HOW the Widow's heart had been beating all this time! How she waited, and waited, and listened, and how often she sent Captain Tommy to the door to tell her, if possible, how her baby fared among the half wild men of the camp.
How glad she was when she saw Sandy enter, all flurry and delight, as if he had been the central figure in some great triumph. Then a bit of the old sadness and cast of care swept over her face, and she nestled down in the pillow and put up her two hands to hide a moment from the light.
The other two were too busy with the little Half-a-pint to notice her trouble then. They laid it down in a cradle that had been made for rocking and washing gold, and good little Bunker Hill sat by it, and crossed her legs and took up her work, and went on sewing and singing to herself, and swinging her leg that hung over, and rocking the cradle with her foot in the old fashioned way when babies were born in the leaves of the woods of the Wabash, and mothers sat singing by the campfires, knitting and rocking their babies in their sugar troughs.
Down in the Howling Wilderness I am bound to say the carousing began early, and with a vigor that promised more headaches than the camp had known since the Widow first set foot in the Forks.
Little Half-a-pint was toasted and talked of in every corner of the house. Was it a girl or was it a boy? Why had they not asked so simple and so civil a question? They called for Limber Tim they would appeal to him. But Limber Tim was not to be found in all the manifold depths of the Howling Wilderness. He had had his carouse, and was now playing sober Indian. In fact, he was hanging very close about the little rocking cradle up in the front room of the Widow's cabin. Never was the cradle allowed to rest, but rock, rock, till the Widow and Sandy too were both made very sensible, sleeping or waking, that little Half-a- pint, small as it was, was filling up the biggest half of the house.
Nearly midnight it was when Limber Tim, leaning over the cradle and looking, or pretending to look, at the baby, said to Bunker Hill, who bent down over it on the other side, "Pretty, ain't it?"
"Guess it is. Looks just like its father for the world." And little hump backed Bunker Hill began to make faces, and to shake her head and nod it up and down, and coo and crow to little Half-a-pint as if it was really able to hear, and understand, and answer all she said to it.
Down at the saloon all this time the spirits flowed like water. The cinnamon haired fellow had fallen upon a harvest, and was making the most of it. He had laid off his coat, run his two hands up through his hair till it stood up like forked flames, and was thumping the glasses as if in feats of legerdemain. How he did score with the charcoal on the hewn logs behind. He marked and scored that night till the wall behind him looked as if it might be the Iliad written in Greek, or all the characters on the obelisk of Saint Peter's.
Yet with all this happiness on the hill, and this merry making under the hill, in the heart of the Sierras, in commemoration and celebration of the beginning of a new race in a new land, there was one man back in the corner of the saloon who looked on with something of a sneer on his hard, hatchet face, and who refused to take any part. Now and then this man would lift up his left hand, hold out his fingers and count, one, two, three, four, five, to himself with his other hand, and then shake his head.
The men began to look at him and wonder what he meant. Then this man would count again one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Then, when the men would waddle by in their great gum boots and look back at him over their beards, he would look them square in the face and wink, and screw and shrug his shoulders.
This man stopped there in the middle of the spree, and pursing his brow, and holding up his fingers once more, and looking as profound as if wrestling with a problem in Euclid, said to himself : "Hosses is ten, cows is six, cats is three; but human bein's? Blowed if I know." And he shook his head.
At last this hard, hatchet faced looking man, standing back alone in the corner, seemed to have got it all counted up to his own satisfaction. He counted, however, again; then he said, as if to himself, "Seven months at the very outside," and slapped his hands together with great glee, and sucked his thin brown lips as if he had just tasted something very delicious.
Then this hatchet faced fellow, still rubbing his hands and still twirling his lip, and all the time grinning with a grin that was sweet and devilish, turned to the first man at his side, and whispered in his ear.
This man started and spun around when the hard faced man had finished as if he had been a top, and the hatchet faced fellow had struck him with a whip.
The man spun about, in fact, till the hard faced fellow caught hold of his eye with his own and held him there till he could catch his breath. Then the man, after catching his breath, and catching it again, said slowly, but most emphatically :
The hatchet faced man simply pecked in the face of the other. He did not say any thing more to him, but he pecked at him again, and he pecked emphatically, too, and in a way that would n0t admit of any two opinions; as if the man were a grain of corn, and he had half a mind to pick him up and swallow him down for daring to hint that it was impossible.
Then the man went off suddenly to one side, and he too fell to counting on his fingers, and to taking a whole knot of men into his confidence.
Then the hatchet faced fellow went up to another man and whispered in his ear, with his smirk and his sweet devilish smile, and he soon set him to spinning round like a top, and to lifting up his fingers and counting one, two, three, four, five.
Then all around the saloon men began to get sober and to hold up their hands and to count their fingers.
At last the little fat red faced Judge was heard to say
"They was married in the Fall."
"About about about eh, about what month, do you remember, eh?" squeaked out the hatchet faced interrogation point through the nose, as he planted himself before the little Judge.
