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Chapter Twenty Seven.
 San Francisco again—A Terrible Misfortune—An Old Friend in surprisingly New Circumstances—Several Remarkable Discoveries and New Lights.  
There is no time or place, perhaps, more suitable for indulging in ruminations, cogitations, and reminiscences, than the quiet hours of a calm night out upon the sea, when the watchful stars look down upon the bosom of the deep, and twinkle at their reflections in placid brilliancy.
Late at night, when all the noisy inmates of the steamer had ceased to eat, and drink, and laugh, and had sought repose in their berths, Edward Sinton walked the deck alone, meditating on the past, the present, and the future. When he looked up at the serene heavens, and down at the tranquil sea, whose surface was unruffled, save by the long pure white track of the vessel, he could scarcely bring himself to believe that the whirl of incident and adventure in which he had been involved during the last few and short months was real. It seemed like a brilliant dream. As long as he was on shore it all appeared real enough, and the constant pressure of something to be done, either immediately, or in an hour, or to-morrow, kept his mind perpetually chained down to the consideration of visible, and tangible, and passing events; but now the cord of connexion with land had been suddenly and completely severed. The very land itself was out of sight. Nothing around him tended to recall recent events; and, as he had nothing in the world to do but wait until the voyage should come to an end, his mind was left free to bound over the recent-past into the region of the long-past, and revel there at pleasure.
But Ned Sinton was not altogether without anxieties. He felt a little uneasy as to the high-handed manner in which he had carried off Nelly Morgan from her late guardian; and he was a good deal perplexed as to what the important affairs could be for which he had so hastily overturned all the gold-digging plans of his whole party. With these thoughts mingled many philosophic inquiries as to the amount of advantage that lay—if, indeed, there was any advantage at all—in making one’s fortune suddenly and at the imminent hazard of one’s life. Overpowering sleep at last put an end to Ned’s wandering thoughts, and he too bade the stars good-night, and sought his pillow. In due course the vessel cast anchor off the town of San Francisco.
“There is many a slip ’tween the cup and the lip.” It is an old proverb that, but one which is proved, by frequent use, on the part of authors in all ages, to be a salutary reminder to humanity. Its truth was unpleasantly exemplified on the arrival of the steamer. As the tide was out at the time, the captain ordered the boats to be lowered, in order to land the passengers. The moment they touched the water they were filled by impatient miners, who struggled to be first ashore. The boat into which Ned and his friends got was soon overloaded with passengers, and the captain ordered her to be shoved off.
“Hold on!” shouted a big coarse-looking fellow, in a rough blue jacket and wide-awake, who was evidently drunk; “let me in first.”
“There’s no room!” cried several voices. “Shove off.”
“There’s room enough!” cried the man, with an oath; at the same time seizing the rope.
“If ye do come down,” said a sailor, sternly, “I’ll pitch ye overboard.”
“Will ye!” growled the man; and the next instant he sprang upon the edge of the boat, which upset, and left its freight struggling in the water. The other boats immediately picked them all up; and, beyond a wetting, they were physically none the worse. But, alas! the bags of gold which our adventurers were carrying ashore with them, sank to the bottom of the sea! They were landed on the wharf at San Francisco as penniless as they were on the day of their arrival in California.
This reverse of fortune was too tremendous to be realised in a moment. As they stood on the wharf; dripping wet, and gazing at each other in dismay, they suddenly, as if by one consent, burst into a loud laugh. But the laugh had a strong dash of bitterness in its tone; and when it passed, the expression of their countenances was not cheerful.
Bill Jones was the first to speak, as they wandered, almost helplessly, through the crowded streets, while little Nelly ever and anon looked wistfully up into Larry’s face, as he led her by the hand.
“It’s a stunnin’ smash,” said Bill, fetching a deep sigh. “But w’en a thing’s done, an’ can’t be undone, then it’s unpossible, that’s wot it is; and wot’s unpossible there’s no use o’ tryin’ for to do. ’Cause why? it only wastes yer time an’ frets yer sperrit—that’s my opinion.”
Not one of the party ventured to smile—as was their wont in happier circumstances—at the philosophy of their comrade’s remark. They wandered on in silence till they reached—they scarce knew how or why—the centre plaza of the town.
“It’s of no use giving way to it,” said Ned Sinton, at last, making a mighty effort to recover: “we must face our reverses like men; and, after all, it might have been worse. We might have lost our lives as well as our gold, so we ought to be thankful instead of depressed.”
“What shall we do now?” inquired Captain Bunting, in a tone that proved sufficiently that he at least could not benefit by Ned’s advice.
