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My Last Stake

My Last Stake image
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It ís a cold, stormy, chilly evening ia Sacramento, ;ind the north-eastern winds that come from the snowy tops of the Sierro Nevada bring with them a wintry feeling of discomfort to the denisons of the plains, disagreeablo .2 proportion to their rarity. The heavy curtaina oí the parlor in my snug little cottage are closely dravni, and the bright, flashing, snapping wood fire in the grate gives a cheerful light and neat to tbe happy homo I have found aftor years of toil and vicisitudes. rhe palm content tha now bles.-es me a a fitting conclusión o ti. e Btorray days that have passdd. Sittiiitr ii my cozy arm obair, gazmg at the genial and changing flameg, a host of unbidden nemorieH cme to me frotn the past, ike dreams, mi re than like the bitter ealitiea they were; for we scarcely can ealize n looking bact to early hte in California, tlie ndifferenee and coolnesa with whieh we met danger and even deatli - when all is ín a state of lelirious excitement, a feverish inania or gold-seeking actuating a' and proving a worse curse than even at present. While indulffing in these thoughts and the uxiiiv of cornparing past sufferings and sorrows with present hap piness and joys, a soft little hand had crept into my hand, a soft uheek rested against my face, and the inquiring eyes of my darling little girl, Küty, met mine; yet another hand clapsed my lelt and another tiead was resting against my heart, whence loving looks sought mine f rom the hquid depths of my vvife's ''ï-ight eyes. Gazing v;thin them,lcould read there the urichanging iove that made my constant happinesd; for what more inestimable boon can fortune bestow on a man than the Iove of a true ioman? Said a voiee in my ear, 'Father, you promised me a story to-night - a real, true story - teil me one about your self - when yon first carne here, and about gold digging, and killing, and all those strange tlnngs the newspapers teil about, sometimos. I know yoti can; and perhapsyou was most killed in thosy horrid times yourself - were you ever, papa?" ïho i-hild's eager curiosity brotight to my remeinbiance one of those dark episodes in my life, that came and passed so quickly, that it is with difïiculty I can always realize I was an actor in it, although at the time I viewed the incident as not so very reu.uikable. The child r.estled closer to me. and as the thougbte she had suggested arose, thoy came from my lips in words, rat hei1 as if I was thinking aloud ihan relating a story for her amusement. Yes, those were dark times for me in the latter part of the year 1852. Ee covering from a severo and nearly fatal illness, I was totally without meane, or any steady employment. Educated as a gentleman and having passed the greater part of my life among books, as a acholar, I had no friends among those who might havo assisted me in obtaining work and bread. Many more there were, doubtless, who, like rnyself, preferredthe keen, uiting pangs of hunger, to making a confession of proverty, or asking aid from the mockiug lips of charity. It is true many will consider it a very reprehensible degree of pride; but I feit I would rather die than beg a favor from my feliow man, and very near I came to it that winter of 1852. H.w many in like circumstances may have passed away in doath, throughout the length and breadth of California, and vvhose sad story and fato uoknown: shall nover be told." In a dismal garret, open to the winds of hoaven, unprotected from the cold, assailed by tho torturing pangs of haoger, I can oever fotget those long, long, vveary nigbts. A d uil, hopeless despair seized upon me, and life and death wero alike indifferent. In tho day time it was bettev; some little employment conld Bometinm be bad to keep away the wolf - hunger - that was gn'avving at my vitáis. Yet, duriag all this period, like the Spartan boy, [ conceiiled mv j sufferings n mv boeoro, and nont tha't ! mét me in the daily walks of life ever knew ol my destitute condltjon. I had obtainecl werk for a lew days, and by this means put a few dollars in my pocket, but lili it w:,s only a temporary relief; and uftor the small smn was aked out to its utmost capac.ity, for bread, then, as had jiappened many times before, another period of suffering was to come. All this had, combined ith past misfortunes, neaily broken my npirit, and hope was oven departing from the horizon of my future. I v.t.b weary of dh:appoir.t;nent, ;ilmost weary ot lifo. In th's unfortunate state of mind, reokless and LdiSerent, I was walking ono evenin along streef, San Francisco, whicli led by n lnng wfaarf tc the water's odge. Ihada half fornied idea in rny head thaton reaching its termination I should have before me, at least, the is by which I could termínate all prfcgent sufferings. 