robert, “I have a suit in San Francisco that is better than yours. We are not far from the same size. I am sure my father will let me give it to you.”
Grant grasped his hand cordially.
“You’re a good fellow, Rob, and a true friend,” he said. “If my friend in San Francisco doesn’t provide for me, I will accept your offer with thanks.”
“My friend,” said one of the farmers, addressing the teacher, “I take it you have been at the mines.”
“You don’t look very rugged, and I see you have a bad cough. Wouldn’t it suit you better to get some work in the city?”
“Perhaps you are right.
I thought a life in the open air would improve my health, but I overestimated my strength. My lungs are weak, and bending over weakened me and brought on a hemorrhage.”
“I take it you have never done hard work.”
“No; I was for fifteen years a teacher in Connecticut.”
“A brother of mine has a real estate office in ’Frisco. He wanted me to be his clerk, but I would rather be my own boss. If you would like the chance, I will recommend you to him.”
“Thank you,” said the teacher. “I have been feeling anxious about the future now that I find a miner’s life is too hard for me. If your brother will take me, I will gladly enter his employment.”
“Were you ever a miner?” asked a passenger of the black-eyed man.
“No; I never dug for gold. I travel for a firm in San Francisco.”
“Indeed! What firm? I am pretty well acquainted in ’Frisco.”
The black-eyed man smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
“My employers have cautioned me to be reticent about their business,” he said. “Still, before we part company, I may introduce myself.”
“Oh, just as you wish!” said the passenger, not altogether pleased.
“Did any of you ever see Stephen Dike?” asked one of the miners, addressing himself generally.
One by one answered in the negative, till the turn came to the black-eyed man.
“I once caught a glimpse of him,” he said.
“What was his appearance?” asked one of the farmers.
“He looked to me like that gentleman,” and the speaker indicated the consumptive teacher.
This remark naturally led to a critical examination of the teacher, and the man next to him, on the impulse of the moment, moved a little farther away.
“You are sure you are not the man?” asked one of the farmers jocosely.
The teacher smiled.
“If I am,” he said, “I don’t think you would any of you feel very much afraid of me. I suspect that I shouldn’t be a success as a road agent. I haven’t the necessary physique. You are better equipped by nature for it than I.”
“I’ve got considerable muscle, that’s a fact,” said the farmer, who was a broad-shouldered, stalwart man. “But you don’t often find men of my build in the ranks of these gentry. They are more apt to be – well, like our friend here,” and he laid his hand on the shoulder of the black-eyed man.
“You compliment me,” said the latter, opening his mouth and showing a set of very white teeth. “I will tell my employer, when I reach ’Frisco, that I have been compared to Stephen Dike.”
“No offence, my friend!”
“None is taken. Indeed, I do consider it rather a compliment, for Dike is quite celebrated in his line.”
“Better be quite unknown than to be celebrated in that way!” observed the teacher.
“You have doubtless often remarked that to your pupils during your career as a pedagogue,” said the black-eyed man, with a sneer.
“It is quite possible that I may have done so,” answered the teacher calmly. “You agree to it, don’t you?”
“Speaking of Dike,” remarked one of the miners, “a cousin of mine was returning from the mines, a year ago, with a thousand dollars in gold-dust – representing six months’ hard labor – when the wagon on which he was a passenger was stopped by this rascal. My cousin was not armed, nor was either of the three other passengers, and Dike, though single-handed, had no trouble in robbing them all.”
“What,” exclaimed one of the farmers, “did four men give in to one?”
“One man with two revolvers is a match for half a dozen unarmed men.”
“I don’t agree to that,” said the farmer. “I should be everlastingly mortified if I allowed one man to take such an advantage of me, if I had as many companions.”
“You think so,” said the black-eyed man, with a half sneer, “but if you were placed in like circumstances you would act just as he did.”
“You think so,” said the farmer in his turn.
“I know so.”
“You are very confident. On what do you base your remark?”
“On human nature.”
The farmer looked at him curiously.
“Well, perhaps you are right,” he said. Then turning to the miner, he asked: “Well, did your cousin lose all his gold-dust?”
“Yes; every ounce of it.”
“That was hard lines.”
