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Chapter Eleven.
 Gold-Washing—Our Adventurers count their Gains, and are Satisfied—The “R’yal Bank o’ Calyforny” begins to Prosper—Frying Gold—Night Visit to the Grave of a Murdered Man—A Murderer Caught—The Escape and Pursuit.  
Having escaped from the Yankee land-shark, as has been related, our adventurers spent the remainder of the day in watching the various processes of digging and washing out gold, in imbibing valuable lessons, and in selecting a spot for their future residence.
The two processes in vogue at Little Creek at that time were the pan and the cradle washing. The former has been already adverted to, and was much practised because the ground at that time was rich in the precious metal and easily wrought; the extreme simplicity, too, of the operation, which only required that the miner should possess a pick, a shovel, and a tin pan, commended it to men who were anxious to begin at once. An expert man, in favourable ground, could gather and wash a panful of “dirt,” as it is called, every ten minutes; and there were few places in Little Creek that did not yield half-a-dollar or more to the panful, thus enabling the digger to work out gold-dust to the value of about twenty-five dollars, (five pounds sterling), every day, while occasionally he came upon a lump or nugget, equal, perhaps, to what he could produce by the steady labour of a week or more.
Many of the more energetic miners, however, worked in companies and used cradles, by means of which they washed out a much larger quantity of gold in shorter time; and in places which did not yield a sufficient return by the pan process to render it worth while working, the cradle-owners obtained ample remuneration for their toil.
The cradle is a very simple machine, being a semicircular trough, hollowed out of a log, from five to six feet long by sixteen inches in diameter. At one end of this is a perforated copper or iron plate, with a rim of wood round it, on which the “dirt” is thrown, and water poured thereon by one man, while the cradle is rocked by another. The gold and gravel are thus separated from the larger stones, and washed down the trough, in which, at intervals, two transverse bars, half-an-inch high, are placed; the first of these arrests the gold, which, from its great weight, sinks to the bottom, while the gravel and lighter substances are swept away by the current. The lower bar catches any particles of gold that, by awkward management, may have passed the upper one. Three men usually worked together at a rocker, one digging, one carrying the “dirt” in a bucket, and one rocking the cradle.
The black sand, which, along with the gold, is usually left after all the washing and rocking processes are completed, is too heavy to be separated by means of washing. It has therefore to be blown away from the gold after the mass has been dried over a fire, and in this operation great care is requisite lest the finer particles of gold should be blown off along with it.
The spot fixed on as the future residence of our friends was a level patch of greensward about a stone-cast from the banks of the stream, and twice that distance from the lowest cabin of the colony, which was separated and concealed from them by a group of wide-spreading oaks and other trees. A short distance behind the spot the mountains ascended in steep wooded slopes, and, just in front, the cliffs of the opposite hills rose abruptly from the edge of the stream, but a narrow ravine, that split them in a transverse manner, afforded a peep into the hills beyond. At evening, when the rest of the vale of Little Creek was shrouded in gloom, this ravine permitted the last beams of the setting sun to stream through and flood their encampment with rosy light.
Here the tent was pitched, and a fire kindled by Tom Collins, he being intrusted with the command of the party, whose duty it was to prepare the camp. This party included Bill Jones, Maxton, and the vaquero. Ned, the captain, and Larry O’Neil went, under the guidance of McLeod, to select a claim, and take lessons in washing.
“This seems a likely spot,” said the Scotchman, as he led his new acquaintances down to the stream, a few yards below their encampment. “You may claim as much ground as you please, for there is room enough and to spare for all at the Creek yet. I would recommend a piece of ground of ten or twelve feet square for each to begin with.”
“Here is a level patch that I shall appropriate, then,” said Ned, smiling at the idea of becoming so suddenly and easily a landed proprietor—and to such an extent.
“I suppose we don’t require to make out title-deeds!” remarked the captain.
“There’s my title dade,” cried Larry, driving his pick into the earth.
