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Title: The Cave of Gold - A Tale of California in '49
Author: McNeil, Everett, 1862-1929
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE CAVE OF GOLD

A Tale of California in '49

by

EVERETT McNEIL

Author of "Fighting with Fremont," "In Texas with Davy Crockett," "With
Kit Carson in the Rockies," Etc.



New York
E. P. Dutton & Company
681 Fifth Ave.

First Printing, January, 1911
Second Printing, August. 1919
Third Printing, June, 1926
Printed in the U.S.A.



TO THE DESCENDANTS YOUNG OR OLD OF THE HARDY FORTY-NINERS THIS STORY OF
THE EXCITING DAYS OF THE DISCOVERY OF GOLD IN CALIFORNIA IS HOPEFULLY
DEDICATED



[Illustration: "YOU LIE!" AND THE HARD FIST LANDED SQUARELY ON THE MAN'S
CHIN.]



FOREWORD


On a cold January morning of 1848, James Wilson Marshall picked up two
yellow bits of metal, about the size and the shape of split peas, from
the tail-race of the sawmill he was building on the South Fork of the
American River, some forty-five miles northeast of Sutter's Fort, now
Sacramento City. These two yellow pellets proved to be gold; and soon it
was discovered that all the region thereabouts was thickly sown with
shining particles of the same precious yellow metal. A few months later
and all the world was pouring its most adventurous spirits into the
wilderness of California.

This discovery of gold in California and the remarkable inpouring of men
that followed, meant very much to the United States. In a few months it
cleared a wilderness and built up a great state. In one step it advanced
the interests and the importance of the United States half a century in
the policies and the commerce of the Pacific. It threw wide open the
great doors of the West and invited the world to enter. It poured into
the pockets of the people and into the treasury of the United States a
vast amount of gold--alas! soon to be sorely needed to defray the
expenses of the most costly war of the ages. Indeed, when the length and
the breadth of its influence is considered, this discovery of gold in
California becomes one of the most important factors in the developing
of our nation, the great corner-stone in the upbuilding of the West;
and, as such, it deserves a much more important place in the history of
the United States than any historian has yet given to it.

In the present story an attempt has been made, not only to tell an
interesting tale, but to interest the younger generation in this
remarkable and dramatic phase of our national development, possibly the
most picturesque and dramatic period in the history of the nation: to
picture to them how these knights of the pick and the shovel lived and
worked, how they found and wrested the gold from the hard hand of
nature, and to give to them something of an idea of the hardships and
the perils they were obliged to endure while doing it.

The period was a dramatic period, crowded with unusual and startling
happenings, as far removed as possible from the quiet commonplaceness
and routine life of the average boy and girl of to-day; and the reader
is cautioned to remember this--if disposed at any time to think the
incidents narrated in the present tale too improbable or too startling
to have ever happened--that they could not happen to-day, even in
California; but they might have all happened then and there in
California.

The author is one of those who believe that the boys and the girls of
to-day should know something of the foundation stones on which the
superstructure of our national greatness rests, and how and with what
toils and perils they were laid; and, it is in the hope that the reading
of this story will interest them in this, the laying of the great
corner-stone in the upbuilding of the West, that this tale of the
Discovery of Gold in California has been written.

No nation can afford to forget its builders.



CONTENTS

   CHAPTER

       I. El Feroz

      II. Death of the Miner

     III. The Skin Map

      IV. At the Conroyal Rancho

       V. Off for the Gold-Mines

      VI. The Sign of the Two Red Thumbs

     VII. Caught in the Flood

    VIII. Accused of Murder

      IX. The Testimony of Bill Ugger

       X. The Missing Button

      XI. An Unexpected Witness

     XII. Hammer Jones

    XIII. Explanations

     XIV. The Luck of Dickson

      XV. Around the Supper Table

     XVI. Unexpected Company

    XVII. Pockface Again

   XVIII. Story of the Great Discovery

     XIX. Some Exciting Moments

      XX. Robbed

     XXI. Pedro

    XXII. The Mystery of the Tent

   XXIII. On the Shore of Goose Neck Lake

    XXIV. In Lot's Canyon

     XXV. The Cave of Gold

    XXVI. The Catastrophe

   XXVII. Home



ILLUSTRATIONS

   "You lie!" and the hard fist landed squarely on the man's chin

   The skin map

   "You can turn your horses around and ride back the way you
   came"

   "Is there any! just look there! and there! and there!"

   Bud bent and stretched his free hand down to Marshall

   "It is gold! it is gold! and enough of it to make us all
   rich beyond our fondest dreams"



The Cave of Gold



CHAPTER I

EL FEROZ


"Whoa!"--"whoa!" With quick jerks on their bridle reins Thure Conroyal
and Bud Randolph pulled up their horses and listened shiveringly.

Again that same shrill whistling scream of dreadful agony and fear, that
had caused them to rein up their horses so suddenly a moment before,
came from the valley beyond the brow of the little hill up which they
had been slowly riding, and chilled the very marrow in their bones with
the terrible intensity of its fear and anguish. Then all was still.

"What--what was it?" and Thure turned a startled face to Bud. "It didn't
sound human and I never heard an animal scream like that before. What
can it be?"

"I don't know," Bud answered, his face whitening a little; "but I am
going to find out. Come on," and, swinging his rifle into position where
it would be ready for instant use, he started up the hill, his eyes
fixed in the direction whence had come those fearful screams.

"We'd better go a little slow, until we find out what it is," cautioned
Thure, as he quickly fell in by the side of Bud, his own rifle held
ready for instant use. "It might be Indian devilment of some kind. You
know dad's last letter from the mines said that the Indians were getting
ugly; and if it is hostile Indians, we want to see them first."

"You bet we do," was Bud's emphatic rejoinder, as he again pulled up his
horse. "Now, just hold Gray Cloud and I'll scout on ahead and see what's
going on down there in the valley before we show ourselves," and,
sliding swiftly from Gray Cloud's back, he tossed his bridle rein to
Thure, and, rifle in hand, started swiftly and as silently as an Indian
toward a thick clump of bushes that grew directly on the top of the
little hill.

Thure deftly caught the bridle rein; and then sat silent and motionless
on the back of his horse, his eyes on his comrade, waiting in tense
expectancy for the moment when he would reach the clump of bushes and
look down into the valley beyond and see the cause of those strange and
terrible cries that had so suddenly and so fearfully startled them.

Bud, carrying his cocked rifle at trail, his form bent so that the least
possible part of his body showed above the grass of the hillside, ran
swiftly until he had almost reached the brow of the hill and the clump
of bushes. Then, crouching closer to the ground, he crept cautiously and
slowly to the bushes and, gently working himself into their midst,
carefully parted the branches in front of his face until he had a clear
view of the little valley below. At the first sight he uttered an
exclamation of surprise and wrath and threw his rifle to his shoulder;
but, with a regretful shake of his head, he almost instantly lowered the
gun, and, turning quickly about, motioned excitedly for Thure to advance
with the horses and started on the run to meet him.

"Indians! Is it Indians?" Thure cried anxiously, the moment Bud was at
his side.

"No," panted the boy, as he leaped into his saddle. "It's _El Feroz_;
and if I've got anything to say about it, he has made his last kill.
Come on," and his eyes glinted with wrath and excitement, as he dug his
spurs into the flanks of Gray Cloud and galloped furiously up the hill.

"_El Feroz!_ Bully!" and Thure, with an exultant yell, struck the spurs
into his horse and galloped along by his side.

At the top of the hill both boys pulled up their horses and looked down
into the valley. The valley was small, not more than half a mile across,
and through its center ran a little stream of water, fringed with bushes
and small trees. On the near side of this fringe of trees and bushes and
only a short distance from where our two young friends sat on the backs
of their horses, crouched a huge grizzly bear over the body of a horse
that was still quivering in the death agony.

"The brute!" exclaimed Thure angrily, the moment his eyes had taken in
this scene of violence. "So that was the death scream of a horse we
heard! Well, I never want to hear another! But, we've got you now, you
old villain!" and his eyes swept over the little valley, free, except
for the fringe of trees and bushes, of all obstructions, exultingly. "If
we let you get away from this, we'll both deserve to be shot. Now," and
he turned to Bud, "you ride to the right and I'll go to the left and we
will have the brute between us, so that if he charges either of us, the
other can take after him and shoot or rope him."

"Good!" agreed Bud. "But, say, let's rope him first. Just shooting is
too good for _El Feroz_. Remember Manuel and Old Pedro, whom he killed,
and Jim Bevins, whom he tore nearly to pieces and crippled for life, to
say nothing of the cattle and the horses he has killed. And now that we
have him where he can't get away, I am for showing him that man is his
master, strong and ferocious as he is, before killing him. We could not
have picked out a better place for roping him, if we had been doing the
picking," and his eyes glanced over the smooth level of the little
valley. "We'll let him chase us until we get him away from the trees and
bushes along the creek, and then we'll have some fun with the big brute
with our ropes, before sending him to Kingdom Come with our bullets.
What do you say, Thure?"

"Well," grinned Thure reminiscently, "if it don't turn out better than
did our attempt to rope a grizzly when I was with Fremont, I say shoot
the grizzly first and rope him afterward. Now, it won't be no joke
roping _El Feroz_, even if everything is in our favor," and his face
sobered. "Still, I reckon, our horses can keep us at a safe distance
from his ugly claws and teeth; and it will be all right to have a try
with the ropes before we use bullets, but we've got to be careful. _El
Feroz_ is the largest and ugliest grizzly ever seen anywhere around
here, and could kill one of our horses with one blow of his huge paw.
Mexican Juan says that an Indian devil has taken possession of the big
brute and that only a silver bullet blessed by a priest can kill him;
and, in proof of his belief, he told me that he himself had shot five
lead bullets at _El Feroz_ and that he had heard the devil laugh when
the bullets struck and fell hot and flattened to the ground. Now he
always carries a silver bullet with him that he had a priest bless when
he was down to San Francisco last fall; and the next time he meets _El
Feroz_ he expects to kill him with the holy bullet. He showed me the
silver bullet," and Thure laughed. "But I'm willing to put my trust in
lead, if it hits the right spot, Indian devil or no devil. Now, look at
_El Feroz_. He doesn't seem to be worrying none over our presence.
Appears to think the filling of his greedy belly too important an
operation to be interrupted by us," and Thure's eyes turned to where the
huge grizzly was tearing with teeth and claws the carcass of the horse,
his wicked little eyes turned in their direction, but otherwise giving
them not the slightest attention. Evidently _El Feroz_ had only contempt
for the puny prowess of man.

"Well, we'll soon teach him better manners, the ugly brute! Come on,"
and Bud Randolph and Thure Conroyal both started slowly toward the
grizzly, loosening the strong ropes that hung from the pommels of their
saddles as they rode.

There was no need of haste. _El Feroz_ would not run away--not from a
good dinner like that he was now eating--for all the men in California.
For four years he had terrorized this part of California, had never once
turned his back to a man, but had seen the backs of many men turned to
him; and now the killing of the horse had aroused all the ferocity of
his savage nature, and he was ready to fight anything and everything
that threatened to rob him of his prey.

Thure Conroyal and Bud Randolph did not for a moment expect _El Feroz_
to run, when they rode toward him. They knew grizzly nature, especially
the ferocious nature of _El Feroz_, too well to dream of such a thing.
They knew he would fight; and, if they had been afoot, they would not
have dared to attack the evil monster, armed though they were with
rifles and so skilful in their use that they could cut the head off a
wild goose at a hundred yards. But, seated on the backs of their fleet
and well-trained horses and on a smooth and open field like the one
before them, they did not fear even _El Feroz_ himself. If their ropes
did not hold or their bullets kill at once, the swift legs of their
horses could be counted on to keep them out of danger, unless some
unforeseen mischance happened.

The lassoing or roping of grizzly bears was a sport often indulged in by
the native Californians, who were among the most skilful horsemen in the
world and marvelously expert with their lassos or reatas, as they called
the long rope, usually made of hide or woven horsehair, which they used
to catch their horses and cattle; and Thure Conroyal and Bud Randolph
had become as expert as any native with their reatas, and, consequently,
felt equal to the roping of even as ferocious and as huge a beast as _El
Feroz_ himself, the most dreaded grizzly in the California mountains.

Thure and Bud rode slowly toward the grizzly, one turning a little to
the left and the other to the right as he advanced, so that when they
drew near to _El Feroz_ there were some five rods of space between them.
They had fastened their rifles to the saddles in front of them, to hold
them safe and yet have them where they could be quickly seized in case
of sudden need and to give them free use of both of their hands in
throwing their ropes and in managing their horses; and now, as they
advanced toward the bear, they uncoiled their reatas and began slowly
swinging the loops around their heads in readiness for the throw, while
every faculty of their minds quickened and every muscle of their young
bodies tightened in expectation of the coming battle that might mean
death to one or both, if either blundered.

The grizzly glared furiously, first at one horseman then at the other,
and tore more savagely than ever at the flesh of the horse, until both
boys were almost upon him. Then, with a roar so savage and fearful that
both horses, well-trained as they were, jumped violently, he reared up
suddenly on his hind legs, the blood of the horse dripping from his
reddened teeth, and, growling ferociously and swaying his huge head from
side to side, he stood, for a moment, apparently trying to decide which
one of those two venturesome humans he should tear to pieces first.

"Quick! Rope him around the neck before he charges!" yelled Thure. "I'll
try to get one of his hind legs."

As Thure spoke Bud's lasso shot through the air; and the loop glided
swiftly over the great head and tightened suddenly around the hairy
neck, just at the moment the bear came to the decision to charge Thure
and sprang toward him, with the result that the sudden unexpectedness of
the jerk of Bud's rope yanked him off his feet and hurled him on his
back.

Thure instantly saw his opportunity and before the huge beast could
right himself, he had swiftly cast the loop of his rope around one of
the sprawling hind legs and drawn it tight.

"Hurrah! We've got him!" yelled Bud triumphantly, as Gray Cloud whirled
about and stood facing the grizzly, his strong body braced backward so
that he held the rope taut, as all well-broken California horses were
trained to do the moment the thrown rope caught its victim.

"Got him! You bet we've got him!" echoed Thure, as his own horse whirled
into position, with both front legs strongly braced, and drew the lasso
tight about bruin's hind leg, thus stretching him out between the ends
of the two reatas.

But they had not "got him"--not yet; for, just at that moment, all the
ferocious bulk of raging bone and muscle that had given _El Feroz_ his
name of terror, gave a tremendous heave, whirled over on its feet; and,
before either boy knew what was happening, Bud's lasso broke and about a
ton of angry bear was hurling itself toward Thure.

The unforeseen mischance had happened with a vengeance!

Bud uttered a yell of warning and horror and caught at his rifle; but,
almost before his hands could touch the gun, _El Feroz_ was upon Thure
and only a tremendous jump sideways of his brave little horse saved him
from the sweep of one of those saber-armed paws.

The grizzly bear, for an animal of his huge bulk, is astonishingly agile
and speedy, when once his fighting blood is aroused; and, if ever a
grizzly was fighting mad, that grizzly was now _El Feroz_. The instant
he saw that he had missed the horse and man, he whirled about and was
after them again; and, so swift was his turn and so sudden his charge,
that, once again, only the superior horsemanship of Thure and the
agility of the horse saved them from a sweeping blow of one of the great
paws that came so close that Thure could feel the rush of its wind
against his face.

"Out run him! Out run him!" yelled Bud excitedly. "Try to throw him with
your rope; and I'll see if I can get a bullet in him," and he suddenly
jerked up Gray Cloud, so that he could make his aim more sure, threw his
rifle to his shoulder, and fired.

The ball struck the grizzly, but did not disable him. Indeed, the wound
seemed rather to increase the terrible energy and rage with which he was
striving to reach Thure and his horse with one of those powerful paws;
and, for a dreadful moment, it appeared to Bud as if the huge beast
might even overtake the speedy horse. Then he saw that Thure was slowly
gaining, that the rope, which still clutched the hind leg of the
grizzly, was slowly tightening; and, with breathless haste, he began
reloading his rifle. He had had all the roping of _El Feroz_ he wanted;
and now his only desire was to get a bullet into the huge body, where it
would kill quickly, as speedily as possible. Suddenly, just as he was
driving the bullet down into the barrel of his rifle, he heard a wild
yell of exultation from Thure, and looked up just in time to see the
hind part of the grizzly shoot upward into the air; and the next moment
his astonished eyes saw the huge body dangling from a strong limb of an
old oak tree, that thrust itself out from the sturdy trunk some fifteen
feet above the ground, and held there by the grip of Thure's rope around
one of the hind legs.

It needed but a glance for Bud to understand how this seemingly
marvelous feat had been accomplished. The quick eyes of Thure had seen
the tree, with its sturdy limb thrust out some fifteen feet above the
ground, almost directly in the line of his flight; and, swerving a
little to one side, so as to pass close to it, and slowing up his horse
a bit, he had gathered up the slack of the rope in his hand, and, as he
passed the tree, he had thrown it so that the middle of the rope had
fallen over the top of the limb not far from the trunk; and then, of
course, the rope had jerked the bear up into the air, and Thure had
whirled his horse about, and now the well-trained animal stood, his fore
legs braced, holding the struggling grizzly up to the limb.

"Shoot, shoot him quick, before the limb or the rope breaks!" yelled
Bud, the moment his eyes had taken in the situation, and, ramming the
bullet swiftly home, he spurred Gray Cloud toward the dangling bear.

Thure at once seized his rifle; but so furious were the struggles of the
grizzly--he hung just so that his fore paws touched the ground--as he
twisted and turned and frantically pawed up the dirt, insane with rage,
that it was impossible to get accurate aim from where he sat on his
horse; and Thure jumped from his saddle and ran quickly close up to the
swinging grizzly, now struggling more furiously than ever at the near
approach of his hated enemy.

"Don't! Look out! Can't you see how the limb is bending and shaking?"
yelled Bud excitedly. "The limb or the rope might break at any moment!"
and Bud shuddered at the horror of the thought of what then might happen
and urged his horse more desperately than ever toward the scene.

And, indeed, the huge body of the grizzly, twisting and swinging at the
end of the rope, the blood flowing from the wound made by Bud's bullet,
his little red eyes glowing like coals of fire, his strong jaws snapping
and growling, and his huge paws striking furiously in the direction of
Thure, did make a sight to chill the marrow in the bones of any man.

Thure, now that he was so close to the bear that he could have touched
him with the muzzle of his rifle, realized that, in his haste, he had
done a fool-hardy thing; but he was not the kind of a lad to back down
from a position once taken, not until he had to do so, and, quickly
bringing his rifle to his shoulder, he waited until the swaying body
presented a fatal spot to his aim, pulled the trigger, and leaped
backward from the bear.

It was fortunate for Thure that he made that backward jump; for, at the
crack of his rifle, _El Feroz_ made such a tremendous lunge toward him,
that the creaking limb bent nearly double, and, with a sound like the
report of a gun, broke off close to the trunk and crashed to the ground
on top of the grizzly.

For a moment _El Feroz_ lay stunned by his wounds and fall and the crash
of the heavy limb; and then, with a roar, he struggled to his feet, just
as Bud jerked Gray Cloud to a halt not a rod away, and, instantly
throwing his rifle to his shoulder, fired. Even then the ferocious beast
plunged desperately toward his new enemy, staggering blindly, and fell
dead on the exact spot where Thure had stood.

"Jumping buffaloes, but that was a narrow escape for you, Thure!" and,
throwing himself out of his saddle, Bud rushed up to where Thure stood,
white and trembling, now that the danger was over, not ten feet from
where the bear lay dead.

"But, we've got him! Got _El Feroz_ himself!" and the blood surged back
to Thure's face. "The biggest grizzly in all California! Say, but won't
the Mexicans and the Indians think we are great hunters now? And won't
Ruth and Iola stare, when we throw down the hide of _El Feroz_ in front
of them to-night?"

No wonder Thure felt a little vainglorious over their achievement; for
there was not a hunter in all that country who would not have considered
the killing of _El Feroz_ the crowning exploit of his life, so great had
become the monster grizzly's reputation for savage ferocity and
fearlessness of man.

"Well, I reckon we won't do any more hunting to-day," Bud declared, as
he began swiftly reloading his rifle. In that country at that time no
experienced hunter ever allowed his rifle to remain unloaded a moment
longer than was necessary. "When we get the hide off that monster, it
will be time to be starting for home," and his eyes turned to the dead
grizzly. "Whew, but isn't he a whopper! I'll bet that he will weigh
nearly a ton! You are right, the girls will be surprised some, when we
throw down that hide in front of them," and his face flushed a little at
the thought of the glory that would soon be theirs. "But, come, now that
our guns are loaded, let's get busy with our knives and get this big
hide off," and, pulling out his hunting-knife from its sheath, he bent
over the huge carcass of _El Feroz_.

"I'll be with you as soon as I free Buck," and Thure, slipping the noose
of his reata off the hind leg of the dead grizzly and coiling it around
his arm, hastened to where his gallant little horse still stood; and,
after fastening the rope in its place on the pommel of the saddle, he
hurried back to where Bud was bending over the grizzly.

There was no need of tying their horses. All the rope required to hold
them fast was the rope of love they bore their young masters, and so the
two animals were left free, while the two boys busied themselves getting
the pelt off the bear.

The skinning of a grizzly bear, especially when the bear is as huge and
as tough as was _El Feroz_, is no light undertaking; but Thure and Bud
were no novices at this kind of labor, and, after half an hour's hard
work, the great pelt was off and stretched out on the ground, skin side
up.

"There, I am glad that job is done!" Thure exclaimed, with satisfaction,
as he wiped his bloody knife on the grass. "Say, but he sure was a
whopper!" and his eyes glanced exultantly over the great hide, now
looking larger than ever as it lay spread out on the grass. "Great
Moses, look at all those old bullet marks!--Fifteen of them! No wonder
that Mexican Juan thought _El Feroz_ was protected by the devil!--Hello,
what is the matter now?" and Thure jumped up quickly from the hide, over
which he had been bending counting _El Feroz's_ old bullet wounds, at a
sudden exclamation of alarm from Bud.

"There! There! Look there!" Bud was pointing excitedly up the valley.

"Mother of men, they are murdering him!" "Come on!" and Thure, grabbing
up his rifle, made a jump for his horse, followed by Bud.

Three-quarters of a mile up the valley from where our young friends had
slain the big grizzly, a spur of rocks projected down into the valley,
reaching like a long finger almost to the fringe of trees along the
creek; and around this spur of rocks three men had slowly ridden, and,
just as they had come in sight from where the boys stood, Bud, whose
eyes had happened to be turned in that direction, had seen two of the
men suddenly and apparently without warning set upon the third man and,
after a short struggle, knock him off his horse. It was this sight that
had caused his sudden cry of alarm, followed by Thure's exclamation of
horror, "They are murdering him!" and the quick jump of both boys for
their horses.

It took Thure and Bud less than a minute to reach their horses and to
spring up into their saddles; but, in that brief time, the unequal
struggle up the valley was over, and the two men were bending over the
prostrate body of their victim, apparently searching for valuables, when
the two boys, with loud yells, spurred their horses at full speed toward
them.

At the sound of their voices, the two men looked suddenly up, saw them
coming, hastily grabbed up a few things from the ground, evidently taken
from the man they were robbing, jumped to their feet, sprang on the
backs of their horses, and, before either boy was near enough to shoot,
both had disappeared around the spur of rocks, lashing and spurring
their horses frantically.

Thure and Bud jerked up their horses by the side of the fallen man and,
jumping from their saddles, bent quickly over him.

"They've murdered him!" cried Bud, the moment his horrified eyes saw the
white face and the bloodstained breast of the stricken man. "They have
stabbed him! The cowardly curs!"

"No, he is not dead! I can feel his heart beat. The stab was too low to
reach his heart. Quick, we must do something to stop this flow of blood,
or he soon will be dead," and Thure tore open the bosom of the rough
flannel shirt, exposing the red mouth of a knife wound from which the
blood was flowing freely.

Thure and Bud were both familiar with the rough surgery of the plains
and the mountains; and soon their deft hands had swiftly untied the silk
scarfs from around their necks, plugged the wound with one of them and
used the other to tightly bind and hold it in place.

"There, I think that will stop the blood! Now, let's see what other
hurts he has," and Thure passed his hands gently over the man's head.
"Two bumps--whoppers! Either enough to knock the senses out of an ox;
but, I reckon, they've done no mortal damage. It's the stab wound that I
am most afraid of. What do you make out of it all anyway?" and Thure
turned to Bud.

"Plain robbery and attempted murder," Bud answered gravely. "The man is
evidently a miner," and his eyes rested on the long unkempt hair and
beard, the weather-bronzed skin, and the rough worn clothing of the
wounded man; "and was, probably, on his way from the mines to San
Francisco with his gold-dust, when those two cowardly curs met him and,
finding out that he was from the mines, attempted to murder him for his
gold."

"Reckon you're right," agreed Thure. "Leastwise there's no use of
speculating over it longer now. The thing to do is to get him home as
soon as we can. Mother is powerful good doctoring hurts. Just see if you
can get him up on the saddle in front of me. I reckon that'll be the
safest way to carry him," and Thure mounted his horse, while Bud thrust
his sturdy young arms under the body of the insensible man and, as
gently as possible, lifted him to the saddle, where the strong arms of
Thure held him as comfortably as possible.

"Now, I'll strike out straight for home," Thure said, as he started Buck
off on a walk with his double burden; "and you can ride back and get the
hide of _El Feroz_, and soon catch up with me."

"All right. I'll be with you again as soon as I can," and Bud sprang on
the back of Gray Cloud and started off on a gallop for the scene of the
contest with the grizzly.

How wonderful it is that the tenor of our whole after lives may be, nay,
frequently is, completely changed by some seemingly unimportant
circumstance or unexpected happening. If Thure Conroyal and Bud Randolph
had not heard the death-cry of that horse and had not turned aside to
see what had caused those agonizing sounds, they would not have been
delayed, by their contest with the grizzly, until the coming of the
three men, nor have witnessed the attack on the miner; and, if they had
not seen this attack on the miner and hurried to his rescue, they never
would have heard the miner's marvelous tale, nor have secured the skin
map; and, if they had not heard the miner's tale and secured the skin
map--But, I must let the story itself tell you all that resulted from
these unexpected and seemingly unimportant happenings.



CHAPTER II

DEATH OF THE MINER


California and 1849! Magical combination of Place and Date! The Land of
Gold and the Time of Gold! The Date and the Place of the opening of
Nature's richest treasure-house! Gold--free for all who would stoop and
pick or dig it out of the rocks and the dirt! The beginning of the most
wonderful exodus of gold-mad men in the history of the world! "Gold!
Gold!! GOLD!!! CALIFORNIA GOLD!" The nations of the world heard the cry;
and the most enterprising and daring and venturesome--the wicked as well
as the good--of the nations of the world started straightway for
California. Towns and cities sprang up, like mushrooms, in a night,
where the day before the grizzly bear had hunted. In a year a wilderness
became a populous state. A marvelous work to accomplish, even for an
Anglo-Saxon-American nation; but, get down your histories of California,
boys, and you will learn that we did accomplish that very thing--built a
great state out of a wilderness in some twelve months of time!

Of course, Thure and Bud (Bud with the grizzly's hide had soon overtaken
Thure), as they rode along over the soft grass of the Sacramento Valley,
on this clear July afternoon of the eventful year of 1849, did not
realize that all these wonderful things were happening or were about to
happen in their loved California. They knew that a great gold discovery
had been made in the region of the American River some forty miles
northeast of Sutter's Fort. Indeed, for the last year, all California
had gone gold-mad over this same discovery; and now every able-bodied
man in the country, who could possibly get there, was at the mines.
Stores, ranches, ships, pulpits, all businesses and all professions had
been deserted for the alluring smiles of the yellow god, gold, until it
might be truthfully said, that in all California there was but one
business and that one business was gold-digging.

The devastating gold-fever had swept over the Conroyal and the Randolph
ranchos; and had left, of all the grown-up males, only Thure and Bud,
who, not yet being of age, had been compelled to stay, much against
their wills, to care for the women folks and the ranchos, while their
fathers and brothers and all the able-bodied help had rushed off, like
madmen, to the mines; and only their loyalty to their loved mothers and
fathers had kept them from following. Now, the one great hope of their
lives was to win permission to go to the mines, where men were winning
fortunes in a day, and try their luck at gold-digging.

The Conroyal rancho, the Randolph and the Conroyal families had united,
when the men went to the mines, and both families were now living at the
Conroyal rancho, was some five miles from the scene of the robbery and
attempted murder of the miner; and, for the first two miles of the
homeward ride, the wounded man lay unconscious and motionless in Thure's
arms. Then he began to move restlessly and to mutter unintelligible
things.

"He sure isn't dead," Thure declared, as the struggles of the man nearly
pitched both of them out of the saddle. "Just give me a hand, Bud; for,
I reckon, we'll have to lower him to the ground until he gets his right
senses back or quits this twitching and jerking. I am afraid he will
start the wound to bleeding again."

Bud quickly sprang off the back of his horse; and together and as gently
as possible the two boys lowered the wounded miner from the saddle and
laid him down on a little mound of grass. A few rods away a small stream
of water wound its way, half-hidden by tall grass and bushes and low
trees, through the little valley where they had stopped.

"Get your hat full of water," Thure said, as he bent down to see if the
bandage over the wound was still in its place. "Seems to me he ought to
be getting his senses back by this time."

Bud at once started off on the run for the water and soon was back with
his broad-brimmed felt hat full of the cooling fluid; and, kneeling down
by the side of the wounded man, who now lay quiet, with eyes closed,
although he was still muttering incoherently, he bathed the hot forehead
and the swollen lumps on the back of his head.

Suddenly the miner's eyes opened and stared wonderingly around him and
up into the faces of the two boys. For a minute he did not seem to be
able to comprehend what had happened. Then the blank wondering look
suddenly left his eyes.

"Did they get the gold?" and his hand went quickly to his waist. There
was no belt there. "Gone! A good twenty pounds of as fine gold as was
ever dug from the earth, gone!--Gods, if they had but given me any kind
of a show, they would not have got it so easily!" and his eyes flamed
and he attempted to sit up, but fell back with a groan and a whitening
face.

For a minute or two he lay with eyes closed, breathing heavily.
Evidently he was trying to collect his thoughts, to realize his
situation. When he opened his eyes again there was a solemn, an awed
look in them that had not been there before, and the anger had gone.

"I have been stabbed," he said slowly, "and I am dying."

"No, no. The knife did not go near your heart. It struck too low. You
will soon be all right again. Wait until we get you home and mother will
soon make a whole man of you. Mother is about the best nurse in all
California," and Thure gripped one of the hard toil-worn hands and
smiled encouragingly.

"No." As the man spoke his eyes never once left Thure's face. "No, I am
dying. I know. I was once a surgeon, an army surgeon." For a moment his
eyes darkened, as if with bitter recollections. "But, what matters the
past now? Let it bury its dead," and he smiled grimly. "This is death.
I know. I have seen many die just this way. Internal hemorrhage, we
doctors called it. The blood from the wound is flowing into my body.
I can feel it. I have half an hour, possibly an hour to live; and
then--" The awed look in the eyes deepened, and, for a couple of minutes,
he did not speak, but lay staring straight up into the blue skies.
Suddenly his white lips tightened and he turned to Thure.

"How far is it to your home and to your mother?" he asked abruptly.

"About three miles; but I can carry you so easily that I am sure--"

"Too far," the wounded man broke in impatiently. "I might die before I
got there. No, this shall be my deathbed--the soft green grass, canopied
by the blue skies--a fitting end, a fitting end," he added gloomily.

"Come, come," and Thure tried to make his voice sound cheery and full of
hope. "Never say die, until you are dead. Just wait until we get home
and mother will put new life into you. Now, I'll get on my horse, and
Bud will lift you up into my arms, and we'll be home before you know
it," and Thure jumped to his feet and started toward his horse.

"No, come back," and the miner impatiently lifted himself up on one
elbow. "Come back. I have no time to waste riding three miles for a
deathbed. I--" Again the keen eyes searched the faces of the two boys.
"I have much to say and little time in which to say it. Get that
bearskin off your horse and make me as comfortable as possible on it.
And be quick about it; for I am going fast, and, before I go, I want to
make you two boys my heirs for saving me from those two villains. The
cowardly curs! They hit me from behind!" and again the eyes flamed with
anger. "They got the gold I had with me and they got me; but they did
not get the secret of Crooked Arm Gulch, nor learn how to find its
Golden Elbow. Curse them! If I could but live, I'd--But, what's the
use?" and he sank back white-lipped on the grass. "That knife stab in
the breast has done for me. And just when the golden key that unlocks
all the doors of pleasure and power was tight-gripped in my very
fingers! Just my luck! But," and the look of somber resignation came
back into the pain-racked eyes, "I'll not die like a snarling, whining
coyote. I'll meet death, as I have met life--face to face, with both
eyes wide open. Now," and he turned to Bud, who had hurried to his horse
and, unloosening the bear-skin, had hastened back with it and spread it
out on the grass, soft hair up, by the side of the wounded man, "lay me
on the skin and stuff something under my head and shoulders, so as to
keep the blood from flooding my lungs and heart as long as possible; for
I have that to tell that must not wait, even for death," and the white
lips tightened firmly.

Thure and Bud, anxious to do everything possible to ease the last
moments of the dying man, now carefully lifted him and laid him down on
the skin of the grizzly bear as gently as possible. Then, taking off one
of the saddles and their own coats, they placed the saddle, softened by
the folded coats and the bearskin, under the head and the shoulders of
the miner; and only the white tight-drawn lips and the burning eyes told
of the intense pain that he must have suffered while the change was
being made.

For a couple of minutes the wounded man lay silent on the bearskin, with
closed eyes, breathing heavily. Then he suddenly opened his eyes and
turned them resolutely on the two boys, who stood, one on each side,
bending anxiously over him.

"There, that is better," he said. "That is all you can do for me. Now,
sit down close to my head, so that you can hear every word that I say;
for never did dying lips have a more important message to utter, never
did mortal leave a richer inheritance to mortal than I am about to leave
to you. Gold--a cave paved with gold! Gold--a cave walled with seams of
gold! Gold--bushels, barrels of gold nuggets, to be picked up, as you
pick up pebbles from the stony bed of a river! Gods, if I could but
live!" Again the blood flushed back into the white cheeks and the eyes
glowed with feverish excitement.

"There! There!" and Thure laid a cool hand on the hot forehead. "Never
mind the gold now. When you have rested a bit and have recovered some of
your strength, Bud and I will rig up a stretcher out of the bearskin and
carry you home between us; and then, when you are comfortably fixed in a
soft bed, you can tell us all about this wonderful cave of gold."

No wonder Thure thought all this wild talk about the marvelous cave of
gold but the delirium of a dying man and tried to quiet the sufferer;
but the miner would not be quieted, and, roughly brushing the hand from
his forehead, he turned his glowing eyes full on Thure's face.

"You think I am raving," he said, "that this cave of gold exists only in
the disordered fancy of a dying man. Well, I will show you. Thrust your
hand under my shirt, beneath my right shoulder, and pull out the small
bag you will find there. Quick!" he cried impatiently, as Thure
hesitated. "You forget that I am a dying man and have not a minute of
time to waste."

Thus admonished, Thure hastily thrust his right hand under the miner's
shirt, as directed, and pulled out a small buckskin bag, fastened by a
buckskin thong about the miner's shoulder. The weight of the bag, for it
was only some seven inches long by three inches wide, surprised him.

"Cut the strings and open the bag," commanded the miner.

Thure quickly did as bidden.

"Now, see what is inside of the bag."

Thure thrust his hand into the bag and drew out a long, tightly rolled
piece of white parchment-like skin.

"That is the skin map. Never mind that now. Turn the bag bottom side up
and shake it."

Thure caught hold of the bottom of the bag with his fingers, turned it
over and gave it a vigorous shake; and then sat staring wildly at the
object that had fallen, with a thud, on the bearskin by his side. He was
looking at a solid nugget of gold nearly as large as, and shaped very
much like his fist!

"Pick it up! Lift it!" urged the miner, his eyes shining with
excitement. "It is gold, pure, virgin gold, just as God made it! I
picked it up off the bottom of the cave, where there are thousands of
other smaller nuggets. In the light of my torch they sparkled and shone
until the floor of the cave seemed flooded with golden light. In the two
hours I was there I gathered up the Five Thousand Dollars' worth of gold
nuggets the robbers stole from me and that nugget, all that I dared take
with me; for the way out of Crooked Arm Gulch is not a road over which a
man more heavily burdened would care to venture. I had no food with me,
no horses; and I must hurry back, where food, on which to live, and
horses, on which to carry my supplies to the cave and the gold away from
it, could be bought. I--"

"And you found this hunk of gold on the floor of that cave?" Thure who
had been lifting and examining the nugget with widening eyes, could
control his excitement no longer. "And you say that there are thousands
of other nuggets where this came from?"

"Yes, yes! I have been telling you God's truth," and the face grew white
and drawn with pain again. "But, don't interrupt me. I--I have only a
few minutes left. The nugget, the gold, all is yours. I--I bequeath it
to you with my dying breath. The map--the skin map--will tell you where
to find it--North--northeast from Hangtown--a good five days' tramp--No
miners there yet--Deep--steep canyon--Lot's Canyon--Tall white pillar of
rock standing near Crooked Arm Gulch--Must look--sharp--to find gulch
opening--Blocked by great--rocks--Big tree--Climb to third limb.
Remember--climb to third limb--third limb--third--My God!--My God!" and
both hands clutched madly at his throat.

His breath was now coming in quick heaving gasps; and only by a supreme
effort of will was he able longer to command his wavering reason.

"Quick--quick," he gasped, his voice coming in a hoarse whisper. "Bend
your heads close. Beware of the two men who robbed and murdered me--I--I
told--them of the cave of gold; but I did--did not tell them where it
is; and--and they--can--cannot find it without the skin map--They--they
murdered me for--for that map; but they did not get it--It--it was not
in--in my money-belt, as they thought. Guard that map--They--they would
kill--kill you to get it. One is a huge red-haired man with a broken
nose--The other is--is small, with pock-marked face--Beware--beware
pock--pock-marked face and--and broken nose--I--God--I--"

Again he clutched violently at his throat; and then a great wondering
look of awe came into his eyes, now staring straight up into the blue
skies, and his form stiffened suddenly.

Thure and Bud could endure the dreadful sight no longer and turned their
horrified eyes away; and, when, a couple of minutes later, they again
looked on the face of the miner, he was dead, with a smile on his grim
lips and a look of peace on his face, as if the coming of Death, at the
very last, had been a most pleasant and joyous event.



CHAPTER III

THE SKIN MAP


No mortal can look on death unmoved. Savage or civilized, Christian or
pagan, a great awe, a questioning wonder thrills the spirits of all who
stand in the presence of the dread, unsolvable mystery, death. The soul
asks questions that cannot be answered, that the ages have left
unanswered. And, as Thure and Bud now stood, with uncovered heads,
looking down on the quiet, peaceful face and the motionless, rigid form
of the dead miner, the world-old awe and wondering concerning death
thrilled their hearts. For a couple of minutes neither spoke, neither
moved. Then Thure's eyes sought the face of Bud.

"He is dead," he said solemnly.

"He is dead," answered Bud, not moving his awed eyes from the still
face.

"Dead!" and Thure bent and reverently straightened out the bent legs and
arms and smoothed back the matted hair from the forehead. "Dead, yes, as
dead as a stone; and yet a few minutes ago he was breathing and talking!
What a queer thing life is anyhow! Well, it won't do neither him nor us
any good to stand here thinking and talking about it. Now we must get
the body to the house and give it as decent a burial as possible. I'll
carry the body across the saddle in front of me. Come, let's hurry. I am
getting anxious to have it over."

For the moment, so great had been the shock of the miner's sudden death,
Thure and Bud had forgotten all about the dead man's marvelous tale of
the Cave of Gold; but now, as Bud stooped to help lift the body from the
bearskin, his eyes caught the yellow glow of the gold nugget, which lay
on the skin by the side of its unfortunate finder, and the sight
recalled the wondrous tale.

"What do you think of his story about finding that nugget in a cave
where the floor is covered with gold nuggets as thickly as pebbles on
the bed of a stony river? Do you suppose it is true or, just one of the
queer notions that sometimes come to the dying?" and Bud looked
wonderingly from the nugget to Thure's face.

"Great Moses, I forgot all about the gold!" and Thure's face flushed
with excitement. "Quick, let's get the body on the grass and then we'll
have another look at the nugget. That was a powerful queer story he
told; but it might be true. And if it is true," and his eyes sparkled,
"then we've just got to go to the mines and hunt up our dads and the
others and get them to help us find that cave."

In a moment more they had lifted the body off the bearskin and had laid
it down on the grass; and the gold nugget was in their hands.

"Glory! But isn't it heavy?" and Bud balanced the nugget in one hand.
"And it looks and feels and weighs like gold! It must be gold."

"It sure does look like gold," agreed Thure. "It looks and feels just
like the nuggets dad sent home, only larger. Oh, if we only could find
the cave where it came from! Let me see, he said that it was in the
Golden Elbow of Crooked Arm Gulch, in Lot's Canyon, near a white pillar
of rock and a big tree that we must climb to the third limb--a mighty
queer place I call that to find a cave! I reckon he must have been
lunaticy," and Thure turned a disappointed face to Bud.

"Well, he certainly found gold, and this proves it," and Bud tossed the
big nugget up in the air and caught it as it came down, "to say nothing
of the five thousand dollars' worth of gold nuggets that he claims his
murderers stole from him. But, didn't he say something about a map, a
skin map, that would tell us how to find the cave?" and his face
lighted.

"Yes, yes, that was the little roll of white skin I pulled first out of
the bag," and Thure's eyes searched eagerly the ground. "Here it is!"
and, stooping quickly, he picked up the little roll of white
parchment-like skin that he had pulled out of the little bag and dropped
on the ground, and began unrolling it with fingers that trembled with
excitement, while Bud crowded close to his side, his eyes on the
unrolling piece of tanned skin.

The skin was some ten inches long by seven inches wide, of a somewhat
stiff texture, and tanned so that it was nearly white. On the inner side
an unskilled hand had rudely drawn a map; and beneath the map was
written the words:

     Map, showing the location of the Cave of Gold in the Golden Elbow
     of Crooked Arm Gulch, which opens into Lot's Canyon near the white
     pillar of rock and the big tree, made by John Stackpole, the
     discoverer of the Cave of Gold.--1849.

In the lower left-hand corner of the map was a rudely drawn tree, with
three huge limbs, and, from near the end of the upper and third limb, an
arrow pointed slantingly downward, away from the trunk of the tree. In
the lower right-hand corner was a hand holding a flaming torch. Between
the tree and the torch was a cross, marked with the four main points of
the compass. In the lower left-hand corner of the map itself was a small
circle, marked "Hangtown"; and from there a crooked line trailed in a
northeasterly direction to the upper right-hand quarter of the skin,
where a map of Lot's Canyon and Crooked Arm Gulch was drawn with
considerable detail.

[Illustration: THE SKIN MAP.]

For a couple of minutes the two boys studied this map in silence, while
the conviction that the Cave of Gold was no deathbed hallucination, but
a wonderful reality, grew upon them; or else, how came the skin map,
which evidently had been made many days ago?

"Hangtown!" and Thure pointed excitedly to the name on the map. "That's
the name of the mining camp where dad was when he wrote last. And here,"
and his finger followed up the trail marked on the map, "is Lot's
Canyon! and the Big Tree! and Crooked Arm Gulch! and the Golden Elbow!
and--and this black spot, marked 'cave,' right at the point of the
Golden Elbow, must be the Cave of Gold! Great Moses, but I believe the
miner did actually find that Cave of Gold, just as he said he did!" and
Thure's eyes and face glowed with excitement.

"So do I," Bud agreed emphatically. "The skin map, the gold nugget--why,
even his murder! all go to prove the truth of his tale. The robbers
killed him to get this map. They could have got the gold without killing
and got away all right; but they knew of the Cave of Gold and the
map--the miner said he told them--and, expecting to get the map along
with the gold, they killed him to get him out of the way, so that they
could have all the gold in the cave to themselves. Say, but let's hurry
home and tell our mothers. They can't refuse to let us go to the mines
now! And we must start just as soon as possible. Come," and, for the
moment, in his excitement, forgetting the dead body of the miner, he
started to mount his horse.

"But, we can't leave him there!" and Thure pointed to the body. "Just
help me to get him up on the horse in front of me and then we'll get
home as soon as possible," and, picking up the little buckskin bag, he
slipped the nugget and the map back into it, thrust it into his pocket,
and soon, with the help of Bud, was on his horse, with the body of the
dead miner in front of him.

Bud now quickly threw the grizzly bearskin back on his horse, jumped
into his saddle, and the homeward journey was resumed.



CHAPTER IV

AT THE CONROYAL RANCHO


When Thure, bearing in his arms the dead body of a man, and Bud, with
the huge skin of a grizzly bear hanging across the back of his horse
behind the saddle, rode into the open court in front of the Conroyal
rancho, there was great excitement; and, even before they could
dismount, they were surrounded by a crowd of gesticulating,
question-shouting women and children and old decrepit men, all wild with
curiosity to know what had happened. In the midst of all this
excitement, the door of the house was flung open and two young ladies
catapulted themselves through the crowd to where Thure and Bud sat on
their horses.

"Mercy! What has happened?" and Iola Conroyal, her horrified eyes fixed
on the face of the dead miner, came to a sudden halt by the side of
Thure, with Ruth Randolph, round-eyed and white-faced, clinging to one
of her arms. "Is--is he dead?"

"Yes, he is dead," Thure answered gravely. "Murdered for his gold."
Then, seeing how white the faces of the two girls had suddenly grown, he
added quickly: "You girls hurry right back into the house and tell your
mothers that we found a miner, who had been robbed and stabbed, and
started to bring him home with us, but that he died before we got here;
and ask them to have some blankets laid on the floor of the sala for the
body to lie on and a sheet to cover it. Now, hurry. We'll tell you how
it all happened later," and not until the two girls were back in the
house did Thure make a move to get rid of his ghastly burden. Then,
reverently the body of the dead miner was lowered from the horse, and
borne into the large hall-like room of the house known as the sala, and
laid down on the blankets there prepared for it, and covered over with a
sheet.

In the meantime Bud had thrown the great hide of the grizzly to the
ground with the information that it was the skin of _El Feroz_ himself.

"How did you kill him?" "Who shot him?" and, with shouts of wonder and
delight, all the men and the boys, who had not gone into the sala with
the body of the dead miner, crowded around the skin of the fallen
monarch.

"Thure and I found the old villain just after he had killed a horse, and
shot him," Bud answered hastily, anxious to get to his mother with the
wonderful news of the Cave of Gold as quickly as possible. "Here,
Angelo!" and he turned to a young Mexican boy standing near, "Take my
horse and see that he is properly cared for. And you, Juan, take the
hide of _El Feroz_ and let us see how fine a robe you can make out of
it."

"Si, si, señor," answered the old Mexican exultingly. "He, the ugly
brute, kill my wife's brother, Pedro, whom I, like my own brother,
loved, and 'twill give my soul peace one fine robe to make out of his
big skin. A great glory, the killing of _El Feroz_, señor," and his old
eyes kindled. "Your fame like a swift horse will travel."

"Shucks! Any hunter could have got him the same as we did," and Bud
hurried into the house, all care for the glory of killing _El Feroz_
having been driven out of his head by the dying miner's remarkable
revelations.

At the door of the house Bud was met by his mother and Mrs. Conroyal,
with Ruth and Iola close behind them. The bringing of the dead body of
the murdered miner into the house had greatly excited both women.

"My son," Mrs. Randolph cried the moment she caught sight of Bud, "what
means this tale of murder and robbery and the bringing of the dead body
of a strange man into the house?"

"Oh, mother, mother," and Bud excitedly caught hold of his mother's
hand, "the most wonderful, the most marvelous thing has happened!"

"What?" and the astonished and horrified woman caught hold of both of
his shoulders and shook him. "Have you gone clean crazy, Bud Randolph,
to speak of murder and robbery like that?"

"I--I," stammered Bud, "I forgot the dead miner. We were too late to
save him; but he lived long enough to tell us--" He stopped abruptly and
glanced swiftly around the room. The secret of the Cave of Gold must not
be proclaimed from the housetops! There was no one in the room with
himself, but the two women and the two girls. "Mother, Mrs. Conroyal,"
he continued, lowering his voice, "the old miner before he died told
Thure and me of a wonderful Cave of Gold that he had discovered in a
gulch somewhere in the mountains; and he made Thure and me his heirs,
and gave us a map, showing the way to the cave, and a huge gold nugget,
which the robbers did not get, that he said he had found in the cave,
and he--But here is Thure! He has the--"

"Hush! Not so loud!" and Thure, who at that moment stepped into the room
from the sala, where the body of the dead miner lay, lifted a warning
hand. "There are many ears in there," and he pointed to the door he had
just closed behind him, "that must not hear what we have to tell. Come,
let us go to your room, mother, where there won't be any danger of what
we have to tell you being overheard," and he started for Mrs. Conroyal's
private room, followed by Bud and the two wondering women and the girls.

"I--I," and Thure stopped at the door of his mother's room and looked
hesitatingly at Iola and Ruth, "I--I reckon it is too great a secret to
tell you two girls just now. You had better wait--"

"No!"--"No!" broke in both girls indignantly, while Ruth, looking as if
she would like to box Thure's ears, declared:

"We girls can keep a secret just as well as you boys can, and you know
it; for, haven't we saved you from many a licking by not telling your
dads what you had been up to? But if this is the way you are going to
treat us, we'll fix you next time," and she shook her head
threateningly.

"Besides," supplemented Iola triumphantly, "we know most of the secret
already. It's about a Cave of Gold and a map and--"

"Oh, Christmas! You couldn't keep nothing from the girls!" and the face
Thure turned to Bud showed his disgust.

"Well, I reckon the secret is just as safe with them as it is with us,"
protested Bud stoutly, flushing a little, "especially when they know how
important it is to keep it secret. You will never tell a word of it to
anybody, will you girls? It--it might mean murder, if you did."

"No, no," affirmed Iola emphatically. "We'll not breathe a word of it to
a living human being. We'll die first. We'll not disappoint your trust
in us, Bud," and she glanced a bit scornfully from Bud to her brother.
"Will we, Ruth?"

"Never," and Ruth's red lips closed tightly over her pearly teeth. "Do
you suppose we'd betray those we love?" and her eyes flashed
indignantly.

"All right. See that you don't, then," and Thure's face cleared. To tell
the truth he was just a little ashamed of the lack of confidence he had
shown in his sister and Ruth. "Anyhow, you know so much now that you
might as well be told the rest, so come on," and he opened the door and
carefully closed and locked it, when all had entered the room.

It did not take many minutes for the two eager boys to tell the story of
the day's remarkable experiences, from the killing of the great grizzly
to the death of the old miner; for the narrative, under the lash of
their active tongues, proceeded in running jumps, from the beginning to
the end and was never allowed to lag an instant.

"And now," concluded Thure excitedly, when the last of the wonderful
tale had been told, "Bud and I must both start for the mines just as
soon as we can get ready; and get father and Rex and Dill and Uncle
Frank and Hammer Jones to help us find this Cave of Gold; and when we
have found it--"

"But," broke in Mrs. Conroyal, smiling at Thure's enthusiasm, although
her own face was flushed and her eyes were sparkling with excitement,
"where is this wonderful gold nugget and skin map, that you tell us the
miner gave you in proof of his remarkable story? You seem to forget that
you have not yet shown us your proof."

"Here, here it is!" and the excited boy thrust one hand into his pocket
and triumphantly pulled out the small buckskin bag; and, swiftly turning
the bag bottom side up, dumped its contents into his mother's lap; and
the next moment, the two women and the two girls were as excitedly
examining the big nugget and the rude skin map as ever they had been
examined by the two boys.

"And the miner told you that the bottom of the cave was covered with
gold nuggets like this?" queried Mrs. Randolph, her eyes shining, as she
held up the nugget.

"Yes, yes," answered Bud. "Thousands of them, only smaller. Of course he
picked up the biggest that he could see. We can go to the mines now,
can't we, mother?"

"And this queer skin map tells you how to find this wonderful Cave of
Gold?" and Mrs. Conroyal spread out the map on her lap and stared
wonderingly at it. "I can't see how all this jumble of crooked lines and
letters can tell you anything."

"Why, it's easy, mother," and Thure bent eagerly over the map. "You see
you start from Hangtown and go in a northeasterly direction to Humbug
Canyon and Three Tree Mountain and Goose Neck Lake and the Devil's Slide
to Lot's Canyon; and then up Lot's Canyon until you come to Crooked Arm
Gulch, and then up Crooked Arm Gulch until you come to the Golden Elbow;
and the cave, you see, is right in the point of the elbow," and Thure's
finger rested excitedly on the black spot on the map marked "cave." "The
cave is about five days from Hangtown, the miner said. We can go to the
mines now, can't we, mother?"

"Hangtown! What a horrid name!" and Mrs. Conroyal shuddered. "But," and
she started to her feet excitedly, "wasn't your father's last letter
sent from Hangtown? I am sure it was," and she hurried to her writing
desk, picked up a letter and glanced eagerly at its heading. "See! It
was! Here is the name," and she pointed triumphantly to the letter.

