With a deep breath of relief, Ben opened the door, passed out, and closed it softly after him.
He was out of the house, and in the freedom of the woods. Before morning he might have put fifteen miles between him and the cabin of his foes. He would have felt disposed to do so, and avoid all further trouble, if Bradley had been with him, and in condition to travel. As this was not to be thought of, he proceeded to search for a suitable place to secrete his troublesome treasure.
The cabin stood in a valley, or canon, in the shadow of gigantic pine-trees, rising straight as a flagpole to the altitude of nearly two hundred feet. They were forest giants, impressive in their lofty stature, and Ben regarded them with wonder and awe. They were much smaller in every way than the so-called big trees to be found in the Calaveras and Mariposa groves; but these had not at that time been discovered, and the pines were the largest trees our hero had ever encountered.
Ben looked about him in vain to find a suitable hiding-place in the immediate neighborhood of the cabin. If there had been a large flat rock under which he could have placed the gold pieces, that would have suited him; but there was absolutely nothing of the kind in sight.
So Ben wandered away, hardly knowing whither his steps were carrying him, till he must have been at least a quarter of a mile distant from the cabin.
Here his attention was attracted by a tree of larger circumference than any he had seen nearer, which showed the ravages of time. The bark was partly worn away, and, approaching nearer, Ben saw that it had begun to decay from within. There was an aperture about a foot above the ground through which he could readily thrust his hand.
“That’s the very thing!” exclaimed Ben, his eyes lighting up with pleasure. “Nobody would ever think of looking for money there. Here I can hide our gold, and to-morrow, when we set out on our journey, we can take this tree on our way.”
Ben took from his pockets the gold which belonged to Bradley and himself, and wrapping them securely in a paper which he happened to have with him, he thrust the whole into the cavity in the tree.
“There!” said he, “our treasure is much safer there than it would be in our possession, for to-night, at least,”
Ben carefully took the bearings of the tree, that he might not forget it. There was little difficulty about this, as it was larger than any of its neighbors, not so tall, perhaps, but of greater circumference.
“I shall remember it now,” he said to himself.
As Ben walked back to the humble cabin he became very drowsy. He was quite fatigued with his day’s march, and it was now nearly or quite two hours since his companion had fallen asleep.
It was fortunate for him that Ben had been more wakeful.
“I shall be glad enough to sleep now,” thought Ben. “I don’t know when I have felt more tired.”