Gold Seekers of '49 - Edwin Sabin

All Ashore

So interested had most of the passengers been, that they had omitted to collect their baggage and make the grand rush as at Chagres. But now at the dropping of the anchor the charm was broken. Helter-skelter they all ran, to be ready for the first landing, but suddenly were halted by the word that nobody could go ashore until morning. The ship must first be examined by the health officer. So a howl of dismay and wrath arose.

"The captain thinks he'll keep us aboard all night, does he? Well, he can't and nobody else can, either. Ain't that right?"

Charley had been carried along by the rush to gather the baggage; and now this voice spoke at his elbow. He looked quickly, and saw the profile of the long-nosed man, who was talking to one of his partners.

"There'll be plenty of boats sneaking around, and plenty of sailors taking French leave for the mines," continued the long-nosed man. "We'll just join 'em. We've got too big a stake ahead of us, to waste a night here."

"Sure. We'll let the other party do the wasting," answered the partner. "We're ahead, so far, and we'll stay ahead."

"All right. Keep your eyes and ears open, and a little money in your hand, and at the first chance, we leave. Tell Jack, if you see him before I do."

Charley slipped away. So the long-nosed man's party were planning to go ashore anyhow, were they? Well, he'd see about that. He'd tell his father, who'd tell the captain, and the captain would make them play fair.

But his father shook his head, after Charley had excitedly appealed.

"No, we won't do a thing. Grigsby and I had decided anyway that we'd better stay on board till morning. We'll all gain nothing by going ashore in the dark, Charley. Lieutenant Sherman says it's a miserable place to find your way around in, and it's full of the riff-raff of all nations, besides the better people. As for the Jacobs party, what they do is none of our business. They'll deny that they have any notion of going—and then they'll go, just the same. The captain has other things to tend to, than watching the passengers."

"But they'll beat us," complained Charley.

"Nonsense," laughed his father. "The crooked trail is the longest way 'round. When they get ashore in the dark they'll not be much nearer the end than we are. We'll mind our own business and play fair, and then you'll see who comes out ahead at last."

"Is that San Francisco?" quavered somebody near them, at the rail. She was one of the worn, plucky women who had traveled the Gila trail. "It looks like a big camp-meetin'."

And so San Francisco did! Many more lights had been struck; a few flickered here and there, as if they were being carried about, but the majority appeared to be behind canvas, through which they shone with pale yellow glow. Evidently even some of the business buildings were only canvas; and these, and the multitude of tents, gleamed dully like a great encampment. Voices sounded constantly, echoing across the water; hammering never ceased; music floated—strains of violin and trumpet and piano! From the water-front clear back up the sides of the hills San Francisco was alive by night as by day. And on the hour all the vessels in the harbor struck their bells, in a great, melodious chime.

Charley and his father and Mr. Grigsby stood long at the rail, as did the other passengers, gazing at the dim shore and its multitude of spectral lights, and talking. The whole ship seemed to be athrill with great expectations; row-boats approached, circled and mysteriously lingered, as if awaiting; and the little waves murmured low and invitingly, as they slapped against the steamer's sides.

Yes, after the trip of forty days and nights from New Orleans (fifty from New York!), and of six thousand miles, by water, and twenty miles by land, here they all were, at anchor off the Land of Gold.

Charley rather hated to turn in. However, the three of them went to bed, at ten o'clock, and San Francisco was still as lively as ever. Once, in the night, Charley woke up, thinking that he heard a soft hail and the splash of oars. He wondered if the long-nosed man's party were taking their "French leave." He sat up and peered out of the open door; and there, across the water, were the lights of San Francisco, and the uproar of voices and hammers and music. Apparently, San Francisco didn't sleep.

All in all, it wasn't a very good night for sleeping, anywhere. Some of the passengers on the decks talked the whole night through, it seemed to Charley, discussing plans. At daylight began a general stir, to prepare to go ashore, the Adams party were ready about as soon as anybody, waiting for the boats to start their trips. Luggage was piled high, everywhere aboard; and by sunrise people were impatient.

