The scene is in California. From the borders of a noble river rises a series of eminences, in which, interspersed among the trees, can be seen a number of tents, with here and there a misshapen, yet picturesque log-hut. It is early morning, and, though the sun is shining brilliantly, it does not send forth a scorching heat, as presently it will do, when the gentle breeze which now and again stirs the foliage dies away. Down by the river are groups of men, some standing bare-legged in the stream, working with broad shovels, and others busily sifting and washing the fine sand which their comrades have just dug from the river s bed. All this digging, sifting, and washing have but one object​—​the finding of gold, and to this Californian gold-field have come men from nearly every nation under the sun​—​English, French, Germans, Spaniards, Mexicans, and even Chinese.

In front of one of the log-huts already mentioned are three men sitting, or rather lounging, round a camp fire. Tea has just been made in the kettle, slung, gipsy fashion, over the fire, and this, with ship’s biscuits, bought at the price of rich plum-cake from the store at the river-side, forms the breakfast.

“And so you’re off to-day, Cap’en, air you?” said one of the group​—​a tall, lantern-jawed, sallow-faced Yankee, with little twinkling eyes and sandy hair.

“Aye, aye, Lampard,” rejoined the man addressed, an Englishman every inch of him, with his blue eye, and brown beard and moustache just beginning to be streaked with gray. Captain Samuel Somerset carried his fifty years well in spite of his thirty years spent at sea, and storms and hard knocks had not dimmed the brightness of his eye, though they might have furrowed his cheek.

“Wa-al, now,” resumed the Yankee, “I suppose, Cap’en, you’ve made a pretty tall pile. You’ve been at these diggings two years or more, hain’t you?”

The Captain looked up sharply, as much as to say, “What is it to you how much gold I’ve found?”

“Yes,” said he; “it’s two years since I cleared out at San Francisco and came right away up here. The crew went first, and then I followed. I tell you what, Lampard, when I got that thirst for the gold in me, I was bound to come, and no one on earth could prevent me. But it’s over now. I’ve made my pile, and I’m back to old England, and I’ll warrant it’ll be a long time afore I’m afloat again.”

“Mean to settle down, eh, Cap’en?”

“Aye. I’ve got a youngster there, d’ye see, and it’s a matter o’ some years since I set eyes on him. He’ll have grown a fine little chap by this time.”

“Wa-al, it’s a nice thing to be ashore for a spell, but it don’t suit me for long. I wish I’d had your luck, Cap’en, at Swallow’s Gully.”

“It isn’t luck. A man who gambles away his gold as fast as he gets it can’t expect to make much of a pile,” replied Captain Somerset shortly.

“That’s a fact; and if it hadn’t been for that Chinaman Ah Ling Foo I’d ha’ sworn off cards long ago. But the fit was on me, and I couldn’t help it.”

“Ah Ling Foo,” repeated the Captain musingly. “What’s become of that thieving rascal?”

“Broke. Cleaned out. Smashed. Guess he’s gone up to ’Frisco. Swallow’s Gully’s a long sight too hot for him.”

“And a good thing too. A cunning scoundrel like that fellow ought to be lynched.”

“I reckon he would have been if he’d stopped here much longer. He was cute enough to make tracks,” returned Lampard coolly.

Captain Somerset did not reply, but rose to his feet and went into the log-hut, leaving the Yankee lying on the ground and gazing contemplatively at the fire.

We will follow the Captain into the hut.

There was little or no furniture inside. A rough box did duty for a table, and another box of a smaller size served for a chair. There was a rough shelf along the whole of one side, on which were arranged the Captain’s household goods, including the indispensable frying-pan, a couple of tin pots, a washing-bowl, and a few tin plates. All these, as well as the furniture, he had sold to a neighbour who was only waiting until the Captain should clear out to take possession of the hut and its appurtenances.

Captain Somerset’s preparations for departure were soon made. The most important piece of luggage​—​if luggage it could be called​—​was a certain leather belt of great width. To this belt was sewn a number of bags, making the belt no light weight to carry, and no wonder, for the bags were filled with gold dust.

The Captain fastened this belt on next his vest and beneath his flannel shirt. A pair of cow-hide boots reaching nearly to his knees, a broad-brimmed hat and a Mexican blanket, which served equally well for a cloak in rainy weather and for bedclothes at night, made his costume complete.

He looked to the loading of his revolver, saw that it was in perfect order, stuck his long-bladed knife in its sheath, glanced round the hut as if bidding it adieu, and stepped out once more into the open.

“Well, Lampard,” said he, “good-bye!”

“Look here, Cap’en,” was the American’s reply; “will you stay a day longer at the Gully, and I’ll tell you what I’ll do,​—​I’ll go with you to ’Frisco.”

