Picked up at Sea; or, The Gold Miners of Minturne Creek, by John Conroy Hutcheson.
This is good book, well written, and interesting throughout. It starts off at sea, aboard the Susan Jane, when a piece of floating wreckage is seen. A body is found on it, that of a boy of fifteen or so, badly injured, and struck dumb, and apparently unaware of what is going on. Yet when Seth, one of the men on board, is in danger, the boy springs to his aid. When they get to America it is time for the vessel to have a full refit, so some of the crew and the only passenger, Mr Rawlings, together with the boy, now known as Sailor Bill, go off to work a mine that Rawlings has bought.
Eventually, after all sorts of adventures and misadventures, the boy recovers his senses, and recognises a man and a dog in the camp as old family friends. The dog, of course, had previously mystified the camp by apparently recognising the boy, but this had been put down to a doggy sympathy with those not so well mentally endowed.
The mine is successful, and all go home as wealthy as they could wish.
Here we are working from the first edition, while some later editions had only the above story. There are actually three further stories, all with a nautical flavour, but totalling only half the length of the first story. They are also interesting, and it is sad that they got left out from those later editions. You will enjoy them, either to read or in the spoken form.
PICKED UP AT SEA; OR, THE MINERS OF MINTURNE CREEK, BY JOHN CONROY HUTCHESON.
STORY ONE, CHAPTER ONE.
THE GOLD-MINERS OF MINTURNE CREEK.
THE "SUSAN JANE."
"Sail-ho on the weather-bow!"
"What do you make it?"
"Looks like a ship's mast, with the yard attached, and a man a-holding on to it and hailing us for help—leastways, that's what it seems to me!"
"Jerusalem! On the weather-bow, you say? Can we forereach him on this tack?"
"I reckon we can jist about do it, boss, if you put the helm up a bit kinder nearer the wind," drawled out the lookout from his post of observation in the main-top, where he had stopped a moment on catching sight of the object floating in the water ahead of the vessel, as he was coming down from aloft after restowing the bunt of the main-topgallantsail that had blown loose from its lashings.
The Susan Jane of and for Boston, Massachusetts, with a cargo from London, had been caught at the outset of her passage across the Atlantic by what her American skipper termed "a pretty considerable gale of wind;" and she now lay tossing about amid the broken waves of the boisterous Bay of Biscay, on the morning after the tempest, the full force of which she had fortunately escaped, trying to make some headway under her jib, close-reefed topsails, and storm staysails, with a bit of her mainsail set to steady her, half brailed up—although the task was difficult, with a nasty chopping cross-sea and an adverse wind.
The vessel had recently passed a lot of wreckage, that betokened they were not far from the spot where some ship, less lucky than themselves, had been overwhelmed by the treacherous waters of the ill-fated bay; and the news that a waif was now in sight, supporting a stray survivor, affected all hearts on board, and roused their sympathies at once.
The captain of the New England barque had already adjusted the telescope, that he carried in true sailor fashion tucked under his left arm, to his "weather-eye," and was looking eagerly in the direction pointed out by the seaman, before he received the answer from aloft to his second hail. But he could not as yet see what the lookout had discovered, from the fact of the waves being still high and his place of outlook from the deck lower than the other's.
"Are you certain, Tom, you see some one?" he called out again, after a moment's pause, during which he narrowly scanned the uneven surface of the sea.
"Yes, sure," was the confident reply. "As sartain as there's snakes in Virginny!"
"Still in the same direction?"
"Ay, ay; a point or two to windward."
"Ha! I see him at last!" exclaimed the skipper, clambering up from the deck, and supporting himself by holding on to the mizzen-rigging as he stood on the taffrail and peered forward along the ship's side, to where he could now notice the floating object ahead, almost in the wind's-eye.
"Luff, you beggar, luff!" he added, to the steersman, who, with both hands on the wheel, was exerting all his strength to keep the vessel's head up.
"She can't do it, sir," replied the sailor, hoarsely. "It's all I can manage to prevent her falling off now."
"She must do it!" was the captain's answer. "Watch, ahoy! Brace round those topsail-yards a bit more! Cheerily, men, with a will!"
"Yo-ho-heave-oh-e! Yo-ho-heave!" rang out the chorussed cry of the crew pulling together at the braces, until the topsails lay like boards almost fore and aft the ship. And yet her head could not be induced to veer a fraction towards the desired point, but rather fell off if anything.
"Guess we shall have to put more sail on her," said Seth Allport, mate of the Susan Jane, singing out from amidship, where he was on duty. "Guess so, Cap'en, if you want to fetch him."
"It's risky work, Seth," rejoined the skipper, "for she's now got as much on her as she can carry. But I s'pose it must be done if we're to pick up that poor fellow. Here, boys," he cried out suddenly to the crew, "we must shake a reef out of the mainsail. Look smart, will ye!"
The effect of this sail was soon apparent. No sooner had the folds of canvas expanded to the wind than the Susan Jane heeled over with a lurch as if she were going to capsize, bringing her bow so much round that her jib shivered, causing several ominous creaks and cracks aloft from the quivering topmasts.
"She'll do it now, sir," said the mate, who had come aft, and with another of the crew lent a hand to assist the steersman, who found the wheel too much for him now unaided, with the additional sail there was on the ship.
"Steady! How's the poor chap bearing now?" asked the skipper, hailing the lookout once more, as he lost sight of the wreckage by the vessel's change of position and the lifting of the bow so much out of the water forward as she rose on the sea.
"Right ahead. Just a trifle to leeward, boss."
"How far off?"
"A couple of cables' lengths, I guess, Cap'en. Better send a hand forrud in the chains to sling him a rope, or we'll pass him by in a minnit."
"Right you are," was the reply of the good-hearted skipper, as he rushed along to the forecastle himself with a coil over his arm, that he might fling it to the man in the water as soon as he floated within reach.
It was a task that had to be deftly performed, for the ship was forging through the sea, and plunging her bowsprit under water as she rose and fell in her progress, one minute describing a half-circle through the air with her forefoot as she yawed to the heavy rolling waves, the next diving deep down into the billows and tossing up tons of water over her forecastle, where the skipper stood, watching his opportunity, as the broken spars, on which he could now plainly see that the figure of a man was lashed, swept nearer and nearer on the crest of a wave that bore them triumphantly on high above the storm-wrack and foam.
While the wreckage was yet out of reach he could notice, too, that the figure was perfectly motionless and still.
What the topman had taken to be an outstretched hand, waving a handkerchief or some fluttering object, was only the ragged end of a piece of the sail that was still attached to the yard and a part of the topmast of some vessel, which had been torn away by the violence of the gale and cast adrift, with the unfortunate seaman who was clinging to it.
"Poor chap!" thought the American captain aloud, "I'm afraid there's not much life left in him now; but if there is any, I reckon we'll save him." And, as he uttered the words, he dexterously threw one end of the coil of rope, which he had already formed into a running bowline knot, over the spars as they were swept past the side of the Susan Jane, while he fastened the other end fast in-board, slackening out the line gradually, so as not to bring it up too tight all at once and so jerk the man off the frail raft.
"Easy there,"—he called out to the men aft. "Let her head off a bit now, and brail up that mainsail again. Easy! Belay!"
"Thank God, we've got him!" ejaculated. Mr Rawlings, the solitary passenger on board the Susan Jane.
By this time, the waif from the wreck was towing safely alongside the Susan Jane, in the comparatively smooth water of the ship's lee; and in a few seconds the rough seamen who went to their captain's assistance had detached the seemingly lifeless form of the survivor from the spars to which he had been securely lashed, and lifted him, with the gentleness and tender care almost of women, on board the vessel that had come so opportunely in his way.
"Slacken off those lee braces a bit, and haul in these to the weather-side!" said the captain, as soon as he had got back to his proper place on the poop again. "I think the wind is coming round more aft, and we can lay her on her course. Keep her steady. So!"—he added, to the man at the wheel. "But easy her off now and then, if she labours."
And then he went below to the cabin, down to which the rescued sailor had been carried, and where the mate, Mr Rawlings, and the negro steward, were trying to bring him back to life by rolling him in blankets before the stove.
STORY ONE, CHAPTER TWO.
"Waal, how's the man getting on now?" asked the skipper as he entered the cuddy.
"Man?" said Mr Rawlings, looking up on the captain's entrance. "It isn't a man at all. Only a lad of sixteen summers at best."
"Poor chap!" said the other sympathisingly. "Man or boy, I guess he's had a pretty rough time of it out thaar!"
"Just so," answered the passenger. "And it's a wonder he's still alive."
"Is he? I was afraid he was gone!" said the captain.
"No, sah. Um berry much alibe, sah, yes sah," said the steward, who, having seen many half-drowned persons before, had known how to treat the present patient properly. "See, sah, him chest rise and fall now, sah. When jus' lilly time back um couldn't hear him heart beat!"
It was as the man said, and a tinge of colour appeared also to steal into the thin, blanched face of the lad, or boy, who seemed even younger than the mate had said, and who looked very delicate and ill—more so, indeed, than his long exposure to the violence of the waves and the terrible peril in which he had been, quite warranted.
"He'll come round now, I think," said the skipper, expressing more his hopes than his actual belief; for the boy had not yet opened his eyes, and his breath only came in convulsive sighs, that shook his extended frame "fore and aft," as a seaman would say.
