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Chapter Six.
 San Francisco—An Unexpected Desertion—Captain Bunting takes a Gloomy View of Things in General—New Friends and New Plans—Singular Facts and Curious Fancies.  
The “Golden Gates,” as they are called, of San Francisco, are two rocky headlands, about a mile apart, which form the entrance to one of the finest harbours, or rather land-locked seas, in the world. This harbour is upwards of forty miles long, by about twelve miles broad at its widest point, and receives at its northern end the waters of the noble Sacramento river, into which all the other rivers in California flow.
Nearly opposite to the mouth of the Sacramento, on the southern shores of the bay, stands the famous city of San Francisco, close to which the Roving Bess let go her anchor and clasped the golden strand.
The old adage that, “truth is strange, stranger than fiction,” was never more forcibly verified than in the growth and career of this wonderful city. No dreams of Arabian romance ever surpassed the inconceivable wonders that were matters of every-day occurrence there during the first years of the gold-fever; and many of the results attributed to Aladdin’s wonderful lamp were almost literally accomplished—in some cases actually surpassed—in and around the cities of California.
Before the discovery of gold, San Francisco was a mere hamlet. It consisted of a few rude cottages, built of sun-dried bricks, which were tenanted by native Californians; there were also a few merchants who trafficked in hides and horns. Cruisers and whalers occasionally put into the harbour to obtain fresh supplies of water, but beyond these and the vessels engaged in the hide-trade few ships ever visited the port, and the name of San Francisco was almost unknown.
But the instant the rumour got abroad that gold had been discovered there, the eyes of the world were turned towards it. In a few months men and ships began to pour into the capacious harbour; a city of tents overspread the sand-hills on which the hamlet stood; thousands upon thousands of gold-hunters rushed to the mines; the golden treasures of the land were laid bare, and immense fortunes were made literally in the course of a few weeks. In many cases these were squandered or gambled away almost as soon as made; but hundreds of men retired from the gold-fields after a few months’ labour, and returned home possessed of ample fortunes. Thousands, too, failed—some from physical inability to stand the fatiguing labour of the mines, and some from what they termed “want of luck,” though want of perseverance was, in nine cases out of ten, the real cause; while many hundreds perished from exposure and from the diseases that were prevalent in the country.
Well would it have been for these last had they remembered God’s word, “Make not haste to be rich;” but the thirst for gold, and the prospect of the sudden acquisition of enormous wealth, had blinded them to the fact that their frames were not equal to the rough life at the mines.
The excitement was at its height when the Roving Bess anchored off the shores of this land of gold.
The sun was just setting as the anchor dropped, and the crippled ship swung round towards the shore, for the tide had just begun to rise.
“Faix, it’s a quare town,” said Larry O’Neil to Ned, who was gazing in wrapt, astonishment and admiration ever the stern.
It was indeed “quare.” The entire city was made up of the most flimsy and make-shift materials that can be conceived. Many of the shops were mere tents with an open framework of wood in front; some were made of sheet-iron nailed to wooden posts; some were made of zinc; others, (imported from the States), of wood, painted white, and edged with green; a few were built of sun-dried bricks, still fewer of corrugated iron, and many of all these materials pieced together in a sort of fancy patchwork. Even boats were used as dwellings, turned keel up, with a hole cut in their sides for the egress of a tin smoke-pipe, and two others of larger size to serve as door and window.
Finding space scarce, owing to the abrupt rise of the hills from the shore, many enterprising individuals had encroached upon the sea, and built houses on piles driven into the sand nearly half-a-mile below the original high water mark.
Almost every nation under the sun had representatives there, and the consequent confusion of tongues was equal to that of Babel.
The hills overhanging the lower part of the town were also well covered with tents, temporary houses, and cottages that had some appearance of comfort about them.
Such was the city on which the sun went down that night, and many were the quaint, sagacious, and comic remarks made by the men as they sat round their various mess-tables in the forecastle of the Roving Bess, speculating noisily and half-seriously on the possibility of getting a run into the interior for a day or two.
