HotFreeBooks.com
Gold Seekers of '49
by Edwin L. Sabin
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Excellently," responded Don Antonio. "I believe that a partial survey has been made clear across. From the Atlantic end at Limon Bay the line follows up along the right bank of the Chagres, about to Gorgona, where it crosses and uses the old treasure-trail over Culebra Pass to Panama."

"Then we'll see the survey, to-morrow?"

"No, senor, I fear not. You will follow the Camina Reale (Royal Road) from Cruces, which runs far to the northward of the other trail from Gorgona. But tell me, you being so lately from the United States, what is the report upon this Panama Railroad? The Americans are to build it, we hear."

"Yes, sir. A French company had the contract to cross this part of New Granada with a railroad, but they didn't do anything, and at the beginning of this year an American company got the right. The company is formed by William Henry Aspenwall, John Lloyd Stevens, and Henry Chauncy, of New York. The contract runs for forty-nine years from date of completion of the road, which must be finished within six years. No doubt the active construction will begin this fall or winter, at Colon; and I am glad to know that the preliminary survey is already being made. A railroad is badly needed."

"Ah, but the difficulties will be immense, senors," said the Dona Isabella. "Swamps, mountains, fevers, wild beasts, rains—!" and she exclaimed in Spanish, with despairing gesture of her white hands.

"It will be done, if the Americans go at it," asserted Don Antonio. "You Americans are a wonderful people. I shall send our Pascal north, this coming winter, to be an American. Eh, Pascal? He must learn English, too. I myself was educated at Lima, where there are many Americans and English."

"If I was going to be home you could send Pascal to St. Louis, Don Antonio," spoke Charley, impulsively. "Then I could show him 'round."

"He would enjoy that, I'm sure," answered Don Antonio; and Pascal, as if understanding, smiled friendly across the table at Charley.

"Yes, sir; a year or so in the States would do him good," agreed Mr. Grigsby.

"Our friend Captain Crosby will take care of him," said Don Antonio. "The matter has been arranged. And now after the railroad," he continued, "will come the ship canal, no doubt. That will be a still greater undertaking."

Mr. Adams nodded.

"Yes, I believe you. A canal across this Isthmus of Darien, as the old navigators termed it, has been talked of ever since 1520, when Charles the Fifth of Spain ordered a survey made. I expect to live to see the railroad completed; whether I or you or any of us here will see a canal, I don't know. But there'll be one; there'll be one."

That evening, after supper, Dona Isabella played charmingly on the guitar, while amidst the shrubbery before the house the enormous fire-flies made long streaks of light or blazed like jewels on leaf and twig. With the graceful Pascal Charley chased and captured some. Pascal had a wicker cage partly full of them, and used it as a lantern. He lent it to Charley to go to bed by!

From the chase Charley returned to the porch in time to hear Don Antonio discussing the road to Panama.

"The distance is twenty miles," he said, "and must be made in daylight. The old road is not what it was in the time of golden Panama, when it was kept open by the treasure trains. I would not hurry you, gentlemen, but you should start early in the morning, for this is our rainy season and you are liable to be delayed."

"It is a paved road, you say, sir?" queried Mr. Adams.

"After a fashion," smiled Don Antonio, "but laid more than 300 years ago. From Panama to Cruces it was paved with flat stones, and was made wide enough for two carts to pass one another. That, too, senors, was a great undertaking, through the jungle and over the mountains, and hundreds of poor natives died at the work. Ah, what millions in gold and silver and precious stones, to enrich us Spaniards, have traveled that long road all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic! The portion between Cruces and Panama has been kept open the longest, for soon after the completion of the whole vessels began to ply back and forth between Cruces and Chagres, and the lower road was not so much used."

"You spoke of animals for our use to-morrow," suggested Mr. Adams.

"They shall be ready, senor. We at the Hacienda las Flores do not need to keep horses and mules for hire, but I have plenty for my friends."

"We wish to pay for their use, sir," spoke Mr. Adams, quickly. "We would not think of accepting them, otherwise. That is only fair. Isn't it so, Grigsby?"

"I say the same," agreed the Fremonter.

Don Antonio politely bowed.

"In that case," he answered, "I shall yield. The regular hire from Cruces to Panama is ten dollars each for the riding animals, and six dollars for each 100 pounds of freight. However, the animals ate at your disposal without price, if you permit me. With the packers and guide you can settle among yourselves."

Lighted to bed by his firefly lantern, that night Charley slept between sheets, under a mosquito-net canopy. He slept soundly, but he dreamed of being a pirate, and capturing a long treasure train of mules piled high with golden bars and shining pearls and rubies on the way from old Panama.



X

ALMOST LEFT BEHIND

Don Antonio proved as good as his word. After the early breakfast, at which all the family hospitably presided, back of the house were found waiting three saddle horses, and two bullocks for pack animals. The trunk was balanced on the broad back of one bullock, and firmly lashed there; considerable of a trick it was, too, to fasten it in place on the rolling hide, but Don Antonio's packers did the job in short order. On the other bullock were lashed the bedding rolls. Now there remained only to bid good-bye to host and hostess, pay off Maria and Francisco, thank everybody, mount and follow the guide to Panama.

Maria and Francisco refused to accept anything extra for their faithful services; so did Angel and Ambrosio, Captain Crosby's boatmen. They shook their heads. "No, we may be black, but we are very much gentlemen. When Americans treat us right, we treat them right," they asserted.

"It is well that you have no ladies in your party," vouchsafed Don Antonio. "The trip is hard for ladies, senors. They must either ride astride, through rain and mud, or trust themselves to chairs upon the backs of natives. Sellero do we call that kind of a contrivance."

And when Charley had seen the road, he was rather glad, after all, that his mother had not come. However, as Don Antonio remarked, "women had gone that way, and many others probably would do the same." Charley felt certain that his mother could get through, if any woman could! She was spunky.

The horses were thin, scrawny fellows, so small that Charley himself stood higher than they. On the other hand, the saddles were prodigious; they covered the little animals completely, and the large wooden stirrups nearly grazed the ground. It seemed to Charley that the saddle alone was weight enough for such horses; but when at word from his father he cautiously mounted into the seat, his horse appeared not to mind. With its high horn and cantle, the saddle fitted like a chair. To fall off would be hard—which was one good thing, at least.

So they started; the guide (who was a real Indian) walking barefoot before, Mr. Adams, Mr. Grigsby and Charley riding in single file after, the two pack bullocks plodding behind, and another Indian, to drive them, trudging at the rear of all.

The narrow trail led first through a large tract of sugar-cane growing much higher than one's head, and forming a thick, rustling green wall on either side. As the little cavalcade proceeded, the Indian guide, who wore a peaked plaited straw hat called jipijapa, a pair of white cotton pantaloons, and a heavy-bladed knife—a machete—hanging at his waist, with his machete occasionally slashed off a cane, to suck.

Suddenly the trail left the cane, and plunged into the jungle; and for most of this day the party did not see the sun again. Here the guide did a queer thing: he halted a moment, took off his pantaloons and hung them about his neck. Evidently this was the sign that the plantation and town had been left behind!

The horses' hoofs clattered and slipped; and looking down, Charley saw that he was riding over a rude pavement, made by flat stones embedded in the soft soil. This, then, was the ancient Royal Road—the Treasure Trail from Panama! The stones were tilted and sunken and covered with mud; a thicket of plants and brush crowded either edge, and gigantic trees, enveloped with flowering vines, towered over, forming an emerald archway through which a few faint sunbeams filtered to fleck the way. Monkeys swung from branch to branch, and jabbered and gathered cocoanuts and other fruit; gayly colored parrots flew screaming, or hung upside down and screamed. The whole dense forest was alive with strange animals and strange cries. Charley's eyes and ears were constantly on the alert. He was having a great experience.

Ever the old road led on. In places it disappeared, swallowed by mud and vegetation. There were numerous holes, where the stones had sunk or been displaced; and picking their way the tough little horses and the panting bullocks floundered to their knees. The trail seemed to be climbing; it also was growing rougher. It crossed dank, dark ravines; skirted their sides; and wound along the rim of precipices so deep that the sight made Charley dizzy.

Toward noon the customary daily thunderstorm descended. So they halted under a spreading plantain tree, whose leaves, broader even than banana leaves, really were very good umbrellas. Here they ate their lunch, too.

The rain made traveling worse, and worse waxed the old road.

"I vow!" exclaimed Mr. Adams, as his small horse staggered and almost fell on a steep, slippery place. "This is as bad as storming the City of Mexico. How do you like it, Grigsby?"

"I thought I'd seen bad trails, on some of my overland trips with Fremont, but this beats them all."

Several times dead mules, perhaps with their necks broken, were passed; and frequently were passed trunks and other baggage, thrown aside, all of which showed that this trail of the old fortune-hunters was now the trail of the new fortune-hunters, also, bound for California.

"We must be on top of the range," presently remarked Mr. Grigsby. "Feels like it, anyhow."

Scarcely had he spoken, when on a sudden the trail emerged from the forest, to creep along the face of another precipice. The path was only a ledge jutting out not more than three feet from the solid wall hung with vines; at the edge was a sheer drop of thousands of feet—or maybe not more than 2000, but to Charley, whose left foot hung over the drop, it looked like 20,000.

