Now there was young Deboon from Boston, who was a very learned man. He was in fact one of those fearfully learned men. He was a man who could talk in all tongues and think in none.
Perhaps he had sometime been a waiter.
I am bound to say that the most dreadfully learned young men I have ever met are the waiters in the Continental hotels.
Besides that he was very handsome. He was, indeed, almost as handsome as a French barber, or a first-class steward.
Another thing that helped to defeat him in this hurried election was his love of animals and his dislike of hard work. The handsome fellow stood for election this day with a bushy-tailed squirrel frisking on his shoulder, and a pair of pink-eyed white mice peeping out like a handkerchief from the pocket of his red shirt.
Then there was Chipper Charley -- smart enough, and a man, too, who had read at least a dozen books; but the Forks didn't want him for an Alcalde any more than it did Deboon.
Then there was Limber Tim, and Limber certainly could write his name, for he was always leaning up against trees and houses and fences, when he could find them, and writing the day and date, and making grotesque pictures with a great carpenter's pencil, which he carried in the capacious depths of his duck breeches' pocket. But when Sandy proposed Limber Tim, the Camp silently but firmly shook its head, and said, "Not for Joseph."
At last the new camp pitched upon a man who, it seemed, had been called The Judge from the first. Perhaps he had been born with that name. It would indeed have been hard to think of him under any other appellation whatever. It had been easier to imagine that when he had first arrived on earth his parents met him at the door, took his carpet-bag, called him Judge, and invited him in.
As is usually the case in the far, far West, this man was elected Judge simply because he was fit for nothing else.
The " boys " didn't want a man above them who knew too much.
When Chipper Charley had been proposed, an old man rose up, turned his hat wrong side out with his fist, twisted his beard around his left hand, spirted a stream of tobacco juice down through an aisle of rugged men and half way across the earthen floor of the Howling Wilderness saloon, and then proceeded to make a speech that killed the candidate dead on the spot.
This was the old man's speech:
"That won't go down. Too much book larnin."
But the new Judge, or rather the old, bald-headed, dumpy, dirty-faced little fellow, with the dirty shirt and dirty duck breeches, was not a bad man at all. The "boys " had too much hard sense to set up anything but a sort of wooden king to rule over them in this little isolated remote camp and colony of the Sierras. And they were perfectly content with their log too, and never once called out to Jupiter for King Stork.
This old idiotic little Judge, with a round head, round red face, and round belly, had no mind, he had no memory. He had tried everything in the world almost, and always had failed. He had come to never expect anything else. When he rose up to make a speech of thanks to the "boys" for the "unexpected honor," and broke flat down after two or three allusions to the "wonderful climate of Californy," he was perfectly serene, perfectly content. He had got used to breaking down, and it didn't hurt him.
He used to say to his friends in confidence that he certainly would have made a great poet had he begun in his youth. And perhaps he would, for he was certainly fit for nothing else under the sun.
The Forks was the wildest and the freshest bit of the black-white, fir-set, and snow-crowned Sierras that ever the Creator gave, new from His hand, to man.
One thousand men! Not a woman, not a child, down in that canyon of theirs, so deep that the sun never reached them in the Winter and but a little portion of the day in Summer.
Forests, fir and pine, in the canyon, and out of the canyon, up the hills and up the mountains, black and dense, till they broke against the colossal granite peaks far above and crowned in everlasting snow.
Three little streams came tumbling down here from the snow peaks in different directions, meeting with a precision which showed that they knew their ways perfectly through the woods ; and from this little union of waters the camp had taken the name of " The Forks."
They had no law, no religion; but, for all that, the men were not bad. It is true they shot and stabbed each other in a rather reckless manner; but then they did it in such a manly sort of a way that but little of the curse of Cain was supposed to follow.
Maybe it was because life was so desolate and dreary that these men threw it away so frequently, and with such refreshing indifference, in the misunderstandings at the Forks ; for, after all, they led but wretched lives. That vast freedom of theirs became a sort of desolation.
This was the new Eden. It was so new, it was still damp. You could smell the paint, as it were. Man had just arrived. He had not yet slept. The rib had not yet been taken from his side. He was alone. Behold, these men went up and down the earth, naming new things and possessing them.
Strong, strange men met there from the farthest parts of the world.
Men were grandly honest there. They invariably left gold in their gold-pans from day to day open in the claim ounces, pounds of it, thousands of dollars to be had for the taking up. Locks and keys were unknown, and, when the miner went down to the Forks on Saturday night to settle his account, he, as a rule, handed the merchant his purse and let him weigh whatever amount he demanded, without question.