"Yes, sir, he'll do. But it was a narrow squeak for such a slim youngster."
"So it must have been, Seth," replied the skipper to the mate, who had last spoken. "But his time hadn't come yet, as it had for many a brave fellow bigger and stronger than him! Look, Seth!—he's opening his eyes now! I'm blest if they aren't like a girl's!"
The boy, whose lids had been previously closed, the long lashes resting on his cheek, had raised them; and the large blue orbs, fixed in a sort of wondering stare on the face of the American captain, bore out his remark in some sense, as they appeared feminine in character, although wanting in expression and intelligence more strangely.
"Seems dazed to me, Cap'en Blowser," observed the mate.
"So he does. But no wonder, Seth," replied the skipper. "Get him a drop of brandy, steward. That may bring him to himself more than he is at present."
The steward fetched the brandy quickly in a glass, and putting it to the boy's lips, as he raised his head from the locker on which he had been laid, made him drink a few drops, causing the faint colour to return more strongly to his face. But that was all, however, for he still gazed alternately at the captain and mate, and the steward who had just ministered to him, with the same fixed, expressionless gaze.
"He has seen death, Cap'en Blowser," said the mate, solemnly. "I've noticed that same look on a chap's face before, when he was dug out of a mine, where he had been banked up with others through its falling in, and never expected to see God's daylight again! He'd jest that same identical expression in his eyes, though they warn't as big nor as handsome as this poor lad's—jest as if he was a lookin' through you at somethin' beyant!"
"It kinder skearts me," said the captain, turning away from the boy with a slight shiver. "Let's come on deck, Seth. I guess he'll do now, with a bit of grub, and a good sleep before the stove. Mind you look after him well, steward; and you can turn him into my cot, if you like, and give him a clean rig out."
"Yes, sah, I hear," replied the steward, who had been trying to get some more of the spirit down the boy's throat.
But he started up before the others left the cabin.
"Him wounded, Cap'en Blowser," said the man in an alarmed voice. "Crikey! I nebber see such a cut!"
"Where?" exclaimed the skipper and mate almost simultaneously, turning round from the door of the cuddy and coming back to the side of the locker, on which the boy still lay stretched.
"Here," said the steward, lifting, as he spoke, the long clustering curls of hair from the forehead of the rescued lad, and laying bare a great gash that extended right across the frontal bone, and which they must have seen before but for the encrustation of salt, from the waves washing over him, which had matted the bright brown locks together over the cut and likewise stopped the bleeding.
"Jerusalem! It is a sheer, and no mistake!" ejaculated the skipper.
"You bet," chimed in the mate; "but for the wash of the water a stopping it, he would have bled to death! Have you got a needle and thread handy, Jasper?"
"Sartain, Massa Allport," answered the steward.
"Then bring it here sharp, and a piece of sponge, or rag, and some hot water, if you can get it."
"Sure I can, Massa Allport. De cook must hab him coppers full, sah. Not got Cap'en's breakfass, you know, sah, yet."
"I forgot all about breakfast!" laughed the skipper, "I was so taken up with running across this young shaver here. But what are you going to do, Seth, eh? I didn't know as you had graduated in medicine, I reckon."
"Why, Cap'en Blowser, I served all through the war after Gettysburgh as sich."
"Waal, one never knows even one's best friends, really!" said the captain musingly. "And to think of your being a doctor all this time, and me not to be aware of it, when I've often blamed myself for going to sea without a surgeon aboard."
"That's just what made me so comfortable under the loss of one!" chuckled the mate.
"Ah! you were 'cute, you were," replied the skipper. "Kept it all to yourself, like the monkeys who won't speak for fear they might be made to work! But here's the steward with your medical fixin's; so, look to the poor boy's cut, Seth, and see if you can't mend it, while I go up and see what they are doing with the ship, which we've left to herself all this while."
Washing away, with gentle dabs of the saturated rag that the steward had brought in the bowl of warm water, the salt and clotted blood that covered over the wound, the mate soon laid it bare, and then proceeded with skilful fingers to sew it up, in a fashion which showed he was no novice in the art.
"Golly, Massa Allport! I didn't know you was so clebbah!" said the steward admiringly.
"You don't know everything, you see, Jasper," said the other good-humouredly. "There, I think that will do now, with a strip or two of plaster which I have here," producing some diachylon from a pocket-book. "How do you feel now?" he added, addressing himself to the boy, who had kept his eyes fixed on his face in the same meaningless stare as when he had first opened them. "Better?"
But he got no reply.
The boy did not even move his lips, much less utter a sound, although he was now well warmed, and there was life in his rigid limbs and colour in his face, while his faint breathing was regular, and his pulse even.
"He looks very strange," Mr Rawlings said. "Concussion of the brain, I should say."
The sailor-surgeon was puzzled.
"I guess he's dumb, and deaf too," he said to the passenger who had been acting as his medical assistant, and watching the mate's operations with much interest. "But no," he added presently; "a boy with such eyes and such a face could never be so afflicted! I've seen scores of deaf-mutes, and you could never mistake their countenances. I know what it is, he has received such a shock to the system that it has paralysed his nerves—that's it!"
"It's either that or concussion," the passenger argued.
And the steward, who did not know what to say, and would indeed now have endorsed any opinion that the mate had propounded after what he had seen of his practical skill, gave a confirmatory nod, expressive of his entire approval of the other's dictum.
"Yes, Jasper," replied the other, "it's only a temporary shock to the system, and rest and attention will work it off in a short time."
It was a peculiarity with Mr Seth Allport, the first mate of the Susan Jane, that when he spoke on medical topics and subjects, which formed the only real education he had received, his mode of speech was refined and almost polished; whereas, his usual language when engaged in seafaring matters—his present vocation—was vernacular in the extreme, smacking more of Vermont than it did of Harvard and college training.
"I'm certain my diagnosis is correct," he said again to Mr Rawlings— after seeing the lad clothed in a flannel shirt and thick pair of trousers of the skipper's, into whose cot he was then carefully placed, and wrapped up, the little fellow closing his eyes at once and sinking into a sound sleep—"and when he wakes up he'll be all right, and be able to tell us all about himself."
"I hope you may be right," Mr Rawlings said, doubtfully. "Sleep may do much for him; at any rate, I will remain in the cabin to watch him for a while."
So saying, he took his seat by the boy, while the mate proceeded to go on deck and rejoin the skipper, and the steward went to work to prepare breakfast.
The wind had now got well abeam of the Susan Jane and lessened considerably, although still blowing steady from the southwards and eastwards; and the sea being also somewhat calmer, the good ship was able to spread more sail, shaking the reefs out of her topsails and mainsail, while her courses were dropped, and the flying-jib and foresail set to drive her on her way across the Atlantic.
"I guess picking up that boy brought us luck, Seth!" said the skipper, rubbing his hands gleefully as the mate came to his side and joined in the quick quarter-deck he was taking, varied by an occasional look aloft to see that everything was drawing fair. "I think we might set the topgallants now, eh?"
"You're not a slow one at piling on the canvas, I reckon!" answered the other with a laugh. "No sooner out of one gale than you want to get into another. Look at those clouds there ahead, Cap'en," pointing to a dark streak that crossed the horizon low down right in front of the vessel. "I guess we aren't out of it yet!"
"Waal, if we've got to have another blow," replied the skipper, "we'd better make some use of the wind we have, specially as it looks like chopping round. What is she going now?" he asked of the quartermaster or boatswain, one individual performing both functions in the Yankee craft.
"Close on nine knots, Cap'en," answered the man, who had just hove the log over the stern, and now stood, minute-glass in hand, calculating the result.
"Nine knots with this breeze? That will never do. Away aloft there, and shake out the topgallant sails! Now, men, stir yourselves in proper man-o'-war's fashion; and let us see it done in ship-shape style! That's your sort, men. Johnson shall shell out some grog presently to splice the main brace."—He continued aloud, as the hands came down the ratlins again without losing time, after lowering the sails,—"Now, hoist away at the halliards. Cheerily, men! cheerily ho! The Boston girls have got hold of our tow-rope; up with the sticks with a will!"
The Susan Jane plunged through the waves with redoubled speed, leaning over until the water foamed over her gunwale and was knee-deep in her scuppers, an occasional billow topping over her foc's'le, and pouring down into the waist in a cataract of gleaming green sea and sparkling spray, all glittering with prismatic colours, like a jumble of broken rainbows.
"What does she make now, Johnson?" asked the skipper again of the quartermaster.
"Eleven knots, I reckon, sir, good."
"Ah, that's more like it! The poor dear thing! she was crippled without her wings, that she was! She'll do twelve-knots yet, eh, Seth?"
"I don't doubt that, sir," replied the mate, who was much more cautious than his captain; "but it ain't quite safe with those gentlemen there gathering together ahead, like a mass meeting in Faneuil Hall."
"Oh, never mind the clouds," rejoined the delighted skipper, whose thoughts were filled with the fond belief that the Susan Jane would make the most rapid run across the herring-pond ever known for a sailing-ship. "Guess we'll beat the Scotia, if we go on like this."
"Yes, if we don't carry away anything!" interposed the mate cautiously.
"Oh, nonsense, Seth! We've got a smart crew, and can take in sail when it's wanted! How's your patient getting on?" continued the skipper, turning to Mr Rawlings, who had come up, the boy being in a profound sleep.
