THE next day when Sandy came down, the enthusiasm was at a low ebb. He missed the great reception he had expected, and went back home that night a troubled and anxious man.
What could be the matter? He asked Limber Tim, but Limber Tim had learned the power and security of silence, and either could not or would not venture on any revelations. Besides that, he was very busy helping Bunker Hill with the baby. The camp openly and at all convenient times discussed the question now, and it began to gradually take shape in the minds of men that something was really wrong. Kind old Sandy did not dream what the trouble could be. He feared he had not been generous enough under his good fortune, and was all the time opening the mouth of his leather bag at the bar and pouring gold dust into the scales, and entreating the boys to drink to the health of their little Half-a-pint. "Yes, our little Half-a-pint it is, I reckons; leastwise it's pretty certain it ain't yourn." Sandy looked at the man, and then the man set down his glass untouched and went off. He had not meant all that he had said, but having blurted it out in a very awkward way and at the very worst time, got off and out of it as best he could.
Sandy was tortured. The dear little Widow saw it, and asked him what the trouble was, and the man, blunt, honest fellow, told all that had happened.
The camp was disgusted with the man who had mooted this question. They counted him a traitor to the Forks a sort of Judas. If he had gone and hung himself the camp would have been perfectly satisfied. In fact, it is pretty certain that the camp would have been very glad to have had any excuse, even the least bit of an excuse, to do that office for him.
Then the camp was angry with Sandy, too, on general principles. He had betrayed them into a sort of idol worship under a mistake. He had lured it into the expression of an enthusiasm quite out of keeping with the dignity of a rough and hardy race of men, and it did not like it.
"The great big idiot!" said the camp. "Didn't he know any better? Don't he know any better now than to go on in this way half tickled to death, thinking himself the happiest and the most blest of men?" The camp was ashamed of him.
The little Judge, finding things going against the first family of the Forks, felt also that he in some way was concerned, and felt called upon to explain. This was his theory and explanation.
"The Widow was a widow?"
"The Legislature met at San Jose on the first day of September?"
"The Legislature granted that first session enough divorces to fill a book?"
"This young woman, this Widow, might 'a bin married; she might 'a bin on her way to the mountains; she might 'a stopped in there and got her divorce, one day on her way up; she might 'a come right on here and got coaxed into marrying Sandy."
"Rather quick work, wouldn't it be, Judge?"
"Well, considering the climate of Californy, I think not." And the little man pushed out his legs under the card table, puffed out his little red cheeks, leaned back, and felt perfectly certain that he had made a great point, while the wise men of the camp sat there more confused than before.
However, as the days went by men went on with their work in their mines down in the boiling, foaming, full little streams, now over flowing from the snows that melted in the warm Spring sun, and said but little more on the subject. It was certain that they were very doubtful, for they only shook their heads as a rule when the subject was mentioned now in the great center. That was a bad sign, and very hard evidence of displeasure with their patron saint of the Autumn and the long weary Winter.
The Widow must have known all this. Not that Sandy had said a word further than she had almost forced him to speak; not that she had yet ventured down into the Forks, or that Bunker Hill had breathed a word about it, but I fancy that women know these things by instinct. They somehow have a singularly clear way of coming upon such things.
Day after day she read Sandy's face as he came up from his mine, dripping with the yellow water spurted from the sluice all over his broad slouch hat, long brown beard, and stiff duck breeches; she read it eagerly as one reads the papers after a battle, and read it truly as if it had been a broadsheet in print, and found herself in disfavor with the camp. Then she began to think if Sandy was thinking of his promise; if he had remembered, and still remembered the time when in her great agony he promised, though all the world turned against her and cried "shame!" he would not upbraid her.
She wondered if he ever wished he had gone when she commanded him and implored him to go, and she began to read his face for the truth. She read, read him all through, page after page, chapter after chapter. She found there was not a doubt in all the realm of his soul, and her face took on again a little of its gladness. Yet the touch of tenderness deepened, the old sadness had settled back again, and this time to remain.
The still blue skies of California were bending over the camp. Not a cloud sailed east or west, or hovered about the snow peaks. It was full Summer time in the Sierras before it was yet mid Spring, and men began to pour over the mountains across the settled and solid banks of snow. Birds flew low and idly about the cabins, and sang as the men went on with their work down in the foaming, muddy little rivers, and all the world seemed glad and strong with life and hope.
Still the Widow was glad no more, and men began to notice that Sandy did not come to town at all. It was even observed that he had found a cut off across the spur of the hill, by which he went and came to and from his mining claim without once setting foot in the Howling Wilderness, or even the Forks.
Limber Tim, too, seemed sad and sorely troubled. Sunshine and singing birds do not always bring delight to all. There is nothing so sad as sadness at such a time.Start reading Chapter23 of The First Famlies of the Sierras