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


It is said that gold can accomplish anything; and, in some respects, the saying is full of truth; in some points of view, however, the saying is altogether wrong.  Gold can, indeed, accomplish almost anything in the material world ­it can purchase stone, and metal, and timber; and muscles, bones, thews, and sinews, with life in them, to any extent.  It can go a step further ­it can purchase brains, intellect, genius; and, throwing the whole together, material and immaterial, it can cut, and carve, and mould the world to such an extent that its occupants of fifty years ago, were they permitted to return to earth, would find it hard to recognise the scene of their brief existence.  But there are things and powers which gold cannot purchase.  That worn-out old millionnaire would give tons of it for a mere tithe of the health that yonder ploughman enjoys.  Youth cannot be bought with gold.  Time cannot be purchased with gold.  The prompt obedience of thousands of men and women may be bought with that precious metal, but one powerful throb of a loving heart could not be procured by all the yellow gold that ever did or ever will enrich the human family.

But we are verging towards digression.  Let us return to the simple idea with which we intended to begin this chapter ­the wonder-working power of gold.  In no country in the wide world, we venture to affirm, has this power been exemplified so strikingly as in California.  The knowledge of the discovery of gold was so suddenly and widely disseminated over the earth, that human beings flowed into the formerly-uninhabited wilderness like a mighty torrent, while thousands of ships flooded the markets with the necessaries of life.  Then gold was found to be so abundant, and, at first, so easily procured, that the fever was kept up at white-heat for several years.  The result of this was, as we have remarked elsewhere, that changes, worthy of Aladdin’s lamp or Harlequin’s wand, were wrought in the course of a few weeks, sometimes in a few days.

The city of Sacramento was one of the most remarkable of the many strange and sudden growths in the country.  The river on which it stands is a beautiful stream, from two to three hundred yards wide, and navigable by large craft to a few miles above the city.  The banks, when our friends were there, were fringed with rich foliage, and the wild trees of the forest itself stood growing in the streets.  The city was laid out in the form of a square, with streets crossing each other at right angles; a forest of masts along the embarcadero attested the growing importance and wealth of the place; and nearly ten thousand inhabitants swarmed in its streets.  Many of those streets were composed of canvas tents, or erections scarcely more durable.  Yet here, little more than a year before, there were only four thousand in the place!

Those who chanced to be in possession of the land here were making fortunes.  Lots, twenty feet by seventy, in the best situations, brought upwards of 3500 dollars.  Rents, too, were enormous.  One hotel paid 30,000 dollars (6000 pounds) per annum; another, 35,000 dollars.  Small stores fetched ten and twelve thousand dollars a year; while board at the best hotels was five dollars a day.  Truly, if gold was plentiful, it was needed; for the common necessaries of life, though plentiful, were bought and sold at fabulous prices.  The circulation of gold was enormous, and the growth of the city did not suffer a check even for a day, although the cost of building was unprecedented.  And this commercial prosperity continued in spite of the fact that the place was unhealthy ­being a furnace in summer, and in winter little better than a swamp.

“It’s a capital hotel,” remarked Captain Bunting to his companions, as they sat round their little table, enjoying their pipes after dinner; “I wonder if they make a good thing out of it?”

“Sure, if they don’t,” said Larry, tilting his chair on its hind legs, and calmly blowing a cloud of smoke towards the roof, “it’s a losin’ game they’re playin’, for they sarve out the grub at a tearin’ pace.”

“They are doing well, I doubt not,” said Ned Sinton; “and they deserve to, for the owner ­or owners, I don’t know how many or few there are ­ made a remarkable and enterprising start.”

“How was that?” asked the captain.

“I heard of it when I was down here with Tom,” continued Sinton.  “You must know that this was the first regular hotel opened in the city, and it was considered so great an event that it was celebrated by salvos of artillery, and, on the part of the proprietors, by a great unlimited feast to all who chose to come.”

“What!” cried Larry, “free, gratis, for nothin’?”

“Ay, for nothing.  It was done in magnificent style, I assure you.  Any one who chose came and called for what he wanted, and got it at once.  The attendance was prompt, and as cheerfully given as though it had been paid for.  Gin-slings, cocktails, mint-juleps, and brandy-smashes went round like a circular storm, even champagne flowed like water; and venison, wild-fowl, salmon, grizzly-bear-steaks, and pastry ­all the delicacies of the season, in short ­were literally to be had for the asking.  What it cost the spirited proprietors I know not, but certainly it was a daring stroke of genius that deserved patronage.”