"Well, I hope," he answered; "he is resting very tranquilly."
"That means, I suppose, that he's all right, and having a good caulk in my cot."
"Exactly so, Cap'en; and when he wakes by and by, I hope he'll be himself again."
"That's good news! Did he tell you who he was before he dropped to sleep?"
"No," answered Mr Rawlings, "he did not speak."
"Not speak!" said the captain. "Why didn't he?"
"He couldn't," replied the other. "Whether from the cut on his forehead, or what, I can't tell; but he has had such a shock that his nerves seem paralysed. You noticed his eyes, didn't you?"
"Yes," said the captain, "but I thought that was from fright or a sort of startled awe, which would soon go off. I'm sorry I didn't have a look at those spars before we cast them off; we might have learned the name of the ship to which he belonged. Don't you think, Seth, though, that he will recover his speech and be able to tell us something?"
"Certainly, Cap'en, as Mr Rawlings says, I believe he'll wake up all right."
"Well, then, we'd better go below for breakfast now—here's the steward coming to call us. Davitt can take charge of the deck,"—hailing the second mate as he spoke, and telling him to "keep his weather-eye open, and call him immediately should any change occur, but not to reduce sail on any account."
"I wouldn't have given him that order, if I were you, Cap'en," said the mate, as they went down the companion together.
"Oh, Davitt isn't a fool," replied the skipper lightly; and the two entered the cuddy together, where they were welcomed by a hospitably spread table that spoke well for the cook's culinary skill.
"Josh is a splendid chap for fixing up things," said the skipper heartily, as he popped a portion of a capital stew into his capacious mouth with much gusto. "I'd back him against one of those French what-do-you-call-'ems any day!" alluding, possibly, to the chef of the hotel in Bordeaux at which he had been staying on the Susan Jane's previous voyage.
"So would I," echoed the mate, who was performing equally well with his knife and fork; but, what he would have further observed must remain unrecorded, for at that moment a tremendous crash was heard on deck, and a heavy sea pooped the ship, flooding the cabin, and washing the two, with the debris of the breakfast table, away to leeward, where they struggled in vain to recover their footing, until the ship righted again—the steward coming to their assistance and being likewise thrown down on the floor, to add to the confusion. Then Seth Allport darted up the companion.
The contretemps was so sudden that the skipper was quite startled; but what startled him more was the sight of the boy who had been saved, and who was supposed to be sound asleep, standing at the open door of his cabin, with his light brown hair almost erect, and his blue eyes starting out of his head with a look of unspeakable terror, and the blood streaming down his face, and dropping with a sort of hissing sound into the water that surged about the cuddy floor and over his feet, from the terrible cut across his forehead.
"Mercy upon us, Rawlings, look there!" exclaimed Captain Blowser, trying to regain his feet, and almost forgetting what might be going on on deck at the sight before him. "Is he gone mad, or what?"
STORY ONE, CHAPTER THREE.
"What is the matter?" exclaimed the passenger, clutching hold of the steward's leg under the idea that it was the cuddy table, and contriving to get into a sitting position on the cabin floor, as the Susan Jane lurched to and fro, swishing the water backwards and forwards, along with the plates and dishes and broken crockery, amongst them, mixed up with bits of meat and vegetables and bread in the most inharmonious sort of medley,—"What's the matter, Cap'en?"
"Struck by a squall," said the skipper, getting on his feet at last, and holding on tightly to a brass rail outside the door of one of the berths, that he might not get floored again. "But, look at your patient, the boy! Is he mad, or what?"
"Golly!" ejaculated the steward, also finding his legs again, Mr Rawlings having released them as soon as he sat up. "Me tink him goin' hab fit!"
The captain's professional instincts roused him even more rapidly than did a loaf of soppy bread which at that moment was dashed in his face by the counter swish of the water against the side of the cabin, and he sprang up ready for action as cool and collected as possible, considering the circumstances.
Before Mr Rawlings or the skipper—who both rushed forward at once to where the boy was standing—could reach him, however, or the negro steward, who was directly in his way, but was too dumfoundered to prevent him, he made one leap over the table and rushed out of the cabin, with the same set look of terror, or some unearthly expression which they could not absolutely define, on his face, the blood streaming down from under the bandage across his forehead, making his appearance ghastly and uncanny, as the Scotch say, in the extreme. He resembled, more a galvanised corpse than anything else!
The skipper and passenger followed him instanter, Jasper, who had recovered from his first astonishment at the apparition, being not far from their heels; but when the two gained the deck, the confusion that was reigning there, and the perilous position of the ship, made them forget for the while the object that had called them forth.
Captain Blowser's passion for "carrying on," in the face of the treacherous weather the Susan Jane had already experienced in the Bay of Biscay, with the prospect of more to come, as the mate had pointed out from the warning look of clouds along the horizon in front, had brought its own punishment; for the ship had been taken aback through the wind's shifting round, before the second mate Davitt, who had obeyed the skipper's injunctions to the letter, had time to take in sail, even if he had endeavoured to do so without calling him first, as he had been enjoined on his leaving the deck.
The results of this recklessness were most unfortunate for the Susan Jane, as the fore-topmast had soon snapped off sharp at the cap like a carrot, bringing with it, of course, the fore-topgallant mast as well, and the main-topgallant mast, with their respective yards and other spars, and the jib-boom as well. The ship was consequently broached to, and tons of water were poured on to her from the mountainous waves that seemed to assail her on all sides at once, which, but for the fact of the hatches being closely battened down, would have soon filled her hold and caused her to founder.
Fortunately, there were no men aloft at the time the wind chopped so suddenly, or they must have been swept overboard with the wreck of the top-hamper, that was now grinding against the vessel's side to leeward right under her quarter, and bumping with such force against her timbers as to threaten to stove them in. Altogether, with the whistling of the storm, that had risen up again as if imbued with fresh life, and the roaring of the sea, and the horrible creaking and crashing of the broken spars alongside, combined with the shouts of the men, who seemed lost for the moment how to act, and running here and there, purposelessly, without a guiding voice or hand to direct their efforts,—the scene was a regular pandemonium of disorder!
If he had been reckless, however, Captain Blowser was a thorough seaman, and knew how to command, and enforce his directions when the necessity arose, as certainly was the case here.
Snatching a speaking-trumpet from the lanyard by which it was attached to the mizzen mast, he issued an order which called at once the scattered wits of the crew together, and set them about repairing the damages that had arisen, and preventing the further perils that stared them in the face; while the second mate at the same moment sprang to the wheel, which was revolving as it liked, now to starboard now to port as the waves met the rudder below, the poor helmsman who had previously controlled its action lying senseless on the deck, whither he had been thrown by the sudden concussion when the ship was taken aback.
"Down with the helm hard!" shouted the skipper, through the speaking-trumpet, his voice penetrating every part of the ship, fore and aft, above the roar of the elements and the noise on deck. "Clew up the courses," was the next command; followed by an order to brace round the yards. And the Susan Jane eased a bit, running before the wind with the aid of her main-topmast and topgallant sail, mizzen-staysail and foresail, besides the remnants of her mainsail, that was split into fluttering rags. All the rest of her canvas so recently set being carried away, and floating alongside in a tangled wreck of spars and sails and ropes and rigging, matted together in an inextricable mass, Captain Blowser now gave orders to have cut away, without further delay, as the men could be spared for the duty.
The first mate, one of the most active of men, had, the instant he reached the deck, set to work to relieve the ship, but as he was casting loose the lee braces from the cleats the lurch of the sail caught him, and at the same moment the main-topgallant mast with all its belongings coming down with a run, he was stunned for a second by some portion of the falling gear, and before he could recover his balance or take hold of anything to save himself by, was carried overboard with the wreck.
At nearly the same precise instant the boy darted out of the cabin aft, just ahead of the skipper and Mr Rawlings, as if impelled by some unfathomable instinct, and bounding right to the spot where Seth was being swept away to destruction, clutched hold of the seaman's collar with one hand, and one end of the topsail-halliards with the other as they hung over the side, and there he remained, swaying to and fro, partly in the water and partly out, holding on with the strength of his single arm in a manner that no one would have thought a man, much less a boy, could do—and neither man nor boy, except one bred to the sea!
Seth saw it all, though no one else noticed the action, even amidst the conflicting emotions which passed rapidly through his mind at the moment of his infinite peril, just as a man falling from a cliff and expecting death every instant has the exact appearance of each foot of his rapid descent photographed on his brain. He saw the distended startled blue eyes of the boy, the light brown hair standing almost erect, the white bandage round his forehead, the blood on his face; but he could not tell nor think where he came from, and supposed, as he said afterwards, that he was an angel come to save him—and he would regard him as such all his life long!
"I'm darned if he warn't," he repeated, when the captain laughed when Seth mentioned his sensations at the time and detailed his thoughts, "fur he came just in the nick of time to grip holt o' me; and if he hadn't ben thaar I guess it 'ud a ben all sockdolagar with Seth, I does! He must have got what ye call a call, that he must! Guess you'd a thought him a angel, if you'd been in this child's shoes!"
And so the crew all agreed when they heard from the steward Jasper his account of how the boy had started out of the captain's cot, where he had him in a sound sleep, and came out of the cabin straight to help Seth—the negro's version of the story losing nothing, it need hardly be mentioned, through his telling it with much pantomimic action, and his frequent affirmation, "Golly, massa, I tell you for true!"
