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Chapter Twenty Four.
 Ned decides on visiting San Francisco—Larry pays a Visit, and receives a Severe Disappointment—The Road and the City—Unexpected News.  
Few joys in this life are altogether without alloy. The delight experienced by Larry O’Neil and Captain Bunting, when they heard the hearty tones of Ned Sinton’s voice, and the satisfaction with which they beheld his face, when, in their anxiety to prevent his falling headlong into “the hole,” they both sprang out of the tent and rushed into his arms, were somewhat damped on their observing that Tom Collins was not with him. But their anxieties were speedily relieved on learning that Tom was at Sacramento City, and, it was to be hoped, doing well.
As Ned had eaten nothing on the day of his arrival since early morning, the first care of his friends was to cook some food for him; and Larry took special care to brew for him, as soon as possible, a stiff tumbler of hot brandy and water, which, as he was wet and weary, was particularly acceptable.
While enjoying this over the fire in front of the tent, Ned related the adventures of himself and Tom Collins circumstantially; in the course of which narration he explained, what the reader does not yet know, how that, after Tom had recovered from his illness sufficiently to ride, he had conducted him by easy stages to the banks of the great San Joaquin river, down which they had proceeded by boat until they reached Sacramento.
Here Ned saw him comfortably settled in the best room of the best hotel in the town, and then, purchasing the largest and strongest horse he could find, he set off, in spite of the rains, to let his comrades know that they were both safe, and, in Ned’s case at least, sound.
“And, now, with reference to that letter.”
“Ay, that letter,” echoed the captain; “that’s what I’ve bin wantin’ you to come to. What can it mean?”
“I am as ignorant of that as yourself,” answered Ned; “if it had only been you who were mentioned in the letter, I could have supposed that your old ship had been relaunched and refitted, and had made a successful voyage to China during your absence; but, as I left no property of any kind in San Francisco, and had no speculations afloat, I cannot conceive what it can be.”
“Maybe,” suggested Larry, “they’ve heard o’ our remarkable talents up here in the diggin’s, and they’ve been successful in gittin’ us app’inted to respansible sitivations in the new government I’ve heared they’re sottin’ up down there. I wouldn’t object to be prime minister meself av they’d only allow me enough clarks to do the work.”
“And did you say you were all ready for a start to-morrow, captain?” inquired Ned.
“Quite. We’ve disposed of the claims and tools for fifteen hundred dollars, an’ we sold Ah-wow along with the lot; that’s to say, he remains a fixture at the same wage; and the little we meant to take with us is stowed away in our saddle-bags. Ye see, I couldn’t foresee that you’d plump down on us in this fashion, and I felt that the letter was urgent, and ought to be acted on at once.”
“You did quite right,” returned Ned. “What a pity I missed seeing Bill Jones at Sacramento; but the city has grown so much, and become so populous, in a few months, that two friends might spend a week in it, unknown to each other, without chancing to meet. And now as to the gold. Have you been successful since I left?”
“Ay,” broke in Larry, “that have we. It’s a great country intirely for men whose bones and muscles are made o’ iron. We’ve dug forty thousand dollars—eight thousand pounds—out o’ that same hole in the tint; forby sprainin’ the ankles, and well-nigh breakin’ the legs, o’ eight or tin miners. It’s sorry I’ll be to lave it. But, afther all, it’s a sickly place, so I’m contint to go.”
“By the way, Larry, that reminds me I met a friend o’ yours at the other end of the settlement.”
“I belave ye,” answered Larry; “ivery man in the Creek’s my fri’nd. They’d die for me, they would, av I only axed them.”
“Ay, but a particular friend, named Kate, who—”
“Och! ye don’t mane it!” cried the Irishman, starting up with an anxious look. “Sure they lived up in the dark glen there; and they wint off wan fine day, an’ I’ve niver been able to hear o’ them since.”
“They are not very far off,” continued Ned, detailing his interview with the brother and sister, and expressing a conviction that the former could not now be in life.
“I’ll go down to-night,” said Larry, drawing on his heavy boots.
“You’d better wait till to-morrow,” suggested the captain. “The poor thing will be in no humour to see any one to-night, and we can make a halt near the hut for an hour or so.”
Larry, with some reluctance, agreed to this delay, and the rest of the evening was spent by the little party in making preparations for a start on the following day; but difficulties arose in the way of settling with the purchasers of their claims, so that another day passed ere they got fairly off on their journey towards Sacramento.
On reaching the mouth of the Little Creek, Larry O’Neil galloped ahead of his companions, and turned aside at the little hut, the locality of which Sinton had described to him minutely. Springing off his horse, he threw the reins over a bush and crossed the threshold. It is easier to conceive than to describe his amazement and consternatio............
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