Digging for Goldñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Were you in business there?”
“Yes. Ahem! I was a teacher, but my health gave way, and when I heard of the rich discoveries of gold in California, I gathered up, with difficulty, money enough for the journey and started; but, alas! I did not anticipate the sad disaster that has befallen me.”
Mr. Silverthorn was thin and meager, but when supper was ready he ate nearly twice as much as any of the little party.
“Who is this young man?” he asked, with a glance at Grant.
“My name is Grant Colburn.”
“You are the image of a boy I lost,” sighed Dionysius. “He was strong and manly, like you – a very engaging youth.”
“Then he couldn’t have looked like you,” was Tom Cooper’s inward comment.
“Did he die of disease?” asked Mrs. Cooper.
“Yes; he had the typhoid fever – my poor, poor Otto,” and Mr. Silverthorn wiped his eyes with a dirty red silk handkerchief. “Have you a father living, my young friend?”
“Then it would be a gratification to me if you would look upon me as a parent.”
Grant was quite overwhelmed by this unexpected suggestion.
“Thank you, sir,” he said; “but you are a stranger, and I have a step-father living.”
He said this on the impulse of the moment, as a reason for not acceding to Mr. Silverthorn’s request, but it occurred to him that it would be about as difficult to regard Mr. Tarbox with filial feelings as the newcomer.
“Ah, he is indeed fortunate!” sighed Mr. Silverthorn. He had a habit of sighing. “My friend” – here he addressed himself to the blacksmith – “do you ever smoke?”
“Yes, when I get the chance.”
“And have you, perchance, a cigar?”
“No; a cigar is too high-toned for me. I have a pipe.”
“That will do.”
“But I have no tobacco.”
“Ah!” Here there was another long-drawn sigh.
After supper they sat down around the fire, to rest and chat for a while before retiring.
“I suppose, my friends,” continued Dionysius, “you would be surprised if I should tell you that I was once wealthy.”
“You don’t look like it now,” said Tom Cooper bluntly.
“No; indeed I don’t. Yet six years ago I was worth fifty thousand dollars.”
“I shall be glad if I am worth as much six years hence.”
“How did you lose it?” asked Jerry Cooper.
“Through the knavery of wicked men. I was so honest myself that I supposed all with whom I had dealings were equally honorable, and I was deceived. But I am happy to think that when I was rich I contributed to every good work. I gave a thousand dollars to the church in my town. I gave five thousand dollars as a fund for a town library. All men spoke well of me, but when I lost my fortune all turned the cold shoulder, and I found I had no friends. It is the way of the world.”
“If you were a teacher I don’t see where you got so much money,” remarked Grant curiously.
“I didn’t make it by teaching, my young friend. An old uncle died and left me his money.
He had been a miser, and never took any notice of me, so it was a great surprise to me when his will was read and I was constituted his sole heir.”
“I wish an old uncle would die and leave me fifty thousand dollars,” said Tom.
“Such may be your luck.”
“Not much chance of that. I haven’t got but one uncle living, and he’s as poor as Job after he lost all his flocks and herds.”
“I don’t complain of my unhappy condition,” said Dionysius meekly. “I have been rich and now I am poor, but I am resigned to the Lord’s will.”
“He seems to be a very good man,” whispered Mrs. Cooper to Tom.
Tom shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t take much stock in him,” he whispered back.
“How did you happen to escape when the rest of your party were destroyed by the Indians?” asked the blacksmith.
“The attack was made in the night. I had been unable to sleep, and I got up and went for a walk in the woods, hoping to become fatigued and drowsy. I was absent for an hour and a half, as well as I can estimate. When I returned to the camp, what was my dismay when I saw that my friends had been surprised, their goods confiscated, and a scene of violence enacted.”
“Were all killed?”
“I don’t know, but on the ground, by the dismantled tent, I saw a human arm which had been lopped from the shoulder.”
“Do you know whose it was?” asked Tom.
“Yes, it was the arm of a young man about your age, who doubtless had excited the anger of the Indians by resistance.”
Mr. Silverthorn put his red handkerchief to his eyes and sobbed, or appeared to do so, convulsively.
“Excuse these tears,” he said. “They are a tribute to my murdered friends.”
“Did you follow the Indians? Did you try to find out where they had carried your companions?”
“No. It would have been no good. I was single-handed.”
“I would have done it!” said Tom resolutely.
“I would expect it of you, for you are a brave young man.”
“How do you know I am?”
“By your looks and manner. I am not. You may despise me, but I am obliged to confess that I am chicken-hearted. I am afraid I am a coward. It is not a pleasant confession, but I do not wish to represent myself other than I am.”
“Then I am afraid that you are not the right kind of a man to cross the plains to California.”
“I am not sure but you are right. I sometimes think so myself. But I hoped to retrieve my fortunes, and in my state of health there seemed no other way open to me.”
