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Chapter Fourteen.
 The New Diggings—Bright Prospects—Great Results spring from Great Exertions, even in California—Captain Bunting is seized with a Great Passion for Solitary Rambling, and has two Desperate Encounters; one with a Man, the other with a Rear.  
The part of the Little Creek diggings to which the gold-hunters transported their camp, was a wild, secluded spot, not much visited by the miners, partly on account of its gloomy appearance, and partly in consequence of a belief that the Celestials located there were getting little or no gold. In this supposition they were correct. Ah-wow and Ko-sing being inveterately lazy, contented themselves with digging just enough gold to enable them to purchase a sufficiency of the necessaries of life. But the region was extremely rich, as our adventurers found out very soon after their arrival. One of the ravines, in particular, gave indications of being full of gold, and several panfuls of earth that were washed out shewed so promising a return, that the captain and Larry were anxious to begin at once. They were overruled, however, by the others, who wished to make trial of the bed of the stream.
Six days of severe labour were undergone by the whole party ere their task was accomplished, during which period they did not make an ounce of gold, while, at the same time, their little store was rapidly melting away. Nevertheless, they worked heartily, knowing that a few days of successful digging would amply replenish their coffers. At grey dawn they set to work; some, with trousers tucked up, paddling about in the water all day, carrying mud and stones, while others felled trees and cut them into logs wherewith to form the dam required to turn the stream from its course. This was a matter of no small difficulty. A new bed had to be cut to the extent of eight or ten yards, but for a long time the free and jovial little mountain stream scorned to make such a pitiful twist in its course, preferring to burst its way headlong through the almost completed barricade by which it was pent-up.
Twice did it accomplish this feat, and twice, in so doing, did it sweep Captain Bunting off his legs and roll him along bodily, in a turmoil of mud and stones and dirty water, roaring, as it gushed forth, as if in savage triumph. On the second occasion, Bill Jones shared the captain’s ducking, and all who chanced to be working about the dam at the time were completely drenched. But, however much their bodies might be moistened, no untoward accident could damp the ardour of their spirits. They resumed work again; repaired the breach, and, finally, turned the obstinate stream out of the course which, probably, it had occupied since creation. It rushed hissing, as if spitefully, along its new bed for a few yards, and then darted, at a right angle, back into its former channel, along which it leaped exultingly as before.
But the object for which all this trouble had been undertaken was attained. About eight yards of the old bed of the torrent were laid bare, and the water was drained away, whereat each of the party exhibited his satisfaction after his own peculiar manner—Larry O’Neil, as usual, giving vent to his joy in a hearty cheer.
The result was even more successful than had been anticipated. During the next few days the party conversed little; their whole energies being devoted to eating, sleeping, and digging. The bed of the stream was filled with stones, among which they picked up numerous nuggets of various sizes—from a pea to a walnut—some being almost pure gold, while others were, more or less, mixed with quartz. A large quantity of the heavy black sand was also found at the bottom of a hole, which once had been an eddy—it literally sparkled with gold-dust, and afforded a rich return for the labour previously expended in order to bring it to light. The produce of the first two days’ work was no less than fourteen pounds weight of gold!
The third day was the Sabbath, and they rested from their work. It is, however, impossible for those who have never been in similar circumstances to conceive how difficult it was for our party of gold-hunters to refrain from resuming work as usual on that morning. Some of them had never been trained to love or keep the Sabbath, and would have certainly gone to work had not Ned and the captain remonstrated. All were under great excitement in consequence of their valuable discovery, and anxious to know whether the run of luck was likely to continue, and not one of the party escaped the strong temptation to break the Sabbath-day, except, indeed, the Chinamen, who were too easy-going and lazy to care whether they worked or rested. But the inestimable advantage of good early training told at this time on Ned Sinton. It is questionable whether his principles were strong enough to have carried him through the temptation, but Ned had been trained to reverence the Lord’s-day from his earliest years, and he looked upon working on the Sabbath with a feeling of dread which he could not have easily shaken off, even had he tried. The promise, in his case, was fulfilled—“Train up a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it when he is old;” and though no mother’s voice of warning was heard in that wild region of the earth, and no guardian’s hand was there to beckon back the straggler from the paths of rectitude, yet he was not “let alone;” the arm of the Lord was around him, and His voice whispered, in tones that could not be misunderstood, “Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy.”