“Sure we’ll have to go an’ work, capting,” replied Larry, in a tone of facetious desperation; “but first of all we’ll have to go an’ see Mr Thompson, and git dry clo’se for Nelly, poor thing—are ye cowld, darlin’?”
“No, not in the least,” answered the child, sadly. “I think my things will dry soon, if we walk in the sun.”
Nelly’s voice seemed to rouse the energies of the party more effectually than Ned’s moralising.
“Yes,” cried the latter, “let us away to old Thompson’s. His daughter, Lizette, will put you all to rights, dear, in a short time. Come along.”
So saying, Ned led the way, and the whole party speedily stood at the door of Mr Thompson’s cottage.
The door was merely fastened by a latch, and as no notice was taken of their first knock, Ned lifted it and entered the hall, then advancing to the parlour door, he opened it and looked in.
The sight that met his gaze was well calculated to make him open his eyes, and his mouth too, if that would in any way have relieved his feelings.
Seated in old Mr Thompson’s easy-chair, with one leg stretched upon an ottoman, and the other reposing on a stool, reclined Tom Collins, looking, perhaps, a little paler than was his wont, as if still suffering from the effects of recent illness, but evidently quite happy and comfortable.
Beside Tom, on another stool, with her arm resting on Tom’s knee, and looking up in his face with a quiet smile, sat Elizabeth Thompson.
“Tom! Miss Thompson!” cried Ned Sinton, standing absolutely aghast.
Miss Thompson sprang up with a face of crimson, but Tom sat coolly still, and said, while a broad grin overspread his handsome countenance, “No, Ned, not Miss Thompson—Mrs Collins, who, I know, is rejoiced to see you.”
“You are jesting, Tom,” said Ned, as he advanced quickly, and took the lady’s hand, while Tom rose and heartily welcomed his old companions.
“Not a bit of it, my dear fellow,” he repeated. “This, I assure you, is my wife. Pray, dear Lizette, corroborate my statement, else our friends won’t believe me. But sit down, sit down, and let’s hear all about you. Go, Lizette, get ’em something to eat. I knew you would make your appearance ere long. Old Thompson’s letter—halloo! why what’s this? You’re wet! and who’s this—a wet little girl?”
“Faix, ye may well be surprised, Mister Tom,” said Larry, “for we’re all wet beggars, ivery wan o’ us—without a dollar to bless ourselves with.”
Tom Collins looked perplexed, as he turned from one to the other. “Stay,” he shouted; “wife, come here. There’s a mystery going on. Take this moist little one to your room; and there,” he added, throwing open a door, “you fellows will all find dry apparel to put on—though I don’t say to fit. Come along with me, Ned, and while you change, give an account of yourself.”
Ned did as he was desired; and, in the course of a lengthened conversation, detailed to Tom the present condition of himself and his friends.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Tom, after a pause; “ill-luck seems to follow us wherever we go.”
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself;” cried Ned, “for saying so, considering the wife you have got.”
“True, my boy,” replied the other, “I ought indeed to be ashamed, but I spoke in reference to money matters. What say you to the fact, that I am as much a beggar as yourself?”
“Outward appearances would seem to contradict you.”
“Nevertheless, it is true, I assure you. When you left me, Ned, in the hotel at Sacramento, I became so lonely that I grew desperate; and, feeling much stronger in body, I set off for this town in the new steamer—that in which you arrived. I came straight up here, re-introduced myself to Mr Thompson; and, two days after—for I count it folly to waste time in such matters when one’s mind is made up—I proposed to Lizette, and was accepted conditionally. Of course, the condition was that papa should be willing. But papa was not willing. He said that three thousand dollars, all I possessed, was a capital sum, but not sufficient to marry on, and that he could not risk his daughter’s happiness, etcetera, etcetera—you know the rest. Well, the very next day news came that one of Thompson’s best ships had been wrecked off Cape Horn. This was a terrible blow, for the old man’s affairs were in a rickety condition at any rate, and this sank him altogether. His creditors were willing enough to wait, but one rascal refused to do so, and swore he would sequestrate him. I found that the sum due him was exactly three thousand dollars, so I paid him the amount in full, and handed Thompson the discharged account. ‘Now,’ said I, ‘I’m off to the diggings, so good-bye!’ for, you see, Ned, I felt that I could not urge my suit at that time, as it would be like putting on the screw—taking an unfair advantage of him.
“‘Why, what do you mean, my lad?’ said he.
“‘That I’m off to-morrow,’ replied I.
“‘That you must not do,’ said he.
“‘Why not?’ said I.
“‘Because,’ said he, ‘now that things are going smooth, I must go to England by the first ship that sails, and get my affairs there put on a better footing, so you must stay here to look after my business, and to—to—take care of Lizette.’
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