Gold Seekers of '49 - Edwin Sabin

Hurrah for the Golden West

As the evening wore on the stranger tossed and murmured more and more, until it was evident that he was ill with something graver than mere exposure.

"Charley, I think you'd better go for the doctor," said Mr. Adams, finally, about eight o'clock, after they all had done what they could. "This man's getting no better. He looks as though he might have a fever."

"Yes; that's what I've been thinking, too," nodded Mrs. Adams. "Hurry on, Charley. And if the doctor isn't there leave word for him to come as soon as he can."

Out into the cold again, and into the darkness as well, bolted Charley, donning cap and scarf and mittens as he went. The adventure was growing more exciting. What a shame if the man should not recover and they would have to guess all about him!

Old Doctor Paulis, the Adams family doctor, lived but three blocks away, and through the snow and the night Charley ran the whole distance. The doctor said that he'd be along immediately, or as soon as he had finished his supper; and arrive he did, when Charley had been home only a few minutes.

He examined the stranger very carefully.

"It's a case of fever—a kind probably contracted on the Isthmus or on shipboard, if he returned that way," at last pronounced the doctor. "I'm afraid, after his exposure to the cold, that I may not pull him through; but I'll do what I can. Meantime if you can get in communication with any of his relatives or friends, you'd better do so."

The doctor left a quantity of medicine, to be given at such frequent intervals that somebody must be up all night. However, Charley went to bed and slept, and dreamed that the mysterious stranger was sitting on the sofa and was telling them that in California gold dust was shaken from the trees and shoveled into flour-sacks.

But the mysterious stranger was by no means sitting up, when after breakfast Charley saw him. He was quieter, to be sure, and he seemed to be partially conscious; he even appeared to recognize Charley; still, he was terribly weak.

It was Charley's turn to stay with him. Mrs. Adams went out to do some marketing; Mr. Adams lay down, to rest. Charley sat near the sofa, to give the medicine, and keep up the fire, and between times to pick out interesting news about California, in the papers that he had brought home. Gold, gold, gold! That was it—gold! Everybody out there was finding gold, and everybody else was making ready to start.

One item told about a railroad across the Isthmus of Panama, too—that it probably would be begun soon, by Americans; and with that completed there would be an easy way to California.

The man on the sofa was making a strange sound; and looking over at him, Charley was astonished to see himself beckoned. Up he jumped, and crossed.

"Paper," whispered the man, in Charley's ear. "Paper——" and he feebly signed that he wanted to write.

Charley flew to the desk in the corner and got a writing pad and pencil. But the man was so weak that he made only a few wavy, uncertain lines, and fell back exhausted.

"You write; I sign," he whispered, to Charley. Charley obediently took pad and pencil, and the man dictated. "Date. Say 'For service rendered I give—bearer—all my rights in—Golden West mining claim—California.' I sign. Quick." And he motioned for the pencil.

Charley held the pad, and watched him feebly scrawl a "T" and what might have been an "o"—and a haggling "m"; and then the pencil dropped. He looked so strange, he scarcely breathed; and frightened, Charley darted into the other room where his father was lying resting.

"Oh, dad! Dad!"

"Hello? What's the matter?"

"Come, quick!"

Mr. Adams jumped to the floor and at rapid limp hastened for the living-room.

"He acts worse," explained Charley, pointing. "See? He talked, and started to write, and fell back."

Mr. Adams bent over the sofa and with ear down listened. He put his hand upon the stranger's forehead.

"Get the doctor as quick as you can, Charley," he bade.

Out bolted Charley, but he did not have far to go, for he met the doctor at the gate. A glance at the sofa decided Doctor Paulis. He soberly shook his head. His examination need be very short.

"I can do no more," he said.

"I feared so," confessed Charley's father. "To bad. Well, now what can we do, I wonder."

"I'll notify the coroner," proffered the old doctor. "Meanwhile, you'd better look through the clothes and see if you can find out anything more."

