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Chapter Twelve.
 Sabbath at the Diggings—Larry O’Neil takes to Wandering, and meets with Adventures—An Irish Yankee discovered—Terrible Calamities befall Travellers on the Overland Route.  
There is no country in our fallen world, however debased and morally barren, in which there does not exist a few green spots where human tenderness and sympathy are found to grow. The atmosphere of the gold-regions of California was, indeed, clouded to a fearful extent with the soul-destroying vapours of worldliness, selfishness, and ungodliness, which the terrors of Lynch law alone restrained from breaking forth in all their devastating strength.
And this is not to be wondered at, for Europe and America naturally poured the flood of their worst inhabitants over the land, in eager search for that gold, the love of which, we are told in Sacred Writ, “is the root of all evil.” True, there were many hundreds of estimable men who, failing, from adverse circumstances, to make a livelihood in their native lands, sought to better their fortunes in the far west; but, in too many cases, the gold-fever which raged there soon smote them down; and men who once regarded gold as the means to an end, came at last to esteem gold to be the end, and used every means, fair and foul, to obtain it. Others there were, whose constitutions were proof against the national disease; whose hearts deemed love to be the highest bliss of man, and doing good his greatest happiness.
But stilling and destructive though the air of the gold-mines was, there were a few hardy plants of moral goodness which defied it—and some of these bloomed in the colony of Little Creek.
The Sabbath morning dawned on Ned Sinton and his friends—the first Sabbath since they had begun to dig for gold. On that day the miners rested from their work. Shovel and pick lay quiet in the innumerable pits that had been dug throughout the valley; no cradle was rocked, no pan of golden earth was washed. Even reckless men had come to know from experience, that the Almighty in His goodness had created the Sabbath for the special benefit of man’s body as well as his soul, and that they wrought better during the six days of the week when they rested on the seventh.
Unfortunately they believed only what experience taught them; they kept the Sabbath according to the letter, not according to the spirit; and although they did not work, they did not refrain from “thinking their own thoughts and finding their own pleasure,” on God’s holy day. Early in the morning they began to wander idly about from hut to hut, visited frequently the grog-shops, and devoted themselves to gambling, which occupation materially marred even the physical rest they might otherwise have enjoyed.
“Comrades,” said Ned Sinton, as the party sat inside their tent, round the napkin on which breakfast was spread, “it is long since we have made any difference between Saturday and Sunday, and I think it would be good for us all if we were to begin now. Since quitting San Francisco, the necessity of pushing forward on our journey has prevented our doing so hitherto. How far we were right in regarding rapid travelling as being necessary, I won’t stop to inquire; but I think it would be well if we should do a little more than merely rest from work on the Sabbath. I propose that, besides doing this, we should read a chapter of the Bible together as a family, morning and evening on Sundays. What say you?”
There was a pause. It was evident that conflicting feelings were at work among the party.
“Perhaps you’re right,” said Maxton; “I confess that I have troubled myself very little about religion since I came out here, but my conscience has often reproached me for it.”
“Don’t you think, messmates,” said Captain Bunting, lighting his pipe, “that if it gets wind the whole colony will be laughin’ at us?”
“Sure they may laugh,” said Larry O’Neil, “an’ after that they may cry, av it’ll do them good. Wot’s the differ to us?”
“I don’t agree with you, Ned,” said Tom Collins, somewhat testily; “for my part I like to see men straightforward, all fair and above-board, as the captain would say. Hypocrisy is an abominable vice, whether it is well meaning or ill meaning, and I don’t see the use of pretending to be religious when we are not.”
“Tom,” replied Ned, in an earnest voice, “don’t talk lightly of serious things. I don’t pretend to be religious, but I do desire to be so: and I think it would be good for all of us to read a portion of God’s Word on His own day, both for the purpose of obeying and honouring Him, and of getting our minds filled, for a short time at least, with other thoughts than those of gold-hunting. In doing this there is no hypocrisy.”
“Well, well,” rejoined Tom, “I’ll not object if the rest are agreed.”