We have already said, that the Sabbath at the mines was a day of rest as far as mere digging went, but this was simply for the sake of resting the wearied frame, not from a desire to glorify God. Had any of the reckless miners who filled the gambling-houses been anxious to work during Sunday on a prolific claim, he would not have hesitated because of God’s command.
The repose to their overworked muscles, and the feeling that they had been preserved from committing a great sin, enabled the party to commence work on Monday with a degree of cheerfulness and vigour that told favourably on their profits that night, and in the course of a few days they dug out gold to the extent of nearly two thousand pounds sterling.
“We’re goin’ to get rich, no doubt of it,” said the captain one morning to Ned, as the latter was preparing to resume work in the creek; “but I’ll tell you what it is, I’m tired o’ salt beef and pork, and my old hull is gettin’ rheumatic with paddling about barefoot in the water, so I mean to go off for a day’s shootin’ in the mountains.”
“Very good, captain,” replied Ned; “but I fear you’ll have to go by yourself, for we must work out this claim as fast as we can, seeing that the miners further down won’t be long of scenting out our discovery.”
Ned’s words were prophetic. In less than half-an-hour after they were uttered a long-visaged Yankee, in a straw hat, nankeen trousers, and fisherman’s boots, came to the spot where they were at work, and seated himself on the trunk of a tree hard by to watch their proceedings.
“Guess you’ve got som’thin’,” he said, as Larry, after groping in the mud for a little, picked up a lump of white quartz with a piece of gold the size of a marble embedded in the side of it.
“Ah! but ye’re good for sore eyes,” cried Larry, examining the nugget carefully.
“I say, stranger,” inquired the Yankee, “d’ye git many bits like that in this location?”
The Irishman regarded his question with an expressive leer. “Arrah! now, ye won’t tell?” he said, in a hoarse whisper; “sure it’ll be the death o’ me av ye do. There’s no end o’ them things here—as many as ye like to pick; it’s only the day before to-morrow that I turned up a nugget of pure goold the size of me head; and the capting got hold o’ wan that’s only half dug out yet, an’ wot’s seen o’ ’t is as big as the head o’ a five-gallon cask—all pure goold.”
The Yankee was not to be put off the scent by such a facetious piece of information. He continued to smoke in silence, sauntered about with his hands in his nankeen pockets, watched the proceedings of the party, inspected the dirt cast ashore, and, finally, dug out and washed a panful of earth from the banks of the stream, after which he threw away the stump of his cigar, and went off whistling. Three hours later he returned with a party of friends, laden with tents, provisions, and mining tools, and they all took up their residence within twenty yards of our adventurers, and commenced to turn the course of the river just below them.
Larry and Jones were at first so angry that they seriously meditated committing an assault upon the intruders, despite the remonstrances of Tom Collins and Maxton, who assured them that the new-comers had a perfect right to the ground they occupied, and that any attempt to interrupt them by violence would certainly be brought under the notice of Judge Lynch, whose favourite punishments, they well knew, were whipping and hanging.
Meanwhile Captain Bunting had proceeded a considerable way on his solitary hunting expedition into the mountains, bent upon replenishing the larder with fresh provisions. He was armed with his favourite blunderbuss, a pocket-compass, and a couple of ship-biscuits. As he advanced towards the head of the valley, the scenery became more and more gloomy and rugged, but the captain liked this. Having spent the greater part of his life at sea, he experienced new and delightful sensations in viewing the mountain-peaks and ravines by which he was now surrounded; and, although of a sociable turn of mind, he had no objection for once to be left to ramble alone, and give full vent to the feelings of romance and enthusiastic admiration with which his nautical bosom had been filled since landing in California.
