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Chapter Twenty Five.
 Gold not All-Powerful—Remarkable Growth of Sacramento—New Style of bringing a Hotel into Notice—A Surprising Discovery—Death of A Mexican Horse-Tamer—The Concert, and another Discovery—Mademoiselle Nelina creates a Sensation.  
It is said that gold can accomplish anything; and, in some respects, the saying is full of truth; in some points of view, however, the saying is altogether wrong. Gold can, indeed, accomplish almost anything in the material world—it can purchase stone, and metal, and timber; and muscles, bones, thews, and sinews, with life in them, to any extent. It can go a step further—it can purchase brains, intellect, genius; and, throwing the whole together, material and immaterial, it can cut, and carve, and mould the world to such an extent that its occupants of fifty years ago, were they permitted to return to earth, would find it hard to recognise the scene of their brief existence. But there are things and powers which gold cannot purchase. That worn-out old millionnaire would give tons of it for a mere tithe of the health that yonder ploughman enjoys. Youth cannot be bought with gold. Time cannot be purchased with gold. The prompt obedience of thousands of men and women may be bought with that precious metal, but one powerful throb of a loving heart could not be procured by all the yellow gold that ever did or ever will enrich the human family.
But we are verging towards digression. Let us return to the simple idea with which we intended to begin this chapter—the wonder-working power of gold. In no country in the wide world, we venture to affirm, has this power been exemplified so strikingly as in California. The knowledge of the discovery of gold was so suddenly and widely disseminated over the earth, that human beings flowed into the formerly-uninhabited wilderness like a mighty torrent, while thousands of ships flooded the markets with the necessaries of life. Then gold was found to be so abundant, and, at first, so easily procured, that the fever was kept up at white-heat for several years. The result of this was, as we have remarked elsewhere, that changes, worthy of Aladdin’s lamp or Harlequin’s wand, were wrought in the course of a few weeks, sometimes in a few days.
The city of Sacramento was one of the most remarkable of the many strange and sudden growths in the country. The river on which it stands is a beautiful stream, from two to three hundred yards wide, and navigable by large craft to a few miles above the city. The banks, when our friends were there, were fringed with rich foliage, and the wild trees of the forest itself stood growing in the streets. The city was laid out in the form of a square, with streets crossing each other at right angles; a forest of masts along the embarcadero attested the growing importance and wealth of the place; and nearly ten thousand inhabitants swarmed in its streets. Many of those streets were composed of canvas tents, or erections scarcely more durable. Yet here, little more than a year before, there were only four thousand in the place!
Those who chanced to be in possession of the land here were making fortunes. Lots, twenty feet by seventy, in the best situations, brought upwards of 3500 dollars. Rents, too, were enormous. One hotel paid 30,000 dollars (6000 pounds) per annum; another, 35,000 dollars. Small stores fetched ten and twelve thousand dollars a year; while board at the best hotels was five dollars a day. Truly, if gold was plentiful, it was needed; for the common necessaries of life, though plentiful, were bought and sold at fabulous prices. The circulation of gold was enormous, and the growth of the city did not suffer a check even for a day, although the cost of building was unprecedented. And this commercial prosperity continued in spite of the fact that the place was unhealthy—being a furnace in summer, and in winter little better than a swamp.
“It’s a capital hotel,” remarked Captain Bunting to his companions, as they sat round their little table, enjoying their pipes after dinner; “I wonder if they make a good thing out of it?”
“Sure, if they don’t,” said Larry, tilting his chair on its hind legs, and calmly blowing a cloud of smoke towards the roof, “it’s a losin’ game they’re playin’, for they sarve out the grub at a tearin’ pace.”
“They are doing well, I doubt not,” said Ned Sinton; “and they deserve to, for the owner—or owners, I don’t know how many or few there are—made a remarkable and enterprising start.”
“How was that?” asked the captain.
“I heard of it when I was down here with Tom,” continued Sinton. “You must know that this was the first regular hotel opened in the city, and it was considered so great an event that it was celebrated by salvos of artillery, and, on the part of the proprietors, by a great unlimited feast to all who chose to come.”
“What!” cried Larry, “free, gratis, for nothin’?”
“Ay, for nothing. It was done in magnificent style, I assure you. Any one who chose came and called for what he wanted, and got it at once. The attendance was prompt, and as cheerfully given as though it had been paid for. Gin-slings, cocktails, mint-juleps, and brandy-smashes went round like a circular storm, even champagne flowed like water; and venison, wild-fowl, salmon, grizzly-bear-steaks, and pastry—all the delicacies of the season, in short—were literally to be had for the asking. What it cost the spirited proprietors I know not, but certainly it was a daring stroke of genius that deserved patronage.”
“Faix it did,” said Larry, emphatically; “and they shall have it, too;—here, waiter, a brandy-smash and a cheroot, and be aisy as to the cost; I think me bank’ll stand it.”
“What say you to a stroll!” said Ned, rising.
“By all means,” replied Captain Bunting, jumping up, and laying down his pipe. Larry preferred to remain where he was; so the two friends left him to enjoy his cheroot, and wandered away, where fancy led, to see the town. There was much to be seen. It required no theatrical representation of life to amuse one in Sacramento at that time. The whole city was a vast series of plays in earnest.
