BUT the Danites did not again openly appear. The Widow it seemed was now secure, and the men began to forget that they had ever counted her the last of the doomed family, or suspected that there was blood on her hands.
As the Summer wore away, her suitors dropped off like early candidates for office, and left the field almost entirely to the two leading men of the camp Sandy and the Parson.
Sandy was a man of magnificent stature, with a graceful flow of sandy beard, but, as I have said, an awkward child of nature. A born leader of men, but a man who declined to lead unless forced to come to the front by his fellows and for the time take charge of whatever matter was under consideration in the camp. Sandy was a man you believed in, trusted, and honored from the first. There was not a crafty fiber or thought in his physical or mental makeup.
The Parson was a successful miner; a massive, Gothic man, though not so tall as Sandy. He had been a sailor, I think. At all events, he had a blue band of Indian ink, with little diamonds of red set in between the bands, on his left wrist. Possibly it was his right wrist, for I can not recall positively at this distance of time, but I think it was the left.
The Parson was the first authority in history, politics, theology, anything whatever that came up. I do not think he was learned; but he was always so positive, and always so ready with his opinions, and always so ready to back them up too., that all were willing to ask his opinion in matters of doubt, and few were willing to question his replies.
After awhile it became talked about that Sandy was losing ground with the Widow or, rather, that the Parson was having it pretty much his own way there, as in other things in the camp, and that Sandy rarely put in an appearance.
A year went by and then a pretty little cottage began to peep through the trees from a little hill back of town; and then it came out that this, with its glass windows and green window blinds, was the property of the Parson, and destined as the home of the Widow.
I think the camp was rather pleased at this. True there was a bit of ambition and a grain of cunning too in the Parson's nature, which made the free, wild men of the mountains look upon him sometimes with less favor than they did on Sandy. Still some of them liked him, and all were glad that the Widow was to have a home at last.
But somehow the wedding did not come on as soon as was expected, and the Widow kept on rubbing, rubbing, day after day, week after week, as if nothing of the kind was ever to happen to her.
Late in the Fall, one evening, as the men stood in a semicircle in the Howling Wilderness saloon, with their backs to the blazing log fire, Sandy brought his fist down emphatically on the bar, as he took part in the conversation, and, turning to the crowd, said:
"It's an everlastin' and a burnin' shame!"
He rested his right elbow on the bar, and drew the back of his left hand across his mouth, as if embarrassed, and again began:
"It's a breathin' and a burnin' shame, I say, that the woman has got for to go on in this way, a washin' of duds for us fellows of this here camp. If this here camp can't afford one lady in its precincts, why, then I shall pull up stakes and go to where the tall cedars cast their shadows over the coyote, and the coyote howls and howls and andi.."
He wiped his mouth again, and broke down utterly. But he had said enough. A responsive chord was touched, and the men fairly sprang to their feet with delight at the thought.
Some of the best things in life are like leads of gold we come upon them in a kind of sudden discovery.
The Parson's eyes twinkled with delight." I move that Sandy take the chair for this occasion, and second the motion, and plank down twenty ounces for the Widow."
Sandy removed his slouch hat, blushed behind his beard at the new dignity, and said:
"Bully for you! I raise you five ounces and ante the dust."
Here he drew a long, heavy purse from his pocket, and passed it over to the bar keeper, who thereby became treasurer of the enterprise without further remark. The Parson's eye twinkled again.
"I see your five ounces and go you ten better."
"Called," said Sandy, and he pecked at the bar keeper, which little motion of the head meant that that further amount was to be weighed from the purse for the benefit of the Widow.
One by one the boys came forward; and, as the enterprise got noised about the camp, they came down to the Howling Wilderness saloon till far in the night, to contribute what they called their "Widow's mite."
Even the head man of the company up the creek known as the "Gay Roosters," and who was notoriously the most rough and reckless man in the camp, jumped a first class poker game, where he was playing at twenty dollars ante and pass the buck, to come in and weigh out dust enough to "call" the Parson and Sandy.
The Forks felt proud of itself for the deed. Men slept sounder and awoke in a better humor with themselves for the act.
Yet all this time it was pretty well conceded that the gold, and the Widow too, would very soon fall to the possession of the Parson.
"Set 'em deep, Parson! Set 'em deep!" said the head of the Gay Roosters, as he shook hands with the Parson that night, winked at the "boys," and returned to his game of poker.
There had been many a funeral at the Forks; but never a birth or a wedding. But now this last, with all its rites and mysteries, was about to come upon the Forks; and the Forks felt dignified and elated. Not one of all these thousand bearded men showed unconcern. It was the great topic the Presidential campaign, the Dolly Varden of the day. The approaching wedding was the morning talk, the talk at noon, and the talk at night.
