THE Coroner, who was a candidate for a higher office, marshalled the leading spirits, and proceeded to the cabin where the dead man lay. He felt that his reputation was at stake, and entering the cabin, said in a solemn voice: "In the name of the law, I take possession of this primesis." Some one at the door, evidently not a friend to the Coroner's political aspirations, called out: "O what a hat!" The officer was not abashed, but towered up till his tall hat touched the roof, and repeated, "In the name of the law, I take possession of these primesis." This time there was no response or note of derision, and it was quietly conceded that The Gopher and all his gold were in the hands of the Coroner.
The cabin was a true and perfect relic of what might, geologically speaking, be termed a "Period" in the plastic formation of the Republic. Great pine logs, one above the other, formed three of its walls; the fourth was made up by a fire place, constructed of boulders and adobe. The bed had but one post; a pine slab, supported by legs set in the center of the earthen floor, formed a table; the windows were holes, chiseled out between the logs, that could be closed with wooden plugs in darkness or danger.
Let these cabins not be despised. Their builders have done more for the commerce of the world than is supposed.
It is to be admitted that the dead man did not look so terrible, even in death, as the mind had pictured him. His unclosed eyes looked straight at those who came only to reproach him, and wonder where his money was buried, till they were abashed.
Standing there, the jury, under direction of the Coroner, gave a verdict of "Death from general debility." Some one tried to bring the Coroner into contempt again, by afterwards calling attention to the fact that he had forgotten to swear the jury; but the officer replied, "It is not necessary in such cases by the law made and provided," and so was counted wise and correct.
They bore the body in solemn silence to the grave yard on the hill maybe a little nearer to heaven. "How odd, that nearly all grave yards are on a hill," said little Billie Piper once more. But he said it now to himself, for he stood alone. No one shook hands with him now. He had crept out of his bed to stand by his dead friend. The places of chief mourners were assigned to Baboon and the dog, and Billie Piper. Whether these places were given because Baboon and Billie were the only present friends of the deceased, or whether the dog quietly asserted a right that no one cared to dispute, is not certain. Most likely it was one of those things that naturally, and therefore correctly, adjust themselves.
When these bearded men in blue shirts rested their burden at the open grave, they looked at each other, and there was an unpleasant pause. Perhaps they thought of the Christian burial service in other lands, and felt that something was wanting. At last Baboon stole up close to the head of the grave, hesitated, lifted and laid aside his old slouch hat, and looking straight down into the earth, said, in a low and helpless way:
"Earth to earth and dust to dust!" hesitated again and then continued: "The mustard and the clover seed are but little things, and no man can tell the one from the other; yet bury them in the uttermost parts of the earth, and each will bring its kind perfect and beautiful, and and man is surely more than a little seed and and;" here he quite broke down, and knelt and kissed the face of the dead.
The men looked away for a while, as if to objects in the horizon, and then, without looking at each other, or breaking silence, lowered the unshapely box, caught up the spades, and found a relief in heaping the grave.
Then the Coroner, as in duty bound, or, as he expressed it, "as required by the law in such cases made and provided," directed his attentions to a search for the buried treasure.
Yeast powder boxes, oyster cans, and sardine boxes, old boots and quicksilver tanks, were carried out to the light and inspected, without results. "In the straw of the bunk," said the Coroner; and blankets, bunk, and straw were carried out to the sun; but not an ounce of gold.
To make sure against intrusion of the ill disposed, the unwearied Coroner slept on the spot. The next day the hearth was taken up carefully, piece by piece, but only crickets clad in black, and little pink eyed mice met the eager eyes of the men. At last some one suggested that as the hard baked earthen floor was the last place in which one would look for hidden treasures, that was probably the first and only place in which the Gopher had buried his gold. The thought made the Coroner enthusiastic. He sent for picks, and, if we must tell the truth, and the whole truth, he sent for whisky also. By sunset the entire earthen floor had been dug to the depth of many feet, and emptied outside the door. Not a farthing's worth of gold was found. The next day the chimney was taken down.
Lizards, dust of adobes, but nothing more. About this time, the memory of the man just taken to the hill was held in but little respect, and a good or bad name, so far as the overzealous Coroner was concerned, depended entirely on the final results of the search.
But one more thing remained to be done; that was, to remove the cabin. Shingle by shingle, log by log, the structure was levelled. Wood rats, kangaroo mice, horned toads, a rattlesnake or two that had gone into winter quarters under the great logs, and that was all. Not an ounce of gold was found in the last cabin of the Missouri camp.
The flat was then staked off as mining ground by some enterprising strangers, and they began in the center to sluice it to the bed rock. They sluiced up the gulch for a month, and then down the gulch for a month, until the whole hill side was scalped, as it were, to the bone, and the treasure hunters were bankrupt, but not even so much as the color of the dead man's gold was found.
The Forks was disgusted, and the Gopher was voted a worse man dead than living.
It began to be noticed, however, that Baboon had mended somewhat in his personal appearance since the death of the Gopher, and it was whispered that he knew where the treasure was.
Some even went so far as to say that he had the whole sum of it in his possession. "Some of these nights he'll come up a-missing," said the butcher, striking savagely at his steel across his block. In justice to The Forks it must be observed he was not without grounds to go upon in her suspicions. For was not Baboon near the man at his death? And if he could get his dog, why not get his gold also?
One night Baboon, holding tight to a tow string, shuffled up to the stranger in the Saloon, and timidly plucking his sleeve, said:
"Going away, I hear?"
"To the States?"
