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Title: Gold
Author: White, Stewart Edward, 1873-1946
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Gold" ***

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GOLD



Other Books by the Same Author

 The Claim Jumpers
 The Westerners
 The Blazed Trail
 Arizona Night
 Blazed Trail Stories
 The Cabin
 Camp and Trail
 Conjuror's House
 The Forest
 The Rules of the Game
 The Riverman
 The Silent Places
 The Adventures of Bobby Orde
 The Mountains
 The Pass
 The Magic Forest
 The Sign at Six
 The Land of Footprints
 African Camp Fires
 The Mystery (with Samuel Hopkins Adams)



[Illustration: "'I TOLD YOU YOU COULDN'T LICK ME,' SAID HE"]



GOLD

by

STEWART EDWARD WHITE

Illustrated by

THOMAS FOGARTY

New York

Grosset & Dunlap

Publishers



Copyright, 1913, by

Doubleday, Page & Company

 All rights reserved, including that of
 translation into foreign languages,
 including the Scandinavian



CONTENTS

Part I.--Panama

       I.  Oh, Susannah!                                 3
      II.  The Hammerlock                                7
     III.  The Voyage                                   19
      IV.  The Village by the Lagoon                    28
       V.  A Tropical River                             38
      VI.  The Village in the Jungle                    44
     VII.  The Trail                                    56
    VIII.  Panama                                       61
      IX.  Northward Ho!                                76

Part II.--THE GOLDEN CITY

       X.  The Golden City                              87
      XI.  I Make Twenty-five Dollars                  101
     XII.  Talbot Deserts                              115
    XIII.  Up-River                                    129

Part III.--THE MINES

     XIV.  Sutter's Fort                               141
      XV.  The Gold Trail                              148
     XVI.  The First Gold                              164
    XVII.  The Diggings                                170
   XVIII.  Beginnings of Government                    176
     XIX.  Sunday at Hangman's Gulch                   185
      XX.  The Gold Washers                            192
     XXI.  We Leave the Diggings                       203
    XXII.  The Strike                                  210
   XXIII.  The Camp on the Porcupine                   216
    XXIV.  The Indians                                 221
     XXV.  Battle                                      235
    XXVI.  We Send Out Our Treasure                    244
   XXVII.  The Robbery                                 249
  XXVIII.  The Bully                                   255
    XXIX.  The Challenge                               272
     XXX.  The Fight                                   284
    XXXI.  The Express Messenger                       291
   XXXII.  Italian Bar                                 298
  XXXIII.  The Overland Immigrants                     312
   XXXIV.  The Prisoners                               320
    XXXV.  The Trial                                   327
   XXXVI.  The Rule of the Lawless                     333
  XXXVII.  The Last Straw                              342
 XXXVIII.  The Vigilantes                              351
   XXXIX.  The Vigilantes (continued)                  359

Part IV.--The Law

      XL.  The Rains                                   371
     XLI.  We Go Out                                   380
    XLII.  San Francisco Again                         392
   XLIII.  The Golden Web                              404
    XLIV.  Plutocrats!                                 414
     XLV.  The Catastrophe                             425
    XLVI.  The Vision                                  433



ILLUSTRATIONS

  "'I told you you couldn't lick me,' said he"
                                                 Frontispiece

  "'You hounds!' he roared. 'Don't you dare try
  to sneak off!'"                                          78

  "The big man whirled to the floor"                      286

  "We marched our prisoner in double-quick
  time to the agreed rendezvous"                          360



PART I

PANAMA



GOLD

CHAPTER I

OH, SUSANNAH!


Somewhere in this book I must write a paragraph exclusively about
myself. The fact that in the outcome of all these stirring events I have
ended as a mere bookkeeper is perhaps a good reason why one paragraph
will be enough. In my youth I had dreams a-plenty; but the event and the
peculiar twist of my own temperament prevented their fulfilment. Perhaps
in a more squeamish age--and yet that is not fair, either, to the men
whose destinies I am trying to record. Suffice it then that of these men
I have been the friend and companion, of these occasions I have been a
part, and that the very lacks and reservations of my own character that
have kept me to a subordinate position and a little garden have probably
made me the better spectator. Which is a longer paragraph about myself
than I had purposed writing.

Therefore I will pass over briefly the various reasons, romantic and
practical, why I decided to join the gold rush to California in the year
1849. It was in the air; and I was then of a romantic and adventurous
disposition.

The first news of the gold discovery filtered to us in a roundabout way
through vessels to the Sandwich Islands, and then appeared again in the
columns of some Baltimore paper. Everybody laughed at the rumour; but
everybody remembered it. The land was infinitely remote; and then, as
now, romance increases as the square of the distance. There might well
be gold there; but more authentic were the reports of fleas, rawhides,
and a dried-up coast. Minstrel shows made a good deal of fun of it all,
I remember. Then, when we were of a broad grin, came the publication of
the letter written by Governor Mason to the War Department. That was a
sober official document, and had to be believed, but it read like a
fairy tale.

"I have no hesitation in saying," wrote the governor, "that there is
more gold in the country drained by the Sacramento and San Joaquin
rivers than would pay the costs of the late war with Mexico a hundred
times over." And he then went on to report in detail big nuggets and big
washings, mentioning men, places, dates, in a circumstantial manner that
carried conviction.

Our broad grins faded. The minstrels' jokes changed colour. As I look
back, it seems to me that I can almost see with the physical eye the
broad restless upheaval beneath the surface of all society. The Mexican
war was just over, and the veterans--young veterans all--filled with the
spirit of adventure turned eagerly toward this glittering new emprise.
Out in the small villages, on the small farms, the news was talked over
seriously, almost without excitement, as offering a possible means of
lifting the burden war had laid. Families strained their resources,
mortgaged their possessions, to equip and send their single strongest
members to make the common fortune.

Then came the song that caught the popular ear; and the rush was on.
Most great movements are done to song, generally commonplace. It was so
in this instance. _Oh, Susannah!_ or rather a modification of the
original made to fit the occasion, first sung in some minstrel show, ran
like fire in the tinder of men's excited hopes. From every stage, on
every street corner, in every restaurant and hotel it was sung, played,
and whistled. At the sound of its first notes the audience always sprang
to its feet and cheered like mad.

The desire to go to El Dorado was universal, and almost irresistible.
The ability to go was much more circumscribed. For one thing, it cost a
good deal of money; and that was where _I_ bogged down at the first
pull. Then I suppose a majority did have ties of family, business or
other responsibilities impossible to shake off. However, we all joined
one or more of the various clubs formed for the purpose of getting at
least some of their members to California; and discussed heatedly the
merits of the different routes; and went into minute and fascinating
details as to processes of which we knew less than nothing; and sang
_Oh, Susannah_! and talked ourselves into a glorified fever of
excitement; and went home with our heads in the clouds. Once in a great
while some of these clubs came to something--as a body I mean; for
individual members were constantly working themselves up the summit of
resolution to rush headlong and regardless down the other side and out
of our sight. When a man had reached a certain pitch of excitement he
ran amuck. He sold anything, deserted anything, broke through anything
in the way of family, responsibility, or financial lacks in order to go.
But, as I say, occasionally one of these clubs pooled its individual
resources and bought some old tub of a whaler, or outfitted a wagon
train, and started off. But generally we got only as far as _Oh,
Susannah!_ I remember once, in coming out from one of our meetings,
finding myself next a solemn and earnest youth originally from my own
rural village. He walked by my side for several squares lost in a brown
study. Then suddenly he looked up.

"Frank," said he with conviction, "I believe I'll go. I know most of
this talk is wildly exaggerated, but I'm sensible enough to discount all
that sort of thing and to disbelieve absurd stories. I shan't go with
the slightest notion of finding the thing true, but will be satisfied if
I do reasonably well. In fact, if I don't pick up more than a hatful of
gold a day, I shall be perfectly satisfied."

Which remark sufficiently indicates about where we all were!



CHAPTER II

THE HAMMERLOCK


We had many sorts of men in our club, but nearly all young. One, in
especial, early attracted my attention, and held it through all the
changing vicissitudes of our many meetings. I say attracted me, though
fascinated would be perhaps the better word, for after the first evening
of his attendance I used deliberately so to place myself that I could
watch him.

He came always in a rather worn military cape, which on entering the
door he promptly threw back in such a manner as to display the red
lining. This seemed an appropriate envelopment of his flaming, buoyant
personality. He walked with his chin up and his back straight, and trod
directly on and over the ends of his toes so that he seemed fairly to
spring with vigour. His body was very erect and tall and pliant, bending
easily to every change of balance. If I were never to have seen his face
at all I should have placed him as one of the laughing spirits of the
world. His head was rather small, round, well poised, with soft
close-set ringlets all over it like a cap, in the fashion of some marble
gods I have seen. He had very regular, handsome features, with a clear,
biscuit-brown complexion, and a close-clipped, stubby, light moustache.
All these things were interesting and attractive, though no more so than
are the vigour and beauty of any perfect animal. But the quality of his
eyes placed him, at least to me, in a class apart. They were sober,
clear eyes, that looked out gray and contemplative on the world about
them; so that one got the instant impression of a soul behind them that
weighed and judged. Indeed they were not laughing eyes at all, and
rather negatived the impression made by the man's general bearing. But
somewhere down in them something flickered like a strong burning candle
in a brisk wind. Occasionally it was almost out; then again it blazed up
clear, so that one thought to see it plainly through the steady brooding
look. It always fascinated the beholder, for it was mysterious. Whether
it came and went, grew and shrank, following delicately the moods or
reflections of the spirit within, or whether it was a purely fortuitous
effect of light and refraction, no man was ever able to say. And some
men later made some very bad guesses. I myself think it was the devil of
genius--a devil behind the steady control of a clear brain. His name, I
soon discovered, was Talbot Ward.

At this period I was starting in as an assistant bookkeeper to a large
exporting firm. They were enterprising people, and already they were
laying plans to capture some of the California trade. The office talk I
heard concerning the purchase of ships, the consignment of arms, the
engagement of captains and of crews further inflamed my imagination. I
received the vast sum of nine dollars per week. As I was quite alone in
the world, and possessed no other resources, the saving of the five
hundred dollars agreed upon as the least sum with which it was possible
to get to California was fairly out of all question.

One evening, after the meeting, to my great surprise, Ward fell into
step with me. We had up to that moment never exchanged a word.

"In New York long?" he demanded.

"About six months," I told him.

"Farm bred, of course?" he remarked. "Where?"

"Ashbury in Vermont," I replied, without the slightest feeling that he
was intrusive.

He stopped short in the street and looked me up and down reflectively,
but without comment.

"I've been watching you at these fool meetings," said he, falling into
step again.

In spite of myself I experienced a glow of gratification at having been
the object of his interest.

"Fool meetings?" I echoed inquiringly.

"Suppose, by a miracle, all that lot could agree, and could start for
California to-morrow, in a body--that's what they are organized for, I
believe," he countered--"would you go with them?"

"Why not?"

"Martin is why not; and Fowler is why not; and that little Smith runt,
and six or eight others. They are weak sisters. If you are going into a
thing, go into it with the strong men. I wouldn't go with that crowd to
a snake fight if it was twelve miles away. Where do you live?"

"West Ninth Street."

"That's not far. Have you a good big room?"

"I have a very small hall bedroom," I replied wonderingly; "a number of
us have the whole of the top floor."

Somehow, I must repeat, this unexplained intrusion of a total stranger
into my private affairs did not offend.

"Then you must have a big sitting-room. How many of you?"

"Four."

"Can you lick all the others?"

I stopped to laugh. By some shrewd guess he had hit on our chief
difficulty as a community. We were all four country boys with a good
deal of residuary energy and high spirits; and we were not popular with
the tenants underneath.

"You see I'm pretty big----" I reminded him.

"Yes, I see you are. That's why I'm with you. Do you think you can lick
me?"

I stopped short again, in surprise.

"What in blazes----" I began.

He laughed, and the devils in his eyes danced right out to the surface
of them.

"I asked you a plain question," he said, "and I'd like the favour of a
plain answer. Do you think you can lick me as well as your rural
friends?"

"I can," said I shortly.

He ran his arm through mine eagerly.

"Come on!" he cried, "on to West Ninth!"

We found two of my roommates smoking and talking before the tiny open
fire. Talbot Ward, full of the business in hand, rushed directly at the
matter once the introductions were over.

Our arrangements were very simple; the chairs were few and pushed back
easily, and we had an old set of gloves.

"Which is it to be?" I asked my guest, "boxing or wrestling?"

"I said you couldn't _lick_ me," he replied. "Boxing is a game with
rules; it isn't fighting at all."

"You want to bite and gouge and scratch, then?" said I, greatly amused.

"I do not; they would not be fair; a fight's a fight; but a man can be
decent with it all. We'll put on the gloves, and we'll hit and wrestle
both--in fact, we'll fight."

He began rapidly to strip.

"Would you expect to get off your clothes in a real fight?" I asked him
a little sardonically.

"If I _expected_ to fight, yes!" said he. "Why not? Didn't the
Greek and Roman and Hebrew and Hun and every other good old fighter
'strip for the fray' when he got a chance? Of course! Takeoff your
shirt, man!"

I began also to strip for this strange contest whose rules seemed to be
made up from a judicious selection of general principles by Talbot Ward.

My opponent's body was as beautiful as his head. The smooth white skin
covered long muscles that rippled beneath it with every slightest
motion. The chest was deep, the waist and hips narrow, the shoulders
well rounded. In contrast my own big prominent muscles, trained by heavy
farm work of my early youth, seemed to move slowly, to knot sluggishly
though powerfully. Nevertheless I judged at a glance that my strength
could not but prove greater than his. In a boxing match his lithe
quickness might win--provided he had the skill to direct it. But in a
genuine fight, within the circumscribed and hampering dimensions of our
little room, I thought my own rather unusual power must crush him. The
only unknown quantity was the spirit or gameness of us two. I had no
great doubt of my own determination in that respect--I had been on too
many log-drives to fear personal encounter. And certainly Talbot Ward
seemed to show nothing but eager interest.

"You don't show up for what you are in your clothes," said he. "This is
going to be more fun than I had thought."

My roommates perched on the table and the mantelpiece out of the way. I
asked the length of the rounds.

"Rounds!" echoed Talbot Ward with a flash of teeth beneath his little
moustache. "Did you ever hear of rounds in a real fight?"

With the words he sprang forward and hit me twice. The blows started at
the very toe of his foot; and they shook me as no blows, even with the
bare fist, have ever shaken me before or since. Completely dazed, I
struck back, but encountered only the empty air. Four or five times,
from somewhere, these pile-driver fists descended upon me. Being now
prepared, to some extent, I raised my elbows and managed to defend my
neck and jaws. The attack was immediately transferred to my body, but I
stiffened my muscles thankfully and took the punishment. My river and
farm work had so hardened me there that I believe I could have taken the
kick of a mule without damage were I expecting it.

The respite enabled my brain to clear. I recovered slowly from the
effect of those first two vicious blows. I saw Ward, his eyes narrowed
calculatingly, his body swinging forward like a whalebone spring,
delivering his attack with nice accuracy. A slow anger glowed through
me. He had begun without the least warning: had caught me absolutely
unaware. I hit back.

He was so intent on his own assault, so certain of the blinding effect
of his first attack, that I hit him. I saw his head snap back, and the
blood come from his lips. The blows were weak, for I was still dazed;
but they served, together with the slow burn of my anger, greatly to
steady me. We were once more on equal terms.

For perhaps two minutes I tried to exchange with him. He was in and out
like lightning; he landed on me hard almost every time; he escaped nine
out of ten of my return counters. Decidedly I was getting the worst of
this; though my heavier body took punishment better than his lighter and
more nervous frame. Then suddenly it occurred to me that I was playing
his game for him. As long as he could keep away from me, he was at an
advantage. My best chance was to close.

From that moment I took the aggressive, and was in consequence the more
punished. My rushes to close in were skilfully eluded; and they
generally laid me wide open. My head was singing, and my sight
uncertain; though I was in no real distress. Ward danced away and
slipped around tense as a panther.

Then, by a very simple ruse, I got hold of him. I feinted at rushing
him, stopped and hit instead, and then, following closely the blow,
managed to seize his arm. For ten seconds he jerked and twisted and
struggled to release himself. Then suddenly he gave that up, dove
forward, and caught me in a grapevine.

He was a fairly skilful wrestler, and very strong. It was as though he
were made of whalebone springs. But never yet have I met a man of my
weight who possessed the same solid strength; and Ward would tip the
scales at considerably less. I broke his hold, and went after him.

He was as lively as an exceedingly slippery fish. Time after time he all
but wriggled from my grasp; and time after time he broke my hold by
sheer agility. His exertions must have been to him something terrible,
for they required every ounce of his strength at the greatest speed. I
could, of course, take it much easier, and every instant I expected to
feel him weaken beneath my hands; but apparently he was as vigorous as
ever. He was in excellent training. At last, however, I managed to jerk
him whirling past me, to throw his feet from under him, and to drop him
beneath me. As he fell he twisted, and by a sheer fluke I caught his
wrist.

Thus through no great skill of my own the fortunes of war had given me a
hammerlock on him. Most people know what that is. Any one else can find
out by placing his forearm across the small of his back and then getting
somebody else to press upward on the forearm. The Greek statue of "The
Wrestlers" illustrates it. As the pressure increases, so does the pain.
When the pain becomes intense enough, the wrestler rolls over and the
contest is won. Some people can stand it longer than others; but all
sooner or later must give up. In fact, skilled wrestlers, knowing that
otherwise the inevitable end is a broken arm, save themselves much
tribulation by immediately conceding the bout once this deadly hold is
gained.

I began to force Talbot Ward's hand slowly up his back.

Very gently, an inch at a time, I pressed. He said nothing. Once he
attempted to slip sidewise; but finding me of course fully prepared for
that, he instantly ceased struggling. After I had pushed the hand to the
hurting point, I stopped.

"Well?" said I.

He said nothing.

Now I was young, and none too well disciplined, heated by contest, and
very angry at having been so unexpectedly attacked at the beginning. I
was quite willing to hurt him a little. Slowly and steadily, and, I am
ashamed to say, with considerable satisfaction, I pressed the arm
upward. The pain must have been intense. I could feel the man's body
quiver between my knees, and saw the sweat break out afresh. Still he
made no sign, but dug his forehead into the floor. "I can stand this as
long as you can," said I to myself grimly.

But at last I reached the point where I knew that another inch, another
pound, would break the bone.

"Do you give up?" I demanded.

"No!" he gasped explosively.

"I'll break your arm!" I snarled at him.

He made no reply.

The blood was running into my eyes from a small scrape on my forehead.
It was nothing, but it annoyed me. I was bruised and heated and mad.
Every bit of antagonism in me was aroused. As far as I was concerned, it
was a very real fight.

"All right," I growled, "I'll keep you there then, damn you!"

Holding the arm in the same position, I settled myself. The pain to the
poor chap must have been something fearful, for every muscle and tendon
was stretched to the cracking point. His breath came and went in sharp
hisses; but he gave no other sign. My heat cooled, though, as I look
back on it, far too slowly. Suddenly I arose and flung him from me. He
rolled over on his back, and lay, his eyes half closed, breathing
deeply. We must have been a sweet sight, we two young barbarians--myself
marked and swollen and bloody, he with one eye puffed, and pale as
death. My roommates, absolutely fascinated, did not stir.

The tableau lasted only the fraction of a minute, after all. Then
abruptly Talbot Ward sat up. He grinned up at me with his characteristic
momentary flash of teeth.

"I told you you couldn't lick me," said he.

I stared at him in astonishment.

"Licked? Why, I had you cold!"

"You had not."

"I'd have broken your arm, if I had gone any farther."

"Well, why didn't you?"

I stared into his eyes blankly.

"Would you have done it?" I asked, in a sudden flash of illumination.

"Why, of course," said he, with a faint contempt, as he arose.

"Why did you hit me at first, as you did? You gave me no warning
whatever."

"Do you get any warning in a real fight?"

I could not controvert this; and yet uneasily, vaguely, I felt there
must be a fallacy somewhere. I had been told and not told, what should,
or should not, be done, in an affair that apparently could have no
rules, and yet had distinctions as to fair and unfair, some of which
were explained and some left as obvious. I felt somewhat confused. But
often in my later experience with Talbot Ward I felt just that way, so
in retrospect it does not strike me so forcibly as it did at that time.

"But you're a wonder! a perfect wonder!" Ward was saying.

Then we all became aware of a knocking and a rattling at the door. It
must have been going on for some time.

"If you don't open, I'll get the police! I promise you, I'll get the
police!" the voice of our landlady was saying.

We looked at each other aghast.

"I suppose we must have been making a little noise," conceded Talbot
Ward. Noise! It must have sounded as though the house were coming down.
Our ordinary little boxing matches were nothing to it.

Ward threw his military cape around his shoulders, and sank back into a
seat beneath the window. I put on an overcoat. One of the boys let her
in.

She was thoroughly angry, and she gave us all notice to go. She had done
that same every Saturday night for a year; but we had always wheedled
her out of it. This time, however, she seemed to mean business. I
suppose we _had_ made a good deal of a riot. When the fact became
evident, I, of course, shouldered the whole responsibility. Thereupon
she turned on me. Unexpectedly Talbot Ward spoke up from the obscurity
of his corner. His clear voice was incisive, but so courteous with the
cold finality of the high-bred aristocrat, that Mrs. Simpkins was cut
short in the middle of a sentence.

"I beg you, calm yourself, madam," said he; "it is not worth heating
yourself over: for the annoyance, such as it is, will soon be removed.
Mr. Munroe and myself are shortly departing together for California."



CHAPTER III

THE VOYAGE


If I had any scruples--and I do not remember many--they were overcome
within the next day or two. It was agreed that I was to go in Ward's
employ, he to pay my passage money and all expenses, I to give him half
the gold I might pick up. This seemed to me, at least, an eminently
satisfactory and businesslike arrangement. Ward bought the outfits for
both of us. It turned out that he was a Mexican war veteran--hence the
military cape--and in consequence an old campaigner. His experience and
my rural upbringing saved us from most of the ridiculous purchases men
made at that time. We had stout clothes and boots, a waterproof apiece,
picks and shovel, blankets and long strips of canvas, three axes,
knives, one rifle, a double shotgun, and a Colt's revolver apiece. The
latter seemed to me a wonderful weapon, with its six charges in the
turning cylinder; but I had no opportunity to try it.

Ward decided instantly for the Panama route.

"It's the most expensive, but also the quickest," said he; "a sailing
ship around the Horn takes forever; and across the plains is ditto.
Every day we wait, some other fellow is landing in the diggings."

Nearly every evening he popped into our boarding house, where, owing to
the imminence of my departure, I had been restored to favour. I never
did find out where he lived. We took our passage at the steamship
office; we went to the variety shows and sang _Oh, Susannah!_ with
the rest; we strutted a bit, and were only restrained from donning our
flannel shirts and Colt's revolving pistols in the streets of New York
by a little remnant, a very little remnant, of common sense. When the
time at last came, we boarded our steamship, and hung over the rail, and
cheered like crazy things. I personally felt as though a lid had been
lifted from my spirit, and that a rolling cloud of enthusiasm was at
last allowed to puff out to fill my heaven.

In two days we were both over being seasick, and had a chance to look
around us. Our ship was a side-wheel steamer of about a thousand tons,
and she carried two hundred and eighty passengers, which was about two
hundred more than her regular complement. They were as miscellaneous a
lot as mortal eye ever fell upon: from the lank Maine Yankee to the
tall, sallow, black-haired man from Louisiana. I suppose, too, all
grades of the social order must have been represented; but in our youth
and high spirits we did not go into details of that sort. Every man,
with the exception of a dozen or so, wore a red shirt, a slouch hat, a
revolver and a bowie knife; and most of us had started to grow beards.
Unless one scrutinized closely such unimportant details as features,
ways of speech or manners, one could not place his man's former status,
whether as lawyer, physician or roustabout. And we were too busy for
that. I never saw such a busy place as that splattering old ship slowly
wallowing her way south toward the tropical seas. We had fifty-eight
thousand things to discuss, beginning with Marshall's first discovery,
skipping through the clouds of rumours of all sorts, down to intimate
details of climate, outfit, prospects, plans, and the best methods of
getting at the gold. And to all these subjects we brought a dozen points
of view, each of which was strange to all the others. We had with us men
from every stratum of society, and from every point of the compass. Each
was a product of his own training and mental upbringing, and was
incapable, without great effort, of understanding his neighbour's point
of view. Communication and travel were in those days very limited, it
must be remembered, and different communities and sections of the
country produced strong types. With us discussion became an adventurous
exploration into a new country; the man from Maine could not but be
interested in finding out what that strange, straight-haired, dark
creature from Carolina might think of even the most commonplace subject.
Only our subjects were not commonplace.

So my chief impression of that voyage down was of knots of men talking
hurriedly and excitedly, as though there were not a moment to waste; and
the hum of voices rising and falling far into the night.

Only two things were capable of breaking in on this tense absorption of
the men in each other and in their subject--one was dolphins, and the
other the meal gong. When dolphins appeared each rushed promptly to the
side of the ship and discharged his revolver at the beasts. I never saw
any harm come from these fusillades, but they made a wonderful row. Meal
times always caught the majority unaware. They tumbled and jostled down
the companionways only to find the wise and forethoughtful had preëmpted
every chair. Whereupon, with most ludicrous expressions of chagrin or of
assumed nonchalance, they trooped back to meet the laughter of the wise,
if not forethoughtful, who had realized the uselessness of the rush.
After a moment's grumbling, however, the discussions were resumed.

There was some quarrelling, but not much. A holiday spirit pervaded the
lot; for they were men cut off from all experience, all accustomed
surroundings, all the restraints of training, and they were embarked on
the great adventure. I do not now remember many of them individually.
They were of a piece with the thousands we were destined to encounter.
But I do retain a most vivid mental picture of them collectively, with
their red shirts, their slouch hats, their belts full of weapons, their
eyes of eagerness, their souls of dreams; brimming with pent energy;
theorizing, arguing, disputing; ready at an instant's notice for any
sort of a joke or excitement that would relieve the tension; boisterous,
noisy, laughing loudly, smothering by sheer weight of ridicule
individual resentments--altogether a wonderful picture of the youth and
hope and energy and high spirits of the time.

Never before nor since have I looked upon such a variety of equipment as
strewed the decks and cabins of that ship. A great majority of the
passengers knew nothing whatever about out-of-door life, and less than
nothing as to the conditions in California and on the way. Consequently
they had bought liberally of all sorts of idiotic patent contraptions.
India rubber played a prominent part. And the deck was cumbered with at
least forty sorts of machines for separating gold from the soil: some of
them to use water, some muscular labour, and one tremendous affair with
wings was supposed to fan away everything but the gold. Differing in
everything else, they were alike in one thing: they had all been devised
by men who had never seen any but manufactured gold. I may add that I
never saw a machine of the kind actually at work in the diggings.

Just now, however, I looked on the owners of these contraptions with
envy, and thought ourselves at a disadvantage with only our picks,
shovels, and axes.

But we had with us a wonderful book that went far toward cheering up the
poorly equipped. Several copies had been brought aboard, so we all had a
chance to read it. The work was entitled "Three Weeks in the Gold
Mines," and was written by a veracious individual who signed himself H.
I. Simpson. I now doubt if he had ever left his New York hall bedroom,
though at the time we took his statements for plain truth. Simpson could
spare only ten days of this three weeks for actual mining. In that
period, with no other implement than a pocket knife, he picked out fifty
thousand dollars. The rest of the time he preferred to travel about and
see the country, picking up only what incidental nuggets he came across
while walking. We believed this.

As we drew southward the days became insufferably warm, but the nights
were glorious. Talbot and I liked to sleep on the deck; and generally
camped down up near the bitts. The old ship rolled frightfully, for she
was light in freight in order to accommodate so many passengers; and the
dark blue sea appeared to swoop up and down beneath the placid tropic
moon.

We had many long, quiet talks up there; but in them all I learned
nothing, absolutely nothing, of my companion.

"If you had broken my arm that time, I should not have taken you," he
remarked suddenly one evening.

"Shouldn't blame you," said I.

"No! I wouldn't have wanted that kind of a man," he continued, "for I
should doubt my control of him. But you gave up."

This nettled me.

"Would you have had me, or any man, brute enough to go through with it?"
I demanded.

"Well"--he hesitated--"it was agreed that it was to be _fight_, you
remember. And after all, if you had broken my arm, it would have been my
fault and not yours."

Two young fellows used occasionally to join us in our swooping, plunging
perch. They were as unlike as two men could be, and yet already they had
become firm friends. One was a slow, lank, ague-stricken individual from
somewhere in the wilds of the Great Lakes, his face lined and brown as
though carved from hardwood, his speed slow, his eyes steady with a
veiled sardonic humour. His companion was scarcely more than a boy, and
he came, I believe, from Virginia. He was a dark, eager youth, with a
mop of black shiny hair that he was always tossing back, bright glowing
eyes, a great enthusiasm of manner, and an imagination alert to catch
fire. The backwoodsman seemed attracted to the boy by this very quick
and unsophisticated bubbling of candid youth; while the boy most
evidently worshipped his older companion as a symbol of the mysterious
frontier. The Northerner was named Rogers, but was invariably known as
Yank. The Southerner had some such name as Fairfax, but was called
Johnny, and later in California, for reasons that will appear, Diamond
Jack. Yank's distinguishing feature was a long-barrelled "pea shooter"
rifle. He never moved ten feet without it.

Johnny usually did most of the talking when we were all gathered
together. Yank and I did the listening and Talbot the interpellating.
Johnny swarmed all over himself like a pickpocket, and showed us
everything he had in the way of history, manners, training, family,
pride, naïveté, expectations and hopes. He prided himself on being a
calm, phlegmatic individual, unemotional and not easily excited, and he
constantly took this attitude. It was a lovely joke.

"Of course," said he, "it won't be necessary to stay out more than a
year. They tell me I can easily make eleven hundred dollars a day; but
you know I am not easily moved by such reports"--he was at the time
moving under a high pressure, at least ten knots an hour--"I shall be
satisfied with three hundred a day. Allowing three hundred working days
to the year, that gives me about ninety thousand dollars--plenty!"

"You'll have a few expenses," suggested Talbot.

"Oh--yes--well, make it a year and a half, just to be on the safe side."

Johnny was eagerly anxious to know everybody on the ship, with the
exception of about a dozen from his own South. As far as I could see
they did not in the slightest degree differ except in dress from any of
the other thirty or forty from that section, but Johnny distinguished.
He stiffened as though Yank's gunbarrel had taken the place of his spine
whenever one of these men was near; and he was so coldly and pointedly
courteous that I would have slapped his confounded face if he had acted
so to me.

"Look here, Johnny," I said to him one day, "what's the matter with
those fellows? They look all right to me. What do you know against
them?"

"I never laid eyes on them before in my life, sir," he replied,
stiffening perceptibly.

"Take that kink out of your back," I warned him. "That won't work worth
a cent with me!"

He laughed.

"I beg pardon. They are not gentlemen."

"I don't know what you mean by gentlemen," said I; "it's a wide term.
But lots of us here aren't gentlemen--far, far from it. But you seem to
like us."

He knit his brows.

"I can't explain. They are the class of cheap politician that brings
into disrepute the chivalry of the South, sir."

Talbot and I burst into a shout of laughter, and even Yank, leaning
attentively on the long barrel of his pea rifle, grinned faintly. We
caught Johnny up on that word--and he was game enough to take it well.
Whenever something particularly bad happened to be also Southern, we
called it the Chivalry. The word caught hold; so that later it came to
be applied as a generic term to the Southern wing of venal politicians
that early tried to control the new state of California.

I must confess that if I had been Johnny I should have stepped more
carefully with these men. They were a dark, suave lot, and dressed well.
In fact, they and a half dozen obviously professional men alone in all
that ship wore what we would call civilized clothes. I do not know which
was more incongruous--our own red shirts, or the top hats, flowing
skirts, and light pantaloons of these quietly courteous gentlemen. They
were quite as well armed as ourselves, however, wearing their revolvers
beneath their armpits, or carrying short double pistols. They treated
Johnny with an ironically exaggerated courtesy, and paid little
attention to his high airs. It was obvious, however, that he was making
enemies.

Talbot Ward knew everybody aboard, from the captain down. His laughing,
half-aloof manner was very taking; and his ironical comments on the
various points of discussion, somehow, conveyed no sting. He was
continually accepting gifts of newspapers--of which there were a half a
thousand or so brought aboard--with every appearance of receiving a
favour. These papers he carried down to our tiny box of a room and added
to his bundle. I supposed at the time he was doing all this on Molière's
principle, that one gains more popularity by accepting a favour than by
bestowing one.



CHAPTER IV

THE VILLAGE BY THE LAGOON


In the early morning one day we came in sight of a round high bluff with
a castle atop, and a low shore running away. The ship's man told us this
was Chagres.

This news caused a curious disintegration in the ship's company. We had
heretofore lived together a good-humoured community. Now we immediately
drew apart into small suspicious groups. For we had shortly to land
ourselves and our goods, and to obtain transportation across the
Isthmus, and each wanted to be ahead of his neighbour.

Here the owners of much freight found themselves at a disadvantage. I
began to envy less the proprietors of those enormous or heavy machines
for the separation of gold. Each man ran about on the deck collecting
busily all his belongings into one pile. When he had done that, he spent
the rest of his time trying to extract definite promises from the
harassed ship's officers that he should go ashore in the first boat.

Talbot and I sat on our few packages and enjoyed the scene. The ship
came to anchor and the sailors swung the boat down from the davits. The
passengers crowded around in a dense, clamouring mob. We arose,
shouldered our effects, and quietly slipped around to the corresponding
boat on the other side the ship. Sure enough, that also was being
lowered. So that we and a dozen who had made the same good guess, were,
after all, the first to land.

The town proved to be built on low ground in a bay the other side the
castle and the hill. It must be remembered that I had never travelled.
The cane houses or huts, with their high peaked roofs thatched with palm
leaves, the straight palms in the background against the sky, the
morasses all about, the squawk and flop of strange, long-legged marsh
birds, the glare of light, the queer looking craft beached on the mud,
and the dark-skinned, white-clad figures awaiting us--all these struck
strongly at my imagination.

We beached in the mud, and were at once surrounded by a host of little,
brown, clamorous men. Talbot took charge, and began to shoot back
Spanish at a great rate. Some of the little men had a few words of
English. Our goods were seized, and promptly disappeared in a dozen
directions. I tried to prevent this, but could only collar one man at a
time. All the Americans were swearing and threatening at a great rate. I
saw Johnny, tearing up the beach after a fleet native, fall flat and
full length in the mud, to the vast delight of all who beheld.

Finally Talbot ploughed his way to me.

"It's all settled," said he. "I've made a bargain with my friend here to
take us up in his boat to Cruces for fifteen dollars apiece for four of
us."

"Well, if you need two more, for heaven's sake rescue Johnny," I
advised. "He'll have apoplexy."

We hailed Johnny and explained matters. Johnny was somewhat put to it to
attain his desired air of imperturbable calm.

"They've got every blistered thing I own, and made off with it!" he
cried. "Confound it, sir, I'm going to shoot every saddle-coloured hound
in the place if I don't get back my belongings!"

"They've got our stuff, too," I added.

"Well, keep calm," advised Talbot. "I don't know the game down here, but
it strikes me they can't get very far through these swamps, if they
_do_ try to steal, and I don't believe they're stealing anyway; the
whole performance to me bears a strong family resemblance to hotel
runners. Here, _compadre_!"

He talked a few moments with his boatman.

"That's right," he told us, then. "Come on!"

We walked along the little crescent of beach, looking into each of the
boats in the long row drawn up on the shore. They were queer craft, dug
out from the trunks of trees, with small decks in bow and stern, and
with a low roof of palmetto leaves amidships. By the time we had reached
the end of the row we had collected all our effects. Our own boatman
stowed them in his craft.

Thereupon, our minds at rest, we returned to the landing to enjoy the
scene. The second ship's boat had beached, and the row was going on,
worse than before. In the seething, cursing, shouting mass we caught
sight of Yank's tall figure leaning imperturbably on his rifle muzzle.
We made our way to him.

"Got your boat yet?" Talbot shouted at him.

"Got nothin' yet but a headache in the ears," said Yank.

"Come with us then. Where's your plunder?"

Yank stooped and swung to his shoulder a small bundle tied with ropes.

"She's all thar," said he.

These matters settled, we turned with considerable curiosity to the
little village itself. It was all exotic, strange. Everything was
different, and we saw it through the eyes of youth and romance as
epitomizing the storied tropics.

There were perhaps a couple of hundred of the cane huts arranged roughly
along streets in which survived the remains of crude paving. All else
was a morass. Single palm trees shot up straight, to burst like rockets
in a falling star of fronds. Men and women, clad in a single cotton
shift reaching to the knees, lounged in the doorways or against the
frail walls, smoking cigars. Pot-bellied children, stark naked, played
everywhere, but principally in the mudholes and on the offal dumps.
Innumerable small, hairless dogs were everywhere about, a great
curiosity to us, who had never even heard of such things. We looked into
some of the interiors, but saw nothing in the way of decent furniture.
The cooking appeared to be done between two stones. A grand tropical
smell hung low in the air. On the thresholds of the doors, inside the
houses, in the middle of the streets, anywhere, everywhere, were old
fish, the heads of cattle, drying hides, all sorts of carrion, most of
it well decomposed. Back of the town was a low, rank jungle of green,
and a stagnant lake. The latter had a delicate border of greasy blue
mud.

Johnny and I wandered about completely fascinated. Talbot and Yank did
not seem so impressed. Finally Talbot called a halt.

"This is all very well; if you kids like to look at yellow fever,
blackjack, and corruption, all right," said he. "But we've got to start
pretty soon after noon, and in the meantime where do we eat?"

We returned through the town. It was now filled to overflowing with our
compatriots. They surged everywhere, full of comment and curiosity. The
half-naked men and women with the cigars, and the wholly naked children
and dogs, seemed not in the least disturbed nor enlivened.

Talbot's earnest inquiries finally got us to the Crescent Hotel. It was
a hut exactly like all the rest, save that it had a floor. From its name
I suppose it must have been kept by a white man, but we never got near
enough through the crowd to find out. Without Talbot we should have gone
hungry, with many others, but he inquired around until we found a native
willing to feed us. So we ate on an upturned hencoop outside a native
hut. The meal consisted of pork, bread, and water.

We strolled to the beach at the hour appointed with our boatman. He was
not there; nor any other boatman.

"Never mind," said Ward; "I'll know him if I see him. I'll go look him
up. You fellows find the boat with our things in it."

He and I reëntered the village, but a fifteen minutes' search failed to
disclose our man. Therefore we returned to the beach. A crowd was
gathered close about some common centre in the unmistakable restless
manner of men about a dog fight or some other kind of a row. We pushed
our way in.

Johnny and Yank were backed up against the palmetto awning of one of the
boats in an attitude of deadly and quiet menace. Not two yards away
stood four of our well-dressed friends. Nobody as yet displayed a
weapon, except that Yank's long rifle lay across the hollow of his left
arm instead of butt to earth; but it was evident that lightnings were
playing. The boatman, who had appeared, alone was saying anything, but
he seemed to be supplying language for the lot.

Johnny's tense, alert attitude relaxed a little when he saw us.

"Well?" inquired Ward easily. "What's the trouble?"

"Yank and I found our goods dumped out on the beach, and others in their
place," said Johnny.

"So you proceeded to reverse matters? How about it?" he inquired
pleasantly of the four men.

"I know nothing about it," replied one of them shortly. "We hired this
boat, and we intend to have it; and no whipper-snapper is going to keep
us from it."

"I see," said Talbot pleasantly. "Well, excuse me a moment while I talk
to our friend." He addressed the man in Spanish, and received short,
sullen replies. "He says," Talbot explained to us, "that he never saw us
before in his life, and never agreed to take us up the river."

"Well, that settles it," stated the other man.

"How much did you offer to pay him?" asked Talbot.

The man stared. "None of your business," he replied.

"They're askin' twenty dollars a head," volunteered one of the
interested spectators.

"Exactly. You see," said Talbot to us, "we got here a little too early.
Our bargain was for only fifteen dollars; and now this worthy citizen
has made a better rate for himself."

"You should have had the bargain immediately registered before the
_alcalde_, señor," spoke up a white-dressed Spaniard of the better
class, probably from the castle.

"I thank you, señor," said Talbot courteously. "That neglect is due to
my ignorance of your charming country."

"And now if you'll move, young turkey cock, we'll just take our boat,"
said another of the claimants.

"One moment!" said Talbot Ward, with a new edge to his voice. "This is
my boat, not yours; my baggage is in it, my boatman is on the ground.
That he is forgetful has nothing to do with the merits of the case. You
know this as well as I do. Now you can acknowledge this peacefully and
get out, or you can fight. I don't care a continental red copper which.
Only I warn you, the first man who makes a move with anything but his
two feet will be shot dead."

He stood, his hands hanging idly by his sides, and he spoke very
quietly. The four men were not cowards, that I'll swear; but one and all
they stared into Ward's eyes, and came individually to the same
conclusion. I do not doubt that dancing flicker of refraction--or of
devilment--was very near the surface.

"Of course, if you are very positive, I should not dream of doubting
your word or of interfering," said the tallest and quietest, who had
remained in the background. "We desire to do injustice to no man----"

Johnny, behind us, snorted loudly and derisively.

"If my knowledge of Spanish is of any value in assisting you to a boat,
pray command me," broke in Ward.

The crowd moved off, the boatman with it. I reached out and collared
him.

Talbot had turned on Johnny.

"Fairfax," said he icily, "one of the first things you must learn is not
to stir things up again once a victory is gained. Those men were sore;
and you took the best method possible of bringing on a real fight."

Poor Johnny flushed to the roots of his hair.

"You're right," said he in a stifled voice.

Talbot Ward thawed completely, and a most winning smile illumined his
face.

"Why, that's what I call handsome, Johnny!" he cried. "It's pretty hard
to admit the wrong. You and Yank certainly looked bold and warlike when
he came along. Where's that confounded _mozo_? Oh, you have him,
Frank. Good boy! Come here, my amiable citizen. I guess you understand
English after all, or you couldn't have bargained so shrewdly with our
blackleg friends."

The flush slowly faded from Johnny's face. Yank's sole contribution to
the changed conditions was to spit with great care, and to shift the
butt of his rifle to the ground.

"Now," Talbot was admonishing the boatman, "that was very bad. When you
make a bargain, stick to it. But I'll tell you what I will do. I will
ask all people, _sabe_, everywhere, your people, my people, and if
everybody pay twenty dollars, then we pay twenty dollars. _Sabe?_
But we no pay twenty dollars unless you get us to Cruces _poco pronto,
sabe_? Now we start."

The boatman broke into a torrent of talk.

"Says he's got to find his assistant," Talbot explained to us. "Come on,
my son, I'll just go with you after that precious assistant."

We sat on the edge of our boat for half an hour, watching the most
comical scenes. Everybody was afflicted with the same complaint--absence
of boatmen. Some took possession, and settled themselves patiently
beneath their little roofs. Others made forays and returned dragging
protesting natives by the arm. These generally turned out to be the
wrong natives; but that was a mere detail. Once in a lucky while the
full boat's complement would be gathered; and then the craft would pull
away up the river to the tune of pistol shots and vociferous yells.

At the end of the period mentioned Talbot and the two men appeared. They
were quite amicable; indeed, friendly, and laughed together as they
came. The "assistant" proved to be a tremendous negro, nearly naked,
with fine big muscles, and a good-natured, grinning face. He wore large
brass ear circlets and bracelets of copper. We all pushed the canoe to
the very edge of the water and clambered aboard. The negro bent his
mighty shoulders. We were afloat.



CHAPTER V

A TROPICAL RIVER


Our _padrone_, as Talbot told us we should call him, stood in front
clad in a coloured muslin shirt. The broad sluggish river was alive with
boats, all making their way against the current. By the time the lagoon
had narrowed, however, they had pretty well scattered.

We entered a tropical forest, and never shall I forget the wonder of it.
The banks were lined to the water's edge with vegetation, so that one
could see nothing but the jungle. There were great palm trees, which we
recognized; and teak trees, which we did not, but which Talbot
identified for us. It was a very bald sort of tree, as I remember it.
Then there were tremendous sycamores in which were ants' nests as big as
beehives; and banana trees with torn leaves, probably the most exotic
touch of all; and beautiful noble mangoes like domes of a green
cathedral; and various sorts of canes and shrubs and lilies growing
among them. And everywhere leaped and swung the vines--thick ropy vines;
knotted vines, like knotted cables; slender filament vines; spraying
gossamer vines, with gorgeous crimson, purple, and yellow blooms; and
long streamers that dipped to trail in the waters. Below them were broad
pads of lotus and water lilies; with alligators like barnacled logs, and
cormorants swimming about, and bright-eyed waterfowl. The shadows in the
forest were light clear green, and the shadows under the hanging jungle
near the water were dull green; and the very upper air itself, in that
hot steaming glade, seemed delicately green, too. Butterflies were among
the vine blossoms, so brilliant of colour that it seemed to me that the
flowers were fluttering from their stems. Across the translucent green
shadows flashed birds. I recognized little green paroquets. I had never
before seen them outside of cages. No man can realize the wonder of
finding himself actually part of romantic scenes so long familiar in the
pages of books that they have become almost mythical. We sat there
absolutely silent, save when calling attention to some new marvel,
drinking it in.

Our men paddled steadily ahead. The negro hummed strange minor songs to
himself. Suddenly he flashed his teeth at us and broke into full voice:

    "Oh, Susannah! don't cry for me!
    I'm off to California wid my banjo on my knee."

The accent was queer, but the words and tune were right. Talbot
questioned him in Spanish.

"He says all Americans sing it. He has taken many up the river."

"Too many," muttered Johnny. "I wish we'd started three months sooner."

It was growing dusk when we came in sight of a village of bamboo huts on
the right bank. To this we headed. Hardly had the boat struck the beach
when both of our men leaped ashore and raced madly toward the huts.
Pausing only long enough to slide the boat beyond the grip of the river,
we followed, considerably mystified. Quick as we were, we found both the
_padrone_ and his man, together with a dozen others, already seated
at a _monte_ table. The _padrone_ was acting as banker!

We discovered the name of this place to be Gatun. Talbot found us a
native hut in which were hammocks we could rent for the night. The hut
was a two-storied affair, with a notched pole by which to clamber aloft.
I took one look and decided to stay below. My weight seemed sufficient
to bring the whole thing down about our ears.

I do not know which had the better of it. My hammock was slung across
one corner of the single room. A cooking fire blazed merrily five or six
feet away. Some ten or a dozen natives were drinking and talking until
nearly morning; and to my personal knowledge some ten or a dozen
thousand fleas were doing the same. Six dogs were that hut's allowance.
They discovered that my weight sagged my hammock down to a height just
suitable for the rubbing of their backs. In vain I smote with boot or
pistol barrel. They kiyied and departed; but only for a moment. I had
not even time to fall into a doze before one of the others was back at
it. This amused the drinking natives. I suppose the poor beasts very
passionately wanted to scratch their backs. I could sympathize with
them; none of them could have had as many fleas as I had, for their
superficial area was not as great; but perhaps they had as many per
square inch.

In the course of the night it began to rain. I mean really rain,
"without going into details as to drops," as somebody has said. Then I
ceased envying my friends upstairs; for from all sounds I judged the
roof was leaking.

Next morning it was still drizzling. The town was full of sad-eyed,
wearied men. I think every one had had about the same experience. The
_padrone_ was at first a little inclined to delay; but he quickly
recognized that our mood was bad, so shortly we were under way.

That day was not an unmitigated joy. It rained, picking the surface of
the river up in little spots and rings. The forest dripped steadily. All
the butterflies and bright birds had disappeared; and sullen, shifting
clouds fairly touched the treetops. It was cold. Wrap ourselves as we
would, we became thoroughly chilled. We should have liked to go ashore
for a little fire, or at least a tramp about; but there seemed to be no
banks, and the vegetation would not let us approach whatever earth there
might be. The _padrone_ and the big negro thrust their heads
through holes cut in the middle of their blankets, and seemed happy.
Talbot Ward and Yank took it with the philosophy of old campaigners; but
Johnny and I had not had experience enough to realize that things have a
habit of coming to an end. We were too wet even to smoke.

That night we spent at a place called Pena Blanca, which differed in no
essential from Gatun. We slept there in small sheds, along with twenty
or thirty of our ship's companions wedged tightly together. A dozen
other similar sheds adjoined. We were all quarrelsome and disinclined to
take much nonsense either from the natives or from each other. Also we
needed and wanted food; and we had difficulty in getting it. A dozen
incipient quarrels were extinguished because the majority of the crowd
would not stand for being bothered by the row. Finally the whole hutful
became involved, and it really looked for a moment like a riot. A good
deal of bad language flew about, and men seized their weapons. Yank rose
to the occasion by appealing to them not "to kick up a muss," because
there was "a lady of our own colour in the next room." The lady was
mythical, but the riot was averted.

The next day was clearing, with occasional heavy dashing showers, just
to keep us interested. The country began more to open up. We passed many
grass savannahs dotted with palms and a tree something like our locust.
Herds of cattle fed there. The river narrowed and became swifter. Often
our men had to lay aside their paddles in favour of the pole or tracking
line. Once or twice we landed and walked for a short distance along the
banks. At one place we saw several wild turkeys. At another something
horrifying, rustling, and reptilian made a dash fairly from between my
feet, and rushed _flop_ into the water. The boys claimed I jumped
straight upward four feet; but I think it was nearer ten. Talbot said
the thing was an iguana. I should like very much to be able to describe
it accurately, but my observation was somewhat confused. Beyond the
evident fact that it snorted actual fire, I am not prepared to go.

Along in the early afternoon we reached bolder shores in which the trap
rock descended sheer beneath the surface of the water. Directly ahead of
us rose a mountain like a cone of verdure. We glided around the base of
it, and so came to Gorgona, situated on a high bluff beyond. This we had
decided upon as the end of our river journey. To be sure we had
bargained for Cruces, six miles beyond; but as the majority of our
ship's companions had decided on that route, we thought the Gorgona
trail might be less crowded. So we beached our boat, and unloaded our
effects; and set forth to find accommodations for the present, and mules
for the immediate future.



CHAPTER VI

THE VILLAGE IN THE JUNGLE


At first there seemed slight chance of getting either. The place was
crowded beyond its capacity. The Hotel Française--a shed-and-tent sort
of combination with a muddy natural floor--was jammed. The few native
huts were crowded. Many we saw making themselves as comfortable as
possible amid their effects out in the open. Some we talked with said
they had been there for over a week, unable to move because of lack of
transportation. They reported much fever; and in fact we saw one poor
shaking wretch, wistful-eyed as a sick dog, braced against a tree all
alone. The spirit was drained out of him; and all he wanted was to get
back.

While we were discussing what to do next, our muslin-clad
ex-_padrone_, who had been paid and shaken by the hand some time
since, approached smoking a longer cigar than ever. This he waved at us
in a most debonair and friendly manner.

"Bread on the water," commented Talbot after a short conversation. "He
says we have treated him like a brother and a true comrade in arms;
which means that _I_ did; you fellows, confound your spiteful
souls, wanted to throw him overboard a dozen times. And now he says to
follow him, and he'll get us a place to stay."

"Some native pig-sty with fleas," I remarked skeptically, aside, to
Johnny.

"You com'," begged the _padrone_, with a flash of teeth.

We came bearing our household goods, because we could nowhere see any
one to bear them for us. At that we had to leave the heaviest pieces on
the beach. Talbot insisted on lugging his huge bundle of newspapers.

"They may come in handy," he answered us vaguely. "Well, they're mine,
and this is my back," he countered to Johnny's and my impatience with
such foolishness.

The _padrone_ led us through town to the outskirts. There we came
to a substantial low house of several rooms, with a veranda and
veritable chimneys. The earth in front had been beaten so hard that even
the downpour of yesterday had not appreciably softened it. To our
summons appeared a very suave and courteous figure--that, it appeared,
of the _alcalde_ of the place.

"My fren'," explained the _padrone_ in English, for our benefit,
"they good peepele. They wan' estay. Got no place estay."

The _alcalde_, a portly gentleman with side whiskers and a great
deal of dignity, bowed.

"My house is all yours," said he.

Thus, although arriving late, we stopped at the best quarters in the
town. The sense of obligation to any one but our boatman was
considerably relieved when next day we paid what we owed for our
lodging. Also, had it not been for Talbot and Johnny, I am sure Yank and
I would have taken to the jungle. There seemed to be required so much
bowing, smiling, punctiliousness and elaborate complimenting that in a
short time I felt myself in the precise mental attitude of a very small
monkey shaking the bars of his cage with all four hands and gibbering in
the face of some benign and infinitely superior professor. I fairly
ached behind the ears trying to look sufficiently alert and bland and
intelligent. Yank sat stolid, chewed tobacco and spat out of the window,
which also went far toward stampeding me. Talbot and Johnny, however,
seemed right at home. They capped the old gentleman's most elaborate and
involved speeches, they talked at length and pompously about nothing at
all; their smiles were rare and sad and lingering--not a bit like my
imbecile though well-meant grinning--and they seemed to be able to stick
it out until judgment day. Not until I heard their private language
after it was all over did I realize they were not enjoying the occasion
thoroughly.

Toward sunset occurred a welcome break. A mob of natives suddenly burst
into view, from the direction of town. They were running madly, led by a
very little man and a very big man. The two latter rushed up to the edge
of the veranda, on which we were all sitting, and began to talk
excitedly, both at once.

"What's the row?" we asked Talbot in a breath.

"Can't make out yet; something about a fight."

The _alcalde_ commanded order. Then the matter became clear. The
very large man and the very little man had had a fight, and they had
come for justice. This much Talbot made plain. Then he chuckled
explosively.

"The little man is making his accusation against himself!" he told us.
"He is charging _himself_ with having assaulted and beaten the
other fellow. And the big one is charging _himself_ with having
licked the little one. Neither wants to acknowledge he got licked; and
each would rather pay a fine and have it entered on the records that he
won the fight. So much for sheer vanity!"

Each had his desire. The _alcalde_, with beautiful impartiality,
fined them both; and nonchalantly pocketed the proceeds.

At dusk millions of fireflies came out, the earth grew velvet black, and
the soft, tepid air breathed up from the river. Lights of the town
flickered like larger yellower fireflies through the thin screen of
palms and jungle; and the various noises, subdued by distance, mingled
with the voices of thousands of insects, and a strange booming from the
river. I thought it very pleasant; and wanted to stay out; but for some
reason we were haled within. There the lamps made the low broad room
very hot. We sat on real chairs and the stilted exchange resumed. I have
often wondered whether our host enjoyed it, or whether he did it merely
from duty, and was as heartily bored as the rest of us.

A half-naked servant glided in to tell us that we were wanted in the
next room. We found there our good _padrone_ and another, a fine
tall man, dressed very elaborately in short jacket and slit loose
trousers, all sewn with many silver buttons and ornaments.

"He my fren'," explained the _padrone_. "He have dose
_mulas_."

With the gorgeous individual Talbot concluded a bargain. He was to
furnish us riding animals at ten dollars each per day; and agreed to
transport our baggage at six dollars a hundredweight. The _padrone_
stood aside, smiling cheerfully.

"I ver' good fren'? Eh?" he demanded.

"My son," said Talbot with feeling, "you're a gentleman and a scholar;
indeed, I would go farther and designate you as a genuine
lallapaloozer!"

The _padrone_ seemed much gratified; but immediately demanded five
dollars. This Talbot gave him. Johnny thought the demand went far toward
destroying the value of the _padrone's_ kindness: but the rest of
us differed. I believe this people, lazy and dishonest as they are, are
nevertheless peculiarly susceptible to kindness. The man had started by
trying to cheat us of our bargain; he ended by going out of his way to
help us along.

At supper, which was served very shortly, we had our first glimpse of
the ladies of the establishment. The older was a very dignified, placid,
rather fat individual, whose chief feature was her shining dark hair.
She bowed to us gravely, said a few words in Spanish, and thereafter
applied herself with childlike and unfeigned zest to the edibles. The
younger, Mercedes by name, was a very sprightly damsel indeed. She too
had shining black hair, over which she had flung the most coquettish
sort of lace shawl they call a _rebosa_. Her eyes were large, dark,
and expressive; and she constantly used them most provocatively, though
with every appearance of shyness and modesty. Her figure, too, was lithe
and rounded; and so swathed, rather than clothed, that every curve was
emphasized. I suppose this effect was the result of the Spanish mode
rather than of individual sophistication; just as the succession of lazy
poses and bendings were the result of a racial feminine instinct rather
than of conscious personal coquetry. Certainly we four red-shirted
tramps were poor enough game. Nevertheless, whatever the motive, the
effect was certainly real enough. She was alluring rather than charming,
with her fan and her _rebosa_, her veiled glances, her languorous,
bold poses, and the single red flower in her hair. And a great deal of
this allurement resided in the very fact that no one could tell how much
was simple, innocent, and unconscious instinct, and how much was
intended. An unpleasing note in both women was furnished by the powder.
This so liberally covered their faces as to conceal the skin beneath a
dead mat white.

Yank and I were kept out of it, or thought we were, by our ignorance of
the language. This did not seem to hinder Johnny in the least. In five
minutes he was oblivious to everything but his attempts to make himself
agreeable by signs and laughing gestures, and to his trials--with
help--at the unknown language. The girl played up to him well. Talbot
was gravely and courteously polite. At the close of the meal the women
rose suddenly, bowed, and swept from the room. Johnny turned back to us
a good deal flushed and excited, a little bewildered, and considerably
disappointed. The _alcalde_ looked as though nothing unusual were
under way. The rest of us were considerably amused.

"You'll see her later," soothed Talbot mockingly.

Johnny gulped down his coffee without reply.

After the meal we went outside. Fires had been built on opposite sides
of the hard beaten earth in front of the house. Four men with guitars
sat chair tilted, backed against the veranda. Thirty or forty people
wandered to and fro. They were of the usual native class; our host's
family, and one other, consisting of parents and three grown children,
seemed to represent all the aristocracy. These better-class guests came
to join us on the veranda. The older people did not greatly differ from
our host and his wife, except in cut of masculine whisker, or amount of
feminine fat. The younger members consisted of a young lady, tall and
graceful, a young girl in white, and a man of twenty or thereabout. He
was most gaudily gotten up, for a male creature, in a soft white shirt,
a short braided jacket of blue, a wide, red-tasselled sash, and trousers
slit from the knees down. The entire costume was sewn at all places,
likely and unlikely, with silver buttons. As he was a darkly handsome
chap, with a small moustache, red lips and a little flash of teeth, the
effect was quite good, but I couldn't care for his style. The bulk of
the villagers were dressed in white. The women all carried the
_rebosa_, and were thickly powdered. We could see a number of the
Americans in the background.

The musicians struck up a strummy, decided sort of marchlike tune; and
the dancers paired off. They performed a kind of lancer figure, very
stately and solemn, seemingly interminable, with scant variation, small
progressions, and mighty little interest to me. We sat in a stiff row
and shed the compliment of our presence on the scene. It was about as
inspiring as a visit to a hospital ward. What determined the duration of
the affair, I cannot tell you; whether the musicians' fingers gave out,
or the dancers' legs, or the official audience's patience. But at last
they ceased.

At the beginning of another tune, of much the same solemn character, our
young visitor bowed ceremoniously to our host's daughter, and led her
down the steps.

"Come on, Johnny, be a sport. Dance this one," said Talbot rising.

"Don't know how," replied Johnny gloomily, his eyes on the receding
figure of Mercedes.

"The lady'll show you. Come along!"

Talbot bowed gravely to the young girl, who arose enchanted. Johnny,
with his natural grace and courtesy, offered his arm to the other. She
took it with a faintly aloof and indifferent smile, and descended the
step with him. She did not look toward him, nor did she vouchsafe him a
word. Plainly, she was not interested, but stood idly flirting with her
fan, her eyes fixed upon the distance. The dance began.

It was another of the same general character as the first. The couples
advanced and retreated, swung slowly about each other, ducked and passed
beneath each other's arms, all to the stately strumming of the guitars.
They kept on doing these things. Johnny and Talbot soon got hold of the
sequence of events, and did them too.

At first Johnny was gloomy and distrait. Then, after he had, in the
changes of the dance, passed Mercedes a few times, he began to wake up.
I could make out in the firelight only the shapes of their figures and
the whiteness of their faces; but I could see that she lingered a moment
in Johnny's formal embrace, that she flirted against him in passing, and
I could guess that her eyes were on duty. When they returned to the
veranda, Johnny was chipper, the visitor darkly frowning, Mercedes
animated, and the other girl still faintly and aloofly smiling.

The fandango went on for an hour; and the rivalry between Johnny and the
young Spaniard grew in intensity. Certainly Mercedes did nothing to
modify it. The scene became more animated and more interesting. A slow,
gliding waltz was danced, and several posturing, stamping dances in
which the partners advanced and receded toward and from each other,
bending and swaying and holding aloft their arms. It was very pretty and
graceful and captivating; and to my unsophisticated mind a trifle
suggestive; though that thought was probably the result of my training
and the novelty of the sight. It must be remembered that many people see
harm in our round dances simply because they have not become
sufficiently accustomed to them to realize that the position of the
performers is meaninglessly conventional. Similarity the various rather
daring postures of some of these Spanish dances probably have become so
conventionalized by numberless repetitions along the formal requirements
of the dance that their possible significance has been long since
forgotten. The apparently deliberate luring of the man by the woman
exists solely in the mind of some such alien spectator as myself. I was
philosophical enough to say these things to myself; but Johnny was not.
He saw Mercedes languishing into the eyes of his rival; half fleeing
provocatively, her glances sparkling; bending and swaying her body in
allurement; finally in the finale of the dance, melting into her
partner's arms as though in surrender. He could not realize that these
were formal and established measures for a dance. He was too blind to
see that the partners separated quite calmly and sauntered nonchalantly
toward the veranda, the man rolling a paper cigarro, the woman flirting
idly her fan. His eyes glowing dully, he stared straight before him; a
spot of colour mounted on his cheekbones.

With an exclamation Talbot Ward arose swiftly but quietly and moved down
the veranda, motioning me to follow. He bent over Johnny's chair.

"I want to speak to you a moment," he said in a low voice.

Johnny looked up at him a moment defiantly. Talbot stood above him,
inflexibly waiting. With a muttered exclamation Johnny finally arose
from his chair. Ward grasped his arm and drew him through the wandering
natives, past the fringe of American spectators, and down the hard
moonlit path to the village.

Johnny jerked his arm loose and stopped short.

"Well, sir!" he demanded, his head high.

"You are on your way to California," said Ward, "and you are stopping
here over one night. The girl is pretty and graceful and with much
charm, but uneducated, and quite empty headed."

"I will thank you to leave all young ladies out of this discussion,"
broke in Johnny hotly.

"This young lady is the whole of this discussion and cannot be left
out."

"Then we will abandon the discussion."

"Also," said Talbot Ward irrelevantly, "did you notice how fat all their
mothers are?"

We were wandering forward slowly. Again Johnny stopped.

"I must tell you, sir, that I consider my affairs none of your business,
sir; and that I resent any interference with them," said he with heat.

