Chapter 14




GOLDEN GULCH HOTEL.

The party were able to cover a greater distance on the second day than on the first, being now among the foot-hills, where travelling was attended with less difficulty.

In the mountain-cabin they had been solitary. Their only visitors had been Bill Mosely and his friend Tom Hadley, and such visitors they were glad to dispense with. Now, however, it was different. Here and there they found a little mining-settlement with its quota of rough, bearded men clad in strange fashion. Yet some of these men had filled responsible and prominent positions in the East. One of the most brigandish-looking miners had been a clergyman in Western New York, who had been compelled by bronchial troubles to give up his parish, and, being poor, had wandered to the California mines in the hope of gathering a competence for the support of his family.

"It seems good to see people again," said Ben, whose temperament was social. "I felt like Robinson Crusoe on his desert island when I was up on the mountain."

"Yes," answered Bradley, "I like to see people myself when they're of the right sort. When they're like Bill Mosely I'd rather be alone."

"I agree with you there," said Ben. "Poor company is worse than none."

Besides the mining-settlements there were little knots of miners at work here and there, who generally gave the travellers a cordial welcome, and often invited them to stay and join them.

"No," said Bradley, "we're in a hurry to get to 'Frisco."

"Oh, you've made your pile, then?" was generally answered. "What luck have you had?"

"Our pile is a small one," Bradley was wont to reply, "but we've got business in 'Frisco. Leastwise, he has," pointing to Richard Dewey, who headed the procession.

"Will you come back to the mines?"

"I shall, for one," said Bradley. "I ain't rich enough to retire yet, and I don't expect to be for half a dozen years yet."

"Will the boy come back?"

"Yes," answered Ben. "I'm in the same situation as my friend, Mr. Bradley. I haven't my fortune yet."

"You'd better stay with us, boy. We'll do the right thing by you."

Ben shook his head and declined with thanks. He did not want to forsake his present companions. Besides, he had been commissioned by Florence Douglas to find Richard Dewey, and he wanted to execute that commission thoroughly. He wanted to see the two united, and then he would be content to return to the rough life of the mining-camp.

It is easy to understand why Ben should have received so many friendly invitations. A boy was a rarity in California at that time--at any rate, in the mining-districts. There were plenty of young men and men of middle age, but among the adventurous immigrants were to be found few boys of sixteen, the age of our hero. The sight of his fresh young face and boyish figure recalled to many miners the sons whom they had left behind them, and helped to make more vivid the picture of home which their imaginations often conjured up, and they would have liked to have Ben join their company. But, as I have said, Ben had his reasons for declining all invitations at present, though he had every reason to anticipate good treatment.

Toward the close of the second day the little party reached a small mining-settlement containing probably about fifty miners.

It was known as Golden Gulch, and it even boasted a small hotel, with a board sign, on which had been scrawled in charcoal--

GOLDEN GULCH HOTEL.

KEPT BY JIM BROWN.

"I believe we are getting into the domain of civilization," said Richard Dewey. "Actually, here is a hotel. If Mr. Brown is not too exorbitant in his prices, we had better put up here for the night."

"It doesn't look like an expensive hotel," said Ben, looking at the rough shanty which the proprietor had dignified by the appellation of "hotel."

It was roughly put together, had but one story, was unpainted, and was altogether hardly equal, architecturally, to some of the huts which are to be found among the rocks at the upper end of Manhattan Island.

Such was Jim Brown's "Golden Gulch Hotel." Such as it was, however, it looked attractive to our pilgrims, who for so long had been compelled to be their own cooks and servants.

They found, upon inquiry, that Jim Brown's terms for supper, lodging, and breakfast were five dollars a day, or as nearly as that sum could be reached in gold-dust. It was considerably higher than the prices then asked at the best hotels in New York and Philadelphia; but high prices prevailed in California, and no one scrupled to pay them.

The party decided to remain, and the landlord set to work to prepare them a supper as good as the limited resources of the Golden Gulch Hotel would allow. Still, the fare was better and more varied than our travellers had been accustomed to for a long time, and they enjoyed it.

Ki Sing sat down to the table with them. This was opposed at first by Jim Brown, the landlord, who regarded Chinamen as scarcely above the level of his mules.

"You don't mean to say you want that heathen to sit down at the table with you?" he remonstrated.

"Yes, I do," said Richard Dewey.

"I'd sooner be kicked by a mule than let any yaller heathen sit next to me," remarked Jim Brown, whose education and refinement made him sensitive to such social contamination.

Richard Dewey smiled. "Of course you can choose for yourself," he said. "Ki Sing is a friend of mine, though he is acting as my servant, and I want him to have equal privileges."

Jim Brown remarked that of course Dewey could choose his own company, though he intimated that he thought his taste might be improved.

"Me eatee aftelward," said Ki Sing when he perceived that his presence at the table was the subject of controversy, but he was overruled by Richard Dewey, who possessed a large share of independence, and would not allow himself to be controlled or influenced by the prejudices of others.

This may not seem a very important matter, but it aroused a certain hostility on the part of the landlord, which arrayed him against Dewey and his companions at a critical time.

Entirely unconscious of the storm that was soon to gather about them, the little party did good justice to the supper which Mr. Brown set before them.

"How would it seem, Jake, to have supper like this every night?" remarked Ben.

"It would make me feel like a prince," answered Jake Bradley.

"It is no better than I used to get at Uncle Job's, and yet he was a poor man. How he would stare if he knew I was paying five dollars a day for no better fare than he gave me!" replied our hero.

"That's true, Ben; but maybe it's easier to get the five dollars here than it would have been to scrape together fifty cents at home."

"You're right there, Jake. Fifty cents was a pretty big sum to me a year ago. I don't believe Uncle Job himself averages over a dollar and a quarter a day, and he has a family to support. If I only do well here, I'll make him comfortable in his old age."

"I guess you'll have the chance, Ben. You're the boy to succeed. You're smart, and you're willin' to work, and them's what leads to success out here."

"Thank you, Jake. I will try to deserve your favorable opinion."

As Ben finished these words, there was a confused noise outside, the hoarse murmur as of angry men, and a minute later Jim Brown the landlord entered the room, his face dark and threatening.

"Strangers," said he, "I reckoned there was something wrong about you when you let that yaller heathen sit down with you. Now, I know it. You ain't square, respectable men; you're hoss-thieves!"




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