Gold Seekers of '49 - Edwin Sabin

California Ho!

What a foolish, foolish boy! How could he tell his father, and Mr. Grigsby? Maybe, though, he could find the papers, and then he would not have to tell. The scheme tempted him, but he decided that it was cowardliness. He had done the thing, and now he was afraid to accept the consequences. Huh! This was not playing fair with his partners. Besides, the longer he waited, the worse he made it for them and himself too.

So he soberly dressed; then he went out, this time carefully locking the door behind him, which of course was rather late in the game. The boat containing his father and Mr. Grigsby was at the ship, and they two came up the side. They were laden with stuff that they had bought ashore.

"Hello, Charley," greeted his father, cheerfully. "Had a good time? Phew, but it was hot on shore! You didn't miss much. Lend a hand, will you, and help us carry this truck into the cabin?"

"You must have been in the water," remarked Mr. Grigsby, keenly noting Charley's wet, salty hair.

Charley tried to smile, but it came hard. He picked up an armful of cocoanuts, and followed his partners to the cabin. They waited at the door for him.

"Got it locked, I see," quoth his father. "That's right. I told Grigsby we could depend on you."

They dumped the spoils in the cabin. Up to this time Charley had said scarcely a word.

"What's the matter, boy?" queried his father. "Didn't you have a good time? Aren't you feeling well?"

"I've lost the papers," blurted Charley, wanting to cry.

[Illustration] from Gold Seekers of '49 by Edwin Sabin


"What?" His father and Mr. Grigsby stared at him. "You don't mean it!"

"Yes. I lost them, or somebody took them." And Charley did begin to cry. "I went in swimming and left my shoes in the cabin. And when I came back the papers were gone. Boo-hoo."

"Pshaw!" muttered Mr. Grigsby.

"Well, don't cry about it," spoke his father, sharply. "Brace up, and tell us about it."

Charley did.

"You're sure they aren't around the cabin somewhere?"

"I looked. I'll look again, though."

They all poked about, to no result.

"Did you look on deck, where you were?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you lock the cabin door when you went out?"

"I think I did," answered Charley, honestly. "I meant to."

"But you aren't certain?"

"N—no; not exactly."

"Anybody could pick the lock, I suppose," said Mr. Grigsby, from under his bushy brows. "The thing looks to me like a put-up job. Who was the man that urged you to jump over?"

"I don't know. I'd never seen him before."

"Well, describe him," bade Mr. Adams.

Charley described him as best he could—a medium sized man in white linen suit, with iron-gray hair and short beard iron-gray to match.

"What color eyes?"

"I don't know," confessed Charley, truthfully. "B-black, I think."

"Don't know!" grunted Mr. Grigsby. "After this, notice those things. A man can change his hair, but he can't change his eyes. When you've followed the trail a while, like I have, you'll learn to size a man up at a glance, and never forget him. Kit Carson was a great fellow for that. So was Fremont. Well, the first thing to do is to look for Charley's man. What do you say, Adams?"

Charley's father gravely nodded.

"I agree. Did you see any of that gang go ashore, Charley? Either of the Jacobs cronies, I mean. Jacobs we saw ourselves, in the town."

"No, sir," said Charley. "But they might have gone."

"Didn't see them aboard ship, then?" asked Mr. Grigsby.

"No, sir; I didn't."

"Wait a minute," spoke Mr. Grigsby. "We did glimpse that fellow who tried to use the knife, going into a grog shop. Remember?"

"I do," affirmed Mr. Adams. "That accounts for two, then. Well, Charley," and he laid his hand on Charley's shoulder, "it's up to you to find your man for us, and then we'll investigate him. Take a brace, now, and don't feel bad. There's no use crying over spilled milk; you're only wasting time. You simply made a mistake, and everybody makes mistakes once in a while. The thing to do now is to go ahead and correct that mistake, the best you can. We'll help you."

What a brick his father was! And so was Mr. Grigsby. Instead of scolding him and confining him on bread and water, or sending him back home, they were standing shoulder to shoulder with him.