"All right, Johnny," replied Talbot sadly; "I am not going to try to
advise you. Only I wanted to call your attention to all the elements of
the situation, which you probably had forgotten. I will repeat--and then
I am done--she is nothing to you, she is beneath you, you are stopping
here but one day, she is charming but ignorant--and her mother is very
fat. Now go have your fool fight--for that is what you are headed
straight for--if you think it at all worth while."

Johnny's generous heart must have been smiting him sorely, now that his
heat and excitement had had time to cool a little. He followed us a few
steps irresolutely. We came to the large tree by the wayside. The man
with the fever still sat there miserably indifferent to his
surroundings.

"Here, this won't do!" cried Talbot. "He mustn't be allowed to sit there
all night; he'll catch a chill sure. My friend, give us your arm. We'll
find you some sort of a bunk."

The man was dead.

We carried him to the village and raised a number of our compatriots.
Not one knew who the man might be, nor even where his belongings had
been stored. He had no mark of identification on his person. After a
diligent search, we were forced to give it up. The body we buried with
all reverence at the edge of the jungle. I wanted to place the matter on
an official footing by notifying the _alcalde_, but Talbot
negatived this.

"I know this people," said he. "Once let the news of a man's death get
abroad, and it's good-bye to any chance of finding his effects
to-morrow. And that's our only show to identify him. Best say nothing."

We returned slowly to the _alcalde's_ house. The fandango was still
in progress. Mercedes flashed her bright eyes at Johnny as we mounted
the steps; the Spaniard scowled and muttered an imprecation. Johnny
bowed gravely and passed into the house.

We told Yank the circumstances.

"Poor devil," said I. "Like the rest of us, he was so full of hope so
short time ago."

Ward nodded.

"And his death was so unnecessary, so utterly and completely useless."

"I don't know," spoke up Talbot musingly. "It seems to us unnecessary,
but who can tell? And useless? I don't know. If we hadn't happened to
stumble on that poor chap just then, Johnny Fairfax might be in his fix
right this minute, and Johnny Fairfax seems to me likely to prove a very
valuable citizen."

"And what did the blame critter mean by that?" Yank asked me later.



CHAPTER VII

THE TRAIL


We made desperate efforts next morning to find somebody who knew the
man, or at least could point out to us his effects; but in vain. All was
confusion, and everybody was too busy getting away to pay us very much
attention. This, I am convinced, was not hardheartedness on the part of
most; but merely that all men's minds were filled with a great desire.
Our own transport men were impatient to be off; and we had finally to
abandon the matter. Whether or not the man had a family or friends who
would never know what had become of him, we shall never find out. Later
in the gold rush there were many scores of such cases.

Having paid the _alcalde_ we set forth. Mercedes did not appear.
Our good _padrone_ was on hand to say farewell to us at the edge of
town. He gave us a sort of cup made from coconut husk to which long
cords had been attached. With these, he explained, we could dip up water
without dismounting. We found them most convenient.

Shortly after we had left town, and before we had really begun our
journey in earnest, we passed a most astonishing caravan going the other
way. This consisted of sixteen mules and donkeys under sole charge of
three men armed with antiquated and somewhat rusty muskets. On either
side of each mule, slung in a rope and plain to see, hung a heavy ingot
of gold! Fascinated, we approached and stroked the satiny beautiful
metal; and wondered that, on a road so crowded with travellers of all
grades, so precious a train should be freely entrusted to the three
ragged lazy natives. So curious did this seem that Talbot inquired of
the leader why it was allowed.

"Whither would a thief run to? How could he carry away these heavy
ingots?" the man propounded.

Often around subsequent campfires we have in idle curiosity attempted to
answer these two questions successfully, but have always failed. The
gold was safe.

Talbot insisted, with a good deal of heavy argument, that our effects
should precede us on the trail. The wisdom of this was apparent before
we had been out an hour. We came upon dozens of porters resting sprawled
out by the side of their loads. I could hardly blame them; for these men
carried by means of a bamboo screen and straps across the shoulders and
forehead the most enormous loads. But farther on we passed also several
mule trains, for whose stopping there could be no reason or excuse
except that their natives were lazy. Our own train we were continually
overtaking and prodding on, to its intense disgust. Thus Talbot's
forethought, or experience with people of this type, assured us our
goods. Some of our shipmates were still waiting for their baggage when
we sailed to the north.

We now entered a dense forest country. The lofty trees, thick foliage,
swinging vines, and strange big leaves undoubtedly would have impressed
us under other conditions. But just now we were too busy. The rains had
softened the trail, until it was of the consistency of very stiff mud.
In this mud the first mule had left his tracks. The next mule trod
carefully in the first mule's footsteps; and all subsequent mules did
likewise. The consequence was a succession of narrow, deep holes in the
clay, into which an animal's leg sank halfway to the shoulder. No power
on earth, I firmly believe, could have induced those mules to step
anywhere else. Each hole was full of muddy water. When the mule inserted
his hoof the water spurted out violently, as though from a squirt gun.
As a result we were, I believe, the most muddied and bedraggled crew on
earth. We tried walking, but could not get on at all. Occasionally we
came to a steep little ravine down and up the slippery banks of which we
slid and scrambled. Yank and his mule once landed in a heap, plump in
the middle of a stream.

In the course of these tribulations we became somewhat separated. Johnny
and I found ourselves riding along in company, and much too busy to
talk. As we neared a small group of natives under a tree, three of them
started toward us on a run, shouting something. We stopped, and drew
together.

One of the assailants seized Johnny's animal by the bit, and another's
gesture commanded him to dismount.

"Get out of that!" shouted Johnny threateningly; and as the men did not
obey his emphatic tone, he snatched out his Colt's pistol. I closed in
next him and did the same.

Our threatening attitude caused the men to draw back a trifle; but they
redoubled their vociferations. Johnny attempted to spur his mule
forward; but all three threw themselves in his way. The rest of the
natives, four in number, joined the group. They pointed at Johnny's
animal, motioned peremptorily for him to descend; and one of them
ventured again to seize his bridle.

"I don't believe it's robbery, anyhow," said I. "They seem to recognize
your mule. Probably you're riding a stolen animal."

"I don't know anything about that," said Johnny, a trifle angrily, "but
I do know I hired it to go to Panama with: and to Panama I'm going. They
can settle their mule question afterward."

But when he gathered his reins again, he was prevented from going on.
Johnny reached suddenly forward and struck with his pistol barrel at the
head of the man holding his rein. He missed by the fraction of an inch;
and the man leaped back with a cry of rage. Everybody yelled and drew
near as though for a rush. Johnny and I cocked our weapons.

At this moment we heard Talbot Ward's voice from beyond. "Take 'em from
that side!" yelled Johnny excitedly. "Give it to 'em, Tal!"

Talbot shouted again, in Spanish. Every brigand in the lot immediately
turned in his direction, shouting perfect fountains of words. After a
moment Talbot, afoot, emerged from the jungle and calmly picked his way
through the mud toward us.

"Put up your shooting irons," he grinned at us. "These men tell me your
saddle pad is on crooked and they want to straighten it for you."

Johnny, and I am sure myself, turned red; then everybody howled with
glee. Johnny dismounted, and a dozen eager hands adjusted the harness.
We shook hands all around, laughed some more, and resumed our very
sloppy journey.

This to me was one of the most terrible days I ever spent. We passed
dozens of dead mules, and vultures that sat in trees; and exhausted men
lying flat as though dead; and sick men shaken with fever; and one poor
wretch, whom we picked up and took with us, who had actually lain down
to die. He was half raving with fever, and as near as we could make out
had had companions. We twisted him aboard a mule, and took turns walking
alongside and holding him on. Beyond the fact that he was a very small
individual with light hair and an English accent, we could tell nothing
about him. He was suffering from cholera, although we did not know that
at the time. That night we spent at a wayside hut, where we left our
patient.

Early the next morning we began to ascend a little; and so came to a
rocky tableland with palms, and beyond it another ridge of hills. We
climbed that ridge and descended the other side. Another elevation lay
before us. This we surmounted, only to find a third. After we had put a
dozen such ranges behind us, we made the mistake of thinking the next
was sure to be the last. We got up our hopes a number of times in this
fashion, then fell dully into a despair of ever getting anywhere. The
day was fearfully hot. The Indian who had stolidly preceded us as guide
at last stopped, washed his feet carefully in a wayside mud hole and put
on his pantaloons.

"That looks to me like an encouraging symptom," I remarked.

Shortly after we entered the city of Panama.



CHAPTER VIII

PANAMA


We arrived early in the afternoon, and we were all eyes; for here was a
city taken directly from the pages of the Boy's Own Pirate. Without the
least effort of the imagination we could see Morgan or Kidd or some
other old swashbuckler, cutlass in teeth, pistols in hand, broad sashed,
fierce and ruthless rushing over the walls or through the streets, while
the cathedral bells clanged wildly and women screamed. Everything about
it was of the past; for somehow the modern signs of American invasion
seemed temporary and to be blown away. The two-story wooden houses with
corridor and veranda across the face of the second story, painted in
bright colours, leaned crazily out across the streets toward each other.
Narrow and mysterious alleys led up between them. Ancient cathedrals and
churches stood gray with age before grass-grown plazas. And in the
outskirts of town were massive masonry ruins of great buildings, convent
and colleges, some of which had never been finished. The immense blocks
lay about the ground in a confusion, covered softly by thousands of
little plants; or soared against the sky in broken arches and corridors.
Vegetation and vines grew in every crevice; and I saw many full-sized
trees rooted in midair. The place was strongly fanciful; and I loved to
linger there. To me the jungle seemed like an insidiously beautiful
creature enveloping thus, little by little, its unsuspecting prey. The
old gray tumbled ruins seemed to be lost in dreams of their ancient
days. And through the arches and the empty corridors open to the sky
breathed a melancholy air from a past so dead and gone and buried and
forgotten that of it remained no echo, no recollection, no knowledge,
nothing but squared and tumbled stones.

To tell the truth I generally had these reflections quite to myself. The
body of the town was much more exciting. The old dilapidated and
picturesque houses had taken on a new and temporary smartness of
modernity--consisting mainly of canvas signs. The main street was of
hotels, eating houses, and assorted hells. It was crowded day and night,
for we found something over a thousand men here awaiting the chance of
transportation. Some had been here a long time, and were broke and
desperate. A number of American gambling joints did a good business.
Native drinking houses abounded. The natives were in general a showy
lot, but too lazy even to do a good job at fleecing the stranger within
their gates. That was therefore undertaken--and most competently--by the
enterprising foreigners of all nations. Foreigners kept two of the three
hotels, as is indicated by their names--Hotel Française Fonda Americano,
and the Washington House. Americans ran the gambling joints. French and
Germans, mainly, kept the restaurants.

We stopped over one day at the Fonda Americano; and then realizing that
we were probably in for a long wait, found two rooms in a house off the
main street. These we rented from a native at a fairly reasonable rate.
They were in the second story of a massive stone ruin whose walls had
been patched up with whitewash. The rooms were bare and geometrically
cat-a-cornered and extraordinarily chilly, like vaults; but they gave
out on a charmingly unkempt walled garden with a stone fountain in the
middle whose features were all rounded by time and blurred with moss,
with tall ragged bananas and taller wind-swept palms, and a creeping
lush tangle of old plants, and the damp soft greenness of moss and the
elfin tinkling of little waters. On our balcony the sun shone strong; so
that we could warm our chilled bones gratefully like lizards against a
wall.

We tried all the restaurants, one after the other, and found them about
equally bad. We also went in--once--for a real Spanish dinner. It
consisted of a succession of dishes highly seasoned with the hottest
sort of pepper, generally drowned in rich gravy, and composed of such
things as cheese, chunks of meat, corn meal, and the like. Any one of
these dishes would have been a fine strength test for the average
unsophisticated stomach; but your true Spanish dinner consists of a
dozen of them. We had horrible indigestion.

In one place, kept by a German, we were treated very disagreeably, and
overcharged so badly that Yank vowed he intended to get even. As to just
how he was going to do it, he maintained a deep silence; but he advised
us he would eat there the following evening. Also he asked four or five
other men, with whom we had become friendly, to meet us at the
restaurant. We met, ate our meal leisurely, and had a very good time.

"Now," said Yank to us, "when we get up, you fellows all go right out
the front door and keep going until you get to the Fonda bar, and there
you wait for me. No lingering, now. Do as you are told."

We did as we were told. After about fifteen or twenty minutes Yank
sauntered in.

"Now," said Johnny, "I hope you'll explain. We're much obliged for your
dinner party, but we want to know what it is all about."

"Well," chuckled Yank, "I just dealt the Dutchman what you might call
idle persiflage until you fellows had been gone a few minutes, and then
I held him out my dollar. 'What's that?' says he. 'That's a dollar,'
says I, 'to pay for my dinner.' 'How about all those other fellows?'
says he. 'I got nothing to do with them,' says I. 'They can pay for
their own dinners,' and after a while I come away. He was having some
sort of Dutch fit, and I got tired of watching him."

Outside the walls of the city was a large encampment of tents in which
dwelt the more impecunious or more economical of the miners. Here too
had been located a large hospital tent. There was a great deal of
sickness, due to the hardships of the journey, the bad climate,
irregular living, the overeating of fruit, drinking, the total lack of
sanitation. In fact only the situation of the city--out on an isthmus in
the sea breezes--I am convinced, saved us from pestilence. Every
American seemed to possess a patent medicine of some sort with which he
dosed himself religiously in and out of season. A good many, I should
think, must have fallen victims to these nostrums.

Each morning regularly we went down to harass the steamship employees.
Roughly speaking some three hundred of us had bought through passage
before leaving New York: and it was announced that only fifty-two
additional to those already aboard could be squeezed into the first
steamer. The other two hundred and forty-eight would have to await the
next. Naturally every man was determined that he would not be left; for
such a delay, in such a place, at the time of a gold rush was
unthinkable. The officials at that steamship office had no easy time.
Each man wanted first of all to know just when the ship was to be
expected; a thing no one could guess. Then he demanded his
accommodations; and had a dozen reasons why his claim should be
preferred over that of the others. I never saw a more quarrelsome noisy
dog-kennel than that steamship office. Why no one was ever shot there I
could not tell you.

After bedevilling the officials for a time, our business for the day was
over. We had the privilege of sauntering through the streets, of walking
down the peninsula or of seating ourselves in any of the numerous bars
or gambling halls. All were interesting; though neither the streets nor
the gambling places were in full action until late afternoon.

About four o'clock, or half after, when the invariable siesta was over,
the main street began to fill with idlers. The natives wore white, with
wide soft straw hats, and lounged along with considerable grace. They
were a weak, unenergetic, inoffensive race, always ready to get off the
sidewalk for other nations provided the other nations swaggered
sufficiently. The women, I remember, had wonderful piles of glossy black
hair, arranged in bands and puffs, in which they stuck cigars. The
streets were very narrow. When a vehicle came along, we all had to make
way for it; as also for the gangs of prisoners connected with heavy iron
chains around their necks. These were very numerous; and I can hear yet,
as the leading notes of the place, the clinking of their chains, and the
cracked jangling of some of the many cathedral bells.

There was a never-failing joy to us also in poking around the odd places
of the town. The dim interiors of cathedrals, the splashed stones of
courtyards, the shadows of doorways, the privacies of gardens all lured
us; and we saw many phases of native life. Generally we were looked on
at first with distrust. There were a number of roughs among the gold
seekers; men whose brutal instincts or whose merely ignorant love of
horseplay had now for the first time no check. They found that the
native could be pushed off the sidewalk, so they pushed him off. I once
saw a number of these men light their cigars at altar candles. But
Talbot's Spanish and our own demeanour soon gained us admission.

Thus we ran across a most delightful institution. We were rambling in a
very obscure portion of town when we came to quite a long wall unbroken
save by a little wicket gate. A bell pull seemed to invite
investigation; so we gave it a heave. Almost immediately the gate swung
open and we entered.

We found ourselves in a wide space paved with smooth great slabs of
rocks, wet as though from a recent rain. The space was thickly built up
by small round huts of reeds, but without roofs. In the centre was a
well, probably ten or twelve feet wide, over which slanted a cross arm
and wheel for the drawing of water. No human being was in sight; the
gate had been unlatched by an overhead cord.

We shouted. In a minute or so a very irascible old woman hobbled to us
from some mysterious lurking place among the reed huts. She spoke
impatiently. Talbot questioned her; she replied briefly, then turned and
hobbled off as fast as she could go.

"What did she say?" some one asked Talbot curiously.

"She said," replied Ward, "literally this: 'Why don't you take any of
them without bothering me? They are all ready.' I imagine she must mean
these bird cages; though what they are for I couldn't tell you."

We investigated the nearest. It was divided into two tiny rooms each
just big enough to hold a man. In one was a three legged stool; in the
other stood two tall graceful jars of red clay, their sides bedewed with
evaporation. A dipper made from a coconut lay across the top of one of
them.

"Bath house!" shouted Johnny, enchanted.

The water in the porous earthen jars was cold. We took each a hut and
poured the icy stuff over us to our heart's content. All except Yank. He
looked on the proceedings we thought with some scorn; and departed
carrying his long rifle.

"Hey!" shouted Johnny finally, "where's the towels?"

To this inquiry we could find no substantial answer. There were no
towels. The old woman declined to come to our yells. She was on hand,
however, when we were ready to depart, and took one American dime as
payment for the three of us. This was the only cheap thing we found in
Panama. We came every day, after the hour of siesta--with towels. Yank
refused steadfastly to indulge.

"I'm having hard enough dodging to keep clear of fever'n ager now," he
told us. "You don't seem to recollect what neck of the woods I come
from. It's a fever'n ager country out there for keeps. They can't keep
chickens there at all."

"Why not?" asked Johnny innocently.

"The chills they get shakes all the feathers off'n 'em," replied Yank,
"and then they freeze to death."

In the evening the main street was a blaze of light, and the by-ways
were cast in darkness. The crowd was all afoot, and moved restlessly to
and fro from one bar or gambling hell to another. Of the thousand or so
of strangers we came in time to recognize by sight a great many. The
journey home through the dark was perilous. We never attempted it except
in company; and as Johnny seemed fascinated with a certain game called
Mexican _monte_, we often had to endure long waits before all our
party was assembled.

One morning our daily trip to the steamship office bore fruit. We found
the plaza filled with excited men; all talking and gesticulating. The
much tired officials had evolved a scheme, beautiful in its simplicity,
for deciding which fifty-two of the three hundred should go by the first
ship. They announced that at eleven o'clock they would draw lots.

This was all very well, but how did the general public know that the
lots would be drawn fairly?

The officials would permit a committee of citizens to be present.

Not by the eternal! Where would you get any one to serve? No member of
that committee would dare accept his own ticket, provided he drew one.
No one would believe it had been done honestly.

Very well. Then let fifty-two out of three hundred slips of paper be
marked. Each prospective passenger could then draw one slip out of a
box.

"It's all right, boys," the observers yelled back at those clamouring in
the rear.

One of the officials stood on a barrel holding the box, while a clerk
with a list of names sat below.

"As I call the names, will each gentleman step forward and draw his
slip?" announced the official.

We were all watching with our mouths open intensely interested.

"Did you ever hear of such a damfool way of doing the thing?" said
Talbot. "Here, give me a boost up!"

Johnny and I raised him on our shoulders.

"Gentlemen! gentlemen!" he cried a number of times before he could be
heard above the row. Finally they gave him attention.

"I'm a ticket holder in this thing; and I want to see it done right. I
want to ask that gentleman there what is to prevent the wrong man from
answering to a name, from drawing a slip without having any right to?"

"The right man will prevent him," answered a voice. The crowd laughed.

"Well, who's to decide, in case of dispute, which is the right man and
which the wrong man? And what's to prevent any man, after the drawing,
from marking a blank slip--or making a new slip entirely?"

"That's right!" "Correct!" shouted several voices.

The officials consulted hurriedly. Then one of them announced that the
drawing would be postponed until the following morning. Each was to
bring his steamship ticket with him. The winners in the drawing must be
prepared to have their tickets countersigned on the spot. With this
understanding we dispersed.

This was Talbot Ward's first public appearance; the first occasion in
which he called himself to the attention of his fellows assembled in
public meeting. The occasion was trivial, and it is only for this reason
that I mention it. His personality at once became known, and remembered;
and I recollect that many total strangers spoke to him that evening.

By next morning the transportation officials had worked it out. We could
not all get into the office, so the drawing took place on the Plaza
outside. As each man's name was called, he stepped forward, showed his
ticket, and was allowed to draw a slip from the box. If it proved to be
a blank, he went away; if he was lucky, he had his ticket _viséd_
on the spot. Such a proceeding took the greater part of the day; but the
excitement remained intense. No one thought of leaving even for the noon
meal.

Yank drew passage on the first steamer. Talbot, Johnny, and I drew
blanks.

We walked down to the shore to talk over the situation.

[Illustration: "'YOU HOUNDS!' HE ROARED. 'DON'T YOU DARE TRY TO SNEAK
OFF!'"]

"We ought to have bought tickets good on this particular ship, not
merely good on this line," said Johnny.

"Doesn't matter what we _ought_ to have done," rejoined Talbot a
little impatiently. "What are we _going_ to do? Are we going to
wait here until the next steamer comes along?"

"That's likely to be two or three months--nobody knows," said Johnny.

"No; it's in six weeks, I believe. They tell me they've started regular
trips on a new mail contract."

"Well, six weeks. If we stay in this hole we'll all be sick; we'll be
broke; and in the meantime every ounce of gold in the country will have
been picked up."

"What's the alternative?" I asked.

"Sailing vessel," said Talbot briefly.

"That's mighty uncertain," I objected. "Nobody knows when one will get
in; and when it does show up it'll be a mad scramble to get to her.
There's a mob waiting to go."

"Well, it's one or the other. We can't walk; and I don't see that the
situation is going to be much better when the next steamer does get
here. There are a couple of hundred to crowd in on her--just counting
those who are here and have tickets. And then there will be a lot more."

"I'm for the sailing vessel," said Johnny. "They come in every week or
two now; and if we can't make the first one, we'll have a good chance at
the second or the third."

Talbot looked at me inquiringly.

"Sounds reasonable," I admitted.

"Then we've no time to lose," said Talbot decisively, and turned away
toward the town.

Yank, who had listened silently to our brief discussion, shifted his
rifle to his shoulder and followed. Shortly he fell behind; and we lost
him.

We accompanied Talbot in some bewilderment, for there was no ship in
sight nor in prospect, and we could not understand any reason for this
haste. Talbot led the way directly to the steamship office.

"I want to see Brown," he asserted, naming the chief agent for the
company.

The clerk hesitated: Brown was an important man and not to be disturbed
for trivial matters. But Talbot's eye could be very assured.

"What is your business with Mr. Brown?" asked the clerk.

"It is with Mr. Brown," said Talbot firmly, "and I may add that it is to
Mr. Brown's own interest to see me. Tell him just that, and that Mr.
Talbot Ward of New York City desires an immediate interview."

The clerk was gone for some moments, to the manifest annoyance of a
dozen miners who wanted his attention. When he returned he motioned us
to a screened-off private office in the rear.

"Mr. Brown will see you," said he.

We found Brown to be a florid, solidly built man of fifty, with a keen
eye and a brown beard. He nodded to us briefly and looked expectant.

"We three men," said Talbot directly, "hold three tickets on your line.
We were not fortunate enough to get passage on the next steamer, and our
business will not permit us to wait until the one after. We want our
money back."

Brown's face darkened.

"That is a matter for my clerks, not for me," he said curtly. "I was
told your business was to my advantage. I have nothing to do with
tickets."

"One minute," said Talbot. "There are between two and three hundred men
in this town each one of whom bought a ticket from your company in New
York in the expectation, if not under the understanding, that they were
to get through passage immediately."

"No such thing was expected or guaranteed," interposed Brown abruptly.

"Not guaranteed, nor expected by you--by us, yes."

"I cannot argue that matter. I have no further time for you. Good-day."
And Brown once more reached his hand toward his bell.

"Suppose," said Talbot softly, leaning forward. "I should put it into
the heads of those three hundred men that they ought to get their
passage money back?"

Brown's hand stopped in midair.

"They are large, violent, armed men; and they are far from pure home
influences," went on Talbot mockingly. "Here's a sample of them," said
he indicating my huge frame. "And there are a thousand or so more, not
directly interested but dying for excitement."

"Are you trying to intimidate me, sir?" demanded Brown.

"I am just stating conditions."

"You are threatening me."

"Ah, that is different," said Talbot Ward.

Brown sat lost in thought for some moments. Then he reached forward and
at last struck the bell.

"Let me have your tickets," he commanded us shortly.

He endorsed them and handed them to the clerk, together with a written
order. We all sat in absolute silence for perhaps five minutes. Then the
clerk returned with a handful of gold. This Brown counted over and
shoved across to Talbot. The latter also counted it, and thrust it in
his pocket.

"Now," said Brown, with something approaching geniality, "I am counting
on your honour to say nothing of this outside. I am gambling on your
evident class in life at home."

"You have our promise, and it will be kept," said Talbot rising. "But
undoubtedly within two days you will think I am the biggest liar unhung.
There will be many more who will think of this same simple plan of
getting a refund on their tickets and who will blab it out to every one
on the street. You would do well to make your plans now as to how you
intend to deal with them. But remember, I, nor my friends, will have had
nothing to do with it."

"I understand that there will be plenty making your same demand," said
Brown, "but I doubt any of them will think of urging that demand."

We left. As a matter of interest, Talbot's prediction was correct; as,
indeed, Brown had immediately recognized it would be. Talbot had only
the advantage of thinking a little quicker than the next man, of acting
immediately, and of allowing no time for reflection to the other. The
steamship office had a strenuous time. Talbot's threat had this much of
real significance: that there was, lacking him, no organized
demonstration. Each man went for himself and demanded his money back. In
a few rare cases he got it; but was generally bluffed out, or blandly
referred back to the New York offices, or reasoned out. The situation
came near to riot, but in some difficult manner it was tided over. A few
settled down to wait for the next steamer. The majority decided for
sailing ships, and pocketed their steamer tickets in hopes of future
reimbursement. One score of fanatics and ignoramuses, in dense ignorance
as to the nature of the journey, actually started out to row to San
Francisco in an open boat! They were never heard of again. One or two
parties modified this plan by proceeding in fishing boats to the
extremity of the peninsula of Lower California, and thence marched
overland to San Diego. Their sufferings in that arid region were great,
but they managed to arrive many months later.

We returned to our lodgings, congratulating Talbot on the promptitude of
his action, for already we saw determined looking men hurrying across
the plaza toward the offices.

At our place we found that Yank had not returned. At first we thought
nothing of this; but about dusk we found that all his belongings had
disappeared.



CHAPTER IX

NORTHWARD HO!


We could not understand this sudden departure, except on the possible
ground that Yank, realizing that now the party must split forces, had
decided to seek new companions among those lucky enough to sail on the
first steamer.

"Even then he needn't have been in such a hurry," complained Johnny a
trifle bitterly. "And he needn't have thought we'd be in his way."

"Has he paid his share of the lodgings?" it occurred to me to ask.

We felt quite bitter against Yank, and we carefully avoided his usual
haunts, for we did not want to meet him. Then we began to think it
strange we had not run across him somewhere on the streets. Then we
began to look for him. We found that Yank had disappeared!

At that, a little alarmed, we set ourselves to a serious search and
inquiry. A few remembered to have seen him, but were vague as to when
and where. The authorities moved sluggishly, and with little enthusiasm.
Men were dying every day; and disappearing underground, leaving no trace
of themselves behind. One more or less seemed unimportant.

In the meanwhile we spent much of our time by the shore, together with a
comfortable majority of our fellow argonauts, awaiting the sighting of a
vessel. We had engaged, and paid daily, a boatman to be in readiness to
take us off; and we settled our lodgings account a week ahead.

"There's going to be a scramble for that blessed ship," said Talbot;
"and we'll just be prepared."

To that end we also kept our effects packed and ready for instant
removal.

The beach was not a bad place. It ran out the peninsula in a long gentle
curve; and the surges broke snow white on yellow sands. Across deep blue
water was an island; and back of us palm trees whipped in the trade
winds. We sat under them, and yarned and played cards and smoked. In bad
weather--and it rained pretty often--we huddled in smoky little huts;
those of us who could get in. The rest tried to stick it out; or
returned with rather a relieved air to the town.

The expected ship came, of course, on one of these dull gray days; and
those who had thought themselves unlucky in being crowded out of the
huts were the first to sight her. They sneaked down very quietly and
tried to launch two of the boats. Of course the native boatmen were all
inside; trust them! As a high surf was running, and as none of the men
were in any sense good boatmen, they promptly broached to and filled.
The noise brought us to the door.

Then there was a fine row. One of the two boats commandeered by the
early birds happened to be ours! All our forethought seemed to have been
in vain. The bedraggled and crestfallen men were just wading ashore when
we descended upon them. Talbot was like a raving lunatic.

"You hounds!" he roared. "Don't you dare try to sneak off! You catch
hold here and help empty these boats! You would, would you?" He caught
one escaping worthy by the collar and jerked him so rapidly backward
that his heels fairly cracked together. Johnny flew to combat with a
chuckle of joy. I contented myself by knocking two of them together
until they promised to be good. The four we had collared were very meek.
We all waded into the wash where the boat lay sluggishly rolling. It is
no easy matter to empty a boat in that condition. Water weighs a great
deal; is fearfully inert, or at least feels so; and has a bad habit of
promptly slopping in again. We tugged and heaved, and rolled and hauled
until our joints cracked; but at last we got her free.

In the meantime forty other boats had been launched and were flying over
the waves halfway between the shore and the ship.

Talbot was swearing steadily and with accuracy; Johnny was working like
a crazy man; I was heaving away at the stern and keeping an eye on our
involuntary helpers. The boatman, beside himself with frantic
excitement, jabbered and ran about and screamed directions that no one
understood. About all we were accomplishing now was the keeping of that
boat's head straight against the heavy wash.

It seemed as though we tugged thus at cross purposes for an hour. In
reality it was probably not over two or three minutes. Then Talbot
regained sufficient control to listen to the boatman. At once he calmed
down.

"Here, boys," said he, "ease her backward. You, Johnny, stand by at the
bow and hold her head on. Frank and I will give her a shove at the
stern. When the time comes, I'll yell and you pile right in, Johnny.
_Vamos_, Manuel!"

We took our places; the boatman at the oars, his eyes over his shoulder
watching keenly the in-racing seas.

The four dripping culprits looked at each other uncertainly, and one of
them started to climb in the boat.

"Well, for _God's_ sake!" screeched Talbot, and made a headlong
bull rush for the man.

The latter tumbled right out of the boat on his back in the shallow
water. His three companions fled incontinently up the beach, where he
followed them as soon as he could scramble to his feet.

Manuel said something sharply, without looking around.

"Shove!" screeched Talbot. "Pile in, Johnny!"

We bent our backs. The boat resisted, yielded, gathered headway. It
seemed to be slipping away from me down a steep hill.

"Jump in!" yelled Talbot.

I gave a mighty heave and fell over the stern into the bottom of the
boat. Waters seemed to be crashing by; but by the time I had gathered
myself together and risen to my knees, we were outside the line of
breakers, and dancing like a gull over the smooth broad surges.

Ships could anchor no nearer than about a mile and a half offshore. By
the time we had reached the craft she was surrounded by little boats
bobbing and rubbing against her sides. She proved to be one of that very
tubby, bluff-bowed type then so commonly in use as whalers and
freighters. The decks swarmed black with an excited crowd.

We rowed slowly around her. We were wet, and beginning to chill. No way
seemed to offer by which we could reach her decks save by difficult
clambering, for the gang ladder was surrounded ten deep by empty boats.
A profound discouragement succeeded the excitement under which we had
made our effort.

"To hell with her!" snarled Johnny, "There's no sense going aboard her.
There's enough on deck now to fill her three times over. Let's get back
where it's warm."

"If I run across any of those fellows in town I'll break their necks!"
said I.

"What makes me mad----" continued Johnny.

"Oh, for heaven's sake shut up!" cried Talbot.

If he had been a little less cold and miserable we probably would have
quarrelled. As it was, we merely humped over, and motioned the
astonished Manuel to return to the shore. Our boat's head turned, we
dropped down under the bow of the ship. In order to avoid the sweep of
the seas Manuel held us as closely as possible under the bowsprit. We
heard a hail above us. Looking up we saw Yank bending over the rail.

We stared at him, our mouths open, so astonished that for a moment we
did not even think to check the boat. Then we came back in a clumsy
circle. Yank yelled at us; and we yelled back at him; but so great was
the crash of waters and the whistling of wind that we could make out
nothing. Then Yank motioning us to remain where we were, disappeared, to
return after a short interval, with a speaking trumpet.

"Have you got your baggage with you?" he roared.

We shook our heads and waved our arms.

"Go get it!" he ordered.

We screamed something back at him.

"Go get it!" he repeated; and withdrew his head entirely.

We rowed back to town; it was no longer necessary to return to the
exposed beach where we had waited to sight the ships. Johnny and I
indulged in much excited speculation, but Talbot refused to show
curiosity.

"He's there, and he's evidently engaged us passage; and he wants us
aboard to claim it," said he, "and that's all we can know now; and
that's enough for me."

On our way we met a whole fleet of boats racing their belated way from
town. We grinned sardonically over the plight of these worthies. A
half-hour sufficed us to change our clothes, collect our effects, and
return to the water front. On the return journey we crossed the same
fleet of boats inward bound. Their occupants looked generally very
depressed.

Yank met us at the top of the gangway, and assisted us in getting our
baggage aboard. Johnny and I peppered him with questions, to which he
vouchsafed no answer. When we had paid off the boatman, he led the way
down a hatch into a very dark hole near the bows. A dim lantern swayed
to and fro, through the murk we could make out a dozen bunks.

"They call this the fo'cas'le," said Yank placidly. "Crew sleeps here.
This is our happy home. Everything else full up. We four," said he, with
a little flash of triumph, "are just about the only galoots of the whole
b'iling at Panama that gets passage. She's loaded to the muzzle with men
that's come away around the Horn in her; and the only reason she stopped
in here at all is to get a new thing-um-a-jig of some sort that she had
lost or busted or something."

"Well, I don't like my happy home while she wobbles so," said Johnny.
"I'm going to be seasick, as usual. But for heaven's sake, Yank, tell us
where you came from, and all about it. And make it brief, for I'm going
to be seasick pretty soon."

He lay down in one of the bunks and closed his eyes.

"You'd much better come up on deck into the fresh air," said Talbot.

"Fire ahead, Yank! Please!" begged Johnny.

"Well," said Yank, "when I drew that steamer ticket, it struck me that
somebody might want it a lot more than I did, especially as you fellows
drew blank. So I hunted up a man who was in a hurry, and sold it to him
for five hundred dollars. Then I hired one of these sail-rigged fishing
boats and laid in grub for a week and went cruising out to sea five or
six miles."

Johnny opened one eye.

"Why?" he demanded feebly.

"I was figgerin' on meeting any old ship that came along a little before
the crowd got at her," said Yank. "And judgin' by the gang's remarks
that just left, I should think I'd figgered just right."

"You bet you did," put in Talbot emphatically.

"It must have been mighty uncomfortable cruising out there in that
little boat so long," said I. "I wonder the men would stick."

"I paid them and they had to," said Yank grimly.

"Why didn't you let us in on it?" I asked.

"What for? It was only a one-man job. So then I struck this ship, and
got aboard her after a little trouble persuading her to stop. There
wasn't no way of making that captain believe we'd sleep anywheres we
could except cash; so I had to pay him a good deal."

"How much?" demanded Talbot.

"It came to two hundred apiece. I'm sorry."

"Glory be!" shouted Talbot, "we're ahead of the game. Yank, you
long-headed old pirate, let me shake you by the hand!"

"I wish you fellows would go away," begged Johnny.

We went on deck. The dusk was falling, and the wind with it; and to
westward an untold wealth of gold was piling up. Our ship rolled at her
anchor, awaiting the return of those of her people who had gone ashore.
On the beach tiny spots of lights twinkled where some one had built
fires. A warmth was stealing out from the shore over the troubled
waters. Talbot leaned on the rail by my side. Suddenly he chuckled
explosively.

"I was just thinking," said he in explanation, "of us damfools roosting
on that beach in the rain."

Thus at last we escaped from the Isthmus. At the end of twenty-four
hours we had left the island of Tobago astern, and were reaching to the
north.



PART II

THE GOLDEN CITY



CHAPTER X

THE GOLDEN CITY


We stood in between the hills that guarded the bay of San Francisco
about ten o'clock of an early spring day. A fresh cold wind pursued us;
and the sky above us was bluer than I had ever seen it before, even on
the Isthmus. To our right some great rocks were covered with seals and
sea lions, and back of them were hills of yellow sand. A beautiful great
mountain rose green to our left, and the water beneath us swirled and
eddied in numerous whirlpools made by the tide.

Everybody was on deck and close to the rail. We strained our eyes ahead;
and saw two islands, and beyond a shore of green hills. None of us knew
where San Francisco was located, nor could we find out. The ship's
company were much too busy to pay attention to our questions. The great
opening out of the bay beyond the long narrows was therefore a surprise
to us; it seemed as vast as an inland sea. We hauled to the wind,
turning sharp to the south, glided past the bold point of rocks.

Then we saw the city concealed in a bend of the cove. It was mainly of
canvas; hundreds, perhaps thousands of tents and canvas houses scattered
about the sides of hills. The flat was covered with them, too, and they
extended for some distance along the shore of the cove. A great dust,
borne by the wind that had brought us in, swept across the city like a
cloud of smoke. Hundreds and hundreds of vessels lay at anchor in the
harbour, a vast fleet.

We were immediately surrounded by small boats, and our decks filled with
men. We had our first sight of the genuine miners. They proved to be as
various as the points of the compass. Big men, little men, clean men,
dirty men, shaggy men, shaven men, but all instinct with an eager life
and energy I have never seen equalled. Most wore the regulation dress--a
red shirt, pantaloons tucked into the tops of boots, broad belts with
sometimes silver buckles, silk Chinese sashes of vivid raw colours, a
revolver, a bowie knife, a floppy old hat. Occasionally one, more
dignified than the rest, sported a shiny top hat; but always with the
red shirt. These were merchants, and men permanently established in the
town.

They addressed us eagerly, asking a thousand questions concerning the
news of the outside world. We could hardly answer them in our desire to
question in return. Were the gold stories really true? Were the diggings
very far away? Were the diggings holding out? What were the chances for
newcomers? And so on without end; and the burden always of gold! gold!
gold!

We were answered with the enthusiasm of an old-timer welcoming a
newcomer to any country. Gold! Plenty of it! They told us, in breathless
snatches, the most marvellous tales--one sailor had dug $17,000 in a
week; another man, a farmer from New England, was taking out $5,000 to
$6,000 daily. They mentioned names and places. They pointed to the
harbour full of shipping. "Four hundred ships," said they, "and hardly a
dozen men aboard the lot! All gone to the mines!" And one man snatching
a long narrow buckskin bag from his pocket, shook out of its mouth to
the palm of his hand a tiny cascade of glittering yellow particles--the
Dust! We shoved and pushed, crowding around him to see this marvellous
sight. He laughed in a sort of excited triumph, and tossed the stuff
into the air. The breeze caught it and scattered it wide. A number of
the little glittering particles clung to my rough coat, where they
flashed like spangles.

"Plenty more where that came from!" cried the man; and turned away with
a reckless laugh.

Filled with the wine of this new excitement we finally succeeded in
getting ashore in one of the ship's boats.

We landed on a flat beach of deep black sand. It was strewn from one end
to the other by the most extraordinary wreckage. There were levers,
cogwheels, cranks, fans, twisted bar, and angle iron, in all stages of
rust and disintegration. Some of these machines were half buried in the
sand; others were tidily laid up on stones as though just landed. They
were of copper, iron, zinc, brass, tin, wood. We recognized the genus at
a glance. They were, one and all, patent labour-saving gold washing
machines, of which we had seen so many samples aboard ship. At this
sight vanished the last remains of the envy I had ever felt for the
owners of similar contraptions.

We looked about for some sort of conveyance into which to dump our
belongings. Apparently none existed. Therefore we piled most of our
effects neatly above high tide, shouldered our bundles, and started off
up the single street.

On either side this thoroughfare stood hundreds of open sheds and
buildings in the course of construction. Goods of all sorts, and in
great quantity, lay beneath them, wholly or partially exposed to the
dust and weather. Many unopened bales had been left in the open air. One
low brick building of a single story seemed to be the only substantial
structure in sight. We saw quantities of calicos, silks, rich furniture,
stacks of the pieces of knock-down houses, tierces of tobacco, piles of
all sorts of fancy clothing. The most unexpected and incongruous items
of luxury seemed to have been dumped down here from the corners of the
earth, by the four hundred ships swinging idly at anchor in the bay.

The street was, I think, the worst I have ever seen anywhere. It was a
morass of mud, sticky greasy mud, of some consistency, but full of
water-holes and rivulets. It looked ten feet deep; and I should
certainly have ventured out on it with misgivings. And yet,
incongruously enough, the surface ridges of it had dried, and were
lifting into the air in the form of dust! This was of course my first
experience with that common California phenomenon, and I was greatly
astonished.

An attempt had been made to supply footing for pedestrians. Bags of sand
had been thrown down, some rocks, a very few boxes and boards. Then our
feet struck something soft and yielding, and we found we were walking
over hundred pound sacks of flour marked as from Chili. There must have
been many hundred of them. A man going in the opposite direction sidled
past us.

"Cheaper than lumber," said he briefly, seeing our astonishment.

"I'd hate to ask the price of lumber," remarked one of our ship's
companions, with whom--and a number of others--we were penetrating the
town. This man carried only a very neat black morocco satchel and a net
bag containing a half dozen pineapples, the last of a number he had
brought from the Isthmus. The contrast of that morocco bag with the rest
of him was quite as amusing as any we saw about us; though, of course,
he did not appreciate that.

We walked on flour for a hundred feet or so, and then came to cook
stoves. I mean it. A battalion of heavy iron cook stoves had been laid
side by side to form a causeway. Their weight combined with the traffic
over them had gradually pressed them down into the mud until their tops
were nearly level with the surface. Naturally the first merry and
drunken joker had shied the lids into space. The pedestrian had now
either to step in and out of fire boxes or try his skill on narrow
ledges! Next we came to a double row of boxes of tobacco; then to some
baled goods, and so off onto solid ground.

We passed many people, all very intent on getting along safely. From the
security of the shed stores the proprietors and an assorted lot of
loafers watched proceedings with interest. The task of crossing the
street from one side to the other, especially, was one not lightly to be
undertaken! A man had to balance, to leap, to poise; and at last
probably, to teeter back and forth trying to keep his balance like a
small boy on a fence rail, until, with an oath of disgust, he stepped
off into the slime.

When we had gained the dry ground near the head of the street we threw
down our burdens for a rest.

"I'll give you ten dollars for those pineapples!" offered a passerby,
stopping short.

Our companion quickly closed the bargain.

"What do you think of that?" he demanded of us wide-eyed, and in the
hearing of the purchaser.

The latter grinned a little, and hailed a man across the street.

"Charley!" he yelled. "Come over here!"

The individual addressed offered some demur, but finally picked his way
across to us.

"How do you like these?" demanded the pineapple purchaser, showing his
fruit.

"Jerusalem!" cried Charley admiringly, "where did you get them? Want to
sell 'em?"

"I want some myself, but I'll sell you three of them."

"How much?"

"Fifteen dollars."

"Give 'em to me."

The first purchaser grinned openly at our companion.

The latter followed into the nearest store to get his share of the dust
weighed out. His face wore a very thoughtful expression.

We came shortly to the Plaza, since called Portsmouth Square. At that
time it was a wind-swept, grass-grown, scrubby enough plot of ground. On
all sides were permanent buildings. The most important of these were a
low picturesque house of the sun-dried bricks known as adobes, in which,
as it proved, the customs were levied; a frame two-story structure known
as the Parker House, and a similar building labelled "City Hotel." The
spaces between these larger edifices was occupied by a dozen or so of
smaller shacks. Next door to the Parker House stood a huge flapping
tent. The words _El Dorado_ were painted on its side.

The square itself was crowded with people moving to and fro. The solid
majority of the crowd consisted of red or blue shirted miners; but a
great many nations and frames of minds seemed to be represented. Chinese
merchants, with red coral buttons atop their stiff little skullcaps,
wandered slowly, their hands tucked in capacious sleeves of the richest
brocade. We had seen few of this race; and we looked at them with the
greatest interest, examining closely their broad bland faces, the
delicate lilacs and purples and blues of their rich costumes, the
swaying silk braided queues down their backs. Other Chinese, of the
lower castes, clad in blue canvas with broad bowl-shaped hats of straw
on their heads, wormed their way through the crowd balancing baskets at
the ends of poles. Rivalling the great Chinese merchants in their
leisure, strolled the representatives of the native race, the Spanish
Californians. They were darkly handsome men, dressed gloriously in short
velvet jackets, snowy ruffles, plush trousers flaring at the bottom, and
slit up the side of the leg, soft leather boots, and huge spurs
ornamented with silver. They sauntered to and fro smoking brown-paper
cigarettos. Beside these two, the Chinese and the Californians, but one
other class seemed to be moving with any deliberation. These were men
seen generally alone, or at most in pairs. They were quiet, waxy pale,
dressed always neatly in soft black hat, white shirt, long black coat,
and varnished boots. In the face of a general gabble they seemed to
remain indifferently silent, self-contained and aloof. To occasional
salutations they responded briefly and with gravity.

"Professional gamblers," said Talbot.

All the rest of the crowd rushed here and there at a great speed. We saw
the wildest incongruities of demeanour and costume beside which the
silk-hat-red-shirted combination was nothing. They struck us
open-mouthed and gasping; but seemed to attract not the slightest
attention from anybody else. We encountered a number of men dressed
alike in suits of the finest broadcloth, the coats of which were lined
with red silk, and the vests of embroidered white. These men walked with
a sort of arrogant importance. We later found that they were members of
that dreaded organization known as _The Hounds_, whose ostensible
purpose was to perform volunteer police duty, but whose real effort was
toward the increase of their own power. These people all surged back and
forth good-naturedly, and shouted at each other, and disappeared with
great importance up the side streets, or darted out with equal busyness
from all points of the compass. Every few minutes a cry of warning would
go up on one side of the square or another. The crowd would scatter to
right and left, and down through the opening would thunder a horseman
distributing clouds of dust and showers of earth.

"Why doesn't somebody kill a few of those crazy fools!" muttered Talbot
impatiently, after a particularly close shave.

"Why, you see, they's mostly drunk," stated a bystander with an air of
explaining all.

We tacked across to the doors of the Parker House. There after some
search was made we found the proprietor. He, too, seemed very busy, but
he spared time to trudge ahead of us up two rickety flights of raw
wooden stairs to a loft where he indicated four canvas bunks on which
lay as many coarse blue blankets.

Perhaps a hundred similar bunks occupied every available inch in the
little loft.

"How long you going to stay?" he asked us.

"Don't know; a few days."

"Well, six dollars apiece, please."

"For how long?"

"For to-night."

"Hold on!" expostulated Talbot. "We can't stand that especially for
these accommodations. At that price we ought to have something better.
Haven't you anything in the second story?"

The proprietor's busy air fell from him; and he sat down on the edge of
one of the canvas bunks.

"I thought you boys were from the mines," said he. "Your friend, here,
fooled me." He pointed his thumb at Yank. "He looks like an old-timer.
But now I look at you, I see you're greenhorns. Just get here to-day?
Have a smoke?"

He produced a handful of cigars, of which he lit one.

"We just arrived," said Talbot, somewhat amused at this change. "How
about that second story?"

"I want to tell you boys a few things," said the proprietor, "I get
sixty thousand dollars a year rent for that second story just as she
stands. That tent next door belongs to my brother-in-law. It is just
fifteen by twenty-five feet, and he rents it for forty thousand."

"Gamblers?" inquired Talbot.

"You've guessed it. So you see I ain't got any beds to speak of down
there. In fact, here's the whole layout."

"But we can't stand six dollars a night for these things," expostulated
Johnny. "Let's try over at the other place."

"Try ahead, boys," said the proprietor quite good-naturedly. "You'll
find her the same over there; and everywhere else." He arose. "Best
leave your plunder here until you find out. Come down and have a drink?"

We found the City Hotel offered exactly the same conditions as did the
Parker House; except that the proprietor was curt and had no time for us
at all. From that point, still dissatisfied, we extended our
investigations beyond the Plaza. We found ourselves ankle deep in
sandhills on which grew coarse grass and a sort of sage. Crazy,
ramshackle huts made of all sorts of material were perched in all sorts
of places. Hundreds of tents had been pitched, beneath which and in
front of which an extremely simple housekeeping was going on. Hunt as we
might we could find no place that looked as though it would take
lodgers. Most of even the better looking houses were simply tiny
skeletons covered with paper, cloth or paint. By painstaking persistence
we kept at it until we had enquired of every building of any
pretensions. Then, somewhat discouraged, we picked our way back to the
shore after our heavier goods.

The proprietor of the Parker House greeted us with unabated good nature.

"I know how you boys feel," said he. "There's lots in your fix. You'd
better stick here to-night and then get organized to camp out, if you're
going to be here long. I suppose, though, you're going to the mines?
Well, it'll take you several days to make your plans and get ready. When
you get back from the mines you won't have to think about these things."

"There's plenty of gold?" ventured Johnny.

"Bushels."

"I should think you'd be up there."

"I don't want any better gold mine than the old Parker House," said he
comfortably.

We paid him twenty-four dollars.

By now it was late in the afternoon. The wind had dropped, but over the
hills to seaward rolled a soft beautiful bank of fog. The sun was
blotted out behind it and a chill fell. The crowds about the Plaza
thinned.

We economized our best at supper, but had to pay some eight dollars for
the four of us. The bill was a la carte and contained such items as
grizzly steak, antelope, elk, and wild duck and goose. Grizzly steak, I
remember, cost a dollar and a quarter. By the time we had finished, it
had grown dark. The lamps were alight, and the crowds were beginning to
gather. All the buildings and the big tent next door were a blaze of
illumination. The sounds of music and singing came from every side. A
holiday spirit was in the air.

Johnny and I were crazy to be up and doing, but Talbot sternly repressed
us, and Yank agreed with his decision by an unusually emphatic nod.

"It is all a lot of fun, I'll admit," said he; "but this is business.
And we've got to face it. Sit down here on the edge of this veranda, and
let's talk things over. How much money have you got, Yank?"

"Two hundred and twenty dollars," replied Yank promptly.

"You're partners with me, Frank, so I know our assets," said Talbot with
tact. "Johnny?"

"Hanged if I know," replied that youth. "I've got quite a lot. I keep it
in my pack."

"Well, go find out," advised Talbot.

Johnny was gone for some time. We smoked and listened to the rather
blatantly mingled strains of music, and watched the figures of men
hurrying by in the spangled darkness.

Johnny returned very much excited.

"I've been robbed!" he cried.

"Robbed? Is your money all gone?"

"No, there's a little left, but----"

Talbot laughed quietly.

"Sit down, Johnny, and cool off," he advised. "If anybody had robbed
you, they'd have taken the whole kit and kaboodle. Did you come out
ahead on those _monte_ games?"

Johnny blushed, and laughed a little.

"I see what you're at, but you're away off there. I just played for
small stakes."

"And lost a lot of them. I sort of look-out your game. But that's all
right. How much did the 'robbers' leave you?"

"Twelve dollars, besides what I have in my clothes--twenty-one dollars
in all," said Johnny.

"Well, that's pretty good. You beat Frank and me to death. There's our
total assets," said Talbot, and laid a ten-dollar gold piece and a dime
on his knee.

"We'll call that dime a curiosity," said he, "for I notice a quarter is
the smallest coin they use out here. Now you see that we've got to talk
business. Frank and I haven't got enough to live on for one more day."

"There's enough among us----" began Yank.

"You mean you already have your share of the partnership finances,"
corrected Talbot, quickly. "If we're going to be partners--and that's
desired and understood, I suppose?" We all nodded emphatic agreement. "We
must all put in the same amount. I move that said amount be two hundred
and twenty dollars apiece. Yank, you can loaf to-morrow; you've got your
share all made up. You can put in the day finding out all about getting
to the mines, and how much it costs, and what we will need."

"All right; I'll do it," said Yank.

"As for the rest of us," cried Talbot, "we've got to rustle up two
hundred and twenty dollars each before to-morrow evening!"

"How?" I asked blankly

"How should I know? Out there" he waved his hand abroad at the
flickering lights. "There is the Golden City, challenging every man as
he enters her gates. She offers opportunity and fortune. All a man has
to do is go and take them! Accept the challenge!"

"The only way I could take them would be to lift them off some other
fellow at the point of a gun," said Johnny gloomily.



CHAPTER XI

I MAKE TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS


We talked the situation over thoroughly, and then turned in, having lost
our chance to see the sights. Beneath us and in the tent next door went
on a tremendous row of talking, laughing, and singing that for a little
while prevented me from falling asleep. But the last month had done
wonders for me in that way; and shortly I dropped off.

Hours later I awakened, shivering with cold to find the moonlight
pouring into the room, and the bunks all occupied. My blanket had
disappeared, which accounted for my dreams of icebergs. Looking
carefully over the sleeping forms I discerned several with two blankets,
and an equal number with none! At first I felt inclined to raise a row;
then thought better of it, by careful manipulation I abstracted two good
blankets from the most unprotected of of my neighbours, wrapped them
tightly about me, and so slept soundly.

We went downstairs and out into the sweetest of mornings. The sun was
bright, the sky clear and blue, the wind had not yet risen, balmy warmth
showered down through every particle of the air. I had felt some May
days like this back on our old farm. Somehow they were associated in my
mind with Sunday morning and the drawling, lazy clucking of hens. Only
here there were no hens, and if it was Sunday morning--which it might
have been--nobody knew it.

The majority of the citizens had not yet appeared, but a handful of the
poorer Chinese, and a sprinkling of others, crossed the Plaza. The doors
of the gambling places were all wide open to the air. Across the square
a number of small boys were throwing dust into the air. Johnny, with his
usual sympathy for children, naturally gravitated in their direction. He
returned after a few moments, his eyes wide.

"Do you know what they are doing?" he demanded.

We said politely that we did not.

"They are panning for gold."

"Well, what of it?" I asked, after a moment's pause; since Johnny seemed
to expect some astonishment. "Boys are imitative little monkeys."

"Yes, but they're getting it," insisted Johnny.

"What!" cried Talbot. "You're crazy. Panning gold--here in the streets.
It's absurd!"

"It's not absurd; come and see."

We crossed the Plaza. Two small Americans and a Mexican youth were
scooping the surface earth into the palms of their hands and blowing it
out again in a slantwise stream. When it was all gone, they examined
eagerly their hands. Four others working in partnership had spread a
small sheet. They threw their handfuls of earth into the air, all the
while fanning vigorously with their hats. The breeze thus engendered
puffed away the light dust, leaving only the heavier pieces to fall on
the canvas. Among these the urchins searched eagerly and carefully,
their heads close together. Every moment or so one of them would wet a
forefinger to pick up carefully a speck of something which he would then
transfer to an old buckskin sack.

As we approached, they looked up and nodded to Johnny in a friendly
fashion. They were eager, alert, precocious gamins, of the street type
and how they had come to California I could not tell you. Probably as
cabin boys of some of the hundreds of vessels in the harbour.

"What are you getting, boys?" asked Talbot after a moment.

"Gold, of course," answered one of them.

"Let's see it."

The boy with the buckskin sack held it open for our inspection, but did
not relax his grip on it. The bottom of the bag was thickly gilded with
light glittering yellow particles.

"It looks like gold," said I, incredulously.

"It _is_ gold," replied the boy with some impatience. "Anyway, it
buys things."

We looked at each other.

"Gold diggings right in the streets of San Francisco," murmured Yank.

"I should think you'd find it easier later in the day when the wind came
up?" suggested Talbot.

"Of course; and let some other kids jump our claim while we were
waiting," grunted one of the busy miners.

"How much do you get out of it?"

"Good days we make as high as three or four dollars."

"I'm afraid the diggings are hardly rich enough to tempt us," observed
Talbot; "but isn't that the most extraordinary performance! I'd no
notion----"

We returned slowly to the hotel, marvelling. Yesterday we had been
laughing at the gullibility of one of our fellow-travellers who had
believed the tale of a wily ship's agent to the effect that it was
possible to live aboard the ship and do the mining within reach ashore
at odd hours of daylight! Now that tale did not sound so wild; although
of course we realized that the gold must occur in very small quantities.
Otherwise somebody beside small boys would be at it. As a matter of
fact, though we did not find it out until very much later, the soil of
San Francisco is not auriferous at all. The boys were engaged in working
the morning's sweepings from the bars and gambling houses which the
lavish and reckless handling of gold had liberally impregnated. In some
of the mining towns nearer the source of supply I have known of from one
hundred to three hundred dollars a month being thus "blown" from the
sweepings of a bar.

We ate a frugal breakfast and separated on the agreed business of the
day. Yank started for the water front to make inquiries as to ways of
getting to the mines; Talbot set off at a businesslike pace for the
hotel as though he knew fully what he was about; Johnny wandered rather
aimlessly to the east; and I as aimlessly to the west.

It took me just one hour to discover that I could get all of any kind of
work that any dozen men could do, and at wages so high that at first I
had to ask over and over again to make sure I had heard aright. Only
none of them would bring me in two hundred and twenty dollars by
evening. The further I looked into that proposition, the more absurd, of
course, I saw it to be. I could earn from twenty to fifty dollars by
plain day-labour at some jobs; or I could get fabulous salaries by the
month or year; but that was different. After determining this to my
satisfaction I came to the sensible conclusion that I would make what I
could.

The first thing that caught my eye after I had come to this decision was
a wagon drawn by four mules coming down the street at a sucking walk.
The sight did not impress me particularly; but every storekeeper came
out from his shop and every passerby stopped to look with respect as the
outfit wallowed along. It was driven by a very large, grave, blond man
with a twinkle in his eye.

"That's John A. McGlynn," said a man next my elbow.

"Who's he?" I asked.

The man looked at me in astonishment.

"Don't know who John McGlynn is?" he demanded. "When did you get here?"

"Last night."

"Oh! Well, John has the only American wagon in town. Brought it out from
New York in pieces, and put it together himself. Broke four wild
California mules to drag her. He's a wonder!"

I could not, then, see quite how this exploit made him such a wonder;
but on a sudden inspiration I splashed out through the mud and climbed
into the wagon.

McGlynn looked back at me.

"Freightin'," said he, "is twenty dollars a ton; and at that rate it'll
cost you about thirty dollars, you dirty hippopotamus. These ain't no
safe-movers, these mules!"

Unmoved, I clambered up beside him.

"I want a job," said I, "for to-day only."

"Do ye now?"

"Can you give me one?"

"I can, mebbe. And do you understand the inner aspirations of mules,
maybe?"

"I was brought up on a farm."

"And the principles of elementary navigation by dead reckoning?"

I looked at him blankly.

"I mean mudholes," he explained. "Can you keep out of them?"

"I can try."

He pulled up the team, handed me the reins, and clambered over the
wheel.

"You're hired. At six o'clock I'll find you and pay you off. You get
twenty-five dollars."

"What am I to do?"

"You go to the shore and you rustle about whenever you see anything that
looks like freight; and you look at it, and when you see anything marked
with a diamond and an H inside of it, you pile it on and take it up to
Howard Mellin & Company. And if you can't lift it, then leave it for
another trip, and bullyrag those skinflints at H. M. & Co.'s to send a
man down to help you. And if you don't know where they live, find out;
and if you bog them mules down I'll skin you alive, big as you are. And
anyway, you're a fool to be working in this place for twenty-five
dollars a day, which is one reason I'm so glad to find you just now."

"What's that, John?" inquired a cool, amused voice. McGlynn and I looked
around. A tall, perfectly dressed figure stood on the sidewalk surveying
us quizzically. This was a smooth-shaven man of perhaps thirty-five
years of age, grave faced, clean cut, with an air of rather ponderous
slow dignity that nevertheless became his style very well. He was
dressed in tall white hat, a white winged collar, a black stock, a long
tailed blue coat with gilt buttons, an embroidered white waistcoat,
dapper buff trousers, and varnished boots. He carried a polished cane
and wore several heavy pieces of gold jewellery--a watch fob, a
scarf-pin, and the like. His movements were leisurely, his voice low. It
seemed to me, then, that somehow the perfection of his appointments and
the calm deliberation of his movement made him more incongruous and
remarkable than did the most bizarre whims of the miners.

"Is it yourself, Judge Girvin?" replied McGlynn, "I'm just telling this
young man that he can't have the job of driving my little California
canaries for but one day because I've hired a fine lawyer from the East
at two hundred and seventy-five a month to drive my mules for me."

"You have done well," Judge Girvin in his grave, courteous tones. "For
the whole business of a lawyer is to know how to manage mules and asses
so as to make them pay!"

I drove to the beach, and speedily charged my wagon with as large a load
as prudence advised me. The firm of Howard Mellin & Company proved to
have quarters in a frame shack on what is now Montgomery Street. It was
only a short haul, but a muddy one. Nearly opposite their store a new
wharf was pushing its way out into the bay. I could see why this and
other firms clung so tenaciously to their locations on rivers of
bottomless mud in preference to moving up into the drier part of town.

I enjoyed my day hugely. My eminent position on the driver's
seat--eminent both actually and figuratively--gave me a fine opportunity
to see the sights and to enjoy the homage men seemed inclined to accord
the only wagon in town. The feel of the warm air was most grateful. Such
difficulties as offered served merely to add zest to the job. At noon I
ate some pilot bread and a can of sardines bought from my employers.
About two o'clock the wind came up from the sea, and the air filled with
the hurrying clouds of dust.

In my journeys back and forth I had been particularly struck by the
bold, rocky hill that shut off the view toward the north. Atop this hill
had been rigged a two-armed semaphore, which, one of the clerks told me,
was used to signal the sight of ships coming in the Golden Gate. The
arms were variously arranged according to the rig or kind of vessel.
Every man, every urchin, every Chinaman, even, knew the meaning of these
various signals. A year later, I was attending a theatrical performance
in the Jenny Lind Theatre on the Plaza. In the course of the play an
actor rushed on frantically holding his arms outstretched in a
particularly wooden fashion, and uttering the lines, "What means this,
my lord!"

"A side-wheel steamer!" piped up a boy's voice from the gallery.

Well, about three o'clock of this afternoon, as I was about delivering
my fifth load of goods, I happened to look up just as the semaphore arms
hovered on the rise. It seemed that every man on the street must have
been looking in the same direction, for instantly a great shout went up.

"A side-wheel steamer! The _Oregon_!"

At once the streets were alive with men hurrying from all directions
toward the black rocks at the foot of Telegraph Hill, where, it seems,
the steamer's boats were expected to land. Flags were run up on all
sides, firearms were let off, a warship in the harbour broke out her
bunting and fired a salute. The decks of the steamer, as she swept into
view, were black with men; her yards were gay with colour. Uptown some
devoted soul was ringing a bell; and turning it away over and over, to
judge by the sounds. I pulled up my mules and watched the vessel swing
down through the ranks of the shipping and come to anchor. We had beaten
out our comrades by a day!

