THE wedding day came. The camp had been invited to a man. There was but one place in the camp that could hold a tithe of its people, and that was the Howling Wilderness. The plan had been to have the wedding under the pines on the hill; but the wind came pitching down the mountain, with frost and snow in his beard, that morning, and drove them to the shelter.
What a place was that Howling Wilderness! It was battle field, prize ring, dead house, gambling hell, court house, chapel, every thing by turns.
There they stood, side by side and hand in hand, before the crackling fire, before the little Judge. The house was hot. It was crowded thick as the men could stand. Tighter than sardines in a tin box, the men stood there bare headed with, hardly room to breathe. The fat little magistrate was terribly embarrassed. He had sent all the way across the mountains by the last pack train, by the last express, by the last man who had dared the snows, but no pack train, no express, nothing had returned with the coveted, the so-much-needed marriage ceremony and service, which he had resolved to read to the people, interspersed with such remarks and moral observations as the case might require. Alas! The form of the ceremony had not arrived. He had nothing of the kind to guide him. He had never officiated in this way before. He had never studied up in this branch.
Why should he have studied up in this line, when there was but one woman in all his little world?
As the form had not arrived, he had nothing in the world but his moral observations to use on this imposing occasion, and he was embarrassed as a man had never been embarrassed before.
He stood there trying hard to begin. He could hear the men breathe. The pretty little woman was troubled too. Her face was all the time held down, her eyes drooped, and she did not look up did not look right or left or anywhere, but seemed to surrender herself to fate, to give herself away. Her soul seemed elsewhere, as if she sat on a high bank above all this, and was not of it or in it at all."
" Do you solemnly swear? "
The Judge had jerked himself together with an effort that made his joints fairly rattle. He hoisted his right hand in the air as he said this, and, having once broken ground, he went on " Do you solemnly swear to love, and honor, and obey?"
Poor Limber Tim, who had just room enough behind the Judge to turn over, here became embarrassed through sympathy for the little red faced magistrate, and of course flopped over, and began to write his name and the date, and make pictures on the wall, with a nervous rapidity proportionate to his embarrassment.
"Do you solemnly swear? "
It was very painful. The little man took down his lifted flagstaff to wipe his little bald head, and he could not get it up again, but stood there still and helpless.
You could hear the men breathe deeper than before as they leaned and listened with all their might to hear. They heard the water outside gurgling on down over the great boulders, over their dams, and on through the canon. They heard the little brown wood mice nibble and nibble at the bits of bacon rind and old leather boots up in the loft above their heads, but that was all. At last the Judge revived, and began again in a voice that was full of desperation : " Do you solemnly swear to love, and protect, and honor, and obey, till death do you part; and "
Here the voice fell down low, lower, and the Judge was again floundering in the water. Then his head went under utterly. Then he rose, and "Now I lay me down to sleep" rolled tremulously through the silent room from the lips of the Judge. Then again the head was under water, then it rose up again, and there, was something like " Twinkle, twinkle, little star." Then the voice died again, again the head was under water. Then it rose again, and the head went up high in the air, and the voice was loud and resolute, and the man rose on his tiptoes, and beginning with " When in the course of human events," he went on in a deep and splendid tone with the Declaration of Independence, to the very teeth of tyrannical King George, and then bringing his hand down emphatically on the gambling table that stood to his right, said, loud, and clear, and resolute, and authoritatively, as he tilted forward on his toes, " So help you God, and I pronounce you man and wife."
The exhausted Judge sank back against the wall on top of Limber Tim, and then, as if he all at once came to remember a part of the ceremony, and after Sandy and the Widow and all were thinking that it was quite over, he began in a low but clear voice
" Then by virtue of the authority in me vested, and according to the laws and the statutes of the State of California in such cases made and provided, I pronounce you man and wife."
Then he rose up, came forward, and shaking the new bride by the hand, then lifting it to his lips and kissing it gallantly, he said carelessly, and as if nothing had happened, " You will pardon me for pausing occasionally as I did. The room is so warm and the ceremony is so long, that I really began to be exhausted."
He was going on to say something about the glorious climate of California, but the men came forward, crowded around in this day of all days, and quite squeezed the little man away from the "Widow" as she was still called.
It was perfectly splendid! How they did shout, and laugh, and cheer, and how careful they were to shake all the round oaths out of their speech before addressing her. And how they did crowd around, as Sandy led her away, every man of them, even to Washee-Washee, to wish her "God speed," and a long and a pleasant life in their midst, down there in the gorge, in the heart of the great Sierras.
Only two circumstances in connection with this first family of the Sierras worth mentioning, occurred for some months. The first of these was the banishment of the boy-poet from the presence of the Widow. Sandy led her at once to the "parsonage" with the green window blinds, as he had solemnly promised the Parson to do. Into this house the boy was never seen to enter. Sandy, it was whispered, had forbidden him the house. The verdict of the Camp was: Served him right.
The other little event was, to all appearances, of still less consequence. Yet it showed that there was a storm brewing, and it was a straw which showed which way the wind was blowing. The boy was seen late at night by some men who were passing, peering in at the Widow's window. He ran away like one caught in a crime. But they said he " looked pale as a ghost, and sickly, and sad, and lonesome."Start reading Chapter15 of The First Famlies of the Sierras