“Faix it did,” said Larry, emphatically; “and they shall have it, too; ­ here, waiter, a brandy-smash and a cheroot, and be aisy as to the cost; I think me bank’ll stand it.”

“What say you to a stroll!” said Ned, rising.

“By all means,” replied Captain Bunting, jumping up, and laying down his pipe.  Larry preferred to remain where he was; so the two friends left him to enjoy his cheroot, and wandered away, where fancy led, to see the town.  There was much to be seen.  It required no theatrical representation of life to amuse one in Sacramento at that time.  The whole city was a vast series of plays in earnest.

Every conceivable species of comedy and farce met the eye at every turn.  Costumes the most remarkable, men the most varied and peculiar, and things the most incomprehensible and unexpected, presented themselves in endless succession.  Here a canvas restaurant stood, or, rather leaned against a log-store.  There a tent spread its folds in juxtaposition to a deck-cabin, which seemed to have walked ashore from a neighbouring brig, without leave, and had been let out as a grog-shop by way of punishment.  Chinamen in calico jostled sailors in canvas, or diggers in scarlet flannel shirts, or dandies in broad-cloth and patent-leather, or red Indians in nothing!  Bustle, and hurry, and uproar, and joviality prevailed.  A good deal of drinking, too, unfortunately, went on, and the results were occasional melodramas, and sometimes serious rows.

Tragedies, too, were enacted, but these seldom met the eye; as is usually the case, they were done in the dark.

“What have we here?” cried Captain Bunting, stopping before a large placard, and reading. “`Grand concert, this evening ­wonderful singer ­ Mademoiselle Nelina, first appearance ­Ethiopian serenaders.’  I say, Ned, we must go to this; I’ve not heard a song for ages that was worth listening to.”

“At what hour?” inquired Ned ­“oh! seven o’clock; well, we can stroll back to the hotel, have a cup of coffee, and bring Larry O’Neil with us.  Come along.”

That evening our three adventurers occupied the back seat of a large concert-room in one of the most crowded thoroughfares of the town, patiently awaiting the advent of the performers.  The room was filled to overflowing, long before the hour for the commencement of the performances, with every species of mortal, except woman.  Women were exceedingly rare creatures at that time ­the meetings of all sorts were composed almost entirely of men, in their varied and motley garbs.

Considering the circumstances in which it was got up, the room was a very creditable one, destitute, indeed, of ornament, but well lighted by an enormous wooden chandelier, full of wax candles, which depended from the centre of the ceiling.  At the further end of the room was a raised stage, with foot-lights in front, and three chairs in the middle of it.  There was a small orchestra in front, consisting of two fiddles, a cornopian, a trombone, a clarionet, and a flute; but at first the owners of these instruments kept out of sight, wisely reserving themselves until that precise moment when the impatient audience would ­as all audiences do on similar occasions ­threaten to bring down the building with stamping of feet, accompanied with steam-engine-like whistles, and savage cries of “Music!”

While Ned Sinton and his friends were quietly looking round upon the crowd, Larry O’Neil’s attention was arrested by the conversation of two men who sat just in front of him.  One was a rough-looking miner, in a wide-awake and red-flannel shirt; the other was a negro, in a shirt of blue-striped calico.

“Who be this Missey Nelina?” inquired the negro, turning to his companion.

“I dun know; but I was here last night, an’ I’d take my davy, I saw the little gal in the ranche of a feller away in the plains, five hundred miles to the east’ard, two months ago.  Her father, poor chap, was killed by a wild horse.”

“How was dat?” inquired the negro, with an expression of great interest.