At five o'clock a small boy boarded me.

"You're to drive the mules up to McGlynn's and unhitch them and leave
them," said he. "I'm to show you the way."

"Where's McGlynn?" I asked.

"He's getting his mail."

We drove to a corral and three well-pitched tents down in the southern
edge of town. Here a sluggish stream lost its way in a swamp of green
hummocky grass. I turned out the mules in the corral and hung up the
harness.

"McGlynn says you're to go to the post-office and he'll pay you there,"
my guide instructed me.

The post-office proved to be a low adobe one-story building, with the
narrow veranda typical of its kind. A line of men extended from its door
and down the street as far as the eye could reach. Some of them had
brought stools or boxes, and were comfortably reading scraps of paper.

I walked down the line. A dozen from the front I saw Johnny standing.
This surprised me, for I knew he could not expect mail by this steamer.
Before I had reached him he had finished talking to a stranger, and had
yielded his place.

"Hullo!" he greeted me. "How you getting on?"

"So-so!" I replied. "I'm looking for a man who owes me twenty-five
dollars."

"Well, he's here," said Johnny confidently. "Everybody in town is here."

We found McGlynn in line about a block down the street. When he saw me
coming he pulled a fat buckskin bag from his breeches pocket, opened its
mouth, and shook a quantity of its contents, by guess, into the palm of
his hand.

"There you are," said he; "that's near enough. I'm a pretty good
guesser. I hope you took care of the mules all right; you ought to,
you're from a farm."

"I fixed 'em."

"And the mud? How many times did you get stuck?"

"Not at all."

He looked at me with surprise.

"Would you think of that, now!" said he. "You must have loaded her
light."

"I did."

"Did you get all the goods over?"

"Yes."

"Well, I'll acknowledge you're a judgematical young man; and if you want
a job with me I'll let that lawyer go I spoke to the judge about. He
handed it to me then, didn't he?" He laughed heartily. "No? Well, you're
right. A man's a fool to work for any one but himself. Where's your bag?
Haven't any? How do you carry your dust? Haven't any? I forgot; you're a
tenderfoot, of course." He opened his buckskin sack with his teeth, and
poured back the gold from the palm of his hand. Then he searched for a
moment in all his pockets, and produced a most peculiar chunk of gold
metal. It was nearly as thick as it was wide, shaped roughly into an
octagon, and stamped with initials. This he handed to me.

"It's about a fifty-dollar slug," said he, "you can get it weighed. Give
me the change next time you see me."

"But I may leave for the mines to-morrow," I objected.

"Then leave the change with Jim Recket of the El Dorado."

"How do you know I'll leave it?" I asked curiously.

"I don't," replied McGlynn bluntly. "But if you need twenty-five dollars
worse than you do a decent conscience, then John A. McGlynn isn't the
man to deny you!"

Johnny and I left for the hotel.

"I didn't know you expected any mail," said I.

"I don't."

"But thought I saw you in line----"

"Oh, yes. When I saw the mail sacks, it struck me that there might be
quite a crowd; so I came up as quickly as I could and got in line. There
were a number before me, but I got a place pretty well up in front. Sold
the place for five dollars, and only had to stand there about an hour at
that."

"Good head!" I admired. "I'd never have thought of it. How have you
gotten on?"

"Pretty rotten," confessed Johnny. "I tried all morning to find a decent
opportunity to do something or deal in something, and then I got mad and
plunged in for odd jobs. I've been a regular errand boy. I made two
dollars carrying a man's bag up from the ship."

"How much all told?"

"Fifteen. I suppose you've got your pile."

"That twenty-five you saw me get is the size of it."

Johnny brightened; we moved up closer in a new intimacy and sense of
comradeship over delinquency. It relieved both to feel that the other,
too, had failed. To enter the Plaza we had to pass one of the larger of
the gambling places.

"I'm going in here," said Johnny, suddenly.

He swung through the open doors, and I followed him.

The place was comparatively deserted, owing probably to the distribution
of mail. We had full space to look about us; and I was never more
astonished in my life. The outside of the building was rough and
unfinished as a barn, having nothing but size to attract or recommend.
The interior was the height of lavish luxury. A polished mahogany bar
ran down one side, backed by huge gilt framed mirrors before which were
pyramided fine glasses and bottles of liquor. The rest of the wall space
was thickly hung with more plate mirrors, dozens of well-executed oil
paintings, and strips of tapestry. At one end was a small raised stage
on which lolled half-dozen darkies with banjos and tambourines. The
floor was covered with a thick velvet carpet. Easy chairs, some of them
leather upholstered, stood about in every available corner. Heavy
chandeliers of glass, with hundreds of dangling crystals and prisms,
hung from the ceiling. The gambling tables, a half dozen in number, were
arranged in the open floor space in the centre. Altogether it was a most
astounding contrast in its sheer luxury and gorgeous furnishing to the
crudity of the town. I became acutely conscious of my muddy boots, my
old clothes, my unkempt hair, my red shirt and the armament strapped
about my waist.

A relaxed, subdued air of idleness pervaded the place. The gamblers
lounged back of their tables, sleepy-eyed and listless. On tall stools
their lookouts yawned behind papers. One of these was a woman, young,
pretty, most attractive in the soft, flaring, flouncy costume of that
period. A small group of men stood at the bar. One of the barkeepers was
mixing drinks, pouring the liquid, at arm's length from one tumbler to
another in a long parabolic curve, and without spilling a drop. Only one
table was doing business, and that with only three players. Johnny
pushed rapidly toward this table, and I, a little diffidently, followed.

The game was roulette. Johnny and the dealer evidently recognized each
other, for a flash of the eye passed between them, but they gave no
other sign. Johnny studied the board a moment then laid twenty-two
dollars in coin on one of the numbers. The other players laid out small
bags of gold dust. The wheel spun, and the ball rolled. Two of the men
lost; their dust was emptied into a drawer beneath the table and the
bags tossed back to them. The third had won; the dealer deftly estimated
the weight of his bet, lifting it in the flat of his left hand; then
spun several gold pieces toward the winner. He seemed quite satisfied.
The gambler stacked a roll of twenty-dollar pieces, added one to them,
and thrust them at Johnny. I had not realized that the astounding luck
of winning off a single number had befallen him.

"Ten to one--two hundred and twenty dollars!" he muttered to me.

The other three players were laying their bets for the next turn of the
wheel. Johnny swept the gold pieces into his pocket, and laid back the
original stake against _even_. He lost. Thereupon he promptly arose
and left the building.



CHAPTER XII

TALBOT DESERTS


I followed him to the hotel somewhat gloomily; for I was now the only
member of our party who had not made good the agreed amount of the
partnership. It is significant that never for a moment did either Johnny
or myself doubt that Talbot would have the required sum. Johnny, his
spirits quite recovered, whistled like a lark.

We arrived just in time for the first supper call, and found Talbot and
Yank awaiting us. Yank was as cool and taciturn, and nodded to us as
indifferently, as ever. Talbot, however, was full of excitement. His
biscuit-brown complexion had darkened and flushed until he was almost
Spanish-black, and the little devils in his eyes led a merry dance
between the surface and unguessed depths. He was also exceedingly
voluble; and, as usual when in that mood, aggravatingly indirect. He
joked and teased and carried on like a small boy; and insisted on
ordering an elaborate dinner and a bottle of champagne, in the face of
even Johnny's scandalized expostulations. When Johnny protested against
expenditure, it was time to look out!

"This is on me! This is my party! Dry up, Johnny!" cried Talbot. "Fill
your glasses. Drink to the new enterprise; the Undertakers' Mining
Company, Unlimited."

"Undertakers?" I echoed.

"Well, you all look it. Call it the Gophers, then. Capital stock just
eight hundred and eighty dollars, fully subscribed. I suppose it is
fully subscribed, gentlemen?" He scrutinized us closely. "Ah, Frank! I
see we'll have to take your promissory note. But the artistic
certificates are not yet home from the engravers. Take your time. Maybe
a relative will die."

"Talbot," said I disgustedly, "if I hadn't happened to smell your breath
before supper I'd think you drunk."

"I _am_ drunk, old deacon," rejoined Talbot, "but with the Wine of
Enchantment--do you know your Persian? No? Well, then, this:

    "Drink to me only with thine eyes,
    And I'll not ask for wine!"

"A woman!" grumbled the literal Yank.

"The best, the most capricious, the most beautiful woman in the world,"
cried Talbot, "whose smile intoxicates, whose frown drives to despair."

"What _are_ you drivelling about?" I demanded.

"The goddess fortune--what else? But come," and Talbot rose with a
sudden and startling transition to the calm and businesslike. "We can
smoke outside; and we must hear each other's reports."

He paid for the dinner, steadfastly refusing to let us bear our share. I
noticed that he had acquired one of the usual buckskin sacks, and shook
the yellow dust from the mouth of it to the pan of the gold scales with
quite an accustomed air.

We lit our pipes and sat down at one end of the veranda, where we would
not be interrupted.

"Fire ahead, Yank," advised Talbot.

"There's two ways of going to the mines," said Yank: "One is to go
overland by horses to Sutter's Fort or the new town of Sacramento, and
then up from there into the foothills of the big mountains way yonder.
The other is to take a boat and go up river to Sacramento and then pack
across with horses."

"How much is the river fare?" asked Talbot.

"You have to get a sailboat. It costs about forty dollars apiece."

"How long would it take?"

"Four or five days."

"And how long from here to Sutter's Fort by horse?"

"About the same."

"Depends then on whether horses are cheaper here or there."

"They are cheaper there; or we can get our stuff freighted in by
Greasers and hoof it ourselves."

"Then I should think we ought to have a boat."

"I got one," said Yank.

"Good for you!" cried Talbot. "You're a man after my own heart! Well,
Johnny?"

Johnny told his tale, a little proudly and produced his required two
hundred and twenty dollars.

"You had luck," said Talbot non-committally, "and you ran a strong risk
of coming back here without a cent, didn't you? I want to ask you one
question, Johnny. If you had lost, would you have been willing to have
taken the consequences?"

"What do you mean?" asked Johnny blankly.

"Would you have been willing to have dropped out of this partnership?"

Johnny stared.

"I mean," said Talbot kindly, "that you had no right to try to get this
money by merely a gambler's chance unless you were willing to accept the
logical result if you failed. It isn't fair to the rest of us."

"I see what you mean," said Johnny slowly. "No; I hadn't thought of it
that way."

"Well, as I said, you had luck," repeated Talbot cheerfully, "so we
needn't think of it further." It was characteristic that Johnny took
this veiled rebuke from Talbot Ward in a meek and chastened spirit; from
any one else his high temper could never stand even a breath of
criticism. "How about you, Frank?" Talbot asked me.

I detailed my experiences in a very few words and exhibited my gold
slug.

"That's the best I can do," I ended, "and half of that does not belong
to me. I can, however, in a few days scrape up the full amount; there is
plenty to do here. And barring bull luck, like Johnny's, I don't see
much show of beating that, unless a man settled down to stay here."

Talbot stared at me, ruminatively, until I began to get restive. Then he
withdrew his eyes. He made no comment.

"I suppose you have your money," suggested Yank to him, after a pause.

"Oh--yes," said Talbot as though awaking from profound reverie.

"Well, tell us about it. How did you get it? How long did it take you?"

"About half an hour. I figured that everybody in a place like this would
be wanting news. So I sorted out that bundle of old newspapers you
fellows were always laughing at, and I went out and sold them. Lucky I
got busy with them early; for I don't doubt the arrival of the
_Oregon_ broke the market."

"How much did you get for them?" asked Johnny.

"A dollar apiece for most, and fifty cents for the rest. I came out two
hundred and seventy dollars ahead all told. That, with Frank's and my
ten dollars, gave me sixty dollars above the necessary amount."

Johnny arose and kicked himself solemnly.

"For not guessing what newspapers were good for," he explained. "Go on!
What next? What did you do with the rest of the day?"

Talbot leaned forward, and all the animation of the dinner table
returned to his manner and to his face.

"Boys," said he earnestly, "this is the most wonderful town that has
ever been! There has been nothing like it in the past; and there will
never be anything like it again. After I had sold out my papers I went
wandering across the Plaza with my hands in my pockets. Next the El
Dorado there is a hole in the ground. It isn't much of a hole, and the
edges are all caving in because it is sandy. While I was looking at it
two men came along. One was the owner of the hole, and the other said he
was a lawyer. The owner offered to rent the hole to the lawyer for two
hundred and fifty dollars a month; and the lawyer was inclined to take
him up. After they had gone on I paced off the hole, just for fun. It
was twelve feet square by about six feet deep! Then I walked on down
toward the water front, and talked with all the storekeepers. They do a
queer business. All these goods we see around came out here on
consignment. The local storekeepers have a greater or lesser share and
sell mainly on commission. Since they haven't any adequate storehouses,
and can't get any put up again, they sell the stuff mainly at auction
and get rid of it as quickly as possible. That's why some things are so
cheap they can make pavements of them when a ship happens to come in
loaded with one article. I talked with some of them and told them they
ought to warehouse a lot of this stuff so as to keep it over until the
market steadied. They agreed with that; but pointed out that they were
putting up warehouses as fast as they could--which wasn't very fast--and
in the meantime the rains and dust were destroying their goods. It was
cheaper to sell at auction."

"And a heap more exciting," put in Johnny. "I went to one of them."

"Well, I wandered down to the shore, and looked out over the bay. It was
full of shipping, riding high at anchor. I had an idea. I hired a boat
for five dollars, and rowed out to some of the ships. Believe me or not,
most of them were empty; not even a watchman aboard! I found some of the
captains, however, and talked with each of them. They all told the same
story."

"Crews skipped to the mines, I suppose?" said Yank.

"Exactly. And they _couldn't_ get any more. So I offered to hire a
few of them."

"The captains?" I inquired.

"No; the ships."

"The _what?_" we yelled in chorus.

"The ships."

"But if the captains can't get crews----"

"Oh, I don't want to sail them," went on Talbot impatiently. "It was
hard work getting them to agree; they all cherished notions they could
get crews and go sailing some more--good old salts! But I hired four, at
last. Had to take them for only a month, however; and had to pay them in
advance five hundred apiece."

"I beg pardon," said Johnny softly, "for interrupting your pleasing
tale; but the last item interested me. I do not know whether I quite
heard it right."

"Oh, shut up, Johnny," said Yank; "let the man tell his story. Of course
he didn't have the money in his pocket. How did you get it, Tal?"

Ward shot him a grateful glance.

"I told them I'd pay them at four o'clock which gave me plenty of time."

"Two thousand dollars--oh, of course!" murmured Johnny.

"So then," continued Talbot, "I hustled ashore; and went to see some of
my merchant friends. In two hours I had contracts with twelve of them
that totalled six thousand dollars."

"Why didn't some of them go out and hire ships on their own account?"
asked Yank shrewdly.

"Because I didn't mention the word 'ship' until I had their business,"
said Talbot. "I just guaranteed them storage, waterproof, practically
fireproof, dustproof, and within twenty-four hours. I guess most of them
thought I was crazy. But as it didn't cost them anything, they were
willing to take a chance."

"Then you didn't raise your ten thousand dollars from them in advance
payments!" I marvelled.

"Certainly not. That would have scared off the whole lot of them. But I
got their agreements; I told you it took me two hours. Then I walked up
the street figuring where I'd get the money. Of course I saw I'd have to
divide the profits. I didn't know anybody; but after a while I decided
that the best chance was to get some advice from honest and
disinterested man. So I asked the first man I met who ran the biggest
gambling place in town. He told me Jim Recket."

"Jim Recket?" I echoed. "He's the man I was to leave change for my gold
slug with."

"Recket keeps the El Dorado, next door in the tent. He impressed me as a
very quiet, direct, square sort of a fellow. The best type of
professional gambler, in matters of this sort, generally is.

"'I am looking for a man,' said I, 'who has a little idle money, some
time, no gold-mining fever, plenty of nerve, and a broad mind. Can you
tell me who he is?'

"He thought a minute and then answered direct, as I knew he would.

"'Sam Brannan,' he said.

"'Tell me about him.'

"'To take up your points,' said Recket, checking off his fingers, 'he
came out with a shipload of Mormons as their head, and he collected
tithes from them for over a year; that's your idle money. He has all the
time the Lord stuck into one day at a clip; that's your "some time." He
has been here in the city since '48 which would seem to show he doesn't
care much for mining. He collected the tithes from those Mormons, and
sent word to Brigham Young that if he wanted the money to come and get
it. That's for your nerve. As for being broad minded--well, when a
delegation of the Mormons, all ready for a scrap, came to him solemnly
to say that they were going to refuse to pay him the tithes any more,
even if he was the California head of the church, he laughed them off
the place for having been so green as to pay them as long as they had.'

"I found Sam Brannan, finally, at the bar in Dennison's Exchange."

"What was he like?" asked Johnny eagerly. "I'll bet I heard his name
fifty times to-day."

"He is a thickset, jolly looking, curly headed fellow, with a thick
neck, a bulldog jaw, and a big voice," replied Talbot. "Of course he
tried to bully me, but when that didn't work, he came down to business.
We entered into an agreement.

"Brannan was to furnish the money, and take half the profits, provided
he liked the idea. When we had settled it all, I told him my scheme. He
thought it over a while and came in. Then we rowed off and paid the
captains of the ships. It was necessary now to get them warped in at
high tide, of course, but Sam Brannan said he'd see to that--he has some
sort of a pull with the natives, enough to get a day's labour, anyway."

"Warp them in?" I echoed.

"Certainly. You couldn't expect the merchants to lighter their stuff off
in boats always. We'll beach these ships at high tide, and then run some
sort of light causeway out to them. There's no surf, and the bottom is
soft. It'll cost us something, of course; but Sam and I figure we ought
to divide three thousand clear."

"I'd like to ask a question or so," said I. "What's to prevent the
merchants doing this same hiring of ships for themselves?"

"Nothing," said Talbot, "after the first month."

"And what prevented Brannan, after he had heard your scheme, from going
out on his own hook, and pocketing _all_ the proceeds?"

"You don't understand, Frank," said Talbot impatiently. "Men of our
stamp don't do those things."

"Oh!" said I.

"This," said Johnny, "made it about two o'clock, as I figure your story.
Did you then take a needed rest?"

"Quarter of two," corrected Talbot, "I was going back to the hotel, when
I passed that brick building--you know, on Montgomery Street. I
remembered then that lawyer and his two hundred and fifty dollars for a
hole in the ground. It seemed to me there was a terrible waste
somewhere. Here was a big brick building filled up with nothing but
goods. It might much better be filled with people. There is plenty of
room for goods in those ships; but you can't very well put people on the
ships. So I just dropped in to see them about it. I offered to hire the
entire upper part of the building; and pointed out that the lower part
was all they could possibly use as a store. They said they needed the
upper part as storehouse. I offered to store the goods in an accessible
safe place. Of course they wanted to see the place; but I wouldn't let
on, naturally, but left it subject to their approval after the lease was
signed. The joke of it is they were way overstocked anyway. Finally I
made my grand offer.

"'Look here,' said I, 'you rent me that upper story for a decent length
of time--say a year--and I'll buy out the surplus stock you've got up
there at a decent valuation.' They jumped at that; of course they
pretended not to, but just the same they jumped. I'll either sell the
stuff by auction, even if at a slight loss, or else I'll stick it aboard
a ship. Depends a good deal on what is there, of course. It's mostly
bale and box goods of some sort or another. I've got an inventory in my
pocket. Haven't looked at it yet. Then I'll partition off that wareroom
and rent it out for offices and so forth. There are a lot of lawyers and
things in this town just honing for something dignified and stable. I
only pay three thousand a month for it."

Johnny groaned deeply.

"Well," persisted Talbot, "I figure on getting at least eight thousand a
month out of it. That'll take care of a little loss on the goods, if
necessary. I'm not sure a loss is necessary."

"And how much, about, are the goods?" I inquired softly.

"Oh, I don't know. Somewhere between ten and twenty thousand, I
suppose."

"Paid for how, and when?"

"One third cash, and the rest in notes. The interest out here is rather
high," said Talbot regretfully.

"Where do you expect to get the money?" I insisted.

"Oh, money! money!" cried Talbot, throwing out his arms with a gesture
of impatience. "The place is full of money. It's pouring in from the
mines, from the world outside. Money's no trouble!"

He fell into an intent reverie, biting at his short moustache. I arose
softly to my feet.

"Johnny," said I, in a strangled little voice, "I've got to give back
McGlynn's change. Want to go with me?"

We tiptoed around the corner of the building, and fell into each other's
arms with shrieks of joy.

"Oh!" cried Johnny at last, wiping the tears from his eyes. "Money's no
trouble!"

After we had to some extent relieved our feelings we changed my gold
slug into dust--I purchased a buckskin bag--and went to find McGlynn.
Our way to his quarters led past the post-office, where a long queue of
men still waited patiently and quietly in line. We stood for a few
moments watching the demeanour of those who had received their mail, or
who had been told there was nothing for them. Some of the latter were
pathetic, and looked fairly dazed with grief and disappointment.

The letters were passed through a small window let in the adobe of the
wall; and the men filed on to the veranda at one end and off it at the
other. The man distributing mail was a small, pompous, fat Englishman. I
recognized McGlynn coming slowly down with the line, and paid him half
the dust in my bag.

As McGlynn reached the window, the glass in it slammed shut, and the
clerk thrust a card against it.

"_Mails close at 9 P.M._"

McGlynn tapped at the glass, received no attention, and commenced to
beat a tattoo. The window was snatched open, and the fat clerk, very
red, thrust his face in the opening.

"What do you want?" he demanded truculently.

"Any letters for John A. McGlynn?"

"This office opens at 8:30 A.M." said the clerk, slamming shut the
window.

Without an instant's hesitation, and before the man had a chance to
retire, McGlynn's huge fist crashed through the glass and into his face.

The crowd had waited patiently; but now, with a brutal snarl, it surged
forward. McGlynn, a pleasant smile on his face, swung slowly about.

"Keep your line, boys! Keep your line!" he boomed. "There's no trouble!
It's only a little Englishman who don't know our ways yet."

Inside the building the postal force, white and scared yet over the
menacing growl of the beast they had so nearly roused, hastened to
resume their tasks. I heard later that the last man in line reached the
window only at three o'clock in the morning. Also that next day McGlynn
was summoned by Geary, then postmaster, to account for his share in the
row; and that in the end Geary apologized and was graciously forgiven by
McGlynn! I can well believe it.

We found Yank and Talbot still at the edge of the hotel veranda.

"Look here, Tal!" said Johnny at once. "How are you going to finish all
this business you've scared up, and get off to the mines within a
reasonable time? We ought to start pretty soon."

"Mines?" echoed Talbot, "I'm not going to the mines! I wouldn't leave
all this for a million mines. No: Yank and I have been talking it over.
You boys will have to attend to the mining end of this business. I'll
pay Frank's share and take a quarter of the profits, and Frank can pay
me in addition half his profits. In return for the work I don't do, I'll
put aside two hundred and twenty dollars and use it in my business here,
and all of us will share in the profits I make from that amount. How
does that strike you?"

"I don't like to lose you out of this," said Johnny disappointedly.

"Nor I," said I.

"And I hate to lose the adventure, boys," agreed Talbot earnestly. "But,
honestly, I can't leave this place now even if I want to; and I
certainly don't want to."

I turned in that night with the feeling that I had passed a very
interesting day.



CHAPTER XIII

UP-RIVER


Two days later Yank, Johnny, and I embarked aboard a small bluff-bowed
sailboat, waved our farewells to Talbot standing on the shore, and laid
our course to cross the blue bay behind an island called Alcatraz. Our
boatman was a short, swarthy man, with curly hair and gold rings in his
ears. He handled his boat well, but spoke not at all. After a dozen
attempts to get something more than monosyllables out of him, we gave it
up, and settled ourselves to the solid enjoyment of a new adventure.

The breeze was strong, and drove even our rather clumsy craft at
considerable speed. The blue waters of the bay flashed in the sun and
riffled under the squalls. Spray dashed away from our bows. A chill
raced in from the open Pacific, diluting the sunlight.

We stared ahead of us, all eyes. The bay was a veritable inland sea; and
the shores ahead of us lay flat and wide, with blue hazy hills in the
distance, and a great mountain hovering in midair to our right. Black
cormorants going upwind flapped heavily by us just above the water,
their necks stretched out. Gulls wheeled and screamed above us, or
floated high and light like corks over the racing waves. Rafts of ducks
lay bobbing, their necks furled, their head close to their bodies. A
salt tang stirred our blood; and on the great mountain just north of the
harbour entrance the shadows of cañons were beginning most beautifully
to define themselves.

Altogether it was a pleasant sail. We perched to windward, and smoked
our pipes, and worked ourselves to a high pitch of enthusiasm over what
we were going to see and do. The sailor too smoked his pipe, leaning
against the long, heavy tiller.

The distant flat shores drew nearer. We turned a corner and could make
out the mouth of a river, and across it a white line that, as we came up
on it, proved to be the current breaking against the wind over a very
solid bar. For the first time our sailor gave signs of life. He stood on
his feet, squinted ahead, ordered us amidships, dropped the peak of the
mainsail, took the sheet in his hand. We flew down against the breakers.
In a moment we were in them. Two sickening bumps shook our very
vertebræ. The mast swayed drunkenly from side to side as the boat rolled
on her keel, the sail flopped, a following wave slopped heavily over the
stern, and the water swashed forward across our feet. Then we recovered
a trifle, staggered forward, bumped twice more, and slid into the
smoother deep water. The sailor grunted, and passed us a dipper. We
bailed her out while he raised again the peak of his sail.

Shortly after this experience we glided up the reaches of a wide
beautiful river. It had no banks, but was bordered by the tall reeds
called tules. As far as the eye could reach, and that was very far when
we climbed part way up the mast to look, these tules extended. League
after league they ran away like illimitable plains, green and brown and
beautiful, until somewhere over the curve of the earth straight ahead
they must have met distant blue hills. To the southeast there seemed no
end but the sky.

From the level of the boat, however, we saw only a little way into the
outer fringe. The water lay among the stalks, and mud hens with white
bills pushed their way busily into intricate narrow unguessed waterways.
Occasionally the hedge of the tules broke to a greater or lesser opening
into a lagoon. These were like shallow lakes, in which sometimes grew
clumps of grasses. They were covered with waterfowl. Never have I seen
so many ducks and geese of all kinds. They literally covered the surface
of the water, and fairly seemed to jostle each other as they swam busily
to and fro, intent on some business of their own. Their comfortable, low
conversational clucking and quacking was a pleasure to hear. When, out
of curiosity, we fired a revolver shot, they rose in the air with a roar
like that of a great waterfall, and their crossing lines of flight in
the sky was like the multitude of midges in the sun. I remember one
flock of snow-white geese that turned and wheeled, alternately throwing
their bodies in shadow or in the sunlight, so that they flashed
brilliantly.

As the sun declined, the wind fell. Fortunately the current in the river
was hardly perceptible. We slipped along on glassy waters. Thousands
upon thousands of blackbirds dipped across us uttering their calls.
Against a saffron sky were long lines of waterfowl, their necks
outstretched. A busy multitudinous noise of marsh birds rose and fell
all about us. The sun was a huge red ball touching the distant hills.

At last the wind failed us entirely, but the sailor got out a pair of
sweeps, and we took turns rowing. Within a half hour we caught the
silhouette of three trees against the sky, and shortly landed on a
little island of solid ground. Here we made camp for the night.

All next day, and the days after, being luckily favoured by steady fair
winds, we glided up the river. I could not but wonder at the certainty
with which our sailor picked the right passage from the numerous false
channels that offered themselves. The water was beautifully clear and
sweet; quite different from the muddy currents of to-day. Shortly the
solid ground had drawn nearer; so that often we passed long stretches of
earth standing above the tule-grown water. Along these strips grew
sycamore and cottonwood trees of great size, and hanging vines of the
wild grape. The trees were as yet bare of leaves, but everything else
was green and beautiful. We could see the tracks of many deer along the
flats, but caught no sight of the animals themselves. At one place,
however, we did frighten a small band of half a dozen elk. They crashed
away recklessly through the brush, making noise and splashing enough for
a hundred. Yank threw one of his little pea bullets after them; and
certainly hit, for we found drops of blood. The sailor shook his head
disparagingly over the size of the rifle balls, to Yank's vast disgust.
I never saw him come nearer to losing his temper. As a matter of fact I
think the sailor's contention had something in it; the long accurate
weapon with its tiny missile was probably all right when its user had a
chance to plant the bullet exactly in a fatal spot, but not for such
quick snap shooting as this. At any rate our visions of cheap fresh meat
vanished on the hoof.

The last day out we came into a wide bottomland country with oaks. The
distant blue hills had grown, and had become slate-gray. At noon we
discerned ahead of us a low bluff, and a fork in the river; and among
the oak trees the gleam of tents, and before them a tracery of masts
where the boats and small ships lay moored to the trees. This was the
_embarcadero_ of Sutter's Fort beyond; or the new city of
Sacramento, whichever you pleased. Here our boat journey ended.

We disembarked into a welter of confusion. Dust, men, mules, oxen,
bales, boxes, barrels, and more dust. Everything was in the open air.
Tents were pitched in the open, under the great oaks, anywhere and
everywhere. Next, the river, and for perhaps a hundred yards from the
banks, the canvas structures were arranged in rows along what were
evidently intended to be streets; but beyond that every one simply
"squatted" where he pleased. We tramped about until we found a clear
space, and there dumped down our effects. They were simple enough; and
our housekeeping consisted in spreading our blankets and canvas, and
unpacking our frying pan and pots. The entire list of our provisions
consisted of pork, flour, salt, tea, coffee, sugar, tobacco, and some
spirits.

After supper we went out in a body to see what we could find out
concerning our way to the mines. We did not even possess a definite idea
as to where we wanted to go!

In this quest we ran across our first definite discouragement. The place
was full of men and they were all willing to talk. Fully three quarters
were, like ourselves, headed toward the mines; and were consequently
full of theoretical advice. The less they actually knew the more
insistent they were that theirs was the only one sure route or locality
or method. Of the remainder probably half were the permanent population
of the place, and busily occupied in making what money they could. They
were storekeepers, gamblers, wagon owners, saloonkeepers, transportation
men. Of course we could quickly have had from most of these men very
definite and practical advice as to where to go and how to get there;
but the advice would most likely have been strongly tempered with
self-interest. The rest of those we encountered were on their way back
from the mines. And from them we got our first dash of cold water in the
face.

According to them the whole gold-fable was vastly exaggerated. To be
sure there was gold, no one could deny that, but it occurred very
rarely, and in terrible places to get at. One had to put in ten dollars'
worth of work, to get out one dollars' worth of dust. And provisions
were so high that the cost of living ate up all the profits. Besides, we
were much too late. All the good claims had been taken up and worked out
by the earliest comers. There was much sickness in the mines, and men
were dying like flies. A man was a fool ever to leave home but a
double-dyed fool not to return there as soon as possible. Thus the army
of the discouraged. There were so many of them, and they talked so
convincingly, that I, for one, felt my golden dream dissipating; and a
glance at Johnny's face showed that he was much in the same frame of
mind. We were very young; and we had so long been keyed up so high that
a reaction was almost inevitable. Yank showed no sign; but chewed his
tobacco imperturbably.

We continued our inquiries, however, and had soon acquired a mass of
varied information. The nearest mines were about sixty miles away; we
could get our freight transported that far by the native Californian
_cargadores_ at fifty dollars the hundredweight. Or we could walk
and carry our own goods. Or we might buy a horse or so to pack in our
belongings. If we wanted to talk to the _cargadores_ we must visit
their camp over toward the south; if we wanted to buy horses we could do
nothing better than to talk to McClellan, at Sutter's Fort. Fifty
dollars a hundred seemed pretty steep for freighting; we would not be
able to carry all we owned on our backs; we decided to try to buy the
horses.

Accordingly next morning, after a delicious sleep under the open sky, we
set out to cover the three or four miles to Sutter's Fort.

This was my first sight of the California country landscape, and I saw
it at the most beautiful time of year. The low-rolling hills were bright
green, against which blended the darker green of the parklike oaks. Over
the slopes were washes of colour where the wild flowers grew, like
bright scarves laid out in the sun. They were of deep orange, or an
equally deep blue, or, perhaps, of mingled white and purple. Each
variety, and there were many of them, seemed to grow by itself so that
the colours were massed. Johnny muttered something about "the trailing
glory--banners of the hills"; but whether that was a quotation or just
Johnny I do not know.

The air was very warm and grateful, and the sky extraordinarily blue.
Broad-pinioned birds wheeled slowly, very high; and all about us, on the
tips of swaying bushes and in the tops of trees, thousands of golden
larks were singing. They were in appearance like our meadow-larks back
east, but their note was quite different; more joyous and lilting, but
with the same liquid quality. We flushed many sparrows of different
sorts; and we saw the plumed quail, the gallant, trim, little,
well-groomed gentlemen, running rapidly ahead of us. And over it all
showered the clear warmth of the sun, like some subtle golden ether that
dissolved and disengaged from the sleeping hills multitudinous hummings
of insects, songs of birds, odours of earth, perfumes of flowers.

In spite of ourselves our spirits rose. We forgot our anxious figurings
on ways and means, our too concentrated hopes of success, our feverish,
intent, single-minded desire for gold. Three abreast we marched forward
through the waving, shimmering wild oats, humming once more the strains
of the silly little song to which the gold seekers had elected to
stride:

    "I soon shall be in mining camps,
    And then I'll look around,
    And when I see the gold-dust there,
    I'll pick it off the ground.

    "I'll scrape the mountains clean, old girl,
    I'll drain the rivers dry;
    I'm off for California.
    Susannah, don't you cry!"

Even old Yank joined in the chorus, and he had about as much voice as a
rusty windmill, and about the same idea of tune as a hog has of war.

    "Oh, Susannah! don't you cry for me!
    I'm off to California with my washbowl on my knee!"

We topped a rise and advanced on Sutter's Fort as though we intended by
force and arms to take that historic post.



PART III

THE MINES



CHAPTER XIV

SUTTER'S FORT


Sutter's Fort was situated at the edge of the live-oak park. We found it
to resemble a real fort, with high walls, bastions, and a single gate at
each end through which one entered to a large enclosed square, perhaps a
hundred and fifty yards long by fifty wide. The walls were not pierced
for guns; and the defence seemed to depend entirely on the jutting
bastions. The walls were double, and about twenty-five feet apart. Thus
by roofing over this space, and dividing it with partitions, Sutter had
made up his barracks, blacksmith shop, bakery, and the like. Later in
our investigations we even ran across a woollen factory, a distillery, a
billiard room, and a bowling alley! At the southern end of this long
space stood a two-story house. Directly opposite the two-story house and
at the other end of the enclosure was an adobe corral.

The place was crowded with people. A hundred or so miners rushed here
and there on apparently very important business, or loafed contentedly
against the posts or the sun-warmth of adobe walls. In this latter
occupation they were aided and abetted by a number of the native
Californians. Perhaps a hundred Indians were leading horses, carrying
burdens or engaged in some other heavy toil. They were the first we had
seen, and we examined them with considerable curiosity. A good many of
them were nearly naked; but some had on portions of battered civilized
apparel. Very few could make up a full suit of clothes; but contented
themselves with either a coat, or a shirt, or a pair of pantaloons, or
even with only a hat, as the case might be. They were very swarthy,
squat, villainous-looking savages, with big heads, low foreheads, coarse
hair, and beady little eyes.

We stopped for some time near the sentry box at the entrance,
accustoming ourselves to the whirl and movement. Then we set out to find
McClellan. He was almost immediately pointed out to us, a short, square,
businesslike man, with a hard gray face, dealing competently with the
pressure. A score of men surrounded him, each eager for his attention.
While we hovered, awaiting our chance, two men walked in through the
gate. They were accorded the compliment of almost a complete silence on
the part of those who caught sight of them.

The first was a Californian about thirty-five or forty years of age, a
man of a lofty, stern bearing, swarthy skin, glossy side whiskers, and
bright supercilious eyes. He wore a light blue short jacket trimmed with
scarlet and with silver buttons, a striped silk sash, breeches of
crimson velvet met below by long embroidered deerskin boots. A black
kerchief was bound crosswise on his head entirely concealing the hair;
and a flat-crowned, wide, gray hat heavily ornamented with silver
completed this gorgeous costume. He moved with the assured air of the
aristocrat. The splendour of his apparel, the beauty of his face and
figure, and the grace of his movements attracted the first glance from
all eyes. Then immediately he was passed over in favour of his
companion.

The latter was a shorter, heavier man, of more mature years. In fact his
side whiskers were beginning to turn gray. His costume was plain, but
exquisitely neat, and a strange blend of the civil and the military. The
jacket for example, had been cut in the trim military fashion, but was
worn open to exhibit the snowy cascade of the linen beneath. But nobody
paid much attention to the man's dress. The dignity and assured calm of
his face and eye at once impressed one with conviction of unusual
quality.

Johnny stared for a moment, his brows knit. Then with an exclamation, he
sprang forward.

"Captain Sutter!" he cried.

Sutter turned slowly, to look Johnny squarely in the face, his attitude
one of cold but courteous inquiry. Johnny was approaching, hat in hand.
I confess he astonished me. We had known him intimately for some months,
and always as the harum-scarum, impulsive, hail fellow, bubbling,
irresponsible. Now a new Johnny stepped forward, quiet, high-bred,
courteous, self-contained. Before he had spoken a word, Captain Sutter's
aloof expression had relaxed.

"I beg your pardon for addressing you so abruptly," Johnny was saying.
"The surprise of the moment must excuse me. Ten years ago, sir, I had
the pleasure of meeting you at the time you visited my father in
Virginia."

"My dear boy!" cried Sutter. "You are, of course the son of Colonel
Fairfax. But ten years ago--you were a very young man!"

"A small boy, rather," laughed Johnny.

They chatted for a few moments, exchanging news, I suppose, though they
had drawn beyond our ear-shot. In a few moments we were summoned, and
presented; first to Captain Sutter, then to Don Gaspar Martinez. The
latter talked English well. Yank and I, both somewhat silent and
embarrassed before all this splendour of manner, trailed the triumphal
progress like two small boys. We were glad to trail, however. Captain
Sutter took us about, showing us in turn all the many industries of the
place.

"The old peaceful life is gone," said he. "The fort has become a trading
post for miners. It is difficult now to get labour for my crops, and I
have nearly abandoned cultivation. My Indians I have sent out to mine
for me."

He showed us a row of long troughs outside the walls to which his Indian
workmen had come twice a day for their rations of wheat porridge. "They
scooped it out with their hands," he told us, "like animals." Also he
pointed out the council circle beneath the trees where he used to meet
the Indians. He had great influence with the surrounding tribes; and had
always managed to live peacefully with them.

"But that is passing," said he. "The American miners, quite naturally,
treat them as men; and they are really children. It makes
misunderstanding, and bloodshed, and reprisals. The era of good feeling
is about over. They still trust me, however, and will work for me."

Don Gaspar here excused himself on the ground of business, promising to
rejoin us later.

"That trouble will come upon us next," said Captain Sutter, nodding
after the Spaniard's retreating form. "It is already beginning. The
Californians hold vast quantities of land with which they do almost
nothing. A numerous and energetic race is coming; and it will require
room. There is conflict there. And their titles are mixed; very mixed.
It will behoove a man to hold a very clear title when the time comes."

"Your own titles are doubtless clear and strong," suggested Johnny.

"None better. My grant here came directly from the Mexican government
itself." The Captain paused to chuckle, "I suspect that the reason it
was given me so freely was political--there existed at that time a
desire to break up the power of the Missions; and the establishment of
rival colonies on a large scale would help to do that. The government
evidently thought me competent to undertake the opening of this new
country."

"Your grant is a large one?" surmised Johnny.

"Sixty miles by about twelve," said Captain Sutter.

We had by now finished our inspection, and stood by the southern gate.

"I am sorry," said Captain Sutter, "that I am not in a position to offer
you hospitality. My own residence is at a farm on the Feather River.
This fort, as no doubt you are aware, I have sold to the traders. In the
changed conditions it is no longer necessary to me."

"Do you not regret the changed conditions?" asked Johnny after a moment.
"I can imagine the interest in building a new community--all these
industries, the training of the Indians to work, the growing of crops,
the raising of cattle."

"One may regret changed conditions; but one cannot prevent their
changing," said Captain Sutter in his even, placid manner. "The old
condition was a very pleasant dream; this is a reality."

We walked back through the enclosure. Our companion was greeted on all
sides with the greatest respect and affection. To all he responded with
benign but unapproachable dignity. From the vociferating group he called
the trader, McClellan, to whom he introduced us, all three, with urbane
formality.

"These young men," he told McClellan, who listened to him intently, his
brows knit, "are more than acquaintances, they are very especial old
friends of mine. I wish to bespeak your good offices for what they may
require. They are on their way to the mines. And now, gentlemen, I
repeat, I am delighted to have had this opportunity; I wish you the best
of luck; and I sincerely hope you may be able to visit me at Feather
River, where you are always sure of a hearty welcome. Treat them well,
McClellan."

"You know, Cap'n, friends of your'n are friends of mine," said McClellan
briefly.

At the end of half an hour we found ourselves in possession of two
pack-horses and saddles, and a load of provisions.

"Look out for hoss thieves," advised McClellan. "These yere Greasers
will follow you for days waitin' for a chance to git your stock. Don't
picket with rawhide rope or the coyotes are likely to knaw yore animiles
loose. Better buy a couple of ha'r ropes from the nearest Mex. Take care
of yoreselves. Good-bye." He was immediately immersed in his flood of
business.

We were in no hurry to return, so we put in an hour or so talking with
the idlers. From them we heard much praise for Sutter. He had sent out
such and such expeditions to rescue snow-bound immigrants in the
mountains; he had received hospitably the travel-worn transcontinentals;
he had given freely to the indigent; and so on without end. I am very
glad that even at second hand I had the chance to know this
great-hearted old soldier of Charles X while in the glory of his
possessions and the esteem of men. Acre by acre his lands were filched
from him; and he died in Washington vainly petitioning Congress for
restitution.



CHAPTER XV

THE GOLD TRAIL


We loaded our pack-horses, and set off next morning early on the trail
up the American River. At last, it seemed to us, we were really under
way; as though our long journeyings and many experiences had been but a
preparation for this start. Our spirits were high, and we laughed and
joked and sang extravagantly. Even Yank woke up and acted like a frisky
colt. Such early wayfarers as we met, we hailed with shouts and
chaffing; nor were we in the least abashed by an occasional surly
response, or the not infrequent attempts to discourage our hopes. For
when one man said there was no gold; another was as confident that the
diggings were not even scratched.

The morning was a very fine one; a little chilly, with a thin white mist
hanging low along the ground. This the sun soon dissipated. The birds
sang everywhere. We trudged along the dusty road merrily.

Every little while we stopped to readjust the burdens to our animals. A
mountaineer had showed us how to lash them on, but our skill at that
sort of thing was _miner's_, and the packs would not hold. We had
to do them one at a time, using the packed animal as a pattern from
which to copy the hitch on the other. In this painful manner we learned
the Squaw Hitch, which, for a long time, was to be the extent of our
knowledge. However, we got on well enough, and mounted steadily by the
turns and twists of an awful road, following the general course of the
river below us.

On the hills grew high brush, some of it very beautiful. The buckthorn,
for example, was just coming out; and the dogwood, and the mountain
laurel. At first these clumps of bush were few and scattered; and the
surface of the hills, carpeted with short grass, rolled gently away, or
broke in stone dikes and outcrops. Then later, as we mounted, they drew
together until they covered the mountainsides completely, save where
oaks and madrone kept clear some space for themselves. After a time we
began to see a scrubby long-needled pine thrusting its head here and
there above the undergrowth. That was as far as we got that day. In the
hollow of a ravine we found a tiny rill of water, and there we camped.
Johnny offered some slight objections at first. It was only two o'clock
of the afternoon, the trees were scrubby, the soil dusty, the place
generally uncomfortable. But Yank shook his head.

"If we knew how they played this game, it might be all right to go
ahead. But we don't," said he. "I've been noticing this trail pretty
close; and I ain't seen much water except in the river; and that's an
awful ways down. Maybe we'll find some water over the next hill, and
maybe we won't. But we know there's water here. Then there's the
question of hoss thieves. McClellan strikes me as a man to be believed.
I don't know how they act; but you bet no hoss thief gets off with my
hoss and me watchin'. But at night it's different, I don't know how they
do things. But I _do_ know that if we tie our hosses next us, they
won't be stolen. And that's what I aim to do. But if we do that, we got
to give them a chance to eat, hain't we? So we'll let them feed the rest
of the afternoon, and we'll tie em up to-night."

This was much talk for Yank. In fact, the only time that taciturn
individual ever would open up was in explanation of or argument about
some expedient of wilderness life or travel. It sounded entirely
logical. So we made camp.

Yank turned the two horses out into a grass meadow, and sat, his back
against an oak tree, smoking his pipe and watching them. Johnny and I
unrolled the beds, sorted out the simple cooking utensils, and started
to cook. Occasional travellers on the road just above us shouted out
friendly greetings. They were a miscellaneous lot. Most were headed
toward the mountains. These journeyed in various ways. Some walked afoot
and unencumbered, some carried apparently all their belongings on their
backs, one outfit comprising three men had three saddle horses and four
packs--a princely caravan. One of the _cargadores'_ pack-trains
went up the road enveloped in a thick cloud of dust--twenty or thirty
pack-mules and four men on horseback herding them forward. A white mare,
unharnessed save for a clanging bell, led the way; and all the mules
followed her slavishly, the nose of one touching the tail of the other,
as is the mule's besotted fashion. They were gay little animals, with
silver buttons on their harness, and yellow sheepskin linings to their
saddles. They carried a great variety of all sorts of things; and at the
freighting rates quoted to us must have made money for their owners.
Their drivers were a picturesque quartette in sombreros, wide sashes,
and flowing garments. They sat their animals with a graceful careless
ease beautiful to behold.

Near sundown two horsemen turned off the trail and rode down to our
little trickle of water. When they drew near we recognized in one of
them Don Gaspar Martinez. He wore still his gorgeous apparel of the day
before, with only the addition of a pair of heavy silver ornamented
spurs on his heels, and a brace of pistols in his sash. His horse, a
magnificent chestnut, was harnessed in equal gorgeousness, with silvered
broad bit, silver chains jangling therefrom, a plaited rawhide bridle
and reins, a carved leather, high-pommelled saddle, also silver
ornamented, and a bright coloured, woven saddle blanket beneath. The
animal stepped daintily and proudly, lifting his little feet and
planting them among the stones as though fastidiously. The man who rode
with Don Gaspar was evidently of a lower class. He was, however, a
straight handsome young fellow enough, with a dark clear complexion, a
small moustache, and a pleasant smile. His dress and accoutrements were
on the same general order as those of Don Gaspar, but of quieter colour
and more serviceable material. His horse, however, was of the same
high-bred type. A third animal followed, unled, packed with two cowhide
boxes.

The Spaniard rode up to us and saluted courteously; then his eye lit
with recognition.

"Ah," said he, "the good friends of our Capitan Sutter! This is to be
well met. If it is not too much I would beg the favour of to camp."

"By all means, Don Gaspar," said Johnny rising. "The pleasure is of
course our own."

Again saluting us, Don Gaspar and his companion withdrew a short
distance up the little meadow. There the Spaniard sat down beneath a
bush and proceeded to smoke a cigaretto, while his companion unsaddled
the horses, turned them loose to graze, stacked up their saddles, and
made simple camping arrangements.

"Old Plush Pants doesn't intend to do any work if he catches sight of it
first," observed Johnny.

"Probably the other man is a servant?" I suggested.

"More likely a sort of dependent," amended Johnny. "They run a kind of
patriarchal establishment, I've been told."

"Don't use them big words, Johnny," complained Yank, coming up with the
horses.

"I meant they make the poor relations and kid brothers do the hustling,"
said Johnny.

"Now I understand you," said Yank. "I wish I could see what _they_
do with their hosses nights. I bet they know how. And if I was a hoss
thief, I'd surely take a long chance for that chestnut gelding."

"You might wander over later and find out," I suggested.

"And get my system full of lead--sure," said Yank.

The two camps did not exchange visits. We caught the flicker of their
little fire; but we were really too tired to be curious, and we turned
in early, our two animals tied fast to small trees at our feet.

The next day lifted us into the mountains. Big green peaks across which
hung a bluish haze showed themselves between the hills. The latter were
more precipitous; and the brush had now given way to pines of better
size and quality than those seen lower down. The river foamed over
rapids or ran darkling in pools and stretches. Along the roadside,
rarely, we came upon rough-looking log cabins, or shacks of canvas, or
tents. The owners were not at home. We thought them miners; but in the
light of subsequent knowledge I believe that unlikely--the diggings were
farther in.

We came upon the diggings quite suddenly. The trail ran around the
corner of a hill; and there they were below us! In the wide, dry stream
bottom perhaps fifty men were working busily, like a lot of ants. Some
were picking away at the surface of the ground, others had dug
themselves down waist deep, and stooped and rose like legless bodies.
Others had disappeared below ground, and showed occasionally only as
shovel blades. From so far above the scene was very lively and animated,
for each was working like a beaver, and the red shirts made gay little
spots of colour. On the hillside clung a few white tents and log cabins;
but the main town itself, we later discovered, as well as the larger
diggings, lay around the bend and upstream.

We looked all about us for some path leading down to the river, but
could find none; so perforce we had to continue on along the trail. Thus
we entered the camp of Hangman's Gulch; for if it had been otherwise I
am sure we would have located promptly where we had seen those
red-shirted men.

The camp consisted merely of a closer-knit group of tents, log shacks,
and a few larger buildings constructed of a queer combination of heavy
hewn timbers and canvas. We saw nobody at all, though in some of the
larger buildings we heard signs of life. However, we did not wait to
investigate the wonders of Hangman's Gulch, but drove our animals along
the one street, looking for the trail that should lead us back to the
diggings. We missed it, somehow, but struck into a beaten path that took
us upstream. This we followed a few hundred yards. It proceeded along a
rough, boulder-strewn river-bed, around a point of rough, jagged rocks,
and out to a very wide gravelly flat through which the river had made
itself a narrow channel. The flat swarmed with men, all of them busy,
and very silent.

Leading our pack-horses we approached the nearest pair of these men, and
stood watching them curiously. One held a coarse screen of willow which
he shook continuously above a common cooking-pot, while the other slowly
shovelled earth over this sieve. When the two pots, which with the
shovel seemed to be all the tools these men possessed, had been half
filled thus with the fine earth, the men carried them to the river. We
followed. The miners carefully submerged the pots, and commenced to stir
their contents with their doubled fists. The light earth muddied the
water, floated upward, and then flowed slowly over the rim of the pots
and down the current. After a few minutes of this, they lifted the pots
carefully, drained off the water, and started back.

"May we look?" ventured Johnny.

The taller man glanced at us, and our pack-horses, and nodded. This was
the first time he had troubled to take a good look at us. The bottom of
the pot was covered with fine black sand in which we caught the gleam
and sparkle of something yellow.

"Is that gold?" I asked, awed.

"That's gold," the man repeated, his rather saturnine features lighting
up with a grin. Then seeing our interest, he unbent a trifle. "We dry
the sand, and then blow it away," he explained; and strode back to where
his companion was impatiently waiting.

We stumbled on over the rocks and débris. There were probably something
near a hundred men at work in the gulch. We soon observed that the pot
method was considered a very crude and simple way of getting out the
gold. Most of the men carried iron pans full of the earth to the
waterside, where, after submerging until the lighter earth had floated
off, they slopped the remainder over the side with a peculiar twisting,
whirling motion, leaving at last only the black sand--and the gold!
These pan miners were in the great majority. But one group of four men
was doing business on a larger scale. They had constructed what looked
like a very shallow baby-cradle on rockers into which they poured their
earth and water. By rocking the cradle violently but steadily, they
spilled the mud over the sides. Cleats had been nailed in the bottom to
catch the black sand.

We wandered about here and there, looking with all our eyes. The miners
were very busy and silent, but quite friendly, and allowed us to examine
as much as we pleased the results of their operations. In the pots and
cradles the yellow flake gold glittered plainly, contrasting with the
black sand. In the pans, however, the residue spread out fan-shaped
along the angle between the bottom and the side, and at the apex the
gold lay heavy and beautiful all by itself. The men were generally
bearded, tanned with working in this blinding sun, and plastered
liberally with the red earth. We saw some queer sights, however; as when
we came across a jolly pair dressed in what were the remains of
ultra-fashionable garments up to and including plug hats! At one side
working some distance from the stream were small groups of native
Californians or Mexicans. They did not trouble to carry the earth all
the way to the river; but, after screening it roughly, tossed it into
the air above a canvas, thus winnowing out the heavier pay dirt. I
thought this must be very disagreeable.

As we wandered about here and there among all these men so busily
engaged, and with our own eyes saw pan after pan show gold, actual
metallic guaranteed gold, such as rings and watches and money are made
of, a growing excitement possessed us, the excitement of a small boy
with a new and untried gun. We wanted to get at it ourselves. Only we
did not know how.

Finally Yank approached one of the busy miners.

"Stranger," said he, "we're new to this. Maybe you can tell us where we
can dig a little of this gold ourselves."

The man straightened his back, to exhibit a roving humorous blue eye,
with which he examined Yank from top to toe.

"If," said he, "it wasn't for that eighteen-foot cannon you carry over
your left arm, and a cold gray pair of eyes you carry in your head, I'd
direct you up the sidehill yonder, and watch you sweat. As it is, you
can work anywhere anybody else isn't working. Start in!"

"Can we dig right next to you, then?" asked Yank, nodding at an unbroken
piece of ground just upstream.

The miner clambered carefully out of his waist-deep trench, searched his
pockets, produced a pipe and tobacco. After lighting this he made Yank a
low bow.

"Thanks for the compliment; but I warn you, this claim of mine is not
very rich. I'm thinking of trying somewhere else."

"Don't you get any gold?"

"Oh, a few ounces a day."

"That suits me for a beginning," said Yank decidedly. "Come on, boys!"

The miner hopped back into his hole, only to stick his head out again
for the purpose of telling us:

"Mind you keep fifteen feet away!"

With eager hands we slipped a pick and shovels from beneath the pack
ropes, undid our iron bucket, and without further delay commenced
feverishly to dig.

Johnny held the pail, while Yank and I vied with each other in being the
first to get our shovelfuls into that receptacle. As a consequence we
nearly swamped the pail first off, and had to pour some of the earth out
again. Then we all three ran down to the river and took turns stirring
that mud pie beneath the gently flowing waters in the manner of the "pot
panners" we had first watched. After a good deal of trouble we found
ourselves possessed of a thick layer of rocks and coarse pebbles.

"We forgot to screen it," I pointed out.

"We haven't any screen," said Johnny.

"Let's pick 'em out by hand?" suggested Yank.

We did so. The process emptied the pail. Each of us insisted on
examining closely; but none of us succeeded in creating out of our
desires any of that alluring black sand.

"I suppose we can't expect to get colour every time?" observed Johnny
disappointedly. "Let's try her again."

We tried her again; and yet again; and then some more; but always with
the same result. Our hands became puffed and wrinkled with constant
immersion in the water, and began to feel sore from the continual
stirring of the rubble.

"Something wrong," grunted Johnny into the abysmal silence in which we
had been carrying on our work.

"We can't expect it every time," I reminded him.

"All the others seem to."

"Well, maybe we've struck a blank place; let's try somewhere else,"
suggested Yank.

Johnny went over to speak to our neighbour, who was engaged in tossing
out shovelfuls of earth from an excavation into which he had nearly
disappeared. At Johnny's hail, he straightened his back, so that his
head bobbed out of the hole like a prairie dog.

"No, it doesn't matter where you dig," he answered Johnny's question.
"The pay dirt is everywhere."

So we moved on a few hundred feet, picked another unoccupied patch, and
resumed our efforts. No greater success rewarded us here.

"I believe maybe we ought to go deeper," surmised Yank.

"Some of these fellows are taking their dirt right off top of the
ground," objected Johnny.

However, we unlimbered the pickaxe and went deeper; to the extent of two
feet or more. It was good hard work, especially as we were all soft for
it. The sun poured down on our backs with burning intensity; our hands
blistered; and the round rocks and half-cemented rubble that made the
bar were not the easiest things in the world to remove. However, we kept
at it. Yank and I, having in times past been more or less accustomed to
this sort of thing, got off much easier than did poor Johnny. About two
feet down we came to a mixed coarse sand and stones, a little finer than
the top dirt. This seemed to us promising, so we resumed our washing
operations. They bore the same results as had the first; which was just
the whole of nothing.

"We've got to hit it somewhere," said Johnny between his teeth. "Let's
try another place."

We scrambled rather wearily, but with a dogged determination, out of our
shallow hole. Our blue-eyed, long-bearded friend was sitting on a
convenient boulder near at hand, his pipe between his teeth, watching
our operations.

"Got any tobacco, boys?" he inquired genially. "Smoked my last until
to-night, unless you'll lend."

Yank produced a plug, from which the stranger shaved some parings.

"Struck the dirt?" he inquired. "No, I see you haven't." He stretched
himself and arose. "You aren't washing this stuff!" he cried in
amazement, as his eye took in fully what we were about.

Then we learned what we might have known before--but how should
we?--that the gold was not to be found in any and every sort of loose
earth that might happen to be lying about, but only in either a sort of
blue clay or a pulverized granite. Sometimes this "pay dirt" would be
found atop the ground. Again, the miner had to dig for it.

"All the surface diggings are taken up," our friend told us. "So now you
have to dig deep. It's about four feet down where I'm working. It'll
probably be deeper up here. You'd better move back where you were."

Yank, stretched himself upright.

"Look here," he said decidedly; "let's get a little sense into
ourselves. Here's our pore old hosses standing with their packs on, and
we no place to stay, and no dinner; and we're scratchin' away at this
bar like a lot of fool hens. There's other days comin'."

Johnny and I agreed with the common sense of the thing, but reluctantly.
Now that we knew how, our enthusiasm surged up again. We wanted to get
at it. The stranger's eyes twinkled sympathetically.

"Here, boys," said he, "I know just how you feel. Come with me."

He snatched up our bucket and strode back to his own claim, where he
filled the receptacle with some of the earth he had thrown out.

"Go pan that," he advised us kindly.

We raced to the water, and once more stirred about the heavy contents of
the pail until they had floated off with the water. In the bottom lay a
fine black residue; and in that residue glittered the tiny yellow
particles. We had actually panned our first gold!

Our friend examined it critically.

"That's about a twelve-cent pan," he adjudged it.

Somehow, in a vague way, we had unreasonably expected millions at a
twist of the wrist; and the words, "twelve cents," had a rankly
penurious sound to us. However, the miner patiently explained that a
twelve-cent pan was a very good one; and indubitably it was real gold.

Yank, being older and less excitable, had not accompanied us to the
waterside.

"Well, boys," he drawled, "that twelve cents is highly satisfactory, of
course; but in the meantime we've lost about six hundred dollars' worth
of hoss and grub."

Surely enough, our animals had tired of waiting for us, and had moved
out packs and all. We hastily shouldered our implements.

"Don't you want to keep this claim next me?" inquired our acquaintance.

We stopped.

"Surely!" I replied. "But how do we do it?"

"Just leave your pick and shovel in the hole."

"Won't some one steal them?"

"No."

"What's to prevent?" I asked a little skeptically.

"Miners' law," he replied.

We almost immediately got trace of our strayed animals, as a number of
men had seen them going upstream. In fact we had no difficulty whatever
in finding them for they had simply followed up the rough stream-bed
between the cañon walls until it had opened up to a gentler slope and a
hanging garden of grass and flowers. Here they had turned aside and were
feeding. We caught them, and were just heading them back, when Yank
stopped short.

"What's the matter with this here?" he inquired. "Here's feed, and water
near, and it ain't so very far back to the diggings."

We looked about us, for the first time with seeing eyes. The little
up-sloping meadow was blue and dull red with flowers; below us the
stream brawled foam flecked among black rocks; the high hills rose up to
meet the sky, and at our backs across the way the pines stood thick
serried. Far up in the blue heavens some birds were circling slowly.
Somehow the leisurely swing of these unhasting birds struck from us the
feverish hurry that had lately filled our souls. We drew deep breaths;
and for the first time the great peace and majesty of these California
mountains cooled our spirits.

"I think it's a bully place, Yank," said Johnny soberly, "and that
little bench up above us looks flat."

We clambered across the slant of the flower-spangled meadow to the
bench, just within the fringe of the pines. It proved to be flat, and
from the edge of it down the hill seeped a little spring marked by the
feathery bracken. We entered a cool green place, peopled with shadows
and the rare, considered notes of soft-voiced birds. Just over our
threshold, as it were, was the sunlit, chirpy, buzzing, bright-coloured,
busy world. Overhead a wind of many voices hummed through the pine tops.
The golden sunlight flooded the mountains opposite, flashed from the
stream, lay languorous on the meadow. Long bars of it slanted through an
unguessed gap in the hills behind us to touch with magic the very tops
of the trees over our heads. The sheen of the precious metal was over
the land.



CHAPTER XVI

THE FIRST GOLD


We arose before daylight, picketed our horses, left our dishes unwashed,
and hurried down to the diggings just at sun-up carrying our gold pans
or "washbowls," and our extra tools. The bar was as yet deserted. We set
to work with a will, taking turns with the pickaxe and the two shovels.
I must confess that our speed slowed down considerably after the first
wild burst, but we kept at it steadily. It was hard work, and there is
no denying it, just the sort of plain hard work the day labourer does
when he digs sewer trenches in the city streets. Only worse, perhaps,
owing to the nature of the soil. It has struck me since that those few
years of hard labour in the diggings, from '49 to '53 or '54, saw more
actual manual toil accomplished than was ever before performed in the
same time by the same number of men. The discouragement of those
returning we now understood. They had expected to take the gold without
toil; and were dismayed at the labour it had required. At any rate, we
thought we were doing our share that morning, especially after the sun
came up. We wielded our implements manfully, piled our débris to one
side, and gradually achieved a sort of crumbling uncertain excavation
reluctant to stay emptied.

About an hour after our arrival the other miners began to appear,
smoking their pipes. They stretched themselves lazily, spat upon their
hands, and set to. Our friend of the day before nodded at us cheerfully,
and hopped down into his hole.

We removed what seemed to us tons of rock. About noon, just as we were
thinking rather dispiritedly of knocking off work for a lunch--which in
our early morning eagerness we had forgotten to bring--Johnny turned up
a shovelful whose lower third consisted of the pulverized bluish clay.
We promptly forgot both lunch and our own weariness.

"Hey!" shouted our friend, scrambling from his own claim. "Easy with the
rocks! What are you conducting here? a volcano?" He peered down at us.
"Pay dirt, hey? Well, take it easy; it won't run away!"

Take it easy! As well ask us to quit entirely! We tore at the rubble,
which aggravatingly and obstinately cascaded down upon us from the
sides; we scraped eagerly for more of that blue clay; at last we had
filled our three pans with a rather mixed lot of the dirt, and raced to
the river. Johnny fell over a boulder and scattered his panful far and
wide. His manner of scuttling back to the hole after more reminded me
irresistibly of the way a contestant in a candle race hurries back to
the starting point to get his candle relighted.