"You see, it won't be difficult to find the Cave of Gold from the map,
mother, not with dad's help. And, mother, we must start for the mines
just as soon as we can get ready to go. You surely will let us go now!"
and Thure caught hold of his mother's hand. "Say, yes, mother, now;
because Bud and I want to start to-morrow morning, and there is much to
be done before we go."

"My boy," and Mrs. Conroyal's face sobered, "you are all the man that
the mines have left me. Husband, son, servants, all have gone to the
mines, until now you and Bud are the only able-bodied men left on the
rancho--and now the mines are calling you!"

"But, mother, think of what the finding of such a mine means to us all!
And father and Mr. Randolph, if they knew about the Cave of Gold and the
skin map, I am sure would want us to come; and Old Juan and Manuel and
the boys can take care of the rancho; and, you know, if we find the Cave
of Gold and get the gold, then all of us, father and the rest, will be
back soon; and we will be rich; and dad can build you the new house that
you want and furnish it the way that you want it furnished; and Bud and
I can go East and get the education that we need to fit us to do a man's
work in the great new State of California that is bound to be made out
of this country, now that it has become a part of the United States. It
is yes, isn't it, mother? And we can start, can't we, to-morrow
morning?" and Thure's arm went round his mother and he drew her
appealingly to him.

For a minute or two Mrs. Conroyal did not answer. She was battling with
her mother-love. She knew what this quest of the Cave of Gold might
mean--hardships, dangers, even death for those she loved. But she was of
pioneer stock, had often seen her dearest go forth to face the dangers
of the unknown wilderness; and, at last, with something of Spartan-like
fortitude, she turned to Thure.

"Yes, my son, you may go," she said. "You may go to your father and tell
him all; and he will decide about the search for the Cave of Gold."

"Hurrah! We can go! Mother says I can go!" and Thure swung his free hand
around his head.

"And mother says I can go! Hurrah for the gold-mines!" and Bud clapped
his sister on the back, by way of letting off some of the surplus steam
of his enthusiasm. "It will be great! And I'll bring you back a necklace
of gold nuggets, sister mine. Now, we must be getting ready."

"But, first we all have a solemn duty to perform," Mrs. Conroyal said
gravely. "We must give the dead miner decent burial, as we would wish
our own dear ones buried, should they die amongst strangers. See that
the grave is dug, my son; and notify all that the funeral will be held
in the house-sala at the going down of the sun. Come, we will make ready
the house for the funeral," and, followed by Mrs. Randolph and the two
girls, she hurried from the room.

A half an hour later, all who were left on the rancho gathered in the
sala to pay the last respects of the living, who soon must die, to the
dead, who but a short time before lived. There was no minister, no
priest to be had. Mrs. Conroyal read the church service for the dead
over the body of the unfortunate miner; and then six of the oldest and
strongest boys gently lifted the boards on which the corpse lay to their
shoulders and, just as the rays of the setting sun redden the tops of
the western mountains, bore the body slowly to its last resting place,
beneath the outstretched arms of a sturdy oak, on the top of a little
hillock, near the murmuring waters of a small stream that flowed close
by the house.

That night was a busy night at the Conroyal rancho. Everything must be
got ready for the going of Thure and Bud in the morning; and it was
surprising how many things there were that needed doing. But, at length,
long after midnight, everything was in readiness and the two boys
entered their sleeping room for their last night's rest, for they knew
not how long, in the dear old home-house.

"I can hardly realize that we are to start for the mines in the
morning," Thure said, as he quickly undressed and jumped into bed. "All
that has happened to-day seems more like a dream than the reality; and I
am almost afraid that I will wake up in the morning and find that I have
been only dreaming."

"Well," declared Bud, "if it's only dreaming, I'm going to get into bed
and dream some more as quick as I can; so, not meaning to be impolite,
shut up and good night," and he settled himself down comfortably in the
bed and closed his eyes. And, in five minutes, in spite of the feverish
excitements of the day, the two tired boys were sound asleep.



CHAPTER V

OFF FOR THE GOLD-MINES


The next morning when the sun rose, in all the golden glory of dawning
day in beautiful California, above the tops of the eastern mountains and
shone down into the Valley of the Sacramento, its rays fell on an
interesting scene in front of the Conroyal house, where nearly all the
men, women and children of the place had gathered about two heavily
laden pack-horses, four saddled horses, and two boys, and two girls. The
two boys were Thure and Bud, ready to start for the mines, the two girls
were Iola and Ruth, who were to ride with the boys for an hour or so on
their way, the four saddled horses were their riding horses, and the two
pack-horses bore the outfits of the young miners, as well as sundry
tokens of love and affection sent to the dear ones at the mines. The
boys stood at their horses' heads, ready to mount. The very moment of
departure had come.

"Well, I reckon we must be going now. Good-by, mother," and Thure turned
for a last embrace in those dear arms, and then swung himself up into
his saddle.

"God bless you, and protect you, and bring you safe home, my son," and
Mrs. Conroyal, trying in vain to keep back the tears from her eyes and
the sobs from her voice, embraced and kissed Thure farewell and bravely
saw him mount.

Bud tried very hard to control his feelings, but his voice choked a
little and there were tears in his eyes, as he kissed his mother good-by
and jumped into his saddle; and then, just to break the gloom that
seemed to be gathering too thickly about the parting, he jerked off his
hat, and, swinging it around his head, shouted: "Hurrah, for the
gold-mines! Hurrah, we're off for the mines!"

And everybody shouted with him; and, in the midst of the shouting, the
two boys, leading their pack-horses and with Iola and Ruth on their
horses by their sides, rode out of the house-court and started across
the valley toward the distant eastern mountains.

The search for the dead miner's Cave of Gold had begun.

Iola Conroyal and Ruth Randolph were two very lively and high-spirited
girls, just old enough to see all the romance and little of the rough
reality and danger of such a quest as their two brothers had begun. The
wonderful tale of the dying miner, with its Cave of Gold, its
rough-drawn map and its big gold nugget, had appealed very strongly to
their vivid and romantic imaginations; and the starting of Thure and Bud
in search of this marvelous cave had surrounded them, in their eyes,
with something of the glamour that gilds the heroes of romance. They
envied them their quest; they would have gone joyfully with them, if
they could; and now, as they rode along by their sides in the cool
morning air, they could think or talk of little else than this wonderful
quest and of what would happen, if the boys should really and truly find
that marvelous Cave of Gold.

"Will you--will you promise to give me the first gold nugget you pick up
in this wonderful cave?" Ruth said, after they had been riding and
talking for some little while, glancing up a bit shyly into Thure's
face. "I will have a breastpin made out of it and always wear it in
remembrance of that great event--and--and of you," she added in a lower
voice, her face flushing a little.

"Sure I will! I--that is exactly what I had planned to do anyhow," Thure
declared. "And I'll see that it is a big one, Ruth, the biggest that I
can find. And the next nugget I pick up you shall have for a ring; and
then I'll pick up a lot of little nuggets and make you a gold necklace
out of them."

"That will be glorious," and Ruth's eyes shone. "And--and I shall prize
them all very much. Oh, dear, I don't see why we girls were just born
girls and not boys! I never wanted to do anything as much as I want to
go with you and Bud, and help hunt for this Cave of Gold. I'd go anyway,
if mother would let me."

"So would I," Iola declared, her dark eyes and cheeks glowing at the
thought. "It is terrible to be just a girl, when there is anything like
this to be done. We, at least Ruth and I, do not want to be put in a
cage and fed, like canary birds. We want to do things, too; and we could
do things, too, if folks would only let us."

"Hoity-toity!" laughed Thure. "I reckon God knew what He was about when
He made you 'just girls'--just sisters, sweethearts, wives, mothers, the
dearest words spoken in every language the world over; and, for one, I
am powerful glad that He did make you 'just girls.'"

"So am I," Bud agreed, so emphatically that all laughed.

"But, it really does seem too bad that Iola and I have got to stay at
home with our mothers, where nothing exciting ever happens," persisted
Ruth, "while you two, just because you are boys, can go hunting caves of
gold and have all sorts of wonderful adventures--not that I really and
truly would like to be a boy," she added hastily and a little
contradictorily. "Boys are so awkward and have such big feet and hands,
and--and--"

"And are such good fellows to wait on girls," grinned Bud provokingly.

"Which shows girls' real superiority," smiled back Ruth.

"Well, if you are satisfied, what are you kicking for? You haven't heard
Thure and me wishing that we were girls, have you?" queried Bud
triumphantly.

"Well, I should say not, not when you are off on a hunt like this
anyhow!" Ruth rejoined. "Oh, but I do hope you will find that Cave of
Gold! And come back covered with gold nuggets and glory!"

By this time our young friends had reached the foot of the ridge, on
whose top it had been agreed they were to say farewell to one another;
and the thought of the nearness of the parting was suddenly pressed home
to each heart, and they rode to the top of the ridge without speaking a
word. Here they pulled up their horses; and, for a moment, their eyes
looked wistfully into one another's faces, while they sat silent in
their saddles.

"Oh, come, let's have the agony over!" and Bud tried to make his voice
sound cheery and unconcerned. "Good-by, Ruth," and, urging his horse up
close to the side of his sister's horse, he leaned over, threw his arms
around her neck and kissed her. Then he turned and quickly served Iola
in the same way; and, striking spurs into his horse, started off, his
pack-horse tugging at the rope behind him.

Thure hesitated a moment; and then, following Bud's example, quickly
kissed Iola and Ruth good-by, and started after Bud.

"Don't forget that you have promised me the first gold nugget that you
pick up in the cave!" called Ruth.

"Nor the gold necklace!" warned Iola.

Thure and Bud waved their hands and shouted in reply; but rode steadily
on.

The two girls sat on their horses and watched them, until, with final
shouts and the waving of their hats, they passed over the top of a
distant ridge and vanished from sight. Then Iola and Ruth turned their
horses homeward and rode silently down the other side of the ridge. They
did not care to talk, even about the wonderful Cave of Gold, just then.

They had ridden something like a couple of miles on their way homeward
and their tongues were just beginning to wag, girl-like, again, when
both were considerably startled by a loud hallo, coming from behind.
They turned quickly and saw two horsemen, who had just ridden out from
behind a small grove of trees, some twenty rods back and to the right,
and who were now riding toward them.

"I wonder who they can be!" exclaimed Ruth. "I am sure that I never saw
them before; but I suppose we had better wait and find out what they
want. They might be lost. They look like strangers to this part of the
country," and she pulled up her horse.

"Yes," agreed Iola, halting her horse by the side of Ruth. "They are
probably foreigners on their way to the mines; and we had better wait to
see if we can be of any help to them."

In the holster that hung from the pommel of the saddle of each girl
there was a double-barreled pistol, loaded and ready for instant use;
and it was not there for ornament. Both girls had been trained to use
the rifle and the pistol; and never, since Iola's frightful experience
with the Mexican desperado, Padilla, some three years before,[1] had
either girl been permitted to ride, even a short distance from the
house, without having one or both of these weapons with her.
Consequently, trained and armed as they were, they saw nothing to fear
in meeting the two strange horsemen, although they were alone in a
little valley and out of sight and hearing of every other human being,
so far as they knew.

[Footnote 1: For an account of this adventure, see _Fighting With
Fremont_, the preceding book of this series.]

The two horsemen came up on a slow gallop; and pulled up their horses a
dozen feet from the girls.

"We asks your pardon, ladies," said the larger of the two men--a big
red-headed man with a broken nose--as he awkwardly doffed his hat. "But,
seein' you ridin' by, an' thinkin' you might be able tew give us sum
information, we bein' strangers in this part of Californy, we made bold
tew hallo tew you," and he paused, his bold eyes staring admiringly into
the dark face of Iola.

"We will be very glad to help you, if we can," answered Iola, a bit
shortly, for she did not like the looks of the big man with the broken
nose. "What is it you would like to know?"

"Wal," answered the man, glancing toward his companion, "me an' my
pardner was tew meet a man over yonder by that big rock that sticks
itself out of th' ground, like a nose on a man's face," and he pointed
to a huge rock a mile or more away that shot up out of the level of the
valley, not unlike the nose on a man's face. "He was tew git thar 'bout
noon yisterday; an' we haven't seen hide nor ha'r of him yit; an',
gittin' powerful tired of waitin' an' thinkin' you ladies might have
seen him, we stops you tew ask."

"An' bein' a leetle afeared he might have come tew harm," the other
horseman, a small man with a pock-marked face, here broke in, "seein'
that he was a comin' from th' diggin's an' was supposed tew have
considerable gold-dust with him, we makes bold tew stop you ladies tew
ask about him, jest as my pardner says, thinkin' you might have seen
him."

"What--what did he look like?" Iola asked anxiously, the moment the man
paused; for her thoughts had gone instantly to the dead man they had
buried last night, when he had spoken of the man they were looking for
as being on his way back from the diggings.

"Wal, he won't exactly what you ladies would call a beauty," answered
the big man, grinning, "seein' that he'd let his whiskers an' ha'r grow
long an' scraggly all over his face an' head; but you'd a-knowed him, if
you'd a-seen him, by a peecoolyer scar over his left eye, shaped
sumthin' like a hoss-shoe, with th' ends of th' shoe pointin' t'ord th'
corners of th' eye."

"Why," and Iola's face whitened, "he must have been the man our
brothers, Thure and Bud, brought home with them yesterday afternoon! He
had a scar on his forehead like that. Didn't you notice it?" and she
turned to Ruth.

"Yes," Ruth answered, "and he was from the mines."

"Wal, now, that's good news," declared the big man, glancing out of the
corners of his eyes at his companion. "We was afeared sum harm had come
tew him. An' so he's restin' safe an' easy at your home. Now, whar might
that be, if I may be so bold as tew ask?"

"But, he'd been robbed--murdered!" exclaimed Iola. "And it was his dead
body that had been brought to our house. We buried him last night."

"Robbed! Murdered!" almost yelled the big man. "Do you hear that,
Spike?" and he turned excitedly to his companion. "Sumone got him for
his gold, jest as he was afeared they would. An' you say 'twas your
brothers who found him, an' took th' body home with them, an' gave it
decent burial. Now I call that decent, don't you, Spike?" and he glanced
sharply at his companion.

"White an' decent," agreed Spike. "But," and his small snake-like eyes
shifted swiftly from face to face of the two girls, as he spoke, "did
he--did he leave any message for his friends; or, was he dead when your
brothers found him?"

"He lived only a little while," answered Iola. "He had been stabbed by
one of the cowards, and he died before they could get him to the house.
I don't think he left any message. I don't remember of hearing our
brothers say anything about a message, do you?" and she turned to Ruth.

"No," replied Ruth. "He--he left no word for any friend. He only--" she
stopped abruptly, and just in time; for, unthinkingly, she had been
about to speak of the skin map and the Cave of Gold.

Both men started slightly at her words and abrupt stop and flashed swift
glances into each other's eyes.

"Now, that's tew bad," declared the big man. "We sure thought he would
leave a message for us, seein' that he knowed we was here a-waitin' for
him. But, I reckon, we'd better ride on tew th' house with you ladies
an' see them brothers of your'n personal. You see we wants tew make
sart'in 'twas our friend that was robbed and murdered, besides he might
have left sum word for Spike an' me, an' your brothers not have
mentioned it, bein' naturally excited-like over th' robbery an' murder."

"But, you can't see them now!" exclaimed Iola, impulsively. "They left
for the mines this very morning. Why, we parted from them not more than
an hour ago."

Both men started violently at this news, and again the swift suspicious
glances flashed from eyes to eyes, and an ugly threatening look came
into their faces.

"Gone tew th' mines! An' started sudden, this very mornin'!" exclaimed
Spike excitedly. "Did--Did th' old miner say an'thing 'bout whar he
found his gold afore he died?" and his beady black eyes glowed angrily
into the faces of the two girls. "We're his friends, an' have a right
tew know, an' we want tew know, an' we're goin' tew know," and he urged
his horse nearer to the girls.

Both girls were badly frightened by this sudden and unexpected change in
the two men; for there was no mistaking the ugly and dangerous look on
their faces; but neither girl lost her head.

"You will not come a step closer than you now are," and the white hand
of Iola flashed to the pistol in her holster; and Spike, to his evident
horror, suddenly found himself looking straight down into two little
round holes that seemed to his startled eyes as big as the mouths of
cannons.

"And you, too, stay right where you are," and Ruth's pistol suddenly
turned the big man with a broken nose into a wildly staring equestrian
statue. "We two girls are not going to take any chances with you two
men; and--and now that we have given you all the information that we
have for you, you can turn your horses around and ride back the way you
came."

[Illustration: "YOU CAN TURN YOUR HORSES AROUND AND RIDE BACK THE WAY
YOU CAME."]

The faces of both girls had suddenly grown as white as milk; for, almost
at the same moment, each had remembered that the dying miner had
described his two murderers as a big red-headed man with a broken nose
and a small man with a pock-marked face--and they were now looking
straight into the faces of two such men. But the hands that held the
pistols did not tremble; and there was no mistaking the look in the
shining eyes back of the little round holes. They would shoot; and, if
they shot, they would not miss; and it did not take the two men two
seconds to discover these facts.

"Oh, come, this ain't no hold up game, is it, ladies?" and the big man
tried to look as if he considered the whole affair a huge joke; but he
was very careful not to make a threatening move; and he kept his eyes
fixed on the two little round holes of Ruth's pistol, in a horrible
staring way that Ruth never forgot.

"No," Ruth answered shortly. "It is not a hold up; and there is going to
be no hold up in this case," she added significantly; "so just turn your
horses around and gallop back the way you came; and be very careful not
to let your hands go near your belts or to look back while doing it,"
she warned.

"Oh, say, now," began the small man. "This ain't hospital-like. We ain't
meanin' you ladies no harm. We--"

"Drop the talk and turn your horses around and get," Iola commanded so
imperatively, so threateningly that both men, in a sudden panic of
fear--like nearly all rascals they were cowards and those two pistols in
those two girlish hands might go off at any instant--whirled their
horses around and galloped off, while a bullet from one of the barrels
of Iola's pistol, whistling between their heads, added to their panic
and speed.

"Do you," and Ruth turned her white face to Iola, the moment the two men
were at a safe distance, "do you really think they were the two men who
murdered the miner?"

"Yes," answered Iola, as she began reloading her pistol, with hands that
trembled now so that she could hardly pour the powder into the barrel.
"I am sure they were. Ugh! But what a dreadful fright they gave me! I
felt certain they were going to murder us, when they started toward us."

"And--and do you suppose they were trying to find out about that skin
map and the Cave of Gold?" and Ruth's face again began whitening.

"Yes, that is it!" and Iola started. "That was what made them so angry
and ugly, when we told them that Thure and Bud had already started for
the mines. They at once suspicioned that the boys had the map and that
they had started out to find the Cave of Gold. Oh, Ruth," and a look of
horror came into Iola's face, "do you suppose they will start on the
trail of Thure and Bud and try to get the map from them? Why, they might
murder them!"

"That is exactly what I am afraid they will do," declared Ruth, her own
face reflecting the horror in Iola's face. "But you may be sure that two
cowards like them will never get the best of our brothers, unless they
do it in some sneaking underhanded way; and the boys have been warned to
look out for them. It won't take Thure and Bud as long to discover who
they are, as it did us. The instant they see that broken nose and
pock-marked face, they will be on their guard. But I do wish we had said
nothing about the boys starting for the mines. Anyhow that is about all
the information they did get from us that will do them any good, thank
goodness! And they will have a mighty hard time finding and following
their trail, unless they are old hunters and trappers; and they did not
look as if they were. Anyhow it can't be helped now; and the best thing
that we can do is to get back home as quickly as we can."

"I don't think we had better say anything to our mothers about meeting
the two men," Iola said, as with a final look in the direction of the
two horsemen, who were still galloping up the valley, they turned their
horses homeward. "It wouldn't do any good to tell them and they'd worry
a lot."

"You're right. Mum's the word," agreed Ruth; and then both girls struck
their horses sharply and started on a swift gallop for the Conroyal
rancho, where we must leave them for the present and return to Thure and
Bud.



CHAPTER VI

THE SIGN OF THE TWO RED THUMBS


At the date of the happenings here recorded, 1849, the greater part of
California was still an unbroken wilderness, inhabited only by scattered
tribes of Indians and the wild beasts. For some three hundred years the
Spaniards and the Mexicans had occupied a few choice spots along the
coast, with now and then an isolated ranchero in the great interior
valleys of the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers. Then, in 1846, had
come the War with Mexico and the Conquest of California by the
Americans, swiftly followed by the discovery of gold in 1848 and the
great inflow of gold-seekers from all parts of the world of 1849 and
later, who, of course, all rushed pell-mell to the gold regions, leaving
the rest of California more thinly populated than ever. Indeed, in 1849,
all California, except the gold regions, was practically deserted; and,
since the gold regions were located in what had been, a few weeks
before, a mountainous wilderness, nearly everybody in California was
living in the wilderness, and, necessarily, living under primitive
wilderness conditions--a wild, free, independent sort of a life that
quickly brought to the surface the real character of each individual.

Such, then, was the California of 1849, the California of Thure and Bud;
and such were the conditions of the life, the wild romantic life of the
wilderness mining camps, toward which we left our young friends
hastening, their unwilling pack-horses pulling and tugging on the ropes
which were dragging them away from the home-pastures, when we rode a
little way on the homeward journey with Iola and Ruth.

Now, to return to Thure and Bud.

The Conroyal rancho was situated in the Lower Sacramento Valley, some
two-days' journey from Sutter's Fort, near which the City of Sacramento
on the Sacramento River had sprung into a sudden and marvelous
existence; and, as Sacramento City was then the final rendezvous of all
those bound for the mines, some forty miles in the wilderness of
mountains to the east, Thure and Bud, naturally, had headed straight for
this town, intending, when there, to find someone going to Hangtown,
with whom they might journey to this mining camp, where they hoped to
find their fathers and their friends. Both boys were well acquainted
with the trail to Sutter's Fort, having been there frequently with their
fathers; and, since Sacramento City was only a couple of miles or so
from Sutter's Fort, they would have no difficulty in finding their way
thither. The trail, for the greater part of the distance, ran through
beautiful valleys and over low-lying hills, where nature still reigned
unfretted by man and where a human being was seldom seen, consequently
Thure and Bud expected to have a lonely ride to Sacramento City.

For some little while after the departure of the two girls neither boy
spoke. Somehow they did not feel like talking, not even about the
wonderful Cave of Gold, nor the skin map, nor the death of the old
miner. They were thinking of home and the dear ones from whom they had
parted for they knew not how long; and, when boys are thinking deeply of
such things, they do not like talking. But, gloom and sadness cannot
long conquer the spirits of any normal boy; and, at the end of an hour's
riding they were their own lively and talkative selves again.

"I wonder if we can make our old camping-ground to-night?" Thure
questioned doubtfully, as they came to a halt, a little before noon, on
the top of a steep ridge to give their horses a short rest. "If I
remember right, this ridge is not nearly half-way to the place where dad
and I always camped when we went to Sutter's Fort; and it must be nearly
noon now," and he glanced upward at the sun, which was fast nearing the
zenith. "Say, but these old pack-horses are as slow as oxen. I wonder if
we can't do something to hurry them up?"

"We've got to make the old camping-ground tonight, if it takes us till
midnight," Bud answered emphatically. "That is, we've got to, if we
expect to get to Sacramento City to-morrow; and that's where I, for one,
expect to be sometime to-morrow night. I reckon, we'll have to drive
them pack-horses in front of us and use the whip a little."

"A bully idea," Thure agreed. "I wonder why we did not think of it
before. Here, you old slowpoke, get up!" and, whirling his horse around,
he suddenly rode up behind his pack-horse and gave that animal a quick
blow with his whip.

The scheme worked splendidly; and the two boys were soon on their way
again and moving at a considerably increased speed. But, notwithstanding
their accelerated motion, it was not until some three hours after sunset
that the two tired boys and the four tired horses reached the old
camping-grounds, where there was an abundance of water for themselves
and horses and fuel for the camp-fire.

"Well, I swun I am tired!" Thure exclaimed, as he threw himself down
with a sigh of satisfaction on his blanket before the camp-fire, when,
at last, the horses had been unsaddled and unbridled and unpacked and
picketed where they could feed on the rich grass, and the two boys had
eaten their rude meal of broiled venison--they had shot a young deer on
their way--and homemade bread, washed down by a huge tin cup full of
coffee of their own brewing.

"I reckon you are not the only tired boy in this camp to-night," and Bud
spread out his blanket on the ground by the side of Thure's and
stretched himself out on it. "Every bone and muscle in my body has been
just a-teasing me for the last two hours to let up and give them a rest.
Well, we got here anyhow; and I guess we can now make Sacramento City
all right to-morrow night. Say," and he sat up on his blanket with a
jerk at the thought that had suddenly come to him, "do you suppose those
two villains, who robbed and killed the old miner, have found out that
we have the skin map that they committed murder in vain to get? If they
have, I reckon we'll have to be on the lookout for them good and sharp.
Why, they might be on our trail even now!"

"You are right," and Thure sat up quickly. "But I can't see just how
they could know that we have the map. They certainly didn't wait for
introductions when we charged down upon them; and I don't believe they
followed us home--they were too scart, the cowards! But, as Kit Carson
says: 'The time to be cautious is before the Indians get your scalp--not
afterwards.' I reckon that means that we've got to keep guard to-night;
and I don't believe I ever felt more sleepy," and Thure sighed. "But, if
Brokennose and Pockface should happen to be on our trail, they couldn't
ask for anything better than to get us two here alone and asleep
to-night. They sure would have the skin map in the morning, and,
probably, our horses and supplies, and, possibly, our lives. Say, but I
just would like to meet them two cowards when I am awake!" and Thure's
eyes glinted wrathfully.

"Well, I should not be surprised if we had that pleasure before long,"
and Bud's face hardened. "If the old miner told them of the Cave of Gold
and the skin map, and he said he did, they sure will be on the lookout
for the party with the map; and it wouldn't take much inquiring for them
to find out that it was us that brought the dead miner home; and then, I
reckon, it won't take them two minutes to guess what started us so
sudden-like for the mines. I sure hope they won't find us until we get
to our dads and Rex and Dill and Hammer Jones. I'd feel safe enough
then. You see, we are guarding not only our lives, but also the Cave of
Gold; and the finding of that cave means a lot to all of us."

"It sure does," Thure agreed. "Luck has been against both of our dads
lately; and, well, we've just got to find that Cave of Gold; and we are
going to find it, in spite of all the broken noses and pockmarked faces
in the world. But, it won't do to sit here talking all night. We must
get all the sleep we can. Who will stand guard first?"

"I will," Bud answered, picking up his rifle and rising; "so get into
your blanket and asleep as quick as you can. It must be almost midnight
now."

"All right," and Thure began rolling himself up in his blanket. "Wake me
in about two hours, and I'll stand guard the rest of the night. We want
to be on our way as soon as it is light enough to see. Good night," and
in five minutes Thure was as dead to his surroundings as the log near
which he lay.

Bud picked up his blanket and moved off into the dark shadows of the
low-hanging branches of an evergreen oak and out of the light of the
camp-fire, where he could watch, seeing but unseen.

The night had grown dark and cool--all California nights are chilly; and
Bud wrapped his blanket around him and, leaning up against the trunk of
the tree, looked out into the darkness surrounding the lone camp-fire.
In the distance a coyote was making the night hideous with his
demoniacal howlings. From a near tree came the lonesome hoot of an owl.
All else was still, save from all around came the mysterious sounds of
the wilderness at night, suggestive of the low whisperings and talking
of uneasy spirits.

But all this was commonplace to Bud. He had often spent the night out in
the open, had often stood guard by a lonely camp-fire, when darkness was
all around and only the weird voices of the night were heard; and he
gave little thought to these things. He was very tired and very sleepy
and it took about all the thought power he had to compel himself to stay
awake.

An hour past. There had not been a suspicious sound nor movement; and
Bud began to feel more secure, began to relax some of his vigilance,
began to close his eyes now and then for a brief moment, began to lean
more comfortably against the trunk of the tree--then, suddenly, he
straightened himself up with a jerk, his eyes wide open, his cocked
rifle held ready for instant use. Sure he had heard a sound, a sound
that did not belong to the night, a thud like the fall of some heavy
body on soft ground, and coming from the direction of the camp-fire! For
a moment he stared, tense with excitement, toward the camp-fire, now
glowing dully; but he saw nothing unusual, heard nothing unusual. Thure
still lay by the side of the log, his form showing faintly in the dull
light. The horses were grazing quietly--he could just distinguish their
forms through the darkness. They showed no alarm.

"Queer! I certainly heard something fall; and right near! Well, I reckon
I had better make sure that everything is all right with Thure," and Bud
very cautiously stepped out from the shadows of the tree and, moving
softly, crept up to where Thure lay. His deep regular breathing told him
that he was sound asleep and that all was well with him.

"Must have been dreaming," he muttered in disgust, and returned to his
station under the tree; but he did not close his eyes again.

There were no other suspicious sounds during the remainder of his watch,
nor during the watch of Thure; and the dawning of morning found both
boys and all their belongings safe and sound.

"Did you see or hear anything suspicious during your watch?" was Bud's
first query, when Thure awoke him the next morning.

"No. Why?" answered Thure. "Did you?"

"Well, I--I don't know," and Bud jumped to his feet and began looking
sharply around over the ground near the camp-fire.

Suddenly he uttered an exclamation and, bending quickly down, picked up
a large flat stone that was lying between the log, near which Thure had
slept, and the camp-fire.

"I--I don't remember of seeing this stone here last night," and he
turned it over curiously; and then uttered another exclamation that
brought Thure to his side on the jump.

The stone was flat, some three inches thick, nearly round, and,
possibly, a foot in diameter. One side was nearly white and smooth; and
the astonished eyes of the boys read, rudely written on this side,
evidently with a piece of charred coal, these ominous words:

     LEVE THE MAP TO THE MINERS CAVE UNDER THIS STON NEAR YOUR CAMP FIRE
     WHEN YOU BRAKE CAMP IN THE MORNING AND NEVER TELL NOBODY WHAT THE
     MINER TOLD YOU ABOUT THE CAVE--OR WELL GIT YOU THE SAME AS WE GOT
     THE MINER--LIFE IS WURTH MOREN GOLD AND YOULL NEVER LIVE TO GIT THE
     GOLD.

Under these words were the red prints of two thumbs--one the mark of a
huge thumb and the other the mark of a much smaller thumb--as if their
owners had covered their thumbs with blood and then pressed them against
the stone, in lieu of signatures.

For a full two minutes the two boys stood staring at these words, their
faces whitening and their eyes widening.

"How--how did this get here?" Thure was the first to speak.

For answer Bud leaped to the log, by the side of which Thure had slept,
and, bending over it, looked closely at the ground on the other side.

"Right from behind this log!" he exclaimed, after a moment's scrutiny of
the ground. "The fellow that threw that stone crept up behind this log
and then got up on his knees and tossed the rock to where we found it.
You can still see the prints of his knees and toes in the ground. I
thought I heard a sound like the fall of something heavy during my
watch; but I was half asleep when I heard it," and Bud's face flushed a
little; "and when I couldn't see anything suspicious or find anything
suspicious or hear any more suspicious sounds, I concluded I had only
fancied I had heard the sound. But that is sure no fancy," and his eyes
glared at the stone, which Thure still held.

"And I was sound asleep right on the other side of that log at that very
moment!" and Thure's weather-bronzed face whitened a little. "No more
logs for bedfellows for me!"

"Yes, and he must have been lying right on the other side of that log,
when I bent over you to see if you were all right," added Bud. "If I'd
been only smart enough to look, it might have saved us from a lot of
trouble," and Bud's lips tightened grimly.

"Better as it is," Thure declared. "Now, we've had our warning and
nobody hurt; but, if you had discovered the fellow behind the log,
they'd have got you, sure, and, probably, me, too. Both were doubtless
on hand; and would have shot you before you could have done anything, if
you had discovered one of them. Now, I reckon, if they had found the
camp unguarded, they were intending to have a try for the map then and
there--and they would have got it! Well, what do you think about doing
as they ask, and leaving the map under the stone? It seems from what
that stone says--"

"What!" and Bud turned in astonishment to Thure. "Give up that map to a
couple of the biggest cowards and cut-throats in California? I'd sooner
give them every drop of blood in my body. I--"

"Well, you need not get so rambunctuous over it," laughed Thure. "But,"
and his face sobered, "I reckon that that there is no idle threat," and
he pointed to the flat stone, which now lay on the ground at his feet;
"and I fancy the sooner we get to our dads the better it will be for us.
Not that I'd be afraid of those two skunks," he added hastily, "if
they'd come out in the open, where one could see them; but I do not care
for any more creeping upon a fellow in the dark, when he's asleep," and
he glanced shudderingly toward the log. "But, there is no use of talking
any more about it. Let's get busy. We must make Sacramento City to-night
sure."

In a very short time breakfast was eaten, the horses saddled and bridled
and packed, and the two boys ready to mount and to start on their way
again.

"Now, for our answer to that there message," and Thure picked up the
flat stone and dropped it into the camp-fire. "I reckon that will tell
them what we think of their threat; and that we're too old to be scart
like little school boys," and he sprang on the back of his horse. "Now
for Sacramento City!" and the two boys, with watchful eyes glancing all
around them, resumed their lonely journey toward the new city on the
Sacramento.



CHAPTER VII

CAUGHT IN THE FLOOD


In July, 1849, the tide of gold-seekers had not yet set in at its
greatest flow. It was too early in the year for the thousands of
emigrants coming across the plains and the mountains to the east or for
those journeying by ship from the more distant parts of the world to
have reached the Eldorado of their golden hopes; but from every
inhabited part of California and the region to the north, from Mexico
and the Pacific coast southward and from the nearer islands of the
Pacific a constant stream of gold-seekers had been flowing into the gold
regions for nearly a year. Those coming by ship landed at San Francisco;
and from there reëmbarked in smaller boats and were carried up the
Sacramento River to Sacramento City, the nearest point to the mines
reached by boat, or made the journey overland on horseback, or with
mule- or horse- or oxen-drawn wagons, or even on foot. Many of the
Mexicans and a few of the South Americans came overland, while nearly
all of those coming from Oregon territory, whither many emigrants had
gone from the States during the past few years, made the journey
southward to Sacramento City the same way they had crossed the great
plains and the mountains, when they had sought new homes in the Great
Northwest a few years before--that is, by way of the prairie-schooner,
afoot and on horseback, traveling in small companies for mutual
protection.

All of these different streams of inflowing gold-seekers were too far
south for Thure and Bud to strike until they were nearly to Sacramento
City, except that from Oregon, flowing from the north; and they hardly
expected to find this stream still flowing, since those regions were
supposed to have been already drained of all their gold-seeking
inhabitants. But, hardly had they ridden an hour on their way that
morning, when, on coming to the top of a low ridge of hills and looking
down into the valley beyond, they saw half a dozen white-topped wagons,
accompanied by a number of men, some on horseback and some afoot, a
couple of miles ahead of them and about to pass over another ridge of
hills.

"Hurrah!" yelled Thure, at sight of the wagons and the men. "I'll bet a
coon skin that they are bound for Sacramento City and the gold-diggings,
too. Come, let's hurry up our horses and see if we can't overtake them.
I'll feel a lot safer when we're in with that crowd," and his keen eyes
glanced swiftly over the valley in front of them. "There are too many
places along this trail, where them skunks could hide and shoot us
without our getting a shot back at them, to suit me. But they will
hardly venture to take a shot at us, while we are with a crowd of armed
men like that. Hurrah! Come on!" and, striking his pack-horse with his
whip, Thure hurried on down the hill.

A couple of hours later the two boys overtook the slower-moving train of
wagons; and were given a hearty welcome by the gaunt, roughly dressed
and rougher-looking men, who, as they had surmised, were bound for the
gold-mines.

Thure, as they joined the little company of prospective miners, turned
and looked backward, just in time to see two horsemen appear on the brow
of a distant hill, halt their horses and sit staring in their direction
for a couple of minutes; and then, wheeling their horses about disappear
down the other side of the hill.

"Queer!" thought Thure. "I should think they'd be only too glad to join
us, unless," and his heart gave a jump at the thought, "unless they were
Brokennose and Pockface following on our trail! I wonder--"

But here the men of the wagon-train, gathering excitedly about him and
all eagerly asking questions, drove all further thoughts of the two
solitary horsemen out of his head.

There were fifteen men, two women, and three children--a girl of
fourteen and two boys thirteen years old--in the company; and all had
come from the great wilderness to the north, whither they had gone from
the States some three years before. They had been traveling for many
days southward, through a wilderness inhabited only by wild beasts and
Indians, without seeing a human being, except a few Indians, although
they had passed a number of deserted ranchos on their way down the
Sacramento Valley, until Thure and Bud rode into their midst. All the
men were armed with long-barreled rifles, huge knives, and some of them,
in addition, carried a pistol or a revolver. They were dressed for the
most part in deerskins and their hair and beards had grown so long, that
only their bright eyes and bronzed noses and gleaming white teeth, when
they smiled or opened their mouths, were visible. All the other features
of their faces were hidden behind matted locks of hair. The faces of the
women and the children had been browned by the sun, until they were
nearly of the color of Indians, and their clothing was soiled and worn;
but all were clear-eyed and looked as if they did not know what a bodily
ache or pain was.

Thure and Bud were too familiar with this type of wilderness manhood to
be worried in the least over their rough looks and dress. They knew
something of the real men that usually dwelt within these rough
exteriors--the men who hewed the way for civilization through the
wilderness, the men of the rifle, the trap, and the ax, strong and
sturdy and as gnarled and knotted as the oaks of their own forests, yet
as true to a friend or to the right as they saw it, as the balls in
their rifles were to their sights--and neither boy hesitated an instant
to accept their invitation to "jog along" with them to Sacramento City.

For a few minutes the whole company halted and crowded excitedly around
Thure and Bud. They had heard no news of the world outside of their
little company for many days; and they were especially anxious to hear
the latest news from the diggings.

"Sure th' gold ain't petered out yit?" queried one of the men anxiously.

"No," answered Thure, smiling. "According to dad's last letter they were
discovering new diggings almost every day and all the old diggings were
still panning out well. Why, he wrote that the fellow who had the claim
right next to his claim had found a pocket the day before, out of which
he had taken in one day one thousand dollars' worth of gold nuggets!"

"Say, young man," and a great, huge-boned, lank man crowded eagerly up
to Thure's side, "jest say them words over ag'in; an' say 'em loud, so
that Sal can hear. She's bin callin' me a fool regular 'bout every hour
since we started for th' diggings. Says she'll eat all th' gold I find
an' won't have no stumick-ake neither. Now, listen, Sal," and he turned
excitedly to one of the two women, who stood together on the outskirts
of the little crowd of men around Thure and Bud. "Jest listen tew what
this boy's own dad rit home," and again he turned his eager eyes on
Thure's face.

Thure laughed and repeated, in a louder voice, the story of the miner's
good luck.

"Did you hear that, Sal?" and again the big man turned excitedly to the
woman. "One Thousand Dollars' wurth of gold nuggets picked right up out
of a hole in th' ground in one day! Gosh, that's more gold than we ever
seed in our lives! An' he found it all in one day! Good lord! in ten
days he'd have Ten Thousand Dollars! An' in one hundred days he'd have
One Hundred Thousand Dollars!" he almost shouted.

"Well, what if he did have one hundred thousand dollars! What good would
that do you? That's what I'd like tew know, Tim Perkins? He'd have th'
gold, not you, wouldn't he?" and the woman turned a thin care-worn face
to her big husband.

"But," and the big fellow's eyes fairly shone with enthusiasm, "can't
you see, Sal, that that proves that th' gold is thar; an', th' gold
bein' thar, I stand as good a chance as anybody else of runnin' ontew a
pocket like that. Good lord, a Thousand Dollars in One Day! Think of
what that would mean tew us, Sal! Edication for th' boy an' gal, a
comfortable home for us as long as we live! If we could only have sech
luck! An' I've bin dreamin' of findin' gold almost every night since we
hooked up an' started for th' diggin's!"

"An' your dreamin' always comes true!" replied Mrs. Perkins scornfully.
"Well, I've only got this tew say, an', if I've sed it onct, I've sed it
a hundred times, this is our last wild-goose chasin' trip. You'll settle
down for keeps, th' next time you settle down, Tim Perkins, gold or no
gold; or you'll do your chasin' alone," and she turned and climbed back
into one of the wagons, not at all moved by her big husband's
enthusiasm.

"Sal's some downhearted," the big fellow explained to Thure, "'cause
things ain't turned out for us like we expected since comin' tew Oregon.
But," and his face lighted up again, "jest wait till I make my strike in
th' diggings an' nuthin' 'll be tew good for her an' th' yunks."

"Do you reckon we can make Sacramento City tew-night?" here broke in one
of the men anxiously. "We was a calculatin' that we might."

"Yes," answered Thure, "if you are willing to travel late; but you'll
have to hustle to do it."

"Then we'll hustle," declared the man, who appeared to be the captain of
the little company. "Everybody who wants tew git to Sacramento City
tew-night git a-goin'," he shouted. "Th' gold stories'll keep till we
git thar," and he hurried away to his own wagon, which was in the van;
and soon, with much loud shouting and the cracking of the long lashes of
whips, the little train of wagons was again in motion.

Thure and Bud fell in at once by the side of the leader, who, learning
that they were familiar with the trail to Sacramento City, had asked
them to act as guides.

All the wagons were drawn by big raw-boned and long-legged mules; and
the two boys soon found that they had to use their whips freely on their
sturdy little pack-horses in order to hold their places in the train.

All day long they pressed steadily forward, as fast as mule legs could
drag the heavy wagons; and, a little before night, they struck the
northern trail from San Francisco to Sacramento City, now a
well-traveled road. Here, for the first time, Thure and Bud began to get
something of an idea of what the rush to the gold-mines was like. There
were some twenty-five wagons, a hundred or more horsemen, and many men
on foot in sight of their eyes, when their wagons swung around a small
hill and on to the trail, now hardened into a road by the thousands of
wheels and hoofs that had recently passed over it; and all were hurrying
forward, as if they were fearful they would be too late to reap any of
the golden harvest.

"Great buffaloes!" and Tim Perkins turned anxiously to Thure, by whose
side he was riding, "dew you reckon all them folks are bound for the
diggin's?"

"Yes," answered Thure. "Can't you see that everyone is armed with a pick
and shovel and gold-pan? Why, even the men on foot are lugging picks and
shovels and gold-pans on their backs!"

"An'," continued Tim, the anxious look on his face deepening, "dew you
reckon they've bin a-tearin' over th' trail tew th' diggin's like this
for long; or is this jest a stampede we have struck?"

"A ship has probably landed at San Francisco lately," Thure replied;
"and these are some of the gold-seekers who came in it. But I don't
think from what I have heard that what we are seeing is an unusual sight
along this trail. They've been rushing to the mines like a herd of
stampeding cattle for months."

"Gosh! I'm afeard they'll find all th' gold afore we git thar! If
'twon't for Sal an' th yunks I'd hurry on ahead. Dang it, if I was only
thar right now I might be discoverin' a pocket full of gold, like that
miner aside your dad did, at this identical moment! Hi, thar, Jud," and
he turned his eyes glowing with excitement to the face of the
train-captain, "let's see if we can't git ahead of some of this tarnel
crowd; or they'll be a-landin' on all the good spots afore we git thar."

"Now, jest keep a tight rein on your hosses, Perkins," grinned Jud
Smith, the leader of the little company of Oregon gold-seekers; "an'
rekerleck th' old sayin' 'th' more haste th' less speed,' But," and an
uneasy look came into his own eyes, "it sure does look like all creation
had started for th' diggin's. See, they're still a-comin' as far back as
th' eyes can reach! I reckon we had better try an' hit up a leetle
livelier gait. G'lang, thar, you long-eared repteels!" and the long lash
of his whip hissed through the air and cracked, like the report of a
pistol, over the heads of his leading mules.

Indeed, it seemed to be impossible for even the sanest of men to mingle
long with a crowd of hurrying gold-seekers and think of what they were
hurrying for, and not catch the fever of unreasoning haste. The thought
that they might be too late, that each moment they might be missing a
golden opportunity by not being on the spot, seemed to obsess all minds;
and the nearer they got to the gold-fields the greater became this
excitement and hurry, until it degenerated into little more than a wild
stampede of gold-mad men.

And no wonder! for the nearer they got to the mines the bigger the
stories seemed to grow of the wonderful gold finds that were being made.
Nay, more than this! They now sometimes actually saw the gold and
actually met the men who had found it, as they were returning to the
comforts and pleasures of civilization, actually burdened down with the
weight of the precious metal they were carrying! And, what if all this
gold should all be dug up before they got to the mines! The thought was
enough to put the fever of haste into the blood of any man.

The knowledge of having the skin map and the thought of the Cave of Gold
to which it pointed the way, did not keep Thure and Bud from feeling
this excitement, this wild desire to hurry, as their little company
swung into line on the trail and rushed madly on with the rest. True the
skin map and the gold nugget, still in the miner's buckskin bag, hung,
safely hidden, under the armpit of Thure's left shoulder; but the old
miner himself had found the Cave of Gold, and, if he had found it, why
might not some other man find it? That was the disturbing thought that
had troubled the two boys all along; and now, when they began to realize
how great was the flood of gold-seekers constantly pouring into the
mining regions and how their keen eyes would be searching everywhere,
their anxiety to get to their fathers as quickly as possible grew apace,
until they were almost as eager to reach the mines as was Tim Perkins
himself; and, by a constant urging of their pack-horses, managed to keep
their places with Jud Smith and his company.

However, in spite of all their hurrying, it was after nine o'clock at
night and dark before they reached the west bank of the Sacramento River
opposite Sacramento City. Here they found a hundred wagons and many
animals and men ahead of them, waiting to be ferried across the river;
and, to their very great disappointment, they were obliged to wait until
the next morning before crossing over to Sacramento City.

"Well, we are within sight of Sacramento City anyhow," declared Thure,
when Jud Smith returned from the ferry with the news that they would be
obliged to camp on that side of the river for the night; "and, I reckon,
it is just as well that we don't cross over to-night. I'll feel just a
little better entering a town like that in the clear light of day," and
his eyes looked in astonishment and wonder across the dark waters of the
river to where the myriad lights of Sacramento City shone along the
opposite bank.

The last time Thure had stood where he was now standing, only a little
over a year ago, and looked across the Sacramento River, not a sign of a
human habitation was in sight where now shone the thousands of lights of
a busy city!

"Isn't it a wonderful sight!" exclaimed Bud, as the two boys stood a
little later on the river bank, staring, with fascinated eyes, across
the water. "Looks more like a dream-city, or a scene in fairyland, than
it does like a real town inhabited by real people."

And Bud was right. It was a marvelous sight that the two boys were
looking at, a sight the like of which, probably, no human eye will ever
look upon again.

Along the river bank for a mile or more and stretching back from the
water's edge up the slope of the low-lying hills, glowed and sparkled a
city of tents, pitched in the midst of a virgin forest of huge oak and
sycamore trees. It is impossible for words to convey to the mind the
mystic charm of this wonderful city of light, when seen by night across
the dark waters of the river. Nearly all the houses were but rude frames
walled with canvas, or merely tents; and, in the darkness, the lights
within transformed these into dwellings of solid light, that glowed in
rows along the river front, their lights reflected in the water, and
straggled in glowing rows of light up the hillsides and underneath the
dark overhanging branches of great trees, while here and there through
the general glow shone out brilliant points of light, the decoy-lamps of
the gambling-houses and the saloons. And, for a background to all this,
the shadowy darkness of the surrounding night!

Thure and Bud were very tired; but they stood for many minutes looking
on this wondrous and fairylike scene, half expecting to see it all
vanish instantly at the wave of some magician's wand, before they turned
to prepare for the night. On their way back to camp and just as they
were passing a large camp-fire, they met two horsemen riding down toward
the ferry.

"No crossing to-night!" called out Thure.

The two horsemen turned their faces in their direction; and both boys
started, for, by the light of the camp-fire, they saw that one of the
men was large and the other was small and that the nose of the large man
had been broken, and then the darkness hid their faces from their sight,
as the two horsemen hurried on without uttering a word in reply.



CHAPTER VIII

ACCUSED OF MURDER


There were no laggards in the camp on the west side of the Sacramento
River the next morning. Long before sun-up a line of wagons and animals
and men stood waiting at the ferry, ready to be carried across the
river; and among the first of these were our anxious young friends,
Thure and Bud. They had pushed on ahead of their fellow travelers of the
day before, the little company of Oregon gold-seekers, who had been
delayed in getting into the line on account of their wagons, and were
fortunate enough to get near the ferry; and, just as the first rays of
the morning's sun looked down on the novel and interesting scene, they
led their animals on board the ferry-boat.

The boat was jammed with men and wagons and horses and mules and oxen.
The men were all talking excitedly of the mines, the animals were
frightened and restless--indeed, all living beings seemed to breathe in
excitement and restlessness and anxiety out of the very air, with every
breath they drew into their bodies.

"Glory be!" commented Bud, as his eyes looked over the motley gathering
of men that crowded every available spot on the boat, "but this is a
queer-looking lot of men to see in the wilds of California! Looks like
every nation in the world was represented right here in this one boat
load and sounds like the confusion of tongues at the tower of Babel.
There sure has got to be a lot of gold, if everybody gets a share!" and
his face clouded. "Say, but this boat is slow!" and he turned his
impatient eyes toward the shore, where, in the garish light of day, the
city of canvas seemed real enough, but not a whit less wonderful, only
in an entirely different way, than had the magic city of light the night
before.

A forest of masts grew from a multitude of boats strung along the river
front, and stood out in striking contrast against the leaved branches of
the trees on the shore. The boats were moored to strong trunks and huge
sinewy roots; and the larger number of them turned out "to grass," that
is, leased as shops and dwelling houses. Signboards and figure-heads
from the boats were set up along the shore, facing the levee; and back
of them, up the gentle slopes of the hills lying between the Sacramento
and the American Rivers, for the town was built at the junction of these
two rivers, ran the streets of this novel city, lined with their
odd-looking canvas houses and tents. Great forest-trees, some of them
six feet in diameter, towered here and there above the houses and the
streets, their huge column-like trunks and outspreading boughs, clothed
with green leaves, adding the needed touch of romanticism to complete
the unique picturesqueness of the scene. Everywhere was bustle and
excitement. Men were hurrying in and out of the doors of the shops and
of the saloons and up and down the streets. Drivers were shouting and
cursing at their horses, mules, or oxen; whips were cracking; and wheels
were rumbling and creaking. Parties of miners here and there, with loud
shouts of farewell, were starting off for the mines, loaded down with
pickaxes and shovels, with gold-pans and frying-pans, and other
equipments of the rude camp-life they were preparing to live. Sun-up,
everybody up, seemed to be the motto of all Sacramento City.

Into the midst of this wild hurly-burly Thure and Bud plunged directly
from the ferry-boat. At first they hardly knew what to do with
themselves and horses. Never had they been in a scene of such excitement
and confusion before. It fairly made their heads whirl; but, boy-like,
they enjoyed every bit of it, as, with their keen young eyes glancing in
every direction, they rode, holding their frightened pack-horses close
to their sides, slowly up what seemed to be the main street of the city.

"Say," and Bud pointed to a large sign on the front of one of the few
frame buildings, which read "City Hotel," "that looks like a place to
eat. Let's tie our horses outside and go in and get our breakfast. I'm
as hungry as a bear; and--and--well we can talk over what we had better
do next while we are eating. Glory be, I did not suppose Sacramento City
was like this!" and he grinned.

The boys had been in too much of a hurry to get across the river to stop
to prepare their own breakfast that morning, consequently Thure at once
welcomed Bud's suggestion; and, jumping off their horses, the two lads
tied their animals to near-by trees and walked into the City Hotel,
bravely trying to look and act as if they were accustomed to living at
hotels all their lives, although, to tell the truth, neither boy had
even seen a hotel before for ten years.

They found the dining-room and seats at one of the tables without much
difficulty; and after some little study of the bill-of-fare, during
which they forgot to look at the prices, they gave their order to the
waiter--God save the mark! no, to the steward; for there the word
"waiter," was never used, it not being considered a sufficiently
respectable calling for a man who a few months before might have been a
lawyer, a doctor, a merchant, or even a minister. The food was soon set
before them; and, as they ate, they talked over the situation.

"The first thing for us to do," declared Thure, "is to find some miners
bound for Hangtown, and then make arrangements to go with them; and the
only way to do this is to start out and ask everyone who looks as if he
was going to the diggings, if he is going to Hangtown, or knows of
anyone who is. I reckon it won't take us long to find someone; and, if
possible, we want to get on our way to-day."

Bud promptly sanctioned this plan; and, accordingly, it was agreed that,
as soon as they finished their breakfast, they would start out to find
someone bound for Hangtown.

"I'll pay the bill," magnanimously announced Thure, when the last morsel
of food and the last swallow of coffee had vanished down their throats,
and he turned to the smiling steward.

The steward wrote for a minute or so on a little pad of paper; and then,
tearing off a sheet, handed it to Thure. It was the bill for their
breakfast and read:

    4 fried eggs                             $6.00
    1 leg of mutton (with potatoes)           2.25
    1 leg of veal (with potatoes)             2.25
    2 cups of coffee (with milk)              1.50
    Bread (with butter) for two               2.00
    2 pieces of pie                           1.50
                                            ------
                           Total            $15.50

"Great Moses!" and Thure stared in the utmost astonishment at the piece
of paper he held in his hand, "does this mean that we are to pay Fifteen
Dollars and a Half for what we have just eaten?"

