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

DEEP PLOTS AND PLANS BILL JONES RELATES HIS MISADVENTURES-MADEMOISELLE NELINA CONSENTS TO RUN OFF WITH LARRY O’NEIL-A YANKEE MUSICIAN OUTWITTED-THE ESCAPE

As Larry had rightly anticipated, Bill Jones made his appearance at the City Hotel the moment the concert was over, and found his old comrades waiting anxiously for him.

It did not take long to tell him how they had discovered the existence of Nelly Morgan, as we shall now call her, but it took much longer to drag from Bill the account of his career since they last met, and the explanation of how he came to be placed in his present circumstances.

“Ye see, friends,” said he, puffing at a pipe, from which, to look at him, one would suppose he derived most of his information, “this is how it happened.  When I set sail from the diggin’s to come here for grub, I had a pleasant trip at first.  But after a little things began to look bad; the feller that steered us lost his reckoning, an’ so we took two or three wrong turns by way o’ makin’ short cuts.  That’s always how it Is.  There’s a proverb somewhere ­”

“In Milton, maybe, or Napier’s book o’ logarithms,” suggested Captain Bunting.

“P’r’aps it wos, and p’r’aps it wosn’t,” retorted Bill, stuffing the end of his little finger, (if such a diminutive may be used in reference to any of his fingers), into the bowl of his pipe.  “I raither think myself it wos in Bell’s Life or the Royal Almanac; hows’ever, that’s wot it is.  When ye’ve got a short road to go, don’t try to make it shorter, say I ­”

“An’ when ye’ve got a long story to tell, don’t try to make it longer,” interrupted Larry, winking at his comrade through the smoke of his pipe.

“Well, as I wos sayin’,” continued Bill, doggedly, “we didn’t git on so well after a bit; but somehow or other we got here at last, and cast anchor in this very hotel.  Off I goes at once an’ buys a cart an’ a mule, an’ then I sets to work to lay in provisions.  Now, d’ye see, lads, ‘twould ha’ bin better if I had bought the provisions first an’ the mule and the cart after, for I had to pay ever so many dollars a day for their keep.  At last I got it all square; packed tight and tied up in the cart ­barrels o’ flour, and kegs o’ pork, an’ beans, an’ brandy, an’ what not; an’ away I went alone; for, d’ye see, I carry a compass, an’ when I’ve once made a voyage, I never need to be told how to steer.

“But my troubles began soon.  There’s a ford across the river here, which I was told I’d ha’ to cross; and sure enough, so I did ­but it’s as bad as Niagara, if not worse ­an’ when I gits half way over, we wos capsized, and went down the river keel up.  I dun know yet very well how I got ashore, but I did somehow ­”

“And did the cart go for it?” inquired Captain Bunting, aghast.

“No, the cart didn’t.  She stranded half-a-mile further down, on a rock, where she lies to this hour, with a wheel smashed and the bottom out, and about three thousand tons o’ water swashin’ right through her every hour; but all the provisions and the mule went slap down the Sacramento; an’, if they haven’t bin’ picked up on the way, they’re cruisin’ off the port o’ San Francisco by this time.”

The unfortunate seaman stopped at this point to relight his pipe, while his comrades laughingly commented on his misadventure.

“Ah! ye may laugh; but I can tell ye it warn’t a thing to be laughed at; an’ at this hour I’ve scarce one dollar to rub ’gainst another.”

“Never mind, my boy,” said Ned, as he and the others laughed loud and long at the lugubrious visage of their comrade; “we’ve got well-lined pockets, I assure you; and, of course, we have your share of the profits of our joint concern to hand over whenever you wish it.”

The expression of Bill Jones’s face was visibly improved by this piece of news, and he went on with much greater animation.

“Well, my story’s short now.  I comed back here, an’ by chance fell in with this feller ­this Yankee-nigger ­who offered me five dollars a day to haul up the curtain, an’ do a lot o’ dirty work, sich as bill stickin’, an’ lightin’ the candles, an’ sweepin’ the floor; but it’s hard work, I tell ye, to live on so little in sich a place as this, where everything’s so dear.”

“You’re not good at a bargain, I fear,” remarked Sinton; “but what of the little girl?”

“Well, I wos comin’ to that.  Ye see, I felt sure, from some things I overheerd, that she wasn’t the man’s daughter, so one day I axed her who she wos, an’ she said she didn’t know, except that her name was Nelly Morgan; so it comed across me that Morgan wos the name o’ the Irish family you wos so thick with up at the diggin’s, Larry; an’ I wos goin’ to ask if she know’d them, when Jolly ­that’s the name o’ the gitter up o’ the concerts ­catched me talkin’, an’ he took her away sharp, and said he’d thank me to leave the girl alone.  I’ve been watchin’ to have another talk with her, but Jolly’s too sharp for me, an’ I haven’t spoke to her yet.”

Larry manifested much disappointment at this termination, for he had been fully prepared to hear that the girl had made Bill her confidant, and would be ready to run away with him at a moment’s notice.  However, he consoled himself by saying that he would do the thing himself; and, after arranging that Bill was to tell Nelly that a friend of his knew where her sister was, and would like to speak with her, they all retired to rest, at least to rest as well as they could in a house which, like all the houses in California, swarmed with rats.