The doctor left. Mr. Adams gently searched the man's trouser pockets, finding nothing, not even a knife.

"Now for the coat again," he directed.

Charley brought the coat from the closet. His father handled it. It was heavy with the two little buckskin sacks; but the pockets contained nothing else—and yet Mr. Adams's fingers paused in their search, as he was about to lay the coat aside.

"There's a paper in here somewhere," he said. "I felt it. It's inside the lining." He fished out his pen-knife; and ripping a seam, extracted the paper from under the lining.

It seemed to be several pages from an old diary, and was worn so that the pencilings could scarcely be read. Charley and his father could make out names of places in California, evidently—"Sutter's," "American R.," "Coloma,"—and stray words such as "good camp," "prospects bright," "ounces," "pan," "rain," "home"; on an inside page was sketched a rough map.

But this penciled map was so worn and faint that Charley and his father, and his mother, too, puzzled over it almost in vain. Starting from the joining of two rivers, it appeared to represent an exploring trip up along one of the rivers, and through the country, with crosses scattered like camps, and the letters "G. H." set down here and there. The page was thumb-marked so badly, and so scuffed, that some of it was well-nigh rubbed out. Charley and his father and mother later puzzled a great deal over that map, which looked like this.

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


But now the next thing was the examination of the sacks, round and heavy.

"I suppose we'd better open them," mused Mr. Adams. He untied the worn, greasy thong about the neck of one, and loosened the mouth. He peered in; so did Charley.

"Gold dust, sure as shooting," gasped Mr. Adams. "What in the world are we to do with it? Nuggets, too. Ever see any, Charley? Here——" and with thumb and finger he fished out a smoothish lump about the size of a navy bean.

Charley saw it. He saw the dust, too—a mass of fine particles, glinting dully yellow amidst the brownish interior. Gee whiz! And the other sack held the same!

"How much do you suppose it makes?"

Mr. Adams weighed the sacks in his hand, thoughtfully.

"I judge they weigh about three pounds apiece," he mused. "Gold is selling at fourteen dollars an ounce, I hear. Humph! If each sack contains three pounds, that makes—er, twelve ounces to the pound—thirty-six ounces in each sack, at fourteen dollars—say $500 apiece, or $1000 in all. I declare!"

That seemed like a lot of money.

"He gave it to me," declared Charley, eagerly. "Really he did, dad. And he gave me his mine, too, out in California. He did. I wrote as he told me to on a piece of paper, and he started to sign, and then he quit. It's the Golden West mine. See?" and Charley, showed the writing on the pad.

"Well!" muttered his father. "I declare! 'Tom,' that looks like. Tom who, I wonder. That's the most importance. Of course we don't want his mine or his money. Didn't he tell his last name?"

"No, sir. But he gave me the money, and he gave me the mine. He——" but Charley was interrupted by a resounding knock on the front door.

"See who that is," bade his father. "I'll lay these things away."

When Charley opened the front door, the long-nosed man stood there, on the threshold.

"Hello," he greeted, brusquely. "I called around to see our friend. How is he?"

"Why," stammered Charley. "He's—he's dead."


"Just a few moments ago."

"He is, is he? I'll have to look into that." And the long-nosed man pushed by Charley and strode through the hall. Charley could do nothing but follow. He found the man confronting Mr. Adams. The figure on the sofa had been covered by a cloth.

"The kid says our friend has passed over," rather roughly spoke the long-nosed man. "How about it?"

"Yes, sir," answered Mr. Adams. "There he is."

"Huh!" And walking across, the long-nosed man peeped in under the cloth. "All right," he said. "Now's our chance to divvy, then, isn't it?"

"Just what do you mean, sir?" demanded Mr. Adams, flushing—and Charley knew that his father was angry.

"I mean you get half and I get half, and no questions asked. Where are those sacks?"

"No, sir!" returned Mr. Adams, decidedly. "There'll be no such performance. I shall put those sacks and their contents, just as they are, on deposit with the bank or other authorities, subject to the heirs. They're neither mine nor yours."

