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Chapter Twenty Two.
 Powerful Effects of Gold on the Aspect of Things in General—The Doings at Little Creek Diggings—Larry becomes Speculative, and digs a Hole which nearly proves the Grave of many Miners—Captain Bunting takes a Fearful Dive—Ah-wow is smitten to the Earth—A Mysterious Letter, and a Splendid Dish.  
We must now beg our reader to turn with us to another scene.
The appearance of Little Creek diggings altered considerably, and for the worse, after Ned Sinton and Tom Collins left. A rush of miners had taken place in consequence of the reports of the successful adventurers who returned to Sacramento for supplies, and, in the course of a few weeks, the whole valley was swarming with eager gold-hunters. The consequence of this was that laws of a somewhat stringent nature had to be made. The ground was measured off into lots of about ten feet square, and apportioned to the miners. Of course, in so large and rough a community, there was a good deal of crime, so that Judge Lynch’s services were frequently called in; but upon the whole, considering the circumstances of the colony, there was much less than might have been expected.
At the time of which we write, namely, several weeks after the events narrated in our last chapter, the whole colony was thrown into a state of excitement, in consequence of large quantities of gold having been discovered on the banks of the stream, in the ground on which the log-huts and tents were erected. The result of this discovery was, that the whole place was speedily riddled with pits and their concomitant mud-heaps, and, to walk about after night-fall, was a difficult as well as a dangerous amusement. Many of the miners pulled down their tents, and began to work upon the spots on which they previously stood. Others began to dig all round their wooden huts, until these rude domiciles threatened to become insular, and a few pulled their dwellings down in order to get at the gold beneath them.
One man, as he sat on his door-step smoking his pipe after dinner, amused himself by poking the handle of an axe into the ground, and, unexpectedly, turned up a small nugget of gold worth several dollars. In ten minutes there was a pit before his door big enough to hold a sheep, and, before night, he realised about fifty dollars. Another, in the course of two days, dug out one hundred dollars behind his tent, and all were more or less fortunate.
At this particular time, it happened that Captain Bunting had been seized with one of his irresistible and romantic wandering fits, and had gone off with the blunderbuss, to hunt in the mountains. Maxton, having heard of better diggings elsewhere, and not caring for the society of our adventurers when Ned and Tom were absent, had bid them good-bye, and gone off with his pick and shovel on his shoulder, and his prospecting-pan in his hand, no one knew whither. Bill Jones was down at Sacramento purchasing provisions, as the prices at the diggings were ruinous; and Ko-sing had removed with one of the other Chinamen to another part of the Creek.
Thus it came to pass that Larry O’Neil and Ah-wow, the Chinaman, were left alone to work out the claims of the party.
One fine day, Larry and his comrade were seated in the sunshine, concluding their mid-day meal, when a Yankee passed, and told them of the discoveries that had been made further down the settlement.
“Good luck to ye!” said Larry, nodding facetiously to the man, as he put a tin mug to his lips, and drained its contents to the bottom. “Ha! it’s the potheen I’m fond of; not but that I’ve seen better; faix I’ve seldom tasted worse, but there’s a vartue in goold-diggin’ that would make akifortis go down like milk—it would. Will ye try a drop?”
Larry filled the pannikin as he spoke, and handed it to the Yankee, who, nothing loth, drained it, and returned it empty, with thanks.
“They’re diggin’ goold out o’ the cabin floors, are they?” said Larry, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt.
“They air,” answered the man. “One feller dug up three hundred dollars yesterday, from the very spot where he’s bin snorin’ on the last six months.”
“Ah! thin that’s a purty little sum,” said Larry, with a leer that shewed he didn’t believe a word of it. “Does he expect more to-morrow, think ye?”
“Don’t know,” said the man, half offended at the doubt thus cast on his veracity; “ye better go an’ ax him. Good day, stranger;” and the Yankee strode away rapidly.
Larry scratched his head; then he rubbed his nose, and then his chin, without, apparently, deriving any particular benefit from these actions. After that, he looked up at Ah-wow, who was seated cross-legged on the ground opposite to him, smoking, and asked him what was his opinion.
“Dun no,” said the Chinaman, without moving a muscle of his stolid countenance.
