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     Found at Blazing Star

       Bret Harte / Western
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Found at Blazing Star Produced by Donald Lainson

FOUND AT BLAZING STAR

By Bret Harte

The rain had only ceased with the gray streaks of morning at BlazingStar, and the settlement awoke to a moral sense of cleanliness, and thefinding of forgotten knives, tin cups, and smaller camp utensils, wherethe heavy showers had washed away the debris and dust heaps before thecabin doors. Indeed, it was recorded in Blazing Star that a fortunateearly riser had once picked up on the highway a solid chunk of goldquartz which the rain had freed from its incumbering soil, and washedinto immediate and glittering popularity. Possibly this may have beenthe reason why early risers in that locality, during the rainy season,adopted a thoughtful habit of body, and seldom lifted their eyes to therifted or india-ink washed skies above them.

”Cass” Beard had risen early that morning, but not with a view todiscovery. A leak in his cabin roof,--quite consistent with hiscareless, improvident habits,--had roused him at 4 A. M., with a flooded”bunk” and wet blankets. The chips from his wood pile refused to kindlea fire to dry his bed-clothes, and he had recourse to a more providentneighbor's to supply the deficiency. This was nearly opposite. Mr.Cassius crossed the highway, and stopped suddenly. Something glitteredin the nearest red pool before him. Gold, surely! But, wonderful torelate, not an irregular, shapeless fragment of crude ore, fresh fromNature's crucible, but a bit of jeweler's handicraft in the form of aplain gold ring. Looking at it more attentively, he saw that it bore theinscription, ”May to Cass.”

Like most of his fellow gold-seekers, Cass was superstitious. ”Cass!”His own name! He tried the ring. It fitted his little finger closely. Itwas evidently a woman's ring. He looked up and down the highway. No onewas yet stirring. Little pools of water in the red road were beginningto glitter and grow rosy from the far-flushing east, but there was notrace of the owner of the shining waif. He knew that there was no womanin camp, and among his few comrades in the settlement he remembered tohave seen none wearing an ornament like that. Again, the coincidenceof the inscription to his rather peculiar nickname would have been aperennial source of playful comment in a camp that made no allowancefor sentimental memories. He slipped the glittering little hoop into hispocket, and thoughtfully returned to his cabin.

Two hours later, when the long, straggling procession, which everymorning wended its way to Blazing Star Gulch,--the seat of miningoperations in the settlement,--began to move, Cass saw fit tointerrogate his fellows. ”Ye didn't none on ye happen to drop anythinground yer last night?” he asked, cautiously.

”I dropped a pocketbook containing government bonds and some othersecurities, with between fifty and sixty thousand dollars,” respondedPeter Drummond, carelessly; ”but no matter, if any man will return a fewautograph letters from foreign potentates that happened to be in it,--ofno value to anybody but the owner,--he can keep the money. Thar'snothin' mean about me,” he concluded, languidly.

This statement, bearing every evidence of the grossest mendacity, waslightly passed over, and the men walked on with the deepest gravity.

”But hev you?” Cass presently asked of another.

”I lost my pile to Jack Hamlin at draw-poker, over at Wingdam lastnight,” returned the other, pensively, ”but I don't calkilate to find itlying round loose.”

Forced at last by this kind of irony into more detailed explanation,Cass confided to them his discovery, and produced his treasure. Theresult was a dozen vague surmises,--only one of which seemed tobe popular, and to suit the dyspeptic despondency of the party,--adespondency born of hastily masticated fried pork and flapjacks. Thering was believed to have been dropped by some passing ”road agent”laden with guilty spoil.

”Ef I was you,” said Drummond, gloomily, ”I wouldn't flourish that yerring around much afore folks. I've seen better men nor you strung up atree by Vigilantes for having even less than that in their possession.”

”And I wouldn't say much about bein' up so d----d early this morning,”added an even more pessimistic comrade; ”it might look bad before ajury.”

With this the men sadly dispersed, leaving the innocent Cass with thering in his hand, and a general impression on his mind that he wasalready an object of suspicion to his comrades,--an impression, it ishardly necessary to say, they fully intended should be left to rankle inhis guileless bosom.