“You haven’t had much encouragement yet?”
“No, but I feel that I am fortunate in meeting with your friendly party. And this emboldens me to make a request.”
“What is it?” asked the blacksmith.
“Will you let me travel with you? I am alone, quite alone. It would make me happy to be with you. The sight of that boy, who reminds me of my lost son, would be a daily source of happiness to me.”
Mr. Cooper hesitated, and the expression of his face showed that the proposal was distasteful to him.
“You can stay with us to-night,” he answered briefly. “I cannot promise more.”
MR. SILVERTHORN’S TREACHERY
The little party generally lay down to sleep soon after eight. The days were always fatiguing, and they were in the habit of rising early.
The weather was warm, for it was toward the end of June, and they did not even raise the tent, but lay down on the ground with a blanket underneath and above them. Mrs. Cooper generally slept in the wagon.
“We have an extra pair of blankets, Mr. Silverthorn,” said Mrs. Cooper. “We cannot offer you a bed; you will fare as well as my husband and the boys.”
“How kind you are!” murmured Dionysius. “To me this simple provision will be a luxury. For a week I have slept on the bare ground without a blanket.”
“You need not go to bed as early as the rest of us, unless you like.”
“My dear lady, if you don’t object, I will retire into the woods for an hour and indulge in religious meditation. I wish to express my thanks to Providence for my happy encounter with your kind party.”
“There is no objection, I am sure, Mr. Silverthorn,” said Mrs. Cooper. “What a good man he is!” she said to herself.
“That man makes me sick,” remarked Tom, aside to Grant.
“I think he is a humbug,” whispered Grant.
“I am sure he is.”
The little party stretched themselves on the ground, and Dionysius Silverthorn walked pensively into the woods.
When he returned, Mr. and Mrs. Cooper and Tom were asleep.
The pair of blankets assigned to the stranger lay ready for use. He did not immediately lie down, but thoughtfully surveyed the sleepers.
“They seem fast asleep, but perhaps it will be better to wait awhile,” he murmured thoughtfully to himself. “It will not do for me to get caught. That young man, Tom, is very muscular, and the old man is strong in spite of his years. I will lie down awhile.”
It was well for him that he decided thus, for Grant awoke – a thing unusual for him – and, looking around, saw their visitor.
“Haven’t you gone to bed yet, Mr. Silverthorn?” he asked.
“No, my young friend; I have been into the woods, engaged in meditation and thanksgiving, but now I feel weary and I think I shall soon be lulled to rest. Do you often wake during the night?”
“No; it is unusual for me to wake at all.”
“That is well. Boys like you should sleep soundly. I would I were a boy again! Good-night, my dear young friend.”
Grant was soon asleep. An hour later Mr. Silverthorn, who had been lying quietly, lifted his head gently, and throwing off his blanket, rose to his feet.
He walked up to where Grant lay asleep.
“I wonder whether the boy has any money in his pocket?” he thought.
He went up softly to where Grant lay, and, kneeling down, quietly detached the blanket, so that Grant would be uncovered. Then he inserted his hand into his pocket, and drew out some silver change, about two dollars in all.
He looked at it with disappointment.
“Is that all he has?” he muttered. “It won’t pay me for my trouble.”
He was about to search his other pocket, but Grant stirred in his sleep, and, fearing he would awake, Dionysius rose hastily.
“I would try the others,” he said, “but I don’t dare to. If they should wake, they might murder me, particularly the young man. Now I will lie down again, and get up about four o’clock. I must have a little rest.”
Dionysius Silverthorn was one of those men who can rouse themselves at any hour they fix upon. It didn’t vary much from four o’clock in the morning when he rose and rubbed his eyes. It was already growing light in the east, and there was promise of a fine day.
“I feel quite refreshed,” he said, stretching himself. “It is time I took my departure. Is there nothing else I can take?”
Some remains of the supper of the previous night had been left near the wagon, including a box of crackers.
“I will pocket a few crackers,” said Dionysius, “and keep them for lunch. I will take the liberty of breakfasting before I go. Shall I take the blankets?” he said thoughtfully. “No, they would be in my way. I wish I had a little more money – but it would be dangerous to seek for it. I will, however, take the liberty of borrowing the horse, as he will materially assist me in my journey.”
The horse had been tied to a tree. Mr. Silverthorn gently unfastened the rope and led him away. He was nervously anxious lest he should whinny or make some noise that would arouse the little party. But the horse seemed unusually docile, and, though he was probably sorry to be roused from sleep quite so early, allowed himself to be led away without any manifestation of discontent.
An hour later Tom Cooper stretched himself and opened his eyes.
“Another fine day!” he said to himself. “Well, we must make the most of it. It is high time we began to make preparations to start. Hello, Grant!” he said, shaking the boy till he murmured drowsily, “What is it, Tom?”
