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"THE BEST OF FRIENDS MUST PART."
Mosely and his companion continued in captivity through the night. Some of my readers may consider the punishment a severe one, and it must be admitted that it was attended with no small share of discomfort. But for that time it was an exceedingly mild penalty for the offence which the two men had committed. In the early days of California, theft was generally punished in the most summary manner by hanging the culprit from a limb of the nearest tree, and that, in the majority of cases, would have been the fate of Bill Mosely and Tom Hadley.
But neither Bradley nor Ben was willing to go to such extremes. Jake Bradley had had rough experiences, and he was no soft-hearted sentimentalist, but he had a natural repugnance to taking the life of his fellow-creatures.
"Money," he said on one occasion to Ben, "ain't to be measured ag'in a man's life. I don't say I wouldn't kill a man for some things, though I should hate to mightily, but it wouldn't be on account of robbery. I wouldn't have a man's blood on my conscience for such a thing as that."
It is needless to say that our young hero, whose heart was warm and humane, agreed fully with his older companion.
When the two friends got up in the morning and went out of the cabin, they found their two captives in the same position in which they had left them. They looked weary and were stiff in the limbs, as well they might be.
"Well, my friends," said Bradley, "I hope you've passed a pleasant night."
"I'm almost dead," growled Bill Mosely. "I feel as if I'd been here a week."
"Do you feel the same way?" inquired Bradley, addressing Tom Hadley.
"I should say so," answered Hadley, in a voice of intense disgust.
"It was your own choice, Mosely," said Jake Bradley. "It was either all night braced up against a tree, or to be shot at once and put out of your misery."
"Who wants to be shot?" returned Mosely. "That would be worse than stayin' here all night. You might have let us go last night."
"So I might, but I wanted to teach you a lesson. You know very well, Bill Mosely, you'd have fared a good deal worse with some men. You'd have been swingin' from the nearest bough, and so would your friend. You'll come to that some time, but I'd rather some one else would hang you. It ain't a job I hanker after."
"Are you goin' to set us free?" asked Mosely, impatiently, not enjoying Bradley's prediction as to his future fate.
"Yes, I think I will--on one condition."
"Go ahead! I'll agree to anything."
"That you'll leave this part of California and not come back. I don't want you to cross my path ag'in."
"You can bet I don't mean to," said Mosely; and there is no doubt he was entirely in earnest.
"Do you make the same promise, Tom?" asked Bradley, turning to Hadley.
"I should say so," returned Hadley; and there is no reason to doubt his sincerity also.
"You see, my friends, you don't appear to know the difference between your property and mine, particularly when it comes to hosses. It is an unfortunate little peculiarity of yours that will bring your life to an untimely end some of these days. If you should ever reform and set up as respectable men, I might be willin' to know you, but there's about as much chance of that, accordin' to my reckonin', as of water runnin' up hill."
While he was expressing himself thus he was cutting the cords of his prisoners, and they took the first chance to stretch their cramped limbs.
"Feel better, don't you?" asked Bradley, smiling.
"I should say so," answered Hadley.
"Couldn't you give us something to eat?" asked Mosely; "I haven't eaten a mouthful since yesterday noon, and I feel faint."
"Ki Sing," said Bradley, "bring out some victuals. These men are not particular friends of mine, but we won't send them away hungry. I've known what it is to fast for thirty-six hours at a stretch, and I understand how it feels."
Ki Sing brought out some cold meat and other plain food, which the two adventurers ate as if they were famished. Their long fast and exposure during the night had sharpened their appetites and lent a keener zest to their enjoyment of the meal.
When they had finished Jake Bradley pointed down the mountain. "You've had your breakfast," he said, "and now there is only one thing more. I want to see you travel."
Bill Mosely looked askance at the two mustangs, which were tied only a few rods off.
Jake Bradley caught the direction of his glance. "It's no go, my friend," he said. "You don't borrow our mustangs this time. We shall have occasion to use them ourselves. It won't do you any harm to try your own legs for a while."
Bill Mosely wasn't easily abashed. He was lazy, and the prospect of tramping all day was by no means agreeable to him. Thanks to his last robbery, he and his companion were tolerably well supplied with gold-dust, which was a common circulating medium in California at that time. An idea struck him, which he lost no time in carrying out. "What value do you set on them horses?" he asked.
"What makes you ask?" inquired Jake Bradley, with some curiosity.
"We'll buy 'em if you'll take a fair price."
"Buy our mustangs! Have you got the money?"
"We've got gold-dust."
"Where did you get it? I'll warrant you didn't work for it."
"That's our business," answered Mosely, stiffly. "The question is, Do you want to sell?"
"No, I don't; and if I did I should want to know whose money I was takin'."
Bill Mosely was disappointed. In that lonely neighborhood it was hardly likely there would be any other opportunity of obtaining horses, and there was nothing for it but to walk.
"You haven't got any other business, have you, Mosely?" asked Bradley.
"No.--Tom, come on."
"Good-bye, then. Our acquaintance has been brief, Mosely, but I know you as well as if we'd lived in the same town for years. You're a fine man, you are, and an ornament to your native State; but if you ain't a little more careful you'll be likely to die young, and the world will lose a man who in his line can't be beat."
Bill Mosely did not attempt any reply to this farewell, but strode down the sloping path, closely followed by Tom Hadley.
When he had got out of hearing of his late captors he turned to Hadley and said, "I hate that man! He has put a stain on my honor; he has insulted and outraged me."
"I should say so," observed Tom Hadley.
"He has treated you just as badly, Hadley; that stain must be washed out in blood."
"When?" inquired his companion, in a matter-of-fact manner.
"I don't know. Some time. He has had the advantage over us this time, but we shall meet again. Do you hear that, Tom Hadley?" continued Mosely, in a theatrical tone, raising his voice at the same time--"we shall meet again."
"I don't want to meet him again," said Hadley.
"You don't comprehend me. When we meet it will be our turn to deal with him."
"Just as you say," returned Tom Hadley, varying his usual formula.
"It's very unlucky we went up to that cabin," said Bill, after a pause.
"I should say so," chimed in Tom, very emphatically.
"It was cursed ill-luck, but how could we know that that dare-devil was a friend of Dewey's? If we'd let well enough alone, we shouldn't have lost our horses and been compelled to tramp on foot over these mountains."
"Where are we going?" asked Tom Hadley.
"Down hill," answered Mosely briefly.
This answer did not appear to Tom Hadley to contain much information, but his mind was not active enough to frame another question, and the two plodded along in silence.
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