Chapter 15




A POLITE HOSTESS.

The cabin was a rough one, built of logs, with an adobe chimney. It contained two rooms and a loft. The inducements to live in such a lonely spot must have been small enough, but so many undesirable localities are inhabited, that it is hardly worth while to feel or express surprise at men's taste in such matters.

The approach of Ben and his companion was not observed by the inmate or inmates of the cabin. It was only when Bradley, dismounting from his mustang, struck the door-post with the handle of his whip-for it is needless to say that bells were not to be found in that neighborhood—that their presence became known.

A woman, tall, spare, and with harsh features, came to the door. She eyed Bradley askance.

"Well, what's wanted, and who are you?" she demanded.

"We are bound for the mines, ma'am," said Bradley. "We expected to camp out to-night, but we happened to see the smoke rising from your chimbly, and we made bold to ride up and ask you for supper and a night's lodging."

"We don't take in tramps," said the woman roughly.

"We're on a tramp," said Bradley, resolved not to be rebuffed, "but we've got money to pay for our accommodations."

"This ain't a hotel," said the woman, but less roughly.

"Of course not," said Bradley, in a conciliatory manner; "but I guess you won't object to get us some supper and give us a bed. We'll pay for all the trouble we make. That's fair, ain't it?"

"I don't know what my husband will say," returned the woman, in an undecided manner.

"Won't you ask him, ma'am?"

"He's gone out just now. He won't be back for an hour."

"While you're waitin' for him, can't you get us some supper? Then you can send us off if he ain't willin' to keep us."

"I'll do that," said the woman. "You'd better stay outside till I get supper ready. There ain't much room here, and you'll be in the way."

"Jest as you say, ma'am. I s'pose it would be too much to ask if you kin give us a hot cup of coffee. We haven't tasted any since we left 'Frisco."

"I can give you coffee," answered the woman. "My husband likes it, and we always keep it on hand."

"Good!" said Bradley, his face lighting up with satisfaction. "We've rid far to-day, and a cup of coffee will go to the right spot."

Bradley and Ben threw themselves on the ground near-by, and awaited with complacence the call to supper.

"We're in luck, Ben," said his companion. "Who'd have expected a hot supper out here in this lonely place?"

"I don't much like the looks of our landlady, Jake," said Ben.

"She ain't handsome, I allow, Ben; but if she gives us a good supper, that don't matter. We must make the most of this, for it's uncertain when we get another."

"W'on't she give us breakfast in the morning?"

"I didn't think of that. Maybe she will, and that'll be a good start on our to-morrow's journey."

In about three-quarters of an hour the woman came to the door, and called the travelers in to supper.

An unpainted wooden table was set in the middle of the floor, on which was spread a simple but appetizing meal. There was a plate of meat, which appeared to have been fried; a loaf of bread, and a pot of coffee; but there was neither milk nor butter. This naturally detracted from the attractiveness of the bread and coffee, but our travelers were not disposed to be fastidious.

Ben tasted the meat, and it evidently puzzled him. In taste it differed from anything he had eaten before.

Bradley smiled at his perplexity.

"Don't you know what it is, Ben?" he asked.

"No."

"Do you like it?"

"I am hungry enough to enjoy anything."

"Well, lad, it's bear steak."

"Bear steak!" repeated Ben, in surprise.

"Exactly. I've eaten it before two or three times. You see, we haven't any markets here to depend on, and we must take what we can get."

"It isn't bad," said Ben meditatively.

During this conversation the landlady had been out of the room. As it concluded, she reentered.

"Your supper is good, ma'am," said Bradley.

"Now if you only had a cow to supply you with milk and butter, you'd be fixed complete."

"If you want 'em you'll have to go somewhere else," said the woman.

"Excuse me, ma'am. I wasn't complainin' of the fare-not by no means.
I was only thinkin' of you."

"There's no call to think of me, stranger."

"Have you lived long in these parts, ma'am?" inquired Bradley socially.

"Fools ask questions, and fools answer them. I ain't a fool," responded the polite hostess.

"Excuse my curiosity, ma'am. I didn't know that it would be disagreeable to you to answer."

"Who told you it was?"

"I thought from your way of speakin'."

"It's none of your business, that's all," said the hostess.

Even Bradley was silenced. It was clear that their hostess was not inclined to be social. The remainder of the meal passed in silence.







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