But there was a party of men in the ship whose conversation that night was neither so light-hearted nor so loud. They sat in a dark corner of the forecastle talking earnestly in subdued tones after the watch for the night was set. Their chief spokesman was a rough, ill-looking fellow, named Elliot.
“Ye see, lads,” said this man to the half-dozen comrades around him, “we must do it to-night, if we’re to do it at all. There’s the captain’s small boat layin’ out astarn, which comes quite handy, an’, as we lose all our pay by the dodge, I don’t see why we shouldn’t take it.”
The man struck his fist into his left palm, and looked round the circle for opinions.
“I don’t half like it,” said one; “it seems to me a sneaking way of doin’ it.”
“Bah!” ejaculated another, “wot gammon you do talk. If he lose the boat, don’t we lose the tin? Besides, are we agoin’ to let sich a trifle stand in the way o’ us an’ our fortins?”
“Have ye spoken to the other men, Elliot?” inquired one of the group.
“Ay, in coorse I have; an’ they’re all agreeable. Young Spense stood out pretty stiff at first; but I talked him over. Only I said nothing to Larry O’Neil or Bill Jones. I know it’s of no use. They’ll never agree; and if we wos to speak of it to either on ’em, he’d go right away aft an’ tell the captain. Their watch below ’ll come on in an hour, an’ then the watch on deck’ll be on our side. So, lads, go and git ready—an’ sharp’s the word.”
The party broke up, and went quietly below to prepare for flight, leaving no one on deck except O’Neil and Jones, and two of their comrades, who formed part of the watch. As Elliot had said, the watch was changed in about an hour. The mate and captain came on deck, looked round to see that all was right, and then returned to the cabin, to consult about the preliminary arrangements for disposing of the remnant of the cargo. Ned Sinton had turned in to have a good sleep before the expected toil and bustle of the following day; O’Neil and Jones, being relieved from duty, were glad to jump into their hammocks; and the deck was left in charge of the conspirators.
It was a clear, lovely night. Not a zephyr stirred the surface of the sea, in whose depths the starry host and the images of a hundred ships of all shapes and tonnage were faithfully mirrored. Bright lights illumined the city, those in the tents giving to them the appearance of cones and cubes of solid fire. The subdued din of thousands of human voices floated over the water, and mingled with the occasional shout or song that rose from the fleet and the splash of oars, as boats passed to and from the shore. Over all, the young moon shed a pale, soft light, threw into deep shadow the hills towards the north, which rose abruptly to a height of 3000 feet, and tipped with a silver edge the peak of Monte Diavolo, whose lofty summit overlooks all the golden land between the great range of the Sierra Nevada and the ocean. It was a scene of peaceful beauty, well fitted to call forth the adoration of man to the great and good Creator. Doubtless there were some whose hearts rose that night above the sordid thoughts of gain and gold; but few such were recognisable by their fellow-men, compared with the numerous votaries of sin and so-called pleasure.
Towards midnight, Captain Bunting turned in, ordering the steward to call him at daybreak; and shortly afterwards the mate retired, having previously looked round the deck and spoken the watch. A few minutes after, Elliot and his comrades appeared on deck, with their boots and small bundles in their hands.
“Is all right?” whispered Elliot.
“All right!” replied one of the watch.
Nothing more was said; the boat was hauled softly alongside, and held firmly there while two men descended and muffled the oars; then one by one the men slid down the side, and a bag of biscuit and a junk of beef were lowered into it by the second mate, who was one of the conspirators.
At that moment the first mate came on deck, and went forward to inquire what was wrong.
“It’s something in the boat, sir,” replied the second mate.
The mate looked over the side, and the sailors felt that they must be discovered, and that their plans were about to be frustrated. But the second mate was a man of decision. He suddenly seized Williams round the neck, and, covering his mouth with his hand, held him as if in a vice until he was secured and gagged.
“Shall we leave him!” whisperingly inquired one of the men.
“No, he’d manage to kick up a row; take him with us.”