"The papers don't amount to so tearing much," mused Mr. Grigsby. "You know what the sketch looks like. That assignment of the claim may be important and may not. But of course nobody likes to be robbed."

Charley was now all eagerness to retrieve himself and find that man with the iron-gray hair and beard. Out he went, with his eyes open; but though he trudged everywhere, while the ship got under way and steamed, with a cheer, out past the Panama and to sea again, he found no passenger who looked anything like the one wanted. And he didn't see him at the table. Neither, so his father and Mr. Grigsby reported, on coming up after dining, separately, did they.

However, while most of the first-cabin and second-cabin passengers were loafing about, that evening, enjoying the long twilight, who should saunter to the Adams party but the long-nosed man himself. He certainly had nerve!

"How are you?" he accosted, very pleasantly. "I saw you gentlemen ashore. How'd you make out? Hot place, wasn't it!"

"We made out very well, sir," answered Mr. Adams, shortly. "But while we were gone our cabin was robbed. How do you account for that?"

"Meaning, I suppose, that you think I can account for it."

"Anybody who would tamper with boats would tamper with a cabin, we reckon," growled Mr. Grigsby.

"You seem bound to be personal," retorted the long-nosed man. "That little controversy on the Georgia came out in your favor, but you can't rile me. I want to let by-gones be by-gones. I'm a peaceable man. You've beat me, and I'm willing to say so. Who robbed your cabin? What'd you lose? Speak up."

"We lost some small papers, entrusted to this boy, here. I have witnesses to prove that they were in my possession, so they won't be of use to anybody else," informed Charley's father, "and the safest thing for the present holder to do is to return them."

"That's the captain's cabin. Tell the captain," urged the long-nosed man.

"No," growled Mr. Grigsby; "we thought we'd tell you."

"Meaning, I suppose, that I did it," returned the long-nosed man. "You're overshooting. You saw me ashore."

"Yes, we saw you," replied Mr. Grigsby.

"Meaning, I suppose," resumed the long-nosed man, "that if I didn't do it some of my friends did. You saw them ashore, too, didn't you?"

"Saw one of them, perhaps," admitted Mr. Adams.

"Well, you prove that the other was on this ship—you find anybody who can swear he saw the other on this ship, and then you've the right to question him," challenged the long-nosed man. "But he couldn't enter your cabin when he wasn't here, could he? Or I, or anyone else, either! Now, listen. I've come to you, wanting to be friendly. I don't deny it was to my interests to keep you back, so I could get to Californy first, and I tried my levelest. But you've beat me, and here you are. I'm a fair man; I know when I'm licked, and I don't bear you ill-will. Understand? The passengers on this steamer," and the long-nosed man raised his voice so that the people around would hear, "are witness to my coming to you and saying, 'You've licked me; but I'm friendly. Let by-gones be by-gones.' And what do I get? Why, you call me a thief, when you know very well I didn't do it. That hurts my feelings, gentlemen," and with this appeal, the long-nosed man walked off, apparently indignant.

"That's the most remarkable speech I ever heard in all my life!" exclaimed Mr. Adams, struggling between laughter and wrath. "He threatens Charley and me, and tries to cut our boat down and drown us, and assaults you (to Mr. Grigsby) and gets you almost knifed, and sets our canoe adrift, on the Chagres, and when we finally, by luck, reach the steamer just as she's weighing anchor, he orders the captain not to take us aboard—and now after our cabin is robbed very suspiciously and we've lost what he wanted, he says, 'I forgive you. I'm friendly. Shake hands.'"

Charley felt the same way. Evidently so did Mr. Grigsby, whose eyes were glinting shrewdly. He beckoned Charley and his father and led them out of earshot of the other passengers.

"That talk doesn't go, of course," he said. "It's regular Injun talk, after they've stolen your hosses. Humph! We can't find Charley's man, can we? At least, we haven't found him. Why? Because there isn't any such man. I'll wager my rifle against a cocoanut that the hair and beard were false. If they'd been stripped off, the third rascal in the gang would have shown up. As soon as Jacobs blustered about our 'proving' that the third fellow was on ship and not on shore, I made up my mind. He and Charley's man are one and the same. See?"

