BILLY BUMP OFF FOR CALIFORNIA (from Robert Merry's Museum, September 1849, pp. 84-86)
Letter from William Bump to his Mother.
Boston, June --, 18--.
Dear Mother: When last time I wrote to you, we were in a very uncertain and unsettled state; but now our plans are all formed. What do you think,--I am going to sea! This will sound very strange to you; and, indeed, it seems almost a dream to myself; but it is really so; and in two days I shall sail for the Pacific Ocean. I must tell you how all this came about.
You know that uncle Ben was largely engaged in the trade along the western coast of America. He used to send out various kinds of goods, to be sold at different places, such as Valparaiso, Panama, St. Francisco, &c. Some of his ships went quite to the North-west Coast,
touching at Oregon, and places still farther north.
Well, it appears that he had an agent stationed at San Gabriel, which is a small place on the coast, south of St. Francisco. He was a Spaniard, and for some years he managed very well; and uncle Ben was so well pleased with him, that he sent him a whole cargo, worth thirty thousand dollars, or perhaps more. The man sold it all, and sent uncle Ben a small part of the amount. The rest he laid out in some speculation, and lost it all, as he said, and so was unable to pay it.
This took place a number of years ago, and it was supposed that the claim was entirely lost. But a short tune before his death, uncle Ben heard from some who had been in that quarter, that this person, whose name, by the way, was Diego Naldi, was living in the interior of the country, and that he was very rich, with an immense farm, and several thousand cattle. Now, as uncle Ben had been very kind to this man, he naturally thought he would pay this debt, if he could get some one to go and see him; and he was laying plans to have this done, when he was taken away.
Uncle Ben's estate has turned out better than was expected; and it will only fall thirty or forty thousand dollars short of paying all his debts. his creditors, therefore, feel pretty liberal; and some of them put their heads together, and made an arrangement to send some one out to San Gabriel, and see what could be done with Diego Naldi; and it is agreed that half of what is obtained shall go to aunt and Lucy!
Well, when all this was fairly planned, I took Lucy aside, and told her that I intended to propose myself to go on this very expedition to Señor Naldi! She looked thoughtful, and her eyes were as blue as a patch of clear sky after a thunder shower. We had a long talk on the subject, but Lucy at length approved my plan, and soon brought aunt into the scheme. Then we set to work to get the consent of the men who had charge of the matter, and they at last consented; and so it is now all settled, and in two days I am off.
Now, mother, what do you say to all this? Is it not droll to think of your awkward, ignorant Billy Bump, who left you only five years ago, a rough child of the forest, going on an errand of fifteen thousand miles, and relating to an interest valued at thirty or forty thousand dollars! No doubt you will think it very absurd; and father will say we are all mad. But let me explain the matter a little. In the first place, mother, I have not been idle since I came to Boston. I have been pretty industrious in my studies, and my teacher has spoken very well of my success. Since uncle Ben's death, I have devoted myself to taking care of aunt and Lucy, and have also been engaged in assisting the persons charged with settling uncle Ben's estate. I have been so fortunate as to obtain their confidence; and thus it is that I am entrusted with this business.
Lucy will write you on this subject, and give further explanation. I am very much occupied, and have little time to devote to any thing but my business. Still, my dear mother, I can find time to
write to you, and to think of you; but I feel that it will be gratifying to you to hear from some one, beside myself, how the case stands. I know you will be apt to fancy that it is a mad piece of business, altogether; but if my friends here think well of it, you will, perhaps, think well of it, too, after a while.
I must, however, whisper to you, mother, that even if I fail in getting any thing of this Señor Naldi, there is another scheme in my head, which I may adopt. It is said that there is gold in dust and small lumps in the mountains north of St. Francisco, and it is so plentiful, that a person may pick it up at the rate of an ounce a day. Most people laugh at all this, but I am sure it is true. I have seen a man who has been there, and I have seen some of the gold that he collected himself, to the value of two thousand dollars. Now, I mean at least to look into this matter, and if there is such a quantity of gold in the country as they speak of, I mean to have a chance at it.
And now, dear mother, farewell. I shall write to you as often as I can, and Lucy will write also. Farewell, and may God bless my dear parents.
Letter from Miss Lucy Bump, in Boston, to her Aunt, at Sundown.
Boston, June --, 18--
My Dear Aunt: This is the first letter I have ever written to you, but it will not be deemed intrusive, as it comes from your niece, and must relate chiefly to your son William. He is going on a distant voyage, charged with important business; and he wishes me to write, so as to satisfy your mind if any doubts should exist as to the prudence of the enterprise. It is true, William is only seventeen years of age; but he is very manly, and has judgment and capacity quite beyond his years. His progress in study has been great, owing to his diligence; his desire to learn has made him successful in acquiring agreeable manners, at the same time that he has laid in a large stock of knowledge, considering the short period devoted to his education. He has obtained the good will and confidence of all who know him; and for this and other reasons, he has been selected for the business in question.
He is in very good spirits, and I feel sure he will succeed. I never saw such courage, mixed with so much prudence. He longs to see you; and when you are spoken of, the tears fill his eyes. I have only one feeling of anxiety about him. I know he is led to this expedition from a desire to serve mother, and perhaps me. Therefore, if any thing bad should befall him, I should never be happy again. Mother is very dull, and takes a dark view of life and its interests; but there is something about William which inspires confidence and hope even in her. His bright, cheerful, determined face seems always to suggest ideas of success; every body who looks at him says, "He was horn to good luck."
Thus, my dear aunt, you will see our confidence, and the grounds of it. I pray Heaven will watch over William, and bring him back safely. Do write to me, and tell me what you think of all this. I shall keep you informed of all that transpires respecting William.
I am your affectionate niece,
BILLY BUMP'S VOYAGE TO CALIFORNIA (from Robert Merry's Museum, October 1849, pp. 120-123)
Letter from William Bump to his Mother at Sundown.
Brig Fire-Fly, Aug. --, 1848.
My Dear Mother: I have now been two months at sea, and for the first time sit down to write. I have intended to keep a kind of journal, putting down, day by day, every thing that I saw which seemed interesting. But up to this time, I have failed to put my plan in execution. For the first ten days I was seasick, and quite helpless. O, what a shocking feeling it is! I really wished myself overboard. And one thing is very odd--every body seemed to think it funny. The captain and mate laughed at me, though my head felt as if it would burst, and my stomach seemed as if there were live frogs in it, all trying to jump out of my mouth at once. Bah! it makes me cringe to think of it!
But I am better now, and like sea-life very well. At first, I could not walk about; or, if I did, I tottered from one side to the other, and often got a severe bang. It made me think of a verse in your old Psalm-Book--
"What strange affrights young sailors feel, And like a staggering drunkard reel!"
When I came on board the Fire-Fly, she looked so big, I thought she must be quite steady and safe; but after we got out to sea, and the wind began to blow, she tumbled, and walloped, and kicked, and jerked, and pitched, and rolled, and flirted, and hopped, and skipped, and jumped, like mad. It was the oddest thing I ever met with; for she seemed to do all these things at once. She went up, and down, and sideways, and backwards, and forwards, all in the same breath; and such was my state of body and mind, that I felt every twist and turn of the ship in my head and bowels.
However, it is all over now. I'm very hearty, and eat raw pork with a good appetite. We have no milk or cream, and in place of them, use butter in our coffee and tea. I like the brig very much. She is a fine sailer, and it is curious and wonderful to see her glide along, as if she were alive, and knew exactly what to do. The sea in a storm is a strange, wild thing--beautiful, yet terrible. It seems to me like God in anger. Think of the sky filled with fleecy clouds--flying by like demons; the sea, black as ink, rolling in heavy billows, their tops white and frothy, and spinning into the air in wreathy spray. Think of all this, while a hollow roar fills your ears, as if all earth and ocean were in some dreadful agony--and you have a faint idea of a storm at sea. And think of yourself in a vessel that now seems a feather, tossed hither and thither by the frantic waves: think of yourself apart from all human help--the sea, the sea only around you--and between you and its fathomless depths but a single plank! It is, indeed fearful; and nothing but the idea that kind Father above watches over his children, even upon the lonely deep, can give peace to the mind, at such a time and under such circumstances.
Nothing very remarkable has happened to us. We have met two or three vessels, and spoke one of them. She was
coming from China, and had been four months at sea. As we passed near the West Indies, we saw one of the islands at a distance. I frequently see flocks of flying fish skimming over the water; and have noticed many strange and curious birds. We staid two days at Rio Janeiro, to get water and take in provisions. This is the capital of Brazil, and is larger than Boston; but it is a very different place. A portion of it is well built, and some of the public buildings are handsome, but many of the streets are poor, mean, and filthy. More than two thirds if the inhabitants are negroes and mulattoes. Merchants from various countries--France, Germany, England, Spain, Portugal, Holland, the United States, &c.--are to be seen in the market places. I often saw vultures, as big as turkeys, walking in the streets, or sitting on the roofs and chimneys of the houses. They seemed quite as much at home as the people. Nobody disturbed them, unless they came too close; for they pick up the filth, and save the lazy inhabitants a great deal of trouble. Yet they are horrid looking things, and smell worse than any thing I like to mention. They are great gluttons, and often eat so much that they cannot fly. One of our sailors thought he would have a bit of fun: so he caught one. Well, he get well paid for it; for the creature vomited all his abominable breakfast right into the fellow's lap. How he did scamper! and how the other sailors laughed at him! He had a strong odor about him for a week, and now he goes by the name of Eau de Cologne!
