“Do you like it?”
“I am hungry enough to enjoy anything.”
“Well, lad, it’s bear steak.”
“Bear steak!” repeated Ben, in surprise.
“Exactly. I’ve eaten it before two or three times. You see, we haven’t any markets here to depend on, and we must take what we can get.”
“It isn’t bad,” said Ben meditatively.
During this conversation the landlady had been out of the room. As it concluded, she reentered.
“Your supper is good, ma’am,” said Bradley.
“Now if you only had a cow to supply you with milk and butter, you’d be fixed complete.”
“If you want ’em you’ll have to go somewhere else,” said the woman.
“Excuse me, ma’am. I wasn’t complainin’ of the fare-not by no means. I was only thinkin’ of you.”
“There’s no call to think of me, stranger.”
“Have you lived long in these parts, ma’am?” inquired Bradley socially.
“Fools ask questions, and fools answer them. I ain’t a fool,” responded the polite hostess.
“Excuse my curiosity, ma’am. I didn’t know that it would be disagreeable to you to answer.”
“Who told you it was?”
“I thought from your way of speakin’.”
“It’s none of your business, that’s all,” said the hostess.
Even Bradley was silenced. It was clear that their hostess was not inclined to be social. The remainder of the meal passed in silence.
A new acquaintance.
After supper the two travelers emerged from, the cabin and stretched themselves out under the trees once more. Bradley produced a clay pipe, filled the bowl with tobacco, and began to smoke.
“It’s a pity you don’t smoke, Ben,” he said, his face expressing the satisfaction he felt.
“Would you advise me to, Jake?” questioned our hero.
“No, Ben; I guess you’re better off without it; but there’s nothing makes me feel so good as a smoke after a good supper.”
“I feel comfortable without it, Jake.”
“Then let well enough alone. I wonder whether our sweet-tempered hostess is goin’ to give us a bed to-night. Not that it matters much. I’d rather have a good supper, and sleep under the trees, than have the best bed in Californy without the supper.”
Here their attention was drawn to a man who was leisurely approaching. He was dressed roughly in a red shirt, trousers tucked in his boots, and a hat with a broad flapping brim. As he strode along, his revolver and bowie-knife were carelessly exposed. His complexion was dark; he wore an abundant beard, and whatever he might be, he looked like a desperado, whom one would not care to meet on a dark night, unless well armed and on the alert.
He stopped short when he caught sight of the two travelers.
“Who are you?” he asked abruptly.