“Well, it was this way it happened,” replied the other, putting a quid of tobacco into his cheek, such as only a sailor would venture to masticate.  “I was up at the diggin’s about six months, without gittin’ more gold than jist kep’ me in life ­for, ye see, I was always an unlucky dog ­when one day I goes down to my claim, and, at the very first lick, dug up two chunks o’ gold as big as yer fists; so I sold my claim and shovel, and came down here for a spree.  Well, as I was sayin’, I come to the ranche o’ a feller called Bangi, or Bongi, or Bungi, or some sort o’ bang, with a gi at the end o’ ’t.  He was clappin’ his little gal on the head, when I comed up, and said good-bye to her.  I didn’t rightly hear what she said; but I was so taken with her pretty face that I couldn’t help axin’ if the little thing was his’n. `Yees,’ says he ­for he was a Mexican, and couldn’t come round the English lingo ­`she me darter.’  I found the man was goin’ to catch a wild horse, so, says I, `I’ll go with ye,’ an’, says he, `come ‘long,’ so away we went, slappin’ over the plains at a great rate, him and me, and a Yankee, a friend o’ his and three or four servants, after a drove o’ wild horses that had been seen that mornin’ near the house.  Well, away we went after the wild horses.  Oh! it was grand sport!  The man had lent me one of his beasts, an’ it went at such a spankin’ pace, I could scarce keep my seat, and had to hold on by the saddle ­not bein’ used to ridin’ much, d’ye see.  We soon picked out a horse ­a splendid-lookin’ feller, with curved neck, and free gallop, and wide nostrils.  My eye! how he did snort and plunge, when the Mexican threw the lasso, it went right over his head the first cast, but the wild horse pulled the rope out o’ his grip. `It’s all up,’ thought I; but never a bit.  The Mexican put spurs to his horse, an’ while at full gallop, made a dive with his body, and actually caught the end o’ the line, as it trailed over the ground, and recovered his seat again.  It was done in a crack; an’, I believe, he held on by means of his spurs, which were big enough, I think, to make wheels for a small carronade.  Takin’ a turn o’ the line round the horn of his saddle, he reined in a bit, and then gave the spurs for another spurt, and soon after reined in again ­in fact, he jist played the wild horse like a trout, until he well-nigh choked him; an’, in an hour, or less, he was led steamin’, and startin’, and jumpin’, into the corral, where the man kept his other horses.”

At this point in the narrative, the cries for music became so deafening, that the sailor was obliged to pause, to the evident annoyance of the negro, who seemed intensely interested in what he had heard; and, also, to the regret of Larry, who had listened eagerly the whole time.  In a few minutes the “music” came in, in the shape of two bald-headed Frenchmen, a wild-looking bearded German, and several lean men, who might, as far as appearance went, have belonged to almost any nation; and who would have, as far as musical ability went, been repudiated by every nation, except, perhaps, the Chinese.  During the quarter of an hour in which these performers quieted the impatient audience with sweet sounds, the sailor continued his anecdote.

“Well, you see,” said he to the negro, while Larry bent forward to listen, “the Mexican mounted, and raced and spurred him for about an hour; but, just at the last, the wild horse gave a tremendous leap and a plunge, and we noticed the rider fall forward, as if he’d got a sprain.  The Yankee an’ one o’ the servants ran up, and caught the horse by the head, but its rider didn’t move ­he was stone dead, and was held in his seat by the spurs sticking in the saddle-cloth.  The last bound must have ruptured some blood-vessel inside, for there was no sign of hurt upon him anywhere.”

“You don’ say dat?” said the negro, with a look of horror.

“‘Deed do I; an’ we took the poor feller home, where his little daughter cried for him as if she’d break her heart.  I asked the Yankee what we should do, but he looked at me somewhat offended like, an’ said he was a relation o’ the dead man’s wife, and could manage the affairs o’ the family without help; so I bid him good mornin’, and went my way.  But I believe in my heart he was tellin’ a lie, and that he’s no right to go hawkin’ the poor gal about the country in this fashion.”

Larry was deeply interested in this narrative, and felt so strong a disposition to make further inquiries, that he made up his mind to question the sailor, and was about to address him when a small bell tinkled, the music ceased, and three Ethiopian minstrels, banjo in hand, advanced to the foot-lights, made their bow, and then seated themselves on the three chairs, with that intensity of consummate, impudent, easy familiarity peculiar to the ebony sons of song.

“Go it, darkies!” shouted an enthusiastic individual in the middle of the room.

“Three cheers for the niggers!” roared a sailor, who had just returned from a twelvemonth’s cruise at the mines, and whose delight at the prospect of once more hearing a good song was quite irrepressible.

The audience responded to the call with shouts of laughter, and a cheer that would have done your heart good to listen to, while the niggers shewed their teeth in acknowledgment of the compliment.