We are now near Cape Horn. Though it is August and midsummer with you, it is winter here. The sky is constantly filled with clouds, and light snows frequently fall upon us. The air is dim with the frosty vapor. At the same time, the wind is heavy, and the sea is terribly rough. The captain says this is one of the stormiest places in the world.
September --, 1848.
I am happy to say, that we have got safely around the cape. It was tedious business. The captain and crew were worn out with hard work, care, and watching. We were about a month in passing this point of our voyage. We have seen no land for five weeks, and though we have been almost constantly beset by dark, cloudy weather, the captain seems to know exactly where we are. What a wonderful thing it is, that, without a path to guide us, we are able, by the help of a compass and a few figures, to traverse the mighty waste of waters--a desert without a rock, or tree, or landmark to point the way!
If I could see you, dear mother, I should tell you of many things--how, one terrible night, we lost our mainsail, and had our rudder carried away; how, one of the hands was washed overboard, and saved himself by holding on to a rope; how an albatross--a bird twice as big as a goose--fell upon our deck during a storm; and how strange and beautiful the stars are, in this far-off region--during fair weather. But these, amid many other things, I shall leave till I meet you--which I hope to do--though, when I remember that I am ten thousand miles from you, my heart sinks and I feel
as though such a happiness was impossible.
* * * * *
We are still ploughing the deep, and making our way to the north. We stopped ten days at Valparaiso, which is a considerable town on the western coast of South America. I there saw several Americans, and among them a boy from Boston, named John Sikes, who had been to the same school with me. He is clerk in a store here. I never liked him in Boston, nor do I think he liked me; but the moment we met, we rushed into each other's arms, as if we had been brothers. I was never so glad to see any body in my life.
A few days ago, we passed near the Island of Juan Fernandez, which is the spot in which Robinson Crusoe was supposed to have lived. What a pity it is that the story of Robinson Crusoe is only a fancy tale! It really made me feel sad, when I was first told no such person ever lived. I supposed Robinson Crusoe to be as much a real character as Peter Parley or Robert Merry. And by the way,--speaking of these two celebrated personages,--were it not that I have read their books and seen their pictures, I should almost think that they were only imaginary characters. I have, in Boston, seen Daniel Webster, who makes such famous speeches; and Mr. Longfellow, who writes such beautiful poetry; and Mr. Fields, who makes such lots of nice books; and Mr. Kimball, who keeps the Museum; and Mr. Simmons, of Oak Hall; and Mrs. Nichols, who makes the best ice creams in the world;--but I am not exactly sure that I ever saw either Peter Parley or Robert Merry. Is it not strange that every body seems to know these two persons, and yet I never got a fair sight at either of them, nor found any body who had? What a pity it would be, if these like Robinson Crusoe, should, after all, turn out to be mere beings of the imagination! Yet this cannot be; for I have actually got some of their books!
Panama, October --, 1848.
I am now writing from the town of Panama, on the western shore of the Isthmus of Darien. It is situated on a fine bay, and is as large as Salem or Providence. Steamboats ply between this place and Valparaiso. I found here several Americans, and some whom I had seen. I take leave of the brig Fire-Fly here, as she is bound to San Francisco, while I am going to San Gabriel. I expect to sail for that place in two days, in the schooner Beato. she is a Chilian vessel, and all on board speak Spanish. I expect a horrid dull time. However, I keep of good heart. I had a letter to Mr. Rice, a merchant here, who has been very kind to me. He has often heard of Señor Naldi, but not of late years. He is going to give me letters to a Spanish house at San Gabriel, which, he says, will aid me very much. I shall send this letter by an American, who is going to New York, across the isthmus. It will go to aunt, at Boston, and will be sent from there to you, at Sundown.
And now, dear mother, give my kindest love to father, and every body, and believe me truly yours,
Letter from Lucy Bump to her Aunt.
Boston, March, 1849.
My Dear Aunt: In December last, we sent a letter to you, from William, giving an account of his voyage as far as Panama; and since that time, we have had no letter from him; yet I must not conceal from you that we have had tidings of him which give us great anxiety. He sailed in a small schooner named the Beato, for Panama, in October. She was bound for San Gabriel, with twenty passengers. We learn by the papers, that the vessel had a long passage, and got short of water. Three of the passengers, one of whom was William, went ashore in a boat to get some; but the country was uninhabited, and the boat was upset just as she came to land. The vessel had no other boat, and as the weather was rough, she could not take the men in again. Accordingly, she went on her voyage, leaving them there. She arrived at San Gabriel, and after three weeks, nothing had been heard of them.
Of course we hope for the best. We learn that William and his companions were left at the coast, four hundred miles from San Gabriel, without a cent of money, and with no other clothes than those they had on. The coast, for the whole distance, is nearly a wilderness, and in some parts it is mountainous. Our hope is, that the poor fellows may be taken up by some vessel. If not, we trust to William's courage, energy, and talent, for deliverance. My mother is greatly depressed, but I have a hope, a faith, I may say a confidence, that William will be saved. It is too dreadful to think of his perishing in the wilderness, away from home and friends. It seems impossible, that one so bright, so full of thought, and feeling, and talent, should be cut down in the very morning of life. But this suspense is dreadful. I think of poor William at every hour of the day and the night. O! may Heaven watch over him. Ah! why did we permit him to go! It seems to me like madness even--like cruel, unfeeling selfishness--to permit him to undertake such an enterprise, just for our benefit. But I must not write thus. Your own sorrow will be sufficient, without mine. I shall write soon again; and in the mean time, our prayers for the safety of William will not cease. From your affectionate niece,
NEWS FROM BILLY BUMP (from Robert Merry's Museum, November 1849, pp. 154-158)
We learn that our readers have been in a state of the greatest anxiety to hear from their friend Billy Bump; and we are much pleased to lay before them the following letter.
Loreto, Lower California, Jan. --, 1849.
My Dear Mother: Here I am--safe and sound--after lots of adventures and hair-breadth escapes, enough to fill a book. When I get home, if that should ever happen, I mean to write an account of my experiences for the last six weeks, which, I think, will be as wonderful as the stories of Robinson Crusoe, Baron Munchausen, or Jack the Giant-Killer. Never was a poor fellow so buffeted and banged about; and, after all, I am at the very strangest place in the world, and one I never heard of, till I got to it. But I must give you a sketch of my experience.
I sailed from Panama, on the 4th of October, in the schooner Beato, being bound for San Gabriel, a place on the Coast, some two or three hundred miles south of San Francisco. We expected our voyage to be about a month in duration, but we had calms and head winds, and all sorts of mishaps, and finally got out of water. We were near the land, and two fellows, with myself, went in a boat to see if we could find some. When we got near the shore, the surf swamped our boat, and we were sprawled into the water. With a good deal of scrambling, we reached the land, but our boat was smashed on the rocks; and the weather continuing rough, the schooner set sail, and went on its way.
Well, that was a pretty fix for an innocent youth, named Billy Bump, at the tender age of seventeen! I have pretty good courage, mother, and am more apt to laugh than cry; but when I looked around, and took a fair account of my situation, I felt the salt constantly getting into my eyes, and making every thing look as if we were in an April fog. Consider the state of the case. We were on the western coast of Lower California, a long, snaggy country, poking into the Pacific, from north to south, say five hundred miles. In looking at the coast, it appeared to me like a dark, desolate region of iron. The mountains rose abruptly from the shore to the height of two or three thousand feet, presenting not a single tree, or shrub, or blade of grass. At the feet of the rocky cliffs lay the boundless ocean, seeming smooth and tranquil at a distance, but along the shore, roaring, thundering, and tumbling, like forty thousand giants dashing out their brains in vain attempts to demolish the mountains which obstructed their progress. On one of the narrow ranges of these cliffs sat three persons--Diego Mila and Bernardo Golfin, of Chili, and Billy Bump, of Sundown.
Mila was an old salt--that is, a sailor, some five and forty years old; short, black as an Indian, and hard and wrinkled as the trunk of an oak. Golfin was a Chilian dandy; five feet high, small body, and a little, sallow face, sunk deep in a black, swampy thicket of hair, whiskers, and moustaches. There we were, snug as three fleas in a bottle. My companions spoke nothing but Spanish, of
which I did not know a sentence. On my passage, I had caught a few words, and was able to make out, that in the present posture of affairs, they were both at their wits' end, having given up their entire concerns to the Virgin Mary, and a lot of persons in the other world whom I supposed to be saints. These fellows had at least one comfort--they could converse together. They had their sorrows--but they could find relief in expressing them. Never before did I feel such respect for the human tongue and the invention of language. I believe I would have given one of my eyes, or one of my ears, or any half dozen of my fingers or toes, to have been able to talk with these two Spaniards.