The horses trod gingerly, with ears pricked, carefully avoiding scraping the wall lest they be forced over. This was wise, but not pleasant for the riders. Behind, the bullocks snorted. Gazing off, Charley saw what might have been a whole world spread beneath him: league after league of rolling, misty green, where the jungle was dwarfed by distance so that it looked like a lawn! Above it circled and circled huge vultures; and although these were high in the air, he and his party were higher yet!

"I smell salt water!" exclaimed Mr. Grigsby. "We're at the Pacific slope!"

Charley sniffed; he heard his father sniffing; but he must admit that Mr. Grigsby's nose was better than theirs. Now the trail entered another jungly forest, and it certainly led down instead of up, as if indeed they had crossed the divide. Hurrah!

However, the journey was not done, by any means. The road grew worse still, as if the rain here had been harder. Making a misstep, down slipped Charley's horse from the trail, over the edge of a clay bank, and landed on his side twenty feet below. Charley sprawled on his face in mud and rotted branches.



"Hurt?" called his father.

"No, sir," answered Charley, grabbing the lines; and pulling his horse along, he struggled to the trail again. He was not hurt, but he was a sight to behold. The only thing to do was to laugh, and go on.

"Yes, boys; I smell salt water," insisted Mr. Grigsby. "And," he added, "I'll be mighty glad to see it."

The paving was now so bad that the horses and bullocks preferred walking at one side, following little paths that made long cuts and short cuts through the brush. These paths were so narrow that the riders had to clutch tight and bend low, or be swept from their saddles. But there was no use in trying to guide those little horses, who seemed to know what they wanted. Soon Charley and the others were wringing wet, from the rain-soaked trees and bushes. This was part of the game, but Charley was beginning to feel tired and cross. Still, he wouldn't have missed the trip for anything. He'd have a lot to tell Billy Walker, when they met in the gold fields.

It was late afternoon when the Indian guide (whose name was Pablo) stopped short, at a mud puddle, washed his feet, and put on his pantaloons!

"Hurrah!" cheered Mr. Adams. "That means Panama. Pablo's dressing. And now I do smell the ocean, and no mistake."

"I've been smelling it for hours," reminded Mr. Grigsby.

Yes, the smell of ocean was in the air! Charley recognized it. It smelled the same as the Atlantic, but of course it must be from the Pacific. And within a few minutes the road had broadened; huts began to appear, alongside. Through an opening, ahead, were disclosed buildings of stone—a crumbling old church, almost covered with vines, was passed—and beyond appeared a wide stretch of beautiful blue: the Pacific Ocean!

Amidst ranches and huts and buildings of white wood and weather-beaten stone; on a broad level road crowded with people light and dark, and horses and mules and goats, and fringed with palms and bananas and plantains, oranges, cactuses, citrons, magnolias and acacias, crossing an old moat or wide ditch, through an arched gateway in a thick stone wall the belated little party entered famous Panama. Over the broad Pacific the sun hung low, and in the harbor, about a mile and a half from the end of a street which gave the view, lay a large black steamer with smoke welling from her stacks.

"That must be the California," exclaimed Mr. Adams, quickly. "She has steam up."

"I reckon," said Mr. Grigsby, peering keenly, "we're just in time."

What a bustling city was this Panama! And what a number of Americans were here! The buildings, of stone, wood, and clay, were two and three stories high, with iron balconies bordering the upper stories. By the open doors of some of the houses Charley caught glimpses, through the halls, of charming flowery courts within, where fountains played. The air was sweet with many scents and the fresh sea breeze. The narrow-paved street down which Pablo proudly led his procession was well crowded with animals and men—the latter being of all nationalities. Spaniards in peaked hats and long velvet cloaks, Indians and other bare-footed natives, and many foreigners, speaking English, and clad in white linen, or miners' costume, or even broadcloth.

As the party threaded their way through the strange gathering, hails constantly reached them.

"Where you from?"

"Hello, Georgians!"

"Say, you're too late for the California."

"You needn't hurry, misters."

"How's the trail?"

"Oh, misters! Got a ticket to San Francisco?"

And so forth, and so forth.

The street opened into a large public square, or plaza, surrounded by stores and fruit stands, and supplied with benches under the palms and magnolias. On three sides the streets gave views of the ocean. Many people were lounging about, but it was no place to stop and rest, for this party. No, not when the favorite hail said, "You're too late," and when, as emphasis, there lay the California with smoking stacks.

"We'd better go right on down to the beach, Grigsby, hadn't we?" queried Mr. Adams; and he spoke shortly to Pablo, directing him.

So they crossed the plaza (where several tents had been erected by stranded gold seekers), and took another street which led straight through a gateway in a crumbling wall to the water.

Panama was built upon a long point, and the ocean washed it on three sides, bordered by a beautiful sandy beach unbroken by wharves or piers. Line after line of surf came rolling in, the last line shattered by the shallows before it reached the shore. Southward were high mountains, veiled in mist. Far out across the white-flecked blue rose green islands. Between the islands and the curving shore lay several ships at anchor—one of them the California. Just beyond the inner line of surf were stationed a regular flotilla of canoes; their boatmen were lounging about on the beach, alert for passengers, and at sight of the little procession of travelers filing down they made a grand rush.

"This way, senors!"

"One medio to big ship, senors."

"My canoe biggest."

"Try me, senors. Ver' hones'."

"No. I hones', senors."

Plainly enough the only way to get out to the California was by canoe. Mr. Adams tried to make himself heard. More gold seekers were loafing and waiting on the beach; and these added their shouts and advice to the clamor of the boatmen.

"Going out to the California, strangers?" demanded a red-shirted man, pushing his way through the uproar.

"Yes."

"No use. She won't take you. She's full up and all ready to sail. Don't listen to these boatmen. All they want is a fare. You might just as well unpack, and wait for the next boat, like the rest of us."

"We'll go out, anyhow," declared Mr. Adams. He picked on one of the jostling boatmen—a yellow fellow with a tiny moustache and earrings. "Two boats," he said, holding up two fingers. "The California."

"Si, si," nodded the boatman. He beckoned to a partner, who sprang to help him; and the remainder of the boatmen calmly dispersed and sat down again.

Pablo and the packer began to unlash the luggage from the bullocks, and following the example of his father and Mr. Grigsby, Charley stiffly dismounted. Immediately the yellow boatman stooped and motioned to Charley to climb aboard his back.

"We'll have to be carried out to the canoes, Charley," spoke his father. "They can't come inshore. Hurry up."

But at this instant there was another interruption. "You are Americans, aren't you, gentlemen? Then will you help another American? I hate to ask it, but I've got to."

He was a young man, of not more than twenty-one or two, exceedingly thin and sallow. Otherwise he would have been good-looking. His voice and manner were refined.

"What's the matter?" asked Mr. Adams.

"My name is Motte. I'm flat broke. I came through a month ago; was taken with cholera and robbed. I sent my wife on, by kindness of other strangers; and I've been here ever since, waiting for a chance and trying to get work. She's up in San Francisco, alone, and what's happened to her I don't know. There are 300 people here now, sir, waiting for the next vessel, and tickets are selling at from six hundred to a thousand dollars! If in any way you can take me along with your party, I'll do anything in the world." He choked with his earnestness. "I hate to beg—but I must get to my wife. I'll pay you back at my first opportunity. There's work at the gold fields, they say. I—I——" and he choked again.

"We can't stand here talking," said Mr. Adams. "We must catch that steamer. Come along out with us, and we'll talk on the way."

Charley clung pickaninny fashion to the back of the yellow boatman, who waded with him into the surf. This was great sport. Staggering and slipping, and wet almost to his shoulders by a swell, the boatman landed Charley in one of two canoes that were being held ready. Mr. Adams was landed in the same way; so was young Mr. Motte. Into the other canoe were plumped Mr. Grigsby and the baggage. The canoes—larger and heavier than those other dug-outs used on the Chagres—were swung about and pointed out for the steamer. The smoke from her stacks seemed thicker, as if she was on the very point of leaving her anchorage. Charley, anxiously gazing, imagined that he could see her move! Oh, thunder! Were they to be left behind, after all? It was a long way, yet, to the steamer, and although Mr. Adams urged the two paddlers to hurry, the canoes appeared only to creep.

But line after line of surf they skilfully surmounted—first rising high, then sliding down, down, upon the other side, to meet the next line. Gradually the shore receded; the white and gray buildings of Panama, set amidst bright green, against the background of great Ancon peak, outspread wonderfully behind the ruined battlements of the old wall that fronted the harbor. And the California, smoking as if to bid "Hurry!" still waited. Gangway stairs were still lowered, down her side; and Charley kept his eyes on these. If they were hauled in, then that would be a bad sign. Meanwhile Mr. Adams talked with the young man, who impressed Charley more and more as being honest. Mr. Adams was convinced of the fact, also, for he said:

"All right. If they'll take us on the ship you can come along with us, and welcome; can't he, Charley? If they won't, we'll see what else is to be done."