Towards noon, the captain reached the entrance to a ravine, or gorge, which opened upon the larger valley, into which it discharged a little stream from its dark bosom. There was an air of deep solitude and rugged majesty about this ravine that induced the wanderer to pause before entering it. Just then, certain sensations reminded him of the two biscuits in his pocket, so he sat down on a rock and prepared to dine. We say prepared to dine, advisedly, for Captain Bunting had a pretty correct notion of what comfort meant, and how it was to be attained. He had come out for the day to enjoy himself and although his meal was frugal, he did not, on that account, eat it in an off-hand easy way, while sauntering along, as many would have done. By no means. He brushed the surface of the rock on which he sat quite clean, and, laying the two biscuits on it, looked first at one and then at the other complacently, while he slowly, and with great care, cut his tobacco into delicate shreds, and filled his pipe. Then he rose, and taking the tin prospecting-pan from his belt, went and filled it at the clear rivulet which murmured at his feet, and placed it beside the biscuits on the rock. This done, he completed the filling of his pipe, and cast a look of benignity at the sun, which at that moment happened in his course to pass an opening between two lofty peaks, which permitted him to throw a cloth of gold over the captain’s table.
Captain Bunting’s mind now became imbued with those aspirations after knowledge, which would have induced him, had he been at sea, to inquire, “How’s her head?” so he pulled out his pocket-compass, and having ascertained that his nose, when turned towards the sun, pointed exactly “south-south-west, and by south,” he began dinner. Thereafter he lit his pipe, and, reclining on the green turf beside the rock, with his head resting on his left hand, and wreaths of smoke encircling his visage, he—he enjoyed himself. To elaborate a description, reader, often weakens it—we cannot say more than that he enjoyed himself—emphatically.
Had Captain Bunting known who was looking at him in that solitary place, he would not have enjoyed himself quite so much, nor would he have smoked his pipe so comfortably.
On the summit of the precipice at his back stood, or rather sat, one of the natives of the country, in the shape of a grizzly-bear. Bruin had observed the captain from the time he appeared at the entrance of the ravine, and had watched him with a curious expression of stupid interest during all his subsequent movements. He did not attempt to interrupt him in his meal, however, on two grounds—first, because the nature of the grizzly-bear, if not molested, induces him to let others alone; and secondly, because the precipice, on the top of which he sat, although conveniently close for the purposes of observation, was too high for a safe jump.
Thus it happened that Captain Bunting finished his meal in peace, and went on his way up the wild ravine, without being aware of the presence of so dangerous a spectator. He had not proceeded far, when his attention was arrested by the figure of a man seated on a ledge of rock that over hung a yawning gulf into which the little stream plunged.
So still did the figure remain, with the head drooping on the chest, as if in deep contemplation, that it might have been mistaken for a statue cut out of the rock on which it sat. A deep shadow was cast over it by the neighbouring mountain-peaks, yet, as the white sheet of a waterfall formed the background, it was distinctly visible.
The captain advanced towards it with some curiosity, and it was not until he was within a hundred yards that a movement at length proved it to be a living human being.
The stranger rose hastily, and advanced to meet a woman, who at the same moment issued from an opening in the brushwood near him. The meeting was evidently disagreeable to the woman, although, from the manner of it, and the place, it did not seem to be accidental; she pushed the man away several times, but their words were inaudible to the captain, who began to feel all the discomfort of being an unintentional observer. Uncertainty as to what he should do induced him to remain for a few moments inactive, and he had half made up his mind to endeavour to retreat unobserved, when the man suddenly struck down the female, who fell with a faint cry to the earth.
In another minute the captain was at the side of the dastardly fellow, whom he seized by the neck with the left hand, while with the right he administered a hearty blow to his ribs. The man turned round fiercely, and grappled with his assailant; and then Captain Bunting became aware that his antagonist was no other than Smith, alias Black Jim, the murderer.
Smith, although a strong man, was no match for the captain, who soon overpowered him.
“Ha! you villain, have I got you?” cried he, as he almost throttled the man. “Get up now, an’ come along peaceably. If you don’t, I’ll knock your brains out with the butt of my gun.”
He permitted Black Jim to rise as he spoke, but held him fast by the collar, having previously taken from him his knife and rifle.
Black Jim did not open his lips, but the............
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