LIMBER Tim no longer wrestled with saplings or picket fences, or even his limber legs. He had other and graver matters on hand. The birds were building their nests all about him, and he too wanted to gather moss.
At last the boy man was happy. At least, he came one night very late to "Sandy's," as the Widow's home was now called, and standing outside of the house and backing up against the fence, and sticking his hands in behind him, and twisting his left leg around the right, he called out to Sandy in a voice that was wild and uncertain as a wind that is lost in the trees.
Sandy laid it down tenderly, covered it up, and watching it a minute and making sure that it was sound asleep and well, went out. Limber Tim was writhing and twisting more than ever before. Sandy was glad, for he now knew that he was perfectly well, and that he had got the great matter settled, and that in a way perfectly satisfactory to himself. And yet the two men were terribly embarrassed. What made the embarrassment very much the worse was the fact that they were at least half a mile from the nearest saloon. Fortunately it was very dark for a Californian night, and the men could look each other in the face without seeing each other.
There was a long and painful silence. Limber Tim wrestled with his right leg with all his might, and would have thrown it time and again, but from the fact that his two arms were thrust in behind and wound through the palings, so that it was impossible for him to fall.
His mouth was open and his tongue was out, but he could not talk. At last Sandy broke the prolonged and profound silence.
"Win her, Limber ?"
"Won her, Sandy."
"Bully for Limber Tim!"
Then there was another painful silence, and Limber Tim twisted a paling off the fence with his arms, and kicked half the bark off his right shin with his left boot heel.
Then Limber Tim reached out his tongue and spun it about as if it had been a fish line, and he was fishing in the darkness for words. At last he jerked back as if he had got a bite, jerked and jerked as if his throat was full of fish hooks, and jerked till he jerked himself loose from the fence; and poising on his heel before falling back into the darkness, and twisting himself down the hill, said this:
"Git the Judge, Sandy. Fetch her home tomorrow. Spliced tomorrow. Sandy, git the Judge tomorrow!"
And "tomorrow" kept coming up the hill and out of the darkness till the nervous man was half way to the Howling Wilderness.
The Judge was there, a cooler man now, even though it was midsummer. His shirt was open till his black hairy breast showed through as if it had been a naked bear skin.
The Forks came in force to its second wedding, but the Forks, too, was cooler, and had put aside to some extent its faith and its folly. And yet it liked Bunker Hill ever so much. Bunker Hill, said the Forks, had not been the best of women in days gone by, but Bunker Hill had never deceived.
She stood alone there that day, the day of all days to any woman in the world, and the boys did not like it at all.
Why had she not asked the Widow to be by her side ? Surely she had stood by the Widow in the day of trouble; why was not the Widow there ? And then they thought about it a little while, and saw how impossible it was for poor deformed little Bunker Hill to dare to ask the Widow to come and stand with her at her wedding.
The woman who stood there, about to be made the head of the second family in the Forks, had nursed the Widow back to life and health, had seen all the time the line that lay between them, and had not taken a single step to cross it. When her task was finished she had gone back to her home. She carried with her the memory and the recollection of a duty well performed, and felt that it was enough. She had not seen the Widow any more.
The Judge stood there with the Declaration of Independence, the Statutes of California, and the marriage ceremony, all under his arm, and ready to do his office. The sun was pouring down in the open streets. Little Bunker Hill felt hardly, somehow, that she had a right to be married out in the open day, in the fresh, sweet air, and under the trees; and Limber Tim preferred to be married where his partner had been married, and so it was that they had met in the Howling Wilderness as before. All was silence now, all were waiting for the Judge to begin. Up in the loft the mice nibbled away at their endless rations of old boots, and a big red headed woodpecker pounded away on the wall back by the chimney without.
There was a commotion at the door. Then there was a murmur of admiration and applause.
The men gave way, they pushed and pushed each other back as if they had been pushing cotton bales, they opened a line, and down that line a beautiful woman with .her eyes to the ground and a baby in her arms moved on till she came and stood by the side of the little hunchback, still silent, and looking with the old look of sad, sweet tranquility upon the ground.
It was really too much for the little man, who had opened his bosom, and who all the time had stood there with his books under his arm, perfectly cool, and perfect master of the situation. Now he was all of a heap. He had been acting with a sort of condescension toward the two half children who had come before him that day, and had even prepared a sort of patronizing, half missionary, half reformatory sermon, but now, and all suddenly, he was utterly overthrown. He began to perspire and choke on the spot.
The silence was painful. The woodpecker pounded as if he would knock the house down, and the mice rasped at their old boots and rattled away like men sawing wood.
The Judge began to hear himself breathe. In this moment of crisis he caught a book from his side and proceeded to read. He read from "An Act to amend an Act entitled an Act for the improvement of the breed of sheep in the State of California." Back in the saloon there were men who began to giggle. These were some men not from Missouri. They were of the hatchet faced order, men who spoke through their noses, "idecated men," the camp called them, and men that, above all others, had put the little Judge in terror.
When he heard the men laugh, then he knew he had opened his book at the wrong place, and his face grew red as fire. He could not see to read to the end, nor could he now be heard. He suddenly closed the book and said, "Then by virtue of the authority in me vested, and under the laws of the State of California in such cases made and provided, I pronounce you man and wife."