It happened to be a beautiful morning, with wisps of fog drifting out to sea. How large the bay was, extending north and south and three miles wide! Porpoises were numerous, rolling their backs through the tumbling gray surface; gulls sailed and circled and screamed; and there was a hoarse, grunty barking which Mr. Grigsby said was from sea-lions, on the rocks of the shore.

Now San Francisco lay revealed, sprawled from the wharves of the water's edge, on back up the sides of the bare rounded hills behind.

"Who would have thought, when I came out here with Fremont," murmured Mr. Grigsby, as they three gazed again at the town, "that the old hide landing of Yerba Buena would have jumped to this. My idea for a city would be the other side of the bay, on the mainland. But here was the starter, boats were used to it, and nothing can stop the place now."

"It's not very pretty, that's sure," commented Mr. Adams.

And indeed, evidently built of anything that came to hand, with its houses squatted in haphazard, hasty fashion, and the country around bare and brown and bleak, San Francisco did not look attractive. But the bay was grand; and the hundreds of ships flying the flags of the United States, and England, and France and Spain and Mexico and Germany and Denmark and Sweden, were interesting beyond words. There were several United States men-of-war. One, the line-of-battle-ship Ohio, lay not far away from the California. How tremendous she looked, with her yards all aslant, and the round, black muzzles of her cannon staring out through her open ports! Nothing could lick her, decided Charley, proudly.

A bustling fleet of rowboats put out to the California, yelping for the business of taking passengers and baggage ashore. The ship's boats also began work early; and now, at last, Charley found himself embarked in a skiff and making for the shore. He did not see any of the Jacobs party, on the decks or in the other boats. As like as not, then, they had sneaked away during the night.

The one wharf toward which the boat seemed to be making was crowded with people and piled high with baggage. Every inch appeared occupied—and now another difficulty presented. The tide was out, for the water ended a quarter of a mile from the shore! The boat sluggishly stopped.

"Here you are," said one of the boatmen. "Tumble out."

"What do you mean?" demanded Mr. Adams. "We've paid you two dollars each to take us ashore. You don't expect us to walk through this mud, do you?"

"Walk or fly. This is shore, as you can see for yourself. Boats don't travel on stilts, in this country."

Other boats also were being stuck, and many of the passengers were already wading knee-deep in ooze, for the dry land.

"An outrage!" exclaimed Mr. Adams.

"We can't control the tides, stranger, even in California," spoke the other boatman. "We can leave you here and come again in about four hours and take you the rest of the way for two dollars more. Tide'll be turned by that time."

"What'll you charge to carry us in from here, now?" asked Mr. Grigsby.

"Five dollars apiece for self and baggage."

"Come on, Charley," bade Mr. Adams. "Off with your boots and stockings. We can do as the rest do."

"That's the talk," approved Mr. Grigsby.

Barefooted, trousers rolled high, out they stepped, and lugging their bed rolls and other hand baggage, stumped for the shore.

"Five dollars apiece!" muttered Mr. Grigsby. "Money must be mighty cheap out here."

"If that's a sample of prices, the quicker Charley and I get out of town, the better," answered Mr. Adams. "Eh, Charley?"

All along the stretch of tide-flats passengers from the California were wading ashore. The women were being carried pickaback—and screamed when their helpers stumbled. It was a comical sight, for several men already had tripped and fallen, and were a mass of mud.

A number of men and boys were digging in the mud for clams. One man they passed had such an odd appearance that Charley turned and stared back at him. He was of a strange yellow complexion, his eyes were set slantwise, he wore a short, loose, bluish frock with wide sleeves, and a round little hat, and down his back hung a long pig-tail.

"There's a queer sort of Injun," remarked Mr. Grigsby. "Some sort of a Sandwich Islander, I reckon."

"No; that's a Chinese—a Chinaman they call him in New Orleans," said Mr. Adams. "I've seen some down there, and in Mexico, too."

"Well, he's an odd one, all right," insisted the Fremonter. And Charley agreed.

The crowd on the wharf and shore were cheering and laughing at the antics in the mud. From the wharf a long, steep flight of steps led down, and up this, in the procession, toiled the Adams party.