"He gave them to me, anyway," blurted Charley, angrily, to the man. "There's $1000. And he——"

"Charley, be quiet," ordered his father, sternly. "It doesn't concern us how much there is, or what he did. He wasn't in his right mind."

"What else did he do, bub?" queried the man.

But Charley held his tongue.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," continued Mr. Adams, severely, to the long-nosed man, "trying to take the hard-earned gains of a poor fellow who probably has left a needy family somewhere, and was going back to them! If you think we'll be partners with you, you're highly mistaken. Understand? I've never yet taken advantage of anybody in misfortune, and I've never yet robbed a guest, most of all a dead man. Now you'll oblige me by clearing out."

The long-nosed man sneered.

"Oh, yes," he said. "I see. You've got the swag, and no doubt he's told you about some mine, and you count on getting that, too! But your high and mighty virtue doesn't down, with me. My name's Jacobs: Jasper Jacobs. I've lived on the frontier. I'm half wild hoss and half Mississippi alligator; and I'm a bad man to cross. I'm going to watch you, and when this swag comes to light again I'll have my share. See? Put that in your pipe and smoke it."

"Look here, sir," answered Mr. Adams, standing straight and tall—and Charley never could have believed that his father could seem so fierce, except in battle. "I'm a soldier, and I've faced worse dangers than you can threaten. Clear out, or I'll throw you out. You're insulting me, and you're desecrating that unfortunate lying there. Now go!"

The long-nosed man actually shrank. But as he retreated he still blustered, "I'm not done with you. I'll watch you. Remember, I'm on your trail. This matter hasn't ended." And he slammed the door as he went outside.

"Ha!" uttered Mr. Adams, and his face calmed. "So much for him. Now we'll do just as I said, Charley; and your mother'll approve. We'll deposit the sacks and any other valuables, with the bank, after we've told the coroner; and we'll advertise for heirs. We'll use only enough of the funds to pay the doctor, and other expenses. By the way, did the poor fellow say anything else? Give any directions of any kind?"

"No, sir. He just called for paper and pencil and tried to write and couldn't, and then had me write for him, and all he signed was 'Tom.'"

"That's very indefinite. If only he had finished his name, we'd have had some clue. But the map's no good to us, in such shape. Besides, we wouldn't think of touching money or mine, as long as there's a single chance of the rightful claimants turning up."

Charley's mother entered. She agreed that this was right; and Charley, although a little disappointed, could not help but agree, too. They pored over the diary and map, but had to give up, and put them away. They told only Doctor Paulis and the coroner.

However, although they advertised at once in the papers, for the unknown's relatives (referring claimants to a lawyer's office), nobody turned up who proved to be a genuine heir. After the funeral expenses were paid, there were over $800 left, lying in the bank. The long-nosed man, Mr. Jacobs, was unable to get at this, but he bothered the Adamses considerably by hanging about, and whenever he met Charley he made insulting remarks, and threats, and insisted that there was a mine. He did not dare to say much to Mr. Adams, though. After a few weeks he seemed to have tired, and to have drawn off. He had been very annoying.

"Well, George," said old Dr. Paulis, one evening, "I guess you and Charley fall heir to that dust and mine. Nobody else appears to have any shadow of claim on them."

Charley's heart leaped; but his father shook his head.

"They're not ours, doctor," he replied. "I'd much prefer that somebody turn up who needs them and is entitled to them."

"My dear man," protested the doctor, earnestly, "you do need them. That's the point. You need them and you're to have them. I want you to take the money and go to California!"

"Oh—hurrah!" cried Charley, springing up and sitting down again.

"Why——!" gasped his father. "But look here, anyway: it wouldn't be mine; it belongs to Charley, remember. The man gave it to Charley, if he gave it to anybody."

"Humph," grunted the old doctor, eyes twinkling. "Supposing Charley lends you half, then—and he takes the other half and you and he go shares on the trip and on what you find."

