Chapter XII. In San Francisco.
 

Ben was not seasick, and enjoyed the novel experiences vastly. Miss Sinclair was less fortunate. For four days she was sick and confined to her stateroom. After that she was able to appear among the other passengers. Ben was very attentive, and confirmed the favorable opinion she had already formed of him.

At last the voyage came to a close. It was a bright, cheery morning when the steamer came within sight of San Francisco. It was not a populous and brilliant city as at present, for Ben's expedition dates back to the year 1856, only a few years after the discovery of gold. Still, there was a good-sized town on the site of the future city. The numerous passengers regarded it with rejoicing hearts, and exchanged hopeful congratulations. Probably with the exception of Miss Sinclair, all had gone out to make or increase their fortunes. Her fortune was already made. She had gone to enjoy personal liberty, and to find her plighted husband.

"Well, Ben, we have nearly reached our destination," said Miss Sinclair, as she looked earnestly in the direction of the embryo city. "You are glad, are you not?"

"Yes, Cousin Ida," said Ben slowly.

"But you look thoughtful. Is there anything on your mind?"

"I feel sorry that I am to part from you, Cousin Ida."

"Thank you, Ben, but we are not to part permanently. You don't mean to forsake me utterly?"

"Not if you need me," said our hero.

"I shall still require your services. You remember that I came out here in search of a--friend?" said Miss Sinclair, hesitating.

"Yes, I know, Cousin Ida."

"I am desirous that he should know that I am in San Francisco, but, unfortunately, though I know he is in California, I have no idea where, or in what part of it he is to be found. Once in communication with him, I need have no further apprehension of interference or persecution on the part of my guardian."

"To be sure," said Ben straightforwardly. "I suppose you would marry him?"

"That may come some time," said Miss Sinclair, smiling, "but he must be found first."

"You will travel about, I suppose?" said Ben.

"No; I shall engage some one to travel for me. It would not be suitable for a young lady to go from one mining-camp to another."

"Have you thought of any one you can send?" asked our hero.

"Yes," said Miss Sinclair. "He is rather young, but I shall try the experiment."

"Do you mean me?" asked Ben quickly.

"Yes; are you willing to be my agent in the matter?"

"I should like it of all things," said Ben, with sparkling eyes.

"Then you may consider yourself engaged. The details we will discuss presently."

"And where will you stay, Cousin Ida?"

"In San Francisco. I have become acquainted with a lady on board who proposes to open a boarding-house in the city, or, rather, to take charge of one already kept by her sister. In my circumstances, it will be better for me to board with her than at a hotel. There I shall have a secure and comfortable home, while you are exploring the mining-districts in my interest."

"That is an excellent plan," said Ben.

"So I think."

Here the conversation was interrupted by the bustle of approaching departure. Ben landed in the company of Miss Sinclair and Mrs. Armstrong, and the three proceeded at once to the boarding-house, over which the latter was in future to preside. A comfortable room was assigned to Miss Sinclair, and a small one to Ben. They were plainly furnished, but both enjoyed being on land once more.

Our young hero, finding that his services were not required for the present, began to explore the city. It was composed almost wholly of wooden houses; some but one story in height, even on the leading streets, with here and there sand-hills, where now stand stately piles and magnificent hotels. He ascended Telegraph Hill, which then, as now, commanded a good view of the town and harbor; yet how different a view from that presented now. Ben was partly pleased and partly disappointed. Just from New York, he could not help comparing this straggling village on the shores of the Pacific with the even then great city on the Atlantic coast. He had heard so much of San Francisco that he expected something more. To-day a man may journey across the continent and find the same comfort, luxury, and magnificence in San Francisco which he left behind him in New York.

In his explorations Ben came to a showy building which seemed a center of attraction. It seemed well filled, and people were constantly coming in and going out. Ben's curiosity was excited.

"What is that?" he asked of a man who lounged outside, with a Mexican sombrero on his head and his hands thrust deep in his pockets.

"That's the Bella Union, my chicken."

"I don't know any better now."

"Just go in there with a pocketful of gold-dust, like I did, and you'll find out, I reckon."

"Is it a gambling-house?" inquired Ben, rather excited, for he had heard much of such places, but never seen one.

"It's the devil's den," said the man bitterly. "I wish I'd never seen it."

"Have you been unlucky?"

"Look here, boy, jest look at me," said the stranger. "An hour ago I was worth a thousand dollars in gold-dust-took six months' hard work to scrape it together at the mines-now I haven't an ounce left."

"Did you lose it there?" asked Ben, somewhat startled.

"Well, I staked it, and it's gone."

"Have you nothing left?"

"Not an ounce. I haven't enough to pay for a bed."

"What will you do for a place to sleep?" inquired Ben, to whom this seemed an alarming state of things.

The stranger shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't worry about that," he said. "I'll stretch myself out somewhere when night comes. I'm used to roughing it."

