Gold Seekers of '49 - Edwin Sabin

An Unwelcome Companion

According to an advertisement in the St. Louis papers the steamship Georgia, from New York for the Isthmus of Panama, was to arrive at New Orleans in three weeks. That would be just about the right date, decided Mr. Adams, to allow him and Charley to make their preparations, and take a steamboat down the Mississippi from St. Louis to New Orleans.

Now all was excitement, not only at the Adams home, but throughout St. Louis and the whole eastern country. Charley bid good-bye to Billy and Billy's father, when with their team and white-topped wagon they pulled out, in their party, for Westport Landing, which is now Kansas City. From Westport Landing they were to drive on to Council Grove, thirty miles west, which was the big starting point for California. The papers declared that already, in this April, 15,000 people had gathered along the Missouri River border, all the way from Independence, Missouri, to Council Bluffs of Iowa, prepared to start on their 2000-mile trip to the new gold fields, as soon as the grass began to grow. Every boat, too, to the Isthmus, was crowded—and so were the sailing vessels, bound around Cape Horn!

The lowest cabin-fare, New York to San Francisco by the Isthmus, was $395! Counting the steamboat trip down the Mississippi, the fare was about the same from St. Louis. Whew! That seemed to Charley a lot of money—but thanks to the stranger whom they had taken in, Charley and his father had it, and could leave Mrs. Adams well provided for, besides, with what Mr. Adams had in reserve. That was good. A number of men had gone off and left their families to get along as best they could, but this was not Mr. Adams's way.

Being an experienced campaigner, Charley's father knew just about what kind of an outfit they would need; and of course, as Billy had said, the papers all had published lists, for the information of the emigrants.

All the clothing should be of the toughest and hardiest material; by accounts there would not be much chance to renew it, out at the mines, unless a person was prepared to pay tremendous prices. You should have seen Charley, when his clothes came home! It had been great fun, buying at the stores, where "California garments" were going like hot cakes, but he could scarcely wait until he had tried his things on. When he looked in the glass, and saw himself in broad slouch hat, and red flannel shirt, and belted trousers tucked into cowhide boots, with a blue bandanna handkerchief about his neck, he felt like a real gold-miner. The whitish cotton suits, for wear on shipboard and on the Isthmus, in the tropics, did not amount to much in comparison with this garb of a "Forty-niner"—as the papers were beginning to call the outgoing gold seekers.

Mr. Adams bought a brand-new Colt's revolving rifle, that shot seven times, a revolving pistol (as it was termed), and two butcher-knives—one apiece, to be worn thrust through the belt. Charley donned the knife, just to see how it looked (and it looked very business-like), but his father did not allow him to put on the big pistol. Maybe out in the gold fields he might wear it, though.

Then there were two picks and two spades and two sheet-iron miners' pans. These pans were round, about six inches deep and fifteen inches across at the rims, slanting to a foot across at the bottom. They resembled a milk-pan. They were to be used for "washing out" the gold from the dirt. Charley had no idea how to do this; neither had his father—and neither had one in a hundred of the other people who were talking California. But they all expected to learn, in case it was not possible to scrape the pure gold up with spades!

"By gracious!" exclaimed Mr. Adams, at the very last moment. "We mustn't forget the skillet! That's the most important thing yet."

"Of course!" agreed Mrs. Adams. "How'll you fry your meat?"

So a new skillet was added to the outfit. The clothing packed a trunk jam full. The picks and spades and skillet and rifle and other unwieldy things were rolled in Mr. Adams's two army blankets and a couple of quilts. That made a large bundle, and with the picks and spades showing finely it told exactly where the owners were bound. Charley was proud of that bundle.

At last, one morning, he donned his miner's costume in earnest, for the day of the start had come. The trunk and bundle were sent down to the levee in a wagon. On this day, at ten o'clock, the steamboat Robert Burns would leave for New Orleans.

Mrs. Adams of course went down to the levee with her two gold seekers to see them off. Moments were growing very precious. The Robert Burns was there, waiting, the smoke welling from her tall twin stacks. The levee was crowded with passengers and their friends and relatives. Negro roustabouts were hard at work hustling freight and baggage aboard. Charley saw their trunk carried over the gangplank—and he nudged his father and pointed, for several passengers, dressed in California costume, were carrying up the gangplank rolls of bedding just like theirs!

It was high time he hunted up their roll, too. He found it, where it had been pitched from the wagon. As he was proudly inspecting it to see that all was right, he stumbled over a small cowhide trunk. Attached to the handle was a card that read: "J. Jacobs"!

