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Chapter Seventeen.
 A Curious and Valuable Draught—Lynch Law applied—Black Jim’s Confession—Ned becomes a Painter, and finds the Profession Profitable as well as Amusing—The First Portrait.  
Next morning the travellers were up and away by daybreak, and in the afternoon they came upon a solitary miner who was prospecting in a gulch near the road-side.
This word gulch is applied to the peculiarly abrupt, short ravines, which are a characteristic feature in Californian more than in any other mountains. The weather was exceedingly hot, and the man took off his cap and wiped his streaming brow as he looked at the travellers who approached him.
“Ha! you’ve got water there, I see,” cried Tom Collins, leaping off his horse, seizing a cup which stood on the ground full of clear water, and draining it eagerly.
“Stop!” cried the man, quickly.
“Why!” inquired Tom, smacking his lips.
The miner took the empty cup and gazed inquiringly into it.
“Humph! you’ve drunk it, every grain.”
“Drop, you mean,” suggested Tom, laughing at the man’s expression; “of course I have, and why not? There’s plenty more of the same tap here.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t mind the water,” replied the man, “if ye had only left the gold-dust behind, but you’ve finished that too.”
“You don’t mean it!” gasped Tom, while the questions flashed across his mind—Is gold-dust poison? And if not, is it digestible? “How—how much have I swallowed?”
“Only about two dollars—it don’t signify,” answered the man, joining in the burst of laughter to which Ned and Tom gave way on this announcement.
“I’m afraid we must owe you the sum, then,” said Ned, recovering his composure, “for we have only one dollar left, having been robbed last night; but as we mean to work in this neighbourhood, I dare say you will trust us.”
The man agreed to this, and having directed the travellers to the settlement of Weaver Creek, resumed his work, while they proceeded on their way. Tom’s digestion did not suffer in consequence of his golden draught, and we may here remark, for the benefit of the curious, that he never afterwards experienced any evil effects from it. We may further add, that he did not forget to discharge the debt.
After half-an-hour’s ride they came in sight of a few straggling diggers, from whom they learned that the settlement, or village, or town of Weaver Creek was about two miles further on, and in a quarter of an hour they reached it.
The spot on which it stood was wild and romantic, embosomed among lofty wooded hills, whose sides were indented by many a rich ravine, and seamed by many a brawling water-course. Here digging was, as the miners have it, in full blast. Pick, and shovel, and cradle, and long-tom, and prospecting-pan—all were being plied with the utmost energy and with unwearied perseverance. The whole valley was cut up and converted into a net-work of holes and mud-heaps, and the mountain slopes were covered with the cabins, huts, and canvas tents of the miners.
About the centre of the settlement, which was a very scattered one, stood a log-house or cabin, of somewhat larger dimensions than the generality of those around it. This was the grand hotel, restaurant, and gambling-house of the place, besides being the scene of the trials and executions that occasionally took place. Some such work was going forward when our travellers rode up, for the area in front of the hotel was covered with a large concourse of miners.
“I suspect they are about to try the poor wretches who attacked us last night,” said Ned, dismounting at the door of the house.
He had scarcely spoken, when a couple of men ran towards them.
“Here you are, strangers,” they cried, “come along and bear witness agin’ them blackguards; they’re just about to be strung up. We’ll look after your horses.”
The duty was a disagreeable one, but it could not be avoided, so Ned and Tom suffered themselves to be led into the centre of the ring where the three culprits were standing already pinioned, and with the ropes round their necks. For a short time silence was obtained while Ned stated the circumstances of the robbery, and also the facts regarding the murder of which Black Jim had been previously found guilty. Then there was a general shout of “String ’em up!” “Up wi’ the varmints!” and such phrases; but a short respite was granted in consequence of Black Jim expressing a desire to speak with Ned Sinton.
“What have you to say to me?” inquired Ned, in a low tone, as he walked close up to the wretched man, who, although his minutes on earth were numbered, looked as if he were absolutely indifferent to his fate.
“I’ve only to say,” answered the culprit, sternly, “that of all the people I leaves behind me in this world there’s but one I wish I hadn’t bin bad to, and that’s Kate Morgan. You know something of her, though you’ve never seen her—I know that. Tell her I—no, tell her she’ll find the gold I robbed her of at the foot o’ the pine-tree behind the tent she’s livin’ in jist now. An’ tell her that her little sister’s not dead, though she don’t believe me. I took the child to—”
“Come, come, ha’ done wi’ yer whisperin’,” cried several of the bystanders, who were becoming impatient of delay.
“Have patience,” said Ned, raising his hand. “The man is telling me something of importance.”
“I’ve done,” growled Black Jim, scowling on the crowd with a look of hate; “I wish I hadn’t said so much.”
The rope was tightened as he spoke, and Ned, turning abruptly on his heel, hurried away with his friend from the spot just as the three robbers were run up and suspended from the branch of the tree, beneath and around which the crowd stood.
Entering the inn, and seating themselves in a retired corner of the crowded gambling-room, Ned and Tom proceeded to discuss their present prospects and future plans in a frame of mind that was by no means enviable. They were several hundreds of miles distant from the scene of their first home at the diggings, without a dollar in their pockets, and only a horse between them. With the exception of the clothes on their backs, and Ned’s portfolio of drawing materials, which he always carried slung across his shoulder, they had nothing else in the world. Their first and most urgent necessity was supper, in order to procure which it behoved them to sell Tom’s horse. This was easily done, as, on application to the landlord, they were directed to a trader who was on the point of setting out on an expedition to Sacramento city, and who readily purchased the horse for less than half its value.
