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|A Waif of the Plains||Bret Harte|
|Page 6 of 8||
"Yes, sir," said Clarence, breathlessly with astonishment.
"And," continued the man, putting his hand gravely to his head as if to assist his memory, "when you was all alone on the plains with that little child you saw one of those redskins, as near to you as I be, watchin' the train, and you didn't breathe or move while he was there?"
"Yes, sir," said Clarence eagerly.
"And you was shot at by Peyton, he thinkin' you was an Injun in the mesquite grass? And you once shot a buffalo that had been pitched with you down a gully--all by yourself?"
"Yes," said Clarence, crimson with wonder and pleasure. "You know me, then?"
"Well, ye-e-es," said the man gravely, parting his mustache with his fingers. "You see, YOU'VE BEEN HERE BEFORE."
"Before! Me?" repeated the astounded Clarence.
"Yes, before. Last night. You was taller then, and hadn't cut your hair. You cursed a good deal more than you do now. You drank a man's share of whiskey, and you borrowed fifty dollars to get to Sacramento with. I reckon you haven't got it about you now, eh?"
Clarence's brain reeled in utter confusion and hopeless terror.
Was he going crazy, or had these cruel men learned his story from his faithless friends, and this was a part of the plot? He staggered forward, but the men had risen and quickly encircled him, as if to prevent his escape. In vague and helpless desperation he gasped--
"What place is this?"
"Folks call it Deadman's Gulch."
Deadman's Gulch! A flash of intelligence lit up the boy's blind confusion. Deadman's Gulch! Could it have been Jim Hooker who had really run away, and had taken his name? He turned half-imploringly to the first speaker.
"Wasn't he older than me, and bigger? Didn't he have a smooth, round face and little eyes? Didn't he talk hoarse? Didn't he--" He stopped hopelessly.
"Yes; oh, he wasn't a bit like you," said the man musingly. "Ye see, that's the h-ll of it! You're altogether TOO MANY and TOO VARIOUS fur this camp."
"I don't know who's been here before, or what they have said," said Clarence desperately, yet even in that desperation retaining the dogged loyalty to his old playmate, which was part of his nature. "I don't know, and I don't care--there! I'm Clarence Brant of Kentucky; I started in Silsbee's train from St. Jo, and I'm going to the mines, and you can't stop me!"
The man who had first spoken started, looked keenly at Clarence, and then turned to the others. The gentleman known as the living skeleton had obtruded his huge bulk in front of the boy, and, gazing at him, said reflectively, "Darned if it don't look like one of Brant's pups--sure!"
"Air ye any relation to Kernel Hamilton Brant of Looeyville?" asked the first speaker.
Again that old question! Poor Clarence hesitated, despairingly. Was he to go through the same cross-examination he had undergone with the Peytons? "Yes," he said doggedly, "I am--but he's dead, and you know it."
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