Mr Rawlings considered that the boy had been awakened by the crash of the water pooping the ship and the bleeding bursting out again from his wound, both of which recalled some fleeting thoughts, probably, of the shipwreck in which he had temporarily lost his reason. But the men would not hear of this at all, ascribing Seth's rescue to some supernatural foresight on the part of poor "Sailor Bill," as the boy was unanimously dubbed, and looked on thenceforth with the same respectful, pitying care with which the Indians regard any imbecile person, by everybody on board, from the cook Josh—another negro like Jasper, of whom he was intensely jealous, calling him, on the principle of "the pot and the kettle," a "nigerant puss-proud black fellow"—up to the captain, who, to tell the truth, shared some of the superstitious regard of the men for their protege!
For the poor boy had, without doubt, lost his senses. He neither spoke, nor laughed, nor cried, nor was any perceptible emotion of pleasure or pain displayed by him under any circumstances.
He did not once arouse from the lethargy that seemed to press down upon his brain again after he had so fortunately and so wonderfully come to the assistance of Seth Allport.
One thing, however, was noticeable in him afterwards, and that was, that from that moment he appeared to attach himself to the seaman, just as a dog attaches himself to some master whom he elects for himself, and was never easy out of Seth's sight, following him everywhere about the ship, except at night, when he slept in the cabin.
Seth Allport, talking it over with the skipper and Mr Rawlings, gave a scientific explanation from his medical lore. He said that Sailor Bill's mental affliction was due to some psychological effect, which would wear away in time, and probably completely disappear if the boy had to undergo a shock precisely similar to that which had caused it. But, as neither he nor any one else knew what that shock was, of course they could not expedite Sailor Bill's cure, nor do anything, save make him the dumb pet of the ship.
In the meantime the damages of the Susan Jane were made good, and in a day or two there were few signs of the mishap which had befallen her.
STORY ONE, CHAPTER FOUR.
The weather was now fair, and the wind favourable, and they were in high spirits, for they hoped soon to recover the time lost by the accident.
The captain walked up and down the deck with the first mate, rubbing his hands as he watched the full sails, and the water gleaming past her sides.
"We shall do, Seth, we shall do," he said, "and make a quick voyage of it after all."
"Mustn't carry on too much, though, Cap'en!" said the mate with a knowing twinkle of his eye, which the skipper could read plainly enough.
"Stow that, Seth," said he chuckling. "I s'pose you'll never let me hear the last of that buster I went t'other day. Don't you be skeart, old man; you won't catch this coon napping twice. The breeze is splendid, though, Seth, ain't it? Guess we'll make a good run of it after all!"
"So think I, Cap'en," replied the mate with corresponding heartiness. "It will last, too," he added, after another glance round the horizon; "and I reckon we'll not get any more nasty weather; the gale has about blowed itself out!"
"Right you are," said Captain Blowser, slapping him on the back in his jovial way when he felt especially good-tempered; "an' we'll have an extra glass of old Bourbon come dinner-time on the strength of it, old boss! How the beauty does walk, to be sure! I wouldn't swap a timber of her for the best Philadelphia-built clipper out of the Delaware!"
"Nor I," acquiesced the mate, whose opinion the skipper valued so highly that this encomium of his as to the transcendent merits of the Susan Jane, which was really a splendid craft in her way, and a capital sea boat, completed the sum of his happiness; and he had just called out to Jasper, the steward, to bring up an Angostura cocktail to cement their feelings of friendship and get up an appetite for dinner, which would not be ready for another hour, when the voice of Tom Cannon was heard hailing the deck from the foretop.
"Darn that chap, he's allers hailing!" exclaimed the skipper. "What the dickens does he want now?"
"He don't call out for nothin'," said the mate. "He's too cute a seaman for that! When Tom Cannon hails, you may depend on it, Cap'en, it's time to look out for squalls!"
"Blow your squalls!" said the captain good-humouredly. "You don't want me to take in sail surely with this wind, you old Mother Carey's chicken? But let's listen to what Tom says. He's a smart man, I reckon, sure enough—the smartest sailor we've got in the ship; and I was only jokin' when I said that about his hailing!"
Tom Cannon's favourite place of resort when the ship was at sea, and there was nothing for him to do, especially when he was in the watch off duty, was the foretop, whither he would climb up, blow high or blow low, and ensconce himself, sometimes for hours, until his services were required on deck, or else the rattling of pannikins and mess-kits warned him that something was "going on in the grub line below," when he would descend the rattlins, swiftly or leisurely as the case might be, and take his turn at either grub or duty "like a man!"
On this day the captain had not long taken the sun, and "made it eight bells"—twelve o'clock—so the men had all had their dinner, and Tom gone up to his accustomed post of observation or reflection, for he couldn't read, and never slept when he was in the top, although he could have done so comfortably enough if he had wanted to.
He was standing erect, looking out ahead, for he was a careful seaman, as both the captain and mate could vouch for, and possessed the keenest eyesight of any man in the ship—a natural gift for which he was very thankful in his way, and of which it must be said he was also very proud.
"Sail-ho!" he shouted, catching sight of something not long after he had taken up his position in the foretop and began to look out mechanically in front of the ship's course, as was his natural wont.
"Not another ocean waif, like the boy, eh?" asked the skipper in a chaffing sort of way, while he waited for the seaman to give some further information, as to what he had seen, as he thought would be the case presently without his putting the question to him.
"Nary a one," was Tom's answer, as he looked down on the face of Sailor Bill, which was upturned to his without a vestige of animation in it, although the boy's attention had been attracted by the sound of his voice; "couldn't find another like you, I guess."
"What sort o' sail?" hailed the captain again, as he did not hear the response to his question, the seaman having spoken in a low tone as to himself.
"A water-logged hull of some vessel or other, I reckon, boss!"
This time Tom's answer was heard plainly enough below.
"Where away?" rejoined the skipper aloud, adding under his voice to the mate, "Guess I woke him!"
"Right ahead—about three miles off, more or less."
"See anybody on board?"
"Nary a soul! The hull's low down in the water and the decks awash."
"Well, we'll soon come up to her at our rate of going," shouted out the captain in the same pitch of voice, which might have been heard a mile away at the least; for, although there was a strong breeze the wind did not make much noise, and the Atlantic waves were only frisking about in play without any great commotion. "Mind you pilot us right: it would spoil the Susan Jane's figure-head, I reckon, to run aboard a water-logged hull!"
"Ay, ay," responded the seaman from aloft, "I'll steer you safe enough, sir. Keep her steady as she is, full and bye!"
"Steady!" repeated the skipper to the helmsman; whose "Steady it is!" showed his prompt attention to the command.
"Luff a bit!" said Tom after a few minutes, when the Susan Jane had almost traversed the distance which he had previously said lay between her and the submerged vessel, and was close on to her—at least, must have been so.
"Luff!" repeated the skipper; and—"Luff it is!" echoed the man at the wheel mechanically as he put the helm up; and a moment afterwards the ship glided by the derelict hull, her speed lessening as she came up to the wind and her canvas quivering, like a bird suspending its flight in the air with wings outstretched!
There is no more melancholy sight to be met with on the ocean than a deserted ship. Everybody knows how dismal an empty house with closed-up shutters looks on land, especially when the shutters are inside ones, as is usually the case with town dwellings, and the panes have been riddled with stones, while the walls are bedaubed with mud from the missiles of mischievous persons, mostly, it is to be feared, of the class juvenis, and the garden in front overgrown with grass and weeds, luxuriating in the rankest of vegetation, and completing the picture of desolation and decay.
Well, a derelict vessel, such as is to be frequently met with at sea, presents a ten times more miserable appearance, if that be possible, than an empty and deserted house. Instead of being a picture of desolation, it is desolation itself!
The battered hull, scarred with the wounds caused by the pitiless waves, its timbers gaping open here and there, and the rent copper-sheathing showing, as it rolls sluggishly on the waste of waters—where it has been left to linger out the last days of a decrepit existence, with masts and sails and bulwarks and everything washed away, presenting such a contrast to what it was in its pride, when it swam the waters "like a thing of life"—is painful in the extreme to contemplate.
This was what those on board the Susan Jane noticed now, as she passed by the floating remnants of what had once been a gallant ship, as they could tell from her size and length. But Captain Blowser saw something more with his glass—for the Susan Jane could not approach very near to the water-logged hull that was almost level with the surface of the sea, for fear of colliding through the "scud" of the waves—something that made him take in the clipper's lighter sails, despite his anxiety to take advantage of every breath of the wind and make a rapid passage to Boston, and lay the ship to; while he had a boat lowered, and went to inspect the derelict hulk more closely.
Mr Rawlings, the passenger, accompanied the skipper, so did also Seth Allport; and naturally, as Seth went, Sailor Bill followed his protector, or adopted master, dog-fashion as usual, taking his seat in the boat as a matter of course!
On boarding the abandoned vessel a horrible sight presented itself. Three corpses were stretched on the afterpart of the deck near the wheelhouse—which had been wrenched away, along with the binnacle and bulwarks, and the cabin skylight, while the hull was full of water and kept afloat only by the buoyant nature of the cargo, although they could not discover what that was, as it was completely submerged. But those three corpses told a tale of some deadly struggle, as there was a knife still tightly clutched in the dead hand of the one, an empty revolver in that of another, while the third had a rope tied round his throat as if he had been strangled by the other two.