“It was, indeed. The poor fellow had been in the country a year. During the first six months he hadn’t a particle of luck. During the next six months he made the money referred to. With it he intended to go home and lift a mortgage from the house in which he lived. But when he saw the fruit of his hard labor forcibly wrested from him, he became discouraged, took to drink, and died of delirium tremens in ’Frisco three months since.”
“It was a hard case!” said the farmer in a tone of sympathy.
“It was, indeed. That scoundrel, Stephen Dike, I hold responsible for my poor cousin’s death. There is one thing I live for,” and here he paused.
“Well?” said the black-eyed man. “What is it?”
“I want to meet the villain who killed him.”
“Suppose you should?”
“I would shoot him down like a dog.”
“That is, if you got the chance,” said the other, with an unpleasant smile.
“I would see that I had the chance if I ever met him.”
“Threatened men live long.”
“Look here!” broke in the farmer, eying the black-eyed man sharply. “You appear to take the part of this road agent.”
“Do I? Well, it is natural to me to take the part of one against many. You all seem to be down on poor Dike.”
“Poor Dike! Isn’t there good reason why we should be down upon him?”
“I don’t know. Probably the man has some good qualities.”
“Not one!” exclaimed the miner who had told his cousin’s story. “Not one!”
“Well, well; you seem to know him. Considering how free we have been with his name, it would be a great joke if we should have him stop us on our way.”
“I don’t think it would be a joke at all,” said Robert.
“Nor I!” added Grant.
“Oh, he wouldn’t meddle with you boys,” said the black-eyed man. “He would fly at higher game; for instance, our friend there, and there,” indicating the farmer and the miner.
“I suppose you speak with authority?” observed the farmer.
“What do you mean?”
“You speak as if you were in this fellow’s confidence.”
“Do you mean to insult me?” exclaimed the black-eyed man angrily.
“Oh, calm yourself, my friend! Why should I mean it that way? You can’t take a a joke.”
“Oh, if it’s a joke, I don’t mind.”
Then the talk about the famous road agent subsided. Gradually they passed beyond the limits of population, and entered a mountain defile, dark with frowning hills on each side.
“Let me get out a minute!” said the black-eyed man, signalling to the driver.
The stage stopped. Once upon the ground the black-eyed passenger drew out his revolvers, and levelling them at the astonished travellers, cried: “Hold up your hands, gentlemen; get ready to surrender all your valuables. I am Stephen Dike!”
I have said that the passengers were astonished at discovering that the notorious road agent was their fellow-traveller. There were two, however, who were not wholly surprised – the miner who had related his cousin’s story and the farmer who had had a sharp colloquy with the black-eyed man.
For a minute no one moved or spoke.
“Come,” said Dike impatiently; “I have no time to waste. Give me your money.”
“Do you want mine?” asked Grant, who was entirely willing to give up the small amount of gold coin he had with him, if he could save the dust in his valise.
“No; I don’t care for the trifle you have, nor the other boy’s money, but those miners over there must give up their treasure, and my agricultural friends also.”
“If you want my money, come and get it!” growled the miner already referred to.
“I say the same,” added the farmer.
“I will stand no nonsense,” said Stephen Dike.
“It’s hard luck,” grumbled the miner, “to give up all my hard earnings.”
“Give up your money, and grumble afterward,” rejoined Dike.
The miner thrust his hand into his pocket, and then, in an excited voice, exclaimed suddenly, as he peered out of the coach, “Ha, friends! there is help approaching. See!” And he pointed, with outstretched finger, beyond Stephen Dike.
The road agent, taken by surprise, turned quickly. The step was fatal to him. The miner, who had pulled a revolver from his pocket, fired without an instant’s delay, and Stephen Dike fell backward, instantly killed. The miner’s bullet had penetrated his temple. So unexpected was the assault that the road agent had not even time to discharge his own pistols. They fell upon the ground from his nerveless hands, and one of them accidentally went off, but did no harm.
“My cousin is avenged!” exclaimed the miner grimly.
“Give me your hand, sir!” said the farmer. “You have saved us all, and rid the State of California of the most dangerous outlaw within its limits.”
“It seems hard to rejoice in the death of a fellow-being,” observed the teacher, “but no one can grieve over the taking off of such a man. Gentlemen, let us remove the body to some place less public.”
