"I am sure of that, Mr. Ferguson. I don't know that I ought to make him pay it back, though. It isn't his fault that it was lost."
"That's true, my lad, and you might offer to share the loss with him, but I doubt if he would accept your offer. He will feel better to pay it all back."
"At any rate I will write him, and make him the offer."
"That's fair, Tom; but you'll see what he'll say."
It may be stated here that Miles utterly declined to accept any abatement of the debt.
"I ought to have taken better care of the money," he said. "It's my fault, and I shall pay it in full."
The next letter was from home. Tom opened and read it eagerly. It was mainly from his father, but there was a note from each member of the family.
His father wrote:—
MY DEAR TOM,—We are glad to hear that you have reached California after a wearisome journey, and are now at work. We have travelled so little that we can hardly realize that you are more than three thousand miles away from us, with so many mountains, plains, and valleys between. Of course you cannot tell us much in your letters of your various experiences. I wish we could have you with us this evening, and hear some of them from your own lips.
I am anxious to hear that you are succeeding in the object of your journey, and that you will not find the stories of the rich gold fields greatly exaggerated. I do not myself believe all I hear, yet I think there must be gold enough to pay those who search for it diligently. You must remember, my dear boy, that hard work is better than luck, and more to be relied upon. Don't expect to make your fortune all at once by finding a big nugget, but work steadily, and you will meet with more or less success.
If you succeed moderately, I shall be glad you went away, for here prospects are not very good. Our little farm seems to be less productive every year. The soil is not very good, as you know, and I cannot afford fertilizers. This year the crops were not as good as usual, and we have felt the decrease sensibly. If there were not a mortgage on the farm, I could get along very well, but the interest now amounts to one hundred and thirty-two dollars annually, and it is hard to get that amount together. Next month sixty-six dollars come due, and I don't know how I am to find the money. Squire Hudson could afford to wait; but I am afraid he won't. The older and richer he gets, the more grasping he becomes, I sometimes think. However, I don't want to borrow trouble. If it is absolutely necessary I can sell off one of the cows to raise the money, and before the year comes round I think you will be able to help me.
Walter, though only twelve years old,—his thirteenth birthday comes next month,—helps me about the farm, and is very useful in doing chores. He likes farm-work, and will be ready to succeed me in time. As for Sarah, she is a good, sensible girl, and helps her mother in a good many ways. Though I am a poor man, and always expect to remain so, I feel that I am blessed in having good, industrious children, who promise to grow up and do me credit. I should not be willing to exchange one of my boys for Squire Hudson's son Sinclair. He is, to my mind, a very disagreeable boy, who makes himself ridiculous by the airs he puts on. I have seen him once or twice lately when he appeared to have been drinking; but I hope I am mistaken in this. He is an only son, and it would be a pity that he should go astray.
Tom looked thoughtful after reading this letter.
"Is it bad news, Tom, lad?" asked Ferguson.
"Times are hard at home, Mr. Ferguson," answered Tom. "Father is very much in need of money. It would have been a great help to him if he had received that seventy-five dollars."
"You have as much as that on hand now, Tom. If it isn't enough, I will lend you some."
"Thank you, Mr. Ferguson. You are a good friend, and I wouldn't mind accepting your offer, if I needed it. But father won't need any more than I can send him. Only I don't know how to get it to him."
"If you were in San Francisco, you would have no difficulty in sending the money."
"I've been thinking, Tom," said Ferguson, after a while, "that it might be a good plan for us to take a little vacation, and visit the city. We have been working steadily here over three months, and the change would do us good. Besides, we might on the way come across some better place. This isn't as good now as when we began to work it."
"That is true," said Tom.
"Suppose, then, we stay a week longer, sell out our claim if we can, and start in the direction of the city."
"You and I?"
"Yes; we shall be better off without company."
"We had better not let Peabody know we are going, or he will want to accompany us."
"I could almost be willing to take him, poor creature, to get him away from that Missouri Jack; but, as you say, he would not be a help to us."
So it was decided that, in a few days, as soon as they were ready, Tom and Ferguson should leave River Bend.
A SPECULATIVE INVESTMENT.
It leaked out after a while that Tom and Ferguson were intending to leave River Bend, and considerable regret was expressed by the other members of the party. Tom was a general favorite. His youth and his obliging disposition made him liked by all except Missouri Jack and his set. It cannot be said that his Scotch friend was popular, but he was, at all events, highly respected as a man of high principle and rigid honesty. This was not the way the miners expressed it. They called him a "square" man, and that word expressed high moral praise. They all felt that Tom was going off in good company.
Before they went, the two had a chance for a speculation. Two weeks before, a man came to River Bend, across the country, with a horse and wagon, the latter an old express wagon, which he had brought round the Horn from some one of the Eastern States. What had induced him to take so much trouble to convey such bulky articles was not quite clear. Now that he was a miner he had no use for them, and at River Bend they were not saleable. This man, Abner Kent, came to Ferguson's tent, where he and Tom were resting after the labors of the day. He was a tall man, with a shambling gait and an angular face.
"Good-evening," he said. "If you ain't busy I'll sit down a few minutes."
"We are glad to see you Mr. Kent," said Ferguson. "Tom and I were discussing our plans, but we've plenty of time for that. Come in. Here's a place for you."
"I hear that you are going to leave us, you two?"
"Yes, Tom has some business in San Francisco, and I want to see a little more of the country."
"How are you going?"
"We'll take the cars if we can find any," answered Tom. "If we can't we'll foot it."
"That's what I came to see you about. You know I've got a horse and wagon."
"Why don't you buy it? You'll go easier and quicker."
"We can't afford it," said Ferguson. "Poor men must walk."
"You don't see the point. When you get through with the team, you can easily sell them for more than you gave. It will be a good speculation."
"That will depend on how much we give," said the Scotchman, shrewdly.
"To be sure, Mr. Ferguson. Now about that, I'll be easy. They ain't any good to me here. I'll take—let me see—four hundred dollars cash. You'll maybe double your money inside of a month."
The team did seem cheap at this price, as prices of all articles in a new country are very much enhanced.
"Tom and I will talk it over and let you know to-morrow morning," said Ferguson.
"That's all right. It's a good chance for you."
When Kent was gone Tom asked, "What do you think of his offer, Mr. Ferguson?"
"I think it will be a good investment, Tom, and that we shall be less likely to be robbed than if we carried gold-dust with us. You know how John Miles got robbed."
"I have only a hundred dollars," said Tom, doubtfully.
"I have enough to add to it, but I think we can get the team cheaper. I don't want to beat the man down, but a bargain is a bargain, and we must look out for our own interest."
"You know more about such things than I do, Mr. Ferguson; I will agree to anything you say."
"Very well, my lad, I shall be sure to consult your interest as well as my own. It will be very comfortable for us to have a team of our own."
"It will seem strange to me," said Tom, laughing. "What will they think at home when they hear that I have set up a carriage?"
"They might think it imprudent to invest all you had in that way; but we'll make money out of it yet, or I am sorely mistaken."
The next morning, while Tom and Ferguson were at work, Kent came up to them.
"What have you decided about the team?" he asked.
"We are not willing to pay four hundred dollars," said Ferguson.
"That's a fair price."
"It may be, but it will take all the money Tom and I can raise. You know it wouldn't be quite prudent for us to part with all our funds."
"I will take a note for part of the money," said Kent.
"That's very considerate of you, but scarcely prudent."
"Then don't you want it at all?" asked Kent, disappointed.
"Yes; we are prepared with an offer. We'll give you three hundred dollars."
Kent shook his head.
"That's too little," he said.
Ferguson remained silent. He wished to give Kent time to reflect upon his offer.
"Have you sold these claims of yours?" asked Kent, after a pause.
"Then add them to your offer, and I accept it."
This proposal struck Ferguson favorably. They could not carry away their claims, and very possibly no other purchaser might offer, as, except as regards location, other places along the river-bank could be had without cost.
"What do you say, Tom?" asked Ferguson.
"I agree if you do, Mr. Ferguson."
"Then it's a bargain, Mr. Kent. I hope it'll prove satisfactory to both of us."
"I don't think you'll regret it. It's a good speculation."
When the two friends had settled for their purchase, Tom paying one hundred and Ferguson two hundred dollars, our hero found himself left with twenty dollars, or its equivalent in gold-dust, while his companion had about one hundred and fifty left over.
"We shall go off in style," said Tom; "riding in our own carriage. But there's one thing I have been thinking of. I want to send a hundred dollars home as soon as I get the chance. Suppose we can't sell the team?"
"Have no fears about that, Tom. I'll lend you the money if that is the case; but, mark my word, we shan't have it left on our hands, of that you may be sure."
