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AFTER THE EXECUTION.
While Ben rejoiced and lifted silent thanks to God for his narrow escape from a shameful death, he felt no satisfaction in the knowledge that the men who had basely conspired against them had suffered the like terrible fate. He averted his head in horror from the sight, and, innocent as he was of fault, he felt depressed to think that his words had resulted in bringing this punishment upon them.
I have said that he was the hero of the hour. Boys were scarce in California, and the hearts of the miners warmed to him on account of his youth and the memories it called up of their own children far away.
A self-appointed committee waited upon him and asked him to stay with them.
"We'll all help you along," they said. "We will make your share equal to that of the luckiest miner among us. You're true grit, and we respect you for it. What do you say?"
"What shall I do, Jake?" he asked of Bradley.
"It's a fair offer, Ben. Perhaps you'd best stay. I'd stay too, only I want to see Dick Dewey safe in 'Frisco. When he and his gal are j'ined I'll come back and try my luck here."
"I will do the same, Jake. I want to go to San Francisco and see the lady who was so kind to me. I sha'n't feel that I've done all my duty till I have seen her and Mr. Dewey united. Then I shall be ready to come back."
"Tell 'em so, Ben."
Ben gave this answer to those who had asked him to stay, thanking them gratefully for their kind offer. His answer gave general satisfaction.
Ben could hardly realize that these very men had been impatient to hang him only an hour before. He was thankful for this change in their sentiments, though he did not pretend to understand it.
Bradley and Dewey, knowing the fickleness of a mining-community, were a little apprehensive that their original suspicions might again be aroused, and that some among them might be led to think they had make a mistake, after all, and hung the wrong men. That would be serious, and perhaps dangerous to them. They reflected that only Ben's speech had turned the tide of sentiment, and the two thieves had been hung on the unsupported word of a boy. Might not this occur to some of the company in some of their cooler moments? They decided in a secret conference that it would be best for them to get away early the next morning--that is, as early as practicable--before any change had come over the minds of their new friends.
Later, however, they were relieved from their momentary apprehension.
Two men who had been out hunting did not return to the camp till an hour after the execution had taken place.
"What's happened? they asked.
"We've only been hangin' a couple of hoss-thieves," was answered coolly by one of their comrades. "We came near hangin' the wrong men, but we found out our mistake."
The two hunters went to view the bodies of the malefactors, who were still suspended from the extemporized gallows.
"I know them men," said one with sudden recognition.
"What do you know about them? Did you ever meet them?"
"I reckon I did. They camped with me one night, and in the morning they were missing, and all my gold-dust too."
"Then it's true what the boy said? they're thieves, and no mistake?"
"You've made no mistake this time. You've hung the right men."
This fresh testimony was at once communicated to the miners, and received with satisfaction, as one or two had been a little in doubt as to whether the two men were really guilty. No one heard it with more pleasure than Dewey and Bradley, who felt now that they were completely exonerated.
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