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The Secret Of Sobriente’s Well
by [?]

Even to the eye of the most inexperienced traveler there was no doubt that Buena Vista was a “played-out” mining camp. There, seamed and scarred by hydraulic engines, was the old hillside, over whose denuded surface the grass had begun to spring again in fitful patches; there were the abandoned heaps of tailings already blackened by sun and rain, and worn into mounds like ruins of masonry; there were the waterless ditches, like giant graves, and the pools of slumgullion, now dried into shining, glazed cement. There were two or three wooden “stores,” from which the windows and doors had been taken and conveyed to the newer settlement of Wynyard’s Gulch. Four or five buildings that still were inhabited–the blacksmith’s shop, the post-office, a pioneer’s cabin, and the old hotel and stage-office–only accented the general desolation. The latter building had a remoteness of prosperity far beyond the others, having been a wayside Spanish-American posada, with adobe walls of two feet in thickness, that shamed the later shells of half-inch plank, which were slowly warping and cracking like dried pods in the oven-like heat.

The proprietor of this building, Colonel Swinger, had been looked upon by the community as a person quite as remote, old-fashioned, and inconsistent with present progress as the house itself. He was an old Virginian, who had emigrated from his decaying plantation on the James River only to find the slaves, which he had brought with him, freed men when they touched Californian soil; to be driven by Northern progress and “smartness” out of the larger cities into the mountains, to fix himself at last, with the hopeless fatuity of his race, upon an already impoverished settlement; to sink his scant capital in hopeless shafts and ledges, and finally to take over the decaying hostelry of Buena Vista, with its desultory custom and few, lingering, impecunious guests. Here, too, his old Virginian ideas of hospitality were against his financial success; he could not dun nor turn from his door those unfortunate prospectors whom the ebbing fortunes of Buena Vista had left stranded by his side.

Colonel Swinger was sitting in a wicker-work rocking-chair on the veranda of his hotel–sipping a mint julep which he held in his hand, while he gazed into the dusty distance. Nothing could have convinced him that he was not performing a serious part of his duty as hotel-keeper in this attitude, even though there were no travelers expected, and the road at this hour of the day was deserted. On a bench at his side Larry Hawkins stretched his lazy length,–one foot dropped on the veranda, and one arm occasionally groping under the bench for his own tumbler of refreshment. Apart from this community of occupation, there was apparently no interchange of sentiment between the pair. The silence had continued for some moments, when the colonel put down his glass and gazed earnestly into the distance.

“Seein’ anything?” remarked the man on the bench, who had sleepily regarded him.

“No,” said the colonel, “that is–it’s only Dick Ruggles crossin’ the road.”

“Thought you looked a little startled, ez if you’d seen that ar wanderin’ stranger.”

“When I see that wandering stranger, sah,” said the colonel decisively, “I won’t be sittin’ long in this yer chyar. I’ll let him know in about ten seconds that I don’t harbor any vagrants prowlin’ about like poor whites or free niggers on my propahty, sah!”

“All the same, I kinder wish ye did see him, for you’d be settled in YOUR mind and I’d be easier in MINE, ef you found out what he was doin’ round yer, or ye had to admit that it wasn’t no LIVIN’ man.”

“What do you mean?” said the colonel, testily facing around in his chair.

His companion also altered his attitude by dropping his other foot to the floor, sitting up, and leaning lazily forward with his hands clasped.