The night before they were to start Lawrence Peabody dropped in. He was looking down in the mouth.
"How does the world use you, Mr. Peabody?" inquired Tom.
"Fortune is against me," said Peabody. "I'm tired of River Bend."
Tom glanced at his companion. He could guess what was coming.
"Won't you take me with you, Tom?" entreated the young Bostonian.
"You must ask Mr. Ferguson. He is the head of our party."
Peabody looked appealingly towards Ferguson, but the Scotchman shook his head.
"You mustn't be offended, Mr. Peabody," he said, "when I tell you that you are responsible for your own bad luck. You have had just as good a chance as Tom or I."
"Your claim was better."
"There was no difference that I can see, except that we worked, and you didn't. You don't expect gold to come to you?"
"You and Tom are more used to hard work than I," murmured Peabody.
"If you did not feel able to work, you should not have come to California. A man must work harder here than at home, and then he stands a chance of succeeding better."
"Then you won't take me?" asked Peabody, sadly.
"Are you in debt to Captain Fletcher for board?"
Peabody reluctantly admitted that he was, but had no idea how much he owed.
"Fletcher tells me that he shall not trust you any longer."
Lawrence Peabody looked frightened.
"What shall I do?" he faltered. "I shall starve."
"You can't blame the captain; he knows that you spend the little money you do earn at the saloon. But he will give you a chance. There is no one to wash clothes in the camp, and we have all observed that you keep yours looking well. If you will set up a laundry, you can make more money than in any other way."
"But then I should be a common washer-woman," objected Peabody. "What would my friends in Boston say?"
"They won't hear of it. Besides, a man can do here what he would not do at home."
It may be stated here that Peabody, finding work absolutely needful, went into partnership with a Chinaman, who arrived at the camp a day or two later, and succeeded in making a fair living, which hitherto he had been unable to do. After he was employed, his visits to the saloon became less frequent. At times he was disturbed by the fear that his friends at home might learn the character of his employment; apart from this he found his new business, with the income it yielded, not distasteful.
A NEW ACQUAINTANCE.
Having made all necessary preparations, Ferguson and Tom set out on their way. They took a course differing somewhat from that chosen by John Miles, one object being to survey the country, and find, if possible, a suitable place for continuing their search for gold. After their three months' steady work both of our travellers were prepared to enjoy the journey. Their road was difficult at times, from its steepness, and more than once they found it necessary, out of consideration for the horse, to get out and walk. But this only added to the romantic charm of the trip.
"It's like a constant picnic," said Tom. "I should like to travel this way for a year, if I did not feel the need of working."
"We might tire of it after a while," suggested Ferguson,—"in the rainy season, for example."
"That would not be so pleasant, to be sure," Tom admitted. "Do you have such fine scenery in Scotland, Mr. Ferguson?"
"Our mountains are not so high, my lad, nor our trees so gigantic; but it's the associations that make them interesting. Every hill has a legend connected with it, and our great novelist, Walter Scott, has invested them with a charm that draws pilgrims from all parts of the world to see them. Now this is a new country—beautiful, I grant, but without a history. Look around you, and you will see nothing to remind you of man. It is nature on a grand scale, I admit, but the soul is wanting."
"I like mountains," said Tom, thoughtfully. "There is something grand about them."
"There are some famous mountains in your native State, New Hampshire, are there not, Tom?"
"Yes; but I have only seen them from a distance. They are not above thirty miles away from where I was born; but poor people don't travel in search of scenery, Mr. Ferguson."
"No, my lad, and there's another thing I have noticed. We don't care much for the curiosities that are near us. The people about here, if there are any settled inhabitants, care nothing about the mountains, I doubt."
"That is true. In our village at home there is an old man nearly eighty years old who has never visited the mountains, though he has lived near them all his life."
"I can well believe it, my lad. But what is that?"
The sound which elicited this exclamation was a loud "Hollo!" evidently proceeding from some one in their rear.
Both Tom and the Scotchman turned, and their eyes rested on a horseman evidently spurring forward to overtake them. Tom, who was driving, reined in the horse, and brought him to a stop. The horseman was soon even with them.
He was evidently a Yankee. All Yankees do not carry about with them an unmistakable certificate of their origin, but Ebenezer Onthank was a typical New Englander. His face was long and thin, his expression shrewd and good-natured, his limbs were long and ungainly. In later life, with the addition of forty or fifty pounds of flesh, he would be much improved in appearance.
"Good-morning, gentlemen," said he. "It seems kinder good to see a human face again. It ain't very populous round here, is it?"
"We haven't seen any large towns," said Tom, smiling.
"Where are you steerin'?" inquired the Yankee. "I'm expectin' to fetch up at San Francisco some time, if I don't get lost in the woods."
"That is our destination, my friend," returned Ferguson.
"Would you mind my joining your party?" asked Onthank. "It's lonesome travelin' by one's self without a soul to speak to."
"We shall be glad of your company," said the Scotchman, sincerely, for, though naturally cautious, he could not suspect the new-comer of anything which would make him an undesirable companion.
"Perhaps you'd like to know who I am," said the new acquaintance. "My name is Ebenezer Onthank, from Green Mountain Mills, in Vermont. My father is deacon of the Baptist Church at home."
"I suppose you will take his place when you get older," said Tom, gravely.
"No, I guess not. I wonder what Susan Jones would say to my bein' a deacon!" and Ebenezer burst into a loud laugh.
"Is Miss Jones a particular friend of yours?" asked Tom, slyly.
"I should say she was. Why, I expect to marry her when I get home."
"I congratulate you."
"Don't be too fast. We ain't hitched yet. Say, boy, where do you come from?"
"From Vernon, in New Hampshire."
"You don't say! Why, that ain't more'n fifty miles from Green Mountain Mills; cu'rus we should meet so fur away from hum, ain't it? When did you start?"
"Seven or eight months ago."
"I've been in California six months. Does that gentleman come from your town?"
"My friend," answered the Scotchman, not without a touch of pride, "I am not an American; I am from the Highlands of Scotland."
"You be? Sho! Well, of course you can't help that."
"Help it, sir? I am proud of hailing from the land of Scott and Burns."
"Well, I guess it's a pretty nice sort of country," said Mr. Onthank, patronizingly. "I guess you'll like America best, though."
"I am by no means sure of that, my friend," said Ferguson, a little nettled. "America's all very well, but—"
"Why, you could put Scotland into its waist-coat pocket, and there'd be plenty of room left," said Ebenezer, energetically.
"I admit that, as regards size, Scotland cannot compare with this country."
"Say, have you got mountains as high as them, or trees as high as that?" pointing to a gigantic redwood.
"No; but size is not everything."
"That's so. Vermont is a little State, but she's smart, I tell you. But you haven't told me your names yet."
"I am called Donald Ferguson, Mr. Onthank. My young friend here answers to the name of Thomas Nelson."
"Commonly called Tom," added our hero, smiling.
"Why, I've got a brother Tom," said Mr. Onthank. "Cu'rus, isn't it?"
Considering that Tom is by no means an uncommon name, it could hardly be called very remarkable, but Tom politely assented.
"Is he older than I am?" he inquired.
"Yes, my brother Tom is twenty-one years old. I expect he voted at the last town-meeting. I'm four years older than Tom."
"Have you been fortunate so far in California, Mr. Onthank?"
"Can't say I have. I guess I've wandered round too much. Been a sort of rollin' stone; and my granny used to say that a rollin' stone gathers no moss. I've got about enough money to get me to San Francisco, and I own this animal; but I haven't made a fortune yet. What luck have you two had?"
"Pretty fair, but it will take a good while to make our fortunes. We own this team, and that's about all we do own."
"A sort of an express wagon, isn't it?"
"Ain't goin' into the express business, be you?"
"Probably not. We bought it on speculation."
"That reminds me of old Sam Bailey in our town. He was always tradin' horses. Sometimes he made money, and then again he didn't. How much did you give?"
Tom told him.
"That was a pretty stiff price, wasn't it?"
"It would be considered so at home, but we hope to get a good deal more, when we come to sell it."
Their new friend kept on with them, amusing them with his homely sayings, and original views of things. His conversation beguiled the tedium of the journey, so that all were surprised when the shadows deepened, and supper-time came. Selecting a favorable place they encamped for the night.
A GRIZZLY BEAR.
Ebenezer Onthank was an early riser. He had been brought up on a farm, where, during a part of the year it was the custom for the "menfolks" to rise between four and five o'clock in the morning to begin the labors of the day. His old habit clung to him, and at five o'clock, when Tom and Ferguson were yet asleep, Mr. Onthank sprang from his leafy couch refreshed and vigorous.
Seeing his companions yet sleeping, he concluded to take a walk.
"It'll give me an appetite for breakfast," thought he, "and a chance to see something of the country."