"Yes," smiled the steward, who had evidently been a lawyer before he
became a steward, "fifteen dollars and fifty cents is all. Eggs and
butter came down a little to-day; and we always give our patrons the
benefit of a fall in prices at once. You will see that your bill is
correct by glancing at the prices on the bill-of-fare."

Thure transferred his stare, for a moment, to the face of the smiling
steward; and then, picking up the bill-of-fare, he saw that the prices
were correct, and paid the bill.

"I see that you have already found your goldmine," he remarked, as he
handed the cashier the money.

"And without digging in mud and gravel for the gold," the cashier
replied, with a grin and a wink. "But, there is not as much gold in it
as you might think. Now, how much do you suppose those eggs cost me a
dozen?" and he pointed to the egg item on the bill-of-fare.

"Never sold any," smiled back Thure. "We always gave them away."

"Huh! I'll take a car load at that price. Now, them identical eggs that
you ate this morning cost me at the rate of Thirteen Dollars and
Seventy-five cents a dozen, wholesale! I reckon you are new to the
diggings, or you would know that prices on everything have gone soaring
up like skyrockets," and the cashier, who happened also to be the
proprietor, threw up both hands despairingly toward the ceiling. "Say,
what do you suppose I have to pay the fellow who washes the dishes?
Seventy-five Dollars a week and keep! And the cook, Mother of men! he
gets One Hundred and Eighty-five Dollars a week! Got to pay it, or
they'll go to the diggings."

"Excuse me," broke in Bud, who at this moment suddenly thought that no
one would be apt to know more about the goings and the comings of the
miners, than the hotelkeeper, himself. "But, do you happen to know of
any miners in town who are going to Hangtown? We expect to find our dads
there; and want to get away from here as soon as we can."

"Now," and the broad forehead wrinkled, "let me think. Sure!" and the
wrinkles vanished. "Yankee Tom and his company were to start for
Hangtown this morning; and, I reckon, if you hustle, you can yet get to
them before they start. You see--"

"Where'll we find them?" broke in Thure eagerly. He was too anxious to
be off to care to listen longer to the talkative landlord.

"See that big sycamore over yonder?" and the landlord pointed through
the open door to where a giant tree lifted its head far above its
surroundings.

"Yes."

"Well, Yankee Tom's camp is under that tree. Just head for that tree,
and you will sure hit his camp, if he is still there; but you'd better
hustle," and the landlord turned to attend to other guests.

Thure and Bud at once hurried out to where they had left their horses;
and were soon mounted and hastening toward the big tree. Their route,
for a short distance, lay through a very busy street, with shops of all
kinds and innumerable gambling--and drinking-hells on both sides. Great
crowds of men were hurrying in and out of these places; and the street
was so jammed with wagons and horses and mules and oxen and men that
Thure and Bud found considerable difficulty in making their way through
it.

"No more hotel eating for me," declared Thure, with a grimace, as they
made their way as speedily as possible through this crowded street. "A
Dollar and a Half for an Egg! But won't mother's eyes open when she
hears that?"

"Well, eggs are not the only things that are high. Just look at that
sign there," and Bud pointed to a large sign in front of one of the
stores, on which the storekeeper had recorded the day's bargains. The
sign read:

     THE BEST AND THE CHEAPEST PLACE

     TO BUY YOUR OUTFITS A FEW OF TO-DAY'S SPECIAL BARGAINS THAT CANT BE
     BEAT ANYWHERE IN THE CITY

     Best flour ten pounds for only          $15.00
     Rice, five pounds for only                5.00
     Potatoes, a heaped-up bushel, only       35.00
     Good butter only                          2.00 per pound
     Barley only                               1.00 per quart
     Best white beans only                     6.50
     Candles only                              1.00 each.
     Best Salaratus only                      14.50 per pound
     Hip boots, warranted waterproof         100.00
     Pair of pantaloons, good quality          36.00
     Sugar--good--only                          2.00 per pound
     Coffee, five pounds for                    9.00
     Good picks, shovels, tin-pans at only     57.00 each.

"Whew!" and Thure drew in a long breath, when he had finished reading
the sign. "It's lucky we brought our outfits along with us, or we'd be
bankrupt before we could get out of Sacramento City. Well, those prices
certainly prove that the gold is here. Nobody could live if it wasn't.
And, when you stop to think that most of the stuff has to be brought
thousands of miles and then packed for some two hundred miles more into
a roadless wilderness, the prices don't look so high--Well, what's the
rumpus now?" and Thure whirled partly around on his horse to look back
to where a huge red-headed man had suddenly jumped up on top of a barrel
in front of one of the stores, and was yelling something, just what he
could not understand, and pointing excitedly in his direction.

A sound, like a growl from the throats of a hundred angry wolves, went
up from the surrounding crowd, and a great wave, headed by the
red-headed man, rolled threateningly toward the two wondering boys.

"What--what can be the trouble?" and Bud turned an anxious face to
Thure. "They look mad; and they are coming straight toward us! What can
have happened? Who are they after?" and he looked confusedly around.

"Pull them off their horses!"

"Hang them!"

"The murderers!"

The air was now filled with these and similar dreadful cries and men
came running toward them from all directions; and, before the two boys
could fairly realize what was happening, they found themselves the
center of a seething crowd of excited and angry men, while a hundred
armed hands were lifted threateningly toward them.

"God in heaven, they are after us!" and Thure, too utterly astounded for
the moment to realize the terrible nature of their situation, stared
wildly into the surrounding angry faces. "What--what--"

But, before he could put his stammering dumbfounded query, strong hands
seized and jerked him roughly from his horse, while other hands at the
same moment jerked Bud off his horse. One of the men who seized and
pulled Thure from his horse was the big red-headed man, who had jumped
up on top of the barrel and who had led the rush against the two boys.
The moment Thure looked into his face he started back in horror. The man
had a broken nose!

At this moment and before either boy had collected his startled wits
sufficiently to even offer a protest or to demand what this rough laying
on of hands meant, a big man drove, like a sharpened wedge, through the
crowd, and halted, with a hand tightly gripping the coat collar of each
terrified lad.

"What is the trouble?" he demanded authoritatively. "What have the young
men done?"

"The sheriff!" yelled someone in the crowd. "It's Turner, the sheriff!"

"Yes, it's Turner, the sheriff," and the man tightened his grips on
Thure's and Bud's collars. "Hands off. They are my prisoners now," and
he turned a bit impatiently to the men, whose hands still had hold of
the boys. "Well, what have they done?"

"Murder!" "Murder!" yelled a dozen voices from the crowd.

"Why, they are little more than boys!" and the sheriff turned his eyes
in astonished horror on Thure and Bud. "Who accuses them?"

"Me an' my pard do," and the big red-headed man with a broken nose, who
had let go of Thure the moment the sheriff had him safely by the collar,
stepped up in front of Turner. "We accuses them of murderin' an' robbin'
John Stackpole, an old miner, who was on his way tew San Francisco from
th' diggin's; an' what's more, we saw 'em do it with our own eyes; an'
are ready tew swear tew th' same afore any judge an' jury. Ain't we
Spike?" and he turned to a small man, with a pockmarked face, who was
standing close to Bud.

"True as preachin'," declared the small man. "With my own eyes I saw 'em
knock th' miner off his hoss with their guns, an' then jump on him, an'
run a knife through his heart, an' jerk off his gold-belt, an'--"

"You lie!" and the hard fist of Bud's sturdy right arm landed squarely
on the chin of the man, with such force that he was knocked backward,
senseless, into the arms of a man standing behind him. "You and
Brokennose killed him yourselves. We--"

"Shut up!" and the sheriff whirled Bud violently around in front of him.
"Now, young man, another move like that and I will put you in irons.
Here, Dave," and he turned to a roughly dressed miner standing near,
"just pull their teeth, while I hold them. They're beginning to look
some rambunctuous."

And, indeed, Thure and Bud did look "rambunctuous"; for by now both boys
were beginning to get an inkling of the game that was being played on
them by the two scoundrels. But, what could they do? Everything had
happened so suddenly and unexpectedly, that they were in the hands of
the sheriff before either of them had recovered his wits sufficiently to
even open his mouth in protest or defense.

"Quiet, quiet," cautioned the roughly dressed miner, whom the sheriff
had summoned to his aid, in a low voice, as he swiftly pulled the boys'
knives and pistols from their belts. "Don't let your tempers git tew
buckin'. You're a sight better off in th' hands of th' sheriff, who will
see that you git a fair trial, than you would be in the hands of the
mob, who sometimes string a feller up first an' try him afterwards."

Thure and Bud promptly saw the wisdom of this counsel and allowed the
miner to disarm them without protest.

"Now, Dave, I'll make you my deputy until this little matter is settled.
Bring along the animals and I'll see that these two young--" The sheriff
paused and looked curiously into the faces of Thure and Bud. "I'll be
hanged, if you look much like murderers!" he declared frankly.
"Howsomever, I am not the judge; and you can't always tell whether or
not a dog has got fleas by his looks."

"We are innocent, absolutely innocent," began Thure excitedly. "We did
not kill the old miner. We--"

"Save your talk," broke in the sheriff good-naturedly, glancing sharply
into the boy's face, "for the trial. I'll see that you get a fair trial;
and that's all that I can do. Now, you two men that make this accusation
of murder against the prisoners, come along," and he glanced keenly at
the two men.

Brokennose still stood near Thure; and the one called Spike had
recovered sufficiently from his contact with Bud's fist to stand glaring
at Bud, with an ugly scowl on his pock-marked face.

"Where are you goin' tew take 'em?" he demanded. "This ain't no jail
case. We wants them tried immejiate. Thar ain't no need of lawyers an'
jedges tew mix things up. We seed 'em kill th' miner, an' are willin'
tew swear tew it, an' that otter be enough tew have 'em danglin' by
their necks inside of half an hour."

"They'll dangle, when they've been proven guilty, according to the laws
of this city; and not before," answered the sheriff dryly. "We'd give a
dog a fair trial in this town before we'd hang him. Come, you can tell
your stories to the alcalde," and, still keeping a tight grip on the
collars of Thure and Bud, he started down the street toward the office
of the alcalde, before whom all criminal cases were tried, followed by
Dave, the miner, with the horses of the boys, their two accusers, and
the crowd, which had made no move to dispute the authority of the
sheriff, although a little growling had been done. They knew that they
would not have long to wait. California justice in those days in the
mining towns and camps was sudden.



CHAPTER IX

THE TESTIMONY OF BILL UGGER


Sacramento City at that date had a rude but effective government of its
own. An alcalde and other city officers had been elected; and certain
unwritten laws, for the protection of life and property, had been
promulgated and were strictly enforced. Lynching, in the sense that we
know it to-day, was almost unknown. There were no disorderly mobs, who,
under the spurs of their own brutal passions, strung up their victims
unheard and without even the semblance of a fair trial. Justice, if
sudden, was usually careful to see that it was justice and not brutality
that rendered the verdict. And yet, many of these early trials had the
outward semblance of lynching-bees in the swift severity of their
punishments. A murderer would be arrested, tried, convicted, and
decently hanged, all before sundown of the same day. The mob spirit was
there, but usually held in check by the sturdy manhood of the American
miners, who had nearly all come from law abiding and law respecting
communities.

This swift severity of Justice was, in a sense, compelled by the
unusual, the almost unprecedented conditions surrounding life in a city
born suddenly in a wilderness. There were few locks and bars and bolts,
or, even, doors, in Sacramento City at that time; and large sums in gold
and great values in goods were often left exposed and almost
unprotected. The thief, under such circumstances, had to be dealt with
severely and promptly; or the property of no one would be safe. There
were no regularly established courts in the city to try criminals, no
written code of laws to dictate methods of procedure, no court officials
to enforce mandates, and no safe jails in which to confine prisoners.
Under such circumstances the people had to form their own courts, make
their own laws, and see that they were enforced; or have no laws; and
the criminal had to be dealt with summarily. The thief was sometimes
whipped, or, even, cropped, that is his ears were cut off, and he was
always driven from the city, and warned not to come back under penalty
of death. The murderer, when proven guilty to the satisfaction of the
people, was always hanged. No prisoners were held. They were proven
guilty and sentence pronounced and executed at once; or they were set
free.

Such was Sacramento City in 1849, the Sacramento City in which Thure and
Bud now found themselves under arrest for the horrible crime of murder,
the most serious crime that can be charged against a human being
anywhere, but rendered especially serious in the present case by the
peculiar surrounding circumstances. In all the city, so far as either
boy knew, they did not have a friend, or even an acquaintance, who could
vouch for them--and yet, before the sun set that night, they must prove
themselves innocent of the crime charged, or, in all human probability,
be hanged!

The alcalde's office was small, only a few of the great crowd of men who
had followed the sheriff and his prisoners could get inside of it; and,
when the alcalde saw the size of the gathering outside of his office and
learned the serious nature of the charge against the two boys, he at
once ordered the "court" to be held under the big oak in the
horse-market, where there would be room for all to see and hear how
justice was dispensed. Accordingly all started at once for the
horse-market, situated near the bottom of K Street, where an immense
evergreen oak stood in the middle of the street, furnishing an agreeable
shade for many feet around and a fittingly picturesque scene for the
holding of such a trial as was about to take place.

The method of procedure, on arriving at the horse-market, was simple but
effective. The alcalde took his station near the trunk of the great oak,
and summoned the prisoners and their accusers before him, while the
crowd gathered in a grim and stern-faced circle around this improvised
courtroom.

"What is the crime the prisoners are charged with?" and the alcalde
turned to the sheriff.

"Murder!" answered the sheriff briefly.

"Who makes the accusation?"

"Those two men standing there," and the sheriff indicated the big
red-headed man with the broken nose and the small man with the
pock-marked face, who now stood just behind the sheriff and his two
prisoners.

"Stand forth by the side of the prisoners," commanded the alcalde.

The two men shuffled awkwardly forward and stood uneasily by the side of
Thure and Bud, their eyes shifting restlessly from the face of the
alcalde to the faces of the surrounding crowd.

For a couple or more minutes the alcalde studied the faces of the two
boys and the faces of their two accusers in silence. Evidently he was
endeavoring to form an opinion of the characters of the prisoners and
their accusers; but, what that opinion was, his face did not betray.

"Why do you accuse these two young men of murder?" and the alcalde
suddenly fixed his eyes upon the face of the man with a broken nose.

"Because I seen 'em do it," answered the man. "Me an' my pard, Spike,
seen 'em do it. Ask him," and he turned to the small man, who stood
close by his side.

"And you are both willing to make oath that you saw these two young men,
who are little more than boys, commit the awful crime of murder?" the
alcalde continued.

"Yes," promptly responded both men.

"Then, may God have mercy on your souls, if the accusations are false!
What have you to say to the accusation? Guilty; or, not guilty?" and the
alcalde turned abruptly to Thure and Bud.

"Not guilty," answered Thure, his face very white. "We--"

"That will do for the present," interrupted the alcalde. "Gentlemen, how
shall the case be tried?" and he turned to the surrounding crowd of
stern-faced men.

"Give 'em a jury, an' git a-goin'," called a rough voice impatiently.

"Do you wish a trial by jury?" and again the alcalde turned to Thure and
Bud.

"Yes," answered both boys.

"The trial will be by jury," announced the alcalde. "I summon to act as
this jury," and his eyes searched the circle of surrounding faces, as he
slowly called out the names of twelve men, who, as their names were
called, stepped forth and took their stations by the side of the alcalde
and in front of the prisoners and their accusers.

When the twelve jurymen had been selected, all were solemnly sworn by
the alcalde to render a true and just verdict, according to the evidence
presented; and the trial of Thure and Bud for the murder of John
Stackpole, the miner, was ready to begin.

During all this time Thure and Bud had been doing some very serious and
some very rapid thinking. At first the suddenness and the unexpectedness
of the rush of men upon them in the busy street, followed so swiftly by
their arrest and the dreadful accusations of the two men, whom they had
every reason to believe had committed the crime themselves, had almost
completely benumbed their faculties; but this condition of mind had
lasted only a short time, and long before they reached the place of
trial their minds were busy with the dreadful problem of how to prove
themselves innocent of the crime charged, when two men were ready to
swear that they saw them commit the crime, and when they did not have,
could not have, a single witness who could swear to the truthfulness of
their statements concerning the miner's death. No one but themselves had
seen him die; and, so far as they knew, no one but themselves and their
accusers knew the cause of his death. If they only had time to send
home--But, even if they had witnesses from home, what could they prove?
Only that the two boys had brought the dead miner home and had buried
him; and that would be no proof that they had not killed him and
invented the story of the two robbers.

True, on their side, they could accuse the two men of committing the
murder themselves; but they had no positive proofs that they were guilty
of the crime, only the description of his assailants given them by the
dying miner. There might be other men with broken noses and pock-marked
faces. All that they could swear to of their own knowledge was that one
of the men they had seen murdering the old miner was larger than the
other. They had not got near enough to the murderers to be able to
recognize them again, even if they should see them, except by the
description given by the murdered man. And for them to accuse the two
men, who had caused their arrest, of the murder, in itself would look
suspicious to those who did not know the real facts and would have a
tendency to make them doubt their whole story of the death of the miner.

Then there was another matter that troubled the two boys greatly. Why
had the two men accused them thus publicly of the murder of the miner?
Why had they run this risk of turning suspicion against themselves? They
must feel very certain that the "evidence" they would produce would
convict; or, they never would have dared to have chanced accusing them
of the crime; for their acquittal would be almost sure to turn suspicion
in their own direction. True, there was the skin map, and, possibly, the
accusation was some scheme to get the map into their possession; but,
how could their hanging bring this about? If they were hanged, the map
and its meaning would be almost sure to be made public; and then every
man in Sacramento City would have as good a chance of finding the Cave
of Gold as would the two scoundrels themselves, a condition of things
that both boys felt quite sure the two men were exceedingly anxious to
avoid, and the map itself would be almost certain to be kept from them.

Then, again, the possession of the skin map itself was the cause of the
gravest anxiety and dread. If they confessed to its possession it would
reveal to all the secret of the Cave of Gold, something that they were
almost ready to give their lives to prevent, and would not help their
case in the least. Indeed, under the circumstances it would, probably,
be considered the strongest possible circumstantial evidence of their
guilt.

But, what if the alcalde should order them searched and the map be
found? Or, what if the two men, becoming desperate, should ask that they
be searched, to see if anything that belonged to the miner could be
found in their possession, and the buckskin bag and the gold nugget and
the skin map should all be discovered in their place of concealment
under Thure's left shoulder?

When the two horns of a dilemma are both equally long and sharp, how,
then, can the peril be avoided?

Indeed, the longer and the closer Thure and Bud looked at their
situation, the more dreadful and impossible of remedy it appeared. How
could they prove their innocence, when they did not have a single
witness to appear in their defense? How could their youth and
inexperience, friendless and alone, hope to combat successfully with the
cunning and the experience of these two unprincipled men, who would stop
at nothing to accomplish their ends? But, they were not the kind of boys
to give up a fight for life, as long as they could strike back; and the
more difficult their situation appeared, the more grimly determined they
became to win out somehow, or, at least, to die fighting.

"Not a word of the skin map and the Cave of Gold," hastily warned Thure
in a whisper to Bud, as the alcalde, having completed the tale of the
jury, again turned to them. "Tell everything just as it happened, but
that. The telling of that would not help us a bit; and, if it were known
that we had a map and a gold nugget that had belonged to the miner, it
would look suspicious and might hurt us a lot; and we don't want to give
away the Cave of Gold, not if we can help it."

"Right," whispered back Bud. "It's got to be our word against the word
of those two cowardly villains, I reckon," and he glared furiously in
the direction of the two men. "We've just got to beat them some way,"
and his young face grew grim and stern.

By this time the jurymen had all seated themselves comfortably on the
ground on both sides of the alcalde, and were ready to hear the
testimony.

"You may step forward and be sworn," and the alcalde's eyes signaled out
the big man with a broken nose.

The man stepped up in front of the alcalde, who sat on a stump, with a
barrel standing on end in front of him and an old worn Bible lying on
top of the barrel.

"Hold up your right hand," commanded the alcalde, his keen eyes fixing
themselves sternly on the red, brutal face; "and repeat the oath after
me."

The man's right hand went up with a sort of spasmodic jerk.

"I do solemnly swear," began the alcalde slowly, "that the testimony I
am about to give in the case now before the court, shall be the truth,
the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and may God eternally damn
my soul, if I knowingly utter a false word."

Hesitatingly and with a whitening face, the man slowly repeated this
oath.

"Kiss the Bible," commanded the alcalde; "and may God blister the lips
that have touched His holy book, if they suffer a false word to pass
between them."

The man hesitated a moment: and then, at a muttered objurgation from his
companion, he bent and hastily pressed his lips against the cover of the
holy book.

"What is your name and business?" In this rude and informal court the
alcalde not only acted as judge, but also examined all witnesses.

"William Ugger, Bill Ugger, for short," answered the man, his eyes
shifting restlessly from face to face as he spoke. "Me an' my pard are
bound for th' diggin's."

"Now, remembering that you have sworn to speak nothing but the truth and
that your lips have just kissed the holiest of books, you may tell the
jury and the people here assembled what you know of this alleged murder
of the miner, John Stackpole. Be as brief as possible, please," and the
alcalde's eyes, as well as the eyes of every man gathered there,
fastened themselves on the face of Bill Ugger.

"Wal," and the shifting eyes fixed themselves for a few brief moments on
the ground in front of the big feet, "it happened like this. Me an' my
pard, Spike, thar," and he nodded toward his companion, "was on our way
from San Francisco tew Sacramento City an' th' diggin's a-hossback.
Somehow we happened tew git off th' reg'lar trail, me an' Spike did; an'
'long 'bout noon, three days ago, we comed tew a leetle valley, with a
leetle stream of water a-runnin' through it, an' a string of trees an'
brush a-growin' 'longside th' water. Both on us bein' tired, we'd ben
a-goin' since sun-up, we found a nice shady spot 'longside th' water,
an', tyin' our hosses tew th' trees, both on us laid down for a short
snooze. Course I don't know how long we'd ben a-snoozin', but, I reckon,
'twas 'bout a couple of hours, when we was both jerked out of a sound
sleep by a yell of agony that sounded as if it comed from a man what had
ben struck a mortal blow. Nat'rally that yell startled me an' Spike sum,
bein' that we both had been sound asleep; an', maybe, for a minute we
sot a-lookin' intew each other's eyes, doin' nuthin'. Then Spike says:
'Sounded human, Bill. Like sumone had got his,' an' I seed that he was
a-shiverin'; for 'tain't none pleasant tew be waked out of a sound sleep
by th' death-cry of a human. 'An' it sounded as if it comed from right
ayond that leetle clump of bushes,' an' he pointed a shakin' finger
toward a leetle clump of bushes, 'bout a rod away, that shut out our
view of th' valley. 'I reckon we'd better investergate,' an' we both
began a-crawlin' toward that clump of bushes, not havin' heard no more
sounds.

"Wal," and the shifty eyes shot swift glances from the face of the
alcalde to the faces of the jury and the surrounding crowd, to note the
effect of his words, "when we got tew them bushes an' looked through
'em--" He paused and laid a hand solemnly on the Bible lying on top of
the barrel in front of the alcalde--"so help me God! this is what we
saw. Th' valley in front of th' bushes was level an' open, so that we
could see clear 'cross it; an', 'bout twenty rods from whar we was, we
saw a man strugglin' violently on th' ground with two other men atop of
him, while three hosses stood a leetle ways off a lookin' at 'em; an',
even as we looked, we saw one of th' men flash a knife above his head
an' plunge it down, an' th' man on th' ground stopped strugglin'.

"This was a leetle more'n Spike an' I was a-willin' tew stand for, an'
we both jumps up out of th' bushes, an', drawin' our pistols, we had no
rifles, we yells an' starts for them two men. Both on 'em jumps tew
their feet, an' grabs up their rifles, an', afore you could say Jack,
they had th' both on us covered, we not bein' near enough tew use
our pistols. But we was close enough tew see 'em plain; an', afore
God!--" The man stopped abruptly and, whirling suddenly about, pointed
a finger dramatically directly into the face of Thure--"it was that young
villain a-standin' thar what had his gun a-pointin' straight at me!"

Thure, in utter astonishment, took a quick step backward; and then,
suddenly realizing what that pointing finger meant, backed by those
startling words, he lost all control of himself for the moment and
leaped straight toward Bill Ugger.

"It's a lie! A lie!" he yelled, as with all his young strength he
struggled furiously with the great bulk of his antagonist. But, before
either could do the other any harm, the strong hands of the sheriff
seized Thure by the shoulders.

"Here, you young catamount!" and he jerked Thure violently backward, and
lifted the butt of his heavy revolver threateningly, while his face
hardened. "Quit it, or--" and the heavy butt descended lightly on
Thure's head by way of warning.

"But he lied! Every word that he uttered was a lie!" and tears of rage
gathered in Thure's eyes.

"Young man," the alcalde was now standing on his feet, all the sympathy
gone from his face, "you will give me your word of honor not in any way
again to do violence to the decorum of this court during this trial, or
I shall order the sheriff to bind you hand and foot. Do I have your
promise?" and he fixed his eyes sternly on the white face of Thure.

For a moment Thure stood silent. Then his young face hardened and his
lips tightened into two thin straight lines. Reason again had firm hold
of the helm.

"I promise," he answered quietly; "and I ask the court's pardon for my
violent action. But the damnable lies told by that--"

"That will do," interrupted the alcalde. "Sheriff, if either of the
prisoners forgets himself or our presence again, bind him hand and foot.
Now," and he turned to Bill Ugger, who, as soon as Thure had been torn
from him, had again returned quietly to his place before the official
barrel, his red face flushed and his little eyes shining with triumph,
"you may go on with your testimony, William Ugger. You were saying that
you recognized one of the prisoners as one of the murderers and that he
had you covered with his rifle. Remembering your oath and comprehending
fully what your dreadful accusation means to a fellow human being, you
still swear that the man who sprang up from the prostrate body and
leveled his rifle at you was this prisoner?" and the alcalde's lifted
hand indicated Thure.

The interest of the crowd surrounding the court had by this time become
intense. Men were breathing heavily and their faces had hardened and an
ugly look had come into their eyes. All now stretched their heads
forward, as they listened almost breathlessly for the reply of Bill
Ugger.

"I do," answered the man grimly. "I saw his face plain, a-lookin' at me
above th' top of his rifle."

A deep growl went up from the surrounding crowd, a sound more like the
throat mutterings of a monstrous tiger than anything human. The sheriff
started and his keen eyes swiftly searched the circle of faces.

"I reckon thar ain't no need of waitin' for more testimony," cried a
hoarse voice. "They was seen killin' th' man; an' that's all we wants
tew know. Let jedgement be pronounced, an' we'll 'tend tew th' ex'cutin'
of it."

"Right!" yelled another. "There's no need of wasting more--"

"Silence!" thundered the alcalde, leaping to his feet. "This court, a
court elected by your own authority, is trying the prisoners; and, by
the Eternal Andrew Jackson! they shall not be declared guilty until they
have been heard in their own defense, until they have been proven guilty
in full accordance with the laws of this city. William Ugger, you may go
on with your testimony. There will be no further interruptions," and the
alcalde quietly laid a couple of big revolvers down on top of the
barrel, one on each side of the Bible.

At this moment and when all eyes were bent on the alcalde, Thure felt a
slight jerk on his coat sleeve, and, glancing down, saw that the smaller
of their accusers, the pock-marked man, had moved up close to his side
and that it had been his hand that had jerked his sleeve.

"Read at once," and the man swiftly slipped a piece of paper into his
hand. "It is your only hope," and he moved away, not having once even
glanced toward Thure.

Thure, stepping a little behind Bud and holding the paper so that no
eyes but his own could see it, cautiously opened the note and slowly
read these words:

     If you wil give us the miners map and promice tu say nuthin bout
     the gold kave Bill and me wil sudenly diskuver that we is mistakin
     in thinkin that you was the ones tu kil old Stakpole and you wil go
     free. If you dont you wil both hang afore sun down tu nite and al
     the gold in Caleforny aint wurth as much tu you as is yur lives. If
     you agrees tu this nod yur hed 2 times. If you dont git redy tu
     hang.

The note was unsigned; and no signature was necessary. Its meaning was
plain. The two boys were to surrender the skin map to the two scoundrels
and say nothing about the Cave of Gold; or, the dreadful plot, in whose
meshes they found themselves so tightly ensnared, was to be followed out
to its horrible conclusion. The motive back of the two men's action now
stood revealed. They expected to frighten the two boys into giving up
the skin map and into keeping secret their knowledge of the Cave of
Gold. But, what a fiendish plot! And with what diabolical cunning it had
all been worked out and was being executed!

Thure read the note through slowly; and, in a flash, he had comprehended
the whole atrocious, scheme and with what devilish cunning circumstances
had been manipulated to bring about their present terrible situation;
but, only the furious look in his eyes showed how the note had affected
him.

"From Pockface," he whispered, as he quietly slipped the paper into
Bud's hand. "Read it on the sly; and then give me your answer."

Bud cautiously took the note and opened it, wondering greatly at its
coming from Pockface. He read it through slowly, comprehendingly; and
then he turned and glanced into Thure's face. One look was sufficient.

During all this time Pockface's eyes had been covertly watching the
boys.

Bud now waited until he saw that the man's eyes were upon him, then he
deliberately raised the piece of paper to his mouth, spit on it, and,
bending down, placed it under the heel of his boot, ground it to pieces
in the ground, and, defiantly turning his back on the man, gave his
attention to the doings of the alcalde.

The two scoundrels had misjudged the courage and the pluck of two
American boys like Thure Conroyal and Bud Randolph; and, judging from
the scowls that disfigured their faces and the ugly light that flashed
into their eyes, at the sight of Bud's actions, in their disappointment,
they would show them no mercy. They would get the map, or they would
hang the boys. Indeed, this action on their part now became almost
necessary; for, if they did not succeed in hanging the boys, the boys,
in all probability, would succeed in hanging them.

This dramatic byplay had taken but a short time in the enacting and had
passed unnoticed in the excitement occasioned by the threats from the
surrounding crowd and the placing of the alcalde's two big revolvers by
the side of the Bible on top of the barrel standing in front of him.
When it was over and Thure and Bud again gave their attention to the
court, Bill Ugger was about to continue with his testimony, the majority
of the crowd having shown themselves so plainly in sympathy with the
actions of the alcalde that the rougher ones evidently thought it wise
to keep quiet.

"As I was a-sayin'," continued Bill Ugger, when everything had quieted
down again, "afore we could git near enough tew th' murderers tew use
our pistols, they held us up with their rifles, an' ordered us tew git
an' git lively; an', by way of makin' plain their meaning that skunk,"
and he glared at Thure, "sent a bullet a-whistlin' so close tew my ears
that it made this hole through th' brim of my hat," and the man held up
his wide-brimmed hat and pointed with his finger to a little round hole
in the brim close to the crown. "Three inches more tew one side an' he'd
a-got me, tew.

"Wal, me an' Spike didn't stop tew argy none after that; but got back
ahind them bushes an' trees as sudden as our legs would take us. But,"
and Ugger paused and glared at Thure and Bud, "if I knowed I was on my
deathbed an' a-goin' tew die in five minits, I'd be willin' tew swear
that th' tew murderers was them tew boys a-standin' thar. We saw their
faces plain an' thar ain't no mistake," and his eyes flashed an ugly
look in the direction of Thure and Bud.

"Of course," continued Bill Ugger, "they didn't dare follow us, 'cause,
if they did, they knowed we could hide ahind a tree an' pot 'em, which
we'd ben sum glad tew do," and his eyes glowed vindictively. "Wal, we
waited, hid ahind th' bushes an' trees, not darin' tew show ourselves
an' bein' tew far off tew do any pistol shooting a-hopin' that they'd
ride off an' leave th' body of th' man they'd robbed an' probably
killed, but they was tew cunnin' tew do that; for, in a leetle while,
they throwed th' body, like it was a bag of grain, across th' back of
one of th' hosses an' tied it thar; an' then they rode off, a-leadin'
th' hoss with th' body on it ahind 'em. Me an' Spike waited 'til they'd
gone out of sight over th' top of a distant hill an' then we made for
th' spot of th' killin'. Th' grass was sum tread up an' bloody; an'
lyin' in th' blood an' partly tread intew th' ground, we found this,"
and Ugger thrust his hand into one of his pockets and pulled out a small
daguerreotype-case, perhaps a couple of inches square, on which could be
plainly seen ominous stains of red.

"This," and he held up the small case where all could see, "has inside
of it th' picter of as handsum a lady as I ever seed; an' under th'
picter is writ, in a woman's writin,' these words: Tew my beloved
husband, John Stackpole'; an' we reckoned, me an' Spike did, as how th'
murdered man's name must a-ben John Stackpole. See for yourselves," and
he handed the case to the alcalde, who, after opening it and looking at
the picture inside and the blood stains on the outside, passed it on to
the jury, who examined it carefully.

"Of course," continued Ugger, after he had watched the effect of the
daguerreotype on the alcalde and the jury for a minute, "bein' bound for
th' diggin's an' knowin' 'twould be almost useless tew try an' trail th'
murderers, me an' Spike at once started on our way ag'in for Sacermento
City, not expectin' tew see them murderers ag'in, leastwise not so soon.
We got intew th' city this mornin'; an' was a-standin' on th' street
a-lookin' at th' humans a-passin' by, when who should come a-ridin'
along right afore our eyes, but them tew identickle young fellers what
we had seen kill that man; an', of course, bein' honest an' law-abidin'
men, me an' Spike seen tew it that they didn't git away a second time.
Now, I reckon, that's all I've got tew tell, only," and again his eyes
turned vindictively to Thure and Bud, "thar ain't ben no mistake made
an' you've got th' right men; an' if they don't hang afore night, then
thar ain't no justice in Sacermento City. I'm done."

The alcalde sat for a moment looking straight in front of him. Evidently
he was swiftly reviewing the man's testimony to see if there were any
points that needed clearing up; but everything had been told,
apparently, in such a clear, straightforward manner that there seemed to
be nothing that needed explaining, and, with a sigh as he thought of the
youthfulness of the prisoners, the alcalde turned to the jury.

"Would you like to ask the witness any questions?" he inquired.

"No. Everything seems to have been told as clear and as straight as a
string," one of them replied, and all the others nodded their assent to
this, statement.

"Have the prisoners any questions they wish to ask the witness?" and the
alcalde turned to Thure and Bud.

For a moment the two boys consulted together. Then Thure said quietly:
"No, there is nothing that either of us would care to ask that man."

"The prisoner is dismissed for the present," and the alcalde motioned
Bill Ugger to step back from in front of the barrel.



CHAPTER X

THE MISSING BUTTON


"You may step forward and be sworn," and the alcalde turned his shrewd
eyes on the pockmarked face of the small man.

The man stepped quickly forward; but, just before he reached the barrel,
a sudden gleam shot into his eyes, which at that moment happened to be
bent on the ground and looking at the spot where Thure and Ugger had had
their brief but vigorous struggle. The next instant his foot apparently
caught in a root that protruded above the ground; and he stumbled and
fell violently downward, both outstretched hands clutching at the
ground. As he jumped hastily to his feet, his face very red and his
mouth flowing with apologies to the alcalde for his clumsiness, he
glanced downward swiftly into one of his hands, and then, with another
quick gleam of cunning triumph in his eyes, he quickly slipped the hand
into one of his pockets, and, taking his place in front of the barrel,
faced the alcalde.

"What is your name and present business?" the alcalde asked, when he had
sworn the witness, in the same manner Ugger had been sworn, to tell the
truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

"Spikenard Quinley," the man answered, shifting his eyes quickly from
the face of the alcalde to the two big revolvers on top of the barrel;
"but most of my friends jest call me Spike, for short. I'm bound for th'
diggin's, 'long with my pard, Bill Ugger, him who jest testified."

"Tell the jury all that you know about the case now before it; and make
your testimony as brief as possible, please," and the alcalde settled
back on his rude seat and fixed his eyes on the face of the witness.

Quinley did not prove to be as dramatic a witness as Ugger had been; but
he told a seemingly straightforward and honest story of how he and his
partner had witnessed the killing of the man supposed to be John
Stackpole, that differed only in the manner of its telling from the one
already told by Ugger, and, consequently, need not be repeated here. He,
also, was very positive that the two men, who had jumped up from the
prostrate body of the man and had held them up with their rifles, were
the two prisoners; and right here he introduced a bit of new
corroborative evidence in a most effective and dramatic manner.

He had completed his testimony and had been dismissed by the alcalde and
had started away from the court-barrel, when he suddenly stopped, as if
he had unexpectedly remembered something that might have a bearing on
the case, and turned to the alcalde.

"Excuse me, y'ur honor," he said, as he thrust a hand into one of his
pockets, the same pocket into which he had thrust the same hand a moment
after his tumble over the root, "but I've jest reckerlected that I've
sumthin' right here in my pocket that might help tew identify the
prisoners as the murderers, an' ag'in it might not--not that me and Bill
needs any more identifin', but, naterly, you, not seem' 'em kill th'
man, ain't so sart'in an' wants all th' proof that you can git tew show
that you shore have got the right party; an' so, if y'ur honor don't
object, I've got a leetle sumthin' more that I'd like tew introduce as
testimony, that might, an' ag'in it might not, help tew make th'
identity of th' prisoners more shore," and he paused, still keeping his
hand in his pocket.

"This court is always ready to hear any testimony that has any bearing
on the case before it," the alcalde said. "Take your place again on the
witness stand," and he nodded toward the barrel.

Quinley at once returned to his place in front of the barrel.

"Now, remembering that you are still under oath to tell God's truth, you
may introduce your evidence," and the alcalde half-arose from his seat
in his anxiety to see what this new evidence might be.

"Of course, I'm none shore that it belongs tew either of th' prisoners,"
Quinley began. "It might have come from th' clothes of th' murdered man,
an' ag'in it might have come from th' clothes of th' prisoners, an'
ag'in th' prisoners might not have on th' same clothes tew-day that they
did when they killed th' man, an' so it might prove nuthin'; but, right
whar th' grass was tread up th' worst on th' spot whar we saw th' man
killed, I found this--" and the hand came out of the pocket and was
extended toward the alcalde, holding on its palm a button. "Now I'd
plumb forgot all about th' findin' of this button, not settin' any store
on it, when, jest as I was a-leavin' th' witness stand, th' thought
popped intew my head, that, if th' prisoners happened tew have on th'
same clothes they had on when they murdered the man an' th' button came
from their clothes, then I had in my pocket important evidence, 'cause
th' button is a peekuler lookin' button, an', I reckon, thar must be
more buttons like it on th' clothes whar it come from. I asks that th'
clothes of th' prisoners be examined tew see if either on 'em has
buttons on like this," and he handed the button to the alcalde.

The alcalde took the button and sat for a moment staring at it as it lay
on the palm of his hand--a small thing, but it might help to weave the
rope that would hang two human beings!

"Git a-goin'," shouted someone impatiently from the surrounding crowd,
"an' see if either of th' prisoners has got any buttons on his clothes
like that you're a-holdin' in y'ur hand. If he has, I reckon, thar won't
be any need of takin' any more testimonies."

A dozen voices shouted their approval of this statement. Evidently the
sympathies of the crowd were being fast turned from Thure and Bud.

The alcalde arose slowly to his feet.

"This court," he said sternly, "is here to see that the prisoners are
given a fair trial, guilty or not guilty; and judgment shall not be
pronounced until the case has been fairly tried and their innocence or
their guilt fully established. This cannot be done until the prisoners
themselves have been heard in their own defense. Let us hear no more
talk of mob judgment and mob execution. The court will pronounce
judgment, and the court will see that its judgment is promptly executed,
to the full satisfaction of every honest law-abiding man in the city."
He paused for a moment, while his keen eyes sternly searched the faces
of the surrounding crowd. There was no response to his words and
challenging glance.

"This button," he continued quietly, holding up the button that Quinley
had handed him where all could see it, "the witness swears was picked up
by himself from the ground, where the struggle between the murdered man
and his murderers took place, and is presumed to have come either from
the clothing of the murdered man or from the clothing of his murderers;
and the witness asks that the clothing of the two prisoners be examined
to see if like buttons can be found on their clothing. The contentions
of the witness, regarding the value of this button as evidence in the
case before us, are just. Therefore his request is granted and the
prisoners are ordered to be examined. Young man," and he turned to Bud,
"you will please come forward; and allow the gentlemen of the jury to
compare this button with the buttons on your clothing," and he handed
the button he held in his hand to the foreman of the jury.

The production of this button by Quinley was a surprise to Thure and
Bud. If it should prove to have come from the clothing of one of them,
it certainly would look suspicious; but, how could it have come from
their clothes, at least from the clothes they now had on, since neither
of them were now wearing the same garments that they had worn on the day
of the hunt, when they had found the murdered miner? Consequently the
introducing of the button as evidence by Quinley had caused both of them
more surprise than it had uneasiness, surprise that Quinley should care
to introduce such meaningless evidence as he must know the button to be,
since the examination of their clothing could only prove that the button
belonged to neither of them. The episode of Quinley's stumble, in the
excitement of the trial, had passed from both of their minds, as,
doubtless, it had from the minds of all the others; but, even if they
had remembered it, they would not have thought of connecting it in any
way with the finding of the button. Hence Bud, at the summons of the
alcalde, had stepped forward promptly and confidently.

"We find two buttons missing from the prisoner's coat," announced the
foreman of the jury, when the examination of Bud had been completed.
"But, since the button offered in evidence bears no resemblance in
design or size to the buttons remaining on the coat, we declare that so
far as this prisoner is concerned the button in question proves
nothing."

"You may return to your place by the side of the sheriff," and the
alcalde gave an almost audible sigh of relief, while something very near
like a cheer came from the crowd. It was hard to look into those two
young clear-eyed faces and believe that they masked the hearts of
murderers.

Bud hurried back to his place by the side of the sheriff, with the first
smile on his lips that had so far brightened his face during the trial.

"Now," and the alcalde turned to Thure, "let the jury compare the button
with the buttons on your clothing," and the anxious look came back on
his face.

Thure, with the same promptness and confidence that Bud had displayed,
advanced and submitted to the examination; but, hardly had he reached
the foreman of the jury, when the excited actions of the jurymen told
all that an important discovery of some kind had been made; and their
report was awaited with almost breathless interest.

"We find," began the foreman, speaking slowly, after every man on the
jury had carefully compared the button Quinley had handed to the alcalde
with the buttons on Thure's coat, "one button missing from the
prisoner's coat." He paused a moment, and then continued, raising his
voice a little: "We also find that the button handed to the alcalde by
the witness, Spikenard Quinley, and said to have been found by him on
the spot of ground where the struggle took place between the murdered
man and his murderers, to be exactly similar in design, size, and shape
to the remaining buttons on the prisoner's coat, and that it appears to
be the missing button."

"But--but," stammered Thure, his face white and tense with excitement,
"that button, if it came from my clothes, could not have been found on
the ground where the miner was murdered. Why, I did not even have on the
same clothes that day that I have on now--"

"What!" and the alcalde jumped to his feet, his face white and stern,
while again that deep-throated growl went up from the crowd, "What do
you mean by 'that day?' Do you realize that your expression amounts
almost to a confession of guilt?"

"No," and Thure turned firmly to the alcalde. By a desperate effort he
had recovered his self-control. "It means, if that button was found on
the spot where the miner was murdered, that it did not come from my
clothes; for I did not have on the same clothes on the day we found the
wounded miner that I have on now. The button, if it came from my
clothes, and I confess that it looks as if it did, must have been got by
that man in some other way," and Thure's eyes flashed wrathfully in the
direction of Quinley, who grinned and touched his neck suggestively.

A hoarse laugh, that had no sound of mirth in it, came from the
surrounding crowd, at this improbable explanation of Thure, an
explanation that strengthened rather than weakened their belief in the
testimony of Quinley; but a look of relief, as well as of surprise, came
on the face of the alcalde.

"Ah, I forgot. We have not yet heard your story. You say that you found
the miner, John Stackpole, found him wounded?" he asked eagerly. "Then
he is still alive?"

"Yes, we found him," Thure answered slowly, "found him in the hands of
his murderers, but not in time to save him. He died before we could get
him home."

"Died! And in your hands!" and again the alcalde's face grew stern, and
again that hoarse unbelieving laugh came from the crowd. "Young man, do
you realize that you are telling a very improbable-sounding story? But,"
and the alcalde resumed his judicial gravity of countenance, "I am
forgetting that you are not on the witness stand. The button, it appears
then, came from the prisoner's coat," and he turned to the foreman of
the jury.

"It does," answered the foreman gravely.

"The prisoner may return to his place by the side of the sheriff. Now,"
and the alcalde's eyes searched the surrounding faces, "is there anyone
else present who has any testimony to give against the prisoners now on
trial before this court for the murder of John Stackpole?" and he
paused, to give anyone who wished to do so time to come forward.

"I reckon the testimony is plenty sufficient as it now stands," and a
huge brutal-looking man pushed his way through the crowd and faced the
alcalde. "Haven't two reputable witnesses sworn that they saw the
prisoners kill the man? Didn't one of them find a buttom that has been
proven to belong to the coat of one of the prisoners on the very spot
where the man was killed? And what can be offered in disproof of all
this? Nothing but the word of the prisoners themselves, who certainly
would lie to save their necks, if they would kill a man to get his gold.
I move," and he whirled about and faced the crowd, now muttering and
growling like a huge beast, "that the jury be instructed to render their
verdict now, so that we can hang them two young devils and get about our
business. All in favor--"

"Wait!" The alcalde's voice rang out clear and imperative; and, as he
spoke, he stepped out in front of the barrel, one of the big revolvers
held in each hand. "Before you put your motion I have a few words to
say; and, after I have said my few words, you can put your motion; and
we will see whether the men of Sacramento City stand for law and justice
or for mob brutality."

"Hear! Hear!" shouted a number of voices. "The alcalde shall be heard!"

"Men," continued the alcalde, his voice ringing with intense
earnestness, "I stand not here to plead for mercy in behalf of these two
young men, although their youth might almost justify such a plea. I am
here to demand justice. If this court, after fair trial shall find them
guilty of the brutal murder charged against them, then, in the name of
the same justice that I now invoke to protect them, they must hang; for,
in a community situated as we are, self-protection compels us to deal
with murderers with stern and relentless hands. But--Hear my words!--the
prisoners have not yet been proven guilty before this court. They have
not yet had fair trial. They have not yet even been heard in their own
defense. When I took my oath of office to serve you as alcalde, that
oath, the oath you yourselves compelled me to swear, bound me to see
that every prisoner brought before me had fair and speedy trial. I meant
to keep that oath then; and, by the Eternal Andrew Jackson! I mean to
keep it now, if need be with my life. Now, you can put your motion,"
and, with a couple of quick strides, the alcalde placed himself by the
side of the sheriff, near the two prisoners, the two big revolvers held
ready for instant use. He knew that the only way to check mob violence
was to stop it before it gathered momentum.

"Give the prisoners justice!" "They shall have justice!" "Hurrah, for
the alcalde!" shouted a hundred voices; and stern-faced men pushed
themselves through the crowd from every direction and formed a cordon
around the prisoners and the court.

"Go on with the trial. We will see that the court is sustained," and a
man stepped out from the surrounding cordon and bowed to the alcalde.

The mutterings and growlings suddenly ceased. The huge brutal-looking
man slunk back into the crowd, his motion unput.

In the midst of these exciting moments, when the attention of all was
concentrated on the alcalde, Bud suddenly felt a hand thrust something
into his hand from behind. He turned quickly. Bill Ugger stood not four
feet behind him.

"Read," and Ugger moved a couple of steps back and to one side.

Bud glanced down at his hand and saw that he held a bit of folded paper.
Hastily, yet cautiously, he unfolded it and read these words scrawled on
it with a lead pencil:

     Me and Spike kan yit save you. Give up the miners map and promis to
     tell nobudy of the kave of gold and we wil git you free. Refuse and
     we wil let you hang and then git the map off yur ded bodies we wil
     git the map anyway so whats the use of given up yur lives. Weve got
     things fixed so that you kant eskape the rope unles we save you so
     you've got to give us the map or hang. Make yur own choice taint
     our funrel.

     If you agrees nod yur hed 2 times to Spike and you wil be free in
     less than 10 minits.


Bud read these words through slowly; and then, moving up close to Thure,
he passed the paper to him.

"Read it," he said, fixing his eyes anxiously on his comrade's face.

By this time both boys saw plainly how strong was the web of evidence
that the two villains had so cunningly succeeded in throwing around
them; and how completely they appeared to have them in their power. And
what could they do or say to disprove their testimony? Their own tale,
looked at in the light of the evidence of the two men, would seem
improbable, would sound like a tale made up to fit the occasion. And
they could not bring forward a single witness to prove its truthfulness!
No wonder the unfortunate boys were tempted to give up the skin map; for
what is gold, when weighed in the balance against life?

Thure read the note; and then turned to Bud, his face white and his
heart throbbing with anxiety.

"What shall our answer be?" he asked in a whisper. "I hate like sin to
give up the skin map to them two scoundrels; but, I reckon, our fathers
and mothers would rather have our lives than the gold. But," and his
face brightened a little, "we have not yet given our testimony. I reckon
we had better wait until we see how the alcalde and the jury take our
stories before giving up the map."

"Yes," agreed Bud, his own face brightening at the thought of putting
off the surrender a little longer, "we will wait and see what effect our
testimony has. But, I guess you are right, if it comes to hanging," and
he shuddered, "or giving up the map, we'll have to give up the map. But
we won't give up until we've got to," and his face hardened. "Who'd a
thought them two scoundrels could get us in such a terrible fix!" and he
glared wrathfully in the direction of the two men, who now stood close
together regarding Thure and Bud with furtive but anxious eyes.

"Now to give them two skunks their answer," and Thure, holding the paper
out where the two men could see it, deliberately tore it to pieces and,
turning his back scornfully to them, gave his attention to the doings of
the court.



CHAPTER XI

AN UNEXPECTED WITNESS


The alcalde, the moment he saw that the mob spirit had been subdued, had
returned quietly to his place behind the barrel; and, when the two boys
again gave their attention to him, he had just reached his rude seat of
judgment, and was about to speak.

"I knew," he said, as his keen eyes searched the faces of the men, who
had so opportunely formed the cordon of safety around him and his court,
"that I could depend on the good sense and fair-mindedness of the people
of Sacramento City. We will now proceed with the trial," and he quietly
slipped back both of his revolvers into his coat pockets.

"Once more," and the alcalde raised his voice so that all could hear,
"the court asks, is there any other witness to bear testimony against
the two prisoners, if so, let him now step forward."

For a minute or two the alcalde waited. There was no movement, no word
from the surrounding crowd.

"We will now proceed with the examination of the prisoners. Young man,
take your place on the witness stand," and the alcalde turned to Thure.

"Don't get excited. Keep cool," cautioned Bud, as Thure hastened to take
his place in front of the barrel.

A hush came over the great encircling crowd, as Thure stood before
the alcalde and was solemnly sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth. Many of those rough bearded men had sons
of their own back at home, hardly younger than was the prisoner, who
now stood before the bar of justice, with a rope dangling threateningly
above his head; and these men found it hard to believe that that
wholesome-looking, clear-eyed youth could be guilty of the atrocious
crime charged against him. But, there was the evidence; and the laws of
the city must be enforced; and their faces grew stern and sad.

Thure told his story in a clear straightforward way; told how he and Bud
had gone out for a hunt on that day, how they had heard the death-cry of
the unfortunate horse and had slain the huge grizzly, how, just after
they had completed the skinning of the grizzly, they had seen the
struggle of the old miner with his two assailants and had rushed to his
rescue, how the robbers had fled, leaving the miner robbed and mortally
stabbed, how they had endeavored to get him to their home before he
died, but had failed, and, finally, how the miner had died and they had
borne his dead body home and had buried it.

There was hardly a loud sound made while Thure was telling his story.
One could almost have heard the great crowd breathing. When he had
spoken of witnessing the struggle between the miner and his murderers
and of rushing to his rescue, there had been a great stir in the crowd,
but it had quickly subsided, so eager were all to hear every word that
he uttered. His manner and his story made a deep impression; but, alas,
it was soon seen that his evidence had introduced nothing to disprove
the testimony of his two accusers that had any stronger proof back of it
than his own word and the word of his fellow prisoner, while he had
admitted bringing the dead body of the murdered miner home and burying
it, admitted having the dead body of the miner in his possession. This,
at least, was in direct proof of what his accusers had testified; for
they had sworn that they had seen the two boys bear the dead body off
with them. It looked as if they had made their story up to fit in with
the accounts of the previous witnesses and yet disprove the story of
their accusers.

Thure, so far in his testimony, had said nothing of the description the
old miner had given of his murderers. He was saving that for the last,
to be brought out by the questions of the alcalde, if possible. He
wished to make it as emphatic and striking as possible, and yet he did
not wish to appear to give it voluntarily; for he was wise enough to see
that for him and Bud to accuse their accusers might re-act back on
themselves. Fortunately the questions of the alcalde led directly to it.

"You testify," began the alcalde, the moment Thure had apparently
completed his testimony, "that you drove the murderers away from the
body of the miner. Did you get near enough to them to recognize them
again, should you see them?"

"No," Thure answered. "I could only swear that one was a large man and
that the other was small."