We staid three days on the rocky shore, feeding upon muscles and seaweed, hoping for the return of the Beato, or the appearance of some vessel by which we might escape. But we were disappointed. At length, I determined to climb the mountains, and endeavor to cross the country to the eastern side of the peninsula--a distance, as I had learned, of some fifty or sixty miles. I expected to find no inhabitants, except, perhaps, a few Indians, wolves, foxes, and rattlesnakes; but my anxiety to do something made me perfectly fearless. I was, in fact, desperate, so eager was my desire to be doing something.
I made my plans known to my companions as well as I could, by looks, signs, and jargon; but they rolled up their eyes, and concluded to stick by the Virgin and the saints. So I started upon my own hook. I found a narrow gorge in the cliffs, and, by diligent scrambling, gained the top of the first range of mountains--some two thousand feet high. The scene was amazingly grand; on one side, the broad ocean, spreading out and mingling with the sky; on the other, a seeming city of mountain peaks, dark and dingy with age, and haggard from the effects of volcanic shocks, and the long, wasting influence of time and tempest. No living thing was visible in this extended view--not a tree or plant--not an insect or a bird--save only that, far away, I saw a vulture poised in the sky, and looking steadily down, as if searching for his meal.
It was a mad project; but I determined to try my fortune, and entered this wilderness of cliffs and ridges. I have not time now to tell you, day by day, and night by night, my wild adventures during the three following weeks. I had no money; and among these regions, that was of little consequence. My shoes were thin, and were soon cut to pieces in climbing and descending the cliffs. I had on a thin linen dress: this was very well during the days, which were hot, but at night I suffered from the cold. I had with me a small bundle of muscles, which I ate economically for tho first two days: on the third, I came to a ravine, where there was a little river. This ran eastwardly, and I hoped, by following it, to reach the eastern shore, bordering on the Gulf of California; for here I understood there were settlements. But the river soon terminated in a little valley, in the centre of which was a small lake.
Never have I seen any thing so lovely as this spot seemed, when first I came upon it. All around, the scenery con-
sisted of dreary rocks, appearing like grisly giants, guarding this lonely and sequestered valley. The lake consisted of the purest water, and its shores were covered, even though it was November, with rich vegetation, and flowers of a thousand forms and hues. Birds of bright plumage and sportive airs glided over the water, or glanced through the thickets. I was filled with delight at the scene, so different from the barren desolation amid which I had been wandering.
I approached the lake, and as the weather was intensely hot, and I was very weary, I prepared for a bath. I had taken off my cap and jacket, and was about to complete my preparations, when I heard a strange humming in the bushes at my side. I looked in that direction, and there lay a rattlesnake ready to spring upon me. I leaped upon the bank, but found that I had trod right in among a family of scorpions, one of which gave me a villainous stab in the calf of the leg, with a sort of natural bowie knife which he carries at the end of his tail. I had not fairly got clear of these fellows, when I felt something come slap down upon the top of my head. I put up my hand, and caught hold of a green snake, which, it seems, had fallen from a magnolia-tree, which rose above me. I looked up, and almost every leaf and flower of the tree, was occupied by one of these agreeable little personages. Leaving my cap and jacket to the rattlesnake, I went away with a hop, skip, and a jump, giving to this valley the name of Snaky Hollow. It is mine, by the right of discovery; but I will give a clear deed of it to any body who would like it.
I began to climb the mountains again, and at the end of two days I reached a ravine, where I saw some huts made of canes and leaves. There was nobody there; so I took possession of one. the gorge or valley between the mountains was fertile in places, and I had no difficulty in finding enough to eat. There were wild figs, a kind of custard apple or paw-paw, and various other fruits, in abundance. Being very much fatigued and almost worn out, I concluded to stop here, and recruit. After three days, a terrible event happened. It was night, and I was sleeping in my bed to leaves, when I heard a strange, rumbling noise. I went to the opening of the hut, and looked about. It was perfectly dark, and not a breath of air was stirring; but an awful sound, seeming to come from the bowels of the earth, filled my ears. What it meant, was beyond my conception. If you can imagine some giant, as big as a mountain, suddenly smitten with a fit of the colic--rolling, tumbling, and groaning in his agony--you may have some idea of the noises which then assaulted me.
I waited a few moments in mingled wonder and horror, when suddenly a rush of wind swept by, prostrating my cabin, and tumbling me in among the wreck. For a moment, all was still; and then suddenly the whole heavens seemed to be on fire. The mystery was now explained: one of the mountains which skirted the valley, was volcanic, and being suddenly taken with a fit of fever and ague, began to vomit forth fire and smoke, melted
stones and lava. The latter, a seeming river of fire, was rolling down the sides of the mountain, and threatened speedily to fill up the valley. It was becoming too hot for me; and so, without staying long to make up my mind, I took the opposite direction, and left the volcano to its fate. For a week after, I could see its pitchy smoke screwing the heavens, and gliding away at last in a long, dim line, till it was lost in the sky.
My adventures were not yet at an end. In about three days, I came to a considerable river. This I followed, and it soon brought me to the sea, which I know of course to be the Gulf of California. While I was walking along the shore, a white man and two Indians sprung suddenly from the reeds and bushes, and made me a prisoner. They said not a word, nor did I. The Indians were naked as a chestnut out of the burr; but the white man had a thin dress, and a broad-brimmed, palm-leaf hat. When I was firmly bound, the man spoke to me in Spanish. I shook my head, to signify that I did not understand the language. He then spoke to me in English.
"Who are you?" said he.
"William Bump, of Boston!" said I.
Never did I see such a droll expression, as came over the man's face, as I gave this answer.
"William Bump, of Boston?" he repeated with great emphasis; "and how came you here?
"I was cast away on the other side."
"And how did you get across?"
"I came afoot: there was no railroad!"
The man smiled, and I thought, at the time, it was a very Yankee smile indeed. He went on:--
"And so you was cast away,--and you crossed those mountains? Wal--that's just like the rest on 'em. Now, there ain't a Spaniard, or a Mexican, or an Indian, in all Kalliforny, Upper or Lower, that dare do what that are chap has done. It's the nature of the beast: those Yankees du beat the Dutch. They go and come, and don't mind rattlesnakes, copperheads, racers, scorpions, or volcanoes. Go-ahead is chapter and varse for them. Wal, wal--I thought I'd got to the end of creation, but this fellow's found me out. I'm glad to see him, though: Look 'ere--what 'd you say your name was?"
"William Bump, or Billy Bump, just as you like."
"Well, come go with me." Saying this, my new acquaintance took me to a rude, though comfortable hut, at a short distance. Here were about half a dozen Indians, and around were several other huts. The shore was near by, and in a little nook of the bay, between two rocks, lay three light canoes. We entered the hut, and the man soon told me his story. His name was Paul Pike, son of Captain David Pike, of Popperidge, Massachusetts. He came first to Mexico, to sell clocks, and got a little money by it. He then took to catching horses, on the plains, which he sold to General Scott's army. He was finally taken by the Mexicans, but slipped through their fingers, and took to peddling, passing himself off as a native Mexican. He found a great demand for pearls, and accordingly wrote to his brother Jim, of Popperidge, to
manufacture a lot of wooden ones. These came, but did not pay. Paul then chanced to hear of the pearl fisheries on the Gulf of California, and set out to investigate the matter.
He soon arrived, and catching two wild Indians, set them to diving for the pearl oysters. This did pretty well, and he went on till he had caught six Indians at the time I arrived. He supposed I was an Indian, and I was caught in order to catch oysters for him. Paul was perhaps disappointed at first, but he seemed delighted at last. He treated me with great kindness, and begged me to stay with him, offering me a share in his business. He expected soon to be worth a hundred thousand dollars, when he intended to return, marry the daughter of Squire Bliss, of Popperidge, and go representative to congress from that district!
I had a hard battle to overcome Paul Pike's arguments, in favor of staying with him. When, at last, he found me determined to pursue my own plans, he made me promise to return, if I did not succeed; he then supplied me with necessary clothes, gave me twelve pearls, worth twenty dollars apiece, and sent me, in a boat, paddled by an Indian, to this place; and here I am.
Loreto is the capital of Lower California, but it has not more than three hundred inhabitants. I shall leave this place for San Gabriel in two weeks, with a company of merchants and travellers, going in that direction. I hope to write you soon from that place, and tell you of a happy termination to my strange adventures.
Adieu, dear mother. May Heaven ever bless you and father, and every thing that belongs to my beloved, but far-off home.
