Chapter 13




KI SING'S RIDE.

The next morning after breakfast the party got off. Fortunately, there were no trunks or heavy luggage to carry. California pioneers had no occasion for Saratoga trunks, and the amount of clothing they carried in addition to what they had on was very small.

"Ki Sing," said Bradley, jocosely, "I am afraid we can't carry your trunk with us."

"'Tlunk'!" repeated the Chinaman, looking puzzled.

"Yes, trunk, or 'tlunk,' as you call it. Haven't you a trunk to carry your clothes?"

"Got clothes on," said Ki Sing, pointing to his blouse and wide pants.

"I see," said Bradley, laughing. "We're all about in the same fix. The clothes of the whole party wouldn't half fill a trunk."

The two horses were brought out and saddled.

Bradley assisted Richard Dewey to mount one, and motioned to Ben to mount the other. "Get on, Ben," he said. "It's time the procession was moving."

Ben shook his head. "No, Jake," he said. "You are older than I am. It is proper that you should ride."

"If I'm older than you," said Bradley, "I am stronger than you, and am better able to walk."

"I am strong enough, Jake. I sha'n't get tired."

"One of us ought to ride. There's no use in havin' a horse if you ain't going to use him."

"Suppose," suggested Ben, laughing, "we let Ki Sing ride?"

Bradley saw that a joke was intended, and he turned gravely to the Chinaman. "Ki Sing," he said, "come here and mount this mustang. We are goin' to let you ride."

An expression of alarm overspread the Chinaman's broad face. He had never been on a horse's back in his life, but he knew something of the Californian mustangs. More than once he had seen them buck and throw the ill-fated riders over their heads, and, not being of a daring or venturesome nature, he preferred to walk rather than trust himself to mount the back of so treacherous an animal.

"Ki Sing no wantee lide," he said, starting back in alarm.

"But, Ki Sing, you will get tired tramping over these hills. It will be much easier to ride on a mustang."

"No likee mustang--mustang buckee," objected the Chinaman.

"You are right, Ki Sing. They do buck sometimes, but this animal is as mild and peaceful as a lamb. However, we won't insist on your riding now. Some other day, when you have found out how safe he is, you shall try him."

The Chinaman seemed much relieved at the privilege accorded him of walking, and with his small bundle prepared to take his place in the procession.

"Ben," said Bradley, "the best way for us to arrange will be to take turns in riding. I'd a good deal rather walk half the way. My legs get cramped when I am on horseback too long. You remember I used to get off and lead the horse when we had one apiece. You may take your turn first, and as you are riding I will give you a bag to carry. Mind you don't lose it, for it contains our store of gold-dust."

"All right, Jake. I'll ride first, if you say so." In truth, Ben was pleased to find himself once more on the back of a horse. He had not had much practice in riding at the East, but the practice he had had in California had already made him a good rider, and even if the mustang had taken a fancy to buck he would have found it rather hard to dislodge our young hero. The animal he bestrode, however, was very well-behaved, especially when he felt that his rider had the mastery over him. Any horse, with any spirit, is apt to take advantage of a timid or unpractised rider, and the animal is very quick to learn when this is the case.

During the first day the mustang behaved remarkably well. To begin with, both Ben and Bradley were good riders. Moreover, the path was very uneven, chiefly up and down hill, and the horse was too sensible to go much beyond a walk.

As for Dewey, he got on very comfortably. His ankle was nearly as strong as at first, but if he had been compelled to use it for a day's tramp it would undoubtedly have ached and become sensitive. On the back of his horse--or rather Bradley's--there was of course no danger of injury. When he became tired of his constrained position he got off and walked a quarter or half a mile, and experienced the needed relief.

At the end of the first day they had got well down the mountain, and the commencement of the second day's ride was over a nearly level plateau.

"This is a good place for Ki Sing to ride," suggested Ben.

"Just so," said Bradley, taking the hint.--"Ki Sing, you must take your turn now."

"No wantee lide," said the Chinaman, but he did not greet the proposal with so much alarm as on the morning previous. He had noticed the quiet behavior and regular pace of the two mustangs, and concluded that they were of a different kind from those he had seen misbehave on former occasions.

"Oh, you'll like it well enough when you try it, Ki Sing," said Bradley. "Were you ever on a horse's back?"

"Me never lide," answered the Chinaman.

"Then it is high time you began. You see, Ki Sing, it isn't exactly fair that Ben and I should ride half the time and leave you to walk all the way."

"Likee walk," said Ki Sing.

"That's because you never tried riding. You see, these two hosses of ours are jest like lambs. They're so gentle they could be rid by a two-year-old baby."

The Chinaman looked at the mustangs, and confidence came to him. So far as he had observed, what Jake Bradley said was strictly true. They certainly did seem remarkably tame.

With a little more persuasion he was induced to mount, Ben assisting him to get into position, and the reins were put into his hands.

The mustang began to move off at a regular pace, very favorable to an inexperienced rider, and a bland and child-like smile of content overspread the face of the Chinaman.

"You see, Ki Sing," said Bradley, who walked alongside, "it's nothing to ride. You thought you couldn't ride, yet you are pacing it off like a veteran."

"Me likee lide," observed Ki Sing, with a pleased smile.

"Just so: I thought you would.--Ben, doesn't Ki Sing ride well?"

"Splendidly!" said Ben, contemplating with amusement the Mongolian horseman.

Certainly, Ki Sing in his Chinese garb, as he gingerly held the reins, with his bland, smiling face, did look rather queer.

But I am sorry to say that the poor Chinaman's pleasure and contentment were destined to be of short duration. Bradley and Ben were eager for the amusement they promised themselves when they planned this practical joke at the expense of their Asiatic friend.

Winking at Ben, Bradley said, "You don't go fast enough, Ki Sing."

As he spoke he brought down a stick which he had in his hand with emphasis on the flanks of the mustang. The effect was magical. The tame animal immediately started off at great speed, arching his neck and shaking his head, while the poor Chinaman, his bland smile succeeded by a look of extreme terror, was bounced up and down in the most unceremonious fashion, and would have been thrown off quickly but for the Mexican saddle, which is a securer seat than that used at the East.

He uttered a howl of anguish, while his almond eyes seemed starting out of their sockets as his steed dashed along the road.

Though Ben sympathized with the terrified Chinaman, he knew there was little or no danger, and he threw himself on the ground and gave way to a paroxysm of laughter.

Finally the horse slackened his pace, and Ki Sing lost no time in sliding to the ground.

"How do you like it, Ki Sing?" asked Bradley, trying to keep his face straight.

"No likee lide," answered Mr. Chinaman. "Horsee 'most kill Ki Sing."

"You rode splendidly, Ki Sing," said Ben, laughing. "You made him go fast."

"No likee go fast," said Ki Sing, inspecting his limbs to see that none were broken.

The poor Chinaman's limbs were sore for a day or two, and he could never be induced to mount one of the mustangs again.

It was his first and last ride.




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