"Did you discover anything that would lead you to surmise who committed
the crime?" again asked the alcalde.

"No, not directly," answered Thure hesitatingly. "But the old miner,
just before he died, gave us a description of his two murderers," and he
stopped.

"How did he describe them? Why do you hesitate?" asked the alcalde
sharply.

"Because," answered Thure boldly, "the description the dying miner gave
of his two murderers appears to make us accuse our accusers, as if we
were trying to get back at them, when it is God's truth that we are
uttering."

"Give us the description. We are the ones to judge of its merits,"
commanded the alcalde, his face flushing with interest, while the
surrounding crowd became breathless.

Bud was looking at the two men; and he saw both of them start at the
words of Thure and glance apprehensively into each other's eyes.

"The miner said," and Thure turned his eyes full upon Bill Ugger, "that
one of his murderers was a large, red-headed man with a broken nose; and
that the other," and his eyes turned to the face of Spike Quinley, "was
a small man, with a pock-marked face."

For a moment no one spoke. All eyes were bent on the faces of the two
men. There was no mistaking to whom the description applied. Then a
harsh laugh broke from Bill Ugger.

"Tryin' to turn th' tables on us, be you?" and again he laughed. "Wal, I
reckon, ever'one here believes that yarn. It fits tew pat, not tew be
true. So me an' Spike are th' true murderers, be we? Wal, this is sum
unexpected an' s'prisin', ain't it Spike?" and he turned to his comrade,
grinning and glaring like a huge buffoon; but a close observer might
have noticed that his skin had whitened beneath its red beard.

Quinley had started perceptibly at Thure's description of the miner's
murderers, but he had quickly controlled himself, and a deadly gleam had
come into his wicked little eyes and his thin lips had tightened, as,
unperceived by all eyes, except the eyes the movement was intended for,
he had turned and given a man standing in the edge of the circle a
signal. The man at once had slipped back in the crowd and vanished.

"Powerful s'prisin'," and Quinley turned and grinned back into the face
of Ugger. "I reckon you can already feel th' rope a-tightenin' 'round
y'ur neck, can't you, Bill? That description sart'in fits us as pat as
an old shoe. But th' s'prisin'est thing 'bout it all is, that I don't
'pear tew have any rekerlections of a-committin' that murder. Must have
ben dreamin', when I done it."

The eyes of the alcalde, during this brief byplay, had been closely
watching the faces of the two men. He now turned to Thure again.

"Have you any witnesses, other than your fellow prisoner, to testify to
the truth of your statements?" he asked.

"No," answered Thure; "except that our mothers and our sisters and the
folks at the rancho can testify to our bringing home the body of the
dead miner and that we told them that we had found him just as I have
said that we did."

"That would prove nothing as to who committed the murder. Is there
anyone in Sacramento City that knows either of you two boys?"

"No," again answered Thure. "Not that I know of, unless," and his face
brightened, "Captain Sutler is here. He knows both of us well. We are
expecting to find our dads at Hangtown."

"Captain Sutter is not here," answered the alcalde, "as anyone in the
city might have told you; and it is impossible to send to Hangtown after
your fathers."

"But, are we to be proven guilty on the evidence of those two men alone,
whom I am almost certain committed the crime themselves?" and Thure's
face flushed indignantly. "Is not our word, at least, as good as
theirs?"

"Young man," replied the alcalde sternly, "that is for the jury to
decide. Have you any further evidence to give? If not, and the jury do
not wish to ask you any questions," he paused and glanced toward the
foreman, who shook his head, "you are dismissed, and the other prisoner
can take his place on the witness stand."

For a moment Thure hesitated. He wanted to say something, to do
something to further disprove this horrible accusation--but, what could
he say or do that he had not already said or done? He had told his
story. There was nothing more for him to tell, nothing more for him to
do; and, with tightly compressed lips, he turned and walked from the
witness stand back to his place by the side of the sheriff, while Bud
took his place in front of the barrel.

There was nothing new in Bud's testimony. He could only repeat, in
different words, what Thure had already told.

While Bud was giving his testimony, Spike Quinley worked his way up
close to Thure; and again a piece of paper was slipped furtively into
his hand.

Thure glanced down at the paper. At least here was a chance to escape
the worst. If Bud did not make a better impression than he apparently
had, then there would be nothing left but to surrender the map, that or
hanging. And it must be done soon now, or it would be too late. Thure
shuddered at the thought of the hanging; and, with fingers that trembled
a little, cautiously opened the paper and read these dreadful words:

     You have gone and done it now you infernal idjit by testifin' agin
     us it is now yur necks or ourn al hel kant save you now you kan
     keep the map and we wil git it off yur ded bodies and you kan have
     the satisfackshun of noin that you might have ben alive and wel
     when yur danglin ded at the end of a rope.

The vindictive scrawl closed with a rude attempt to draw a rope, hanging
from a tree, with a man dangling from one end.

Thure stared blankly at the paper for a moment after he had read the
words that appeared to close their last avenue of escape. He saw clearly
the force of their meaning. It had, indeed, now become a battle for life
between him and Bud and their two accusers. Their testimony, once they
were free, would turn suspicion directly upon Quinley and Ugger. It
would be suicidal for the two men now to attempt to do anything to free
them. Thure raised his eyes and looked wildly around, at the face of the
alcalde, the faces of the jury, and the faces of the surrounding crowd.
On all was a look of ominous sadness and sternness that made his heart
sink. Evidently the words and the actions of the cunning Ugger and the
crafty Quinley had again completely turned the tide against them. But
the worst blow was yet to come.

Bud completed his testimony and, in an ominous silence, was dismissed.
The alcalde arose from his judgment-stump and turned to address a few
final words to the jury; but, as the first word left his mouth, a
commotion occurred in the crowd directly in front of him.

"More testimony! Important testimony!" shouted a voice; and a man, with
his right arm done up in a sling, pushed his way through the encircling
crowd.

The man hastily and keenly scrutinized the faces of the two prisoners.

"Yes, them's sart'inly th' fellers," he said aloud; and turned his eyes
on the faces of their accusers.

"Them's shore th' same two men I seed. Thar's no mistaking them faces,"
he declared, with conviction. "Now," and he turned to the alcalde, "I
asks y'ur pardon, y'ur honor; but, bein' sum crippled with a broken arm,
as you can see, an', on that account, keepin' sum close in my tent, I
heared nuthin' of this trial 'til jest a few minits ago; but, when I did
hear of it, I felt mortally sart'in that it had tew do with th' same
murder that I witness in th' Sacermento Valley three days ago; an',
wantin' tew see that justice made no mistake, I got here as quick as I
could, tew give in my testimony. Hope I'm not tew late," and he fixed
his eyes anxiously on the face of the alcalde.

"No; you are not too late," the alcalde answered, looking at the man
keenly, "if your evidence is of real importance."

"I reckon it is of real importance," answered the man, "seein' that I
saw th' killin' done with my own two eyes; an' was close enough tew
reckernize th' killers plain."

This statement caused a big sensation in the surrounding crowd. All
pressed nearer, and stretched their heads eagerly forward to get a sight
of this new witness, while, "Hush!" "Quiet!" "Shut your mouth!" and like
expressions, came from all around the crowding circle of men.

Thure and Bud had both started with pleased surprise at the words of
this unexpected witness, and their faces lighted up with hope. Here, at
last, was a witness who would tell the truth, who would free them from
this horrible accusation of murder; for, evidently by his actions, he
was as much of a stranger to Ugger and Quinley as he was to themselves,
and, consequently, he could not be in league with their two cunning and
mendacious accusers. They glanced at the two men. Their surprise
appeared to be real; and the two boys thought they detected a look of
fearful consternation on each face.

"Step forward and be sworn," commanded the alcalde, the moment the buzz
of the excitement caused by the words of the man with the broken arm had
ceased.

The man stepped quickly in front of the barrel; and was sworn, in the
same manner the other witnesses had been sworn, to tell the truth.

"What is your name and business?" demanded the alcalde.

"John Skoonly," replied the man; "an' I'm bound for th' diggin's. Jest
got in from San Francisco this mornin'."

"Now, John Skoonly," and the alcalde's eyes rested steadily on the
witness's face as he settled back on his stump, "kindly tell the jury
and the people gathered here, what you know of the case now being tried
before them."

"I was on my way from San Francisco tew here," began the witness, "when
three days ago I wandered off th' main trail tew do a little huntin' an'
was throwed by my hoss an' broke my right arm. That took all th' hunt
out of me; an' I laid down under sum trees that growed 'long side a crik
tew try an' do sumthin' tew ease up th' pain an' tew git a little rest
afore I started back for th' trail.

"Wal, I reckon I hadn't ben thar more'n half an hour, when I heared a
screech that fairly lifted my hat off my head, a-comin' from th' open
valley, jest beyont th' trees whar I was a-lyin' in th' shade, an'
a-soundin' like sum feller was gittin' hurt mortal bad. I jumps up quick
an' runs tew sum bushes that growed a-treen me an' th' sound, an' looks
through 'em, a little cautious-like on account of my broken arm, an'
seed three men a-strugglin' on th' ground not more'n forty rods from
whar I was; an' th' next I knowed I heared a lot of yellin', an' seen
tew men jump out of th' bushes sum twenty rods below me, an' start
runnin' for them fightin' men. But, afore they'd made a dozen jumps, tew
of them men springs up from th' ground, th' other man didn't 'pear tew
have any spring left in him, but lay still, grabs up their rifles an'
hollers tew them runnin' men tew stop sudden, or they'd shoot; an' th'
men stops sudden, they havin' only pistols. Then th' tew men with rifles
yells for them tew git an' git quick, an' one on 'em fires his rifle;
an', I reckon, th' bullet must have come close, for th' tew men whirled
'bout like they was sum scart an' started back for th' bushes.

"Th' tew men now picks up th' body of th' third man, which hangs limp
like he was dead, an' flings it across th' back of one of their hosses
an' ties it thar. Then they mounts th' other tew hosses an' goes
a-ridin' off a-leadin' the hoss with th' dead body across its back ahind
'em; an' in ridin' off, they comes within a dozen rods of whar I was
a-hidin', an' I sees 'em plain, an' I was s'prised tew see that they
didn't look tew be much more'n boys; an' yit they 'peared tew have
killed a man!

"Y'ur honor," and the man paused and whirled partly around, and when he
continued again his voice was very solemn, "as shore as thar is a God in
heaven, th' tew men that I saw a-ridin' by me, with that dead body on
th' hoss ahind them, are a-standin' right thar!" and he pointed straight
toward Thure and Bud.

A sound of horror and of rage went up from the surrounding crowd, a
sound that had the promise of dreadful things to come in it.

The alcalde leaped to his feet, his face looking white and drawn; for he
knew that now the two boys were doomed, and, somehow, in spite of all
the terrible evidence, he could not look into their clear-eyed faces and
believe them guilty of such a horrible crime.

"Silence! Silence, men!" he commanded, stretching out both of his hands
imperatively. "Silence! I have questions, important questions to ask the
witness."

Almost instantly the great crowd became still, so anxious were all now
to hear every word.

"John Skoonly," and the alcalde turned to the witness, "you swear that
you saw two men start to the rescue of the murdered man. Did you see
these two men plainly enough to recognize them should you see them
again?"

"Sart'in'," replied the man promptly, and, whirling about, he pointed to
Quinley and Ugger, "Thar they stand. I'd know them mugs ag'in anywhar,"
and he grinned.

"Why," continued the alcalde, "did you not make your presence known to
these two men, at least after the murderers had ridden off? There would
not have been any danger then," and he smiled scornfully; "and they
might have been of help to you in your crippled condition."

"Wal," answered the man frankly, turning and looking squarely into the
faces of Ugger and Quinley, "tew be honest, I didn't like th' looks of
them tew faces none tew much; an', as I had consider'ble of money 'long
with me, I reckoned 'twould be safer for me tew travel alone jest then,
so I jest sneaked out 'tother side of th' trees an' rode back tew th'
trail alone."

Quinley and Ugger scowled at this frank reference to their looks; and a
few in the encircling crowd laughed grimly. Plainly there could be no
collusion between this witness and Ugger and Quinley; and this apparent
fact gave almost the positiveness of proven truth to his testimony, in
the eyes of the crowd.

"Then," and the alcalde looked sharply into the face of the witness,
"you never saw either William Ugger or Spikenard Quinley, until you saw
them, as described in your testimony, on the day of the murder?"

"If y'ur meanin' that little pock-marked runt an' that big red-readed
feller with a smashed nose, a-standin' thar, I sart'inly never did see
them afore that identickle moment. Why, I didn't even know their names
'til you spoke 'em out."

Again some of the crowd laughed in a grim sort of a way; and again Ugger
and Quinley scowled and glared wrathfully at the frank-spoken witness.

"I am done," the alcalde said quietly, turning to the jury. "Do you,
gentlemen of the jury, wish to ask the witness any questions?"

"No," replied the foreman, after a glance into the faces of his fellow
jurymen. "Your questions have brought out the only points we wished to
inquire about."

"Do the prisoners wish to ask the witness any questions?" and the
alcalde turned to Thure and Bud.

For a moment neither boy spoke, neither boy moved. The testimony of this
witness, so different from what they had expected, had dumfounded them.
They felt that he had knocked the last prop out from under their safety;
and all the horrors of their situation had dropped down on their spirits
with crushing, numbing force. Their minds, their nerves, their very
muscles were paralyzed, for the moment, by the sudden and awful
realization that now they must hang, must hang for a crime committed by
others!

But a boy at eighteen can never be long absolutely without hope. Surely,
surely the jury, the alcalde must see that this witness had lied, that
all the witnesses against them had lied! They could not, they could not
bring in a verdict of guilty! They could not sentence them, Thure
Conroyal and Bud Randolph, to be hanged! Hanged! The thought stung them
into life; and Thure turned wildly to the alcalde.

"It's a lie! a lie!" he cried. "It is all a lie! They know it is a lie!
You surely must believe us! We did not kill the miner! We tried to save
him! In spite of all their lies, you must believe us! We are only two
boys, two boys without a friend to help us! We can not fight against
their cunning! It is our word against their word! Look at us! Look into
our faces! Do we look like boys who would kill a man? Look into the
faces of our accusers! Think, we have fathers, mothers, brothers,
sisters! Oh, you can not hang us, you can not hang us! You must believe
us!"

"My boy," there was a solemn sternness in the voice of the alcalde as he
spoke, "if you are guiltless of the crime charged against you, then, may
God have mercy on us and on you! But I, the jury, the men gathered here
can only judge of your guilt or innocence by the evidence presented
before us; and, according to that evidence, and not according to the
dictates of hearts that may be touched by your youth and seeming
innocence, must the verdict be rendered. Gentlemen of the jury," and he
turned to the jury, "the evidence has now all been laid before you; and
it now becomes your duty to determine the guilt or the innocence of the
prisoners. May the great God of justice and mercy direct your judgment
aright; and cause you to bring in a verdict in accordance with the real
truth!"



CHAPTER XII

HAMMER JONES


The jurymen at once gathered about the foreman; but the consultation was
brief. In less than ten minutes the foreman signified that the verdict
was ready.

"Sheriff," the alcalde's lips were tight-drawn and his face whitened as
he spoke, "bring the prisoners forward to hear the verdict of the jury."

The jury now stood together in line, on the right of the alcalde. The
foreman stood a pace in front of this line.

The sheriff led Thure and Bud directly up in front of the line and
within a couple of paces of the foreman; and there he halted the
prisoners to await the giving of the verdict.

For a minute there was absolute silence, as the prisoners stood thus
before the jury. The surrounding crowd forgot to breathe. It seemed, for
a moment, as if the alcalde could not ask the fateful questions; but, at
last, his tight-drawn lips parted.

"Gentlemen of the jury, are you ready to render your verdict?" he asked.

"We are ready," answered the foreman.

"Gentlemen of the jury, you may state your verdict."

The foreman's eyes faltered and turned from the faces of the prisoners.

"Guilty of the crime as charged," he said, and closed his lips tightly,
and turned his head away.

The great crowd breathed again; and an ominous, deep-toned, shuddering
murmur arose from its depths, as all eyes turned toward the alcalde. It
now became his duty to sentence the prisoners; and, in accordance with
the verdict just rendered, he could pronounce but one sentence--hanging.

For a full minute the alcalde stood straight and silent. He realized to
its full the awful irrevocableness of the sentence he was about to
pronounce, and a shuddering horror shook his soul. Never before had he
felt like this when pronouncing a similar sentence. The sight of those
two, white, staring, boyish faces had unmanned him--yet he must do his
duty.

"Thure Conroyal, Bud Randolph--" His voice was clear and firm and the
eyes he turned on the prisoners stern and steady--"a just and impartial
jury have found you guilty of the horrible crime of murder; and it now
becomes my awful duty to pronounce your sentence. Stand forth and
receive your sentence."

As Thure and Bud turned their white faces toward the alcalde and stepped
forth to receive their sentence, a man, almost a giant in size, who had
just pushed himself through the crowd to the inner edge of the circle,
uttered an exclamation of surprise and horror; and, the next instant, he
had flung the men still standing between him and the open space around
the alcalde and the prisoners violently to one side, and, almost in a
bound, had reached the side of the alcalde.

"Great God in heaven, alcalde!" he roared. "What does this mean?" and he
stared from the face of the alcalde to the faces of the two boys, into
whose dulled eyes had suddenly leaped a great light at the sight of the
big man.

"Murder and hanging," answered the alcalde sternly. "The prisoners have
had a fair trial; the jury have pronounced them guilty; and I am about
to sentence them to be hanged."

"Murder! Hanged!" and the utter, unbelieving astonishment on the face of
the big man was good to see.

"It's a lie, a lie! We never killed the man! Oh, Ham, we never killed
the man! You, surely, will believe us!" and Thure and Bud both, with
faces white with excitement and hope, sprang eagerly to the side of the
big fellow.

"Shut up! Stand back!" and he pushed the boys away. "See here," and he
swung around in front of the alcalde, "you know me; an' you know I'd
never try tew save th' neck of no criminal. But I know them boys, know
their dads an' mas; an' I know they never committed no murder. Who seen
'em dew it? Whar are th' witnesses?" and his eyes glared around the
circle of tense faces.

"There they stand, Ham," and the alcalde pointed to the three witnesses,
who at the sudden appearance of Hammer Jones, the big friend of the two
boys, had involuntarily come together, as if for mutual defense; "and
each one of the three swore positively that he saw the boys kill the
man."

"Huh!" and, almost in a stride, Hammer Jones stood directly in front of
Bill Ugger; and, the instant his eyes looked closely into the face of
the man, his own face went white with wrath.

"Hello, Greaser Smith!" and the great hand fell on the shrinking
shoulder and gripped the coat collar tightly. "So you're one of th'
skunks that's a-tryin' tew git them tew boys hanged, be you? Rekerlect
that time down in Sante Fé, when you was a-goin' tew skin a nigger
alive, an' wanted tew kill tew boys for interferin'? Still up tew yur
boyish tricks, I see. Wal, I've still got th' same big foot that kicked
you intew th' mudpuddle; an' th' same big fist that smashed that nose of
yourn when you was a-tryin' tew kiss a Mexican gal against her will. An'
now you're a-tryin' tew have tew innocent boys hanged for a murder that
you probably did yurself," and Ham's eyes flamed. "You cowardly skunk!"
and, suddenly letting go of the coat collar, he took a quick step
backward, and swung up his great fist with all the strength of his
powerful right arm, striking the man squarely under the chin. The force
of the blow lifted Ugger, alias Greaser Smith, off his feet and hurled
him to the ground as senseless as a log.

"Now, we'll have a look at th' other witnesses," and Ham turned to the
cringing Quinley.

"Never seed you afore," he declared, as he looked into the pock-marked
face of the trembling man, whose terrified eyes were fixed on the huge
fist that had so summarily dealt with his big partner. "Wal, you are a
likely lookin' cuss tew be th' side partner of Greaser Smith. I reckon
you tew pull tewgether like tew mules. I'll have sumthin' special tew
say tew you 'bout this case, when I see who t'other witness is," and he
turned to the man with the broken arm, who had been looking excitedly
around, as if he were searching for an opening in the crowd through
which to escape and who now stood with his back toward Hammer Jones.

"Here, you," and Ham caught him by the shoulder and whirled him around,
"jest give me a sight of yur mug--wal, I'll be durned, if 'tain't
Skoonly!" and Ham's eyes widened with surprise and the angry glint in
them deepened, while the man under the grip of his big hand shook as if
he had an ague fit. "Here's matter for the alcalde. Come," and he
started toward the alcalde, dragging the man along with him.

So sudden had been Ham's appearance and so swift and unexpected were his
actions, that, at first, the great surrounding crowd had stood and
stared at him in astonishment, making no move; but, by now, they were
beginning to wake up to the fact that here was a man evidently bent on
defeating the ends of justice; and an angry growl, the growl of a mob, a
sound once heard that is never forgotten, rolled out from its midst. But
there were many men in that crowd who knew Hammer Jones, who had hunted
and trapped and fought Indians with him, who had seen him risk his life
fearlessly to save a comrade's life, and who never yet had known him to
do a dishonorable deed; and these men knew, that, if Hammer Jones said
that the prisoners were innocent, he had good reasons for saying it, and
they were ready to see that he had a chance to prove his statement; and
cries of: "Hurrah for Ham Jones!" "Give him a chance to prove what he
says!" "Hear! Hear! Hear! Ham Jones!" "He shall be heard!" mingled with
yells of: "String him up along with the boys!" "Bust his head!" "He's
trying to rescue the murderers!" and like cries of rage at this
unexpected interference.

But, before these two opposing forces could come to a clash, a tall
spare man, whose deep-set eyes, keen and piercing as a hawk's, shone out
of a weather-bronzed face, pushed himself hurriedly through the crowd
that was beginning to seethe around the open court-room beneath the
great evergreen oak, and hastened to the side of the alcalde.

"What is the trouble?" he demanded in a quiet authoritative tone of
voice.

The alcalde welcomed him with a glad smile of recognition; and, as
briefly as possible, told him what had occurred.

The man turned quickly and the keen eyes glanced, with a violent start
of recognition, for a moment into the faces of the two boys.

"My God, alcalde!" and he whirled about in front of the surprised
alcalde, "you were about to make a terrible mistake! I know these boys
well; and I know they never murdered a man.

"Men! Men! Hear me!" and he leaped lightly up on top of the barrel that
stood in front of the alcalde, his singularly clear and penetrating
voice reaching every ear in the crowd. "Men! Men! Hear me! A terrible
mistake has--"

"It's Fremont!" shouted someone. "Hurrah for Colonel Fremont! The man
who licked the Mexicans! The man who won California for us! Hurrah for
Colonel Fremont!"

The name acted like magic in quieting the fast-growing turbulence of the
crowd. There was not a man present who had not heard of the dauntless
young explorer, the bold soldier, the recent conqueror of California, to
whom more than to any other one man they owed the fact that the
gold-diggings were in the territory of the United States; and all wished
to see this remarkable man, all were ready to hear what he had to say.
As suddenly as it had begun, the violence of the crowd ceased and all
eyes were turned toward Fremont.

"Go ahead, Colonel!" shouted a rough voice. "Thar's enough of y'ur old
men here tew see that you git a fair hearin'."

"Thank you, gentlemen," and Fremont bowed. "The alcalde tells me," he
continued, after a moment's pause, "that you have tried those two boys,"
and he pointed to Thure and Bud, "for murder, have found them guilty,
and were about to hang them. I know these two young men, your prisoners,
well. I know their fathers, their brothers, have known them for years;
and so sure am I that you have made a terrible mistake, that I am ready,
personally, to stand accountable for them until their innocence has been
proven to your complete satisfaction."

"But, three men swore that they saw the prisoners kill the man,
Colonel!" called someone from the crowd. "This has been no mob trial;
but a regular court trial by jury; and the jury found them guilty,
unanimous."

"Where are those witnesses? Let us have a look at them?" demanded
Fremont.

"Here's one on 'em, Colonel," and the huge frame of Hammer Jones loomed
up in front of Fremont, with the trembling Skoonly still in the grip of
his right hand. "I swun, but I am glad tew see you right now," and
quickly shifting Skoonly to his left hand, he extended his right to
Fremont.

"Ham, Hammer Jones!" and Fremont gripped the extended hand with glad
cordiality. "It's like old times to see your face again. But this is no
time for idle talk," and his fine face hardened. "So that is one of the
witnesses against Thure and Bud," and his piercing eyes looked
searchingly into the face of Skoonly. "What did he swear to?" and
Fremont turned quickly to the alcalde.

"He swore," answered the alcalde, "that he saw the prisoners kill the
man three days ago in the Sacramento Valley--"

"Three days ago!" snorted Ham wrathfully. "He saw th' prisoners kill a
man three days ago in th' Sacermento Valley! Not unless he's got a
double-barreled long-shot gun ahind him that can shoot his body clean
from Hangtown tew th' Sacermento Valley in less time than I could take a
chaw of ter-backer; for three days ago I seen this identickle man,
Skoonly, run out of Hangtown for tryin' tew steal th' gold-dust of a
sick miner. S'cuse me for interrupting" and Ham turned his eyes, still
glinting with his honest wrath, to the alcalde.

"What!" and the alcalde's eyes brightened and his whole face lightened,
as if a great load had been suddenly lifted off his soul. "You saw this
man run out of Hangtown three days ago! The very time that he swore he
was on his way from San Francisco to the diggings! The very day that he
swore he saw the prisoners kill the miner in the Sacramento Valley!"

"Right. He sart'in was in Hangtown three days ago. I reckon I otter
know, seein' I was one on 'em tew help run him out. Ay, Skoonly," and
Ham jerked the cringing man around in front of the alcalde. "Now, what
might be th' trouble with that arm?" and he glared down at the bandaged
arm of Skoonly, who had submitted to all these indignities, almost
without a protest. He knew Hammer Jones.

"He said," answered the alcalde, "that his horse threw him and broke his
arm a little while before he saw the murder committed and that that was
why he had not gone to the help of the miner."

"Huh!" and again Ham snorted scornfully, then a sudden gleam came into
his eyes, and he turned quickly to the alcalde. "Supposing" he grinned,
"you have that broken arm investigated. 'Twouldn't s'prise me none tew
find it a durned good arm yit."

"Good!" and the alcalde smiled. "Skoonly can't object, because it will
be a strong point in his favor, if we find the arm really broken."

"But I do object," protested Skoonly emphatically, his face becoming
livid. "Th' pain'll be sumthin' awful; an' doc said that it mustn't be
taken out of the splints for a month on no account."

"Objection overruled," declared the alcalde, who had been watching the
man's face. "Here," and he turned to the foreman of the jury, "this
appears like a proper point for you to investigate. I'll turn him over
to you. Be careful and not hurt the arm any more than you are compelled
to," and he smiled.

The crowd, which by this time had formed a close and deeply interested
circle around the dramatic characters in the little drama that was here
being enacted, watched with tense and grim faces, the foreman, aided by
a couple of his fellow jurymen, slowly unwind the bandages from
Skoonly's arm. If they had been fooled, if they had been led by false
testimony almost to hang two innocent men, nay, boys, their wrath
against the false accusers would be sudden and terrible.

Skoonly yelled and squirmed, when they began unwinding the bandages from
his arm, as if the action caused him the most intense pain, and begged
them to stop, while his face grew so white that even Ham himself began
to fear that the arm, at least, bore no false testimony; but the
unwinding went steadily on.

And, lo and behold! when the last bandage was off, there lay the arm,
sound of bone, and without even a bruise or discoloration along its
whole length!

"Wal, I'll be durned! Jest as I thought! The cur! An' that is th' kind
of evidence you was a-go-in' tew hang them boys on!" and Ham's angry
eyes swept the circle of surrounding faces.

A murmur, that swiftly swelled into a roar of hundreds of angry voices,
broke from the surrounding crowd, when Ham's testimony and the result of
the examination of Skoonly's bandaged arm became known.

"A rope! Get a rope! Hang him!" yelled a hoarse voice; and the cry was
taken up by hundreds of voices; and the jam of enraged men pressed
closer and closer to the cowering man, whose face grew livid with fear,
as he glared wildly around, seeking some means of escape. But there was
none; and despair and a great dread, the dread of a sudden and frightful
death, took possession of his soul.

"Save me! Save me!" he yelled, throwing himself at Fremont's feet. "I
did not mean tew git th' boys hanged. They, Bill an' Spike, told me
'twas jest tew scare them. They was a-tryin' tew frighten th' boys intew
doin' sumthin' for them--Oh-h-h, don't let them git me! Save me!" and he
clutched Fremont's legs with both his quivering hands, as the roar of
the crowd became louder and more threatening.

"Quick," and Fremont bent over him, "will you tell all, all that you
know of this horrible affair, if we will save your neck?"

"Yes! Yes!" eagerly agreed the terror-stricken man. "I'll tell
ever'thing! Afore God I'll tell ever'thing! It's Bill an' Spike who is
responsible, not me. It's them you want."

"Men," and Fremont again leaped up on top of the barrel, both hands
outstretched for silence. "Listen, men, listen!"

For a minute the roar of the crowd continued, and then swiftly subsided,
as all eyes caught sight of the tall figure of Fremont standing on the
barrel top.

"Make your words few and to the point, Colonel. This is no time for
speech-making," warned a voice from the crowd. "We want to get hold of
the skunk who was willing to falsely swear away the lives of two boys."

"My words will be few and to the point," Fremont began, his clear
penetrating voice reaching every ear in the crowd. "Skoonly will confess
everything, if you will spare his neck. He appears to have been but the
tool of the other two men; and we will need his testimony to make out a
case against them and to prove to the satisfaction of all, the innocence
of the two boys. Under these circumstances, it would seem to be best to
allow him to go free, providing he makes a clean breast of everything he
knows concerning this case."

"And further providin'," supplemented Ham, "that he be warned never
ag'in tew show his cowardly face in Sacermento City or any minin'-camp
in Calaforny, under penalty of instant hangin'."

"An' that he be given a hoss-licken, jest afore lettin' him go," added a
roughly dressed miner, standing near the inner edge of the circle.

Growlingly, like a hungry dog driven from a bone, the crowd at length
agreed to this disposal of Skoonly; and the wretched man, with much
faltering and many terrified glances around the enclosing circle of grim
faces, told how, for a thousand dollars in gold-dust, he had agreed to
help Quinley and Ugger out with his testimony, if they needed it; how he
and the two scoundrels had planned out the whole thing the night before
and were on the lookout for the boys that morning; how he had remained
in a near-by saloon, with his manufactured broken arm all ready, waiting
for a summons from the two men; and how, at last, the summons had come
and he had given in his testimony, according to agreement. He declared
that the two men had told him that they only wished to frighten the two
boys into giving up something, he did not know what, that really
belonged to them, and had assured him there would be no danger of
getting the boys hanged, that they would be sure to yield before it got
to that point. About the murder of the miner he knew nothing, except
that Spike Quinley and Bill Ugger had told him that they had killed the
man themselves, and had showed him the money-belt, still heavy with
gold-dust, that they had taken from him--

"Great guns!" broke in Ham excitedly, at this moment, "if we ain't plum
forgot them tew villains," and he made a mad break through the crowd in
the direction of the spot where he had left Quinley and Ugger.

In an instant the wildest excitement prevailed; and hundreds of men were
rushing about excitedly, looking for the two scoundrels. But Quinley and
Ugger were wise in their wickedness, and seeing, with fear-enlightened
eyes, the results of the advent of Hammer Jones and Colonel Fremont, had
taken advantage of the excitement attending the examination of Skoonly,
to disappear so suddenly and completely, that, although Sacramento City
was searched all that day and that night, as with a fine-toothed comb,
not a sign nor hair of either man could be found; and the enraged crowd
had to be satisfied with giving Skoonly the promised "hoss-licken," and
running him out of town the next morning, with a warning never to show
his cowardly face on their streets again, unless he was looking for the
job of dancing the hangman's hornpipe at the end of a rope.

The excitement and the confusion and the swift scattering of the crowd,
attending the search for the two scoundrels, of course ended the trial
of Thure Conroyal and Bud Randolph for the murder of John Stackpole; and
they stood free and worthy men in the sight of all people once more--and
with the skin map still in their possession.

"Great Moses! but I was glad to see you, Ham!" declared Thure, as he
gripped his big friend's hand, after some of the excitement had quieted
down.

"Glad! Glad is no name for my feelings, when I saw your great body loom
up by the side of the alcalde," and Bud gripped his other hand.

"I reckon you was some pleased tew see me," grinned back Ham, "both on
you," and the hearty grip of his big hands made both boys wince.

"Colonel, Colonel Fremont!" and Thure broke away from Ham's hand to rush
up to Fremont, who was talking with the alcalde. "I--we can never thank
you enough for coming so splendidly to our help."

"Then do not try," smiled back Fremont. "My boy," and he gripped Thure's
hand, as his face sobered, "I have not forgotten a certain night, some
three years ago, near the shores of Lake Klamath, when an Indian stood
with bow bended and arrow aimed at my breast; nor the skill and
quickness of the boy, whose bullet struck and killed the Indian before
his fingers could loose the arrow.[2] I fancy that I have not yet
discharged my full debt to that boy."

[Footnote 2: A full account of this incident, the saving of Fremont's
life by Thure, is given in the preceding book of this series, _Fighting
with Fremont_.]

"That--that was nothing," stammered Thure, his face flushing with
pleasure to think that Fremont still remembered the incident. "But
this--Think of the terrible death you helped save us from!" and Thure
shuddered.

"Yes, it was terrible," and Fremont's eyes rested kindly on the face of
the boy, "but, think no more about it now," he added quickly, as he saw
how swiftly the color had fled from his face at the thought of the
dreadful peril he had just escaped. "Come," and he turned briskly to
Ham, "I wish you, and the two boys, and the alcalde, if he will do us
the honor, to dine with me. I have an hour at my disposal before I must
leave the city; and I know of no better way of spending it than in your
company. Besides, I am hungry, and I am sure you are, also, after all
this excitement, now happily over. So, fall in," and he smiled, as he
gave the once familiar command.

The alcalde begged to be excused, on account of other matters that
demanded his immediate attention; but Ham and the two boys, with
answering-smiles on their faces, "fell in"; and, under the command of
Fremont, charged down on the City Hotel, where their generous host
entertained them lavishly on the costly viands of that expensive
hostelry, while he and Ham talked of old times, of the perils and
hardships and joys they had shared on those wonderful exploring
expeditions that had brought a world-wide fame to the then young
lieutenant, and the two delighted boys listened, until it became time
for Colonel Fremont to go.

"Our dads will never forget what you have done for us, Colonel," Thure
said, as he grasped Fremont's hand in farewell.

"I may soon put them to the test," smiled back Fremont, "by giving them
an opportunity to vote for me, when we get our state goverment
organized."

"You sure can count on all our votes," declared Thure eagerly; "that is,
as soon as Bud and I are old enough to vote."

"Thank you," laughed Fremont, and added quickly, his face sobering. "And
it is an honor to any man to receive the votes of men like your fathers
and Ham here and you two boys, even in prospect, an honor, that, believe
me, I appreciate," and the light in his forceful eyes deepened, as if he
were seeing visions of the future. "But, I must be off. Remember me to
your fathers and to all the others," and he sprang lightly on to the
back of his horse, near which he had been standing during these words,
and galloped off down the street toward the ferry.



CHAPTER XIII

EXPLANATIONS


"Wal, now," and Ham turned a puzzled and frowning face on the two boys,
the moment Colonel Fremont had vanished down the street, "what are you
tew yunks a-dewin' in Sacremento City? A-tryin' tew git yur necks
stretched, you blamed idgits? I'll be durned, if I wouldn't like tew
spank both on you!" and the frown on his face deepened. "I--"

"Oh, Ham," broke in Thure excitedly, "we've got the most wonderful story
to tell! And it all comes from that murdered miner, who, before he died,
told us about a wonderfully rich mine that he had discovered; and it was
to get the map to this mine that those two dreadful men tried to get us
hanged--"

"Whoa--up! Jest pull up y'ur hosses a bit," and Ham stared in
astonishment at the excited boy. "You're a-goin' tew fast for me tew
keep up. Come 'long back intew th' hotel, an' tell me y'ur story
straight, not in jerks an' chunks," and he led the way back into the
City Hotel, and to a quiet corner in the big waiting-room, where they
could talk undisturbed and unheard.

Here, in low but excited voices and after exacting promises of the
utmost secrecy, Thure and Bud told their wonderful story to Ham.

"Wal, I'll be tee-totally durned, if it don't sound good!" declared that
worthy, when, at last, the tale had been completed. "But thar's lots of
mighty good soundin' yarns goin' 'round camp, 'bout wonderful gold
mountains an' caves of gold. Howsomever, I never heer'd tell on
anybudy's really findin' any on 'em; an', I reckon, 'most on 'em is jest
lies. But that thar map seems tew give y'ur yarn a look like th' truth;
an', I reckon, them tew skunks must have believed th' yarn, or they
wouldn't have ben so pow'ful anxious tew git th' map. Gosh, if it should
prove true!" and Ham's eyes widened and his cheeks flushed and he drew
in a deep breath. "I'll be durned, if it should prove true, if I don't
go back tew my old home in Vermont, that I ain't seen since I was a yunk
'bout y'ur age, an' buy up th' old farm, an' build a big house on it,
an'--Gosh, a'mighty, if that yarn of y'urn ain't sot me tew dreamin'!"
and Ham came back to the earth, looking a bit foolish. "More'n likely
it's all a lie; an' thar I was a buyin' farms an' a-buildin' houses!
Queer how th' gold gits intew th' blood an' makes all humans tarnal
idgits, now ain't it?" and he shook his head wonderingly.

"But, there's the map, and the big gold nugget, and all the gold that
the murderers got from him," protested Thure. "He must have found some
kind of a mine to have got that gold; and crazy folks wouldn't draw real
maps of the gold-diggings they only imagined they had discovered."

"An' you've got that map, an' that hunk of gold with you?" and again the
eager light shone in Ham's eyes. "Wal, I reckon I'd like tew have a look
at that nugget an' map."

"But, not here," interjected Bud anxiously, as he glanced suspiciously
around the big room at a number of roughly dressed men, who were
standing in front of the bar or seated at tables playing cards. "I think
that we had better wait until we get to our dads, before we show up the
map and the nugget. We can't be too careful. Now, how comes it that you
are in Sacramento City, Ham?" and the eyes of both boys turned
inquiringly to the face of their big friend.

"Reckon you're right 'bout th' map an' nugget," admitted Ham
reluctantly. "Leastwise I don't blame you for bein' some keerful after
y'ur late experience," and his own eyes glanced sharply about the room.
"Now, as tew my bein' here, that's soon explained. Y'ur dads an' th'
rest sent me in tew git a load of camp-supplies--flour, bacon, sugar,
coffee an' sech like things tew eat, 'long with some diggin' tools an'
extra clothin'. Got in a leetle afore noon; an', heerin' thar was a
murder trial on in th' hoss-market, I hit th' trail for th' market tew
once, bein' some anxious tew see who was a-goin' tew have their necks
stretched. Wal, if I didn't 'most have tew push my heart back down my
throat with my fist, when I seed that you tew yunks was th' criminals!"

"But you made things hum, when you got started," and the eyes of Bud
glowed with admiration, as they rested on the face of his big friend.
"You just straightened things out in no time. My, but it did do me good
to see you give Brokennose that punch on the jaw!"

"Same here," grinned Ham. "But it riled me all up tew have them tew curs
git away. If ever I lay my eyes on either one on 'em ag'in," and his
eyes glinted savagely, "thar won't be no need of no rope tew hang 'em,
th' cowardly murderin' skunks!" and he banged his great fist down on the
table so hard that nearly every one in the room jumped and turned their
eyes curiously in his direction.

For a few minutes longer Ham and the two boys sat talking together, then
Ham suddenly straightened up.

"Wal, if I ain't forgettin' all 'bout them supplies in th' excitement,"
he said, hurriedly rising. "Come on, yunks, I've got tew hustle an' make
all them purchases afore night; for we've got tew git out of here afore
sun-up tew-morrer," and Ham led the way out of the hotel, to where he
had left a couple of sturdy little pack-horses tied to the trees, when
he had rushed off to see the hanging.

An open space, under the overhanging branches of a huge evergreen oak,
was now selected for the camp for the night; and hither Ham and the two
boys brought their horses, and, after unsaddling and unbridling them,
gave them a scanty supply of grass, bought at fifty cents a big hand
full, and a little barley, at a dollar a quart. Then Bud, the two boys
had drawn cuts to see who should stay, was left to watch the camp, and
Ham and Thure started out to make the needed purchases.

The shops were crowded with men buying goods to take with them to the
gold-mines, or diggings, as the mines were almost universally called,
and paying for them with gold-dust, the name given to the fine particles
of rough gold dug out of the ground, at the rate of about sixteen
dollars to the ounce of gold. On every counter stood a pair of scales,
with which to weigh the gold; and it was a curious sight to Thure to see
these men, whenever they bought anything, pull out a little bag or other
receptacle, take out a few pinches of what looked like grains of coarse
yellow sand, and drop them on the scales, until the required weight was
reached, in payment for the purchase. Ham, himself, had only gold-dust
with which to make his payments; and it made Thure feel quite like a
real miner, when he handed the little gold-bag to him and told him to
attend to the paying, while he did the selecting of the goods needed.

By sundown all the purchases were made and carried to the camp and
everything made ready for an early start in the morning.

After supper--they got their own suppers, all deciding that the food at
the hotels was too rich for their blood, or, rather, pockets--Thure and
Bud, boy-like, notwithstanding their weariness, wanted to take a little
stroll about the town; but Ham promptly and emphatically vetoed any such
a move on their part.

"I'll be durned if you dew!" he declared decisively, the instant the
subject was broached. "You'll stay right here in camp, an' crawl intew
y'ur blankets, an' git tew sleep jest as quick as th' good Lord'll let
you. You shore have had all th' excitement you need for one day; an' th'
devil only knows what trouble you'd be a-gettin' intew, if you was
allowed tew run loose, promiscus like, about th' streets of Sacermento
City at night. It's bad enough by day, as you sart'in otter know; but by
night! Not for tew yunks like you!" and Ham shook his head so decidedly
and frowningly that neither boy ventured even a word in protest against
his rather arbitrary decision.

But, although they remained in camp, Thure and Bud never forgot that
first night in Sacramento City. The scenes about them were so unique, so
weirdly and romantically beautiful, so suggestive of dramatic
possibilities, that they impressed themselves indelibly on memories new
to such sensations.

As the sun went down a gray chill fog arose from the river and the
lowlying shores and fell down over the little city like a thin wet veil,
blurring and softening and reddening the light from the innumerable
camp-fires, built under the dark shadows of overhanging trees, and the
broad glows coming from canvas houses and tents, lighted from within,
and the bright glares that poured through the doors and windows of the
more brilliantly illuminated dance-halls and gambling-hells, giving to
all a weird and dream-like aspect, fascinating, romantic, and beautiful.

Their camp was situated some distance from the center of the city's
activities; but near enough for the sounds of its wild revelries to
reach their ears, softened a little by the distance. A dozen or more
bands were playing a dozen or more different tunes from a dozen or more
different dance-halls, all near together along the levee and the
neighboring streets; and, sometimes, high above even these discordant
sounds, rose the human voice, in loud song, or boisterous shout, or
peals of rough laughter. Around some of the near-by camp-fires men had
gathered and were singing the loved home melodies; and from one of these
groups came the voice of a woman in song, sounding singularly sweet and
entrancing in the midst of all those harsher sounds. Above their heads a
gentle wind blew murmuringly and whisperingly through the wide-spreading
branches of the evergreen oak; and, at their feet, snapped and crackled
the ruddy flames of their own camp-fire.

By nine o'clock the lights of the surrounding camp-fires began to grow
dimmer, and the songs and the laughter and the talking of the groups
around them ceased. All these were seeking their beds or blankets; and
soon only the noise and the music, the songs and the shouts of the
revelers broke the stillness of the night.

For a little while, before closing their eyes in sleep, Thure and Bud
lay in their blankets listening to these distant sounds of wild revelry.

Suddenly, above the music, above the songs and the shouts and the
laughter, rang out the sharp--crack--crack--of two pistol shots,
followed by an instant's lull in the sounds; and then the music, the
songs, the shouts, and the laughter went on, louder and madder than
ever.

At the sound of the pistol shots both boys had leaped out of their
blankets and stood listening intently; but Ham had only grunted and
rolled over in his blanket.

"Ham! Ham! Did you hear that?" called Thure excitedly. "Someone must
have been shot!"

"Shut up, an' crawl back intew y'ur blankets," growled Ham. "'Tain't
none of our bus'ness, if some fool did git shot. It's probably some
drunken row. Whiskey's 'most always back of every shootin' scrap. It
beats me," and the growl deepened, "how full-growed men, with
full-growed brains, can put a drop of that stuff intew their mouths,
after they've once seen what it does tew a feller's interlect, makin' a
man intew a bloody brute or a dirty beast or a grinnin' monkey; an' yit,
th' best an' th' wisest on 'em goes right on drinkin' it. It shore gits
me! Now," and he turned his wrath again on the two boys, "git right back
intew y'ur blankets, an' shut y'ur mouths an' y'ur eyes, an' keep 'em
shut till mornin'," and once again and with a final deep rumbling growl,
he rolled over in his blanket and lay still.

Thure and Bud crawled slowly back into their blankets; and, at last,
with the sounds of the distant revelry still ringing in their ears, fell
asleep.



CHAPTER XIV

THE LUCK OF DICKSON


The next morning, a good hour before sunrise, Thure and Bud found
themselves suddenly tumbled out of their blankets and the grinning face
of Ham bending over them.

"Sleepyheads!" and, reaching down, he gripped each boy by his coat
collar, the night had been chilly and both had slept in their coats,
jerked him to his feet and shook him violently, "Wake up!" and, suddenly
letting go, he sent both boys staggering from him. "Thar, them's my
patented double-j'inted yunk-wakers," and he shook both of his big fists
in the faces of the two boys, "warranted tew wake th' soundest sleepin'
yunk that ever rolled himself up in a blanket, in seven an'
three-quarters seconds by th' watch, or money refunded. For
testimonials, see Bud Randolph and Thure Conroyal," and the grin
broadened on his face, until it threatened to engulf all his features.

"It sure does the waking all right," laughed Thure; "and you can have my
testimony to that effect any time you wish it."

For an hour all hands were busy, getting the breakfast, eating, packing
and saddling and bridling the horses; and then, just as the sun, like a
great globe of gold, rose above the gold-filled mountains of their hopes
to the east and shone down on the waters of the Sacramento, Ham gave the
word to start, and, leading one of his well-loaded pack-horses on either
side of him, he strode off, headed for the rough trail to Hangtown,
followed by Thure and Bud, driving their pack-horses before them.

As they passed along by the various camps in the outskirts of the town,
a man, holding a long-handled frying-pan over the coals of his
camp-fire, looked up and then remarked casually:

"Queer shootin' scrap that down on the levee last night!"

"Heer'd th' shootin', but that's all I heer'd," answered Ham, halting
for a moment. "What might thar be queer 'bout it?"

"Both on 'em bosum friends 'til they gits a lot of French Ike's whiskey
down 'em. Then one calls t'other a liar, an' both on 'em pulls their
guns an' shoots; an' both on 'em falls dead, th' bullets goin' through
th' heart of each one on 'em," answered the man.

"Hump! Nuthin' queer 'bout that!" grunted Ham. "That's a common thing
for whiskey tew dew. Git up!" and he continued on his way.

The trail to Hangtown, after leaving the Sacramento Valley, entered the
rough and picturesque regions of the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada
Mountains, where the traveling was slow and difficult, especially with
heavily loaded pack-horses; and, although the distance from Sacramento
City, as the crow flies, was scarcely more than forty miles, yet it was
not until near the middle of the afternoon of the third day that our
friends came in sight of the rude log cabins and tents of Hangtown. They
had climbed to the summit of a particularly rough hill and had just
rounded a huge pile of rocks, when Ham brought his pack-horses to a
sudden halt.

"Thar's Hangtown," he said, and pointed down the steep side of the hill
into what was little more than a wide ravine, where a number of rudely
built log houses and dirty-looking tents lay scattered along the sides
and the bottom of the declivity and men could be seen at work with picks
and shovels, digging up the hard stony ground, or, with gold-pans in
their hands, washing the dirt thus dug in the waters of the little creek
that flowed through the bottom of the ravine.

"Hurrah!" yelled both boys, taking off their hats and swinging them
around their heads the moment their eyes caught sight of the houses and
the tents.

"At last we are where gold is being actually dug up out of the ground!"
exclaimed Thure enthusiastically, a moment later, as he sat on the back
of his horse, watching, with glowing face and eyes, the men of the pick
and the shovel toiling below.

"It shore does have tew be dug up out of th' ground, at least th' most
on it," agreed Ham, grinning. "More diggin' than gold, th' most on us
find."

"Oh, come! Let's hurry. I want to get to dad," and Bud started off down
the hill excitedly, with Thure and Ham hurrying along behind him.

The side of the hill was seamed with small water worn gulches and strewn
with rocks and the logs of fallen trees; and the trail down to the
bottom wound and twisted and turned to avoid these obstructions, until
it seemed to the impatient boys, that, for every step downward, they had
to go a dozen steps to get around some gulch or huge rock or fallen
tree; but, at last, they reached the bottom, and were actually on the
very ground where men were digging gold out of the dirt.

"Now, where are our dads and the rest?" and Thure looked curiously and
excitedly around him at the various groups of miners hard at work with
their picks or shovels or pans or other washing machines. "I can't see
anybody in sight that looks like them--Oh, there is Dick Dickson!" and
he jumped excitedly off his horse and ran up to a miner at work near by,
who was about to wash a pan of dirt, followed by Bud.

"Hello, Dick! Didn't know you in them clothes," and Thure held out his
hand to the miner, whose only dress was a broad-brimmed hat, a red
woollen shirt, and a pair of trousers.

"Glad to see you," and the miner set down the pan of dirt and gripped
the hands of both the boys. "Had to come to the diggings with the rest,
did you? Well, it's hard work; but the gold is here!" and his eyes
sparkled.

"Are you going to wash that pan of dirt, Dick?" and the eyes of Thure
turned excitedly to the pan full of dirt that the miner had placed on
the ground at the sudden appearance of the boys.

"Yes," answered Dickson, grinning; "and it's the first pan that looks
like pay-dirt that I've taken out of my new mine over yonder alongside
of that big rock," and he pointed to a huge rock that jutted up above
the ground a couple of rods away, where the boys could see a pile of
dirt that had been thrown out of a hole dug down close to the upper side
of the rock; "and so I am just a little anxious to see how it pans out."

"Don't--don't let us keep you from washing it," and Bud's face flushed
with excitement. "We, too, would like to see how it pans out, wouldn't
we Thure?"

"You bet!" was Thure's emphatic rejoinder. "I hope we bring you good
luck, Dick. Now, let's see how you do it."

"All right. I sure need some good luck. Well, here goes," and with hands
that trembled a little with excitement, for the washing of that pan full
of dirt might mean a small fortune, he bent and picked up the gold-pan.

The creek was only a few feet away and Dickson hurried thither, followed
by the two eager boys, while Ham, a good-natured grin on his face, stood
guard over the horses.

Dickson first submerged the pan in the water and held it there until the
dirt was thoroughly soaked, while with one hand he crushed and broke the
larger lumps and stirred the mass with his fingers, until all the dirt
was dissolved, and a great deal of it had been borne away, in a thick
muddy cloud, by the current of the stream. He then tipped the pan a
little, at the same time giving it a slight whirling motion, holding it
with both his hands, which soon caused all the remaining dirt to float
away in the water, except a little coarse black gravel that covered the
bottom of the pan in a thin layer.

"Now," and Dickson straightened up, the pan in his hands, his face
flushed with excitement, for already his eyes had caught the yellow
glitter of gold, shining amongst the coarse grains of gravel, "we'll see
how hard I've struck it," and he thrust his fingers down into the wet
black gravel that covered the bottom of the pan, and moved them slowly
about in it, bending his head down close to the pan, so that his eyes
could catch every gleam of gold.

"Is there any? Is there any?" and Thure, in his anxiety to see, almost
bunted his head into the head of Dickson.

"Is there any! Whoop!" and Dickson let out a yell that nearly startled
both boys off their feet. "Is there any! Just look there! And there! And
there!" and with a trembling finger he pointed, as he spoke, to little
rough bits of gold, a little larger than pin-heads, that fairly flecked
with yellow the bottommost layer of black gravel.

[Illustration: "IS THERE ANY! JUST LOOK THERE! AND THERE! AND THERE!"]

Thure and Bud shouted with delight; and Ham and half a dozen of the
miners at work near by came up on the run, the faces of all showing the
liveliest interest.

"Whoop! I've struck it! Struck it rich, boys!" and the miner, almost
beside himself with excitement, swiftly gathered the golden bits out of
the pan and spread them out on the palm of his hand where all could see.
"A good ten ounces!" he almost shouted, as he tossed them up and down to
test their weight. "One hundred and sixty dollars! And out of the first
pan full of pay-dirt! Gee-wilikins, but won't this be good news for
Mollie!"

"You shore have struck it, Dickson," declared Ham, who, with glowing
eyes, had been examining the bits of gold on the palm of the miner's
hand. "I reckon thar's a pocketful of it where that comed from," and he
glanced toward the big rock. "That thar rock acted like a big riffle an'
stopped th' gold a-comin' down th' stream that hit ag'in it. I'm mighty
glad you've hit y'ur luck at last," and the big hand of Ham went out in
a hearty grip of the miner's calloused palm. "You shore deserve it,
Dickson."