As to the appetite, Ebenezer was generally well provided. Indeed, latterly his appetite had exceeded his means of gratifying it, and more than once he had longed to be back at his old home in the Vermont farm-house, where the table was always generously, if not elegantly, furnished. If Ebenezer had a special weakness it was for doughnuts, which he called nut-cakes.
"If I only had a few of marm's nut-cakes," he had said the night before to his new-found friends, "I'd be a happy man."
"What are nut-cakes?" asked the Scotchman, puzzled.
"Don't you know what nut-cakes are?" inquired Ebenezer, astonished at Ferguson's ignorance.
"I never heard of them before," said Ferguson.
"Well, I declare! I thought everybody knew what nut-cakes are," ejaculated the Yankee. "Don't you ever make 'em in Scotland?"
"Not that I ever heard."
"Then you don't know what is good. You know what they are, Tom?"
"Oh, yes," said Tom, smiling. "We often have them at home. Perhaps Mr. Ferguson would understand better if he heard them called doughnuts or crullers."
Thus defined Mr. Ferguson acknowledged that he had heard of them, and he thought he had once tasted one. Scotland, however, fell considerably in the estimation of Mr. Onthank, when he learned that his favorite article of food was almost unknown in that distant country.
"You Scotchmen don't know what is good," he said. "If you ever come to Green Mountain Mills, I'll get marm to fry a batch of nut-cakes, and you'll say they're goloptious."
This last word was not familiar to Ferguson, but the smack of the lips with which it was accompanied made it sufficiently intelligible. He assured Ebenezer politely that he hoped some day to accept his kind invitation.
When Ebenezer left the camp he had no definite plan of exploration. Everything was alike new to him, and it mattered little in what direction his steps led him. It was a charming morning. The sun had risen, and hill and valley were glorified by its slanting rays. The air was bracing, and Ebenezer, though neither a poet nor a sentimentalist, felt his spirits rise, as with vigorous steps he strode on, letting his eyes wander at will over the landscape.
"Looks kinder han'some," he said to himself. "I wish Susan Jones was with me now. Gals like to walk round and look at scenery, and pick flowers, and so on. As for me, a good field of corn suits me better than all the flowers in the world. They're only good to smell of; out here though I'd like a good 'claim' best. It seems cu'rus to think how much money you can get sometimes from a hole in the ground. Beats cornfields for profit, by a great sight, if you only get hold of the right place. I just wish I could find a big nugget, as big as my head. I guess it would make me the richest man in Green Mountain Mills. I'd be a bigger man than the old deacon. They'd be glad to make me selectman, and perhaps send me to Montpelier after a while to make laws. Well, there's no knowin' what may turn up. Why shouldn't I light on a nugget as well as the next man?"
In this pleasant channel the thoughts of our Yankee adventurer were running as he strode over the uneven ground, with all the vigor gained by his hardy training. But his walk was destined to be interrupted in a decidedly unpleasant manner. All at once he became conscious of a huge object, scarcely thirty yards distant, whose attention he had already attracted. Mr. Onthank had been long enough in California to recognize in the huge, unwieldy figure—a grizzly bear!
Ebenezer Onthank was no coward, but it must be admitted that when he saw the eyes of the grizzly fixed upon him he turned pale, and his limbs trembled. He had heard from fellow-miners stories of the great strength and ferocity of this most formidable beast. The grizzly bear shows no fear of man. He is always ready to make an attack, even when not stimulated by hunger. Even the lion is crafty and cunning, and likes to attack his enemy unawares; but the grizzly boldly advances to the attack without seeking to surprise his adversary. If out of humor it makes no account of odds, but will as readily attack a party as a single foe. Col. Albert S. Evans, the author of an interesting volume, containing sketches of life in California, says, "I am satisfied that an average grizzly could at any time whip the strongest African lion in a fair stand-up fight, while a full-grown bull is no more to him than a rat is to the largest house-cats."
Twenty-five years ago the grizzly was to be found in various parts of California. As the State has become settled his haunts have become contracted, but even now, as the writer just quoted assures us, he is still found in great numbers in the Coast Range Mountains from San Diego to Del Norte. In describing Samson, a famous specimen once on exhibition in San Francisco, we are told that "his strength was that of an elephant, and his claws, eight inches in length, curved like a rainbow and sharp as a knife, would enable him to tear open anything made of flesh and blood as you or I would open a banana."
Such was the new acquaintance who confronted Mr. Onthank, and barred his progress.
"Jerusalem!" ejaculated the surprised and dismayed Yankee, and he instinctively felt for his rifle. But, alas! he had left it in the camp. It was thoughtless and imprudent to venture out unarmed; but the scene was so quiet and peaceful that no thought of danger had entered the mind of our unlucky friend.
The bear sat upon his haunches, and stared at the intruder. Ebenezer, brought to a stand-still, returned his gaze. They were less than a hundred feet apart, and the situation was decidedly critical.
"I guess he wants to chaw me up for his breakfast," thought Ebenezer, despairingly, "and I don't see what I can do to prevent it."
The bear, however, seemed in no hurry to commence the attack. He surveyed our Yankee with dignified gravity, conscious that he had him at advantage. When Ebenezer felt for his rifle he uttered a low growl, being possibly aware of his purpose. Possibly he laughed in his sleeve (some of my young critics may suggest that bears have no sleeves) at his failure.
Ebenezer looked about him despairingly. No man will surrender at discretion to a grizzly, for he can hope for no mercy. But what could be done? Once subjected to the terrible hug, and the life would be crushed out of him in less than a minute.
"If Ferguson and Tom were only here!" thought poor Ebenezer.
But the camp was at least two miles away, and his two companions, unconscious of his terrible peril, were calmly sleeping, and not likely to awaken till he was a crushed and bleeding corpse.
In great crises the mind travels rapidly. I shall not attempt to record the thoughts that chased one another through the mind of the luckless adventurer. But they were by no means pleasant.
"I shall never see Green Mountain Mills again," he thought, with an inward groan. "I shall never marry Susan Jones, or eat any of marm's nut-cakes. If I only had my rifle here, I'd make one effort for my life. I'd spoil the beauty of that ugly devil anyhow."
Still, as if charmed, he stood staring open-eyed at the grizzly.
Bruin, deciding that this had lasted long enough, began in a slow and dignified manner to approach the intruder upon his solitude.
This broke the charm. With a wild shout Ebenezer Onthank took to his heels and flew over the ground at a rate of speed which Weston, the champion runner, would scarcely be able to equal.
The grizzly accepted the challenge, and increased his own speed, developing an activity hardly to be expected of his huge and unwieldy form.
It was man against beast, with the odds decidedly in the favor of the latter.
UP A TREE.
The race between the Yankee and the bear was an exciting one, to the former at least. He was fleet of foot, and in a hundred yards' dash would have won without great difficulty; but in wind and endurance the grizzly excelled him. So, as the race continued, Mr. Onthank, looking back from time to time, was painfully conscious that his enemy was gaining upon him. The perspiration came out upon his face in large drops, and he panted painfully. He felt that the chances were against him, and he could almost feel in advance the fatal hug which would slowly press the life out of him. As he felt his strength failing he looked around him despairingly. Just before him was a moderate-sized tree. Though he knew that bears can climb, he gathered his remaining strength, seized a low hanging branch, and swung himself up just in time to avoid his persistent foe, who was close upon his heels. He did not tarry where he was, but climbed higher up, until from a height of twenty feet he could look down upon the bear.
Bruin looked up placidly, but did not begin to climb at once. Probably he was fatigued with his race. Moreover he knew that his intended victim could not get away. The latter was emphatically and literally "treed." The bear sat upon his haunches and complacently regarded the Yankee.
Ebenezer Onthank made himself as comfortable as he could under the circumstances. He was by no means easy in mind, however. He was "holding the fort," it is true; but the enemy was in force outside, and evidently intended to remain. Worse still, he would probably after a while climb the tree, and this would bring matters to a crisis.
"You pesky critter! Why don't you go along about your business?" exclaimed the unhappy adventurer, shaking his fist at the foe.
Bruin deigned no reply, but continued to survey him with steady, unwinking eyes.
"If I only had a gun, I'd pepper you," continued Ebenezer. "I should like to put a bullet into that impudent eye of yours."
Though the bear had never received an English education, his instinct probably enabled him to understand the feelings of his intended victim, but he remained as placid as ever.
So an hour passed. At the end of that time the situation remained unchanged. The unfortunate Yankee was getting hungry, as well as tired of his somewhat constrained position. Bears probably have more patience than the human family, for Bruin had scarcely moved, except occasionally to wag his great head. He felt that in the game that was being played it was his adversary's turn to make the next move.