The bodies of all, which exhibited signs of emaciation through starvation, being almost skeletons, showed also numerous wounds, while their clothing was rent into tatters from cuts and slashes apart from the wash of the water, which had, of course, swept away most of the blood that had probably flowed from the wounds, although there was a large dark blotch on the deck close to the after hatch, testifying that some gory pool had been there.
"I guess there's been some of the devil's work here!" said the skipper gravely.
"You bet," chimed in Seth Allport, whose keen eye was looking out for some evidence of the nationality of the ship. "She ain't a foreigner, and Britishers don't murder one another like this. S'pose there was a muss on board, or something like a mutiny, eh, Cap?" he added presently.
"Yes," answered Captain Blowser, who was also looking keenly about with the same motive as Seth; and he was quicker too than the shrewd seaman in this instance, for he noticed forward, under the legs of one of the corpses, a loose piece of wood, on which he pounced.
Pulling it out as quick as thought, he turned it over, and the secret of the derelict hull was disclosed; for there, printed in letters of gold, showing that the piece of wood was probably part of the stern of one of the vessel's boats, as its shape also suggested, was the name "Dragon—." Something was apparently wanting, for the wood was broken off just at the end where the name was painted.
"Dragon?" said Seth. "I remember a ship called the Dragon King, that used to sail regularly to the East Indies. I saw her last time I was in Liverpool!"
"Waal," said the skipper, "we can only report what we've seen when we get home; for we can't get down below to examine her papers or anything, and must leave the old hulk to float till she sinks. I wish I had a pound of dynamite on board, and I'd blow her up, I guess; as, tossing about at sea like that, some vessel might run agin her in the night and git stove in. Let's leave her, Hiram; we can do no good stopping any longer."
"Let us first give those chaps there the benefit of a sailor's grave," said the mate, pointing to the corpses; and although the men, from some superstitious feeling common enough among seamen, did not like to touch them, the skipper and mate had no such scruples, and heaved the remains of those who might have been murderers or the victims of some atrocious crime overboard, with as much solemnity as they could. After which they all returned to the Susan Jane, which pursued her way to her home port.
STORY ONE, CHAPTER FIVE.
A MINING PROJECT.
After passing the derelict ship, the Susan Jane met with nothing more of an eventful character in her voyage; and after making a very fair run across the Atlantic, thereby gladdening the heart of Captain Blowser, sighted Nantucket lights, rounding Cape Cod the next day, and dropped her anchor, finally, in Boston harbour, opposite the mouth of the River Charles; about which Longfellow has written some pretty lines, beginning—
"River! That in silence windest Through the meadows bright and free, Till at length thy rest thou findest In the bosom of the sea!"
Before the American coast was reached, however, an arrangement was come to.
When taking his grog one evening with Seth Allport and Mr Rawlings, the second mate having the watch, the Captain was expressing his regret at the approaching loss of several of those who had sailed with him for many voyages, for he knew that they would ship in other vessels when they found that the Susan Jane was to be laid up for a thorough overhaul.
"Well, Cap," Seth Allport said, "I shall not be sorry myself for a spell on shore. Since I had them three years over among the mines in Californy I get restless at sea after a spell, and long for a turn among the mountains."
"Were you at work on the surface all the time, or did you work in any of the deep mines?" asked Mr Rawlings.
"I worked for a few months on the Yuba," Seth said, "but then I went to sinking. I worked with some mates first, and then I bossed a mine down Grass Valley. It was held in shares. I only had a few, but I was spry and handy, you see, and I worked up till I got to be boss, or what you would call manager. The lode paid well for a while; then it fell off, and I got to longing for the sea again; so I just chucked it up, and made tracks from 'Frisco.'"
"If you would like another spell at mining, Seth, I can put you in the way of it," said Mr Rawlings. "I am on my way out to Dakota, to prospect a mine there. I will tell you how it has come about. I had a cousin, a wild young fellow, who left home in the early days of the Californian gold fever, and was not heard of for many years. Eighteen months ago he returned. His father and mother were long since dead, and having not a friend in the world he hunted me up, for we had been great chums in our boyhood. He was a broken man, and I did not think he had long to live. I took him in, and he lingered on for fifteen months, and then died. He told me all his history during the twenty years he had been mining, and a strange, wild story it was—at one time almost starving, at another wealthy enough to have come home and lived in comfort. The most important part, and that which is of most interest at present, is that in a valley in the heart of Dakota he had discovered what he believed to be a most valuable gold mine. Among the hills he had found some lumps of very valuable ore. He had traced down the outcrop of the lode, which on the surface looked poor enough, to a point near the river. Here another lode intersected it, and believing this to be the richest point, he began with four comrades to sink a shaft. For a long time the lode was poor, but at a depth of eighty feet they came upon ore of immense richness. Three days after they had made the discovery a band of Indians fell upon them. Ned's four comrades were killed, but he managed to escape. The Indians burnt the hut and destroyed the surface-workings, and then left. Alone and penniless, Ned could do nothing. He made his way back to the settlement, and then worked on the railway. He was afraid to tell any one his secret, and was in no hurry, as he had no fear of any chance miners discovering the spot, which he said looked by no means a promising one. Then he fell ill, and a yearning for England seized him, and so he came to me. Before he died he told me the story, and gave me the fullest directions for finding the spot where, he said, a great fortune awaited me. I was by profession a civil engineer and knew a little of mining, so I determined to undertake the adventure. I was preparing to start, having made arrangements for a prolonged absence, when in London I met my old friend Captain Blowser, and mentioning to him that I was about to take a passage in a Cunarder for America, he said that he was sailing for Boston in a few days, and would be glad of my company. I accepted his invitation, and here I am. I have sufficient capital to open the mine and carry on operations for a year. I should be glad of an energetic man whom I could trust, and who understands the country and mining. I might travel far before I found one who would so thoroughly suit my views as yourself, Seth; so if you will throw in your lot with me, as working manager of the affair, we shall have no difficulty whatever in coming to terms."
"I'm your man," Seth said, holding out his hand. "Yes, sir, I reckon that this venture is just the thing that will suit me. I'm all there, you bet."
And so the agreement was made, and before arriving at the end of the voyage Seth had selected four of the best and most trustworthy men on board to join the party. It was arranged that each, in addition to his pay, should receive a small share in the undertaking, should it turn out a success; and, with the prospect of an adventure that might render them independent for life, they gladly "signed articles," as they called putting down their names to an agreement which the mate had drawn out, binding those who expressed their willingness to embark in the enterprise to be true to Mr Rawlings to the last, and obey his directions; he on his part promised that the treasure, should they succeed in finding it, would be divided share and share alike amongst their number. And thus the list was filled.
The band consisted so far of Tom Cannon and Black Harry, two of the foremast hands; Jasper the black steward, and Josh the cook, another darkey, as has been already mentioned; besides Seth and Sailor Bill, whom Seth stoutly declared his intention, with Mr Rawlings' consent, of taking with him, declining the skipper's proposal of giving him up to the British Consul when they arrived at Boston, so that he might be sent home to England as a lunatic sailor at the government expense.
"Nary a bit," said Seth; "whar I goes, thaar goes he, poor chap! Under Providence, he saved my life; and under Providence I'll never desart him, Cap, till he chooses to cast off the hawser hisself!"
Mr Rawlings encouraged the seaman in his resolution; for he took great interest in the lad, and looked forward to noting any change in his mental condition, whom he firmly believed would some day be suddenly restored to his senses by some similar mode to that by which he had been deprived of the proper use of his faculties.
STORY ONE, CHAPTER SIX.
When the Susan Jane's anchor was dropped, and the longshore men came on board to unload cargo, the little party of Mr Rawlings' followers went on shore, drew their pay, and took their discharge; and then, after a few days' stay, took rail for Chicago, where Mr Rawlings was to join them, to make the final preparations for their start to the Far West.
They reached Chicago before the "Boss," as they called Mr Rawlings, as that gentleman had several business arrangements to make in New York.
At Chicago, Seth met an old western friend of his, Noah Webster, who had just returned from a mining expedition in Arizona.
After much talk of their Californian days, Seth told him that he was going as lieutenant to an English gentleman who was getting up a mining expedition to Dakota.
"I want eight or ten good miners, afraid neither of work nor Indians."
"What pay?" Noah asked laconically.
"Two dollars a day each, and all grub; double to you, Noah, if you will get a good gang together and come with us."
"It's a bargain," said Noah. "I could put my hand on twenty good men to-morrow; half of 'em were out with me. I will pick you ten of the best. And they ought to be that, for it will be no child's play; the Injins of Dakota are snakes upon miners."
Seth had received full authority from Mr Rawlings to engage a strong party, and the "Boss" was greatly pleased upon his arrival to find that a band of stalwart and experienced miners had already been collected.
Previous to quitting Chicago, Mr Rawlings, acting under the advice of Seth and Noah Webster, purchased a complete outfit of mining tools, and stores of all kinds: picks, drills, pumps, buckets, windlasses, ropes— and, indeed, everything that would be required in carrying out their undertaking properly.
They did not overburden themselves, however, with provisions, or any such things as they would be likely to get cheap in the back settlements at the end of the point where they would have to leave the railway—not far off the town of Bismark, on the Missouri, the extremest station of the northern branch of the Union Pacific line.
