Read CHAPTER ONE of The Golden Dream Adventures in the Far West , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

ADVENTURES IN THE FAR WEST

The cause of the whole affair

Ned Sinton gazed at the scene before him with indescribable amazement!  He had often witnessed strange things in the course of his short though chequered life, but he had never seen anything like this.  Many a dream of the most extravagant nature had surrounded his pillow with creatures of curious form and scenes of magic beauty, but never before, either by actual observation or in nightly vision, had Ned Sinton beheld a scene so wonderful as that which now lay spread out before him.

Ned stood in the centre of a cavern of vast dimensions ­so vast, and so full of intense light, that instead of looking on it as a huge cave, he felt disposed to regard it as a small world.  The sides of this cavern were made of pure gold, and the roof ­far above his head ­was spangled all over with glittering points, like a starry sky.  The ground, too, and, in short, everything within the cave, was made of the same precious metal.  Thousands of stalactites hung from the roof like golden icicles.  Millions of delicate threads of the same material also depended from the star-spangled vault, each thread having a golden ball at the end of it, which, strange to say, was transparent, and permitted a bright flame within to shine through, and shed a yellow lustre over surrounding objects.  All the edges, and angles, and points of the irregularly-formed walls were of burnished gold, which reflected the rays of these pendant lamps with dazzling brilliancy, while the broad masses of the frosted walls shone with a subdued light.  Magnificent curtains of golden filigree fell in rich voluminous folds on the pavement, half concealing several archways which led into smaller caverns, similar to the large one.  Altogether it was a scene of luxurious richness and splendour that is utterly indescribable.

But the thing that amazed Ned Sinton most was, that the company of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen who moved about in these splendid halls, and ate golden ices, or listened to the exquisite strains of music that floated on the atmosphere, were all as yellow as guineas!  Ned could by no means understand this.  In order to convince himself that there was no deception in the matter, he shook hands with several of the people nearest to him, and found that they were cold and hard as iron; although, to all appearance, they were soft and pliable, and could evidently move about with perfect freedom.

Ned was very much puzzled indeed.  One would have thought he must have believed himself to be dreaming.  Not a bit of it.  He knew perfectly well that he was wide-awake.  In fact, a doubt upon that point never crossed his mind for a moment.  At length he resolved to ask the meaning of it all, and, observing a stout old gentleman, with a bland smile on his yellow countenance, in the act of taking a pinch of golden snuff from a gold snuff-box, he advanced and accosted him.

“Pray, sir,” began Ned, modestly, “may I take the liberty of asking you what is the meaning of all this?”

“All what, sir?” inquired the old gentleman, in a deep metallic voice.

“This golden cave, with its wonderful lamps, and especially these golden people; and ­excuse me, sir, for remarking on the circumstance ­you seem to be made of gold yourself.  I have often heard the term applied to extremely rich persons, but I really never expected to see a man who was literally `worth his weight in gold.’”

The old gentleman laughed sarcastically at this sally, and took an enormous pinch of gold-dust.

As he did not seem inclined to be communicative, however, Ned said again, “What is the meaning of it all? can you explain what has done it?”

Smiling blandly at his interrogator, this gentleman of precious metal placed his head a little on one side, and tapped the lid of his snuff-box, but said nothing.  Then he suddenly exclaimed, at the full pitch of his voice, “California, my boy!  That’s what’s done it, Edward! California for ever!  Ned, hurrah!”

As the deep tones of his voice rang through the star-spangled vault, the company took up the shout, and with “California for ever!” made the cavern ring again.  In the excess of their glee the gentlemen took off their hats, and the ladies their wreaths and turbans, and threw them in the air.  As many of them failed to catch these portions of costume in their descent, the clatter caused by their fall on the golden pavement was very striking indeed.

“Come here, my lad,” said the old gentleman, seizing Ned Sinton by the arm, and laughing heartily as he dragged him towards an immense mirror of burnished gold; “look at yourself there.”

Ned looked, and started back with horror on observing that he himself had been converted into gold.  There could be no mistake whatever about it.  There he stood, staring at himself like a yellow statue.  His shooting-jacket was richly chased with alternate stripes of burnished and frosted work; the buttons on his vest shone like stars; his pantaloons were striped like the coat; his hair was a mass of dishevelled filigree; and his hands, when, in the height of his horror, he clasped them together, rang like a brass-founder’s anvil.

For a few moments he stood before the mirror speechless.  Then a feeling of intense indignation unaccountably took possession of him, and he turned fiercely on the old gentleman, exclaiming ­

You have done this, sir!  What do you mean by it? eh!”