"I wish Tom and the Scotchman would find me out," thought Onthank. "What on earth makes them sleep so late?" he continued, irritably. "They must be naturally lazy."
He may be excused for feeling irritated, though there was no particular reason to expect his two friends to curtail their hours of slumber because he had done so. But he was not in a position where it is easy to be reasonable, and in his situation every minute seemed to him as long as five.
Meanwhile, in the camp, a mile away, Tom and Ferguson had awakened.
"How did you sleep, Tom?" asked the Scotchman.
"Tip-top. Did you rest well?"
"I have a gift of sleep," replied Ferguson. "But where is our Yankee friend?"
"I suppose he has taken an early walk," said Tom. "He will be back before long, I guess. We'd better not wait breakfast for him. I'm hungry for one."
The two friends proceeded to break their fast, washing down the rather stale provisions with water from a spring near by.
"I wish it were coffee," said Tom. "I'm tired of cold water."
"Doubtless the coffee would be more gratifying to the palate, Tom; but it's likely the water is better for the health."
"I suppose you would refuse a cup of hot coffee, Mr. Ferguson, if it were offered you," said Tom, smiling.
"I don't say that, Tom. I would risk its effect upon my health for once. But, as we haven't got it, we may as well make the best of what we have."
Soon after their simple meal, which did not consume much time, Tom suggested to his companion that they set out in search of Mr. Onthank. He did not suspect that their missing companion was in trouble, but he thought that it would be pleasant to take a walk.
"You can go, if you like, Tom," said Ferguson, with characteristic caution. "I will remain behind to look after the camp."
"All right, Mr. Ferguson. I'll soon be back."
"Don't go too far away, my lad; and mind your bearings, so that you can find your way back."
"Never fear, Mr. Ferguson. It wouldn't be very easy to be lost here. I'll keep my eyes open, and bring Mr. Onthank back with me if I see him anywhere."
Ferguson sat down, and indulged himself in reading, probably for the hundredth time, Walter Scott's Marmion, of which he had a small pocket edition; while Tom went on his way.
A fortunate chance directed our hero by an almost straight course to the very tree where Ebenezer Onthank was still perched with the grizzly standing guard beneath. From time to time he looked about him anxiously, in the hope of seeing the approach of one of his travelling companions.
It was with a feeling of joy, not wholly unmingled with anxiety, that he descried Tom descending a hillock not many rods away. As yet it was evident that our hero had not caught sight of the bear and his prisoner. It was very necessary to put him on his guard.
"Tom!" shouted Mr. Onthank, at the top of his voice.
Tom heard the call in spite of the distance, and looked about him, but did not immediately catch sight of the speaker. It did not occur to him to look upwards.
"Tom!" shouted the Yankee again. "Here I am. Look up in the tree."
That time Tom's glance detected his companion, and, not yet having discovered the bear, he was led to wonder why Mr. Onthank had climbed the tree. As he was advancing incautiously, Onthank shouted again, "There's a cursed grizzly under the tree. Don't come too near."
Tom saw the bear, and he paused suddenly. He was startled in truth, for he had been long enough in California to be aware that it was a dangerous beast.
"Isn't Ferguson with you?" asked Onthank, anxiously, for he knew that a boy of sixteen, even if armed, was no match for the king of the California sierras.
"No, he's behind in the camp," shouted Tom, in reply.
By this time the bear became aware that there was a second intruder within his precincts. He turned his head deliberately and surveyed our hero. It is not within the range of the author to read the thoughts of a grizzly, but, from the indifference with which he turned away and resumed his watch, it may be inferred that he considered Tom too small game to merit his attention. This was rather satisfactory to our young hero, who was not ambitious to come in close quarters with so formidable an antagonist.
Startled as he was, Tom maintained his ground. He wanted to help Onthank; but he did not know how to do it.
"What can I do to help you, Mr. Onthank?" shouted Tom.
"Blamed if I know," answered the Yankee, helplessly. "I wish Ferguson were here. It won't do for you to attack the beast single-handed."
"Shall I go back for Ferguson?" asked Tom.
"I don't know; how far away is the camp?"
"It must be as much as a mile."
"While you are away the brute may take it into his head to climb the tree, and then I am gone up."
"Haven't you any weapon?"
"I'll fire at the bear if you say so."
"It would be of no use. If you missed, or only grazed him, he would make for you."
"I wish you had my rifle," said Tom.
"So do I. I'd let him have it straight in the eye. Have you had breakfast?"
"I'm as hungry as a bear—as this bear who probably wants me for his breakfast. O Tom, if I was only back at Green Mountain Mills once more, I'd be content to live and die there, and all the gold in California wouldn't bring me out here again."
Tom stood silent and perplexed. While he was considering whether he could do anything to help his friend, the bear slowly rose, approached the tree, and, grasping it between his paws, prepared to climb. He was evidently tired of waiting.
"He's coming, Tom!" shouted Onthank. "O Lord, what shall I do?"
AN EXCITING PURSUIT.
Mr Onthank's reflections when the grizzly was slowly but steadily climbing the tree were by no means pleasant.
"If he once grips me, I am gone," he said, despairingly.
"Shall I shoot?" asked Tom, looking on in excitement.
"You might hit me," said Ebenezer, who knew nothing of Tom's skill as a marksman.
"No, I won't."
"I think I'll swing off," said the Yankee, "and join you."
Whether this was or was not a wise thing to do Tom did not feel qualified to decide. It was evident that Onthank must do something speedily, or he would be in the power of the bear. He waited nervously till Bruin was uncomfortably near, and then, seizing the branch with his hands, swung to the ground. The height was considerable, and the fall jarred him; but, quickly recovering himself, he ran towards Tom.
"Now we must run for our lives, Tom," he said, suiting the action to the word.
Tom fully understood the necessity, and followed suit, first hazarding a glance at the discomfited bear.
When the grizzly witnessed the escape of his victim he showed no excitement, nor did he accelerate his motions. He began deliberately to back down the tree. This required some little time, which Tom and his friend made the most of.
"Give me your rifle," said Onthank.
"I'd rather keep it," said Tom.
"I can make better use of it," said the Yankee.
"I don't know about that," said Tom. "At any rate I will keep it."
He felt that it was hardly reasonable to expect him, in the presence of such a danger, to give up his only instrument of defence.
"You are only a boy," said his companion, discontented.
"I can shoot," answered Tom, briefly.
Onthank was not in general an unreasonable man, but danger makes men selfish.
"Give it to me," he said, in a tone of authority, and he tried to wrest it from Tom's hands.
"You shall not have it," exclaimed Tom, indignantly. "Take away your hand, or I'll shoot you!"
Of course Tom was excited, and would not have carried out his threat, but he was fully resolved to stand up for his rights.
Whether Ebenezer would have yielded the point, being stronger than Tom, is uncertain; but our hero shouted "Look out for the bear!" and the Yankee, in alarm, released his hold, and the two entered upon a race, in which the Yankee's superior length of limb enabled him to keep the first place.
Bruin was now on terra firma, and was on his way, wagging his great head, developing an alarming rate of speed. Tom was somewhat hampered by the weapon which he carried, and he was getting out of breath. Onthank was three or four rods ahead of him. The situation had changed, and it was now Tom that was in the greater peril.
"Don't give out, Tom!" called out Ebenezer, encouragingly.
"I won't," gasped Tom, "if I can help it."
"Is he gaining on us?"
"Yes," returned our hero.
"Then I'll try another tree," said Onthank, and he caught a branch, and clambered up into a tree quite similar to the other in which he had been besieged.
Tom would gladly have followed his example, but the branch was too high for him to reach readily, and the grizzly was too near to give him adequate time. Poor boy! He began to despair, and was at an utter loss what to do. To face round and fire at the foe seemed about all that was left him, but he wanted to reserve his fire to the last. He caught sight of another tree, of a larger trunk than the one which Onthank had ascended, and ran towards it, pursued by the grizzly. Then commenced a dodging game, which seemed to afford but a brief respite from destruction.
"This can't last long," thought poor Tom. "I suppose I must die."
In that brief time of peril many thoughts passed through his mind. To die at his age would be sad enough; but the thought that his expedition would be a failure, only involving his father deeper in difficulty and debt chiefly troubled him. The mortgage would be foreclosed, and his father and whole family deprived of their humble home. Onthank watched the boy's peril, unable to give him assistance. To do him justice he almost forgot his own danger in the more apparent and immediate peril of his young companion.
"Be careful!" he shouted, quite needlessly. "Don't let him grip you. Give it to him right in the eye."
Tom was so absorbed, and his mind so painfully occupied by his efforts to keep out of his enemy's clutches, that he was not conscious of the warning.