"I believe you're right," declared Mr. Adams. "What do you think, Charley? You said his eyes were black, as you remembered."

"He might be the same," admitted Charley. "At any rate," continued Mr. Grigsby, "the best we can do is to keep quiet and lie low. It hasn't worked any harm to tell those fellows that we know what's happened and we're not afraid of 'em. We've given them something to think about. But we'll not burn more powder until we're pretty certain of fetching a scalp. That's my opinion."

"No, it won't do any good to run circles," said Mr. Adams. "We can be thinking while they're guessing. We know what we'll do better than they know what they'll do—and they'll never, never keep possession of that mine," and he set his jaw hard. "That is," he added, "if any of us finds it."

The news spread that the "Adams party" had been robbed, and presently queries came from the curious, even from the captain himself. But people soon found that the "Adams party" weren't much of a hand to talk at random about this or any other of their affairs, and the little excitement soon died away. The captain said he was sorry, he'd take up any line of inquiry that Mr. Adams would suggest, etc., etc.; and Mr. Adams replied that there was nothing to be done, yet—they'd decided to let the matter rest.

The long-nosed man and his two partners appeared, now and then, swaggering with great air of being unconcerned—the long-nosed man especially assuming to be a hail-fellow-well-met who could not possibly be guilty of any meanness. But nevertheless, none of the three was especially popular, except among the gamblers and drinkers.

As for Charley, he did not enjoy the rest of the voyage. He had lost the papers, and he had failed to identify the man who had challenged him to jump overboard, and he was simply crazy, now, to have the voyage at an end. What he wanted, was to get ashore at San Francisco, and race that long-nosed man for the Golden West mine. He was determined to "make good," was Charley.

Up the beautiful coast of Mexico steamed the California, with a stop at San Blas, and another at the fine port of Mazatlan, almost on the Tropic of Cancer. The scenery was wonderful; the white surf of the shore, and misty blue mountains rising high above the green background, being ever in sight from the deck. The water was alive with flying-fish, porpoises, sharks, whales, dolphins, and now and then an immense turtle; while over the ship's foamy wake the gulls and terns and pelicans sailed and dived.

From Mazatlan the California veered westward, right on the Tropic of Cancer, to clear (said people) the Gulf of Lower California. When she pointed in again, in the morning, she crossed the path of the steamer Oregon, southward bound out of the gold fields. The Oregon was too far to be hailed. However, no matter—for aboard the California, now arose a cry, while people pointed.

"There's California, at last! Hooray!"

On the starboard quarter appeared, hazy across the sparkling whitecaps, a long line of low land ending in a lofty cape—San Lucas, which meant, in English, Saint Luke. Even through a spy-glass, which Mr. Adams borrowed from another passenger, the land looked to be uninhabited, and was brown and bare, with mountains rising back from the surf-dashed coast. People said that amidst the brownness were wonderful green valleys, occupied by ranches and villages; but if this was really the Land of Gold, Charley was disappointed. It did not look very inviting to tramp over. However, this was only Lower California, still owned by Mexico; and San Francisco and the true Land of Gold, Upper California, was a week ahead.

As the steamer skirted the brownish, rugged, mysterious coast of this Lower California, the weather grew more bracing, for the tropics had been left behind. Flannel shirts and heavy trousers were comfortable. The great albatrosses became few, but the gulls and Mother Carey's chickens, the nimble gray petrels that flew all day with their feet grazing the waves, were thick. The bright Southern Cross dropped low into the horizon behind, while the Great Dipper, circling the North Star, rose higher before. Yes, the California surely was making northward rapidly.

"We don't cross into Upper California until we reach San Diego," said Mr. Grigsby. "That will be to-morrow, I reckon. I remember San Diego very well. I was there in Forty-six, with Carson and Fremont; and we raised the Flag in the plaza. It's still there, too, I bet you. Commodore Stockton of the Navy took the place and held it. It used to be a great station for hides, and has one of the finest harbors on the coast."