Presently the black steamer loomed over. From her high rails hundreds of faces were peering curiously down; and the captain himself, in uniform, was standing at the head of the stairs. He did not look pleased, as the two canoes reached the stairs.

"Hello!" he bawled. "You can't come aboard. What do you want?"

"We want to go to San Francisco," replied Mr. Adams.

"You can't do it, in this ship. We're full up. Stand clear; we're pulling out." And Charley, to his dismay, heard the clank of the anchor chains.

"One minute! Just one minute!" shouted up Mr. Adams, standing and waving his letter. "I have a note for Captain Flowers."

"Come aboard with it quick, then. But you can't stay," ordered the man above. And up the stairs hastened Mr. Adams.

The captain snatched the letter without ceremony (and as if he was very cross), opened it and read it. Watching anxiously, as the canoes rose and fell on the waves at the foot of the stairs, Charley could hear most of the conversation. The captain spoke loudly and decisively.

"Where'd you leave Crosby?"

"Back at Pena Blanca."

"I'd given him up. His places are taken. But I'll do the best I can for you. How many in your party? Who is your extra man?"

"A young fellow I'm trying to help along."

"Does Crosby know of him?"

"No, sir, he does not," truthfully answered Mr. Adams.

"Well, you can come aboard, you and your two, but he can't. I'll do that much for Captain Crosby. More I cannot do, and I positively won't. I'm stretching a point now. We're overloaded already. Hustle your baggage in; the anchor's afloat and you've no time to lose."

"Come on, Charley, you and Grigsby," called Mr. Adams.

"Bear a hand with that baggage," bellowed the captain; and several sailors sprang to the head of the stairs.

Mr. Adams ran rapidly down again, passing Charley, who scampering gladly up.

"You'll have to wait over, Motte," he said.

Mr. Motte's face fell.

"All right," he muttered.

"Why don't you give him that extra ticket?" proposed Mr. Grigsby, over his shoulder, as he followed Charley.

"I was thinking of that. Here," Mr. Adams extended the ticket. "That will help you out, won't it? We've no use for it. It will take you to San Francisco."

"I'll leave on the next boat, then," stammered young Mr. Motte, flushing. "I'll see you in San Francisco or the diggings, and pay you. I surely will."

"No pay expected," returned Mr. Adams, now remounting the stairs, and pressed close by the baggage. "It was given to us; we give it to you, and glad to do so. Good-bye."

"Good-bye."

Charley was about to call good-bye, also, but the words died on his lips, for almost the first face that he saw, beyond the captain, as he gained the deck, was the face of the long-nosed man. The long-nosed man had touched the captain on the shoulder.



XI

CHARLEY LOSES OUT

"Who are you?" demanded the captain, brusquely.

"I'm one of your passengers; that's enough. I've paid my money to get to San Francisco with reasonable comfort and dispatch. We are late now, and overloaded, and I protest against your delaying to take more passengers aboard."

"I'm running this ship. You get back where you belong," ordered the captain.

"This is a party of tramps," bawled the long-nosed man. "They've come off the beach with a forged letter. I know 'em. I'll report you to the company. I'll see if the United States Government won't——"

"For shame!"

"Put him out!"

"Throw him overboard!"

Cries from the other passengers interrupted him; and so did the captain.

"Here! Chuck this fellow aft!" he called, to the sailors. "If he makes any more fuss, put him below and keep him there." And he summoned, to Mr. Adams: "Come aboard, and hurry up."

So on up the stairs clambered Charley.

"Good-bye," he called back, to young Mr. Motte.

Mr. Grigsby and Charley's father followed; and on the instant the captain hurried to the bridge. The steamer's paddle-wheels began to turn; she glided ahead.

Sailors closed the rail, and Charley and his two companions were left standing there. Below, the two canoes fell behind. Charley waved to them, and was answered.

So at last they actually were off, on the last leg of their journey to California. It had been a narrow squeak.

"That long-nosed individual seems to prefer your absence to your company," remarked Mr. Grigsby, leaning upon his rifle and glancing coolly about.

"Yes. We've some information he thinks he can use better than we can," answered Mr. Adams.

"You may have to deal with him pretty smartly, if he crosses your trail many more times," observed Mr. Grigsby.

"We will, when necessary," promised Mr. Adams. "We'll take care of ourselves; eh, Charley?"

"Yes, sir," promptly agreed Charley.

"Very good," said Mr. Grigsby. "As I size him up—and his two pards, too—he'll be afraid to do much more, aboard this ship. He's gone as far as is safe for him. But when you reach San Francisco, then look out. Meanwhile I'll help you keep an eye on him."

"Thank you, sir," responded Mr. Adams.

Out through the open Bay of Panama majestically swept the California; past several small rocky islands, with some islands ahead on the left or south which were said to be the famous Pearl Islands, where pearls as large as filberts were found plentifully. In about an hour stop was made at the equally famous Island of Taboga—the most beautiful place, as seemed to Charley, in the world. It had a white beach; from the beach rose long slopes of green, shaded by bananas, palms, figs, plantains, oranges, limes—every kind of tropical growth. And these slopes were gayly colored with tiers of peak-roofed huts and houses, in pink and yellow and brown and blue and red. Along the beach were scores of white canoes. The people of Taboga, mostly negroes and mixed breeds, appeared to have nothing to do but loaf about and fish and eat and play. It was a sort of a resort place.

At Taboga the California took on fresh water, and on she steamed, for the open sea.

Gradually the walls and houses of Panama, and even mighty Ancon Hill, faded from view.

The captain came down from the bridge, and approached the little party.

"I'll turn over my cabin to you, for sleeping quarters," he announced, rather more kindly than before. "You'll all have to bunk in together, some way, but I'll rig you up a cot. I'll pair off with the first mate."

"We can't permit that, sir," answered Mr. Adams, at once. "Not a bit. Any place on deck will do. We slept on deck, to Chagres, and we can do the same here."

"No, sir," and the captain spoke decisively. "We're overloaded, and you'll not find a spot vacant. I'll fare very well with the mate. I can use the cabin daytimes, when necessary. You must have done the handsome thing by Crosby, and I'll return the compliment as far as possible. The steward will have your luggage stowed away, and show you where you belong."

So saying, the captain left, not waiting for thanks.

The cabin, of course, was airy and convenient, and to occupy it made Charley feel like a personage of importance. Mr. Grigsby chose the cot (which was to be folded away during the day), and insisted on Charley and his father taking the berth. After arranging their baggage, they might stroll about and inspect the ship.

By this time the California was headed well out to sea. Evidently the Pacific Mail Steamship Company was wealthy and progressive. The California was much larger and finer than the Georgia, her decks were scrubbed smooth and white, her brass-work highly polished, and everything looked to be in apple-pie order. Her table, too, proved to be better supplied than the table on the Georgia. In a large pen, forward of the wheel-house, surrounding a platform built for the purpose, were confined a quantity of cattle, sheep and hogs, for fresh meat. Every day or so several were slaughtered. Over the upper deck were stretched shade awnings. Officers and crew were smart and spick and span.

But, like the Georgia, the California was too crowded for real comfort. From the steerage, below, to the first cabin or upper deck, the passengers had occupied every kind of quarters; the sea was smooth, so that few were seasick, but the sun beat down from directly overhead, out of a sky almost cloudless, and even under the awnings the heat and moisture were well-nigh unendurable. The gold seekers who clung to their heavy boots and trousers and flannel shorts fairly panted.

However, it was a three weeks' voyage, now, and there was no retreat. Anyway, people said that after crossing the Tropic of Cancer, there would be more of a breeze, and the weather would cool off rapidly, the nearer the California got to San Francisco.

The majority of the passengers had come across the Isthmus from the Georgia, and Charley recognized a number of them. The long-nosed man and his two cronies carefully kept away from the Adams party; Charley saw them only occasionally. After all, they were cowards, with guilty consciences.

"Charley," said his father, that afternoon while they were together, "what do you think of telling Mr. Grigsby about the mysterious miner we took care of, back home, and his Golden West mining claim? Seems to me Grigsby's a thoroughly honest man, he's been of great help to us, and while he hasn't asked any questions he must be wondering why our friend Jacobs is hounding us so."

"Yes, sir; I think he ought to know," asserted Charley.

"All right; we'll tell him to-night. Then he'll understand the situation, and it may save us trouble. Besides, it's only fair. We don't want him to support us blindfolded."

"No, sir," agreed Charley.

So that night, while turning in, in the cabin, Mr. Adams laid the situation before the tall Fremonter. He explained the whole affair, from the beginning to the sailing of the Georgia. And he showed the scrawl by the mysterious miner, and the rough sketch and the buckskin bags.

Mr. Grigsby thoughtfully nodded.

"I see," he mused, studying the sketch map. "Map's not very clear, though. Might be a map of the American River, out of Sutter's Fort. That's the main overland emigrant trail, down from the Sierra, and where the first gold excitement led. Or it might be the Feather, or the Yuba. 'G. H.' of course means 'gold here'; it's the regular sign. Six G. H.'s—one of 'em smudged. Huh! Yep, if I were you I'd try the American River first; but you want to look mighty sharp. It's no great feat in the gold fields to jump another fellow's claim, and even if you get there ahead that other party's liable to be hot after you to oust you."

