Our young hero, finding that his services were not required for the present, began to explore the city. It was composed almost wholly of wooden houses; some but one story in height, even on the leading streets, with here and there sand-hills, where now stand stately piles and magnificent hotels. He ascended Telegraph Hill, which then, as now, commanded a good view of the town and harbor; yet how different a view from that presented now. Ben was partly pleased and partly disappointed. Just from New York, he could not help comparing this straggling village on the shores of the Pacific with the even then great city on the Atlantic coast. He had heard so much of San Francisco that he expected something more. To-day a man may journey across the continent and find the same comfort, luxury, and magnificence in San Francisco which he left behind him in New York.
In his explorations Ben came to a showy building which seemed a center of attraction. It seemed well filled, and people were constantly coming in and going out. Ben’s curiosity was excited.
“What is that?” he asked of a man who lounged outside, with a Mexican sombrero on his head and his hands thrust deep in his pockets.
“That’s the Bella Union, my chicken.”
“I don’t know any better now.”
“Just go in there with a pocketful of gold-dust, like I did, and you’ll find out, I reckon.”
“Is it a gambling-house?” inquired Ben, rather excited, for he had heard much of such places, but never seen one.
“It’s the devil’s den,” said the man bitterly. “I wish I’d never seen it.”
“Have you been unlucky?”
“Look here, boy, jest look at me,” said the stranger. “An hour ago I was worth a thousand dollars in gold-dust-took six months’ hard work to scrape it together at the mines-now I haven’t an ounce left.”
“Did you lose it there?” asked Ben, somewhat startled.
“Well, I staked it, and it’s gone.”
“Have you nothing left?”
“Not an ounce. I haven’t enough to pay for a bed.”
“What will you do for a place to sleep?” inquired Ben, to whom this seemed an alarming state of things.
The stranger shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t worry about that,” he said. “I’ll stretch myself out somewhere when night comes. I’m used to roughing it.”
“Won’t you get cold sleeping out of doors?” asked Ben.
The other gave a short, quick laugh.
“What do you take me for, boy? I don’t look delicate, do I?”
“Not very,” answered Ben, smiling.
“I’ve slept out under the stars pretty reg’lar for the past six months. I only wish I was back to the mines.”
“Do you think I can go in?” Ben said hesitatingly.
“Yes, youngster, there’s nothin’ to bender, but take a fool’s advice, and ef you’ve got money in your pocket, don’t do it.”
“You don’t think I’d gamble, do you?” said Ben, horror-struck.