LIMBER TIM all this time had held his back against the wall as firmly as if it was about to fall on all their heads, and their lives depended on his strength. His mouth had been wide open with wonder. He had not understood at all from the first, but now he was more than bewildered; he was terrified.
Blood! blood! He unscrewed himself from the wall, went, winding his long limber legs up the trail, past the Howling Wilderness, after the silent but excited women; and all the time this awful sentence of Bunker Hill's was shooting through his brain "Blood! blood! it is! Will you believe me now ?"
He reached his post by the pine fence, and, being no wiser than before, he again wound himself up against the palings, and reached back his arms and wove them through the pickets, and stood there on one leg looking over his shoulder as the two women disappeared into the Widow's cabin. Dawn comes slowly down in these dark, deep, wooded canons of the Sierras. Morning seems to be battling with the night. Night is entrenched in the woods, and retreats only by inches the Battle of the Wilderness.
In the steel gray dawn, cold and sharp, Limber Tim heard a cry that knocked him loose from the fence. He picked himself together, and again twisted himself into the pickets; but all the time he kept seeing Bunker Hill pushing back her sleeve, holding up her arm in the ghostly light of the pine log fire, and saying, "Blood it is! Will you believe me now ?"
"Blood," mused the man. "Somebody's hurt. Somebody's hurt awful bad, too, or they would n't keep a feller a-standin' agin a fence the whole blessed night."
The man's teeth began to chatter. The thought of blood and the bleak cold morning kept them smiting together as if he had had an ague.
A man in great gum boots came screeching by the cabin; his nose was pointed straight for the Howling Wilderness, but backing against Limber Tim as he hung up against the fence, stopped, and asked timidly and very respectfully of the Widow.
Limber held his head thoughtfully to one side, as if he was trying to balance the important facts in his mind, and reveal only just so much of the condition of the Widow, or Sandy, or Bunker Hill, or whoever it was that was hurt, as was best, and no more, but for a time was silent.
A thought struck him, and he mused: Sandy's cut his foot, or p'raps it's Bunker Hill shot herself with that darned pistol she allers packs in her breeches' pocket.
"Well, an' 'ow's the Widder ?" The man was getting impatient for his drink.
"It ain't the Widder at all. It's Sandy. Sandy's cut his foot cut his foot last night a cuttin' wood in the dark. That's what's the matter."
Limber Tim pecked his head, pursed up his mouth, and for the first time in his life, perhaps, felt that he was really a man of some consequence.
"By the holy poker! thought it was the Widder."
"Not much. It's Sandy. Cut his foot, I tell yer. Blood clean up to his elbows. Blood all over the house. Bunker Hill all over blood. Hell's a poppin', I tell yer." And poor Limber Tim so excited himself by this recital, that he broke loose from the fence, and chattered his teeth together like a chipmunk with a hazel nut.
Then the man passed on down the trail, and Limber Tim again grew on to the fence, and chattered his teeth together, and waited developments, not at all certain that he had not lied.
"'Ow's the Widder, Limber?"
Limber unloosed himself from the fence, and tried to stand straight up and tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
"Better, thank yer. That is, the blood is stopped, or most of it, you know the most of it. Bunker Hill is hurt some too, you know. Blood all over her arm. Poor girl, poor girl! But she didn't whimper. Not she. Nary a sniff."
"Both of 'em hurt ?"
"Yes, same bullet, you know same shot same pistol same"
The man had too much to tell already, and almost ran in his haste to reach the Howling Wilderness and tell what had happened.
This time, as Limber Tim screwed himself up against the fence, he felt pretty certain that somewhere or somehow during the morning he had lied like a trooper, and was very miserable.
"Hard on Sandy that," said the bar keeper to the second early riser, who had just arrived, as he stood behind his breastwork in his night shirt, and handed down to his customer his morning bottle, with his hairy arms all naked, and his red uncombed hair reaching up like the blaze from a pine knot fire. "Yes," answered the man, as he fired a volley down his throat, and then fell back to the fire, wiping his big bearded mouth with the back of his hand, "Yes, but Limber Tim says she'11 soon be up again; says the blood's all stopped, and all that. You see, the signs are all in her favor. It's a good thing for a shot, to see it bleed. Best thing for a bad shot is to see it bleed well. That is, if yer can stop the blood in time. But now, in this 'ere case, the blood's all stopped. Just come down from there. Limber just told me blood's all stopped."
There was a man standing back in the corner by the fire, half in the dark, warming the lower end of his back and listening with both ears all this time. He now came out of the dark, and began
"You darned infernal fool! Sold clean out. It's not the Widder at all it's Sandy. Split his foot open with an ax. Blood gushed out all over Bunker Hill. Kivered Bunker Hill with blood clean up to the elbows."
"And what the devil was Bunker Hill a-doin' at Sandy's ?"
The man from the dark saw that somebody had been sold, and, fearing it might possibly be himself, simply pecked at the other man, staggered up to the bar, pecked at the head that blazed like a pine knot fire, and then the three drank in silence. There was a sort of truce, a silent but well understood agreement, that nothing further should be said, but that, when the truth came out, one should not tell on the other, and turn the laugh of the camp upon him.
Early the men began to drop in to the Great Whirlpool, the one great center of this snow walled world, to ask gently, and with tender concern in their faces, after the fortunes of the Widow.
It was a great day for the cinnamon haired little man, and he made the most of it. Men fell into disputes the moment they arrived, but, as no one knew any thing, they always settled it with a treat all round, and then waited for results.
The bar keeper was appealed to, as bar keepers, like barbers, are supposed to know all the news. But this man, like most bar keepers in the wilderness, was a cautious man, and said he knew all about it, but could not take sides or decide between his friends. Time would tell who was right and who was wrong.
At last the Judge rolled in like a little sea on the shore. He had come straight down from the Widow's , had gone up to get the truth of the matter, and had unscrewed Limber Tim from the fence, and made him tell all he knew of the unhappy lady, and how it happened. Then the boys backed the little Judge up against the bar, and stood him there, and read him from top to bottom, as if he had been a bulletin board.
"Split his foot clean open, you see! Did it while a choppin' wood in the dark."
"Speck he was a lookin' at the Widder when it happened," half laughed a big man with a big mouth, and a voice like a Numidian lion.
"The clumsy cuss!"
That is what Oregon Jake said after catching his breath over his tumbler of Old Tom. And that is all the sympathy that Sandy got after they found out, as they thought, that he had only split open his foot with an ax.
"The clumsy cuss!"Start reading Chapter19 of The First Famlies of the Sierras