"Charley and I'll defend our rights," said Mr. Adams, stanchly.

"Well," continued Mr. Grigsby, "if I'm around you can count on me. And there'll be other men who won't be inclined to stand for skullduggery. The diggin's will be put under law and order, after a bit, or else no man's life or property will be safe for a day. But until then, look out, and keep looking out."

"We will," assured Mr. Adams, nodding confidently at Charley, who soberly nodded back.

"And if I were you," added the Fremonter, "I'd tuck those papers in a safe place. Wouldn't leave them around anywhere. See?"

"I've been carrying them on my own person," explained Mr. Adams.

"The very place where anybody wanting them by hook or crook would look first," said the Fremonter.

"Humph!" admitted Mr. Adams. "That's probably so." He looked about thoughtfully. "But I don't know of a better place—'twouldn't do to stick them anywhere in the cabin, or the baggage. Here!" he exclaimed, struck with an idea. "What's the matter with Charley! Nobody would suspect that a boy was in charge of valuables. Charley, you take these and tuck them away on you where they'll be safe."

"Put them in your shoe—or in your bootleg when you wear boots," instructed Mr. Grigsby.

"What about night?" asked Charley.

"I'll tend to the nights," grimly said the Fremonter. "You might change them to your pillow, nights, and they wouldn't be any safer and you'd be apt to forget them. But my cot will be across the doorway, nights, and I in it."

"Very good," approved Mr. Adams. And so Charley carried the papers in his shoe.

For a week the California sped on, over a smoothly rolling blue sea, accompanied by the gulls and porpoises and the steady thumps of her huge paddle-wheels. On the right, or east, the coastline was at first high and mountainous, but soon became only a bluish line, across the miles of water. The decks were hot, amidst this summer sea! Almost every night there was a gorgeous sunset; yet even after sunset the thermometer stood over eighty in the cabins.

On up the full length of Central America ploughed the California; past Costa Rica and Nicaragua and Salvador and Guatemala—all of which looked about the same, at this distance, no matter how they were colored on the maps. Next came the coast of Mexico; and swinging in, the California made for Acapulco.

Beautiful was the coast of Mexico, hereabouts: a long strip of white beach where the blue surf broke; behind, vivid green hills, their bases dotted with white towns; and further behind, tremendous mountain-ranges, piercing the clouds.

Acapulco seemed as hard to find as Chagres. The California acted as if she were going to butt right into the beach; and the passengers, crowded along the landside rails, eagerly waiting, could make out no harbor. Yet Acapulco was said to have the finest harbor between Panama and San Francisco; and there was Acapulco itself—the old fort guarding the harbor, the roofs of houses beyond it, and the tips of masts betokening where ships lay at anchor.

Between horizon and sky, far up the coast, over the sea floated a thread of black smoke. Another steamer, this, passengers said; and Mr. Grigsby, whose eyes were so keen, agreed. The smoke seemed to attract considerable attention from the ship's officers, and the captain surveyed it long through his spy-glass. However, Acapulco, where they were to be permitted to land for an hour or two, was of more importance to the passengers; and landward the majority of eyes were turned.

Only when the California had passed between a rocky island and a high bluff or headland, did the harbor of Acapulco unfold, so cleverly was it fashioned. Like a huge basin it was, scooped from the cliffy shore, as if a giant shark had taken out a big bite. So steep were the whitish cliffs, that several small vessels were lying right under them. A dazzling beach fringed the edge of the great basin; palms and other trees shaded it. On a high point was the castle, or fortress of San Diego, similar to, but not so ruined as old Fort Lorenzo at the mouth of the Chagres.

The California steamed on, when suddenly "Boom!" sounded her signal gun, to announce her arrival.

From the leafy town people came running down to the beach, and a regular flock of canoes made a mad race from the beach for the ship.

The ship's boat was lowered, and was pulled away for the shore, bearing the first mate. Word was spread that passengers might go ashore, for four hours; the gun would be fired again at sailing time.

"The hottest place on the American continent," pronounced Mr. Adams. "So I heard when I was in Mexico during the war. Those hills shut off the breeze, and the heat hangs night and day. Thermometer stands at 120 degrees in the shade, for days at a time. That gap in the hill-line yonder must be the gash cut by the Spaniards, in early times, to make a current of air. Now do you want to go ashore, Grigsby?"

"Well, I rather think I will," drawled Mr. Grigsby, good-naturedly. "It may be the last chance to stretch our legs for some days. I'm not used to cramped quarters, after having had half a continent to tramp over."

"All right, I'll go with you," said Mr. Adams. "How about you, Charley?"

Charley decided that he'd as soon stay where he was, for things around the ship began to look interesting. The foremost of the boats from shore had reached the vessel. They were heaped with cocoanuts, bananas, oranges, limes, plantains, cakes, and shells, the smaller shells being stitched together in odd patterns. As more boats arrived, a sort of a market was opened. Many of the boats were rowed by women, who smoked cigars while the men with them did the selling. A line attached to a basket or bag of matting was tossed up over the rail. Any passenger who wished to purchase drew up the basket or bag, put a piece of money in it, and then the man in the boat exchanged fruit or cakes or shell-work for the money, and the passenger drew up the basket or bag again.

But the greatest sport was to watch the little boys diving for dimes and quarters. Almost every boat had a boy or two aboard, who immediately jumped over into the water, and paddled around the ship. None of the boys wore any clothing—and how they could swim and dive! It seemed no effort at all for them to stay on top, wriggling their hands and feet a little, like fishes' fins; and when a coin was tossed near them, down went their heads, up went their heels, and through the transparent water they darted, for the money. They could be clearly seen until they grabbed it, and turned for the top. On the surface they held up the money, as proof that they had it; then they popped it into their mouth and clamored for more.

Charley rather wished that his father and Mr. Grigsby had stayed to see the sport; but they had gone ashore in a canoe, and so had a number of other passengers, including the long-nosed man.

It looked like great fun, down there in the smooth green water, so clear and cool. With resounding splashes several passengers, in undershirts and cotton trousers, dived from the rail and joined the naked black and yellow boys, who made much sport of them. As well try to catch eels, as those nimble urchins. Why, said a passenger near Charley, the natives down hereabouts could swim twenty miles, and those boys themselves could keep afloat all day!

"Here, you white boy," spoke Charley's neighbor, at the rail. "Can't you get in there and do something for your country? Can you swim?"

He was a pleasant looking man, with iron-gray hair and beard, and wore white linen. He might have been a banker. The California held all kinds of Forty-niners.

"Yes, sir; some. I can swim in the Mississippi," answered Charley. "But I can't swim like that."

"Well, jump in and show us, anyhow. You're the only boy aboard. Maybe those fellows never saw a white boy swim. Maybe they think you can't swim. Show them."

"All right," agreed Charley, not a bit afraid to do his best, although he knew very well that he was only a boy and not a fish. It would be fun, anyhow.

So he hastened to the cabin, stripped like the men had stripped, and in his undershirt and cotton trousers back he pattered to the rail. The water looked farther down than he had figured, but of course he wouldn't back out, now; and accompanied by a hearty cheer from the passengers, over he plumped. As soon as he struck the water, all the boys near there made a rush for him, yelling.

Up he rose, right in their midst—and just as he had expected, he was no match for them at swimming or diving. They cut circles around him, and under and over, and the "showing" he made did not amount to much, he feared. Still, he proved that he could swim, and was not afraid, and as he paddled about he grinned. They soon found out that they could beat him easily enough, getting the coins; but he didn't want the coins, and the water was delightfully luke-warm—just right; so they all were contented.

Really, it was much better here than up on the hot deck, and Charley was well satisfied with the change, when aloft, along the rail, a great hubbub sounded. Passengers were pointing and craning about, and most of them rushed away, to the other side.

"The Panama!" they were calling. "That's she! Down from San Francisco. She's coming in. Now for some news."

Even the natives were gazing. For the stairs swam the men who had jumped overboard, and for the stairs swam Charley also. The Panama? Sure! She was sister ship to the California, and by the talk she was coming in, bound down from California.

When Charley gained the deck he, too, looked. He saw the thread of black smoke increased to a wide plume and very near. Beneath the plume was a large steamer, already headed into the harbor entrance. Great excitement reigned aboard the California.

Majestically the Panama glided into the harbor, and dropped anchor only a long stone's throw from the California. "Boom!" spoke her signal gun, and for her raced, again, the fleet of bumboats.

Her rail was black-and-white with passengers, staring across at the passengers of the California. Men began to yell back and forth.

"Where's your gold?"

"Here! Where's yours?" and some of the Panama's passengers held up round little buckskin sacks; others slapped their shirt bosoms; and one man, amidst laughter, even held, in both hands, a large gunny sack which probably contained potatoes or yams.

"How are things at the mines?"

"Booming. Better hurry or you'll be too late, stranger."

"Plenty of gold?"

"Millions of it."

"How much can one man dig in a day?"

And so forth, and so forth. Several of the California passengers, who had been in the water before, plunged in again and daringly swam over to the Panama, so as better to get the news.

