HOW beautiful was all this profound veneration for woman in this wild Eden! How high and holy the influence of this one woman over these half grizzlies, these hairy faced men who had drunk water from the same spring with the wild beasts of the Sierras.
Now they would not drink, would hardly shout or speak sharp, while she lay ill. Whatever was the matter, or the misfortune, they had too much respect for her, for themselves, to carouse till she should again show her face, or at least while her life was uncertain.
The fourth day came down into the canyon, and sat down there as a sort of pioneer Summer. Birds flew over the camp from one mountain side to the other, and sang as they flew. Men whistled old tunes in a dreamy sort of a way as they came up from their work that day, and recalled other days, and were boys once more in imagination, away in the world that lay beyond the Rocky Mountains. "There is something in this glorious climate of Californy, say what you will," mused the Judge, as he lit his pipe and sat down on a stump in the street.
Limber Tim and the cinnamon haired man had settled down into that collapse which always follows a protracted spree or a heavy carouse, and they too sat on their respective stumps out in the open air, while the saloon was left all to the little brown mice upstairs
Men were lounging all up and down the street on old knotty logs that no ax could reduce to firewood, or leaning against the cabins on the warm sides that were still warm with the sunshine gone away, or loafing up and down with their pipes in their mouths, and their ragged coats thrown over one shoulder, like the bravos of Italy. Certainly there was something in the glorious climate of California.
There had been no news from the Widow all this time.
A keen-eyed man just now lifted his eyes in the direction of the cabin. In fact, it was a custom an instinct, to lift the face in that direction many times a day. If any of these men ever prayed in that camp, and the truth could be told, you would find that that man first turned the face and kneeled looking in that direction. Her house was a sort of second Mecca. The camp, however, after being a long time patient and silent, had got a little cross. Yet it had not lost a bit of its blunt and honest manhood. It had simply made up its mind that the Widow and Sandy were both of age, and able to take care of themselves. If they were willing to get the toothache, or something of the kind, and then retreat into their cabin, and pull the latch string inside after them, they could do so, and the camp would not interfere.
The man who had been looking up the hill now turned to his partner, drew his pipe from his mouth, wrinkled up his brows, and then slowly reached out his arm and with his pipe stem pointed inquiringly up the hill.
A man and a woman were coming slowly and cautiously down the way from the Widow's cabin. They were coming straight for the great center of the Forks, the Howling Wilderness.
The woman had something in her arms. She walked as carefully as if she had been bearing a waiter of wine. Could this be the Widow? It could hardly be Bunker Hill, thought the Forks, as it rose up from its seat on the stumps, and lifted its face up the trail, for she is almost as tall and comely and steps as nimbly as any woman in camp.
Could this be Sandy? He looked larger than ever before a sort of Gog or Magog. The man stuck his pipe between his teeth again and puffed furiously for a minute, and then sat down over the log again, let his feet dangle in the air, and, leaning forward, rocked to and fro as if nursing his stomach, and seemed wrapped in thought.
"Sandy, by the great Csesar!"
"Bunker Hill, by the holy poker!"
"And what's that she got a carryin'?"
"It's a table cloth a hangin' out for dinner!"
"It's a flag of truce!" cried the Judge, standing on tiptoe on his stump and straightening his fat little body up towards the Sierras.
"And hasn't Sandy grow'd since we seed 'im, eh!"
"And do n't he step high! Jerusalem, do n't he step high!"
"And where's Captain Tommy, and where's the Widow?" anxiously inquired the Forks, still looking up the hill towards its little shrine.
At last they entered the town, and the town met them on the edge at its outer gate, as it were, with all its force.
The woman indeed bore a flag of truce. A long white banner streamed from her arms and fell down to her feet, and almost touched the ground. A close observer would have seen that this flag was made of the very same coarse material from which the Widow had made the curtains of her little bed.
They entered the edge of the town, these three, and the town stood there as silent as if it had risen up on its way to church on a Sunday morning. These three, do you mind, stood there still, right in the track of the town, and the town looking at them as if they had come from another world. And so at least they had, a part of them.
These three: Sandy, Bunker Hill, and the first baby born in the mines of the Sierras.