4s I reoolleot my ieolings at that. time, 1 do not imagine that, lor a moment, 1 seriously comtemplated suicide, but ra: her that, there was a oertal n faacination and pleasure in seeing the way by whioh mortal troubles could be left behind At that time gambling, in all its varietifs, was the great feature of life in California, and lts hi'lls were to be eeen on every hand, all over the city; but from some innata fefcling of disgust more than from reaoning, I had nevar gambled; for it always seemed to me that a dollar obtained by intelligenee of the mind and honest labor was worth fr moro than many dollars gained by mere blind chance. I had too much confidence ia tny abllities and manhood to stoep to the tiiokery of dice, for money I ought to havo the power to gain by more intelligent means. Before reaching the end of the whari, I was aroused from my revery by the oonfuaed din of mauy voioes and sounds of miüic, among which abovo allothere, arose the shrill screams of an ill-payed clariotiet. Turning round I foundj 1 was in fr-ont of one of the vilest and most nororious hells in tho lower part of the oity, where rumor said many crimes woro committed with impunity - for jubtice existed but in name iu thoso days, and roguea did exactly what eemed good to their own eyea. As I gazed within the largc, crowded room, I rerncmbered that an acquaintance was employed as a musiuiun in the orohestra on ono side of the room, and governed by the impulsooi the moment, I pushed my way through the mats of persons around the table tospeak to him. Alter a few niomentS cuuversation vvith the musician, Le turned to me and Saict in a quiot tone of voice: 'Whenerer yon come in here, never be temptcd to risk a dollar on any game played, for not a 'square game' is played Lere; and mor than that, the worst thing a man eun do is to win ?wmey hete.' Saying tuis he resumed hi occupation Ndt caring muoh for the i; forination, L guzed abiut me at tli r-uena, j wilb u. itlll gioatbi1 reckltss dupreeioo j of spin t. Vivo and virtuo oeoiiied to ! b more woriis without uieaiiuig; and ■ aotuated by mij weak and í"oIirIi tiiought, the question arcKe in ai heart -ís everytiiug iu lue mare chanoe, l.Ke ilie turuiug ot du-j or caiüs Is Ui io auy 3(Hl who directa, nim i ucts down-trodden viiLuo, or punishoi j öuocessfül vicü' riiere lay in piles before me gold in cciiii a very srnall (jortion of oue oí Lhciii vvould iiiüke ma happy, aod ! enablo me to relieve frotn suöariag auothor uiar off, vvho was dearer than liie iu me, lor 1 came in seaich of gold lor i tiuiy purpose, it was chaugmg hands censlauly; passing iuto the j sessioj ol tli' se lowest in tho great i sea e of hurrutnity. who used it nly for I the vila.-it debaucljenes. Where ivas ' auy kiud Fruvidenue to ba regarded in all this? I walked carelcrfiüy up to a rouiette table, and from tbe feefing of the momeot - alike indiflerem to the srniles or frowus oí' fortune - I threw down, as takes, tho thrse dtjllars in loose tilver whioh I liad in my pockets. It was as quickly won by the gambler; and, indeed, I afterwards met the very mechaDic who made tho table, and who explained to me its sooret spriuga, by wluch other fools, hke rayself, were rübbed. Pasbing along with the crowd, I found ïiiysull at ihe centre of exeitement aud attraction - a faro lable - around which were some newly arrivod and very succesalul ininers, judgin írom the mauy thousand dollars they had on ' the tablo. Under the influsnee of bad whiskey, and tho yicissitudoa of the game, they were appstrently as reckiess as mysolf to consequences. Taking from my vest pocket a ten dollar gold . piece, which was all I had in the world, I threw it on a card ut random - oae on which the othors were not botting - aa my last. btake. It doubled and doubled, again and again, many time, ti 1 1 at length even the half druukeu minera, vrho were playing l'or such heavy stakes, took an interest in my strange luck; and tha marble faced dea r, whose attoution hithortohad been entirely devoted to them, turned his eye with a sinister look upon me. When my card won for the ninth time, I took up from the table in coin and dust, $5,l:0, with a stolid coolness I havo since many timas wondered at, and putting it in a cuuple of bags givon to me by ono of the miners, 1 thrust them into my pockets. As I stepped aside to leave the table, the desier, turning round to soma one in th crowd, and giving him a peculiar look of intelligenc, said with a laugh: That's a heavy pile to carryP 'I soon fouud out the truth of his remark. Not wishiug to elbow ray way through the orowd directly to the door, I passed round behind the tables in the baoK part of the house. Leading from the room were a number of badly lighted passage - one or two wern quite dark. - As I went by one of the latter, before I had turnod round toward the street door, a man standing in the obscure light, nearooDoealed behind the door post, beckonvd me toward him, with a mysterieus gesturo. Without thinking, I stepped through the door a few feet to learn what ho wished, and when within a few yards of hira, as I took another step, quiekcr than I can teil it, the floor passed lïoin under my feet and I was sinking rapidly under the waters of the bay. With the instinct of self preservación, I struggled for the life I had held so eiieap. .it, after what seeawd to mo a, long timo, almost suffoeated and weighed dowu by the f.itul gold, 1 rom) to tiu Hofeftna A ügiu t'rbm a dark brotara iiashed down i'rora tho luouth of wiiat appèartd to be a square well. built on the water of the