Lighters, or scows, had been unloading live-stock and other supplies into the California, and what looked to be the ship's boat was putting out from the shore. Suddenly "Boom!" spoke the ship's gun, as signal that she was about to weigh anchor. Down to the beach hurried the passengers who had gone ashore. Charley knew that his father and Mr. Grigsby would be among them. The sun had set, and a little breeze blew coolly on his wet garments, so he scampered to the cabin, to change.

Just as he reached the threshold he thought of his shoes. Shucks! He had never thought, when he had taken them off in such haste, and he had left them lying with the precious papers in one of them! In fact, he had not locked the door, had he? Anyway, the door was unlocked now—and in he hastened, his heart in his mouth. His shoes were lying there. He picked one up, but it contained no papers. He grabbed the other and explored it. It contained no papers. Maybe they had stuck to his stockings, then. He hoped so. But, alas, no papers were to be found, anywhere, on his stockings, or near his stockings, or under the bunk, or—anywhere.

He rushed out on deck again, peering, following his course to the rail. That was no use, either. The papers were gone; he had lost them, or somebody had taken them.

What a foolish boy he had been!



XII

CALIFORNIA HO!

What a foolish, foolish boy! How could he tell his father, and Mr. Grigsby? Maybe, though, he could find the papers, and then he would not have to tell. The scheme tempted him, but he decided that it was cowardliness. He had done the thing, and now he was afraid to accept the consequences. Huh! This was not playing fair with his partners. Besides, the longer he waited, the worse he made it for them and himself too.

So he soberly dressed; then he went out, this time carefully locking the door behind him, which of course was rather late in the game. The boat containing his father and Mr. Grigsby was at the ship, and they two came up the side. They were laden with stuff that they had bought ashore.

"Hello, Charley," greeted his father, cheerfully. "Had a good time? Phew, but it was hot on shore! You didn't miss much. Lend a hand, will you, and help us carry this truck into the cabin?"

"You must have been in the water," remarked Mr. Grigsby, keenly noting Charley's wet, salty hair.

Charley tried to smile, but it came hard. He picked up an armful of cocoanuts, and followed his partners to the cabin. They waited at the door for him.

"Got it locked, I see," quoth his father. "That's right. I told Grigsby we could depend on you."

They dumped the spoils in the cabin. Up to this time Charley had said scarcely a word.

"What's the matter, boy?" queried his father. "Didn't you have a good time? Aren't you feeling well?"

"I've lost the papers," blurted Charley, wanting to cry.



"What?" His father and Mr. Grigsby stared at him. "You don't mean it!"

"Yes. I lost them, or somebody took them." And Charley did begin to cry. "I went in swimming and left my shoes in the cabin. And when I came back the papers were gone. Boo-hoo."

"Pshaw!" muttered Mr. Grigsby.

"Well, don't cry about it," spoke his father, sharply. "Brace up, and tell us about it."

Charley did.

"You're sure they aren't around the cabin somewhere?"

"I looked. I'll look again, though."

They all poked about, to no result.

"Did you look on deck, where you were?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you lock the cabin door when you went out?"

"I think I did," answered Charley, honestly. "I meant to."

"But you aren't certain?"

"N—no; not exactly."

"Anybody could pick the lock, I suppose," said Mr. Grigsby, from under his bushy brows. "The thing looks to me like a put-up job. Who was the man that urged you to jump over?"

"I don't know. I'd never seen him before."

"Well, describe him," bade Mr. Adams.

Charley described him as best he could—a medium sized man in white linen suit, with iron-gray hair and short beard iron-gray to match.

"What color eyes?"

"I don't know," confessed Charley, truthfully. "B-black, I think."

"Don't know!" grunted Mr. Grigsby. "After this, notice those things. A man can change his hair, but he can't change his eyes. When you've followed the trail a while, like I have, you'll learn to size a man up at a glance, and never forget him. Kit Carson was a great fellow for that. So was Fremont. Well, the first thing to do is to look for Charley's man. What do you say, Adams?"

Charley's father gravely nodded.

"I agree. Did you see any of that gang go ashore, Charley? Either of the Jacobs cronies, I mean. Jacobs we saw ourselves, in the town."

"No, sir," said Charley. "But they might have gone."

"Didn't see them aboard ship, then?" asked Mr. Grigsby.

"No, sir; I didn't."

"Wait a minute," spoke Mr. Grigsby. "We did glimpse that fellow who tried to use the knife, going into a grog shop. Remember?"

"I do," affirmed Mr. Adams. "That accounts for two, then. Well, Charley," and he laid his hand on Charley's shoulder, "it's up to you to find your man for us, and then we'll investigate him. Take a brace, now, and don't feel bad. There's no use crying over spilled milk; you're only wasting time. You simply made a mistake, and everybody makes mistakes once in a while. The thing to do now is to go ahead and correct that mistake, the best you can. We'll help you."

What a brick his father was! And so was Mr. Grigsby. Instead of scolding him and confining him on bread and water, or sending him back home, they were standing shoulder to shoulder with him.

"The papers don't amount to so tearing much," mused Mr. Grigsby. "You know what the sketch looks like. That assignment of the claim may be important and may not. But of course nobody likes to be robbed."

Charley was now all eagerness to retrieve himself and find that man with the iron-gray hair and beard. Out he went, with his eyes open; but though he trudged everywhere, while the ship got under way and steamed, with a cheer, out past the Panama and to sea again, he found no passenger who looked anything like the one wanted. And he didn't see him at the table. Neither, so his father and Mr. Grigsby reported, on coming up after dining, separately, did they.

However, while most of the first-cabin and second-cabin passengers were loafing about, that evening, enjoying the long twilight, who should saunter to the Adams party but the long-nosed man himself. He certainly had nerve!

"How are you?" he accosted, very pleasantly. "I saw you gentlemen ashore. How'd you make out? Hot place, wasn't it!"

"We made out very well, sir," answered Mr. Adams, shortly. "But while we were gone our cabin was robbed. How do you account for that?"

"Meaning, I suppose, that you think I can account for it."

"Anybody who would tamper with boats would tamper with a cabin, we reckon," growled Mr. Grigsby.

"You seem bound to be personal," retorted the long-nosed man. "That little controversy on the Georgia came out in your favor, but you can't rile me. I want to let by-gones be by-gones. I'm a peaceable man. You've beat me, and I'm willing to say so. Who robbed your cabin? What'd you lose? Speak up."

"We lost some small papers, entrusted to this boy, here. I have witnesses to prove that they were in my possession, so they won't be of use to anybody else," informed Charley's father, "and the safest thing for the present holder to do is to return them."

"That's the captain's cabin. Tell the captain," urged the long-nosed man.

"No," growled Mr. Grigsby; "we thought we'd tell you."

"Meaning, I suppose, that I did it," returned the long-nosed man. "You're overshooting. You saw me ashore."

"Yes, we saw you," replied Mr. Grigsby.

"Meaning, I suppose," resumed the long-nosed man, "that if I didn't do it some of my friends did. You saw them ashore, too, didn't you?"

"Saw one of them, perhaps," admitted Mr. Adams.

"Well, you prove that the other was on this ship—you find anybody who can swear he saw the other on this ship, and then you've the right to question him," challenged the long-nosed man. "But he couldn't enter your cabin when he wasn't here, could he? Or I, or anyone else, either! Now, listen. I've come to you, wanting to be friendly. I don't deny it was to my interests to keep you back, so I could get to Californy first, and I tried my levelest. But you've beat me, and here you are. I'm a fair man; I know when I'm licked, and I don't bear you ill-will. Understand? The passengers on this steamer," and the long-nosed man raised his voice so that the people around would hear, "are witness to my coming to you and saying, 'You've licked me; but I'm friendly. Let by-gones be by-gones.' And what do I get? Why, you call me a thief, when you know very well I didn't do it. That hurts my feelings, gentlemen," and with this appeal, the long-nosed man walked off, apparently indignant.

"That's the most remarkable speech I ever heard in all my life!" exclaimed Mr. Adams, struggling between laughter and wrath. "He threatens Charley and me, and tries to cut our boat down and drown us, and assaults you (to Mr. Grigsby) and gets you almost knifed, and sets our canoe adrift, on the Chagres, and when we finally, by luck, reach the steamer just as she's weighing anchor, he orders the captain not to take us aboard—and now after our cabin is robbed very suspiciously and we've lost what he wanted, he says, 'I forgive you. I'm friendly. Shake hands.'"

Charley felt the same way. Evidently so did Mr. Grigsby, whose eyes were glinting shrewdly. He beckoned Charley and his father and led them out of earshot of the other passengers.

"That talk doesn't go, of course," he said. "It's regular Injun talk, after they've stolen your hosses. Humph! We can't find Charley's man, can we? At least, we haven't found him. Why? Because there isn't any such man. I'll wager my rifle against a cocoanut that the hair and beard were false. If they'd been stripped off, the third rascal in the gang would have shown up. As soon as Jacobs blustered about our 'proving' that the third fellow was on ship and not on shore, I made up my mind. He and Charley's man are one and the same. See?"

"I believe you're right," declared Mr. Adams. "What do you think, Charley? You said his eyes were black, as you remembered."

