Charles James Lever.

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more than time to notice them, when the dog, darting for-
ward, placed his fore-paws upon a low settle-bed, and gave a
dismal howl. I turned, and beheld the figure of a very old
man, his white beard hanging down to his chest, as he lay in
what seemed a heavy sleep. I touched him; he was cold. I
placed my hand on his heart ; it was still. I tried to detect
breathing ; there was none he was quite dead !

The poor dog appeared to watch me with intense interest,
as, one by one, I tried these different signs of life; but when
he saw the hand fall heavily from my own, he again set up
his cries, which now lasted for several minutes. The scene
was a sad and touching one. The poor old miner for such
his dress and the scattered implements of the craft bespoke
him, forgotten by all the world save by his dog, lay in all
the seeming calm of sleep. A cup of water stood near him,
and a little wooden crucifix lay on the bed, where probably it
had fallen from his fingers. Everything around betokened
great poverty. The few articles of furniture seemed as if.
they had been fashioned by himself, being of the rudest work-
manship : his lamp was a dried gourd, and his one chair had
been a stump, hollowed out with a hatchet. The most strik-
ing feature of all was a number of printed paragraphs, cut
from old newspapers and magazines, and nailed against the
planking of the hut; and these seemed to convey a little
history of the old miner, so far, at least, as the bent and
object of his life were implied. They were all, without
exception, exaggerated and high-flown accounts of newly-dis-
covered " Placers,"- rich mines of gold, some in the dark
plains of the Ukraine, some in the deep forests of Mexico,
some iu. the interior of Africa, and on the far-away shores of
the Pacific. Promises of golden harvest, visions of wealth
rolling in vast abundance, great oceans of gain before the
parched and thirsting lips of toil and famine ! Little thought
they who, half in the wantonness of fancy, coloured these
descriptions, what seeds they were sowing in many a rugged
nature ! what feverish passions they were engendering! what
lures to wile men on and on, through youth and manhood,
and age, with one terrible fascination to enslave them !

If many of these contained interesting scraps of adventure
and enterprise in remote and strange countries, others were
merely dry and succinct notices of the discovery of gold in
particular places, announcements which nothing short of an
innate devotion to the one theme could possibly have dwelt
upon; and these, if I were to judge tVom the situations they
occupied, were the most favoured paragraphs, and those most


frequently read over : they were the daily food with which he
fed his hope, through, doubtless, long years of suffering and
toil. It Avas the oil which replenished the lamp, when the
wick had burned to the very socket !

How one could fancy the old Gainbusino as he sat before
his winter fire, half dozing in the solitude of his uncom-
panionable existence, revelling in all the illusions with which
his mind was filled! With what sympathy must he have
followed his fellow-labourers in every far-away quarter of the
globe ! how mourned over their disappointments, how exulted
in their successes ! These little scraps and sentences were
the only links that tied him to the world they were all that
spoke to him of his own species !

As I went about the hut, the appearance of the greatest
poverty and privation struck me on every side : his clothing,
worn to very tatters, had been mended by skins of beasts and
patches of canvas ; the tools with which he worked showed
marks of rude repair, that proved how "he to himself sufficed,"
without aid from others.

I passed the night without sleep, my mind full of the
melancholy picture before me. When day broke, I walked
forth into the cool air to refresh myself, and found, to my
astonishment, that the spot had been a Placer of once great
repute, at least so the remains around attested. The ruined
framework of miners' huts the great massive furnaces for
smelting huge cradles, as they are called, for gold sifting
long troughs, formed of hollowed trunks, for washing lay
scattered on all sides. The number of these showed what
importance the spot had once possessed, and the rotten
condition in which they now were proved how long
it had been deserted by all save him, who was now to
take his rest, where, for many a weary year, he had toiled
and laboured.

A little cross, decorated with those insignia of torture so
frequently seen in Catholic countries the pincers, the scoui'ge,
and the crown of thorns showed where Piety had raised an
altar beside that of Mammon, and underneath this I resolved
to lay the poor old Gambusino's bones, as in a Christian
grave. I could not divest my mind of the impression, that
some power, higher than mere chance, had led me to the
spot, to perform those last offices to the poor outcast. Having
eaten my breakfast, which I shared with the dog, I set to
work to fashion something that should serve as a coffin.
There was timber in abundance, and the old miner's tools
sufficed for all I needed. My labour, however, was only


completed as night closed in, so that I was obliged to wait
for morning to finish my task.