The congratulations of all were equally hearty and apparently free from
envy; but Dickson was too eager to further test his discovery to wait
long to listen to congratulation; and, hurriedly pocketing the gold, he
grabbed up the pan and rushed back to his "mine" by the side of the big
rock.

"Supposing we wait and see him wash out another pan of dirt," and Thure
turned his flushed face and glowing eyes eagerly to Ham. "I never was so
much interested in anything in my life."

"You shore have got the gold-fever an' got it bad," laughed Ham. "An', I
reckon, you're not th' only boy hereabouts that is a-sufferin' with it,"
and he glanced at Bud's flushed face. "Wal, I'm some interested myself
in seein' how Dickson's luck holds out; so we'll wait tew see the
washin' of another pan."

In less than ten minutes the excited miner was back with another pan
full of the precious dirt, which he at once began to wash, his nervous
excitement being so great that the pan shook and trembled in his hands.
Suddenly, in the midst of his washing, he jumped to his feet with a wild
yell.

"A nugget! A nugget!" and he held aloft in one hand a little chunk of
solid gold, about as large as an egg and nearly of the same shape, only
rougher in outline.

By this time quite a little crowd of miners had gathered around the
lucky man; and handshakes and claps on the shoulders and verbal
congratulations were showered on him from all sides, while the nugget
was passed from hand to hand, with many wise and otherwise comments as
to its weight and probable value and the likelihood of there being
others like it where it came from. In the excitement caused by the
finding of the nugget, the remaining dirt in the pan was forgotten,
until Ham, suddenly remembering, turned to the excited Dickson.

"Better finish cleanin' out th' pan, Dick," he said. "Thar's probably
more gold in it."

"Gosh, if I didn't forget it!" and Dickson grabbed up the pan and began
washing its contents with feverish haste.

In a few minutes he arose and held out the pan, his hands trembling.

"There! Just look there!" he cried, pointing to the glitter of gold in
the black sand that covered the bottom of the pan. "If there isn't a
good fifteen ounces of gold there, then I miss my guess!" and he broke
into a happy laugh. "Well, boys, my luck has turned at last! And there
is a little woman up there in that little log cabin that has got to know
about it at once," and Dickson dropped the pan and started on the run up
the side of the hill toward a little log house that stood in a cluster
of pines halfway up its side, followed by cheers from the miners, who
appeared to be almost as rejoiced over his good fortune, as if it had
been their own.

All this had been very interesting and very exciting to Thure and Bud;
but now that the climax had been passed their thoughts turned at once to
their fathers.

"Now," and Thure caught hold of Ham's coat sleeve, "now that we have
seen how they get the gold from the ground, take us to our dads. We are
more anxious than ever to get to them as quickly as possible."

"I'm pow'ful glad Dickson made that strike," Ham commented, when they
were again on their way. "He's been workin' like a hoss for months,
without hardly gittin' a sight of color; but he's had th' pluck tew keep
a-diggin'. I reckon it's th' Leetle Woman up in th' cabin that's kept
him a-goin'. She's pluck clean through an' has stood right by th' side
of Dick, no matter what sort of luck fate dished out tew him. I shore am
glad Dick has hit it for th' Leetle Woman's sake, as well as his own.
Now, 'bout y'ur dads. That's their house up thar, 'bout a dozen rods
beyond Dickson's. But, I reckon, we won't find none of 'em at home this
time of th' day," and he turned his horses into a rude trail that wound
up the side of the hill toward the little grove of pine trees, in which
the boys could see the little cabin where Dickson lived and beyond that
a larger log house.

During this time Dickson had been speeding up the hill, shouting and
yelling the good news at the top of his voice as he ran. Suddenly the
boys saw the door of the cabin thrown open, and a woman rush out and run
madly down the rough trail toward the miner, her long unconfined hair
streaming out behind her.

"Whoop! I've struck it! Struck it rich, Mollie!" they heard Dickson
yell, while from down the hill rang out cheer after cheer from the
little group of miners now gathered about Dickson's find and watching
the meeting between the lucky man and the "Little Woman," as nearly all
the miners in Hangtown called Mrs. Dickson.

A few minutes later Dickson and the "Little Woman," hand in hand, like
two happy children, ran past them on their way down to the wonderful
find.

Thure and Bud, and even Ham, cheered and yelled as they ran by; and the
woman turned her shining eyes in their direction and waved her free hand
and shouted a welcome to the two boys.

"I shore am glad that Dickson made that strike," Ham again remarked,
with something that looked suspiciously like moisture in his eyes. "He's
a deservin' cuss; an' th' Leetle Woman's ben like a mother tew us all."



CHAPTER XV

AROUND THE SUPPER TABLE


Ham's expectations were fulfilled; for they found the log house vacant,
with a sign on the door that read: "BACK ABOUT SUNDOWN."

"Wal, jest dismount an' unpack an' make y'urselves tew home. We'll git
things all straightened out afore we start out tew hunt up th'
delinquents," and Ham began unpacking his horses.

But Thure and Bud had to have a look inside the house, before they
untied a rope or unbuckled a strap; and, the moment they dismounted,
they rushed to the door and entered.

The house was a very rude affair--just four walls of logs, roughly
fitted with an ax and laid one on top of the other to a height of seven
feet, enclosing a space some twenty-five feet long by eighteen feet
wide, with a bark roof, ground floor, a door cut through the logs in the
middle of one side, and three windows, one in each side and one in the
end opposite the fireplace. The fireplace was very roughly constructed
of stones and sticks, plastered together with a clay-like mud, and with
the chimney built entirely outside of the house.

The furniture was in keeping with the house. The table was the split
halves of a log, cut about ten feet long and laid side by side, with
their flat sides up, supported by four short posts driven into the
ground near the center of the room. The chairs were blocks of wood, set
on end, reënforced by a couple of old boxes and two miners' easy chairs,
a unique production, made by cutting down an empty flour barrel to
something of the shape of an armed easy chair and attaching two rockers
to the bottom. The seats of these chairs were often lined and stuffed in
good shape and had the comfortable feel and rock of the more costly
chairs of civilization--and what more need a miner ask? Along the side
of the room opposite the door ran a double tier of rude bunks, one side
of the beds being supported by posts driven into the ground and the
other by the logs of the wall. On the wall near the fireplace hung the
frying-pans and the other rude cooking utensils; and in a corner were
piled the bags, barrels, kegs, and boxes containing their camp supplies.

When you are told that this, at that time in Hangtown, was considered a
rather luxurious style of living, you may be able to form something of
an idea of the kind of style in which the average miner lived.

"Well, they don't put on much style, do they?" and the eyes Thure turned
to Bud twinkled with excitement and interest.

"Don't they! Just feast your eyes on this!" and Bud, dropping down into
the soft seat of one of the "easy" chairs, leaned back comfortably and
began rocking. "Now, if this isn't style and comfort, then I don't know
what style and comfort are. Better try it," and he winked toward the
other "easy" chair.

Thure at once profited by the suggestion.

"Well, I swun to goodness!" he declared, as he rocked back and forth in
the novel chair, "if this doesn't beat mother's easy rocker for comfort.
I reckon dad will have to make her one, when we get back home," and he
grinned.

"Say," and Ham strode into the house, a bag of flour on one shoulder, a
box of canned stuff under one arm, and a grin all over his face, "if you
yunks think you've come up here tew dew nuthin' but tew set an' rock in
y'ur dads' easy chairs, you've got another think comin' an' comin'
quick. Now, git them packs off th' backs of y'ur hosses an' intew th'
house. This ain't no Home of Cumfort for lazy yunks. Out with you!" and,
dropping the bag of flour and the box in the corner, he started for the
two boys.

Thure and Bud "outed" as fast as their four legs could take them; and
soon were busy getting the packs off their horses and the goods into the
house. When this had been done and the horses had been cared for, the
sun was nearing the tops of the western mountains; and it was decided
not to hunt up the "delinquents," as Ham called them, but to await their
return at the house; and, in the meantime, to prepare such a supper for
them as seldom blessed a miner's eyes and excited his appetite, from the
delicacies Mrs. Conroyal and Mrs. Randolph had sent in the packs of the
boys. Then, in addition, Thure and Bud determined to try and give their
fathers, who, of course, supposed the two boys were still at home with
their mothers and sisters on the rancho, a little surprise. By keeping a
sharp lookout down the trail they could be warned of the coming of the
men in sufficient time to put their surprise in operation.

Accordingly they got everything in readiness, first by tying their
horses out of sight behind a clump of bushes and removing every outward
sign of their presence, and then by drawing the two easy chairs up close
together in front of the door and placing one of the blocks of wood used
as seats in front of each chair. When they saw their fathers coming,
they would take their places in these chairs, lean back comfortably in
them, place their feet at a comfortable angle on top of the blocks of
wood, and, thus sitting cozily in the two easy chairs, be the first
objects to meet their fathers' eyes on entering the house. They fancied
that this unexpected sight might surprise the two men some; and they
were not disappointed.

Fortunately for the success of their "surprise," Mr. Conroyal and Mr.
Randolph led the little procession of miners that appeared a few minutes
after sundown, coming up the trail leading to the log house.

"Here they come!" cried Bud, who was stationed at the window overlooking
the trail, the moment the men appeared in sight. "Hurry, Thure, and get
into your chair."

The two boys quickly seated themselves in the barrel-rockers, perched
their feet comfortably on top of the blocks of wood, leaned back
comfortably into the hollows of their chairs, and fixed their eyes on
the door, their faces shining with excitement.

At last the door was flung open and the big frame of Noel Conroyal,
backed by that of Rad Randolph, appeared in the doorway.

For a moment both men stopped right where they were, and stood staring
in blank astonishment at the faces of the two boys sitting in the two
chairs.

"Walk right in," invited Thure, his eyes dancing.

"Yes, come right in and have supper with us," urged Bud.

For an instant longer the two men stood staring; and then both of them
made a rush for the two boys; and, as they were almost instantly
followed by Dill Conroyal, Thure's older brother, Rex Holt, Thure's
cousin, and Frank Holt, Thure's uncle and the father of Rex Holt, you
can imagine the excitement and confusion that reigned in that log house
and how swiftly the questions flew back and forth for the next few
minutes. The men had been away from their homes and their dear ones for
nearly a year now; and, naturally, were exceedingly anxious to learn
what had been going on during their absence. Suddenly, when the
excitement had quieted down a little, Mr. Conroyal's face clouded and
something that looked very much like a frown gathered on his forehead,
as he turned to Thure.

"But, young man," and the frown on his face deepened, "how comes it that
you are here, against my express commands? I left you at home to care
for your mother and sister and the rancho. Why have you deserted your
trust?"

"Oh, dad," and Thure turned excitedly to his father, "the most wonderful
thing has happened! We found a dying miner, who had been robbed and
stabbed; and he, just before he died, gave us a map that tells us how to
find a Cave of Gold that he had discovered; and mother, our mothers,
thought you ought to know about it; and so we are here, to get you all
to help find this wonderful Cave of Gold. The miner said that the bottom
of the cave was covered with gold nuggets, just covered with them, dad."

"And he gave us one of the nuggets, a whopper!" broke in Bud.

"And your mothers were foolish enough to believe such an improbable tale
and to send you here on such a wildgoose chase!" and something that
began to look very much like anger darkened Mr. Conroyal's face. "Why,
the camp is full of such tales; but no sensible man ever pays any
attention to them."

"But, dad, you haven't heard our story yet; and you haven't seen the map
and the nugget," insisted Thure eagerly. "I am sure you will not blame
us for coming when you know all."

"Well, my son," and Mr. Conroyal's lips tightened grimly, "we'll have a
look at that map and nugget and hear that wonderful story of yours and
then, if it doesn't look as if it might pan out true, back you will
start for home at sun-up to-morrow morning. What do you say, Rad?" and
he turned to Mr. Randolph. "The boys must be made to understand that
they can't desert a trust like that at every wild tale they hear."

"Right," agreed Mr. Randolph. "They start back for home to-morrow
morning, if their tale does not sound reasonable enough to make good
their coming. They were all the men folks left that the women could
depend on; and the reason must be a strong one to justify their
deserting them."

"But, we did not desert them," expostulated Bud. "They gave us
permission to come, told us to come, because they thought you ought to
know about the Cave of Gold and the map, and there was no one else to
send," and Bud's cheeks flushed a little with disappointment and
indignation.

"Wal, now," and the good-natured face of Ham loomed up between the two
boys, "I reckon, if you all will jest take a look at that thar table,
you'll stop y'ur talkin' and git tew eatin' some sudden. 'Tain't once in
a dog's age that a miner in Hangtown can sot down tew a table like
that," and Ham waved both hands proudly in the direction of the
split-log table, on which he had spread out, with lavish hands, the
cakes, pies, jellies, fruits, butter, eggs and the other good things
sent from home, together with the results of his own more substantial
cooking, fried bacon, nicely browned flapjacks, and steaming hot coffee.

"Whoop!" yelled Rex. "Me for the eat!" and, grabbing up one of the
blocks of wood, he made a rush for the table, followed by all present.

That was a jolly supper. The sight of the unaccustomed good things to
eat put everybody in good nature--and no wonder! for their eyes had not
seen an egg or a cake or a pie or a hunk of butter, to say nothing of
the jelly and the fruit, in Hangtown before for six months; and nobody
knows how good these things look and taste, until they have been without
even a smell of them for some months, and living on a steady diet of
salt pork and beans and man-made bread. But, at length, as all good
things will, the eating came to an end; and then, almost involuntarily,
all eyes turned toward Thure and Bud. Their stomachs were filled; and
now all were in the best possible condition to listen to their story.

"Now, for that dead miner's wonderful tale," and Conroyal turned to
Thure.

"Jest wait a minit afore you begin," and Ham arose suddenly from the
table. "We want no outside listeners tew this tale," and, hurrying
outside, he made a hasty circuit of the house, to assure himself that
there were no eavesdroppers. When he came in he remarked, by way of
answer to the inquiring glances turned in his direction: "You will know
why I'm so cautious-like afore th' yunks come tew th' end of their tale;
an', I reckon," and he glanced around the circle of somewhat startled
faces that surrounded the table, "afore they begin, we'd better have it
understood by all that thar is tew be no talkin' outside 'bout this
matter, that it's tew be kept as close as our own skins tew ourselves.
It has already caused th' death of th' old miner, an' mighty nigh th'
death of them yunks thar, as you'll soon larn, an' death is still hot on
th' trail, so it's jest good boss-sense for us tew be cautious-like. We
don't want no more killin's, if we can help it. Now, I reckon, you can
begin y'ur yarn," and, seating himself, he nodded his head to Thure and
Bud.

You may be sure that, after these ominous actions and words of Ham,
there was no lack of interest in the faces now turned toward the two
boys.

Thure began the story; and, helped here and there by Bud and often
interrupted by the angry exclamations of his excited hearers, he told
the remarkable tale, from the killing of _El Feroz_ and the death of the
old miner to their own startling arrest for murder in the streets of
Sacramento City and narrow rescue from the hangman's rope by the
providential coming of Hammer Jones and Colonel Fremont.

"And those two cowardly skunks got away!" almost yelled Conroyal, as he
banged his big fist down on the table, his face white with wrath. "And
after they had almost succeeded in getting two innocent boys hanged for
a crime they committed themselves!"

"They sart'in did," answered Ham grimly. "An' what's more th' cunnin'
devils like as not are still on th' trail of that thar skin map th' old
miner gave th' boys. That's why I reckon we'll need tew be some
cautious."

"But, where is this wonderful skin map and that big gold nugget?" cried
Rex Holt, his eyes shining and his face flushing. "Let us have a look at
them," and he jumped to his feet and leaned across the table, so as to
be nearer to Thure.

"Dill, you and Rex just take a run around the house to see that the
coast is still clear, before the boys show up the gold nugget and the
skin map," and Mr. Conroyal glanced sharply toward the door and the
windows. "As Ham says, we want no eavesdroppers in this case."

Dill and Rex at once sprang to the door; and, moving in opposite
directions, each slowly made the circuit of the house, their keen eyes
searching the surrounding darkness. They neither saw nor heard anything
suspicious.

"Now, we'll have a look at that map and gold nugget," Mr. Conroyal said,
as soon as Rex and Dill had returned and reported the coast clear. "Of
course," and he glanced around the circle of faces, "it is understood
that all that is said and seen here to-night is to be kept secret by
all, whether or not the search for the Cave of Gold is made."

"Yes, yes!" cried Dill impatiently. "We're all in on it together and
must not breathe a word about it to an outsider. We all understand that,
don't we?"

All the heads around the table quickly nodded assent.

"Now, then, let us have that map and gold nugget," and he turned
excitedly to Thure and Bud.

Thure at once thrust his hand under the bosom of his shirt and under his
left shoulder and pulled out the miner's little buckskin bag. Then he
opened the bag and pulled out the map.

"The skin map," he said, and, laying it down on the table, he swiftly
turned the bag upside down and dumped the gold nugget down on top of it.
"And here is the gold nugget."

For a moment no one moved; but all sat staring at the big yellow chunk
of metal, shining ruddily in the light of the flickering candles, as it
dropped from the bag and came to a rest on the skin map and lay there on
the table in front of Thure.

"Gosh, that sart'in looks like th' real stuff!" and the big hand of Ham
reached out and picked up the nugget and hefted it critically. "Solid
gold!" he declared, his eyes shining. "Jest heft it, Con," and he passed
the nugget to Conroyal. "Wal, I reckon you yunks have made good. Now,
let's see what's on that thar piece of skin," and, picking up the map,
he smoothed it out on the table and stared down on it, while as many
heads as possible crowded close to his head and stared down on the map
with him.

"John Stackpole, did anyone here ever hear of a feller by th' name of
John Stackpole?" and Ham raised his head and glanced around.

"I know the man," declared Frank Holt, the father of Rex, whose snowy
white hair gave him a patriarchal appearance. "I remember now. That's
the name the fellow gave I saw in Coleman's store 'bout two weeks ago.
He had a peculiar scar, shaped something like a horseshoe over one of
his eyes."

"That's the man! You remember that queer-shaped scar over one of his
eyes, don't you?" and Bud turned excitedly to Thure.

"Yes," answered Thure. "He must have just got back from the cave. What
was he doing, Uncle Frank?" and he turned eagerly to Mr. Holt.

"Well, he certainly looked as if he had just come out of a cave,"
grinned Holt. "Clothes all in rags and dirty, and hair and beard all
over his head, except his eyes and nose and mouth. But," and his face
lighted up, "he seemed to have plenty of gold-dust; for, while I was
standing there watching him curiously, he picked out a good suit of
clothes and paid for them out of a bag heavy with gold, gold that was
mostly small nuggets.

"'Struck it, pard,' and I saw Coleman's eyes glisten, as he gathered in
them small nuggets, for the gold wasn't no Hangtown gold. Anybody with
eyes could see that.

"'Just a pocket,' answered the man. 'But good and rich, for a pocket.'

"'Whereabouts might it be, if I ain't asking too much?' queried Coleman,
who I could see was some excited over that bag full of little gold
nuggets, as he placed the bundle of clothes down in front of the man.

"'Thank you,' answered the man gruffly, and, picking up the bundle, he
hurried out of the store, considerably to the disappointment of Coleman.

"Now, I calculate, that must have been our man, for he certainly told
Coleman that his name was John Stackpole, when he asked him if any
message had been left there for him. I remember it all plain, because I
got some excited over that bag full of little gold nuggets myself; but I
didn't call to mind the name until Ham called it out."

For many minutes the map and the gold nugget were now passed from hand
to hand and thoroughly examined by all, while the tongues of all wagged
with excited comments and Thure and Bud were often called upon to repeat
parts of their story. But, at length, Noel Conroyal, who had been
elected President of the Never-Give-Up California Mining Company, into
which our good friends, the Conroyals, the Randolphs, the Holts, and
Hammer Jones, had organized themselves, stood up and pounded on the
table with his big fist.

"The Never-Give-Up California Mining Company will come to order," he
said, the moment the talking ceased; "for the purpose of considering the
matter laid before it by Thure Conroyal and Bud Randolph and to
determine what action, if any, shall be taken."

"Oh, cut out the big talk, dad, and just let's talk it over together,"
protested Dill a bit impatiently; for, when Mr. Conroyal assumed the
office and the dignities of the President of the Never-Give-Up
California Mining Company, he was apt to be a little formal and
long-winded. "We don't need the formalities and they take up time."

"All right, if that is the wish of the company," agreed Mr. Conroyal
good-naturedly. "I only wanted to get to doing something besides
talking."

"I think," declared Ham, "that, now that we've heer'd th' story an' seen
th' skin map an' th' gold nugget, we'd better sleep on it afore we
decide anything, 'specially seein' that it's gittin' late, an' all on
us, I reckon, are plumb tired; an' tharfore, I move that this here
meetin' be adjourned 'til tew-morrer mornin', an' that all on us be
ordered tew git intew our bunks an' go tew sleep."

Ham's suggestion sounded so sensible, for even the excitement could no
longer keep their tired bodies and brains from calling out for rest and
sleep, that it was adopted at once, with only a few feeble protests;
and, in fifteen minutes from the time it was made the lights were out
and all were in their bunks.

"Say, dad," queried Thure a bit mischievously, as he and Bud crawled
under the blankets of one of the bunks, "do we have to start back for
home at sun-up?"

"No, shut up and go to sleep," growled back Mr. Conroyal.



CHAPTER XVI

UNEXPECTED COMPANY


The next morning everybody at the Headquarters of the Never-Give-Up
California Mining Company was up an hour before the sun flashed its
golden light over the tops of the eastern mountains and down on the log
cabins and tents of Hangtown. All the workers in the mining-camps went
to bed early, tired out with their hard day's work with pick and shovel,
slept soundly, and arose early the next morning to begin another day of
toil. Only the drones--the gamblers, the saloon-keepers, and their
foolish patrons--burned the midnight oil, or, rather in this case, the
midnight candle, for there was little oil to burn in these camps. Hence
it was that when Thure and Bud hurried out of the house to wash their
hands and faces in a near-by spring, they saw that they were far from
being the only early risers, that the smoke was rising from the chimneys
of nearly every log cabin in sight and that in front of nearly every
tent glowed a camp-fire, around which the cooks already could be seen
preparing breakfast.

"Well, this is great!" declared Bud, as he dashed the cool, refreshing
water over his face. "I feel like a new man already. There must be
something in this mountain air that gets into the blood and puts new
life into a fellow. Say, but isn't this a beautiful sight, like--like a
picture painted by a great artist!" and his eyes swept over the
surrounding scene, now just becoming visible through the light of the
early dawn.

"You are right, it is a beautiful scene," and Thure stood up and allowed
his eyes to drink in, with all the enthusiasm of youth, the beauties of
the scene; "but, I reckon, there is no artist that can paint a picture
the equal of that," and he pointed to the distant tops of the eastern
mountains. "It takes the brush of God to paint that kind of pictures!"

And Thure was right. No artist's skill could transfer to canvas the full
glories of such a scene as now delighted the eyes of Thure and Bud.

The first rays of the morning's sun flamed upon the snow-covered tops of
the mountains towering high above their heads to the eastward, while the
mountainsides and valleys were still dark with the shadows of night; and
everywhere the flaming light of morning struck the crystal-white of the
snow on mountain top and pinnacle, that peak was crowned with a glorious
halo that glowed, first with grayish violet lights, swiftly changing to
crimson and rose, and from rose to gold, until, suddenly, the whole peak
blazed forth in the glorious light of the full-risen sun. A vision for
an artist to rhapsodize over; but for a God to paint!

"Bre'kfust! First an' last call tew bre'kfust!" yelled Ham from the open
door of the house, just as the sun burst over the tops of the mountains.

"I feel as if I had just been to church," Thure said reverently, as the
two boys started back to the house.

"So do I," agreed Bud. "Only no church or priest ever seem to bring God
as close to a fellow as such a scene as that does. I don't see how
anybody can live in the mountains and not believe in God."

As soon as breakfast was eaten, Mr. Conroyal arose.

"Now," he said, "that we have all had a night in which to think over the
tale of the dead miner we had better get together and decide on what we
had best do; and, as Dill suggested last night, we will first talk it
over in an informal way. Now, what do you think about the truth of the
miner's yarn? That, of course, is the first thing to settle; for there
is no need of bothering with the matter at all, unless we feel quite
sure that the miner really found a cave something like the one he
described to Thure and Bud."

"Well, considering all things," and Frank Holt took the pipe he had lit
and was puffing on out of his mouth and laid it down on the table, "and
more especially considering the fact, that, when I saw him in Coleman's,
he appeared to have just got in from a long prospecting spell in the
mountains and to have plenty of gold along with him, and gold of a
different kind than is found anywhere around here, I feel quite certain
that Stackpole's yarn about finding that Cave of Gold comes pretty nigh
to being true, nigh enough at least to be worth investigating."

"Them's my sentiments right down tew a T," declared Ham emphatically.
"Whar thar's ben so much smoke, thar's sart'in tew be some fire. I'm in
favor of makin' a hunt for th' Cave of Gold; but, afore doin' it, I'd
like tew know how that thar wing dam project over in Holt's Gulch is
promisin' tew pan out. If 'twon't take tew long, I'd like tew see that
job finished afore we have a try for th' Cave of Gold. I reckon we've
all put tew many backaches an' armaches intew that dam tew want tew see
'em wasted; an' thar might be a wagon load of gold thar, an', if thar
is, we want tew be th' ones tew git it, after all our work."

"Right, Ham's right," asserted Mr. Randolph. "Now, supposing we all go
down and have a look at that dam, and try to figure out just about how
much longer it will take to finish it, before we decide anything
definitely about the hunt for the Cave of Gold. I feel almost sure that
we are going to strike it rich there, and I'd hate like sin to see any
one else reap where we've sown so many backaches, as Ham says."

"I think Rad has it about right," declared Mr. Conroyal, "and, if there
are no objections, we'll all go down to Holt's Gulch and have a look at
the wing dam. I fancy it wouldn't please none of us much, after working
as hard as we have, to see somebody else step into our boots there and
reap a fortune, as like as not they'd do, if we deserted the dam now. I
reckon it won't take more than a week to finish the dam; and then a few
hours will show whether or not we've struck pay-dirt."

There were no objections made to this proposition, although Rex and Dill
and Thure and Bud grumbled a little over the prospect of having the hunt
for the Cave of Gold delayed for a week; and, accordingly, all started
for Holt's Gulch, so named in honor of its discoverer, Rex Holt.

The gulch was about two miles from Hangtown and was reached by passing
up a deep and steep ravine, that split the side of the hill a little
above Hangtown, for about a mile, and then up and over the side of the
ravine and down into a narrow little valley, into which a little stream
of water tumbled through a rent in the walls of rock that nearly
enclosed the valley. This rent in the rocks was the entrance to Holt's
Gulch; and the dam was being constructed something like half a mile
farther up, where the gulch crooked about, like a bent elbow, and
widened out a little.

Many of the miners were already at work when our little company passed
up the ravine on their way to Holt's Gulch, presenting scenes of the
greatest interest and novelty to the unaccustomed eyes of Thure and Bud,
as they dug for the precious metal, sometimes up to their knees in mud
and water, sometimes so far away from the water that all the pay-dirt
had to be carried on their backs to the creek and there panned, but
always cheerful and hopeful that they "sure would strike it big soon."

"Now, what might those fellows be doing there? They look as if they
might be winnowing wheat; but, of course, that can't be what they are
doing," and Thure turned a puzzled face to Ham, as he pointed to where a
small company of Mexicans, lank and skinny and black as Arabs of the
desert, were gathering the loose dry dirt in large wooden bowls, tossing
it up in the air, where the wind could blow away the lighter particles,
and dexterously catching it again in their bowls, as it came down, or
allowing it to fall on blankets or hides spread on the ground at their
feet, in a manner very similar to the ancient method of separating the
grain from the chaff.

"Them are a breed of Mexies called Sonorans," answered Ham; "an' they
are a-throwin' that dirt up in th' air an' a-catchin' it ag'in tew git
th' gold out of it. You see th' wind keeps a-blowin' th' lighter dirt
out an' a-leavin' th' gold, 'cause it's heavier, until thar's nuthin'
left but th' dirt what's tew heavy for th' wind tew blow away an' th'
gold-dust, which is cleaned by blowing th' heavy dirt out of th' bowl
with th' breath. That way of gittin' gold is called dry-washin'; an' is
tew slow an' dirty for Americans or anybody else that's got much gump
tew 'em; but them tarnal Mexies seem tew thrive on it. I reckon th' good
Lord made 'em nearly black, jest so they could live an' work in dirt,
without th' dirt showin' through much. That sort of thing would kill a
white man in a week," and Ham looked his disgust.

"Say, but this gold-digging is no fun, no matter how you do it, is it?"
and Thure's eyes swept up and down the ravine, where hundreds of men
were toiling like ditch-diggers.

"Fun! Gold-diggin' fun!" and Ham grinned. "Th' feller what comes tew th'
diggin's a-thinkin' that th' gold is a-goin' tew jump up right out of
th' ground, 'cause it's so glad tew see him, is a-goin' tew git fooled
'bout as bad as Dutch Ike did, when he took a skunk for a new kind of an
American house cat an' tried tew pick it up in his arms. Fun! No;
gold-diggin' is jest grit an' j'int grease mixed tewgether an' kept
a-goin' with beans an' salt pork an' flapjacks. But, we're gettin' ahind
a-watchin' them dirty Sonorans. Come on," and the huge strides of Ham
made Thure and Bud both trot to keep up with him, as he hurried after
the others, to whom the dry-washing Mexicans were too common a sight to
be worthy a moment's pause for the purpose of watching.

"Now, dad," and Thure turned inquiringly to his father, when, at length,
all stood together in Holt's Gulch on the mound of dirt that had been
already thrown up in building the wing dam, "I don't just see how this
dam is going to help you find the gold."

"Well, my son," and Mr. Conroyal smiled, "it is not at all surprising to
find that you do not know all about mining, seeing that you have been in
the diggings only over night; but I'll give you the theory of the dam.
This little stream of water, as you can see from where we stand, makes
rather a sharp turn a few rods down, against an almost perpendicular
wall of rock, forming a curve in the stream that can be likened to the
crook in a bent arm, and leaving quite a little open space of ground
almost on a level with the water in the bend of the arm. Now we've
discovered that there is a deep hole right at the elbow joint, partly
filled with gravel and big enough to hold a good many tons of gold, but
too deep to get at through the water; and we've figured it out something
like this. The gold found in all the diggings along the beds of rivers
has been washed out of the rocks by the water and carried down by the
current, until stopped by its own weight or some obstruction; and we
calculate that most of the gold carried down by this stream would sink
down into this hole and stay there, because, gold being so heavy, it
would sure fall down into the hole, and, once there, the water would not
be strong enough to lift it out again. Now, that is the reason why we
think there might be gold and lots of it in that there hole," and he
pointed to the elbow made by the curve in the stream.

"But, of course, not being fish, we cannot get down into the hole to see
whether or not there is gold in it, as long as the water runs over it;
and so we are making this wing dam up here above the elbow, to turn the
stream into a new channel and send it flowing kitti-corner-wise across
the opening between the two arms of the elbow and back into its own
channel below the elbow, which, of course, would leave the elbow dry and
give us a chance to clean out the hole and get all the gold there is in
it."

"Oh, I see now!" exclaimed Thure, his eyes beginning to shine with
excitement. "And you call it a wing dam, because you have to make a sort
of a wing to the main dam, extending for quite a ways out on the dry
land, in order to give the water a sufficient turn to keep it from
flowing back into the old channel until you are ready to have it."

"Exactly," and Mr. Conroyal smiled. "And, if the good Lord will only
keep it from raining until we get the dam finished, all of us might make
our fortunes right here; and, again, we might not find a cent's worth of
gold. It's all a speculation," and he shrugged his big shoulders.

"But--but what difference could a little rain make? You are not afraid
of getting wet, are you?" and Thure smiled at the thought of these hardy
men standing in dread of a little rain.

"No, son, we are not afraid of getting wet," and Mr. Conroyal smiled
grimly. "But a big rain up there in the mountains where this stream
comes from, would mean that in less than no time a flood of water would
come a-tearing down this narrow gulch that would sweep our dam off its
feet quicker than you could wink an eye--and us along with it, if we
didn't get out of here about as lively as the Lord would let us.
Howsomever we are not counting much on a rain, seeing that the dry
season has got a fairly good start; but it might come," and his eyes
turned a little anxiously toward the snow-covered mountains to the
northeast, whence came the little stream of water running through Holt's
Gulch. "But, come, we must get busy. Now, the first thing for us to do
is to figure out about how much longer it will take us to finish the
dam. I calculate that we have the dam about two-thirds done; and, since
we have now been at work twelve days, I think we can count on finishing
it in another six days."

"That's 'bout my idee, Con," agreed Ham. "Another six days otter see th'
finish of th' job; an' then--maybe it will be gold an' maybe it will be
jest a lot of durned hard work for nothin'; but it shore looks good; an'
I'm in favor of seein' this dam through afore tacklin' th' Cave of Gold
propersition."

For an hour or more our friends measured and figured and considered; and
then, all coming to the conclusion that Mr. Conroyal's estimate of the
time required to complete the dam was about right, the Never-Give-Up
California Mining Company went into executive session, and, after again
considering the marvelous tale of the dead miner and again examining the
gold nugget and the skin map and again carefully weighing their chances
of finding gold in the hollow of the stream's elbow after the turning of
the water aside by the dam, the Company finally decided that the dam
proposition looked too good to throw up, even for such an alluring
project as the hunt for the wonderful Cave of Gold, especially since the
Cave of Gold could not run away and would still be there waiting to be
found after the dam proposition had been thoroughly tried out.
Accordingly it was voted to first complete the dam and see if there was
any gold in the old bed of the stream; and then, if it was still the
wish of the Company, they would start on a hunt for the miner's Cave of
Gold.

"That means for everybudy tew git busy tew once with pick or shovel,"
and Ham jumped to his feet and seized a pick the moment the result of
the final vote was announced. "We want tew git this here dam built jest
as soon as we can, an' find out what's in that thar hole; an' then, I
reckon, we'll all want tew have a try for that thar gold cave, unless we
gits enough gold out of th' hole tew plumb fill us all up with gold,"
and Ham grinned joyously, as he struck the sharp point of his pick down
deep into the hard dirt.

There was always the prospect of a big find in the near future to keep
up the spirits of the gold-digger. What did his condition to-day matter
to him, when to-morrow he might fill his pockets full of gold! When all
he had to do was to shoulder his pick and shovel, pick up his gold-pan,
and go out almost anywhere and dig enough gold out of the ground at
least to live on! When every morning was cheered by the possibility of
striking it rich before night, and the discouragements of every night
were lightened by the thought that to-morrow might be his lucky day! The
star of hope always brightened his darkest skies; and so long as he kept
his health, he usually kept his courage and good-nature. Consequently
the reader need not wonder at the joyous grin on Ham's face, when he
began tearing up the earth with his pick; for every blow might be
bringing him a step nearer to a fortune!

The building of a dam under any circumstances is hard and dirty work;
but, when the only tools are picks and shovels, when all the dirt that
cannot be thrown into place with the shovel, must be lugged there on the
backs of the laborers themselves, as was the case with our friends,
then, indeed, does the building of a dam become about as fatiguing work
as a human being can undertake to do, as Thure and Bud both discovered
long before the night of their first day's work in the goldmines of
California came to bring rest to their aching backs and arms and legs.
But that day saw the completion of the wing part of the dam and the new
channel so far as it was thought necessary to dig one and now all that
remained to be done was to extend the dam across the stream itself; and
this progress put all, even the two boys notwithstanding their
weariness, into splendid spirits.

"I reckon it won't take us th' hull six days tew finish th' job,"
commented Ham, as he threw down his pick and wiped his perspiring face
with a huge red handkerchief at the close of the day's work. "We didn't
calculate that you tew yunks was such hosses tew work," and he grinned
into the faces of Thure and Bud; and the two tired boys grinned bravely
back. They were not going to let anybody know just how very, very tired
they really were.

That night, when the returning laborers came within sight of their log
house, they were greatly surprised to see the smoke pouring hospitably
out of its chimney and a light glowing a bright welcome through its
windows.

"Now, who can it be!" exclaimed Ham, the moment his eyes caught sight of
the smoke and the light, while all quickened their steps and their faces
brightened; for company in that lonely log house was such a rarity as to
be most gladly welcomed. "Won't expectin' nobudy, was you, Con?"

"No," answered Conroyal. "I can't imagine who it can be."

"Maybe it's th' minister an' his wife come tew make us a social-like
call. Wal, he won't git no chicken dinner, if it is," and Ham grinned.

At the door of the house the mystery was solved by the sudden appearance
in the doorway of the smiling face of Mrs. Dickson glowing with the heat
of the fire over which she had been cooking and her own happiness,
backed by the grinning countenance of her husband.

"Dick and I felt just as if we had to celebrate our good fortune
someway, or bust," she explained, smiling and bowing to the astonished
men; "and, of course, we didn't want to celebrate it all alone, so we
just moved in here for the celebration, your house being larger than
ours. Now, get washed up as quick as you can and come right in. Supper
is almost ready; and Dick has bought out nearly all the stores in
Hangtown. Thought you men folks might enjoy a taste of woman's cooking
again," and her sweet laugh rang out joyously.

"Got everything good to eat they had in Hangtown, boys," and Dickson
thrust his head out over one of his wife's shoulders; "and Mollie's
cooked a dinner that just fairly makes a fellow's insides jump to get a
whiff of. Whoop! I've taken a good Ten Thousand Dollars' worth of gold
out of that hole by the side of the big rock already! And there is more
left there, boys! There is more left there!" and the happy man caught
his wife around the waist and began waltzing with her around the table.

"Wal, I'll be durned!" was the way Ham expressed his feelings at this
unexpected but most welcomed invasion of their home; and, judging from
the looks on the faces of the others, that was about the way all felt.

Our friends promptly hurried away to the spring to "wash up," as the
Little Woman had commanded; and soon were back again, with, probably,
just a little cleaner faces and hands than they had had before in weeks.

"Now, just sit right down to the table," Mrs. Dickson urged, the moment
they came filing in. "Everything is ready for you to begin eating right
away; and nobody is to wait on ceremony. I know you must be about as
hungry as bears. Dick and I have already eaten until we are both about
ready to bust, the things looked and smelled so good we couldn't wait no
how, so we've got nothing else to do but just to wait on you big hungry
men--There, sit right down there, Ham, in front of that gold-pan
full--but it is a surprise; and I won't tell you what is in that pan
yet," and she pushed the grinning Ham down on the block of wood that did
service in lieu of a dining chair in front of a steaming covered
gold-pan.

One near whiff of the contents of this pan and Ham jumped to his feet.

"Whoop, boys!" he yelled. "It's chicken! It's chicken pie! Whoop! Hurrah
for th' Leetle Woman!" and, whirling suddenly around, he threw one big
arm around Mrs. Dickson, drew her quickly to him, and gave her a smack
on one of her rosy cheeks that sounded like the report of a pistol.

"And the only chickens in Hangtown are in that pie," declared Dickson
proudly. "When we saw those birds Mollie and I just couldn't keep our
hands off them. They seemed to be just a-begging us to buy them and make
them into a chicken pie. Now, fall to, boys; and, with every mouthful
that you eat, think of our good luck. It means a lot to us, boys, a
whole lot to the Little Woman and me. We are going back to our dear old
New York home on the beautiful banks of the Hudson--Hi, there, Ham! Just
start the chicken pie a-going round. You are not the only mouth at the
table," and Dickson, doubtless feeling that sentiment was beginning to
get a little the best of him, rushed excitedly about the table, as he
helped to pass the good things Mrs. Dickson had cooked from one to
another.

That was a dinner to remember as long as one lived. The circumstances of
its giving were so unusual and so generous, its surroundings were so
unique, and its jolliness was so whole-hearted and spontaneous, that
ever afterwards it was one of the bright spots in the memories of all
who were present.

When the eating was ended the men went outside and built a huge fire in
front of the house; and then sat down around it and smoked their pipes
and told stories and compared mining notes and discussed the
ever-present questions of where the gold came from and how it got there,
all of which would make interesting reading, but which, because of other
events that are crowding forward, must be passed over thus briefly.

For a couple of hours the talk around the camp-fire continued; Mrs.
Dickson had joined the circle, and then Mr. and Mrs. Dickson both rose.

"It's getting late and we must be going," declared Mrs. Dickson.

"Not yit! Not yit! Not until you've sung for us!" cried Ham, jumping to
his feet. "We can't let her go without a song, can we, boys?"

The reply was an unanimous demand for the song; and Mrs. Dickson,
smiling and bowing and blushing, like a happy schoolgirl, and declaring
that she was afraid she had eaten too much to sing, straightened up her
plump little body, threw back her head, and was about to begin to sing
in the dark shadows where she stood, when Ham caught her by both her
shoulders and gently pushed her out into the bright light of the
camp-fire.

"Th' song wouldn't sound nigh as good, if we couldn't see th' singer
plain," he declared, his face seemingly one broad grin. "Thar, that's
'bout right," and he swung her around so that the brightest light shone
full on her face. "Now give us good old 'Ben Bolt,' Somehow that song
kinder seems tew sweeten me all up inside," and Ham sat down almost
directly in front of Mrs. Dickson.

Mrs. Dickson had a sweet, clear, bird-like voice, and what she lacked in
training she more than made up in the feeling she put into the words she
sang; and her singing always touched the hearts of these lonely miners
deeply. But to-night, as she stood there, with the ruddy light of the
camp-fire shining on her face and dimly illuminating the surrounding
shadows of the lonely night and the towering mountains and the tall pine
trees, and sang the beautiful words and melody of "Sweet Alice, Ben
Bolt," she struck a deeper chord still, and all listened like men
entranced until the last note died away in the silence of the encircling
night.

"I never knowed I liked music so well, 'til I heer'd th' Leetle Woman
sing," declared Ham the moment the sound of Mrs. Dickson's voice ceased.
"Her singin' seems tew come a-knockin' right at th' door of a feller's
heart. Now, dew sing us another one," and he turned pleadingly to Mrs.
Dickson.

"Yes, I will sing you just one more song; and then we must be going. It
must be nearly ten o'clock; and those two tired boys have been nodding
their heads for the last half-hour."

"Me!" "We!" and Thure and Bud both sat up very straight. "Oh, we were
just nodding our heads to keep time to your music. Please do sing
again."

For answer Mrs. Dickson lifted her face to the sparkling skies; and
then, while the tears gathered in her own eyes and her sweet voice
trembled a little, she sang that song dear to the hearts of all
wanderers no matter where they roam, "Home, Sweet Home."

"Now, good night, everybody. Come, Dick," and, turning quickly the
moment she stopped singing, Mrs. Dickson caught hold of her husband's
arm and hurried away before the spell of the song and the singer was
broken.

A half an hour later the lights in both the houses were out and their
inmates sound asleep.



CHAPTER XVII

POCKFACE AGAIN


Thure and Bud were very tired and very sleepy and both slept very
soundly; but, when the door of their house was suddenly flung violently
open some three hours after they had closed their eyes in sleep, and a
voice, hoarse with excitement, yelled: "Fire! Fire! Fire!" they found
themselves out of their bunks and on their feet and wide-awake almost
before the startling cry ceased to echo in the room.

"Where, where is the fire?" they heard Conroyal asking excitedly, as
they hurried into their trousers and heavy boots--they had slept in
their shirts. A moment later came a cry of horror from Ham in reply.

"God in heaven!" he yelled. "It's Dickson's! Th' Leetle Woman!" and he
plunged madly out through the door, followed by every other man in the
house.

Thure and Bud were close behind the last man. The moment they were
outside their eyes caught the red glow of the fire shining wickedly
through the openings between the pine trees that surrounded Dickson's
little cabin, and raced madly toward it. The distance was not great, not
over twenty rods; and they soon found themselves in front of the burning
house.

Dickson and his wife, half-dressed, were rushing madly about, empty
water-pails in their hands. Already the red flames were leaping through
one of the windows; and, as they looked, a heavy jet of black smoke,
swiftly followed by a long tongue of fire, shot out from the roof above
the flaming window.

"Buckets! Buckets!" yelled Ham. "Form a line tew th' spring an' pass
buckets of water from it tew th' house. Here, you," he cried, as his
eyes caught sight of Thure and Bud, "back tew th' house an' git
everything in it that'll hold water--pails, gold-pans, kettles,
anything--Hurry!"

Thure and Bud turned instantly and sped back to the house, their hearts
thumping with excitement. They knew the value of moments in a case like
this. Thure was a little longer-legged, a little the swifter runner, and
he reached the open door perhaps a rod ahead of Bud and sprang through
it, thinking only of how he could get hold of the kettles and the pails
and the pans in the quickest manner possible.

The room was dimly lighted by a ruddy glow from the coals still burning
in the fireplace; and by this light, Thure, the moment he sprang through
the door, saw a figure start up suddenly from near the bunk where he
slept and turn a pock-marked, face, white with fear, toward him; and
then, as his momentum carried him into the room and before he could lift
a hand in self-defense, he saw the right hand suddenly swing up a heavy
club, as the figure leaped toward him, and--a blinding crash and he knew
no more for the present.

Bud was more fortunate. He saw the figure, saw the blow hurriedly aimed
at him, in time to spring aside; and then, with a yell of rage, for he,
too, had caught sight of the pock-marked face of his assailant, he
hurled himself toward him.

But Pockface had had all of the fight he wanted; for, the instant he
struck at Bud and failed to hit him, he sprang through the door.

Bud, in his mad rush to get at the man, failed to see the body of Thure
sprawled out on the ground at his feet, and, as he sprang after the
fleeing scoundrel, his feet struck the body and pitched him head-first
to the ground, where he lay for an instant, stunned by the fall. When he
jumped to his feet and sprang excitedly to the door, Pockface had
vanished completely into the darkness of the night.

There was no use now of trying to follow him. Besides, there was Thure!
What had happened to him? He--he might be dead! And, with fingers that
trembled with anxiety and dread, Bud hurriedly lit a candle and bent
over Thure, for the moment forgetful of the fire and of everything else
but the condition of his friend.

A great bump on the top of Thure's head showed where the blow had
fallen; but he was breathing, and Bud's experience in such matters
quickly told him that he was only stunned.

On a box in a corner of the room stood a pail, filled with water. Bud
quickly seized this pail, and, in his excitement, dumped its whole
contents directly down on the white face of Thure.

A shiver ran through the still form, then both eyes opened and stared
wildly, blankly around for a moment. Suddenly the blank, wild look left
the eyes, and Thure struggled desperately to get on his feet.

"Did he--did he get the skin map?" he cried excitedly, as Bud endeavored
to quiet him. "I--I left it under my pillow. Hurry! See if it is still
there. Never mind me. I'll be all right in a minute. Hurry and see if
the map is still where I left it," and he pushed Bud impatiently away
from him.

Bud quickly caught up the candle and hurried to the bunk. Both pillows
lay on the floor, where some hurried hand had thrown them, and the
little buckskin bag, with its precious contents, was nowhere in sight.
Bud jerked off all the blankets and held the candle up high; but no
sight of the buckskin bag rewarded his efforts.

"It is gone!" and he turned a despairing face to Thure. "He got the map!
And after all we have gone through!"

"What!" Thure was now on his feet, all the dizziness gone, and rushing
toward the bunk. "The map gone!" and he seized the candle from Bud's
hand, and, holding it so that its light illuminated the whole bunk,
stared wildly down on the rumpled surface of the rude bedtick, which
now, the blankets having been thrown off, showed its entire surface to
the light of the candle. There could be no doubting his own eyes. The
buckskin bag was not there!

"Gone! It is gone!" and Thure staggered back from the bunk, almost as if
he had received a blow. "But," and he straightened up suddenly, his face
white and his eyes sparkling with rage, "he has not had time to go far.
Get your rifle, your pistols," and he sprang to the rack where hung his
rifle and pistols. "We must catch him. Oh, if I could but just get hold
of him!" and, rifle and pistols in hands, he rushed to the door; and not
until the glare of the burning house met his eyes did he come to his
senses sufficiently to see the folly of rushing blindly out into the
darkness of the night and the wildness of the mountains after the
scoundrel who had fled he knew not whither, or to recall the purpose for
which he and Bud had been sent back to the house.

"Mother of men! We are forgetting all about the fire!" and he stopped
abruptly. "Well, it would be useless to try to find him now," and his
eyes glared wrathfully out into the darkness of the night. "The buckets!
Hurry!" and he rushed back into the house.

When, a few minutes later, Thure and Bud, loaded down with kettles,
pails, pans, and even frying-pans, rushed pantingly up to Ham, who stood
at the end of the long line of men, stretching from the house to the
spring, throwing the water, as it was passed to him, with his great
strong arms, on the fire, he turned angrily on them.

"Git tew th' spring," he shouted, "with them kettles and pails, you
young--" Then, catching sight of their white faces, he stopped abruptly.
"What's happened?"

"They've got the map!"

"Burn th' map! Git tew th' spring with them pails an' git busy with th'
water," and, with a violent swing of his huge body, Ham flung a large
gold-pan full of water on top of the flaming roof.

Thure and Bud at once hurried to the spring.

By this time the alarm of fire had raced up and down the gulches and
ravines of Hangtown and men were running from every direction toward the
burning building. Already a hundred or more men were stretched in a long
line from the house to the spring; and down this line buckets and pails
and pans of water were passing as swiftly as strong and willing arms
could send them. The air was filled with the yells and cries of excited
men.

Thure and Bud at once pushed their pails and buckets into service and
promptly joined a new line that was forming.

Fortunately the spring was a large one and the water held out; and, in a
short time, a great shout went up from the house and rushed along the
two lines of bucket men up to the spring and echoed and reëchoed
triumphantly up and down through the rocky gulches and canyons of
Hangtown.

The fire had been conquered; but not until the larger part of the roof
had been burned and the greater part of the interior furnishings
destroyed.

The cause of the fire was a mystery. Mr. and Mrs. Dickson were positive
that it did not come from the fireplace, that, in fact, it had started
in almost the opposite end of the house and nearly directly under their
bunk; for, when the heat and the smoke awoke them, the foot of the bunk
and the lower end of the bed-clothes were already ablaze. Everything
inside the house was too badly burnt to furnish any positive clues; but
it was the opinion of nearly all the excited men that the house had been
set on fire purposely; and, if they could have but laid their hands on
the miscreant, there would have been as speedy a hanging as the one had
been that had given the town its unsavory name.

The moment the excitement of the fire was over, Thure and Bud hastened
to their fathers and hurriedly told them what had happened on their
return to the house and of the disappearance of the map.

The two men at once quietly but quickly gathered the other members of
the company and soon all were back again in the house, with the door
tightly closed.

"Now," and Mr. Conroyal turned to the two boys, "tell us exactly what
happened."

Thure quickly told all that he knew up to the moment the club had
knocked him senseless and exhibited the bump, now as large as a goose
egg, on the top of his head in proof of the story; and then Bud related
his part in the adventure. Both boys were certain that the man they had
seen in the house was Quinley, or Pockface as they continued to call
him.

"An' you say th' skunk got that thar skin map an' gold nugget!" and Ham
sprang excitedly to his feet.

"Yes. I--I left it under my pillow. We found both pillows on the floor;
and the buckskin bag gone. The man was standing near my bunk when I
rushed in, and must have just found it. Oh, if I only could have got
hold of him before he hit me!" and tears of baffled rage filled Thure's
eyes.

"You're sart'in th' bag ain't thar?" and Ham glanced at the dismantled
bunk and the disordered bed-clothes scattered about.

"Look for yourself," and Thure sank down on one of the rude chairs and,
throwing his arms disconsolately on the table, laid his aching head down
on them.

Ham seized a lighted candle and strode over to the bunk, followed by all
the other men. He held the candle over the bunk and his eyes swiftly
searched every inch of the surface of the bedtick.

"Th' yunks are right! Th' bag's not here!" and, with an angry growl, he
seized the offending mattress and hurled it out on the floor.

There was a soft thud, as of something small but heavy striking the
ground of the floor; and then, with a yell that caused Thure to jump
nearly a foot up in the air from his seat at the table, Ham dropped the
candle and caught up something from the floor.

"Hal'lujah! Hurrah! Amen! Here it is!" yelled the excited man, as he
held up where all could see the missing buckskin bag.

In his mad tumble out of the bunk at the alarm of fire, Thure must have
knocked the little bag down between the mattress and the side of the
bunk, whence the rude hands of Ham had dislodged it when he had jerked
the mattress off the bunk; and this, probably, was all that had saved it
from the fingers of Pockface, for the pillows lying on the floor showed
that he had evidently searched underneath them.

There is no need of picturing the rejoicing in that log house for the
next few minutes; but, when all had quieted down and were beginning to
talk sensible again, Rex suddenly jumped to his feet with an exclamation
of horror and rage.

"The curs! The cowards! The murderers!" he cried excitedly.

"What's bitin' you?" demanded Ham in astonishment.

"The fire! Can't you see the curs set Dickson's house on fire on purpose
to get us out of the way?"

"Great guns! If I don't believe you are right!" and Ham leaped to his
feet, his face white with rage. "An' a woman asleep in th' house! They
might have burnt both on 'em tew death! They shore won't stop at nuthin'
tew git that map! An' tew think I had my grip on that red-headed skunk's
shoulder, an' I only knocked him down!" and Ham dropped back on his
seat, muttering wrathfully to himself.

