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The Youngest Prospector In Calaveras
by [?]

He was scarcely eight when it was believed that he could have reasonably laid claim to the above title. But he never did. He was a small boy, intensely freckled to the roots of his tawny hair, with even a suspicion of it in his almond-shaped but somewhat full eyes, which were the greenish hue of a ripe gooseberry. All this was very unlike his parents, from whom he diverged in resemblance in that fashion so often seen in the Southwest of America, as if the youth of the boundless West had struck a new note of independence and originality, overriding all conservative and established rules of heredity. Something of this was also shown in a singular and remarkable reticence and firmness of purpose, quite unlike his family or schoolfellows. His mother was the wife of a teamster, who had apparently once “dumped” his family, consisting of a boy and two girls, on the roadside at Burnt Spring, with the canvas roof of his wagon to cover them, while he proceeded to deliver other freight, not so exclusively his own, at other stations along the road, returning to them on distant and separate occasions with slight additions to their stock, habitation, and furniture. In this way the canvas roof was finally shingled and the hut enlarged, and, under the quickening of a smiling California sky and the forcing of a teeming California soil, the chance-sown seed took root and became known as Medliker’s Ranch, or “Medliker’s,” with its bursting garden patch and its three sheds or “lean-to’s.”

The girls helped their mother in a childish, imitative way; the boy, John Bunyan, after a more desultory and original fashion–when he was not “going to” or ostensibly “coming from” school, for he was seldom actually there. Something of this fear was in the mind of Mrs. Medliker one morning as she looked up from the kettle she was scrubbing, with premonition of “more worriting,” to behold the Reverend Mr. Staples, the local minister, hale John Bunyan Medliker into the shanty with one hand. Letting Johnny go, he placed his back against the door and wiped his face with a red handkerchief. Johnny dropped into a chair, furtively glancing at the arm by which Mr. Staples had dragged him, and feeling it with the other hand to see if it was really longer.

“I’ve been requested by the schoolmaster,” said the Rev. Mr. Staples, putting his handkerchief back into his broad felt hat with a gasping smile, “to bring our young friend before you for a matter of counsel and discipline. I have done so, Sister Medliker, with some difficulty,”–he looked down at John Bunyan, who again felt his arm and was satisfied that it WAS longer–“but we must do our dooty, even with difficulty to ourselves, and, perhaps, to others. Our young friend, John Bunyan, stands on a giddy height–on slippery places, and,” continued Mr. Staples, with a lofty disregard to consecutive metaphor, “his feet are taking fast hold of destruction.” Here the child drew a breath of relief, possibly at the prospect of being on firm ground of any kind at last; but Sister Medliker, to whom the Staples style of exordium had only a Sabbath significance, turned to her offspring abruptly:–

“And what’s these yer doin’s now, John? and me a slavin’ to send ye to school?”

Thus appealed to, Johnny looked for a reply at his feet, at his arm, and at the kettle. Then he said: “I ain’t done nothin’, but he”–indicating Staples–“hez been nigh onter pullin’ off my arm.”

“It’s now almost a week ago,” continued Mr. Staples, waving aside the interruption with a smile of painful Christian tolerance, “or perhaps ten days–I won’t be too sure–that the schoolmaster discovered that Johnny had in his possession two or three flakes of fine river gold–each of the value of half a dollar, or perhaps sixty-two and one half cents. On being questioned where he got them he refused to say; although subsequently he alleged that he had ‘found’ them. It being a single instance, he was given the benefit of the doubt, and nothing more was said about it. But a few days after he was found trying to pass off, at Mr. Smith’s store, two other flakes of a different size, and a small nugget of the value of four or five dollars. At this point I was called in; he repeated to me, I grieve to say, the same untruthfulness, and when I suggested to him the obvious fact that he had taken it from one of the miner’s sluice boxes and committed the grievous sin of theft, he wickedly denied it–so that we are prevented from carrying out the Christian command of restoring it even ONE fold, instead of four or five fold as the Mosaic Law might have required. We were, alas! unable to ascertain anything from the miners themselves, though I grieve to say they one and all agreed that their ‘take’ that week was not at all what they had expected. I even went so far as to admit the possibility of his own statement, and besought him at least to show me where he had found it. He at first refused with great stubbornness of temper, but later consented to accompany me privately this afternoon to the spot.” Mr. Staples paused, and sinking his voice gloomily, and with his eyes fixed upon Johnny, continued slowly: “When I state that, after several times trying to evade me on the way, he finally led me to the top of Bald Hill, where there is not a scrap of soil, and not the slightest indication, and still persisted that he found it THERE, you will understand, Sister Medliker, the incorrigibility of his conduct, and how he has added the sin of ‘false witness’ to his breaking the Eighth Commandment. But I leave him to your Christian discipline! Let us hope that if, through his stiff-necked obduracy, he has haply escaped the vengeance of man’s law, he will not escape the rod of the domestic tabernacle.”