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"What's the news, Ben? You didn't happen to bring an evenin' paper, did you?"
The speaker was a tall, loose-jointed man, dressed as a miner in a garb that appeared to have seen considerable service. His beard was long and untrimmed, and on his head he wore a Mexican sombrero.
This was Jake Bradley, a rough but good-hearted miner, who was stretched carelessly upon the ground in front of a rude hut crowning a high eminence in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Ben Stanton, whom he addressed, was a boy of sixteen, with a pleasant face and a manly bearing.
"No, Jake," he answered with a smile, "I didn't meet a newsboy."
"There ain't many in this neighborhood, I reckon," said Bradley. "I tell you, Ben, I'd give an ounce of dust for a New York or Boston paper. Who knows what may have happened since we've been confined here in this lonely mountain-hut? Uncle Sam may have gone to war, for aught we know. P'r'haps the British may be bombarding New York this moment."
"I guess not," said Ben, smiling.
"I don't think it likely myself," said Bradley, filling his pipe. "Still, there may be some astonishin' news if we could only get hold of it."
"I don't think we can complain, Jake," said Ben, turning to a pleasanter subject. "We've made considerable money out of Mr. Dewey's claim."
"That's so. The three weeks we've spent here haven't been thrown away, by a long chalk. We shall be pretty well paid for accommodatin' Dick Dewey by stayin' and takin' care of him."
"How much gold-dust do you think we're got, Mr. Bradley?"
"What!" exclaimed Bradley, taking the pipe from his mouth; "hadn't you better call me the Honorable Mr. Bradley, and done with it? Don't you feel acquainted with me yet, that you put the handle on to my name?"
"Excuse me, Jake," said Ben; "that's what I meant to say, but I was thinking of Mr. Dewey and that's how I happened to call you Mister."
"That's a different matter. Dick's got a kind of dignity, so that it seems natural to call him Mister; but as for me, I'm Jake Bradley, not a bad sort of fellow, but I don't wear store-clo'es, and I'd rather be called Jake by them as know me well."
"All right, Jake; but you haven't answered my question."
"Oh yes. Well, I should say that the dust we've got out must be worth nigh on to five hundred dollars."
"So much as that?" asked Ben, his eyes sparkling.
"Yes, all of that. That claim of Dewey's is a splendid one, and no mistake. I think we ought to pay him a commission for allowing us to work it."
"I think so too, Jake."
They were sitting outside the rude hut which had been roughly put together on the summit of the mountain. The door was open, and what they said could be heard by the occupant, who was stretched on a hard pallet in one corner of the cabin.
"Come in, you two," he called out.
"Sartin, Dick," said Bradley; and he entered the cabin, followed by Ben.
"What was that you were saying just now?" asked Richard Dewey.
"Tell him, Ben," said Bradley.
"Jake was saying that we ought to pay you a commission on the gold-dust we took from your claim, Mr. Dewey," said our hero, for that is Ben's position in our story.
"Why should you?" asked Dewey.
"Because it's yours. You found it, and you ought to get some good of it."
"So I have, Jake. In the first place, I got a thousand dollars out of it before I fell sick--that is, sprained my ankle."
"But you ain't gettin' anything out of it now."
"I think I am," said Dewey, smiling and looking gratefully at his two friends. "I am getting the care and attention of two faithful friends, who will see that I do not suffer while I am laid up in this lonely hut."
"We don't want to be paid for that, Dick."
"I know that, Bradley; but I don't call it paying you to let you work the claim which I don't intend to work myself."
"But you would work it if you were well."
"No, I wouldn't," answered Dewey, with energy. "I would leave this place instantly and take the shortest path to San Francisco."
"To see the gal that sent us out after you?"
"Yes. But, Jake, suppose you call her the young lady."
"Of course. You mustn't mind me, Dick. I don't know much about manners. I was raised kind of rough, and never had no chance to learn politeness. Ben, here, knows ten times as much as I do about how to behave among fashionable folks."