"I reckon Rex has the right of it," and Mr. Conroyal's lips tightened.
"But the devilish cunning of it! They knew that whoever had the buckskin
bag would not be apt to sleep with it on him; and they calculated that
the sudden alarm of fire, coming when all were sound asleep, would so
startle, that, for the moment, even the skin map would be forgotten and
all would rush out to help put out the fire, and give them a chance to
search the house. Cunning, but as devilish as it is cunning! Think of
how they might have burnt Dickson and the Little Woman in their bed! By
the good God, we would be justified in killing either one of them on
sight!" and his rugged face hardened.

"We certainly would," agreed Mr. Randolph emphatically. "They have
forfeited all their rights of manhood. But, I fancy, the cunning devils
won't give us a chance for an open fight. They will always strike from
behind something; but now that we know they are on our trail, we've got
to be on the lookout for them."

"'Pears tew me," and Ham held the buckskin bag up, "that it's this here
thing that needs special guardin'. It's th' map that they are after; an'
they don't 'pear tew be none particular how many or who they kill tew
git it, only so they save their own hides. Now, I reckon, we've got tew
keep an eye on this here map night an' day 'til we gits tew th' Cave of
Gold; an' then, like as not, we'll have tew fight for th' gold. First
off, it 'pears tew me, we otter git some better place tew hide th' map
since them curs seem tew know 'bout th' buckskin bag," and Ham took the
fateful map out of the little bag and spread it out on his knees.

"I know," and, in his excitement, Thure jumped to his feet and caught up
the map. "I know a good way to hide the map, and, maybe, fool them.
We'll leave the gold nugget in the bag, and I'll sew the skin map on the
inside of my shirt bosom. Then, if they should somehow get hold of the
buckskin bag, they'd only get the gold nugget; but, to get the map,
they'd have to get me; and, I reckon, dad and the rest of you are able
to keep them from doing that!"

"That sounds sensible," declared Ham. "Thure'll always have his shirt on
his back night an' day; an' so we'll jest have tew keep an eye on Thure.
I reckon that idee is 'bout as good as any we can think of--only, we
must be powerful careful tew keep it secret an' tew never let th' yunk
git out of our sight for an instant."

After a little discussion all agreed that Thure's plan was a good one;
and, accordingly, Thure at once took off his shirt and carefully and
smoothly sewed the skin map on the inside of its bosom, the face of the
map toward the cloth; and then, over all, he sewed another piece of
cloth, so that the map was completely hidden between the two folds of
cloth.

"There," he said, as he pulled the shirt back on his body, "I'd like to
see Pockface or Brokennose get the map now, without getting me; and, I
reckon, you fellers will see that they have their hands full if they
tackle that job," and his eyes glanced proudly around the little circle
of men, who had gathered close about him while he was performing his
interesting little feat in sewing.

And Thure had good reasons for his pride and confidence in his comrades;
for his father and Frank Holt, his uncle, and Hammer Jones and Rex and
Dill and Mr. Randolph were all old trappers and hunters and Indian
fighters, who had been tried by every form of peril and had never been
found wanting. Indeed, the names of Hammer Jones and Noel Conroyal and
Steeltrap Smith, as Frank Holt was once called, were still famous
throughout all the Rocky Mountain region, for the deeds of daring and
skill that had made them comrades in fame, as they often had been in
fact, with trappers and Indian fighters like Kit Carson and Jim Bridger
and Old Bill Williams and half-a-dozen other fearless men, whose courage
and pluck and wonderful skill had made their names known wherever a
campfire blazed throughout all the great West. Yes, Thure had good
reasons to believe that Brokennose and Pockface, cunning as they were,
would certainly have their hands full, if they got the skin map away
from him, while he was watched by such men as these.

"They'll have tew git all of us afore they git you, son," declared Ham,
in reply to Thure's assertion. "Now," and he stretched his big frame and
yawned, "seein' that we've 'tended tew all th' business that needs
'tendin' tew tew-night, we'd better try an' git a leetle more sleep
afore mornin'. Leastwise I'm a-goin' tew," and, after a glance through
the window to assure himself that everything was all safe and quiet
around the Dickson house, he slipped a loaded pistol under his pillow
and climbed into his bunk.

Ham's advice, as usual, was too good to be neglected, and soon all were
in their bunks. But, just before each had climbed into his bunk, he,
like Ham, had slipped a loaded pistol under his pillow. They were not
the kind of men to go unprepared when danger threatened.



CHAPTER XVIII

STORY OF THE GREAT DISCOVERY


A cheery call from Mr. and Mrs. Dickson greeted our friends the next
morning, as they started down the trail on their way to the wing dam.
Both were in the best of spirits and did not appear to be bothering
their heads in the least over their rather exciting and unfortunate
adventure of the night before. Indeed, what could the burning of a log
cabin more or less matter to a man who was digging out of the ground
from five to ten thousand dollars' worth of gold a day! They were busily
at work putting on a temporary roof in place of the one the fire had
destroyed.

"Lose much?" queried Ham sympathetically, as the little company came to
a halt in front of the ruins.

"Only a little worn-out clothing and some mighty poor furniture,"
laughed Dickson. "Mollie and I calculate we can fix up the roof by noon
good enough to last the few days we are likely to remain here; and the
time it takes us to do that is our only real loss. You see, we've
decided, if we get as much as twenty thousand dollars' worth of gold out
of that hole, we'll get for New York as fast as the good Lord will let
us; and it looks now as if it was good for that much, at least, before
it gives out. Why, it won't take more than a couple of days more to fix
us all right, if the gold continues to turn up the way it did yesterday!
Hope it will be your turn next."

"Same here," laughed Mrs. Dickson. "My, but it does seem good to be
digging real gold up out of the ground in handfuls. Hope that wing dam,
or whatever you call it, will be the golden key that will unlock the
door of fortune to you all."

"We all shore agrees with you thar," grinned Ham. "An' we all hopes that
y'ur luck will continue, 'til you gits enough tew send you back home in
fine style--not that we're none anxious tew see you go," he added
hastily, "'cause 'twould be 'bout as painful an operation as bein'
seperated from a sore tooth, to be seperated from that singin' apperatus
of your'n. We'll be expectin' you tew come over an' sing some more for
us tew-night."

"I certainly can't refuse, after such a compliment to my singing," she
laughed back.

"It almost tempts me tew try hitchin' up myself, tew see them tew
a-workin' tewgether as happy as tew nestin' birds," grinned Ham, as our
friends, after a few minutes' longer talk with the joyful and fortunate
couple, continued on their way. "I reckon that's 'bout th' kind of
marriage th' feller meant, when he said they was made in heaven; for th'
t'other kind 'pear tew be made in t'other place," and Ham chuckled.

That day they succeeded in building a wall of rocks, piled one on top of
the other and plastered together with clay and the branches of trees,
across the little stream itself and almost high enough to force the
water to flow in the new channel. Consequently night found them
jubilant; for now it began to look as if they might complete the dam on
the morrow, and this was doing better by a day or two than they had
expected to do.

"I reckon we had better bring along the pails and the pans to-morrow,"
Mr. Conroyal said, as he paused with Ham and Mr. Randolph for a last
calculating look at the dam, before starting for the log house that
night. "Looks now as if we might complete the dam and turn the water a
little before night; and, if we do, we will want to get right to work at
the hole. It sure looks as if we had struck a good thing here, boys,"
and his face lighted, as his eyes turned toward the elbow. "If this
stream has been carrying down gold the way some of the streams have in
this section, we'll have Dickson beat by a wagon load or two of gold a
day. I can't see how it can help turning out something big," and the
gold-fever light that shone in his eyes began to sparkle in the eyes of
the others.

"It shore otter turn out big tew pay us for all this work," and Ham's
glance slowly wandered over the huge piles of rocks and dirt that their
shovels and strong arms had reared, "but thar's no countin' on what
it'll do. 'Twouldn't s'prise me none, if we took out a wagon load of
gold; an', ag'in, 'twouldn't s'prise me none, if we didn't take out a
thimble load. Gold is 'bout as unsart'in an' queer as women. When you
think you've got it shore, gosh, it ain't thar at all! But, I reckon
you're right 'bout th' pans an' pails; an' I shore hopes you're right
'bout th' wagon loads of gold."

After supper that night Mr. and Mrs. Dickson came over and joined the
circle around the big camp-fire that Thure and Bud had kindled in front
of the log house. There was no need to be saving of wood, when all one
had to do to get it was to cut it. Wood was the one thing that was free
and plentiful in Hangtown.

"How did she pan out tew-day, Dick?" queried Ham, as Dickson seated
himself on a log.

"Well," and Dickson hesitated and glanced swiftly and just a little
suspiciously around the circle of faces. Already the possession of much
gold was robbing him of some of his open, free-hearted confidence in his
fellow men, was drawing tight the strings of caution. "Well," he
continued, after a swift warning glance into the face of his wife, "I
fear that we have about come to the bottom of the pocket. Not much doing
to-day," but the light in his eyes seemed to belie his statement.

"Oh, Dick," and Mrs. Dickson turned a reproving face to her husband,
"how can you say that, when we found this, and a lot of smaller nuggets,
and a good three thousand dollars' worth in gold-dust besides!" and she
held up before the astonished eyes of the circle a huge gold nugget. "It
weighs exactly five pounds and three and three-quarters ounces, and is
worth over a thousand dollars," and the Little Woman's face glowed with
triumph. "There," and she turned a pair of happy but defiant eyes on her
husband, "I just couldn't keep a thing like that to myself; and I
shouldn't want to, if I could; and I told Dick that I couldn't and I
wouldn't keep it from you and I didn't," and her eyes sparkled merrily.
"But Dick is getting a little afraid that, if it becomes known how big
our find really is it might tempt some scoundrel to try and get the gold
away from us."

"Not meaning you fellows, of course," and Dickson's face flushed.

"Shore, we understand an' without any explainin'," broke in Ham
heartily. "An', Leetle Woman, Dick's more'n half right 'bout bein' some
cautious who you tells y'ur good luck tew. Thar was a miner murdered for
his gold 'bout a week ago nigh Sacremento City; an' th' murderers worn't
caught an' might be a-snoopin' 'round Hangtown right now."

"Mercy!" and Mrs. Dickson turned a whitening face to Ham. "Why, there is
hardly a lock on a door in all Hangtown; and most of the miners don't
even take the trouble to hide their gold-dust securely. I thought
everybody knew that the climate of Hangtown wasn't good for the health
of robbers."

"An' so it ain't for them that gits caught," answered Ham. "But humans
will risk anything, even their lives for gold. Why, it wasn't more'n a
week ago that we run Skoonly out of town for stealin'! So, I reckon,
'tain't more'n good hoss-sense for you tew be some cautious now that you
are gittin' a fortune in gold. Not that thar's any harm in a-tellin' old
friends like us, 'cause we knows enough tew keep mum 'bout it," and Ham
glanced warningly around the circle of interested faces. "But 'twouldn't
be good sense tew let th' hull town know th' size of y'ur pile. It's tew
goll durned big an' temptin'. Not that I wants tew scare you, Leetle
Woman. Only it's jest good hoss-religion not tew tempt y'ur feller
mortals more'n it's necessary. Now forgit th' gold an' give us a song."

Ham had not been without his reasons in thus trying to arouse the fears
of Mr. and Mrs. Dickson and in warning the others to keep their
knowledge of the amount of Dickson's find to themselves; for, since the
night adventure of Thure and Bud, he knew that Quinley and Ugger must be
lurking somewhere in the vicinity, and that, if these two scoundrels
should get knowledge of Dickson's great luck, neither their gold nor
their lives would be safe.

Mrs. Dickson sang a number of the old songs, including Ham's favorite,
"Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt"; but her music lacked something of its usual
soul-fervor. Evidently the words of Ham had so aroused her fears that
she could not keep her mind from wandering to the little pile of gold
they had left almost unguarded in their lockless log cabin; and, in a
short time, both excused themselves on the plea of weariness, and
hurried home.

"Tew bad tew scare th' Leetle Woman," Ham said regretfully; "but 'twould
be a heap worse tew have Quinley an' Ugger git that thar gold. I got
scart of them jest as soon as th' Leetle Woman showed up th' big nugget;
for they must be a-lurkin' 'round here somewhere, keepin' an eye on us;
an', if they heer'd of Dickson's gold, they shore would try an' git it.
Wal, we'd better follow their example an' git tew bed; for we've got a
hard day's work afore us, if we finish th' wing dam an' turn th' water
tew-morrer. I'm goin'," and Ham, knocking the ashes out of his pipe on
the log on which he was sitting, arose and went into the house, whither
he was soon followed by the others.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day as Thure and Bud were sitting in the shade of the cool side
of the gulch, a little apart from the others, eating their lunch and
discussing the great find they expected to make when they turned the
water of the little stream into the new channel, Thure, whose eyes
happened to be looking down the gulch at that moment, suddenly
exclaimed:

"Hello, look who's coming!" and he pointed down the gulch to where a man
could be seen walking slowly toward them, a pick and shovel and gold-pan
slung across his broad shoulders, a Mexican sombrero on his head and the
rest of his body clothed in a blue flannel shirt and linen trousers that
had once been white, protected by deerskin leggings and thrust into the
tops of knee-boots.

"Out prospecting, I reckon," and Bud glanced curiously at the advancing
stranger, for visitors had been rare in that lonely gulch. "Let's ask
him to dine with us," and he smiled as he glanced at the coarse but
abundant fare spread out on the ground between them. "He must be hungry,
if he has lugged those things on his back far. Hello!" and he turned to
the stranger, who by this time had come to within a couple of rods of
where the two boys sat, "You are just in time to help us finish up these
beans and pork. Come and have a seat at our table," and he grinned a
welcome, as he nodded toward the food.

"I don't care if I do," smiled back the stranger, as he flung pick and
shovel and pan from his back and dropped down by the side of the boys,
"especially since I've got a little jerked venison here that I know will
taste good to you, if you've been living on salt pork as long as the
most of the miners have," and he began to undo a little bundle tied to
the end of his pick, and presently disclosed a chunk of dried venison
and a couple of ship-biscuits, wrapped up in a coarse but clean cloth.
This food he at once laid down on the cloth, which he had spread out on
Bud's table, and bade the boys help themselves, at the same time and
without any further invitation helping himself to the beans and pork.

"Wait, and I'll get you a cup of hot coffee," and Bud jumped to his feet
and hurried to where Ham was superintending the boiling of a pot of
coffee over the camp-fire.

"Say, dew you know who that feller is who has j'ined grub with you?"
queried Ham, grinning, as he filled a tin cup full of the coffee and
handed it to Bud.

"Oh, just a miner out prospecting, I reckon," answered Bud, as he took
the coffee. "We thought we would be social and asked him to share our
meal," and he started back with the coffee.

"Wal," and the grin on Ham's face broadened, "that feller is James W.
Marshall!"

"What!" and Bud stopped so suddenly that he almost spilt the coffee.
"Not the James W. Marshall who discovered the first gold in California!"

"Th' identicle cuss," laughed Ham. "But 'tain't done him much good so
far."

"Glory be, we just thought he was an ordinary prospector, when we asked
him to share our lunch! And so he is the man that started all this mad
rush for California gold," and Bud's eyes turned curiously in the
direction of the stranger. "Well, he sure don't look as if the gold had
done him much good."

"That's usually th' way on it," replied Ham. "Th' feller what finds it
only gits th' first smell, then 'long comes some other feller an'
gobbles it all up, leavin' th' finder nuthin' but th' glory."

"Maybe we can get him to tell us the story of how he found the gold,"
and Bud's face lighted up. "I'd like to hear it from his own lips."

"Wal," grinned Ham, "jest tell him that he's 'bout th' most abused man
in all Californy, an', I reckon, he'll open his heart tew you. He's
pow'ful sore over everybudy else but he a-gettin' th' gold, an' he th'
discoverer."

"Maybe the hot coffee will do as well," laughed Bud, as he hurried back
to his guest.

The hot coffee, possibly even more the contagion of the joyous
enthusiasm of the two youths, did, indeed, seem to act like a charm on
Marshall's taciturn and soured disposition; for, before the meal was
half over, he was talking freely of his mining ventures with Thure and
Bud; and it needed but a few well-directed inquiries to bring the
desired story from his willing lips.

"How did I happen to discover the gold?" he began, as if the boys had
asked him directly for the story, which they had not. "Well, it all came
about in this way," and he settled himself into a comfortable position.
"In May, 1847, Captain Sutter sent me up the American River to look for
a good site for a sawmill that he wished me to build for him; and, after
a number of days of fruitless search, I found what looked like the exact
spot I was hunting for on the South Fork of the American about
forty-five miles from Sutter's Fort. Captain Sutter, you may be sure,
was well pleased when I told him of my success; and we entered into a
partnership, according to which I was to build the mill and he was to
find provisions, tools, teams, and pay a part of the men's wages; and in
August, everything being ready, I started out with six men and two
wagons loaded with the tools and provisions. We first put up log houses
in which to live; for we expected to remain there all winter. But this
was done in no time for the men were great with the ax. Then we cut
timber and fell to work hewing it for the framework of the mill and to
building the dam, which, with the help of about forty Indians, who had
gathered around us in great numbers, we put up in a kind of a way in
four weeks. When the mill was nearly completed, it was my custom every
evening after the men had quit work to raise the gate in the mill-race
and allow the water to run all night, in order to wash as much sand and
gravel as possible out of the race during the night; and in the morning,
while the men were getting breakfast, I would go down and shut the gate
and walk along the race to see where the work needed to be done for the
day.

"One clear cold morning in January--I shall never forget that morning. I
can see it all as I sit here--the nearly completed mill, the slopes of
the surrounding tree-covered hills, the water pouring over the dam, the
mill-race, a foot or so of water still rushing along over its bottom--I
can see it all--"

Marshall paused, his eyes staring straight in front of him, a peculiar,
dreamy, wild look in them that sent uncanny chills to the hearts of both
boys as long as it lasted. What was he seeing? Visions?--Visions of what
that morning meant to a gold-mad world?

"No, I can never forget that January morning," Marshall resumed, after
perhaps a minute, the normal look again coming back into his eyes; "for
on that morning I found the gold that has set the world crazy and proven
little more than a curse to me," and a gloomy bitter look clouded his
face.

"On that morning, as usual, after having shut off the water, I started
to walk along the race, keeping my eyes pretty close to the ground, so
as to make a note of where the ditch needed more digging. There was
still about a foot of water running in the race. Suddenly my eyes caught
a glimpse of something shining through the water, just a bright little
gleam of yellow lying on the bottom of the ditch; but the first sight of
it made my heart jump, for I thought it might be gold; and I reached my
hand down quick through the water and picked it up and examined it
eagerly. The piece was about half the size, and of the shape of a pea;
and felt and looked like gold, only it did not seem to me to be exactly
the right color: all the gold coin I had seen was of a reddish tinge;
this looked more like brass. I looked again in the water and saw another
piece and picked that up. Then I sat down on the bank, with the little
pieces of shining metal on the palm of my hand, and began to think right
hard. Was it gold? I recalled to mind all the metals I had ever seen or
heard of, but I couldn't seem to think of any that looked like this,
that is, that looked enough like it to make me certain of what it was.
Suddenly the thought came to me that this was probably nothing but iron
pyrites, or fool's gold, that I had heard and read of, but had never
seen. I trembled at the thought; for by now I had become considerably
excited over the possibility of its being gold. But iron pyrites would
break when pounded! I jumped to my feet, getting more excited every
minute; and quickly found a couple of hard river stones, and, putting
the pieces on one, I pounded them with the other. It was soft, and
didn't break! It must be gold; but was probably largely mixed with some
other metal, possibly silver, for I thought that pure gold certainly
would have a brighter color.

"I don't know just how long I sat there, looking at them two little bits
of yellow metal in my hand and thinking hard of all that it might mean
to me and the men with me, if it should really prove to be gold, for I
sure was some excited; but, when I got back to our cabin, the men had
finished their breakfast and were beginning to wonder a little what had
become of me. I showed them the two pieces, and told them where I had
found them, and that I thought they were gold. This excited the men a
good deal; and I had some trouble to keep them from dropping everything
and going to gold hunting, leaving me finish my job alone. However, I
told them that as soon as we had the mill finished we would give a week
or two to gold hunting and see what we could make out of it, and this
satisfied them for the time, none of them then dreaming there was enough
gold there to amount to much.

"After this, while at work in the race, we all kept a sharp lookout, and
in the course of three or four days we had picked up about three ounces,
our work going on the same as usual; for none of us at that time
imagined that the whole country was sown with gold. If we had--that mill
sure would never have been completed," and Marshall smiled a little
bitterly.

"Four or five days after I picked up those two little pieces of yellow
metal I had to go to Sutter's Fort; and, wishing to get all the
information I could respecting the real value of the metal, I took all
that we had collected with me, and showed it to Captain Sutter. He at
once declared that it was gold; but, like me, thought it was largely
mixed with some other metal. We now tried to hit upon some means of
telling the exact quantity of gold found in the alloy; but couldn't
figure out how to do it, until we stumbled upon an old American
cyclopedia, that gave the specific gravity of all the metals and rules
to find the quantity of each in a given bulk. We now wanted some silver,
with which to compare our metal; and, after hunting over the whole fort
and borrowing from some of the men, we managed to get three dollars and
a half in silver. Captain Sutter had a small pair of scales; and, with
the aid of these and the cyclopedia, we soon ciphered it out that there
was neither silver nor copper in the gold, but that it was entirely
pure.

"This proof that the metal was real gold excited both of us
considerable; but, when we had cooled down a little and talked it over,
we concluded it would be our best policy to keep it as quiet as possible
until the mill was completed. Now, at this time, there was a great
number of disbanded Mormon soldiers in and about the fort, and, somehow,
they came to hear of it; and then the golden cat was out of the bag, for
the news that gold had been discovered just spread over the whole
country like wild-fire. Indeed, I had hardly got back to the mill,
before men with picks and pans and shovels and hoes and all sorts of
tools began coming in, all anxious to fall to work and dig up our mill
by the roots; but this, of course, we would not allow, although I
sometimes had the greatest trouble to get rid of them. I sent them all
off in different directions, telling them of such and such places where
I felt certain they would find gold, if they would only take the trouble
to dig for it. Not that I really thought they would find any gold, for
at that time I never imagined the gold was so abundant; but they would
dig nowhere but in such places as I pointed out and I had to get rid of
them someway. I believe if I had told them to dig on top of a mountain,
that, so great was their confidence in me, they would have climbed to
the top of the mountain and began picking away at the rocks," and
something, almost a twinkle, came into Marshall's eyes, brightening
their somber lights.

"And did the parties you scattered through the country find any gold?"
inquired Thure eagerly.

"Yes, many of them did, to my surprise," answered Marshall; "but the
second real discovery of gold was in a gulch on the road to Sacramento.
The third gold discovery was made on a bar of the South Fork of the
American River a little above the junction of the Middle and South
forks. The diggings over there where Hangtown is," and he flung up one
of his arms in the direction of Hangtown, "was discovered by myself; for
we all went gold hunting, as soon as the mill was finished. Some Indians
found the diggings down at Kelsey's; and thus in a short time we
discovered that the whole country hereabouts is sown with gold, thick in
spots but thin and scattering almost all over. Now that is the true
story of the gold discovery in California, right from the lips of the
man who picked up the first piece of gold, and who has had more cheating
and robbing than thanks from the men the discovery has helped most," and
the somber light deepened in the eyes of the disappointed and soured
man, who always laid the blame of the misfortunes that seemed to follow
him after the great discovery on the ingratitude of his fellow men,
rather than on his own inability to use the opportunities that a kindly
fate had thrust in his way.

"Well, it sure does seem hard," sympathized Bud, "that you, who
discovered the gold, should be able to get so little of it. But," and
his face brightened, "your luck may change to-morrow, and you may yet
live to see yourself one of the richest men in California."

Here the huge form of Hammer Jones broke in on the three.

"How d'dew, Jim," and Ham reached down a big hand and gripped the hand
of Marshall. "Ben tellin' th' yunks all 'bout th' Great Discovery, I
reckon?" and he grinned. "Wal, if you'll jest sot down an' make y'urself
easy for 'bout three hours, 'til we puts the finishin' touches on this
here dam, I shouldn't be none s'prised if we was able tew show you
somethin' of a discovery ourselves," and Ham pointed to the now nearly
completed dam.

Marshall at once became greatly interested, when Ham had explained to
him what they hoped the dam would do for them; and not only agreed to
wait until the completion of the dam, but to help in its completion;
and, in a few minutes more, all were again at work, spurred to
extraordinary exertions by the thought that a few short hours more would
tell the story of their success or failure.



CHAPTER XIX

SOME EXCITING MOMENTS


Exactly at three o'clock, by Mr. Conroyal's big silver watch, the last
shovel of dirt and the last stone was thrown on the dam; and, with
cheers that echoed and reëchoed up and down the narrow gulch, our
friends saw all the water of the little stream flowing into its new
channel.

"Now get your pans and pails, and we'll hustle the water out of the
hole, so that we can get at the dirt," Mr. Conroyal cried excitedly, the
moment it was seen that the dam was working perfectly and that the old
bed of the stream below the dam was fast becoming dry.

With another cheer, each grabbed up a pan or a pail, and all made a rush
for the hole in the elbow of the now nearly drained bed of the stream,
acting more like an excited troop of school boys than gray-haired and
long-bearded men, as some of them were.

The old bed of the stream was solid rock, worn smooth by the action of
the water; and, as Thure and Bud, in their anxiety to be the first to
reach the hole, raced down this, Thure's feet suddenly slipped on the
wet rock and down he went, the gold-pan he was carrying flying from his
hands and banging loudly as it slid for a short distance over the hard
rock. He jumped quickly to his feet, fortunately unhurt, and bent
hastily to pick up the pan. As he lifted the pan, which had been stopped
by a bit of rock that projected a couple of inches above the level of
the bed, his eyes caught a bright gleam that came from the upper side of
the projecting rock.

For an instant Thure stared wildly at the shining bit of metal lodged
against the rock; and then, with a yell that brought everybody to a
halt, he dropped the pan and grabbed the bit of metal.

"Gold! Gold!" he shouted excitedly, as he held up between the thumb and
finger of his right hand the bit of metal he had picked up, which was
about the size and something the shape of his thumb.

In a moment all were crowded around him, eagerly examining the nugget.

"It certainly is gold!" declared Marshall, as he hefted the nugget on
the palm of his hand.

"Hurra, that's a durned good sign that that thar hole is chuck full of
it!" cried Ham, excitedly swinging the gold-pan he held in his hand
around his head. "Come on! Let's git that water out of th' way an' down
tew pay-dirt, jest as quick as th' Lord'll let us," and he started on
the run for the hole, followed by all the others.

The hole in the point of the elbow of the old channel of the stream was
about twenty feet across; and now, of course, was level full of water,
which had to be thrown out before any digging could be done.

Ham, who had a long pair of rubber boots, bought on purpose for this
occasion, now slipped them on his feet, pulled the legs up to his waist,
where he fastened them to his belt, seized one of the pails, and stepped
into the hole. At the first step he went down to the knee, at the
second, nearly to the tops of his rubber boots, but the third step
lowered him in the water only a couple of inches.

"Gosh, 'tain't deep! We can have th' water out of here in no time. Now,
jest git in line an' I'll pass th' water out tew you," and he plunged
the pail down into the water, and quickly passed it to the man standing
the nearest to him, who passed it on down a line that had been quickly
formed until the last man was far enough down for the water, when thrown
on the ground, to run off down the old channel.

There were enough pans and pails to keep a constant stream of them
passing up and down the line; and, as everybody, under the spur of the
thought of what might lie hidden there in that hole, worked with
feverish haste, the water was speedily lowered, until after an hour of
as hard and tiresome work as was ever done by men, the bottom of the
hole was laid bare.

"We'll dig a hole first off right in th' center of th' hole plumb down
to bed-rock," declared Ham, as he passed out the last pailful of water.
"Then, if thar's any gold here, we'll strike it shore. Throw me a
shovel!" Ham's face was flushed and his eyes were sparkling with
excitement; for now the great moment was near, the moment that would
tell whether or not all their labor had been in vain, whether or not
they were to find the expected gold.

"Here! Here!" and Thure caught up a shovel and rushed to Ham; and almost
collided with Bud, who, shovel in hand, was also rushing to Ham.

"Let us help you dig! Let us help you dig!" cried both boys, almost
beside themselves with excitement.

"Now, jest hold y'ur hosses an' git out of here. This is men's work,"
and Ham good-naturedly thrust the two boys aside, caught up a shovel,
and began throwing up the moist sand and gravel like an animated steam
shovel.

The hole was partly filled with coarse sand and gravel; and, since gold
is so heavy that it will sink down through sand and gravel until it
comes to something more solid, all this had to be thrown off before they
could hope to come to pay-dirt, which is usually a thin layer of gravel
or clay lying on top of the bed-rock. Ham was now digging down to this
bed-rock; and, when he reached it, he would throw a few shovels of the
dirt directly on its top into a gold-pan, and then a few minutes'
washing of the dirt in the pan would show whether or not they had struck
gold. The hole he was digging was not large enough for more than one man
to work in it at a time, consequently the others formed a circle around
Ham and watched his progress with faces feverish with excitement, any
one of them ready the moment Ham tired to seize a shovel and jump into
the hole in his place. But the shoveling was not hard and the sturdy
muscles of Ham did not tire.

In the excitement of these thrilling minutes nobody saw anything but
Ham, nobody heard anything but the push of his shovel through the moist
gravel and the thud of the dirt as it fell on top of the ground. It is
doubtful if a cannon fired within a rod of them, would have made one of
them jump. Hence it is not to be wondered at that none of them saw the
black clouds gathering about the tops of the mountains to the northeast
and swiftly sweeping down toward them, nor heard the peals of distant
thunder, sounding louder and nearer with the passing of each minute. The
gold-fever was hot in their blood; and they were deaf and blind to all
but the digging man.

Ham's shovel bit swiftly down into the soft, moist sand. Now he is down
to his waist. Now only his shoulders show above the top of the hole.
Suddenly, with a violent grunt, he straightens up.

"Bed-rock!" he yells, and begins digging again.

The excitement is now intense. Nearly every one has a gold-pan in his
hand, and is holding it out toward Ham, ready to receive the first
shovel of pay-dirt. That first shovel of dirt means so much, possibly a
fortune for all! Even the graybeards, Mr. Conroyal and Rad Randolph and
Frank Holt, men who could, who often had faced death without the quiver
of a muscle, are now all of a tremble with excitement. Thure and Bud are
both bending forward so far that there is danger of their tumbling into
the hole on top of Ham.

For a couple of minutes longer Ham shovels out the dirt, but more slowly
and carefully now.

"Give me a pan," and he suddenly straightens up, seizes one of the pans,
and disappears in the hole. A moment later he jumps out of the hole, the
pan nearly filled with dirt in his hands, and races like a mad man with
it to the little stream of water, followed by all the others.

In the excitement of the moment no one notices how dark it is becoming,
nor hears an ominous sound, a distant roar, each second growing louder,
and coming from far up the gulch.

Ham reaches the water, and, plunging the pan down into it, begins
carefully stirring its contents with his big fingers. Around him bend
the others, regardless of wet feet. In a few minutes the larger part of
the sand and the gravel is washed out of the pan by the water. Now only
a thin layer of black sand remains on the bottom of the pan. The crucial
instant has come. Ham slowly straightens up, carefully pours all the
water out of the pan, bends his head down close over it, and begins
moving the thin layer of black sand about with his fingers.

"Is there, is there any gold?" queries Thure, unable longer to keep
silent.

Ham does not answer for a moment, but continues to stir the sand with
his big fingers, bending his head still closer to the pan.

"Not a durned smell!" and he suddenly hurls the pan violently from him.

At this moment Mr. Conroyal utters a startled exclamation and glances
quickly up the gulch. One look is sufficient to turn his face white.
From where he stands he can see straight up the gulch for nearly half a
mile; and half that distance up the gulch he sees a dark gray wall, ten
feet high, topped with white, rushing down toward him with the speed of
a race horse, and hears a roar like the rushing charge of a thousand
cavalrymen.

"My God, a flood!" he yells. "Climb for your lives!"

There was no need of a second warning. All could now see the advancing
flood, could hear the deafening roar, could feel the solid earth
beginning to tremble beneath their feet; and all began to climb for
their lives up the steep side of the gulch. There was no time to stop to
pick up anything. Pans, shovels, picks, and such parts of their clothes
as happened to be off their bodies they left where they lay.

Thure and Bud happened to be climbing almost directly under Marshall.
Suddenly, before they were above the danger line and when the flood was
almost upon them, Marshall's feet slipped and he slid past the boys down
directly in front of the advancing flood. It looked like death to stop
to help him; but neither boy hesitated an instant.

"Here, grip wrists!" yelled Thure, who was a little above Bud. "I will
hold you while you pull Marshall up."

Bud instantly saw what was wanted; and, in another moment the two arms
of the boys were locked together in a grip almost impossible to break.

"Now reach down and try and get hold of one of Marshall's hands. Quick!"
and Thure gripped, with the strength of desperation, the point of a
projecting rock with his free left hand and planted his feet firmly on
the narrow ledge where he stood.

"Here, catch hold of my hand, quick," and Bud bent and stretched his
free hand down to Marshall, who, with a face as white as death, was
vainly struggling to climb up the almost perpendicular side of the rock
down which he had slid.

[Illustration: BUD BENT AND STRETCHED HIS FREE HAND DOWN TO MARSHALL.]

Marshall saw the hand and caught it, as a drowning man would grasp a
beam of wood floating within his reach.

There was a terrible wrench on the arms and bodies of the two boys, but
neither broke his hold; and, with a tremendous pull, Marshall was jerked
up on the ledge of rock on which they were standing, and, in another
moment the three had climbed to safety, just as the flood swept by them,
so close that they were covered with the foam that rode on its top.

For a minute the three stood panting and trembling where they were; and
then they climbed to the broad ledge where all had halted out of reach
of the flood.

Mr. Conroyal gripped Thure's hand and held it warmly for a minute; but
he did not speak a word. There was no need; for Thure understood.

Mr. Randolph was a little more demonstrative, but he said little.

The two boys had done exactly what the two men expected their sons to
do; and the hearts of both were glad and proud, but neither man showed
his pride in their brave action, only his joy that they had escaped the
flood.

Marshall, the moment their fathers dropped their hands, seized a hand of
each boy in each of his hands and started to thank them, with tears in
his eyes; but both boys quickly jerked their hands away.

"Forget it," Thure said impatiently. "We only did what you or any other
man would have done under the same circumstances--Great Moses, just look
at that water!" and Thure's eyes turned to the flood that was now
foaming and boiling a few feet beneath them.

At this moment the edge of the black clouds swept over them, and the
rain fell down in torrents; but in a quarter of an hour the clouds had
passed, and the sun was shining again, and the violence of the flood was
beginning to slacken. In half an hour the flood had swept by; and with
it had gone every vestige of the wing dam they had builded with so much
labor and with so many high hopes.

"Durn th' durned dam!" and, without another word, Ham turned his back on
the scene of their fruitless labors, and strode off toward Hangtown,
followed by all the others, who fervently echoed his words in their
hearts.



CHAPTER XX

ROBBED


"Now I'll say good-by to you men," Marshall said, when they reached the
outskirts of Hangtown. "I am real sorry that your venture turned out the
way that it did; but a man has got to expect any sort of luck in the
diggings, and usually it is the worst sort that he gets dealt out to
him, at least that has been my experience," and he smiled bitterly.

Marshall now stood for a moment, irresolutely, his eyes fixed on Thure
and Bud; and then, suddenly, he thrust one of his hands deep into his
trousers pocket and drew out a little roll of buckskin, carefully folded
and tied. This little packet he at once untied and unrolled and brought
to light two small gold nuggets. With one of these in either hand he now
approached Thure and Bud.

"My young friends," he said, "I do not know as the life you saved is of
much value; but still I prize it, being the only life I have; and I want
to show you that I appreciate the quickness and the bravery of your
action, and to leave with you some memento of the deed and of the man
you saved from a horrible death. I am poor, others have grown rich off
my misfortunes--" Again that bitter look of mingled discontent and
useless rebellion swept over his face--"but I still have left these two
little nuggets of gold, the very two pieces of gold that I picked up
from the mill-race on that cold January morning, the first two nuggets
of gold found in California! I prize them above everything else that I
possess; and, because they are so dear to me, I now most willingly give
them to you, to keep in memory of this day and of the unfortunate man
whose life you saved," and he handed one of the nuggets to Thure and the
other to Bud. "Keep them carefully. They will be valuable mementos some
day, Good-by," and without another word or waiting for a reply, he
whirled about and walked swiftly away.

Thure and Bud both ran after him, and told him that, although they would
prize the nuggets above anything else he could give them, they did not
wish to take them from him, the one who first picked them up, that they
belonged to him, that he ought to keep them; but Marshall would not
listen to them, would not take the nuggets back, would not even stop to
hear the boys' thanks, and strode on down the trail to where the lights
of Hangtown were beginning to twinkle through the gathering shadows of
night.

In after years these two little gold nuggets became the most valued
treasures in the possession of the families of our young heroes; and
their grandchildren still cherish them among their most prized
heirlooms.

"I reckon thar's somethin' jest a leetle out of kilter in th' top of
Marshall's head," Ham commented, as he watched the man hurrying down the
trail. "He's smart enough when it comes tew th' use of tools; but
outside of them 'bout everything that he touches 'pears tew go wrong
with him, an' ginerally it goes wrong because of th' fool way he tackles
it, though he lays his bad luck all on th' ingratertude of his feller
mortals."

Thure and Bud very carefully stowed away the two nuggets in their
pockets, and hurried on after their companions, who were hurrying up the
trail leading to the log house.

As they passed the Dickson log cabin Mr. and Mrs. Dickson both came out.
Mrs. Dickson's eyes were red from crying, and the face of Dickson was
white and set, with a look of despair in his eyes not good to see.

"Hello! What has happened?" and Mr. Conroyal, who was in the lead,
stopped suddenly and stared in astonishment at the woe-begone faces of
the erstwhile happy couple.

"Robbed," Dickson answered sententiously. "Robbed and the mine has
played out."

"Yes, robbed of all but about fifty dollars' worth of gold-dust that we
took out this afternoon before the mine gave out," and Mrs. Dickson's
voice trembled. "And not a thing to tell us who did the robbing. Robbed
of a good forty thousand dollors' worth of gold-dust! Enough to have
taken us both back to New York state and enabled us to have lived the
rest of our lives in comfort," and Mrs. Dickson's voice broke into sobs.

"Robbed! Robbed of all your gold!" and our friends gather around them in
great excitement and indignation.

"When?"

"How?"

"Who did it?"

"Sometime this afternoon," answered Mr. Dickson, "as near as we can
figure it out just a little before the storm. But all that we really
know is, that, when we went to get the gold to-night, it was gone, and
without a sign left to tell who had taken it."

"And we had it so well hidden," mourned Mrs. Dickson, "under a stone in
the fireplace. And then to think that the mine should give out at the
same time!" and again she burst into tears.

"Wal, it shore is tough luck, Leetle Woman," sympathized Ham. "But we've
got tew take th' tough luck with th' tender an' make th' best on it.
Now, supposin' we have a look around. Maybe we can find some clue that
you missed, you being some excited. It'll go mighty hard with th'
robbers, if we catch them," and Ham's face hardened. "Now jest show us
where you had th' gold hidden," and he and the others followed Mr. and
Mrs. Dickson into the house.

"We had the gold hid right there, under that stone," and Dickson pointed
to an upturned flat stone, about a foot square, that lay near a small
hole, excavated in the bed of the fireplace, which the stone had
evidently covered over and concealed. "When we got in to-night there was
not a suspicious sign anywhere; and it was not until I lifted the stone
off the hole to put the gold in that we'd taken out since noon that we
discovered that we had been robbed. I reckon there is no use of trying
to find the robbers. A hundred men could hide themselves in these
mountains in a couple of hours where ten thousand could not find them,"
and the look of despair settled back on his face. "Nobody saw them come
and nobody saw them go and nobody has the least idea who did the
robbing. So, I guess, it is just up to Mollie and me to buckle down to
hard work and hard living again."

"Now, don't git discourage. Maybe thar's better luck in store for you
than you dream of," and Ham's face lighted up, as if a pleasant idea had
suddenly come to him. "I want tew have a talk with th' rest of th'
members of th' Never-Give-Up California Mining Company; an' then, may be
we'll have a propersition tew make tew you, an', ag'in, maybe we won't,"
and Ham grinned so good-naturedly that even Mrs. Dickson smiled wanly.

"Come on, fellers, let's git tew th' office of th' Never-Give-Up
California Mining Company; an' go intew secret session tew consider
important matters," and he hurried out of the house, followed by all the
others, except Mr. and Mrs. Dickson, who stared after them with
something like hope mingled with the look of wonderment on their faces.
They knew that Hammer Jones never talked that way, under such serious
circumstances, without meaning something. But, what could he mean?

Ham was the first to open the door of the log house and enter. The room
was dark and he struck a match and lit the candle, which had been left
on the table ready for lighting. The moment the light of the candle
illuminated the surface of the table, Ham uttered an exclamation and
stood staring blankly, for a moment, at something that glittered and
shimmered in the flickering candle light near the center of the table.

"Wal, I'll be durned!" and he reached out one of his big hands and
gingerly drew from the table a small keen-bladed Mexican dagger, which,
with a strong blow, had been driven through a piece of paper deep into
the wood of the table.

All the others were now crowding excitedly around the table; and Mr.
Conroyal quickly picked up the piece of paper and held it up to the
candlelight. On the paper were scrawled, with a piece of charred coal by
a hand unused to writing, the following words:

     WE ARE AGOIN TEW GIT THE MAP OR WE ARE A GOIN TEW GIT THE GOLD
     AFTER YOU GIT IT IF WE HAVE TEW GIT YOU TEW DEW IT. SO TEW SAVE
     YURSELFS TRUBLE AND TEW KEEP HUL SKINS ON YUR BONES YOUD BETER HAND
     OVER THAT MAP. THARS ENUF ON US TEW WHIP THE HUL ON YOU OFF THE
     FACE OF THE EARTH AND WE WIL DO IT IF YOU DONT GIVE UP THE MAP. A
     WORD TEW THE WISE IS ENUF. LIFE IS WURTH MORN GOLD. TI THE MAP TEW
     THE END OF THE STRING THAT YOU WIL FIND TIED TEW A STICK STUCK IN
     THE GROUND RIGHT NEAR YUR DOOR AND WE WIL PUL THE MAP TEW US. IF
     YOU TRI TEW FOLLOW THE MAP WE WIL SHOOT TEW KIL. IF YOU TRI TEW
     ROUSE THE TOWN WE WIL VAMOSE. WE ARE ON THE WATCH. GIVE 3 JERKS ON
     THE STRING WHEN YUR REDY FOR US TEW PUL THE MAP IN. IF WE DONT GIT
     THE MAP BY MIDNIGHT TEWNIGHT WE WIL KNOW ITS TEW BE WAR TEW THE
     DEATH.

This ominous note was unsigned; but there was no need of any signature.

For a moment after all had finished reading, no one spoke, but each
stood staring from the paper to the dagger in Ham's hand. Then Ham
suddenly straightened up with a growl of rage.

"I thought it was them, an' this proves I was right. Th' durned skunks!"
and the righteous wrath in Ham's eyes was good to see. "Now, men," and
his glance swept swiftly the circle of excited faces, "this makes th'
offerin' of proof unnecessary. We know who robbed th' Dicksons! An' we
know, if they hadn't a-ben watchin' us an' a tryin' tew git hold of that
thar skin map, they wouldn't have found out 'bout Dickson's gold an' did
th' robbin'. This makes us sort of respons'ble for th' robbin'; an', I
reckon, it's up tew us tew try an' make good what th' Dicksons lost on
'count of our bringin' them skunks down on them, more special since
their mine's gin out, tew. Now, seein' that thar durned dam has played
out on us, I reckon we're all a-calculatin' on havin' a try for th' Cave
of Gold next; an' I figger 'twouldn't be more'n square for us tew ask
th' Dicksons tew go long with us on th' hunt for th' dead miner's
wonderful cave, an', if we find it, for them tew share in th' gold same
as us. How does th' propersition strike you, men?"

"Bully!" exclaimed Thure enthusiastically. "Mrs. Dickson can beat dad
and the rest of you making flapjacks all hollow; and she can make
biscuits, real biscuits that a fellow can eat without cracking them
first with a hammer, the same as nuts!"

"Wal, I reckon, that argyment settles it," grinned Ham.

"Supposing we consider the Never-Give-Up California Mining Company in
session and put it to a vote," suggested Mr. Conroyal.

All agreeing, Mr. Conroyal promptly put the matter to a vote; and Mr.
and Mrs. Dickson were duly elected members of the Never-Give-Up
California Mining Company, with all the rights and privileges
appertaining thereto, the vote being unanimous.

"Now I'll appoint Hammer Jones and Rad Randolph a committee to notify
Mr. and Mrs. Dickson of their election and to escort them to the offices
of the Never-Give-Up California Mining Company," and Mr. Conroyal
smiled.

Ham and Mr. Randolph at once caught up their hats and hurried off to
perform their pleasant mission; and in five minutes were back with the
wondering man and woman on their arms between them.

As briefly as possible Mr. Conroyal now told the story of the skin map
and the Cave of Gold; and how they had every reason to believe that the
men who had robbed them were the same men who had murdered the miner,
and who now were striving so desperately to secure the skin map; and in
proof that the robbers and the murderers were the same, he showed the
note and the dagger, which they had found on the table, in evidence that
the men had been there that afternoon.

"Now," he concluded, "Ham thinks, and we all agree with him most
emphatically, that, since we are in a way responsible for bringing the
robbers down upon you, it would be no more than fair for us to invite
you to join with us in our search for this Cave of Gold, understanding,
of course, that, if the gold is found, all are to share alike, as all
will have to share alike the dangers and the difficulties of finding and
keeping it; and, judging by the note we found on the table, the dangers
will be real enough. Of course we are not sure that the cave really
exists, nor, if it does exist, that we will be able to find it; but we
have faith enough in it to give it a try. We plan to start on the hunt
just as soon as we can get ready, probably sometime tomorrow. This I
think explains the matter sufficiently for you to come to a decision.
Are you with us?"

"Yes! Yes!" exclaimed both Mr. and Mrs. Dickson eagerly.

"In to the death, as the note says," added Mrs. Dickson, smiling. "And
we thank you from the bottoms of our hearts for the chance."

"Do you know this murdered miner's name?" Dickson asked, his eyes
sparkling with excitement. "I think I know the man."

"John Stackpole, the map says," answered Mr. Conroyal.

"That's the man!" declared Dickson excitedly. "The very man I went
prospecting with last fall. He had some crazy idea in his head then
about a Cave of Gold that an old Indian whom he had cured of some
disease, he had been an army doctor once, had told him he had found in a
hidden gulch that opened into a canyon. We hunted all up and down the
canyon, into which the Indian said the gulch opened, but we couldn't
find no such gulch as the Indian described, and had to give it up. You
remember my telling you all about it, don't you, Mollie?" and Dickson
turned to his wife.

"Yes, yes," assented Mrs. Dickson eagerly. "You went on the trip while I
was away to Sacramento City and you told me all about it, when I got
back. Queer how things do turn out!"

"And so Stackpole really found the cave at last; but at the cost of his
life," and Dickson's face saddened. "Too bad!--I mean his murder; for he
was a good sort of a fellow, when he was away from liquor, but, let him
get a little whiskey down him, and he was as ugly as the devil. I reckon
that it was drink that drove him out of the army in disgrace; and I
reckon it was drink that caused his murder; for he was a very cautious
man and would have said nothing about his discovering the Cave of Gold,
especially to strangers, if he had been in his right senses--Can I, can
I see that map?" and Dickson's face suddenly lighted up. "Possibly I
know the place."

"Sure," and Mr. Conroyal turned to Thure. "Get out the map, Thure."

Thure's face reddened a little, but, turning his back to Mrs. Dickson,
he quickly, with the aid of his knife, ripped open the bosom of his
shirt, and, pulling out the map, handed it to his father, who at once
spread it out on the table in front of Dickson.

"Lot's Canyon!" Dickson cried excitedly, almost the moment his eyes fell
on the map. "Why, that's the very name we gave the canyon where we tried
to find the hidden gulch, on account of a white pillar of rock, that
Stackpole said might have been Lot's wife. And here is the very pillar
itself!" and he pointed to the little square on the map marked Lot's
Wife. "And the Big Tree! And the Devil's Slide! And Goose Neck Lake!
Every one of them names that we gave to places! I am sure that that is
the same canyon that Stackpole searched for the Cave of Gold when I was
with him," and Dickson turned an excited face to Mr. Conroyal. "It's
about a five days' tramp from here."

"That's what the dying miner said," broke in Bud eagerly.

"And do you think you can find that canyon again?" asked Mr. Conroyal
anxiously. "The trail on the map is none too clear; and I reckon we'd
have to do some hunting before we found it, with only the map to guide
us."

"I am sure I can," answered Dickson, his eyes still on the map.

"Well, then, we are in great luck," declared Mr. Conroyal. "I--Jumping
grasshoppers, if we are not forgetting all about that polite note!" he
exclaimed, as his eyes happened suddenly to fall on the dagger and the
bit of paper, which, during all this time, had lain on the table
neglected. "Now, what shall we do about that?" and his eyes flashed
around the circle of faces.

"Let's first see if the string is really there," proposed Thure.

"Good idee," and Ham caught up the candle and started for the door,
followed by all the others, Thure and Bud at his heels.

Within six feet of the door they found a sharpened stick thrust into the
ground, with the end of a strong string tied to it. The string ran along
the ground as far as the eye could see and disappeared in the darkness
of the night, in the direction of a thick clump of trees forty rods
away.

"Wal, now, they shore are cunnin' cusses!" and Ham's eyes followed the
string admiringly until it was lost in the darkness. "Jest tie th' map
tew th' end of this string, an' somebudy out thar somewhere in th'
darkness will pull it tew him, without nobudy here bein' th' wiser for
it. Not a durned bit of use tew follow up th' string neither. They could
shoot an' cut an' run long afore we could see them in th' darkness. They
shore are good at planning th' durned skunks! Say, jest supposin' we
send 'em a leetle message, jest tew see how th' string works," and Ham
turned to the others, a broad grin on his face.

This impressed all as a good idea, and they hurried back into the house
to prepare the message. In a few minutes the message, written on the
back of the piece of paper which they had found on the table, was ready.
It was brief, but to the point, and read:

     If you want the map, come and get it. There are nine men and one
     woman, worth any two men, who will be glad to welcome you.

The paper, with the message on it, was now rolled up tightly, and all
hurried out to the string.

Mr. Conroyal took the paper, and, kneeling down by the side of the
stick, untied the string, tied the little packet of paper strongly to
it, and then gave the string three sharp, strong jerks.

The response was prompt. Hardly had he given the last jerk, when the
string was pulled out of his hand, and the little packet of paper
started bobbing along over the ground toward the distant clump of trees,
with all watching its progress with fascinated eyes, until it
disappeared in the darkness.

For, perhaps, ten minutes they stood there, no one speaking a word, and
all eyes turned in the direction whither the little packet of paper had
disappeared. Then they saw a faint glow in the little clump of trees, as
if someone had struck a match.

"I reckon they're readin' it," grinned Ham. "Wonder how they like it?"

Ham did not have to wonder long; for, almost as he uttered the last
word, a spurt of flame leaped out from the dark shadows of the distant
clump of trees, and a rifle bullet whistled so close by his face that it
burnt the end of his nose, and buried itself in the logs of the house.

"Gosh A'mighty, he's got my nose!" and Ham made a break for the door of
the house, one big hand holding on to the end of his nose.

In two seconds all were in the house and the door shut.

"How much on it did he git? Not enough tew spoil my beauty, I hopes,"
and Ham held a lighted candle in front of his face before a small mirror
hanging on the wall. "Wal, I'll be durned! Jest burnt th' tip end on
it!" and he set the candle down on the table in disgust.

The darkness of the night and the wilderness of the surrounding
mountains made absolutely useless any attempt to follow up their
enemies; and, after an hour spent in discussing plans, Mr. and Mrs.
Dickson returned to their house, and our friends hurried into their
bunks, to get the rest needed to fit them for a busy morrow.



CHAPTER XXI

PEDRO


The next morning all our friends were up an hour before sunrise; for the
Never-Give-Up California Mining Company had much to do that morning, if
they started on the hunt for the Cave of Gold that day, as they hoped to
do. The horses had to be brought from the little valley five miles away,
where they had been turned out to pasture, needed supplies of food and
clothing and tools had to be procured at the stores of Hangtown, and
everything had to be made ready for the rough journey through the
wilderness of mountains and forests to the northeast. But nine men and
one woman can accomplish much in a few hours; and by noon everything was
in readiness for the start, and the horses stood saddled and bridled and
packed, ready for the journey, before the door of the log house, while
our friends gathered around the rough table inside for their last meal
in the house that had sheltered them for so long.

"Seems almost like leaving home," declared Mr. Conroyal, as his eyes
glanced slowly around the familiar room.

