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Chapter Four.
 The End of the Beginning—Farewell to Old England.  
As Captain Bunting sagaciously remarked, “most things come to a climax suddenly.”
On the evening of the day in which our tale begins, Edward Sinton—still standing at zero—walked into his uncle’s parlour. The old gentleman was looking earnestly, though unintentionally, at the cat, which sat on the rug; and the cat was looking attentively at the kettle, which sat on the fire, hissing furiously, as if it were disgusted at being kept so long from tea.
Ned’s face was very long and sad as he entered the room.
“Dear uncle,” said he, taking Mr Shirley by the hand, “I’m not going to take a week to think over it. I have made up my mind to remain at home, and become a lawyer.”
“Ned,” replied Mr Shirley, returning his nephew’s grasp, “I’m not going to take a week to think over it either. I have made up my mind that you are to go to California, and become a—a—whatever you like, my dear boy; so sit down to tea, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Ned was incredulous at first, but as his uncle went on to explain how matters stood, and gradually diverged from that subject to the details of his outfit, he recovered from his surprise, and sprang suddenly up to 100 degrees of Fahrenheit, even in the shade of the prospect of parting for a time from old Mr Shirley.
Need we be surprised, reader, that our hero on that night dreamed the golden dream over again, with many wonderful additions, and sundry remarkable variations.
Thus it came to pass that, two weeks afterwards, Ned and his uncle found themselves steaming down the Thames to Gravesend, where the good ship Roving Bess lay riding at anchor, with a short cable, and top-sails loose, ready for sea.
“Ned,” said Mr Shirley, as they watched the receding banks of the noble river, “you may never see home again, my boy. Will you be sure not to forget me! will you write often, Ned!”
“Forget you, uncle!” exclaimed Ned, in a reproachful voice, while a tear sprang to his eye. “How can you suggest such a—”
“Well, well, my boy, I know it—I know it; but I like to hear the assurance repeated by your own lips. I’m an old man now, and if I should not live to see you again, I would like to have some earnest, loving words to think upon while you are away.” The old man paused a few moments, and then resumed—
“Ned, remember when far from home, that there is another home—eternal in the heavens—to which, if you be the Lord’s child, you are hastening. You will think of that home, Ned, won’t you! If I do not meet you again here at any rate I shall hope to meet you there.”
Ned would have spoken, but his heart was too full. He merely pressed old Mr Shirley’s arm.
“Perhaps,” continued his uncle, “it is not necessary to make you promise to read God’s blessed Word. You’ll be surrounded by temptations of no ordinary kind in the gold-regions; and depend upon it that the Bible, read with prayer, will be the best chart and compass to guide you safely through them all.”
“My dear uncle,” replied Ned, with emotion, “perhaps the best promise I can make is to assure you that I will endeavour to do, in all things and at all times, as you have taught me, ever since I was a little boy. If I succeed, I feel assured that I shall do well.”
A long and earnest conversation ensued between the uncle and nephew, which was interrupted at last, by the arrival of the boat at Gravesend. Jumping into a wherry, they pushed off, and were soon alongside of the Roving Bess, a barque of about eight hundred tons burden, and, according to Captain Bunting, “an excellent sea-boat.”
“Catch hold o’ the man-ropes,” cried the last-named worthy, looking over the side; “that’s it; now then, jump! all right! How are ye, kinsman? Glad to see you, Ned. I was afraid you were goin’ to give me the slip.”
“I have not kept you waiting, have I?” inquired Ned.
“Yes, you have, youngster,” replied the captain, with a facetious wink, as he ushered his friends into the cabin, and set a tray of broken biscuit and a decanter of wine before them. “The wind has been blowin’ off shore the whole morning, and the good ship has been straining at a short cable like a hound chained up. But we’ll be off now in another half-hour.”
“So soon?” said Mr Shirley, with an anxious expression on his kind old face.
“All ready to heave up the anchor, sir,” shouted the first mate down the companion.
The captain sprang on deck, and soon after the metallic clatter of the windlass rang a cheerful accompaniment to the chorus of the sailors. One by one the white sails spread out to the breeze, and the noble ship began to glide through the water.
In a few minutes more the last words were spoken, the last farewell uttered, and Mr Shirley stood alone in the stern-sheet of the little boat, watching the departing vessel as she gathered way before the freshening breeze. As long as the boat was visible Ned Sinton stood on the ship’s bulwarks, holding on to the mizzen shrouds, and waving his handkerchief from time to time. The old man stood with his head uncovered, and his thin locks waving in the wind.
Soon the boat was lost to view. Our hero brushed away a tear, and leaped upon the deck, where the little world, of which for many days to come he was to form a part, busied itself in making preparation for a long, long voyage. The British Channel was passed; the Atlantic Ocean was entered; England sank beneath the horizon; and, for the first time in his life, Ned Sinton found himself—at sea.

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