The first song was “Lilly Dale,” and the men, who, we need scarcely say, were fictitious negroes, sang it so well that the audience listened with breathless attention and evident delight, and encored it vociferously.  The next song was “Oh!  Massa, how he wopped me,” a ditty of quite a different stamp, but equally popular.  It also was encored, as indeed was every song sting that evening; but the performers had counted on this.  After the third song there was a hornpipe, in the performance of which the dancer’s chief aim seemed to be, to shew in what a variety of complex ways he could shake himself to pieces if he chose.  Then there was another trio, and then a short pause, in order duly to prepare the public mind for the reception of the great cantatrice Mademoiselle Nelina.  When she was led to the foot-lights by the tallest of the three negroes, there was a momentary pause, as if men caught their breath; then there was a prolonged cheer of enthusiastic admiration.  And little wonder, for the creature that appeared before these rough miners seemed more like an angelic visitant than a mortal.

There was nothing strikingly beautiful about the child, but she possessed that inexpressibly sweet character of face that takes the human heart by storm at first sight; and this, added to the fact that she was almost the only one of her sex who had been seen for many months by any of those present, ­that she was fair, blue-eyed, delicate, modestly dressed, and innocent, filled them with an amount of enthusiasm that would have predisposed them to call a scream melodious, had it been uttered by Mademoiselle Nelina.

But the voice which came timidly from her lips was in harmony with her appearance.  There was no attempt at execution, and the poor child was too frightened to succeed in imparting much expression to the simple ballad which she warbled; but there was an inherent richness in the tones of her voice that entranced the ear, and dwelt for weeks and months afterwards on the memory of those who heard it that night.

It is needless to add, that all her songs were encored with rapturous applause.  The second song she sang was the popular one, “Erin, my country!” and it created quite a furore among the audience, many of whom were natives of the Green Isle.

“Oh! ye purty creature! sing it again, do!” yelled an Irishman in the front seats, while he waved his hat, and cheered in mad enthusiasm.  The multitude shouted, “Encore!” and the song was sung for the third time.

While it was singing, Larry O’Neil sat with his hands clasped before him, his bosom heaving, and his eyes riveted on the child’s face.

“Mr Sinton,” he said, in a deep, earnest tone, touching Ned on the shoulder, as the last sweet notes of the air were drowned in the thunder of applause that followed Mademoiselle Nelina off the stage; “Mr Sinton, I’d lay me life that it’s her!”

“Who?” inquired Ned, smiling at the serious expression of his comrade’s face.

“Who but Nelly Morgan, av course.  She’s the born image o’ Kate.  They’re as like as two paise.  Sure av it’s her, I’ll know it, I will; an’ I’ll make that black thief of a Yankee explain how he comed to possess stolen goods.”

Ned and the captain at first expressed doubts as to Larry’s being able to swear to the identity of one whom he had never seen before; but the earnest assurances of the Irishman convinced them that he must be right, and they at once entered into his feelings, and planned, in an eager undertone, how the child was to be communicated with.

“It won’t do,” said Ned, “to tax the man right out with his villainy.  The miners would say we wanted to get possession of the child to make money by her.”

“But if the child herself admitted that the man was not her relative!” suggested Captain Bunting.

“Perhaps,” returned Ned, “she might at the same time admit that she didn’t like the appearance of the strangers who made such earnest inquiries about her, and prefer to remain with her present guardian.”

“Niver fear,” said Larry, in a hoarse whisper; “she’ll not say that if I tell her I know her sister Kate, and can take her to her.  Besides, hasn’t she got an Irish heart? an’ don’t I know the way to touch it?  Jist stay where ye are, both o’ ye, an’ I’ll go behind the scenes.  The niggers are comin’ on again, so I’ll try; maybe there’s nobody there but herself.”

Before they could reply, Larry was gone.  In a few minutes he reached the front seats, and, leaning his back against the wall, as if he were watching the performers, he gradually edged himself into the dark corner where the side curtain shut off the orchestra from the public.  To his great satisfaction he found that this was only secured to the wall by one or two nails, which he easily removed, and then, in the midst of an uproarious laugh, caused by a joke of the serenaders, he pushed the curtain aside, and stood before the astonished gaze of Mademoiselle Nelina, who sat on a chair, with her hands clasped and resting on her knee.  Unfortunately for the success of Larry’s enterprise, he also stood before the curtain-raiser ­a broad, sturdy man, in rough miner’s costume ­whose back was turned towards him, but whose surprised visage instantly faced him on hearing the muffled noise caused by his entry.  There was a burly negro also in the place, seated on a small stool, who looked at him with unqualified astonishment.