"Won't you get cold sleeping out of doors?" asked Ben.

The other gave a short, quick laugh.

"What do you take me for, boy? I don't look delicate, do I?"

"Not very," answered Ben, smiling.

"I've slept out under the stars pretty reg'lar for the past six months. I only wish I was back to the mines."

"Do you think I can go in?" Ben said hesitatingly.

"Yes, youngster, there's nothin' to bender, but take a fool's advice, and ef you've got money in your pocket, don't do it."

"You don't think I'd gamble, do you?" said Ben, horror-struck.

"I've seen youngsters smaller than you bet their pile."

"You won't catch me doing it. I am a poor boy, and have nothing to lose."

"All right, then. You're a country boy, ain't you?"

"Yes."

"So was I once, but I've had the greenness rubbed off'n me. I was jest such a youngster as you once. I wish I could go back twenty years."

"You're not very old yet," said Ben, in a tone of sympathy. "Why don't you reform?"

"No, I'm not old-only thirty-six-and I ain't so bad as I might be. I'm a rough customer, I expect, but I wouldn't do anything downright mean. Ef you're goin' into this den, I'll go with you. I can't take care of myself, but mayhap I can keep you out of danger."

"Thank you, sir."

So Ben and his new acquaintance entered the famous gambling-den. It was handsomely furnished and decorated, with a long and gaily appointed bar, while the mirrors, pictures, glass, and silverware excited surprise, and would rather have been expected in an older city. There were crowds at the counter, and crowds around the tables, and the air was heavy with the odor of Chinese punk, which was used for cigar-lights, The tinkle of silver coin was heard at the tables, though ounces of gold-dust were quite as commonly used in the games of chance.

"I suppose a good deal of money is won here?" said Ben, looking around curiously.

"There's a good deal lost," said Ben's new acquaintance.

"Gentlemen, will you drink with me?" said a young man, with flushed face, rising from a table near-by, both hands full of silver and gold, "I've been lucky to-night, and it's my treat."

"I don't care if I do," said Ben's companion, with alacrity, and he named his drink.

"What'll the boy have?"

"Nothing, thank you," answered Ben, startled,

"That won't do. I insist upon your drinking," hiccuped the young man, who had evidently drunk freely already. "Take it as a personal insult, if you don't."

"Never mind the boy," said his new friend, to Ben's great relief. "He's young and innocent. He hasn't been round like you an' me."

"That's so," assented the young man, taking the remark as a compliment. "Well, here's to you!"

"I wouldn't have done it," said Ben's new friend rejoining him; "but it'll help me to forget what a blamed fool I've been to-night. You jest let the drink alone. That's my advice,"

"I mean to," said Ben firmly. "Do people drink much out here?"

"Whisky's their nat'ral element," said the miner. "Some of 'em don't drink water once a month. An old friend of mine, Joe Granger, act'lly forgot how it tasted. I gave him a glass once by way of a joke, and he said it was the weakest gin he ever tasted."

"Are there no temperance societies out here?" asked Ben.

The miner laughed.

"It's my belief that a temperance lecturer would be mobbed, or hung to the nearest lamppost," he answered.

It is hardly necessary to say that even in 1856 intemperance was hardly as common in California as the statements of his new friend led Ben to suppose. His informant was sincere, and spoke according to his own observation. It is not remarkable that at the mines, in the absence of the comforts of civilization, those who drink rarely or not at all at home should seek the warmth and excitement of drink.

"What's your name, boy?" asked the miner abruptly.

"Ben Stanton."

"Where were you raised?"

Though the term was a new one to Ben, he could not fail to understand it.

"In the State of Connecticut."

"That's where they make wooden nutmegs," said the miner, "isn't it?"

"I never saw any made there," answered Ben, smiling.

"I reckon you've come out here to make your fortin?"

"I should like to," answered Ben; "but I shall be satisfied if I make a living, and a little more."

"You'll do it. You look the right sort, you do. No bad habits, and willin' to work hard, and go twenty-four hours hungry when you can't help it."

"Yes."

"Where'll you go first?-to the mines, I reckon." "Yes," answered Ben, reflecting that he would be most likely to find Richard Dewey at some mining-settlement.

"Ef I hadn't been a fool, and lost all my money, I'd go along with you."

"I should like the company of some one who had already been at the mines," said Ben.

Then it occurred to him that his new acquaintance might possibly have encountered Dewey in his wanderings. At any rate, it would do no harm to inquire.

"Did you ever meet a man named Dewey at the mines?" he asked.

"Friend of yours?"

"No; I never saw him, but I have promised to hunt him up. I have some important news for him."

"Dewey!" mused the miner. "Somehow that name sounds familiar like. Can you tell what he was like?"

"I never saw him, but I can get a description of him."

