“It seems to me,” said the leader, “that the man he injured should fix the penalty. Say you so?”
“Aye, aye!” shouted the miners.
“Will you two,” turning to Joe and Bickford, “decide what shall be done with this man? Shall we string him up?”
The Pike man’s nerve gave way.
He flung himself on his knees before Joshua and cried:
“Mercy! mercy! Don’t let them hang me!”
Joshua was not hard-hearted. He consulted with Joe and then said:
“I don’t want the critter’s life. If there was any wild-cats round, I’d like to see him tackle his weight in ’em, as he says he can. As there isn’t, let him be tied on the old nag he put off on me, with his head to the horse’s tail, supplied with one day’s provisions, and then turned loose!”
This sentence was received with loud applause and laughter.
The horse was still in camp and was at once brought out. The man from Pike was securely tied on as directed, and then the poor beast was belabored with whips till he started off at the top of his speed, which his old owner, on account of his reversed position, was unable to regulate. He was followed by shouts and jeers from the miners, who enjoyed this act of retributive justice.
“Mr. Bickford, you are avenged,” said Joe,
“So I am, Joe. I’m glad I’ve got my hoss back; but I can’t help pityin’ poor old Rip-tail, after all. I don’t believe he ever killed a wildcat in his life.”
TAKING ACCOUNT OF STOCK
Three months passed. They were not eventful. The days were spent in steady and monotonous work; the nights were passed around the camp-fire, telling and hearing, stories and talking of home. Most of their companions gambled and drank, but Mr. Bickford and Joe kept clear of these pitfalls.
“Come, man, drink with me,” more than once one of his comrades said to Joshua.
“No, thank you,” said Joshua.
“Why not? Ain’t I good enough?” asked the other, half offended.
“You mean I’m puttin’ on airs ’cause I won’t drink with you? No, sir-ree. There isn’t a man I’d drink with sooner than with you.”
“Come up, then, old fellow. What’ll you take?”
“I’ll take a sandwich, if you insist on it.”
“That’s vittles. What’ll you drink?”
“Nothing but water. That’s strong enough for me.”
“Danged if I don’t believe you’re a minister in disguise.”
“I guess I’d make a cur’us preacher,” said Joshua, with a comical twist of his features. “You wouldn’t want to hear me preach more’n once.”
In this way our friend Mr. Bickford managed to evade the hospitable invitations of his comrades and still retain their good-will—not always an easy thing to achieve in those times.
Joe was equally positive in declining to drink, but it was easier for him to escape. Even the most confirmed drinkers felt it to be wrong to coax a boy to drink against his will.