"Jacobs!" That was the long-nosed man's name. Was he booked on the Robert Burns? And why? Charley grew excited at the thought, and when his father and mother strolled across, to be near the bundle, he called: "Father! Look here!"

Mr. Adams limped over (and big and fine he was in his rough clothes), to see.

"Humph!" he muttered. "Well, what of it, Charley?"

"Do you think that's his?"


"Why, the long-nosed man's."

"I'm sure I don't know," answered his father, coolly.

"But that's his name," pursued Charley. "Do you think he's going on our boat?"

"We can't very well stop him, boy," smiled Mr. Adams. "It isn't 'our' boat, exactly; and he can't do us any harm, anyway. You aren't afraid of him, are you?"

"N—no, not if you aren't," asserted Charley. "But he's no business following us up as he said he would."

"Humph!" again remarked his father. "We can take care of ourselves. We'll mind our own affairs, and we'll expect him to mind his. If that's his trunk, probably he's only going down-river a way. We won't borrow trouble this early in the game, Charley."

That sounded reasonable, and Charley had a lot of trust in his soldier father. Only—if that trunk belonged to the long-nosed man, and if the long-nosed man was going down to New Orleans with them, and if he boarded the same steamer there, for California, things looked mighty peculiar. He seemed to be such a mean, obstinate fellow that there was no knowing what he might have up his sleeve.

Mrs. Adams was curious to know the cause of Charley's evident excitement over the trunk.

"Oh, it bears the name Jacobs, dear," explained Mr. Adams, easily. "Charley has the notion it means that the 'long-nosed man,' as he calls him, is going to California with us."

"Oh, George!" And Charley's mother, too, seemed alarmed. "Do you suppose he is?"

"No, I don't. But we can't stop him, anyway."

"It's queer he'd take this same boat, though. Maybe he's been watching you."

"Oh, pshaw," laughed Mr. Adams. "Don't let's rig up a scarecrow, to spoil our good-byes. Charley and I'll take care of ourselves; won't we, Charley? We'll stick by each other, and other folks can do as they please, as long as they don't interfere. Come on; let's go aboard, and you can see our state-room, and say good-bye there."

Mr. Adams picked up the bundle, and shouldering it led the way up the gangplank. Mrs. Adams followed, and Charley, in his miner's rig, with butcher-knife stuck through his belt, proudly stumped after. He wished that Billy Walker was there, to see. But other people were seeing, anyway.

When they gained the deck, and were passing around to the state-room (which was number 19), glancing back Charley saw a darky roustabout heaving the Jacobs trunk on his back, and starting with it for the gangplank. So it came aboard, but of its owner, if he was their Mr. Jacobs, there was no sign.

Presently the big bell rang vigorously, and the whistle hoarsely blew, as signal for all visitors to go ashore. Mrs. Adams gave Charley and her husband one final kiss, and Charley added to his return kiss a round hug. She was such a good woman; he wished that she was going, too. He rather wished that he could stay at home with her; he—he—and he choked. For a moment he almost hated his miner's costume. However——

"Write often, now," she bade, her eyes dewy, as with her they hastened out on deck.

"Yes, we will. And you write often and tell us the news. Send us the papers."

"I will, dear. Now, do be careful."

"Yes. Take care of yourself, too. If you need us, we'll come straight home, won't we, Charley?"

Charley could only nod.

"Hurry, dear, or you'll be left," warned Mr. Adams, anxiously—for already the gangplank ropes had been tautened by the donkey-engine and the plank was trembling to rise. Charley rather wished that she would be left; then she'd have to come with them! Wouldn't that be great!

But she ran down the plank. Then, near the end, she stopped, and called back.

"What's that, dear?" inquired Mr. Adams, and he and Charley listened keenly.

"Have you got the quinine?"

"Yes. Hurry, dear."


"It's in the trunk. Look out—jump!"

The gangplank was rising, but with a little run Mrs. Adams did jump and landed safely. Charley laughed. They didn't catch his mother—no, siree. And she was the last person to leave the boat.

Up rose the gangplank. The engine bell jangled. The negro roustabouts cast off the bow and stern hawsers from the wharf posts, and scrambled over the gunwale as the Robert Burns began to back out into the stream. Mrs. Adams waved her handkerchief. Everybody on the wharf waved—mostly handkerchiefs, which were suddenly very popular. The people on board waved back—and they, too, used handkerchiefs pretty generally. Faster and farther backed the Robert Burns, until in midcurrent, after describing a great half-circle, she was pointing down stream. The engine bell jangled to stop, and to go ahead—and she was started for New Orleans.