Bunker Hill held the baby out in one hand, and with the other tenderly lifted back the covering, while Sandy stood by like a tower on a hill, smiling, pushing back his hat, pulling down his whiskers, looking over the little army of men with a splendid sort of sympathy and self accusation combined. He seemed to be saying, as he turned their eyes to the little red half opened rose bud, "Just look there! see what I've done." His great face was radiant with delight.
And then there was a shout such a shout! The spotted clouds that blew about the tall pine tops, indolent and away up on the mountain's brow, seemed to be set in motion again; the coyote rose up from his sleep on the mountain side and called out to his companions across the gorge as if he had been frightened; while Captain Tommy, who had been left with the Widow, came to the door and stood there, listening and looking down into the camp to see what in the world had happened. She saw men's hats go up in the air, and then again the shouts shook the town.
"Three cheers for Sandy!" They were given with a tiger. "Three cheers for the Widow! three cheers for Missus Bunker Hill." And then the poor girl leaning out of the door, took up her apron and wiped tears of joy from her eyes, for "three times three" were given for Captain Tommy. Then she went back into the house, back to the bed room with the curious little curtains and gunny bag carpets, and told the Widow, and the two women wept in each other's arms together.
Men slapped each other on the back, bantered each other, and talked loud of old Missouri and the institution of marriage.
Of all things perhaps this baby was the last they had looked for or thought of. In a camp of thousands, where the youngest baby there, save the boy poet, had a beard on his face, the men had forgotten to think of children. It is quite likely they fancied that children would not grow in the Sierras at all.
The Judge was the first to come forward as was his custom. He looked it in the face, began to make a speech, but only could say, "It's this glorious climate of Califrny." And then he blushed to the tip of his nose, backed out, and others came in turn to see the wonderful little creature that had come all alone, farther than across the plains, farther than any of them, farther than the farthest of the States, even from the other world, to settle in the Sierras.
"Well ef that ain't the littlest!"
"Is that all the big they is?"
"Well! don't think Sandy hardly got his first planting, did he, Pike?"
"Well, that bangs me all hollow!"
"Dang my cats if it's bigger nor my thumb!"
"Devil of a little thing to make such a big row about, eh?"
Sandy was all submission and pride and tenderness, and received the congratulations and heard the good humored speeches of the good humored men as if they were all meant in compliment to him.
How radiant and even half beautiful was the plain face of poor Miss Bunker Hill as she lifted it up before the camp now, conscious that she had done a good thing and had a right to look the world in the face, and receive its kindness and encouragement. Older men and more thoughtful came up at last, to look upon the little wonder and to read the story of this new volume fresh from the press. They looked long and silently. They were as gentle as lambs. Death had no terror to them, it was not half so solemn, so mysterious, as this birth in the heart of the Sierras. Life was there, then, as well as death. People would come and go there as elsewhere. The hand of God had stretched over the mountain, down into the awful gorge, and set down a little angel at their cabin doors. It was very, very welcome, and the old men bobbed their heads with delight.
At last all was still, and the little Judge felt that this was not an occasion to be lost. In fact, had there been a clergyman there to say a word, it had had more good effect than all the funeral sermons that the little red faced man had pronounced in the camp. The occasion was a singular one, and the men's hearts were now as mellow as new plowed land that had long lain fallow and waiting for the seed.
"This, my friends," began the little man, standing upon a stump, and extending his hands towards the baby, "this, my friends', shows us that the wonderful climate of Californy" Just then some one poked the fat little fellow in the stomach with his pipestem, and he doubled up like a jack knife and quietly got down, as if nothing had happened.
There was a lull then, and things began to look embarrassing. Sandy was now of course too proud, too happy, too much of a man to carouse, but he called the cinnamon headed man to his side by a crook of his finger, and making the sign so well known in the Sierras, and so well understood by all who are thirsty, the parties divided the camp to carouse to the little stranger in the Howling Wilderness, and Sandy to return to his "fam'ly."
"Here's to to to here's to it! Here's to the Little Half-a-pint! "The men were standing in a row, their glasses high up, and dipping in every angle and to every point of the compass, but they did not know the baby's name; they did not even know its sex. And so in that moment, without stopping to think, and without any time to spare, they spoke of it as "it," and they named it Little Half-a-pint.Start reading Chapter21 of The First Famlies of the Sierras