I am yours truly,
BILLY BUMP IN CALIFORNIA (from Robert Merry's Museum, December 1849, pp. 177-181)
Letter from William Bump to his Mother at Sundown.
St. Francisco, July, 1849.
Dear Mother: It is again a long, long time since I have written to you; but happily I am at last in a place where I am surrounded by friends, and feel at home. When I wrote from Loreto, I hardly expected the trials which I have since experienced. We set out from that place, mounted on mules, about the 1st of January. There were seven of us in all--two Mexican merchants, a planter with two servants, a Spaniard who professed to be a traveller, going to visit California and examine the gold mines, and myself.
We proceeded without any particular adventure for nine days, travelling about twenty-five miles a day. At first, we travelled along the eastern shore of the peninsula of California, passing through an uninhabited country, except at intervals where we found small settlements, chiefly of Indians, who have been partly converted by the missionaries. They were miserable-looking creatures, almost without clothing. The children were entirely naked.
Though it was the season of winter at the north, the weather was mild here: however, we began to have a good deal of rain, and finally it came so heavy that we were obliged to stay at a small place called St. Isabel for a fortnight. This delay was very tedious, and had I been left to myself, I should have gone ahead,
rain or no rain. But my companions took it very easily. They are never in a hurry. If they could get plenty of tobacco, they smoked off care and trouble, giving themselves up to a soft and dreamy repose.
I knew little of their language at first, but I set myself to studying it, as well as I could, and made great progress. I asked so many questions as to the Spanish for this, that, and t'other, that they seemed to consider me quite a bore. The Spaniard, it is true, seemed to take an interest in teaching me, and we became very good friends. He called himself a schoolmaster, and me his scholar. He remarked, by the way, that one pupil was hardly enough to live upon, but the one ho had gave him quite as much occupation as he desired. The truth is, that having nothing else to do, and feeling very uneasy while I was idle; I devoted my whole time to study, and thus, before the end of my journey, I was quite ready with my Spanish phrases for ordinary conversation.
At the end of a fortnight, we left St. Isabel, and travelling between two mountain ranges, proceeded northward. The rivers were much swollen by the rain, and in several instances, we were obliged to dash across them by swimming. We generally left the choice of fording-places to our mules, who seemed to be excellent judges of those matters. At last, we came to a stream some ten rods in width; the current was swift, and we were driven down quite a distance, before reaching the opposite side. When we had landed, the Spaniard was missing; and an apprehension of some fatal accident immediately flashed across our minds. We waited on the bank some time, looking anxiously up and down the stream. At last, I saw the head of a mule, and a hand clinched in the mane, just above the water. It appeared but a moment, and sunk beneath the waves.
I have never experienced such a feeling as darted into my bosom at that moment. I could not resist the impulse which seemed to call upon me to try to save a fellow-being, and one who had been so kind to me. Without speaking or reflecting, I sprang from my mule, and running down the bank for a considerable distance, looked eagerly into the water. At length, beneath the surface, I distinctly saw the man, sitting erect on the back of the mule, his hands grasping the mane, while he looked up with a gasping and staring look, which I shall never forget. He seemed to fix his eyes on me as he swept by, beseeching my assistance. Losing all thought of my own safety, I leaped into the water, and, by some means which I cannot explain, seized the bridle of the mule. At this moment, an eddy of the stream carried me under; but, being a good swimmer, as you know, I soon rose, and, exerting myself to the utmost, was able to reach the land. I held on to the bridle; but the current was so swift, that the mule was wrested from my hands, and he went down the stream. The rider, however, was thrown off, and so near the bank, that I was able to reach his coat. I soon dragged him ashore, but without a symptom of life.
The rest of our party soon came up, and I was praised as a real hero. It was
two hours before the Spaniard betrayed any consciousness, and for a long time it seemed quite impossible that he should live. At last, he was able to sit up, and by means of a litter made of the branches of trees, we carried him six miles to a small missionary station among the Indians. In two days, we resumed our journey; but the Spaniard was very feeble, and scarcely able to sit upon his beast. He had been informed of the manner in which I had saved his life; but, strange to say, he made no acknowledgment whatever. On the contrary, he seemed to feel an aversion to me, from that very hour. He was moody, scarcely answered my questions, and took pains to keep away and aloof from me. Occasionally I saw his dark, hollow eyes fixed upon me, as if meditating some desperate deed; and such was his conduct, that I really began to feel a sort of horror creeping over me at his presence. The rest of the party noticed this, and they began to fancy that the man was about to run mad. One of them warned me to be on my guard, intimating that the Spaniard was either insane, or harbored some evil purpose towards me.
All this made me reflect, and think over what the man had said to me. He passed by the name of Señor Antonio: he had travelled a great deal, and had formerly lived in California. He appeared to know some people in Boston, though he had never been there. He seemed quite amazed when I told him my name. He asked several questions as to my object in visiting California; but I thought it best to say only that I came to seek my fortune in the land of gold. All this occurred before the adventure in the river; now he did not converse with me at all.
Several days passed, when I began to feel dreadful pains in my back; I was really very ill, but I would not give out, especially as we were within a day's journey of St. Diego, where I wished very much to arrive. But as I was riding along, every thing around began to grow dim; a darkness soon came over my sight, and I felt myself falling to the ground. For three weeks, I knew nothing that happened. It seems that I was attacked with fever, and having been borne by my companions to all Indian hut, I was left there in charge of the people. They, no doubt, attended ne carefully, according to their fashion. When I came to my self, I was on a bed of grass laid upon the ground. The house was made of sticks covered with broad, stiff leaves, woven and matted together. The family consisted of a gray, winkled, old Indian woman, with her son and his wife and two children--a boy and girl. They all seemed delighted when I opened my eyes, and began to speak, and ask where I was, and what had happened.
I remained at this place two weeks longer, when, taking leave of my Indian friends, I mounted my mule, and, by short stages, proceeded to St. Diego. I here made inquiry about Señor Naldi, and to my infinite disappointment, learned that he had left California two years before, and that nothing had been heard of him since. Every body seemed to regard him as a strange character: some said he was very rich, and some that he was very poor. All agreed that there was something very mysterious about him.
I had now got into a somewhat civilized country, and had no difficulty in making my way, on the back of my mule, to St. Barbara, a small seaport, fifty miles south of Monterey. After remaining here two days, I proceeded, and soon found that the road was leading me among rugged cliffs and wild mountain ranges. Here the path became obscure, and as evening approached, it quite disappeared among the wilderness of trees and thickets. It now became very dark, and I soon saw, by the flashes of lightning, that we were to have a tempestuous night. My mule became very uneasy, and refused to go in the direction I desired. At length I gave up the reins to him; and turning at right angles, he began to clatter down the sides of the mountain at a brisk pace. Suddenly he stopped short, and refused to budge an inch. It was intensely dark, and not an object was to be seen. A flash of lightning came; and before me, on a stout Spanish nag, sat the dark and mysterious Señor Antonio. The lightning passed, and all was swallowed up in darkness.
I am ashamed to say that I trembled from head to foot: however, I stuck to the back of my mule, and in a half-hour we were safe and sound at a little Indian hamlet, where we found comfortable lodgings. In the morning, a stranger, who said he was going to Monterey, proposed to join me, and we set off together. At the end of two days, we came to a large plantation, situated upon a vast plain. It was night, and we asked for lodgings, which were hospitably granted. I was shown into an upper room, furnished in the most sumptuous manner. The ceilings were very lofty, with gilt cornices, richly carved. The bed-posts were gilt, and the mosquito-net which enclosed it, seemed to be made of fine linen lace. The chairs were very heavy, and carved with the legs of lions and the heads of uncouth monsters.
I could not well give a reason for it, but I felt very uneasy. The moon shone brightly, and I could see the furniture about the room. If I felt inclined to doze, the chairs seemed to get on all fours, and stalk before me, their heads grinning and making horrid faces at me. At last, I fancied I heard a noise: the door appeared to be opened, and the flare of a lamp was thrown into the room. Immediately a tall man entered, in a dressing gown--his feet quite bare. How can I express my emotions when I saw it was Señor Antonio! He came close to my bed--held up the light, and looked in my face. He saw I was awake, and immediately spoke. "Here," said he,--giving me a small bundle--"take this, and to-morrow go on your way. Open not this parcel till you reach Monterey: then you will know all. Have no fear, for you are in safety. God bless you. Farewell." Saying this, the mysterious man left me.
I need not say that I had no more sleep that night. In the morning, we proceeded, and in two days reached Monterey. You may well believe that I opened the parcel with a trembling hand. I found it to contain twenty Spanish doubloons, with a draft on a house at Monterey, payable to the heirs of Benjamin Bump, of Boston, for the sum of thirty thousand dollars; and this draft was signed Jose Antonio Naldi!
