Chapter XXII. The Arrival at Murphy's.
 

One morning about eleven o'clock they came in sight of Murphy's. It was only a mining-settlement of the most primitive description. A few tents and cabins, with rough, bearded men scattered here and there, intent upon working their claims, gave it a picturesque appearance, which it has lost now. It was then a more important place than at present, however, for the surface diggings are exhausted, and it is best known-to-day by its vicinity to the famous Calaveras grove of big trees.

"So this is Murphy's?" said Ben, rather disappointed. "It doesn't seem to be much of a place."

"You didn't expect to see a regular town, did you?" asked Bradley.

"I don't know. I hardly knew what to expect. It seems a rough place."

"And I suppose the people seem rough, too?"

"Yes."

"So they are in appearance; but you can't tell what a man has been, by his looks here. Why, the man that worked the next claim to me was a college graduate, and not far away was another who had been mayor of a Western city."

"And were they dressed like these men here?" asked Ben.

"Quite as roughly. It won't do to wear store-clothes at the mines."

"No, I suppose not; but these men look like immigrants just come over."

Bradley laughed.

"Wait till we have been at work a little while, and we shall look no better," he said, laughing.

"What is that?" asked Ben suddenly, stopping short while an expression of horror came over his face.

Bradley followed the direction of his finger, and saw suspended from a tree the inanimate body of a man, the features livid and distorted, and wearing an expression of terror and dismay, as if his fate had come upon him without time for preparation.

"I reckon that's a thief," answered Bradley unconcernedly.

"A thief! Do they hang people for stealing out here?"

"Yes, they have to. You see, my lad, there ain't any laws here, nor courts. If a man steals, the miners just take the matter into their own hands, and if there ain't a doubt of it, they hang him as soon as they catch him."

"It's horrible!" said Ben, who had never before seen the victim of a violent death.

"Maybe it is, but what can we do?"

"Put him in prison," suggested Ben.

"There ain't any prisons, and, if there were, there would be nobody to keep them."

Just then Bradley was hailed by a rough-looking man, whom at home Ben would have taken for a tramp.

"What, Bradley, back again? I didn't expect to see you here?"

"I didn't expect to come, Hunter, but I fooled away my money in 'Frisco, and have come back for more."

"And who's this boy-your son, or nephew?"

"No; he's no kin to me. I ran across him down to 'Frisco. Ben, let me make you acquainted with my old chum, Frank Hunter. He isn't much to look at, but-"

"I have seen better days," interrupted Hunter, smiling. "I was rather a dandy in my college days at old Yale, though I don't look like it now."

Ben regarded him with surprise. He had not dreamed that this sun-brown, bearded man, in the roughest of mining-garbs, had ever seen the inside of a college.

Hunter smiled at the boy's evident surprise.

"I don't look like a college graduate, do I? But I assure you I am not the worst-dressed man in camp. My friend, the mayor, is rougher-looking than I. Some time I hope to return to the haunts of civilization, and then I will try to conform to habits which I have almost forgotten."

"How are you making out, Hunter?" asked Bradley.

"Pretty well. I have made more here in six months than I did by three years' practise of law before I came out here."

"Do you like it as well, Mr. Hunter?" Ben could not help asking curiously.

"No, I don't; but then, it's only for a time, as I say to myself when I get tired of the rough life I am leading. When I've made a respectable pile I shall start for 'Frisco, and take passage home, put up my shingle again, and wait for clients with money enough to pay my board while I'm waiting. A young lawyer needs that always."

"Perhaps you'll be Judge Hunter, in time," said Bradley.

"I've served in that capacity already," said Hunter unexpectedly, "and that not longer ago than yesterday. Do you see that poor wretch up there?" and he pointed to the suspended body already referred to.

"Yes; what did he do?"

"He was a notorious thief-served a term in the penitentiary East for stealing, and came out here to practise his profession. But this climate is unhealthy for gentlemen in that line of business."

"Did he rob anybody here?"

"Yes; you remember Johnson?"

"Is he still here?"

"He is about ready to go home, with money enough to lift the mortgage from his farm. We all knew it, for Johnson was so happy that he took everybody into his confidence. He had all his money tied up in a bag which he kept in his tent.

"Imprudent, of course, but we haven't any banks or safes here," added Hunter, meeting the question in Ben's eyes. "Well, this rascal, Ross, wormed himself into his confidence, found out exactly where the bag was kept, and night before last, in the middle of the night, he crept to the tent, and was in the act of carrying off the bag, when, as luck would have it, my friend, the mayor, who was taking a night walk in the hope of curing a severe headache, came upon him.

"Ross showed fight, but was overpowered, and tied securely till morning. When morning came we tried him, I being judge. He was found guilty, and sentenced to be hung. The sentence was carried into effect in the afternoon. He won't steal any more, I reckon."

Ben took another hasty look at the dangling criminal whose end had been so sudden and horrible, and he shuddered.

"Why don't you take him down?" he asked.

"It was ordered that he hang for twenty-four hours, as a warning to any others in camp who might be tempted to steal. The time isn't up yet.

"You are a young gold-hunter," said Hunter, scanning over hero's youthful face.

"Yes, I am," Ben confessed; "but I had to earn a living, and I thought I could do it better here than at home."

"Are you from the East?"

"I am from Hampton, in New York State."

"I know something of Hampton," said Hunter. "I have never been there; but I have a distant relative living there."

"Who is it?" asked Ben, with interest. "I know everybody there."

"I dare say you know my relative, for I am given to understand that he is the great man of Hampton."

"Mayor Sturgis?"

"Yes, that is his name. He married a cousin of my mother, so the relationship is not very close. He is rich, isn't he?"

"He is the richest man in Hampton."

"I suppose he is aware of that fact," said Hunter, laughing.

"If he isn't, his son, Sam, is," replied Ben. "Sam wanted to engage me as his servant before I came away. He wanted me to black his boots."

"And you objected, I suppose?"

"I wouldn't work for Sam Sturgis for a hundred dollars a month!" said Ben emphatically.

"Then you don't like him?"

"He is very big-feeling," said Ben, using a boy's word, "and likes to boss all the rest of the boys. He thinks he is far above us all."

"He ought to come out here. California takes the airs out of a man if he has any. We are all on an equality here, and the best man wins-I mean the man of the most pluck-for success doesn't depend on moral excellence exactly. Well, old friend, are you going to settle down among us again?"

It was to Bradley this question was addressed.

"I don't know. I'm here on a little matter of business, along of this boy. Is Richard Dewey here now?"

"Dewey? No. He had poor luck, and he dusted a month ago."

Ben and his companion exchanged glances of disappointment.

"Where did he go?" asked Bradley, who was evidently getting discouraged.

"He was going to the mountains," he said. "He had been studying up something about minerals, and he had an idea that he'd find a rich ledge among the Sierras that would pay better than this surface-mining."

"Is there anybody that knows what direction he took?"

"My friend, the mayor, knows as well as any man. Dewey was his next neighbor, and often talked over his plans with him."

"Then we will go and see the mayor."

"No need of going, here he comes."