“Oh! ye’re an entertainin’ cratur, ye are; I’ll just make a hole here where I sit, an’ see what comes of it. Sure it’s better nor doin’ nothin’.”
Saying this, Larry refilled his empty pipe, stretched himself at full length on his side, rested his head on his left hand, and smoked complacently for three minutes; after which he took up the long sheath-knife, with which he had just cut up his supper, and began carelessly to turn over the sod.
“Sure, there is goold,” he said, on observing several specks of the shining metal. As he dug deeper down, he struck upon a hard substance, which, on being turned up, proved to be a piece of quartz, the size of a hen’s egg, in which rich lumps and veins of gold were embedded.
“May I niver!” shouted the Irishman, starting up, and throwing away his pipe in his excitement, “av it isn’t a nugget. Hooray! where’s the pick!”
Larry overturned the Chinaman, who sat in his way, darted into the tent for his pick and shovel, and in five minutes was a foot down into the earth.
He came upon a solid rock, however, much to his chagrin, a few inches further down.
“Faix I’ll tell ye what I’ll do,” he said, as a new idea struck him, “I’ll dig inside o’ the tint. It ’ll kape the sun an’ the rain off.”
This remark was made half to himself and half to Ah-wow, who, having gathered himself up, and resumed his pipe, was regarding him with as much interest as he ever regarded anything. As Ah-wow made no objection, and did not appear inclined to volunteer an opinion, Larry entered the tent, cleared all the things away into one corner, and began to dig in the centre of it.
It was fortunate that he adopted this plan: first, because the rainy season having now set in, the tent afforded him shelter; and secondly, because the soil under the tent turned out to be exceedingly rich—so much so, that in the course of the next few days he and the Chinaman dug out upwards of a thousand dollars.
But the rains, which for some time past had given indubitable hints that they meant to pay a long visit to the settlement, at last came down like a waterspout, and flooded Larry and his comrade out of the hole. They cut a deep trench round the tent, however, to carry off the water, and continued their profitable labour unremittingly.
The inside of the once comfortable tent now presented a very remarkable appearance. All the property of the party was thrust into the smallest possible corner, and Larry’s bed was spread out above it; the remainder of the space was a yawning hole six feet deep, and a mound of earth about four feet high. This earth formed a sort of breast-work, over which Larry had to clamber night and morning in leaving and returning to his couch. The Chinaman slept in his own little tent hard by.
There was another inconvenience attending this style of mining which Larry had not foreseen when he adopted it, and which caused the tent of our adventurers to become a sort of public nuisance. Larry had frequently to go down the stream for provisions, and Ah-wow being given to sleep when no one watched him, took advantage of those opportunities to retire to his own tent; the consequence was, that strangers who chanced to look in, in passing, frequently fell headlong into the hole ere they were aware of its existence, and on more than one occasion Larry returned and found a miner in the bottom of it with his neck well-nigh broken.
To guard against this he hit upon the plan of putting up a cautionary ticket. He purchased a flat board and a pot of black paint with which he wrote the words:
“Mind Yer Feet Thars A Big Hol,” and fixed it up over the entrance. The device answered very well in as far as those who could read were concerned, but as there were many who could not read at all, and who mistook the ticket for the sign of a shop or store, the accidents became rather more frequent than before.
The Irishman at last grew desperate, and, taking Ah-wow by the pig-tail, vowed that if he deserted his post again, “he’d blow out all the brains he had—if he had any at all—an’ if that wouldn’t do, he’d cut him up into mince-meat, so he would.”
The Chinaman evidently thought him in earnest, for he fell on his knees, and promised, with tears in his eyes, that he would never do it again—or words to that effect.
One day Larry and Ah-wow were down in the hole labouring for gold as if it were life. It was a terribly rainy day—so bad, that it was almost impossible to keep the water out. Larry had clambered out of the hole, and was seated on the top of the mud-heap, resting himself and gazing down upon his companion, who slowly, but with the steady regularity of machinery, dug out the clay, and threw it on the heap, when a voice called from without—
“Is this Mr Edward Sinton’s tent?”
“It is that same,” cried Larry, rising; “don’t come in, or it’ll be worse for ye.”
“Here’s a letter for him, then, and twenty dollars to pay.”
“Musha! but it’s chape postage,” said Larry, lifting the curtain, and............
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