The helpless mate was immediately passed over the side, the rope was cast off; and the boat floated softly away. At first, the oars were dipped so lightly that no sound was heard, even by those on board, except the drops of brine that trickled from the blades as they rose from the water; then, as the distance increased, the strokes were given more vigorously, and, at last, the men bent to it “with a will;” and they were soon shooting over the vast bay in the direction of the Sacramento river, up which they meant to proceed to the “diggings.”
With the exception of O’Neil and Jones, who had already reached the diggings in their dreams, the whole crew, sixteen in all, levanted, leaving Captain Bunting to navigate the ship back to Old England as he best might.
It is easier to conceive than to describe the feelings of the captain, when, on the following morning, he discovered that his crew had fled. He stamped, and danced, and tugged his hair, and pursed up his lips so tight that nothing but an occasional splutter escaped them! Then he sat down on the cabin skylight, looked steadily at Ned, who came hurriedly on deck in his shirt and drawers to see what was wrong, and burst into a prolonged fit of laughter.
“Hallo, captain! what’s up!”
“Nothin’, lad, ha! ha! Oh yes, human flesh is up, Ned; sailors is riz, an’ we’ve been sold;—we have—uncommon!”
Hereupon the captain roared again; but there was a slight peculiarity in the tone, that indicated a strong infusion of rage with the seeming merriment.
“They’re all gone—every man, Jack,” said Jones, with a face of deep solemnity, as he stood looking at the captain.
“So they are, the blackguards; an’ that without biddin’ us good mornin’, bad luck to them,” added O’Neil.
At first, Ned Sinton felt little disposed to take a comic view of the affair, and urged the captain strongly to take the lightest boat and set off in pursuit; but the latter objected to this.
“It’s of no use,” he said, “the ship can’t be repaired here without heavy expense; so, as I don’t mean to go to sea again for some time, the desertion of the men matters little after all.”
“Not go to sea again!” exclaimed Ned, in surprise. “What, then, do you mean to do?”
“That’s more than I can tell. I must see first how the cargo is to be disposed of; after that, it will be time enough to concoct plans for the future. It is quite clear that the tide of luck is out about as far as it can go just now; perhaps it may turn soon.”
“No doubt of it, captain,” cried his young protégé with a degree of energy that shewed he had made up his mind as to what his course should be, in the event of things coming to the worst. “I’ll go down and put on a few more articles of clothing, and then we’ll have a talk over matters.”
The “talk,” which was held over the breakfast-table in the cabin, resulted in the captain resolving to go ashore, and call on a Scotch merchant, named Thompson, to whom he had a letter of introduction. Half-an-hour later this resolve was carried out. Jones rowed them ashore in the smallest boat they had, and sculled back to the ship, leaving O’Neil with them to assist in carrying up two boxes which were consigned to Mr Thompson.
The quay on which they stood was crowded with men of all nations, whose excited looks, and tones, and “go-ahead” movements, testified to the high-pressure speed with which business in San Francisco was transacted.
“It’s more nor I can do to carry them two boxes at wance,” said Larry O’Neil, regarding them with a puzzled look, “an’ sorra a porter do I see nowhere.”
As he spoke, a tall, gentlemanly-looking young man, in a red-flannel shirt, round-crowned wide-awake, long boots, and corduroys, stepped forward, and said, “I’ll help you, if you like.”
“D’ye think ye can lift it!” inquired Larry, with a dubious look.
The youth replied by seizing one of the boxes, and lifting it with ease on his shoulder, shewing that, though destitute of fat, he had more than the average allowance of bone and sinew.
“I doubt if you could do it better than that yourself, Larry,” said Ned, laughing. “Come along, now, close at our heels, lest we get separated in the crowd.”
The young porter knew the residence of Mr Thompson well, and guided them swiftly through the crowded thoroughfares towards it. Passing completely through the town, he led them over the brow of one of the sand-hills beyond it, and descended into a little valley, where several neat villas were scattered along the sides of a pleasant green slope, that descended towards another part of the bay. Turning into the little garden in front of one of these villas, he placed the box on the wooden platform before the door, and said, “This is Mr Thompson’s house.”