Notwithstanding Cass's first hopeful superstition the ring did not seemto bring him nor the camp any luck. Daily the ”clean up” brought thesame scant rewards to their labors, and deepened the sardonic gravity ofBlazing Star. But, if Cass found no material result from his treasure,it stimulated his lazy imagination, and, albeit a dangerous andseductive stimulant, at least lifted him out of the monotonous groovesof his half-careless, half-slovenly, but always self-contented camplife. Heeding the wise caution of his comrades, he took the habit ofwearing the ring only at night. Wrapped in his blanket, he stealthilyslipped the golden circlet over his little finger, and, as he averred,”slept all the better for it.” Whether it ever evoked any warmer dreamor vision during those calm, cold, virgin-like spring nights, when eventhe moon and the greater planets retreated into the icy blue, steel-likefirmament, I cannot say. Enough that this superstition began to becolored a little by fancy, and his fatalism somewhat mitigated byhope. Dreams of this kind did not tend to promote his efficiency in thecommunistic labors of the camp, and brought him a self-isolation that,however gratifying at first, soon debarred him the benefits of that hardpractical wisdom which underlaid the grumbling of his fellow workers.

”I'm dog-goned,” said one commentator, ”ef I don't believe that Cassis looney over that yer ring he found. Wears it on a string under hisshirt.”

Meantime, the seasons did not wait the discovery of the secret. The redpools in Blazing Star highway were soon dried up in the fervent June sunand riotous night wind of those altitudes. The ephemeral grasses thathad quickly supplanted these pools and the chocolate-colored mud, wereas quickly parched and withered. The footprints of spring became vagueand indefinite, and were finally lost in the impalpable dust of thesummer highway.

In one of his long, aimless excursions, Cass had penetrated a thickundergrowth of buckeye and hazel, and found himself quite unexpectedlyupon the high road to Red Chief's Crossing. Cass knew by the lurid cloudof dust that hid the distance, that the up coach had passed. He hadalready reached that stage of superstition when the most trivialoccurrence seemed to point in some way to an elucidation of the mysteryof his treasure. His eyes had mechanically fallen to the groundagain, as if he half expected to find in some other waif a hint orcorroboration of his imaginings. Thus abstracted, the figure of a younggirl on horseback, in the road directly before the bushes he emergedfrom, appeared to have sprung directly from the ground.

”Oh, come here, please do; quick!”

Cass stared, and then moved hesitatingly toward her.

”I heard some one coming through the bushes, and I waited,” she went on.”Come quick. It's something too awful for anything.”

In spite of this appalling introduction, Cass could not but notice thatthe voice, although hurried and excited, was by no means agitated orfrightened; that the eyes which looked into his sparkled with a certainkind of pleased curiosity.

”It was just here,” she went on vivaciously, ”just here that I went intothe bush and cut a switch for my mare,--and,”--leading him along at abrisk trot by her side,--”just here, look, see! this is what I found.”

It was scarcely thirty feet from the road. The only object that metCass's eye was a man's stiff, tall hat, lying emptily and vacantlyin the grass. It was new, shiny, and of modish shape. But it was soincongruous, so perkily smart, and yet so feeble and helpless lyingthere, so ghastly ludicrous in its very appropriateness and incapacityto adjust itself to the surrounding landscape, that it affected himwith something more than a sense of its grotesqueness, and he could onlystare at it blankly.

”But you're not looking the right way,” the girl went on sharply; ”lookthere!”

Cass followed the direction of her whip. At last, what might have seemeda coat thrown carelessly on the ground met his eye, but presently hebecame aware of a white, rigid, aimlessly-clinched hand protruding fromthe flaccid sleeve; mingled with it in some absurd way and half hiddenby the grass, lay what might have been a pair of cast-off trousers butfor two rigid boots that pointed in opposite angles to the sky. It wasa dead man. So palpably dead that life seemed to have taken flight fromhis very clothes. So impotent, feeble, and degraded by them that thenaked subject of a dissecting table would have been less insulting
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