Next night Bill Jones made a bold effort, and succeeded in conveying Larry’s message to Nelly, very adroitly, as he thought, while she was standing close to him waiting for Mr Jolly to lead her to the foot-lights.  The consequence was that the poor child trembled like a leaf when she attempted to sing, and, finally, fainted on the stage, to the consternation of a crowded house.

The point was gained, however; Nelly soon found an opportunity of talking in private with Bill Jones, and appointed to meet Larry in the street next morning early, near the City Hotel.

It was with trembling eagerness, mixed with timidity, that she took the Irishman’s arm when they met, and asked if he really knew where her sister was.

“Oh, how I’ve longed for her!  But are you sure you know her?”

“Know her!” said Larry, with a smile.  “Do I know meself?”

This argument was unanswerable, so Nelly made no reply, and Larry went on.  “Yes, avic, I know’d her, an’ faix I hope to know her better.  But here’s her picture for ye.”

Larry then gave the earnest listener at his side a graphic description of her sister Kate’s personal appearance, and described her brother also, but he did not, at that time, acquaint her with the death of the latter.  He also spoke of Black Jim, and described the circumstances of her being carried off.  “So ye see, darlin’,” said he, “I know all about ye; an’ now I want ye to tell me what happened to ye after that.”

“It’s a sad story,” said the child, in a low tone, as if her mind were recalling melancholy incidents in her career.  Then she told rapidly, how she had been forsaken by those to whom she had been intrusted, and left to perish in the mountain snow; and how, in her extremity, God had sent help; how another party of emigrants found her and carried her on; how, one by one, they all died, till she was left alone a second time; and how a Mexican horseman found her, and carried her to his home, and kept her there as his adopted daughter, till he was killed while taming a wild horse.  After that, Nelly’s story was a repetition of what Larry had already overheard accidentally in the concert-room.

“Now, dear,” said Larry, “we haven’t time to waste, will ye go with me to San Francisco?”

The tones of the rough man’s voice, rather than his words, had completely won the confidence of the poor child, so she said, “Yes,” without hesitation.  “But how am I to escape from Mr Jolly?” she added; “he has begun to suspect Mr Jones, I see quite well.”

“Lave that to me, darlin’, an’ do you kape as much as ye can in the house the nixt day or two, an’ be lookin’ out for what may turn up.  Good day to ye, mavourneen; we must part here, for fear we’re seen by any lynx-eyed blackguards.  Kape up yer heart.”

Nelly walked quickly away, half laughing at, and half perplexed by, the ambiguity of her new friend’s parting advice.

The four friends now set themselves to work to outwit Mr Jolly, and rob him of Mademoiselle Nelina.  At last they hit upon a device, which did not, indeed, say much for the ingenuity of the party, but which, like many other bold plans, succeeded admirably.

A steamer was to start in three days for San Francisco ­one of those splendid new vessels which, like floating palaces, had suddenly made their appearance on these distant waters ­having made the long and dangerous voyage from the United States round the Horn.  Before the steamer started, Larry contrived to obtain another interview with Nelly Morgan, and explained their plan, which was as follows: ­

On the day of the steamer sailing, a few hours before the time of starting, Mr Jolly was to receive the following letter, dated from a well-known ranche, thirty miles up the river: ­

“Sir, ­I trust that you will forgive a perfect stranger addressing you, but the urgency of the case must be my excuse.  There is a letter lying here for you, which, I have reason to know, contains information of the utmost importance to yourself; but which ­owing to circumstances that I dare not explain in a letter that might chance to fall into wrong hands ­must be opened here by your own hands.  It will explain all when you arrive; meanwhile, as I am a perfect stranger to the state of your finances, I send you a sufficient quantity of gold-dust by the bearer to enable you to hire a horse and come up.  Pray excuse the liberty I take, and believe me to be,

“Your obedient servant,

“Edward Sinton.”

At the appointed time Larry delivered this epistle, and the bag of gold into Mr Jolly’s hands, and, saying that no answer was required, hurried away.

If Mr Jolly had been suddenly informed that he had been appointed secretary of state to the king of Ashantee, he could not have looked more astonished than when he perused this letter, and weighed the bag of gold in his hand.  The letter itself; had it arrived alone, might, very likely would, have raised his suspicions, but accompanied as it was by a bag of gold of considerable value, it commended itself as a genuine document; and the worthy musician was in the saddle half-an-hour later.  Before starting, he cautioned Nelly not to quit the house on any account whatever, a caution which she heard but did not reply to.  Three hours later Mr Jolly reached his destination, and had the following letter put into his hands.

“Sir, ­By the time you receive this, your late charge, Mademoiselle Nelina, will be on her way to San Francisco, where you are welcome to follow her, and claim her from her sister, if you feel so disposed.

“I am, Sir, etcetera,

“Edward Sinton.”

We need not repeat what Mr Jolly said, or try to imagine what he felt, on receipt of this letter!  About the time it was put into his hands the magnificent steamer at the embarcadero gave a shrill whistle, then it panted violently, the paddles revolved, ­and our adventurers were soon steaming swiftly down the noble river on their way to San Francisco.