“Agreed,” was the unanimous reply. So Ned rose, and, opening his portmanteau, drew forth the little Bible that had been presented to him by old Mr Shirley on the day of his departure from home.
From that day forward, every Sabbath morning and evening, Ned Sinton read a portion of the Word of God to his companions, as long as they were together; and each of the party afterwards, at different times, confessed that, from the time the reading of the Bible was begun, he felt happier than he did before.
After breakfast they broke up, and went out to stroll for an hour or two upon the wooded slopes of the mountains. Ned and Tom Collins went off by themselves, the others, with the exception of Larry, walked out together.
That morning Larry O’Neil felt less sociable than was his wont, so he sallied forth alone. For some time he sauntered about with his hands in his pockets, his black pipe in his mouth, a thick oak cudgel, of his own making, under his arm, and his hat set jauntily on one side of his head. He went along with an easy swagger, and looked particularly reckless, but no man ever belied his looks more thoroughly. The swagger was unintentional, and the recklessness did not exist. On the contrary, the reading of the Bible had brought back to his mind a flood of home memories, which forced more than one tear from his susceptible heart into his light-blue eye, as he wandered in memory over the green hills of Erin.
But the scenes that passed before him as he roamed about among the huts and tents of the miners soon drew his thoughts to subjects less agreeable to contemplate. On week-days the village, if we may thus designate the scattered groups of huts and tents, was comparatively quiet, but on Sundays it became a scene of riot and confusion. Not only was it filled with its own idle population of diggers, but miners from all the country round, within a circuit of eight or ten miles, flocked into it for the purpose of buying provisions for the week, as well as for the purpose of gambling and drinking, this being the only day in all the week in which they indulged in what they termed “a spree.”
Consequently the gamblers and store-keepers did more business on Sunday than on any other day. The place was crowded with men in their rough, though picturesque, bandit-like costumes, rambling about from store to store, drinking and inviting friends to drink, or losing in the gaming-saloons all the earnings of a week of hard, steady toil—toil more severe than is that of navvies or coal-heavers. There seemed to be an irresistible attraction in these gambling-houses. Some men seemed unable to withstand the temptation, and they seldom escaped being fleeced. Yet they returned, week after week, to waste in these dens of iniquity the golden treasure gathered with so much labour during their six working days.
Larry O’Neil looked through the doorway of one of the gambling-houses as he passed, and saw men standing and sitting round the tables, watching with eager faces the progress of the play, while ever and anon one of them would reel out, more than half-drunk with excitement and brandy. Passing on through the crowded part of the village, which looked as if a fair were being held there, he entered the narrow footpath that led towards the deeper recesses at the head of the valley. O’Neil had not yet, since his arrival, found time to wander far from his own tent. It was therefore with a feeling of great delight that he left the scene of riot behind him, and, turning into a bypath that led up one of the narrow ravines, opening into the larger valley, strolled several miles into deep solitudes that were in harmony with his feelings.
The sun streamed through the entrance to this ravine, bathing with a flood of light crags and caves and bush-encompassed hollows, that at other times were shrouded in gloom. As the Irishman stood gazing in awe and admiration at the wild, beautiful scene, beyond which were seen the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada, he observed a small solitary tent pitched on a level patch of earth at the brow of a low cliff. Curiosity prompted him to advance and ascertain what unsociable creature dwelt in it. A few minutes sufficed to bring him close upon it, and he was about to step forward, when the sound of a female voice arrested him. It was soft and low, and the accents fell upon his ear with the power of an old familiar song. Being at the back of the tent, he could not see who spoke, but, from the monotonous regularity of the tone, he knew that the woman was reading. He passed noiselessly round to the front, and peeping over the tops of bushes, obtained a view of the interior.
The reader was a young woman, whose face, which was partially concealed by a mass of light-brown hair as she bent over her book, seemed emaciated and pale. Looking up just as Larry’s eye fell upon her, she turned towards a man whose gaunt, attenuated form lay motionless on a pile of brushwood beside her, and said, tenderly:
“Are ye tired, Patrick, dear, or would you like me to go on?”
Larry’s heart gave his ribs such a thump at that moment that he felt surprised the girl did not hea............
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