Every conceivable species of comedy and farce met the eye at every turn. Costumes the most remarkable, men the most varied and peculiar, and things the most incomprehensible and unexpected, presented themselves in endless succession. Here a canvas restaurant stood, or, rather leaned against a log-store. There a tent spread its folds in juxtaposition to a deck-cabin, which seemed to have walked ashore from a neighbouring brig, without leave, and had been let out as a grog-shop by way of punishment. Chinamen in calico jostled sailors in canvas, or diggers in scarlet flannel shirts, or dandies in broad-cloth and patent-leather, or red Indians in nothing! Bustle, and hurry, and uproar, and joviality prevailed. A good deal of drinking, too, unfortunately, went on, and the results were occasional melodramas, and sometimes serious rows.
Tragedies, too, were enacted, but these seldom met the eye; as is usually the case, they were done in the dark.
“What have we here?” cried Captain Bunting, stopping before a large placard, and reading. “‘Grand concert, this evening—wonderful singer—Mademoiselle Nelina, first appearance—Ethiopian serenaders.’ I say, Ned, we must go to this; I’ve not heard a song for ages that was worth listening to.”
“At what hour?” inquired Ned—“oh! seven o’clock; well, we can stroll back to the hotel, have a cup of coffee, and bring Larry O’Neil with us. Come along.”
That evening our three adventurers occupied the back seat of a large concert-room in one of the most crowded thoroughfares of the town, patiently awaiting the advent of the performers. The room was filled to overflowing, long before the hour for the commencement of the performances, with every species of mortal, except woman. Women were exceedingly rare creatures at that time—the meetings of all sorts were composed almost entirely of men, in their varied and motley garbs.
Considering the circumstances in which it was got up, the room was a very creditable one, destitute, indeed, of ornament, but well lighted by an enormous wooden chandelier, full of wax candles, which depended from the centre of the ceiling. At the further end of the room was a raised stage, with foot-lights in front, and three chairs in the middle of it. There was a small orchestra in front, consisting of two fiddles, a cornopian, a trombone, a clarionet, and a flute; but at first the owners of these instruments kept out of sight, wisely reserving themselves until that precise moment when the impatient audience would—as all audiences do on similar occasions—threaten to bring down the building with stamping of feet, accompanied with steam-engine-like whistles, and savage cries of “Music!”
While Ned Sinton and his friends were quietly looking round upon the crowd, Larry O’Neil’s attention was arrested by the conversation of two men who sat just in front of him. One was a rough-looking miner, in a wide-awake and red-flannel shirt; the other was a negro, in a shirt of blue-striped calico.
“Who be this Missey Nelina?” inquired the negro, turning to his companion.
“I dun know; but I was here last night, an’ I’d take my davy, I saw the little gal in the ranche of a feller away in the plains, five hundred miles to the east’ard, two months ago. Her father, poor chap, was killed by a wild horse.”
“How was dat?” inquired the negro, with an expression of great interest.
“Well, it was this way it happened,” replied the other, putting a quid of tobacco into his cheek, such as only a sailor would venture to masticate. “I was up at the diggin’s about six months, without gittin’ more gold than jist kep’ me in life—for, ye see, I was always an unlucky dog—when one day I goes down to my claim, and, at the very first lick, dug up two chunks o’ gold as big as yer fists; so I sold my claim and shovel, and came down here for a spree. Well, as I was sayin’, I come to the ranche o’ a feller called Bangi, or Bongi, or Bungi, or some sort o’ bang, with a gi at the end o’ ’t. He was clappin’ his little gal on the head, when I comed up, and said good-bye to her. I didn’t rightly hear what she said; but I was so taken with her pretty face that I couldn’t help axin’ if the little thing was his’n. ‘Yees,’ says he—for he was a Mexican, and couldn’t come round the English lingo—‘she me darter.’ I found the man was goin’ to catch a wild horse, so, says I, ‘I’ll go with ye,’ an’, says he, ‘come ’long,’ so away we went, slappin’ over the plains at a great rate, him and me, and a Yankee, a friend o’ his and three or four servants, after a drove o’ wild horses that had been seen that mornin’ near the house. Well, away we went after the wild horses. Oh! it was grand sport! The man had lent me one of his beasts, an’ it went at such a spankin’ pace, I could scarce keep my seat, and had to hold on by the saddle—not bein’ used to ridin’ much, d’ye see. We soon picked out a horse—a splendid-lookin’ feller, with curved neck, and free gallop, and wide nostrils. My eye! how he did snort and plunge, when the Mexican threw the lasso, it went right over his head the first cast, but the wild horse pulled the rope out o’ his grip. ‘It’s all up,’ thought I; but never a bit. The Mexican put spurs to his horse, an’ while at full gallop, made a dive with his body, and actually caught the end o’ the line, as it trailed over the ground, and recovered his seat again. It was done in a crack; an’, I believe, he held on by means of his spurs, which were big enough, I think, to make wheels for a small carronade. Takin’ a turn o’ the line round the horn of his saddle, he reined in a bit, and then gave the spurs for another spurt, and soon after reined in again—in fact, he jist played the wild horse like a trout, until he well-nigh choked him; an’, in an hour, or less, he was led steamin’, and startin’, and jumpin’, into the corral, where the man kept his other horses.”
At this point in the narrative, the cries for music became so deafening, that the sailor was obliged to pause, to the evident annoyance of the negro, who seemed intensely interested in what he had heard; and, also, to the regret of Larry, who had listened eagerly the whole time. In a few minutes the “music” came in, in the shape of two bald-heade............
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