"It shore does," agreed Ham. "We've had some mighty good times in the
old house; an' I hopes th' fellers who move in when we're out, will be
sort of gentle tew things. Somehow it seems a leetle cruel tew desert
them tew friendly old rockers thar, that have so often given ease an'
comfort tew our tired bodies, not knowin' what sort of critters will
next sot down in 'em," and his eyes rested on the two barrel-rockers.
"They seem tew be a lookin' at me right now, sort of forlorn an'
reproachful-like," and a smile lighted his face at the whimsical
thought. "Wal, that kind of philosophizin' won't dig no gold. Now, dew
you reckon them skunks are on th' watch an' will try tew foller us?" and
the smile left his face.

"Yes," answered Mr. Conroyal. "They have probably been watching us all
the morning. When Frank and I started out as soon as it was light enough
to see to try and trace the string and maybe get onto the trail of the
scoundrels, we both feel certain that we were watched and that somebody
was warned of our coming, because, before we'd gone a dozen rods, we
heard a coyotelike bark, coming from way up the mountain-side and ending
in a howl that we are sure never came from a coyote's throat; and, when
we got to the clump of trees, we found signs of someone having been
there only a few minutes before, and followed the trail to a rocky gulch
a dozen rods beyond the trees, where we lost the trail on the hard
rocks. Yes, they sure will try to follow us; for now, I fancy, their
plan is, since they can't get hold of the map, to let us find the gold
and then to try and get it away from us. At least that is the way Frank
and I figure it out; and we've got to give them the slip somehow
somewhere between here and Lot's Canyon, or fight for the gold. Quinley
and Ugger have probably gathered together a band of cut-throats, and
figure on being able to get the gold away from us after we have found
it."

"And we calculate," continued Frank Holt, "that the best way to try and
give them the slip will be to go into camp early to-night; and then
about midnight to suddenly and quietly break camp and steal away under
cover of the darkness, hoping to get away without their knowing it."

"I reckon they're tew cute tew be fooled that easy," and Ham shook his
head.

"And so do we," grinned back Holt. "But we calculate that it will make
them think that we think that we have fooled them, and so they won't
consider it necessary to keep so close watch on us, and we can try to
make our real getaway the next night or the night after."

"That sounds more like it," and Ham grinned his approval. "Wal, since we
all 'pear tew be through eatin', let's git a-goin'," and he jumped up
from the table and hurried out doors, nearly stumbling over a thin,
sallow-faced, middle-aged Mexican, who stood near the door apparently
waiting for someone to come out.

"Hello, Pedro! What you doin' here?" and Ham scowled down on the little
Mexican, whom he had often seen working about Coleman's store. "Coleman
send you for something?"

"No, señor," answered the Mexican. "Coleman kick me this morning; and
now I no longer work for Coleman. I now would cook and keep camp for
señors," and he bowed, with a flourish of both his thin arms. "Get wood,
make fire, cook, carry water, clean dish, all I do for señors. I very
good cook. Coleman say I make best flapjacks in Hangtown. All I do for
señors for one ounce gold-dust a week. Si, señors?" and his bright black
eyes flashed questioningly around the circle of faces that, by this
time, had gathered around him.

"But, see, our hosses are packed. We're 'bout tew break camp," and Ham
pointed to the horses.

"Si, señor," answered Pedro, smiling. "I know how pack horse, so pack no
slip under belly. I go where señors go. I do good work, kind, faithful,
honest," and again he smiled, until his teeth showed like two rows of
yellow ivory in his mouth.

"Now," and Ham turned questioningly to the others. "I wonder if
'twouldn't be a good thing tew take Pedro 'long? He could help a lot
'bout hoss-packin' an' cookin' an' things, an' could dew all th' dirty
heavy work for th' Leetle Woman."

"Reckon you're right, Ham," declared Mr. Conroyal. "Shall we take the
Mexican on his own terms?" and he glanced inquiringly around.

"Yes, and a good bargain I call it," assented Mr. Randolph. "Pedro
couldn't have staid as long as he did with Coleman, if he hadn't been a
pretty decent sort of a Mexican; and he can help a lot about camp."

And thus it came about that Pedro, the Mexican, entered the service of
our friends, without a thought of suspicion that he might be other than
what he seemed coming into the head of one of them. If they had not seen
him so often working about Coleman's store and felt sure that he was
only an ignorant Mexican menial, they probably would have been a little
more cautious about taking him with them on such a venture as they were
about to undertake.

Mrs. Dickson was given one of the horses to ride, although she protested
that she was just as able to walk as anybody; but the other five horses
were all loaded with the packs containing the supplies for the journey
and the mining tools, the men, of course, all walking. The five
pack-horses were placed in charge of Pedro and brought up the rear of
the little column of men that now marched slowly over the hill that
flanked Hangtown and off toward the unknown wilderness of mountains and
forests to the northeast, Ham and Dickson and Mr. Conroyal in the lead.

For the first two or three days' march, or until they had passed beyond
the region where the miners were at work, their way would be plain. They
had only to follow the trail of the miners to Humbug Canyon, the last
known place marked down on the skin map. But from Humbug Canyon on there
would be no trail to follow and they would be obliged to trust to the
guidance of Mr. Dickson and the skin map to bring them into Lot's
Canyon. After that they would have to depend entirely on the map and
their own skill to discover the hidden opening into Crooked Arm Gulch.

Naturally Thure and Bud were in high spirits, now that they were
actually on their way to the marvelous Cave of Gold; and, boylike, they
allowed no thoughts of the threatening perils from Ugger and Quinley and
their band of cut-throats to trouble their minds or to distract their
attention from the wonderful scenes constantly unfolding before them, as
they advanced along the trail leading to Humbug Canyon, where something
interesting or beautiful or both met their eyes each moment, no matter
in what direction they looked. Now it was some wonderful formation of
nature--great masses of rocks towering thousands of feet above their
heads, picturesque little mountain-surrounded valleys, deep canyons and
gulches and ravines and chasms, beautiful cascades of water plunging
over precipitous cliffs to fall in a stream of sparkling jewels on the
rocks at their base, or great forests of columnlike trees, or winding,
murmuring, plunging, seething, turbulent little streams of water rushing
furiously toward some far-off valley, and like marvels and beauties of
nature. Again, in entering some little valley or ravine, they would come
suddenly upon a picturesque little company of miners hard at work with
picks and shovels and pans and cradles, searching for the elusive yellow
grains of gold. Indeed, during that first afternoon, they found the
miners everywhere, in the valleys, in the gulches and the ravines, along
the streams, wherever there seemed the least prospect of finding gold,
there these wild knights of the pick and the shovel were sure to be
found; and, as they passed, the latest mining news would be shouted back
and forth, enlivened with rude sallies of wit and merry well-wishes.

Sometimes they would pause for a few minutes to talk with the miners and
to watch them at their work; and, on one of these occasions, Thure and
Bud saw, for the first time, a couple of miners at work with a cradle,
as this queer machine used to separate the gold from the dirt is called.

"I don't wonder it is called a cradle," Thure exclaimed, the moment he
caught sight of the odd-looking contrivance. "Why, if it wasn't for that
hopper on the upper end and the man shoveling dirt and pouring water
into it, one would surely think that fellow was rocking his baby to
sleep in its cradle. Can't we wait here a little while and watch them
work it?" and Thure turned to his father. "The horses need a rest
anyway."

"Going to clean up soon?" Mr. Conroyal called to the men.

"In about ten minutes," answered the shoveler. "And, I reckon, we can
show some gold when we do. Won't you wait and see how it pans out?" he
invited cordially.

"Oh, do, please!" cried both the boys.

"All right," assented Mr. Conroyal. "A rest won't hurt the horses, and I
am sure the clean up will interest you boys."

"Bully! Come on. Let's get closer," and Thure started on the run for the
spot where the two men were working.

The men had placed the cradle within a few feet of where they were
digging up the pay-dirt, and near the cradle they had dug a small
reservoir, which was kept constantly filled with water by means of a
small trench dug from the little mountain stream a dozen rods away, so
that they had both the water and the dirt handy, two very necessary
things to make cradling successful, unless the pay-dirt is very rich.
The machine itself, as Thure said, looked very much like a rudely made,
baby's cradle. The body was about the same size and shape as the
ordinary homemade box cradle seen in the homes of thousands in those
days and underneath it were two similar rockers, but here the
resemblance ended. One end of the cradle-box was a little higher than
the other end, which was left open, so that the water loaded with the
waste dirt could run out; and on the upper end stood a hopper, or
riddle-box, as it was frequently called, about twenty inches square,
with sides four inches high and a bottom made of sheet-iron, pierced
with holes half an inch in diameter. Directly under the hopper, which
was not nailed to the cradle-box, was an apron of wood, fastened to the
sides of the cradle-box and sloping down from the lower end of the
hopper to the upper end of the cradle-box. Two strips of wood, about an
inch square, called riffle-bars, were nailed across the bottom of the
cradle-box, one at the middle and the other near the lower end. An
upright piece of wood, nailed to one side of the cradle-box, furnished a
convenient handle for the man who did the rocking. Such, briefly
described, was the make of the curious machine that had so aroused the
interest of Thure and Bud.

"Ever see a cradle work before?" asked the man who was shoveling the
dirt and pouring the water into the hopper, as Thure and Bud came
running up, their eyes shining with interest.

"No," answered Thure. "It sure is a funny looking machine."

"It sure is," agreed the man. "But a fellow can clean two or three times
as much dirt with it as he can with a pan and do it better. This is the
philosophy of it," and he shoveled the pay-dirt into the hopper until it
was a little over half filled, and then, picking up a long-handled
dipper, began dipping water out of the reservoir and pouring it on the
dirt in the hopper, while the other man constantly kept the cradle
rocking back and forth. "You see," continued the man, "the motion and
the water loosens and softens the dirt until all of it, except the
larger stones, falls through the holes in the bottom of the hopper and
runs down the apron to the upper end of the cradle and then down the
bottom of the cradle and over the riffle-bars and out the lower end,
leaving the gold and the heavier particles of sand and gravel behind the
riffle-bars. But a fellow has to keep the cradle in constant motion, or
the sand will pack and harden behind the riffle-bars and allow the gold
to slide over it, instead of sinking down through it, as gold always
will when sand or gravel is loose or in motion," as he spoke, he thrust
his hand into the hopper and picked out a couple of stones too large to
pass through the holes in the bottom of the hopper, and, after closely
examining them to see that there was no gold clinging to their sides,
threw them away.

"But, how do you get the gold out of the cradle?" queried Bud. "It seems
to be mixed all up with a lot of heavy sand and gravel behind the
riffle-bars."

"We will show you, just as soon as we wash out this hopper full of
dirt," replied the man. "Ay, Hank?" and he turned to his companion, the
rocker.

"I reckon it is about time to make a clean up, Dave," assented Hank,
shifting the other hand to the cradle handle. "Anyhow both my arms are
about plumb tired out."

After about ten minutes of this vigorous rocking all the dirt had been
dissolved and nothing remained in the hopper except a number of stones,
too large to fall through the holes in its bottom, which had been washed
clean by the water and the shaking they had received.

"There, I calculate that will do the business," and the man addressed as
Dave, dropped the dipper, with which he had been pouring the water into
the hopper, while Hank stopped rocking the cradle and, rising to his
feet, stretched up both arms over his head with a sigh of relief.

"Say, but this gold-digging is darned hard work," and he grinned down at
the two boys.

"A darned sight harder than measuring cloth behind a counter," laughed
Dave, as he lifted the hopper off the cradle and with a quick jerk threw
the stones out of it and laid it down on the ground. "But a fellow gets
something for his hard work--that is, he does if he is lucky," he added,
as he picked up a large iron spoon from the ground near the cradle. "Now
we'll see how the gold pans out," and bending over the cradle he began
digging out the gravel and sand behind the riffle-bars with the spoon
and throwing it into a gold-pan, which Hank held.

By this time all the company, except Pedro, who had been left in charge
of the pack-horses, had gathered around the two men and were watching
the cleaning up process with the greatest interest.

"'Bout how much dew you expect she'll pan out?" queried Ham, as Dave
scraped out the last spoonful of sand and gravel and threw it into the
pan.

"Somewhere between three and four ounces," answered Dave. "At least that
is about what we usually clean out. How does she feel, Hank?" and he
turned to his partner, who was running his fingers speculatively through
the wet sand in the pan.

"I'll bet you an ounce of dust that there is a good five ounces of gold
in this pan right now," declared the man, his eyes shining.

Before replying Dave took the pan and ran his fingers a few times
through the sand.

"I'll go you. Wash her out," and he handed the pan back to Hank.

Hank now took the pan to the little stream of water, where the swift
current would help in separating the gold from the sand; and in a few
minutes his skilful hands had succeeded in washing out of the pan all
the sand and gravel, except a thin layer of black sand, that was too
heavy to wash out without danger of washing out the gold with it, which
now could be seen sparkling here and there in the sand.

"Want to back out?" and Hank held the pan up in triumph in front of
Dave's face.

"Sure not. There is not over four ounces there," answered Dave, after a
moment's close examination of the sand. "Get out your magnet."

Hank now thrust one of his hands into his pocket and pulled out a large
horseshoe magnet, the ends of which he at once began passing over the
black sand in the bottom of the pan; and, since the black sand was
nearly all iron, the magnet force caused it to cling to the horseshoe
and in this ingenious manner the remaining sand was quickly drawn from
the pan, leaving a thin, a very thin layer of gold-dust lying on its
bottom.

Dave now produced a small balance from one of his pockets and the
gold-dust was quickly gathered up and weighed.

"I win! Five ounces and a half!" shouted Hank triumphantly, at the same
time giving Dave a resounding whack on his back with the flat of his
hand. "That's the best clean up we've had since we started digging here.
I reckon you boys brought us good luck," and he grinned joyously into
the faces of Thure and Bud.

"Five an' a half ounces! That's a mighty good clean up," declared Ham,
critically eyeing the little pile of gold-dust on the scale. "How often
dew you clean up a day?"

"Usually about four times," answered one of the men. "But sometimes,
when the shoveling is good, we get in another clean up or two by working
a little late."

"Wal, tew hundred an' fifty or three hundred dollars' worth of gold a
day is shore dewin' pretty well for tew men; an' I hopes y'ur good luck
continues."

"No more measuring cloth behind a counter for me, if it does," laughed
Dave. "You see Hank and I were both clerks in a drygoods store back
East; but we will both be proprietors when we get back, if our good luck
holds out only a few months longer," and the look on the faces of the
two men told how much they were counting on that proprietorship.

"I am sure your good luck will continue," smiled Mr. Conroyal
encouragingly. "But now we must be on our way," and he led the way back
to where Pedro was waiting with the horses.

That night our friends made their camp in a little grove of trees that
grew on the bank of a streamlet flowing through a small mountain valley,
where there was an abundance of water, wood, and grass.

Pedro proved himself so great a success at unpacking the horses and
attending to the rougher camp duties that all felt like congratulating
themselves on having secured his service. He was willing and cleanly,
two rather rare qualities in the Mexican camp menial, who was usually
sullen in disposition and dirty in person and habits. He also proved to
the satisfaction of all that his flapjacks deserved all the praises that
Coleman had given them.

"He's a jewel," declared Mrs. Dickson enthusiastically. "And, if it
wasn't for something snaky and creepy-crawly looking in his eyes, I had
rather have his help than that of most women's. But I guess that queer
look and the way he has of watching all of us comes from his being
Mexican. Now," and she lowered her voice, "are you still planning to
break camp sometime during the night and try to fool Ugger and his men,
if they are trying to keep watch of us?"

"Yes," replied Mr. Conroyal. "The moon will be up about midnight; and, I
reckon, that will be about the best time for us to try to make our
getaway. So the sooner we all get to sleep the more rest we will get.
Now, how about the guard?" and he turned inquiringly to the circle of
men who had gathered around the camp-fire for a quiet little talk, after
the supper had been eaten and all the camp duties had been attended to.
"Do you think it necessary for us to post guards over the camp nights?"

"Sart'in," declared Ham. "Them skunks would be shore tew be up tew some
devilment, like stealin' our hosses or something if we didn't; an' I
don't calculate on lettin' 'em git th' start on us, if watchin' will
prevent it. I'm for havin' a guard every night, until we git safe back
tew civilerzation ag'in. Them's uncommon cunnin' scoundrels what's on
our trail, an' we don't want tew take no chances with them."

"That's exactly the way I feel about it," agreed Mr. Conroyal. "Twould
be foolish to run any needless chances. Rex, you will stand guard for
the first two hours. Then you can awaken Dill, who will keep guard until
it is time to arouse the camp, which will be just as soon as the moon
rises, somewhere around midnight. Now everybody but Rex get into their
blankets."

A small tent had been secured for the use of Mrs. Dickson, into which
she now retired; but the men found "soft" spots of ground near the
camp-fire, spread out their blankets on them, and, rolling themselves up
in the blankets, lay down to as sound a sleep as ever blessed a man in
the most comfortable of beds.

A little after midnight, just as the white disk of the moon rose above
the tops of the mountains to the east, Dill quietly awoke his father;
and then the two quietly, and cautioning all to make as little noise as
possible, awoke the others.

Pedro, who had lain down near the horses, was at first inclined to be
surly, when aroused from a sound sleep and told to pack the horses as
quickly and as quietly as possible; but in a few minutes all his
surliness had vanished and he was doing the work with a swift and
skilful dexterity that showed long practice.

In half an hour the horses were packed and everything was ready to
start.

"Now," and Mr. Conroyal lowered his voice almost to a whisper, "there
must be no talking and everyone must move quietly, so as to make as
little noise as possible, until we have put a couple of miles between us
and the camp. I'll go on ahead and the others can follow in single file.
Rex, you and Dill and Thure and Bud help Pedro with the horses. You had
better lead them for awhile. We will leave the camp-fire burning.
Everybody ready?"

"Yes"--"Yes," came in whispers.

"All right. Come on," and Mr. Conroyal, walking carefully so as to make
as little noise as possible, moved off down the trail that showed
faintly in the moonlight.

In the excitement of the moment no one saw Pedro bend quickly down to
the ground, just before starting, and swiftly slip a piece of paper on
which was written the two words, "Humbug Canyon," under a stone that lay
near the camp-fire, and then, with a cunning gleam in his snaky black
eyes straighten up and give all his attention to the horse he was to
lead.

All now fell into line and followed close behind Mr. Conroyal, Thure and
Bud and Rex and Dill and Pedro each leading one of the pack-horses.

For a mile the trail was over the soft grass-covered sod of the valley,
which muffled the sounds made by their moving feet, so that they might
have passed within half a dozen rods of a camp without a man in it
dreaming that a little company of men and horses were passing, unless he
chanced to see them. Then the trail again entered the defiles of the
mountains, where the going was rough and difficult and sometimes
dangerous, on account of their not being able to see clearly in the dim
light of the moon; but Mr. Conroyal kept pressing steadily and silently
onward, and as steadily and as silently all the others followed.

There was no talking, even after they had passed the danger zone. No one
seemed to care to talk. There was something in the mystery of the night
and the wilderness, in the white light of the moon falling on tree and
rock and mountain and valley, in the silence of the vast surrounding
forests and mighty piles of towering rocks that stilled the tongue.

For a couple of hours they journeyed steadily and silently on through
the moonlit wilderness; and then Mr. Conroyal came to a halt in a narrow
little valley.

"I reckon we've thrown the scoundrels off the trail by now, if we are
going to to-night," he said; "and so we might as well go into camp again
and rest up until sunrise; and as this looks like a good place we will
go into camp right there under those trees," and he pointed toward a
little grove of evergreen oaks that grew a few rods away.

All were tired and all were sleepy; and, consequently, all welcomed the
decision to go into camp, and acted on it so promptly that, in fifteen
minutes, all, except the guard, were rolled up in their blankets and
soon were sound asleep.



CHAPTER XXII

THE MYSTERY OF THE TENT


"I reckon we otter make Humbug Canyon afore dark tew-night," Ham
declared, as our friends, notwithstanding the break in their rest of the
night before, moved out of the little valley, where they had camped, as
soon as it became light enough to see the trail the next morning.

"Yes," assented Mr. Conroyal, "but we will have to keep going to do it.
Do you suppose we fooled Ugger and his gang and threw them off our trail
last night?" and he turned a little anxiously to Ham and Frank Holt, who
were walking by his side.

"If they didn't have no one on watch, I reckon we did," answered Ham;
"but it's more'n likely they're cunnin' enough tew be on th' lookout for
jest such tricks an' that they know right now where we be. They know it
wouldn't dew for them tew lose track of us in this here wilderness of
mountains, where 'twould be like tryin' tew find a needle in a haystack
tew try tew hit our trail ag'in, once it was lost; an' so, I reckon,
some on 'em has got an eye on us right now, an' that we'll have tew play
a shrewder trick than that tew fool 'em. But, maybe, 'twill work all
right as a sort of a blind, an' make them think that we think that we
have fooled them, an' so make 'em keerless, so that we can fool 'em th'
next time. What dew you think, Steeltrap?" Ham still frequently called
Frank Holt by his old name, Steeltrap Smith, a name that had been given
to him on account of his skill as a trapper, when his own name was
unknown even to himself, as the readers of this series of books will
remember.

"I think you are about right, Ham," replied Holt, "although I should not
be much surprised if we gave them the slip last night. I kept watch all
the time that we were on the move yesterday, but nary a sign of anybody
following our trail could I discover. They sure must have a cunning
trailer, or else they're not depending on keeping us in sight. Perhaps
they got more about the trail from the old miner than we think they did,
and are on the watch for us at some point ahead, which they know we must
pass."

"That's a shrewd guess, Frank," declared Mr. Conroyal. "Now," and his
face brightened, "why wouldn't it be a good plan for us not to pass
through Humbug Canyon at all; but to go around it and to try to hit the
trail again on the other side? If there is any place ahead where they
would be likely to be on the watch for us, it is at Humbug Canyon,
because that is the last place on the trail they could be sure of
without the map. The trouble will be to get around Humbug Canyon. Maybe
there is no trail that we can follow but the one running through the
canyon. Anybody here know anything about the region around Humbug
Canyon?" and, raising his voice, he stopped and looked inquiringly
around.

"Yes, a little," answered Dickson, quickly coming forward. "I spent
about two weeks last fall prospecting in the mountains around it. What
would you like to know?"

"Can we go to one side of Humbug Canyon and hit the trail to the Cave of
Gold again beyond?" inquired Conroyal eagerly. "If there has been
anybody stationed in Humbug Canyon to look out for us, we would like to
fool them by not passing through it at all."

"I think we might do it by working around through Owl Gulch about five
miles to the east of Humbug Canyon," Dickson answered thoughtfully: "but
it will be considerable out of our way and the trail won't be nigh as
good. I am not absolutely sure, but I think we could get through all
right that way and not go nigh Humbug Canyon."

"Shall we risk it?" and Mr. Conroyal turned to the men, all of whom had
been interested listeners to his query and to Dickson's answer.

"I think the idea a good one," declared Mr. Randolph, "because, if the
old miner told them that the trail to the cave passed through Humbug
Canyon, they'd be sure to have someone on the watch for us there; and, I
reckon, we are good enough mountaineers to find the trail on the other
side without much trouble."

"My sentiments tew a ha'r," agreed Ham emphatically. "Let's hit for Owl
Gulch. 'Twould be worth goin' a hundred miles out of th' way tew shake
them skunks."

"All right," and Mr. Conroyal turned to Dickson. "You are the guide from
now on, Dick, so step to the front and we will follow."

This plan appeared to please all except Pedro, who, bending down by the
side of one of the horses and pretending to tighten a rope holding the
pack, scowled furiously and swore violently, under his breath, in
Mexican; and the scowl was still on his face, when he again straightened
up and prepared to follow along with the pack-horses.

"What's the trouble, Pedro? Flapjacks getting busy?" and Thure turned a
grinning face to the Mexican.

"No. Pack slip and pinch finger in rope. Now all right," and the smile
came back on Pedro's face.

But Thure noticed that the scowl returned again and again to his face
that forenoon, as he walked along by the side of the pack-horses.

"Reckon the break in his sleep has made him cross," he thought, and gave
the matter no more attention.

At noon, when they stopped to give horses and selves a short rest and a
chance to eat their dinners, Pedro slipped off behind a rock for some
ten minutes; and, when the journey was resumed, he lagged a little
behind the others, pretending to be tightening one of the packs, and,
once again, managed to slip, unseen, a little piece of paper under a
stone and leave it near the camp-fire over which Mrs. Dickson had heated
the coffee. This little feat seemed to fully restore his good-nature;
for there were no more scowls on his face that day.

About the middle of the afternoon Dickson halted, where the stream along
whose bank they had been walking for the last two hours forked, one
branch flowing almost directly from the north and the other coming from
the east, with a huge triangle of mountains widening out between them.

"Thither runs the trail to Humbug Canyon," and he pointed to the
northern stream; "and thither runs the trail to Owl Gulch," and his
finger turned to the eastern branch. "We are now about two hours from
Humbug Canyon and some four hours from Owl Gulch. Remember I am not
absolutely sure I can find the trail the other side of Humbug Canyon;
but I think I can. Stackpole and I went by way of the canyon. Now, which
shall it be?"

"Owl Gulch," answered Mr. Conroyal promptly. "I reckon we can find the
trail all right again--Hi, there, Pedro, what sort of a heathenish charm
is that you are making?" and he turned abruptly to Pedro, who the moment
they had stopped had begun scratching curious lines with his knife on
the face of a soft rock, by the side of which they had halted.

"Si, señor," and Pedro turned a solemn face to Mr. Conroyal, "'tis but a
holy cross I am cutting to scare the devils away from following us up
that evil-smelling stream," and he pointed to the east fork of the
little river, from which arose a faint odor.

"Wal," grinned Ham, "I shore dew hope that you scare 'em away; for thar
shore is devils a-follerin' us," and his grin broadened at sight of the
startled look that came into Pedro's face.

"_Madre de Dios!_" and Pedro crossed himself swiftly.

"But, even a devil must cotch a feller afore he can run his pitchfork
intew him," and Ham chuckled; "an' we ain't cotched yit. As for that
thar stream," and he chuckled again, "th' devil once took a drink out of
it, an' it's smelt of his breath ever since."

"There, that will do, Ham," laughed Mr. Conroyal. "Come on," and he
started up the east fork of the river.

Pedro, the snaky look in his eyes showing more plainly than ever,
swiftly cut a small arrow, with its head pointing up the east fork of
the rivulet, underneath the cross, slipped the knife back into its
sheath, and followed with the pack-horses, his sallow face now all
smiles. Evidently he had explicit faith in the power of his charm to
keep the devils from following them up the evil-smelling stream.

That night our friends camped in Owl Gulch, a steep, narrow defile,
little more than a crack in the huge walls of surrounding rock; and the
next day, after much arduous and violent climbing for horses and men up
the gulch and over the low back of a mountain, they passed down into a
quiet little valley, just as the sun sank behind the tops of the
mountains to the west.

The moment Dickson entered the valley he uttered an exclamation of
pleasure.

"Hurrah!" he cried. "We've hit the trail again! I am sure this is the
little valley where Stackpole and I camped the first night out from
Humbug Canyon. There should be a spring bubbling out of the ground at
the point of that spur of rocks where you see that little grove of
trees," and he pointed to a small grove of trees that clustered about
the point of a ridge of rocks that projected, like a long bony finger,
from the side of the surrounding mountains down into the little valley.
"We made our camp in the grove. I'll know the place for sure when we get
there by a tree that Stackpole girdled," and, accompanied by Thure and
Bud, he started on the run for the little grove of trees now about half
a mile away.

In a few minutes the three reached the trees. The spring was there! By
its side stood a tall sycamore tree, dead, its trunk having been girdled
by an ax, as the deep scars in its bark still plainly showed.

"There," and Dickson pointed triumphantly to the tree, "there is my
witness, the very tree that Stackpole girdled, in order that he might
have plenty of dry wood the next time that he camped here. And see," and
he pointed excitedly to the blackened remains of a camp-fire that did
not look to be many weeks old, "there is where he camped on his way back
from the Cave of Gold. We sure are in luck!" and he turned to shout the
good news to the others, who were now pushing their way eagerly through
the trees.

"Here is where we camp for the night," declared Mr. Conroyal, when the
excitement and the jubilation of the discovery that they were surely on
the right trail again had somewhat quieted down; and all at once began
joyfully preparing the camp for the night.

"It's queer how things dew turn out sometimes," philosophized Ham, when
all were seated around a blazing camp-fire, built from the limbs of the
dead sycamore, after the supper had been eaten and all the camp duties
attended to. "Th' miner that murdered that tree, jest so that he might
have dry wood, was murdered himself, jest for his gold; an' here we be
a-settin' around an' takin' comfort from a camp-fire built from th' dead
limbs of th' dead miner's dead tree, an' bound on a hunt for th' dead
miner's gold. Wal, I shore hopes we have better luck than he did."

"Oh, shut up, Ham!" and Rex threw a discarded flapjack at Ham's head,
with such good aim that it landed squarely over his big mouth. "You are
enough to give the dumps to a man with the tooth-ache."

When the laugh that followed this admirable use of valuable ammunition
had quieted down, Dickson turned to Mr. Conroyal.

"I think I would like to have another look at that skin map," he said.

"Certain, get the map, Thure," and Mr. Conroyal turned to Thure.

Thure hesitated a moment, and then, catching sight of Mrs. Dickson's
little tent and receiving a smiling nod from her, he quickly entered the
tent, and a few minutes later came out with the skin map in his hand,
and handed it to Mr. Dickson.

Pedro, who was standing near, washing the few supper dishes in a
gold-pan, started a little and almost visibly pricked up his ears at the
first mention of the skin map, and his evil eyes followed Thure into the
tent, with an intensity of look that was well for him was unseen by his
employers.

Dickson took the map and spread it out on his knees, where the light of
the camp-fire shone full upon it; and soon all were gathered around him,
yes, all, even Pedro, who had softly left his dish washing and
tip-toeing up to the heads bending absorbedly over the map, was now
striving to secure a glimpse of the skin map directly from over the big
shoulders of Ham.

Suddenly Ham straightened up his huge frame, with such a sudden jerk,
that one of his shoulders came in so violent a contact with the point of
Pedro's chin that the Mexican was lifted off his feet and thrown flat on
his back to the ground.

"Wal, I'll be durned!" and Ham stared down in astonishment on the fallen
Mexican. "Thought I heer'd someone breathin' over my shoulder. Now what
might you be dewin' down thar?" and the eyes that glared down into
Pedro's face began to glow angrily.

"I--I" stammered Pedro, as he staggered a little dizzily to his feet,
both hands holding onto his head. "I but try to see what make so great
interest to señors, when sudden up comes that great body and hit chin,
like bunt of big bull, and knock head to ground. I did but follow my
head, señor."

"Jest follered y'ur head, did you?" and Ham's anger vanished in roars of
laughter, at the words of the unfortunate Mexican and the looks on his
face, in which he was heartily joined by all the others, all except Mrs.
Dickson, who inquired solicitously of Pedro if he was much hurt.

But Pedro's curiosity for the moment was fully satisfied, and, without
making any reply, except to mutter something about American bulls under
his breath, he retreated to his dish washing.

"Sarved him right," declared Ham emphatically, as all again resumed
their examination of the skin map.

When the map had been sufficiently examined, Thure again retired into
Mrs. Dickson's tent, where he again concealed the map in the bosom of
his shirt; and when he came out again, apparently without the map, Pedro
smiled knowingly.

Before going to her tent that night Mrs. Dickson sang a number of songs,
and almost weirdly beautiful her voice sounded in the still night air of
that little wilderness valley, concluding with Ham's favorite "Ben
Bolt." Then she bade them all good-night and disappeared into her little
tent.

Mr. Dickson and Thure were to stand guard that night until the moon came
up, which would be about one o'clock in the morning. Consequently, as
soon as Mrs. Dickson retired, all but these two rolled themselves up in
their blankets near the camp-fire and were soon sound asleep. Thure and
Dickson each picked up his rifle and took his station on opposite sides
of the camp and began his long silent vigil.

The skies were overcast with clouds and the darkness was so dense that
the watchers could not see six feet outside of the constantly dimming
circle of the firelight. In a couple of hours the fire had burnt down so
low, that, from where Thure stood near the horses, he could not even see
the white of Mrs. Dickson's tent, although it was not over ten yards
from where he stood; and he was about to step forward to replenish it,
when a dark object leaped by him, so close that he could have touched it
with his outstretched rifle, and disappeared in the darkness before he
could utter a word or throw his gun to his shoulder, and the next
instant the air was rent by a piercing shriek from Pedro, followed by
the flash and the report of his pistol and his yells of fright.

In an instant every man in the camp was on his feet, his rifle in his
hands, calling excitedly: "What is the trouble?" "What has happened?"
and running to where Pedro was rolling about on the ground, calling on
all the saints in the Mexican calendar to protect him, seemingly frantic
with fear.

"Stop that yellin', you Mexican coyote, an' tell us what has happened,
quick," and Ham bent down and, seizing the squirming Pedro by the
shoulders, jerked him to his feet and dragged him unceremoniously to the
camp-fire, which an armful of dry fuel caused to blaze up brightly.

"_Madre de Dios!_ I know not! I know not!" cried the man, glaring
wildly about him and clinging to Ham. "Unless it was the devil of
these evil mountains. I lay sleeping, rolled up in my blanket,
when,--poof!--something hit my side and something big and ugly tumble
all over me and I see something black and awful jump in the darkness and
I grab my pistol I always sleep with me in blanket and shoot--bang!--and
the big black thing give one great jump and vanish, just like a black
devil, in the darkness. _Santissima!_ I know not what he was, if he was
not the devil! I--"

"I saw him rush by me so close that I might have touched him with my
rifle," here broke in Thure; "but, before I could speak or shoot, he had
disappeared in the darkness, and then came Pedro's shot and yells."

"Look to the horses!" cried Mr. Conroyal. "See that everything is safe!"

At that moment Dickson appeared in the circle of light made by the
camp-fire.

"All the horses are safe," he said. "Nothing appears to be missing. What
does all this excitement mean? I saw nothing, heard nothing, until the
shooting and yelling began--" He stopped abruptly and glanced swiftly
around. "Mollie! Where's Mollie?" and he sprang toward the tent.

"Gosh! I plumb forgot th' Leetle Woman! She shore otter have showed up
afore this," and Ham's face whitened, as his eyes followed Dickson into
the little tent.

The fire was now burning so brightly that the tent showed plainly in its
ruddy light; and the eyes of all fixed themselves on it, a look of
dreadful apprehension on each whitening face.

For a moment all was silent after Dickson disappeared in the tent; and
then came a yell of horror that made every man jump for the tent, just
as Dickson staggered out with a squirming bundle in his arms, that he
quickly laid down on the ground and began frantically untying the
deerskin thongs with which it was tightly bound.

"Great God, if 'tain't th' Leetle Woman!" and Ham bent excitedly and
with his knife began cutting the thongs, which bound Mrs. Dickson, head
and all, in her own blanket as tightly as an Egyptian mummy.

In a moment her body was free; but, when the blanket was lifted from her
face, her mouth was found to be so tightly stuffed, with a piece of
cloth torn from her own dress, that she could not utter an audible
sound. Dickson's strong fingers quickly pulled the cloth out of her
mouth; and she lay, white and gasping for breath, but apparently unhurt,
staring up wildly into the faces of the excited men.

"Take her into the tent, Dick, until she recovers from her fright and
rough usage," whispered Mr. Conroyal, bending close to Dickson's ear.

Dickson quickly lifted his wife into his arms and carried her into the
tent.

"Who did it?" and Mr. Conroyal's eyes searched anxiously the angry and
mystified faces of the men, the moment Mr. Dickson vanished with his
burden in the tent.

"Th' Lord alone knows for sart'in," answered Ham. "But, I reckon, 'twas
one of them durned skunks. Jest wait 'til th' Leetle Woman gits tew
feelin' like herself ag'in an' maybe she can give us some useful
information."

But, in this conjecture, Ham was wrong; for, when something like half an
hour later, Mrs. Dickson came out the tent, leaning on her husband's arm
and looking very white, but otherwise little the worse for her
experience, all the information she could give only added to the
mystery.

She had been sound asleep when the attack was made. The first thing she
knew a hand held her by the throat, so tightly that she could not utter
a sound; and, when she opened her mouth, gasping vainly for breath, it
was instantly stuffed full of rags, so firmly that she could not utter a
loud sound. Then the hand was taken from her throat, her arms pressed
closely to her sides, and she was tightly rolled up in her own blanket,
head and all, and tied the way they had found her. For some little time
after that she heard her assailant cautiously searching the tent. He
appeared to be exceedingly anxious to find something; for every possible
hiding-place in the tent had been thoroughly searched and every package
or bundle had been opened. When the search was over, she heard the
intruder creep softly out of the tent. Then had followed a few minutes
of silence broken suddenly by Pedro's yells and shot. Owing to the
darkness and to the fact that her eyes had been covered as quickly as
possible, she could not give any idea of what her assailant looked like,
only she did not think he was a large man.

This was all the information that Mrs. Dicksom could give; and a
thorough search of the tent with a torch added nothing to it.

Thure and Pedro were again examined; but they could give no definite
information. Thure had only caught a glimpse of the man, as he had
rushed by him in the darkness; and Pedro appeared to have been too
nearly frightened out of his wits to have seen anything correctly, even
if it had been clear daylight, instead of the black night that it was.
However both disagreed with Mrs. Dickson in one particular. Thure felt
quite sure that the man who rushed by him was a large man; and Pedro was
positive that he was a giant in size. Dickson had not seen the man at
all. The horses and the packs, indeed the whole camp, were thoroughly
examined with lighted torches; but nothing was found missing, nothing
had even been disturbed outside of Mrs. Dickson's tent, and from here,
so far as they could discover, not a thing had been taken.

"It's 'bout as plain as th' nose on a man's face that he was after th'
skin map," Ham commented, when all had again gathered around the
camp-fire to consider the mystery; "but, why should he look for it in
th' tent? an' how did he git in thar? that's what gits me," and Ham
shook his head. "Wal, thar is no use figgerin' on it any longer
tew-night. Let's git back intew our blankets; an' maybe we can see
things clearer in th' mornin'. It's tew tarnel dark even tew think," and
Ham laid down on his blanket and rolled himself up in it and refused to
have another word to say about the mystery that night.

"Reckon Ham is right," Mr. Conroyal declared, as that worthy disappeared
in his blanket. "But I sure would like to have a look at the man, who
can creep into our camp at night, right under the noses of the guards,
and tie one of us up in a blanket, and search a tent, and make a clean
getaway. I sure would like to have a look at that man."

"I'd want more than a look," and Mr. Dickson clenched both his hands.
"I'd just like to get hold of him for about five minutes, the
scoundrel!"

"And you are not the only one, Dick," and an angry light flashed into
Mr. Conroyal's eyes. "But, what's the use! He's got away; and without
leaving a clue, so far as I can see. Let's get into our blankets. Maybe,
as Ham says, we can see clearer in the morning. Good night," and Mr.
Conroyal turned to his blanket, followed by all the others, except Bud
and Mr. Randolph, who were to act as guards during the remainder of the
night.



CHAPTER XXIII

ON THE SHORE OF GOOSE NECK LAKE


The next morning the camp was again thoroughly examined; but no clues to
the identity of the intruder of the night before could be found, nor
could they follow his trail beyond the spot where he had apparently
stumbled over Pedro. Here the ground, which happened to be a little
soft, plainly showed where he had fallen and jumped to his feet and
leaped off in the direction of the point of rocks, but farther than this
it was impossible to trail him on account of the hardness of the ground.
There was absolutely nothing more that they could do; for it would be
useless to attempt to run him down in that wilderness of mountains; and
they were obliged to leave the mystery of the tent; it was a great
mystery to those strong watchful men how the gagging and the binding of
Mrs. Dickson had been so quietly and effectively accomplished, unsolved
for the present.

"Don't look much as if we'd thrown th' cunnin' devils off our trail,
does it?" Ham grumbled, as our little company again started on their
journey. "'Pears like as if we'd had all our trouble for our pains so
far. Wal, they didn't git th' skin map; but it shows they shore could
have got it, if they'd knowed whar it was," and his face clouded. "They
might have sneaked up ahind Dickson or Thure jest as easy an' knocked
'em senseless an' bound an' gagged 'em. Reckon we've got tew be more
keerful or they'll git th' map yit. 'Bout how much longer will it take
us tew git tew that thar canyon?" and he turned anxiously to Mr.
Dickson.

"We ought to make it in three days sure," answered Dickson. "Stackpole
and I did it in a little over two days from here; but, on account of the
pack-horses, it will probably take us a little longer."

"Shore you remember th' trail?"

"Yes," and Dickson's eyes turned northward. "Now that I am on the
ground, things come back to me. See that opening between those two
mountains?" and Dickson pointed to a ravine-like depression between two
mountains some four or five miles away. "Well, I know we went up that
ravine, because Stackpole pointed it out to me right from here, just as
I am pointing it out to you; and that ravine, after a couple of miles,
widens out into quite a little valley, with the mountain, called Three
Tree Mountain on the map, near its upper end."

"Wal, we shore was in luck, Dick, when we took you intew th'
partnership," Ham declared heartily; "for, I reckon, we'd had a durned
long hunt a-findin' our way jest by that map, but now all we've got tew
do is jest tew foller y'ur lead. Wal, lead on," and he grinned.

Dickson proved that his memory of the trail was correct; for, after they
had entered the ravine between the two mountains and had gone up it for
a couple of miles, it opened out into a beautiful little valley; and
there, near its upper end, stood a huge round-topped mountain, bald of
head, except for three tall trees that stood out against the horizon
like three lonely sentinels.

"Hurrah!" yelled Thure, the moment his eyes caught sight of this
mountain. "There is Three Tree Mountain! We sure are on the right trail.
Bully for Dickson!"

Our friends now had passed beyond the realm of the hitherto ubiquitous
miner. The wilderness was supreme. Everywhere around them mountains and
forests and valleys and streams stood unchanged, as they came from the
hand of God.

Game of all kinds was abundant. Bud shot a young buck elk, which they
ate for supper, when they went into camp for the night at the foot of
Three Tree Mountain.

The guard was doubled that night and the camp-fire was kept blazing
brightly, so that no one could creep into camp unseen under cover of the
darkness. These precautions proved effectual; and the night was passed
without alarm.

Dickson found no trouble in following the trail during the day. At every
turning point some remembered landmark would show him the right way to
go. A short time before night they passed over a ridge of rocks and
looked down into a quiet little valley, near the center of which lay a
beautiful little lake.

"Behold!" cried Dickson, pointing to the water, that shone like red gold
in the red rays of the setting sun. "Behold, Goose Neck Lake! It was
while standing at this very spot and looking down on the peculiar
necklike bend of the lake, that Stackpole gave it the name, Goose Neck
Lake. There is a little grove of trees on its north shore that will make
us a fine camping place. And tomorrow afternoon sometime we should be in
Lot's Canyon! Come on," and he hurried down the ridge toward the lake.

It was dark when they reached the north shore of the lake and pitched
their camp in the little grove of trees. All were in high spirits; for
on the morrow they would be in Lot's Canyon, almost at their journey's
end, almost within reach of the Cave of Gold!

For the last two days they had not seen nor heard a sign of their
enemies and they were beginning to hope that, in the maze of deep
gulches and ravines and little mountain-enclosed valleys through which
they had been passing, they had given them the slip, and this hope added
to their cheer. Consequently the little group that gathered around the
camp-fire that night was unusually merry--all except Pedro, who went
about his camp duties with a sullen troubled look on his face. Ever
since the night Mrs. Dickson had been found tightly bound in her tent,
his face had worn a troubled expression and his eyes were continually
turning to Thure, with a wondering questioning look in them, as if there
were something about the boy that he could not understand; and every
time he had heard the name of the skin map mentioned he had become
instantly alert, but always in such a way as not to attract attention in
his direction. Now, on this night, his was the only gloomy face in the
company.

"Looks as if we had given th' skunks th' slip at last," Ham said, as he
seated himself on his blanket, spread near the blazing fire, and leaned
back comfortably on his elbow. "An' I don't wonder; for I don't believe
even Kit Carson himself could have kept on our trail through all them
short twistin' gulches an' thick woods, through which we've ben passin'
for th' past tew days. Howsomever, I reckon, we hadn't better let up
none on th' caution bus'ness--But, let us forgit them skunks an' turn
our minds tew more pleasant things, like a song from th' Leetle Woman,"
and he turned to Mrs. Dickson. "I jest sorter feel hungry for music
tonight. Please sing 'Old Dan Tucker,' an' Th' Emergrants Lament' an'--"

"'Ben Bolt,'" laughed Thure.

"Shore," grinned Ham. "I couldn't go tew sleep without hearin' 'Ben
Bolt,' but let us have 'Old Dan Tucker' first."

Mrs. Dickson was in splendid voice that night and sang with unusual
fervor, even for her; and the men kept begging her for "just one more
song," until, at last, with a laugh, she declared she just couldn't sing
another song, and, bidding them all good night, hurried into her tent.

The guard was again doubled that night and instructed to keep the
camp-fire blazing brightly. Hammer Jones, Frank Holt, Mr. Randolph, and
Dill Conroyal, were to keep the first watch, through the darkest hours
of the night, before the moon came up. The night was clear and the
starlight bright enough to make objects dimly visible a few rods away.
The grove where they were encamped was not large and the guards were
stationed in its outskirts, where they could patrol all around it.

Hammer Jones' post was near the horses, on the opposite side of the
grove from the lake. About twenty rods from him, out on the open valley
stood a large tree, with three or four smaller trees growing around it.
In the starlight he could see the outlines of these trees dimly. He
stationed himself in the dark shadows of a large tree, where he could
keep one eye on the horses and the camp, illuminated by the blazing
camp-fire, and the other on the surrounding valley.

For a couple of hours he neither saw nor heard a suspicious sign or
sound. Then from the little clump of trees came the hoot of an owl that
caused him to straighten up quickly and to listen intently. Ham had
spent the greater part of his life in the wilderness; and the voices of
its wild dwellers were as familiar to him as were the voices of his
fellow men; and something in the first hoot of that owl had awakened his
suspicions. It did not sound exactly right. There was a false quaver at
the end. In a minute the hoot was repeated, still with that unnatural
quaver at its end.

Along the outskirts of the grove grew a thin line of short bushes. Ham
now bent down until his form was hidden by these bushes, and began
creeping slowly and very cautiously toward the clump of trees. In this
way he was able to get some three or four rods nearer to the spot that
had awakened his suspicions. During this cautious forward movement the
hoot of the owl had been repeated three times, at intervals of about a
minute, and the same false note had been sounded each time.

"I'd bet th' last coonskin in my pack that that's no owl hootin'," Ham
muttered softly to himself, fixing his eyes intently on the dark shadows
underneath the trees.

Suddenly he fancied he saw one of the shadows move.

"By gum, I'll chance a shot!" and swiftly throwing his rifle to his
shoulder, he fired at the spot where he thought he had seen the shadow
move.

There was a faint sound, like a smothered exclamation; and then all was
still in the little grove of trees, nor could Ham's straining eyes
detect any further movements.

But his shot had aroused the camp; and now all the men, except the
guard, came running to him, their rifles in their hands, excitedly
calling to know what was the matter.

"Jest a suspicious hoot of an owl an' a movin' shader," answered Ham. "I
reckon thar was one of them durned skunks a-hidin' in that clump of
trees, a-callin' out some signal; an' I shouldn't be none s'prised if my
bullet pinked him. Leastwise I thought I heer'd a smothered cry."

"Get torches and we will see," cried Mr. Conroyal excitedly. "Maybe you
got him, Ham."

Thure and Bud hurried to the camp-fire and soon were back with blazing
pine torches in their hands.

There were no hostile Indians in that part of the country, and they knew
that Ugger and his gang could not be there yet in sufficient force to
dare venture to attack them, so they did not fear to advance on the
little clump of trees with lighted torches in their hands.

There were three small trees and the one large tree and a few low bushes
in the clump. The ground around these was as carefully searched as was
possible by the light of the torches; but not a sign of Ham's human owl
did they find.

"Must have been a real owl after all, Ham," Mr. Conroyal said, as he was
about to give up the search and to return to the camp.

But, at this moment, Thure uttered a startled exclamation and, bending
quickly, picked up something from the ground and held it up where the
light of the torches showed it plainly to all.

It was a little finger freshly severed from a left hand!

"Marked him! By gum, I marked him!" cried Ham exultingly.

"You sure did, Ham," and Mr. Conroyal bent hastily and examined the
finger carefully. "It came from the hand of a white man all right," he
declared. "And the hand of rather a small man, the left hand. Well, you
will know your man the next time you see him, Ham."

"I shore will," grinned Ham. "An', if I dew, I wants tew return him his
finger; so I'll jest take charge of that leetle bit of anatominy," and,
reaching out, he took the finger from Thure, and, carefully wrapping it
up in a piece of buckskin, thrust it into one of his pockets. "Wal, th'
excitement is all over now, boys, an' you can return tew y'ur downy
couches an' soft pillers. I reckon thar won't be no more owl hootin'
tew-night, leastwise not from that bird," and Ham chuckled.

All now returned to the camp and to their blankets; and Ham resumed his
watch in the dark shadows under the big tree.

Ham was right. There was no more owl hooting that night. But the finding
of that finger had brought uneasy thoughts to all. Evidently they had
not succeeded in throwing their cunning enemies off the trail. And now,
here they were within a few hours' march of Lot's Canyon, of the Cave of
Gold, and with the scoundrels still hot on their track! What was to be
done? How could they now hope to throw Ugger and his men off their
trail, when all their efforts so far had been in vain? Indeed, how had
Ugger and his men been able to keep on their trail, through all the maze
of mountains and forests and winding gulches and twisting ravines
through which they had been passing? That was a great mystery to all--to
all, except Pedro.



CHAPTER XXIV

IN LOT'S CANYON


The next morning, just as they were about to start on their way Mr.
Conroyal called the little company together.

"You all know what happened last night, and what it means," he said. "In
spite of all our efforts to throw them off, that Ugger gang apparently
are still on our trail. Now, Dickson says that we can make Lot's Canyon
this afternoon; but, if we do, them skunks will be sure to follow us and
to find it, too. Under such circumstances what shall we do? Shall we try
again to fool them, by not going straight to the canyon to-day and see
if we can't slip into it to-night without being seen? Or, shall we defy
them, and march straight for the canyon, without any effort to hide our
trail?"

"That last plan hits my bull's-eye," declared Ham emphatically. "If they
want tew foller, let 'em foller. If they want tew fight, we'll give 'em
all th' fight they want," and Ham's lips closed grimly. "I'm tired of
tryin' tew dodge th' dirty sneakin' murderin' pack of cowards any
longer. I gives my vote for marchin' as straight tew Lot's Canyon as th'
good Lord an' Dickson can take us."

"Bully for Ham!" shouted Bud enthusiastically. "I vote with Ham," and he
sprang to Ham's side.

"So do I," and Thure followed him.

"Me, too," and, with a laugh, Mrs. Dickson took her stand by the side of
the boys.

And, with a cheer, all the others joined her.

"Reckon that means, straight for Lot's Canyon. Lead on," and Mr.
Conroyal turned to Dickson.

Until about noon the trail wound around great hills of rocks, and in and
out of deep gulches and rocky defiles, and over high ridges of rock; and
then, just as the sun was nearing the meridian, it entered a broad
mountain-enclosed valley, some six or seven miles long by about two
miles wide. Near the upper end of the valley a tall pinnacle of rocks
shot up into the sky, like a church steeple, at the head of what looked
like an almost precipitous mass of rocks that rose many hundreds of feet
above the level of the valley.

"See that rock?" and Dickson pointed triumphantly to the steeple-like
rock at the head of the valley.

"Shore, not bein' blind," Ham answered. "What might it be doin' thar?"
and he grinned.

"That rock," and Dickson paused to glance around the circle of faces
that now surrounded him, "stands within half a mile of the Devil's
Slide, which is the only way down into Lot's Canyon. Boys, we should be
in Lot's Canyon in two hours!"

"Hurrah!" yelled Thure.

"Hurrah!" echoed Bud.

"Come on," cried Mr. Conroyal. "The sooner we get there the better.
Pedro, see if you can't liven up them pack-horses a little."

"Si, si, señor," and Pedro began hurling volleys of Mexican oaths at the
pack-horses and running from one to another of them, striking with his
whip and urging with his voice, until the patient animals were moving as
fast as the safety of their packs would permit.

Pedro appeared to be in unusually good spirits that day. All the gloom
of the day before had vanished with the dawning of the morning of the
night of the hooting owl.

In an hour and a half, so eagerly did they press forward, our little
company had passed the steeple-like pinnacle of rocks; and in another
fifteen minutes they had climbed to the top of a ridge of rocks, and
were looking down a steep, narrow declivity, cut by the wonderous hand
of nature, in a precipitous wall of solid rock that rose from the bottom
of a canyon five hundred feet below them. The smooth floor of the
declivity was not over a dozen feet wide and shot downward at an angle
of about forty-five degrees.

"Gosh! I don't wonder Stackpole called that Th' Devil's Slide," and
Ham's eyes stared down the steep slope of the declivity. "Ain't thar no
other way of gettin' down thar intew that thar canyon?" and he turned to
Dickson.

"Not that I know of," Dickson answered. "That was the way Stackpole and
I went. It is not as difficult as it looks. The rock is not slippery,
and, by being careful, a man can get down all right. But the horses! I
don't know about them," and he glanced a little dubiously toward the six
horses.

