THE MISSING CHINAMAN.
If Florence Douglas was an heiress, our young hero, Ben Stanton, was likewise possessed of property, though his inheritance was not a very large one. When his father's estate was settled it was found that it amounted to three hundred and sixty-five dollars. Though rather a large sum in Ben's eyes, he was quite aware that the interest of this amount would not support him. Accordingly, being ambitious, he drew from his uncle, Job Stanton, a worthy shoemaker, the sum of seventy-five dollars, and went to New York, hoping to obtain employment.
In this he was disappointed, but he had the good fortune to meet Miss Florence Douglas, by whom he was invited to accompany her to California as her escort, his expenses of course being paid by his patroness. It is needless to say that Ben accepted this proposal with alacrity, and, embarking on a steamer, landed in less than a month at San Francisco. He did not remain here long, but started for the mining-districts, still employed by Miss Douglas, in search of Richard Dewey, her affianced husband, whom her guardian had forbidden her to marry. As we have already said, Ben and his chosen companion, Jake Bradley, succeeded in their mission, but as yet had been unable to communicate tidings of their success to Miss Douglas, there being no chance to send a letter to San Francisco from the lonely hut where they were at present living.
Besides carrying out the wishes of his patroness, Ben intended to try his hand at mining, and had employed the interval of three weeks since he discovered Mr. Dewey in working the latter's claim, with the success already referred to.
The time when the two friends are introduced to the reader is at the close of the day, when, fatigued by their work on the claim, they are glad to rest and chat. Mr. Bradley has a pipe in his mouth, and evidently takes considerable comfort in his evening smoke.
"I wish I had a pipe for you, Ben," he said. "You don't know how it rests me to smoke."
"I'll take your word for it, Jake," returned Ben, smiling.
"Won't you take a whiff? You don't know how soothin' it is."
"I don't need to be soothed, Jake. I'm glad you enjoy it, but I don't envy you a particle."
"Well, p'r'aps you're right, Ben. Our old doctor used to say smokin' wasn't good for boys, but I've smoked more or less since I was twelve years old."
"There's something I'd like better than smoking just now," said Ben.
"Just so. I wonder where that heathen Ki Sing is?"
Ki Sing was cook and general servant to the little party, and performed his duties in a very satisfactory manner--better than either Ben or Bradley could have done--and left his white employers freer to work at the more congenial occupation of searching for gold.
"Ki Sing is unusually late," said Richard Dewey. "I wonder what can have detained him? I am beginning to feel hungry myself."
"The heathen is usually on time," said Bradley, "though he hasn't got a watch, any more than I have.--Dick, what time is it?"
"Half-past six," answered Richard Dewey, who, though a miner, had not been willing to dispense with all the appliances of civilization.
"Maybe Ki Sing has found another place," suggested Ben, jocosely.
"He is faithful; I will vouch for that," said Dewey. "I am more afraid that he has met with some accident--like mine, for instance."
"You won't catch a Chinaman spraining his ankle," said Bradley; "they're too spry for that. They'll squeeze through where a white man can't, and I wouldn't wonder if they could turn themselves inside out if they tried hard."
"It is possible," suggested Dewey, "that Ki Sing may have met with some of our own race who have treated him roughly. You know the strong prejudice that is felt against the poor fellows by some who are far less deserving than they. They think it good sport to torment a Chinaman."
"I can't say I like 'em much myself," said Bradley; "but I don't mind saying that Ki Sing is a gentleman. He is the best heathen I know of, and if I should come across any fellow harmin' him I reckon I'd be ready to take a hand myself."
"We couldn't get along very well without him, Jake," said Ben.
"That's where you're right, Ben. He's made himself useful to us, and no mistake."
"I have reason to feel indebted to him," said Dewey. "Injured as I was, I should have fared badly but for his faithful services. I am not at all sure that I should have been living at this moment had not the grateful fellow cared for me and supplied my wants."
It may be explained here that Richard Dewey had at one time rescued Ki Sing from some rough companions who had made up their minds to cut off the Chinaman's queue, thereby, in accordance with Chinese custom, preventing him ever returning to his native country. It was the thought of this service that had prompted Ki Sing to faithful service when he found his benefactor in need of it.
Half an hour passed, and still the Chinaman did not appear.
All three became anxious, especially Dewey. "Bradley," said he, "would you mind going out to look for Ki Sing? I'm sure something has happened to him."
"Just what I was thinkin' of myself," said Bradley. "I'll go, and I'll bring him back if he's above ground."
"I'll go with you, Jake," said Ben, rising from the ground on which he was seated.
"You'd better stay with Dick Dewey," said Bradley; "maybe he'll want you."
"I forgot that. Yes, I will stay."
"No; I would rather you would go with Bradley," said the invalid. "Two will stand a better chance of success than one. I sha'n't need anything while you are away."
"Just as you say, Dick.--Well, Ben, let's start along. I reckon we'll find Ki Sing before long, and then we'll have some supper."
As the two started on their errand Richard Dewey breathed a sigh of relief. "I really believe I'm getting attached to Ki Sing," he said to himself. "He's a good fellow, if he is a Chinaman, and if ever I am prosperous I will take him into my service and see that he is comfortably provided for."
The poor Chinaman, though Dewey did not suspect it, was at that moment in a very uncomfortable position indeed, and he himself was menaced by a peril already near at hand against which his helpless condition allowed of no defence. His lonely and monotonous life was destined to be varied that evening in an unpleasant manner.
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