Chapter XXIII. Among the Sierras.

Ben had heard of mayors, and once he had seen one, a pompous-looking man who had once served in that capacity in an inland city of some twenty thousand inhabitants, and he supposed that all mayors were alike. He could hardly believe his eyes, therefore, when he saw before him a man of medium height, dressed in a ragged shirt and trousers, and wearing a hat once white, but now dirt-begrimed.

"Friends of yours, judge?" said the newcomer, speaking to Hunter, and indicating by a nod Ben and his companion.

"You ought to know one of them, mayor," said Hunter.

"Why, it's Bradley," said the mayor, extending his hand cordially. "Glad to see you back again."

Bradley shook hands, and introduced Ben.

"I'm told you can tell me where to find Richard Dewey, colonel," said Bradley, employing another title of the mayor.

"I can't just say where he is," said the mayor; "but I can tell you where he meant to go."

"That will help us."

"You don't mean him any harm?" asked the mayor quickly.

"Far from it. We have the best news for him."

"Because Dick Dewey is a friend of mine, and I wouldn't bring him into trouble for the richest claim in Californy."

"That's where we agree, colonel. The fact is, there's a young lady in 'Frisco who has come out on purpose to find him-his sweetheart, and an heiress, at that. Me and Ben have agreed to find him for her, and that's the long and short of it."

"Then I'm with you, Bradley. I've seen the girl's picture. Dick showed it to me one day, and she does credit to his taste. He's had bad luck at the mines; but-"

"That won't matter when them two meet," said Bradley. "She's better than any claim he can find this side the mountains."

Bradley and our young hero spent the remainder of the day and the night at Murphy's, hospitably provided for by the judge and the mayor, and Ben listened with avidity to the stories of the miners and their varying luck. If he had not been in search of Richard Dewey, he would have tarried at Murphy's, selected a claim, and gone to work the very next day. He was anxious to have his share in the rough but fascinating life which these men were leading. To him it seemed like a constant picnic, with the prospect of drawing a golden prize any day, provided you attended to business.

"That will come by and by," he thought to himself. "We must find Cousin Ida's beau, and then we can attend to business."

Somehow, it seemed more natural to use the first name by which he had known the young lady who employed him than the real name which he had learned later. It may be necessary to remind the reader that her name was Florence Douglas.

The next morning, after breakfast, the two friends left Murphy's, and bent their course toward the mountains where they were told that Richard Dewey was likely to be found. The direction given them was, it must be confessed, not very definite, and the chances seemed very much against their succeeding in the object of their search.

A week later we will look in upon them toward nightfall. They were among the mountains now.

After the close of a laborious day they had tethered their animals to a tree, and were considering a very important subject, namely, where to find anything that would serve for supper. Their supply of provisions was exhausted, and there was no means of purchasing a fresh supply.

Bradley took out his supply of gold, and surveyed it ruefully.

"Ben," said he, "I never knew before how little good there is in bein' rich. Here we've both got money, and we can't get anything for it. It's cheap traveling for we haven't spent anything sence we've left Murphy's."

"I wish we could spend some of our money," said Ben uneasily. "If there was only a baker's, or an eating-house here, I'd be willing to pay five dollars for a good square meal."

"So would I. Somehow, gold don't look as good to me as it used to. We may starve to death with money in our pockets."

Ben's eyes were fixed upon a slender brook not far away that threaded its silvery way down a gentle incline from the midst of underbrush.

"I wonder if we can't catch some trout," he said. "Don't they have trout in these mountains?"

"To be sure they do; and the best in the world," said Bradley briskly." The California mountain trout can't be beat."

"But we have no fishing-tackle," suggested Ben.

"Never mind, we have our guns."

"How will that help us?"

"We can shoot them, to be sure."

Ben looked surprised.

"Didn't you ever shoot pickerel? We can shoot trout in the same way. Come, Ben, follow me, and we'll see if we can't have a good supper, after all."

Leaving their mustangs to gather a supper from the scanty herbage in their neighborhood, the two friends made their way to the brook. It had seemed very near, but proved to be fully a quarter of a mile away. When they reached it they brought their guns into requisition, and soon obtained an appetizing mess of trout, which only needed the service of fire to make a meal fit for an epicure.

"I can hardly wait to have them cooked," sard Ben. "I'm as hungry as a hunter. I understand what that means now."

"I sha'n't have any trouble in keeping up with you, Ben," said his companion. "We'll have a supper fit for a king."

They gathered some dry sticks, and soon a fire was blazing, which, in the cool night air, sent out a welcome heat.

After supper they lay down on their backs and looked up into the darkening sky. Ben felt that it was a strange situation. They were in the heart of the Sierras, miles, perhaps many miles, away from any human being, thousands of miles away from the quiet village where Ben had first seen the light. Yet he did not feel disturbed or alarmed. His wanderings had inspired self-reliance, and he did not allow himself to be troubled with anxious cares about the future. If by a wish he could have been conveyed back to his uncle's house in the far East, he would have declined to avail himself of the privilege. He had started out to make a living for himself, and he was satisfied that if he persevered he would succeed in the end.

"What are you thinking about, Ben?" asked Bradley, after a long pause.

"I was thinking how strange it seems to be out here among the mountains," answered Ben, still gazing on the scenery around him.

"I don't see anything strange about it," said his less imaginative comrade. "Seein' we came here on our horses, it would be strange to be anywhere else."

"I mean it is strange to think we are so far away from everybody."

"I don't foller you, Ben. I suppose it's sorter lonelylike, but that ain't new to me."

"I never realized how big the world was when I lived at home," said Ben, in a slow, thoughtful way.

"Yes, it's a pretty largish place, that's a fact."

"What were you thinking of, Jake?" asked Ben, in his turn.

"I was thinkin' of two things: whereabouts Dewey has managed to hide himself, and then it occurred to me how consolin' it would be to me if I could light on a pound of smokin'-tobacco. I've got a pipe, but it ain't no good without tobacco."

"That don't trouble me much, Jake," said Ben, with a smile.

"It's the next thing to a good supper, Ben," said Bradley; "but I might as well wish for the moon."

"You needn't wish in vain for that," said Ben, pointing out the orb of evening, with its pale-yellow light peeping over the tall tree-tops, and irradiating the scene with its pensive shimmer.

"I can see it, but that don't help me any," said Bradley. "If I saw a world made of tobacco up in yonder sky, it would only make me feel worse because I couldn't get any."

"What was it you was a-wishin' for, friend?" asked an unfamiliar voice.

Bradley sprang to his feet, and Ben followed suit.

They saw two strange figures, clad in Spanish. style, with large, napping sombreros on their heads, who unheard, had descended the mountains, and were now close upon them.

"Who are you?" asked Bradley doubtfully.

"Friends," was the reassuring reply. "We'll join your little party if you have no objection. I'd invite you to take a drink if there was any saloon handy. As there isn't, jest help yourself to this," and he drew out a pouch of smoking-tobacco.

"Just what I was wantin'," said Bradley, delighted. "You're welcome, whoever you are."

"Ben, can't you get together some sticks and light the fire? It's coolish."