"He might be the same," admitted Charley. "At any rate," continued Mr. Grigsby, "the best we can do is to keep quiet and lie low. It hasn't worked any harm to tell those fellows that we know what's happened and we're not afraid of 'em. We've given them something to think about. But we'll not burn more powder until we're pretty certain of fetching a scalp. That's my opinion."

"No, it won't do any good to run circles," said Mr. Adams. "We can be thinking while they're guessing. We know what we'll do better than they know what they'll do—and they'll never, never keep possession of that mine," and he set his jaw hard. "That is," he added, "if any of us finds it."

The news spread that the "Adams party" had been robbed, and presently queries came from the curious, even from the captain himself. But people soon found that the "Adams party" weren't much of a hand to talk at random about this or any other of their affairs, and the little excitement soon died away. The captain said he was sorry, he'd take up any line of inquiry that Mr. Adams would suggest, etc., etc.; and Mr. Adams replied that there was nothing to be done, yet—they'd decided to let the matter rest.

The long-nosed man and his two partners appeared, now and then, swaggering with great air of being unconcerned—the long-nosed man especially assuming to be a hail-fellow-well-met who could not possibly be guilty of any meanness. But nevertheless, none of the three was especially popular, except among the gamblers and drinkers.

As for Charley, he did not enjoy the rest of the voyage. He had lost the papers, and he had failed to identify the man who had challenged him to jump overboard, and he was simply crazy, now, to have the voyage at an end. What he wanted, was to get ashore at San Francisco, and race that long-nosed man for the Golden West mine. He was determined to "make good," was Charley.

Up the beautiful coast of Mexico steamed the California, with a stop at San Blas, and another at the fine port of Mazatlan, almost on the Tropic of Cancer. The scenery was wonderful; the white surf of the shore, and misty blue mountains rising high above the green background, being ever in sight from the deck. The water was alive with flying-fish, porpoises, sharks, whales, dolphins, and now and then an immense turtle; while over the ship's foamy wake the gulls and terns and pelicans sailed and dived.

From Mazatlan the California veered westward, right on the Tropic of Cancer, to clear (said people) the Gulf of Lower California. When she pointed in again, in the morning, she crossed the path of the steamer Oregon, southward bound out of the gold fields. The Oregon was too far to be hailed. However, no matter—for aboard the California, now arose a cry, while people pointed.

"There's California, at last! Hooray!"

On the starboard quarter appeared, hazy across the sparkling whitecaps, a long line of low land ending in a lofty cape—San Lucas, which meant, in English, Saint Luke. Even through a spy-glass, which Mr. Adams borrowed from another passenger, the land looked to be uninhabited, and was brown and bare, with mountains rising back from the surf-dashed coast. People said that amidst the brownness were wonderful green valleys, occupied by ranches and villages; but if this was really the Land of Gold, Charley was disappointed. It did not look very inviting to tramp over. However, this was only Lower California, still owned by Mexico; and San Francisco and the true Land of Gold, Upper California, was a week ahead.

As the steamer skirted the brownish, rugged, mysterious coast of this Lower California, the weather grew more bracing, for the tropics had been left behind. Flannel shirts and heavy trousers were comfortable. The great albatrosses became few, but the gulls and Mother Carey's chickens, the nimble gray petrels that flew all day with their feet grazing the waves, were thick. The bright Southern Cross dropped low into the horizon behind, while the Great Dipper, circling the North Star, rose higher before. Yes, the California surely was making northward rapidly.

"We don't cross into Upper California until we reach San Diego," said Mr. Grigsby. "That will be to-morrow, I reckon. I remember San Diego very well. I was there in Forty-six, with Carson and Fremont; and we raised the Flag in the plaza. It's still there, too, I bet you. Commodore Stockton of the Navy took the place and held it. It used to be a great station for hides, and has one of the finest harbors on the coast."

The next morning, sure enough, the good steamer swept in for the port of San Diego, of the California of the United States. The entrance was very narrow. On the left jutted out a high, brown, brushy point named Point Loma, with a solid white lighthouse, built long ago by the Spaniards, standing forth as a landmark on the very nose. On the right was what looked to be a long, low, sandy island, fringed by the dazzling surf, and shimmering in the sun.

Through the narrow channel steamed the California, at half speed, everybody gazing hard to "size up" this first town of American California, and the first place under the American flag since New Orleans was left, over a month ago.

At the end of the channel appeared several low white-washed buildings, along the foot of the ridge which made the point.

"The hide-houses," said Mr. Grigsby, with satisfied nod, "where the cow-hides used to be stored, waiting for the ships. Smelled bad, too; shouldn't wonder if there were some waiting now. We'll see the town in a minute."

A bay began to open on the right; and sure enough, beyond where the channel broadened, ahead, at this end of the bay, on flat land came into view a group of houses, both brown and white, and a flag, on a tall pole, floating over their midst. It was—it was the Stars and Stripes! Hooray! And again hooray!

"We raised that flag—Fremont and Carson and we others in the battalion—or one like it, in July, Forty-six," declared Mr. Grigsby. "Sailed down from Monterey on the fine sloop-of-war Cyane, to help Stockton. Yonder, just back of town, on the first hill, is where the commodore located his fort, Fort Stockton, to hold the town. He anchored in the bay and sent his men ashore to do it. On the rear edge of town, on the first little rise below Fort Stockton, was the Spanish presidio, or fort—but Fort Stockton had the bulge on it. About thirty miles northeast (can't see it from here, of course) among the hills is where General Kearny and his First Dragoons were corralled by the Californians after they had marched overland from Santa Fe, New Mexico, a thousand miles across the desert. The dragoons were surrounded and in bad shape; but Carson and Lieutenant Beale of the Navy and an Indian crawled and sneaked through the California lines, the whole distance to San Diego, and brought word to Stockton to hurry up and send reinforcements. Carson nearly lost his feet, by cactus, and Beale was laid up for a year. During the war San Diego was no easy place to get into, or out of, either."

"Where's the mission?" asked Mr. Adams. "The first of the California missions was here, wasn't it?"

"It used to be in town, before there was any town, they say," answered Mr. Grigsby. "That was 1769. But when the town had started, the priests moved the mission about six miles up yonder valley, so as to get their Injuns away from the fandangoes."

Meanwhile, the California had swung to, opposite the hide-houses. Out rattled her anchor chain; "Boom!" announced her signal gun. A number of people had collected in front of the town, which was separated from the water by a wide strip of tide-land; but on a road which bordered the point and connected the hide-houses with the town, other people came at a gallop, horseback. The captain went ashore, in the ship's boat; but stay here was to be short, so no passengers were allowed to go.

"Is there gold in those hills yon, mister?" asked a lean, lank Arkansan, of Mr. Grigsby, who was accepted as an authority on the country.

"There might be; I dunno," responded the Fremonter. "But it's powerful dry, according to Kit Carson. You can't mine without water. Of course, those flat-tops to the south of us are in Mexican territory. To my notion, it isn't gold that will make this southern country; it's climate and commerce. The climate down here is the finest in the world. Warm like this all the year 'round, and cool enough nights for sleeping. No bad storms, either. This bay runs about three miles southward, yet every inch of it is landlocked. When that railroad across the Isthmus is finished, to help emigration, I look to see a big city here, and a harbor full of ships."

"A ship canal across the Isthmus would help this country a lot," mused Mr. Adams. "The west part of the United States is too far from the east part; a canal would bring them together."

"Yes, and so would a railroad clean from the Missouri to the Pacific," agreed the Fremonter. "That will come, too, in time; and to go to California will be as easy as to go to Washington or New York."

"Looks as though a toler'ble lot more passengers were comin' aboard, don't it?" remarked the Arkansan, staring fixedly at the beach.

"Yes, sir; and overlanders, too!" exclaimed Mr. Grigsby, his gaze narrowing. "I reckon they must have got in by the southern route along the Gila River. And if so, I pity 'em. It's a terrible trail."



XIII

INTO THE GOLDEN GATE

The captain's boat was returning from the landing at the hide-houses, accompanied by a large whale-boat filled with strangers. Gun barrels out-thrust from the mass, baggage was visible, and as the whale-boat drew nearer to the steamer the persons in it were seen to be tattered and gaunt, as if they had been through great hardships. The captain's boat contained a guest in United States Army uniform—an officer, evidently.

The captain and his guest climbed into the steamer; then the whale-boat unloaded. Goodness gracious, there were not only the travel-worn men, but two women also! Up the side they all toiled, the men lean and brown and whiskered, the two women fully as distressful looking, with their hair faded, and their skin tight over their cheek-bones. The majority of the men were clad in old deer-skins and moccasins, and carried only hand-baggage of bundles.

The passengers of the California, crowding curiously, respectfully gave way.

"Well, holy smoke!" exclaimed Mr. Grigsby, at sight of one of the men. "Is that you, Bentley?"

"Hello, Sam," wearily responded the man. "It's what's left of me."

"Where'd you come from?"

"From the States, by way of the Gila trail across the desert. Nigh starved to death, too."

"You look it," commented Mr. Grigsby. "Is this all your party?"