“You’re quite mistaken, Ned.  I didn’t do it.  California has done it.  Ha! ha! my boy, you’re done for!  Smitten with the yellow fever, Neddy?  California for ever!  See here ­”

As he spoke, the old gentleman threw out one leg and both arms, and began to twirl round, after the fashion of a peg-top, on one toe.  At first he revolved slowly, but gradually increased his speed, until no part of him could be distinctly observed.  Ned Sinton stood aghast.  Suddenly the old gentleman shot upwards like a rocket, but he did not quit the ground; he merely elongated his body until his head stuck against the roof of the cave.  Then he ceased to revolve, and remained in the form of a golden stalactite ­his head surrounded by stars and his toe resting on the ground!

While Ned stood rooted to the spot, turning the subject over in his mind, and trying to find out by what process of chemical or mechanical action so remarkable a transformation could have been accomplished, he became aware that his uncle, old Mr Shirley, was standing in the middle of the cave regarding him with a look of mingled sarcasm and pity.  He observed, too, that his uncle was not made of gold, like the people around him, but was habited in a yeomanry uniform.  Mr Shirley had been a yeoman twenty years before his nephew was born.  Since that time his proportions had steadily increased, and he was now a man of very considerable rotundity ­so much so, that his old uniform fitted him with excessive tightness; the coat would by no means button across his capacious chest, and, being much too short, shewed a very undignified amount of braces below it.

“Uncle!” exclaimed Ned Sinton, rushing up to his relative, “what can be the meaning of all this?  Everybody seems to be mad.  I think you must be mad yourself, to come here such a figure as that; and I’m quite sure I shall go mad if you don’t explain it to me.  What does it all mean?”

“California,” replied Mr Shirley, becoming more sarcastic in expression and less pitiful.

“Why, that’s what everybody cries,” exclaimed Ned, who was now driven almost to desperation.  “My dear uncle, do look like yourself and exercise some of your wonted sagacity.  Just glance round at the cave and the company, all made of gold, and look at me ­gold too, if not pinchbeck, but I’m not a good-enough judge of metals to tell which.  What has done it, uncle? Do look in a better humour, and tell me how it has happened.”

“California,” replied Mr Shirley.

“Yes, yes; I know that.  California seems to be everything here.  But how has it come about?  Why are you here, and what has brought me here?”

“California,” repeated Mr Shirley.

“Uncle, I’ll go deranged if you don’t answer me.  What do you mean?”

“California,” reiterated Mr Shirley.

At the same moment a stout golden lady with a filigree turban shouted, “for ever!” at the top of a very shrill voice, and immediately the company took up the cry again, filling the cave with deafening sounds.

Ned Sinton gave one look of despair at his relative ­then turned and fled.

“Put him out,” shouted the company.  “Down with the intruder!”

Ned cast a single glance backward, and beheld the people pushing and buffeting his uncle in a most unceremonious manner.  His helmet was knocked down over his eyes, and the coat ­so much too small for him ­was rendered an easy fit by being ripped up behind to the neck.  Ned could not stand this.  He was stout of limb and bold as a lion, although not naturally addicted to fighting, so he turned suddenly round and flew to the rescue.  Plunging into the midst of the struggling mass of golden creatures, Ned hit out right and left like a young Hercules, and his blows rang upon their metal chests and noses like the sound of sledge-hammers, but without any other effect.

Suddenly he experienced an acute sensation of pain, and ­awoke to find himself hammering the bed-post with bleeding knuckles, and his uncle standing beside his bed chuckling immensely.

“O uncle,” cried Ned, sitting up in his bed, and regarding his knuckles with a perplexed expression of countenance, “I’ve had such an extraordinary dream!”

“Ay, Ned,” interrupted his uncle, “and all about California, I’ll be bound.”

“Why, how did you guess that?”

“It needs not a wizard to guess that, lad.  I’ve observed that you have read nothing in the newspapers for the last three months but the news from the gold-diggings of California.  Your mind has of late been constantly running on that subject, and it is well-known that day-dreams are often reproduced at night.  Besides, I heard you shouting the word in your sleep as I entered your room.  Were you fighting with gold-diggers, eh! or Indians?”

“Neither, uncle; but I was fighting with very strange beings, I assure you, and ­”

“Well, well,” interrupted Mr Shirley, “never mind the dream just now; we shall have it at some other time.  I have important matters to talk over with you, my boy.  Morton has written to me.  Get up and come down as quickly as you can, and we’ll discuss the matter over our breakfast.”

As the door closed after the retreating form of his uncle, Edward Sinton leaped out of bed and into his trousers.  During his toilet he wondered what matters of importance Mr Shirley could intend to discuss with him, and felt half inclined to fear, from the grave expression of his uncle’s face when he spoke of it, that something of a disagreeable nature awaited him.  But these thoughts were intermingled with reminiscences of the past night.  His knuckles, too, kept constantly reminding him of his strange encounter, and, do what he would, he could not banish from his mind the curious incidents of that remarkable golden dream.