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Chapter Nine.
 A Night Ride in the Woods—The Encampment—Larry’s First Attempt to dig for Gold—An Alarm—A Suspicious Stranger—Queer Creatures.  
In less than two hours the travellers reached the second ranche, which was little better, in appearance or accommodation, than the one they had left. Having no funds, they merely halted to water their cattle, and then pushed forward.
The country became more and more undulating and broken as they advanced, and beyond the second ranche assumed the appearance of a hill country. The valleys were free from trees, though here and there occurred dense thickets of underwood, in which Maxton told them that grizzly-bears loved to dwell—a piece of information that induced most of the party to carry their rifles in a handy position, and glance suspiciously at every shadow. Large oaks and bay-trees covered the lower slopes of the hills, while higher up the white oak and fir predominated.
About an hour after midnight the moon began to descend towards the horizon, and Ned Sinton, who had been unanimously elected commander of the little band, called a halt in the neighbourhood of a rivulet, which flowed round the base of an abrupt cliff whose sides were partially clothed with scrubby bushes.
“We shall encamp here for the night, comrades,” said he, dismounting; “here is water and food for our nags, a fine piece of greensward to spread our blankets on, and a thick-leaved oak to keep the dew off us. Now, Maxton, you are an old campaigner, let us see how soon you’ll have a fire blazing.”
“I’ll have it ready before you get the camp kettles and pans out,” answered Maxton, fastening his horse to a tree, seizing an axe, and springing into the woods on the margin of the stream.
“And, Captain Bunting,” continued Ned, “do you water the horses and mules: our vaquero will help you. Jones will unpack the provender. Tom Collins and I will see to getting supper ready.”
“An’, may I ax, commodore,” said Larry O’Neil, touching his hat, “wot I’m to do?”
“Keep out of everybody’s way, and do what you pleases, Larry.”
“Which manes, I’m to make myself ginerally useful; so here goes.” And Larry, springing through the bushes, proceeded to fulfil his duties, by seizing a massive log, which Maxton had just cut, and, heaving it on his powerful shoulder, carried it to the camp.
Each was immediately busied with his respective duties. Bustling activity prevailed for the space of a quarter of an hour, the result of which was that, before the moon left them in total darkness, the ruddy glare of a magnificent fire lighted up the scene brilliantly, glanced across the sun-burnt faces and vivid red shirts of our adventurers, as they clustered round it, and threw clouds of sparks in among the leaves of the stout old oak that overspread the camp.
“Now, this is what I call uncommon jolly,” said Captain Bunting, sitting down on his saddle before the cheerful blaze, rubbing his hands, and gazing round, with a smile of the utmost benignity on his broad, hairy countenance.
“It is,” replied Maxton, with an approving nod. “Do you know, I have often thought, captain, that an Indian life must be a very pleasant one—”
“Av coorse it must,” interrupted Larry, who at that moment was luxuriating in the first rich, voluminous puffs of a newly-filled pipe—“av coorse it must, if it’s always like this.”
“Ay,” continued Maxton, “but that’s what I was just going to remark upon—it’s not always like this. As a general rule, I have observed, men who are new to backwoods life, live at first in a species of terrestrial paradise. The novelty and the excitement cause them to revel in all that is enjoyable, and to endure with indifference all that is disagreeable; sometimes, even, to take pleasure in shewing how stoically they can put up with discomfort. But after a time the novelty and excitement wear away, and then it is usual to hear the praises of Indian life spoken of immediately before and immediately after supper. Towards midnight—particularly if it should rain, or mosquitoes be numerous—men change their minds, and begin to dream of home, if they can sleep, or to wish they were there, if they can’t.”
“Get out! you horrid philosopher,” cried Tom Collin as he gazed wistfully into the iron pot, whose savoury contents, (i.e. pork, flour, and beans), he was engaged in stirring. “Don’t try to dash the cup of romance from our lips ere we have tasted it. Believe me, comrades, our friend Maxton is a humbug. I am an old stager myself; have lived the life of an Indian for months and months together, and I declare to you, I’m as jolly and enthusiastic now as ever I was.”
“That may be quite true,” observed Maxton, “seeing that it is possible you may have never been jolly or enthusiastic at all; but even taking your words as you mean them to be understood, they only tend to enforce what I have said, for, you know, the exception proves the rule.”
“Bah! you sophisticator,” ejaculated Tom, again inspecting the contents of the pot.
“Och, let him spake, an’ be aisy,” remarked Larry, with a look of extreme satisfaction on his countenance; “we’re in the navelty an’ excitement stage o’ life just now, an faix we’ll kape it up as long as we can. Hand me a cinder, Bill Jones, an’ don’t look as if ye wos meditatin’ wot to say, for ye know that ye can’t say nothin’.”
Bill took no further notice of this remark than to lift a glowing piece of charcoal from the fire with his fingers, as deliberately as if they were made of iron, and hand it to O’Neil, who received it in the same cool manner, and relighted his pipe therewith.
“It strikes me we shall require all our jollity and enthusiasm to keep up our spirits, if we don’t reach the diggings to-morrow,” said Ned Sinton, as he busied himself in polishing the blade of a superb hunting-knife, which had been presented to him by a few college friends at parting; “you all know that our funds are exhausted, and it’s awkward to arrive at a ranche without a dollar to pay for a meal—still more awkward to be compelled to encamp beside a ranche and unpack our own provisions, especially if it should chance to be a wet night. Do you think we shall manage to reach the diggings to-morrow, Maxton?”
“I am certain of it. Twelve miles will bring us to Little Creek, as it is called, where we can begin to take initiative lessons in gold-washing. In fact, the ground we stand on, I have not a doubt, has much gold in it. But we have not the means of washing it yet.”
Larry O’Neil caught his breath on hearing this statement. “D’ye mane to tell me,” he said, slowly and with emphasis, “that I’m maybe sittin’ at this minute on the top o’ rale goold?”
“You may be,” answered Maxton, laughing.
“W’en ye don’t know,” remarked Bill Jones, sententiously, removing the pipe from his lips, and looking fixedly at his messmate, “W’en ye don’t know wot’s under ye, nor the coorse o’ nature, w’ich is always more or less a-doin’ things oncommon an’ out o’ the way, ye shouldn’t ought to speckilate on wot ye know ............
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