bay, and coustruotod of smooth paunel boards. In these few moineuts of time. by that ghastly light, 'mid all the despair and horrors of that scène, a whole lifu of thoughtsand memories wns before me. Notwithstanding all my past misery, I conld not, without a struggle, die a dog's doath. I could see above me, in that interval of time, tlio palü-look'mg faces of two ruffiaus gaztu d"'.Tn. One grasped ia liis hand a long polo, armed with a sharp point, and directly opposite me, in the well, within a few fect of my face, was a bloatcd, livid face of a swollcn corpas, that had, unkuown to mo, servcd to obstruut : my rising to the surface. ín tlio flickeriug light and disturbed waters, it appeared to mook and jeor, moving nearer and nearer. Just tlien one of tha men aid to the other: 'S:jlit his head and job liim ui:der or he will sing out.' And down came the shurp spear, touehing my arm, slightly injuring me. He then drew it up to throw it again with more deadly purpose. The despa.r of death was upon mo, and from my lips the name of her far away arose in a ehoking cry of anguish At that instant of time, the report of pistols, shrieks of pain, mingled with the varied sounds of deadly conllict, oamo to my ear; the desperado above me in baste cast the spoar, and then with his companion, ruslied to the scène of other murders, doubtless feeling secure of the victim left in the well. The lantern hung on a nail, about six foet above me, and a pieco of rope hud beep carelessly dropped from what appcarcd to be a vertical trap, opening outward on the tide water. Bodies were found in the bay ao frequently in thoso days that they excited little ouriosity or comment, At a glanee I could sec all I have described, aud although wounded in my left arm by the spear, still, with the desperate energy of despair, I pushod the swollon body under my fcet, and sprang to grnsp the rope - Twice I failed, and big drops of perspiration feil from my forehead, as I thought the murdcrers would return instantly, The third attempt was more successful, for I seized the rope - which, luckily, had a knot at the end-- with a dcgree of strength I could not have usod uuder any other cireumstances and raised myself toward the floor above, whieh I fouud on one side of tho well, there was a spaoe between the boards and floor of about eight inehes high, perhaps twenty wide. How I forced mjself through this narrow space, eneumbered as I was, I do not know, for all the ovents I havo doscribed passed in a few moments, although it seemed an age to me. I dropped myself clown on the outside into the rippling waters, and passing as quickly as possible frorn pile to pile, under tho street and many houses, I scarcely stoppod to broathö untill foun ! myself far from the spot. Once I thought I heard smotherod voiees and the Sound of muffled oars, but if so, they conld not find me, and I made my wny eautiouly to land a long distance off for I well knew they would use every rnenr.H to stop a victim who had discovered their crimes.- Exhausted and very weak from h)jw of blood from my wounded arm. I to my garret Late the next morning wheu I woke, I oould nötbelieve the abovu events, oxcopt as a troubled dream, until reaching out my hand, I feit the weight of the money in the pockets of my wet eoac. My narrativo was haro intornipted by a hesitating voico from the little head that was nestled so clossly to my bosoin. Looking down in the the chi'ld's face, tv;o big tears wore lingering on hor eyelids, for sho had listened to the long story with the childish wonder she might havo listened to a story from the Arabian Nights. ■But, father, what became of the wicked men, and what did you do with all that money?' 'I will teil you dear.' I replied. 'After binding up my wounded arm as well as possible, I went out and took the first good meal I had taken for many weeks I then purchased a suit of clothes, and going to a barber, materially changed impersonal appearance, and in coinpany with an honest policeman - not cominon in those days - I visited the scène of my night's adventure. As we carelessly sauntered through the room, not a single face met mine that I could in the least degree recogniae. They had evidently - those implicated as actors in crime - fled away until possiblo investigation should cease. The very dark passage from the back part of the house which I had such fearful reason to remember, was so cunningly built up and altered that it j was difficult to suppose any such place ever exiated. 'In the nfternoon of the same day I unexpectedly met an old acquaintance from the States, who persuaded me to go with him to the mines, and it was some length of timo before I returned. As for the money, it was mostly invested in a large building on Jackson street, which was afterwards burned up; but nevertheless, from that time fortune dealt more kiudly with me, as some atonement for her past frowns." Once again the same inquisitive voice from tho little lips interrupted me, to ask: 'But you are rioh now, father, ain't you?' Aa I looked at lier, and then at the other dear one, whosc head rested on my shouldjr, I oould only think and reply, 'I am indeed rich in that which gold can never purchase.'


Old News
Michigan Argus