It was a very good-natured crowd, almost all men, in rough costumes of miner's red or blue or gray shirts, and trousers tucked into boots, slouch hats, faces well whiskered and pistols and knives thrust through belts. Some of the men were uproariously greeting newly-arrived relatives and friends; but there was no one here to greet the Adams party. So the first thing to do was to find the trunk, and then a lodging-place.

"What's the proper hotel, Grigsby?" inquired Mr. Adams.

"I'll find out." And Mr. Grigsby addressed the nearest citizen—a small, gray-shirted man with a beard almost as gray. "Pardner, what are the lodging-houses here now? City Hotel still running?"

"City Hotel, Parker House, Portsmouth Hotel, United States Hotel; they're all running, and full to the roofs, too, stranger. If you want a bed you've got to make tracks—and I reckon by the looks of your feet you'll make 'em."

"We'll go up to the plaza, I reckon, then," said Mr. Grigsby, to his partners. "Better put on our boots first."

They wiped their feet on a piece of old canvas lying near, and donned their stockings and boots.

"How'll we get our trunk up to the hotel, I wonder?" spoke Charley's father. "Here——" and he called to a couple of Mexicans standing near. "Want to earn fifty cents?"

The Mexicans laughed, and shrugged their shoulders; and one of them, in a very impudent fashion, made a derisive answer in Spanish. Charley's father colored, and took an angry step forward; but a miner stopped him.

"Go easy, stranger," he said. "This is a free land." He thrust his hand into his pocket, and actually extended to Mr. Adams two dollars. "Carry your trunk yourself," he said. "Fifty cents wouldn't take it to the end of this wharf." And the onlookers shouted at the joke.

So Mr. Adams laughed.

"All right," he uttered. "I offered what I thought was a fair wage. If somebody'll kindly help us up with that trunk we'll tend to the other baggage and pay the regular tariff."

"Now you're talkin'," approved the miner. "Why, most of us out here wouldn't stoop over to pick up four bits. What's four bits, in these diggin's? 'Twouldn't buy a cup of coffee. But say, if you really want to make easy money, instead o' spendin' it, I've got a little investment worth your attention."

"What is it?"

"Best water lot in the city."

A score of voices interrupted, and the Adams party found themselves almost mobbed.

"Don't listen to him. Hear me!"

"If you want a water lot——"

"No, no; I've got 'em all skinned."

"Wait a minute, now."

"The most valuable proposition in California."

"A water lot is what you ought to have. As soon as the city builds out——"

And so forth, and so forth. It was most bewildering.

"Where is your lot, sir?" demanded Mr. Adams.

"Right under the red skiff yonder," directed the first miner. "Level and sightly, as you can see as soon as the tide's full out. Straight in line for the extension of Clay Street. Can't be beat."

"What's your price?" asked Mr. Grigsby, with a wink at Charley.

"You can have that fine lot for only $10,000 cash. It's worth $15,000."

Mr. Adams threw back his head and laughed, and laughed. Even Mr. Grigsby guffawed. And Charley was indignant. These San Franciscans must think them awful green, to offer them "lots" away out in the bay—and at $10,000!

"Come on, boys!" bade his father. "I'm afraid, gentlemen, that your real estate doesn't appeal. It might make a good navy yard, but not the kind of a yard that I could use for my family."

"You'll see the day when you'll wish you'd taken some of those lots, strangers," warned the man, after them.

And so they did—although that seemed ridiculous. The "water lots" are now almost in the centre of the business district of great San Francisco, and worth ten times ten thousand dollars.

It was an amazing town that they traversed, carrying their hand baggage and followed by a couple of Mexicans who for the promise of two dollars had deigned to pick up the trunk. Few of the buildings seemed finished, and all looked as if they had just been put up, in a great hurry. They were made from canvas rudely tacked on warped boards, of rusty sheet-iron and tin, of brown clay or "adobe," of newly-sawed rough lumber, of pieces of boxes and flattened cans, and one was even built of empty boxes piled up for walls, with a canvas roof. But all these stores were full of goods, many not yet unpacked, and of buyers, and every third or fourth store was a saloon and gambling house, fuller still. As for the streets, they were full, too,—and with what a queer mixture of people!