They were off for California!

The levee, with his mother's handkerchief now fading into the whitish blur of other handkerchiefs, drifted behind; Charley took a long breath, straightened his shoulders, stole a glance at his father, who was winking violently in queer fashion, and began to take stock of the other passengers. Some were leaving the rail; a number of others already had left it, and were negligently strolling about or seating themselves for comfort. They mostly were men—business men, planters, and the like, traveling down-river on pleasure or errands of importance, and a few miners bound for California. There was no Mr. Jacobs, that Charley knew, among them, and he felt easier. Probably "J. Jacobs" was some other Jacobs, and not the long-nosed man.

"Let's go in and put our room to rights, Charley," proposed Mr. Adams, as the buildings of old St. Louis merged one with another, on the shore line behind.

He briskly limped across the deck, and Charley followed. This would be something to do, at any rate. But as he passed the door of the long salon, or lounging room, he glanced in and saw clear to the other end, where there was a bar for sale of liquors. And he was certain that he glimpsed the long-nosed man, just coming from the bar!

Charley's heart fairly skipped a beat. No, he would not say anything to his father, for perhaps he had been mistaken—and what was the sense in being scared? Supposing that was the long-nosed man. He was not bigger or smarter than they, and besides, as Mr. Adams had said, he had a perfect right to travel on the Mississippi River. Everybody used the river, because there were no railroads here. However, it was queer, his choosing this boat.

Charley and his father set their state-room in order, by arranging their clothes and sleeping things.

"You can go out, if you want to, Charley," spoke his father. "I've got a little more to do, yet. Then I'll come, too."

"All right," and away clumped Charley, in his heavy boots. This time he was determined to look in earnest for the long-nosed man. He hoped that he would not find him, but he feared, just the same.

He did not have far to look. The long-nosed man was standing leaning against one side of the doorway of the salon. Yes, it was he, sure enough! He acted as if he was waiting, for when he saw Charley approaching, to pass, he smiled, and waved genially.

"Well," he greeted, halting Charley. "So proud of your new clothes that you don't recognize old friends, eh? Come here."

Charley boldly walked straight to him. The man's tone made him mad.

"How are you?" answered Charley. "Taking a trip?"

Mr. Jacobs squinted his eyes and wrinkled his long nose cunningly.

"Y—yes," he drawled. "Taking a little trip." His breath smelled of liquor. "Suppose you're going to Californy, to look for that gold mine. Thought you'd give me the slip, did you?"

"No," said Charley. "We didn't think anything about you, especial."

"Oh, you didn't!" And the long-nosed man spat tobacco juice on the clean deck. "You reckoned on giving me the slip, though. But I've been watching you. Didn't I tell you I was half wild hoss and half alligator? What's to hinder me from going out to Californy, too?"

"Nothing, I expect," replied Charley, his heart sinking. "Why? Are you?"

The long-nosed man leered.

"Maybe I am, and maybe I'm not. You go your trail and I'll go mine, but if they cross, look out. Half of that property belongs to me, remember—and half of that money you're using, too."

"It doesn't, either," snapped Charley, angry, his spunk up. "And we aren't afraid of you; not a bit. Go on out to California, if you want to, but don't you bother us. And don't you bother my mother, or you'll get in trouble."

He heard a familiar step, and the voice of his father.

"Hello! This is the man, is it, after all?"

"Hello, yourself," retorted Mr. Jacobs, glaring at him. "Maybe you think you own this boat."

"Not a bit, sir," answered Mr. Adams, good-natured.

"Maybe you think you can dictate where I travel."

"No, sir. I expect to look after myself, and not after you."

"Well said," approved the long-nosed man. "Now will you have a drink?"

"I never use liquor, sir," returned Mr. Adams—and Charley was proud to hear him say it.

"'D rather not drink with me, perhaps," sneered the long-nosed man.

"I see no reason for drinking with you or at all, sir," sharply replied Mr. Adams. "Come on, Charley. We've got better business to tend to."

"You have, have you?" called the long-nosed man, after them. "Maybe you think I don't know what it is. Maybe you think——" but they paid no more attention to him.

Still, the meeting was not pleasant, and Charley heartily wished that the "J. Jacobs" had proved to some other Jacobs.