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Late in the afternoon of the third day subsequent a man and a boy might have been seen riding slowly through a rocky canon probably eighty miles west from San Francisco. Both were mounted on the small native horses of California, generally called mustangs. These animals possess a strength disproportioned to their size, and show great endurance. At times they have a playful habit of bucking, not quite agreeable to an inexperienced horseman.
The reader will already have guessed that the two riders are Jake Bradley and Ben. The mustangs were on a walk, being apparently weary with the day's tramp.
"Well, Ben," said Bradley, "what do you say to camping out for the night?"
"I have no objection," said Ben, "and I don't think my horse has."
"He is better off than mine, having less to carry. Are you tired?"
"Not very tired, but my limbs are rather stiff."
"What hotel shall we put up at, Ben?" asked Bradley, with a humorous glance about him.
"There isn't much choice," said Ben. "The Canon Hotel seems to be the only one that is open hereabouts. The only objection is, that we shall have to sleep on the floor, with the windows all open."
"That's about so, Ben," assented Bradley, laughing. "I shouldn't mind sleeping in a Christian bed to-night myself. Well, here goes!"
As he spoke, he jumped from the back of his horse, and, taking out a rope, tethered it to a tree hard by.
Ben followed his example.
"Now for the grub," said Bradley. "I'm powerfully empty myself. This ridin' all day up and down hill is wearin' to the stomach. What do you say?"
"I've got a healthy appetite myself, Jake."
"This yere Canon Hotel that you was talkin' about ain't first-class. It don't supply anything but cold victuals. Now, ef we had a cup of coffee to wash it down, and kinder warm us up, it would go to the right spot, eh, Ben?"
"You are right, Jake! but please don't speak of it again. It makes my mouth water."
"Stay here a few minutes, Ben, and I'll reconnoiter a little.
Perhaps I can find a better place for campin'."
"All right, Jake!"
While Bradley was absent Ben threw himself on the ground, and began to think. It was the third day of the expedition. Ben enjoyed riding through this new, unsettled country. He almost felt in the solitudes of the woods and hills as if he were the original explorer of this far-distant country. He was more than three thousand miles away from his native town, entrusted with a mission of importance. The thought was gratifying to his boyish fancy, and inspired him with a new sense of power and increased his self-reliance. He was glad, however, to have the company of Jake Bradley. He was ready to acknowledge that his chances of success, had he started alone, would have been much smaller, and certainly he would have found it exceedingly lonesome.
His companion was not a man of culture, nor were his tastes elevated, but there was a rough honesty about him, and a good humor, which made him an agreeable companion. Besides, he knew the country, and Ben felt secure in leaving the conduct of the trip to him.
"I am glad I came out here," thought Ben, as, with his head pillowed on his knapsack, he looked up through the branches of the tall trees to the blue sky beyond. "It's better than staying at home and working for Deacon Pitkin, or blacking boots for Sam Sturgis. Here I am my own man, free and don't need to run at anybody's bidding."
Probably most boys of Ben's age share his love of independence, but it is neither practicable nor desirable that at sixteen a boy should be his own master, much as he may desire it. In the case of our hero, circumstances had thrown him upon his own resources, and it may be added that he could better be trusted with the management of himself than most boys.
Ben's reverie was broken in upon by the return of his companion.
"What are you dreamin' about, Ben?" queried Jake.
"I was thinking about home, Jake."
"This don't look much like it, eh, Ben?"
"Well, my lad, I've found something," continued Bradley.
"Found something? What! a nugget?" exclaimed Ben, in excitement.
"Not much. This ain't the place for such a find as that."
"What, then, Jake?"
"I've found a hotel."
"Where?" asked Ben eagerly.
"Get up and stand by me. There! look yonder. What do you see?"
"It looks like smoke."
"It is smoke. There's a cabin yonder. I've reconnoitered, and I seed the door open, and a woman inside. Now, I'm going to ask her to give us some supper and a bed. Won't that be fine?"
"Then unhitch that animal of yours, and we'll put our best foot forrards, and maybe we'll get a hot supper and a Christian bed to sleep in."
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