When the great Californian novel which has been prophesied of, and for which the literary world seems to be waiting, comes to be written, it will not be a bit popular. And that is because every true Californian, no matter how depraved he may be, somehow has somewhat of the hero and the real man in his make-up. And as for the women that are there, they are angels. So you see there is no one to do the business of the heavy villain.
Sixty miles from the nearest post and neighboring mining camp, it was utterly cut off from communication the biggest half of the year by impassable mountains of snow.
How dark it was down there! The earth it seemed had been cracked open. Then it seemed as if Nature had reached out a hand, smoothed down the ruggedest places, set the whole in a dense and sable forest, topt the mountains round about with everlasting snow, then reached it on to man. And then it looked as if man had come along just as it was nearly ready, slid into the crack, and not being strong enough to get out, resolved to remain there.
The wild beasts were utterly amazed. In this place even the red man had never yet set his lodge. Deep, and dark, and still. Even the birds were mute. Great snowy clouds, white as the peaks about which they twined, and to which they flew like flocks of birds at night to rest, would droop and droop through the tops of tossing pines, and all the steep and stupendous mountain side on either hand glistened with dew and rain in Summer, or glittered and gleamed in mail and rime of frost and ice in Winter.
These white, foamy, frightened little rivers ran and tumbled together, as if glad to get down the rugged, rocky mountain, and from under the deep and everlasting shadows of fir, and pine, and tamarack, and spruce, and madrona, and the dark sweeping yew, with its beads of scarlet berries. They fairly shouted as they ran and leapt into the open bit of clearing at the Forks. Perhaps they were glad to get away from the grizzlies up there, and were shouting with delight. At all events, they rose together here, united their forces in the friendliest sort of manner, and so moved on down together with a great deal more dignity than before.You see it was called the Forks simply because it was the Forks. In California things name themselves, or rather Nature names them, and that name is visibly written on the face of things, and every man may understand who can read.
If they call a man Smith in that country it is simply because he looks as if he ought to be called Smith Smith, and nothing else.
Now there was Limber Tim, one of the first and best men of all the thousand bearded and brawny set of Missourians, a nervous, weakly, sensitive sort of a fellow, who kept always twisting his legs and arms around as he walked, or talked, or tried to sit still, who never could face anything or any one two minutes without flopping over, or turning around, or twisting about, or trying to turn himself wrong side out, and of course anybody instinctively knew his name as soon as he saw him.
The baptismal name of Limber Tim was Thomas Adolphus Grosvenor. And yet these hairy, half-savage, unread Missourians, who had stopped here in their great pilgrimage of the plains, and never yet seen a city, or the sea, or a school-house, or a church, knew perfectly well that there was a mistake in this matter the moment they saw him, and that his name was Limber Tim.
It is pretty safe to say that if one of these wild and unread Missourians had met this timid limber man meandering down the mountain trail met him, I mean, for the first time in all his life, without ever having heard of him before he would have gone straight up to him, taken him by the hand, and shaking it heartily, said, " How d'ye do, Limber Tim?"
The Forks had just been " struck." Some Missourians had slid into this crack in the earth, had found the little streams full of gold, and making sure that they had not been followed, and, like Indians, obliterating all signs of their trail, they went out slily as they came, struck the great stream of immigrants from the plains, and turned the current of their friends from Pike into this crack of the earth till it flowed full, and there was room for no more. The Forks was at once a little Republic ; a sort of San Marino without a patron saint or a single tower.
A thousand men, I said, and not a single woman ; that is, not one woman who was what these men called " on the square." Of course, two or three fallen women, soiled doves, had followed the fortunes of these hardy fellows into the new camp, but they were in some respects worse than no women at all.
As was usual with these fallen angels, they kept the camp, or certain elements in the camp, in a constant state of uproar, and contributed more to the rapid filling-up of the new grave-yard up on the hill than all other causes put together. The fat and dirty little judge, who really wanted to keep peace, and who felt that he must always give an opinion, when asked why it was that the boys would fight so dreadfully over these women, and kill each other, said, "It is all owing to this glorious climate of Californy."
The truth is, they fought and killed each other, and kept up the regular Sunday funeral all Summer through, not because these bad women were there, but because the good women were not there. Yet possibly " the glorious climate of Californy " had a bit to do with the hot blood of the men, after all.Start reading Chapter 2 of The First Famlies of the Sierras