We panned that dirt clumsily and hastily enough; and undoubtedly lost
much valuable sand overside; but we ended each with a string of colour.
We crowded together comparing our "pans." Then we went crazy. I suppose
we had about a quarter of a dollar's worth of gold between us, but that
was not the point. The long journey with all its hardships and
adventures, the toil, the uncertainty, the hopes, the disappointments
and reactions had at last their visible tangible conclusion. The tiny
flecks of gold were a symbol. We yapped aloud, we kicked up our heels,
we shook hands, we finally joined hands and danced around and around.

From all sides the miners came running up, dropping their tools with a
clatter. We were assailed by a chorus of eager cries.

"What is it, boys?" "A strike?" "Whereabouts is your claim?" "Is it
'flour' or 'flake'?" "Let's see!"

They crowded around in a dense mob, and those nearest jostled to get a
glimpse of our pans. Suddenly sobered by this interest in our doings, we
would have edged away could we have got hold of our implements.

"Wall, I'll be durned!" snorted a tall state of Maine man in disgust.
"This ain't no strike! This is an insane asylum."

The news slowly penetrated the crowd. A roar of laughter went up. Most
of the men were hugely amused; but some few were so disgusted at having
been fooled that they were almost inclined to take it as a personal
affront that we had not made the expected "strike."

"You'd think they was a bunch of confounded Keskydees," growled one of
them.

The miners slowly dispersed, returning to their own diggings. Somewhat
red-faced, and very silent, we gathered up our pans and slunk back to
the claim. Our neighbour stuck his head out of his hole. He alone had
not joined the stampede in our direction.

"How do you like being popular heroes?" he grinned.

Johnny made as though to shy a rock at him, whereupon he ducked below
ground.

However, our spirits soon recovered. We dumped the black sand into a
little sack we had brought for the purpose. It made quite an appreciable
bulge in that sack. We did not stop to realize that most of the bulge
was sack and sand, and mighty little of it gold. It was something
tangible and valuable; and we were filled with a tremendous desire to
add to its bulk.

We worked with entire absorption, quite oblivious to all that was going
on about us. It was only by accident that Yank looked up at last, so I
do not know how long Don Gaspar had been there.

"Will you look at that!" cried Yank.

Don Gaspar, still in his embroidered boots, his crimson velvet breeches,
his white linen, and his sombrero, but without the blue and silver
jacket, was busily wielding a pickaxe a hundred feet or so away. His
companion, or servant, was doing the heavier shovel work.

"Why, oh, why!" breathed Johnny at last, "do you suppose, if he must
_mine_, he doesn't buy himself a suit of dungarees or a flannel
shirt?"

"I'll bet it's the first hard work he ever did in his life," surmised
Yank.

"And I'll bet he won't do that very long," I guessed.

But Don Gaspar seemed to have more sticking power than we gave him
credit for. We did not pay him much further attention, for we were busy
with our own affairs; but every time we glanced in his direction he
appeared to be still at it. Our sack of sand was growing heavier; as
indeed were our limbs. As a matter of fact we had been at harder work
than any of us had been accustomed to, for very long hours, beneath a
scorching sun, without food, and under strong excitement. We did not
know when to quit; but the sun at last decided it for us by dipping
below the mountains to the west.

We left our picks and shovels in our pit; but carried back with us our
pans, for in them we wished to dry out our sand. The horses were still
at their picket ropes; and we noticed near the lower end of the meadow,
but within the bushes, three more animals moving slowly. A slim column
of smoke ascended from beyond the bushes. Evidently we had neighbours.

We were dog tired, and so far starved that we did not know we were
hungry. My eyes felt as though they must look like holes burned in a
blanket. We lit a fire, and near it placed our panful of sand. But we
did not take time to cook ourselves a decent meal; we were much too
excited for that. A half-made pot of coffee, some pork burned crisp, and
some hard bread comprised our supper. Then Yank and I took a handful of
the dried sand in the other two pans, and commenced cautiously to blow
it away. Johnny hovered over us full of suggestions, and premonitions of
calamity.

"Don't blow too, hard, fellows," he besought us; "you'll blow away the
gold! For heaven's sake, go easy!"

We growled at him, and blew. I confess that my heart went fast with
great anxiety, as though the stakes of my correct blowing were millions.
However, as we later discovered, it is almost impossible to blow
incorrectly.

There is something really a little awing about pure gold new-born from
the soil. Gold is such a stable article, so strictly guarded, so
carefully checked and counted, that the actual production of metal that
has had no existence savours almost of the alchemical. We had somewhat
less than an ounce, to be sure; but that amount in flake gold bulks
considerably. We did not think of it in terms of its worth in dollars;
we looked on it only as the Gold, and we stared at the substantial
little heap of yellow particles with fascinated awe.



CHAPTER XVII

THE DIGGINGS


The following days were replicas of the first. We ate hurriedly at odd
times; we worked feverishly; we sank into our tumbled blankets at night
too tired to wiggle. But the buckskin sack of gold was swelling and
rounding out most satisfactorily. By the end of the week it contained
over a pound!

But the long hours, the excitement, and the inadequate food told on our
nerves. We snapped at each other impatiently at times; and once or twice
came near to open quarrelling. Johnny and I were constantly pecking at
each other over the most trivial concerns.

One morning we were halfway to the bar when we remembered that we had
neglected to picket out the horses. It was necessary for one of us to go
back, and we were all reluctant to do so.

"I'll be damned if I'm going to lug 'way up that hill," I growled to
myself. "I tied them up yesterday, anyway."

Johnny caught this.

"Well, it wasn't your turn yesterday," he pointed out, "and it is
to-day. I've got nothing to do with what you chose to do yesterday."

"Or any other day," I muttered.

"What's that?" cried Johnny truculently. "I couldn't hear. Speak up!"

We were flushed, and eying each other malevolently.

"That'll do!" said Yank, with an unexpected tone of authority. "Nobody
will go back, and nobody will go ahead. We'll just sit down on this log,
yere, while we smoke one pipe apiece. I've got something to say."

Johnny and I turned on him with a certain belligerency mingled with
surprise. Yank had so habitually acted the part of taciturnity that his
decided air of authority confused us. His slouch had straightened, his
head was up, his mild eye sparkled. Suddenly I felt like a bad small
boy; and I believe Johnny was the same. After a moment's hesitation we
sat down on the log.

"Now," said Yank firmly, "it's about time we took stock. We been here
now five days; we ain't had a decent meal of vittles in that time; we
ain't fixed up our camp a mite; we ain't been to town to see the sights;
we don't even know the looks of the man that's camped down below us.
We've been too danged busy to be decent. Now we're goin' to call a halt.
I should jedge we have a pound of gold, or tharabouts. How much is that
worth, Johnny? You can figger in yore head."

"Along about two hundred and fifty dollars," said Johnny after a moment.

"Well, keep on figgerin'. How much does that come to apiece?"

"About eighty dollars, of course."

"And dividin' eighty by five?" persisted Yank.

"Sixteen."

"Well," drawled Yank, his steely blue eye softening to a twinkle,
"sixteen dollars a day is fair wages, to be sure; but nothin' to get
wildly excited over." He surveyed the two of us with some humour.
"Hadn't thought of it that way, had you?" he asked. "Nuther had I until
last night. I was so dog tired I couldn't sleep, and I got to figgerin'
a little on my own hook."

"Why, I can do better than that in San Francisco--with half the work!" I
cried.

"Maybe for a while," said Yank, "but here we got a chance to make a big
strike most any time; and in the meantime to make good wages. But we
ain't going to do it any quicker by killin' ourselves. Now to-day is
Sunday. I ain't no religious man; but Sunday is a good day to quit. I
propose we go back to camp peaceable, make a decent place to stay, cook
ourselves up a squar' meal, wash out our clothes, visit the next camp,
take a look at town, and enjoy ourselves."

Thus vanished the first and most wonderful romance of the gold. Reduced
to wages it was somehow no longer so marvellous. The element of
uncertainty was always there, to be sure; and an inexplicable
fascination; but no longer had we any desire to dig up the whole place
immediately. I suppose we moved nearly as much earth, but the fibres of
our minds were relaxed, and we did it more easily and with less nervous
wear and tear.

Also, as Yank suggested, we took pains to search out our fellow beings.
The camper below us proved to be Don Gaspar, velvet breeches and all. He
received us hospitably, and proffered perfumed cigarettos which we did
not like, but which we smoked out of politeness. Our common ground of
meeting was at first the natural one of the gold diggings. Don Gaspar
and his man, whom he called Vasquez, had produced somewhat less flake
gold than ourselves, but exhibited a half-ounce nugget and several
smaller lumps. We could not make him out. Neither his appearance nor his
personal equipment suggested necessity; and yet he laboured as hard as
the rest of us. His gaudy costume was splashed and grimy with the red
mud, although evidently he had made some attempt to brush it. The linen
was, of course, hopeless. He showed us the blisters on his small
aristocratic-looking hands.

"It is the hard work" he stated simply, "but one gets the gold."

From that subject we passed on to horses. He confessed that he was
uneasy as to the safety of his own magnificent animals; and succeeded in
alarming us as to our own.

"Thos' Indian," he told us, "are always out to essteal; and the
_paisanos_. It has been tole me that Andreas Amijo and his robbers
are near. Some day we loose our horse!"

Our anxiety at this time was given an edge by the fact that the horses,
having fed well, and becoming tired of the same place, were inclined to
stray. It was impossible to keep them always on picket lines--the nature
of the meadow would not permit it--and they soon learned to be very
clever with their hobbles. Several mornings we put in an hour or so
hunting them up and bringing them in before we could start work for the
day. This wasted both time and temper. The result was that we drifted
into partnership with Don Gaspar and Vasquez. I do not remember who
proposed the arrangement; indeed, I am inclined to think it just came
about naturally from our many discussions on the subject. Under the
terms of it we appointed Vasquez to cook all the meals, take full care
of the horses, chop the wood, draw the water, and keep camp generally.
The rest of us worked in couples at the bar. We divided the gold into
five equal parts.

Our production at this time ran from five to seven ounces a day, which
was, of course, good wages, but would not make our fortunes. We soon
fell into a rut, working cheerfully and interestedly, but without
excitement. The nature of our produce kept our attention. We should long
since have wearied of any other job requiring an equal amount of work,
but there was a never-ending fascination in blowing away the débris from
the virgin gold. And one day, not far from us, two Hollanders--"Dutch
Charleys," as the miners called that nationality--scooped from a
depression in the bedrock mixed coarse gold thirty odd pounds in
weight--over $5,000! That revived our interest, you may be sure.

Most of the miners seemed content to stick to panning. Their argument
was that by this method they could accumulate a fair amount of dust, and
ran just as good chances of a "strike" as the next fellow. Furthermore,
they had no tools, no knowledge and no time to make cradles. Those
implements had to be very accurately constructed.

We discussed this matter almost every evening. Yank was a great believer
in improving the efficiency of our equipment.

"It'll handle four or five times the dirt," said he "and that means four
or five times the dust."

"There's no lumber to be had anywhere," I objected.

"I know where there's three good stout boxes made of real lumber that we
can get for forty dollars," said Yank.

"You can't cut that stuff up with an axe."

"John Semple has a saw, a plane, and a hammer; he's a carpenter."

"You bet he is!" agreed Johnny. "I was talking to him last night. He
won't lend his tools; and he won't hire them. He'll come with them for
fifty dollars a day."

"All right," said Yank, "let's hire him. I'm pretty handy, and I'll stay
right in camp and help him. Vasquez can go dig instead of me. We can get
'em cut out and fitted in two days, anyway. We've got the money!"

I think none of us was very enthusiastic on this subject except Yank;
but he finally carried the day. Vasquez, somewhat to his chagrin, I
thought, resumed his shovel. Yank and John Semple tinkered away for the
allotted two days, and triumphantly produced two cradles at a cost of a
round one hundred and fifty dollars.

Although we had been somewhat doubtful as to the advisability of
spending this sum, I am bound to state that Yank's insistence was
justified. It certainly made the work easier. We took turns shovelling
the earth and pouring in the water, and "rocking the baby." Our
production jumped two or three ounces a day.



CHAPTER XVIII

BEGINNINGS OF GOVERNMENT


Our visit to the town we postponed from day to day because we were
either too busy or too tired. We thought we could about figure out what
that crude sort of village would be like. Then on Saturday evening our
neighbour with the twinkling eye--whom we called McNally, without
conviction, because he told us to--informed us that there would be a
miners' meeting next day, and that we would be expected to attend.

Accordingly we visited the town. The street was full of men idling
slowly to and fro. All the larger structures were wide open, and from
within could be heard the sounds of hurdy-gurdies, loud laughter and
noisy talk. At one end of the street a group was organizing a horse
race; and toward this Don Gaspar took his immediate departure. A smaller
group surrounded two wrestlers. At one side a jumping match was going
on.

Among the usual incongruities we saw some that amused us more than
ordinarily. The Indians, for example, were rather numerous, and
remarkable. One wore as his sole garment an old dress coat: another had
tied a pair of trousers around his waist; a third had piled a half dozen
hats atop, one over the other; and many had on two or more coats. They
were, to a man, well drunken. Their squaws, fat and unattractive,
squatted outside the single store of the place. We saw also a dozen or
so white men dressed very plainly and shabbily, tall, lank, and spindly,
rather weakly in general appearance, their faces sallow, their eyes
rather childish but crafty and treacherous, their hair thin and
straight. The points in common were pointed, nearly brimless hats, like
small extinguishers, and that they were the only men to use suspenders.
They were from Pike County in Missouri; and in our experience with them
we found their appearance a close indication of their character. They
were exceedingly skilful with both axe and rifle, were expert
backwoodsmen, but without physical strength, very childish and ignorant,
vindictive, narrow, and so extremely clannish and tenacious of their own
opinions that they were always an exasperating element to be reckoned
with, in any public matter. We saw also a compact little group of dark
small men, with bright eyes and quick manners. They held close together
and chattered like a lot of magpies. McNally, who had spotted us from
afar, informed us that these were "keskydees," and that they always did
stick close together.

"What are 'keskydees'?" I asked him.

"That's what everybody calls them," said McNally. "I suppose it's
because they always say it, 'Keskydee, keskydee,' like a lot of
chickadees."

"French!" cried Johnny, suddenly enlightened. "_Q'estce qu'il
dit._"

"Yes, that's it," agreed McNally; "keskydee. What does it mean, anyway?"

"What is he saying," translated Johnny.

At this time there were a great many French in California; and for a
number of years I could not quite understand why. Then I learned that
most of them were prize winners in a series of lotteries, called the
Lotteries of the Golden Ingot. The prizes were passages to California,
and the lotteries were very popular. The French, or keskydees, as they
were universally called, always went about in gangs, while the other
nationalities were more inclined to amalgamate with the rest of the
community. We saw, also, several "Dutch Charleys" who had struck it
rich. They were moon-faced, bland, chuckle-headed looking men, generally
with walrus moustaches, squat and heavy, with fatuous, placid smiles. I
suppose they had no real idea of values, but knew only the difference
between having money and not having money. These prosperous individuals
carried two or even more watches at the ends of long home-made chains
constructed of gold nuggets fastened together with lengths of copper
wire. The chains were looped around their necks, about their shoulders
and waists, and hung down in long festoons. We had three apparently, of
these Dutch Charleys, all deadly rivals in magnificence. They paraded
slowly up and down the street, quite satisfied with themselves, and
casting malevolent glances at each other when they passed.

The two gambling places and saloons were hard at it. The low rooms were
full of smoke, and crowded with slowly jostling men. In contrast to the
deadly quiet of such places in San Francisco, these were full of noise
and hubbub. The men moved restlessly, threw down their little bags of
dust impatiently, and accepted victory or defeat with very audible
comments. The gamblers, dressed in black, pale, sat steady-eyed and
silent behind their layouts. I suppose the life must already have
developed, if not a type, at least a uniform mental attitude that showed
itself in outward expression. That was, first of all, an intent, quiet
watchfulness; and, secondly, an iron resolution to meet whatever
offered. The gambler must be prepared instantly to shoot; and at the
same time he must realize fully that shooting is going to get him in
trouble. For the sympathy of a mining camp was generally strongly
against him when it came to a question of this sort. We treated
ourselves to a drink at the bar, and went outside.

Already the drift of miners was toward the end of the street where a
good sized crowd had gathered. We fell in. Under a large oak tree had
been placed a barrel and several boxes from the store, and on these
latter our friend John Semple, the carpenter, was mounting.

"John's the _alcalde_," McNally explained to us. "He's the most
level-headed man in these diggings."

Most of the miners sat down on the ground in front, though some remained
afoot. Semple rapped sharply on the barrel with the muzzle of his
revolver.

"This is a miners' meeting," he stated briefly. "And we have several
things to talk about. Most important thing, 'cordin' to my notion, is
this row about that big nugget. Seems these yere three men, whose names
I disremember, is partners and is panning down there in the lower
diggings, and while one of them is grubbing around with a shovel getting
ready to fill the company pan, he sees this yere nugget in the shovel,
and annexes it. Now he claims it's his nugget, and the rest of 'em claim
it belongs to all of them as partners. How about it?"

Two men sprang to their feet and began to talk.

"You set down!" Semple ordered them. "You ain't got nothing to do with
decidin' this. We'll let you know what to do. If the facts ain't right,
as I stated 'em, say so; but we don't want no theories out of you.
_Set down!_ I say."

They subsided, and a silence fell which no one seemed inclined to break.

"Well," said Semple impatiently, "come on! Speak up! Whar's all this
assorted lot of theories I been hearing in the say-loons ever since that
nugget was turned up?"

A man with the most extraordinarily ragged garments got to his feet and
began to speak in a pleasant and cultivated voice.

"I have no solution to offer this company," said he, "but I am, or was,
a New York lawyer; and if my knowledge of partnerships will help any,
this is the New York law." He sketched briefly the New York rulings on
partnerships, and sat down.

"Much obliged, I'm sure," said Semple cordially. "We're glad to know how
they've figgered it out down thar. Only trouble, as far as I see, is
that they ain't usually findin' many nuggets down that neck of the
woods; so they ain't precisely fitted the case. Anybody know anything
nearer to home?"

"I panned in Shirttail Bar last two months," blurted a hoarse and
embarrassed individual, without rising, "and down thar they had a
reg'lation that airy nugget that weighs over a half ounce that is found
before the dirt is thrown in the cradle belongs to the man that finds
it, and not to the company. Of course this here is a pan, and not a
cradle."

"That's more like business. Anybody know if anywhar they do it the other
way around?"

Apparently nobody did.

"Anybody got any idees as to why we shouldn't follow Shirttail in this
matter? Dog-gone you! _Set down!_ You ain't got nothin' to say
here."

The man appealed to the crowd.

"Ain't I got a right to be heard in my own case?" he demanded.

"This ain't your case," persisted John Semple stoutly; "it's decidin'
what the policy of this camp is goin' to be regardin' nuggets. Your
dog-gone case is mighty unimportant and you're a prejudiced party. And
if you don't set down, I'll come down there and argue with you! If none
of you other fellows has anything to say, we'll vote on it."

We then and there decided, almost unanimously, to follow Shirttail.

"Now," resumed Semple, after this matter had been disposed of, "there's
a bunch of these yere keskydees around throwin' assorted duckfits all
this morning; and as near as I can make out they say somebody's jumped
their claim or their camp, or something. Jim, supposin' you and your tin
star saunter down and eject these jumpers."

A very tall, quiet, slow moving man arose, aimed his tobacco juice at a
small tree, drawled out the words, "All right, Jedge," and departed,
trailed by a half dozen jabbering keskydees, to whom he paid not the
slightest attention.

"Now," said Semple, "we got a couple of Greasers yere caught stealin'.
Buck Barry and Missouri Jones caught them at it, so there ain't much use
hearin' witnesses as to the fact. Question is: what do we want to do
with them?"

"What did they steal?" demanded a voice.

"They just nat'rally didn't steal _nothin'_," said a heavy built,
square-jawed, clean-shaven man whom I guessed to be Buck Barry. "Not
while I was around."

"Yes," persisted the other, "but what was they after."

"Oh, an extry pair of boots, and a shirt, and some tobacco, et cetery,"
replied Buck Barry contemptuously.

"Let's see them," shouted several voices.

After a moment's delay two ragged and furtive Mexicans were dragged
before the assembly. A contemplative silence ensued. Then an elderly man
with a square gray beard spoke up.

"Well," said he deliberately, "airy man so low down and shif'less and
miserable as to go to stealin' boots and shirts and tobacco in this camp
is shore outside my corral. He sure must be a miserable person. Why'n
hell didn't Buck and Missou give him a few lifts with the toes of their
boots, and not come botherin' us with them?"

Both Barry and Jones started to reply, but Semple cut them short.

"They was going to do just that," he announced, "but I persuaded them to
bring this matter up before this meetin', because we got to begin to
take some measures to stop this kind of a nuisance. There's a lot of
undesirables driftin' into this camp lately. You boys all recall how
last fall we kep' our dust under our bunks or most anywhere, and felt
perfectly safe about it; but that ain't now. A man has to carry his dust
right with him. Now, if we can't leave our tents feeling our goods is
safe, what do you expect to do about it? We got to throw the fear of God
into the black hearts of these hounds."

At this juncture Jim, the sheriff, returned and leaned nonchalantly
against a tree, chewing a straw.

Accepting the point of view advanced by the chair, the miners decided
that the two thieves should be whipped and banished from camp. A strong
feeling prevailed that any man who, in this age of plenty, would descend
to petty thieving, was a poor, miserable creature to be pitied. Some
charitably inclined individual actually took up a small collection which
was presented to the thieves after they had received their punishment.

"And now, _vamos_, git!" advised Semple. "And spread the glad
tidings. We'll do the same by any more of you. Well, Jim?" he inquired
of the sheriff.

Jim shifted his straw from the right corner of his mouth to the left.

"That outfit don't eject worth a cuss," said he laconically.

"How many of them is there?" asked Semple.

"Two--and a shotgun," stated Jim.

"I reckon we'll eject them if we say 'eject'!" cried some one
truculently; and several others growled assent.

Jim cast a humorous eye in that direction.

"Oh, I reckon I'm ekal to the job," said he, "and if you say 'eject'
again, why out they go. Only when I looked that outfit over, and saw
they was only two of them and six of these jabbering keskydees, why, I
jest nat'rally wondered whether it was by and according to the peace and
dignity of this camp to mix up in that kind of a muss. I should think
they ought to be capable of doin' their own ejecting."

A discussion arose on this point. The sentiment seemed unanimous that
the Frenchmen ought to have been able to protect themselves, but was
divided on the opinion as to how far the camp was now committed to
action.

"They'll think they've bluffed us out, if we drop her now," argued one
side.

"It ought not to be the policy of this camp to mix up with private
quarrels," argued the other.

John Semple decided the question.

"It looks like we're in the hole," he admitted, "and have got to do
something. Now, I tell you what I'm going to do: I'm going to have Jim
here give these keskydees blank warrants that they can serve themselves,
and to suit themselves."

This ingenious solution was very highly commended.

"Unless somebody else has something to bring up, I guess that's about
all," announced Semple.

"No inquests?" some one asked.

"Nary an inquest. This camp is gettin' healthy. Adjourned!" And the
meeting was brought to a formal conclusion by a tap of the pistol on the
empty barrel.



CHAPTER XIX

SUNDAY AT HANGMAN'S GULCH


It was now about four o'clock. The crowd dispersed slowly in different
directions, and to its different occupations and amusements. We wandered
about, all eyes and ears. As yet we had not many acquaintances, and
could not enter into the intimate bantering life of the old-timers.
There was enough to interest us, however. A good many were beginning to
show the drink. After a long period of hard labour even the most
respectable of the miners would have at times strange reactions. That is
another tale, however; and on this Sunday the drinking was productive
only of considerable noise and boasting. Two old codgers, head to head,
were bragging laboriously of their prowess as cooks. A small but
interested group egged them on.

"Flapjacks?" enunciated one laboriously; "flapjacks? Why, my fren',
_you_ don't know nothin' about flapjacks. I grant you," said he,
laying one hand on the other's arm, "I grant ye that maybe,
_maybe_, mind you, you may know about mixin' flapjacks, and even
about cookin' flapjacks. But wha' do you know about _flippin'
flapjacks_?" He removed his hand from the other's arm. "Nawthin!"
said he. "Now _I_ am an exper'; a real exper'! When I want to flip
a flapjack I just whirl her up through the chimney and catch her by
holdin' the frying pan out'n the window!"

I found at another point a slender, beardless young chap, with bright
black eyes, and hectic cheeks, engaged in sketching one of the miners
who posed before him. His touch was swift and sure, and his faculty at
catching a likeness remarkable. The sketch was completed and paid for in
ten minutes; and he was immediately besieged by offers from men who
wanted pictures of themselves or their camps. He told me, between
strokes of the pencil, that he found this sort of thing more
remunerative than the mining for which he had come to the country, as he
could not stand the necessary hard work. Paper cost him two dollars and
a half a sheet; but that was about all his expense. Alongside the street
a very red-faced, bulbous-nosed and ancient ruin with a patriarchal
white beard was preparing to give phrenological readings. I had seen him
earlier in the day, and had been amused at his impressive glib patter.
Now, however, he had become foolishly drunk. He mounted the same boxes
that had served as the executive desk, and invited custom. After a
moment's hesitation a burly, red-faced miner shouldered his way through
the group and sat down on the edge of the boxes.

In the earlier and soberer part of the afternoon the phrenologist had
skilfully steered his way by the safe stars of flattery. Now, as he ran
his hands uncertainly through the miner's thick hair, a look of
mystification crept into his bleary eyes. He felt again more carefully.

"Most 'xtraor'nary!" he muttered. "Fren's," said he, still feeling at
the man's head, "this person has the most extraor'nary bump of
'quisitiveness. Never felt one like it, 'xcept on th' cranium of a very
celebrated thief an' robber. His bump of benev'lence 's a reg'lar hole.
Bump of truthfulness don' somehow seem to be there at all. Bump of
cowardice is 's big 's an egg. This man, fren's," said he, dropping the
victim's head and advancing impressively, "is a very dangerous
character. Look out for 'm. He's a liar, an' a thief, an' a coward, an'
a----"

"Well, you old son of a gun!" howled the miner, rising to his feet.

He seized the aged phrenologist, and flung him bodily straight through
the sides of a large tent, and immediately dove after him in pursuit.
There came from that tent a series of crashes, howls of rage and joy,
the sounds of violent scuffling, and then there burst out through the
doorway the thoroughly sobered phrenologist, his white beard streaming
over one shoulder, his pop eyes bulging out, his bulbous nose quite
purple, pursued by the angry miner and a score of the overjoyed populace
interrupted in their gambling. Everybody but the two principals was
gasping with laughter. It looked as though the miner might do his victim
a serious injury, so I caught the pursuer, around the shoulders and held
him fast. He struggled violently, but was no match for my bulk, and I
restrained him until he had cooled down somewhat, and had ceased trying
to bite and kick me. Then all at once he laughed, and I released him. Of
the phrenologist nothing remained but a thin cloud of dust hanging in
the still air.

Yank and I then thought of going back to camp, and began to look around
after Johnny, who had disappeared, when McNally rolled up, inviting us
to sup with him.

"You don't want to go home yet," he advised us. "Evening's the time to
have fun. Never mind your friend; he's all right. Now you realize the
disadvantage of living way off where you do. My hang-out is just down
the street. Let's have a drink."

We accepted both his invitations. Then, after the supper, pipes alight,
we sauntered down the street, a vast leisure expanding our horizons. At
the street corner stood a tall, poetic-looking man, with dreamer's eyes,
a violin clasped under his chin. He was looking straight past us all out
into the dusk of the piney mountains beyond, his soul in the music he
was producing. They were simple melodies, full of sentiment, and he
played as though he loved them. Within the sound of his bow a dead
silence reigned. Men stood with eyes cast down, their faces sobered,
their eyes adream. One burly, reckless, red-faced individual, who had
been bullying it up and down the street, broke into a sob which he
violently suppressed, and then looked about fiercely, as though
challenging any one to have heard. The player finished, tucked his
violin and bow under his arm, and turned away. For a moment the crowd
remained motionless, then slowly dispersed. This was John Kelly, a
famous wandering minstrel of the camps, a strange, shy, poetic man, who
never lacked for dust nor for friends, and who apparently sought for
neither.

Under the softening influence of the music the crowd led a better life
for about ten minutes.

We entered the gambling rooms, of which there were two, and had a drink
of what McNally called "42 calibre whiskey" at the bar of each. In one
of them we found Johnny, rather flushed, bucking a faro bank. Yank
suggested that he join us, but he shook his head impatiently, and we
moved on. In a tremendous tent made by joining three or four ordinary
tents together, a very lively fiddle and concertina were in full blast.
We entered and were pounced upon by a boisterous group of laughing men,
seized by the shoulders, whirled about, and examined from behind.

"Two gentlemen and a lady!" roared out one of them. "Gentlemen on that
side; ladies on this. See-lect your pardners for the waltz!"

There was a great rushing to and fro in preparation. Men bowed to each
other with burlesque dancing school formality, offered arms, or accepted
them with bearlike coyness. We stood for a moment rather bewildered, not
knowing precisely what to do.

"You belong over that side," McNally instructed us. "I go over here; I'm
a 'lady.'"

"Why?" I asked.

"Ladies," explained McNally, "are those who have patches on the seats of
their pants."

As in most social gatherings, we saw that here too the fair sex were in
the majority.

Everybody danced very vigorously, with a tremendous amount of stamping.
It seemed a strenuous occupation after a week of hard work, and yet it
was great fun. Yank pirouetted and balanced and "sasshayed" and
tom-fooled in a manner wonderful to behold. We ended flushed and
uproarious; and all trooped to the bar, which, it seemed, was the real
reason for the existence of this dance hall.

The crowd was rough and good natured, full of high spirits, and inclined
to practical jokes of a pretty stiff character. Of course there was the
inevitable bully, swaggering fiercely and truculently back and forth,
his belt full of weapons. Nobody took him very seriously; but, on the
other hand, everybody seemed to take mighty good care not to run
definitely counter to him. In the course of his wanderings he came to
our end of the bar, and jostled McNally aside. McNally was at the moment
lighting his pipe, so that in his one hand he held a burning match and
in the other a glass of whiskey. Without the slightest hurry or
excitement, his blue eyes twinkling as humorously as ever, McNally
dumped the whiskey over the bully's shock head with his left hand and
touched the match to it with his right. The alcohol sizzled up in a
momentary blue flame, without damage save for a very singed head of
hair.

"Man on fire! Man on fire!" yelled McNally. "Put him out!"

The miners rose to the occasion joyously, and "put him out" in the most
literal fashion; so that no more was seen of that bully.

About ten o'clock we were getting tired; and probably the reaction from
the "42 calibre whiskey" was making us drowsy. We hunted up Johnny,
still at his faro game; but he positively and impatiently declined to
accompany us. He said he was ahead--or behind--I forget which. I notice
both conditions have the same effect of keeping a man from quitting. We
therefore left him, and wandered home through the soft night, wherein
were twinkling stars, gentle breezes, little voices, and the silhouettes
of great trees.



CHAPTER XX

THE GOLD WASHERS


Johnny did not return at all that night, but showed up next morning at
the diggings, looking blear-eyed and sleepy. He told us he had slept
with a friend, and replied rather curtly that he was a "little behind
the game." I believe myself that he was cleaned out; but that was none
of our business. Every night we divided the dust into five parts. Don
Gaspar and Vasquez got two of these. The remainder we again divided into
four. I took charge of Talbot's share. We carried the dust always with
us; for the camp was no longer safe from thieves.

In order to effect this division we had to have some sort of scales. I
went up to the single store to see what I could do. The storekeeper was
a drawling, slow, down-east Yankee, perpetually chewing a long sliver or
straw, talking exclusively through his nose, keen for a bargain,
grasping of the last cent in a trade, and yet singularly interesting and
agreeable. His sense of dry humour had a good deal to do with this. He
had no gold scales to lend or to hire, but he had some to sell. The
price was fifteen dollars for an ordinary pair of balances worth not
over a dollar and a half.

"And you'll find that cheap, if the miners keep coming in as fast as
they do," said he. "In two weeks they'll be worth fifty."

We bought them, and obtained from them great satisfaction. Vasquez used
to weigh his gold at night, and again in the morning, in hopes, I
suppose, that it had bred overnight.

Certainly the storekeeper's statement as to the influx of miners was
justified. They came every day, in droves. We began to feel quite like
old-timers, and looked with infinite scorn on these greenhorns. They
were worse than we had been; for I have seen them trying to work in the
moonlight! The diggings were actually getting crowded.

It was no longer feasible to dig wherever we pleased to do so. We held
many miners' meetings, adopting regulations. A claim was to be fifteen
feet square; work must begin on it within ten days; and so forth. Each
of the five members of our party staked out two claims each, on which we
worked in turn. All the old-timers respected these regulations, but some
of the newcomers seemed inclined to dispute them; so that many meetings
and much wrangling ensued. The truth of the matter was that none of us
had the slightest permanent interest in the place. We intended merely to
make our piles and to decamp. Each was for himself. Therefore there was
no solidarity. We regulated only when we were actually forced to it; so
that with what we called "private affairs" we declined to interfere. A
man could commit any crime in the decalogue if so it pleased him. His
victims must protect themselves. Such things as horse stealing, grand
larceny, claim jumping, and mining regulations we dealt with; but other
things were not our affair. We were too busy, and too slightly
interested in what little public welfare a temporary mining camp might
have. Even when, in a few cases, turbulence resulted in shooting, we
rarely punished; although, strangely enough, our innate Anglo-Saxon
feeling for the formality of government always resulted in a Sunday
"inquest." We deliberated solemnly. The verdict was almost invariably
"justifiable self-defence," which was probably near enough, for most of
these killings were the result of quarrels. Murders for the purpose of
robbery, later so frequent, were as yet almost unknown. Twice, however,
and in both instances the prisoner was one of the gamblers, we
pronounced judgment. One of these men was banished, and the other
hanged. All in all a very fair semblance of order was kept; but I cannot
help now but feel that our early shirking of responsibility--which was
typical of all California--made necessary later great upheavals of
popular justice.

About this time, also, the first of the overland wagon trains began to
come through. Hangman's Gulch was not on the direct route; but some
enterprising individual had found our trail fairly practicable for
wagons and ten miles shorter than the regular road. After that many
followed, and soon we had a well-cleared road. They showed plainly the
hardships of a long journey, for the majority of them were thin, sick
looking and discouraged. Few of them stopped at the diggings, although
most had come west in hopes of gold, but pushed on down to the pastures
of the Sacramento. They were about worn out and needed to recuperate
before beginning anything new. Some were out of provisions and
practically starved. The Yankee storekeeper sold food at terrible rates.
I remember that quinine--a drug much in demand--cost a dollar a grain!
We used to look up from our diggings at the procession of these
sad-faced, lean men walking by their emaciated cattle, and the women
peering from the wagons, and be very thankful that we had decided
against the much-touted overland route.

One day, however, an outfit went through of quite a different character.
We were apprised of its approach by a hunter named Bagsby. He loped down
the trail to the river level very much in a hurry.

"Boys!" he shouted, "quit work! Come see what's coming down the trail!"
with which he charged back again up the hill.

His great excitement impressed us, for Bagsby, like most of the old-time
Rocky Mountain men, was not ordinarily what one would call an emotional
individual. Therefore we dropped our tools and surged up the hill as
fast as we could go. I think we suspected Indians.

A train of three wagons drawn by strong oxen was lurching slowly down
the road. It differed little from others of its kind, save that the
cattle were in better shape and the men walking alongside, of the tall,
competent backwoodsman type, seemed well and hearty. But perhaps a
hundred yards ahead of the leading wagon came a horse--the only horse in
the outfit--and on it, riding side-saddle, was a girl. She was a very
pretty, red-cheeked girl, and she must have stopped within a half mile
or so of the camp in order to get herself up for this impressive
entrance. Her dress was of blue calico with a white yoke and heavy
flounces or panniers; around her neck was a black velvet ribbon; on her
head was a big leghorn hat with red roses. She rode through the town,
her head high, like a princess; and we all cheered her like mad. Not
once did she look at us; but I could see her bosom heaving with
excitement beneath her calico, and her nostrils wide. She was a
remarkably pretty girl; and this was certainly the moment of her
triumph.

We fell into sanity as respects our hours of work and the way we went at
it. Often we took as much as an hour and a half off at noon; or quit
work early in the day. Then it was pleasant to sit with other miners
under the trees or in the shade by the stream swapping yarns, doing our
mending or washing, and generally getting acquainted. As each man's
product was his own, no one cared how much or how little the others
worked. Simply when he quit, his share ceased. This does not mean that
we shirked our work, however; we merely grew to be a little sensible.

Some of our discussions were amusing, and several of them most
illuminating. Thus, one day, John Semple summed up a long talk in which
the conversation had swung wildly among the ideas of what each would do
when he had dug "enough" gold. That had led us to consider what amount
we thought would be "enough" for each of us. John settled it.

"Enough," said he, "is always a little more than a man has."

The political situation was fruitful of much idle discussion also.
California had not been formally placed on any footing whatever by the
United States Congress. Whatever any community did in the way of
legislation or regulation was extra-legal and subject to ratification. I
have heard grave discussions as to whether even murder could be
considered a crime, since in this no-man's land there was no real law
forbidding it!

A good many Chinese drifted in about this time, and established a camp
of their own a short distance downstream. We took some pride in them as
curiosities, with their queer, thatchlike hats, their loose blue
clothing, their pigtails wound tight around their heads, and their queer
yellow faces. They were an unobtrusive people, scratching away
patiently, though spasmodically, on the surface of the ground. We
sometimes strolled down to see them. They were very hospitable, and
pleased at the interest they excited.

We made from fourteen to seventeen ounces of gold dust a day for some
weeks, working our two cradles something like eight hours a day. With
gold at the then current rate of fourteen dollars an ounce this was a
good return, and we were quite happy. Besides, we were always hoping for
a big strike. One day, as I was in the very act of turning my shovelful
of dirt into the cradle, my eye caught a dull gleam. I instantly
deflected the motion to dump the dirt on the stones alongside, fished
about, and dug out a nugget that weighed three and three-quarter ounces.
This was by far the largest single nugget found in these diggings--for
most of the gold here came in flakes--and it attracted much attention.
It belonged to me, individually, because I had not yet dumped it into
the cradle.

About this time we had to come to some sort of a decision, for our
provisions were about exhausted. We had no desire to replenish our stock
from that of the local storekeeper. We were doing pretty well in the
diggings, but we had also fairly healthy appetites, and I am convinced
that at the prices that man charged we should have no more than kept
even. Williams, the storekeeper, was levying double profits, one from
us, and one from the overland immigrants. Don Gaspar proposed we send
out Vasquez with all the horses to restock at Sutter's Fort. We were a
trifle doubtful as to whether Vasquez would ever come back, but Don
Gaspar seemed to have confidence in his man. Finally, though a little
doubtfully, we came to the plan. Don Gaspar sent out also to McClellan
for safekeeping his accumulations of gold dust; but we did not go quite
that far. In view of probable high prices we entrusted him with eighteen
ounces for the purchase of goods.

While he was away we came to another decision. It had been for some
weeks preparing. The diggings were becoming overcrowded. Almost every
foot of the bar was occupied, and more men were coming in every day. No
longer could the newcomer be sure of his colour the afternoon of his
arrival; but was forced to prospect here and there up and down the river
until he found a patch of the pay dirt. Most trusted simply to luck, but
some had systems on which they worked. I have seen divining rods used.
The believers in chance seemed to do as well as any one else.

But, also, our own yield was decreasing. The last week we had gained
only nineteen ounces all told. This might be merely a lean bit of
misfortune, or it might mean that we had taken the best from our ten
claims. Since the human mind is prone to changes, we inclined to the
latter theory. We were getting restless. No miner ever came to
California who did not believe firmly that he would have done much
better had he come out one voyage earlier; and no miner ever found
diggings so rich that he had not a sneaking suspicion that he could do
even better "a little farther on."

Our restlessness was further increased by the fact that we were now
seeing a good deal of Sam Bagsby, the hunter. He and Yank had found much
in common, and forgathered of evenings before our campfire.

Bagsby was a man of over fifty, tall and straight as a youngster, with a
short white beard, a gray eye, and hard, tanned flesh. He was a typical
Rocky Mountain man, wearing even in the hottest weather his fur cap with
the tail hanging behind, his deerskin moccasins, and his fringed
buckskin hunting shirt. Mining possessed no interest for him whatever.
He was by profession a trapper, and he had crossed the plains a
half-dozen times.

"No mining for me!" he stated emphatically. "I paddled around after the
stuff for a while, till my hands swelled up like p'ison, and my back
creaked like a frozen pine tree in the wind. Then I quit, and I stayed
quit. I'm a hunter; and I'm makin' a good livin', because I ain't very
particular on how I live."

He and Yank smoked interminable pipes, and swapped yarns. Johnny and I
liked nothing better than to keep quiet and listen to them. Bagsby had
come out with Captain Sutter; and told of that doughty soldier's early
skirmishes with the Indians. His tales of the mountains, the plains, and
the game and Indians were so much romance to us; and we both wished
heartily that fate could have allowed us a chance at such adventures.

"But why don't you fellows branch out?" Bagsby always ended. "What do
you want to stick here for like a lot of groundhogs? There's rivers back
in the hills a heap better than this one, and nobody thar. You'd have
the place plumb to yoreselves. Git in where the mountains is really
mountainous."

Then he would detail at length and slowly his account of the great
mountains, deep cañons, the shadows of forests, ridges high up above the
world, and gorges far within the bowels of the earth through which
dashed white torrents. We gathered and pieced together ideas of great
ice and snow mountains, and sun-warmed bars below them, and bears and
deer, and a high clear air breathing through a vast, beautiful and
solitary wilderness. The picture itself was enough to set bounding the
pulses of any young man, with a drop of adventure in his veins. But also
Bagsby was convinced that there we should find richer diggings than any
yet discovered.

"It stands to reason," he argued, "that the farther up you git, the more
gold there is. All this loose stuff yere is just what washed down from
the main supply. If you boys reely wants rich diggings, then you want to
push up into the Porcupine River country."

But with this glowing and vivid impression we gathered another: that of
a trackless wilderness, fearful abysses down which to find a way,
labyrinthine defiles, great forests. None of us knew how to cope with
these things. Yank, the best woodsman of us all, had had no experience
in mountains. None of us knew anything of Indian warfare. None of us had
the least idea that we could find Porcupine River, even if we were to be
given accurate directions on how to get there.

Nevertheless the idea with us had been growing. Some of the bolder
spirits among our acquaintances used to talk it over with us at odd
times--McNally, Buck Barry, and his partner, Missouri Jones. We did not
discuss it as a plan, hardly as a possibility, merely as a pleasant
theme. We found, and advanced any amount of objections--the uncertainty
of finding any gold at all, the expense of such a journey, the danger
from Indians, the fact that we could find other proved diggings much
nearer, and a half hundred others. The moment one of us had advanced one
of these objections he was at once himself the most eager to demolish
it. Thus we gradually worked ourselves toward enthusiasm.

"If Sam Bagsby would join us, it might be worth trying," we came to at
last.

But Sam Bagsby scouted any such idea.

"I ain't that kind of a tom-fool," said he. "If I want to paddle my
hands blue I'd do it yere. I couldn't make more'n a living anyway. I
tell you I ain't got no use for yore pra'rie dog grubbing!"

Then McNally had an inspiration.

"Will you go, Sam, if we pay you for going?" he asked.

"Sure," replied the trapper at once. "I'm a labouring man, I'll go
anywhar I'm paid to go."

It came out that Bagsby's ideas of proper compensation were his
supplies, fifteen dollars a week in gold, and a drink of whiskey twice a
day! In all this gold country he was the only man I met who genuinely
despised money. I really think we were hurried to our decision by this
unexpected reasonableness on his part. At any rate we decided definitely
to go.



CHAPTER XXI

WE LEAVE THE DIGGINGS


There were nine of us--Bagsby, Yank, Johnny Fairfax, myself, Don Gaspar,
Vasquez, McNally, Buck Barry, and Missouri Jones. We possessed, in all,
just nine horses. Yank, Vasquez, Bagsby, and Jones drove eight of them
out again to Sutter's Fort for provisions--Don Gaspar's beautiful
chestnut refused to be a pack-horse on any terms. We took the
opportunity of sending our accumulations of gold dust to Talbot for
safekeeping. I do not know just how much my companions forwarded. Of
course I could compute their shares; but had no means of telling just
what deductions to allow for the delights of Hangman's Gulch. For Talbot
I laid aside as his share of our entire product of four hundred and
eighty-six ounces a total of one hundred and ten ounces. This included
the half of my own share, as agreed. Roughly speaking, the value of a
partnership third, after Don Gaspar's portion had been deducted, was a
trifle over a thousand dollars for six weeks' work. There seemed to us
also an excellent chance to realize something on the two cradles. I went
about among the miners, and without trouble got bids for a hundred
dollars each. Johnny was by no means satisfied with this. He insisted
that late in the afternoon we drag the formidable engines up the trail
to the town, where he deposited them in the middle of the street. There
he proceeded to auction them; attracting the crowd by the simple
expedient of firing his Colt's revolver. The bidding was sluggish at
first, but Johnny's facetious oratory warmed it. The first cradle was
knocked down at one hundred and sixty dollars. The second was about to
go for approximately the same amount, when Johnny held up his hand.

"Gentlemen," said he impressively, "I do not think you quite realize
that for what you are bidding. This is no ordinary cradle, like the
other. This is the very identical warranted genuine cradle into which
that enormous lump of gold, weighing three and three-quarter ounces--the
finest nugget ever unearthed at Hangman's Gulch--was _about to be_
shovelled by that largest and most enormous lump of a lad, the gentleman
at my right, when seized upon and claimed as private property in
accordance with the laws of these diggings. This is the very identical
historical cradle! Now, how much am I bid!"

The crowd laughed--but it bid! We got two hundred and forty dollars for
it.

Our purveyors returned the second day after. They reported prices very
high at Sutter's Fort, and a great congestion of people there; both of
those ascending the river from San Francisco, and of overlanders. Prices
had consequently gone up. Indeed, so high were all provisions that our
hard-headed partners had contented themselves with buying only some
coffee, dried beef, and flour. They had purchased also a further supply
of powder and balls, and a rifle apiece for such of us as already had
none. The weapons were very expensive; and we found that our savings had
been much eaten into. We collected our effects, packed them, as many of
them as we were able, and sunk to sleep in a pleasing tingle of
excitement.

Bagsby got us up long before daylight. The air was chilly, in contrast
to the terrific heats to be expected later in the day, so we hastened to
finish our packing, and at dawn were off.

Bagsby struck immediately away from the main road toward the north. The
country we traversed was one of wide, woody bottoms separated by rocky
hills. The trapper proved to be an excellent guide. Seemingly by a sort
of instinct he was able to judge where a way would prove practicable for
our animals down into or up out of the numerous cañons and ravines. It
was borne in on me very forcibly how much hampered we should have been
by our inexperience had we tried it alone. The country mounted
gradually. From some of the higher points we could see out over the
lowlands lost in a brown heat-haze. Deer were numerous, and a species of
hare, and the helmeted quail. The sun was very hot; but the air was
curiously streaked with coolness and with a fierce dry heat as though
from an opened furnace door. All the grass was brown and crisp. Darker
and more abrupt mountains showed themselves in the distance, with an
occasional peak of white and glittering snow.

Until about three o'clock we journeyed through a complete solitude. Then
we came upon some men digging in a dry wash. They had piled up a great
heap of dirt from a hole. We stopped and talked to them; and discovered
that they were working what they called "dry diggings." The pay dirt
they excavated from wherever they found it piled it in a convenient
place, and there left it until the rains should permit its washing. They
claimed their dirt would prove to be very rich; but I thought myself
that they were labouring in great faith. Also we learned what Bagsby had
known right along, but which he had not bothered to tell us; that we
were now about to cross the main Overland Trail.

We stopped that night near the road, and at a wayside inn or road house
of logs kept by a most interesting man. He served us an excellent meal,
including real eggs, and afterward joined us around the fire. He was an
Italian, short, strongly built, with close curly hair, a rollicking,
good-natured face, and with tiny gold rings in his ears. Johnny and he
did most of the talking, while we listened. No part of the civilized
world seemed to have been unvisited by this pair. Johnny mentioned
Paris, our host added an intimate detail as to some little street;
London appeared to be known to them from one end to the other; Berlin,
Edinburgh, St. Petersburg even; and a host of other little fellows whose
names I never knew before and cannot remember now. They swapped
reminiscences of the streets; the restaurants, and the waiters and
proprietors thereof; the alleys and by-ways, the parks and little
places. I knew, in a general way, that Johnny had done the grand tour;
but the Italian with his gold earrings and his strong, brown,
good-humoured peasant face puzzled me completely. How came he to be so
travelled? so intimately travelled? He was no sailor; that I soon
determined.

The two of them became thoroughly interested; but after a time the
native courtesy of the Italian asserted itself. He evidently thought we
might feel left out of it; though I think the others were, like myself,
quite fascinated.

"You lika music?" he smiled at us engagingly. "I getta my Italian
fiddle? No?"

He arose at our eager assent, pushed aside a blanket that screened off
one end of the log cabin, and produced his "Italian fiddle"--a
hand-organ!

At once the solution of the wide wandering among the many cities, the
intimate knowledge of streets and of public places burst upon my
comprehension. I could see our host looking upward, his strong white
teeth flashing in an ingratiating fascinating smile, his right arm
revolving with the crank of his organ, his little brown monkey with the
red coat and the anxious face clambering----

Next morning we crossed the Overland Trail, and plunged into a new
country of pines, of high hills, of deep cañons, and bold, rocky ridges.
The open spaces we had left behind, and the great heats. Water flowed in
almost every ravine, and along its courses grew green grass and wild
flowers. Every little while we would come upon openings in the forest,
clear meadows spangled with blossoms; or occasionally we would skirt
high bald knobs of rock around which was stiff brush. For some miles we
could journey at ease through clear woods, then would encounter a gash
in the earth into which, at some expense of trial, we would have to find
a way. At first every stream bed was dotted with the red shirts of
miners. They became fewer as we advanced, until finally the last pair
had been left behind. We camped that night at the edge of one of the
meadows, beneath pine trees. The air turned very chilly. We built
ourselves a fire of dried branches from the trees. In the meadow the
horses cropped eagerly at the lush green feed, their bells tinkling
pleasantly.

Nothing more remote could be imagined. Nevertheless Bagsby, Don Gaspar,
and Vasquez were not satisfied. They consulted at length and apart; then
Bagsby announced that sentries must stand watches. We grumbled at this,
but Bagsby was firm, and as we had agreed to obey his commands we did so
now. Don Gaspar explained to us later that the Mexican thieves would
trail a party like ours for days, awaiting the chance to make off with
the horses. Bagsby also chose the sentinels, selecting himself, Yank,
Vasquez, and Missouri Jones. Once wrapped in my warm blanket I found
myself selfishly glad that my experience had not been considered worth
trusting.

The third day we occupied in surmounting a tremendous ridge of
mountains. We climbed for hours, working our way up by zigzag and long
slants through the pines, the rocky outcrops, the ledges, and the stiff
brush that made up the slope. It was hard work; and it seemed to have no
end. We arrived at last on a knife-edge summit. Here the trees were
fewer. We looked abroad over the country we had traversed, and that
which lay before us--a succession of dark, dim, undulating ridges with
cañons and valleys between, slanting from the great ranges at the right
to brown rolling hills and the heat-covered, half-guessed plains.
Immediately below us, very far down, was a toy-like valley, with low
hills, and flat places, and groves of elfin trees, and a twisting bottle
green river with white rapids.

"Thar's the Porcupine," Bagsby told us briefly.

We took a look, then plunged into the tangles and difficulties of the
descent. Just at sundown, our knees bending under us, we came off that
terrific slant to a grateful wide flat, grown with scattered oaks, and
covered with fine brown grass. A little spring stream wandered through
the meadow toward the river on the other side of the valley.

We camped right there, dumping the packs from the horses almost anyhow.
After a hearty meal, we rolled ourselves immediately into our blankets
and fell into a grateful sleep to the tune of the distant river
murmuring over the shingle.



CHAPTER XXII

THE STRIKE


We awoke next morning to a bright day. The helmeted quail were calling;
the bees were just beginning a sun-warmed hum among the bushes; a
languorous warmth hung in the air, and a Sunday stillness. It was as
though we awakened to a new world, untrodden by men; which was, indeed,
a good deal the case.

While we ate breakfast we discussed our plans. The first necessity, of
course, was to find out about gold. To that end we agreed to separate
for the day, prospecting far and wide. Bagsby kept camp, and an eye on
the horses. He displayed little interest in the gold proposition; but
insisted strongly that we should carry both our rifles and revolvers.

It would be difficult to describe the thrill of anticipation with which
I set off up the valley. The place was so new, so untouched, so
absolutely unknown. The high ridges on either side frowned down
austerely on the little meadows that smiled back quite unabashed. As I
crossed the brown dry meadow toward the river a covey of quail whirred
away before me, lit, and paced off at a great rate. Two big grouse
roared from a thicket.

The river was a beautiful, clear stream, with green wavery water
whirling darkly in pools, or breaking white among the stones. As my
shadow fell upon it, I caught a glimpse of a big trout scurrying into
the darkness beneath a boulder. Picking my way among the loose stones I
selected a likely place on the bar and struck home my pick.

I have since repeated the sensations of that day--on a smaller scale of
course--in whipping untried trout waters; same early excitement and
enthusiasm, same eager sustained persistence in face of failure, same
incredulous slowing down, same ultimate discouragement, disbelief and
disgust. All that day I shovelled and panned. The early morning
freshness soon dissipated. Between the high mountain walls the heat
reflected. All the quail stood beneath the shade of bushes, their beaks
half open as though panting. The birds that had sung so sweetly in the
early morning had somewhere sought repose. I could occasionally catch
glimpses of our horses dozing under trees. Even the chirping insects
were still. As far as I could make out I was the only living thing
foolish enough to stay abroad and awake in that suffocating heat. The
sweat dripped from me in streams; my eyes ached from the glare of the
sun on the rocks and the bleached grasses. Toward the close of the
afternoon I confessed sneakingly to myself that I was just a little glad
I had found no gold and that I hoped the others had been equally
unfortunate. The thought of working day after day in that furnace heat
was too much for me.

My hopes were fulfilled. All came in that night tired, hot, dirty, and
discouraged. Not one of the eight of us had raised a sign of colour.

"Well," said Bagsby philosophically, "that's all right. We've just got
to go higher. To-morrow we'll move upstream."

Accordingly next day we turned at right angles to our former route and
followed up the bed of the cañon ten or twelve miles toward the distant
main ranges. It was, in general, rather hard scrabbling for the horses,
though we footmen did well enough. Sometimes we crossed wide flats,
resembling the one we had just left; again, where the cañon narrowed, we
had actually to stumble in the rocks of the stream bed. Twice we forded,
and twice we had to make great climbs up and down again in order to get
by points that came boldly down to the river. It was curious to see the
nature of the country change. The pines on the mountains to our right
and left seemed to push down nearer to our level; the grass turned
green; the stream narrowed and became swifter; the sky seemed to turn
bluer; and from the ranges breathed a cool, refreshing wind.

About four o'clock we camped. The flat was green; little clumps of cedar
pushed out across it; the oaks had given place to cottonwoods; we had
now to make acquaintance with new birds. But what particularly
interested us was the fact that at this point the high cañon walls at
either side broke into rounder hills that opened out widely, and that
from among them descended many ravines, barrancas, and dry washes.

The following morning we went prospecting again. My instructions were
for the dry washes in the sides of the hills. Accordingly I scrambled up
among the boulders in the nearest V-shaped ravine. I had hardly to look
at all. Behind a large boulder lay a little cuplike depression of stones
in which evidently had stood a recently evaporated pool of water, and
which, in consequence, was free from the usual dusty rubble. In the
interstices between the stones my eye caught a dull glitter. I fell on
my knees, dug about with the point of my bowie knife, and so unearthed
small nuggets aggregating probably a half ounce in weight.

Although mightily tempted to stay for more, I minded our agreement to
report promptly the first discovery, and started back to camp. Why I did
not come a header in that fearful, boulder-strewn wash I cannot tell
you. Certainly I took no care of my going, but leaped recklessly from
rock to rock like a goat. When I reached the flat, I ran, whooping like
an Indian. From the river I could see Johnny and Buck Barry running,
too, and had sense enough to laugh as it occurred to me they must think
us attacked by Indians. Far down the stream I could just make out
figures I knew to be Yank and McNally. They too seemed to be coming to
camp, though I could not imagine that my shouts had carried so far.

I burst in on Bagsby, who was smoking his pipe and leisurely washing the
breakfast dishes, with a whoop, lifted him bodily by the shoulders,
whirled him around in a clumsy dance. He aimed a swipe at me with the
wet dish cloth that caught me across the eyes.

"You tarnation young grizzly b'ar!" said he.

I wiped the water from my eyes. Johnny and Buck Barry ran up. Somehow
they did not seem to be anticipating an Indian attack after all. Johnny
ran up to thump me on the back.

"Isn't it _great_!" he cried. "Right off the reel! First pop!
Bagsby, old sport, you're a wonder!" He started for Bagsby, who promptly
rushed for his long rifle.

"I'm going to kill the first lunatic I see," he announced.

Johnny laughed excitedly, and turned back to thump me again.

"How did you guess what it was?" I asked.

"Didn't. Just blundered on it."

"What!" I yelled. "Have you struck it, too?"

"First shovel," said Johnny. "But you don't mean----"

I thrust my three nuggets under his eyes.

"Say," broke in Buck Barry, "if you fellows know where the whiskey is,
hide it, and hide it quick. If I see it, I'll get drunk!"

Yank and McNally at this moment strolled from around the bushes. We all
burst out on them.

"See your fool nuggets and 'colour,' and raise you this," drawled Yank,
and he hauled from his pocket the very largest chunk of virgin gold it
has ever been my good fortune to behold. It was irregular in shape,
pitted and scored, shaped a good deal like an egg, and nearly its size.
One pound and a tiny fraction that great nugget balanced--when we got
around to weighing it. And then to crown the glorious day which the gods
were brimming for us, came Don Gaspar and Vasquez, trailed by that long
and saturnine individual, Missouri Jones. The Spaniards were outwardly
calm, but their eyes snapped. As soon as they saw us they waved their
hats.

"Ah! also you have found the gold!" cried Don Gaspar, sensing
immediately the significance of our presence. "We, too. It is of good
colour; there above by the bend." His eye widened as he saw what Yank
held. "_Madre de dios!_" he murmured.

McNally, who had said and done nothing, suddenly uttered a resounding
whoop and stood on his hands. Missouri Jones, taking aim, spat carefully
into the centre of the fire, missing the dishpan by a calculated and
accurate inch.

"The country is just _lousy_ with gold," he pronounced.

Then we blew up. We hugged each other, we pounded each other's backs, we
emulated McNally's wild Irish whoops, finally we joined hands and danced
around and around the remains of the fire, kicking up our heels
absurdly. Bagsby, a leathery grin on his face, stood off one side. He
still held his long-barrelled rifle, which he presented at whoever
neared him.

"I tell you, look out!" he kept saying over and over. "I'm shootin'
lunatics to-day; and apparently there's plenty game to choose from."



CHAPTER XXIII

THE CAMP ON THE PORCUPINE


We should all have liked to start right in digging, but Bagsby
strenuously opposed this.

"You-all have a rich diggings yere," said he; "and you want to stay a
while and git the most there is out of them. And if you're going to do
that, you've got to get a good ready. You've got make a decent camp, and
a stockade for the hosses at night; and if you want yore grub to last
you more than a month there's got to be some reg'lar hunting and fishing
done."

"That'll take a week!" cried Johnny impatiently.

"Or more," agreed Bagsby with entire complacence. "You can bull at it
and go to t'aring up the scenery if you want to; but you won't last
long."

Unpalatable as this advice seemed, with all the loose gold lying about,
we ended by adopting it. Indeed, we added slightly to our self-imposed
tasks by determining on the construction of cradles. Yank had figured
out a scheme having to do with hollowed logs and canvas with cleats that
would obviate the need of lumber. We deputed Johnny to help him. Bagsby
and Vasquez were to hunt and fish for the general benefit, while the
rest of us put up a stockade, or corral, and erected a cabin.

I must confess the labour was pleasant. We had plenty of axes, and four
of us were skilled in their use. Personally I like nothing better than
the exercise of swinging a keen blade, the feeling of skillful accuracy
and of nicely adjusted effort. We felled dozens, hundreds, of tall young
pines eight inches to a foot in diameter, and planted them upright in a
trench to form a stockade. Then we ran up a rough sort of cabin of two
rooms. Yank, somewhat hampered by Johnny, finished his cradles, and
turned in to help us. Bagsby and Vasquez brought in several deer and an
elk, and trapped many quail and hares. We fared royally, worked
healthfully in the shade of our trees, and enjoyed huge smokes and
powwows around our fire of an evening. Every night we drove the horses
within the enclosure; and slept heavily.

Always in the background of consciousness lay the gold, the incredibly
abundant gold. It coloured our dreams, it gilded our labour. As we drew
to the end of our construction work, I really believe we experienced a
slight, a very slight, feeling of regret that this fine flavour of
anticipation was so nearly at an end. However, I noticed that though we
completed the house at three of the afternoon, we none of us showed any
disposition to wait for the morrow. We promptly lugged one of Yank's log
cradles to the border of the stream and put in two hours washing.

The results were most encouraging, for we gained in that short time
nearly two ounces of flake gold.

That evening we reviewed our situation carefully. The older heads of the
party--Yank, Bagsby, Don Gaspar, and Missouri Jones--overruled our young
desire to jump into things headlong.

"If this camp is going to get on right," said Yank, "we got to make some
provision for working right. Somebody's got to be in camp all the time,
that's sure--to cook some decent meals, do the odd chores, and keep an
eye on the stock." Bagsby nodded emphatically at this. "And somebody's
got to rustle game and fish. Yere's nine husky men to eat. If we leave
one man in camp and two to hunt, we have six left for gold washing.
That's three to a cradle, and that's just right."

We came to that, too; and so settled into our routine. Bagsby was the
only permanent office-holder among us. He was unanimously elected the
official hunter. The rest of us agreed to take turn about at the other
jobs. It was further agreed to increase our chances by utilizing the
cradles at two totally different kinds of diggings. One we located on
the bar to wash out the shingle. The other we carried to a point
opposite the dry ravine in which I had found my three little nuggets.

Don Gaspar had worked like a nailer at the construction although he was
utterly unskilled. Now at the end of the week he was worn out, although
he stoutly maintained he was as good as ever. This high-bred, energetic
gentleman we had all come to admire, both for his unfailing courtesy and
his uncomplaining acceptance of hardships to which evidently he had
never been accustomed. Exactly why he underwent the terrible exertions
incidental to gold finding I have never quite fathomed. I do not believe
he needed money; and I never saw one of his race fond of hard physical
work. Indeed, he was the only member of his class I ever met who would
work. The truth of the matter probably lies somewhere between an
outcropping of the old adventurous _conquistadore_ spirit and the
fascination of the golden metal itself, quite apart from its
dollars-and-cents value. Unanimously we voted in Don Gaspar as camp
keeper for the first week. We wanted to give him a rest; but I do not
think we pleased him. However, he bowed to our decision with his usual
gracious courtesy. As hunting companion for Bagsby we appointed Missouri
Jones, with the understanding that every two days that office was to
have a new incumbent. Johnny, McNally, and I took charge of the dry
wash, and the rest of the party tackled the bar. Of course we
all--except Bagsby--were to share equally.