"I'm sure I've met a man by that name," said the miner thoughtfully, "but I can't rightly locate him. I have it," he added suddenly. "It was at Murphy's, over in Calaveras, that I came across him. A quiet, stiddy young man-looked as if he'd come from a city-not rough like the rest of us-might have been twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old-didn't drink any more'n you do, but kept to work and minded his own business."

"That must be the man I am after," said Ben eagerly. "Do you think he is at Murphy's now?"

"How can I tell? It's most a year sence I met him. Likely he's gone. Miners don't stay as long as that in one place."

Ben's countenance fell. He did not seem as near to the object of his journey as he at first thought. Still, it was something to obtain a clue. Perhaps at Murphy's he might get a trace of Dewey, and, following it up, find him at last.

"How far is Murphy's from here?" he asked.

"Two hundred miles, I reckon."

"Then I'd better go there first."

"Not ef you want to find gold. There's other places that's better, and not so far away."

"It may be so, but I care more to find Richard Dewey than to find gold in plenty."

"You said he wasn't a friend of yours?" said the miner, in some surprise.

"No; I don't know him, but I am engaged by a friend of his to find him. That friend will pay; my expenses while I am on the road."

"Has Dewey come into a fortin?" asked the miner. "Has a rich uncle died and left him all his pile?"

"Not that I know of," answered Ben.

"Then there's a woman in it?" said his new acquaintance, in a tone of conviction. "It's his sweetheart that wants to find him. I'm right. Yes, I know it. But there's one thing that I can't see through."

"What is that?"

"Why does the gal-if it is a gal-send a boy like you on the trail?"

"Suppose there was no one else to send," suggested Ben.

"That makes it a little plainer. Where is the gal?"

"Ought I to confide in this man?" thought Ben. "I never met him before. I only know that he has lost all his money at the gambling-table. Yet he may help me, and I must confide in somebody. He is a rough customer, but he seems honest and sincere."

"Here in San Francisco," he answered. "I cannot tell you more until I have her permission."

"That's all right. Ef I can help you, I will, Ben. You said your name was Ben?"

"Yes."

"Mine is Bradley-Jake Bradley. I was raised in Kentucky, and I've got an old mother living there now, I hope. I haven't heard anything from her for nigh a year. It makes me homesick when I think of it. Got a mother, Ben?"

"Neither father nor mother," answered Ben sadly.

"That's bad," said the miner, with rough sympathy. "You're a young chap to be left alone in the world."

"Yes; I do feel very lonely sometimes, Mr. Bradley."

"Don't call me Mr. Bradley. I ain't used to it. Call me Jake."

"All right, I'll remember it. Where can I meet you again, Jake?"

"Here will do as well as anywhere."

"Will you be here to-morrow morning at nine o'clock?"

"Yes," answered Bradley. "I'll ask the porter to call me early," he added, with rough humor.

Ben remembered that his new acquaintance had no money to pay for a night's lodging, and would be forced to sleep out.

"Can't I lend you enough money to pay for a lodging?" he asked.

"You kin, but you needn't. Jake Bradley ain't that delicate that it'll hurt him to sleep out. No, Ben, save your money, and ef I actilly need it I'll make bold to ask you for it; but I don't throw away no money on a bed."

"If you hadn't lost your money in there," said Ben, pointing to the building they had just left, "wouldn't you have paid for a bed?"

"I might have put on a little style then, I allow. It don't do for a man with a thousand dollars in his belt to lie out. I ain't afraid now."

Ben, on leaving his new acquaintance, thought it best to go back at once to Miss Sinclair, to communicate the information he had obtained, rightly deeming it of importance.

"Well, Ben, have you seen the whole town so soon?" asked Miss Sinclair, looking up from her trunk, which she was unpacking.

"No, Cousin Ida, but I think I have learned something of Mr. Dewey."

"You have not seen him?" asked Miss Sinclair quickly.

"No, I have not seen him, but I have seen a man who met him nearly a year since at the mines."

"Tell me about it, Ben," said the young lady. "Where was it that this man saw Richard-Mr. Dewey?"

"At Murphy's."

"Where is that?"

"Two hundred miles away."

"That is not far. Are you willing to go there?"

"Yes, but you must remember, Cousin Ida, that it is nearly a year since he was there, and miners never stay long in one place, at least so my miner friend tells me."

"At any rate, you may learn something of him there."

"That is true."

"Will this man go with you?"

"He would, but he has no money to get out of the city."

"I will pay his expenses as far as Murphy's, and farther, if he is likely to prove of service."

"I think it will be best, if you can afford it," said Ben. "He knows the country, and I don't. Three months from now I should be willing to start off alone, but now-"

"It is much better that you should have company."

"It will cost you a good deal of money, Cousin Ida."

"I shall not grudge a large sum, if need be, to find Richard. When can you see this man again?"

"To-morrow morning."

"Bring him here, and I will make arrangements with him."