Wearied by my exertions, I slept soundly, and never awoke
till the bright sunbeams pierced through the chinks of the
log-hut, and streamed in amidst its dusky atmosphere : then
I arose, and placed the old man in his coffin. I sat down
beside it, and, as I looked at the calm cold features, I could
not help reflecting that even he had not been more an outcast
from his fellows than I was myself. If fate had cast his lot
in the solitude of this dreary region, he was not more alone
in the world than 7, who had neither home nor family. How
strange was it, too, that it should have devolved upon me to
pay him these last rites. No no this could not be ACCI-
DENT. The longer I dwelt upon this theme, the more strongly
was I impressed by this one conviction ; and now, looking
back, after the lapse of years, that feeling is but more con-
firmed by time.

Taking the shovel and the pick, I set forth to dig the
grave, the poor dog following at my heels, as though know-
ing in what cause I was labouring. The earth was hard and
stony, so that at first I made but little progress, but soon I
reached a clayey soft soil, which again was succeeded by a
dense, firm stratum of stones, impacted closely together, like a
pavement made by hands ; indeed it was difficult to conceive
it otherwise, the stones being so nearly of the same size, and
laid down with a regularity so striking and purposelike. I
proceeded to loosen them with the barreta, but, to my sur-
prise, no sooner had I displaced this layer than another
exactly similar displayed itself underneath. If this be " Na-
ture's handiwork," thought I, "it is the strangest thing I
ever saw." I laboured hard to remove this second tier, and
now came down upon a light gravelly soil, into which the
barreta passed easily. Shall I own that it was with a sense
of disappointment that I perceived this ? It was not that my
expectations had taken any distinct or palpable form, but
their vagueness somehow had not excluded hope !

As I struck down the iron barreta into the light earth, I
sat down and fell into a musing fit, from which the dog
aroused me by licking my hands, and looking up into my face,
as though reproaching ine for deserting my task. I arose at
once, and set to work in right earnest. The grave was now
full five feet in depth, and needed only to be made a little
longer. It was after about an hour's hard labour, and my
task was all but completed, when the barreta struck a stone
which it was requisite to move ; it was a large and heavy one,


and much more firmly impacted in the earth than I at first
supposed, and it was only by splintering it with the iron
" crow " that I was able to succeed. As I lifted the frag-
ments and threw them away, my hands came in contact with
a soft substance underneath, that, to the feel, at least, re-
sembled the skin of a beast with the wool or hair on. I
cleared away the earth, and saw to my astonishment what I
at once knew to be a piece of buffalo hide, smeared over with
a peculiar oil the Indians use, to prevent rotting or decom-
position. I drew forth my knife and ripped it open ; a strong
skin of undressed buck was now laid bare ; again I applied
my knife vigorously to this, and as the sharp steel ran freely
along, a glittering heap of gold disclosed itself before me,
and rolled in fragments to my feet !

I cannot attempt to describe the emotions of that moment,
as, with a heart bursting with delight, I ran my fingers
through the heaps of shining metal, many of them larger
than my closed fist. I pulled off my cap and filled it: I
opened my handkerchief, and in a few moments that also was
crammed: I stuffed my pockets; but the treasure seemed
inexhaustible. I arose, and hastened to the hut for the great
canvas bag in which the poor miner used to keep his chesnuts,
and oh! the terror that came over me now, lest I should be
seen ; lest any other should discover me. With the speed
that fear alone can supply I soon filled the sack, not alone
with gold, bat also with several little leather bags, which I
discovered contained gems and precious stones, emeralds
principally, with opals, sapphires, and rubies, some of a size
and colour I had never seen equalled before. There were
eight of these bags marked with some enigmatical letters, of
which I did not know the meaning, nor, in good truth, did I
puzzle myself to discover. The wealth, unbounded as it
seemed, needed no explanation ; there it lay glittering upon
the grass beneath the morning sun, and there I sat amidst it,
as Aladdin might have sat amidst the treasures of his mine.