The next morning, sure enough, the good steamer swept in for the port of San Diego, of the California of the United States. The entrance was very narrow. On the left jutted out a high, brown, brushy point named Point Loma, with a solid white lighthouse, built long ago by the Spaniards, standing forth as a landmark on the very nose. On the right was what looked to be a long, low, sandy island, fringed by the dazzling surf, and shimmering in the sun.

Through the narrow channel steamed the California, at half speed, everybody gazing hard to "size up" this first town of American California, and the first place under the American flag since New Orleans was left, over a month ago.

At the end of the channel appeared several low white-washed buildings, along the foot of the ridge which made the point.

"The hide-houses," said Mr. Grigsby, with satisfied nod, "where the cow-hides used to be stored, waiting for the ships. Smelled bad, too; shouldn't wonder if there were some waiting now. We'll see the town in a minute."

A bay began to open on the right; and sure enough, beyond where the channel broadened, ahead, at this end of the bay, on flat land came into view a group of houses, both brown and white, and a flag, on a tall pole, floating over their midst. It was—it was the Stars and Stripes! Hooray! And again hooray!

"We raised that flag—Fremont and Carson and we others in the battalion—or one like it, in July, Forty-six," declared Mr. Grigsby. "Sailed down from Monterey on the fine sloop-of-war Cyane, to help Stockton. Yonder, just back of town, on the first hill, is where the commodore located his fort, Fort Stockton, to hold the town. He anchored in the bay and sent his men ashore to do it. On the rear edge of town, on the first little rise below Fort Stockton, was the Spanish presidio, or fort—but Fort Stockton had the bulge on it. About thirty miles northeast (can't see it from here, of course) among the hills is where General Kearny and his First Dragoons were corralled by the Californians after they had marched overland from Santa Fe, New Mexico, a thousand miles across the desert. The dragoons were surrounded and in bad shape; but Carson and Lieutenant Beale of the Navy and an Indian crawled and sneaked through the California lines, the whole distance to San Diego, and brought word to Stockton to hurry up and send reinforcements. Carson nearly lost his feet, by cactus, and Beale was laid up for a year. During the war San Diego was no easy place to get into, or out of, either."

"Where's the mission?" asked Mr. Adams. "The first of the California missions was here, wasn't it?"

"It used to be in town, before there was any town, they say," answered Mr. Grigsby. "That was 1769. But when the town had started, the priests moved the mission about six miles up yonder valley, so as to get their Injuns away from the fandangoes."

Meanwhile, the California had swung to, opposite the hide-houses. Out rattled her anchor chain; "Boom!" announced her signal gun. A number of people had collected in front of the town, which was separated from the water by a wide strip of tide-land; but on a road which bordered the point and connected the hide-houses with the town, other people came at a gallop, horseback. The captain went ashore, in the ship's boat; but stay here was to be short, so no passengers were allowed to go.

"Is there gold in those hills yon, mister?" asked a lean, lank Arkansan, of Mr. Grigsby, who was accepted as an authority on the country.

"There might be; I dunno," responded the Fremonter. "But it's powerful dry, according to Kit Carson. You can't mine without water. Of course, those flat-tops to the south of us are in Mexican territory. To my notion, it isn't gold that will make this southern country; it's climate and commerce. The climate down here is the finest in the world. Warm like this all the year 'round, and cool enough nights for sleeping. No bad storms, either. This bay runs about three miles southward, yet every inch of it is landlocked. When that railroad across the Isthmus is finished, to help emigration, I look to see a big city here, and a harbor full of ships."

"A ship canal across the Isthmus would help this country a lot," mused Mr. Adams. "The west part of the United States is too far from the east part; a canal would bring them together."

"Yes, and so would a railroad clean from the Missouri to the Pacific," agreed the Fremonter. "That will come, too, in time; and to go to California will be as easy as to go to Washington or New York."

"Looks as though a toler'ble lot more passengers were comin' aboard, don't it?" remarked the Arkansan, staring fixedly at the beach.

"Yes, sir; and overlanders, too!" exclaimed Mr. Grigsby, his gaze narrowing. "I reckon they must have got in by the southern route along the Gila River. And if so, I pity 'em. It's a terrible trail."