Unless the wash should prove very productive we would have the worst end
of it, for we had to carry the pay dirt down to the stream's edge. For
the purpose we used the pack-sacks--or _alforjas_, as the Spaniards
call them. Each held about sixty or seventy pounds of dirt. We found
this a sweaty and stumbly task--to stagger over the water-smoothed
boulders of the wash, out across the shingle to the edge of the stream.
There one of us dumped his burden into the cradle; and we proceeded to
wash it out. We got the "colour" at once in the residuary black sand.

All morning we laboured manfully, and discovered a brand new set of
muscles. By comparison our former toil of mere digging and washing
seemed light and pleasurable exercise.

"If this stuff don't run pretty high," grunted McNally, wiping the sweat
from his eyes, "it's me voting for the bar. We can't stand all day of
this."

He heaved the contents of his pack-sack into the cradle, and shook it
disgustedly. Suddenly his jaw dropped and his eye widened with so
poignant an expression that we both begged him, in alarm, to tell us
what was the matter.

"Now, will you look at that!" he cried.

We followed the direction of his gaze, but saw only the meadow, and the
horses feeding in it, and the thin smoke beyond, where Don Gaspar was
bending his proud Castilian spirit to attend to fried steak and
flapjacks.

"Look at those horses!" cried McNally with growing indignation.

"What's the matter with them?" cried Johnny and I in a breath.

"Matter with them! Nothing!" cried McNally with comical disgust. "The
matter's with us." He rapped his knuckles on his head. "Solid, all the
way through!" said he. "Why, save from nat'ral born human imbelicity,
should horses be living like gentlemen while gentlemen are working like
horses!"

We took the hint. That afternoon we saddled the pack-horses and led
them, laden with the dirt, back and forth between the ravine and the
cradle.

All of us worked until rather later in the day than usual.... The
hunters, too, did not return until dark. We weighed the results of our
labour with eager interest. From our cradle we had taken eleven ounces,
while those working the bar had gained just over nine. That was a good
day's work, and we were much elated.

"And most any time," exulted Johnny, "we'll run into a big pocket with
thousands."



CHAPTER XXIV

THE INDIANS


Although we did not immediately run into the expected thousands, nor did
the promise of that first glorious day of discovery quite fulfil itself,
nevertheless our new diggings turned out to be very rich. We fell into
routine; and the days and weeks slipped by. Bagsby and one companion
went out every day to hunt or to fish. We took turns at a vacation in
camp. Every night we "blew" our day's collection of sand, weighed the
gold, and packed it away. Our accumulations were getting to be very
valuable.

For a month we lived this idyllic life quite unmolested, and had
gradually come to feel that we were so far out of the world that nothing
would ever disturb us. The days seemed all alike, clear, sparkling,
cloudless. It was my first experience with the California climate, and
these things were a perpetual wonder to my New England mind.

Then one day when I was camp keeper, at the upper end of our long
meadow, a number of men emerged from the willows and hesitated
uncertainly. They were too far away to be plainly distinguishable, but I
believed in taking no chances, so I fired my revolver to attract the
attention of my companions. They looked up from their labour, saw the
men, and promptly came into camp.

The group still hesitated at the edge of the thicket. Then one of them
waved something white. We waved in return; whereupon they advanced
slowly in our direction.

As they neared we saw them to be Indians. Their leader held before him a
stick to which had been tied a number of white feathers. As they
approached us they began to leap and dance to the accompaniment of a
weird rising and falling chant. They certainly did not look very
formidable, with their heterogeneous mixture of clothing, their round,
black, stupid faces and their straight hair. Most of them were armed
simply with bows and arrows, but three carried specimens of the long
Spanish musket.

Buck Barry promptly sallied out to meet them, and shook hands with the
foremost. They then advanced to where we were gathered and squatted on
the ground. They were certainly a villainous and dirty looking lot of
savages, short, thickset, round faced, heavy featured, with coarse,
black, matted hair and little twinkling eyes. A more brutish lot of
human beings I had never seen; and I was almost deceived into thinking
them too stupid to be dangerous. The leaders had on remnants of
civilized clothing, but the rank and file were content with scraps of
blanket, old ragged coats, single shirts, and the like. The oldest man
produced a long pipe from beneath his blanket, filled it with a few
grains of coarse tobacco, lighted it by means of a coal from our fire,
puffed twice on it, and passed it to me. I perforce had to whiff at it
also, though the necessity nearly turned my stomach. I might next have
given it to one of our own party, but I did not want to deprive him of
my own first hand sensation, so I handed it back to another of the
visitors for fresh inoculation, as it were. Evidently I had by accident
hit on acceptable etiquette, as deep grunts of satisfaction testified.
After we had had a whiff all around, the chief opened negotiations in
Spanish. Most of us by now had learned enough of it from our intercourse
with Don Gaspar and Vasquez to understand without interpretation.

The Indians said they wanted to trade.

We replied that we saw nothing they might trade with us.

In return they produced some roots and several small bags of pine nuts.

We then explained that we were reduced in ammunition, and had little
food.

Don Gaspar here interpolated hastily, saying that in his judgment it
would be absolutely necessary that we made some sort of a present to
avoid the appearance of intending an affront. Buck Barry and Jones
seemed instantly to accept this necessity.

"Give them two or three of the saddle blankets," suggested Barry, after
a moment's thought. "We will have several light hosses going out; and if
we have to pad the saddles we can git along with skins or something."

We gave our visitors the blankets, therefore. They seemed well pleased,
arose, and shortly made a primitive sort of a camp a short distance
outside our stockade. We did no more washing that day. About five
o'clock our hunters came in with the best meat of a blacktail deer.
Bagsby listened attentively to our account of the interview. Then he
took a hindquarter of the newly killed buck and departed for the
Indians' camp, where he stayed for an hour.

"I don't think they are out for meanness," he announced when he
returned. "They tell me this yere is on a sort of short cut from some of
the Truckee lakes down to their villages. But we got to keep a sharp eye
on our horses; and we got to stand guard to-night."

Very early in the morning, when we were just up, several of the elders
came over to tell us that some of the young men would stay to work for
us, if we so desired. We replied that we had no goods with which to pay
for work. Shortly after, the whole tribe vanished down river.

For two nights Bagsby insisted on standing guard, and on having some of
us take turns at it. Then we declined flatly to do so any longer. The
Indians had gone far downstream, as their trail indicated to our
hunters, and had shown no signs of even hesitating on the way. We fell
into our old routine, and laughed at Bagsby when he shook his head.

About this time Johnny and McNally, scrambling of a Sunday for the sake
of a view, stumbled on a small ravine that came nearer realizing our
hoped-for strike than anything we had yet seen. After "puddling out" a
few potfuls of the pay dirt, we decided to move the cradles. It was not
over a half mile from camp, but was out of sight of the stockade. The
move was the occasion for a hot discussion. Bagsby wanted to reorganize,
and we were reluctant.

"Thar ought to be two men in camp," said he, "and thar ought never to be
less'n three together out hunting. And that's my idee--that ye're paying
me money for."

"That leaves us only four men to work the cradles," I objected. "Four
men out of nine working."

"Well, thar won't be _no_ men out of nine a-workin' if you don't
watch out," predicted Bagsby. "You-all forgit this is a self-supportin'
community. We got to work for our living, as well as for gold."

"The hunters might go out less," suggested McNally.

"The miners might eat less, then," replied Bagsby grimly. "This ain't
what you'd call the best sort of a game country."

We came to it, of course, though with much grumbling. It seemed an
almost excuseless waste of good energy; a heavy price in economic
efficiency to pay for insurance against what seemed a very remote peril.
But we did not know, and our uncertainty gave way.

"But hang it!" cried Johnny, "here's more gold than a hundred men could
begin to handle, and we're wasting more than half our resources."

"It do seem so," agreed Yank with his accustomed slow philosophy. "But
we can put in longer hours because we rest oftener."

A week passed, and we had almost forgotten our chance visitors. One day
the two Spaniards, Buck Barry and I were at the cradle; Bagsby, Yank,
and McNally were the hunters for the day. Johnny and Missouri Jones kept
camp.

We had had a most successful morning, and were just stacking our tools
preparatory to returning to camp for dinner. Buck Barry was standing
near some small sage bushes at the upper end of the diggings. He was
just in the act of lighting a freshly filled pipe, when he stopped as
though petrified, the burning match suspended above the bowl of his
pipe. Then he turned quickly toward the sage brush; and as he did so a
bow twanged and an arrow sang past his head so close as actually to draw
blood from the lobe of his ear. With a roar of anger Buck Barry raised
his pickaxe and charged into the bush. We saw a figure rise from the
ground, dash away, stumble flat. Before the man could get up again Buck
Barry was upon him, and the pickaxe descended. At the same instant we
heard a series of whoops and two shots in rapid succession from the
direction of camp. Buck Barry came bounding out of the sage brush, and
seized his rifle from under the bush where we had kept them.

"Come on!" he panted. "Let's get out of this!"

We ran as hard as we could go for a hundred yards, or until we had
reached the flat of the river bottom. Then we paused, uncertain as to
just what next to do.

"Wait a minute," said I. "I'll just take a look," and hurried up a
little spur-knoll to the right. From that elevation I instantly caught
sight of a crowd of Indians coming up the valley at full speed. Most of
them were on horseback, but a number loped along on foot, keeping up
with the animals. One look was enough. I raced down to my companions
again; and we hastily took refuge in the only cover near enough to
conceal us--a little clump of willows in a small, damp watercourse.
There we crouched, rifles ready.

I was terribly excited. The patter of the horses was now plainly
audible, though, owing to the inequalities of the ground, they could not
become visible farther than a hundred yards away. I trembled violently,
and cursed myself for a coward, though I really do not think I was
frightened. At any rate, I became deadly cool the moment the first
savage appeared; and I drew a steady bead and toppled him off his horse
before any one else had got in action. The shot brought them to a stand.
They had, I think, expected to find us in our ravine, and were
surprised. Immediately I dropped the butt of my rifle to the ground and
began reloading. A shower of arrows flew toward us, but were deflected
by the criss-cross of the willows. In fact, this lacework of stout
branches seemed to be an excellent sort of armour against arrows. In the
meantime my companions had each dropped his man; though Vasquez had
better luck than skill, as his savage was only clipped in the leg. I
fired once more, and elicited a howl. There could be no missing at the
distance, unless a man quite lost his head; and personally I was too
scared for that. Another shower of arrows rattled in the willows; then
the band broke to right and left and raced away up the hills like mad.
They had no courage, and lost stomach for the fight at once when they
found us prepared.

We were astonished and delighted, for we had fully expected to be ridden
down. As soon as we were quite certain this sudden retreat was not a
ruse, we came out from our shelter. How many wounded had made off--if
any--we could not tell. Three dead bodies lay on the ground. To them we
paid no attention, but, with many forebodings, hurried back to camp.

When we appeared in sight Missouri Jones ran out to meet us, his rifle
over his arm.

"Where's Johnny?" I cried.

"He was down at the river a-getting water," said Jones, "and I ain't
seen him since."

We all ran down to the edge of the river pool whence we drew our supply.
For a moment our hearts stood still, for no Johnny was in sight. Then he
arose dripping from the middle of the pool.

"This water's cold," he remarked conversationally. "I think I'll come
out. Anybody hurt?"

He waded ashore, and shook himself like a dog.

"I didn't hear 'em until they were right on top of me; and I couldn't
get away without being seen," said he; "so I just waded out and imitated
a rock with my head."

We roared with laughter by way of relief.

"It isn't the first time, Johnny," said I.

"That's all right," put in Missouri Jones. "This is no joke. They got
three of our hosses."

Then he told us his experience.

"I was just a-browning of the venison," he explained, "when I happened
to look up, and thar was three of our hosses running off, tails up, and
a half dozen Injuns a hoss-back driving 'em. I let drive with old Betsey
and Johnny's gun, but they was about out of range. While I was looking
after them about forty Injuns went past sky-hootin'. I suppose they
thought the first lot had all the hosses, and so they didn't stop. The
rest of the hosses, luckily, was asleep behind the cottonwoods. You bet
I didn't call their attention to myself."

He exhibited the greatest satisfaction when he learned that we had
accounted for four.

"That's something like Injun fighting," he observed, "though these are a
pore, spiritless lot. The whole bag ain't worth more than one of them
good hosses."

We did no more gold washing that day, but remained close in camp,
consumed with anxiety for our companions. From time to time we fired a
rifle, with the idea of warning them that something was amiss. The
remaining half-dozen horses we ran into the corral.

Night fell and still the hunters did not return. We were greatly alarmed
and distressed, but we could not think of anything to do, for we had not
the least idea in what direction to look.

"Bagsby and Yank are old hands," speculated Missouri Jones consolingly.
"And the fact that Injuns is abroad would make them slow and careful."

None of us felt like turning in. We all sat outside on the ground around
a little fire.

Toward midnight we heard voices; and a moment later Yank and Bagsby
strode in out of the darkness.

"Where's McNally?" Yank instantly demanded. "Hasn't he come in yet?"

We told him we had seen nothing of the missing man.

"Well, he'll drift in pretty soon," said Bagsby. "We lost him in the
darkness not two hours back."

They set to frying some venison steak. Excitedly and in antiphony Johnny
and I detailed the day's adventure. Both the backwoodsmen listened in
silence, but without suspending their cooking.

"They didn't bother McNally," Bagsby decided. "They'd drive those hosses
away five or six miles before they'd stop; and McNally was with us just
a little piece back. He'll be in by the time the venison is cooked."

But he was not; nor by an hour later. Then we decided that we must go
out to look for him.

"We can't see nothin' till daylight," said Bagsby, "but we can get
started back for the last place we saw him."

It was now about one o'clock in the morning. Bagsby appointed Vasquez,
Missouri Jones, Buck Barry, Yank and myself to accompany him. Don Gaspar
was suffering from a slight attack of malarial fever; and Johnny, to his
vast disgust, was left to hold him company. We took each a horse, which
we had to ride bareback and with a twisted rope "war halter."

Bagsby led the way, and we followed closely nose to tail. It was an
interesting and wonderful experience, had I had more attention to give
it, for we rode mysteriously neck deep in velvet darkness over strange
hills, and awful shapes rose mysteriously, and the sky silvered with
stars like the glittering of little waves. But my mind was filled with
dread and foreboding, and a great anxiety for our merry, blue-eyed
companion, and a very considerable wonder as to how our guide managed to
find his way.

He did not hesitate, however, as to direction; only occasionally he had
to stop and cast back and around for a way through. Often, at a low
command from him, we dismounted and led our animals.

We proceeded thus for a long time--five or six miles, I should think. By
the undefined feeling of dark space at either hand I judged we must be
atop a ridge. Bagsby halted.

"It was somewhere on this ridge we left him," said he. "I reckon now
we'd just better set down and wait for dawn."

Accordingly we dismounted and drew together in a little group. Over the
top of the great ranges a gibbous moon rose slowly. By her dim light I
could make out the plunge on either side our ridge, and the other dark
ridges across the way. Behind us our horses occasionally stamped a hoof
or blew softly through their noses.

I lay flat on my back, and idly counted the stars. Happening to glance
sidewise, I caught the flicker of a distant light.

"Bagsby," I whispered, "there's a fire not more than a half mile away."

He too lay down in order to get my angle of view.

"It's not McNally," he pronounced after a moment's careful inspection,
"for it's too big a fire, and it's a lot more than half a mile away.
That's a good big fire. I think it's Injuns."

"Probably the same gang that lifted our hosses!" cried Buck.

"Probably," agreed Bagsby. He sat upright and peered at us through the
dim moonlight. "Want to get after them?" he inquired.

"You bet!" said Buck emphatically, "They may have McNally, and if they
haven't, they've got our horses."

"There's six of us and we can shore make it interesting for that lot,"
agreed Yank. "Can we get to where they are?"

"I think so," said Bagsby.

We rode for another hour, slanting down the mountainside toward the
flickering fire. Every time a horse rolled a rock or broke a dried
branch it seemed to me that the mountains reverberated from end to end.
I don't believe I allowed myself to weigh over six ounces all told.
Finally we left the slope for the bottom of the valley.

"I'd rather be below their camp than above it. It's going to be hard to
get out this way," complained Bagsby, "but it's the best we can do." He
dismounted us, and we crept forward another half mile, leading our
animals.

"This is as close as I dare take the hosses," whispered Bagsby.
"Vasquez, you stay here with them," he said in Spanish, "and when I yell
twice quick and sharp, you answer so we'll know where to find you. Come
on!"

We stole forward slowly. The fire leaped and flared beneath the
widespread branches of a tree. Around it lay a half dozen or so
recumbent shapes wrapped in blankets. How many more might be lying
beyond the light circle we could not tell. Beyond them we saw dimly the
forms of dozing horses. Obeying a signal from the old trapper, we
circled the camp until we were on the same side as the animals. They
raised their heads and blew softly at us; but we lay still, and shortly
they quieted down.

"Now," breathed Bagsby, "when I give the word, fire. And each man grab a
horse by the picket rope, stampede the rest, and hustle back to Vasquez.
Ready!"

We raised our pieces, but before the command to fire was given, one of
the sleepers threw aside his blanket, stretched himself and arose. It
was a white man!

I confess that for a moment I turned physically sick.

"Hello!" called Bagsby, quite unmoved.

The white man seized his rifle, and the recumbent forms leaped to life.

"Who are you?" he demanded sharply. "Speak quick!"

"Keep yore ha'r on!" drawled the trapper, advancing into the light.
"We're perfectly respectable miners, out looking for a lost man; and we
saw yore fire."

The rest of us uttered a yell of joy and relief. One of the men who had
been sleeping around the fire was McNally himself.

We drew together, explaining, congratulating. The strangers, six in
number, turned out to be travellers from the eastern side of the ranges.
They listened with interest and attention to our account of the Indian
attack. McNally explained that he had been uncertain of his route in the
dark; so that when he had caught sight of the fire he had made his way
to it. We were still engaged in this mutual explanation when we were
struck dumb by a long-drawn-out yell from the direction of our own
horses.

"It is Vasquez," explained Barry. "He wants to let us know where he is,"
and he answered the yell.

But at that moment one of our own horses dashed up to the bunch of
picketed animals and wheeled, trembling. Its rope bridle dangled broken
from its head. Sam Bagsby darted forward to seize the hanging cord.

"It's cut!" he cried. "Quick! Out across the valley, boys!"

We followed him into the moonlight, grasping our rifles. A moment later
a compact band swept toward us at full speed, our horses in the lead,
their rope halters dangling, a dozen Indians on horseback following
close at their heels and urging them on.

"Shoot, boys!" yelled Bagsby, discharging his own piece.

Our rifles cracked. It was impossible to take aim; and I am sure we hit
nothing. But the horses swerved aside from the long fiery flashes, and
so ran into the picketed lot and stopped. The Indians flew on through
our scattered line without stopping, pursued by a sputter of shots from
our Colt's revolvers.

"A while ago I was sorry we had to stop above camp," said Bagsby with
satisfaction; "but it was a lucky thing for us. They had to come by us
to git out."

"And Vasquez?" Yank struck across our exultation.



CHAPTER XXV

BATTLE


We had a good deal of trouble finding the exact spot where we had left
him, for we could get no answer to our calls. He was down in a heap,
covered with blood, and quite dead. The savages had scalped him. In our
long companionship we had grown very fond of him, for he was a merry,
good-natured, willing soul.

"God!" cried Bagsby, deeply moved. "I'll put a ball through the next one
of those devils I meet!"

We returned slowly to the fire, carrying the body, which we laid
reverently one side and covered with a blanket. In all our hearts burned
a fierce, bitter anger. Sullenly we turned to prepare ourselves a meal
from the supplies our hosts offered us.

The latter were the father and five sons of a backwoods family from the
northwest--Pine, by name. They were all tall, heavily built men, slow
moving, slow speaking, with clear, steady eyes, a drawling way of
talking, and the appearance always of keeping a mental reservation as to
those with whom they conversed. I suppose they were ignorant enough men,
as far as education goes, but they always impressed me as being somehow
a superior type. Possibly it was because of the fact that they perfectly
corresponded to their environment, which was the wilderness.

In detail, the old man was upward of sixty, his beard long and grizzled,
his hair about his shoulders. The oldest son would count about thirty,
and the others went down in stepladder fashion to the youngster, a fine,
big, smooth-faced boy of sixteen. They were named after old Pine's
favourite heroes, evidently. There was David Crockett Pine, and Governor
Boggs Pine, and President Tyler Pine, and Daniel Boone Pine, and Old
Hickory Pine, the youngest, an apparent contradiction in terms. They
were called by their odd first names--Governor, President, Old--without
the least humour.

Just now they stood tall and grim behind us as we ate; and the gray dawn
and the rose dawn grew into day. Nobody said anything until we had
finished. Then Yank rose to his full height and faced the attentive men.

"I want vengeance," he announced in an even voice, stretching forth his
long, lean arm. "Those devils have harried our stock and killed our
pardner; and I'm not going to set quiet and let them do it." He turned
to us: "Boys," said he, "I know you're with me thar. But I'm going to
git our friends yere to go with us. Old man," he said to Pine, "you and
yore sons help us with this job, and we'll locate you on the purtiest
diggings in these hills."

"You bet!" agreed McNally.

"You don't need to make my boys no offer," replied Pine slowly. "Those
divils were after our hosses too; and they'd have got them if you hadn't
come along. We'd been told by a man we believe that there wan't no
Injuns in this country, or you wouldn't have seen us sleeping es close
to our fire. Whar do you-all reckon to come up with them?"

Our old trapper interposed.

"Their rancheree is down the valley somewhars," said Bagsby, "and we'll
have to scout for it. We must go back to camp first and get a ready."

McNally and I murmured against this check to immediate action, but saw
the point after a moment. The Pines packed their slender outfit; we
bound the body of our poor friend across his horse, and mournfully
retraced our steps.

We arrived in camp about ten o'clock, to find Johnny and Don Gaspar
anxiously on the alert. When we had imparted our news, their faces, too,
darkened with anger. Of us all Vasquez had been the only man who never
lost his temper, who had always a flash of a smile for the hardest days.
Hastily we threw together provisions for several days, and arranged our
affairs as well as we could. We all wanted to go; and Don Gaspar, in
spite of the remains of his malarial fever, fairly insisted on
accompanying the expedition.

"Señores," he said with dignity, "this was my own man from my own
people."

Nevertheless somebody had to stay in camp, although at first some of us
were inclined to slur over that necessity.

"There's a strong chance that Injuns will drift by and take all our
supplies," Bagsby pointed out.

"Chances are slim--in only a day or so; you must admit that," argued
Johnny. "Let's risk it. We can scratch along if they do take our stuff."

"And the gold?"

That nonplussed us for a moment.

"Why not bury it?" I suggested.

Bagsby and Pine snorted.

"Any Injun would find it in a minute," said Pine.

"And they know gold's worth something, too," put in Yank.

"This is a scout, not a house-moving expedition," said Bagsby decidedly,
"and somebody's got to keep camp."

"I'll stay, fer one," offered old man Pine, his eyes twinkling from
beneath his fierce brows. "I've fit enough Injuns in my time."

After some further wrangling we came to drawing lots. A number of small
white pebbles and one darker were shaken up in a hat. I drew in the
fourth turn, and got the black!

"Hard luck, son!" murmured old man Pine.

The rest were eager to be off. They leaped upon their horses,
brandishing their long rifles, and rode off down the meadow. Old man
Pine leaned on the muzzle of his gun, his eyes gleaming, uttering
commands and admonitions to his five sons.

"You Old," he warned his youngest, "you mind and behave; and don't come
back yere without'n you bring a skelp!"

We spent the next two days strictly in defence, for we dared not stay
long from the stockade. I was so thoroughly downcast at missing the
fight that I paid little attention to Pine's well-meant talk. My
depression was enhanced by the performance of the duty the others had
left to our leisure. I mean the interment of poor Vasquez. We buried him
in a grassy little flat; and I occupied my time hewing and fashioning
into the shape of a cross two pine logs, on the smoothed surface of
which I carved our friend's name. Then I returned to the stockade, where
old man Pine, a picturesque, tall figure in his fringed hunter's
buckskin, sat motionless before the cabin door. From that point of
vantage one could see a mile down the valley, and some distance
upstream; and one or the other of us occupied it constantly.

About three o'clock of the second day Pine remarked quietly:

"Thar they come!"

I was instantly by his side, and we strained our eyesight in an attempt
to count the shifting figures. Pine's vision was better and more
practised than mine.

"They are all thar," said he, "and they're driving extry hosses."

Ten minutes later the cavalcade stopped and the men dismounted wearily.
They were, as the old man had said, driving before them a half dozen
ponies, which Governor Boggs herded into the corral. Nobody said a word.
One or two stretched themselves. Johnny seized the cup and took a long
drink. Yank leaned his rifle against the wall. Old man Pine's keen,
fierce eye had been roving over every detail, though he, too, had kept
silent.

"Well, Old," he remarked, "I see you obeyed orders like a good sojer."

The boy grinned.

"Yes, dad," said he.

And then I saw what I had not noticed before: that at the belt of each
of the tall, silent young backwoodsmen hung one or more wet, heavy, red
and black soggy strips. The scalping had been no mere figure of speech!
Thank heaven! none of our own people were similarly decorated!

So horrified and revolted was I at this discovery that I hardly roused
myself to greet the men. I looked with aversion, and yet with a certain
fascination on the serene, clear features of these scalp takers. Yet,
since, in the days following, this aversion could not but wear away in
face of the simplicity and straightforwardness of the frontiersmen, I
had to acknowledge that the atrocious deed was more a product of custom
than of natural barbarity.

Old Pine, of course not at all affected, bustled about in the more
practical matter of getting coffee and cutting meat; and after a moment
I aroused myself to help him. The men lay about on the ground exhausted.
They drank the coffee and ate the meat, and so revived, little by
little, arrived at the point of narration.

"It's sure one hell of a ride down there," remarked McNally with a sigh.

"Good deal like the foothills of th' Snake Range, pop," put in President
Tyler Pine.

"We been riding purty nigh every minute sence we left here," agreed
Bagsby. "That rancheree was hard to find."

Little by little the tale developed. No one man, in the presence of all
the others, felt like telling us the whole story. We gathered that they
had ridden the cañon for several hours, past our first camping grounds,
and finally out into the lower ranges. Here they lost the trail left by
the Indians when they had first visited our camp; but in casting in
circles for it had come on fresher pony tracks. These they had followed
persistently for many miles.

"_I_ couldn't see the sign of a track for a mile at a time, on that
hard ground," interpolated Johnny.

At length the tracks had struck into a beaten trail.

"And then we knew we were on the way to the rancheree," said Bagsby.

The village they found located in a flat by the side of a stream, and
they halted to determine just what to do. It was finally decided that
while an attack on horseback would undoubtedly strike more instant
terror, yet the difficulty of shooting accurately from a gallop would
more than offset this effect. Therefore nine of the party crept up
afoot, leaving three to lead forward the horses some distance in the
rear.

"I was one of them," said Johnny. "They evidently have seen me shoot. I
seem to be always out of it."

The men had wormed their way to within a hundred yards of the flimsy
huts, or tepees, when they were discovered by the dogs. The Indians
immediately rushed out pell-mell, in a crowd, and were met by a deadly
volley from the white men's rifles. Caught absolutely by surprise, they
turned and fled. Some few loosed random arrows. Their horses coming up
at a run in convoy of the rear guard, each man threw himself into his
saddle and started in pursuit, shooting right and left with the Colt's
revolvers whenever they caught up with the fugitives. Johnny told
admiringly how the backwoodsmen had reloaded their rifles while
galloping.

"All I could do to shoot mine off, let alone loading!" he confessed.

There was no resistance, and little mortality after the first volley.
The Indians bolted like rabbits into the brush. The white men then
returned leisurely to the village, which they proceeded to burn to the
ground.

"It made a grand bonfire," interrupted Johnny. "Went up like gunpowder.
And the Indians yelled and howled at us from the sidehills all the
time."

The raiders had fired a few defiant and random shots in the direction of
the howling, and then, after collecting the ponies that had not
stampeded, rode slowly back the way they had come.

"Didn't see anything of our three horses?" I asked.

"Nary hoss," said Buck Barry. "I figger they jest nat'rally stampeded
off when the row started."

"Are you sure those were the same Indians?" I asked.

A long silence fell.

"Well, what if they wasn't--and that's by no means sure," demanded Buck
Barry at last, a little defiantly. "The whole lot is thieves and
murderers; and if they'd had a chance at us, you bet they'd have taken
it. And we showed the red devils they can't monkey with us!"

I looked toward the cross over Vasquez, murdered as wantonly as ever man
was murdered for plunder, and could find nothing to say. Whatever the
eternal equities of the case may be--and long since I have given up
trying to guess what they are--the cold, practical fact remains, that
never during our stay on the Porcupine did any Indian come near us
again. And I am convinced that if the initial stealing of horses and
murder had gone without reprisal, we should have been a second time and
more boldly attacked. But if that was the wrong village, what a train of
reprisals and reprisals again in turn we may have laid!

"Only we didn't start it, and never would have!" persisted Johnny
stoutly.



CHAPTER XXVI

WE SEND OUT OUR TREASURE


Though these Indian troubles had nothing to do with it, nevertheless
they marked the beginning of our change of luck. We suffered no definite
misfortunes; but things did not go well. The slight malarial attack of
Don Gaspar was the first of an annoying series. I suppose we had all
been inoculated on the marshes of the Sacramento, and the disease had
remained latent in our systems. The hard work in the open air had kept
us healthy; but the fever only awaited the favourable moment of
depression or of overwork. The combination of ice cold water around our
legs and burning sun on our heads was not the best in the world.
Fortunately Yank, who came from an ague country, had had foresight
enough to bring a supply of quinine. For two months one or the other of
us was ailing; and once for a few days five of us were down!

Then, too, I think the zest of the game was palling on us a little,
strange as it may seem. We could dig gold from the soil almost at will.
It would seem that this single fact would keep normally acquisitive men
keyed to a high pitch of endeavour all the time; but it was not so. I
suppose we needed a vacation. We began to discuss what we would do when
we should see the city again. No one for a moment dreamed that we should
quit these rich diggings. We were here to make our fortunes; and the
fortunes seemed to be ready for the making. Only the novelty having
passed, it had become hard work, just like the making of any other kind
of a fortune.

The Pine family camped below us, used our corral, at our invitation, and
set placidly to work. They were typical frontiersmen, and settled down
in the well-built cabin which they quickly ran up as though they meant
to make of it a permanent home. For two months, which brought us up to
the end of July, they lived a regular and leisurely life. Then one
morning, without any warning at all, they rode over to our cabin,
leading their horses, fully packed. Old man Pine explained, while his
five tall, steady-eyed sons sat their horses quite immobile in the
background, that they had dug enough gold for their necessities, and
that they were now going down to the lower country to pick out some good
land. These men were the very first I happened to meet who had come into
the country with a definite idea of settling.

After the departure of this strong force, began our discussions as to
the safeguarding of our gold. It had now reached a very considerable
sum--somewhere near thirty-five thousand dollars, as I remember it.
Bagsby was very uneasy at its presence in camp.

"The Injuns are beginning to know it's wuth something," he pointed out.
"They don't know yet how much, but they know it will buy beads and
buttons and paint and whiskey and everything else an Injun wants. And
they know that's what we're yere for; and that we must have a lot of it.
I don't calc'late that lot we licked will bother us ag'in; but they'll
spread the news we're yere. And there's lots of bandits and scoundrels
glad to take a chance at us. And while we come out all right before,
they'll git us in the long run if we keep at it. I'd like to git rid of
the stuff."

Don Gaspar agreed with him, as did also Yank, Buck Barry, and Missouri
Jones. McNally, Johnny, and I inclined to the belief that we would do
better to keep our wealth by us until we finally left the diggings,
maintaining always a proper guard. We could not quite see how the
sending out of the gold would much reduce the likelihood of attack; but
the others seemed to think the gold would then be safe anyhow, and that
the news of its delivery at Sutter's Fort would soon spread abroad.

About this time the discussion took a more practical turn from the fact
that our provisions had run so low that we had put ourselves on half
rations. As we did not believe it desirable nor healthy to drop down to
an exclusively game diet, it would soon become necessary to go for more
flour and coffee.

Buck Barry now brought up again strongly the advisability of sending our
treasure out to a safe place. His argument was given point by the
arrival in camp one evening of three evil-looking Mexicans, shabbily
clothed, but well-armed, and mounted on beautiful horses. We fed them
well, but saw to the caps of our revolvers and the security of our
corral before turning in for the night. In the morning they departed
before we were stirring, without so much as a word of thanks. These
mysterious visitors had given us no faintest inkling of their business
or destination. Don Gaspar stated flatly that they had come to spy us
out, having heard of our presence in the valley from the Indians.

"And I told them," said he triumphantly, "that essoon we would be sen'
out for the food."

He went on to argue that thus he had prepared their minds for the fact
that pack-horses would soon be going out. By distributing the gold its
presence would be unsuspected.

I suggested a strong guard, but both Bagsby and Don Gaspar opposed me.

"There's enough of these yere robbers to git us anyhow, even if we all
went," said Bagsby, "and that's why I want to send the stuff out now.
The place they'll tackle will be right yere, if they tackle anything at
all----"

I will not weary you with the pros and cons. At the time I thought, and
I still think, the whole arrangement most ill advised; but against me
was the united opinion of nearly the whole camp, including the most
level-headed members of my own party. It was finally agreed that Yank,
Buck Barry, and Don Gaspar should take out the gold.

They started very early in the morning, carrying the treasure in
saddle-bags and across the horns of the saddle. I argued that Yank rode
much the lightest and had the strongest horse, and managed to get the
others to confide to him a full half of the metal. At the last moment we
had modified the original plan to suit everybody. The horsemen
encumbered by pack-animals were to push on as rapidly as possible in
order to reach by nightfall the settlement where dwelt the Italian
friend. Once there they could feel themselves reasonably safe. Johnny,
Missouri Jones and I would ride with them until noon as a sort of escort
for the uninhabited portion of the journey. By that hour we figured we
should have reached the outskirts of the regular diggings, where, our
experience told us, our companions would be safe.

Accordingly we pushed our mounts hard. Unhampered by pack-animals, and
aided by knowledge of the route, we made great progress. By noon we had
passed the meadow of our night's camp. After a hasty lunch we
accompanied our men a few miles farther, then said farewell and
godspeed, and hurried back in order to reach home before sunset.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE ROBBERY


We cooked ourselves a meal, and built ourselves a fire. About midnight
we heard the sounds of horses rapidly approaching. Immediately we leaped
from our bunks and seized our rifles, peering anxiously into the
darkness. A moment later, however, we were reassured by a shrill whistle
peculiar to Buck Barry, and a moment later he and Don Gaspar rode into
camp.

We assailed them with a storm of questions--why had they returned? what
had happened? where was Yank? had there been an accident?

Don Gaspar, who appeared very weary and depressed, shook his head sadly.
Barry looked at us savagely from beneath his brows.

"The gold is gone; and that's an end of it!" he growled.

At these words a careful, dead silence fell on us all. The situation had
suddenly become too serious for hasty treatment. We felt instinctively
that a wrong word might do irreparable damage. But in our hearts
suspicion and anger and dull hatred leaped to life full grown. We
tightened our belts, as it were, and clamped our elbows to our sides,
and became wary, watching with unfriendly eyes. Johnny alone opened his
lips.

"Lost? I don't believe it!" he cried.

Barry cast an ugly look at him, but said nothing. We all saw that look.

"Where's Yank?" I asked.

"Dead by now, I suppose," flung back Barry.

"Good God!" I cried; and under my breath, "Then you've murdered him!"

I don't know whether Barry heard me or not, and at the time I did not
much care. His sullen eye was resting on one after the other of us as we
stood there in the firelight. Every face was angry and suspicious. Barry
flung himself from his horse, tore the pad from its back, slapped it on
the flank, and turned away, reckless of where it went. He cut himself a
steak and set to cooking his food, an uncompromising shoulder turned in
our direction; nor did he open his mouth to utter another word until the
general discussion later in the evening. Don Gaspar, who owned the only
riding saddle, unharnessed his horse, led it to water, knee haltered it,
and turned it loose to graze. While he was gone no one spoke, but we
glanced at each other darkly. He returned, sat down by the fire, rolled
himself a cigarette, and volunteered his story.

"My fren'," said he, with a directness and succinctness utterly foreign
to his everyday speech, "you want to know what happen'. Ver' well; it
was like this."

He told us that, after we had left them, they hurried on as fast as
possible in order to reach the settled country. Owing to the excellence
of his animal he was generally some distance in advance. At one point,
stopping on a slight elevation to allow them to catch up, he looked back
in time to see two men on horseback emerge from the chaparral just
behind his companions. Don Gaspar shouted and leaped from his saddle;
but before the warning had reached the others, a riata from the hand of
one of the men had fallen with deadly accuracy around Yank's arms and
body, jerking him violently from the saddle. The thrower whirled his
horse to drag his victim, Don Gaspar fired, and by great good luck shot
the animal through the brain. It fell in a heap, pinning its rider
beneath it. In the meantime Barry had leaped to the ground, and from
behind the shelter of his horse had shot the first robber through the
body. Our two companions now drew together, and took refuge behind some
large rocks, preparing to receive the charge of a band of half dozen who
now appeared. The situation looked desperate. Don Gaspar fired and
missed. He was never anything of a marksman, and his first shot must
have been a great piece of luck. Barry held his fire. The robbers each
discharged his rifle, but harmlessly. Then just as they seemed about to
charge in, they whirled their horses and made off into the brush.

"We could not tell the why," observed Don Gaspar.

The two men did not speculate, but ran out to where Yank lay, apparently
dead, his arms still bound close to his body by the noose of the riata.
Barry cut the rope with his bowie knife, and they rolled him over. They
found he still breathed, but that, beside the shock of his violent fall,
he had been badly trampled by the horses. After a moment he came to
consciousness, but when they attempted to lift him upright, they found
that his leg was broken.

At this moment they heard the sound of voices, and, looking up, saw
coming from the other direction a band of a dozen men, half of whom were
on horseback, and all of whom were armed. This looked serious.

"We got behind the rock," said Don Gaspar, "but we think to ourself our
goose is cook."

The newcomers, however, proved to be miners, who had heard the shots,
and who now came hurrying up. Evidently the robbers had caught sight or
sound of their approach. They were much interested in the state of
affairs, examined the horse Don Gaspar had killed, searched for and
found the body of the robber Barry had shot. It proved to be a Mexican,
well known to them all, and suspected to be a member of Andreas Aijo's
celebrated band. They inquired for the dead horse's rider.

"And then, for the first time," said Don Gaspar, "we think of him. He
went down with his horse. But now he was gone; and also the horse of
Señor Yank. But I think he crawl off in the chaparral; and that the
horse of Señor Yank run away with the other horse of the dead man."

And then, I must confess, to our disbelief in the tale, Don Gaspar told
us that the miners, their curiosity satisfied, calmly prepared to return
to their diggings, quite deaf to all appeals for further help.

"They say to us," narrated Don Gaspar evenly, "that they wash much gold,
and that they cannot take the time; and when I tell them our friend is
dying, they laugh, and essay that we ought to be glad they come and
essave _our_ lives; and that we get along all right."

We did not believe this, though we could see no object in Don Gaspar's
deceiving us on the point. Three months had passed while we had been
isolated in the valley of the Porcupine; and we had not yet been taught
what a difference three months can make in a young country. In that time
thousands had landed, and the diggings had filled. All the world had
turned to California; its riffraff and offscourings as well as its true
men. Australia had unloaded its ex-convicts, so that the term "Sydney
duck" had become only too well known. The idyllic time of order and
honesty and pleasant living with one's fellow-men was over. But we were
unaware of that; and, knowing the average generous-hearted miner, we
listened to Don Gaspar with a certain surprised skepticism.

"But I follow them," said Don Gaspar, "and I offer them to pay; and
after a while two of them come back with me, and we make a litter of
branches with many blanket; and we carry Señor Yank down to the town.
There is a town there now. And by good chance," concluded Don Gaspar
with a little show of quiet racial pride, "we find a California man and
his wife, and they do their bes' for Señor Yank, who is very essick, and
I think he is now dead from the tramp of the horses. And we borrow the
fresh horse and come back."

It was indeed, as I think of it, a wonderful ride in the darkness; but
at the time my mind was full of our poor friend. The others, however,
thought only of the gold.

"We have left," replied Don Gaspar to the rudely expressed shower of
questions, "just the one half. It is well known to all that Señor Yank
carried the most of the gold."

"Yes, and we have Munroe to thank for that," snarled Missouri Jones.

"As far at that is concerned, I was against sending out the gold from
the very start," I retorted. "If you'd listened to me, it would have all
been safe right here."

"If we'd had a decently strong guard, we'd have been all right," growled
McNally.

We all saw the futility of our first instinctive flare of suspicion. It
was obvious that if Don Gaspar and Buck Barry had intended treachery
they would never have returned to us. I think that, curiously enough, we
were unreasonably a little sorry for this. It would have been
satisfactory to have had something definite to antagonize. As it was, we
sat humped around our fire until morning. For a long period we remained
sullenly silent; then we would break into recriminations or into
expressions of bitter or sarcastic dissatisfaction with the way things
had been planned and carried out. Bagsby alone had the sense to turn in.
We chewed the cud of bitter disappointment. Our work had been hard and
continuous; we were, as I have pointed out, just ready for a reaction;
and now this catastrophe arrived in the exact moment to throw us into
the depths of genuine revulsion. We hated each other, and the work, and
the valley of the Porcupine, and gold diggings, and California with a
fine impartiality. The gray morning light found us sitting haggard,
dejected, disgusted, and vindictive around the dying embers of our fire.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE BULLY


With daylight we began to get a grip on ourselves a little. I felt
strongly that I should see to Yank, and so announced. Johnny at once
offered to accompany me. While we were talking over the future
prospects, McNally came over to us, saying:

"The boys are pretty well agreed that we ought to divide up what gold is
left, and let each man take care of his own share. Are you agreeable?"

We instantly assented. The scales were brought out, and the division
began. It consumed most of the morning, and was productive of much
squabbling, in which, however, we took no part. Our share, including
Yank's--with which we were intrusted--came to about thirty-one pounds: a
value of about seven thousand dollars. We were impatient to be off, and
now wanted nothing so much as to be done with the whole affair. Yank had
ridden one of our horses; the other had been stolen in the Indian raid.
We approached Don Gaspar, who had his own saddle horse and that of
Vasquez, not to speak of the remaining pack-animals. To our surprise and
delight he offered to accompany us; and Bagsby, too, decided to leave.
McNally, Buck Barry, and Missouri Jones, however, could not be persuaded
out of their intention of remaining to dig fresh gold; nor, I am afraid,
were we very cordial in our insistence. We considered them foolhardy;
but in our then mood we did not greatly care.

By noon we had packed our goods, and by night we had broken the back of
our return journey.

We found a full-grown town where we had left a few tents and miners'
cabins. Its main street ran either side the deep dust of the immigrant
trail, and consisted of the usual shanties, canvas shacks, and log
structures, with rather more than the customary allowance of tin cans,
old clothes, worn-out boots, and empty barrels kicking around. The
diggings were in the gulch below the road; but the streets of the town,
and especially the shady sides of the buildings, were numerously
furnished with lounging men. Some of these were employees or owners of
the gambling halls, saloons, and boarding-houses; but most were plain
"loafers"--a class never wholly absent from any mining camp, men who
washed just enough gold to keep themselves fed and pickled in drink.
Many of them were evil-looking customers, in fact about as tough a lot
as a man would care to see, unshaven generally, but not always, dirty,
truculent and rough, insolent in manner. In our passage of the main
street I saw just three decent looking people--one was evidently a
gambler, one a beefy, red-faced individual who had something to do with
one of the hotels, and the third was a tall man, past middle age, with a
clean shaven, hawk face, a piercing, haughty, black eye, and iron gray
hair. He was carefully and flawlessly dressed in a gray furred "plug"
hat, tailed blue coat with brass buttons, a buff waistcoat, trousers of
the same shade, and a frilled shirt front. Immaculate down to within six
inches or so of the ground, his nether garments and boots were coated
thickly with the inevitable red dust. He strode slowly down the street,
looking neither to right nor left.

Don Gaspar led the way for a short distance along the wagon road. On the
outskirts of the settlement he turned aside to a small log cabin
supplemented by a brush lean-to. A long string of bright red peppers
hung down the face of it. To our knock came a very fat, rather dirty,
but exceedingly pleasant-faced woman with glossy black hair, parted
smoothly, and soft black eyes. She opened the door only the fraction of
an inch at first, but instantly recognized Don Gaspar, and threw it
wide.

To our great relief we found Yank very much alive. He greeted us rather
feebly, but with satisfaction. We found that he had been kindly cared
for, and that the surface wounds and bruises from the horses' hoofs had
been treated with some skill.

"But I reckon I'm hurt some inside," he whispered with difficulty, "for
I can't breathe easy; and I can't eat nothin' but soup. And my leg is
hell."

The broken leg too had been bound up after a fashion, but it was badly
swollen above and below the bandages.

"He ought to have a doctor," said I positively. "There's no doubt of
that. There must be some among the miners--there generally is. I'm going
to see if I can find one."

I returned to town, and hunted up the beefy, red-faced hotel keeper, who
had impressed me as being an honest man.

"Yes, there's a doctor," said he, "a mighty good one. He went by here a
little while ago. Name's Dr. Rankin. I'll rustle him out for you. Oh,
you Pete!" he shouted into the interior of the building.

A moment's shuffling about preceded the appearance of a negro boy of
twelve or fourteen.

"Yes, sah."

"Go find Dr. Rankin and bring him here right away. Tell him a gentleman
wants him."

"You've got a mighty sudden sort of camp here," said I, as we settled
ourselves to wait. "Three months ago I went through here, and there was
practically nothing."

"Looks to be a thousand years, though," agreed the hotel man. "Where you
been?"

"Oh, just prospecting," I replied vaguely.

"Strike it?"

"Just fair," I evaded; "not rich enough to keep me from coming back, you
see. Any finds here?"

"The diggings are rich as mud," replied the hotel man dispassionately.
"It's a prosperous camp all right."

"You don't 'wash' yourself?" I asked.

"Not I! I make more than my 'ounce a day' right here." He jerked his
thumb at his hotel.

"A good many 'loafers,'" I suggested.

He looked at me steadily, hesitated for a moment, then evidently changed
his mind.

"Quite a few," he agreed.

At this moment the negro boy appeared, closely followed by the man with
the blue coat and white beaver hat whom I had taken for an eccentric
gambler. This man walked slowly up to face me.

"Well, sir?" he demanded. "I am told I can be of service. In what way?"

His piercing black eye held mine with a certain high arrogance.

"Professionally, doctor," I replied. "A friend of mine is lying badly
hurt in a nearby hut."

For a barely appreciable instant his eye held mine after I had ceased
speaking, as though he was appraising me. Then he bowed with
old-fashioned courtesy.

"At your service, sir," said he. "Pete, you black rascal, get my bag,
and get it quick."

The little negro, who had stood by obviously worshipping, broke into a
grin and darted into the hotel, almost instantly reappearing with a
regulation professional satchel.

"At your service, sir," repeated Dr. Rankin.

We took our stately progress up the street, through the deep red dust.
The hot sun glared down upon us, reflecting from the surface of the
earth in suffocating heat. Hard as I was, I flushed and perspired. The
doctor never turned a hair. As we passed one of the saloons a huge,
hairy man lurched out, nearly colliding with us. He was not drunk, but
he was well flushed with drink. His mood was evidently ugly, for he
dropped his hand to the butt of his revolver, and growled something
truculent at me, glaring through bloodshot eyes. Dr. Rankin, who had
stepped back to avoid collision, spoke up:

"Malone," said he, "I told you a week ago that you have to stop drinking
or come to me. I repeat it."

He turned his keen black eyes upon the big man, and stepped forward. The
big man muttered something and moved aside.

Arrived at the hut of the Moreñas, for that it seemed was the name of
our host and hostess, Dr. Rankin laid aside his furry beaver hat, walked
directly to the side of the bunk on which Yank lay, and began his
examination, without vouchsafing anything or anybody else the slightest
glance. Nor did he seem to pay more attention to Yank as a human being,
but prodded and pulled and hauled and manipulated him from top to toe,
his gray, hawk face intent and absorbed. Occasionally, as he repeated
some prod, he looked up keenly into Yank's face, probably for some
slight symptom of pain that escaped us, for Yank remained stoical. But
he asked no questions. At the end of ten minutes he threw the blanket
over our friend's form and stood erect, carefully dusting the ends of
his fingers against one another.

"Broken leg, badly set," said he; "two broken ribs; severe surface
bruises; and possibility of internal bruises in the region of the
spleen. Neglected too long. Why wasn't I sent for before?"

I explained. Dr. Rankin listened attentively, but made no comment. His
eyes travelled slowly over us all--the fat, pleasant, brown California
woman, her bearded husband, who had come in from the diggings, Bagsby's
tall, wiry old form, the worn remains of Don Gaspar's finery, and
lingered a moment on Johnny's undisguisable air of high spirit and
breeding.

"How many of you belong here?" he demanded. "I can't waste time on the
rest of you. Those who are not directly concerned, kindly step outside."

"Johnny and I will take care of this," I told the others hastily, before
they had time to say anything.

"Now," cried Dr. Rankin, removing his blue coat, and turning back the
frills of his shirt, "hot water!"

We assisted at the rather dreadful process of resetting a broken leg
three days old. At the end of the operation we were all pretty limp.

"How long?" gasped Yank, opening his eyes.

"Three months; not a day less if you want that leg to be as good as
ever," stated Dr. Rankin uncompromisingly.

Yank closed his eyes and groaned.

The doctor resumed his coat and picked up his beaver hat.

"What treatment?" I ventured to ask.

"I will inform the woman," replied the doctor. "These Californians are
the best nurses in the world, once things are on a proper footing."

"Your fee, sir?" asked Johnny very formally, for the doctor's brusque
manner had rubbed.

"One ounce," stated Dr. Rankin. "I shall direct the woman, and I shall
return one week from to-day unless conditions change. In that case,
summon me."

He pouched the gold dust that Johnny shook into the palm of his hand at
a guess, bowed formally to each of us in turn, picked up his bag and
departed, rigidly erect, the fine red dust crawling and eddying at his
feet.

Then we held a council of war, all of us. Don Gaspar announced his
intention of returning to his rancho in the south.

"I have found the gold, and I have made fren's, and I have now enough,"
said he.

Bagsby, too, said he thought he would just ride down as far as Sutter's
Fort, there to lay in a supply of powder and ball for a trip in the
mountains.

"I kind of want to git up another b'ar fight," said he. "If I thought
there was a ghost of a show to git them robbers for you boys, I'd stay
and help you scout for them; but there ain't a show in the world.
They've had a good three days' start."

After shaking hands with us again and again, and obtaining promises that
we should all surely meet in San Francisco or Monterey, they mounted and
took their departure in order to get well clear of the settlement before
nightfall.

When they had gone Yank opened his eyes from the apparent sleep into
which he had fallen.

"You fellows don't hang around here with me, I can tell you that," he
stated. "I'm fixed all right. I want you to make arrangements with these
people yere to keep me; tuck my gold under my piller, stack old Betsey
up yere in the corner by me, and go about your business. You come out
yere to dig gold, not to take keer of cripples."

"All right, Yank, we'll fix it somehow," I agreed. "Now if you're all
right, Johnny and I will just go and straighten out our camp things a
little."

We were now, it will be remembered, without horses. Don Gaspar had
unpacked our few belongings before departing. Johnny and I found a good
camping place, then carried the stuff over on our backs. We cooked
ourselves some food, lit pipes, and sat down to talk the situation over.

We got nowhere. As a matter of fact, we were both in the dead-water of
reaction from hard, long-continued labour, and we could not bring
ourselves to face with any enthusiasm the resuming of gold washing.
Revulsion shook us at the mere thought of getting down in a hot, glaring
ravine and moving heavy earth and rocks. Yet we had not made a fortune,
nor much of a beginning at one, and neither of us was what is known as a
quitter. We realized perfectly that we would go on gold mining.

"What we need is a recess," Johnny ended, "and I move we take it. Just
let's camp here, and loaf for a few days or a week, and see how Yank
gets along, and then we can go back to Porcupine."

As though this decision lifted a great weight, we sat back on our
shoulder blades with a sigh of relief, and blew tobacco smoke straight
up in the air for at least fifteen minutes. By the end of that time we,
being young and restless, felt thoroughly refreshed.

"Let's go look this outfit over," suggested Johnny.

We gravitated naturally to the diggings, which were very much like those
at Hangman's Gulch, except that they were rather more extensive, and
branched out more into the tributary ravines. The men working there
were, many of them, of a much better type than those we had seen in
town; though even here was a large element of rough-looking, wild,
reckless customers. We wandered about here and there, our hands in our
pockets, a vast leisure filling our souls. With some of the more
pleasant-appearing miners we conversed. They told us that the diggings
were rich, good "ounce a day" diggings. We saw a good many cradles in
use. It was easy to tell the old-timers from the riffraff of newcomers.
A great many of the latter seemed to lack the steadiness of purpose
characteristic of nearly all the first rush. They worked haphazardly,
spasmodically, pulling and hauling against each other. Some should not
have been working at all, for their eyes were sunken in their heads from
illness.

"We've got to hustle now," they told us. "We can take a good rest when
the rains stop work."

We noticed especially a marked change in demeanour among some of the
groups. In the early part of the summer every man answered every man
good-naturedly, except he happened to have a next day's head or some
other sort of a personal grouch. Now many compact little groups of men
worked quite apart. When addressed they merely scowled or looked sullen,
evidently quite unwilling to fraternize with the chance-comer.

We loafed about here and there through the diggings, swapping remarks
with the better disposed, until the men began to knock off work. Then we
returned through the village.

Its street had begun to fill. Here, too, we could not but be struck by
the subtle change that had come over the spirit of the people. All used
to seem like the members of a big family, good-natured and approachable
even when strangers. Now a slower acquaintance must precede familiarity.
We seemed out of it because we did not know anybody, something we had
not felt before in a mining camp. There was no hostility in this, not an
iota; only now it had evidently become necessary to hold a man off a
little until one knew something about him. People seemed, somehow,
_watchful_, in spite of the surface air of good-nature and of
boisterous spirits. We did not quite understand this at the moment, but
we learned more about it later.

We sauntered along peering into the various buildings. The saloons were
here more elaborate than at Hangman's, the gambling places larger, and
with some slight attempt at San Francisco splendour. That is to say,
there were large gilt-framed mirrors on the walls, nude pictures, and in
some cases a stage for musical performers. One of the three stores was
devoted entirely to clothing and "notions," to us a new departure in
specialization. We were sadly in need of garments, so we entered, and
were at once met by a very oily, suave specimen of the chosen people.
When we had escaped from this robber's den we looked at each other in
humorous dismay.

"Glad Yank don't need clothes, anyway," said Johnny.

We were, it will be remembered, out of provisions, so we entered also
one of the general stores to lay in a small supply. The proprietor
proved to be an old friend, Jones, the storekeeper at Hangman's.

"Which," said Johnny shrewdly, "is a sad commentary on the decline of
the diggings at Hangman's."

Jones was evidently prosperous, and doing business on a much larger
scale than at the old place; for in his commodious building were
quantities of goods displayed and many barrels and boxes still unopened.
He did not recognize us, of course; and we had to await the completion
of a tale he was telling a group perched on the counters and on the
boxes.

"Got a consignment of mixed goods from Mellin," he was saying, "and one
of the barrels wasn't marked with anything I could make out. I knocked
the top in, and chucked her out behind for spoiled beef. Certainly stunk
like it. Well, sir, that barrel lay there for a good ten days; and then
one day up drifted a Dutchman with a brogue on him thick enough to plant
flag-poles in. 'How mooch,' says he 'is dot stoof?' 'What stuff?' says
I. 'Dot stoof oudt behind.' 'I ain't got no stuff out behind! What's
eating you?' says I. Then he points out that spoiled beef. 'Good Lord!'
says I, 'help yourself. I got a lot of nerve, but not enough to charge a
man for anything that stinks like that beef. But you better let it
alone; you'll get sick!' Well, sir, you wouldn't think there was any
Dutchmen in the country, now would you? but they came to that stink like
flies to molasses. Any time I'd look out the back door I'd see one or
two nosing around that old spoiled beef. Then one day another old
beer-belly sagged in. 'Say, you got any more barrels of dot sauerkraut?'
he wants to know. 'That what?' I asks. 'Dot sauerkraut,' says he, 'like
dot in the backyard. I gif you goot price for a whole barrel,' says he.
And here I'd give away a whole barrel! I might've got a dollar a pound
for the stuff. _I_ don't know what it might be worth to a
Dutchman."

He turned away to wait on us.

"And you wouldn't guess there was so many Dutchmen in the country!" he
repeated.

We paid his terrible prices for our few necessities, and went out. The
music was beginning to tune up from the gambling places and saloons. It
reminded us of our Italian friend.

"Seems to me his place was right here where we are," puzzled Johnny.
"Hanged if I don't believe this is the place; only they've stuck a
veranda roof on it."

We turned into the entrance of the hotel, to find ourselves in the
well-remembered long, low room wherein we had spent the evening a few
months before. It was now furnished with a bar, the flimsy partitions
had been knocked out, and evidently additions had been constructed
beyond the various closed doors. The most conspicuous single thing was a
huge bulletin board occupying one whole end. It was written over closely
with hundreds and hundreds of names. Several men were laboriously
spelling them out. This, we were given to understand, was a sort of
register of the overland immigrants; and by its means many parties
obtained first news of scattered members.

The man behind the bar looked vaguely familiar to me, but I could not
place him.

"Where's the proprietor of this place?" I asked him.

He indicated a short, blowsy, truculent-looking individual who was, at
the moment, staring out the window.

"There used to be an Italian----" I began.

The barkeeper uttered a short barking laugh as he turned to attend to a
customer.

"He found the climate bad for his heart--and sold out!" said he.

On the wall opposite was posted a number of printed and written
handbills. We stopped idly to examine them. They had in general to do
with lost property, stolen horses, and rewards for the apprehension of
various individuals. One struck us in particular. It was issued by a
citizens' committee of San Francisco, and announced a general reward for
the capture of any member of the "Hounds."

"Looks as if they'd got tired of that gang down there," Johnny observed.
"They were ruling the roost when we left. Do you know, I saw one of
those fellows this afternoon--perhaps you remember him--a man with a
queer sort of blue scar over one cheekbone. I swear I saw him in San
Francisco. There's our chance to make some money, Jim."

The proprietor of the hotel turned to look at Johnny curiously, and
several of the loafers drinking at the bar glanced in the direction of
his clear young voice. We went on reading and enjoying the notices, some
of which were very quaint. Suddenly the door burst open to admit a big
man followed closely by a motley rabble. The leader was a red-faced,
burly, whiskered individual, with a red beard and matted hair. As he
turned I saw a star-shaped blue scar above his cheekbone.

"Where's the ---- ---- ---- that is going to make some money out of
arresting me?" he roared, swinging his huge form ostentatiously toward
the centre of the room.

I confessed I was aghast, and completely at a loss. A row was evidently
unavoidable, and the odds were against us. Almost at the instant the
door came open, Johnny, without waiting for hostile demonstration,
jerked his Colt's revolvers from their holsters. With one bound he
reached the centre of the room, and thrust the muzzles beneath the
bully's nose. His black eyes were snapping.

"Shut up, you hound!" he said in a low, even voice. "I wouldn't
condescend to make money out of your miserable carcass, except at a glue
factory. And if you or your friends so much as wink an eyelid, I'll put
you in shape for it."

Caught absolutely by surprise, the "Hound" stared fascinated into the
pistol barrels, his jaw dropped, his face redder than ever, his eyes
ridiculously protruding. I had recovered my wits and had backed against
the bulletin board, a revolver in either hand, keeping an eye on the
general company. Those who had burst in with the bully had stopped
frozen in their tracks. The others were interested, but not particularly
excited.

"I'm going to stay in this camp," Johnny advised crisply, "and I'm not
going to be bothered by big bluffs like you. I warn you, and all like
you, to let me alone and keep away from me. You stay in camp, or you can
leave camp, just as you please, but I warn you that I shoot you next
time I lay eyes on you. Now, about face! March!"

Johnny's voice had an edge of steel. The big man obeyed orders
implicitly. He turned slowly, and sneaked out the door. His followers
shambled toward the bar. Johnny passed them rather contemptuously under
the review of his snapping eyes, and they shambled a trifle faster.
Then, with elaborate nonchalance, we sauntered out.

"My Lord, Johnny!" I cried when we had reached the street, "that was
fine! I didn't know you had it in you!"

"Damn the luck!" he cried, kicking a tin can. "Oh, _damn_!"

He muttered to himself a moment, then turned to me with humorous
despair.

"What a stupid, useless mess!" he cried. "The minute that fellow came
into the room I saw we were let in for a row; so I went at it quick
before he had got organized. He didn't expect that. He thought he'd have
to work us into it."

"It certainly got him," said I.

"But it just starts us all wrong here," complained Johnny. "We are
marked men."

"We'll just have to look out for him a little. I don't believe he's
really dangerous. He looks to me a lot like a bluffer."

"Oh, him!" said Johnny contemputously, "he doesn't worry me any. It's
all the rest of them. I've practically challenged all the hard cases in
camp, don't you see? I'm no longer an inconspicuous newcomer. Every
tough character with any real nerve will want to tackle me now, just to
try me out."

From the impulsive and unanalytical Johnny this was surprising enough,
and my face must have showed it.

"I've seen it worked out in my part of the country," he explained
sombrely. "I don't want to bother with that sort of thing. I'm a
peaceable citizen. Now I've got to walk around on tiptoe all the time
watching for trouble. Oh, _damn_!"

"If you're afraid----" I began.

"I'm not afraid," said Johnny so simply that I believed him at once.
"But I'm annoyed. And of course you recognized that barkeeper."

"I thought I'd seen him before, but I don't remember just where."

"He's one of those fellows we fired out of our canoe down at Chagres.
You can bet he doesn't love us any!"

"You move along to Porcupine to-morrow," I suggested. "I can look after
Yank all right. They won't bother me."

Johnny walked for some steps in silence.

"No, they won't bother you," he repeated slowly.

He thought for a moment, then he threw back his head. "But look here,
Jim," he said briskly, "you forget. I told that fellow and his friends
that I was going to live in this place. I can't leave now."

"Nonsense," said I. "What do you care for that gang?"

"It would look like running away. No, I certainly don't intend to leave
now."