“You are right, Larry,” said McLeod, laughing, “no other deed is required in this delightfully-free country.”
“Ah! thin, it’s quite to my taste; sure I niver thought to see the swate spot where I could pick out me property an’ pick up me fortin’ so aisy.”
“Don’t count your chickens quite so fast,” said Ned, “may be it won’t be so easy as you think. But let us begin and ascertain the value of our claims; I vote that Larry shall have the honour of washing out the first panful of gold, as a reward for his enthusiasm.”
“A very proper obsarvation,” remarked the Irishman, as he commenced work without further delay.
In the course of ten minutes part of the layer of surface-earth was removed, revealing the bluish-clay soil in which gold was usually found; the pan was filled with this “pay-dirt,” as it was called, in contradistinction to the “surface-dirt,” which didn’t “pay,” and was taken down to the stream, where Larry washed it out under the eye of McLeod; but he did it clumsily, as might be expected, and lost a considerable amount of valuable material. Still, for a first attempt, it was pretty well done, and his companions watched the result with feelings of excited earnestness, that they felt half-ashamed to admit even to themselves. There was mingled with this feeling a sort of vague incredulity, and a disposition to ridicule the idea that they were actually endeavouring to wash gold out of the ground; but when Larry’s panful began to diminish, and the black sand appeared, sparkling with unmistakeably-brilliant particles of reddish-yellow metal, they felt that the golden dream was in truth becoming a sober reality.
As the process proceeded, and the precious metal began to appear, Larry’s feelings found vent in abrupt remarks.
“Och! av me tshoo eyes—musha! there it is—goold intirely—av it isn’t brass. Ah ye purty little stars!—O Larry, it’s yerself as’ll buy yer owld mother a pig, an’ a coach to boot. Hooroo! Mr Scotchman, I misremimber yer name, wot’s that?”
Larry started up in excitement, and held up between his fore-finger and thumb what appeared to be a small stone.
“Ha! friend, you’re in luck. That’s a small nugget,” replied McLeod, examining the lump of gold. “It’s worth ten dollars at least. I have worked often two or three weeks at a time without coming on such a chunk as that.”
“Ye don’t mane it! eh! Och! give it me. Hooray!” and the Irishman, seizing the little lump with trembling eagerness, rushed off, shouting and yelling, towards the camp to make his good fortune known to Bill Jones, leaving the pan of black sand unheeded. This Ned took up, and tried his hand at the work of washing. When done, the residue was found to be exceedingly rich, so he and the captain proceeded without loss of time to test their separate claims. Soon after, their obliging friend, the miner, returned to his own claim further down the valley, leaving them hard at work.
That night, when the bright stars twinkled down upon the camp at Little Creek, our gold-hunters, wet and tired, but hearty and hopeful, assembled round the fire in front of their little tent among the oak-trees.
The entire party was assembled there, and they were gazing earnestly, as might be expected of hungry men, into the frying-pan. But they did not gaze at supper. No, that night the first thing they fried was a mixture of black sand and gold. In fact, they were drying and blowing the result of their first day’s work at the diggings, and their friend the Scotch miner was there to instruct them in the various processes of their new profession, and to weigh the gold for them, in his little pair of scales, when it should be finally cleared of all grosser substances.
As each panful was dried and blown, the gold was weighed, and put into a large white breakfast cup, the bottom of which was soon heaped up with shining particles, varying in size from the smallest visible speck, to little lumps like grains of corn.
“Bravo!” exclaimed McLeod, as he weighed the last pan, and added the gold to that already in the cup. “I congratulate you, gentlemen, on your success. The day’s work is equal to one hundred and eighty dollars—about thirty dollars per man. Few men are so lucky their first day, I assure you, unless, as has been the case once or twice they should hit upon a nugget or two.”
“That being the case, we shall have supper,” cried Ned Sinton; “and while we are about it, do you go, Larry, to mine host of the hotel, and pay for the dinner for which he gave us credit. I don’t wish to remain an hour in debt, if I can avoid it.”