There was something striking in the appearance of this young porter; he seemed much above his station in life; and Ned Sinton regarded his bronzed and handsome, but somewhat haggard and dissipated countenance, with interest, as he drew out his purse, and asked what was to pay.
“Two dollars,” answered the man.
Ned looked up in surprise. The idea of paying eight shillings for so slight a service had never entered his imagination. At that moment the door opened, and Mr Thompson appeared, and invited them to enter. He was a shrewd, business-like man, with stern, but kind expression of countenance.
“Come in, come in, and welcome to California,” he said, on perusing the captain’s letter of introduction. “Glad to see you, gentlemen. You’ve not had breakfast, of course; we are just about to sit down. This way,” he added, throwing open the door of a comfortable and elegantly-furnished parlour. “Bring the boxes into the passage—that will do. Here, Lizette, pay the men, dear; two dollars a-piece, I fancy—”
“Excuse me,” interrupted Captain Bunting, “only one bas to be paid, the other is one of my sailors.”
“Ah! very good; which is he?”
Larry O’Neil stepped forward, hat in hand.
“Go in there, my man, and cook will attend to you.”
Larry passed through the doorway pointed out with a pleasant, fluttering sensation at the heart, which was quickly changed to a feeling of considerable disappointment on discovering that “cook” was a negro.
Meanwhile Lizette took two dollars from her purse, and bowing modestly to the strangers as she passed out of the room, advanced with them towards the young porter.
Now, Lizette was not beautiful—few women are, in the highest sense of the term, and the few who are, are seldom interesting; but she was pretty, and sweet, and innocent, and just turned sixteen. Fortunately for the male part of the world, there are many such. She had light-brown hair, which hung in dishevelled curls all round, a soft fair complexion, blue eyes, and a turned-up nose—a pert little nose that said plainly, “I will have my own way; now see if I don’t.” But the heart that animated the body to which that nose belonged, was a good, kind, earnest one; therefore, the nose having its own way was rather a blessing than otherwise to those happy individuals who dwelt habitually in the sunshine of Lizette’s presence.
At this particular time, ladies were scarce in California. The immense rush of men from all parts of the earth to the diggings had not been accompanied as yet by a corresponding rush of women, consequently the sight of a female face was, as it always ought to be, a source of comfort to mankind. We say “comfort” advisedly, because life at the gold-mines was a hard, riotous, mammon-seeking, rugged, and, we regret to say it, ungodly life; and men, in whom the soft memories of “other days” were not entirely quenched, had need, sometimes, of the comforting reflection that there still existed beings on the earth who didn’t rant, and roar, and drink, and swear, and wear beards, and boots, and bowie-knives.
There was double cause, then, for the gaze of respectful admiration with which the young porter regarded Lizette, as she said, “Here is your fare, porter,” and put the money into his hand, which he did not even thank her for, but continued to hold extended as if he wished her to take it back again.
Lizette did not observe the gaze, for she turned away immediately after giving him the money, and re-entered the parlour, whereupon the youth thrust both hands into his breeches-pockets, left the house, and returned slowly to the city, with the expression on his countenance of one who had seen a ghost.
Meanwhile Captain Bunting and Ned Sinton sat down with their host and hostess to a second breakfast, over which the former related the circumstances of the double loss of his crew and cargo.
“You are unfortunate,” said Mr Thompson, when the captain paused; “but there are hundreds in nearly the same predicament. Many of the fine-looking vessels you see in the harbour have lain helplessly there for months, the crews having taken French leave, and gone off to the diggings.”
“It’s awkward,” said the captain, with a troubled expression, as he slowly raised a square lump of pork to his mouth; “what would you advise me to do?”
“Sell off the remnant of the cargo, and set up a floating boarding-house.”
The square lump of pork disappeared, as the captain thrust it into his cheek in order to say, “What?” with a look of intense amazement.
Lizette laughed inadvertently, and, feeling that this was somewhat rude, she, in her effort to escape, plunged deeper into misfortune by turning to Sinton, with a blushing countenance, and asking him to take another cup of tea—a proposal that was obviously absurd, seeing that she had a moment before filled up his second cup.