The Americans were evidently as widely varied as on board ship. The best dressed were smooth-shaven, quiet men in white shirts, black ties, and well-fitting broadcloth and polished boots—the cool, professional gamblers, as Charley somehow guessed. He had seen their like in St. Louis, and on the ship. The others wore mainly the regulation Californian costume of flannel shirt, etc.,—and with them it seemed to be the fashion not to shave at all. Such whiskers! But every nation under the sun appeared to be represented. Why, it was better than any geography book.

Everybody seemed to be in a great hurry, acting as if should they linger anywhere more than a minute they would be missing something. There was something in the cool, windy air, fresh from the lively bay, that made Charley himself throw out his chest and step lively. The talk, right and left, was of the jerky, impatient type, and in terms of dollars—dollars, dollars, thousands of dollars. Nobody acted poor, all walked and talked gold; one would have thought that the very dirt was gold—and as he trudged briskly, following the lead of Mr. Grigsby, Charley saw people grubbing on hands and knees, with knives, in the very street. Yes, he saw some boys, no older than he, doing this, and one with a grin showed him half a handful of golden specks and dirt mixed, that he evidently had scraped up!

The streets had no sidewalks, and in spots were thick with dust, blown by gusts of wind. Mr. Grigsby plainly enough knew where he was going, for at last he led into a vacant square, which was the plaza. A sign on a long, two-and-a-half story wooden building, unpainted, said: "Parker-house. Board and lodging." Under the sign Mr. Grigsby stopped, and eased his arms.

"We'll try this," he said. "It's been built since I was here last year. Great Jimmy, but how the town has grown! I'm mighty near lost in it. I remember this old plaza, though. There's the City Hotel, across. There's the old custom-house, too; that adobe building, with the flagpole in front of it, where the flag was raised in Forty-six, by the Navy. Well, let's go in."

They entered. The place was crowded.

"Yes, sir; I can give you one room, with two beds in it, upstairs," informed the clerk at the counter. "It's positively all we have, and you're lucky to get that."

"What's the tariff?" queried Mr. Adams.

"Rates are twenty-five dollars a week, each, for bed; twenty dollars a week for board."

Mr. Adams shook his head, and looked at Charley.

"I'm afraid we'll have to try elsewhere," he said. "Let's go across the street."

"City Hotel is full; you can't get even blanket room," declared the clerk. "The Fremont Hotel, down on the water-front, charges the same as we do, and supplies fleas for nothing. If you don't want the room, stand aside. Next!"

"But aren't your rates pretty high?" queried Mr. Adams, puzzled.

"High, my friend?" retorted the clerk. "Do you know where you are? You're in San Francisco, where people dig gold in the streets. And do you know what rent we pay, for this building? One hundred and ten thousand dollars a year, my friend. The Eldorado tent-building next to us rents at $40,000 the year; it measures exactly fifteen by twenty-five feet. Out here, gentlemen, a hole in the ground rents for at least $250 a month. Last April there were but thirty houses in the whole town, and now there are 500."

"We don't want the room for a week. We'll take it for a night, though. We're on our way to the mines," said Mr. Adams.

"So is everybody else," sharply answered the clerk. "For one night the room is five dollars apiece, and I'll be losing money at that."

"All right. We've got a trunk out in front. Have it sent up, please."

"Can't do it, sir. Every man is his own porter, in this town. The stairs are fairly wide. I'll show you up."

The Mexicans had dropped the trunk on the long porch, and refused to carry it another inch. And when they were to be paid off, they insisted that the two dollars meant two dollars apiece! Bystanders gravely agreed that this was the correct price.

"Whew!" sighed Mr. Adams, with a quizzical smile, after he had paid. "No wonder that twenty dollars a day is small wages, out here. What an enormous amount of money there must be in circulation! Grab an end, Charley. Come along, Grigsby. Let's inspect our quarters."