Being thus put in possession of funds sufficient at least for a few days, they sat down to supper with relieved minds, and afterwards went out to stroll about the settlement, and take a look at the various diggings. The miners here worked chiefly at the bars or sand-banks thrown up in various places by the river which coursed through their valley; but the labour was severe, and the return not sufficient to attract impatient and sanguine miners, although quite remunerative enough to those who wrought with steady perseverance. The district had been well worked, and many of the miners were out prospecting for new fields of labour. A few companies had been formed, and these, by united action and with the aid of long-toms, were well rewarded, but single diggers and pan-washers were beginning to become disheartened.
“Our prospects are not bright,” observed Tom, sitting down on a rock close to the hut of a Yankee who was delving busily in a hole hard by.
“True,” answered Ned, “in one sense they are not bright, but in another sense they are, for I never yet, in all my travels, beheld so beautiful and bright a prospect of land and water as we have from this spot. Just look at it, Tom; forget your golden dreams for a little, if you can, and look abroad upon the splendid face of nature.”
Ned’s eye brightened as he spoke, for his love and admiration of the beauties and charms of nature amounted almost to a passion. Tom, also, was a sincere admirer of lovely, and especially of wild, scenery, although he did not express his feelings so enthusiastically.
“Have you got your colours with you?” he inquired.
“I have; and if you have patience enough to sit here for half-an-hour I’ll sketch it. If not, take a stroll, and you’ll find me here when you return.”
“I can admire nature for even longer than that period, but I cannot consent to watch a sketcher of nature even for five minutes, so I’ll take a stroll.”
In a few minutes Ned, with book on knee and pencil in hand, was busily engaged in transferring the scene to paper, oblivious of gold, and prospects, and everything else, and utterly ignorant of the fact that the Yankee digger, having become curious as to what the stranger could be about, had quitted his hole, and now stood behind him quietly looking over his shoulder.
The sketch was a very beautiful one, for, in addition to the varied character of the scenery and the noble background of the Sierra Nevada, which here presented some of its wildest and most fantastic outlines, the half-ruined hut of the Yankee, with the tools and other articles scattered around it, formed a picturesque foreground. We have elsewhere remarked that our hero was a good draughtsman. In particular, he had a fine eye for colour, and always, when possible, made coloured sketches during his travels in California. On the present occasion, the rich warm glow of sunset was admirably given, and the Yankee stood gazing at the work, transfixed with amazement and delight. Ned first became aware of his proximity by the somewhat startling exclamation, uttered close to his ear—
“Wall, stranger, you air a screamer, that’s a fact!”
“I presume you mean that for a compliment,” said Ned, looking up with a smile at the tall, wiry, sun-burnt, red-flannel-shirted, straw-hatted creature that leaned on his pick-axe beside him.
“No, I don’t; I ain’t used to butter nobody. I guess you’ve bin raised to that sort o’ thing?”
“No, I merely practise it as an amateur,” answered Ned, resuming his work.
“Now, that is cur’ous,” continued the Yankee; “an’ I’m kinder sorry to hear’t, for if ye was purfessional I’d give ye an order.”
Ned almost laughed outright at this remark, but he checked himself as the idea flashed across him that he might perhaps make his pencil useful in present circumstances.
“I’m not professional as yet,” he said, gravely; “but I have no objection to become so if art is encouraged in these diggings.”
“I guess it will be, if you shew yer work. Now, what’ll ye ax for that bit!”
This was a home question, and a poser, for Ned had not the least idea of what sum he ought to ask for his work, and at the same time he had a strong antipathy to that species of haggling, which is usually prefaced by the seller, with the reply, “What’ll ye give?” There was no other means, however, of ascertaining the market-value of his sketch, so he put the objectionable question.
“I’ll give ye twenty dollars, slick off.”
“Very good,” replied Ned, “it shall be yours in ten minutes.”
“An’ I say, stranger,” continued the Yankee, while Ned put the finishing touches to his work, “will ye do the inside o’ my hut for the same money?”
“I will,” replied Ned.
The Yankee paused for a few seconds, and then added—
“I’d like to git myself throwd into the bargain, but I guess ye’ll ask more for that.”
“No, I won’t; I’ll do it for the same sum.”
“Thank’ee; that’s all square. Ye see, I’ve got a mother in Ohio State, an’ she’d give her ears for any scrap of a thing o’ me or my new home; an’ if ye’ll git ’em both fixed off by the day arter to-morrow, I’ll send ’em down to Sacramento by Sam Scott, the trader. I’ll rig out and fix up the hut to-morrow mornin’, so if ye come by breakfast-time I’ll be ready.”
Ned promised to be there at the appointed hour, as he rose and handed him the sketch, which the man, having paid the stipulated sum, carried away to his hut with evident delight.
“Halloo, I say,” cried Ned.
“Wall?” answered the Yankee, stopping with a look of concern, as if he feared the artist had repented of his bargain.
“Mind you tell no one my prices, for, you see, I’ve not had time to consider about them yet.”
“All right; mum’s the word,” replied the man, vanishing into his little cabin just as Tom Collins returned from his ramble.
“Halloo, Ned, what’s that I hear about prices? I hope you’re not offering to speculate in half-fi............
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