"No. Part of us branched off for Los Angeles, on this side of the Colorado Desert; part of us never got through, and some are buried and some aren't. The rest of us struck for the sea, by the San Diego fork, as fast as we could. And I tell you, this steamer looks mighty good!"

"Pshaw!" murmured Mr. Grigsby, while Charley felt a great wave of sympathy for Mr. Bentley and all. And the Fremonter added: "I suppose you're bound for the gold fields, like everybody else."

"Yes," answered the tattered emigrant. "But all the gold in Californy can't pay me for what I've gone through. Hunger and thirst and heat and cold and Injuns—we met 'em. It's a terrible trail, Sam, as I reckon you know. And queer enough, those two women—those two wives in the party—stood it without a whimper. Gentlemen," he spoke to the crowd, "those are the heroes."

"You bet," responded several voices. "And there are more women like 'em."

The emigrant Bentley passed on, following his fellows. Mr. Grigsby had known him in trapper days. They had hunted beaver together.

No one made any objection to taking these additional passengers aboard. Anyway, now it was only a few days to San Francisco. The new gold seekers all had harrowing stories to tell. As Mr. Bentley had said, the most of them had traveled from the Missouri River, in Arkansas and Missouri, by a southern route across New Mexico which included what is to-day Arizona, from Santa Fe striking west for the Gila River. It was a parched and barren country, rife with the Apaches and Navajos and Yumas and other fierce tribes, who stole their horses and cattle and harassed their camps. Skeletons of men and animals, from other parties, lined the trail; and there was one march of fifty miles without water.

Two in the company had even crossed Mexico, and had been lost, until they emerged from the mountains and sighted the desert of southern California. All in all, thought Charley (and his father agreed) people were taking astounding risks to get to California.

There was the trip clear around Cape Horn, by boat; and the trip across the Isthmus; and trips across Mexico, from Vera Cruz and other points; and the Gila River trail, through the dry desert; and several trails, further north, more crowded and almost as perilous. Why, the whole West and Southwest must be divided off every few hundred miles by regular processions of gold seekers! He hoped, did Charley, that Billy Walker would get through all right.

The army officer proved to be a young lieutenant—Lieutenant William T. Sherman, Third Artillery, now Adjutant General of the Division of the Pacific, with headquarters at San Francisco, whither he was returning. Mr. Adams managed to strike up a conversation with him, for the lieutenant was affable, especially with anyone like Mr. Adams, who had been a soldier under General Scott.

"Have you any news for us gold seekers, Lieutenant?" invited Mr. Adams.

"From where, sir?"

"From San Francisco and the gold fields."

"News!" exclaimed the lieutenant, smiling with his steady gray eyes. He had a long, rather stern face, of russet complexion, but he was pleasant. "There's news every hour. This crowd you've taken aboard is only a sample of the people who are pouring in by thousands."

"Gold is plentiful?"

"It exceeds any reports, sir."

"How about other business? What is the chance in San Francisco?"

"San Francisco is growing at the rate of thirty houses and a hundred people a day. All kinds of supplies are in demand, and all kinds of labor and professions. The chief trouble is to get them. The harbor is full of vessels without crews, stores are without clerks and houses without servants, and the army almost without soldiers. You are aware, I suppose, that this very steamer, the first steamship into the harbor, last February, was immediately deserted by every sailor, who all put out to the mines. She was held at anchor for a week or two, trying to ship a crew so as to make the return trip to Panama. Whole companies of soldiers have followed the example of the sailors. Colonel Mason, when he was military governor of California, found himself obliged to cook his own meals; and General Persifor Smith, the present commander of the division, has been abandoned by every servant. We officers all are doing our own housework. As it is, ordinary laborers are getting ten and twenty dollars a day, and house servants ask and are getting $200 a month! Everybody figures on making twenty dollars a day at the mines, with chance of making much more; so ordinary wages don't tempt. The whole country is simply crazy." And Lieutenant Sherman turned on his heel and marched off, as if indignant—and well he might be, for it was soon found out that the army officers in California were having hard work to live within their small pay.

The California steamed northward, with the hilly California coast much in sight on the right, although distant. Some of the table-lands and hills shone yellow as if gold-plated, and raised high hopes among many of the passengers. Wasn't this the Land of Gold, at last? But Lieutenant Sherman and Mr. Grigsby, and a few others familiar with the country, explained that the yellow was immense fields of wild oats, already ripening.

At sunset was passed an island called Santa Catalina Island, inhabited by thousands of wild goats. It was owned by a Spanish family who annually killed the goats for their meat and hides. Out of sight inland, was said to be the town of Los Angeles, the largest inland town of California, and older than San Francisco.

The next stop would be Monterey. During the night the wind blew hard, kicking up the roughest sea of the whole voyage, and once throwing Charley out of his bunk, almost on top of Mr. Grigsby's cot.

"Hello," grunted the Fremonter, "hold fast, there. We must be rounding Cape Conception, above Santa Barbara. That's a sort of a Cape Horn of this coast, dividing it off. But we'll have fair sailing again, on the other side."

In the morning the storm had waned, but the seas still ran high, in immense white-crested waves that tossed and foamed, and leaping at the steamer tried to climb aboard. The sky was gloriously blue, without a cloud, and the air tasted salty crisp. Now the Coast Range of California loomed large; its hither bases spotted with the yellow of oats and the green of trees. Ramparts of high cliffs, separated by strips of green and brown low-lands, bordered the ocean.

After breakfast a long point, jutting out from the shore ahead, was hailed by the knowing ones aboard as Point Pinos (Pines Point), guardian of the harbor of Monterey. Gradually the steamer turned in; another harbor opened, with a cluster of white, red-roofed houses behind it, at the foot of the hills. Sweeping in past the pine-ridged point the California, with boom of gun, dropped anchor in the historic bay of Monterey.

The captain and Lieutenant Sherman, and any passengers who wished, went ashore here, for the California was to take on wood for fuel to San Francisco.

Monterey had long been the capital of Upper California, and was the first place captured by the United States, in July, 1846, after war with Mexico was begun. Mr. Grigsby knew it well, for hither he had marched from the north with Fremont's battalion of Volunteer Riflemen. It was a pleasant old town, of white-washed, tile-roofed clay buildings, a custom-house at the wharf, a large, yellow town hall, and an army post on the bluff overlooking town and bay. The town sloped to the low surf of the wave-flecked bay encircled by cliffs and bluffs. Beyond the town rose higher hills, well timbered with oaks and pines.

"The flag was raised July 7, Forty-six, over this custom-house," stated Mr. Grigsby. "Commodore Sloat sent ashore 250 men from the flag-ship Savannah, and the ships Cyane, Warren and Levant, which he had in the bay; and Lieutenant Edward Higgins did the raising, at ten in the morning. Purser Rodney Price made the proclamation to the people."

"Where were you, then?" asked Charley.

"Oh, I was up north at Sutter's Fort, with Fremont and the rest, waiting to get supplies—this shirt, among other things." For Mr. Grigsby had donned his star-collar shirt, as if in honor of the occasion. "We marched in later."

Monterey seemed to be a very quiet, sleepy old place. The majority of the citizens were the native Californians, wearing their picturesque costumes of slashed velvet trousers loose at the bottom and tight at the knee, red sashes about their waists, silk shirts and short velvet jackets, and peaked, wide-brimmed, tasseled felt hats. The morning air was chilly, although the sun shone brightly. In front of many of the stores and in the plaza or square little fires had been built, around which the people were huddling, to get warm. Mr. Grigsby explained that there wasn't a stove in town, probably, that everybody cooked in small fireplaces, and that until the Americans came and introduced the bonfire the natives were "too blamed lazy" to do more than shiver themselves warm!

"Why, these natives wouldn't walk across a street," he said. "They all rode—that is, the men. And why not, when horses were to be had for nothing. Ten dollars would buy the best horse in the territory."

Considerable of a crowd had gathered in front of the town hall, clustered and craning and gazing at some object in their midst. Mr. Grigsby, stalwart and proud in his Fremont shirt, sauntered to see. Presently he called and beckoned.

"Here you are. Here's what you're looking for."

So Mr. Adams and Charley crossed, also. The crowd gave way courteously, exposing a smiling, good-looking Californian, leaning against the heavy saddle of his horse.

"Here you are," repeated Mr. Grigsby, who was fingering the contents of a small canvas sack, evidently the property of the horseman. "You want to see gold? Take a look at it."

Following his father, Charley peeped within. The canvas sack was half full of dull yellow—a yellow like the yellow which the buckskin sack had contained, in St. Louis. However, this yellow was coarser.

"Flake gold," announced Mr. Grigsby. "Straight from the mines. Is that not so, amigo?"

"Si, senors," smilingly answered the native. And continued, in good English: "From the American River."

"Did you get—find it?" queried Charley, eagerly.

"Yes, and more. Everybody finds it who looks."

"How long were you gone?" asked Mr. Adams.

"Who knows, senor? Coming and going, perhaps two weeks, but I stopped with friends along the way."

"How long were you in finding this, then?"

"Four, maybe five, days. It is easy."

"What will you do with it, senor?" inquired Mr. Grigsby.