“Time to get up, Grant, my boy. We must be on our way by six.”
Grant jumped up, and, throwing off the blankets, began to fold them up.
“Where’s Mr. Silverthorn?” he asked, turning his eyes in the direction of the stranger’s bed.
“There’s his blankets!” said Tom. “Perhaps he has gone to the woods to meditate,” he added, with a laugh. “I shan’t be sorry, for one, if he doesn’t come back.”
“Nor I,” assented Grant.
“It’s my belief that he’s a rascal!”
“Whether he is or not, I don’t like him.”
“You forget, Grant, that you are the image of his lost boy,” said Tom, with a laugh.
“I hope not. I shouldn’t like to look like any one belonging to him. Do you believe his story about the Indians attacking his party?”
“It may be true, though I think the man is capable of lying. Well, I must wake up father.”
The blacksmith was soon roused.
“A fine day!” he said cheerily. “We are in luck. Where is the horse?” he asked abruptly, the next instant.
Startled by the question, Tom and Grant turned their eyes in the direction of the tree to which old Dobbin had been tethered.
“Sure enough, where is he?” ejaculated Tom.
“Wasn’t he securely tied?”
“Yes,” answered Grant. “I tied him myself. He couldn’t have got away without hands.”
“I tell you what, Grant,” said Tom Cooper suddenly, “that scoundrel’s stolen him!”
“What scoundrel? Whom do you mean?” demanded the father.
“That tramp – Silverthorn.”
“Why, he’s gone, too!”
“Yes, and has stolen Dobbin to help him on his way. I’d like to get hold of the rascal!” And stern resolution glittered in the eyes of the young man.
“But I don’t understand it.”
“It’s easy enough to understand. The man’s a humbug. All his story was made up to impose upon us.”
“Then you don’t believe his party was attacked by Indians?”
“No, I don’t; but if I catch him he’ll think he has been attacked by Indians.”
“It will be a serious loss to us, Tom,” said the blacksmith, with a troubled face.
“We’ll get him back if we can, father. I wonder if the fellow has stolen anything else.”
Grant thrust his hand into his pocket and made a discovery.
“I’ve lost about two dollars in silver,” he said.
“It may have slipped out of your pocket during the night.”
Grant examined the ground on which he had been lying, and shook the blankets; but not one of the missing silver coins was found.
“No,” he said. “The silver must have been taken from my pocket. No; I had some bills in my right-hand pocket. I was lying on my right side, so he could not get at it without the risk of waking me up. Have you lost anything, Tom?”
Tom had been examining his pockets.
“No,” he said grimly. “The fellow didn’t dare to tackle me, I reckon. If I had caught him at it I would have strangled him. Father, how is it with you?”
“I am all right, Tom.”
“Then he didn’t get much outside of the horse. But that’s a serious enough loss. Poor Dobbin!”
“If I only knew which way he went,” said Tom slowly.
But this was not clear. There was nothing to do but to get ready for the day’s march, and set out. The loss of Dobbin made it necessary that all should walk except Mrs. Cooper, who sat in the wagon.
They had been about three hours on the way when a tramping sound was heard, and Dobbin came running up to the party, whinnying with joy.
“There’s nothing amiss with him,” said Tom joyfully. “I wonder how he got away from the man that stole him. Are you glad to get back, old fellow?”
There could be no doubt on that point, for the horse seemed content and happy.
“Where’s old Silverthorn, I wonder?” said Tom.
The question was soon to be answered.
AN INDIAN ENCOUNTER
The country through which the Cooper party were now travelling was partially wooded. Soon, however, they would reach the long and barren stretch of country – the great salt plain – which was the dread of all overland parties. Then there would be no woods till they approached the borders of the Golden State.
About the middle of the afternoon, while the oxen were plodding along at the rate of barely two miles an hour, they received a surprise.
Tom Cooper, whose eyes were the sharpest, called out suddenly:
Grant looked, but had to approach nearer before he could realize the situation. Then he saw a white man tied to a slender tree, while half a dozen Indians were dancing round him, uttering a series of guttural cries, which appeared to fill the captive with intense dread. It was too far to distinguish the features of the prisoner, but when they came nearer Tom cried out, “Dang me, if it aint Silverthorn!”
It was indeed Dionysius Silverthorn, and his plight was certainly a serious one.
“What shall we do?” asked Grant.
“We must rescue him,” answered Tom. “He’s a mean rascal, and he’s repaid our hospitality by robbing us; but we can’t let him be killed by those redskins.”
“I’m with you!” said Grant.
By this time the Indians had caught sight of the approaching party. They ceased dancing and appeared to be conferring together. When Silverthorn saw that some of his own color were at hand he uttered a loud cry, and would have stretched out his hands if they had not been fettered.
“Help me! help me!” he cried. “Save me from these fiends!”