And so, one fine morning, they started, full of hope, for some wonderful accounts were in circulation before they set out from Chicago, as to the enormous finds of the Excelsior mine and other kindred speculations in or near Dakota.
Passing over their railroad journey, during which nothing of interest occurred worthy of notice, and their temporary stay in the last frontier town—to lay in a stock of provisions, and hire teams and waggons for the transport of their mining plant and general belongings; besides engaging a half-breed Indian to guide them to their destination, a copper-coloured gentleman who had lived for years in New Mexico, and spoke a broken Spanish patter which he called "Ingliz," and was afterwards a faithful member of the expeditionary party—we will come to the period when, after a month's march across the wilds of north-western Dakota, they had arrived at the place which "Moose," the Indian half-breed, declared with a multitude of "carramboes!" was the spot which had been indicated on the map which Mr Rawlings had received from his cousin.
"Waal, boys, this is bully!" exclaimed Seth, as soon as the party had come to a halt, gazing round him with the air of a landlord taking possession of his property.
The scene was a beautiful one, and well merited the seaman's exclamation.
They were in the centre of a vast semicircular valley, surrounded on all sides but one by a chain of mountains, over which one especial peak towered far above the rest, lifting up a crest that was crowned with eternal snow and formed a landmark for miles away.
Into this valley, which appeared to be the general watershed of the district, ran several small streams, that united in the middle of it in one deep gulch, which overflowed in winter with a foaming torrent— although there was now little or no water, and the grass and shrubs around seemed parched and withered for want of moisture. The "location," however, was a pleasant one, possessing all the proper requisites for a stationary camp such as they contemplated; for, within hand-reach they could have wood, water, and forage for their baggage animals. The teams they had hired were at once unloaded and started back to the settlement, but there remained with them twelve pack-mules, which Mr Rawlings had purchased in order to have means of sending down for provisions whenever required.
Gold mining, it may be mentioned, is almost if not quite as precarious as that of silver. The former metal is found over a very extensive tract of country in California west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, while silver is found in Nevada, Utah, and in fact over a vast expanse of country stretching almost down to the south of Mexico. Silver seldom is found in a lode extending with any great regularity. The lode, indeed, may be traced for long distances, but whereas one mine may be fabulously rich, those lying on the lode on either side of it may not find enough gold to pay expenses. It lies, in fact, in great "pockets," as English miners would call them, or in "bonanzas," as they are termed in Nevada. So long as these pockets last a mine will pay enormously; when they are cleared out it becomes worthless, as English shareholders in these mines have often found to their cost. In "Mineral Hill" and the "Emma" hundreds of thousand pounds' worth of ore were taken out in a few months, and then the mines were not worth working.
East of the Rocky Mountains, in Colorado and Dakota, gold is found as well as silver. It is found in quartz veins, and wherever there is quartz, some, although often an almost infinitesimally small amount of gold, is found; while in other places patches of quartz are struck containing immensely rich deposits of the precious metal.
No search was made for the exact spot indicated on the map, so long as the teamsters who had brought up the mining' stores remained. These believed that it was a mere exploring party, and although they wondered at the quantity of mining materials brought up, they had put this down to the folly of the "Britisher" who had organised the party!
When the mining party alone remained, a diligent search was at once begun for the shaft which had been sunk. This they knew was near the river.
Three days were spent and no signs of the shaft were discovered, when Seth came across a short stump of charred wood at the edge of the river bed.
He led Mr Rawlings and Noah Webster to the spot, and they agreed that this was probably the site upon which the dwelling-house had stood.
"The river, you see, has changed its course a bit," Noah said. "These streams come down in big floods in winter, and carry all before them, often changing their beds. If it came across the mouth of the shaft it would fill it up with boulders and gravel in five minutes. Waal, what we've got to look for is a filled-up hole hereabouts. Mostly, the rock lies just under the surface gravel, so if we get crowbars and thrust down we shall find it sure enough."
A few hours' search, now that the clue was obtained, led to the discovery of the lost shaft. The lode was now traced extending either way, and as it was at once agreed that it would not do to commence another so near the river, a place was fixed upon a hundred yards back from the old shaft, and the whole of the stores and tools were removed to this spot.
Then the whole force set to to get up a large hut of galvanised iron, which they had brought, with its framework, from Chicago.
Timber is sometimes scarce in these regions, and it would not have done to have relied upon it. The hut contained a large general room where all would take their meals together, a store-room, a bed-room for the men, and a smaller one for Mr Rawlings, Seth, Noah, and Sailor Bill. A small "lean-to" as a kitchen was erected against the hut, and layers of coarse turf, eighteen inches thick, were built up against the outer wall all round for additional protection, as the winter would be bitterly cold, and a great thickness of material would be required to resist its inclemency.
There was an equal partition of labour. The black cook took possession of his kitchen, Jasper was to act as general attendant, and Seth assumed the position of manager of the works, with Noah Webster under him as deputy, while the men were divided into three gangs, each of which would work eight hours a day at the work of sinking the shaft.
STORY ONE, CHAPTER SEVEN.
FIGHTING THE ELEMENTS.
The miners at Minturne Creek had a hard time of it, and their life was monotonous enough after they had settled down to work in earnest.
Winter came—the stern hard winter that can only be experienced to the full in the northern regions of the Far West, backed up seemingly by all the powers of nature—to try and cramp the energies of the party, and arrest their labours; but, neither the severity of the weather, nor the languor which the excessive frigidity of the atmosphere produced— although it sent them to sleep of a night after their day's toil, without the necessity of an opiate—were sufficient to deter them from their purpose.
Winter passed by, and still they worked on steadily, notwithstanding that as yet they had met with no substantial success to encourage them, hoping, however, that they had surmounted the gravest part of their undertaking. Spring arrived, and their hopes of an easy season of it were demolished in an instant; for the snow melted on the hills, and the ice melted in the valley, and the iron bands of the river were broken, causing a foaming torrent to dash through the gulch—a torrent that swelled each hour with the fresh accretions of water from the higher rocks, and, spreading wide in the valley, threatened to annihilate the whole party, as well as the results of their handiwork during the past months of bitter toil.
The very elements warred against them; but, under the noble example of their indomitable leader, whom nothing appeared to dishearten, they braved the elements, and were not discouraged.
The torrent grew into a flood, tossing huge rocks about as if they were corks, and swelled and foamed around the dam they laboriously raised when the floods began, to protect the shaft; but they fought the newly created flood with its own weapons, hurling buttresses at it to support their artificial embankment, in return for its rocks, and pointing the very weapons of the enemy against itself.
They had not to contend with water alone.
The winds, let loose apparently by the thawing of the huge glaciers by which they were confined in the cavernous recesses of the mountain peaks, stormed down into the valley, there meeting other and antagonistic currents of air coming up the canon—and met and fought, relentless giants that they were, on the neutral ground of the miners' camp, tearing off the iron sheets of their house, and sending them flying away on the wings of the storm to goodness knows where. Still, the hardy adventurers would not be beaten; but fought the wind, as they had fought the water.
Spreading buffalo skins over their unroofed cabin to keep out the wet, they piled on them rocks and timber that they had kept in reserve for service in the mine, weighing their ends down with some of the ponderous rocks with which the flood had assailed them—so making a temporary provision against the weather until they should be able to build their log shanty afresh.
By these means the winds were conquered, stopping their onslaught presently and making a truce, which in time was lengthened into a treaty. But it was a mighty battle while it lasted; a fight of the Titans with the gods; man opposed to nature; the material to the immaterial—self-reliant, well-husbanded, carefully-applied strength matched against purposeless force.
Man does not generally win in such contests, but did in this instance. The powers of the water and air were powerless against a systematic resistance, and were compelled to succumb. The miners suffered, certainly—who comes out of a fray scathless? But they were victorious; and being such, could at last laugh at their losses. Beyond, also, the consciousness of having fought a successful fight, they were encouraged by the certainty that they had met and encountered with success the extremity of peril to which they would be subjected; and that thenceforth Nature could only be a passive enemy to them, with no terrors now to daunt them with, albeit she struggled against them still in the bowels of the earth, that refused as yet to give up those hidden riches which they were confident were there. Refuse? Ay, but only for a time; they would, in the end, conquer that refusal, as they had met and overcome nature's more active opposition!
Their house was in ruins; their provisions mostly spoilt by the elements they had battled—fire had only been wanting to complete the sum of their calamities; whilst the staging around their mine-shaft was broken down and tons of water upon tons poured down the embouchure.
They reviewed their position, and grasped its salient points, not a single faint heart among them:—hope, trust, energy, made them think and act as one man.
There was the iron hut and shanty to rebuild, the mine-shaft and its supports to repair, the dam to mend and remake in its weaker places, the mine to pump out.
Thus they thought; and, what is more, they acted upon the thought. Some men think, and others work. They did both; and, through their strenuous efforts, ere the early buds of spring had given a palpable green tinge to the shrubs and trees that clothed the slopes of the hills and dotted the valley of Minturne Creek here and there, or the snow had quite vanished from the topmost mountain peaks, and the river that ran through the gulch subsided down into its proper proportions, all traces of the storm ravages had been cleared away, and the snug little camp of the Boston exploring party looked itself again, "as neat and trim as a new pin, I reckon!" as Seth Allport said.