CHAPTER XXIX

THE CHALLENGE


We went out to see Yank, with the full intention of spending the evening
and cheering him up. He was dozing, restless, waking and sleeping by
fits and starts. We sat around in the awkward fashion peculiar to very
young boys in the sickroom; and then, to our vast relief, were shoved
out by Señora Moreña. With her we held a whispered conversation outside,
and completed satisfactory arrangements for Yank's keep. She was a
chuckling, easy-going, motherly sort of creature, and we were very lucky
to have her. Then we returned in the gathering dusk to our camp under
the trees across the way.

A man rose from a seat against a tree trunk.

"_Good_ evenin', stranger," said he.

"Good evening," responded Johnny guardedly.

"You are the man who stuck up Scar-face Charley in Morton's place, ain't
you?"

"What's that to you?" replied Johnny. "Are you a friend of his?"

His habitual air of young carelessness had fallen from him; his eye was
steady and frosty, his face set in stern lines. Before my wondering eyes
he had grown ten years older in the last six hours. The other was
lounging toward us--a short, slight man, with flaxen moustache and
eyebrows, a colourless face, pale blue eyes, and a bald forehead from
which the hat had been pushed back. He was chewing a straw.

"Well, I was just inquirin' in a friendly sort of way," replied the
newcomer peaceably.

"I don't know you," stated Johnny shortly, "nor who you're friends to,
nor your camp. I deny your right to ask questions. Good night."

"Well, good night," agreed the other, still peaceable. "I reckon I
gather considerable about you, anyhow." He turned away. "I had a notion
from what I heard that you was sort of picked on, and I dropped round,
sort of friendly like; but Lord love you! I don't care how many of you
desperadoes kill each other. Go to it, and good riddance!" He cast his
pale blue eyes on Johnny's rigid figure. "Also, go to hell!" he remarked
dispassionately.

Johnny stared at him puzzled.

"Hold on!" he called, after a moment. "Then you're not a friend of this
Hound?"

The stranger turned in slow surprise.

"Me? What are you talking about?" He looked from one to the other of us,
then returned the few steps he had taken. "I believe you don't know me.
I'm Randall, Danny Randall."

"Yes?" puzzled Johnny.

"Of Sonoma," added Randall.

"I suppose I should know you, but I'm afraid I don't," confessed Johnny.

Randall turned back to the tree beneath which lay our effects.

"I believe I'll just have a cup of coffee with you boys," said he.

We blew up the fire, scoured the frying pan, made ourselves food.
Randall brought a pail of water. We all ate together, without much
conversation; then lit our pipes and piled on dry wood to make a
brighter friendship fire.

"Now, boys," said Randall, "I'm going to ask you some questions; and you
can answer me or not, just as you please. Only I'll say, it isn't just
curiosity."

Johnny, who was studying him covertly from beneath the shadow of his
hat, nodded briefly, but said nothing.

"How long have you been in the mines?"

"Since March."

"Since March!" echoed Randall, as though a little bewildered at this
reply. "Yet you never heard----What camp?"

Johnny studied a while.

"Hangman's Gulch for six weeks," said he. "Then just prospecting."

"Where?"

"I don't believe I'll answer that question," replied Johnny slowly.

"But somewhere back in the hills?" persisted Randall.

"Somewhere back in the hills," agreed Johnny.

"Seems to me----" I broke in, but Johnny silenced me with a gesture. He
was watching Randall intently, and thinking hard.

"Then you have been out of it for three months or so. That explains it.
Now I don't mind telling you I came up here this evening to size you up.
I heard about your row with Scar-face Charley, and I wanted to see
whether you were just another fighting desperado or an honest man. Well,
I'm satisfied. I'm not going to ask you if you have much gold with you,
for you wouldn't tell me; but if you have, keep it with you. If you
don't, you'll lose it. Keep in the middle of the road, and out of dark
places. This is a tough camp; but there are a lot of us good men, too,
and my business is to get us all to know each other. Things are getting
bad, and we've got to get together. That's why I came up to see you. Are
you handy with a gun?" he asked abruptly.

"Fair," said Johnny.

"You need to be. Let's see if you are. Stand up. Try to get the draw on
me. Now!"

Johnny reached for his pistol, but before his hand was fairly on the
butt, Randall had thrust the muzzle of a small revolver beneath his
nose. His pale blue eyes had lit with concentration, his bleached
eyebrows were drawn together. For an instant the thought flashed across
my mind that this was a genuine hold-up; and I am sure Johnny caught the
same suspicion, for his figure stiffened. Then Randall dropped his hand.

"Very pretty," said Johnny coolly. "How did you do that? I didn't catch
your motion."

"From the sleeve," said Randall. "It's difficult, but it's pretty, as
you say; and if you learn to draw from the sleeve, I'll guarantee you'll
get the draw on your man every time."

"Show me," said Johnny simply.

"That gun of yours is too big; it's a holster weapon. Here, take this."

He handed Johnny a beautifully balanced small Colt's revolver, engraved,
silver-plated, with polished rosewood handles. This he showed Johnny how
to stow away in the sleeve, how to arrange it, how to grasp it, and the
exact motion in snatching it away.

"It takes practice, lots of it, and then more of it," said Randall.
"It's worse than useless unless you get it just right. If you made a
mistake at the wrong time, the other man would get you sure."

"Where can I get one of these?" asked Johnny.

"Good!" Randall approved his decision. "You see the necessity. You
can't. But a derringer is about as good, and Jones has them for sale.
Now as for your holster gun: the whole trick of quick drawing is to
throw your right shoulder forward and _drag_ the gun from the
holster with one forward sweep. Don't lift it up and out. This way!" He
snapped his hand past his hip and brought it away armed.

"Pretty," repeated Johnny.

"Don't waste much powder and ball shooting at a mark," advised Randall.
"It looks nice to cut out the ace of hearts at ten yards, but it doesn't
mean much. If you can shoot at all, you can shoot straight enough to hit
a man at close range. Practise the draw." He turned to me. "You'd better
practise, too. Every man's got to take care of himself these days. But
you're not due for trouble same as your friend is."

"I'm obliged to you," said Johnny.

"You are not. Now it's up to you. I judged you didn't know conditions
here, and I thought it only right to warn you. There's lots of good
fellows in this camp; and some of the hard cases are a pretty good sort.
Just keep organized, that's all."

"Now I wonder who Danny Randall is!" speculated Johnny after our visitor
had departed. "He talked as though we ought to know all about it. I'm
going to find out the first fellow I get acquainted with."

Next morning we asked the Moreñas who was Danny Randall.

"_El diabolo_," replied Moreña shortly; and trudged obstinately
away to his work without vouchsafing further information.

"Which is interesting, but indefinite," said Johnny.

We found Yank easier in body, and embarked on the sea of patience in
which he was to float becalmed until his time was up. In reply to his
inquiries as to our plans, we told him we were resting a few days, which
was the truth. Then we went up to town and made two purchases; a small
tent, and a derringer pistol. They cost us three hundred and fifty
dollars. It was the quiet time of day; the miners had gone to work, and
most of the gentlemen of leisure were not yet about. Nevertheless a
dozen or so sat against the walls, smoking paper cigarettos. They all
looked at us curiously; and several nodded at Johnny in a brief,
tentative sort of fashion.

The rest of the day, and of several days following, we spent in putting
up our tent, ditching it, arranging our cooking affairs, building rough
seats, and generally making ourselves comfortable. We stretched these
things to cover as long a space of time as possible, for we secretly
dreaded facing the resumption of the old grind, and postponed it as long
as we could. A good deal of the time we spent at Yank's bedside,
generally sitting silent and constrained, to the mutual discomfort of
all three of us, I am sure. At odd intervals we practised
conscientiously and solemnly at the "draw." We would stand facing each
other, the nipples of our revolvers uncapped, and would, at the given
word, see who could cover the other first. We took turns at giving the
word. At first we were not far apart; but Johnny quickly passed me in
skill. I am always somewhat clumsy, but my friend was naturally quick
and keen at all games of skill or dexterity. He was the sort of man who
could bowl, or play pool, or billiards, or anything else rather better
than the average accustomed player the first time he tried. He turned
card tricks deftly. At the end of our three days' loafing he caught me
at the end of his pistol so regularly that there ceased to be any
contest in it. I never did get the sleeve trick; but then, I never
succeeded in fooling the merest infant with any of my attempts at
legerdemain. Johnny could flip that little derringer out with a twist of
his supple wrist as neatly as a snake darts its forked tongue. For ten
minutes at a time he practised it, over and over, as regularly as
well-oiled machinery.

"But that proves nothing as to how it would work out in real action,"
said Johnny thoughtfully.

The afternoon of the third day, while we were resting from the heat
beneath the shade of our tree, we were approached by three men.

[Illustration: "THE BIG MAN WHIRLED TO THE FLOOR"]

"Howdy, boys," said the first. "We hain't seen you around camp lately,
and thought mebbe you'd flew."

"We are still here," replied Johnny with smooth politeness. "As you see,
we have been fixing our quarters to stay here."

"Scar-face Charley is here, too," observed the spokesman, "and he wanted
me to tell you that he is going to be at the Bella Union at eight this
evenin', and he wants to know, will he see you? and to come heeled."

"Thank you, gentlemen," replied Johnny quietly. "If by accident you
should happen to see the desperado in question--who, I assume, can be in
no way your friend--I hope you will tell him that I, too, will be at the
Bella Union at eight o'clock, and that I will come heeled."

"You'll be comin' alone?" said the man, "or p'rhaps yore friend----"

"My friend, as you call him, is simply a miner, and has nothing to do
with this," interrupted Johnny emphatically.

"I thank you, sir," said the spokesman, rising.

The other two, who had throughout said no word, followed his example.

"Do you know Danny Randall?" asked Johnny as they moved off.

If he had presented his derringer under their noses, they could not have
stopped more suddenly. They stared at each other a moment.

"Is he a friend of yours?" inquired the spokesman after an uncertain
moment.

"He likes fair play," said Johnny enigmatically.

The trio moved off in the direction of town.

"We don't know any more about Danny Randall than we did," observed
Johnny, "but I tried a shot in the dark."

"Nevertheless," I told him, "I'm going to be there; and you want to make
up your mind to just that."

"You will come, of course," agreed Johnny. "I suppose I cannot keep you
from that. But Jim," he commanded earnestly, "you must swear to keep out
of the row, unless it develops into a general one; and you must swear
not to speak to me or make any sign no matter what happens. I must play
a lone hand."

He was firm on this point; and in the end I gave my promise, to his
evident relief.

"This is our visitors' day, evidently," he observed. "Here come two more
men. One of them is the doctor; I'd know that hat two miles."

"The other is our friend Danny Randall," said I.

Dr. Rankin greeted us with a cordiality I had not suspected in him.
Randall nodded in his usual diffident fashion, and slid into the oak
shadow, where he squatted on his heels.

"About this Scar-face Charley," he said abruptly, "I hear he's issued
his defi, and you've taken him up. Do you know anything about this sort
of thing?"

"Not a bit," admitted Johnny frankly. "Is it a duel; and are you
gentleman here to act as my seconds?"

"It is not," stated the downright doctor. "It's a barroom murder and you
cannot get around it; and I, for one, don't try. But now you're in for
it, and you've got to go through with it."

"I intend to," said Johnny.

"It's not precisely that," objected Danny Randall, "for, d'ye see, he's
sent you warning."

"It's about all the warning you'll get!" snorted the doctor.

"There's a sort of rule about it," persisted Randall. "And that's what
I'm here to tell you. He'll try to come up on you suddenly, probably
from behind; and he'll say 'draw and defend yourself,' and shoot you as
soon after that as he can. You want to see him first, that's all."

"Thanks," said Johnny.

"And," exploded the doctor, "if you don't kill that fellow, by the
Eternal, when you get a chance----"

"You'll give him a pill, Doctor," interrupted Randall, with a little
chuckle. "But look here," he said to Johnny, "after all, this sort of a
mess isn't required of you. You say the word and I'll take on this
Scar-face Charley and run him out of town. He's a good deal of a pest."

"Thank you," said Johnny stiffly; "I intend to paddle my own canoe."

Randall nodded.

"I don't know as we can help you any more," said he. "I just thought you
ought to be on to the way it's done."

"I'm obliged to you," said Johnny warmly. "The only doubt in my mind was
when I was privileged to open."

"I'd pot him through the window with a shotgun first chance I got,"
stated the doctor; "that sort of a ruffian is just like a mad dog."

"Of course you would, Doctor," said Randall with just the faintest
suspicion of sarcasm in his voice. "Well, I guess we'll be toddling."

But I wanted some information, and I meant to have it.

"Who is this Scar-face Charley," I asked.

"Got me," replied Randall; "you fellows seemed to recognize him. Only
he's one of the gang, undoubtedly."

"The gang?"

"Oh, the general run of hangers-on. Nobody knows how they live, but
every one suspects. Some of them work, but not many. There are a heap of
disappearances that no one knows anything about; and every once in a
while a man is found drowned and floating; _floating_ mind you!"

"What of that?" I asked; "drowned bodies usually float."

"There's no miner in these diggings but has gold enough in his belt to
sink him. If a man floats, he's been robbed, and you can tie to that
reasoning. And the fellows are all well mounted, and given to mysterious
disappearances."

"In other words," broke in the doctor, "they are an organized band of
cut-throats and highway robbers making this honest camp a headquarters."

"Pshaw, Doctor," said Randall, "that's by no means certain."

"It's certain enough," insisted the doctor.

"I should think the miners would drive them out," I said.

"Drive them out!" cried the doctor bitterly; "they're too busy, and
their own toes haven't been trodden on, and they're too willing to let
well enough alone so as not to be interrupted in their confounded
digging for gold."

"They're not organized and they are quite justly unwilling to get in a
row with that gang when they know they'd be killed," stated Randall
quietly. "They're getting on 'well enough,' and they'll continue to be
run by this lot of desperadoes until something desperate happens. They
want to be let alone."

The doctor recovered his equanimity with an effort.

"They present the curious spectacle," said he thoughtfully, "of the
individual man in a new untrammelled liberty trying to escape his moral
obligations to society. He escapes them for a while, but they are there;
and in the end he must pay in violence."

Randall laughed and arose.

"If the doctor is going to begin that sort of thing, I'm going," said
he.

Our visitors took their departure.

"Oh, Doctor, one moment!" I called; then, as he returned. "Tell me, who
and what is Danny Randall?"

"Danny Randall," said the doctor, a humorous twinkle coming into his
eyes, "is a gentleman of fortune."

"And now we know a lot more than we did before!" said Johnny, as we
watched the receding figures.



CHAPTER XXX

THE FIGHT


We ate a very silent supper, washed our dishes methodically, and walked
up to town. The Bella Union was the largest of the three gambling
houses--a log and canvas structure some forty feet long by perhaps
twenty wide. A bar extended across one end, and the gaming tables were
arranged down the middle. A dozen oil lamps with reflectors furnished
illumination.

All five tables were doing a brisk business; when we paused at the door
for a preliminary survey, the bar was lined with drinkers, and groups of
twos and threes were slowly sauntering here and there or conversing at
the tops of their voices with many guffaws. The air was thick with
tobacco smoke. Johnny stepped just inside the door, moved sideways, and
so stood with his back to the wall. His keen eyes went from group to
group slowly, resting for a moment in turn on each of the five impassive
gamblers and their lookouts, on the two barkeepers, and then one by one
on the men with whom the place was crowded. Following his, my glance
recognized at a corner of the bar Danny Randall with five rough-looking
miners. He caught my eye and nodded. No one else appeared to notice us,
though I imagined the noise of the place sank and rose again at the
first moment of our entrance.

"Jim," said Johnny to me quietly, "there's Danny Randall at the other
end of the room. Go join him. I want you to leave me to play my own
game."

I started to object.

"Please do as I say," insisted Johnny. "I can take care of myself unless
there's a general row. In that case all my friends are better together."

Without further protest I left him, and edged my way to the little group
at the end of the bar. Randall nodded to me as I came up, and motioned
to the barkeeper to set me out a glass, but said nothing. Ours was the
only lot away from the gaming tables not talking. We sipped our drink
and watched Johnny.

After surveying coolly the room, Johnny advanced to the farther of the
gambling tables, and began to play. His back was toward the entrance.
The game was roulette, and Johnny tossed down his bets methodically,
studying with apparent absorption each shift of the wheel. To all
appearance he was intent on the game, and nothing else; and he talked
and laughed with his neighbours and the dealer as though his spirit were
quite carefree.

For ten minutes we watched. Then a huge figure appeared in the blackness
of the doorway, slipped through, and instantly to one side, so that his
back was to the wall. Scar-face Charley had arrived.

He surveyed the place as we had done, almost instantly caught sight of
Johnny, and immediately began to make his way across the room through
the crowds of loungers. Johnny was laying a bet, bending over the table,
joking with the impassive dealer, his back turned to the door, totally
oblivious of his enemy's approach. I started forward, instantly realized
the hopelessness of either getting quickly through that crowd or of
making myself heard, and leaned back, clutching the rail with both
hands. Johnny was hesitating, his hand hovering uncertainly above the
marked squares of the layout, in doubt exactly where to bet. Scar-face
Charley shouldered his way through the loungers and reached the clear
space immediately behind his unconscious victim. He stopped for an
instant, squared his shoulders, and took one step forward. Johnny
dropped his chips on the felt layout, contemplated his choice an
instant--and suddenly whirled on his heel in a lightning about-face.

Although momentarily startled by this unexpected evidence that Johnny
was not so far off guard as he had seemed, the desperado's hand dropped
swiftly to the butt of his pistol. At the same instant Johnny's arm
snapped forward in the familiar motion of drawing from the sleeve. The
motion started clean and smooth, but half through, caught, dragged,
halted. I gasped aloud, but had time for no more than that; Scar-face
Charley's revolver was already on the leap. Then at last Johnny's
derringer appeared, apparently as the result of a desperate effort.
Almost with the motion, it barked, and the big man whirled to the floor,
his pistol, already at half raise, clattering away. The whole episode
from the beginning occupied the space of two eye-winks. Probably no one
but myself and Danny Randall could have caught the slight hitch in
Johnny's draw; and indeed I doubt if anybody saw whence he had snatched
the derringer.

A complete silence fell. It could have lasted only an instant; but
Johnny seized that instant.

"Has this man any friends here?" he asked clearly.

His head was back, and his snapping black eyes seemed to see everywhere
at once.

No one answered or stirred. Johnny held them for perhaps ten seconds,
then deliberately turned back to the table.

"That's my bet on the _even_," said he. "Let her roll!"

The gambler lifted his face, white in the brilliant illumination
directly over his head, and I thought to catch a flicker of something
like admiration in his passionless eyes. Then with his left hand he spun
the wheel.

The soft, dull whir and tiny clicking of the ball as it rebounded from
the metal grooves struck across the tense stillness. As though this was
the releasing signal, a roar of activity burst forth. Men all talked at
once. The other tables and the bar were deserted, and everybody crowded
down toward the lower end of the room. Danny Randall and his friends
rushed determinedly to the centre of disturbance. Some men were carrying
out Scar-face Charley. Others were talking excitedly. A little clear
space surrounded the roulette table, at which, as may be imagined,
Johnny was now the only player. Quite methodically he laid three more
bets.

"I think that's enough for now," he told the dealer pleasantly, and
turned away.

"Hullo! Randall! hullo! Frank!" he greeted us. "I've just won three bets
straight. Let's have a drink. Bring your friends," he told Randall.

We turned toward the bar and way was instantly made for us. Johnny
poured himself a big drink of whiskey. A number of curious men, mere
boys most of them, had crowded close after us, and were standing staring
at Johnny with a curiosity they made slight attempt to conceal. Johnny
suddenly turned to them, holding high his whiskey in a hand as steady as
a rock.

"Here's to crime, boys!" he said, and drank it down at a gulp. Then he
stood staring them uncomprisingly in the face, until they had slunk
away. He called for and drank another whiskey, then abruptly moved
toward the door.

"I think I'll go turn in," said he.

At the door he stopped.

"Good-night," he said to Randall and his friends, who had followed us.
"No, I am obliged to you," he replied to a suggestion, "but I need no
escort," and he said it so firmly that all but Randall went back.

"I'm going to your camp with you, whether you need an escort or not,"
said the latter.

Without a word Johnny walked away down the street, very straight. We
hurried to catch up with him; and just as we did so he collapsed to the
ground and was suddenly and violently sick. As I helped him to his feet,
I could feel that his arm was trembling violently.

"Lord, fellows! I'm ashamed," he gasped a little hysterically. "I didn't
know I had so little nerve!"

"Nerve!" suddenly roared Danny Randall; "confound your confounded
impudence! If I ever hear you say another word like that, I'll put a
head on you, if it's the last act of my life! You're the gamest little
chicken in this roost, and I'll make you beg like a hound if you say you
aren't!"

Johnny laughed a little uncertainly over this contradiction.

"Did I kill him?" he asked.

"No, worse luck; just bored him through the collarbone. That heavy
little derringer ball knocked him out."

"I'm glad of that," said Johnny.

"Which I am _not_," stated Danny Randall with emphasis. "You ought
to have killed him."

"Thanks to you I wasn't killed myself. I couldn't have hoped to get the
draw on him with my holster gun. He is as quick as a snake."

"I thought you were going to bungle it," said Randall. "What was the
matter?"

"Front sight caught at the edge of my sleeve. I had to tear it loose by
main strength. I'm going to file it off. What's the use of a front sight
at close range?"

I heaved a deep sigh.

"Well, I don't want ever to be so scared again," I confessed. "Will you
tell me, by all that's holy, _why_ you turned your back on the
door?"

"Well," said Johnny seriously, "I wanted to get him close to me. If I
had shown him that I'd seen him when he first came in the door, he'd
have opened fire at once. And I'm a rotten shot. But I figured that if
he thought I didn't see him, he'd come across the room to me."

"But he nearly got you by surprise."

"Oh, no," said Johnny; "I saw him all the time. I got his reflection
from the glass over that picture of the beautiful lady sitting on the
Old Crow Whiskey barrel. That's why I picked out that table."

"My son," cried Danny Randall delightedly, "you're a true sport. You've
got a head, you have!"

"Well," said Johnny, "I figured I'd have to do _something_; I'm
such a rotten shot."



CHAPTER XXXI

THE EXPRESS MESSENGER


We slept late the following morning, and awoke tired, as though we had
been on a long journey.

"Now," said Johnny, when our after-breakfast pipes had been lit, "we've
got to get together. There's two serious questions before the house: the
first and most important is, who and what is Danny Randall?"

"I agree with you there," said I heartily.

"And the second is, what are we going to do with ourselves?"

"I'm going to begin mining," I stated.

"All right, old strong-arm; I am not. I'm dead sick of cricking my back
and blistering my hands. It isn't my kind of work; and the only reason I
ever thought it was is because the stuff we dig is called gold."

"You aren't going to lie down?" I cried incredulously.

"No, old sport, I'm not going to lie down. I came out here to make my
fortune; but I don't know that I've got to dig gold to do that."

"What are you going to do?"

"That I don't know," confessed Johnny, "but I'll be able to inform you
in a few days. I suppose you'll be going back to the Porcupine?"

"I don't know about that," said I seriously. "I don't believe the
Porcupine is any richer than these diggings, and it's mighty uncertain.
I believe a man's more apt to keep what he gets here, and there's a lot
more company, and----"

"In other words, you're going to stick around old Yank or know the
reason why!" interrupted Johnny with a little smile.

I flushed, hesitated, then blurted out: "Well, yes. I shouldn't be easy
about him here by himself. It strikes me this is a tough camp, and
almost anything's likely to happen."

"I feel the same way," confessed Johnny. "We're all partners. All right;
'stick' it is. We'll have to be mighty plausible to keep Yank quiet.
That's agreed," he grinned. "Now I'm going up to town to find out about
Danny Randall, and incidentally to look around for something to do.
You're a good steady liar; you go over and talk to Yank."

We separated until noon. I had no great difficulty with Yank, either
because I was, as Johnny said, a plausible liar, or because Yank was
secretly glad to have us near. After visiting with him a while I took
the axe and set about the construction of a cradle. Johnny returned near
twelve o'clock to find me at this useful occupation.

"As to Danny Randall," he began at once, squatting near by: "Origin lost
in mists of obscurity. First known in this country as guide to a party
of overland immigrants before the gold discovery. One of the original
Bear Flag revolutionists. Member of Fremont's raiders in the south.
Showed up again at Sonoma and headed a dozen forays after the
horse-thieving Indians and half-breeds in the San Joaquin. Seems now to
follow the mines. Guaranteed the best shot with rifle or pistol in the
state. Guaranteed the best courage and the quietest manners in the
state. Very eminent and square in his profession. That's his entire
history."

"What is his profession?" I asked.

"He runs the Bella Union."

"A gambler?" I cried, astonished.

"Just so--a square gambler."

I digested this in silence for a moment.

"Did you discover anything for yourself?" I asked at last.

"Best job ever invented," said Johnny triumphantly, "at three ounces a
day; and I can't beat that at your beastly digging."

"Yes?" I urged.

"I invented it myself, too," went on Johnny proudly. "You remember what
Randall--or the doctor--said about the robberies, and the bodies of the
drowned men floating? Well, every man carries his dust around in a belt
because he dare not do anything else with it. I do myself, and so do
you; and you'll agree that it weighs like the mischief. So I went to
Randall and I suggested that we start an express service to get the
stuff out to bank with some good firm in San Francisco. He fell in with
the idea in a minute. My first notion was that we take it right through
to San Francisco ourselves; but he says he can make satisfactory
arrangements to send it in from Sacramento. That's about sixty miles;
and we'll call it a day's hard ride through this country, with a change
of horses. So now I'm what you might call an express messenger--at three
good ounces a day."

"But you'll be killed and robbed!" I cried.

Johnny's eyes were dancing.

"Think of the fun!" said he.

"You're a rotten shot," I reminded him.

"I'm to practise, under Danny Randall, from now until the first trip."

"When is that?"

"Do you think we'll advertise the date? Of course I'd tell you, Jim; but
honestly I don't know yet."

Since the matter seemed settled, and Johnny delighted, I said no more.
My cradle occupied me for three days longer. In that length of time
Johnny banged away an immense quantity of ammunition, much of it under
the personal supervision of Danny Randall. The latter had his own ideas
as to the proper practice. He utterly refused to let Johnny shoot at a
small mark or linger on his aim.

"It's only fairly accurate work you want, but quick," said he. "If you
practise always getting hold of your revolver the same way, and squeeze
the trigger instead of jerking it, you'll do. If you run against robbers
it isn't going to be any target match."

When my cradle was finished, I went prospecting with a pan; and since
this was that golden year 1849, and the diggings were neither crowded
nor worked out, I soon found 'colour.' There I dragged my cradle, and
set quite happily to work. Since I performed all my own labour, the
process seemed slow to me after the quick results of trained
cooperation; yet my cleanings at night averaged more than my share used
to be under the partnership. So I fell into settled work, well content.
A week later Johnny rode up on a spirited and beautiful horse, proud as
could be over his mount.

He confided to me that it was one of the express horses; that the first
trip would be very soon; and that if I desired to send out my own
savings, I could do so. I was glad to do this, even though the rates
were high; and we easily persuaded Yank of the advisability. Nobody
anticipated any danger from this first trip, for the simple reason that
few knew anything about it. Randall and his friends made up the amount
that could be carried by the three men. For the first time I learned
that Johnny had companions. They started from our own tent, a little
after sundown. Indeed, they ate their supper with us, while their
beautiful horses, head high, stared out into the growing darkness. One
of the express riders was a slight, dark youth whom I had never seen
before. In the other I was surprised to recognize Old Hickory Pine. He
told me his people had "squatted" not far from Sacramento, but that he
had come up into the hills on summons by Danny Randall. The fact
impressed me anew as to Randall's wide knowledge, for the Pines had not
been long in the country.

The trip went through without incident. Johnny returned four days later
aglow with the joy of that adventurous ride through the dark. Robbers
aside, I acknowledge I should not have liked that job. I am no horseman,
and I confess that at full speed I am always uneasy as to how a
four-hoofed animal is going successfully to plant all four of them. And
these three boys, for they were nothing else, had to gallop the thirty
miles of the road to Sacramento that lay in the mountains before dawn
caught them in the defiles.

Johnny seemed to glory in it, however. Danny Randall had arranged for a
change of horses; and the three express riders liked to dash up at full
speed to the relay station, fling themselves and their treasure bags
from one beast to the other, and be off again with the least possible
expenditure of time. The incoming animal had hardly come to a stand
before the fresh animal was off. There could have been no real occasion
for quite so much haste; but they liked to do it. The trips were made at
irregular intervals; and the riders left camp at odd times. Indeed, no
hour of the twenty-four was unlikely to be that of their start. Each boy
carried fifty pounds of gold dust distributed in four pouches. This was
a heavy weight, but it was compensated for to some extent by the fact
that they rode very light saddles. Thus every trip the enormous sum of
thirty-five thousand dollars went out in charge of the three.

The first half dozen journeys were more or less secret, so that the
express service did not become known to the general public. Then the
news inevitably leaked out. Danny Randall thereupon openly received
shipments and gave receipts at the Bella Union. It seemed to me only a
matter of time before the express messengers should be waylaid, for the
treasure they carried was worth any one's while. I spoke to Randall
about it one day.

"If Amijo or Murietta or Dick Temple were in this part of the country,
I'd agree with you," said he seriously, "but they are not, and there's
nobody in this lot of cheap desperadoes around here that has the nerve.
Those three boys have a big reputation as fighters; their horses are
good; they constantly vary their route and their times of starting; and
Johnny in especial has a foxy head on him."

"The weak point is the place they change horses," said I.

Randall looked at me quickly, as though surprised.

"Why, that's true," said he; "not a doubt of it. But I've got five armed
men there to look after just that. And another thing you must remember:
they know that Danny Randall is running this show."

Certainly, thought I, Danny at least appreciates himself; and yet, after
all, I do not think he in any way exaggerated the terror his name
inspired.



CHAPTER XXXII

ITALIAN BAR


As now we are all settled down to our various occupations, Yank of
patience, Johnny of delighted adventuring, and myself of dogged
industry, it might be well to give you some sort of a notion of Italian
Bar, as this new camp was called. I saw a great deal of it, more than I
really wished, for out of working hours I much frequented it in the
vague hope of keeping tabs on its activities for Johnny's sake.

It was situated on one of the main overland trails, and that was
possibly the only reason its rich diggings had not been sooner
discovered--it was too accessible! The hordes of immigrants dragged
through the dusty main street, sometimes in an almost unending
procession. More of them hereafter; they were in general a sad lot. Some
of them were always encamped in the flats below town; and about one of
the stores a number of them could be seen trying to screw their
resolution up to paying the appalling prices for necessities. The
majority had no spare money, and rarely any spirit left; and nobody paid
much attention to them except to play practical jokes on them. Very few
if any of this influx stopped at Italian Bar. Again it was too
accessible. They had their vision fixed hypnotically on the West, and
westward they would push until they bumped the Pacific Ocean. Of course
a great many were no such dumb creatures, but were capable, self-reliant
men who knew what they were about and where they were going. Nobody
tried to play any practical jokes on them.

Of the regular population I suppose three fourths were engaged in gold
washing. The miners did not differ from those of their class anywhere
else; that is to say, they were of all nationalities, all classes of
life, and all degrees of moral responsibility. They worked doggedly and
fast in order to get as much done as possible before the seasonal rains.
When night fell the most of them returned to their cabins and slept the
sleep of the weary; with a weekly foray into town of a more or less
lurid character. They had no time for much else, in their notion; and on
that account were, probably unconsciously, the most selfish community I
ever saw. There was a great deal of sickness, and many deaths, but
unless a man had a partner or a friend to give him some care, he might
die in his cabin for all the attention any one else would pay him. In
the same spirit only direct personal interest would arouse in any of
them the least indignation over the only too frequent killings and
robberies.

"They found a man shot by the Upper Bend this morning," remarks one to
his neighbour.

"That so? Who was he?" asks the other.

"Don't know. Didn't hear," is the reply.

The barroom or street killings, which averaged in number at least two or
three a week, while furnishing more excitement, aroused very little more
real interest. Open and above-board homicides of that sort were always
the result of differences of opinion. If the victim had a friend, the
latter might go gunning for his pal's slayer; but nobody had enough
personal friends to elevate any such row to the proportions of a general
feud.

All inquests were set aside until Sunday. A rough and ready public
meeting invariably brought in the same verdict--"justifiable
self-defence." At these times, too, popular justice was dispensed, but
carelessly and not at all in the spirit of the court presided over by
John Semple at Hangman's Gulch. A general air of levity characterized
these occasions, which might strike as swift and deadly a blow as a
shaft of lightning, or might puff away as harmlessly as a summer zephyr.
Many a time, until I learned philosophically to stay away, did my blood
boil over the haphazard way these men had of disposing of some poor
creature's destinies.

"Here's a Mex thief," observed the chair. "What do you want done with
him?"

"Move we cut off his ears!" yelled a voice from the back of the crowd.

"Make it fifty lashes!" shouted another.

A wrangle at once started between the advocates of cropping and the
whip. The crowd wearied of it.

"Let the ---- ---- ---- go!" suggested someone.

And this motion was carried with acclamation. No evidence was offered or
asked as to the extent of the man's guilt, or indeed if he was guilty at
all!

The meeting had a grim sense of humour, and enjoyed nothing more than
really elaborate foolery. Such as, for example, the celebrated case of
Pio Chino's bronco.

Pio Chino was a _cargador_ running a train of pack-mules into some
back-country camp. His bell mare was an ancient white animal with long
shaggy hair, ewe neck, bulging joints, a placid wall eye, the full
complement of ribs, and an extraordinarily long Roman nose ending in a
pendulous lip. Yet fifteen besotted mules thought her beautiful, and
followed her slavishly, in which fact lay her only value. Now somebody,
probably for a joke, "lifted" this ancient wreck from poor Chino on the
ground that it had never been Chino's property anyway. Chino, with
childlike faith in the dignity of institutions, brought the matter
before the weekly court.

That body took charge with immense satisfaction. It appointed lawyers
for the prosecution and the defence.

Prosecution started to submit Chino's claim.

Defence immediately objected on the ground that Chino, being a person of
colour, was not qualified to testify against a white man.

This point was wrangled over with great relish for an hour or more. Then
two solemn individuals were introduced as experts to decide whether
Chino was a man of colour, or, as the prosecution passionately
maintained, a noble, great-minded and patriotic California member of the
Caucasian race.

"Gentlemen," the court addressed this pair, "is there any infallible
method by which your science is able to distinguish between a nigger and
a white man?"

"There is," answered one of the "experts."

"What?"

"The back teeth of a white man have small roots reaching straight down,"
expounded the "expert" solemnly, "while those of a negro have roots
branching in every direction."

"And how do you expect to determine this case?"

"By extracting one or more of the party's back teeth," announced the
"expert" gravely, at the same time producing a huge pair of horseshoeing
nippers.

Chino uttered a howl, but was violently restrained from bolting. He was
understood to say that he didn't want that mare. I should not have been
a bit surprised if they had carried the idea of extraction to a finish;
but the counsel for defence interposed, waiving the point. He did not
want the fun to come to that sort of a termination.

Prosecution then offered the evidence of Chino's brand. Now that old
mare was branded from muzzle to tail, and on both sides. She must have
been sold and resold four or five times for every year of her long and
useful life. The network of brands was absolutely indecipherable.

"Shave her!" yelled some genius.

That idea caught hold. The entire gathering took an interest in the
operation, which half a dozen men performed. They shaved that poor old
mare from nose to the tip of her ratlike tail. Not even an eye-winker
was left to her. She resembled nothing so much as one of the sluglike
little Mexican hairless dogs we had seen on the Isthmus. The brands now
showed plainly enough, but were as complicated as ever in appearance.
Thunders of mock forensic oratory shook the air. I remember defence
acknowledged that in that multiplicity of lines the figure of Chino's
brand could be traced; but pointed to the stars of the heavens and the
figures of their constellations to prove what could be done by a vivid
imagination in evolving fancy patterns. By this time it was late, and
court was adjourned until next week.

The following Sunday, after a tremendous legal battle, conducted with
the relishing solemnity with which Americans like to take their fooling,
it was decided to call in an expert on brands, and a certain California
rancher ten miles distant was agreed upon.

"But," objected the defence, "he is a countryman of the complainant.
However honest, he will nevertheless sympathize with his own blood.
Before the case is put before him, he should view these brands as an
unprejudiced observer. I suggest that they be transcribed to paper and
submitted to him without explanation."

This appealed to the crowd. The astonished mare was again led out, and
careful drawings made of her most remarkable sides. Then the case was
again adjourned one week.

On that day the Californian was on hand, very grave, very much dressed
up, very flattered at being called as an expert in anything. The drawing
was laid before him.

"Don Luis," said the court formally, "what do you, as expert, make of
that?"

Don Luis bent his grave Spanish head over the document for some minutes.
Then he turned it upside down and examined it again; sideways; the other
end. When he looked up a little twinkle of humour lurked deep in his
black eyes, but his face was solemn and ceremonious.

"Well, Don Luis," repeated the court, "what do you make of it?"

"Señor," replied Don Luis courteously, "it looks to me like a most
excellent map of Sonora."

When the crowd had quieted down after this, the court ordered the animal
brought forth.

"May it please y'r honour, the critter got a chill and done died,"
announced the cadaverous Missourian, to whose care the animal had been
confided.

"H'm," said the court. "Well, here's the court's decision in this case.
Pio Chino fined one drink for taking up our valuable time; Abe Sellers
fined one drink for claiming such an old crow-bait on any grounds; Sam
is fined one drink for not putting a blanket on that mare." ("I only got
one blanket myself!" cried the grieved Missourian.) "The fines must be
paid in to the court at the close of this session."

Hugely tickled, the meeting arose. Pio Chino, to whom the tidings of his
bell mare's demise was evidently news, stood the picture of dejected
woe. His downcast figure attracted the careless attention of one of the
men.

"Here boys!" he yelled, snatching off his hat. "This ain't so damn funny
for Chino here!" He passed the hat among the crowd. They tossed in gold,
good-naturedly, abundantly, with a laugh. Nobody knows what amount was
dumped into the astounded Chino's old sombrero; but the mare was
certainly not worth over fifteen dollars. If some one had dragged Chino
before that same gathering under unsupported accusation of any sort, it
would as cheerfully and thoughtlessly have hung him.

Of the gambling places, one only--that conducted by Danny Randall and
called the Bella Union--inspired any sort of confidence. The other two
were frequented by a rough, insolent crew, given to sudden silences in
presence of newcomers, good-humoured after a wild and disconcerting
fashion, plunging heavily at the gaming tables and drinking as heavily
at the bars. This is not to imply that any strong line of demarcation
existed between the habitues of one or the other of these places. When
an inhabitant of Italian Bar started out for relaxation, he visited
everything there was to visit, and drifted impartially between Morton's,
Randall's Bella Union, and the Empire. There was a good deal of noise
and loud talk in any of them; and occasionally a pistol shot. This was
generally a signal for most of the bystanders to break out through the
doors and windows, and for the gayly inclined to shoot out the lights.
The latter feat has often been cited admiringly as testifying to a high
degree of marksmanship, but as a matter of fact the wind and concussion
from the heavy revolver bullets were quite sufficient to put out any
lamp to which the missiles passed reasonably close. Sometimes these
affrays resulted in material for the Sunday inquests; but it is
astonishing how easily men can miss each other at close range. Most of
the shootings were the results of drunken quarrels. For that reason the
professed gunmen were rarely involved. One who possessed an established
reputation was let alone by the ordinary citizen; and most severely
alone by the swaggering bullies, of whom there were not a few. These
latter found prey for their queer stripe of vanity among the young, the
weak, and the drunken. I do not hesitate to say that any man of
determined character could keep out of trouble even in the worst days of
the camp, provided he had no tempting wealth, attended to his own
affairs, and maintained a quiet though resolute demeanour.

When in camp Johnny and his two companions shone as bright particular
stars. They were only boys, and they had blossomed out in wonderful
garments. Johnny had a Californian sombrero with steeple crown loaded
with silver ornaments, and a pair of Spanish spurs heavily inlaid with
the same metal, a Chinese scarf about his neck, and a short jacket
embroidered with silver thread. But most astonishing of all was a large
off-colour diamond set in a ring, through which he ran the ends of his
scarf. Parenthetically, it was from this that he got his sobriquet of
Diamond Jack. I had a good deal of fun laughing at Johnny, but he didn't
mind.

"This diamond," he pointed out, "is just as good as gold dust, it's
easier carried, and I can have some fun out of it."

I am afraid he and Old Hickory Pine and Cal Marsh did a bit of
swaggering while in town. They took a day to the down trip, and jogged
back in a day and a half, stopping in Sacramento only the extra half
day. Then they rested with us one day, and were off the next. Thus they
accomplished seven or eight trips in the month. Both Old and Cal had the
reputation of being quick, accurate shots, although I have never seen
them perform. As the three of them were absolutely inseparable they made
a formidable combination that nothing but an organized gang would care
to tackle. Consequently they swaggered as much as they pleased. At
bottom they were good, clean, attractive boys, who were engaged in an
adventure that was thrilling enough in sober reality, but which they
loved to deck forth in further romance. They one and all assumed the
stern, aloof, lofty pose of those whose affairs were too weighty to
permit mingling with ordinary amusements. Their speech was laconic,
their manners grave, their attitude self-contained. It was a good thing,
I believe; for outside the fact that it kept them out of quarrels, it
kept them also out of drinking and gambling.

I made many acquaintances of course, but only a few friends. The best of
these were Dr. Rankin and Danny Randall. Strangely enough, these two
were great pals. Danny had a little room back of the Bella Union
furnished out with a round table, a dozen chairs, and a sofa. Here he
loved to retire with his personal friends to sip drinks, smoke, and to
discuss all sorts of matters. A little glassless window gave into the
Bella Union, and as the floor of the little room was raised a foot or
so, Danny sat where he could see everything that went on. These
gatherings varied in number, but never exceeded the capacity of the
dozen chairs. I do not know how Danny had caused it to be understood
that these were invitation affairs, but understood it was, and no one
ever presumed to intrude unbidden into the little room. Danny selected
his company as the fancy took him.

As to why he should so often have chosen me I must again confess
ignorance. Perhaps because I was a good listener. If so, the third
member of a very frequent triumvirate, Dr. Rankin, was invited for the
opposite quality. The doctor was a great talker, an analyst of
conditions, and a philosophical spectator. The most frequent theme of
our talks was the prevalence of disorder. On this subject the doctor had
very decided views.

"There is disorder because we shirk our duty as a community," he stated,
"and we shirk our duty as a community because we believe in our hearts
that we aren't a community. What does Jones or Smith or Robinson or
anybody else really care for Italian Bar as a place; or, indeed, for
California as a place? Not a tinker's damn! He came out here in the
first place to make his pile, and in the second place to have a good
time. He isn't dependent on any one's good opinion, as he used to be at
home. He refuses to be bothered with responsibilities and he doesn't
need to be. Why a pan miner needn't even speak to his next neighbour
unless he wants to; and a cradle miner need bother only with his
partners!"

"Miners' meetings have done some pretty good legislation," I pointed
out.

"Legislation; yes!" cried the doctor. "Haven't you discovered that the
American has a perfect genius for organization? Eight coal heavers on a
desert island would in a week have a full list of officers, a code of
laws, and would be wrangling over ridiculous parliamentary points of
order in their meetings. That's just the trouble. The ease with which
Americans can sketch out a state on paper is an anodyne to conscience.
We get together and pass a lot of resolutions, and go away with a
satisfied feeling that we've really done something."

"But I believe a camp like this may prove permanent," objected Randall.

"Exactly. And by that very fact a social obligation comes into
existence. Trouble is, every mother's son tries to escape it in his own
case. What is every one's business is no one's business. Every fellow
thinks he's got away from being bothered with such things. Sooner or
later he'll find out he hasn't, and then he'll have to pay for his
vacation."

"We never stood for much thieving at Hangman's Gulch," I interposed.

"What did you do?"

"We whipped and sent them about their business."

"To some other camp. You merely passed on your responsibility; you
didn't settle it. Your whipping merely meant turning loose a revengeful
and desperate man. Your various banishments merely meant your exchanging
these fiends with the other camps. It's like scattering the coyotes that
come around your fire."

"What would you do, Doctor?" asked Randall quietly; "we have no regular
law."

"Why not? Why don't you adopt a little regular law? You need about three
in this camp--against killing, against thievery, and against assault.
Only enforce in every instance, as far as possible."

"You can't get this crowd to take time investigating the troubles of
some man they never heard of."

"Exactly."

"And if they get too bad," said Danny, "we'll have to get the stranglers
busy."

"Confound it, man!" roared Dr. Rankin, beating the table, "that's just
what I've been trying to tell you. You ought not to care so much for
punishing as for deterring. Don't you know that it's a commonplace that
it isn't the terrifying quality of the penalty that acts as a deterrent
to crime, but it's the certainty of the penalty! If a horse thief knows
that there's merely a chance the community will get mad enough to hang
him, he'll take that chance in hopes this may not be the time. If, on
the other hand, he knows that _every time_ he steals a horse he's
going to be caught and fined even, he thinks a long time before he
steals it."

"All that's true, Doctor," said Danny, "as theory; but now I'm coming to
bat with a little practice. Here's the camp of Italian Bar in the year
1849. What would you do?"

"Elect the proper officers and enforce the law," answered the doctor
promptly.

"Who would you elect?"

"There are plenty of good men here."

"Name me any one who would take the job. The good men are all washing
gold; and they're in a hurry to finish before the rains. I don't care
who you're about to name--if anybody; this is about what he'd say: 'I
can't afford to leave my claim; I didn't come out here to risk my life
in that sort of a row; I am leaving for the city when the rains begin,
and I don't know that I'll come back to Italian Bar next season!'"

"Make it worth their while. Pay them," insisted the doctor stoutly.

"And how's the money to pay them to be collected? You'd have to create
the officers of a government--and pay _them_."

"Well, why not?"

"At the election, who would take interest to elect a decent man, even if
you could get hold of one? Not the other decent men. They're too busy,
and too little interested. But the desperadoes and hard characters would
be very much interested in getting some of their own stripe in office.
The chances are they would be coming back to Italian Bar next season,
especially if they had the legal machinery for keeping themselves out of
trouble. You'd simply put yourself in their power."

Dr. Rankin shook his head.

"Just the same, you'll see that I am right," he prophesied. "This
illusion of freedom to the social obligation is only an illusion. It
will have to be paid for with added violence and turmoil."

"Why, I believe you're right as to that, Doctor," agreed Danny, "but
I've discovered that often in this world a man has to pay a high price
for what he gets. In fact, sometimes it's very expedient to pay a high
price."

"I can foresee a lot of violence before the thing is worked out."

At this point the doctor, to his manifest disgust, was summoned to
attend to some patient.

"That all sounds interesting," said I to Danny Randall once we were
alone, "but I don't exactly fit it in."

"It means," said Danny, "that some day Morton's gang will go a little
too far, and we'll have to get together and string some of them up."



CHAPTER XXXIII

THE OVERLAND IMMIGRANTS


The overland immigrants never ceased to interest us. The illness,
destitution, and suffering that obtained among these people has never
been adequately depicted. For one outfit with healthy looking members
and adequate cattle there were dozens conducted by hollow-eyed, gaunt
men, drawn by few weak animals. Women trudged wearily, carrying
children. And the tales they brought were terrible. They told us of
thousands they had left behind in the great desert of the Humboldt Sink,
fighting starvation, disease, and the loss of cattle. Women who had lost
their husbands from the deadly cholera were staggering on without food
or water, leading their children. The trail was lined with dead mules
and cattle. Some said that five thousand had perished on the plains from
cholera alone. In the middle of the desert, miles from anywhere, were
the death camps, the wagons drawn in the usual circle, the dead animals
tainting the air, every living human being crippled from scurvy and
other diseases. There was no fodder for the cattle, and one man told us
that he estimated, soberly, that three fourths of the draught animals on
the plains must die.

"And then where will their owners be?"

The Indians were hostile and thieving. Most of the ample provision that
had been laid in had to be thrown away to lighten the loads for the
enfeebled animals. Such immigrants as got through often arrived in an
impoverished condition. Many of these on the route were reduced by
starvation to living on the putrefied flesh of the dead animals along
the road. This occasioned more sickness. The desert seemed interminable.
At nightfall the struggling trains lay down exhausted with only the
assurance of another scorching, burning day to follow. And when at last
a few reached the Humboldt River, they found it almost impossible to
ford--and the feed on the other side. In the distance showed the high
forbidding ramparts of the Sierra Nevadas. A man named Delano told us
that five men drowned themselves in the Humboldt River in one day out of
sheer discouragement. Another man said he had saved the lives of his
oxen by giving some Indians fifteen dollars to swim the river and float
some grass across to him. The water of the Humboldt had a bad effect on
horses, and great numbers died. The Indians stole others. The animals
that remained were weak. The destruction of property was immense, for
everything that could be spared was thrown away in order to lighten the
loads. The road was lined with abandoned wagons, stoves, mining
implements, clothes.

We were told these things over and over, heavily, in little snatches, by
men too wearied and discouraged and beaten even to rejoice that they had
come through alive. They were not interested in telling us, but they
told, as though their minds were so full that they could not help it. I
remember one evening when we were feeding at our camp the members of one
of these trains, a charity every miner proffered nearly every day of the
week. The party consisted of one wagon, a half dozen gaunt, dull-eyed
oxen, two men, and a crushed-looking, tragic young woman. One of the men
had in a crude way the gift of words.

He told of the crowds of people awaiting the new grass at Independence
in Missouri, of the making up of the parties, the election of officers
for the trip, the discussion of routes, the visiting, the campfires, the
boundless hope.

"There were near twenty thousand people waiting for the grass," said our
friend; a statement we thought exaggerated, but one which I have
subsequently found to be not far from the truth.

By the middle of May the trail from the Missouri River to Fort Laramie
was occupied by a continuous line of wagons.

"That was fine travelling," said the immigrant in the detached way of
one who speaks of dead history. "There was grass and water; and the
wagon seemed like a little house at night. Everybody was jolly. It
didn't last long."

After Fort Laramie there were three hundred miles of plains, with little
grass and less water.

"We thought that was a desert!" exclaimed the immigrant bitterly. "My
God! Quite a lot turned back at Laramie. They were scared by the cholera
that broke out, scared by the stories of the desert, scared by the
Indians. They went back. I suppose they're well and hearty--and kicking
themselves every gold report that goes back east."

The bright anticipations, the joy of the life, the romance of the
journey all faded before the grim reality. The monotony of the plains,
the barrenness of the desert, the toil of the mountains, the terrible
heat, the dust, the rains, the sickness, the tragedy of deaths had
flattened all buoyancy, and left in its stead only a sullen, dogged
determination.

"There was lots of quarrelling, of course," said our narrator.
"Everybody was on edge. There were fights, that we had to settle
somehow, and bad feeling."

They had several minor skirmishes with Indians, lost from their party by
disease, suffered considerable hardships and infinite toil.

"We thought we'd had a hard time," said our friend wonderingly. "Lord!"

At the very start of the journey they had begun to realize that they
were overloaded, and had commenced to throw away superfluous goods.
Several units of the party had even to abandon some of their wagons.

"We chucked everything we thought we could get along without. I know we
spent all one day frying out bacon to get the grease before we threw it
away. We used the grease for our axles."

They reached the head of the Humboldt. Until this point they had kept
together, but now demoralization began. They had been told at Salt Lake
City that they had but four hundred miles to go to Sacramento. Now they
discovered that at the Humboldt they had still more than that distance
to travel; and that before them lay the worst desert of all.

"Mind you," said our friend, "we had been travelling desperately. Our
cattle had died one by one; and we had doubled up with our teams. We had
starved for water until our beasts were ready to drop and our own
tongues had swollen in our mouths, and were scared--_scared_, I
tell you--scared!"

He moistened his lips slowly, and went on. "Sometimes we took two or
three hours to go a mile, relaying back and forth. We were down to a
fine point. It wasn't a question of keeping our property any more; it
was a case of saving our lives. We'd abandoned a good half of our wagons
already. When we got to the Humboldt and learned from a mountain man
going the other way that the great desert was still before us, and when
we had made a day or two's journey down the river toward the Sink, I
tell you we lost our nerve--and our sense." He ruminated a few moments
in silence. "My God! man!" he cried. "That trail! From about halfway
down the river the carcasses of horses and oxen were so thick that I
believe if they'd been laid in the road instead of alongside you could
have walked the whole way without setting foot to ground!"

And then the river disappeared underground, and they had to face the
crossing of the Sink itself.

"That was a real desert," the immigrant told us sombrely. "There were
long white fields of alkali and drifts of ashes across them so soft that
the cattle sank way to their bellies. They moaned and bellowed! Lord,
how they moaned! And the dust rose up so thick you couldn't breathe, and
the sun beat down so fierce you felt it like something heavy on your
head. And how the place stunk with the dead beasts!"

The party's organization broke. The march became a rout. Everybody
pushed on with what strength he had. No man, woman, or child could ride;
the wagons were emptied of everything but the barest necessities. At
every stop some animal fell in the traces, and was cut out of the yoke.
When a wagon came to a stop, it was abandoned, the animals detached and
driven forward.

Those who were still afoot were constantly besought by those who had
been forced to a standstill.

"I saw one old man, his wife and his daughter, all walking along on
foot," said the immigrant bitterly. "They were half knee deep in alkali,
the sun was broiling hot, they had absolutely nothing. We couldn't help
them. What earthly chance had they? I saw a wagon stalled, the animals
lying dead in their yokes, all except one old ox. A woman and three
children sat inside the wagon. She called to me that they hadn't had
anything to eat for three days, and begged me to take the children. I
couldn't. I could have stopped and died there with her, but I couldn't
put another pound on my wagon and hope to get through. We were all
walking alongside; even Sue, here."

The woman raised her tragic face.

"We left our baby there," she said; and stared back again into the coals
of the fire.

"We made it," resumed the immigrant. "We got to the Truckee River
somehow, and we rested there three days. I don't know what became of the
rest of our train; dead perhaps."

We told him of the immigrant register or bulletin board at Morton's.

"I must look that over," said he. "I don't know how long it took us to
cross the mountains. Those roads are terrible; and our cattle were weak.
We were pretty near out of grub too. Most of the people have no food at
all. Well, here we are! But there are thousands back of us. What are
they going to do? And when the mountains fill with snow----"

After the trio, well fed for the first time in months, had turned in, we
sat talking about our fire. We were considerably subdued and sobered;
for this was the first coherent account we had heard at first hand. Two
things impressed us--the tragedy, the futility. The former aspect hit us
all; the latter struck strongly at Old and Cal. Those youngsters, wise
in the ways of the plains, were filled with sad surprise over the
incompetence of it all.

"But thar ain't no manner of _use_ in it!" cried Old. "They are
just bullin' at it plumb regardless! They ain't handled their cattle
right! They ain't picked their route right--why, the old Mormon trail
down by the Carson Sink is better'n that death-trap across the Humboldt.
And cut-offs! What license they all got chasin' every fool cut-off
reported in? Most of 'em is all right fer pack-trains and all wrong fer
wagons! Oh, Lord!"

"They don't know," said I, "poor devils, they don't know. They were
raised on farms and in the cities."

Johnny had said nothing. His handsome face looked very sombre in the
firelight.

"Jim," said he, "we're due for a trip to-night; but I want you to
promise me one thing--just keep these people here, and feed them up
until we get back. Tell them I've got a job for them. Will you do it?"

I tried to pump Johnny as to his intentions, but could get nothing out
of him; and so promised blindly. About two o'clock I was roused from my
sleep by a soft moving about. Thrusting my head from the tent I made out
the dim figures of our horsemen, mounted, and moving quietly away down
the trail.



CHAPTER XXXIV

THE PRISONERS


I had no great difficulty in persuading the immigrants to rest over.

"To tell you the truth," the narrator confided to me, "I don't know
where we're going. We have no money. We've got to get work somehow. I
don't know now why we came."

His name, he told me, was George Woodruff; he had been a lawyer in a
small Pennsylvania town; his total possessions were now represented by
the remains of his ox team, his wagon, and the blankets in which he
slept. The other man was his brother Albert, and the woman his
sister-in-law.

"We started with four wagons and a fine fit-out of supplies," he told
me--"food enough to last two years. This is what we have left. The
cattle aren't in bad shape now though; and they are extra fine stock.
Perhaps I can sell them for a little."

Two days passed. We arose the morning of the third to find that the oxen
had strayed away during the night. Deciding they could not have wandered
far, I went to my gold washing as usual, leaving Woodruff and his
brother to hunt them up. About ten o'clock they came to my claim very
much troubled.

"We can't find them anywhere," they told me, "and it doesn't seem
natural that they should stray far; they are too tired."

I knocked off work, and returned with them to the flat, where we
proceeded to look for tracks. The earth was too hard and tramped to show
us much, and after a half hour of fruitless examination we returned to
camp with the intention of eating something before starting out on a
serious search. While thus engaged the express messengers rode up.

"Hullo!" said Johnny cheerfully. "Glad to hear you made such a good
thing out of your cattle!"

He caught our stare of surprise, swung from his horse and advanced on us
with three swift strides.

"You haven't sold them?" he exclaimed.

"We've been looking for them all the morning."

"Stolen, boys!" he cried to his companions. "Here's our job! Come on!"

He leaped on his horse in the headlong, graceful fashion the boys had
cultivated at the relay station, and, followed by Cal and Old, dashed
away.

We made nothing definite of this, though we had our surmises to
exchange. As the boys had not returned an hour later, I resumed my
digging while the Woodruffs went over to visit with Yank, who was now
out of bed. Evening came, with no sign of our friends. We turned in at
last.

Some time after midnight we were awakened by the shuffling and lowing of
driven cattle, and went out into the moonlight to see our six oxen, just
released from herding, plunging their noses thirstily into the little
stream from the spring. Five figures on horseback sat motionless in the
background behind them. When the cattle had finished drinking, the
horsemen, riding in two couples and one single, turned them into the
flat, and then came over to our camp.

After they had approached within plain sight we saw that the single
horseman was Cal Marsh; and that Johnny and Old each led an animal on
which a man was tied, his arms behind him, his feet shackled beneath the
horse's barrel.

"Here, you fellows," said Johnny in a low voice, "just catch hold here
and help with these birds."

The three descended rather wearily from their horses, the lead lines of
which Cal held while the rest unshackled the prisoners and helped them
to dismount. They were both known to me, one as the big desperado,
Malone; and the other as the barkeeper at Morton's place, our old friend
of Chagres days. The latter's head was roughly bound with a bloody
cloth. Under Johnny's direction we tied them firmly. He issued his
orders in a low-voiced, curt fashion that precluded anything but the
most instant and silent obedience.

"There," said he at last, "they'll do. Chuck them inside where they'll
be out of sight. Now about those two horses----"

"I'll just run 'em up to the Dutchman's Flat and stake 'em out thar,"
interposed Old. "Thar ain't no one thar; and they won't be discovered."

"Well," conceded Johnny, "if your horse isn't too tired."

"She'll make it," replied Old confidently.

"Now for our horses," said Johnny. "Won't do to be getting in at this
time of night. It doesn't look natural. Don't believe we can get them to
the stable without being spotted. Maybe you'd better stake them up there
too. Can you walk back?"

"I reckon," said Old.

He tied the four led horses together, mounted, took the lead rope from
Cal, and rode off up the gulch.

Cal came to the fire and sat down. I was instantly struck by his ghastly
appearance.

"Cal's bored through the shoulder," Johnny explained. "Now, Jim, you've
got to go up and get Dr. Rankin. He lives at Barnes's hotel, you know.
Barnes is all right; bring him down, too, if you happen to wake him up.
Go around to Danny Randall's quietly and tell him we want to see him. He
sleeps in that little back room. Throw some pebbles against the
stovepipe; that'll wake him up. Look out he doesn't pot you. Don't let
anybody see you if you can possibly help; and tell the others to slip
out here quietly, too. Do you understand all that?"

"I see what I'm to do," I assented; "but let me in! What's it all
about?"

"We met these men and three others driving Woodruff's oxen this
morning," said Johnny rapidly. "Stopped and had quite a chat with them.
They told what sounded like a straight story of having bought the oxen.
I knew Woodruff wanted to sell. Didn't suppose they'd have the nerve to
lift them right under our noses. Guess they hadn't an idea they'd meet
us on the road. We were taking the lower trail just for a change. So as
soon as we got the news from you, we went back, of course. They
suspected trouble, and had turned off. Old and Cal are wonders at
trailing. Came up with them just beyond Bitter Water, and monkeyed
around quite a while before we got a favourable chance to tackle them.
Then we took the cattle away and brought back these birds. That's all
there was to it."

"You said five. Where are the other three?"

"Killed 'em," said Johnny briefly. "Now run along and do your job."

After some delay and difficulty I fulfilled my instructions, returning
at last in company with Danny Randall, to find my friends sitting around
the little fire, and Dr. Rankin engaged in bathing Cal's wound. Johnny
was repeating his story, to which the others were listening attentively.

"I learned a little more of this sort of thing in Sacramento," he was
concluding. "And I'd like to state this right here and now: practical
jokes on these immigrants are poor taste as far as I am concerned from
now on. That's my own private declaration of war."

"Let's take a look at your birds, Johnny," suggested Randall.

I brought out the prisoners and stacked them up against the trees. They
gave us back look for look defiantly.

"You won't live a week after this," said the Morton man, whose name was
Carhart, addressing Johnny.

"I'll just have a look at your head, my friend," said Dr. Rankin.

The man bent his head, and the doctor began to remove the bloody
bandages.

"Question is," said Johnny, "what do we do with them?"

Danny was thinking hard.

"One of two things," said he at length: "We can string them up quietly,
and leave them as a warning; or we can force matters to a showdown by
calling a public meeting."

"Question is," said I, "whether we can get anybody with nerve enough to
serve as officers of court, or, indeed, to testify as witnesses."

"You said a true word there," put in Carhart with an oath.

"I'll bear witness for one," offered Dr. Rankin, looking up from his
work, "and on a good many things."

"Look out, damn you!" muttered Carhart.

"I've been called to a good many cases of gunshot wounds," continued the
doctor steadily, "and I've kept quiet because I was given to understand
that my life was worth nothing if I spoke."

"You'd better keep your mouth shut!" warned the bandit.

"Now," pursued the doctor, "I personally believe the time has come to
assert ourselves. I'm in favour of serving notice on the whole lot, and
cleaning up the mess once and for all. I believe there are more decent
men than criminals in this camp, if you get them together."

"That's my idea," agreed Johnny heartily. "Get the camp together; I'll
see every man in it and let Woodruff tell his tale, and then let Old or
me tell ours."

"And I'll tell mine," said Dr. Rankin.

Danny Randall shook his head.

"They'll rise to it like men!" cried Johnny indignantly. "Nobody but a
murderer and cattle thief listening to that story could remain unmoved."

"Well," said Danny, "if you won't just quietly hang these fellows right
now, try the other. I should string 'em up and shut their mouths. You're
too early; it won't do."