Active and alert as he was, the result was hardly a matter of doubt. He would tire sooner than the bear, and if he ran again he was sure to be overtaken. This, however, was what he did. Of course the grizzly instantly pursued him. Poor Tom breathed a prayer for help, though there seemed no chance of his prayer being answered; but sometimes God sends assistance when there seems no chance of escape.
The galloping of a horse was heard. There was a whirling sound, and Bruin, already within two yards of Tom, was jerked back, and brought to a stand-still by a lasso which wound about his neck. A shout caused Tom suddenly to turn his head, and to his joy he saw a mounted Mexican vaquero, who had brought him timely relief.
Bruin growled angrily on finding himself balked of his prey. He was not disposed to yield to his new antagonist. Rising and sitting on his haunches he began coolly to draw in the lasso, against the combined strength of man and horse. The muscular force of a big grizzly is simply enormous. Usually he is attacked from two sides, two lassos being thrown around him. For a single antagonist he is sometimes more than a match, as seemed likely in the present case. The rieta being attached to the pommel of the saddle, of course the bear, in pulling as he did, hand over hand, steadily brought the vaquero and his steed nearer. The horse, terrified, trembled in every limb, and tried to rear; but his strength was as nothing when opposed to the steady power of his massive antagonist.
Relieved from the immediate attentions of the grizzly, Tom did not continue to run, but stood still, and, forgetting his own peril, remained an excited spectator of the struggle between the bear and the vaquero.
The Mexican in an excited manner shouted to him to shoot. This brought Tom to a sense of his duty. A third person had been brought into danger by an effort to give him assistance, and he was too manly to leave him to his fate. He raised his rifle, and, taking quick aim, fired. Our young hero was of course inexperienced, and it was only by a piece of good fortune that his bullet inflicted a serious wound, striking the bear in the throat. The blood began to flow and the grizzly, growling fiercely, slackened his hold on the lasso. The vaquero followed up Tom's shot by another, equally effective, and the powerful animal dropped to the ground, dangerous still if approached, but unfitted for pursuit.
The vaquero reined his horse back, and his dark face became illumined with a smile of satisfaction.
"He will do no more harm," he said in good English, but with a foreign accent. "The danger is over."
"Is the critter used up?" shouted Onthank, cautiously, from his elevated perch. "Is he defunct?"
"He soon will be," answered Tom. "I guess it will be safe to come down."
Ebenezer Onthank needed no second invitation. He "shinned" down the tree in a manner not unlike the grizzly, and approached the spot where the huge foe was lying, the life-blood flowing from his throat.
"I'd like to kick you, you big brute!" said Mr. Onthank.
The bear slowly turned upon him his glazing eyes, and they expressed so much ferocity that almost involuntarily the Yankee drew back. The bear partly raised himself, and tried to drag himself towards his adversaries; but the effort was vain.
"He is one of the largest I have seen," said the vaquero. "See how strong he is!"
"It was lucky for me that you came up," said Tom. "He was almost upon me."
"I had about given you up, Tom," said Onthank, "and I thought my turn was coming next."
"We are much indebted to you, sir," said Tom, gratefully, to the Mexican. "You have saved my life."
The vaquero courteously expressed his satisfaction, and, remounting his horse, resumed his journey.
"I never want to see another grizzly," said Onthank. "This one is enough for me, darn his ugly pictur'!"
"I quite agree with you, Mr. Onthank," said Tom.
TOM'S OLD HOME.
Leaving Tom for a time, we will cross the continent, and, a little earlier in point of time, look in upon Mark Nelson and his family at their humble home in New Hampshire.
For years Mr. Nelson had been struggling to provide a comfortable living for his wife and children. The struggle was not an easy one. His small farm was sterile, and yielded grudgingly its annual crops. Then the mortgage held by Squire Hudson imposed a burden of interest very hard to meet. Each half year sixty-six dollars must be raised somehow to satisfy the squire's demand. Though a rich man, with ready money in plenty, he never failed to call for his money on the very day it was due. Once or twice he had granted a delay of a day or two; but his manner was so unpleasant that the farmer, except from dire necessity, was hardly likely to ask a renewal of the favor.
The six months immediately following Tom's departure from home were not favorable to his father. There was a drought of considerable duration, which made the crops smaller than usual, and thus materially decreased the farmer's income. When the semi-annual interest became due, with the most energetic effort Mark Nelson had got together but thirty-six dollars towards it, leaving a deficit of thirty dollars.
"I feel anxious about to-morrow, Mary," he said, as the little family sat together the night before in the plain sitting-room. "I have never been so much behindhand before with the interest."
"How much do you lack, Mark?" asked Mrs. Nelson.
"That is a good deal of money," said his wife, gravely.
"Yes; I don't know where to raise it. If Squire Hudson were only a little considerate. But he isn't, and, even if he were, I am afraid there is no prospect of my raising the money at present."
"You may get some money from Tom soon," suggested Sarah.
"I can't rely upon that. Tom will doubtless send when he is able, for he understands my circumstances, and is a thoughtful boy; but it is going to take time for him to earn a surplus—enough to send on."
"He may find a big nugget," said Walter, the second boy, who eagerly read the letters from California which from time to time appeared in the weekly paper.
"He may, but the chances are against it."
"I was reading in last week's paper about a man finding a nugget worth over two thousand dollars."
"Such nuggets are as rare as large prizes in a lottery, I suspect," said Mark Nelson, who had a large share of plain common-sense.
Walter looked rather disappointed, having made up his mind that Tom would certainly find a big lump of gold, and come home rich.
"Don't you think Tom will find some gold?" he asked.
"Yes, I have no doubt he will gather some gold-dust. I have no doubt, too, that he will earn more than he or I can do at home; but I haven't much faith in these extraordinary pieces of good luck."
"Still, Tom may find a nugget," persisted Walter.
"Yes, he may, and I shall be very glad if he does; but we must not build too many air-castles on that chance."
"I wish I could see the dear boy again," sighed his mother, looking up from the stocking she was laboriously darning.
"So do I," said Walter. "He would have a lot to tell us."
"California seems so far away," resumed Mrs. Nelson, "and he has no one there to look after him, and mend his clothes—"
"And darn his stockings," said Walter, smiling.
"If he walked all the way across the continent," said Sarah, "I don't believe he would have larger holes in his stockings than you have, Walter."
"Oh, well, I exercise a good deal," said Walter. "Ask father if I don't."
"Walter will be more successful as a farmer than as a scholar," said Mr. Nelson. "He helps me a good deal."
"Tom was a good scholar," said Sarah, "and he was always ready to work too. Walter will never astonish or electrify the world by his learning."
"I don't want to," said her brother. "It isn't in my line."
"That's true enough."
"Don't tease Walter," said Mrs. Nelson. "He helps your father a good deal, and he is not a dunce."
"Thank you, mother, for taking my part. Sarah is going to be a strong-minded woman. I should not wonder if she came out as a lecturer on 'Woman's Rights' some time. I think I see her, with a pair of iron-bowed spectacles on her nose, and her back hair tied up in a big knot, flinging her arms about, and—"
"That'll do, Walter," said Sarah. "It is an unusually powerful effort for you. I have no desire to lecture on 'Woman's Rights,' though I think they ought to have them all the same."
"I guess you'll get yours. You'll make your husband stand round, if you ever get one."
Sarah laughed good-naturedly, and retorted, "I shall pity your wife, if she has to darn your stockings."
The next day about dinner-time Squire Hudson walked up to the front door, and knocked. His approach was witnessed, not without trepidation, for he was not an easy creditor.
The squire looked about him searchingly as he entered. He suspected that the interest was not ready, and the farmer's grave face confirmed his suspicions. That he was glad of this of course Mark Nelson did not dream, for he was not aware of his creditor's deep-laid plans.
"A fine day!" said the squire, with suavity. "I hope you are well, Mrs. Nelson."
"Pretty well, thank you, sir."
"Have you heard from Tom lately?"
"Yes; he had just reached California."
"Then of course he could not say anything of his prospects?"
"It was too soon."
"You must miss him a good deal—all of you."
"I am thinking of him all the time," said Mrs. Nelson.
"To be sure, that is natural in a mother. But if the boy does well, that will repay you hereafter."
"If I only felt sure he would do well."
"Oh, he is young and industrious. He will be sure to make his way. He'll like it too. Why, my Sinclair envies him the chance of leaving home. He wanted to go with him."
"Sinclair would not like to go in the same way as Tom, with the prospect of having to work hard after he got there," said Mark Nelson.
"To be sure not, neighbor Nelson. My boy has never been brought up to work. My circumstances—ahem!—have not made it necessary."
"Sinclair is fortunate in having a rich father," said the farmer.
"So I tell him," said the squire, complacently. "His fortune is already made."
