“What do you want?” he faltered, as they came within hearing.
“The nugget,” said Crane sternly.
Hogan would have denied its possession if he could, but there it was at his side.
“There it is,” he said.
“What induced you to steal it?” demanded Crane.
“I was dead broke. Luck was against me. I couldn’t help it.”
“It was a bad day’s work for you,” said Peabody. “Didn’t you know the penalty attached to theft in the mining-camps?”
“No,” faltered Hogan, alarmed at the stem looks of his captors. “What is it?”
“Death by hanging,” was the terrible reply.
Hogan’s face blanched, and he sank on his knees before them.
“Don’t let me be hung!” he entreated. “You’ve got the nugget back. I’ve done no harm. No one has lost anything by me.”
“Eight of us have lost our time in pursuing you. You gave up the nugget because you were forced to. You intended to carry it away.”
“Mercy! mercy! I’m a very unlucky man. I’ll go away and never trouble you again.”
“We don’t mean that you shall,” said Crane sternly. “Peabody, tie his hands; we must take him back with us.”
“I won’t go,” said Hogan, lying down. “I am not going back to be hung.”
It would obviously be impossible to carry a struggling man back fifteen miles, or more.
“We must hang you on the spot then,” said Crane, producing a cord. “Say your prayers; your fate is sealed.”
“But this is murder!” faltered Hogan, with pallid lips.
“We take the responsibility.”
He advanced toward Hogan, who now felt the full horrors of his situation. He sprang to his feet, rushed in frantic fear to the edge of the precipice, threw up his arms, and plunged headlong. It was done so quickly that neither of his captors was able to prevent him.
They hurried to the precipice and looked over. A hundred feet below, on a rough rock, they saw a shapeless and motionless figure, crushed out of human semblance.
“Perhaps it is as well,” said Crane gravely. “He has saved us an unwelcome task.”
The nugget was restored to its owners, to whom Hogan’s tragical fate was told.
“Poor fellow!” said Joe soberly. “I would rather have lost the nugget.”
“So would I,” said Bickford. “He was a poor, shif’less critter; but I’m sorry for him.”
HOW JOE’S BUSINESS PROSPERED
Joe and his friend Bickford arrived in San Francisco eight days later without having met with any other misadventure or drawback. He had been absent less than three months, yet he found changes. A considerable number of buildings had gone up in different parts of the town during his absence.
“It is a wonderful place,” said Joe to his companion.
“It is going to be a great city some day.”