As I opened the bags one after another, in eager impatience,
I came upon one filled with papers, and these I quickly dis-
covered were receipts for deposits of large sums placed at
various times in the hands of Don Xafire Hijaros, banker, nt
Guajaaqualla, by MEXELAUS CRICK! Yes, these were the hid-
den treasures for which the Black Boatswain of Anticosti had
endured the tortures of the burning iron and the steel, the
terrible agonies of the flesh pincers, and the slow, lingering
pains of paralysis. These then were the visions that haunted
his dotage in the very night I bad seen him, as he struggled


in some imaginary conflict, and patted the ground in some
fancied act of concealment ! A sudden chill ran through me
as I thought by what horrible deeds of crime and blood all
this treasure might nay, must have been amassed ! What
terrible acts of murder and assassination ! Many of the gems
were richly set, and showed that they had been worn. Some
of the emeralds had been extracted from oi'naments, or taken
from the hilts of daggers or swords. Violence and blood had
stained them all ! there could not be a doubt of it : and now
there arose within me a strange conflict, in which the thirst
for wealth warred with a feeling of superstition, that whispered,
"No luck could go with gain so bought ! " The perspiration
rolled in great drops down my face ; my heart swelled and
throbbed with its emotions ; the arteries of my temples beat
with a force that seemed to smite the very brain, as I canvassed
this vital question, "Dare I touch wealth so associated with
deeds of infamy ? "

If my wishes arranged themselves on one side, all my fears
were marshalled on the other, and what foes can wage a more
terrible conflict ! The world, with its most attractive plea-
sures, its thousand fascinations, all the delusions that gold can
buy, and convert into realities, beckoned here. Horrible
fancies of an unknown vengeance, a Nemesis in crime uiiex-
piated, menaced there ! May I never have to preside in a
court where the evidence is so strongly opposed ; where the
facts are so equally balanced. If, at one instant, I beheld
myself the gorgeous millionaire, launching forth into the wide
ocean of unexplored enjoyment, at the next, I saw myself
crawling upon the earth, maimed and crippled like the old
negro slave ; a curse upon me ; the cries of widowed mothers
ringing in my ears ; the curses of ruined fathers tracking me
wherever I went ! I cannot tell what verdict my poor ernpan-
nelled conscience might have brought in at last ; but suddenly
a new witness appeared in the court, and gave a most decided
turn to the case. This was no less than " the Church," whose
testimony gently insinuated that if the matter were one of
difficulty, it was not yet without a solution. "It is tiue,
Master Con," whispered she, " that these treasures have an
odour of rapine, but let us see if the Church cannot purify
them. A silver lamp to the Virgin can throw a lustre upon
deeds that have not ' loved the light.' An embroidered petti-
coat can cover a great many small sins, and the incense that
rises from a gold censer, offered by pious hands, will do much
to correct the pungency of even the saltest tears."

Build a chapel, Con; endow a nunnery; or, if you don't



like shutting up young ladies, let it be a " monkery ;" make
an investment in hair-cloth shirts and cord girdles ; buy shares
in the grand Purgatory scheme, and take out " next world
scrip," in the shape of masses, jubilees, and novenas. You
can keep a bishop, without feeling the cost, and have a whole
candle manufactory perpetually at the service of " our lady,"
without being obliged to curtail one of your own wax-lights.
What a revulsion did this bright thought give to all my pre-
vious doubtings ! not only satisfying my scruples here, but
suggesting very comfortable associations for hereafter. By
this proceeding, Con, thought I, you are "hedging against
hereafter :" you may be a Sardanapalus while you live, and a
saint after death : it's betting upon the " double event," with
all the odds in your favour.

I must say, for the sake of my credit, that I resolved to " do
the thing handsomely." I determined that a finer virgin should
not be seen than mine, and that if a " Saint Cregan " could be
discovered in the catalogue, I'd adopt him as my patron, at
any cost ; neither would I forget the poor old miner in my
pious offerings : he should have masses said for him for a
full twelvemonth to come, and I'd offer a silver pick-axe to
any of the calendar who would deign to accept it. In a word,
there was nothing that money could do (and what can it
not ?) that I would not engage to perform, so that the Church
should consent to take me into partnership.

