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Digging for Gold: Adventures in California

Digging for Gold: Adventures in California

Author:R. M. Ballantyne


If ever there was a man in this world who was passionately fond of painting and cut out for a painter, that man was Frank Allfrey; but fate, in the form of an old uncle, had decided that Frank should not follow the bent of his inclinations....
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  If ever there was a man in this world who was passionately fond ofpainting and cut out for a painter, that man was Frank Allfrey; butfate, in the form of an old uncle, had decided that Frank should notfollow the bent of his inclinations.

  We introduce our hero to the reader at the interesting age of eighteen,but, long before that period of life, he had shown the powerful leaningof his spirit. All his school-books were covered with heads of dogs,horses, and portraits of his companions. Most of his story-books wereillustrated with coloured engravings, the colouring of which had beenthe work of his busy hand, and the walls of his nursery were decoratedwith cartoons, done in charcoal, which partial friends of the familysometimes declared were worthy of Raphael.

  At the age of thirteen, his uncle--for the poor fellow was an orphan--asked him one day what he would like to be. This was an extraordinarycondescension on the part of Mr Allfrey, senior, who was a grim,hard-featured man, with little or no soul to speak of, and with anenormously large ill-favoured body. The boy, although taken bysurprise--for his uncle seldom addressed him on any subject,--answeredpromptly, "I'd like to be an artist, sir."

  "A what?"

  "An artist."

  "Get along, you goose!"

  This was all that was said at the time, and as it is the onlyconversation which is certainly known to have taken place between theuncle and nephew during the early youth of the latter, we have ventured,at the risk of being tedious, to give the whole of it.

  Frank was one of those unfortunates who are styled "neglected boys." Hewas naturally sharp-witted, active in mind and body, good-tempered, andwell disposed, but disinclined to study, and fond of physical exertion.He might have been a great man had he been looked after in youth, but noone looked after him. He was an infant when his father and mother diedand left him to the care of his uncle, who cared not for him, but lefthim to care for himself, having, as he conceived, done his duty towardshim when he had supplied him with food, clothing, and lodging, and paidhis school fees. No blame, therefore, to poor Frank that he grew up ahalf-educated youth, without fixed habits of study or thought, and withlittle capacity for close or prolonged mental exertion.

  Mr Allfrey entertained the ridiculous idea that there were only threegrand objects of ambition in life, namely, to work, to eat and drink,and to sleep. At least, if he did not say in definite terms that suchwas his belief, he undoubtedly acted as though it were. His mindappeared to revolve in a sort of small circle. He worked in order thathe might eat and drink; he ate and drank that he might be strengthenedfor work, and he slept in order to recruit his energies that he might beenabled to work for the purposes of eating and drinking. He was aspecies of self-blinded human-horse that walked the everlasting round ofa business-mill of his own creating. It is almost unnecessary to addthat he was selfish to the back-bone, and that the only individual whodid not see the fact was himself.

  When Frank reached the age of eighteen, Mr Allfrey called him into hisprivate "study,"--so called because he was in the habit of retiringregularly at fixed periods every day to study _nothing_ there,--and,having bidden him sit down, accosted him thus:--

  "Well, boy, have you thought over what I said to you yesterday aboutfixing upon some profession? You are aware that you cannot expect tolead a life of idleness in this world. I know that you are fit fornothing, but fit or not fit, you must take to something without delay."

  Frank felt a sensation of indignation at being spoken to thus rudely,and in his heart he believed that if he was indeed fit for nothing, hissad condition was due much more to his uncle's neglect than to his ownperversity. He did not, however, give utterance to the thought, becausehe was of a respectful nature; he merely flushed and said,--"Really,uncle, you do me injustice. I may not be fit for much, and every day Ilive I feel bitterly the evil of a neglected education, but--"

  "It's well, at all events," interrupted Mr Allfrey, "that you admit thefact of your having neglected it. That gives you some chance ofamendment."

  Frank flushed again and drew his breath shortly; after a moment'ssilence he went on:--

  "But if I am not fit for much, I am certainly fit for something. I haveonly a smattering of Latin and Greek, it is true, and a very slightknowledge of French, but, if I am to believe my teacher's reports, I amnot a bad arithmetician, and I know a good deal of mathematics, besidesbeing a pretty fair penman."