The passengers got out, and were joined by the driver.
“There is a reward of five thousand dollars offered by the authorities for the capture of Stephen Dike, dead or alive,” he said. “What gentleman killed him?”
“I did,” answered the miner; “but I want no reward. I should look upon it as blood money. What I did, I did in defence of my fellow-passengers and myself.”
Stephen Dike lay upon the ground, his features still wearing the cynical smile habitual to him. Death had come upon him so suddenly that there had not been time even to change the expression of his face.
“I suppose this man has committed many robberies?” said the teacher to the stage-driver.
“No one knows how many, but he has robbed my stage four times.”
“How did it happen that you did not recognize him when he booked as a passenger?”
“He has always worn a mask when I saw him before. This time he became bolder, and presented himself without disguise. I remember being struck by his appearance, and wondering whether I had not met him before, but it did not occur to me that it was the famous road agent, Stephen Dike.”
The passengers took the lifeless body, and drew it to one side of the road.
“Ought we not to bury it?” asked the teacher.
“I can’t bear to put beneath the sod a man who, but fifteen minutes since, was as full of life as we are. Let us leave that office to some one else. We can affix to the tree, beneath which he lies, a paper giving his name.”
This proposal was approved. One of the passengers produced a sheet of paper and a travelling inkstand, and this placard was affixed to the trunk of the tree:
This man is
THE ROAD AGENT
Killed while attempting to rob the Sacramento coach
“We ought, perhaps, to examine his pockets, and see if we can find anything to throw light on his career.”
This was the suggestion of one of the passengers.
“No,” said the miner; “leave that to the persons who may find him. If he has money about him, leave it to others. I have been the instrument of Heaven’s retribution. Should I take anything of value from him, I would be degraded to his own level.”
This remark seemed to voice the general sentiment, and, after an interval of only ten minutes, the stage was again on its way to San Francisco.
Grant and Robert were strongly impressed by what had happened. Neither of them had ever seen a death by violence before.
“It’s awful!” said Robert, shuddering.
“But he deserved his fate,” returned Grant.
“So he did; but it is terrible to have death come so suddenly.”
“You are right, lad!” said the miner. “I feel entirely justified in what I did, but it was a fearful necessity. It is something I shall never be able to forget.”
There was no further adventure to record in the two days’ ride. Toward nightfall of the second day they reached the city of the Golden Gate, and the passengers separated. Grant regretted parting with Robert Campbell, to whom he had become warmly attached, but was glad to think they would have opportunities of meeting in San Francisco.
Before separating, he undeceived Robert as to his circumstances.
“I suppose,” he said, “you think me very poor?”
“I wouldn’t judge from your clothes that you were wealthy,” returned Robert, smiling.
“That’s why I wear them. In this valise which I carry, I have about fifteen hundred dollars in gold-dust.”
“You don’t mean it!” exclaimed Robert in surprise.
“Yes; but only half of it belongs to me. I have more at the mines, however. I feared to be robbed, and so put on the appearance of a tramp. Now, I shall buy a respectable suit.”
“I am glad you are able to do so; but even in your poor clothes I was glad to have met you.”
“Thank you, Rob. We have known each other but two days, but I shall always look upon you as a friend.”
The two boys shook hands cordially, and Grant set out in the direction of the Alameda Hotel. Before he arrived there, he saw Mr. Crosmont walking thoughtfully through Kearney Street, with his eyes fixed upon the ground.
“Mr. Crosmont!” he exclaimed eagerly.
Giles Crosmont looked up quickly, and his face brightened as he recognized Grant.
“Grant Colburn!” he cried joyfully, seizing the boy by the hand. “I am, indeed, glad to see you. When did you arrive?”
“Just now, by stage from Sacramento.”
“And you are well? But I see you are. You don’t look prosperous; but that doesn’t matter. With me you will want for nothing.”
“Mr. Crosmont,” said Grant smiling, “you shouldn’t judge a man, or boy, by his clothes. Do you see this valise?”
“It contains fifteen hundred dollars’ worth of gold-dust.”
“Half of it is mine. Half of it belongs to my partner. I wore old clothes, because I did not want to be thought rich.”
“Was there need of all this caution?”