“Halloo! wot do you want?” exclaimed the curtain-raiser.

“Eh! tare an’ ages!” cried Larry, in amazement.  “May I niver!  Sure it’s draimin’ I am; an’ the ghost o’ Bill Jones is comed to see me!”

It was, indeed, no other than Bill Jones who stood revealed before him; but no friendly glance of recognition did his old comrade vouchsafe him.  He continued, after the first look of surprise, to frown steadily on the intruder.

“You’ve the advantage o’ me, young man,” said Bill, in a stern, though subdued tone, for he feared to disturb the men on the stage; “moreover, you’ve comed in where ye’ve got no right to be.  When a man goes where he shouldn’t ought to, an’ things looks as if they wasn’t all square, in them circumstances, blow high or blow low, I always goes straight for’ard an’ shoves him out.  If he don’t shove easy, why, put on more steam ­that’s wot I say.”

“But sure ye don’t forgit me, Bill!” pleaded Larry, in amazement.

“Well, p’r’aps I don’t, an’ p’r’aps I do.  W’en I last enjoyed the dishonour o’ yer acquaintance, ye wos a blackguard.  It ain’t likely yer improved, so be good enough to back yer top-sails, and clear out.”

Bill Jones pointed, as he spoke, to the opening through which Larry had entered, but, suddenly changing his mind, he said, “Hold on; there’s a back door, an’ it’ll be easier to kick you through that than through the consart-room.”

So saying, Bill seized Larry O’Neil by the collar, and led that individual, in a state of helpless and wondering consternation, through a back door, where, however, instead of kicking him out, he released him, and suddenly changed his tone to an eager whisper.

“Oh!  Larry, lad, I’m glad to see ye.  Wherever did ye come from?  I’ve no time to speak.  Uncle Ned’s jist buried, and Jim Crow comes on in three minutes.  I had to pretend, ye know, ’cause it wouldn’t do to let Jim see I know’d ye ­that wos him on the stool ­I know wot brought ye here ­an’ I’ve fund out who she is.  Where d’ye stop?”

Larry’s surprise just permitted him to gasp out the words “City Hotel,” when a roar of laughter and applause met their ears, followed by the tinkle of a small bell.  Bill sprang through the doorway, and slammed the door in his old comrade’s face.

It would be difficult to say, looking at that face at that particular time, whether the owner thereof was mad or drunk ­or both ­so strangely did it wrinkle and contort as it gradually dawned upon its owner that Bill Jones, true to his present profession, was acting a part; that he knew about the mystery of Mademoiselle Nelina; was now acquainted with his, (Larry’s), place of abode; and would infallibly find him out after the concert was over.  As these things crossed his mind, Larry smote his thigh so often and so vigorously, that he ran the risk of being taken up for unwarrantably discharging his revolver in the streets, and he whistled once or twice so significantly, that at least five stray dogs answered to the call.  At last he hitched up the band of his trousers, and, hastening round to the front door, essayed to re-enter the concert-room.

“Pay here, please,” cried the money-taker, in an extremely nasal tone, as he passed the little hole in the wall.

“I’ve paid already,” answered Larry.

“Shew your check, then.”

“Sure I don’t know what that is.”

The doorkeeper smiled contemptuously, and shut down with a bang the bar that kept off the public.  Larry doubled his fist, and flushed crimson; then he remembered the importance of the business he had on hand, and quietly drew the requisite sum from his leather purse.

“Come along,” said he to Ned Sinton, on re-entering the room.  “I’ve see’d her; an’ Bill Jones, too!”

“Bill Jones!” cried Ned and the captain simultaneously.

“Whist!” said Larry; “don’t be makin’ people obsarve us.  Come along home; it’s all right ­I’ll tell ye all about it when we’re out.”

In another minute the three friends were in the street, conversing eagerly and earnestly as they hastened to their quarters through the thronged and noisy streets of Sacramento.