“Mister McLeod,” slowly said Bill Jones—who, during the whole operation of drying and weighing the gold, had remained seated on a log, looking on with an expression of imbecile astonishment, and without uttering a word—“Mister McLeod, if I may make bold to ax, how much is one hundred and eighty dollars?”
Bill’s calculating powers were of the weakest possible character.
“About thirty-six pounds sterling,” replied McLeod. Bill’s eyes were wide open before, but the extent to which he opened them on hearing this was quite alarming, and suggested the idea that they would never close again. The same incapacity to calculate figures rendered him unable to grasp correlative facts. He knew that thirty-six pounds in one day was a more enormous and sudden accumulation of wealth than had ever entered into his nautical mind to conceive of. But to connect this with the fact that a voyage and journey of many months had brought him there; that a similar journey and voyage would be required to reconduct him home; and that in the meantime he would have to pay perhaps five pounds sterling for a flannel shirt, and probably four pounds or more for a pair of boots, and everything else in proportion, was to his limited intellectual capacity a simple impossibility. He contented himself with remarking, in reference to these things, that “w’en things in gin’ral wos more nor ord’nar’ly oncommon, an’ w’en incomprehensibles was blowin’ a reg’lar hurricane astarn, so that a man couldn’t hold on to the belayin’-pins he’d bin used to, without their breakin’ short off an’ lettin’ him go spin into the lee-scuppers,—why wot then? a wise man’s course wos to take in all sail, an’ scud before it under bare poles.”
Next day all the miners in the colony were up and at work by dawn. Ned and his friends, you may be sure, were not last to leave their beds and commence digging in their separate claims, which they resolved to work out by means of pan-washing, until they made a little ready cash, after which they purposed constructing two rockers, and washing out the gold more systematically and profitably.
They commenced by removing the surface-soil to the depth of about three feet, a work of no small labour, until the subsoil, or “pay-dirt,” was reached. Of this they dug out a small quantity, and washed it; put the produce of black sand and gold into leathern bags, and then, digging out another panful, washed it as before. Thus they laboured till noon, when they rested for an hour and dined. Then they worked on again until night and exhaustion compelled them to desist; when they returned to camp, dried and blew away the sand, weighed the gold, which was put carefully into a general purse—named by Larry the “R’yal Bank o’ Calyforny”—after which they supped, and retired to rest.
The gold was found at various depths, the “dirt” on the bed-rock being the richest, as gold naturally, in consequence of its weight, sinks through all other substances, until arrested in its downward career by the solid rock.
Of course, the labour was severe to men unaccustomed to the peculiar and constant stooping posture they were compelled to adopt, and on the second morning more than one of the party felt as if he had been seized with lumbago, but this wore off in the course of a day or two.
The result of the second day was about equal to that of the first; the result of the third a good deal better, and Bill, who was fortunate enough to discover a small nugget, returned to camp with a self-satisfied swagger that indicated elation, though his visage expressed nothing but stolidity, slightly tinged with surprise. On the fourth day the cradles were made, and a very large portion of their gains thereby swept away in consequence of the unconscionable prices charged for every article used in their construction. However, this mattered little, Maxton said, as the increased profits of their labour would soon repay the outlay. And he was right. On the fifth day their returns were more than trebled, and that evening the directors of the “R’yal Bank o’ Calyforny” found themselves in possession of capital amounting to one thousand one hundred and fifty dollars, or, as Tom Collins carefully explained to Bill, about 230 pounds.
On the sixth day, however, which was Saturday, Larry O’Neil, who was permitted to work with the pan in the meantime, instead of assisting with the cradles, came up to dinner with a less hearty aspect than usual, and at suppertime he returned with a terribly lugubrious visage and a totally empty bag. In fact his claim had become suddenly unproductive.
“Look at that,” he cried, swaggering recklessly into camp, and throwing down his bag; &ldq............
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