The Indians – six in number – seeing that there were but three in the approaching party, took courage and decided to maintain their ground. They uttered, a yell and fired a volley of arrows, one of which whizzed by Grant’s ear.
Tom Cooper gritted his teeth.
“We’ll teach them a lesson,” he said.
He raised his rifle, and, aiming at the foremost Indian, fired deliberately. The redskin fell, pierced to the heart.
This appeared to strike his companions with dismay. They seemed panic-stricken, as well they might be, for the bows and arrows with which they were armed were no match for the rifles of the little party opposed to them. One of them raised his arm and uttered a few words; these were of course unintelligible to Grant and his companions, but their sense became apparent when he pointed to the dead Indian, and, with one of his companions, lifted him from the ground and began to beat a retreat.
“They won’t trouble us any more, Grant,” said Tom. “They are going away. But we had better keep on the watch, for they are a crafty race, and may meditate some treachery.”
When they were beyond bowshot, Tom led the way to the spot where Mr. Silverthorn was eagerly awaiting deliverance from his uncomfortable position.
“Well,” said Tom, taking a position where he had a good view of the captive, “what have you got to say for yourself?”
“Oh, please release me, Mr. Tom!” said Dionysius, in a pleading tone.
“Why should I? What claim have you on me?”
“The claim of humanity. You’ve no idea what I have suffered in the last hour.”
“First, I want you to explain why you stole my horse.”
“You’ve got him back,” said Silverthorn, who could see old Dobbin browsing beside the wagon.
“Yes; but no thanks to you.”
“Indeed, I only meant to borrow him for a while.”
“And you borrowed Grant’s money in the same way, I suppose.”
“Put yourself in my place, Mr. Tom. I was penniless and destitute. How could I make my way alone through this wilderness?”
“So you robbed your benefactors! I take no stock in your story that you only meant to borrow the horse. Now own up, make a clean breast of it, and it will be the better for you.”
“I meant some time to pay you for him; indeed I did. I knew that if I got to the mines I would soon be in a position to pay all my debts, and I should have regarded that as a debt of honor.”
“The less you say about honor the better, it strikes me, Mr. Silverthorn.”
“Please release me! I have been in this unhappy confinement for more than an hour.”
Tom approached the tree and, drawing out a formidable looking jack-knife, sundered the cords that bound the captive, and he stepped forth, stretching himself with a sigh of relief.
“Permit me to express my thanks, my friend and benefactor!” he cried, sinking on his knees and grasping Tom’s hand, which he pressed to his lips.
Tom pulled it away with a look of disgust.
“I have no confidence in you,” he said. “I know how you treat your friends and benefactors.”
“I have indeed done wrong,” said Dionysius. “I am a weak, fallible man, but I never will wrong you again.”
“I don’t think you will, for I shall not give you a chance. Now tell me the truth about the horse. How did he escape from you?”
“I got off his back a moment, and he immediately turned and galloped away.”
“You pursued him, of course?”
“A little way,” answered Mr. Silverthorn, coughing apologetically; “but I soon gave it up. I said to myself, ‘He will seek his owner, and I shall be saved from committing a sin.’“
Tom Cooper laughed.
“You were resigned because you had to be,” he said. “Now, about Grant’s money! Have you got it?”
“No; the Indians robbed me of it.”
“When did you meet the Indians?”
“It may have been two hours ago. I have no watch, and can only estimate the time.”
“Did they attack you?”
“They ran up and seized me. I stood still, for I knew that if I ran they would pierce me with an arrow.”
“When they caught me they searched my pockets and took the silver. Then I was glad that I had taken no more.”
“That is, you would rather Grant would keep his money than have the Indians get it.”
“Yes, Mr. Tom,” answered Silverthorn meekly. “It went to my heart to rob the boy, for he looked so much like my lost son. Forgive these tears!” and he drew out the red silk handkerchief, which the Indians had evidently not thought it worth while to take, and wiped his eyes.
“That man disgusts me, Grant,” said Tom. “He seems to have quite an affection for you.”
“It is all on his side,” returned Grant. “I don’t believe he ever had a boy.”
“Well, perhaps not. He seems a natural born liar. But it’s time we were pushing on. We have a long distance still before us.”
The wagon was put in motion, and the little procession started. Mr. Cooper drove the oxen, Mrs. Cooper sat inside the wagon, Tom led the horse, and Grant walked alongside. Sometimes Tom took his turn in driving the oxen, and sometimes Grant led the horse.
Dionysius Silverthorn started also, walking beside Grant.
Tom turned upon him.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I will walk along with you, if you will let me, Mr. Tom.”
“I think you’ve got more cheek than any man I know. After the trick you played upon us, you expect us to tolerate your presence.”
“Please let me accompany you, Mr. Tom. I might meet the Indians again.”
“Then go in a different direction. You cannot go with us.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
ñòðàíèöû: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14