And it was good for the camp. The last fight was forgotten. Monte took a back seat in the minds of these strange, strong men; and, if the truth could be told, I dare say the German undertaker, who had set up under the hill, noted a marked decline in his business.
The "boys" were with the Parson, and the Parson with the "boys." They all conceded that he was a royal good fellow, and that the Widow could not well do better.
The amount of gold raised by the men in their sudden and impulsive charity was in itself, for one in the Widow's station, a reasonable fortune.
"What if she gits up and gits?"
The man who said that was a narrow minded, one eyed, suspicious fellow, who barely escaped being knocked down by the head of the "Gay Roosters," and kicked into the street by the crowd.
There was a poor Dutchman in the camp who had been crippled in the first settlement of the camp, and who had been all the time too lame to work and too poor to go away.
The Parson and Sandy were sent in a committee to the Widow with the gold. She smiled, took the heavy bag in her hand, turned, shut the door in their faces, but did not say a word. That evening she was seen to enter the crippled Dutchman's cabin. The next day the crippled Dutchman rode up the trail out of camp, and was seen no more.
Still later in the Fall the Parson sat in the Howling Wilderness, with his back to the blazing, crackling fire, having it all his own way at his favorite game of old sledge.
He had led his queen for the jack just as though he knew where every card in the pack was entrenched. Then he led the king with like composure, and was just crooking his fingers up his sleeve for the ace, when a man in black, with a beaver hat and white necktie, rode by the window on a black horse.
"Somebody's a dyin' up the creek, I 'speck," said Stubbs. "Maybe it's old Yallar. He allers was a kind of a prayin' codfish eatin' cuss, any how."
Here Stubbs turned and kicked nervously at the fire.
The game did not go on after that. No one said any thing. Perhaps that was the trouble. The men fell to thinking, and the game lost its interest.
There was no fight of importance at the Howling Wilderness that night, and by midnight the frequenters of the saloon had withdrawn. The candles were then put out, and the proprietors barricaded the door against belated drunkards, spread their blankets on a monte table, with their pistols under their heads, and by the smouldering fire were at rest.
The ground was frozen hard next morning, and the miners flocked into the Howling Wilderness. The Parson was leading off gaily again, and swearing with unusual eloquence and brilliancy, when a tall, thin, and sallow man, from Missouri, known as the "Jumper," entered. He looked wild and excited, and stepped high, as if on stilts.
The tall, thin man went straight up to the bar, struck his knuckles on the counter, and nodded at the red bottle before him. It came forward, with a glass tumbler, and he drank deep, alone and in silence.
When a miner of the Sierras enters a saloon where other men are seated, and drinks alone, without inviting any one, it is meant as a deliberate insult to those present, unless there is some dreadful thing on his mind.
The Jumper, tall and fidgety, turned to the Parson, bent his back against the counter, and pushed back his hat. Then he drew his right sleeve across his mouth, and let his arms fall down at his side limp and helpless, and his round, brown butternut head rolled loose and awkward from shoulder to shoulder.
"Well! well! Spit it out!" cried the Parson, as he arose from the bench, with a dreadful oath. "Spit it out! What in hell is busted now?"
Here the head rolled and the arms swung more than ever, and the man seemed in dreadful agony of mind.
The Parson sprang across the room and caught him by the shoulder. He shook him till his teeth rattled like quartz in a mill.
"The the man in black," gasped the Jumper. "The black man, on the black horse, with a white choker." The Parson looked blank, and staggered back, as the man, gasping for breath, concluded: "Well, he's gone back; and he won't marry yer. Cause why, he says Sandy says yer got one wife now any how, in Missouri, and maybe two."
The Parson sunk into a seat, dropped his face in his hands for a moment, trembled only a little, and arose pale and silent. He did not swear at all. I am perfectly certain he did not swear. I knew we all spoke of that for a long time afterward, and considered it one of the most remarkable things in all the strange conduct of this man.
When the Parson arose the Jumper shook himself loose from the counter, and tilted across to the other side of the room, to give him place.
The stricken man put his hands on the counter, peeked over the bar keeper's shoulder at his favorite bottle, as if mournfully to a friend, but said not a word. He emptied a glass, and then, without looking right or left, opened the door, and went straight up to the Parsonage. The Parsonage was the name the boys gave to the cottage on the hill among the trees.
" Gone for his two little bull-pups," said Stubbs. That was what the Parson called his silver mounted derringers.
" There will be a funeral at the Forks tomorrow," gasped the Jumper.
Here the German undertaker arose cheerfully, and went down to his shop.
" Well, Sandy is no sardine. Bet your boots Sandy ain't no sardine!" said Stubbs. " And, any how, he's got the start just a little, if the Parson does nail him. For he's won her heart; and that's a heap, I think, for wimmen's mighty scace in the mines. Sumthin' to die for, you bet."Start reading Chapter12 of The First Famlies of the Sierras