Joshua looked grave for a moment.
“I won’t say but she has,” said he; “but if she has gone and forgotten about me jest because my back is turned, she ain’t the gal I take her for, and I won’t fret my gizzard about her.”
“She will feel worse than you when she finds you have come back with money.”
“And you will easily find some one else,” suggested Joe.
“There’s Sophrony Thompson thinks a sight of me,” said Mr. Bickford. “She’s awful jealous of Susan. If Susan goes back on me, I’ll call round and see Sophrony.”
“I won’t feel anxious about you, Joshua,” he said, “since I find you have two girls to choose between.”
“Not much danger of breakin’ my heart. It’s pretty tough.”
There was a brief silence.
Then Joshua said:
“What are your plans, Joe? Shall you remain in San Francisco?”
“I’ve been thinking, Mr. Bickford, that I would like to go home on a visit. If I find that I have left my business in good hands in the city, I shall feel strongly tempted to go home on the same steamer with you.”
“That would be hunky,” said Bickford, really delighted. “We’d have a jolly time.”
I think we would. But, Mr. Bickford, I have no girls to welcome me home, as you have.”
“You ain’t old enough yet, Joe. You’re a good-lookin’ feller, and when the time comes I guess you can find somebody.”
“I don’t begin to trouble myself about such things yet,” said Joe, laughing. “I am only sixteen.”
“You’ve been through considerable, Joe, for a boy of sixteen. I wish you’d come up to Pumpkin Holler and make me a visit when you’re to home.”
“Perhaps I can arrange to be present at your wedding, Mr. Bickford—that is, if Susan doesn’t make you wait too long.”
While this conversation was going on the dark figure of a man was prowling near the tent.
“Why don’t the fools stop talking and go to sleep,” muttered Hogan. “I don’t want to wait here all night.” His wish was gratified.
The two friends ceased talking and lay quite still. Soon Joe’s deep, regular breathing and Bickford’s snoring convinced the listener that the time had come to carry out his plans.
With stealthy step he approached the tent, and stooping over gently removed the nugget from under Joshua’s head. There was a bag of gold-dust which escaped his notice. The nugget was all he thought of.
With beating heart and hasty step the thief melted into the darkness, and the two friends slept on unconscious of their loss.
The sun was up an hour before Joe and Bickford awoke. When Joe opened his eyes he saw that it was later than the hour he intended to rise. He shook his companion.