Never was a poor head exposed to such a conflict of dis-
cordant thought. Plans of pleasures and pilgrimages ; gor-
geous visions of enjoyment, warring with fancies of sackcloth
and scourges ; sumptuous dinners, equipages, theatres, balls,
and festivities, mingling with fastings, processions, and morti-
fications, made up a chaos, only a shade above downright

The day wore on, and it was late in the afternoon ere I
bethought me of the poor Gambusino, beside whose open grave
I still sat, lost in speculation. " Poor fellow ! " said I, as I
hoisted his coffin on my shoulder, " you have got a rich pall-
bearer for one who died in such poverty ; you little thought
you would be borne to the grave by a millionaire ! " As I
said this I shame to own it there was a tinge of self-
commendation in the notion, as though inferring " See what
a noble fellow I am ! with gold and gems, such as an emperor
might envy ; and yet look at me, carrying a poor old miner's
body to the grave, just as if we were equals ! "

" It's very handsome of you, Con that I must say ! " whis-
pered I to myself; but, somehow, the poor dog did not appear


to take the same exalted notion of my magnanimity, but was
entirely engrossed by his sorrow ; for he lay crouching upon
the earth, uttering cries the most piteous and heart-rending,
at each shovelful I threw in the grave.

" Cheer up, poor fellow ! " said I, patting him, " you shall
have a gold collar, and a clasp of real emerald." How natur-
ally does a rich man recur to wealth as the cure for every
affliction ! How difficult for him to believe that gold is not
a sovereign remedy for all disorders.

As for the dog, poor brute ! he took no more heed of my
consolation, than he noticed my altered condition of which,
by his familiarity, he showed himself totally unconscious.
How differently had he behaved, thought I, had he been a
man ! What sudden respect had he felt for me, what
natural reluctance to obtrude himself on me, how honoured
by my notice, how distinguished by my favour ! It is plain
the dog is a very inferior animal ; his perceptions are not
fine enough to distinguish between the man of wealth and
the pauper !

These and very similar reflections engaged me while I com-
pleted my task ; after which, I carried my precious burthens
off, and deposited them within the hut. By this time I was
very hungry, but had nothing to eat, save the fragments that
remained from my breakfast, a singular meal for one who,
in a fitting place, could have dined sumptuously, and off ves-
sels of gold and silver ! I had the appetite of a poor man,
however, and eat heartily ; and then, taking my gourd of
wine, sat down beside a little spring that issued from the
rock, to think over my future.

Perhaps my whole life not wanting in hours of pleasure
and enjoyment never presented anything so truly delightful
as that evening.

The season of gratification which I had dreamed of, sighed,
panted, and prayed for, was now to be mine. I was at last
to be a "gentleman," so far, at least, as immense wealth and
a very decided taste for spending it could make me. But
were these, I flatteringly asked myself, all my qualifications ?
Was I not master of three or four languages ? Had I not
become an expert shot, an excellent rider, a graceful dancer,
with some skill upon the guitar and the mandolin ? Could I
not contend in most exercises where strength and activity
were required with any ? Had I not travelled and seen
something of the world and its ways ? Ay, marry, and a
little more of both than was usual for young gentlemen of
fortune !

A A 2


Of personal advantages it might not become me to speak ;
but the truth requires me to say, that natare had dealt very
handsomely by me. And now, I ask of the fair reader the
unfair one I put out of court on the occasion " are not these
very pretty chances with which to woo fortune ?" Less san-
guine spirits would perhaps have sighed for more, and asked
for a hundred gifts, of whose use aud value I knew nothing
such as birth, family influence, and the like. As for me, I
was content with the "hand of trumps" Fate had dealt with
me ; I owned frankly, that if I lost the game, it must be for
lack of skill, and not of luck.