"What are you going to do with him, squire?"
"Oh, I shall make a professional man of him,—a lawyer, most likely," said the rich man, complacently. "I can give him a suitable income till he gets into a paying practice."
"That will be a good many years," thought Sarah, "unless Sinclair works harder than he has lately at school;" but the shrewd young lady kept this thought to herself.
One by one wife and children left the room, for it was well understood that the squire came on business, and would be likely to desire a private interview with the farmer. They went into the kitchen, closing the door behind them, and awaited anxiously the result of the interview.
"I do hope Squire Hudson will be considerate," said Mrs. Nelson, anxiously.
"I am afraid he won't be, mother," said Sarah. "He is a hard man."
"Sinclair puts on no end of airs," said Walter. "By the way he struts round you would think he owned the whole town. You had better set your cap for him, Sarah, for he will be rich some day."
"I would rather be an old maid than marry him," said Sarah, decidedly.
"Very likely your wish will be gratified," said her brother.
Mrs. Nelson did not smile at this sally, for her mind was too full of anxiety.
A MODERN SHYLOCK.
"I believe your interest falls due to-day, Mr. Nelson," said the squire, when he found himself alone with his debtor.
"Yes," answered the farmer, slowly. It was not very likely to slip his mind.
"I suppose you have the money ready," continued the squire, who supposed no such thing.
"I have a part of it ready," said Mark Nelson, with an effort.
"A part," repeated his creditor, with a frown.
"Yes; I can give you thirty-six dollars to-day."
"Only thirty-six dollars! The amount due is sixty-six."
"I know it, Squire Hudson; but this has been a bad year for the farmers, as you probably know. Owing to the drought, my crops fell off at least one quarter."
"I can't help that," said the squire, coldly.
"If you will be a little patient," said Mr. Nelson, uneasily.
"Neighbor Nelson," said his creditor, interrupting him, "I wish to ask you one question. When I lent you money on mortgage was there a stipulation that if there was a drought I was to wait for my just interest?"
"No, Squire Hudson."
"To be sure not; I would not of course lend you money on any such terms. It was understood that my interest was to be paid semi-annually,—was it not so?"
"Wait a moment. You must certainly agree that I am entitled to prompt payment. A bargain is a bargain."
"I don't dispute it, Squire Hudson, and I have tried to be ready for you; but in spite of all my efforts I am thirty dollars short."
"Do you expect me to be content with this explanation?"
"I think you are rather hard on me, squire. It isn't as if I had the money and objected to pay. I am a poor man, but no one ever lost a dollar by me; and I don't mean that any one shall, while I have my life and strength."
"That's all very well, but it won't make up the thirty dollars in which you are delinquent."
"What would you have me do? I cannot make money."
"I wouldn't give much for an investment when the interest is delayed. It is no longer worth its face. If any of my railroad bonds defer their usual interest they at once drop in value."
"I know very little of railroad bonds, never having any money to invest in them; but I think my farm will be full security for all the money I owe you."
"Suppose I should foreclose—you would consider it an unkind thing and a great hardship, wouldn't you?"
"It would take away my means of supporting my family. I don't think you would go to extremes, for the sake of thirty dollars."
"It isn't the amount of money, neighbor Nelson, that is to be considered. It is the principle that is involved."
This is a very common pretext with men who have made up their minds to do a mean thing. Generally speaking it is false, and the money is the first consideration.
"Will you give me two months to pay the balance of interest?" asked Mark Nelson.
"What better prospect have you of being able to pay me then?"
"As soon as Tom has any money to send, he will remit to me. I think it probable that I shall hear from him in the course of two months."
"If that is your reliance," said the squire, shrugging his shoulders, "I am afraid you are leaning upon a broken reed. I know boys pretty well, and I fancy Tom will find a use for all the money he earns."
"You don't know him, Squire Hudson. He is a very conscientious boy, and understands very well the sacrifice I made in raising money to send him to California. He is not very likely to forget that."
"It seems to me that the sacrifice was mine," said the squire, with a half sneer. "If I remember rightly, I advanced the money which he took away with him."
Mark Nelson flushed, and he answered warmly, "You did advance the money, Squire Hudson, but I gave you security for it."
"And the very first interest that has come due you are not prepared to meet. You can't blame me for feeling a little doubt as to the wisdom of my advance."
"Are you very much in need of the thirty dollars?" asked Mr. Nelson, nettled at the squire's tone.
"What do you mean, sir?"
"Is it subjecting you to any great inconvenience to wait a couple of months for it? That is what I mean."
"My circumstances are not such," returned the squire, haughtily, "as to make me feel even the loss of thirty dollars."
"I wish I could say the same, but I cannot. Since, then, it will occasion you no inconvenience, I ask you as a favor that you will let the balance rest for two months."
Squire Hudson saw that he was cornered; but none the less was he disposed to yield the point. He even felt provoked with the farmer for having forced from him an acknowledgment that he did not need the money he so persistently demanded.
"I told you before," he said, "that it was not the amount of money, but the principle, that I care for. You cannot have forgotten this."
"I don't see how any principle is involved, Squire Hudson."
"You look at the matter solely from a debtor's point of view. If you held the mortgage, instead of myself, you would change your view very quickly."
"I don't think I should," said the farmer, slowly. "I would be considerate to a poor neighbor, even if it did inconvenience me a little."
"The poor neighbor should not have borrowed money on which he was unable to pay interest," said Squire Hudson, severely.
"How could I anticipate the drought that has diminished my crops?" said Mark Nelson, with spirit.
"That is neither here nor there. You knew that the interest must be paid, drought or no drought, crop or no crop."
"I cannot argue with you further, since you refuse to consider circumstances over which I have had no control. You refuse to grant me any delay?"
"Since I have not the money to pay you, will you tell me what you require?"
"How many cows do you keep?"
"You can give me one of these, and I will consider it an equivalent for the thirty dollars."
"Do you require this?" asked the farmer, uneasily.
"Yes; unless you have some other satisfactory arrangement to propose."
"I am afraid I have nothing else which you would regard as satisfactory. The loss of a cow will diminish my income. Instead of three, I ought to have four or five. I shouldn't like to be reduced to two."
"Very likely not; but an honest man is willing to make a sacrifice in order to meet his just liabilities. Besides, you expect to have the money, you say, in a couple of months. When it has come, you may have your cow back, on paying two months' interest on the deferred payment. That is only fair."
"Say no more, Squire Hudson," said the farmer. "I must, of course, consent to this arrangement since you insist upon it. How soon do you wish for the cow?"
"You had better let your son Walter drive it over this afternoon."
"He is losing no time," thought Mark Nelson, bitterly. "He does not even appear to be willing that I should have the benefit of this night's milking."
"You may send me Whiteface," continued Squire Hudson, who knew that this was the most valuable of the three cows.
"That is my best cow," protested the farmer "That makes little difference, as you expect to redeem it in two months."
Mark Nelson was silent. He felt indignant with Squire Hudson for his cruel exaction; but he felt that he was in his power, and that he must submit to his exactions.
"You will attend to this matter?" asked the squire, as he rose and prepared to go.
"Yes," answered the farmer, coldly.
When his creditor was gone he went into the kitchen and acquainted the family with what had passed. Great were the grief and indignation of the children, and Walter expressed a desire that Squire Hudson might lose all his property as a fitting reward for his meanness.
"Heaven help me if I can't meet the next interest!" said Mark Nelson, later in the day, to his wife.
"Don't be too much troubled about the future, Mark," said his wife, who was of a more hopeful temperament than her husband; "I am sure that you will get some help from Tom before six months are over."
"I hope so," answered her husband; but for the rest of the day he was very grave.
Walter drove over Whiteface, at his father's request; but he came near crying, stout boy as he was, at the loss of the faithful animal which his father had reared from a calf.
After his escape from the grizzly Tom had no further adventures of an exciting character. One afternoon he and his companions arrived at Sacramento. It was but a small settlement, but was more town-like than any place they had yet seen in California. They drove to a two-story frame building, which was the chief hotel in the town. Taking the precaution to inquire the price of board and lodging, they were dismayed by the extravagance of the charges. Tom saw that his reserve fund of twenty dollars would scarcely last him forty-eight hours.
"I can't stay here, Mr. Ferguson," he said. "I will take my chances and camp out, if necessary."
"I agree with you, lad; I'm not inclined to waste my substance on luxurious living."
"There won't be much luxurious living, I guess," said Ebenezer Onthank, who, with Yankee curiosity, had already visited the kitchen and obtained some idea of the fare to be expected. "I kin get better board at Green Mountain Mills for three dollars a week, and folks are darned glad to accommodate you for that price. These chaps seem to think and act as if we were made of money."