“You shall judge for yourself. Our stage was held up by Stephen Dike.”
“The daring road agent? I have heard of him. Did he plunder the passengers?”
Grant explained the ruse by which Stephen Dike had lost his life.
“He was a scoundrel! I have no pity for him. And now come with me, and I will take you to my home. I have two rooms, and I shall install you in one of them.”
“How about my gold-dust?”
“As soon as you have washed, and are provided with a new suit, I will take you to a banker, who will weigh and allow you the market price for it.”
“But I shall have no money to pay for the suit till I have sold the dust.”
Mr. Crosmont smiled.
“The suit will be a present from me,” he said.
And no small present it proved to be, for clothing was very dear in San Francisco at that time, so that a ready-made suit, which could be bought in any Eastern city for twenty dollars, or less, cost ninety.
The gold-dust brought a trifle over fifteen hundred dollars, which was entered to Grant’s account on the books of the bank.
“Have you any letters for me, Mr. Crosmont?” asked Grant. “I haven’t heard from home for a long time.”
“Here is a letter which arrived by the last steamer.”
Grant read it eagerly. It was from his mother, and contained important news. Instead of reproducing the letter, we will go back to Grant’s Iowa home, and let the reader know what happened there since he started for the land of gold.
THE TARBOX FAMILY
After Grant’s departure his mother felt very lonely. She found very little satisfaction in the company of her husband, who became more miserly as he grew older. He began also to show signs of breaking health, and this did not escape the vigilant eyes of his daughter, Mrs. Sophia Bartlett, and her husband. They were not at all insensible to the fact that their father’s property was a snug one, and that it would make them very comfortable when added to their own.
Sophia Bartlett began to feel suspicious that her father’s second wife would attempt, by undue influence, to obtain more than her share of the estate. At least once a week she was accustomed to drive over with her son Rodney, when her husband was occupied by business, and learn all she could of what was going on at the Tarbox farm.
Rodney generally inquired after Grant, but not from friendly motives.
Some months after Grant’s departure one of these visits was in progress.
“Have you heard from Grant, Mrs. Tarbox?” he asked, for it was in this way he always addressed his grandfather’s wife.
“I heard last week,” answered Grant’s mother.
“How is he getting along?”
“He had just arrived in California. The journey across the plains is a long and tedious one.”
“Did he have anything to do?”
“He was expecting work.”
“Probably he won’t get any,” said Seth Tarbox. “The boy made a fool of himself when he left home. He might have had a good livin’ here, but he was sot on trampin’ to California.”
“That’s the way I feel,” said Sophia Bartlett. “Young folks don’t know what is best for themselves. As likely as not the boy will be sending home for money to get back.”
“He won’t get none from me,” muttered Mr. Tarbox emphatically, “and I want that understood.”
“He isn’t very likely to send to you, Mr. Tarbox,” said his wife, indignant at this attack upon Grant.
“I dunno about that. He’s a headstrong boy, and always was.”
“I am glad that my son Rodney is a good and dutiful boy, and is willing to be guided by my advice and his grandfather’s.”
Rodney understood that it was well to keep in the good graces of his grandfather, who might remember him handsomely in his will, and tried to look virtuous and meek.
“Yes,” he said, “grandfather knows what is best for me.”
“Rodney’s case is very different,” Mrs. Tarbox could not help saying. “His future is provided for, Grant had nothing to look forward to here except the life of a farm laborer.”
“Is he too proud to work on a farm?” sneered Mrs. Bartlett.
“No more than your son Rodney,” calmly replied Mrs. Tarbox.
“I’ve got something better to do than to work on a farm,” said Rodney, in a lofty tone. “Just fancy me in overalls, ma!”
“To be sure!” chimed in his mother.
“It aint no disgrace to wear overalls,” said Seth Tarbox, who did not aspire to be thought genteel, like his daughter and Rodney.
“Of course not, pa!” said Mrs. Bartlett, in a conciliatory tone. “You are a substantial farmer, and find it necessary to superintend your own work.”
“I hope Rodney aint got no foolish notions about bein’ too high-toned for honest work.”
“No, pa; but Rodney isn’t rugged, and his father and myself mean to make a lawyer of him.”
“Humph! Some lawyers aint worth their salt.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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