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The Road Agent
by [?]


The Sierra Nevadas of California are very wide and very high. Kingdoms could be lost among the defiles of their ranges. Kingdoms have been found there. One of them was Bright’s Cove.

It happened back in the seventies. Old Man Bright was prospecting. He had come up from the foothills accompanied by a new but stolid Indian wife. After he had grubbed around a while on old Italian bar and had succeeded in washing out a little colour, she woke up and took a slight interest in the proceedings.

“You like catch dat?” she grunted, contemptuously. “Heap much over dere!”

She waved an arm. Old Man Bright girded his loins and packed his jackass. After incredible scramblings the two succeeded in surmounting the ranges and in dropping sheer to the mile-wide round valley through which flowed the river–the broad, swift mountain river, with the snow-white rapids and the swirling translucent green of very thick grass. They were very glad to reach the grass at the bottom, but a little doubtful on how to get out. The big mountains took root at the very edge of the tiny round valley; the river flowed out of a gorge at one end and into a gorge at the other.

“Guess the sun don’t rise here ’til next morning,” commented Old Man Bright. The squaw was too busy even to grunt.

In six years Old Man Bright was worth six million dollars, all taken from the ledges of Bright’s Cove. Of this amount he had been forced to let go of a small proportion for mill machinery and labour. He had also invested twenty-five thousand dollars in a road. It was a steep road, and a picturesque. It wound in and out and around, by loops, lacets, and hairpins, dropping down the face of the mountain in unheard-of grades and turns. Nothing was ever hauled up it, save yellow bars of bullion–so that did not matter. Down it, with a shriek of brakes, a cloud of dust, a clank of harness and a rumble of oaths, came divers matters, such as machinery, glassware, whiskey, mirrors, ammunition, and pianos. From any one of a dozen bold points on this road one could see far down and far up its entire white, thread-like length. The tiny crawling teams each with its puff of dust crawling with it; the great tumbled peaks of the Sierras; the river so far below as to resemble a little stream, the round Cove with its toy houses and its distant ant-like industry–all these were plainly to be seized by a glance of whatever eye cared to look.

As time went on a great many teams and pack trains and saddle animals climbed up and down that road. Bright’s Cove became quite a town. Old Man Bright made six millions; other men aggregated nearly four millions more; still others acquired deep holes and a deficit. It might be remarked in passing that the squaw acquired experience, a calico dress or so, and a final honourable discharge. Being an Indian she quite cheerfully went back to pounding acorns in a metate.

In the fifth year of prosperity there drifted into camp two men, possessed of innocence, three mules, and a thousand dollars. They retained the mules; and, it is to be presumed, at least a portion of the innocence.

The thousand dollars went to the purchase of the Lost Dog from Barney Fallan. The Lost Dog consisted quite simply of a hole in the ground guarded by an excellent five stamp-mill. The latter’s existence could only be explained by the incurable optimism of Barney Fallan–certainly not by the contents of the hole in the ground. To the older men of the camp it seemed a shame, for the newcomers were nice, fresh-cheeked, clear-eyed lads to whom everything was new and strange and wonderful, their enthusiasm was contagious, and their cheerful command of vernacular exceedingly heart-warming. California John, then a man in his forties, tried to head off the deal.