"I wish some of your Green Mountain Mills boarding-houses were here," said Tom. "I could save plenty of money then."
"Well, gentlemen, do you want to stay here?" inquired the landlord.
"We'd like to, squire, but not bein' millionaires I guess we'll have to put it off till times are better."
"Just as you say," said the landlord, indifferently. "There's others waiting for the only room I have empty." Then, noticing for the first time the express wagon which Tom had left outside, he asked, in a tone of interest, "Who owns that team?"
"It belongs to this boy and myself," answered Ferguson.
"Where did it come from?"
"You don't want to sell, do you?"
Tom was about to reply in the affirmative, but the Scot, more shrewd, answered indifferently, "We may sell it when we get to San Francisco."
"I need just such a team as that," said the landlord, eagerly. "I'll give you a good price for it. You can go down the river to Frisco."
"I suppose we might," said Ferguson, slowly, "if it was worth our while."
"What'll you take, cash down?" inquired the landlord, earnestly.
"Nay, my friend, I prefer to hear your views as to the price."
"I will give you eight hundred dollars for the wagon."
This was certainly an excellent profit, for but three hundred had been paid for horse and wagon. Tom's heart beat fast with excitement, for he remembered that one-third of the money would come to him. If it had depended upon him he would have clinched the bargain at once, but he wisely left the matter in the hands of his companion and partner.
"That seems a fair offer," said Ferguson; "but I think we may as well wait till we reach San Francisco. Besides, we want to sell the horse, too."
"I will give you a thousand dollars for the two," said the landlord.
A man with his pantaloons tucked in his boots, a coarse woolen shirt, and a wide-brimmed sombrero, which overshadowed a face bearing a beard of a week's growth, was leaning against the door-post.
"Landlord," said he, "I see your price, and I'll go two hundred better."
Tom stared at the speaker in surprise. He looked like a man who would have found it hard to raise twelve dollars, yet he had made an offer of twelve hundred. Our hero did not learn till afterwards that the man had "struck it rich" at the mines, sold out his claim for ten thousand dollars, and for the time being was the lucky possessor of a large bank account.
"Now, Tom Scott," expostulated the landlord, "this ain't fair. I want the wagon more'n you do, and you're a-raisin' the price on me."
"How do you know that?" drawled Scott. "I've got a pile, and I mean to take it easy while it lasts. I'm going back to the mines like a gentleman, with my own team, you bet, if I've got money enough to buy one."
The landlord was satisfied that, if he wanted the team, he must outbid his competitor, and advanced his offer to thirteen hundred dollars. But Tom Scott was not terrified. His money had come easily, and he would not let two or three hundred dollars stand in the way of his wishes.
"I'll go fifteen," he drawled.
The landlord shrugged his shoulders, and said, in a disappointed tone, "You'll have to take it, Scott. You've gone ahead of my pile."
"Well, stranger, is it a bargain?" asked Scott.
The Scotchman, though inwardly elated as well as astonished at the extraordinary offer he had received, answered quietly, "If my partner agrees."
"I guess we'd better sell," said Tom, trying not to betray his inward satisfaction.
"All right," said Scott, appearing to be well pleased. "You can have your money when you want it. If you are going to Frisco, I'll give you an order on my banker there."
"Tom Scott's a square man, and his order will fetch the money," said the landlord, observing Ferguson's prudent hesitation.
"That is satisfactory," replied Ferguson.
In five minutes more the business was concluded, and Ferguson and Tom, longing to congratulate each other on their good fortune, walked off together.
"We're in luck, Mr. Ferguson," said Tom. "I don't know whether I stand on my head or my heels. I never expected such a price."
"Twelve hundred dollars is a great profit," said Ferguson. "I almost doubt whether we are justified in asking such an extortionate price of the poor man."
"He is pleased with his bargain, and I don't think we need to trouble ourselves about that," answered Tom. "Besides, you know we can't compare prices with those at home."
"No doubt there is reason in what you say, my lad; but it's not easy at first to make allowance for the difference."
"That's so, Mr. Ferguson. When shall we go to San Francisco?"
"We will go to-morrow, if we can. I suppose you will wish to send some money to your father."
"Yes, I am in a hurry to send to him, for I am sure he needs it already. I can hardly realize that I am worth five hundred dollars."
"Yes, I had a third share in the team."
"That isn't my way of looking at it, Tom."
"Is it possible Mr. Ferguson would cheat me out of my fair share?" thought Tom, but he only harbored the suspicion for an instant. He had seen too much of his friend to believe such a thing, and he quietly waited for an explanation.
"I'll tell you how I propose that we divide it, Tom. First we'll take out the money each of us put in, one hundred for you and two hundred for me, and then we'll divide the profit equally."
"But," protested Tom, "you are entitled to two-thirds."
"Then I won't take it," said Ferguson, decidedly. "I only want half of the profit. That will give me eight hundred dollars, and that ought to satisfy me."
"And I shall have seven hundred," said Tom, his eyes sparkling.
"How kind you are, Mr. Ferguson!" exclaimed Tom, eagerly seizing the Scotchman's hand.
"No, my lad; I am only just. I am glad to help a boy who is working for his father and family."
"I shouldn't deserve to succeed if I didn't," said Tom, earnestly.
"Always bear that in mind, my lad, and God will smile on your efforts, and raise you up friends."
In spite of the high price, Tom and his partner felt justified now in stopping over night at the hotel where they had met with such a piece of good luck, and the next day started down the river for San Francisco.
TOM BUYS A BUSINESS.
It was an interesting moment for our two friends when they landed in San Francisco. The future Western metropolis was only a town of scattered wooden and adobe houses, with irregular streets and a general lack of uniformity in its buildings; but everybody seemed on the alert. The number of drones was wonderfully small; even the constitutionally lazy could not resist the golden incentives to labor. Money was looked upon with very different eyes there and at the East. No one took the trouble to dispute prices; and a man who landed with an article rare or desirable could often obtain twenty times its value. Within ten minutes of his arrival Tom witnessed a case of this kind.
Just as he was entering Montgomery street he noticed a man—evidently a new-comer—with a fine bunch of pineapples in his hand. He had just arrived in the steamer Columbus, then anchored out in the stream.
"I shouldn't mind having one of those pineapples," said Tom to Ferguson.
"Doubtless they are high-priced, being a rarity," said the Scotchman.
Just then a passer-by, attracted like Tom, and feeling a similar longing, stepped up to the new-comer.
"Are those pineapples for sale?" he asked.
"Yes, if you'll pay enough," was the half-jocular reply.
"Name your price."
"Here is your money;" and he put a gold piece into the hand of the astounded passenger, which represented ten times the sum he had paid for the fruit at San Blas.
"That's a pretty steep price," said Tom, "for six pineapples."
"It is very wasteful to spend such a sight of money to pamper the appetite," said the canny Scot. "Truly, a fool and his money are soon parted."
He was destined to be still more surprised. The purchaser within five minutes transferred half his purchase to another for fifteen dollars.
"Gold seems to be plenty here," said Tom.
"I hope all provisions are not as high," said Ferguson, "or we shall soon have a chance to spend all we have."
"Where shall we go first?" asked Tom.
"We had better go to a public house, and secure a lodging," said Ferguson.
"I wish I knew some one here to direct me."
Scarcely had Tom uttered these words than he cried out in surprise, "Why, there's John Miles!"
They were passing a little, unpainted, wooden building, of one and a half stories, used as a grocery. A German name was on the sign; but behind the rough counter stood the familiar form of John Miles.
Tom dashed into the store, followed by his more dignified companion.
"How are you, John?" he exclaimed.
"Why, if it isn't Tom," returned Miles, his face showing the joy he felt. "And here's Mr. Ferguson, too."
Then there ensued a hearty shaking of hands, followed by the question, "When did you get here?"
"About twenty minutes ago."
"And you came straight to me. That's good."
"So it is; but it's an accident. We had no idea where you were. So you are a grocer, John. Is the place yours?"
"If it is, then I've changed my name," said Miles, pointing to the sign bearing the name:—
"The first name's right, at any rate," said Tom, laughing. "I suppose you are the clerk, then."
"How long have you been here?"
"Is it a good business?"
"Very good. My Dutch friend pays me five dollars a day, and I sleep here."
"Among the groceries?"
"Yes; it saves me the expense of a bed outside, and that is a good deal. I haven't saved quite enough to pay you yet, Tom, but I can soon."
"No hurry, John. I have been lucky since I saw you."
"I am glad to hear it, Tom. Did the claim prove more productive?"
"No; but I have been speculating. Guess how much money I have with me."
"A hundred and fifty dollars."
"Not three hundred, Tom?"
"I won't make you guess any more. I have seven hundred dollars. No wonder you look surprised. I'll tell you how I made it;" and Tom repeated the story of his purchase and its profitable sale.