"Hurrah!" again cheered Charley. "I don't want it; dad can have it all, of course. But I'd like to go, if I can."

"No arguments, now," warned the old doctor, to Mr. Adams, who sat bewildered. "Your wife and I've agreed. You need a sea voyage, and a little roughing it in the out-of-doors yonder in the California mountains. That's just what you need, to set you up again. Now's your chance. Besides, there's the mine——"

"The Golden West mine!" cheered Charley. "Sure. That's ours, too."

"There's the mine," continued the old doctor. "Somebody ought to be developing that mine. If any real heirs ever do turn up, you see, you'll have more than $800 to give them."

"They'll certainly get either the mine or their $800," asserted Mr. Adams. "I don't want pay for taking care of anybody in distress."

"By all means no," concurred the old doctor. "But according to what Charley understood (and you heard some of it, yourself), that man gave him the dust, and also wanted him to have the mine. So you and he are going out there, and you'll start just as soon as you possibly can."

"You will go, won't you, George?" urged Mrs. Adams. "I'll get along splendidly. The main thing is your health. We can't any of us be happy or contented while you're poorly—and the doctor says California is the very thing for you. It does seem as though the way had been opened by Providence. I'm just as glad as I can be!"

"So am I!" cheered Charley. "I'm going over and tell Billy."

"Hold on a bit," cautioned the doctor. "Wait till we finish up."

It required considerable more talk before Mr. Adams was fully persuaded. At last he did say that he'd go, if Mrs. Adams could be left—and if Charley would lend him the money. Lend him the money! As if Charley wouldn't gladly give him every cent—yes, and stay home himself, to boot, if necessary. But that was not necessary; Charley was to go, as partner and comrade.

Plans followed thick and fast, and Charley was chock full of news when he found Billy Walker.

"You don't know what I know!"

"What?" asked Billy.

"I'm going out to California! I'll get there before you do!"

"Aw—honest?" queried Billy. "We start day after to-morrow. How'll you beat us? When do you start? Who else is going?"

"Start next week. Dad and I."

"Why don't you come with us? We'd have a lot of fun. How are you going to beat us? What's your outfit? We've got a mighty fine team of horses."

"We are not going overland," announced Charley, triumphantly. "That's too long, and my father needs the sea air. We're going across the Isthmus and sail up the Pacific to San Francisco!"

"How long will that take?" demanded Billy.

"About a month and a half, in all."

"Oh, shucks!" said Billy. "It'll take us three months. That's what the papers say, anyhow. Maybe you will beat us, then. But I'll have twice as much fun."

"Why?" asked Charley.

"Because we'll be twice as long—see? What are you going to take? You'd better look over our stuff. Come on."

"We've bought everything we could here in St. Louis," explained Billy, as he led the way. "They say California prices are awful, there's such a rush. Our wagon's full."

And as it stood in the Walkers's back yard, it certainly was.

"We won't need such a lot of provisions," said Charley, wisely. "We get fed on the boats."

"That's so," agreed Billy. "But dad and I'll use up 150 pounds of flour and bacon apiece, just getting across. An article in the paper said people ought to carry that much, besides coffee and sugar and salt and all that. Now I'll show you my clothes."

That was more interesting. The stout flannel shirts and the jean trousers and the heavy cow-hide boots and the belt and the wide-brimmed slouch hat and the coarse knitted socks looked very business-like. Mr. Walker's clothes were about the same, except that his flannel shirts were red, while Billy's were blue. Charley resolved that he'd get red, for himself.

"You ought to have guns, too," asserted Billy. "You might need 'em. We'll need ours, I bet, for buffalo and Injuns and grizzly bears. The papers say to take a rifle and pair of pistols, five pounds of powder and ten pounds of lead. Dad's bought one of those new-kind patent revolving pistols—you can shoot it six times and take out the cylinder and put in another and shoot six times more! Guess there won't many Injuns want to tackle us! And I've got a seven-shooter rifle, all my own."