"We'll have to use ropes on them," declared Mr. Conroyal. "Two men to a
horse. Get out the ropes."

In a few minutes five strong ropes had been secured from the packs, and
preparations were immediately begun for helping the horses down the
slide.

There were ten men in the company, including Pedro, and this enabled
them to start all the pack-horses at the same time down the declivity.
The method of procedure was simple. The middle of a strong rope some
thirty feet long was placed under the neck of a horse and across the
breast and fastened there, so that it could not slip down. Then two men
took hold of the rope, one at each end, and, by walking a little behind
and on opposite sides of the horse, they were in position to hold back
the animal, should he start to slide or get to going too fast. In this
way and with very little trouble, for the footing down the declivity was
much better than they expected it would be, they soon had the six horses
safely down the Devil's Slide.

All now stood at the bottom of a deep canyon, with walls of nearly
perpendicular rock rising on both sides from five hundred to a thousand
feet above their heads. The bottom was strewn with rocks of all shapes
and sizes, and little clumps of trees and bushes grew here and there.

"This," and Dickson glanced a bit dramatically around him, "is Lot's
Canyon. The white pillar of rock, called Lot's Wife on the map, is about
a couple of miles farther up the canyon, and near it stands the Big
Tree, and close by that tree, according to the map, should be the hidden
entrance to Crooked Arm Gulch. And it must be well-hidden too; for, when
I was with Stackpole, we couldn't find a sign of a gulch near the Big
Tree, although I remember we looked especially sharp for it right there,
because the Indian had told Stackpole that it was near a big tree and
that was the biggest tree we could find in the canyon. I hope we have
better luck."

"Let us hurry and get to the Big Tree," cried Thure impatiently. "I am
sure that, if there is any entrance to any gulch there, some of us can
find it. Come on," and the excited boy, with Bud by his side, started up
the canyon.

Rex and Dill and Mr. Dickson at once joined the two boys, and the five
hurried eagerly forward, leaving the others to come on more slowly with
Pedro and the horses.

The canyon was from one hundred to two hundred feet wide at the bottom,
and twisted and wound along between its gigantic walls of rock, like a
huge serpent. Doubtless in some far distant age it had been the course
of a mighty river; but now not a drop of water flowed along its rocky
bottom and evidently had not for hundreds of years.

"Looks like a mighty good place for grizzlies," commented Rex, as they
hurried along over the rough rocks of the bottom.

"And there has been one here not many minutes ago," supplemented Dill,
pointing to the bark of a tree that had been freshly torn by the sharp
claws of some powerful animal.

"And there he is!" cried Thure, as they made a sudden turn around a huge
point of rocks, projecting a few feet out into the canyon, and came face
to face with a huge male grizzly not a hundred feet away.

The grizzly appeared to be very greatly astonished at this sudden
invasion of man into his hitherto undisputed realm of rocks, and a
little offended. With a deep bass-drum-like "huff, huff," he reared his
huge body up on his hind legs, and, turning his wicked little eyes on
them, uttered a deep warning growl, as much as to say: "Now, if you men
will turn right around and go back, I will not harm you."

"Shall we shoot?" asked Thure, cocking his rifle.

"No, not if the brute will get out of our way," answered Rex. "We have
no time to fool with grizzlies," and, cocking his own rifle, he started
straight toward the grizzly.

The growl of the bear deepened, and he made no sign of giving way to the
intruders.

"All right, old man," and Rex stopped and threw his rifle to his
shoulder. "Stand ready to fire, if my bullet fails to bring him down,"
he warned, as his eye glanced swiftly along the rifle barrel.

But Rex Holt was one of the best rifle shots in California, and knew
exactly where to send his bullet in order to make it instantly fatal;
and there was no need of a second shot, for almost at the instant of the
crack of his rifle, the huge beast, with a deep startled, "huff," and a
staggering leap toward them, tumbled sprawlingly to the ground, as if
all his tough muscles had been suddenly turned to hot tallow, and with a
few quiverings, the great frame lay still.

"No time to bother with him now. Let him lay there for the present. Come
on," and Rex, pausing by the side of the grizzly only long enough to
assure himself that the monster was dead, hurried on up the canyon.

For half an hour longer they struggled on over the broken rocks that
covered the bottom of the canyon; and then they came to where the canyon
made an abrupt turn, and, widening out a little, ran straight ahead for
half a mile or more.

The moment they made this turn and looked up the clear stretch of
canyon, all uttered a shout of triumph. Some two hundred yards from them
and near the east wall of the canyon grew a huge oak tree; and, perhaps
a hundred yards farther up the canyon, stood a tall pillar of white
rock.

"The Big Tree!" yelled Thure exultingly, starting on the run for the
tree.

"Lot's Wife!" shouted Bud, racing along after Thure.

Rex and Dill and Dickson hastened after the excited boys; and, in a few
minutes, all stood beneath the giant branches of the great oak.

The tree was some seventy-five feet high and nearly as broad as it was
high; and its huge trunk grew so close to the wall of the canyon that
the ends of its great limbs on that side had been pressed tight up
against the rocks.

"Well, we are here at last!" Thure's face was flushed and his eyes were
sparkling with excitement. "Now, for the hidden entrance to Crooked Arm
Gulch!" and his eyes turned eagerly to the walls of the canyon.

The wall of the canyon near the tree, so far as their eyes could judge,
was a solid mass of cracked and seamed rocks, that sprang from the
bottom of the canyon almost straight upward for five hundred or more
feet. There did not appear to be break or opening of any kind, nor did
it look as if there ever had been such an opening.

For half an hour the two boys and Rex and Dill and Mr. Dickson searched
excitedly up and down the wall of the canyon near the tree, without one
of them finding the first sign of an entrance to the hidden gulch.

"Great Moses, but this is exasperating!" complained Thure, staring
indignantly at the blank walls of rock. "To be held up like this, when
almost at the entrance to the Cave of Gold! But we have got to find it,"
and the heat of his excitement having cooled down a little, he began a
more careful and systematic search of the face of the wall of rock.

"Found it?" yelled Ham, who at this moment came round the turn in the
canyon at the head of the remainder of the company.

"No," Dickson called back. "Not a sign of an opening anywhere in sight."

"I reckon this is where our trouble begins," Ham declared a few minutes
later, when he stood near the Big Tree and searched the precipitous side
of the wall of rock vainly with his keen eyes. "It shore don't look as
if there ever had ben any gulch entrance thar."

"Let us have another look at the map," suggested Mr. Conroyal, after all
had searched the face of the wall of rock in vain for some time.
"Possibly we have overlooked some little point of guidance on it."

Thure at once procured the map and handed it to his father; and all
crowded anxiously around him, as he seated himself on a rock and spread
the map out on his knees.

"This sure must be the right place," he declared, as he glanced down at
the map and then up and down the canyon; "for here is the Big Tree and
there," and he pointed to the white pillar, "is Lot's Wife, and that
slide down there must surely have been the Devil's Slide; and, if this
is the right place, then the entrance to Crooked Arm Gulch must be right
there, according to this map," and he pointed to the wall of rock
against which the great limbs of the tree were pressing.

"Wai, it ain't thar," and Ham turned away disgustedly from the map. "Any
fool with eyes in his head can see that it ain't thar. I reckon we've
come on a wild-goose chase. Let's go intew camp an' git some grub down
us. I'm allfired hungry, an' it's tew late tew look any more tew-day,"
and he glanced toward the west wall of the canyon, up the side of which
the shadows of night were already beginning to creep. "Possibly we can
dew better in th' mornin', though it's more'n I can see how, seem' that
thar's nuthin' but th' face of a solid wall of rock tew search; an'
we've searched 'bout every inch of that that we can a'ready," and he
threw his big frame down on the ground and stared at the wall of rock
wrathfully.

And much of the same disappointment and disgust that troubled Ham was
troubling the hearts of all; for it did not seem possible that there
could be any entrance to any gulch anywhere near the Big Tree. The wall
of rock was too steep to climb, but the eye could search its entire
face, except where the limbs of the giant oak hid a few square yards of
the surface, and nowhere was there a break in the wall nor the least
sign of an opening of any sort, let alone the entrance to a gulch. This
was so plainly evident, so easily and so quickly to be seen, for the
smooth face of the wall of a canyon offers few opportunities of
concealment, that the gloom of bitter disappointment deadened the
spirits of all; and, consequently, it was a very downhearted and
discouraged company of men that now started to make ready for the night
under the overhanging branches of the Big Tree.

All the next day the search was continued, but without any results.

"Durn th' old map! Let's throw it intew th' fire an' git back tew th'
diggin's," Ham declared wrathfully, as they gathered for the night under
the Big Tree. "Stackpole shore must have been loony when he made that
map."

"Reckon you are right," agreed Mr. Conroyal. "Well, we'll have another
look at the map; and, if we can't get any new ideas from it, we will do
as you say and start back for the diggings in the morning."

"No; no! Just one more day! Let us look one more day!" pleaded Thure. "I
can't believe that Stackpole did not find that Cave of Gold. He was so
sure of it, so earnest about it--and there is the nugget and the gold he
had with him when murdered! Let us look just one more day!"

"Well, son, I am sure that we all are just as anxious to find that Cave
of Gold as you can possibly be; but, where can we look that we have not
already looked? What is the use of going over exactly the same ground
that we have already been over many times? It isn't a question of
sticking. I'd say stick as long as there was any hope. But, as Ham says,
any fool with eyes in his head can see that there is no gulch opening
here. Either Stackpole was crazy, or we've struck the wrong canyon; and,
in either case, we might just as well give up the search and get back
where we know there is gold. However, I will put the matter to a vote;
and we will do as the majority wishes. Shall we start back for the
diggings in the morning? All in favor of starting back in the morning
stand up," and Mr. Conroyal's eyes glanced over the little company
seated around him.

All arose slowly to their feet, except Thure and Bud, who looked almost
ready to cry at this untimely ending of all their romantic dreams.

"I know it is hard, hard on us all, and especially hard on you two
boys," Mr. Conroyal said, turning sympathetically to the lads. "But it
would be foolish to waste any more time here. Now, let us have a last
look at that map, before we fling the cussed thing into the fire," and
he motioned Thure to hand him the skin map. "We don't want it to fool
anybody else."

Thure slowly took the map from its place of concealment in his shirt
bosom and reluctantly handed it to his father. Then all bent their heads
over it; but there was little interest in their faces. They had examined
the map too often and too closely to hope to find anything new in it
now.

Suddenly Mrs. Dickson uttered a little exclamation and pointed with her
finger to the roughly drawn tree in the left hand corner of the map.

"I wonder if that tree, with the arrow pointing downward toward the east
point of the cross, does not mean something," she said.

"Moses!" yelled Thure, jumping to his feet excitedly. "It does! It's the
key to the whole secret! I remember now! The miner said the gulch was
blocked by great rocks, that we must climb the Big Tree to the third
limb. You remember, don't you, Bud?" and he turned excitedly to Bud.

"Yes," answered Bud, now as greatly excited as was Thure himself. "He
said, 'Climb to the third limb. Remember, climb to the third
limb--third--third--' and then he choked all up. Come! It is yet light
enough to see!" and both boys made a jump for the huge trunk of the
great oak tree and began climbing up it almost with the agility of two
squirrels.

"Gosh! Thar might be somethin' in that!" and Ham, and all the others,
jumped to their feet and followed the movements of the two boys with
deeply interested eyes.

The third limb was about twenty feet from the ground, of huge size and
thrust itself straight out to the rocky wall of the canyon, against
which its end appeared to be tightly pressed.

Along this limb Thure and Bud now scrambled, as swiftly as hands and
feet and body could propel them, Thure in the lead. The limb was
sufficiently large and strong to make this neither difficult nor
dangerous. In a few minutes they were at the face of the wall of rock.
Here Thure paused for a moment, then he was seen to rise on his feet,
push a few branches aside, and, with a yell, disappear. The next moment
he was followed by Bud.

"Wal, I'll be teetotally durned!" and Ham and the others stared blankly
at the spot where the two boys had disappeared.

For five minutes they stood staring at the spot, without speaking a
word, so intense was their interest. Then the heads of the two boys
appeared through the branches almost simultaneously; and a loud yell of
triumph broke wildly from the mouth of each.

"Found! Found!" yelled Thure.

"We've found the gulch! Crooked Arm Gulch!" cried Bud. "Come up and
see."

"Durned if I don't!" and Ham leaped for the trunk of the tree, followed
by every other man in the company, except Pedro, who, together with Mrs.
Dickson, remained below.

"Not too many on the limb at a time," cautioned Rex, who had succeeded
in reaching the third limb first. "It might break," and he began working
his way along it, closely followed by Dill.

In a couple of minutes he had reached the opening in the wall of rock, a
jagged hole some four or five feet in diameter, into which the sturdy
limb had thrust itself in such a manner that its branches completely
concealed all signs of the opening from below.

"Great! This is great!" Rex exclaimed, as he pushed his way through the
branches into the hole.

In a few minutes more all were through the hole, and were standing on a
narrow shelf of rock, looking down into a deep, narrow gulch, whose
bottom was considerably below the level of the bottom of Lot's Canyon.

"By gum! if we ain't struck th' right spot at last!" and Ham stared in
astonishment up the gulch to where it made a bend, like a crook at the
elbow in a man's bent arm. "Thar's th' Golden Elbow," and he pointed to
the bend; "an' this shore must be Crooked Arm Gulch. Wal, this is what I
call luck! Hurra!" and he swung his hat around his head and yelled at
the very top of his strong lungs; and every man there joined with him in
the yell; and the rocky walls of the narrow gulch echoed and reëchoed
the sound, until it seemed as if a hundred men were shouting their
joyous yells of triumph.

"Too bad it is so late in the day that we must put off exploring the
gulch until to-morrow," Mr. Conroyal lamented, when the excitement had
somewhat quieted down.

"Oh, dad, just let us see if the cave is really there!" begged Thure.

"Impossible. See how swiftly the dark shadows of night are gathering. We
must hasten back to Lot's Canyon at once. In fifteen minutes it will be
too dark to see our way plainly. Come on, everybody. I reckon the Little
Woman is some curious to know what has been happening up here," and,
smiling happily, he started back toward the opening, followed by all the
others.

When they again reached the ground at the bottom of the Big Tree, they
found Mrs. Dickson alone. She said that Pedro had asked permission to go
back to where the grizzly bear had been filled to get a chunk of bear
steak for their supper, and had hurried off, taking one of their rifles
with him, as soon as she had said yes. She was nearly wild with joy,
when told of the find they had made, and vowed that she would go with
them in the morning, when they started out to look for the Cave of Gold,
in spite of the seemingly dangerous climb along the big limb of the Big
Tree.

Half an hour later Pedro returned with a big chunk of bear meat, which
was soon roasting on wooden spits placed around the blazing camp-fire.

That was as joyful an evening as the night before had been gloomy. Even
the saturnine spirits of Pedro seemed greatly affected by the general
hilarity; for his sallow face was all smiles and his little black eyes
snapped and twinkled, as he passed hither and thither among the men, and
he was very careful to place the pan in which he washed the dishes
within easy hearing distance of every word they might utter. Indeed, it
seemed almost impossible for him to tear himself away from the sound of
their voices; and, when he was compelled to go to the little spring they
had discovered some twenty rods distant from the Big Tree, after water,
he had gone there and back on the run, as if he was fearful that
something might be said while he was away that he ought to hear. But, to
all this, our friends gave no heed, save that Ham once or twice turned
his eyes on Pedro's excited face, with just a flicker of suspicion in
them.

"Wal, I don't wonder he's some excited, seein' us so upset," he thought.
"Still thar won't be no harm in keepin' as much as possible from him. I
don't believe in trustin' a Mexican nohow, any more than you've got
tew," and Ham lowered his own voice and cautioned the others to do
likewise, when Pedro was near. "Jest tew be on the safe side," he
explained.

"We must de doubly cautious now," warned Mr. Conroyal, when they made
ready for bed, "and keep somebody on guard night and day all the time;
for now that we have found the secret of Crooked Arm Gulch them devils
are likely to be down upon us at the first unguarded moment. We will put
four men on guard again to-night. Rex, you and Dill and Bud and his
father can stand guard for the first half of the night; and you can call
Ham and Frank and Thure and me to relieve you about one o'clock. Now,
get to your stations and we will get to our blankets. Good night,
everybody," and he began rolling himself up in his blanket.

An example that all except the guards followed very speedily.



CHAPTER XXV

THE CAVE OF GOLD


There were no disturbances during the night; and the dawn of the next
morning found everybody up and awaiting eagerly the moment when there
would be sufficient light in the canyon to make the climbing of the Big
Tree and the entrance into Crooked Arm Gulch safe. At last Mr. Conroyal
declared that the great moment had come.

"But," and he glanced around the little group of eager faces, "Ham and I
think, and I am sure you will all agree with us when you stop to
consider the matter, that we ought to leave at least one man here to
stand guard with Pedro. Now, under the circumstances, I had rather not
say who that man shall be, but will ask for a volunteer. Who is willing
to offer himself up as a sacrifice to the good of the public?" and Mr.
Conroyal smiled.

For a moment all stood staring blankly into one another's faces. No one
appeared to be in the least anxious to make this sacrifice. And no
wonder! For, now at the very moment they were about to explore the
mysteries of the dead miner's wonderful Cave of Gold, who would care to
be left behind? Then, with a smile on his face, Frank Holt stepped
forth.

"Reckon I'll stay and keep company with Pedro," he said. "I'm not as
young as I once was, and crawling along that limb some twenty feet above
the ground looks some dangerous to legs as old as mine. But I'd like to
have one of you, if you find the cave all right, come and let me know,"
and the sparkle in his eyes told how great was his interest in the
result.

"I'll come right back and relieve you, dad, just as soon as we find the
cave and see what it is like," Rex Holt promised. "Then you can go and
see for yourself. It was great of you to offer to stay. I'll be back
soon. Good-by," and he hurried after the others, who were already
climbing the Big Tree.

Pedro, all the morning, had been as feverish with excitement as had any
of the others, and had watched their every movement, as a cat watches a
caught mouse, and had tried to overhear every word uttered; but, at the
first mention of a guard being left with him, he had muttered a Mexican
oath and had turned angrily and sullenly away, all his excitement gone.
Evidently he had counted a great deal on being left alone with the
horses and the camp supplies, when the search for the Cave of Gold was
made; and, consequently, the leaving of a guard with him had been a very
great disappointment. But he was too cunning to allow this
disappointment to be seen by his employers, and had turned quickly away
to hide his feelings, until he was again his usual suave self; and so he
did not hear the promise of Rex to hasten back as soon as the cave was
found and relieve his father.

You may be sure that there were no laggards among the climbers up the
Big Tree and along the limb and through the entrance into Crooked Arm
Gulch; and soon all stood on the little shelf of rock, from which they
had had their first view of the gulch the night before.

"Now, th' first thing tew dew is tew git down tew th' bottom," commented
Ham, as the eyes of all eagerly searched the walls of the gulch.

"That looks easy! Right this way!" and Thure began excitedly clambering
down the rocks.

The shelf of rock on which they stood was some fifty feet above the
bottom of the gulch; and from it a series of shelves and jutting rocks
made an easy pathway downward, for mountaineers as experienced as they
were, and soon all our friends stood at the bottom of Crooked Arm Gulch.

"Now for the Golden Elbow!" shouted Thure. "I want to be the first one
in the Cave of Gold," and he started up the gulch as fast as he could
go, jumping and climbing over the rocks that nearly covered its bottom.

"Same here!" and, with a yell, Bud started after him.

In a moment all, even the gray-haired men, had joined madly in the race.
Evidently Thure was not the only one who wished to be the first in the
Cave of Gold.

The gulch was narrow, only about a couple of rods wide at the place
where our friends had reached the bottom, and, some three hundred yards
from here, it made a turn, like the crook in a man's bent arm. This was
evidently the Golden Elbow, and the point for which all were racing.

Thure, owing to his start and his long legs, was the first to reach this
spot, but Bud was not six feet behind him. Then came Rex and Dill and
the others, with Dickson and his wife pantingly bringing up the rear.
All had stopped directly in front of the point of the turn, and now
stood staring excitedly around them, looking for the entrance to the
Cave of Gold and looking in vain.

In front of them the wall of the gulch had been hollowed out into a
great overhanging arch, seventy-five or more feet in height and some
fifteen feet deep.

Could this be the miner's Cave of Gold?

Surely not; for there was no need of torch here, and the bottom
certainly was not covered with gold nuggets, but with hundreds of pieces
of broken rock, some of them as large as two strong men could lift.

"Wal, I swun, if it don't look as if we was up ag'in it ag'in," and Ham
stared excitedly around. "But, if thar is any cave here, it must be
right in thar. Come, git busy," and he began clambering over the rocks
toward the back wall of the arch. "I'll bet a coonskin that I can find
it first."

"Take you!" shouted Thure and Bud, both clambering swiftly after him.

In a minute more all were searching excitedly for the hidden entrance to
the cave, along the entire back wall of the arch; but the rocks of the
bottom seemed to meet a solid wall of rock at the back.

"Say, but isn't it enough to make even a Job swear to be held up like
this, right at the most exciting moment!" and Thure stopped in front of
a large flat rock, that had fallen so that it stood nearly on edge,
leaning against the back wall of the arch. "Come, give me a hand; and
let's see what is behind this rock," and he turned to Bud, who stood
near him. "It looks almost as if it might have been stood up there on
purpose."

In a moment the strong arms of the two boys were tugging at the huge
slab of rock; and, at last, with a mighty effort, they pulled it away
from the wall and toppled it over backward, and it fell, with a crash,
on the rocks between them, revealing a black opening in the solid rock.

"Hurrah!" yelled Bud.

"Found!" shouted Thure; and both excited boys made a dive for the hole,
with the result that their bodies stuck tightly in the opening, the hole
not being large enough to accommodate the entrance of both of them at
the same time.

Ham and Mr. Conroyal pulled them out; and then Ham thrust his big body
into the opening--he could just squeeze in--and began cautiously working
his way forward. It was not a venture for an excited boy to make, the
entrance into that black hole without a light.

In about five minutes Ham came backing hurriedly out.

"Who's got th' candles?" he cried excitedly. "Thar sart'in is a cave in
thar; but it is as dark as the bottomless pit. We must have lights
before we can enter. Give me a candle."

"Here, here they are!" and Mr. Conroyal who in the excitement of the
moment had forgotten the package of a couple of dozen candles he had
tied up and slung over his back just before climbing the tree that
morning, quickly swung the package down on a rock in front of him and
cut the strings.

Ham caught up one of the candles, and, hurriedly lighting it, again
crawled into the hole, holding the candle out in front of him.

Thure and Bud both caught up candles and lighting them, looked
imploringly at their fathers.

Both men nodded, and the boys dove into the hole; but this time
separately.

"The rest of us had better wait outside until we hear from Ham and the
boys," Mr. Conroyal said, staring anxiously into the hole.

For perhaps ten minutes, although to the anxious and excited watchers
outside it seemed more like an hour, not a sound came from the hole into
whose black depths the three men had vanished. Even the lights of their
candles had disappeared. Then, suddenly, the excited voice of Thure was
heard, booming out through the hole.

"It's the cave, the Cave of Gold!" he cried exultantly, his voice
trembling with excitement. "Come in, all of you. There is room for all.
I will hold my candle so that you can see."

"Here, Dickson, you go first, and, Mollie, you follow right behind him,"
and Mr. Conroyal pushed Mr. and Mrs. Dickson excitedly toward the cave
opening, and motioned Rex and Dill and Mr. Randolph to follow them, he
himself entering last.

The hole slanted downward for some ten feet, then, enlarging a little,
turned to the right and ran straight ahead for some thirty feet, still
slanting quite steeply downward, when it suddenly opened out into a
large chamber, worn by the action of water, apparently, out of the solid
rock.

In five minutes all our excited friends stood in this chamber or cave
and were staring wonderingly around them. They found themselves in a
room, some thirty feet long by twenty feet wide at the widest, with an
oval slanting roof, shaped something like the inverted quarter of an
egg-shell. The bottom of the cave was level and composed of a very
coarse gravel, mixed with little rounded chunks of a yellowish metal,
that glowed in the light of the candles like thousands of dull yellow
coals of fire.

In an instant everybody was down on their knees examining these chunks
of metal. For a couple of minutes no one spoke. Then Ham lifted his head
and looked slowly around him, as if he were trying to convince himself
that he was really awake.

"Gosh!" he said, in a voice hardly above a whisper. "It is gold!"

"It is gold!" and Mr. Conroyal looked up, his face white and his eyes
shining. "It is gold; and enough of it to make us all rich beyond our
fondest dreams. No wonder the miner called it the Cave of Gold."

[Illustration: "IT IS GOLD! IT IS GOLD! AND ENOUGH OF IT TO MAKE US ALL
RICH BEYOND OUR FONDEST DREAMS."]

"Gold! Gold! Now Ruth shall have her breastpin nugget and gold
necklace!" and Thure, with hands that trembled so that he could hardly
hold the candle, began an excited search for the largest chunk of gold
that he could find. In two minutes he had found one about the size and
the shape of a robin's egg. "The very thing!" he cried. "That will make
a magnificent breastpin," and he quickly picked it up and began
searching for the nuggets to go into the promised necklace.

During this time Bud was quickly gathering up the largest nuggets he
could find; for a similar purpose but for a different girl; and the
fingers of all the others were busy in the same exciting way.

For half an hour all forgot everything, but the shining pellets that
covered the bottom of the cave. Then Rex suddenly straightened up.

"Great Washington! I'm forgetting dad!" he exclaimed. "I must go to dad
at once," and he started for the hole that gave passageway to the outer
world.

Naturally Rex was greatly excited and made all possible haste to get
back to his father with the good news. The distance was not great, and
in ten minutes he had reached the hidden entrance to Crooked Arm Gulch,
and, hurriedly crawling through the narrow opening, he pushed the
concealing branches aside--and found himself looking directly into the
red face of Bill Ugger.

"God in heaven!" and Rex struck out with all the strength of his strong
right arm.

The face was not three feet away and the blow landed squarely on the
broken nose. There was a low cry, the crash of broken branches, and the
huge body of Bill Ugger plunged downward from the limb.

For an instant Rex stared blankly after the body; and then, suddenly
realizing the value of every moment, if they would not all be caught in
a trap from which there would be no escape, he whirled about and raced
back to the Cave of Gold, almost wild with the thought of what might
happen, if the gang of robbers should capture their horses and supplies
and hold them captive in Crooked Arm Gulch, as they could easily do,
once they secured possession of the Big Tree. Then there was his father.
What had happened to him? No wonder his face went white, and he risked
limb and life a dozen times in his mad scramble down the rocks and up
the gulch and into the opening of the Cave of Gold.

"Quick! Everybody, back to the Big Tree!" he shouted, as he plunged into
the cave, where our excited friends were still busily picking up the
nuggets. "The robbers! They have got dad! Quick!" and he whirled about
and rushed back.

In an instant the gold was forgotten. Every man jumped for his rifle,
which had been left near the entrance to the cave, and sprang after Rex,
leaving the startled and frightened Mrs. Dickson to follow as best she
could.

There was not one of them but understood on the instant the seriousness
of their peril. If the robbers secured their horses and supplies and
held the entrance to Crooked Arm Gulch, they would be absolutely at
their mercy; for, so far as they knew, the only way out of the gulch was
by way of the Big Tree, and half a dozen men, armed with rifles, could
hold this narrow opening against their most desperate efforts to get
out, and in a few days, could starve them into surrender, for they had
no food with them. They must at all costs, if it was not already too
late, keep the entrance to Crooked Arm Gulch from falling into the hands
of the robbers.

Hammer Jones, by desperate efforts, reached the side of Rex, just as he
was about to plunge into the passageway between Crooked Arm Gulch and
Lot's Canyon; and one of his great hands closed down on the excited
man's shoulder just in time to stop the reckless act.

"Cautious! Cautious!" warned Ham, as he jerked Rex back. "If them skunks
have got th' camp, 'twill be death to sot foot on that big limb."

"But, dad--"

"'Twon't help him none for you tew git killed. I'll take a look first,"
and the great strength of Ham forced Rex back, while he himself began
cautiously, yet rapidly, crawling through the narrow opening.

In a moment he had reached the limb of the Big Tree, and, carefully
parting the branches so as to make no noise, he cautiously looked down.

The camp had been pitched under the Big Tree almost directly beneath
him; and the first look showed him everything apparently safe and
undisturbed. The next look--and, with the cry: "Come on, everybody, as
quick as th' Lord will let you," he sprang out on the limb and began
working his way down the tree so recklessly that more than once he was
in danger of falling. The moment he reached the ground he leaped toward
an object that lay tightly bound up in a blanket on the ground near the
trunk of the tree; and, with a swift hand began cutting the ropes that
were tightly wound around it from head to foot, in a manner exactly
similar to that in which they had found Mrs. Dickson on the night she
had been so mysteriously bound in her tent.

By the time Rex had reached his side he had uncovered Frank Holt, with
his hands bound behind him and a gag in his mouth, but otherwise unhurt,
except for a big lump on the back of his head. In a moment more Rex had
pulled the gag out of his father's mouth and Ham had freed his hands.

"Pedro!" Holt gasped and staggered a little dizzily to his feet. "He
struck me down from behind, and tied and gagged me, as you found me.
Where is Pedro?" and he looked excitedly and a bit wildly around. "Ah,
now I remember," and his face cleared. "He has gone for the rest of the
gang. I overheard him and another man, after I had recovered my senses
and lay tightly bound up in the blanket, planning how he would go and
get the rest of the gang, while the other man climbed the tree and kept
guard over the narrow opening. Their plan was to capture the camp and
hold the Big Tree, so that none of you could get out of Crooked Arm
Gulch, and then starve you into surrendering everything; and they came
mighty nigh doing it," and he glanced anxiously down the canyon.
"They'll be due in about half an hour, I judge from what I overheard.
They were not calculating on any of you getting back so soon," and he
smiled grimly.

"But that other man? Where is that other man?" and Mr. Conroyal--by this
time all, even Mrs. Dickson, had made their way down the Big
Tree--looked anxiously around.

Rex started and glanced quickly toward the wall of the canyon, directly
under the opening to Crooked Arm Gulch; and then his face cleared.

"I reckon that's him," and he pointed to a huddled heap that lay on the
rocks. "I knocked him off the limb of the Big Tree. But, we had better
make sure he is where he can do no harm," and he hurried to the body.
"Dead as a stone. Neck broken," he declared, as he turned the corpse
over.

"Broken-nose! It's Broken-nose!" and Thure, who had hurried up with Rex,
started back, as the man's face came into view.

"Wal, th' world's better off by havin' one less scoundrel in it," and
Ham scowled down on the face of Bill Ugger, ugly and repulsive even in
death. "Now," and he turned quickly to Holt, "didn't you say that thar
Mexican skunk, Pedro, had gone tew git th' rest of th' gang?"

"Yes," answered Holt; "and we must be ready for them, when they get
here. They are camped down near the Devil's Slide; and I calculate it
will take them about half an hour yet to get here."

"An' the skunks are a-calculatin' on findin' th' camp unguarded?" and
Ham's eyes began to twinkle brightly.

"Yes, I heard Pedro tell the other fellow that he felt quite sure none
of us would be back for two hours or more; but, to make things safe,
Brokennose, as Thure calls him, said he'd climb the tree and knock the
head off anyone that tried to come through the narrow opening into
Crooked Arm Gulch. I reckon Rex got there just at the right moment to
spoil that little game."

"I certainly did," and Rex smiled grimly. "A minute later, and he would
have got me, instead of my getting him. But, we must be getting ready
for the return of Pedro," and his eyes glanced anxiously down the
canyon.

"Say," and Ham turned to Conroyal, "why can't we give them th' same kind
of a s'prise they was a-calculatin' on givin' us? They ain't expectin'
tew find us here, an' will come a rushin' up unsuspicious-like, an', if
we hide, we can give 'em a mighty warm reception a-fore they know what's
happenin'."

"Bully! Where'll we hide?" and Mr. Conroyal glanced eagerly around.
"There, those rocks will be just the place," and he pointed up the
canyon to where a row of big rocks stood up, almost like a rampart,
something like a hundred feet from the Big Tree. "Now we must leave the
camp looking just as it was when Pedro left it. Here, somebody, quick,
we'll tie the body of Ugger up in the blanket, and leave it where we
found Frank. That will sure fool them," and he hurried to where the
corpse of Ugger lay; and, in a few minutes, the body was tightly bound
up in a blanket and laid down on the exact spot where Ham had found
Holt.

"All got plenty of powder and lead?" and Mr. Conroyal glanced swiftly
from man to man.

All answered in the affirmative.

"Then get behind the rocks," and, with a final look around the camp to
see that every suspicious sign had been removed, Mr. Conroyal led his
little company to the rocky rampart to await the coming of Pedro and the
band of robbers; and soon all had vanished from the sight of anyone
coming up the canyon.

In front of them and the Big Tree there was a space some three hundred
feet wide, clear of trees or underbrush or rocks large enough to shield
a man.

"We will wait for them until they get out into the open," Mr. Conroyal
said, pointing to this space. "Now everybody see that his rifle and
pistols and knife are ready; and remember to keep down out of sight and
on no account to fire until I give the word."

They did not have long to wait; for hardly had Mr. Conroyal uttered his
last words of warning, when they saw Pedro coming around the bend in the
canyon some two hundred yards below them. At first Pedro advanced very
cautiously, darting from rock to rock and keeping his body concealed as
much as possible; but, at last, coming to where he could get a clear
view of the camp and seeing nothing to awaken his suspicions, he
appeared to be satisfied that all was safe and turned and began
beckoning excitedly with both his hands. In response a little company of
heavily armed men instantly sprang into sight, coming from around the
bend in the canyon, and hurried up to where Pedro stood awaiting them.

For two or three minutes they stood there, while Pedro, gesticulating
excitedly and frequently pointing toward the quiet-seeming little camp
under the Big Tree, appeared to be explaining the situation to them.
Then all began advancing cautiously, yet rapidly toward the Big Tree,
taking advantage of the rocks and trees and bushes to conceal their
movements as much as possible.

"Here they come!" whispered Thure excitedly to Bud, as the men began
their advance. He had his eye to a little opening between the two
adjoining rocks behind which the boys were crouching. "I counted twenty
of them and I think there are one or two more. Say, but won't we give
them a big surprise?"

"You bet!" and Bud's jaws came together grimly.

"Keep down! Everybody keep down!" warned Mr. Conroyal in a whisper.
"Don't shoot, until I give the order; and then jump to your feet and
pick your man and fire as quick as the Lord will let you; but, be sure
you have got the bead on the man before you pull the trigger. We must
down as many of them as possible at the first volley. Now, everybody get
ready. They will be out in the open in a minute or two," and he turned
to give his attention to the advancing robbers.

By this time Pedro and his men had reached the line of rocks and bushes
that faced the opening in front of the rocks behind which our friends
lay concealed; and here they paused for a moment, each man behind a
rock, and searched with careful eyes the camp under the Big Tree.

"There's Pockface!" excitedly whispered Bud, who now had his eye to the
crack between the two stones, "behind that big rock straight in front of
us, the skunk. Now, just wait, until we get the order to fire," and his
lips closed tightly.

At this moment Ham, who crouched behind a rock by the side of Mr.
Conroyal, whispered:

"I'll be durned if I don't believe we can capture the hull caboodle, if
we jest wait 'til they git 'most up tew us, an' then jump up sudden an'
point our guns at them an' yell, 'hands up!' an' that'll be a heap
better'n tew let half on 'em git away tew bother us all the way back tew
civilerzation."

"Right, I believe you are right. Anyway we will try it. Watch them,
while I give the right instructions," and Mr. Conroyal crept swiftly to
near the center of the little group behind the rampart of rocks.

"Men," he said, speaking low, yet loud enough for all to hear, "we are
going to try to capture the whole bunch of scoundrels. At the word,
every one of you jump to his feet and point his rifle at the skunks and
yell 'Hands UP!' I reckon that will bring every hand up; but, if it
don't and any of them act suspicious or make a break, shoot quick, and
shoot to kill. Do you all understand?"

All nodded and Mr. Conroyal returned at once to his place by the side of
Ham.

At this moment the robbers broke from the rocks and ran swiftly out into
the open toward the Big Tree.

"Ready, everybody ready!" whispered Mr. Conroyal.

On came the robbers, until they were within seventy-five feet of the
rocks behind which our friends were hiding.

"Now!" yelled Mr. Conroyal, and leaped to his feet, and leveled his
rifle. "Hands UP!" he commanded.

And almost at the same moment all the others,--even Mrs. Dickson--leaped
to their feet, and leveled their rifles, and yelled: "Hands UP!"

The robbers stopped, as if they had suddenly run into a stone wall,
turned their startled eyes on the leveled rifles and the stern-faced men
back of them--and then, every hand went up, as if worked by one shaft of
machinery, every hand except the hands of Pockface, who, doubtless
thinking that his capture would mean death anyway, whirled about
suddenly and leaped toward the rocks behind him.

At the same instant Ham's rifle cracked; and the legs of Pockface
doubled up under him, and he went down, like a shot rabbit.

That was enough for the rest of the men.

"Don't shoot. We surrender," they all yelled, holding their hands as
high as they could above their heads.

"Rex, you and Dill get their guns and knives. The rest of you keep them
covered with your rifles," commanded Mr. Conroyal.

Rex and Dill, with broad grins on their faces, instantly stepped forth,
and soon had all the weapons of the robbers safely confiscated.

Fifteen minutes later, every robber lay on his back under the Big Tree,
his hands and feet firmly bound with strong ropes. There were twenty-one
of them; and our friends were too wise to take any needless chances.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE CATASTROPHE


"Now, the question is, what shall we do with our captives?" and Mr.
Conroyal glanced a little anxiously around the circle of faces that had
gathered about him, a short time after all the robbers had been safely
bound. "We cannot hang them, as they deserve, and we have not food
enough to keep them, and it will be hardly safe to turn them loose. What
do you think we had better do, Ham?" and he turned to Hammer Jones.

"First off," answered Ham, "we'd better make a raid on their camp an'
git all their hosses an' supplies. Maybe that'll answer th' food
question; for, I reckon, they must have come well supplied, seein' that
Ugger an' Quinley would have plenty of gold-dust tew buy with."

"Good," promptly declared Mr. Conroyal. "You and Rex and Dill and
Dickson make that raid at once on their camp, which, I fancy, you will
find somewhere near the Devil's Slide."

Ham proved to be right; for, when he and the men who went with him,
returned from the raid, some two hours later, they had with them fifteen
horses, ten of which were heavily laden with food and other camp
supplies, and one prisoner, the man who had been left to guard the camp.

"Now, I reckon, we've got them all, twenty-tew livin' an' tew dead," Ham
declared, as he bound his prisoner and placed him with the other
captives: "an' right whar we can keep them out of mischief. Thar's
plenty of food for all, Con," and he turned to Conroyal, "leastwise for
a few days, so th' food problem is settled. Now, what are you proposin'
of dewin'? We want tew git th' gold an' git out of here as soon as we
can," and he lowered his voice.

"I can't see but one thing for us to do, Ham," Mr. Conroyal answered,
"and that is to keep a guard over the prisoners, while the rest of us
get the gold out; and then, when we've got the gold, to turn them loose
in the mountains, without weapons or horses, and make for home as fast
as we can. We've been considering the problem, while you were after the
horses and camp supplies, and that is the conclusion that we have come
to. How does it strike you?"

"'Bout right, under th' circumstances," answered Ham. "An' th' sooner we
git things a-goin' ag'in th' better. I'm gettin' some anxious tew git
back intew that cave."

"We'll get busy at once," declared Mr. Conroyal. "But first, I reckon,
we ought to bury them two corpses. 'Twouldn't be Christian to leave them
to rot a-top the ground or to be ate up by wolves."

"Shore," agreed Ham. "Come on, Rex. We're th' responsible fellers, an',
I reckon, it's up tew us tew dig th' grave. We'll put 'em both in one
grave," and he picked up a pick and shovel and started to where the body
of Quinley lay.

In a short time the two men had the grave dug.

"Now for the bodies," and Ham caught hold of Quinley and turned the body
over. "Wal, I swun!" and he stared down at the left hand. The little
finger had been recently shot away and the wound was still roughly
bandaged. "So y'ur th' feller that I owe a finger tew. Wal, here it is,"
and he thrust his hand into his pocket and pulled out the little
buckskin-wrapped parcel, containing the little finger that he had shot
from the unknown hand the night they were encamped on the shore of Goose
Neck Lake, and laid it down on the corpse.

"Now, I reckon, we'll have to see if you have any of that stolen
gold-dust left," and Ham began a search of the body, which resulted in
the finding of a heavily laden gold-belt buckled around the waist, next
to the skin.

Ham at once appropriated this; and then the two men lowered the body
into the grave. A similar belt, also well-filled with gold-dust, was
found around the body of Bill Ugger. Ham unbuckled this belt and placed
it with the other. Then he and Rex lifted the body of Ugger and carried
it to the grave and lowered it down on top of the body of Quinley; and
then filled the grave with broken pieces of rocks and dirt, to prevent
the wolves from digging up the bodies.

"Th' way of th' transgresser is hard, accordin' tew th' good book," and
Ham's eyes rested thoughtfully on that lonely new-made grave. "An' shore
th' end of them tew 'pears tew bear out th' good book. Wal, th' dead is
dead, an' that's all thar is tew it. Now, for th' livin'," and he turned
from the grave and walked up to where Mr. and Mrs. Dickson were
standing, the two confiscated gold-belts in his hand.

"Here, Dick, I reckon, is a part of th' gold them skunks got from you,"
and he handed the two belts to Dickson. "Leastwise we got them from
their bodies."

But Mr. and Mrs. Dickson refused to take the gold and insisted that it
be placed in the common fund, to be shared by all alike, so Ham turned
the two gold-belts over to Mr. Conroyal.

The camp was now placed under the strictest discipline. Ten of the
prisoners were compelled to assist in getting the gold from the cave.
The others were kept bound and under constant guard, night and day, all
except Pedro, who, during the day, was forced to do the cooking and the
camp work for all, while at night he was securely bound and returned to
his place with the other prisoners.

Thus the work of getting the gold out of the cave went steadily on for
five days, every one, even Mrs. Dickson, working to the very limit of
his or her endurance. Then came the night of the catastrophe.

The gold, as fast as it was taken out of the cave, was carried, in sacks
made from blankets, to the opening in the wall of rock that gave
entrance to Crooked Arm Gulch, and from there lowered to the ground with
ropes. Each night all the workers returned to the camp under the Big
Tree. On this night, the sixth night from the day of the finding of the
Cave of Gold, about midnight, there suddenly swept through the air above
them one of those rare, for that time of the year, but often very
violent, mountain storms.

For an hour the water fell out of the skies, as if poured from an
enormous bucket. The wind blew, until it seemed almost to shake the
solid mountains themselves, while vivid glares of lightning blinded the
eyes and heavy peals of thunder deafened the ears. Then came a lull in
the violence of the storm, as if the elements had paused to gather
themselves for a last supreme effort, followed almost instantly by a
glare of lightning so vivid, that, for the moment, it seemed as if the
whole world was ablaze, and a shock of thunder, so appalling, that
everyone leaped from his blanket and stood staring with blanched face
and frightened eyes around him, not knowing what awful thing was
happening. For two or three minutes the dreadful sounds continued, as if
mountains were being torn up by the roots and thrown crashing to the
earth again, while the ground shook and trembled beneath their feet, as
if the earth had the ague. Then, only the roar of the falling rain and
the rushing of the wind through the limbs of the Big Tree above their
heads, was heard. Fifteen minutes later the rain had ceased, the wind
had died down, the clouds had swept by, and the stars were shining again
in a clear sky.

The next morning, when our friends, on their way to the Cave of Gold,
reached the narrow shelf of rock in Crooked Arm Gulch, from which they
had had their first view of the Golden Elbow, an astonishing sight met
their eyes.

The great arch, overhanging the entrance to the Cave of Gold, with its
millions of tons of superincumbent rocks, had given away, and the whole
of that side of the gulch, nearly a thousand feet high and for a couple
of hundred feet on either side, had split off and fallen in a great mass
of rocks, hundreds of feet high, where the day before had been the
entrance to the dead miner's marvelous Cave of Gold.

For a number of minutes all stood staring at this unexpected and
astounding sight in awed silence. No wonder it had sounded the night
before as if mountains were being torn up and thrown down again! No
wonder the ground beneath them had shook and trembled from the impact of
those millions of tons of rocks!

"Gosh! I'm glad I ain't in that Cave of Gold!" and Ham turned an awed
face to the others. "If that storm had comed up in th' daytime, some on
us might be in thar right now. I reckon we've got all th' gold th' Lord
intended us tew git, an' now we'd better git for home."

"Well, if that was the Lord's work, He has been mighty accommodating to
wait until we got all the gold we need," and Mr. Conroyal smiled. "I was
thinking last night that we had about enough, and had better be starting
for home. Mighty curious place, that Cave of Gold; and I have been
wondering quite a bit how the gold got into it; and this is about the
way I figure it out:

"Thousands of years ago, how many thousands God alone knows, there must
have been a great river pouring through Lot's Canyon, with its bed
hundreds of feet below the present bottom of the canyon; and, at that
time, there must also have been a powerful stream of water flowing
through this gulch, and emptying into the river in Lot's Canyon, through
a great hole worn through the solid wall of rock, which is now
completely hidden under the rocks that have fallen down into the gulch
during the ages since both rivers dried up. Now, in making that turn,"
and he pointed to where the Golden Elbow had been, "I figure that the
water struck a soft ledge of gold-bearing rock, and gradually scooped
out a big cave right in the point of the turn, and, of course, as the
gold was washed out of the rock, it would fall to the bottom of the
cave, and, being in quite large chunks, it was too heavy for the action
of the water to carry it out of the cave, while the water would carry
out nearly all the other dirt and gravel, thus leaving the bottom of the
cave covered with gold nuggets, the way we found it. And, after the
river had dried up, rocks from the arch at the entrance to the cave
would fall off, and little by little fill up the entrance and form the
big arch we found. Now, that's about the way the gold came into the
cave, according to my figureing. What's your idea, Rad?" and Mr.
Conroyal turned to Rad Randolph.

"I think that you've hit it about right, Con," answered Mr. Randolph.
"But, now that there is no hope of getting any more gold out of that
cave, I am getting powerful anxious to make a start for home with what
we have got. Let's go back to the Big Tree at once and get agoing
homeward as soon as we can."

"Hurrah for home!" yelled Thure, starting for the opening out of Crooked
Arm Gulch. "I'd rather see home now than another Cave of Gold."

In a few minutes all were back in the camp under the Big Tree; and
preparations for the start homeward were begun at once.

In three hours everything was ready for the journey. The gold, there was
fifty bags of it, each weighing about one hundred pounds, was packed on
the fifteen horses they had secured from the robbers. Mrs. Dickson was
given one of the other horses to ride, and the food and the camp
supplies were packed on the remaining five horses.

The twenty-two prisoners were now all gathered in a bunch under the Big
Tree, and the hands of each man strongly tied behind his back. Then Mr.
Conroyal stepped out in front of them.

"You cowardly pack of scoundrels," he said, "if we could, we would
gladly take you to where we could deliver you up to the justice you so
richly deserve; but, under existing circumstances, that is impossible;
and so we have decided to leave you here, bound as you now are, without
weapons of any kind, but with food enough to last you three days, which
ought to be enough to keep you until you can get to one of the
mining-camps. Doubtless, by working real hard, you can manage to get the
hands of one of you untied in course of the next two or three hours, and
then he can soon untie the hands of the others, and you can start for
one of the mining-camps as soon as you please. But," Mr. Conroyal spoke
slowly, so that every man could understand every word that he uttered,
"do not, if you value your lives, follow our trail. We will shoot, and
shoot to kill, on sight. Now, that is all I have to say to you, except,"
and he grinned joyously, "to thank you for bringing us those fifteen
horses and for your help in getting out the gold. I do not know what we
would have done without the horses and without your help. Hope this will
learn you to give up trying to steal gold and start you to digging for
it," and he turned and led the little company down the canyon, bound, at
last, for home.



CHAPTER XXVII

HOME


Ten days later than the events just recorded in the last chapter, Iola
Conroyal and Ruth Randolph sat swinging in a hammock, stretched under
the broad porch that shaded the front of the Conroyal house.

"I wish we could hear from our dads and the boys," Iola said, as the two
girls swung gently back and forth. "It seems like a long time now since
Thure and Bud left us; and we haven't heard a word from them since they
went away; and so many things might have happened to them. Why, they may
already have found the Cave of Gold, and right at this moment they may
be picking up gold nuggets by the basketful!" and her dark eyes sparkled
at the thought.

"Yes, it has been a long time since we heard from the mines," answered
Ruth; "and our mothers are beginning to worry, more than they let us
know. They are afraid that the hunt for the Cave of Gold will get them
into some kind of trouble with the men who murdered the old miner for
the skin map, and then failed to get it. And--and not to hear a word
from them, when so many things might happen, is terrible worrying. Oh, I
do hope they find that Cave of Gold, and get enough gold to make us rich
all the rest of our lives!" and her face brightened. "That is the way it
would come out in a story book; and I can't see why it can't happen that
way in real life, just this once. I dreamt, only last night, that they
came back with a string of horses a mile long and all of them loaded
down with gold. And--and," and her face flushed a little, "Thure brought
me a nugget as big as my head, and a necklace of nuggets that reached to
the ground, when he threw it around my neck. Oh, if something like that
would only happen in real life!" and she laughed merrily at her own
extravagant conceit.

"And I dreamt--" and then Iola stopped abruptly.

A faint halloo, coming from far-off, at this moment had reached the ears
of both girls, and brought them out of the hammock in one jump, and
turned their two pairs of eyes to staring excitedly across the level of
the valley in front of the house.

A mile away they saw two horsemen, swinging their hats around their
heads and hallooing loudly, riding excitedly toward the house; and back
of them came a long train of horses and men.

For a minute the two girls stood, as if turned to stone, staring with
widening eyes at those two horsemen, at the train of horses and men
behind them; and then, with a yell that made their mothers jump from the
chairs where they were sitting in the cool of the house and rush to the
door, they leaped off the porch and ran toward the two horsemen.

"It's Thure and Bud! It's dad and the rest!" they shouted, as they ran.

In a few minutes the racing boys--for the two horsemen were Thure and
Bud--and the running girls met.

The boys jumped from their saddles, and, the next instant, they were in
the arms of the girls.

"We found it! We found it!" shouted Thure, a moment later, dancing up
and down with excitement. "We found the Cave of Gold! And here," and he
thrust one of his hands into his pocket, "is your breastpin nugget!" and
he handed the big gold nugget he had found to Ruth. "And here is your
necklace of gold nuggets!" and he threw over the happy girl's head and
around her neck a long string of gold nuggets that he had strung on a
deer sinew, during the homeward journey.

Bud, during this time, had been going through the same delightful
performance with Iola.

That was the most wonderful night in the history of the Conroyal and the
Randolph households!

First, of course, after the greetings were over, the gold had to be
taken off the horses and carried into the house and piled up in the
center of the floor of the big room; and then, with all of the two
families and all of the friends who took part in the search for the Cave
of Gold, not forgetting you may be sure Mr. and Mrs. Dickson, seated in
a circle around the piled-up bags of gold, the story of the adventures
of Thure and Bud and the finding of the dead miner's marvelous Cave of
Gold had to be told.

"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" sighed Iola happily, when, at last, the tale was
ended. "It is just like a story out of a book; and I wouldn't believe it
at all, if I couldn't see the gold piled up right in front of me. Now,"
and her eyes looked wonderingly at the bags of gold, "how much is all
that gold worth? Is it worth a Hundred Thousand Dollars?" and her eyes
grew big with the thought of the enormous wealth that lay within touch
of her hand.

"I reckon it is," laughed Mr. Conroyal. "But, supposing we see just
about how much it is worth. Thure, you and Bud go and get the big
scales, and we will weigh it."

In a few minutes the two boys returned, carrying between them a small
platform scales, capable of weighing a few hundred pounds at a time, and
set it down by the side of the pile of bags of gold.

Mr. Conroyal now placed the bags of gold, four at a time, on the scales,
and announced their weights; and Thure and Bud, pencils and paper in
their hands, set down the amounts. When the last bag had been weighed,
all waited anxiously while the two boys added up the various amounts.
Thure was the first to finish the addition.

"Five thousand one hundred and three and a half pounds!" he yelled.

"Exactly what I got," announced Bud a moment later.

"Give me the pencil and paper," and Mr. Conroyal caught the pencil and
paper from Thure's hands. "I'll see about what that amount of gold is
worth," and he began figuring on the paper, with hands that trembled
just a little with excitement. Presently he looked up, his face flushed
and his eyes shining.

"Of course I can't tell exactly how much the gold is worth," he said,
"not knowing exactly how much it will bring an ounce; but, I am sure we
can count on its bringing a Million Dollars, a Million Dollars, boys!
And that, since there were ten in the company, will give each one of us
at least One Hundred Thousand Dollars!"

"Great Moses! That means that we are all rich! Hurrah!" and Thure jumped
to his feet and yelled so loudly that Iola thrust her mantilla over his
mouth, fearing that the glad noise might bring the roof down on their
heads.

"And that we can now go to our dear home in New York," Mrs. Dickson said
softly, pressing the hand she held of her husband and looking happily
into his eyes.





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