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Chapter Twenty Three.
 The Rainy Season, and its Effects—Disease and Misery at Little Creek—Reappearance of Old Friends—An Emigrant’s Death—An Unexpected Arrival.  
Captain Bunting, after two days’ serious consideration, made up his mind to go down alone to San Francisco, in order to clear up the mystery of the letter, and do all that he could personally in the absence of his friend. To resolve, however, was easy; to carry his resolution into effect was almost impracticable, in consequence of the inundated state of the country.
It was now the middle of November, and the rainy season, which extends over six months of the year, was in full play. Language is scarcely capable of conveying, to those who have not seen it, an adequate idea of how it rained at this period of the year. It did not pour—there were no drops—it roared a cataract of never-ending ramrods, as thick as your finger, straight down from the black sky right through to the very vitals of the earth. It struck the tents like shot, and spirted through the tightest canvas in the form of Scotch-mist. It swept down cabin chimneys, and put out the fires; it roared through every crevice, and rent and seam of the hills in mad cataracts, and swelled up the Little Creek into a mighty surging river.
All work was arrested; men sat in their tents on mud-heaps that melted from below them, or lay on logs that well-nigh floated away with them; but there was not so much grumbling as one might have expected. It was too tremendous to be merely annoying. It was sublimely ridiculous,—so men grinned, and bore it.
But there were many poor miners there, alas! who could not regard that season in a light manner. There were dozens of young and middle-aged men whose constitutions, although good, perhaps, were not robust, and who ought never to have ventured to seek their fortunes in the gold-regions. Men who might have lived their full time, and have served their day and generation usefully in the civilised regions of the world, but who, despite the advice of friends, probably, and certainly despite the warnings of experienced travellers and authors, rushed eagerly to California to find, not a fortune, but a grave. Dysentery, scurvy in its worst and most loathsome type, ague, rheumatism, sciatica, consumption, and other diseases, were now rife at the diggings, cutting down many a youthful plant, and blasting many a golden dream.
Doctors, too, became surprisingly numerous, but these disciples of Esculapius failed to effect cures, and as their diplomas, when sought for, were not forthcoming, they were ultimately banished en masse by the indignant miners. One or two old hunters and trappers turned out in the end to be the most useful doctors, and effected a good many cures with the simple remedies they had become acquainted with among the red-men.
What rendered things worse was that provisions became scarce, and, therefore, enormously dear. No fresh vegetables of any kind were to be had. Salt, greasy and rancid pork, bear’s-meat, and venison, were all the poor people could procure, although many a man there would have given a thousand dollars—ay, all he possessed—for a single meal of fresh potatoes. The men smitten with scurvy had, therefore, no chance of recovering. The valley became a huge hospital, and the banks of the stream a cemetery.
There were occasional lulls, however, in this dismal state of affairs. Sometimes the rain ceased; the sun burst forth in irresistible splendour, and the whole country began to steam like a caldron. A cart, too, succeeded now and then in struggling up with a load of fresh provisions; reviving a few sinking spirits for a time, and almost making the owner’s fortune; but, at the best, it was a drearily calamitous season,—one which caused many a sick heart to hate the sight and name of gold, and many a digger to resolve to quit the land, and all its treasures, at the first opportunity.
Doubtless, too, many deep and earnest thoughts of life, and its aims and ends, filled the minds of some men at that time. It is often in seasons of adversity that God shews to men how mistaken their views of happiness are, and how mad, as well as sinful, it is in them to search for joy and peace apart from, and without the slightest regard for, the Author of all felicity. Yes, there is reason to hope and believe that many seeds of eternal l............
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