TO the amazement of all the Forks, one day, when a bearded man in gum boots, slouch hat, and blue shirt, reached in at the Widow's for his washing, the hand that reached it out was not the Widow's. It was the little brown lazy hand of Washee-Washee.
Of course the camp did not like this. This Chinaman to them was a sort of eclipse, a dark body passing between the miners and their sun. They remonstrated, and the Parson bore the remonstrance to the Widow in a speech of his own; and, to his own great surprise it was not ornamented with a single oath.
"The Forks began his reformation; let me go on with it. Why not?" answered the woman.
"You will be plundered."
The Parson looked at the gold nuggets on the mantel piece, and shifted the quid of tobacco from right to left. "Washee-Washee will lie," began the Widow soberly. "He can lie, and he does lie, very cheerfully and very rapidly, in spite of his name, which might suggest better things; but he steals no more do you, little brownie?"
Washee-Washee's little black eyes glistened with gratitude. The little pagan was coming up in the social scale. The Widow had begun her missionary business where all the world ought to begin it at home.
The Parson went away. He felt that somehow his footing with the Widow was shaken, and that he must do something to redeem the day.
The Parson was always trying to do something original. He concluded to "lay for" the Chinaman.
He took a fresh quid of tobacco, stowed him self away in the bush, and waited.
In the twilight, the mournful, the sad, but beautiful ghost of the great golden days of the Sierras, a hand reached out and took Washee-Washee by the queue as a man would take a tethered horse by the lariat.
The little man did not smile as before. He even struck back with his little brown bony hands. He wound one of them in the Parson's beard, and shouted aloud to the empty woods. The valor of honesty was on him. However, kick as he might and shout as he could, it all did but little good, and the Parson proceeded very coolly to take him by the two heels, hold him up in the trail, and shake him in a smooth level part of it, just as if he was about to empty a bag, and did not wish to waste the contents.
Now the Parson was not at all vicious on this occasion; he had no wish to harm the Chinaman: he only wished to help the Widow. He shook Washee-Washee in perfect confidence that he would find all the gold nuggets, half the spoons, and nearly all the household goods in the little Widow's warm and sparely furnished room. He had not been a bit surprised if he had shaken out the Widow's goods and wares, her wash tub, and clothes line. "Ah, certainly," said the Parson, pausing, to himself, "for is not Washee-Washee's line the clothes line?"
Shake, shake, shake. It was of no use. Something had fallen from his blue blouse, but it was not gold. He stood the little man down, with the other end up, and was a bit angry that he did not go on smiling as before.
He stooped, and picked up the little black object that had been shaken from the brown little fellow before him. The Parson began to swear. It was only a little ten cent Testament, in diamond type, with a cloth cover. The Parson put his head to one side, filliped the leaves with his thumb and finger, and then, feeling perfectly certain that it did not belong to any of the boys in the camp, and equally certain that it was not an article that he cared to carry around loose with him, he filliped the leaves again, and, handing it back to Washee-Washee, said, "Git!"
The Parson took one end of the trail, and the little pagan the other.
A Missourian who lay in his bunk up against the wall, smoking his pipe of "pigtail" after supper, looked out from his cabin window through the wood and up towards the Parson's cabin, where the trail wound on the hillside above him.
"It's a thunderin' and a lightnin' like cats and dogs. There's a-gwyne to be a storm tonight."
But it was only the Parson swearing at his bad luck and that Chinaman.
"Only a Testament!" Then an idea struck him like an inspiration. Did not the good little Widow give the brown wretch this thing?
He stopped swearing, stood still in the trail a moment, and then, giving a long whistle as he drew a long breath, he went on to his cabin in silence.
That Testament troubled the Parson. There was not much religion in the Forks. There was little sign of anything of that kind among the men of the Sierras. Perhaps there were other Testaments hidden away under the bunks of the miners, but they were never visible. I know of one, the gift of a good mother, that forever refused to get lost, or wear out, or disappear under any circumstances. Other books would get themselves borrowed and never come back, other books would get themselves thrummed and thumbed, the backs torn off, and the leaves torn out, but this one little book with its black, modest cover was always the same. It looked as new and nice, as ready to be read, as full of hope and promise, after ten years of service in the Sierras, as it did the day it first nestled down in the bottom of the carpet bag to wait patiently for the prodigal to return and feed upon its glorious promises.
But the presence of this book had a wider meaning than all this to the Parson.
Williams had been a sort of Calvin. He was a terrible religious enthusiast. It was his devotion, his misled enthusiasm, that made him take part in the persecution and death of the so-called prophet. It was that which brought the awful persecution upon him and his. The children, it was said, inherited their father's religious zeal. This Testament was to the Parson only another evidence that the Widow was indeed the missing Nancy Williams. He told all this in confidence to a knot of friends the next day.
Deboon only brushed and brushed, with both hands, a pet fox which perched friskily on his shoulder, but said nothing.
The Gopher slowly arose and shook himself. Then he reached out his fist and shook it in the air.
"What if she is? By the eternal Tom Cats! What if she is the real living and breathing Nancy Williams? And what if they do say she killed one of 'em the night before she got away, eh? Here she is and here she stays, and let me see the Destroying Angel, Danite or Devil, that dares to interfere."
The man strode out of the cabin like a king, and Deboon only stroked his frisky fox and walked on after him, looking back quietly at the little crowd over his shoulder.
Yet for all that, these men who were so brave and defiant in open fight, were awed and almost terrified by the strange and mysterious order that moved so secretly and so certainly upon its victims, and no other man there gave any expression to his thoughts.Start reading Chapter11 of The First Famlies of the Sierras