“Thank ye; but I’ve made my plans, and can’t go from ’em. I’ve sold everything to Walters, and he wants to take possession,” returned the Captain, evidently not overjoyed at the Yankee’s proposition.

“Oh! if you don’t want my company, I shan’t force it. I guess I’ll be at ’Frisco as soon as you,” said Lampard in a snarling tone.

“Very like,” returned Captain Somerset briefly.

And without another word he walked to where his horse was tethered, mounted it, and rode slowly away from Swallow’s Gully, its gold, and its gold-diggers. Henceforth he had made up his mind he would forswear a roving life and live quietly at home in old England.

In three days more he was in San Francisco​—​not so magnificent a city twenty years ago as it is now, but still a thriving, bustling place, and increasing as much in a month as other cities increase in a year.

His first visit was to a ship-broker’s office.

“What, you here, Cap’en Somerset?” said the shrewd broker, who recognized him directly he entered. “Why, I heard you were dead​—​shot by rowdies, they said.”

“Not I,” returned the sturdy Englishman. “I should like to see the rowdy who would attempt to shoot me.”

“Wa-al, sir, and have you been doing pretty well up at the diggings?” asked Mr. Patterson, the broker.

“Can’t complain, sir. But I’ve had enough of it, and want to get home.”

Mr. Patterson cut a slice from a cake of tobacco which he took from his waistcoat pocket, and deposited it in his mouth before he spoke.

“You wouldn’t care to take one of our ships to London, I s’pose, Cap’n, would you? We’re dreadful short of hands, and that’s a fact. Everyone who can get away is off to the gold-fields,” said he at last.

“I don’t care,” answered Captain Somerset. “I’d as lief take a command as not. Have you got your crew?”

“Wa-al, yes,” said the broker slowly. “I might say I had. Rather a mixed lot, p’raps, and you’ll have to keep a firm grip over ’em.”

The Captain looked thoughtful before he replied. Then he said, “I’ll do that; trust me. What about the officers?”

“Want a first mate; but I expect to find a man to-day.”

Then came the question of terms, which, after some disputing, were finally settled, and Captain Somerset agreed to take the Good Fortune to London. As had been the case with Captain Somerset, the skipper of the Good Fortune had, as soon as she arrived at San Francisco, been bitten with the gold fever, and had gone up the country, and so the broker was very glad to get hold of so experienced a commander as he knew Samuel Somerset to be.

The following day the Captain went again to the ship-broker’s office and found Mr. Patterson in a state of joyfulness.

“All right, Cap’en. Got a first-rate fellow. I guess you may know him. He was up at Swallow’s Gully.”

“What’s his name?”

“Lampard​—​Hosea Lampard.”

Captain Somerset started. He frowned as if the appointment did not please him, but he said nothing.

“I’ve got some of the crew outside,” went on the broker. “P’r’aps you’d like to have a look at ’em.”

“Thank ye. I daresay I shall see them enough and to spare when they’re shipped,” returned the captain with a laugh.

“Well, there they are anyway.”

Carelessly Captain Somerset strolled out of the office and glanced up the street in the direction indicated by the broker. There were six or seven men standing outside a dramshop disputing violently, no doubt to settle who was to pay for the liquor they had drunk. As evil a set of men as you would find anywhere, were the crew of the Good Fortune, and the captain shrugged his shoulders and gave a low whistle directly he saw them.

“I don’t think much of your choice, Mr. Patterson,” said he.

“I tell you what, Cap’en, if you knew how scarce men were in these parts you’d think yourself lucky to get even them, I reckon.”

“Should I? Seems to me you’ve been clearing out your gaols. Hilloa! is that Chinaman one of the lot?”

This was in reference to a pig-tailed celestial who had just joined the group.

“Yes; and you’ll find him tarnation handy. You’ll want a cook, won’t you?”

“Do you know that this fellow​—​Ah Ling Foo, as he calls himself​—​is one of the greatest rogues in California, and that’s saying a good deal? He had to leave Swallow’s Gully in a mighty hurry, and the place is well rid of him.”

The ship-broker heard Captain Somerset’s remark with perfect unconcern. He knew well enough that if he were to reject a man on account of his bad character, a ship’s crew would not be got together at all.

Captain Samuel Somerset left the broker’s office with a look of anxiety on his brow such as it had not worn for many a long day. He did not like the prospect of being shut up for three months or so with a set of fellows whom he thoroughly mistrusted. Still he had confidence in the strength of his own right arm, and was not a man to shrink from a task because it was dangerous.

Before another week had passed the Good Fortune weighed anchor, spread out her canvas to the breeze, and sailed across the magnificent bay of San Francisco into the broad Pacific. Captain Somerset had left California never to return.

Was it a presentiment of coming misfortune which made him pace the deck so often in the still hours of the night, and which led him to look forward with fear rather than with hope to his arrival in England?

Who can tell?