My plans were very simple. Once at Guajuaqualla. I
should find out where Donna Maria de los Dolores lived, and
then, providing myself with a suitable equipage and servants,
I should proceed to pay my addresses in all form, affecting to
have resumed my real rank and station, from which on our
first acquaintance, a passing caprice had withdrawn me. I
anticipated, of course, very shrewd inquires as to my family
and fortune ; but I trusted to " native wit " to satisfy these,
secretly resolving at the time, that I would avoid lying for
the future ; and apropos of this propensity, I had never
indulged in it, save from that vagrant impulse, that tempts a
child to scamper over the flowei'-plat of a garden, instead of
keeping to the gravel the great charm being found in the
secret that it " was wrong." And, oh, ye clear, good, excel-
lent souls whose instincts are always correct, who can pass
knockers on doors and not wish to wring them off'! who see
gas-lamps in lonely spots, and never think of breaking them ;
who neither " humbug" the stupid, nor mistify the vain ; who
"take life" seriously; forgive the semi- barbarism of our Celtic
tastes, which leads us to regard " Fun" as the very honey of
existence, and leads us to extract it from every flower in life's

When I "lied" as only the great "Pinto" ever lied more
atrociously I was more amused by my own extravagances,
than were my listeners. I threw out my inventions among
stupid folk, as a rich man flings his guinea among a group of
beggai'S, to enjoy the squabbling and contending for such an
unlooked-for prize.

And now 1 was going to abandon the habit, as one un-
Buited to the responsibilities of a rich man's station ! Oh
dear, what a sigh honest Jack Falstaff must have heaved
when he swore vi he would eschew sack and low company,
and live cleanly."

I now addressed myself more practically to my work, and,


seeing that it would be quite impossible for me to carry the
great bulk of my treasure to Guajuaqualla, I replaced the
canvas sack, with the gold, and some of the larger bags of
the gems in the ground, and merely took those that contained
the paper securities, and some of the more valuable emeralds,
along with me.

In parting with my wealth, even for a short absence, I con-
fess my feelings were very poignant. A thousand fears beset
me, and I turned to sui-vey the spot beneath which it lay,
wondering if there was any indication to mark the concealed
riches below. All, however, looked safe and plausible ; and
I proceeded on my way, with a heart as easy as, I suppose,
rich men's hearts are permitted to be!

I believe the road along which I journeyed lay in the midst
of a fertile and pleasing tract : I believe, I say, for I own I
saw nothing of it. The river along which I walked seemed
silver, molten silver, to me ; the fruit-trees bore apples of pure
gold ; the stars which studded the morning sky seemed sap-
phires and diamonds ; the dewdrops on the grass were opals
all. If I sat down to rest myself, I instantly took one of my
precious bags from my pocket, to gaze at the bright treasures
it contained, and feast my eyes with brilliancy.

At last I found myself on the great high road, and as the
signpost told me, only " tres leguas " three leagues from
Guajuaqualla. For a few copper coins I obtained a seat upon
a peasant's " carro," and journeyed along more agreeably,
secretly laughing to myself at the strange conveyance that
carried " Caesar and his fortunes."

The peasant was an old man, who lived by selling water-
melons, gourds, and cucumbers in the city, and knew most of
its well-known inhabitants. It was, therefore, a good oppor-
tunity for me to learn something of those in whom I was
interested. He told me that the banker, Don Xafire Hijaros,
had died several years ago, but that his son Manuel carried
on the business, and was reputed to be the richest man in
Guajuaqualla. It was said that the great wealth of the
house had been accumulated, in ways, and by means, that
would not bear too close scrutiny. Large sums had been, it
was alleged, lodged in his hands by negroes and Indians,
working at the mines, the owners of which were often made
away with at least, few of those who made large deposits
ever lived to claim them. The peasant told me several stories
in illustration of this suspicion; but although they certainly
did make an impression upon me, I attributed much to the
exaggeration so common to every piece of local gossip, and I


had seen enough in the world to know how frequently suc-
cessful industry meets disparagement.

As for Don Esteban Olarez, the old man told me that he
had once been extremely rich, but that certain speculations
he had entered into, having proved unfortunate, he had lost
the greater part of his fortune, and lived now in a state of
comparative retirement about a league from Guajuaqualla.
This piece of news had not the depressing effect upon me it
might be supposed, since I augured that a rich son-in-law
would be less scrupulously interrogated by the broken mer-
chant, than by the millionaire. I even speculated on the
manner I should adopt, to dazzle him by my splendour, and
with what cold and cutting irony I would address the Fra
Miguel, and thank him for the considerate kindness with
which he had repaid my services. Haughty and proud, with
a dash of condescension, " that must be my tone," said I ; and
so I went on, like my prototype in the Eastern tale, rumina-

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 36 of 50)