ONE day a miner laid his two fingers crosswise, and twisting his head to one side as he spirted a stream of tobacco juice across the saloon, said : "Sandy is a infernal fool." The men winked, and he went on. "He wants to marry that ere Widow. Wal, now, that ere Widow is in love with that ere boy. Nobody to blame. You see if the Widow loves the boy that's the Widow's bizness, not mine; only Sandy mustn't be a fool. Besides," and here the man's voice sank low, and he looked around as if he feared a Danite might be standing at his elbow "besides, its my private opinion that that ere Widow is the Nancy Williams."
It was late in the Fall, and it certainly must have been a cold, frosty morning, for Sandy's teeth chattered together as if he had an ague, when he told the Judge.
In fact, he stood around the Howling Wilderness more than half a day, but he could not, or at least would not drink, though he did very many foolish things, and seemed ill at ease and troubled in a way that was new to him.
At last he got the Judge to one side. He took him by the collar with both hands, he backed him up in a corner, and, as he did so, his teeth chattered and ground together as if he stood half naked on the everlasting snows that surrounded them. He pushed his face down into the red apple like face of the magistrate, and began as if he was about to reveal the most terrible crime in the annals of the world. All the time he was holding on to the Judge with both hands, as if he feared he might not listen to his proposal, but tear away and attempt to escape.
At last Sandy drew a sharp, short breath, and blurted out what he had to say, as if it was tearing out his lungs.
The Judge drew a long breath. He swelled out to nearly twice his usual importance. You could have seen him grow.
It was now the Judge's turn to lay hold of Sandy. For now, as the great strong man had accomplished his fearful task, told his secret, and done all that was necessary to do, he wanted to get away, to go home, go anywhere and collect his thoughts, and to rest.
The Judge held him there, told him the great advantages that would come of it, the high responsibility that he was about to put his shoulder to, and talked to him, in fact, till he grew white and stiff as a sign post. Yet all that Sandy could remember, for almost all that he said, was something about "the glorious climate of Californy."
Never rode a king into his capital with such majesty as did the Judge the next day enter the Forks. He was swelling, bursting with the importance of his secret. But now he had Sandy's permission to tell the boys, and he went straight to the Howling Wilderness for that purpose.
His face glowed like the fire as he stood there rubbing his hands above the great mounting blaze, and bowing right and left in a patronizing sort of a way to the miners who had sauntered into the saloon.
At last the little red faced man turned his back to the fire, stuck his two hands back behind his coattails, which he kept lifting up and down and fanning carelessly, as if in deep thought stood almost tip toe, stuck out his round little belly, and seemed about to burst with his secret.
"O this wonderful Californy climate!" He puffed a little as he said this, and fanned his coat tails a little bit higher, perked out his belly a little bit further, and stood there as if he expected some one to speak. But as the miners seemed to think they had heard something like this before, or, at least, that the remark was not wholly new, none of them felt called upon to respond.
"Well" the little man tilted up on his toes as he said this, and took in a long breath "hit comes off about the next snow fall."
He had said these words one at a time, and by inches as it were, slowly, deliberately, as if he knew perfectly well that he had something to say, and that the men were bound to listen.
This time they all looked up, and half of them spoke. And oh, didn't he torture them! Not that he pretended to keep his secret of half a day not at all! On the contrary, he kept talking on, and tiptoeing, and fanning his coat tails, and pushing out his belly, and puffing out his cheeks, just as careless and indifferent as if all the world knew just what he was going to say, and was perfectly familiar with the subject. "Yes, gentlemen," puffed the little man, "on or about the next snow fall the Widow, as a widow, ceases to exist. That lovely flower, my friends, is to be transplanted from its present bed to to into the O this wonderful climate of Californy!" The Howling Wilderness was as silent as the Catacombs of Rome for nearly a minute.
Then Sandy had not been deterred either by the Widow's strange intimacy with the eccentric little Poet, or by the suspicion of the camp that this woman was the last of the doomed family.
The first thing that was heard was something like a red hot cannon shot. The cinnamon headed man behind the bar dodged down behind his barricade of sandbags till only his bristling red hair and a six shooter were visible. The decanters tilted together as if there had been an earthquake.
It was a Missourian swearing.
Somebody back in the corner said "Jer-u-sa-lem!" said it in joints and pieces, and then came forward and kicked the fire, and stood up by the side of the red little man, and looked down at him as if he would like to eat him for a piece of raw beef.
A fair boy, the dreamer, the poet, went back to a bunk against the further wall, where the barkeeper's bulldog lay sleeping in his blankets, and put his arms about his neck, and put his face down and remained there a long time. Perhaps he wept. Was he weeping for joy or for sorrow?
There was a great big grizzly head moved out of the crowd and up to the bar. The head rolled on the shoulders from side to side, as if it was not very firmly fixed there, and did not particularly care at this particular time whether it remained there or not. A big fist fell like a stone on the bar. The glasses jumped as if frightened half to death; they ran up against each other, and clinked and huddled together there, and fairly screamed and split their sides in their terror. A big mouth opened behind an awful barricade of beard, again the big fist fell down, again the glasses screamed and clinked with terror, and the head rolled sidewise again, and the big mouth opened again, and the big voice said :
"By the bald headed Elijah!" and that was all.
Then there was another calm, and you might have heard the little brown wood mice nibbling at the old boots, and leather belts, and tin cans stowed away among the other rubbish up in the loft of the Howling Wilderness.
Then the fist came down again, and the big mouth opened, and the big mouth said, slow and loud, and long and savage, like the growl of a grizzly :
"S waller my grandmother's boots!" Then the man fell back and melted into the crowd; and whatever romance there was in his life, whatever sentiment he may have had, whatever poetry there was pent up in the heart of this great Titan, it found no. other expression than this.
The genteel gambler, who sat behind a table with its green cloth and silver faro box, forgot to throw his card, but held his arm poised in the air till any man could have seen the Jack of Clubs, though a thousand dollars' worth of gold dust depended on the turn.
Yet all this soon had an end, of course, and there was a confusion of tongues, and a noise that settled gradually over against the bar. Even then, it was afterwards remarked, though the men really interested did not know it at the time, that the cinnamon headed dealer of drinks put cayenne pepper in a gin cocktail and Scheidam schnapps in a Tom and Jerry.
Limber Tim was there in their midst, but was a sad and a silent man. Perhaps he had been told all about it before, and perhaps not. Tim was not a talker, but a thinker. This to him meant the loss of his partner, the man he loved a divorce.
Poor Limber! he only backed up against the wall, screwed his back there, twisted one leg in behind the other, stuck his hands in behind him, and so stood there till he saw a man looking at him. Then he flopped over with his face to the wall, dug up his great pencil from his great pocket, and fell to writing on the wall, and trying to hide his face from his fellows.
"Rather sudden, ain't it, Judge?"
"Well, not so sudden not so sudden, considerin this this this glorious climate of Californy."
After awhile, when the monte game had asserted itself again, and things were going on in the saloon just about as they were before the Judge made this announcement, a tall and inquisitive man with a hatchet face and a hump in his shoulder, and a twist in his neck, which made him look like an interrogation point, rose up, and reaching his neck out toward the bar, said in a sharp whisper :
"I'11 bet a forty dollar hoss she's the real Nancy Williams."
The red headed bar keeper bristled up like a porcupine, and then put out his broad hand as if it was an extinguisher.Start reading Chapter14 of The First Famlies of the Sierras