The riddle was now solved. My travelling companion, the mysterious Spaniard, was no other than the identical Señor Naldi, I had come so far to see. I took the draft to the mercantile house, who readily accepted it, and informed me the whole sum would be immediately transmitted to my aunt at Boston. How shall I express the delight of that moment! Well, indeed, was I compensated for all my toil and all my troubles. I wished to return with the money to Boston, and see the delight of Lucy, at the story of my romantic adventures, and the success of my expedition. But as I had now provided for her comfort and that of my aunt, I deemed it my duty to come to St. Francisco, and try my luck here. I hope to make some money, so as to help you and father, and make you easy and comfortable for the rest of your lives. I am very happy at the thought of seeing you in a nice square house at Sundown, with good furniture, a fine garden, a good farm, and all the result of my efforts!
But I must not indulge too much in dreams. I have seen but little of St. Francisco, and shall not attempt to describe it. I have only room to say that Señor Naldi, as I learn, is regarded as a very good man, but often subject to fits of madness which last him sometimes for months. His conduct to me is thus explained. Perhaps, too, his treatment of uncle Ben may be accounted for in the same way. When I saw him, he had been three years in Spain, leaving his estate in California in the hands of his agent. During that whole time, not a word had been heard of him.
And now I must draw my letter to a close. Good-by, dear mother; and may heaven guard and guide us all.
And here, gentle reader, ends the correspondence of Master Billy Bump, so far as it has been put into our hands. If any more of his letters, worthy of publication, come within our reach, we shall give them to our readers. We hope that the history conveyed in these letters may not be without instruction. It shows how a poor boy, with no early advantages, but with a good disposition and good courage, may triumph over difficulties, and be of the greatest comfort to his friends, while he obtains the love and respect of all who know him.
A LETTER FROM BILLY BUMP! (from Robert Merry's Museum, June 1850, pp. 174-179)
Dear Mother:--It is so long since I wrote to you last, that you may imagine I am dead, or lost, or have forgotten you. Forgotten you? no, no, my dear mother. If you could look into my heart, you would not say that. I might forget everything else, but not you. Far off as I am--mixed up in this queer, strange, wild, odd, absurd, sublime city of San Francisco--yet not a day, not an hour passes, but I think of the little brown house at Sundown--of you and father, and everything else in that little paradise.
But I must tell you what has happened since I wrote last. You know that I succeeded in recovering $30,000 of Señor Naldi, and that this belonged to the creditors of uncle Ben. I have since learned that they gave the whole of it to aunt and cousin Lucy. They are well off now, and I am very glad of it. I sometimes feel a little proud that they are indebted to me for their good fortune. Perhaps I ought not to feel so, for they had been very kind to me, and it was natural for me to do all in my power to serve them.
But why has not cousin Lucy written to me? Has she forgotten me? Is she insensible to my efforts in her behalf? A few kind words from her would pay me for all I have done--but even these she could not bestow. Oh, how hard it is to feel that we are forgotten by those we love, and those who owe us thanks!
There certainly was never such a place got together before, as this San Francisco. The people are rushing in from all quarters of the world--from Europe, from the United States, from Canada, Mexico, South America, the Sandwich Islands, Oregon, and even from China. The oddest looking thing you ever saw upon the water has arrived here from the Celestial Empire. It was manned entirely by Chinese. It brought a large quantity of tea and various other articles; among them was a lot of superb crape shawls, but there were no women here to wear them. They were purchased, however, and will be sent from this place to New York. Thus the trade with China, it seems, is turned west instead of east--and this at some future day is likely to be the established course of traffic between that country and the United States.
But I must proceed with my story. Immediately after arriving here, I began to think of the best means of acquiring money. This, indeed, is uppermost in everybody's mind. Everybody here, as a matter of course, has the gold fever. Under its influence, not only reasonable, but unreasonable means are adopted for acquiring the precious metal. The leading idea is to go to the mines, and after some reflection I determined to go there myself.
I therefore joined a company of four persons, and we set out on the journey. Most people go by water, in small vessels and steamboats, but as the fare is sixty dollars a head, most of our party were too poor to adopt this course. We purchased a tent, kettle, two stools, three or four scrapers, spades, hoes, pans, &c. These we sent by a boat. Having made all our preparations, we proceeded on foot.
After travelling for six days, we reached the banks of the river Sacramento, and four days after, our tent and other things arrived in the boat. We were impatient to begin, and therefore, taking our luggage, we proceeded along the banks of the river about seven miles, to a place which had been represented as very rich in gold. We were, of course, a good deal fatigued; but the idea of digging up gold from the earth almost as plentiful as gravel stones, kept us in a constant state of excitement. Everywhere, we met with persons like ourselves going in search of the divine metal. Odd-looking customers were they in general, and some of them were the strangest specimens you ever beheld.
At last, we reached our place of destination. We could hardly stay to erect our tent, so eager were we to begin. Everything being at last ready, we took our scrapers and pans, and distributed ourselves among the rocks. The country consisted of a ledge sloping to the river; it was entirely destitute of trees, and would have had a sad and dreary aspect, but for the treasures which we knew to rest in its bosom.
Never did I look upon the rough, gravelly soil with such a keen, intense feeling of curiosity, as when I first knelt down and began to scrape among the sand. I experienced some disappointment, for the gold did not suddenly make its appearance. I had worked myself up to a high pitch of hope and expectation, and had dreamed of picking up lumps as big as my fist--of getting suddenly rich-- of returning to Boston--of going to Sundown, and telling you of my good fortune. What delight would it be, thought I, to take you and father back to Boston--to restore you to society and friends--to see you once more happy and at ease--and to see that cloud, that gloomy frown, which has hung on father's brow for so many years, converted into smiles by the sunshine of better fortune--to experience this, and feel that I, your son, poor Billy Bump, had done it all! Such had been my dreams day and night, for many weeks, and when the moment came for bringing them to the test of experiment, my feelings were wrought up to the highest pitch of excitement.
Oh! dear mother, if you could have
seen me at that moment, down on my knees, scraping into the earth with a zeal equal to that of a wood-chuck making a burrow! My cap was thrown aside--my eyes strained with gazing at every pebble that came up in the mass of earth--my hands half clenched, ready to seize the expected treasure. Thus I began and worked for several minutes without success; at length, I made a lucky dive into the gravel. Three or four shining yellow bits came up, about the size of grains of wheat. My heart beat violently--again and again I struck into the fortunate bed--my fear passed away--a sense of joy thrilled through me--and I whispered to myself, in my ecstacy, "this is not a dream--it is all true; I shall be a rich man yet."--At the same time, perspiration burst from my forehead, and in the excitement, I felt, in that lone, desolate spot, an emotion of happiness, which words cannot describe.
I worked about four hours, and as the sun had set, I returned to the tent. I had, at least, one ounce of pure gold, and my companions had been almost as successful as myself. We made our supper of ham, which we broiled for ourselves. We treated ourselves each to a single cracker, this being our first day, and one of great success. We slept each with a blanket around us, well protected by our tent. The weather, however, had been rainy, and the ground was cold and moist, so that we all felt a little stiff the next morning. However, we set about our work with great eagerness, and this day also proved successful.
Thus we continued for four weeks, averaging about an ounce of gold each day. In the mean time, nothing remarkable occurred. My hopes had now grown into confidence. I was already worth about five hundred dollars. Two years, even allowing for drawbacks, would make me rich; or, at least, rich enough to accomplish those schemes so dear to my heart. "Two years," thought I, "are a great while; but the object at which I aim is worthy of the sacrifice. May Heaven bless and preserve my poor parents in the mean time!" Animated with such thoughts, I pursued my labor day by day, as sternly and steadily as if I had been a steam-engine, without feeling, and without the wear and tear of fatigue. But, alas! a turn of fortune was at hand!
You will understand that the whole region around was occupied by different parties; many of these were very wild and reckless creatures. Some of them drank a great deal, and many of them spent the half of every night in gambling. When the weather got to be hot, several of these persons, who lived irregular lives, were attacked with disease. It seemed to be a kind of fever, and generally proved fatal in a few hours. At least fifty persons near our encampment were thus swept off in the course of a few days.
A general panic was the consequence, and most of the diggers fled. Our own party had concluded to decamp, but just as we were about making our preparations, one of our number was smitten with the disease. He
became giddy, staggered and fell to the ground. Three of our members immediately disappeared, and I never saw them again. The question then came as to what I should do myself. In the first moment of fear, I resolved to go; but a little reflection satisfied me that I was wrong, and that I must stay beside our sick companion at all hazards.
Having made up my mind, I set about my plan as calmly as possible. I knew my danger, but I also felt my duty. I immediately put the tent in order and got the sick man into it. In a short time, he was in a raging fever. I had no medicine, and did not know how to use it, even if I had possessed any. When night came, my situation was gloomy enough. The whole region around was entirely deserted. The laugh, the shout, the hurrah, which had hitherto broken the stillness of the night, were entirely hushed.