CHAPTER XXXV

THE TRIAL


The meeting took place in the Bella Union, and the place was crowded to
the doors. All the roughs in town were on hand, fully armed, swearing,
swaggering, and brandishing their weapons. They had much to say by way
of threat, for they did not hesitate to show their sympathies. As I
looked upon their unexpected numbers and listened to their wild talk, I
must confess that my heart failed me. Though they had not the advantage
in numbers, they knew each other; were prepared to work together; were,
in general, desperately courageous and reckless, and imbued with the
greatest confidence. The decent miners, on the other hand, were
practically unknown to each other; and, while brave enough and hardy
enough, possessed neither the recklessness nor desperation of the
others. I think our main weakness sprang from the selfish detachment
that had prevented us from knowing whom to trust.

After preliminary organization a wrangle at once began as to the form of
the trial. We held very strongly that we should continue our usual
custom of open meeting; but Morton insisted with equal vehemence that
the prisoners should have jury trial. The discussion grew very hot and
confused. Pistols and knives were flourished. The chair put the matter
to a vote, but was unable to decide from the yells and howls that
answered the question which side had the preponderance. A rising vote
was demanded.

"Won't they attempt a rescue?" I asked of Danny Randall, under cover of
the pandemonium. "They could easily fight their way free."

He shook his head.

"That would mean outlawing themselves. They would rather get clear under
some show of law. Then they figure to run the camp."

The vote was understood to favour a jury trial.

"That settles it," said Danny; "the poor damn fools."

"What do you mean?" I asked him.

"You'll see," said he.

In the selection of the jury we had the advantage. None of the roughs
could get on the panel to hang the verdict, for the simple reason that
they were all too well known. The miners cautiously refused to endorse
any one whose general respectability was not known to them. I found
myself one of those selected.

A slight barrier consisting of a pole thrown across one corner of the
room set aside a jury box. We took our places therein. Men crowded to
the pole, talking for our benefit, cursing steadily, and uttering the
most frightful threats.

I am not going to describe that most turbulent afternoon. The details
are unessential to the main point, which was our decision. Counsel was
appointed by the court from among the numerous ex-lawyers. The man who
took charge of the defence was from New York, and had served some ten
years in the profession before the gold fever took him. I happen to know
that he was a most sober-minded, steady individual, not at all in
sympathy with the rougher elements; but, like most of his ilk, he
speedily became so intensely interested in plying his profession that he
forgot utterly the justice of the case. He defended the lawless element
with all the tricks at his command. For that reason Woodruff was
prevented from testifying at all, except as to his ownership of the
cattle; so that the effect of his pathetic story was lost. Dr. Rankin
had no chance to appear. This meeting should have marked the awakening
of public spirit to law and order; and if all the elements of the case
had been allowed to come before the decent part of the community in a
common-sense fashion, I am quite sure it would have done so. But two
lawyers got interested in tangling each other up with their
technicalities, and the result was that the real significance of the
occasion was lost to sight. The lawyer for the defence, pink and warm
and happy, sat down quite pleased with his adroitness. A few of us, and
the desperadoes, alone realized what it all meant.

We retired to Randall's little room to deliberate. Not a man of the
twelve of us had the first doubt as to the guilt of the prisoners. We
took a ballot. The result was eleven for acquittal and one for
conviction. I had cast the one vote for conviction.

We argued the matter for three hours.

"There's no doubt the men are guilty," said one. "That isn't the
question. The question is, dare we declare it?"

"It amounts to announcing our own death sentence," argued another.
"Those fellows would stand together, but who of the lot would stand by
us? Why, we don't even know for sure who would be with us."

"This case ought never to have been tried by a jury," complained a third
bitterly. "It ought to have been tried in a miners' court; and if it
hadn't been for those soft heads who were strong for doing things
'regularly' instead of sensibly, we'd have had it done that way."

"Well," said an older man gravely, "I agree to that. I am going to be
governed in my decision not by the merits of the case, but by the fact
that I have a family back in the States. I consider my obligations to
them greater than to this community."

I reasoned with them for a long time, bringing to bear all the arguments
I had heard advanced at various times during our discussions in Danny
Randall's back room. At last, seeing I could in no manner shake their
resolution, I gave in. After all, I could not blame them. The case was
to them only one of cattle stealing; they had no chance to realize that
it was anything more. Without solicitation on my part they agreed to
keep secret my opposition to the verdict of acquittal.

Our decision was greeted by wild yells and the discharge of pistols on
the part of the rough element. The meeting broke up informally and in
confusion. It would have been useless for the presiding officer to have
attempted to dismiss court. The mob broke through en masse to
congratulate the prisoners. Immediately the barkeepers were overwhelmed
with work. Here and there I could see a small group of the honest men
talking low-voiced, with many shakes of the head. Johnny, Old, and Cal,
who had attended with his arm slung up, had their heads together in a
corner. Danny Randall, who, it will be remembered, had not appeared
publicly in any way, stood at his customary corner of the bar watching
all that was going on. His gamblers were preparing to reopen the
suspended games.

After conferring together a moment the three express messengers made
their way slowly across the room to the bar. I could not see exactly
what happened, but heard the sudden reverberations of several pistol
shots. The lamps and glasses rattled with the concussion, the white
smoke of the discharges eddied and rose. An immediate dead silence fell,
except for the sounds made by the movements of those seeking safe
places. Johnny and his two friends shoulder to shoulder backed slowly
away toward the door. Johnny and Old presented each two pistols at the
group around the bar, while Cal, a revolver in his well hand, swept the
muzzle slowly from side to side. Nobody near the bar stirred. The
express messengers backed to the door.

"Keep your heads inside," warned Johnny clearly. On the words they
vanished.

Immediately pandemonium broke loose. The men along the bar immediately
became very warlike; but none of those who brandished pistols tried to
leave the building. From the swing and sway of the crowd, and the babel
of yells, oaths, threats, and explanations I could make nothing. Danny
Randall alone of all those in the room held his position unmoved. At
last a clear way offered, so I went over to him.

"What's happened?" I shouted at him through the din.

Danny shrugged his shoulders.

"They killed Carhart and Malone," Danny replied curtly.

It seemed, I ascertained at last, that the three had advanced and opened
fire on the two ex-prisoners without warning.

As soon as possible I made my escape and returned to our own camp. There
I found the three of them seated smoking, their horses all saddled,
standing near at hand.

"Are they coming our way?" asked Johnny instantly.

I told them that I had seen no indications of a mob.

"But why did you do it?" I cried. "It's an open challenge! They'll get
you boys now sure!"

"That remains to be seen," said Johnny grimly. "But it was the only
thing to do. If Carhart and Malone had ever been given time to report on
our confab the other evening, you and Danny Randall and Dr. Rankin would
have been marked men. Now no one knows of your connection with this
matter."

"But they'll be after you----"

"They were after us in any case," Johnny pointed out. "Don't deceive
yourself there. Now you keep out of this and let us do it."

"I reckon we can handle this bunch," said Old.

"Lord! what a lot of jellyfish!" cried Johnny disgustedly. "Danny was
right enough about them. But let me state right here and once again that
practical jokes on immigrants are going to be mighty unhealthy here."



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE RULE OF THE LAWLESS


No concerted attempt was made by the roughs to avenge the execution of
their comrades. Whether they realized that such an attempt would be
likely to solidify the decent element, or whether that sort of warfare
was not their habit, the afternoon and night wore away without trouble.

"Danger's over," announced Johnny the following morning.

"What next?" I asked.

"We'll go up to town," said Johnny.

This they proceeded to do, negativing absolutely my desire to accompany
them.

"You stay out of this," said Johnny. "Go and wash gold as usual."

I was immensely relieved that afternoon when they returned safe and
sound. Afterward I heard that they had coolly visited every saloon and
gambling place, had stopped in each to chat with the barkeepers and
gamblers, had spent the morning seated outside the Bella Union, and had
been in no manner molested.

"They'll be all right as long as they stick together and keep in the
open," Yank assured me. "That gang will sooner assassinate than fight."

Although for the moment held in check by the resolute front presented by
these three boys, the rough element showed that it considered it had won
a great victory, and was now entitled to run the town. Members of the
gang selected what goods they needed at any of the stores, making no
pretence of payment. They swaggered boldly about the streets at all
times, infested the better places such as the Bella Union, elbowed aside
insolently any inoffensive citizen who might be in their way, and
generally conducted themselves as though they owned the place. Robberies
grew more frequent. The freighters were held up in broad daylight;
rumours of returning miners being relieved of their dust drifted up from
the lower country; mysterious disappearances increased in number. Hardly
an attempt was made to conceal the fact that the organized gang that
conducted these operations had its headquarters at Italian Bar. Strange
men rode up in broad daylight, covered with red dust, to confer with
Morton or one of the other resident blackguards. Mysteriously every
desperado in the place began to lay fifty-dollar octagonal slugs on the
gaming tables, product of some lower country atrocity.

The camp soon had a concrete illustration of the opinion the roughs held
of themselves. It was reported quietly among a few of us that several of
our number had been "marked" by the desperadoes. Two of these were Joe
Thompson, who had acted as counsel for the prosecution in the late
trial, and Tom Cleveland, who had presided, and presided well, over the
court. Thompson kept one of the stores, while Cleveland was proprietor
of the butcher shop. No overt threats were made, but we understood that
somehow these men were to be put out of the way. Of course they were at
once warned.

The human mind is certainly a queer piece of mechanism. It would seem
that the most natural thing to have done, in the circumstances, would
have been to dog these men's footsteps until an opportunity offered to
assassinate them quietly. That is just what would have been done had the
intended victims been less prominently in the public eye. The murder of
court officials, however, was a very different matter from the finding
of an unknown miner dead in his camp or along the trail. In the former
case there could be no manner of doubt as to the perpetrators of the
deed--the animus was too directly to be traced. And it is a matter for
curious remark that in all early history, whether of California in the
forties, or of Montana in the bloodier sixties, the desperadoes, no
matter how strong they felt themselves or how arrogantly they ran the
community, nevertheless must have felt a great uncertainty as to the
actual power of the decent element. This is evidenced by the fact that
they never worked openly. Though the identity of each of them as a
robber and cut-throat was a matter of common knowledge, so that any
miner could have made out a list of the members of any band, the fact
was never formally admitted. And as long as it was not admitted, and as
long as actual hard proof was lacking, it seemed to be part of the game
that nothing could be done. Moral certainties did not count until some
series of outrages resulted in mob action.

Now consider this situation, which seemed to me then as it seems to me
now, most absurd in every way. Nobody else considered it so. Everybody
knew that the rough element was out to "get" Thompson and Cleveland.
Everybody, including both Thompson and Cleveland themselves, was pretty
certain that they would not be quietly assassinated, the argument in
that case being that the deed would be too apt to raise the community.
Therefore it was pretty well understood that some sort of a quarrel or
personal encounter would be used as an excuse. Personally I could not
see that that would make much essential difference; but, as I said, the
human mind is a curious piece of mechanism.

Among the occasional visitors to the camp was a man who called himself
Harry Crawford. He was a man of perhaps twenty-five years, tall, rather
slender, with a clear face and laughing blue eyes. Nothing in his
appearance indicated the desperado; and yet we had long known him as one
of the Morton gang. This man now took up his residence in camp; and we
soon discovered that he was evidently the killer. The first afternoon he
picked some sort of a petty quarrel with Thompson over a purchase, but
cooled down instantly when unexpectedly confronted by a half dozen
miners who came in at the opportune moment. A few days afterward in the
slack time of the afternoon Thompson, while drinking at the bar of the
Empire and conversing with a friend, was approached by a well-known
sodden hanger-on of the saloons.

"What 'n hell you fellows talking about?" demanded this man impudently.

"None of your business," replied Thompson impatiently, for the man was a
public nuisance, and besides was deep in Thompson's debt.

The man broke into foul oaths.

"I'll dare you to fight!" he cried in a furious passion.

Facing about, Thompson saw Crawford standing attentively among the
listeners, and instantly comprehended the situation.

"You have the odds of me with a pistol," said Thompson, who notoriously
had no skill with that weapon. "Why should I fight you?"

"Well, then," cried the man, "put up your fists; that'll show who is the
best man!"

He snatched off his belt and laid it on the bar. Thompson did the same.

"Come on!" cried the challenger, backing away.

Thompson, thoroughly angry, reached over and slapped his antagonist. The
latter promptly drew another revolver from beneath his coat, but before
he could aim it Thompson jumped at his throat and disarmed him. At this
moment Crawford interfered, apparently as peacemaker. Thompson was later
told secretly by the barkeeper that the scheme was to lure him into a
pistol fight in the street, when Crawford would be ready to shoot him as
soon as the first shot was fired.

On the strength of his interference Crawford next pretended to
friendship, and spent much of his time at Thompson's store. Thompson was
in no way deceived. This state of affairs continued for two days. It
terminated in the following manner: Crawford, sitting half on the
counter, and talking with all the great charm of which he was master,
led the subject to weapons.

"This revolver of mine," said he, at the same time drawing the weapon
from its holster, "is one of the old navy model. You don't often see
them nowadays. It has a double lock." He cocked it as though to
illustrate his point, and the muzzle, as though by accident, swept
toward the other man. He looked up from his affected close examination
to find that Thompson had also drawn his weapon and that the barrel was
pointing uncompromisingly in his direction.

For a moment the two stared each other in the eye. Then Crawford
sheathed his pistol with an oath.

"What do you mean by that?" he cried.

"I mean," said Thompson firmly, "that I do not intend you shall get the
advantage of me. You know my opinion of you and your gang. I shall not
be shot by any of you, if I can help it."

Crawford withdrew quietly, but later in the day approached a big group
of us, one of which was Thompson.

"There's a matter between you and me has got to be settled!" he cried.

"Well, I can't imagine what it is," replied Thompson. "I'm not aware
that I've said or done anything to you that needs settlement."

"You needn't laugh!" replied Crawford, with a string of insulting oaths.
"You're a coward; and if you're anything of a man you will step out of
doors and have this out."

"I am, as you say, a coward," replied Thompson quietly, "and I see no
reason for going out of doors to fight you or anybody else."

After blustering and swearing for a few moments Crawford withdrew. He
made no attempt to fight, nor do I believe his outburst had any other
purpose than to establish the purely personal character of the quarrel
between Thompson and himself. At any rate, Thompson was next morning
found murdered in his bunk, while Crawford had disappeared. I do not
know whether Crawford had killed him or not; I think not.

About this time formal printed notices of some sort of election were
posted on the bulletin board at Morton's place. At least they were said
to have been posted, and were pointed out to all comers the day after
election. Perhaps they were there all the time, as claimed, but nobody
paid much attention to them. At any rate, we one day awoke to the fact
that we were a full-fledged community, with regularly constituted court
officers, duly qualified officials, and a sheriff. The sheriff was
Morton, and the most worthy judges were other members of his gang!

This move tickled Danny Randall's sense of humour immensely.

"That's good head work," he said approvingly. "I didn't think Morton had
it in him."

"It's time something was done to run that gang out of town," fumed Dr.
Rankin.

"No; it is not time," denied Danny, "any more than it was time when you
and Johnny and the rest of you had your celebrated jury trial."

"I'd like to know what you are driving at!" fretted the worthy doctor.

Danny Randall laughed in his gentle little fashion. I will confess that
just at that time I was very decidedly wondering what Danny Randall was
at. In fact, at moments I was strongly inclined to doubt his
affiliations. He seemed to stand in an absolutely neutral position,
inclining to neither side.

Tom Cleveland was killed in the open street by one of the Empire
hangers-on. The man was promptly arrested by Morton in his capacity of
sheriff, and confined in chains. Morton, as sheriff, selected those who
were to serve on the jury. I had the curiosity to attend the trial,
expecting to assist at an uproarious farce. All the proceedings, on the
contrary, were conducted with the greatest decorum, and with minute
attention to legal formalities. The assassin, however, was acquitted.

From that time the outrages increased in number and in boldness. No man
known to be possessed of any quantity of gold was safe. It was dangerous
to walk alone after dark, to hunt alone in the mountains, to live alone.
Every man carried his treasure about with him everywhere he went. No man
dared raise his voice in criticism of the ruling powers, for it was
pretty generally understood that such criticism meant death.

It would be supposed, naturally, by you in our modern and civilized
days, that such a condition of affairs would cast a fear and gloom over
the life of the community. Not at all. Men worked and played and gambled
and drank and joked and carried on the light-hearted, jolly existence of
the camps just about the same as ever. Outside a few principals like
Morton and his immediate satellites, there was no accurate demarkation
between the desperadoes and the miners. Indeed, no one was ever quite
sure of where his next neighbour's sympathies lay. We all mingled
together, joked, had a good time--and were exceedingly cautious. It was
a polite community. Personal quarrels were the product of the moment,
and generally settled at the moment or soon after. Enmities were matters
for individual adjustment.

Randall's express messengers continued to make their irregular trips
with the gold dust. They were never attacked, though they were
convinced, and I think justly, that on numerous occasions they had only
just escaped attack. Certainly the sums of money they carried were more
than sufficient temptation to the bandits. They knew their country,
however, and were full of Indian-like ruses, twists, doublings and turns
which they employed with great gusto. How long they would have succeeded
in eluding what I considered the inevitable, I do not know; but at this
time occurred the events that I shall detail in the next chapter.



CHAPTER XXXVII

THE LAST STRAW


This is a chapter I hate to write; and therefore I shall get it over
with as soon as possible.

Yank had progressed from his bunk to the bench outside, and from that to
a slow hobbling about near the Moreña cabin. Two of the three months
demanded by Dr. Rankin had passed. Yank's leg had been taken from the
splint, and, by invoking the aid of stout canes, he succeeded in
shifting around. But the trail to town was as yet too rough for him.
Therefore a number of us were in the habit of spending our early
evenings with him. We sat around the door, and smoked innumerable pipes,
and talked sixty to the minute. Moreña had a guitar to the accompaniment
of which he sang a number of plaintive and sweet-toned songs. Three or
four of his countrymen occasionally came up from below. Then they, too,
sang more plaintive songs; or played a strange game with especial cards
which none of us "gringos" could ever fathom; or perhaps stepped a
grave, formal sort of dance. Señora Moreña, the only woman, would
sometimes join in this. She was a large woman, but extraordinarily light
on her feet. In fact, as she swayed and balanced opposite her partner
she reminded me of nothing so much as a balloon tugging gently at its
string.

"But it ees good, the dance, eh, señores?" she always ended, her broad,
kind face shining with pleasure.

We Americans reciprocated with a hoe-down or so, to jigging strains
blasphemously evoked by one of our number from that gentle guitar; and
perhaps a song or two. _Oh, Susannah!_ was revived; and other old
favourites; and we had also the innumerable verses of a brand-new
favourite, local to the country. It had to do with the exploits and
death of one Lame Jesse. I can recall only two of the many verses:

    "Lame Jesse was a hard old case;
    He never would repent.
    He ne'er was known to miss a meal--
    He never paid a cent!

    "Lame Jesse, too, like all the rest,
    He did to Death resign;
    And in his bloom went up the flume
    In the days of Forty-nine."

When the evening chill descended, which now was quite early, we
scattered to our various occupations, leaving Yank to his rest.

One Sunday in the middle of October two men trudged into town leading
each a pack-horse.

I was at the time talking to Barnes at his hotel, and saw them from a
distance hitching their animals outside Morton's. They stayed there for
some time, then came out, unhitched their horses, led them as far as the
Empire, hesitated, finally again tied the beasts, and disappeared. In
this manner they gradually worked along to the Bella Union, where at
last I recognized them as McNally and Buck Barry, our comrades of the
Porcupine. Of course I at once rushed over to see them.

I found them surrounded by a crowd to whom they were offering drinks
free-handed. Both were already pretty drunk, but they knew me as soon as
I entered the door, and surged toward me hands out.

"Well! well! well!" cried McNally delightedly. "And here's himself! And
who'd have thought of seeing you here! I made sure you were in the
valley and out of the country long since. And you're just in time! Make
a name for it? Better call it whiskey straight. Drink to us, my boy!
Come, join my friends! We're all friends here! Come on, and here's to
luck, the best luck ever! We've got two horse-loads of gold out
there--nothing but gold--and it all came from our old diggings. You
ought to have stayed. We had no trouble. Bagsby was an old fool!" All
the time he was dragging me along by the arm toward the crowd at the
bar. Barry maintained an air of owlish gravity.

"Where's Missouri Jones?" I inquired; but I might as well have asked the
stone mountains. McNally chattered on, excited, his blue eyes dancing,
bragging over and over about his two horse-loads of gold.

The crowd took his whiskey, laughed with him, and tried shrewdly to pump
him as to the location of his diggings. McNally gave them no
satisfaction there; but even when most hilarious retained enough sense
to put them off the track.

As will be imagined, I was most uneasy about the whole proceeding, and
tried quietly to draw the two men off.

"No, sir!" cried McNally, "not any! Jes' struck town, and am goin' to
have a _time_!" in which determination he was cheered by all the
bystanders. I did not know where to turn; Johnny was away on one of his
trips, and Danny Randall was not to be found. Finally inspiration served
me.

"Come down first and see Yank," I urged. "Poor old Yank is crippled and
can't move."

That melted them at once. They untied their long-suffering animals, and
we staggered off down the trail.

On the way down I tried, but in vain, to arouse them to a sense of
danger.

"You've let everybody in town know you have a lot of dust," I pointed
out.

McNally merely laughed recklessly.

"Good boys!" he cried; "wouldn't harm a fly!" and I could veer him to no
other point of view. Barry agreed to everything, very solemn and very
owlish.

We descended on Yank like a storm. I will say that McNally at any time
was irresistible and irrepressible, but especially so in his cups. We
laughed ourselves sick that afternoon. The Moreñas were enchanted. Under
instructions, and amply supplied with dust, Moreña went to town and
returned with various bottles. Señora Moreña cooked a fine supper. In
the meantime, I, as apparently the only responsible member of the party,
unsaddled the animals, and brought their burdens into the cabin.
Although McNally's statement as to the loads consisting exclusively of
gold was somewhat of an exaggeration, nevertheless the _cantinas_
were very heavy. Not knowing what else to do with them, I thrust them
under Yank's bunk.

The evening was lively, I will confess it, and under the influence of it
my caution became hazy. Finally, when I at last made my way back to my
own camp, I found myself vastly surprised to discover Yank hobbling
along by my side. I don't know why he came with me, and I do not think
he knew either. Probably force of habit. At any rate, we left the other
four to sleep where they would. I remember we had some difficulty in
finding places to lie.

The sun was high when we awoke. We were not feeling very fresh, to say
the least; and we took some little time to get straightened around. Then
we went down to the Moreña cabin.

I am not going to dwell on what we found there. All four of its inmates
had been killed with buckshot, and the place ransacked from end to end.
Apparently the first volley had killed our former partners and Señora
Moreña as they lay. Moreña had staggered to his feet and halfway across
the room.

The excitement caused by this frightful crime was intense. Every man
quit work. A great crowd assembled. Morton as sheriff was very busy, and
loud threats were uttered by his satellites as to the apprehension of
the murderers. The temper of the crowd, however, was sullen. No man
dared trust his neighbour, and yet every honest breast swelled with
impotent indignation at this wholesale and unprovoked massacre. No clue
was possible. Everybody remembered, of course, how broadcast and
publicly the fact of the gold had been scattered. Nobody dared utter his
suspicions, if he had any.

The victims were buried by a large concourse, that eddied and hesitated
and muttered long after the graves had been filled in. Vaguely it was
felt that the condition of affairs was intolerable; but no one knew how
it was to be remedied. Nothing definite could be proved against any one,
and yet I believe that every honest man knew to a moral certainty at
least the captains and instigators of the various outrages. A leader
could have raised an avenging mob--provided he could have survived the
necessary ten minutes!

We scattered at last to our various occupations. I was too much upset to
work, so I returned to where Yank was smoking over the fire. He had, as
near as I can remember, said not one word since the discovery of the
tragedy. On my approach he took his pipe from his mouth.

"Nothing done?" he inquired.

"Nothing," I replied. "What is there to be done?"

"Don't know," said he, replacing his pipe; then around the stem of it,
"I was fond of those people."

"So was I," I agreed sincerely. "Have you thought what a lucky escape
you yourself had?"

Yank nodded. We sat for a long time in silence. My thoughts turned
slowly and sullenly in a heavy, impotent anger. A small bird chirped
plaintively from the thicket near at hand. Except for the tinkle of our
little stream and the muffled roar of the distant river, this was the
only sound to strike across the dead black silence of the autumn night.
So persistently did the bird utter its single call that at last it
aroused even my downcast attention, so that I remarked on it carelessly
to Yank. He came out of his brown study and raised his head.

"It's no bird, it's a human," he said, after listening a moment. "That's
a signal. Go see what it is. Just wander out carelessly."

In the depths of the thicket I found a human figure crouched. It glided
to me, and I made out dimly the squat form of Pete, Barnes's negro
slave, from the hotel.

"Lo'_dee_, massa," whispered he, "done thought you nevah
_would_ come."

"What is it, Pete?" I asked in the same guarded tones.

"I done got somefin' to tell you. While I ketchin' a lil' bit of sleep
'longside that white trash Mo'ton's place, I done heah dey all plannin'
to git out warrant for to arres' Massa Fairfax and Massa Pine and Massa
Ma'sh for a-killin' dem men las' week; and I heah dem say dey gwine fer
to gib dem trial, and if dey fight dey gwine done shoot 'em."

"That _is_ serious news, Pete," said I. "Who were talking?" But
Pete, who was already frightened half to death, grew suddenly cautious.

"I don' jest rightly know, sah," he said sullenly. "I couldn't tell.
Jes' Massa Mo'ton. He say he gwine sw'ar in good big posse."

"I can believe that," said I thoughtfully. "Pete," I turned on him
suddenly, "don't you know they'd skin you alive if they found out you'd
been here?"

Pete was shaking violently, and at my words a strong shudder went
through his frame, and his teeth struck faintly together.

"Why did you do it?"

"Massa Fairfax is quality, sah," he replied with a certain dignity. "I
jest a pore nigger, but I knows quality when I sees it, and I don't aim
to have no pore white truck kill none of my folks if I can help it."

"Pete," said I, fully satisfied, "you are a good fellow. Now get along
back."

He disappeared before the words were fairly out of my mouth.

"Yank," I announced, returning to the fire, "I've got to go uptown. That
was Pete, Barnes's nigger, to say that they've got out a legal warrant
for the express messengers' arrest for that killing last week. Neat
little scheme."

I found Danny Randall in his accustomed place. At a hint he sent for Dr.
Rankin. To the two I unfolded the plot. Both listened in silence until I
had quite finished. Then Danny leaped to his feet and hit the table with
his closed fist.

"The fools!" he cried. "I gave them credit for more sense. Hit at Danny
Randall's men, will they? Well, they'll find that Danny Randall can
protect his own! Forgotten that little point, have they?"

The cool, impassive, mild little man had changed utterly. His teeth
bared, the muscles of his cheeks tightened, two deep furrows appeared
between his eyes, which sparkled and danced. From the most inoffensive
looking creature possible to imagine he had become suddenly menacing and
dangerous.

"What do you intend, Randall?" asked Dr. Rankin. He was leaning slightly
forward, and he spoke in a gentle voice, but his hand was clenched on
the table, and his figure was rigid.

"Do?" repeated Randall fiercely; "why, run that gang out of town, of
course!"

"I thought you said the time was not ripe?"

"We'll ripen it!" said Danny Randall.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE VIGILANTES


Danny Randall issued his orders as a general would. First he sent
warning word to Cal Marsh, still nursing his shoulder. Through one of
his barkeepers he caused to be called to his presence four men. Three of
them were miners, the fourth a lookout at the Empire. He met them in his
little room, quite openly, which, as I have explained, was in accordance
with his usual custom. He detailed the exact situation in a few words.

"Now," he ended, "we get busy. Are you in?"

Each assented, with apparent deep satisfaction.

"Now," said he briskly, "Munroe, you go to the lower trail, near the big
oak at the second crossing. Wait there. If the express messengers have
not passed by to-morrow morning at ten o'clock, return here. If they do
come by, stop them, and tell them to proceed by the cut-off to the place
they know of, and to wait there for me. Understand?"

To each of the other four men he assigned a different watching on other
trails, giving them the same instructions.

"Now git!" he finished.

After informing Yank of my projected absence, I waited at the appointed
place until the appointed time, then returned to the Bella Union.

"That's all right," Danny greeted my report; "they came across the Hog's
Back, and are now safely in hiding. Here," he gave me a slip of paper.
"During the day contrive to see these men. Make it casual and easy, as
though you just happened to see them. Chat a few minutes and tell them
this: 'Danny Randall calls a secret miners' meeting at the upper horse
flat at nine o'clock to-night. Slip up there without being seen.' Be
sure to let them understand that it is _I_ who am issuing the call.
Get them to tell you whether they will or will not come."

I took the slip of paper and read over the half dozen names it
contained. They were all known to me; so I nodded my comprehension and
went out.

All the rest of the day I loafed about, chatting with dozens of people,
among the others with Morton himself. That individual professed great
zeal for law and order, and told of the wonderful things he, as sheriff,
intended to accomplish. Among the lot I contrived to include the six men
whose names were on my paper, and to deliver my message. I explained as
far as I knew, and got from each a definite and emphatic promise to be
present.

"It's time this thing was brought to a head," said one man. "If Danny
Randall is taking hold of it, I enlist."

I returned to report these facts, received an indifferent nod, and,
under further instruction, went quietly to camp to await the agreed
hour.

We started up the trail about eight o'clock. Yank insisted that he was
going, if he had to roll all the way; but after a little we
simultaneously remembered that the Moreñas had owned horses. One of
these I caught, and on it Yank rode to the place of rendezvous.

The night was very black. After we had entered the woods its darkness
seemed at first to hang in front of my eyes like a filmy curtain, so
that I fairly groped, as one would when blindfolded. In the open a faint
starlight helped us, but after we had entered the pines we had fairly to
proceed by instinct. I remember feeling a shock of surprise once, when
we skirted the river, at seeing plainly the whiteness of the rapids, as
though the water were giving off a light of its own. Straight overhead
were scattered patches of stars with misty abysses of blackness between
them. Only after an interval did I appreciate that these apparent
abysses were in reality the tops of trees!

We felt our way slowly, the soft muzzle of the horse at my shoulder.
Gradually our pupils expanded to the utmost, so that we caught ghostly
intimations of gray rocks, of dust patches, or seized the loom of a tree
or the opening of a forest aisle. Luckily the trail was well marked. We
had only to stick to it.

At the Flat Rock we were halted by a low-voiced command. I gave the
password, as instructed by Danny Randall. This experience was once
repeated, a little farther on. Then, as we neared the upper horse flat,
we were stopped by a man who flashed a dark lantern in our faces,
scrutinized us for a moment, shut off his light, and told us to go
forward.

We found a small fire behind a screen of firs, and around or near it the
figures of a dozen men. They stood silent and scattered a little apart
from the firelight. We could not make out their features. From time to
time other men came in, singly or in couples, until probably twenty-five
were gathered. Then ensued a few moments of waiting. A sudden stir
proclaimed fresh arrivals, and four newcomers strode briskly to the
fire. As the light fell on them I recognized Randall and the three
express riders.

Danny kicked together the fire until it flared.

"Somebody put some more wood on this," he said in his natural voice.
"We've got to see each other."

In a moment the flames were leaping. I looked about me with considerable
interest to see who of the camp had been summoned. I must confess to a
few surprises, such as the gambler from the Empire, but in general the
gathering consisted of those whom I should have characterized as solid
citizens--Barnes, the hotel-keeper, Himmelwright, and men of his stripe.
They were all armed, and all very grave and sober. Danny ran his eye
over us one by one.

"Meeting come to order," he commanded briskly. "This is a Vigilante
meeting. I hope you all realize what that means. There are just thirty
of us here; and Morton's gang is probably a hundred strong when it is
all together. We cannot fight them; but we can give the honest, decent
men of this camp a chance to fight them. I myself believe the honest men
will back us, and am willing to risk it. If any of you who are here now
think differently, say so."

He paused, but no one spoke up.

"If anybody doesn't want to go into this, now is the time to back out.
Just keep your mouths shut, that is all."

He paused again, but again no one moved.

"That's all right," observed Danny with satisfaction. He lifted a paper.
"Listen to this: 'We the undersigned agree, as we are decent men, to
stand by each other to the last, to avenge the death of any one of us,
and to obey the orders of our leaders. And if we fail in this may God
deny us mercy.' Boys," said Danny Randall earnestly, "this is serious.
If we start this now, we've got to see it through. We are not much on
Bible oaths, any one of us, but we must promise. Frank Munroe, step
forward!"

I obeyed. The little man stared up into my eyes, and I will freely
confess that never have I experienced quite the queer sensation it gave
me. Danny Randall had become not only formidable, but great. He seemed
to see through into the back of my mind. I braced myself as though to
resist some strong physical force.

"Do you, Frank Munroe, subscribe to this document as a man of honour, so
help you God?" he demanded.

"I do," I answered solemnly, and affixed my signature below that of
Danny Randall. And queerly enough, as I stepped aside, I felt somehow
that I had assisted at something sacred.

One by one Danny Randall called us forward and administered his simple
oath. The fire leaped, and with it the mighty shadows. Outside the
circle of light the tall pines and fir-trees watched us like a multitude
standing witness. The men's faces were grave. There was about the
roughest of them something noble, reflected from the earnest spirit of
justice.

Randall had the plans all made, and he detailed them rapidly. We were to
arrest four men only, and he named them--Morton, Scar-face Charley, who
had recovered, a gambler named Catlin, and Jules, the proprietor of the
Empire.

"Crawford is back in town," said some one.

"Make it five then," said Danny instantly.

We had a long discussion over all this. Many other names were suggested.
Danny agreed that they were those of men guilty of the worst crimes, but
maintained that the first thing to do was to get hold of the real
leaders, the brains and motive power of the gang. The five first
designated filled that description.

"Can we really prove anything against them?" asked someone.

"No," said Danny instantly, "we cannot. Does any one here think any of
them guiltless? Consult your consciences, gentlemen. I agree with you
that it is a fearful thing to take a man's life. Vote carefully. Consult
your consciences."

We balloted at last on each name separately, and the five leaders were
condemned to death.

Next came up the vital questions of ways and means. Many were in favour
of a night surprise, and an immediate hanging before the desperadoes
could be organized for defence. Danny had a hard time showing them good
reasons against this course, but at last he succeeded.

"This must be done deliberately and publicly," he maintained. "Otherwise
it fails of its effect. We've got to show the gang that the camp is
against them; and that won't be done by hanging some of them secretly."

"Suppose the camp doesn't back us up?" queried a miner.

"Remember your oath, gentlemen," was Danny's only reply to this.

It was decided at last that five committees should be appointed to
arrest each of the five men, that the prisoners should be confined in a
certain isolated log cabin, and that the execution should take place in
broad daylight. There remained only to apportion the committees. This
was done, and at about two or three o'clock we quietly dispersed. I was
instructed to coöperate with three of the miners in the arrest of
Catlin.

With the members of my committee I returned to our own camp, there to
await the appointed hour of seven. This had been selected for several
reasons: it was daylight, the roughs would be at home, and the
community, although afoot, would not yet have gone to work. While
waiting we cooked ourselves some hot coffee and made some flapjacks. The
chill, gray time of day had come, the period of low vitality, and we
shivered with the cold and with excitement. Nobody had much to say. We
waited grimly for the time to pass.

About six o'clock Yank arose, seized his long rifle and departed for the
log cabin that had been designated as the jail. His lameness had
prevented him from being appointed on one of the arresting committees,
but he had no intention of being left out. A half hour later we followed
him into town.

It was a heavenly fall morning of the sort that only mountain California
can produce. The camp was beginning to awaken to its normal activity. I
remember wondering vaguely how it could be so calm and unconcerned. My
heart was beating violently, and I had to clench my teeth tight to keep
them from chattering. This was not fear, but a high tension of
excitement. As we strolled past the Bella Union with what appearance of
nonchalance we could muster, Danny Randall nodded at us from the
doorway. By this we knew that Catlin was to be found at his own place.

[Illustration: "WE MARCHED OUR PRISONER IN DOUBLE-QUICK TIME ... TO THE
AGREED RENDEZVOUS"]



CHAPTER XXXIX

THE VIGILANTES (_continued_)


Catlin dwelt in a detached room back of the Empire, together with one of
the other professional gamblers. We lounged around the corner of the
Empire building. The door of the cabin was shut. Outside we hung back,
hesitating and a little uncertain. None of us was by nature or training
a man of violence, and we experienced the reluctance of men about to
plunge into cold water. Nobody was more than pardonably afraid, and of
course we had every intention of seeing the affair through. Then
suddenly in the actual face of the thing itself my excitement drained
from me like a tide receding. My nerves steadied, my trembling stilled.
Never had I felt more cool in my life. Drawing my revolver, I pushed
open the door and entered the building.

Catlin was in the act of washing his face, and him I instantly covered
with my weapon. His companion was still abed. On my entrance the latter
had instinctively raised on his elbow, but immediately dropped back as
he saw the figures of my companions darkening the door.

"Well, gentlemen?" demanded Catlin.

"You must come with us," I replied.

He showed no concern, but wiped carefully his face and hands.

"I will be ready in a minute," said he, throwing aside the towel, and
rolling down his shirt sleeves. He advanced toward a bench on which his
coat had been flung. "I'll be with you as soon as I can put on my coat."

I glanced toward that garment and saw the muzzle of a revolver peeping
out from beneath it.

"I'll hand your coat to you," said I quickly. Catlin turned deadly pale,
but spoke with his usual composure.

"What am I wanted for?" he inquired.

"For being a road agent, a thief, and an accessory to robberies and
murders," I replied.

"I am innocent of all--as innocent as you are."

"There is no possibility of a mistake."

"What will you do with me?"

"Your sentence is death," I told him.

For a single instant his dark face lit up.

"You think so?" he flashed.

"Hurry!" urged one of my companions.

With one man on either side and another behind, revolvers drawn, we
marched our prisoner in double-quick time past the rear of the stores
and saloons to the agreed rendezvous. There we found Danny Randall and
his committee with Morton. Within the next few moments, in rapid
succession, appeared the others with Scar-face Charley, Crawford, and
Jules.

The camp was already buzzing with excitement. Men poured out from the
buildings into the streets like disturbed ants. Danny thrust his
prisoners into the interior of the cabin, and drew us up in two lines
outside. He impressed on us that we must keep the military formation,
and that we were to allow no one to approach. Across the road about
twenty yards away he himself laid a rope.

"That's the dead-line," he announced. "Now you keep the other side!"

In no time a mob of five hundred men had gathered. They surged
restlessly to and fro. The flash of weapons was everywhere to be seen.
Cries rent the air--demands, threats, oaths, and insults so numerous and
so virulent that I must confess my heart failed me. At any instant I
expected the mob to open fire; they could have swept us away with a
single volley. To my excited imagination every man of that multitude
looked a ruffian. We seemed alone against the community. I could not
understand why they did not rush us and have it over with. Yet they
hesitated. The fact of the matter is that the desperadoes had no
cohesion, no leaders; and they knew what none of us knew--namely, that a
good many of that crowd must be on our side. The roar and turmoil and
heat of discussion, argument, and threat rose and fell. In one of the
lulls an Irish voice yelled:

"Hang them!"

The words were greeted by a sullen assenting roar. Five hundred hands,
each armed, were held aloft. This unanimity produced an instant silence.

"Hang who?" a truculent voice expressed the universal uncertainty.

"Hang the road agents!" yelled back the little Irishman defiantly.

"Bully for you, Irish; that took nerve!" muttered Johnny, at my elbow.

Fifty threats were hurled at the bold speaker, and the click of gunlocks
preceded a surge in his direction. Then from the mob went up a sullen,
formidable muttering of warning. No individual voice could be
distinguished; but the total effect of dead resistance and determination
could not be mistaken. Instantly, at the words so valiantly uttered, the
spirit of cohesion had been born. The desperadoes checked in surprise.
We had friends. How many or how strong no one could guess; but they were
there, and in case of a battle they would fight.

On our side the line was a dead, grim silence. We stood, our weapons
ready, rigidly at attention. Occasionally one or the other of us
muttered a warning against those who showed symptoms of desiring to
interfere.

In the meantime, three of our number had been proceeding methodically
with the construction of a gallows. This was made by thrusting five
small pine butts, about forty feet long, over a cross beam in the gable
of the cabin and against the roof inside. Large drygoods boxes were
placed beneath for the trap.

About this time Danny Randall, who had been superintending the
construction, touched me on the shoulder.

"Fall back," he said quietly. "Now," he instructed several of us, after
we had obeyed this command, "I want you to bring out the prisoners and
hold them in plain view. In case of rescue or attempted escape, shoot
them instantly. Don't hesitate."

"I should think they would be safer inside the cabin," I suggested.

"Sure," agreed Danny, "but I want them here for the moral effect."

We entered the cabin. The five prisoners were standing or sitting.
Scar-face Charley was alternately blaspheming violently, upbraiding his
companions, cursing his own luck, and uttering frightful threats against
everybody who had anything to do with this. Crawford was watching him
contemptuously and every once in a while advising him to "shut up!"
Jules was alternately cursing and crying. Morton sat at one side quite
calm and very alert. Catlin stared at the floor.

The moment we entered Catlin ran over to us and began to plead for his
life. He, better than the rest, with the possible exception of Morton,
seemed to realize the seriousness of his plight. From pleadings, which
we received in silence, he changed to arguments concerning his
innocence.

"It is useless," replied one of our men. "That affair is settled and
cannot be changed. You are to be hanged. You cannot feel worse about it
than I do; but I could not help it if I would."

Catlin stood for a moment as though overwhelmed; then he fell on his
knees before us and began to plead rapidly.

"Not that!" he cried. "Anything but that! Do anything else you want to
with me! Cut off my ears and cut out my tongue! Disable me in any way!
You can certainly destroy my power for harm without taking my life!
Gentlemen! I want to live for my wife--my poor absent wife! I want time
to settle my affairs! O God! I am too wicked to die. I cannot go
bloodstained and unforgiven into the presence of the Eternal! Only let
me go, and I will leave the country forever!"

In the meantime Scar-face Charley and Crawford were cursing at us with
an earnestness and steadiness that compelled our admiration.

"Oh, shut up, Catlin!" cried Crawford at last. "You're going to hell,
and you know it; but I'll be there in time to open the gate for you."

"Don't make a fool of yourself," advised Charley; "there's no use being
afraid to die."

Morton looked around at each of us in turn.

"I suppose you know you are proceeding against a regularly constituted
officer of the law?" he reminded us. Receiving no reply, he beckoned me.
"Can I speak to you alone a moment?" he asked.

"I will send for our leader," I replied.

"No," said he, "I want no leader. You'll do as well."

I approached him. In an anxious tone he asked:

"Is there any way of getting out of this scrape? Think well!"

"None," said I firmly. "You must die."

With revolvers drawn we marched them outside. A wild yell greeted their
appearance. The cries were now mixed in sentiment. A hundred voices
raised in opposition were cried down by twice as many more. "Hang 'em!"
cried some. "No, no, banish them!" cried others. "Don't hang them!" and
blood-curdling threats. A single shot would have brought on a pitched
battle. Somehow eventually the tumult died down. Then Morton, who had
been awaiting his chance, spoke up in a strong voice.

"I call on you in the name of the law to arrest and disperse these
law-breakers."

"Where is Tom Cleveland?" spoke up a voice.

The appeal, which might otherwise have had its effect, was lost in the
cries, accusations, and counter-accusations that arose like a babel.
Morton made no further attempt. He better than any one realized, I
think, the numerical superiority against him.

The preparations were at length completed. Danny Randall motioned us to
lead forward the prisoners. Catlin struggled desperately, but the others
walked steadily enough to take their places on the drygoods boxes.

"For God's sake, gentlemen," appealed Crawford in a loud tone of voice,
"give me time to write home!"

"Ask him how much time he gave Tom Cleveland!" shouted a voice.

"If I'd only had a show," retorted Crawford, "if I'd known what you were
after, you'd have had a gay time taking me."

There was some little delay in adjusting the cords.

"If you're going to hang me, get at it!" said Jules with an oath; "if
not, I want you to tie a bandage on my finger; it's bleeding."

"Give me your coat, Catlin," said Crawford; "you never gave me anything
yet; now's your chance."

Danny Randall broke in on this exchange.

"You are about to be executed," said he soberly. "If you have any dying
requests to make, this is your last opportunity. They will be carefully
heeded."

Scar-face Charley broke in with a rough laugh.

"How do I look, boys, with a halter around my neck?" he cried.

This grim effort was received in silence.

"Your time is very short," Danny reminded him.

"Well, then," said the desperado, "I want one more drink of whiskey
before I die."

A species of uneasy consternation rippled over the crowd. Men glanced
meaningly at each other, murmuring together. Some of the countenances
expressed loathing, but more exhibited a surprised contempt. For a
confused moment no one seemed to know quite what to do or what answer to
make to so bestial a dying request. Danny broke the silence incisively.

"I promised them their requests would be carefully heeded," he said.
"Give him the liquor."

Somebody passed up a flask. Charley raised it as high as he could, but
was prevented by the rope from getting it quite to his lips.

"You ----" he yelled at the man who held the rope.

"Slack off that rope and let a man take a parting drink, can't you?"

Amid a dead silence the rope was slacked away. Charley took a long
drink, then hurled the half-emptied flask far out into the crowd.

To a question Crawford shook his head.

"I hope God Almighty will strike every one of you with forked lightning
and that I shall meet you all in the lowest pit of hell!" he snarled.

Morton kept a stubborn and rather dignified silence. Catlin alternately
pleaded and wept. Jules answered Danny's question:

"Sure thing! Pull off my boots for me. I don't want it to get back to my
old mother that I died with my boots on!"

In silence and gravely this ridiculous request was complied with. The
crowd, very attentive, heaved and stirred. The desperadoes, shouldering
their way here and there, were finding each other out, were gathering in
little groups.

"They'll try a rescue!" whispered the man next to me.

"Men," Danny's voice rang out, clear and menacing, "do your duty!"

At the words, across the silence the click of gunlocks was heard as the
Vigilantes levelled their weapons at the crowd. From my position near
the condemned men I could see the shifting components of the mob freeze
to immobility before the menace of those barrels. At the same instant
the man who had been appointed executioner jerked the box from beneath
Catlin's feet.

"There goes one to hell!" muttered Charley.

"I hope forked lightning will strike every strangling----" yelled
Crawford. His speech was abruptly cut short as the box spun from under
his feet.

"Kick away, old fellow!" said Scar-face Charley. "Me next! I'll be in
hell with you in a minute! Every man for his principles! Hurrah for
crime! Let her rip!" and without waiting for the executioner, he himself
kicked the support away.

Morton died without a sign. Catlin, at the last, suddenly calmed, and
met his fate bravely.

Before the lull resulting from the execution and the threat of the
presented weapons could break, Danny Randall spoke up.

"Gentlemen!" he called clearly. "The roster of the Vigilantes is open.
Such of you as please to join the association for the preservation of
decency, law, and order in this camp can now do so."

The guard lowered their arms and moved to one side. The crowd swept
forward. In the cabin the applicants were admitted a few at a time.
Before noon we had four hundred men on our rolls. Some of the bolder
roughs ventured a few threats, but were speedily overawed. The community
had found itself, and was no longer afraid.



PART IV

THE LAW



CHAPTER XL

THE RAINS


No sooner had this radical clean-up of the body politic been consummated
than the rains began. That means little to any but a Californian. To him
it means everything. We were quite new to the climate and the
conditions, so that the whole thing was a great surprise.

For a month past it had been threatening. The clouds gathered and piled
and blackened until they seemed fairly on the point of bursting. One
would not have given two cents for his chances of a dry skin were he to
start on a journey across the street. Yet somehow nothing happened. Late
in the afternoon, perhaps, the thunderous portents would thin. The
diffused light would become stronger. Far down in the west bars of
sunlight would strike. And by evening the stars shone brilliantly from a
sky swept clear. After a dozen repetitions of this phenomenon we ceased
to pay any attention to it. Somebody named it "high fog," which did well
enough to differentiate it from a genuine rain-bringing cloud. Except
for that peculiar gourd that looks exactly like a watermelon, these
"high fogs" were the best imitation of a real thing I have ever seen.
They came up like rain clouds, they looked precisely like rain clouds,
they went through all the performances of rain clouds--except that
never, never did they rain!

But the day of the Vigilante execution the sky little by little turned
shimmering gray; so that the sun shining from it looked like silver; and
the shadows of objects were diffused and pale. A tepid wind blew gently
but steadily from the southeast. No clouds were visible at first; but
imperceptibly, around the peaks, filmy veils formed seemingly out of the
gray substance of the very sky itself. How these thickened and spread I
did not see; but when I came out of the Bella Union, after a long and
interesting evening of discussion, I found no stars; and, as I stood
looking upward, a large warm drop splashed against my face.

Sometime during the night it began to rain in earnest. We were awakened
by its steady drumming on the canvas of our tent.

"My Lord! but she sure is _raining_!" said Johnny across the roar
of sound.

"Don't tech the canvas!" warned Old. "If you do, she'll leak like a
spout where you teched her!"

"Thank heaven, that high fog scared us into ditching around the tent,"
said Cal fervently.

But our satisfaction was short-lived. We had ditched the tent, to be
sure, but we had badly underestimated the volume of a California
downpour.

Before many minutes had passed Johnny gave a disgusted snort.

"I'm lying in a marsh!" he cried.

He struck a light, and we all saw the water trickling in a dozen little
streams beneath the edge of the tent.

"We're going to be ruined!" cried Johnny comically.

He arose, and in doing so brushed his head violently against the
slanting canvas roof. Almost immediately thereafter the rays of the
lantern were reflected from tiny beads of water, like a sweat, appearing
as though by magic at that spot. They swelled, gathered, hesitated, then
began to feel their way slowly down the dry canvas. The trickle became a
stream. A large drop fell straight down. Another followed.

"Anybody need a drink?" inquired Cal.

"I'm sorry!" said Johnny contritely.

"You needn't be," I consoled him. "The whole thing is going to leak, if
this keeps up."

"What's the matter with going over to the Moreña cabin?" queried Yank.

We hesitated a little. The events of the day had affected us all more
deeply than we liked to acknowledge; and nobody but Yank much liked the
idea of again entering that bloodstained abode.

"We'd drown getting there," said Cal at last. "I move some of you
fellows with two good arms rustle out and fix that ditch." He laughed.
"Nothing like having a hole in you to get out of work."

We took his advice, and managed to turn the flood, though we got very
wet in the process.

Then we returned to the tent, changed our clothes, crept into our
blankets, and wrapped ourselves close. The spot brushed by Johnny's head
dripped steadily. Otherwise our roof shed well. The rain roared straight
down with steady, deadly persistency.

"She can't keep this up long, anyway; that's a comfort," muttered Johnny
sleepily.

Couldn't she? All next morning that flood came down without the let-up
of even a single moment. It had all the volume and violence of a black
thunderstorm at its height; only the worst of the thunderstorm lasts but
a few moments, while this showed no signs of ever intending to end. Our
stout canvas continued to turn the worst of it, but a fine spray was
driven through, to our great discomfort. We did not even attempt to
build a fire, but sat around wrapped in our damp blankets.

Until about two of the afternoon the deluge continued. Our unique topic
of conversation was the marvel of how it could keep it up! We could not
imagine more water falling were every stream and lake in the mountains
to be lifted to the heavens and poured down again.

"Where the devil does it all come from?" marvelled Old, again and again.
"Don't seem like no resevoy, let alone clouds, could hold so much!"

"And where does it go to?" I supplemented.

"I reckon some of those plains people could tell you," surmised Yank
shrewdly.

At two o'clock the downpour ceased as abruptly as though it had been
turned off at a spigot. Inside of twenty minutes the clouds had broken,
to show beyond them a dazzling blue sky. Intermittent flashes and bands
of sunlight glittered on the wet trees and bushes or threw into relief
the black bands of storm clouds near the horizon.

Immensely cheered, we threw aside our soggy blankets and sallied forth.

"Great Christmas!" cried Johnny, who was in the advance. "Talk about
your mud!"

We did talk about it. It was the deepest, most tenacious, slipperiest,
most adhesive mud any fiend ever imagined. We slid and floundered as
though we had on skates; we accumulated balls of it underfoot; and we
sank disconcertingly half-leg deep at every third step. Our first
intention had been to go up to town; but we soon revised that, and went
down to the Moreña cabin instead, with the idea of looking after the two
horses. The beasts, very shaggy underneath and plastered above, stood
humped up nose to tail. We looked into the cabin. The roof had leaked
like a sieve; and the interior was dripping in a thousand places.

"Reckon even the tent was better after all," acknowledged Yank, looking
with disfavour on the muddy floor.

We returned to the tent and made shift to get a fire going. After
cooking some hot food, we felt better, and set about drying our
blankets. In the cañon we could hear the river roaring away hollowly.

"I'll bet she's on the rampage!" said Old.

"I'll bet she's got my cradle and all of my tools!" I cried, struck with
a sudden thought.

And then, about as we commenced to feel cheerful and contented again,
the scattered black clouds began to close ranks. One by one the patches
of blue sky narrowed and disappeared.

"Why!" cried Cal in astonishment, "I believe it's getting ready to rain
again!"

"Shucks!" replied Old, "It can't. There ain't no more rain."

Nevertheless there was, and plenty of it. We spent that second night
shifting as little as possible so as not to touch a new cold place in
our sodden blankets, while the waters roared down in almost a solid
sheet.

This lasted the incredible period of four days! Nobody then knew
anything about measuring rainfall; but, judging by later experience, I
should say we must have had close to seven inches. There was not much we
could do, except to get wetter and wetter, although we made shift to
double up at night, and to use the extra blankets thus released to make
a sort of double roof. This helped some.

The morning of the fifth day broke dazzlingly clear. The sky looked
burnished as a blue jewel; the sunlight glittered like shimmering metal;
distant objects stood out plain-cut, without atmosphere. For the first
time we felt encouraged to dare that awful mud, and so slopped over to
town.

We found the place fairly drowned out. No one, in his first year,
thought of building for the weather. Barnes's hotel, the Empire and the
Bella Union had come through without shipping a drop, for they had been
erected by men with experience in the California climate; but almost
everybody else had been leaked upon a-plenty. And the deep dust of the
travel-worn overland road had turned into a morass beyond belief or
description.

Our first intimation of a definite seasonal change came from our old
friend Danny Randall, who hailed us at once when he saw us picking our
way gingerly along the edge of the street. In answer to his summons we
entered the Bella Union.

"I hope you boys weren't quite drowned out," he greeted us. "You don't
look particularly careworn."

We exchanged the appropriate comments; then Danny came at once to
business.

"Now I'm going to pay off you three boys," he told the express
messengers, "and I want to know what you want. I can give you the dust,
or I can give you an order on a San Francisco firm, just as you choose."

"Express business busted?" asked Johnny.

"It's quit for the season," Danny Randall told him, "like everything
else. In two weeks at most there won't be a score of men left in Italian
Bar." He observed our astonished incredulity, smiled, and continued:
"You boys came from the East, where it rains and gets over it. But out
here it doesn't get over it. Have you been down to look at the river?
No? Well, you'd better take a look. There'll be no more bar mining done
there for a while. And what's a mining camp without mining? Go talk to
the men of '48. They'll tell you. The season is over, boys, until next
spring; and you may just as well make up your minds to hike out now as
later. What are you laughing at?" he asked Johnny.

"I was just thinking of our big Vigilante organization," he chuckled.

"I suppose it's true that mighty few of the same lot will ever get back
to Italian Bar," agreed Danny, "but it's a good thing for whatever
community they may hit next year."

Johnny and Old elected to take their wages in dust; Cal decided on the
order against the San Francisco firm. Then we wandered down to where we
could overlook the bar itself.

The entire bed of the river was filled from rim to rim with a rolling
brown flood. The bars, sand-spits, gravel-banks had all disappeared.
Whole trees bobbed and sank and raised skeleton arms or tangled roots as
they were swept along by the current or caught back by the eddies; and
underneath the roar of the waters we heard the dull rumbling and
crunching of boulders rolled beneath the flood. A crowd of men was
watching in idle curiosity. We learned that all the cradles and most of
the tools had been lost; and heard rumours of cabins or camps located
too low having been swept away.

That evening we held a very serious discussion of our prospects and
plans. Yank announced himself as fit to travel, and ready to do so,
provided he could have a horse; the express messengers were out of a
job; I had lost all my tools, and was heartily tired of gold washing,
even had conditions permitted me to continue. Beside which, we were all
feeling quite rich and prosperous. We had not made enormous fortunes as
we had confidently anticipated when we left New York, but we were all
possessed of good sums of money. Yank had the least, owing to the fact
that he had been robbed of his Porcupine River product, and had been
compelled for nearly three months to lie idle; but even he could count
on a thousand dollars or so sent out from Hangman's Gulch. I had the
most, for my digging had paid me better than had Johnny's express
riding. But much of my share belonged of right to Talbot Ward.

Having once made up our minds to leave, we could not go too soon. A
revulsion seized us. In two days the high winds that immediately sprang
up from the west had dried the surface moisture. We said good-bye to all
our friends--Danny Randall, Dr. Rankin, Barnes, and the few miners with
whom we had become intimate. Danny was even then himself preparing to
return to Sonoma as soon as the road should be open to wagons. Dr.
Rankin intended to accompany him, ostensibly because he saw a fine
professional opening at Sonoma, in reality because in his shy, hidden
fashion he loved Danny.

Nobody objecting, we commandeered the two horses that had belonged to
the Moreñas. One of them we packed with our few effects, and turned the
other over to Yank. Thus, trudging afoot, Johnny and I saw our last of
Italian Bar. Thirty years later I rode up there out of sheer curiosity.
Most of the old cabins had fallen in. The Bella Union was a drear and
draughty wreck. The Empire was used as a stable. Barnes's place and
Morton's next door had burned down. Only three of the many houses were
inhabited. In two of them dwelt old men, tending small gardens and
orchards. I do not doubt they too were Forty-niners; but I did not stop.
The place was full of too many ghosts.



CHAPTER XLI

WE GO OUT


We made our way out of the hills without adventure worth noting. The
road was muddy, and a good deal washed. In fact, we had occasionally to
do considerable manoeuvring to find a way at all around the landslides
from the hills above.

As we descended we came upon traces of the great exodus that was taking
place from the hills. All the miners were moving out. We found discarded
articles of camp equipment; we passed some people without any equipment
at all. Sick men lay under bushes without covering, or staggered
painfully down the muddy trails. Many were utterly without food. If it
rained, as it did from frequent showers, they took it as cheerfully as
they could. This army of the unsuccessful was a striking commentary on
the luck of the mines.

Robbers most singularly lacked. I did not hear of a single case of
violence in all the rather slow journey out. The explanation did not
seem difficult, however. Those who travelled alone had nothing worth the
taking; while those who possessed gold went in numbers too strong to be
attacked. The road agents had gone straight to the larger cities. Nor,
must I confess, did I see many examples of compassion to the
unfortunate. In spite of the sentimental stories that have been
told--with real enough basis in isolated fact, probably--the time was
selfish. It was also, after eliminating the desperadoes and blacklegs,
essentially honest. Thus one day we came upon a wagon apparently
deserted by the roadside. On it was a rudely scrawled sign:

"_Will some kind person stay by my wagon. I am in distress looking for
my oxen. Please do not take anything, for I am poor, and the property is
not mine._"

Nothing had been touched, as near as I could make out. We travelled by
easy stages, and by a roundabout route, both because the road was bad,
and because we wanted to see the country. On our way we passed several
other small camps. A great many Chinese had come in, and were engaged in
scratching over the abandoned claims. In fact, one man told me that
sometimes it was worth while to file on some of the abandoned claims
just to sell them to these patient people! As we descended from the
mountains we naturally came upon more and more worked-out claims. Some
had evidently been abandoned in disgust by men with little stamina; but,
sometimes, with a considerable humour. An effigy clad in regulation
gambler's rig, including the white shirt, swayed and swung slowly above
the merest surface diggings. Across the shirt front these words were
written:

    "_My claim failed!_"

And then below them:

    "_Oh, Susannah! don't you cry for me!
    I'm a-living dead in Californi-ee_"--
which was very bad as doggerel, but probably very accurate as to its
author's state of mind.

One afternoon we turned off on a trail known to Old, and rode a few
miles to where the Pine family had made its farm. We found the old man
and his tall sons inhabiting a large two-roomed cabin situated on a
flat. They had already surrounded a field with a fence made of split
pickets and rails, and were working away with the tireless energy of the
born axemen at enclosing still more. Their horses had been turned into
ploughing; and from somewhere or other they had procured a cock and a
dozen hens. Of these they were inordinately proud, and they took great
pains to herd them in every night away from wildcats and other beasts.
We stayed with them four days, and we had a fine time. Every man of them
was keenly interested in the development of the valley and the discovery
of its possibilities. We discussed apples, barley, peaches, apricots,
ditches, irrigation, beans, hogs, and a hundred kindred topics, to
Johnny's vast disgust. I had been raised on a New England farm; Yank had
experienced agricultural vicissitudes in the new country west of the
Alleghanies; and the Pines had scratched the surface of the earth in
many localities. But this was a new climate and a new soil to all of us;
and we had nothing to guide us. The subject was fascinating. Johnny was
frankly bored with it all, but managed to have a good time hunting for
the game with which the country abounded.

For a brief period Yank and I quite envied the lot of these pioneers who
had a settled stake in the country.

"I wish I could go in for this sort of thing," said Yank.

"Why don't you?" urged old man Pine. "There's a flat just above us."

"How did you get hold of this land?" I inquired curiously.

"Just took it".

"Doesn't it belong to anybody?"

"It's part of one of these big Greaser ranchos," said Pine impatiently.
"I made a good try to git to the bottom of it. One fellar says he owns
it, and will sell; then comes another that says _he_ owns it and
won't sell. And so on. They don't nohow use this country, except a few
cattle comes through once in a while. I got tired of monkeying with them
and I came out here and squatted. If I owe anybody anything, they got to
show me who it is. I don't believe none of them knows themselves who it
really belongs to."

"I'd hate to put a lot of work into a place, and then have to move out,"
said I doubtfully.

"I'd like to see anybody move me out!" observed old man Pine grimly.

Farther up in the hills they were putting together the framework of a
sawmill, working on it at odd times when the ranch itself did not demand
attention. It was built of massive hewn timbers, raised into place with
great difficulty. They had no machinery as yet, but would get that later
out of their first farming profits.

"There ain't no hurry about it anyway," explained Pine, "for as yet
there ain't no demand for lumber yereabouts."

"I should say not!" exploded Johnny with a derisive shriek of laughter,
"unless you're going to sell it to the elks and coyotes!"

Pine turned toward him seriously.

"This is all good land yere," said he, "and they'll want lumber."

"It looks mighty good to me," said Yank.

"Well, why don't you settle?" urged Pine.

"And me with fifteen hundred good dollars?" replied Yank. "It ain't such
an everlasting fortune; but it'll git me a place back home; and I've had
my fun. This country is too far off. I'm going back home."

To this sentiment Johnny and I heartily agreed. It is a curious fact
that not one man in ten thousand even contemplated the possibility of
making California his permanent home. It was a place in which to get as
rich as he could, and then to leave.

Nevertheless we left our backwoods friends reluctantly; and at the top
of the hill we stopped our two horses to look back on the valley. It
lay, with its brown, freshly upturned earth, its scattered broad oaks,
its low wood-crowned knolls, as though asleep in the shimmering warm
floods of golden sunshine. Through the still air we heard plainly the
beat of an axe, and the low, drowsy clucking of hens. A peaceful and
grateful feeling of settled permanence, to which the restless temporary
life of mining camps had long left us strangers, filled us with the
vague stirrings of envy.

