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Demons Of Disaster

Johnston McCulley

Goldfield sluice-box robbers threaten to annex a Chinese miners' dust— but they face a roaring Oriental surprise!

SQUATTING on his heels beside the fire in front of the small log cabin, old Lee Chung ate gobs of rice and chunks of boiled pork with his chopsticks. His cousin, Wong Chin, a younger Oriental, sat on the opposite side of the fire and ate also.

The brilliant sunset had died in the western sky, and dusk was descending into the rocky canyon through which the tumbling whitewater creek rushed to empty into the Yuba River. The firelight played over the faces of the two men as they devoured their evening meal.

Wong Chin was watching old Lee Chung's countenance carefully, hoping to read therein some inkling of what Lee Chung was thinking, what he intended doing about the situation that confronted them, and hoping it would not be something he would dislike.

For there was an important problem to be solved. The demons of disaster had been visiting this modest gold-seekers' camp on the bank of the creek again. So it followed that the gods were displeased about something, and Lee and Wong should do whatever would appease them and gain their favor.

What did it profit them to work from daylight until dusk each day and wash out gold-dust and nuggets if evil men came and robbed their sluice boxes and took the rewards of their toil? And once the masked visitors had even located the poke which Lee Chung believed he had hidden so cunningly, and had taken that.

Wong Chin wished half a hundred times a day that he had remained in the thriving city of San Francisco instead of coming out here to this lonesome rocky canyon on the Yuba river to help his elderly kinsman on the claim.

A Chinese could make good money in San Francisco washing shirts for miners and gamblers, and many of their own kind lived there. They could play fantan and dominoes together, and with the frantic gold-rushers coming to the diggings on every ship there was always amusing activity.

Lee Chung again silently filled his bowl with rice and boiled pork from the big pot over the cooking fire, grasped his chopsticks, and looked across at Wong Chin.

"There must be a swift end to it!" he declared. "We have suffered more than our proper share at the hands of the thieves. The gods must be appeased so they will grant us a season of good fortune."

Wong Chin began jabbering in his native tongue, but his elderly cousin halted him with a gesture.

"You will spleak Melican," Lee ordered. "Must learn language well." Then he dropped into his native tongue himself. "I have considered our problem. The demons of disaster are preying upon us. They must be driven away, so we may profit in peace from our hard toil."

Wong Chin nodded his head vigorously in agreement.

"A low thief stole our poke," Lee continued. "Three times our sluice boxes have been robbed of gold. One time a masked man held a flaming stick to my naked toes to make me tell where our dust and nuggets were hidden. It is too much!"

WONG nodded in agreement again, so vigorously this time that his queue, which had been wrapped around his head, became undone and slapped him in his face.

"A certain amount of trouble and adversity is good for a man, but we have had too much," Lee announced. "So, I have made a decision. At dawn tomorrow you will start for Saclamento."

Wong Chin's slant eyes opened a bit wider than usual at that and he sat erect, but otherwise did not reveal he had been startled. So he was to journey to Sacramento! Next to San Francisco, he liked Sacramento best. He had several cousins there, younger than Lee Chung.

"You will go to the joss house and see the priest," Lee instructed. "You will burn many punk sticks in front of the joss. You will get plenty of sacred firecrackers which have been blessed by priest, and you will return here swiftly. We will shoot off sacred firecrackers and frighten away the demons of disaster."

Wong Chin thought that would be an excellent idea, especially since it would give him a trip to Sacramento. It was the proper thing to do under the circumstances.

He would go to Sacramento and see the head priest at the joss house, burn punk sticks before the sacred joss, make a suitable donation, get the blessed firecrackers and return at top speed.

Then he and his elderly cousin would shoot the loud firecrackers a string at a time and make a terrific din. The demons of disaster would be frightened and driven out ...

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