The darkness was intense, and I had neither lamp nor candle. I sat down in one corner of the tent, occupied with very sad and anxious thoughts; I had very little hope of escape from the disease itself. In almost every case hitherto, it had proved fatal. I however prayed to Heaven for support, for protection and deliverance. From this I derived courage and hope, even in a situation so forlorn. It is a strange, yet gratifying thought, that however desperate our condition, however remote we may be from human help, the heart of man may yet draw down strength and consolation from heaven.
During the whole night, my companion raved like a maniac. His mind seemed to be filled with horrid dreams. His history I had never known. He was a Mexican by birth, and went by the name of Antonio. He had been in the mining country before, and we took him into our party, because of his experience. He was a man of middle stature, broad shoulders, intensely black hair and eyes, with very large white teeth. Whenever he smiled, these were fully disclosed, giving his countenance a singular mixture of good and evil expression. His two upper front teeth had been knocked out, opening a hole into his mouth, almost large enough for a mouse to enter. As he lay upon his bed, with his pale and distorted countenance, his appearance was really frightful.
Toward the close of the second day, as I was sitting in the tent, watching the contortions of the invalid, a sudden faintness came over me. In a few moments, everything grew dark, and I soon found myself stretched upon the ground. My senses rallied a little, and drawing a blanket into one corner of the tent, I laid myself down with a conviction that I was about to take my last look upon the realities of life. I rose upon my elbow and gazed around. At this moment, Antonio did the same. He seemed bewildered at first, but speedily recollected himself. His eyes at last rested upon me. He made a faint effort to speak, and finally he said, "You sick, too--then we are both lost!"
"No, Antonio," said I, "the fever is past with you, and you will recover; I
shall die--I feel sure of it. Swear to me, Antonio, that you will send the gold I have gathered to my parents. Their address you will find in your pocket-book. They are poor, I am their only child--their only hope. They will mourn my loss, but this gold will be a great comfort to them. Send it to them, Antonio, and you will earn Heaven's blessing and that of my parents. Do you promise it?"
"I swear it!" said he, devoutly crossing himself. I now sank back upon the ground; my brain seemed on fire, and my reason wandered. Strange dreams filled my imagination, and terrible pains racked my body. At last reason vanished, and I became lost in insensibility.
How long a time passed, I do not know, but at length I seemed to awake from a profound sleep. All seemed strange; but I soon perceived that I was still in the tent. I gazed around, but no one was there. I spoke; I called; I screamed; but there was no reply. Terrified at the idea that I was thus deserted, I attempted to rise, but staggered and fell. I made new efforts, and crept to the door of the tent. It was the gray of morning. Everything looked fresh and fair, but all was still. I could see no living being. I shouted as loud as my weakness would permit, but there was no reply, save a faint echo from the opposite hills.
I went back into the tent and sought for my bundle. It was gone--my clothes, my pocket-book, my gold--everything had been taken away! A mingled tide of bitter emotions overwhelmed me, and I fell back upon the earth.
After a time, my senses returned and I crept out of the cabin: the fair sunshine and the fresh morning breeze revived me. Hope returned, and I determined to make an effort for life. I went down to the river, though with some difficulty, and refreshed myself with a bath, and also eat a small piece of ham which I had found in the tent. Taking a stick as a cane, I set out for a little valley which I had heard described as the residence of a Spanish farmer, about five miles distant.
By the middle of the afternoon I had proceeded nearly half the way. Feeling faint and weary, I proceeded toward a small clump of bushes, for the purpose of seeking shelter from the burning sun. I was about to enter, when I heard a hissing sound, which I well knew to be the warning of a rattle-snake. I gazed into the open space beneath the shade. There lay the stiffened form of Antonio, and on his breast coiled the hideous reptile whose threatening I had heard! On seeing me the creature glided away. My companion was already swollen and changed to a greenish hue by the poison of the serpent which had caused his death. At his side lay a large bundle. How useless was it to him--how futile had proved his treachery to me! I took the bundle without scruple. There was my own property, and among that of Antonio, I found gold and jewels which afterwards proved to be worth $10,000!
But I have not space, my dear Mo-
ther, to tell you my whole story in this letter. The most wonderful and painful part of my narrative is yet to come. I shall write soon, and then you will know all. In the mean time, may Heaven bless you and Father, and watch over
A LETTER FROM BILLY BUMP! (from Robert Merry's Museum, July 1850, pp. 23-28)
San Francisco, ----, 18--.
Dear Mother:--I closed my last letter with an account of the death of our Mexican comrade, Antonio. I cannot tell you the terror excited in my mind by the discovery of his body, under circumstances so terrible. I was exhausted by my illness, and my imagination was peculiarly susceptible of sad impressions. It did not give me any satisfaction to discover my lost treasure, nor to find a large addition in that of Antonio. Indeed, at the end of a few minutes a kind of loathing came over me, and after carrying the bundle for a short space, I cast it from me with a feeling of inexpressible disgust. I was by this time extremely weary and faint, and sat down to recover a little strength.
After a short space, I arose and with a languid step proceeded on my way. Reaching the top of a small hill, I saw a valley before me, int he middle of
which, at no great distance, was a collection of huts, which I knew to be the settlement of the farmer I was in search of. Making a great effort I went forward, and as the evening set in, I reached the spot.
I was kindly received by the Spaniard, who seemed to listen to my story with interest and sympathy. A bed was provided for me and suitable food. In two days I was quite recovered, except that I was somewhat feeble. I now began to reflect upon my situation. What was I to do? It was a pretty serious journey to San Francisco, whether I went by land or returned by way of the Sacramento. And what was I to do at San Francisco? I had thrown away my treasure, and had scarce money enough to pay my expenses thither. My health was impaired, and I seemed quite unable to go to work again in the mines. And was I to abandon all my cherished schemes--my hope of seeing my parents restored to comfort and peace of mind?
When I thought of these things, I felt a sad sinking of the heart--and almost gave way to despair. I went into the fields far away from the farm-house, so that I might be alone, and gave full vent to my sorrow. I shed many tears, but my bosom was lighter for it. And now a new train of thoughts arose in my mind. "After all"--said I to myself, "why should I not keep the treasure which I found in Antonio's sack? I can make inquiry at San Francisco, and if any friend of his can be found, I can deliver the dead man's property to him; my own I can retain. I must conquer my disgust and horror at the scene with which this money is associated. It is weakness--it is folly--to yield to my feelings, when the consequence is a failure in duty to my parents and perhaps to myself."
I now wondered that these views had not occurred to me before; I felt ashamed at my conduct, and immediately set out to go and recover the abandoned treasure. I felt an intense anxiety lest some one should have found it and carried it away. The place where I had thrown it down was not far distant, and I soon reached the spot. There was the bundle, and on opening it nothing seemed to be missing! I now hid the parcel carefully in the leaves, not being willing to show it at the farm-house. The next day I departed. The Spaniard would receive nothing for what he had done. He seemed, indeed, sorry to have me leave; and I doubt not I should have been welcome for a year without fee or payment of any kind.
Taking a course toward the Sacramento, I went forward at a good pace. At nightfall I had reached a lofty ridge, which I supposed bordered the river. It was extremely rough and craggy, but as the moon shone brightly, I pursued my journey, though I got many a tumble. At last I found myself on the verge of a cliff which looked into a glen or gorge so deep, that it seemed only a sea of night. The trees around shadowed the spot so as to exclude every ray of moonlight. All around was perfectly still, and I paused a moment to look
on the lonely scene. While my gaze was bent upon the glen, suddenly I saw a light, and soon after a burst of laughter, as if from half-a-dozen voices, rung upon my ear. Instantly the light vanished--the sounds ceased--and again darkness and silence reigned around.
What could this mean? My curiosity was strongly excited, and I determined to pass into the ravine, and if possible satisfy it. Descending from rock to rock and cliff to cliff, I soon approached the place whence the light and sounds seemed to proceed. I soon saw a feeble light gleaming at the mouth of a cave. Advancing stealthily I gazed within. At first I could see nothing, but advancing a few yards into the entrance, I perceived a few blazing sticks upon the floor of a vast cavern, whose outline was faintly visible in the dusky light. No person seemed to be there, and with a degree of daring which now surprises me, I continued to proceed till I was in the middle of the rocky chamber. The scene was awfully grand. The cave was arched at the top, but it was of such a height and width as to seem like a church of enormous proportions. The walls were lined with shining pillars, as if made of snowy marble, and the roof was hung with what appeared like festoons of woven silver.
While I was gazing in wonder and admiration at the scene, I heard the same noisy laughter which had before attracted my attention. I now saw four or five persons entering the cavern. One of them had a torch of blazing wood; the rest were carrying parcels which seemed very heavy. My first idea was to present myself to them, but as they came near, their faces seemed to terrible that I shrunk back into the shadows of the cave. Here I remained behind one of the projecting pillars, where I could see and hear all that passed, without being myself observed.