The miners themselves allowed, however, that the victory might not have been theirs had they not had the assistance of a visitor—and that a most unexpected one, as the spring was not sufficiently advanced to have cleared away all the snow from the back track to the settlements and made the roads passable, so as to allow the diggers to return to their claims on the hills.
Strangers are rare birds amongst the squatters out West, and are generally regarded with much suspicion by travellers on the prairies and in the mountain fastnesses.
The rougher part of the restoration of the camp belongings having been accomplished and not so many hands being now required for the further repairs needed, while the day was especially fine and suggestive of "sport," the hunters were out on the hills, under the leadership of Mr Rawlings, who had proved himself by this time one of the best shots in camp.
There were other reasons for the hunters' activity besides the fact of the day being fine and signs of sport apparent.
"The hull crowd, from the Boss down to Sailor Bill, who wouldn't say nay if he could kinder express himself," as the ex-mate observed before the setting out of the expedition—"were dog-tired of pork and fixin's,"— and their stomachs craved after game, or fresh meat of any sort.
Besides their having lived through the whole of the winter on salt pork, it had not been improved in quality by its contact with the flood-water that had submerged their cabin at one time; but, whether damaged or not, it must be acknowledged that even to the most easy-going and contented palate, a never-varying diet of fried pork and damper cakes—that resembled somewhat the unleavened bread of the Israelites in their passage through the wilderness—will prove somewhat wearying and monotonous in the long run! Thus, their anxiety for some change in their food can only be realised by those who have been compelled to live on salt provisions for any length of time.
Signs of sport, as has been already mentioned, were apparent enough; for traces of deer had been discovered by the Indian half-breed in the early morning, leading from the bank of the river as it entered the canon below the camp from the hills; and thus, therefore, it was with all the eagerness of semi-starving; men that the best shots of the party were picked out at once, and despatched to follow up the trail of the game; the others who remained behind going on with the rebuilding with all the greater ardour through the prospect of an unwontedly good dinner before them—that is, should the hunters prove successful.
Along with Mr Rawlings was Noah Webster, who was a better hunter almost than he was a miner; Moose, the half-breed Indian, and Josh the cook— Jasper stopping behind by the express orders of Seth, although he was madly jealous at his brother-darkey being preferred before him.
Upwards and onwards, through the scrub and brushwood and budding branches of trees, struggling over the trunks of fallen monarchs of the forest, that had been rooted up by the wind or struck down by lightning, and lay across their path, over rough volcanic rocks, and through ravines that trickled down tiny streams to swell the river below, they made their way slowly and tediously towards the probable lair of the deer, as the traces of their antlered prey grew fresher and more distinct every step, the slot being sometimes plainly visible in the moist soil, although for all they could otherwise see and hear they might be as far off from the wished-for prize as ever.
Presently, as they were emerging from a thicker growth of brushwood than they had yet passed through, they noticed, to their joy, right in front of them, feeding on a small grassy plateau under the lee of a jutting cliff, a head of what the Indian half-breed immediately declared to be a species of ibex, or mountain-sheep, that are commonly met with amid the peaks of the Rocky Mountains and its chains, far from the haunts of civilisation and men. It was only owing, indeed, to the fact that the hill diggers were away in the settlements, and from the scarcity of forage in their more secluded retreats, that they had approached so near to the miners' camp.
Caution was now the order of the day; and, Mr Rawlings still leading, with the Indian next him, and then the others one after the other in file, Josh proudly bringing up the rear, they stepped forwards with the utmost care, keeping the wind in their faces so that they should not be betrayed by the scent of their clothing reaching the timid animals, to do which, they had to execute a considerable detour, and take advantage of every chance of cover.
By degrees, they gradually got within a fair range of about eighty yards—for, although long-distance shooting may be very nice as a test of shooting at the Wimbledon targets, it is quite a different matter when your dinner depends on the success of your shot; for, with that consideration in view, even the surest of marksmen likes to get within easy reach of his game.
Mr Rawlings and Noah Webster, the two best shots of the party, levelled their rifles together—after a brief nod from the Indian half-breed which seemed to say "Now's your time"—and fired simultaneously, aiming at two of the wild sheep.
At the very moment they did so, the report of a third shot was heard, that seemed like the echo of their own double discharge, pinging through the keen rarefied air; and when the smoke had cleared off, and the reverberations of the sound had died away, rolling in fainter and fainter waves amongst the mountain hollows in the distance, three of the sheep were observed to be stretched lifeless on the plateau where they had been so recently feeding in peace, while the remainder of the flock were bounding away from peak to peak, seeking refuge in their native fortresses in the crags above.
Mr Rawlings did not notice anything unusual at first, as he had not heard the third rifle-shot; but Noah Webster and the half-breed, who were much better accustomed to woodcraft—having had their senses sharpened by dangers which seamen never have to encounter—were alive at once to the perception of something being wrong.
"Injuns, I reckon!" muttered Noah Webster under his breath, to which the half-breed growled a characteristic "Ugh," and the two sank down closer amid the grass, dragging down Mr Rawlings with them, Noah stopping his expostulations by clapping his hand across his mouth, and looking at him warningly, while he motioned to the rest behind them to follow their example.
All huddled together in the grass and tangled brushwood, hardly breathing for fear their presence might be discovered by some possible foe, they looked out carefully, awaiting the development of the situation.
It was only a minute or two at most, but it appeared hours to one or two, especially to poor Josh, who, in his fright of being scalped by a possible Indian, would have cheerfully given up all his chances of gold in the mine and everything, to have swapped places with the envious Jasper and been safe in camp.
The listeners, however, did not have to wait so very long.
In a little while they heard the sound of twigs being broken near them, as if some one were making his way through the copse. Soon they could distinguish, in addition, the heavy tramp of footsteps—they sounded as heavy as those of elephants to them, with their ears to the ground— trampling down the thick undergrowth and rotten twigs in the thicket before them; and they could also hear a sort of muttering sound, like that caused by somebody speaking to himself in soliloquy.
The situation, if an exciting one, was not of any long duration, for while they were listening the denouement came.
A nondescript-clad figure came out of the brushwood into the open clearing, walking towards the spot where the mountain-sheep lay stretched on the sward, which was partly covered with the snow that remained unmelted under the lee of the cliff; and a voice, without doubt appertaining to the figure, exclaimed in unmistakable English accents—
"Well, I'm hanged if I ever heard of such a thing before in my life! I know I am a tidy shot, but if I were to mention this at home they would say I was telling a confounded lie! To think of killing three of those queer creatures at one shot! By Jove, who'd believe it?"
The listeners burst into a simultaneous roar of laughter.
"It's only a Britisher!" said Noah Webster; and they all rose from their covert and sallied out into the open, to the intense astonishment of the new-comer, whose surprise was evidently mixed with a proportionate amount of alarm, for he clutched his gun more tightly at the sight of them, and stood apparently on the defensive.
STORY ONE, CHAPTER EIGHT.
AN UNEXPECTED COINCIDENCE.
"We are friends," Mr Rawlings said, "some of us your countrymen, if, as I judge by your accent, you are an Englishman. We are working a mine in this neighbourhood. My name is Rawlings, and I am the proprietor of the mine."
"My name is Wilton—Ernest Wilton," the stranger said, taking the hand that Mr Rawlings held out. "I am glad indeed to meet with a party of my countrymen. Some little time since I started from Oregon with a prospecting party that was organised to hunt up various openings for the employment of capital in mining, and other speculative enterprises. With this party I crossed the Rocky Mountains, and went about from place to place, until about three days ago, when, while shooting amongst these hills of yours, either I lost them or they lost me, and here I have been wandering about ever since by myself, and would probably have come to grief if I had not met you. By profession I am a mining engineer, but the mine I had come from England to work turned out badly, and I accepted another engagement, thinking to do a little sporting and exploring on my own account before returning to England—nice sport I've found it, too!"
Mr Rawlings gave the stranger an earnest invitation to spend a day or two with them down at the creek.
The visitor readily accepted; and the game being lifted and slung on poles, the party started for the camp, Mr Rawlings strolling on with his new acquaintance, and the others following, talking earnestly together.
Arrived at the house, Mr Rawlings laughingly apologised for its state of dilapidation, but assured the visitor that it was far more comfortable than it looked.
Seth came to the doorway, and the other miners gathered round, to inspect both the welcome supply of fresh food and the stranger.
"This is Seth Allport, my lieutenant and manager," Mr Rawlings said. "Seth, this is Mr Wilton, an English mining engineer."
"Jerusalem!" exclaimed Seth. "Now, who would have thought that?"
"You seem surprised at my being an engineer," said Ernest Wilton, laughing at Seth's exclamation: for even the hungry miners, who had been previously clustered in groups around Josh and Jasper, surveying the cooking arrangements of the two darkeys with longing eyes, appeared to forget the claims of their appetites for the moment on the announcement of what evidently was a welcome piece of news, as they incontinently abandoned the grateful sight of the frizzling mutton, that was also sending forth the most savoury odours, and joined the leaders of the party who were interviewing the young Englishman. "I shouldn't have thought one of my profession by any means a strange visitor."
"It isn't the surprise, mister," replied Seth cordially. "No, that ain't it, quite, I reckon. It's the coincidence, as it were, at this particular time, mister. That's what's the matter! Jehosophat! it is queer, streenger!"