"Well, then, look here: come with me!" and with an old dog bumping his head against his heels, he led the way out the door down the gulch to the cabin. He pulled the latch string, entered, and finally struck a light. Sticking the candle in a whisky bottle that stood on a greasy table in the center of the earthen floor, he picked up the tow string, and pointing to the bunk in the corner, they sat down together, and the old dog rested his nose between the old man's legs.
After looking about the cabin in nervous silence for a time, Baboon arose with a look of resolution, handed the man his string, stepped to a niche in the wall, and taking an old crevicing knife, struck it in stoutly above the latch.
"This means something," said the man to himself; "here will be a revelation," and a vision of the Gopher's gold bags crossed his mind with tempting vividness. After a while the old man came back, took up the whisky bottle, removed the candle from its neck, and holding it up between his face and the light, which he held in the other hand, seemed to decide some weighty proposition by the run of the beads in the bottle, and then turned and offered it in silence.
As the stranger declined his kindness, he hurriedly took a long draught, replaced the candle, then came and sat down close at his side, took his string, and the old dog again thrust his nose between his knees. "You see," and the man leaned over to the other, and began in a whisper and strangeness of manner that suggested that his mind was wandering, "you see, we all came out here together: Godfrey, that's the Gopher; Wilson, that's Curly, and I. Things didn't go right with me there, after I came away, so I just let them drift here. Lost my 4 grip,' as they say, did n't have any 'snap' any more, as people call it. Godfrey and Wilson got on very well, though, till Wilson was killed."
"Till the Gopher killed him?"
"Well, now, there's where it is," said Old Baboon, and he shuddered. The dog, too, seemed to grow nervous, and crowded his ugly head up tighter between the old man's legs.
"There's where it is. Godfrey did not kill Wilson. The Gopher did not kill Curly no more than did you. You see, Curly was young, and out here, he fell to gambling and taking a bit too much, and one night, when Godfrey tried to get him away from a game, a set of roughs got up a row, upset the table, and Curly got knifed by some one of the set, who made the row to get a grab at the money. Godfrey was holding the boy at the time to keep him from striking, for he was mad drunk.
Poor Curly only said, 'Don't let them know it at home.' and died in his arms. Every body was stranger to every body then, and no one took stock in that which did not concern him. People said Godfrey was right that it was a case of self defense, and Godfrey never said a word, never denied he killed him, but went back to the cabin, and took possession of every thing, and had it all his own way. He worked like a Chinaman, and never took any part in miners' meetings, or any thing of the kind, and people began to fear and shun him. By and by most of his old friends had gone; and he was only known as the Gopher."
Again Baboon paused, and the dog crept closer than before, as if he knew the name of his master.
Once more the man arose, lifted the candle, contemplated the beads in the bottle, as before, and returned. He did not sit down, but took up and pulled back the blankets at the end of the bunk.
"I thought as much," said the stranger to himself. "The gold is hidden in the straw."
"Look at them," said he; and he threw down a bundle of papers, and held down the dim candle.
There were hundreds of letters, all written in a fine steel plate lady's hand. Some addressed to Godfrey, and some to Wilson. Now and then was one with a border of black, telling that some one at home no longer waited the return.
"Come home, come home," was at the bottom of them all.
One addressed to Wilson, of a recent date, thanked him with all a mother's and sister's tenderness for the money he had so constantly sent them through all the weary years.
"That was it, you see; that was it. As Godfrey, that's the Gopher, is dead, and can send them no more money, and as you was a-going to the States, I thought best that you should drop in and tell the two families gently, somehow, that they both are dead. Say that they died together. He sent them the last ounce he had the week before he died, and made me take these letters to keep them away from the Coroner, so that he might not know his address, and so that they might not know at home that Curly had died long ago, and died a gambler. Take one of the letters along, and that will tell you where they are."
Again Old Baboon resumed the tow string. He looked toward the door, and when the man had stepped across the sill he put out the light, and the two stood together.
The old dog knew there was but the one place for his master outside his cabin at such a time, and, blind leading the blind, thither he led him through the dark to the saloon. And whither went the Parson that cold blustering morning? He set his face against the snow and started out alone up the corkscrew trail to try to reach, no one knew where. Or did he try to reach any place at all? Did he not take this course so that he might leave the mind of the woman he had loved, free and careless of his fate?
Sandy had promised, and so he had led his new wife to the Parsonage, and taken possession as he had agreed. But rough as he was he often wished he had not done so. He could see the hand of his great rival the Parson in all things around him. Sometimes he almost fancied he could see his face, mournful, sad, looking in at the window out of the storm at the happy pair by his hearth stone.
Early one Autumn some prospectors pushed far up the Fork running parallel with the trail leading out of camp; and there, in the leaves, they found a skull. There was a hole in the temple, and the marks of sharp teeth on the smooth white surface. They also found a small silver mounted pistol.
The party came down to the Forks one night, where friends were enjoying themselves at the saloon. The leader told what they had found, and laid the pistol on the counter. It was one of the Parson's little "bull pups."
The pistol was empty.
One final word of the once genteel Deboon, and we prepare to descend from the Sierras. Buffeted, beaten down, and blown about, still he lingered near his old haunts in the Forks.
At last, the broken man, who was now only known as Old Baboon, because he was so ugly, and twisted, and bent, and crooked, when he had no home, no mine, no mind, nothing at all, and did not want any thing at all but a grave, stumbled on to a mine that made him almost a prince in fortune. He would not leave the Sierras now. He settled there. Here is an extract from a letter in which he invites a distinguished traveling Yankee philanthropist and missionary to come to him and make his house his home. After describing the house and lands, he says:
"The house stands in this wood of pine. We have two California grizzlies, and a pair of bull dogs. Sandy keeps the dogs chained, but I let the grizzlies go free. We are not troubled with visitors."Start reading Chapter31 of The First Famlies of the Sierras