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Richard and Albert Howard were bound together by the strongest of brotherly ties. Richard had inherited his father’s bigness and powerful constitution, Albert his mother’s slenderness and fragility. But it was the mother who lived the longer, although even she did not attain middle age, and her last words to her older son were: “Richard, take care of Albert.” He had promised, and now was thinking how he could keep the promise.
It was a terrible problem that confronted Richard Howard. He felt no fear on his own account. A boy in years, he was a man in the ability to care for himself, wherever he might be. In a boyhood spent on an Illinois farm, where the prairies slope up to the forest, he had learned the ways of wood and field, and was full of courage, strength, and resource.
But Albert was different. He had not thrived in the moist air of the great valley. Tall enough he was, but the width of chest and thickness of bone were lacking. Noticing this, the idea of going to California had come to the older brother. The great gold days had passed years since, but it was still a land of enchantment to the youth of the older states, and the long journey in the high, dry air of the plains would be good for Albert. There was nothing to keep them back. They had no property save a little money—enough for their equipment, and a few dollars over to live on in California until they could get work.
To decide was to start, and here they were in the middle of the vast country that rolled away west of the Missouri, known but little, and full of dangers. The journey had been much harder than the older boy had expected. The days stretched out, the weeks trailed away, and still the plains rolled before them.
The summer had been of the hottest, and the heated earth gave back the glare until the air quivered in torrid waves. Richard had drawn back the cover of the wagon that his brother might breathe the air, but he replaced it now to protect him from the overpowering beams. Once more he anxiously studied the country, but it gave him little hope. The green of the grass was gone, and most of the grass with it. The brown undulations swept away from horizon to horizon, treeless, waterless, and bare. In all that vast desolation there was nothing save the tired and dusty train at the very center of it.
“Anything in sight, Dick?” asked Albert, who had followed his brother’s questioning look.
Dick shook his head.
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