"I'm sure I ought to feel greatly honoured at such an imposing reception," said Ernest, still rather perplexed at the ovation, which seemed unaccountable to him. "It is not such a very uncommon thing for an engineer to be travelling through these regions, is it now? especially when you consider that it has been mainly through the exertions of men of my craft, and the railways that they have planned, following in their wake, that the country has been opened up at all. I should have thought engineers almost as common nowadays out west as blackberries in old England."
"You are right there," said Mr Rawlins's, hastening to explain the circumstances that had caused his arrival to be looked upon as such a piece of good fortune, quite apart from the friendly feelings with which they regarded him as a forlorn stranger whom they were glad to welcome to their camp. "But, you see, your coming, as Seth Allport has just remarked, has been almost coincident with a loss, or rather want, which we just begin to feel in our mining operations here. Your arrival has happened just in the nick of time, when we are nearly at a standstill through the want of a competent superintending engineer, like yourself, experienced in mines and mining work. Hands we have in plenty—willing and able hands, too," added Mr Rawlings, with an approving glance round at the assembled miners, who acknowledged the compliment with a hearty cheer for himself and Seth Allport;—"but we want a head to suggest how our efforts can be best directed, and our gear utilised, towards carrying out the object we all have in view. I and Seth have done our best; but, what with the overflow of water in the mine, and the necessity we think there is now for running out side cuttings from the main shaft, so as to strike the lode properly, we were fairly at our wits' end."
"I see," said Ernest Wilton musingly, "I see."
"An' if yer like to join us in that air capacity," interposed Seth, thinking that the other was merely keeping back his decision until he heard what terms might be offered him, and that a practical suggestion about money matters would settle the matter, "why, mister, we sha'n't grumble about the dollars, you bet! As yer knows, the Kernel kinder invited yer jest now, when we had no sort o' reckonin' as to who and what yer were. Tharr'll be no worry about yer share ov the plunder, neow—no, sir."
"Oh, pray don't mention that," exclaimed Ernest Wilton, pained at the interpretation put upon his reticence in accepting the offer of the position made him. "Nothing was further from my thoughts. I am too well acquainted with the open-handedness of the mining fraternity in the Golden State and elsewhere to dream of haggling about terms as to the payment of my poor services."
"What, then?" said Seth. "We don't want to bind you down to any fixed sort o' 'greement, if yu'd rather not."
"I was only considering," replied Ernest, vexed at his own hesitancy, "whether I could fairly give up the party with whom I started from Oregon, as I was under a species of engagement, as it were, although there was no absolutely signed and sealed undertaking. It wouldn't be right, I think, to leave them altogether without notice."
"Nary mind the half-hearted lot," said Noah Webster, at this juncture putting his spoke in the wheel. "Didn't they leave yer out alone in the mountains? I wouldn't give a red cent for sich pardners, I guess, boss. Raal mean skunks I calls 'em, and no mistake, sirree!"
"But I promised to stay with these fellows till we got over to the settlements on this side," said Ernest Wilton, smiling at Noah's characteristic vehemence against those half-hearted companions of his who had held back while he had gone forward by himself, "and I like to keep my word when I can, you know—at all events I ought to send and let them know where I am."
"We sha'n't quarrel about that," said Mr Rawlings kindly, to put the other at his ease, for some of the rough miners did not appear to like the Englishman's hanging back from jumping at their leader's offer.—"A man who is so anxious to keep his word, even with people who left him in the lurch, will be all the more likely to act straightforwardly towards us. Don't, however, let that fret you, for you will be able to communicate as easily with your friends, and more so, by stopping here with us, as by going on to the nearest frontier township. As soon as the snow has melted, and the roads become passable again, there will be plentiful supply of half-breeds, like Moose there, and other gentry with nothing particular to do, come hanging round us, who will gladly carry any message or letter for you across the hills—for a leetle consideration, of course!" added Mr Rawlings, with his bluff, hearty laugh.
"Ay, that there'll be," said Seth Allport. "Don't you trouble about that, mister; but jine with us a free heart, and run our injine for us, and we'll be downright glad, I guess!"
"That we will, sure!" chorussed the miners in a body, with a shout. And so, pressed with a rough but hearty cordiality, Ernest Wilton consented to be a member of the mining party in the same frank spirit, and was now saluted as one of the Minturne Creek adventurers in a series of ringing cheers that made the hill-sides echo again, and the cavernous canon sound the refrain afar.
Jasper and Josh, now quite reconciled after some "little bit of unpleasantness" between them, that had resulted in operations tending towards a lowering of the wool crop, as far as each was personally concerned, were unfeignedly glad the rather prolonged conference was over. They had been gazing at the group gathered around the young Englishman with a sort of puzzled wonder, and listening to what scraps of conversation they chanced to overhear, without being able to make out what the matter was about, with feelings of mingled expectancy and impatience at the length of the debate. But, now it was all settled, as they could see from the dispersal of the group, their joy was great, especially that of Master Jasper, who felt his dignity hurt, as a former steward and present butler in ordinary, on account of the neglect paid to his intimation that the viands were ready and "dinner served!"
"Hooray!" shouted out Josh, throwing up his battered straw-hat into the air, and capering round the improvised caboose, in response to the miners' ringing cheers on Ernest's consent to join the party and act as engineer of the mine. "Me berry glad Massa Britisher now am one of us, for sure! Golly, we nebbah hab to put up with dat nasty salt pork no more now, yup, yup! Massa Britisher um berry good shot, su-ah! Um shoot tree sheep at one go. Golly, Jasper, you no laugh. I tell you for true!"—And the negro cook grinned himself, to the full extent of his wide mouth and glistening ivory teeth, while administering this rebuke to his darkey brother.
"Shoo! go way wid yer nonsenz, and don't bodder me," responded the hungry and aggrieved Jasper, who did not appreciate the joke, the young Englishman's humorous mistake as to the result of his rifle-shot not having yet been promulgated for the benefit of those in camp. "Am none ob you gentlemens comin' to dinnah, hey?"—he called out more loudly,—"Massa Rawlins me tellee hab tings ready in brace o' shakes; and now tings fix up tarnation smart, nobody come. Um berry aggerabating—can't oberstand it, no how!"
"None o' your sass," said Seth gruffly, although the lurking smile on his face took off from the effect of his words, "none o' your sass, Jasper, or I'll keelhaul you, and make you fancy yourself aboard ship once more!"
"Me not sassy, Massa Seth. I'se hab too much respect for myself, sah, for dat! I only tells you as de meat's done and gettin' cool, dat's all, while yous be all jabberin' way jus like passul monkeys. No imperance in dat, massa, as I sees!"
"Stow that, you ugly cuss," said Seth good-humouredly, for he was used somewhat to Master Jasper's "cheek" by this time. "You're jest about as bad as a Philadelphy lawyer, when you've got your jaw tackle aboard! Now, boys," he added, hailing the miners, who were nothing loth to obey the signal, "the darkey says the vittles are ready, and you as wants to feed had better fall to!"
STORY ONE, CHAPTER NINE.
CONCERNING SAILOR BILL.
During this little interlude, Ernest Wilton had been closely engaged in watching the actions of the poor boy, "Sailor Bill."
His face had attracted him from the first moment he caught sight of him; but when he had more leisure to observe him, after the palaver with Mr Rawlings and the miners was over, and he noticed certain peculiarities about the object of his attention which had previously escaped his notice, his interest became greatly heightened.
Sailor Bill had altered very much in appearance since the day he had been picked up in the Bay of Biscay and taken on board the Susan Jane, a thin, delicate-looking boy with a pale face and a wasted frame. The keen healthy air and out-of-doors life out west had worked wonders with him, and he was now rosy and stalwart, his body having filled out and his cheeks grown much fatter, while he was even considerably taller than he had been some six months previously.
His bright golden-brown hair was, of course, the same, and so were the long dark lashes to the blue eyes that had so especially appealed to Captain Blowser's fancy when he had spoken about the boy's resemblance to a girl, for they yet bore the same peculiar far-away look as if they belonged to a person walking in his sleep, without intelligence or notice in them whatever.
As on board ship, Sailor Bill stuck to Seth Allport as his shadow, moving where he moved, stopping where he stopped, with the faithful attachment of a dog, albeit wanting in that expression of sagacity, which even the dullest specimen of the canine race exhibits on all occasions. Seth Allport seemed to be the mainspring of the boy's action, and after a time it became almost painful to watch the two, although the sailor had now grown accustomed to being followed about in so eccentric a fashion—as had, indeed, the rest of the party, who were not so distinctly singled out by the poor boy's regard; but it was all new and strange to Ernest Wilton as he watched and wondered.
"What is the matter with the boy?" asked he presently of Mr Rawlings, who, from the fixed observation of his companion, had been expecting the question. "Poor fellow, he doesn't seem all right in his mind—and a healthy, nice-looking boy, too!"
"Yes," said Mr Rawlings, tapping his forehead expressively, and speaking feelingly as he looked affectionately at Sailor Bill, whom all had learnt to like as they would have done a pet dog;—"something wrong there, although I hope in time he will get over it in the same way as he came by it, if God so wills it!"
"I suppose he's got some story attached to him, eh?" said Ernest Wilton.
"No doubt," answered Mr Rawlings; "but nobody but himself knows it!"
"How strangely you pique my curiosity! Besides, his face seems quite familiar to me, somehow or other. Yes, it's really quite familiar," he repeated.