The persons before me appeared to be all Spaniards. From the drift of their conversation, I easily gathered that they were part of a desperate set of gamblers and robbers, who made this cavern their hiding-place and store-house. They seemed to have great quantities of gold dust and large lumps of pure gold. These they laid in heaps or tossed about in bags, as if they were too common to be objects of great regard. After a short space, several other persons came, and joined the first group around the fire. A large jug was now brought forward, and each took a long draught of its contents. Very soon they grew merry, and one of them began to sing. After the song they divided in groups, and taking out packs of cards gambled with one another. At length a quarrel arose between two of the party, and after a short fight one of them was stabbed to the heart and fell dead upon the rocky pavement of the cavern.
This scene did not long interrupt the amusement of the party. The dead body was thrown aside, and chanced to fall near where I was secreted. The gamblers then proceeded. When again fully busied in their occupation, I stole away with a noiseless tread. No one observed
me, and ere the morning dawned I had reached the banks of the Sacramento. I here found many parties employed in gold digging and other pursuits, and had no difficulty in engaging a passage to San Francisco in a small sloop on the very point of setting out for that place. The passage of four days gave me opportunity to reflect upon the extraordinary scenes I had witnessed. "What," thought I, "will not men do for gold? They leave their peaceful homes; they toil in the lonely wilderness, where they are separated from friends and all the ordinary comforts of life. They are exposed to fatal fever, to the destructive influence of the climate, and to the dangers which arise from vicious and desperate men. After all, many fail of gaining the wealth they seek; many leave their bones to bleach on the ravines or upon the rocky ledges; many disappear and are never heard of more; many return with shattered constitutions, and even if they have plenty of gold, they have not health to enjoy it."
When I arrived at San Francisco my health was fully restored. My good spirits now returned, and I began to feel quite important. I had ten thousand dollars, which seemed to me a prodigious great sum. I am ashamed to say, that by degrees I had reconciled myself to the idea of keeping Antonio's money, without trying to find his friends. I believe, indeed, that he had no connexions, for I had often heard him say that he had not a relation on the face of the earth. I therefore satisfied myself, without inquiry, to hold on to the money. A new sensation had come over me--the feeling that I was rich. It is not easy to describe my emotions. They were, however, pleasant enough: I felt a good deal larger in my person; I had a loftier tread, spoke with more confidence, and felt that I could not possibly do anything wrong. "What!" said I, mentally, "can a young man worth ten thousand dollars--and which he has made himself--can he be otherwise than right? Poh! poh! Billy Bump is somebody now--so clear the track for the locomotive!"
I know you will say I was a ridiculous fop in all this, and so I was--but, Mother, I believe nothing tries a young man like becoming rich. He is almost sure to grow hard-hearted, conceited, confident and overbearing, when his purse is full. He then says or feels that he is responsible neither to God nor man: he does what his passions prompt, and nothing can make him doubt the rectitude of his conduct. His modesty, his self-distrust--all that made him look to Heaven for counsel and to mankind for sympathy-- pass away before a self-love which very soon amounts to self- idolatry. At times something of this process went on in me--during the few brief weeks in which I enjoyed the dangerous conviction of possessing a fortune.
But the day of reckoning was at hand. I formed some dangerous acquaintances, of which there are too many at San Francisco. At first I drank with them, and then gambled. In Boston, I should as soon have thought of cutting my
hands off as doing either of these things: but here, drinking shops and gambling houses are seen at the corners of the streets, and are indeed the gayest and finest places in the city. I was led on by degrees. Some designing men, who found out that I had money, flattered me, and made a great deal of me, and made me feel that I was a monstrous clever fellow. When I first gambled I always won. In a short time I had gained five hundred dollars. This made my heart swell with dreams of increased wealth. I had become so self-confident that I felt as if everything I undertook must prosper. "I am born to good luck," said I to myself, "I shall very soon be able to go back to Boston with twenty thousand dollars in my pocket. What a dash I will make there!"
Do not, dear Mother, despise your poor, weak, giddy boy. I now see my folly, and the evidence that I am cured of it is given in this very confession. What pains me most is, that my selfishness rose exactly in proportion to my increase in cash. In these my days of prosperity, I thought more of gratifying my own vanity, than of ministering to your happiness. It was when I was poor that I yearned to build up your fortune: when I had become comparatively rich, I grew so important in my own eyes, as to think mainly of myself. O, what a delusion is that which comes with prosperity!
Hitherto I had only played for small sums: but one day, when I had been drinking, I grew more bold, and risked five hundred dollars. This I won. It was proposed to stake a thousand dollars. I consented and lost it. Startled by this change of fortune, I proposed to double the hazard. This was done and again I lost. I now drank a deep draught, and proposed s take of five thousand dollars. This also I lost. A kind of frenzy seized me. I proposed another stake of five thousand dollars. It went against me, and I was ruined. Not a dollar of all my cherished treasure remained!
* * * * * *
To tell my agony of mind, when my reason returned, is impossible. Conscience, that stern monitor, which I had turned out of doors, now came in, and began to upbraid me. It told me that I had squandered money not my own: it was consecrated to my parents: it was given to me by Providence, for their benefit, and I had fooled it away in gratification of my own vanity and passion. I believe for a time my reason was nearly overturned by the bitterness of my regret. My health soon gave way, and a fever set in. A dreadful despair seized me: I wished to die, as if this would cover my shame and appease my remorse. The disease, however, was not violent, and after a brief space it passed away. My health began to return, and with it a more just view of my condition. I saw my error in its full force, but resolved to turn it to good account. "I am young," said I, internally, "I now know my danger, and am armed against it. Perhaps it was in kindness, that Providence punished me. If I had gone on in pros-
perity, I had been doubtless hardened in folly and iniquity; adversity has led to conviction of my guilt, and conviction has led me to repentance. I will try again, and may Heaven aid my new endeavors."
I know, dear Mother, this letter will give you as much pain in the reading, as it has me in the writing. O that I could see you and pour out my whole heart to you! You would feel my errors deeply, but you would soothe me with kind words, with hope--perhaps with some excuses for my youth and my inexperience. I am overwhelmed with shame when I think of cousin Lucy. I dare not write to her; she will despise me now. This is hard to bear--and it is not the less painful to know that all I suffer comes from myself. I do not know what I shall do. All before me is uncertain. I shall make some effort, and probably shall go back to the mines. For the present I can write no more.
From your erring boy,
TWO LETTERS FROM BILLY BUMP (from Robert Merry's Museum, December 1850, pp. 181-185)
Dear Mother:--My last letter to you was dated at St. Francisco. After reflecting a good deal upon what course to adopt, I resolved to go back to the mines. For this purpose I borrowed forty dollars, and set out with a company of three young m[e]n for the diggings up the Yuba river. I suppose you do not know much about this country, so I will tell you a few things that will enable you to understand my story. The city of St. Francisco is situated on the east side of a long, beautiful bay, extending, north and south, seventy miles. As you look to the east from St. Francisco, across the bay, you see the snowy tops of lofty mountains, stretching north and south, till they are lost in the distance.
The two principal rivers of this region are the Sacramento, which rises in the mountains of the north, and flows southward 3 or 400 miles, and the San Joaquin, which rises in the mountains of the south, and flows northward about 300 miles. These two rivers meet, and enter the head of the bay together. The streams which flow from the mountains into the San Joaquin and Sacramento, are very numerous, coming chiefly from the east. Gold is found on nearly all these streams, but it is more abundant along the branches of the American and the Feather rivers, both of which enter the Sacramento from fifty to sixty miles north-east of St. Francisco. The banks of the Yuba, a branch of the Feather river, are thought to be the richest of all the Gold Regions, and to this point, we proposed to proceed as fast as possible.
On the last day of February, we departed in a small, narrow steamer, with a wheel at the stern, bound for Marysville, a new village at the junction of Feather and Yuba rivers, about 130 miles from St. Francisco. We were heavily loaded with freight and passengers: of the latter there were about forty in number, mostly Yankees; but there were several Mexicans, three or four Chilians, two Frenchmen and a Chinese. The latter had picked up a little English, and was a shrewd, enterprising fellow. He wore a long braided cue, hanging down his back, which seemed a rather troublesome ornament to carry up among the diggings. We tried to persuade him to cut it off, but he steadily refused, saying that if he lost his cue, he should cease to be a China-man. The thought of this seemed too humiliating to be endured.
In about a day and a half we reached Sacramento city, which consists of several streets of small wooden buildings, with several thousand inhabitants. We thence continued our course northward, steaming up the Sacramento, amid waving plains, which extended far back on either side to distant ranges of mountains. Passing by Vernon, which is a new town, we entered the Feather river, our course now lying to the north-east.
Proceeding onward, we passed into the Yuba, and at the end of five days from our departure, reached Marysville, a distance of about 130 miles from St. Francisco.
Here we left the boat, and started on foot, having employed a man with a mule to carry our baggage; each man reserving his blanket and a few articles to himself. After travelling about fifteen miles, the plains began to be exchanged for hills, low at first, but rising at no great distance into mountains. At a place called Rose's Bar, twenty-five miles above Marysville, we halted for several days, as the snow was very deep all around us. After a time, we pushed on; our course being now through lofty and desolate regions, broken by a constant succession of ridges. We had left the river, which made a wide sweep to the left; our course being guided over the snow by a mule track or trail.