  "Humph! well, but you know you have said that you don't want to enter amercantile or engineer's office, and a smattering of Latin and Greekwill not do for the learned professions. What, therefore, do youpropose to yourself, the army, eh? it is the only opening left, becauseyou are now too old for the navy."

  "I wish to be an artist," said Frank with some firmness.

  "I thought so; the old story. No, sir, you shall never be an artist--atleast not with my consent. Why, do you suppose that because you canscribble caricatures on the fly-leaves of your books you havenecessarily the genius of Rubens or Titian?"

  "Not quite," replied Frank, smiling in spite of himself at theirascibility of the old gentleman, "and yet I presume that Rubens andTitian began to paint before either themselves or others were aware ofthe fact that they possessed any genius at all."

  "Tut, tut," cried Mr Allfrey impatiently, "but what have you ever done,boy, to show your ability to paint?"

  "I have studied much, uncle," said Frank eagerly, "although I have saidlittle to you about the matter, knowing your objection to it; but if youwould condescend to look at a few of my drawings from nature, I think--"

  "Drawing from nature," cried Mr Allfrey with a look of supremecontempt, "what do _I_ care for nature? What have _you_ to do withnature in this nineteenth century? Nature, sir, is only fit forsavages. There is nothing natural now-a-days. Why, what do you supposewould become of my ledger and cash-book, my office and business, if Iand my clerks raved about nature as you do? A fig for nature!--the lessyou study it the better. _I_ never do."

  "Excuse me, sir," said Frank respectfully, "if I refuse to believe you,because I have heard you frequently express to friends your admirationof the view from your own drawing-room window--"

  "Of course you have, you goose, and you ought to have known that thatwas a mere bit of conventional humbug, because, since one is constrainedunavoidably to live in a world full of monstrous contradictions, it isnecessary to fall in with its habits. You ought to know that it iscustomary to express admiration for a fine view."

  "You spoke as if you felt what you said," replied Frank, "and I amcertain that there are thousands of men in the position of yourself andyour clerks who delight in nature in all her varied aspects; who,because they unfortunately see so little of her in town, make it theirambition to have cottages in the country when they can afford it, andmany of whom decorate their walls with representations of nature."

  "Frank," said Mr Allfrey, somewhat solemnly, as he turned his gaze fullon the animated face of his nephew, "_if_ I could get you put into alunatic asylum without a doctor's certificate I would do so withoutdelay, but, that being impossible just now--although I think it will benot only possible but necessary ere long--I have to make you a finalproposal. It is this:--that, as you express such a powerful objectionto enter an office in this country, you should go abroad and see whethera three-legged stool is more attractive in foreign parts than it is inEngland. Now, I happen to have a friend in California. If yourgeography has not been neglected as much as your Latin, you willremember that this country lies on the western seaboard of NorthAmerica, not far from those gold-fields which have been recently turningthe world upside-down. Will you go?"

  "I shall be delighted to go," said Frank with enthusiasm.

  "Eh!" exclaimed Mr Allfrey, with a look of surprise, as if he could notunderstand the readiness with which his nephew agreed to the proposal,"why, how's this? I had fully expected you to refuse. Remember, boy,it is not to be a romantic gold-digger, which is another name for a bornidiot, that I would send you out to California. It is to be a clerk, aquill-driver. D'you understand?"

  "I understand, uncle, perfectly," replied Frank with a smile. "The factis that I had made up my mind, lately, not to oppose your wishes anylonger, but to agree to go into an office at home. Of course it is moreagreeable to me to think of going into one abroad."

  "I'm glad you take such a sensible view of the matter, Frank," said MrAllfrey, much mollified.

  "Besides," continued Frank, "I have read a good deal about that countryof late, and the descriptions of the magnificence of the scenery havemade me long to have an opportunity of painting it and--"

  He paused abruptly and started up, for his uncle had seized a book,which usually lay open on his desk, and was in fact a sort of dummyintended to indicate the "study" that was supposed to go on there. Nextmoment Frank sprang laughing into the passage, and the book flew with acrash against the panels of the door as he shut it behind him, leavingMr Allfrey to solace himself with a large meerschaum, almost the onlyunfailing friend that he possessed.

  Thus it came to pass that Frank Allfrey went out to the gold regions ofCalifornia.