"I am not so much surprised now," said Miles, "for in this country a man will have what he takes a fancy to, no matter what it costs. I am glad the good luck came to you and Mr. Ferguson. I shouldn't mind having that amount of money myself."
"What would you do with it?"
"I would buy out my employer, and then I could make money fast."
"Does he want to sell?"
"Yes, he wants to go to the mines."
"Would he sell for such a small sum?"
"Yes; there isn't much of a stock, but we are constantly replenishing. I tell you what, Tom, you buy him out, and I'll manage the business."
"Are you in earnest, John?"
"Certainly I am."
"But I want to send some money home," objected Tom.
"A hundred dollars at least."
"I'll lend you the hundred, my lad," said Ferguson, "and fifty more, and you can take your own money and buy the business. I don't favor acting hastily, in general, but I have faith in our friend here, and I am led to believe that the enterprise will be a profitable one."
"You'll be my partner, Tom, and I'll give you a third of the profits without your doing a thing. If you work with me, you shall have as much more as will be satisfactory."
"I would rather go back to the mines, John, and leave you to manage this business by yourself. A quarter of the profits will satisfy me."
"No, it shall be a third. As you furnish the capital, that is only fair."
"We may be counting our chickens too soon. Perhaps your Dutch friend, whose name I can't pronounce, won't sell."
"Here he is to speak for himself."
A short German, with a ponderous frame, and a broad, good-humored face, here entered the grocery, panting with the exertion of walking, and looked inquiringly at Tom and the Scotchman.
"Herr Schinkelwitz, this is my friend, Tom Nelson," said Miles.
"Glad to see you, mine vriend," said the German, addressing Ferguson.
"No, that is Mr. Ferguson," said Miles, smiling. "I should have introduced him first."
"Wie gehts, Herr Ferguson?" said the grocer. "You have one strange name."
"Your name seems strange to me," said the Scotchman.
"Oh, no; Schinkelwitz is a very common name. Most peoples admire my name."
Tom was considerably amused, but Herr Schinkelwitz did not observe the smile which he could not repress.
"I have told my friends you would like to sell out the business," said Miles.
"Oh, ja, it is a good business, but my health is not good. I think it will be much better at the mines. You will do well to buy it yourself."
"I would if I had money enough."
"Ja, I must have the money, for I shall need it."
"My friend here has money, and may buy of you," said Miles, indicating Tom.
"What, the boy?"
"Where did he get so much money?"
"At the mines."
"Oh, ja, that is a good place to get gold. Well, my young vriend, I will sell cheap."
It will not be necessary to enter into a detailed account of the negotiation. It is enough to say that for the sum of seven hundred dollars Herr Schinkelwitz made over the business to Herr Tom, as he called him, and our hero found himself penniless, but the owner of a grocery. In half an hour it was all completed.
"Now, Tom, you are my boss," said Miles. "Shall I put your name outside?"
"No, John, put your own. I am only a silent partner, you know."
"I congratulate you, Tom," said Ferguson. "Here are two hundred dollars, for which you can give me your note."
"Yes; you will need some yourself, besides what you send to your father."
"Suppose I can't pay you back?"
"Then I will levy on the grocery, my lad," said Ferguson.
Having completed this important business arrangement, the two friends went out to explore the town. The limits were narrow compared with those of the flourishing city of the present day. Where the Palace and Grand hotels now stand was a sand-hill, and the bay encroached upon the business part of the city far more than now.
Scarcely a stone's throw from the grocery, on Montgomery street, between California and Sacramento, was the office of Adams' Express, which advertised to forward gold-dust and packages by every steamer.
"I will go in here, Mr. Ferguson," said Tom. "I shall not feel comfortable till I have started this money homeward. I am sure it will be wanted."
"Right, my lad. We will attend to it, by all means."
They entered the building,—a very humble one it would now be considered,—but they found other customers before them, and had to wait for their turn.
"What can I do for you?" asked the clerk, in a quick, business-like tone.
"I want to send home a hundred dollars," said Tom.
"Give me the address."
This was done, the money paid over, and a receipt returned in two minutes.
"How long before my father will receive the money?" asked Tom.
"The steamer starts in three days. About a month will be needed."
Then Tom moved aside, and the next man took his place.
"I am glad that is attended to," said Tom, relieved. "Now, Mr. Ferguson, I will go wherever you wish."
"We had better secure a lodging," said the Scotchman. "When we are sure of a bed we can walk about at our leisure."
Lodgings were to be had, but they were generally very dear. The first room looked at was five dollars per day, without board,—a price our friends were unwilling to pay. Finally they found a decent, though small room, with rather a narrow bed, which could be had for three fifths of that sum, and they engaged it.
"We will have to go back to the mines soon," said Tom. "San Francisco is too expensive for us to live in."
"You can afford it better than I, Tom," said his friend.
"Because you have a business that brings you in an income."
"Oh, I forgot that," said our hero, smiling. "Things happen so fast here that I haven't got used to my new position. Do you think I invested my money wisely, Mr. Ferguson?"
"Yes, my lad, since your agent is a trustworthy, honest man."
"I am sure I can trust John Miles."
"If I were not confident of it, also, I would not have encouraged you to take so important a step."
"I think I won't write to father about it," said Tom, after a pause. "He might think I had acted foolishly, and become anxious. If I succeed, then I shall be glad to surprise him. I think I shall make money; but I don't want to count on it too much. I shall be ready to go back with you to the mines whenever you say the word."
As they sauntered about, gazing curiously at the motley sights around them, they heard strains of music. It appeared to proceed from a large wooden building, with a jutting roof, under which, on benches, lounged a number of persons, some of them Mexicans, in their native costumes, smoking cigarettes. A large American flag was displayed over the door, and a crowd was constantly passing in and out.
"Let us go in," said Tom.
His companion making no objection, they entered. The first sight of the interior made clear the character of the place. There were numerous tables, spread with games,—faro, monte, and roulette,—each surrounded by an absorbed and interested group. "Easy come, easy go," was the rule with the early California pioneers, and the gaming-table enlisted in its service many men who would not have dreamed at home that they could ever be brought to tolerate such an instrument of evil.
Tom was a country boy, and unsophisticated, but he could not help understanding the nature of the business which brought so many to the place.
"I suppose they are gambling," he said.
"Yes, poor, deluded creatures!" said the Scotchman, who had been brought up to an abhorrence of games of chance. "They are wasting their time and their substance, and foolishly laying up for themselves future misery."
Had this remark been heard it would have excited indignation, and perhaps subjected the speaker to insult; but the players were too intent upon their varying chances to pay any attention to the remarks of by-standers.
"I hope, Tom, you will never yield to the seductive lures of the gaming-table," continued Ferguson.
"I don't think there is much danger," said Tom. "I have always been taught that gambling is wicked."
"May you long feel so, my lad!"
Tom did, however, watch the players with interest. He saw money lost and won, without understanding exactly how it was decided. From the game his attention was drawn to the gamesters. He was led to notice, particularly, a young man of prepossessing countenance, who was evidently profoundly excited. From time to time he drew out a roll of gold pieces, which he placed on a card, and invariably lost. He must have had a considerable sum; but, small or large, he was in ill-luck, and constantly lost. As he neared the end of his resources the feverish blush upon his handsome features was succeeded by a deep pallor, and there was no mistaking the expression of deep anguish and despair which announced that he had reached the end.
Tom became painfully interested in the young man, and silently drew the attention of his companion to him. When the end came, and the victim, thoroughly "cleaned out," turned to go out, Tom said, in a low voice, "Let us follow him."
Ferguson acquiesced. He, too, had become interested, and the young man's expression as he passed our two friends was so despairing that Ferguson felt some alarm as to the effect of his disappointment upon his mind.
Once in the street, Ferguson and Tom followed the unfortunate young man into an obscure street, keeping up with difficulty, for his pace was rapid and excited. It proved to be a fortunate thing, for when he supposed himself free from observation the young man drew a pistol, and, with an incoherent exclamation, placed it in contact with his temple.
Tom sprang forward, and so did the Scotchman; but the boy was the quicker and more agile, and dashed the pistol aside just in time to prevent a suicide.
"Why did you do that?" asked the baffled would-be-suicide, gloomily, turning his gaze upon Tom.
"I was afraid you were going to kill yourself."
"So I was."
"What could induce you to take such a rash step?" asked Ferguson.
"I have been a reckless fool. I have lost all my money at the accursed gambling-table, and my life is not worth retaining."
"It appears to me," said the Scotchman, quietly, "that you set too high a value upon money. You have certainly been very foolish to risk it at the gaming-table, and the loss will no doubt inconvenience you; but was your money all you had to live for?"