Thus suddenly appealed to, Ned stammered, “Thank you—if you—ah!—no, thank you, not any more.”
“Set up a floating boarding establishment,” reiterated the merchant, in a tone of decision that caused them all to laugh heartily.
“It may sound strange,” he continued, “but I assure you it’s not a bad speculation. The captain of an American schooner, whose crew deserted the very day she arrived, turned his vessel into a floating boarding-house, about two months ago, and I believe he’s making a fortune.”
“Indeed,” ejaculated the captain, helping himself to another mass of pork, and accepting Lizette’s proffer of a third cup of tea.
“You have no idea,” continued the merchant, as he handed the bread to Ned, and pressed him to eat—“you have no idea of the strange state of things here just now, and the odd ways in which men make money. Owing to the rush of immigrants everything is enormously dear, and house-room is not to be had for love or money, so that if you were to fit up your ship for the purpose you could fill it at once. At the various hotels in the city an ordinary meal at the table d’h?te costs from two to three dollars—eight and twelve shillings of our money—and there are some articles that bear fabulous prices. It’s a fact that eggs at this moment sell at a shilling each, and onions and potatoes at the same price; but then wages are enormously high. How long this state of things will last no one can tell; in the meantime, hundreds of men are making fortunes. Only the other day a ship arrived from New York, and one of the passengers, a ‘’cute’ fellow, had brought out fifteen hundred copies of several newspapers, which he sold for a dollar each in less than two hours! Then, rents are tremendous. You will scarcely believe me when I tell you that the rent paid by the landlord of one of the hotels here is 110,000 dollars—about 22,000 pounds—a year, and it is but a poor building too. My own warehouse, which is a building of only one storey, with a front of twenty feet, is rented to me at 40,000 dollars—8000 pounds a year—and rents are rising.”
Ned and the captain leaned back in their chairs aghast at such statements, and began to entertain some doubts as to the sanity of their host; but the worthy merchant was a grave, quiet man, without a particle of romance in his composition, and he went on coolly telling them facts which Ned afterwards said made his hair almost stand on end, when he thought of how little money he possessed, and how much he would have to pay for the bare necessaries of life.
After some further converse on men and things in general, and on prospects at the mines, Mr Thompson said, “And now, Captain Bunting, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I will go down to your ship, overhaul the cargo, and make you an offer for the whole in the lump, taking the saleable with the unsaleable. This will, at any rate, put you in funds at once, and enable you to follow what course seems best. Will that suit you?”
“It will,” said the captain, “and thank ’ee. As for turning a boardin’-house keeper, I don’t think I’m cut out for it. Neither is my friend Sinton, eh?”
“Certainly not,” answered Ned, laughing: “we might as well become washerwomen.”
“You’d make a pretty good thing of it if you did,” retorted Mr Thompson; “would they not, Lizette? you know more about these things than I do.”
“Indeed, I cannot tell, papa, as I do not know the capabilities of our friends in that way; but I think the few washerwomen in the city must be making fortunes, for they charge two shillings a-piece for everything, large and small.”
“Now, then, gentlemen,” said the merchant, rising, “if you have quite finished, we will walk down to the harbour and inspect the goods.”
An arch smile played round Lizette’s lips as she shook hands with Ned at parting, and she seemed on the point of speaking, but checked herself.
“I beg pardon,” said Ned, pausing, “did you—”
“Oh, it was nothing!” said Lizette; “I was only going to remark that—that if you set up in the washing line, I shall be happy to give you all the work I can.”
“Ahem!” coughed Ned gravely, “and if we should set up in the other line, will you kindly come and board with us?”
“Hallo, Ned, what’s keeping you?” roared the captain.
“Coming,” shouted Ned, as he ran after him. “Where has Larry O’Neil gone?”
“He’s away down before us to have a look at the town. We shall find him, I doubt not, cruising about the quay.”
In a few minutes the three friends were wending their way through the crowded streets back to the shore.

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