The man shrugged his shoulders.

"Who knows? When one has money he has friends. For a few days I can be rich. When I am poor again, there is plenty more gold to be had."

"Were there many other people searching?" asked Mr. Adams.

"An army, senor. They are working like ants."

They thanked the man for his courtesy, and returning him his treasure started on, for the town hall doorway.

"He'll spend that before another morning," declared Mr. Grigsby. "That's the curse of easy money—especially out here, where the natives can get along on a little. Wait a minute. I'll go in and find the alcalde—he's the mayor. Colton's his name. He was chaplain on the frigate Congress, and was appointed alcalde after Monterey was captured. I knew him in Forty-six. Fine man. Maybe we can call on the governor, General Bennet Riley, and pay our respects."

Mayor Colton sent word that he'd be pleased to see them, but that the governor was in San Francisco. However, the mayor (who, as Mr. Grigsby had said, was a minister, a navy chaplain, and indeed a fine man) showed them through the town hall, which he had caused to be built out of the fines and fees in the town treasury. It had been finished only this March, and contained a large public hall on the second floor, and a school and jail and other departments on the ground floor. It certainly was a credit to Monterey, away out here in California.

"Gold?" exclaimed Alcalde Colton, waving his hands in despair at the mention of it. "Yes, I've been up to the mines myself, on several occasions. I was there as early as last September, and dug some for myself. But it's the ruination of Monterey and the rest of the coast. Nobody'll work, except we Government and other public officers who have to; everybody's crazy, talking and dreaming only of easy riches; and even an old woman cook of mine, too feeble to go away, won't clean a fowl until she's examined its crop for a nugget."

"By the way, where's Colonel Fremont?" queried Mr. Grigsby. "Is he still out here?"

"Certainly. You're a Fremont man, I see. He's here, and so are his wife and daughter. They came out just ahead of you, on the Panama. They make their home in Monterey, but they're up north now, with the colonel. He's mining on his big Mariposa ranch, in the interior back of San Jose. They have the only four-wheeled vehicle in the territory—a surrey brought around the Horn for them."

However, interesting as Monterey was, nobody aboard the California wanted to stay long here. San Francisco was only about twelve hours ahead; and then, the gold!

On again steamed the California, threshing the waves with her huge paddles, and all the passengers scrutinizing the shore line, many of them rather expecting to see gold out-cropping on the cliffs and ridges.

"We'll probably get in at evening, and spend the night aboard," remarked Charley's father.

During the day the coast grew more bare and sandy, with sandy, rolling hills behind it. In the afternoon it appeared to bulge out, before, and in the bulge appeared a gap.

"There you are," directed Mr. Grigsby, to Charley, and pointing. "See that gap? Yes? It's the Golden Gate channel into the Bay of San Francisco."

"The gate to the Land of Gold, eh?" mused another passenger, near.

"That's what it's reckoned at, now," assented the Fremonter. "But it was named before gold was discovered. Fremont named it; you'll see it on his map of Forty-seven. It's the Golden Gate, whichever way you look at it—from the outside, toward the land, or from the inside, toward the sunset."

True enough. Even now the sun had set, and all the wide west fronting the gateway was a deep golden sheen, and the water and the shore was dyed with the richness. Turning her stern on the sunset, the steamer headed in, for the golden shore.

The gap opened, wider and wider, to form a broad strait. In it an island gleamed white.

"That's Alcatraz Island, at the inside end of the channel," explained Mr. Grigsby, who served as a very good guide. "You'll see Yerba Buena Island—some call it Goat Island—in a minute, on the right of it, and Angel Island on the left. That big round peak straight ahead, on the mainland, is Mount Diablo. Now we're getting opposite Fort Point; see the flag. The town is around on our right, other side of this first line of hills separating the bay from the ocean."

Through the Golden Gate was slowly and majestically steaming the California. The gate was really a pair of jaws, set half-open—great promontories of rock and sand, the one on the left or the north being almost a mountain chain. Within the jaws was the bay, like the mouth. Everything was tinged with the wondrous golden glow.

Several sailing boats were beating in and out of the strait, which was narrowest at Fort Point. Beyond Fort Point the tips of masts began to appear, over the tops of the lower hills on the right; and as the California gradually rounded the further side of this peninsula, ships at anchor came into sight. The bay itself opened, extending on right and left of the entrance, against a background of rolling, yellowish hills.

"Around the corner, now—and there you'll see San Francisco," announced Mr. Grigsby, he peering as intently as anybody.

Between Alcatraz Island and Goat Island passed the California, swinging to the right more and more, describing a half circle; the ships at anchor increased to a dense mass floating many flags; and then, hurrah, on the near shore, against the hills of this the west side of the bay appeared a straggling jumble of low buildings, already enshadowed by dusk and dotted with lights, some stationary, others moving. The murmur of many voices, punctuated by shouts and hammering, floated across the smooth water, and from the shipping sounded frequent hails. Through the shipping weaved the California, with all her passengers peering excitedly; then "Boom!" spoke her signal gun, and not far from the water-front, where a clear place had been left, she dropped anchor. From her decks arose a mighty cheer; and listen—the people running down to the water-front replied! So everybody cheered again, Charley swinging his hat and "hooraying" as hard as anybody.



XIV

ALL ASHORE

So interested had most of the passengers been, that they had omitted to collect their baggage and make the grand rush as at Chagres. But now at the dropping of the anchor the charm was broken. Helter-skelter they all ran, to be ready for the first landing, but suddenly were halted by the word that nobody could go ashore until morning. The ship must first be examined by the health officer. So a howl of dismay and wrath arose.

"The captain thinks he'll keep us aboard all night, does he? Well, he can't and nobody else can, either. Ain't that right?"

Charley had been carried along by the rush to gather the baggage; and now this voice spoke at his elbow. He looked quickly, and saw the profile of the long-nosed man, who was talking to one of his partners.

"There'll be plenty of boats sneaking around, and plenty of sailors taking French leave for the mines," continued the long-nosed man. "We'll just join 'em. We've got too big a stake ahead of us, to waste a night here."

"Sure. We'll let the other party do the wasting," answered the partner. "We're ahead, so far, and we'll stay ahead."

"All right. Keep your eyes and ears open, and a little money in your hand, and at the first chance, we leave. Tell Jack, if you see him before I do."

Charley slipped away. So the long-nosed man's party were planning to go ashore anyhow, were they? Well, he'd see about that. He'd tell his father, who'd tell the captain, and the captain would make them play fair.

But his father shook his head, after Charley had excitedly appealed.

"No, we won't do a thing. Grigsby and I had decided anyway that we'd better stay on board till morning. We'll all gain nothing by going ashore in the dark, Charley. Lieutenant Sherman says it's a miserable place to find your way around in, and it's full of the riff-raff of all nations, besides the better people. As for the Jacobs party, what they do is none of our business. They'll deny that they have any notion of going—and then they'll go, just the same. The captain has other things to tend to, than watching the passengers."

"But they'll beat us," complained Charley.

"Nonsense," laughed his father. "The crooked trail is the longest way 'round. When they get ashore in the dark they'll not be much nearer the end than we are. We'll mind our own business and play fair, and then you'll see who comes out ahead at last."

"Is that San Francisco?" quavered somebody near them, at the rail. She was one of the worn, plucky women who had traveled the Gila trail. "It looks like a big camp-meetin'."

And so San Francisco did! Many more lights had been struck; a few flickered here and there, as if they were being carried about, but the majority appeared to be behind canvas, through which they shone with pale yellow glow. Evidently even some of the business buildings were only canvas; and these, and the multitude of tents, gleamed dully like a great encampment. Voices sounded constantly, echoing across the water; hammering never ceased; music floated—strains of violin and trumpet and piano! From the water-front clear back up the sides of the hills San Francisco was alive by night as by day. And on the hour all the vessels in the harbor struck their bells, in a great, melodious chime.

Charley and his father and Mr. Grigsby stood long at the rail, as did the other passengers, gazing at the dim shore and its multitude of spectral lights, and talking. The whole ship seemed to be athrill with great expectations; row-boats approached, circled and mysteriously lingered, as if awaiting; and the little waves murmured low and invitingly, as they slapped against the steamer's sides.

Yes, after the trip of forty days and nights from New Orleans (fifty from New York!), and of six thousand miles, by water, and twenty miles by land, here they all were, at anchor off the Land of Gold.

Charley rather hated to turn in. However, the three of them went to bed, at ten o'clock, and San Francisco was still as lively as ever. Once, in the night, Charley woke up, thinking that he heard a soft hail and the splash of oars. He wondered if the long-nosed man's party were taking their "French leave." He sat up and peered out of the open door; and there, across the water, were the lights of San Francisco, and the uproar of voices and hammers and music. Apparently, San Francisco didn't sleep.

All in all, it wasn't a very good night for sleeping, anywhere. Some of the passengers on the decks talked the whole night through, it seemed to Charley, discussing plans. At daylight began a general stir, to prepare to go ashore, the Adams party were ready about as soon as anybody, waiting for the boats to start their trips. Luggage was piled high, everywhere aboard; and by sunrise people were impatient.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse