Chapter XXVI. What Next?

Some persons are said to have premonitions of coming ill, but this could not be said in the present instance of Bradley and his young companion. Bradley had the shrewdness to read the real cowardice of Mosely, who was the leader, and did not dream that he would have the courage to take the horses. But then, he did not know the danger in which their two visitors had placed themselves by their recent theft. Danger will strengthen the courage of the timid, and, in this case, it decided Mosely to commit a new theft.

The robbers were quite five miles away when Ben opened his eyes.

He looked about him with sleepy eyes, and it was only by an effort that he remembered the events of the previous evening.

It was with no misgiving that he looked for the horses. When he realized that they were gone, his heart gave a great bound, and he rose on his elbow. Next he looked for Mosely and Hadley, but, of course, in vain.

"They've stolen the mustangs!" he said to himself, in genuine dismay, and instantly seizing Bradley by the shoulder, shook him energetically.

"What's the matter, Ben?" demanded Bradley, in amazement. "You needn't be quite so rough."

"It's time you were awake!" said Ben hurriedly. "Those fellows have stolen our mustangs!"

"What's that you say?" ejaculated Bradley, now thoroughly awake.

"The mustangs are gone, and they are gone!" said Ben.

"When did you find it out?"

"Only just now. I was sleepy, and overslept myself."

"Half-past seven o'clock," said Bradley, referring to a cheap silver watch which he had bought for a trifle from a miner at Murphy's who was hard up. "I'm afraid they must have been gone some time. It's a bad lookout for us, Ben."

"So it is, Jake. You thought they wouldn't dare to take anything."

"No more I thought they would. That Bill Mosely bragged so much I didn't think he had enough pluck."

"Does it take much pluck to be a thief, Jake?"

"Well, in Californy it does," answered Bradley. "When a man steals a boss here, he takes his life in his hand, and don't you forget it. If it was only a year in the penitentiary, or something like that, it wouldn't scare 'em so bad. That Mosely's a bad lot, and will likely die in his boots."

"What's that?"

"Be shot standing, or swing from the branch of a tree. I thought I'd said enough last night to put him off the notion of playin' us such a trick."

"Probably he thought there wouldn't be any chance of our catching him when we were reduced to walk."

"It's likely you're right, Ben, and I ought to have thought of that. I jest wish I could set eyes on the critter at this particular minute. To treat us that way after our kindness, that's what riles me."

"What shall we do, Jake?"

"That's to be considered. Blamed if I know, unless we foot it, and that will be no joke, over these hills and through these forests."

"We may come upon their track, and overtake them when they are not expecting it."

"I wish we might," said Bradley, the lines about his mouth tightening. "I'd give 'em a lesson."

"They are two men," said Ben thoughtfully, "and we are only a man and a boy."

"That is so, Ben; but I'll match you against Hadley. He don't amount to a row of pins; and if I can't tackle Bill Mosely, then I'll never show myself in 'Frisco again."

"I don't mind so much the loss of the mustangs," said Ben, "but I'm sorry that we shall be delayed in our search for Richard Dewey."

"That's bad, too. I expect that nice young lady in 'Frisco is a-waitin' anxiously to hear from him. Plague take that rascal Mosely!" he broke out, in fresh exasperation.

"Well, Jake, suppose we get some breakfast, and then consider what we will do."

"That's a good thought, Ben. We can't do much on an empty stomach, that's a fact."

For reasons which need not be specified, it was decided that the breakfast should consist of trout. Despite their loss, both had a good appetite, and when that was satisfied they became more hopeful.