Then the little Judge came up, shook them both by the hand, and his voice was suddenly clear as a bell, and he felt that he could now go on and speak by the hour.
The Widow bowed down above her baby and kissed the new made bride silently and tenderly as if she had been her sister, and then with the same sweet, half sad smile she turned to the door, her face still to the ground, and covering up the little sleeper in her arms and looking neither right nor left, went back alone to her cabin.
The dark day was over. At the play, whenever you see the whole force of the company come forward and stand in a row, and assume the most striking and imposing attitudes, and hear the fiddlers play and the brass trumpets bray as never before, then you may be very sure the tragedy is about over. So it goes in life.
The crowd had melted away a bit because it was very warm, and then the men were getting noisy enough, for this was the day on which every true American was expected to get drunk. It was a sort of Fourth of July.
The old question was being again raised. The bride was standing there in the midst of the men, a true good woman, a woman who had sinned, yet a woman who had suffered. One who had fallen was she, yet one who had resisted more than many a woman who would have cast a stone at her. She was very glad, and not a man but was glad to see it.
"That baby! It is an angel, and its mother's name is Madonna. That little bit of a brat! Why, I seed it first, first of any body, and it wasn't bigger than a pound of soap after a whole day's washing. Make a fuss about that little thing! A man who would make a fuss about a baby no bigger than that, no matter when it was born, is a fool!"
"Bully for Bunk for for Missis Tim! Bully for Missis Tim!" and the men shouted, and Mrs. Tim blushed from sheer joy.
The Gopher cheered perhaps more lustily than any one, for he admired the Widow, and knew her love and worth. The Gopher, it is true, was in disgrace, for the story went that the young man, his partner, who was the first to be buried in the Forks, had fallen by his hand. The blow had been struck in a crowd, it was said, and no one saw it, or at least no one cared to tell of it if he did, and so the Gopher had been left alone, and he had left men alone, and lived all the time by himself in a sort of cave, and that is why he was called the Gopher. Strange stories were told of this Gopher, too, and men who pretended to know said his cave was lined with gold.
"That baby!" began the Gopher, lifting up his doubled fist, and bringing it down now and then by way of emphasis. "That baby! Look here! Here's one baby among a thousand men. Here's a thousand men asking if it's got a father. Now does that little baby want a father ? I've got a cave full of gold and I'll be its father! I'll be its brother and uncle and aunt and mother!" The Gopher thundered his fist down on the bar as he concluded, and the glasses there jumped up and clinked together, and bowed to each other, as if they had been dancers about to begin a cotillion.
The woodpecker flew away, and the mice were heard no more that day, for the men shouted their approval till they were hoarse voiced as mules.
Deboon had been sitting there all the time, half doubled over a bench. He perhaps was thinking of the first wedding, for he kept looking straight across the room to the pine logs on the other side, and then he seemed to fix his eyes on some object there, and to fall to thinking very generally. At last he began to count on his fingers. Then suddenly he fairly laughed with delight. He sprang up, stepped across the room, put his finger on the spot where Limber Tim had stood scrawling with his big pencil the day he was so embarrassed at Sandy's wedding, and shouted out
"Look here! There it is. That's the date. That's the day they was married September eighteen hundred and fifty!"
"Just eight months!" roared a man in the crowd.
"Eight months! Ten of 'em!" and he fell to counting on his fingers, as he turned to the crowd and continued right on up to July, with perfect confidence.
The camp roared, and shouted, and danced, as never before. Why had it been so stupid as not to set this thing right from the first ? It was the most penitent community that had ever been. The Widow was once more its patron saint.
The Gopher stood up by the wall.
"Are you all satisfied now ?"
Satisfied! They would never doubt any woman any more as long as they lived.
He took his bowie knife while the crowd turned to take a drink, and cut the date from the wall; and the only record, perhaps, of the first marriage in the Sierras was no more.
The sharp nosed man, one of those miserable men who never are satisfied unless they are either miserable or making some one else so, came up to the wall out of the crowd and began to look on the wall for the date, as if he thought there might have been some mistake, and he wanted to count it all over again.
This man began to count on his fingers and to look along on the wall. Suddenly there was a something gleaming in his face like a flash of lightning.
It was the Gopher's bowie knife. It was two inches of his throat. "Are you satisfied, my friend?" smiled the Gopher, with a smile that meant brimstone.
"Perfectly satisfied," said the wretch in return, and at the same time he bowed and backed as fast as he could till he came to the door, and then he was seen no more.
"Be it really all on the square, Judge ?" asked Citizen Tim one day, timidly and in confidence.
"Right ? Didn't I marry 'em ?"
"But it warn't twelve months."
"Twelve months! Don't care ef it warn't six months. I married 'em, and I married 'em good and fast, and that's the end of it."
Public opinion flows and ebbs like the tide of the sea. At one time this little camp was unanimous in the opinion that the mysterious little woman could be none other than Nancy Williams, and it would talk of little else. Then it would tire of this subject, change its opinion, and let the matter drop for months together.Start reading Chapter24 of The First Famlies of the Sierras