"About the last cleaning up," said the Judge cheerfully.
"That was about about" and the hatchet faced man with the nasal twang and sharp nose began again to count on his fingers "about four, five, six, seven months ago?"
"Yes, yes," said the good natured, unsuspicious, important little Judge, "about six, seven months ago, I reckon." And then he, smiling innocently, fell in between two great bearded giants, as a sort of ham sandwich filling, to take a drink at the bar.
"Ompossible!" said the first top to the hatchet face.
The hatchet face and sharp nose looked towards the little fat Judge wedged in between the giants. The top spun up to the little Judge, wedged his head in between the giants' shoulders, and asked a question.
The Judge shook his head, and then wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, said half sadly, "No, I am not. No, I am sorry to say, I am not. That is a happiness still in store. No, I am not a family man. Never was married in my life; but whatever may transpire in this glorious climate of Californy"
The top had its answer, and spun back to its place without waiting for the last of the speech.
The two men talked together again. Then they appealed to an old man who sat mute and sullen back on the bench by the bulldog.
"No, he did n't know about such things; didn't care a cuss anyhow." And the two men went away as if a flea or two had left the dog and hopped into their ears. They went to another man. "Don't see the point, blowed ef I do. Six months, seven months, eight months, ten months, all along there, I 'spose. The great Washington, Caesar, Horace Greeley, all sich big bugs, it might take one, two, three years. That little cuss today only a month or two, I reckon. It's all right, I reckon. It ain't my funeral, any how. And what the devil you come botherin' of me for, anyhow? Ef yer don't want to drink yerself, let a fellow alone what does!" And he shook them off with a gesture of the hand and a jerk of the head that meant a great deal more than he had said.
There were not so many fingers up now as before. The question evidently had been settled in the minds of the men fully in favor of the little Half-a-pint. Few understood these things at all, fewer still cared to go into particulars at this time, and the question would keep till they had more leisure and less whisky.
Finally, the hatchet faced man went round and sat down opposite the man who sat behind the little silver faro box by the pine table, and began to whisper in his ear. The good natured genius, half gambler, half miner, who had played the little prank with the salmon and gold dust, had had a dull night of it, and most like even for that reason was a little out of humor. At all events he did not answer at once, but set down his little silver box, and, taking up his cards, began to spin them one by one over the heads of the men, or through the crowd as it opened, back at the old bull dog that lay on the bunk on the bags of gold under the blankets, and half whistling to himself as he did so.
The hatchet faced man, fearing the man had forgotten his presence and his revelation, leaned over again and began to whisper and to count on his fingers.
Then he looked sharp at the gambler and began again; "Hits my 'pinion that it's that boy, Billie Piper."
"How many months did you say?" asked the gambler at last.
"Seven or eight at the furthest."
"And how many had it ought to be?"
"Twelve!" And the smile that was sweet and devilish played about the thin blue lips below the sharp and meddlesome nose.
"And are you a family man?"
"And you say she's bilked us?"
"You're a darn'd infernal liar!" The gambler rose as he said this, snatched up his silver box and dashed it into the teeth of Hatchet face. And he, coward as he was, put up his hands and held them to his mouth while the blood ran down between his fingers.
"I don't keer, Judge, I don't keer, if I broke every tooth in his head. I don't 'low no white livered son of a gun to go about a-talking about a woman like that."
Then the gambler, walking off, said to those around him in a lower tone, "It don't take no twelve months nohow. Now there's the yaller cat; 'bout four litters in a year. Twelve months be blowed! That's an old woman's story. Then that's in Missoury, anyhow, and what's the climate of Missoury got to do with Californy, I'd like to know? No, gentlemen; some apples gits ripe soon, and some don't git ripe till frost comes. Them's things, gentlemen, as we don't know nothing about. Them's mysteries, and none of our business, nohow. Show me the man," and here he began to roar like a Numidian lion, and to tower up above the crowd, while a face like a razor shot out through the door, looking back frightened as it fled, "Show me the man as says it's not all right, and I'll shake him out of his boots."
The gambler picked up his battered box, but he was evidently not in a good humor. He wiped it on his coat sleeve, and polished it up and down, but was ill content. At last, looking out from under his great slouch hat, he saw the top in the center of a little knot of men holding up his hand and counting his fingers. He threw the box down on the table and rushed into the knot of men.
"A bully set you are, ain't you? Gw'yne around a-counting up after a sick woman. And what do you know, anyhow?" He took hold of the nervous top, and again set it spinning. "That little woman, she come as we come. God Almighty did n't set no mark and gauge on you, and you shan't go 'round and count up after her. Do you hear? Now you git. You're wanted. Hatchet face wants yer. Do you hear?"
The man spun his top about till its face was to the door, and it went out as a sort of handle to the hatchet, and was seen no more that night.
Yet for all this there had been a great ripple in the wave that had to run even to the shore before it could disappear from the face of things at the Forks.Start reading Chapter22 of The First Famlies of the Sierras