The feeling soon passed. We marched cheerfully away, our hopes busy with
what we would do when we reached New York. Johnny and I had accumulated
very fair sums of money, in spite of our loss at the hands of the
robbers, what with the takings at Hangman's Gulch, what was left from
the robbery, and Italian Bar. These sums did not constitute an enormous
fortune, to be sure. There was nothing spectacular in our winnings; but
they totalled about five times the amount we could have made at home;
and they represented a very fair little stake with which to start life.
We were young.

We found Sacramento under water. A sluggish, brown flood filled the town
and spread far abroad over the flat countryside. Men were living in the
second stories of such buildings as possessed second stories, and on the
roofs of others. They were paddling about in all sorts of improvised
boats and rafts. I saw one man keeping a precarious equilibrium in a
baker's trough; and another sprawled out face down on an India rubber
bed paddling overside with his hands.

We viewed these things from the thwarts of a boat which we hired for ten
dollars. Our horses we had left outside of town on the highlands.
Everywhere we passed men and shouted to them a cheery greeting.
Everybody seemed optimistic and inclined to believe that the flood would
soon go down.

"Anyway, she's killed the rats," one man shouted in answer to our call.

We grinned an appreciation of what we thought merely a facetious reply.
Rats had not yet penetrated to the mines, so we did not know anything
about them. Next day, in San Francisco, we began to apprehend the man's
remark.

Thus we rowed cheerfully about, having a good time at the other fellow's
expense. Suddenly Johnny, who was steering, dropped his paddle with an
exclamation. Yank and I turned to see what had so struck him. Beyond the
trees that marked where the bank of the river ought to be we saw two
tall smokestacks belching forth a great volume of black smoke.

"A steamer!" cried Yank.

"Yes, and a good big one!" I added.

We lay to our oars and soon drew alongside. She proved to be a side
wheeler, of fully seven hundred tons, exactly like the craft we had
often seen plying the Hudson.

"Now how do you suppose they got her out here?" I marvelled.

She was almost completely surrounded by craft of all descriptions; her
decks were crowded. We read the name _McKim_ on her paddle boxes.

A man with an official cap appeared at the rail.

"Bound for San Francisco?" I called to him.

"Off in two minutes," he replied.

"What's the fare?"

"Forty dollars."

"Come on, boys," said I to my comrades, at the same time seizing a
dangling rope.

"Hold on!" cried Yank. "How about our two horses and our blankets, and
this boat?"

I cast my eye around, and discovered a boy of fourteen or fifteen in the
stern of a neat fisherman's dory a few feet away.

"Here!" I called to him. "Do you want two good horses and some
blankets?"

"I ain't got any money."

"Don't need any. These are free. We're going down on this boat. You'll
find the outfit under the big white oak two miles above the forks on the
American. They're yours if you'll go get them."

"What do you want me to do?" he demanded suspiciously.

"Two things: return this boat to its owner--a man named Lilly who
lives----"

"I know the boat," the boy interrupted.

"The other is to be sure to go up to-day after those horses. They're
picketed out."

"All right," agreed the boy, whose enthusiasm kindled as his belief in
the genuineness of the offer was assured.

I seized a rope, swung myself up to the flat fender, and thence to the
deck.

"Come on!" I called to Yank and Johnny, who were hesitating. "It'll cost
more than those horses and blankets are worth to wait."

Thereupon they followed me. The boy made fast our boat to his own. Five
minutes later we were dropping down the river.

"This is what I call real luxury," said Johnny, returning from an
inspection of our craft. "There's a barroom, and a gambling layout, and
velvet carpets and chairs, mirrors, a minstrel show, and all the
fixings. Now who'd expect to run against a layout like this on the
river?"

"What I'd like to know is how they got her out here," said I. "Look at
her! She's a river boat. A six-foot wave ought to swamp her!"

We thought of a half dozen solutions, and dismissed them all. The
discussion, however, served its purpose in inflaming our curiosity.

"I'm going to find some one who knows," I announced at last.

This was not so easy. The captain was of course remote and haughty and
inaccessible, and the other officers were too busy handling the ship and
the swarming rough crowd to pay any attention to us. The crew were new
hands. Finally, however, we found in the engine room a hard bitten
individual with a short pipe and some leisure. To him we proffered our
question.

"Sailed her," said he.

"Around the Horn?" I cried.

He looked at me a bitter instant.

"The sailing wasn't very good across the plains, _at that time_,"
said he.

Little by little we got his story. I am not a seafaring man, but it
seems to me one of the most extraordinary feats of which I have ever
heard. The lower decks of the _McKim_ had been boarded up with
heavy planks; some of her frailer gimcracks of superstructure had been
dismantled, and then she had been sent under her own power on the long
journey around the Horn. Think of it! A smooth-water river boat, light
draught, top heavy, frail in construction, sent out to battle with the
might of three oceans! However, she made it; and after her her sister
ship, the _Senator_, and they made money for their owners, and I am
glad of it. That certainly was a gallant enterprise!

She was on this trip jammed full of people, mostly those returning from
the mines. A trip on the _McKim_ implied a certain amount of
prosperity, so we were a jolly lot. The weather was fine, and a bright
moon illuminated the swollen river. We had drinkers, songsters,
debaters, gamblers, jokers, and a few inclined to be quarrelsome, all of
which added to the variety of the occasion. I wandered around from one
group to another, thoroughly enjoying myself, both out on deck and in
the cabins. It might be added that there were no sleepers!

Along toward midnight, as I was leaning on the rail forward watching the
effect of the moon on the water and the shower of sparks from the twin
stacks against the sky, I was suddenly startled by the cry of "man
overboard," and a rush toward the stern. I followed as quickly as I was
able. The paddle wheels had been instantly reversed, and a half dozen
sailors were busily lowering a boat. A crowd of men, alarmed by the
trembling of the vessel as her way was checked, poured out from the
cabins. The fact that I was already on deck gave me an advantageous
post; so that I found myself near the stern rail.

"He was leaning against the rail," one was explaining excitedly, "and it
give way, and in he went. He never came up!"

Everybody was watching eagerly the moonlit expanse of the river.

"I guess he's a goner," said a man after a few moments. "He ain't in
sight nowhere."

"There he is!" cried a half dozen voices all at once.

A head shot into sight a few hundred yards astern, blowing the silvered
water aside. The small boat, which was now afloat, immediately headed in
his direction, and a moment later he was hauled aboard amid frantic
cheers. The dripping victim of the accident clambered to the deck.

It was Johnny!

He was beside himself with excitement, sputtering with rage and uttering
frantic threats against something or somebody. His eyes were wild, and
he fairly frothed at the mouth. I seized him by the arm. He stared at
me, then became coherent, though he still spluttered. Johnny was
habitually so quietly reserved as far as emotions go that his present
excitement was at first utterly incomprehensible.

It seemed that he had been leaning against the rail, watching the
moonlight, when suddenly it had given way beneath his weight and he had
fallen into the river.

"They had no business to have so weak a rail!" he cried bitterly.

"Well, you're here, all right," I said soothingly. "There's no great
harm done."

"Oh, isn't there?" he snarled.

Then we learned how the weight of the gold around his waist had carried
him down like a plummet; and we sensed a little of the desperate horror
with which he had torn and struggled to free himself from that dreadful
burden.

"I thought I'd burst!" said he.

And then he had torn off the belt, and had shot to the surface.

"It's down there," he said more calmly, "every confounded yellow grain
of it." He laughed a little. "Broke!" said he. "No New York in mine!"

The crowd murmured sympathetically.

"Gol darn it, boys, it's rotten hard luck!" cried a big miner with some
heat. "Who'll chip in?"

At the words Johnny recovered himself, and his customary ease of manner
returned.

"Much obliged, boys," said he, "but I've still got my health. I don't
need charity. Guess I've been doing the baby act; but I was damn mad at
that rotten old rail. Anyway," he laughed, "there need nobody say in the
future that there's no gold in the lower Sacramento. There is; I put it
there myself."

The tall miner slowly stowed away his buckskin sack, looking keenly in
Johnny's face.

"Well, you'll have a drink, anyway," said he.

"Oh, hell, yes!" agreed Johnny, "I'll have a drink!"



CHAPTER XLII

SAN FRANCISCO AGAIN


We drew up to San Francisco early in the afternoon, and we were, to put
it mildly, thoroughly astonished at the change in the place. To begin
with, we now landed at a long wharf projecting from the foot of
Sacramento Street instead of by lighter. This wharf was crowded by a
miscellaneous mob, collected apparently with no other purpose than to
view our arrival. Among them we saw many specialized types that had been
lacking to the old city of a few months ago--sharp, keen, businesslike
clerks whom one could not imagine at the rough work of the mines;
loafers whom one could not imagine at any work at all; dissolute,
hard-faced characters without the bold freedom of the road agents; young
green-looking chaps who evidently had much to learn and who were
exceedingly likely to pay their little fortunes, if not their lives, in
the learning. On a hogshead at one side a street preacher was
declaiming.

Johnny had by now quite recovered his spirits. I think he was helped
greatly by the discovery that he still possessed his celebrated diamond.

"Not broke yet!" said he triumphantly. "You see I was a wise boy after
all! Wish I had two of them!"

We disembarked, fought our way to one side, and discussed our plans.

"Hock the diamond first," said Johnny, who resolutely refused to borrow
from me; "then hair-cut, shave, bath, buy some more clothes, grub,
drink, and hunt up Talbot and see what he's done with the dust we sent
down from Hangman's."

That program seemed good. We strolled toward shore, with full intention
of putting it into immediate execution. "Immediate" proved to be a
relative term; there was too much to see.

First we stopped for a moment to hear what the preacher had to say. He
was a tall, lank man with fine but rather fanatical features, dressed in
a long black coat, his glossy head bare. In spite of the numerous
counter-attractions he had a crowd; and he was holding it.

"You're standing on a whiskey barrel!" called some one; and the crowd
yelled with delight.

"True, my friend," retorted the preacher with undaunted good nature,
"and I'll venture to say this is the first time a whiskey barrel has
ever been appropriated to so useful a purpose. The critter in it will do
no harm if it is kept underfoot. Never let it get above your feet!"

A boat runner, a squat, humorous-faced negro with flashing teeth and a
ready flow of language, evidently a known and appreciated character,
mounted the head of a pile at some little distance and began to hold
forth in a deep voice on the advantages of some sort of an excursion on
the bay. A portion of the preacher's crowd began to drift in the
direction of the new attraction.

"Ho! ho! ho!" cried the preacher suddenly in tremendous volume. "Ho! All
ye who want to go to heaven, now's your time! A splendid line of
celestial steamers will run for a few days from San Francisco to the
port of Glory, a country every way superior to California, having in it
the richest gold diggings ever discovered, the very streets of the city
being paved with gold. In that country are oceans of lager beer and
drinks of every kind, all free; pretty women also, and pleasures of
endless variety exceeding the dreams of Mohammed as far as the
brightness of the meridian sun exceeds the dim twinkle of the glowworm!
Program for the voyage: embarkation amid the melody of the best band in
the world; that music that so attracted you this morning not to be
mentioned in comparison. Appropriate entertainments for each week day,
to be announced daily. Each Sunday to be celebrated, first, with a grand
feast, closing with a rich profusion of beer, champagne, good old port,
whiskey punch, brandy smashes, Tom and Jerry, etc. Second, a game of
cards. Third, a grand ball in upper saloon. Fourth, a dog fight. Fifth,
a theatrical performance in the evening. If I could truthfully publish
such an ad as that I think about two sermons would convert this city."

The crowd had all turned back to him, laughing good-humouredly. The
preacher stretched out his long bony arm, and held forth. His talk was
against gambling, and it had, I am afraid, but little real effect.
Nevertheless he was listened to; and at the end of his talk everybody
contributed something to a collection.

At the land end of the wharf we ran into the most extraordinary
collection of vehicles apparently in an inextricable tangle, that was
further complicated by the fact that most of the horses were only half
broken. They kicked and reared, their drivers lashed and swore, the
wagons clashed together. There seemed no possible way out of the mess;
and yet somehow the wagons seemed to get loaded and to draw out into the
clear. Occasionally the drivers were inclined to abandon their craft and
do battle with the loaded ends of their whips; but always a peacemaker
descended upon them in the person of a large voluble individual in whom
I recognized my former friend and employer, John McGlynn. Evidently John
had no longer a monopoly of the teaming business; but, as evidently,
what he said went with this wild bunch.

Most of the wagons were loading goods brought from the interiors of
storehouses alongside the approach to the wharf. In these storehouses we
recognized the hulls of ships, but so shored up, dismantled, and cut
into by doors and stories that of their original appearance only their
general shapes remained. There was a great number of these storehouses
along the shore, some of them being quite built about by piles and
platforms, while two were actually inland several hundred feet. I read
the name _Niantic_ on the stern of one of them; and found it to
have acquired in the landward side a square false front. It was at that
time used as a hotel.

"Looks as if they'd taken hold of Talbot's idea hard," observed Yank.

"Say!" cried Johnny, "will one of you drinking men kindly take a look
and inform me if I've gone wrong?"

This remark was called forth by the discovery, as we neared the shore,
of hordes of rats. They were large, fat, saucy rats; and they strolled
about in broad daylight as if they owned the place. They sat upright on
sacks of grain; they scampered across the sidewalks; they scuttled from
behind boxes; they rustled and squeaked and fought and played in
countless droves. The ground seemed alive with them. It was a most
astonishing sight.

"And will you look at that dog!" cried Yank disgustedly.

Across an open doorway, blinking in the sun, lay a good-looking fox
terrier. His nose was laid between his paws, and within two yards of
that nose a large brown rat disported itself with a crust of bread.

"My Lord!" cried Johnny, his sporting blood aboil. "Here, pup, sic 'em!
sic 'em!" He indicated the game urgently. The fox terrier rolled up one
eye, wagged his stub tail--but did not even raise his nose.

"No use," observed the dog's owner, who had appeared in the doorway.

"What's the matter with him?" demanded Johnny indignantly; "is he sick?"

"No, he ain't sick," replied the owner sadly; "but he ain't got no use
for rats. I bought him for damn near his weight in gold dust when the
_Panama_ came in last month. He was the best ratter you ever see. I
reckon he must've killed a million rats the first week. But, Lord! he
got sick of rats. I reckon a rat could go right up and pull his whiskers
now, and he'd never mind."

We condoled with the _blasé_ dog, and moved on.

"Same old mud," observed Yank.

The place was full of new buildings, some of them quite elaborate
two-story structures of brick; and elevated plank sidewalks had taken
the place of the old makeshifts. Although the Plaza was still the centre
of town, the streets immediately off it had gained considerable dignity
and importance. There were many clothing stores, nearly all kept by
Jews, and a number of new saloons and gambling houses. As we were
picking our way along we ran into an old acquaintance in the person of
the captain of the _Panama_. He recognized us at once, and we drew
up for a chat. After we had exchanged first news Johnny asked him if he
knew of a place where a fair price could be raised on the diamond.

"Why, the jewellery store is your ticket, of course," replied the
captain.

"So there's a jewellery store, too!" cried Johnny.

"And a good one," supplemented the captain. "Come along; I'll take you
to it."

It _was_ a good one, and carried a large stock of rings, chains,
pins, clocks, watches, and speaking trumpets. The latter two items were
the most prominent, for there were hundreds of watches, and apparently
thousands of speaking trumpets. They stood in rows on the shelves, and
depended in ranks from hooks and nails. Most of them were of silver or
of silver gilt; and they were plain, chased, engraved, hammered, or
repousséd, with always an ample space for inscription. After Johnny had
concluded a satisfactory arrangement for his diamond, I remarked on the
preponderance of speaking trumpets. The man grinned rather maliciously
at our captain.

"They are a very favourite article for presentation by grateful
passengers after a successful sea trip," he said smoothly.

At this our captain exploded.

"Are they?" he boomed. "I should think they were! I've got a dozen of
the confounded things; and as I've just got in from a trip, I'm
expecting another any minute. Good Lord!" he cried as a group of men
turned in at the door. "Here come some of my passengers now. Come along,
let's get out of this!"

He dragged us out a back door into a very muddy back alley, whence we
floundered to dry land with some difficulty.

"That was a narrow escape!" he cried, wiping his brow. "Let's go get a
drink. I know the best place."

He led us to a very ornate saloon whose chief attraction was the fact
that its ceiling was supported on glass pillars! We duly admired this
marvel; and then wandered over to the polished mahogany bar, where we
were joined by the half dozen loafers who had been lounging around the
place. These men did not exactly join us, but they stood expectantly
near. Nor were they disappointed.

"Come, let's all take a drink, boys!" cried the captain heartily.

They named and tossed off their liquor, and then without a word of
farewell or thanks shambled back to their roosting places.

"What's the matter, Billy?" demanded the captain, looking about
curiously. "Where's your usual crowd?"

"They're all down at the Verandah," replied the barkeeper, passing a
cloth over the satiny wood of the bar. "Dorgan's got a girl tending bar.
Pays her some ungodly wages; and he's getting all the crowd. He'd better
make the most of it while it lasts. She won't stay a week."

"Why not?" I asked curiously.

"Married; sure," replied the barkeeper briefly.

"And the glass pillars will always be here; eh, Billy?" suggested the
captain. "Nevertheless I believe we'll just wander down and look her
over."

"Sure," said Billy indifferently; "that's where all the rest are."

The Verandah, situated on the Plaza, was crowded to the doors. Behind
the bar slaved a half dozen busy drink-mixers. The girl, and a very
pretty girl she was, passed the drinks over the counter, and took in the
dust.

"She's straight," observed the captain sagaciously, after inspection;
"if she wasn't there wouldn't be such a gang. The other sort is plenty
enough."

We did not try to get near the bar, but after a few moments regained the
street. The captain said farewell; and we hunted up, by his direction,
the New York Tonsorial Emporium. There we had five dollars' worth of
various things done to us; after which we bought new clothes. The old
ones we threw out into the street along with a vast collection of others
contributed by our predecessors.

"Now," said Johnny, "I feel like a new man. And before we go any farther
I have a little duty to perform."

"Which is?"

"Another drink at the sign of the Glass Pillars, or whatever they call
the place."

"We don't want anything more to drink just now," I protested.

"Oblige me in this one treat," said Johnny in his best manner.

We entered the Arcade, as the bar was called. At once the loafers moved
forward. Johnny turned to them with an engaging air of friendliness.

"Come on, boys, let's all take a drink!" he cried.

The glasses were poured. Johnny raised his. The others followed suit.
Then all drained them simultaneously and set down the empty glasses.

"And now," went on Johnny in the same cheerful, friendly tone, "let's
all pay for them!"

The loafers stared at him a moment. One growled menacingly, but fell
silent under his clear glance. One or two others forced a laugh. Under
Johnny's compelling eye they all paid. Billy, behind the bar, watched
with sardonic amusement. When Johnny proffered his dust, the barkeeper
thrust it back.

"My treat here," said he briefly.

"But----?" objected Johnny.

"It's a privilege."

"If you put it that way, I thank you, sir," said Johnny in his grandest
manner; and we walked out. "Those bums made me tired," was his only
comment to us. "Now let's go hunt up Talbot. I'll bet my extinct
toothbrush that he's a well-known citizen around here."

Johnny's extinct toothbrush was perfectly safe. The first man of whom we
inquired told us where our friend lived, and added the gratuitous
information that the Ward Block was nearing completion. We looked up the
hotel, a new one on Montgomery Street. The clerk spoke with respect of
Talbot, and told us we would probably find him at one of the several
places of business he mentioned, or at the Ward Block. We thanked him,
and went direct to the Ward Block first. All of us confessed to a great
desire to see that building.

It was to be a three-story brick structure, and was situated at one
corner of the Plaza. We gazed upon it with appropriate awe, for we were
accustomed to logs and canvas; and to some extent we were able to
realize what imported bricks and the laying of them meant. The foreman
told us that Talbot had gone out "Mission way" with Sam Brannan and some
others to look at some property, and would not be back until late.

Johnny and I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering about. Yank
retired to the soft chairs of one of the numerous gambling places. His
broken leg would not stand so much tramping.

We had lots of fun, and many interesting minor adventures and
encounters, none of which has any particular bearing here. The town had
spread. Most of the houses were of the flimsied description. Many people
were still living in tents. The latter flopped and tugged in the strong
wind. Some men had merely little cot tents, just big enough to cover the
bed. An owner of one of these claimed stoutly that they were better than
big tents.

"They don't get blowed away by the wind, and they're fine to sleep
under," he asserted, "and a man cooks outside, anyway."

"How about when it rains?" I asked him.

"Then I go down to the Verandah or the Arcade or Dennison's Exchange and
stay there till she quits," said he.

In the evening, as Talbot had not yet returned, we wandered from one
place of amusement to another. The gambling places were more numerous,
more elaborate, more important than ever. Beside the usual rough-looking
miners and labourers, who were in the great majority, there were small
groups of substantial, grave, important looking men conferring. I
noticed again the contrast with the mining-camp gambling halls in the
matter of noise; here nothing was heard but the clink of coin or the
dull thud of gold dust, a low murmur of conversation, or an occasional
full-voiced exclamation.

Johnny, who could never resist the tables, was soon laying very small
stakes on _monte_. After a time I tired of the close air and heavy
smoke, and slipped away. The lower part of the town was impossible on
account of the mud, so I made my way out along the edge of the hills.
The moon was sailing overhead. The shadows of the hills hung deep in the
hollows; and, abroad, a wide landscape slept in the unearthly radiance.
A thousand thousand cheerful frogs piped up a chorus against the
brooding moon-stillness they could not quite break. After the glare of
the Arcade and the feverish hum and bustle of the busy new city, this
still peace was almost overpowering. I felt, somehow, that I dared not
give way to it all at once, but must admit its influence trickle by
trickle until my spirit had become a little accustomed. Thus gradually I
dropped into a reverie. The toil, excitement, strain, striving of the
past eight or nine months fell swiftly into the background. I relaxed;
and in the calm of the relaxation for the first time old memories found
room.

How long I had tramped, lost in this dreaming, I did not know; but at
some point I must have turned back, for I came to somewhere near the end
of Sacramento Street--if it could be said to have an end--to find the
moon far up toward the zenith. A man overtook me, walking rapidly; I
caught the gleam of a watch chain, and on a sudden impulse I turned
toward him.

"Can you tell me what time it is?" I asked.

The man extended his watch in the moonlight, and silently pointed to its
face--with the muzzle of a revolver!

"Half-past twelve," said he.

"Good Lord!" I cried with a shout of laughter. "Do you take me for a
robber, Talbot?"



CHAPTER XLIII

THE GOLDEN WEB


He thrust away his watch and the pistol and with a shout of joy seized
both my hands.

"Well! well! well! well!" he cried over and over again. "But I _am_
glad to see you! I'd no idea where you were or what you were doing! Why
couldn't you write a man occasionally?"

"I don't know," said I, rather blankly. "I don't believe it ever
occurred to us we _could_ write."

"Where are the others? Are they with you?"

"We'll look them up," said I.

Together we walked away, arm in arm. Talbot had not changed, except that
he had discarded his miner's rig, and was now dressed in a rather quiet
cloth suit, a small soft hat, and a blue flannel shirt. The trousers he
had tucked into the tops of his boots. I thought the loose, neat costume
very becoming to him. After a dozen swift inquiries as to our welfare,
he plunged headlong into enthusiasms as to the town.

"It's the greatest city in the world!" he cried; then catching my
expression, he added, "or it's going to be. Think of it, Frank! A year
ago it had less than a thousand people, and now we have at least forty
thousand. The new Commercial Wharf is nearly half a mile long and cost
us a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, but we raised the money in ten
minutes! We're going to build two more. And Sam Brannan and a lot of us
are talking of putting down plank roads. Think what that will mean! And
there's no limit to what we can do in real estate! Just knock down a few
of these hills to the north----"

He stopped, for I was laughing.

"Why not drain the bay?" I suggested. "There's a plenty of land down
there."

"Well," said Talbot in a calmer manner, "we won't quite do that. But
we'll put some of those sand hills into the edge of the bay. You wait
and see. If you want to make money, you just buy some of those
waterfront lots. You'll wake up some morning to find you're a mile
inland."

I laughed again; but just the other day, in this year 1899, I rode in a
street car where fifty years ago great ships had lain at anchor.

We discovered Johnny and Yank, and pounded each other's backs, and had
drinks, and generally worked off our high spirits. Then we adjourned to
a corner, lit cigars--a tremendous luxury for us miners--and plunged
into recital. Talbot listened to us attentively, his eyes bright with
interest, occasionally breaking in on the narrator to ask one of the
others to supplement some too modestly worded statement.

"Well!" he sighed when we had finished. "You boys have certainly had a
time! What an experience! You'll never forget it!" He brooded a while.
"I suppose the world will never see its like again. It was the chance of
a lifetime. I'd like--no I wouldn't! I've lived, too. Well, now for the
partnership. As I understand it, for the Hangman's Gulch end of it, we
have, all told, about five thousand dollars--at any rate, that was the
amount McClellan sent down to me."

"That's it," said I.

"And the Porcupine Flat venture was a bad loss?"

"The robbers cleaned us out there except for what we sent you," I agreed
regretfully.

"Since which time Yank has been out of it completely?"

"Haven't made a cent since," acknowledged Yank cheerfully, "and I owe
something to Frank, here, for my keep. Thought I had about fifteen
hundred dollars, but I guess I ain't."

"At Italian Bar," went on Talbot, "how much did you make?"

"Doesn't matter what I made," interposed Johnny, "for, as Frank told
you, it's all at the bottom of the Sacramento River."

"I did pretty well," said I, and pulled out two hundred and sixteen
ounces.

"About three thousand dollars," computed Talbot. "You're the plutocrat,
all right. Well, I've done pretty well with this end of the partnership,
too. I think--but I guess we'd better take a fresh day to it. It must be
ungodly late. Good Lord, yes! Three o'clock!"

Nobody would have thought so. The place seemed nearly as full as ever.
We accompanied Talbot to his hotel, where he managed, after some
difficulty, to procure us a cot apiece.

Our sleep was short; and in spite of our youth and the vitality we had
stored in the healthy life of the hills we felt dragged out and tired.
Five hours' sleep in two days is not enough. I was up a few minutes
before the rest; and I sat in front of the hotel basking in the sun like
a lizard. The let-down from the toil and excitement of the past months
still held me. I thought with lazy satisfaction of the two thousand-odd
dollars which was my share of our partnership. It was a small sum, to be
sure; but, then, I had never in my life made more than twelve dollars a
week, and this had cost me nothing. Now that definitely I had dropped
overboard my hopes of a big strike, I unexpectedly found that I had
dropped with them a certain feeling of pride and responsibility as well.
As long as I had been in the mining business I had vaguely felt it
incumbent on me to do as well as the rest, were that physically
possible. I was out of the mining business. As I now looked at it, I had
been mighty well paid for an exciting and interesting vacation. I would
go back to New York at a cost of two or three hundred dollars, and find
some good opening for my capital and ability.

Talbot appeared last, fresh and smiling. Breakfast finished, he took us
all with him to the new brick building. After some business we adjourned
once more to the Arcade. There Talbot made his report.

I wish I could remember it, and repeat it to you verbatim. It was worth
it. But I cannot; and the most I can do is to try to convey to you the
sense of that scene--we three tanned, weather-beaten outlanders
listening open-mouthed to the keen, competent, self-assured magician who
before our eyes spun his glittering fabric. Talbot Ward had seized upon
the varied possibilities of the new city. The earnings on his first
scheme--the ship storehouses, and the rental of the brick building on
Montgomery Street, you will remember--amounted net, the first month, I
believe, to some six thousand dollars. With his share of this money he
had laid narrow margins on a dozen options. Day by day, week by week,
his operations extended. He was in wharves, sand lots, shore lots,
lightering, plank roads, a new hotel. Day after day, week after week, he
had turned these things over, and at each turn money had dropped out.
Sometimes the plaything proved empty, and then Talbot had promptly
thrown it away, apparently without afterthought or regret. I remember
some of the details of one deal:

"It looked to me," said Talbot, "that somebody ought to make a good
thing in flour, the way things were going. It all comes from South
America just now, so enough capital ought to be able to control the
supply. I got together four of the big men here and we agreed with the
agents to take not less than a hundred and fifty thousand barrels nor
more than two hundred thousand barrels at fourteen dollars. Each firm
agreed to take seven hundred thousand dollars' worth; and each agreed to
forfeit one hundred thousand dollars for failure to comply. Flour could
be held to twenty-five to thirty dollars a barrel; so there was a good
thing."

"I should think so," I agreed. "Where did you come in?"

"Percentage of the profits. They took and sold quite a heap of flour at
this rate--sixty thousand barrels to be exact--on which there was a net
profit of seven hundred thousand dollars. Then one of those freak things
happened that knocked us all silly. Flour just dropped down out of
sight. Why? Manipulation. They've got a smart lot out here. The mines
had flour enough for the time being; and the only thing that held the
price up was the uncertainty of just where the flour was coming from in
the future. Well, the other crowd satisfied that uncertainty, and our
flour dropped from about twenty-five dollars down to eight. We had sold
sixty thousand barrels, and we had ninety thousand to take on our
contract, on each one of which we were due to lose six dollars. And the
other fellows were sitting back chuckling and waiting for us to unload
cheap flour."

"What was there to do?"

Talbot laughed. "I told our crowd that I had always been taught that
when a thing was hot, to drop it before I got burned. If each firm paid
its forfeit it would cost us four hundred thousand dollars. If we sold
all the flour contracted for at the present price, we stood to lose
nearer six hundred thousand. So we simply paid our forfeits, threw over
the contract, and were three hundred thousand ahead."

"But was that fair to the flour people?" I asked doubtfully.

"Fair?" retorted Talbot. "What in thunder did they put the forfeit
clause in for if it wasn't expected we might use it?"

As fast as he acquired a dollar, he invested it in a new chance, until
his interests extended from the Presidio to the waterfront of the inner
bay. These interests were strange odds and ends. He and a man with his
own given name, Talbot H. Green, had title in much of what is now
Harbour View--that is to say, they would have clear title as soon as
they had paid heavy mortgages. His shares in the Commercial Wharf lay in
the safes of a banking house, and the dollars he had raised on them were
valiantly doing duty in holding at bay a pressing debt on precariously
held waterfront equities. Talbot mentioned glibly sums that reduced even
the most successful mining to a child's game. The richest strike we had
heard rumoured never yielded the half of what our friend had tossed into
a single deal. Our own pitiful thousands were beggarly by comparison,
insignificant, not worth considering.

Of all the varied and far-extending affairs the Ward Block was the
flower. Talbot owned options, equities, properties, shares in all the
varied and numerous activities of the new city; but each and every one
of them he held subject to payments which at the present time he could
by no possibility make. Mortgages and loans had sucked every immediately
productive dollar; and those dollars that remained were locked tight
away from their owner until such time as he might gain possession of a
golden key. This did not worry him.

"They are properties that are bound to rise in value," he told us. "In
fact, they are going up every minute we sit here talking. They are
futures."

Among other pieces, Talbot had been able to buy the lot on the Plaza
where now the Ward Block was going up. He paid a percentage down, and
gave a mortgage for the rest. Now all the money he could squeeze from
all his other interests he was putting into the structure. That is why I
rather fancifully alluded to the Ward Block as the flower of all
Talbot's activities.

"Building is the one thing you have to pay cash for throughout," said
Talbot regretfully. "Labour and materials demand gold. But I see my way
clear; and a first-class, well-appointed business block in this town
right now is worth more than the United States mint. That's cash coming
in for you--regularly every month. It will pay from the start four or
five times the amount necessary to keep everything else afloat. Jim
Reckett has taken the entire lower floor at thirty thousand. The offices
upstairs will pay from a thousand a month up and they are every one
rented in advance. Once we get our rents coming in, the strain is
relieved. I can begin to take up my mortgages and loans, and once that
is begun we are on the road to Millionaireville."

Once more he recapitulated his affairs--the land on the Plaza two
hundred thousand; the building eighty thousand; the Harbour View lands
anything they might rise to, but nearly a quarter million now; ten
thousand par value of the wharf stock already paying dividends; real
estate here and there and everywhere in the path of the city's growth;
shares in a new hotel that must soon touch par; the plank road--as we
jotted down the figures, and the magic total grew, such trifling little
affairs as gold mines dropped quite below the horizon. We stared at
Talbot fascinated.

And then for the first time we learned that the five thousand dollars we
had sent down from Hangman's Gulch, and the sum left from the robbery,
was not slumbering in some banker's safe, but had been sent dancing with
the other dollars at Talbot's command.

"I didn't know just what you fellows intended," said he, "but we were
partners up there at the mines, and I concluded it would be all right.
You didn't mean----"

"Sure not!" broke in Johnny heartily. "You're welcome to mine."

"Same here," agreed Yank and I.

And then Talbot let us see that he considered us to that extent partners
in the business.

"I have the date it arrived," he told us, "and I know just how much
actual capital I had myself at that time. So I'm computing your shares
in the venture on that basis. It comes to about one tenth apiece for
Yank and Johnny. Frank and I have an agreement already."

Johnny stared at the paper on which the totals had been pencilled.

"Not any!" he protested vehemently. "It isn't fair! You've made this
thing by sheer genius, and it isn't fair for me to take a tenth of it on
the strength of a measly little consignment of gold dust. You give me
your note for a thousand dollars--or whatever the sum is--at interest,
if you want to, and that's all that is coming to me."

"I feel the same," said Yank.

"Boys," argued Talbot earnestly, "that doesn't go. That five thousand
saved me. It came at a time when I had to have money or go down. I had
been to every bank, to every firm, to every man in town, and I couldn't
raise ten cents more. If you refuse this thing, you will be doing
something that----"

"Oh, hush up, Tal!" broke in Johnny gruffly; "if that's how you
feel----"

"It is."

"It is now," said Johnny firmly, "10:30 A.M., but I'm going to have
bubbles. If you fellows don't want me all drunk and dressed up, you've
got to help me drink them."



CHAPTER XLIV

PLUTOCRATS!


We felt very elated--and rather small. Talbot had alone and without, so
to speak, moving from his tracks, made a fortune, while we, after going
through many hardships, adventures, and hard work, had returned almost
penniless. One of our first tasks was to convince Talbot of the
injustice to himself in giving us shares based on a proportionate money
investment. We made him see, after a while, that his own genius counted
for something in the matter. He then agreed, but reluctantly, to reduce
our shares to a twentieth each, and included me in this, despite our
previous agreement. If we had adhered to that, my proportion would have
been nearer a fortieth.

This having been decided--after considerable argument--we settled down
to wait for the completion of the Ward Block. Once the rents from that
structure should begin to come in, it was agreed we should take out
ready money enough to return East. The remainder, less Talbot's
expenses, would of course have to go back into releasing all the other
interests. The formal opening had been arranged for the first of
January.

In the meantime we loafed magnificently, and lived on my money. Now that
our futures were all assured, Yank and Johnny condescended to temporary
loans. Occasionally we could help Talbot in some of the details of his
varied businesses, but most of the time we idled. I do think we deserved
a rest.

Our favourite occupation was that of reviewing our property. To this end
we took long tramps over the hills, hunting painstakingly for obscure
corner stakes or monuments that marked some one of our numerous lots. On
them we would gaze solemnly, although in no manner did they differ from
all the other sage-brush hill country about them. In a week we knew
accurately every piece of property belonging to Our Interests, and we
had listed every other more intangible equity or asset. One of Johnny's
favourite feats was to march Yank and me up to a bar, face us, and
interrogate us according to an invariable formula. We must have
presented a comical sight--I with my great bulk and round, fresh face
alongside the solemn, lank, and leathery Yank; both of us drawn up at
attention, and solemn as prairie dogs.

"How much is one twentieth of two thousand thousand?" inquired Johnny.

"One hundred thousand," Yank and I chorused.

"Is that a plutocrat?" demanded Johnny cryptically.

"It is!" we cried.

Our sense of our own financial importance being thus refreshed, we
advanced in rigid military formation to the bar and took our drinks. Two
million dollars was the amount we had chosen as representing the value
of Our Interests. In deciding upon this figure we considered ourselves
very moderate in refusing to add probable future increment. It might
also be added that we equally neglected to deduct present liabilities.
Nobody ever guessed what this mysterious performance of ours meant, but
every one came to expect it and to be amused by it. In a mild way we and
our fool monkeyshines came to be a well-known institution.

Having nothing else to do, we entered heartily into the life and
pleasures of the place, and we met many of the leading citizens. Some of
them have since become historical personages. Talbot was hand in glove
with most of them, and in and out of dozens of their schemes. There was
David Broderick, a secretive, dignified, square-cut, bulldog sort of a
man, just making his beginning in a career that was to go far. I
remember he was then principally engaged in manufacturing gold coins and
slugs and buying real estate.[A] His great political rival, Dr. Gwin the
Southerner, I also met; and Talbot H. Green, then and for some time
later, one of the most liked and respected of men, but whose private
scandal followed him from the East and ruined him; and Sam Brannan, of
course, the ex-elder of the Mormons; and Jim Reckett, the gambler; and
W. T. Coleman, later known as Old Vigilante, and a hundred others. These
were strong, forceful men, and their company was always interesting.
They had ideas on all current topics, and they did not hesitate to
express those ideas. We thus learned something of the community in which
we had been living so long.

We heard of the political difficulties attendant on the jumble of
military and unauthorized civil rule; of the convention at Monterey in
September, with its bitterly contested boundary disputes; of the great
and mooted question as to whether California should be "slave" or
"free"; of the doubt and uncertainty as to the status of California-made
law pending some action by the Federal Congress; of how the Federal
Congress, with masterly inactivity and probably some slight skittishness
as to mingling in the slavery argument, had adjourned without doing
anything at all! So California had to take her choice of remaining under
military governorship or going ahead and taking a chance on having her
acts ratified later. She chose the latter course. San José was selected
as the capital. Nobody wanted to serve in the new legislature; men
hadn't time. There was the greatest difficulty in getting assemblymen.
The result was that, with few exceptions, the first legislature of
fifty-two members was composed of cheap professional politicians from
the South, and useless citizens from elsewhere. This body was then in
session. It was invariably referred to as "The Legislature of the
Thousand Drinks." I heard discussed numberless schemes for its control
for this or that purpose; many of them, it seemed to me, rather
unscrupulous.

These big men of the city talked of other things besides politics. From
them I heard of the state of commercial affairs, with its system of
consignments and auctions, its rumours of fleet clipper ships, its
corners of the market, its gluttings with unforeseen cargoes of
unexpected vessels, and all the other complex and delicate adjustments
and changes that made business so fascinating and so uncertain. All
these men were filled with a great optimism and an abiding enthusiasm
for the future. They talked of plank roads, of sewers, of schools,
churches, hospitals, pavements, fills, the razing of hills, wharves,
public buildings, water systems; and they talked of them so soberly and
in such concrete terms of accomplishment that the imagination was
tricked into accepting them as solid facts. Often I have gone forth from
listening to one of these earnest discussions to look about me on that
wind-swept, sandblown, flimsy, dirty, sprawling camp they called a city,
with its half dozen "magnificent" brick buildings that any New England
village could duplicate, and have laughed wildly until the tears came,
over the absurdity of it. I was young. I did not know that a city is not
bricks but men, is not fact but the vitality of a living ideal.

There were, of course, many other men than those I have named, and of
varied temperaments and beliefs. Some of them were heard of later in the
history of the state. Terry, James King of William, Stephen J. Field,
General Richardson were some of those whose names I remember. They were,
in general, frank and open in manner, ready to offer or take a joke, and
on terms of good-natured comradeship with each other; and yet somehow I
always felt behind it all a watchful reservation. This was indefinable,
but it indubitably existed. The effect on me was an instinct that these
men would remain good-natured, laughing, joking, intimate, just as long
as nothing happened to make them otherwise. They were a pack, hunting in
full cry the same quarry; but were one of them to fall out, the rest
would sweep on without a backward glance. As an individual human being
no one of them was in reality important to any other. They pursued the
same aims, by much the same methods, and they could sometimes make use
of each other to the advantage of both. In the meantime, since they as
the prominent men of a mixed community must possess qualities in common,
they found each other mutually agreeable. Many called themselves
friends; but I much doubt if the friendship that would render aid at a
sacrifice was very common. Every man played his own game.

In the town outside we made many other acquaintances, of all classes of
society. In 1849 no social stigma, or very little, attached to any open
association. Gamblers were respectable citizens, provided they ran
straight games. The fair and frail sisterhood was well represented. It
was nothing against a man, either in the public eye or actually, to be
seen talking, walking, or riding with one of these ladies; for every one
knew them. There were now a good many decent women in town, living
mainly with their husbands and children very quietly among the sandhills
on the edges of the town. One saw little of them unless he took the
trouble to search them out. We did so, and thus struck up acquaintance
with a half dozen very pleasant households, where occasionally my New
England heart was gladdened by a genuine homebaked New England pie.
These people had children and religious beliefs; and for the one and the
other they had organized churches and schools, both of which were well
attended. Furthermore, such institutions were contributed to by many of
the business men who never entered their doors. This respectable life
was stronger than is generally known. It was quiet and in the
background, and under the deep shadow cast by the glaring light of
downtown, but it was growing in solidity and strength.

Among the others we came across the preacher we had seen holding forth
on the wharf. He was engaged, with the assistance of two men of the
Methodist persuasion, in building a church. The three had themselves cut
and hewed the timbers. Mr. Taylor, for that was his name, explained to
me that, having no money, that seemed the the only way to get a church.
He showed us his own place, a little shack not unlike the others, but
enclosed, and planted with red geraniums, nasturtiums and other bright
things.

"As far as I know," he told us with pride, "that is the first garden in
San Francisco."

In the backyard he had enclosed three chickens--two hens and a cock.

"I paid eighteen dollars for them," said he.

We looked at each other in startled astonishment. The sum appeared a
trifle extravagant considering the just-acknowledged impecuniosity of
the church. He caught the glance.

"Boys," he said quaintly, "San Francisco is a very lonesome place for
the godly. The hosts of sin are very strong, and the faithful are very
few. Mortal flesh is weak; and mortal spirit is prone to black
discouragement. When I bought those chickens I bought eighteen dollars'
worth of hope. Somehow Sunday morning seems more like the Sabbath with
them clicking around sleepy and lazy and full of sun."

We liked him so much that we turned to at odd times and helped him with
his carpenter work. While thus engaged he confided to us his intention
to preach against the gambling the next Sunday in the Plaza. We stopped
hammering to consider this.

"I shouldn't, if I were you," said I. "The gamblers own the Plaza; they
are respected by the bulk of the community; and they won't stand any
nonsense. They none of them think anything of shooting a man in their
places. I don't think they will stand for it. I am afraid you will be
roughly handled."

"More likely shot," put in Johnny bluntly.

"Well, well, boys, we'll see," said Taylor easily.

Nor could we move him, in spite of the fact that, as we came to see his
intention was real, we urged very earnestly against it.

"Well, if you will, you will," Johnny conceded at last, with a sigh.
"We'll see what we can do to get you a fair show."

"Now that is just what I don't want you to do," begged the old man
earnestly. "I want no vain contention and strife. If the Lord desires
that I preach to these sinners, He will protect me."

In the end he extorted from us a reluctant promise not to mingle in the
affair.

"He's just _looking_ for trouble," muttered Johnny, "and there's no
doubt he'll find it. The gamblers aren't going to stand for a man's
cussing 'em outright on their own doorsteps--and I don't know as I blame
them. Gambling isn't such a terrible, black, unforgivable sin as I see
it."

"That's because you're ahead of the game, Johnny," drawled Yank.

"Just the same the old fool is wrong," persisted Johnny, "and he's as
obstinate as a mule, and he makes me mad clean through. Nevertheless
he's a good old sort, and I'd hate to see him hurt."

The news spread abroad, and there was much speculation as to what would
happen. In general the sentiment was hostile to the preacher. It was
considered an unwarrantable interference with freedom for any man to
attempt to dictate the conduct of another. Everybody agreed that
religion was all right; but by religion they meant some vague utterance
of platitudes. On the appointed Sunday a very large crowd gathered in
the Plaza. Nobody knew just what the gamblers intended to do about it.
Those competent citizens were as close mouthed as ever. But it was
understood that no nonsense was to be permitted, and that this annoying
question must be settled at once and fully. As one man expressed it:

"We'll have these fellows caterwauling all over the place if we don't
shut down on them right sharp off quick."

Taylor arrived about ten o'clock and proceeded briskly to the pork
barrel that had been rolled out to serve as a pulpit. He faced a
lowering, hostile mob.

"Gentlemen," said he, "if some means of communication existed by which
the United States could this morning know that street preaching was to
be attempted in the streets of San Francisco, the morning papers, badly
informed as to the temper and disposition of the people of this new
country, would feel themselves fully justified in predicting riot, if
not actual bloodshed. Furthermore, I do not doubt that the greater
dailies would hold their forms open to report the tragedy when news of
it should come in. But we of the West know better than that. We know
ourselves rough and ready, but we know ourselves also to be lovers of
fair play. We know that, even though we may not agree with a man, we are
willing to afford him a fair hearing. And as for rioting or bloodshed,
we can afford to smile rather than become angry at such wide
misconception of our decency and sense of fair dealing."

Having in this skilful fashion drawn the venom from the fangs of the
mob, he went directly ahead at his sermon, hammering boldly on his major
thesis. He finished in a respectful silence, closed his Bible with a
snap, and strode away through the lane the crowd opened for him.

Truth to tell, there was much in the sermon. Gambling, although
considered one of the respectable amusements, undoubtedly did a great
deal of harm. Men dropped their last cents at the tables. I remember one
young business man who had sold out his share in his firm for ten
thousand dollars in cash and three notes for five thousand each. He had
every intention of taking this little fortune back to his family in the
East, but he began gambling. First, he lost his ten thousand dollars in
cash. This took him just two days. After vacillating another day, he
staked one of the notes, at a discount, of course. This he lost. A
second note followed the first; and everybody confidently expected that
the third would disappear in the same fashion. But Jim Reckett, who was
a very good sort, took this man aside, and gave him a good talking-to.

"You confounded fool," said he, "you're barred from my tables. My advice
to you is to go to your old partners, tell them what an ass you've made
of yourself, and ask them to let you have a few thousand on that last
note. And then you leave on to-day's Panama steamer. And, say, if they
won't do it, you come to me."

The young fellow took this advice.

The Panama steamers were crowded to the rail. Indeed, the exodus was
almost as brisk as the immigration, just at this time of year. A
moderate proportion of those going out had been successful, but the
great majority were disappointed. They were tired, and discouraged, and
homesick; and their minds were obsessed with the one idea--to get back.
We who remained saw them go with considerable envy, and perhaps a good
deal of inner satisfaction that soon we were to follow. Of the thousands
who were remaining in California, those who had definitely and
permanently cast their lot with the country were lost in the crowd. The
rest intended to stay another year, two years, perhaps even three; but
then each expected to go back.

[Footnote A: Broderick actually manufactured coins with face value of $5
and $10 containing but $4 and $8 worth of gold. The inscription on them
was simply that of the date, the location, and the value. They passed
everywhere because they were more convenient than dust, and it was
realized that only the last holders could lose.]



CHAPTER XLV

THE CATASTROPHE


So things went along for a month. Christmas drew near. Every joint in
town was preparing for a big celebration, and we were fully in the mood
to take part in it. The Ward Block was finished. From top to bottom it
had been swept and cleared. Crowds came every day to admire the varnish,
the glass, the fireplaces, the high plastered walls; to sniff the clean
new smell of it. Everybody admitted it to be the finest building in the
city. Yank, Johnny, and I spent most of our time proudly showing people
around, pointing out the offices the various firms intended to occupy.
Downstairs Jim Reckett was already installing some of the splendours
that were to make the transplanted El Dorado the most gorgeous gambling
place in town. Here the public was not admitted. The grand opening, on
New Year's day, was not thus to lose its finest savour.

On Christmas eve we went to bed, strangely enough, very early. All the
rest of the town was celebrating, but we had been busy moving furniture
and fixtures, had worked late in order to finish the job, and were very
tired. By this time we were so hardened that we could sleep through any
sort of a racket, so the row going on below and on both sides did not
bother us a bit. I, personally, fell immediately into a deep slumber.

The first intimation of trouble came to me in my sleep. I dreamed we
were back on the Porcupine, and that the stream was in flood. I could
distinctly hear the roar of it, as it swept by; and I remember Johnny
and myself were trying desperately to climb a big pine tree in order to
get above the encroaching waters. A wind sprang up and shook the pine
violently. I came slowly to waking consciousness, the dream fading into
reality. Yank was standing by my cot, shaking me by the shoulder. He was
fully dressed, and carried his long rifle.

"Get up!" he told me. "There's a big fire one or two doors away, and
it's headed this way."

Then I realized that the roar of the flames had induced my dream.

I hastily slipped on my clothes and buckled my gold belt around my
waist. The fire was humming away in a steady crescendo, punctuated by
confused shouts of many men. Light flickered redly through the cracks of
the loosely constructed hotel building. I found Johnny awaiting me at
the door.

"It's a hummer," he said; "started in Denison's Exchange. They say three
men have been killed."

The Plaza was black with men, their faces red with the light of the
flames. A volunteer crew were busily darting in and out of the adjacent
buildings, carrying out all sorts of articles and dumping them in the
square.

"There's no water nearer than the bay," an acquaintance shouted in our
ears. "There ain't much to do. She'll burn herself out in a few
minutes."

The three buildings were already gutted. A sheet of fire sucked straight
upward in the still air, as steadily as a candle flame, and almost as
unwavering. It was a grand and beautiful spectacle. The flimsy
structures went like paper. Talbot saw us standing at a little
elevation, and forced his way to us.

"It will die down in five minutes," said he. "What do you bet on
Warren's place? Do you think she'll go?"

"It's mighty hot all around there," said I doubtfully.

"Yes, but the flames are going straight up; and, as you say, it will
begin to die down pretty soon," put in Johnny.

"The walls are smoking a little," commented a bystander judicially.

"She's a fine old bonfire, anyway," said Talbot.

Fifteen or twenty men were trying to help Warren's place resist the
heat. They had blankets and pails of water, and were attempting to
interpose these feeble defences at the points most severely attacked.
Each man stood it as long as he could, then rushed out to cool his
reddened face.

"Reminds me of the way I used to pop corn when I was a kid," grinned a
miner. "I wouldn't care for that job."

"Just the same, they'll save it," observed Talbot judicially.

Almost coincident with his words a long-drawn _a-ah_! burst from
the crowd. A wandering gust of wind came in from the ocean. For the
briefest instant the tall straight column of flame bent gracefully
before it, then came upright again as it passed. In that instant it
licked across the side wall of Warren's place, and immediately Warren's
place burst into flame.

"Hard luck!" commented Talbot.

The firefighters swarmed out like bees from a disturbed hive.

"Our hotel next," said Johnny.

"That's safe enough; there's a wide lot between," I observed.

A fresh crew of firefighters took the place of the others--namely, those
personally interested in saving the hotel.

"Lucky the night is so still," said Talbot.

We watched Warren's place burn with all the half guilty joy of those who
are sorry; but who are glad to be there if it has to happen. Suddenly
Talbot threw up his head.

"Feel that breeze?" he cried.

"Suction into the fire," suggested Johnny.

But Talbot shook his head impatiently, trying to peer through the glare
into the sky.

It was a very gentle breeze from the direction of the ocean. I could
barely feel it on my cheek, and it was not strong enough as yet to
affect in the slightest the upward-roaring column of flame. For a moment
I was inclined to agree with Johnny that it was simply a current of air
induced by the conflagration. But now an uneasy motion began to take
place in the crowd. Men elbowed their way here and there, met,
conferred, gathered in knots. In less than a minute Talbot signalled us.
We made our way to where he was standing with Sam Brannan, Casey, Green,
and a few others.

"Thank God the wind is from the northwest," Talbot said fervently. "The
Ward Block is safely to windward, and we don't need to worry about that,
anyway. But it is a wind, and it's freshening. We've got to do something
to stop this fire."

As though to emphasize the need for some sort of action, a second and
stronger puff of wind sent whirling aloft a shower of sparks and brands.

We started at double quick in the direction of the flimsy small
structures between the old El Dorado and the Parker House. Some men,
after a moment, brought ropes and axes. We began to tear down the
shanties.

But before we had been at work five minutes, the fire began to run. The
wind from the sea increased. Blazing pieces of wood flew through the air
like arrows. Flames stooped in their stride, and licked up their prey,
and went on rejoicing. Structures one minute dark and cold and still
burst with startling suddenness and completeness into rioting
conflagration. Our little beginning of a defence was attacked and
captured before we had had time to perfect it. The half dozen shanties
we had pulled to the ground merely furnished piled fuel. Somewhat
demoralized, we fell back, and tried, rather vaguely, to draw a second
line of defence. The smoke and sparks suffocated and overwhelmed us, and
the following flames leaped upon us as from behind an ambush. Some few
men continued gropingly to try to do something, but the most of us were
only too glad to get out where we could catch a breath.

Almost immediately, however, we were hurried back by frantic merchants.

"Save the goods!" was the cry.

We laboured like slaves, carrying merchandise, fixtures, furniture,
anything and everything from the darkened interiors of buildings to the
open spaces. I worked as I had never worked before, and not once did I
know whose property I thus saved. At first I groped in the darkness,
seizing what I could; then gradually, like the glow of a red dawn, a
strange light grew, showing dimly and ruddily the half-guessed features
of the place. It glowed, this light, increasing in power as heating
metal slowly turns red. And then the flames licked through; and dripping
with sweat, I abandoned that place to its enemy.

All sense of time and all sense of locality were lost. The world was a
strange world of deep, concealing shadows and strong, revealing glares,
and a mist of smoke, and hurrying, shouting, excited multitudes.
Sometimes I found myself in queer little temporary eddies of stillness,
where a certain calm and leisure seemed to have been insulated. Then for
a brief moment or so I rested. Occasionally I would find myself with
some stranger, and we would exchange brief exclamatory remarks.

"Whole city is going!"

"Looks like it."

"Hear a roof fell in and killed twenty men."

"Probably exaggerated."

"Probably. Don't catch me under no falling roofs! When she gets afire, I
get out."

"Same here."

"Well, I suppose we ought to try to do _something_."

"Suppose so."

And we would go at it again.

At the end of two or three hours--no man can guess time in such a
situation--the fire stopped advancing. I suppose the wind must have
changed, though at the time I did not notice it. At any rate, I found
myself in the gray dawn looking rather stupidly at a row of the frailest
kind of canvas and scantling houses which the fire had sheared cleanly
in two, and wondering why in thunder the rest of them hadn't burned!

A dense pall of smoke hung over the city, and streamed away to the south
and east. In the burned district all sense of location had been lost.
Where before had been well-known landmarks now lay a flat desert. The
fire had burned fiercely and completely, and, in lack of food, had died
down to almost nothing. A few wisps of smoke still rose, a few coals
glowed, but beside them nothing remained to indicate even the laying out
of the former plan. Only over across a dead acreage of ashes rose here
and there the remains of isolated brick walls. They looked, through the
eddying mists and smoke, like ancient ruins, separated by wide spaces.

I gazed dully across the waste area, taking deep breaths, resting, my
mind numb. Then gradually it was borne in on me that the Plaza itself
looked rather more empty-sided than it should. A cold hand gripped my
heart. I began to skirt the smouldering embers of the shanties and
wooden warehouses, trying to follow where the streets had been. Men were
prowling about everywhere, blackened by smoke, their clothing torn and
burned.

"Can you make out where Higgins's store was?" one of them hailed me. "I
had a little shanty next door, and some gold dust. Figure I might pan it
out of the ashes, if I could only find the place."

I had no time to help him, and left him prowling around seeking for a
landmark.

The Plaza was full of people. I made my way to the northerly corner,
and, pushing a passage through the bystanders, contemplated three
jagged, tottering brick walls, a heap of smouldering débris, and a
twisted tangle of iron work. This represented all that remained of the
Ward Block. The change of wind that had saved the shanties had destroyed
our fortune!



CHAPTER XLVI

THE VISION


Within ten hours men were at work rebuilding. Within ten days the burned
area was all rebuilt. It took us just about the former period of time to
determine that we would be unable to save anything from the wreck; and
about the latter period for the general public to find it out.

Talbot made desperate efforts for a foothold, and in succession
interviewed all the big men. They were sorry but they were firm. Each
had been hard hit by the fire; each had himself to cover; each was
forced by circumstances to grasp every advantage. Again, they were
sorry.

"Yes, they are!" cried Talbot; "they just reach out and grab what ought
to be my profits! Well, it's the game. I'd do the same myself."

By that night we knew that Talbot had lost every piece of property he
owned--or thought he owned. The destruction of the Ward Block swept away
every cent of income, with the exception of the dividends from the Wharf
Company stock. These latter could not begin to meet the obligations of
interest and agreed payments on the other property.

The state of affairs became commonly known in about ten days simply
because, in those rapid times, obligations were never made nor money
lent for longer periods than one month. At the end of each thirty days
they had to be renewed. Naturally Talbot could not renew them.

We knew all that long in advance, and we faced the situation with some
humour.

"Well, boys," said Talbot, "here we are. About a year ago, as I remember
it, our assets were a bundle of newspapers and less than a hundred
dollars. Haven't even got a newspaper now, but I reckon among us we
could just about scrape up the hundred dollars."

"I've got nearer twenty-seven hundred in my belt," I pointed out.

An embarrassed silence fell for a moment; then Talbot spoke up, picking
his words very carefully.

"We've talked that over, Frank," said he, "and we've come to the
conclusion that you must keep that and go home, just as you planned to
do. You're the only man of us who has managed to keep what he has made.
Johnny falls overboard and leaves his in the bottom of the Sacramento;
Yank gets himself busted in a road-agent row; I--I--well, I blow soap
bubbles! You've kept at it, steady and strong and reliable, and you
deserve your good luck. You shouldn't lose the fruits of your labour
because we, each in our manner, have been assorted fools."

I listened to this speech with growing indignation; and at its
conclusion I rose up full of what I considered righteous anger. My
temper is very slow to rouse, but when once it wakes, it takes
possession of me.

"Look here, you fellows!" I cried, very red in the face, they tell me.
"You answer me a few questions. Are we or are we not partners? Are we or
are we not friends? Do you or do you not consider me a low-lived,
white-livered, mangy, good-for-nothing yellow pup? Why, confound your
pusillanimous souls, what do you mean by talking to me in that fashion?
For just about two cents I'd bust your fool necks for you--every one of
you!" I glared vindictively at them. "Do you suppose I'd make any such
proposition to any of you--to ask you to sneak off like a whipped cur
leaving me to take the----"

"Hold on, Frank," interposed Talbot soothingly. "I didn't mean----"

"Didn't you?" I cried. "Well, what in hell did you mean? Weren't you
trying to make me out a quitter?" I had succeeded in working loose my
heavy gold belt, and I dashed it on the table in front of them. "There!
Now you send for some gold scales, right now, and you divide that up!
Right here! Damn it all, boys," I ended, with what to a cynical
bystander would have seemed rather a funny slump into the pathetic, "I
thought we were all real friends! You've hurt my feelings!"

It was very young, and very ridiculous--and perhaps (I can say it from
the vantage of fifty years) just a little touching. At any rate, when I
had finished, my comrades were looking in all directions, and Talbot
cleared his throat a number of times before he replied.

"Why, Frank," he said gently, at last, "of course we'll take it--we
never dreamed--of course--it was stupid of us, I'll admit. Naturally, I
see just how you feel----"

"It comes to about seven hundred apiece, don't it?" drawled Yank.

The commonplace remark saved the situation from bathos, as I am now
certain shrewd old Yank knew it would.

"What are you going to do with your shares, boys?" asked Talbot after a
while. "Going back home, or mining? Speak up, Yank."

Yank spat accurately out the open window.

"I've been figgering," he replied. "And when you come right down to it,
what's the use of going back? Ain't it just an idee we got that it's the
proper thing to do? What's the matter with this country, anyway--barring
mining?"

"Barring mining?" echoed Talbot.

"To hell with mining!" said Yank; "it's all right for a vacation, but it
ain't noways a white man's stiddy work. Well, we had our vacation."

"Then you're not going back to the mines?"

"Not any!" stated Yank emphatically.

"Nor home?"

"No."

"What then?"

"I'm going to take up a farm up thar whar the Pine boys is settled, and
I'm going to enjoy life reasonable. Thar's good soil, and thar's water;
thar's pleasant prospects, and lots of game and fish. What more does a
man want? And what makes me sick is that it's been thar all the time and
it's only just this minute I've come to see it."

"Mines for you, Johnny, or home?" asked Talbot.

"Me, home?" cried Johnny; "why----" he checked himself, and added more
quietly. "No, I'm not going home. There's nothing there for me but a
good time, when you come right down to it. And mines? It strikes me that
fresh gold is easy to get, but almighty hard to keep."

"You never said a truer word than that, Johnny," I put in.

"Besides which, I quit mining some time ago, as you remember," went on
Johnny, "due to an artistic aversion to hard work," he added.

"Any plans?" asked Talbot.

"I think I'll just drift up to Sonoma and talk things over with Danny
Randall," replied Johnny vaguely. "He had some sort of an idea of
extending this express service next year."

"And you?" Talbot turned to me.

"I," said I, firmly, "am going to turn over my share in a business
partnership with you; and in the meantime I expect to get a job driving
team with John McGlynn for enough to pay the board bill while you
rustle. And that goes!" I added warningly.

"Thank you, Frank," replied Talbot, and I thought I saw his bright eye
dim. He held silent for a moment. "Do you know," he said suddenly, "I
believe we're on the right track. It isn't the gold. That is a bait, a
glittering bait, that attracts the world to these shores. It's the
country. The gold brings them, and out of the hordes that come, some,
like us, will stick. And after the gold is dug and scattered and all but
forgotten, we will find that we have fallen heirs to an empire."

THE END



NOTE

The author desires fully to acknowledge his indebtedness to the
following writers, from whose books he has drawn freely, both for
historical fact, incidents, and the spirit of the times:

    Tuthill--History of California.
    Foster--The Gold Regions of California.
    Stillman--Seeking the Golden Fleece.
    Taylor--El Dorado.
    Delano--Life on the Plains.
    Shinn--Mining Camps.
    Brooks--Four Months Among the Gold Finders.
    Johnson--Sights in the Gold Region and Scenes by the Way.
    Bostwicks--Three Years in California.
    Shaw--Ramblings in California.
    Hittell--History of San Francisco.
    Bates--Four Years on the Pacific Coast.
    Taylor--California Life Illustrated.
    Marryatt--Mountains and Molehills.
    James--The Heroes of California.
    Hunt--California the Golden.
    Haskins--The Argonauts of California.
    Bell--Reminiscences of a Ranger.
    Royce--California.
    Eldredge--Beginnings of San Francisco.
    Langford--Vigilante Days and Ways.

The author desires further to announce that, provided nothing
interferes, he hopes to supplement this novel with two others. They
also will deal with early days, and will be entitled _The Gray Dawn_,
and _The Rose Dawn_.





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large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
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+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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