Though it was now the middle of March, the snow was six or eight feet deep in some places. One afternoon, there was a fresh fall of snow, which nearly covered up the trail. When evening set in, our party mistook the route and wandered off among the mountains. I chanced to be a little behind, and as it was now quite dark, I got separated from my friends. Perceiving that I had lost my way, I called aloud; but the wind was blowing heavily, and nobody heard me. My situation was rather alarming, and I made great efforts to join my friends, but without avail.
I wandered on for several hours, and, at last, found myself entirely exhausted. Near by, was a thick group of pine trees, beneath which I crept. Here I scraped away the snow, and cutting off some of the branches, laid them down for a bed. I then kindled a fire of dry sticks, and after eating a small piece of dried beef, wrapped myself in a blanket, and lay down to rest. I slept soundly for some time, but at last suddenly awoke in a kind of fright. For some time, I could not imagine where I was. At a little distance, stood a strange, dark figure, with small eyes, looking directly at me. At first, I fancied myself at Sundown, and thought old Bottlenose was making up faces at me.
But this confusion of mind soon passed; I recollected my situation, and recognized in the visitor that still stood gazing at me, no other than a grisly bear. My revolver and my bowie-knife were instantly ready for the conflict which I now expected. For several minutes, Bruin and myself faced each other, seeming to hesitate which should begin the battle; but at last, the shaggy monster deliberately sat himself down on his hinder end, as much as to say, "I can wait for you, sir."
It was still dark, though the dawn had just commenced. The blaze of my fire had gone down, but the coals were visible, and I could see my shaggy neighbor turn his keen eye towards it, with a kind of timid glance. I then recollected that wild animals are afraid of fire, and accordingly I pushed a heap of dry branches over the coals, which, in a few seconds, burst into a bright flame. The bear could not stand this, and im-
mediately started off in great fright. I concluded to give him a farewell salute, and so sent a bullet after him. It seemed to take effect in his flank, for he suddenly stopped, turned round, uttered a hideous growl, and came bounding towards me. I had just time to seize a firebrand, with which I stood ready for the attack. The beast came close up to me, and, as he paused a moment, I put a bullet into his forehead, between his eyes. He staggered hither and thither for a few minutes, and then seeming to recover, disappeared in long leaps, and I saw him no more.
At an early hour in the morning, I set out in an easterly direction, hoping to overtake my comrades. Just at evening, I recovered the trail, and soon after, my friends, who had spent a night and day in wandering about, once more joined me.
I need not tell you all the particulars of our further journey. We at length came to the forks of the Yuba river, where we determined to stop and try our luck at digging. We found a number of people already at work around this place, which soon acquired the name of Downieville. Great stories had been told of the success of miners in this quarter, and I was very eager to begin my work; but for four weeks, the snow was so deep as to prevent regular operations. The rivers were swollen so as nearly to cover their banks, yet every day I prowled about, and picked up some small pieces of gold, sufficient to pay my expenses.
In May, our digging began. It was very hard work, and my success was inconsiderable for a long time. Towards the end of June I met with a large lump of gold, mixed with a transparent kind of stone called quartz, which weighed at least three pounds, and proved to be worth about six hundred dollars. With what I had obtained besides, I have now about $800 over and above all my expenses.
You may believe I am very thankful for this success. I am thin and a good deal worn down with hard work, but I am in good spirits; if I could get four or five thousand dollars, I should return home, for I think that would make you and Father comfortable; I do not care for myself. Thogh I be poor all my life, I shall be content, if I can see my parents happy once more. Farewell, dear Mother, and give my best love to everybody and everything that loves and remembers me.
I am your affectionate son,
St. Francisco, 18--.
Dear Mother:--I wrote you a short time since from a place on the Yuba river, which is called Downieville--about 230 miles to the north-east of this city. I was about five months in the diggings, and collected over a thousand dollars worth of gold by my own efforts. I should have remained longer, but my health began to give way, and I thought it safest to return. I set out with only a single guide, and reached Marysville without any particular adventure.
At Marysville, I went to a small place with my companion, which was occupied as a gambling establishment. It was evening, and there were a good many persons standing around. I was with the
rest looking in at the windows. Pretty soon, I came away alone; but shortly after, I observed a tall man with a slouched hat, and a short cloak over his shoulders, following me. He pretty soon came up, and spoke to me by name. I easily recognized him as the gambler who had won from me the greater part of the money I had lost at play in St. Francisco.
I had a kind of horror of him, and confess that I trembled from head to foot when I discovered who he was. He perceived the state of my feelings, and immediately said, "You need not be afraid of me; go with me to the hotel and I will satisfy you of this." We went, as he proposed, and obtaining a light, we went into a small apartment together. The man took off his cloak and hat, and sat down. He then beckoned to me to sit down also. I complied, and the stranger said, "Do you not remember me?"
"I remember you but too well," said I, "as the person who won from me $8,000, a few months since, at St. Francisco."
"And, I suppose," said he, "that you consider me as your worst enemy?"
"No," said I, "I was, myself, my worst enemy. I cannot complain of you, for you only did what was customary. You won the money according to the rules of the game. I ought never to have risked it in such a business. I have been severely punished, and perhaps the lesson will be worth all it cost me."
"Have you resolved never to play again?"
"But you have been at the diggings, and have been successful, I suppose?"
"You have a thousand dollars, I understand. Come, let us go to the table, and try your luck at monte; perhaps you will recover all your former losses."
"No, sir; I shall never gamble again."
"Be not too sure; you are young, and resolutions made at your age are often broken."
"You tempt me in vain, sir; I will not risk a dollar."
"You are determined?"
"I will give you two to one."
"No, sir; I will not play with you, if you give me ten to one!"
At this point, a smile of seeming satisfaction passed over the countenance of the stranger; at the same time, he rose, went to the door and asked for pen, ink, and paper. These being furnished, he sat down and wrote as follows:
Messrs. Robinson & Co.,
Please pay to the order of WILLIAM BUMP the sun of Ten Thousand Dollars, value received.
Yours, Jose Antonio Naldi.
This he handed to me. You may well imagine my amazement. While I was looking at him, he unclasped his huge whiskers and took off a moustache, and I discovered in a moment that the stranger who had won my money at St. Francisco, and was now before me, was indeed no other than the Signor Naldi, whom I had formerly known, whose life I had saved, and who had paid me a large sum of money.
While I was still gazing at him in astonishment, he said, "I perceive that my
conduct needs explanation. Some time ago, I chanced to be at St. Francisco. While there, I saw some jewels in the hands of a goldsmith, which had been stolen from me by a Mexican robber and thief. I caused inquiry to be made, and found that they came from you. An agent whom I employed became a spy, and when you were excited with liquor, he made you tell him the means by which you obtained these jewels, and acquired the wealth which you were spending so freely. Nearly all the money that you found upon the body of your Mexican comrade, Antonio, was stolen from me, and was therefore mine. I could have taken it from you by the law, but I preferred another course. I perceived that your young head was giddy with success, and I determined to give you a serious lesson. I adopted a disguise, met you with others at the gambling-table, and won your money. I learned your chagrin, your sickness, your repentance, and your departure for the mines. It was by accident I met you here to-night. I had always intended to restore the money I took from you at the gambling-table, when I was satisfied that you were thoroughly cured of your disposition to play. I have tried you and know that you are now proof against similar folly. There is an order for $10,000--$8,000 to repay what I took from you, and $2,000 for interest!"
You may well believe, dear Mother, that I poured out abundance of thanks to the generous Spaniard. "You owe me nothing," said he, "for the money; I have but restored your own. If what you took from the body of Antonio was partly mine, I still give it to you. Money is of little importance to me. I have indeed more than I want. You once saved my life; perhaps I have saved your future peace of mind by giving you a sharp lesson." Saying this, Signor Naldi resumed his disguise and disappeared.
Next day, with a buoyant heart I embarked for this place, and reached it in a few hours. I am now making preparations to depart for Boston; from thence I shall travel as fast as possible to Sundown. This is a long way round, as I am hardly more than 1500 miles from you in a direct line; but it is necessary that I go to Boston to settle up this business there, which brought me to this country. After the loss of my $10,000, I had determined never to see Cousin Lucy again; but I think I shall be able to pluck up courage enough for the interview, now that I have recovered from my difficulties. Farewell, dear Mother, and believe me
Ever yours, William Bump.
We have nothing further to say in relation to Master Wm. Bump, except that we learn that he arrived safely at Boston, and found his aunt and Cousin Lucy, occupying a beautiful cottage in Brookline. They were of course delighted to see him. There were two other persons there, whom he was even more glad to see. These were his Father and Mother! We need not tell the rest, but leave our friends to guess all the questions and answers that followed.