"I don't know about that, Jake," said Ben. "I was brought up in the country, and I know precious little about fashionable folks."
"Oh, well, you know how to talk. Besides, didn't you bring out Miss Douglas from the States?"
"She brought me," said Ben.
"It seems to me we are wandering from the subject," said Dewey. "It was a piece of good luck for me when you two happened upon this cabin where I lay helpless, with no one to look after me but Ki Sing."
"Ki Sing took pretty good care of you for a haythen," said Bradley.
"So he did. He is a good fellow, if he is a Chinaman, and far more grateful than many of his white brothers; but I was sighing for the sight of one of my own color, who would understand my wants better than that poor fellow, faithful as he is."
"I reckon the news we brought you helped you some, Dick," said Jake Bradley.
"Yes. It put fresh life into me to learn that Florence Douglas, my own dear Florence, had come out to this distant coast to search for me. But I tell you, Jake, it's rather tantalizing to think that she is waiting for me in San Francisco, while I am tied by the ankle to this lonely cabin so many miles away."
"It won't be for long now, Dick," said Bradley. "You feel a good deal better, don't you?"
"Yes; my ankle is much stronger than it was. Yesterday I walked about the cabin, and even went out of doors. I felt rather tired afterward, but it didn't hurt me."
"All you want is a little patience, Dick. You mustn't get up too soon. A sprain is worse than a break, so I've often heard: I can't say I know from experience."
"I hope you won't. It's a very trying experience, as I can testify."
"You'd get well quicker if we had some doctor's stuff to put on it, but I reckon anyhow you'll be out in a week or ten days."
"I hope so. If I could only write to Florence and let her know where and how I am, I wouldn't mind so much the waiting."
"Don't worry about her. She's in 'Frisco, where nothing can't happen to her," said Bradley, whose loose grammar I cannot recommend my young readers to imitate.
"I am not sure about that. Her guardian might find out where she is, and follow her even to San Francisco. If I were on the spot he could do no harm."
"I tell you, Dick, that gal--excuse me, I mean that young lady--is a smart one, and I reckon she can get ahead of her guardian if she wants to. Ben here told me how she circumvented him at the Astor House over in York. She'll hold her own ag'in him, even if he does track her to 'Frisco."
Some of my readers may desire to know more about Dewey and his two friends, and I will sketch for their benefit the events to which Bradley referred.
Florence Douglas was the ward of the Albany merchant, John Campbell, who by the terms of her father's will was entrusted with the care of her large property till she had attained the age of twenty-five, a period nearly a year distant. Mr. Campbell, anxious to secure his ward's large property for his son, sought to induce Florence to marry the said son, but this she distinctly declined to do. Irritated and disappointed, Mr. Campbell darkly intimated that should her opposition continue he would procure from two pliant physicians a certificate of her insanity and have her confined in that most terrible of prisons, a mad-house. The fear that he would carry his threat into execution nerved Florence to a bold movement. Being mistress of a fortune of thirty thousand dollars, left by her mother, she had funds enough for her purpose. She fled to New York, where chance made her acquainted with our hero, Ben Stanton, under whose escort she safely reached San Francisco, paying Ben's expenses in return for his protection.
Arrived in San Francisco, she furnished Ben with the necessary funds to seek out Richard Dewey (to whom, without her guardian's knowledge, she was privately betrothed) and inform him of her presence in California. After a series of adventures Ben and his companion had found Dewey, laid up with a sprained ankle in a rude hut high up among the mountains. He had met with an accident while successfully working a rich claim near by.
Of course Richard Dewey was overjoyed to meet friends of his own race who could provide for him better than his faithful attendant, Ki Sing. As he could not yet leave the spot, he offered to Ben and Bradley the privilege of working his claim.
In the next chapter I will briefly explain Ben's position, and the object which brought him to California, and then we shall be able to proceed with our story.
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