HOW that courtship got on, or where and when Sandy first opened his lips, nobody ever knew. At first he took Limber Tim with him. But really Limber was so awkward in the presence of ladies, or at least so thought Sandy to himself, that he, was ashamed of him.
It was a great relief to Sandy, if he had only known enough to admit it to himself, to find some one in the room more awkward than himself. Nothing is a better boon, when embarrassed, than to see some one there a bigger dolt than yourself.
Limber Tim would come in, but he would not sit down. He would go over against the wall and stand there on one leg, with his hands stuck in behind him and his head lolled to one side while his mouth fell open, with his back glued up against the wall, as if he was a sort of statuary that had made up its mind never to fall down on its face. He would stand in that attitude till the Widow would speak to him or even smile on him, and then he would flop right over with his face to the wall, whip out a great pencil from his canvas pocket, and then slowly begin to scrawl the date, or as near as he could guess it, and sketch grotesque pictures all over the new hewn logs of the cabin.
The Widow used to call that place the Almanac, for Limber Tim knew the date and day of the year, if any man in the Forks knew it. Though it sometimes happened that when the pack train with the provisions would come in from the outer world they would find they were two, three and even four days behind or ahead in their calculations.
At last Sandy began to get tired of Limber Tim on the wall at the Widow's. Perhaps he was in the way. At all events he "shook" him, as they called it at the Howling Wilderness, and "played it alone."
One evening Sandy had a sorry tale to tell the little woman. She listened as never she had listened before. Poor Little Billie, young Piper the boy poet, the boy who was always so alone, was down with a fever, and was wild and talking in strange ways, and they had no help, no doctor, nothing. "Yes, yes," cried Sandy, "the Forks is a doin' its level best. Watchin' and a watchin', but he won't git up ag'in. It's all up with poor Billie."
And all the Forks was doing its best too. But the boy was very ill. The Forks was good: and it was also very sorry, for it had laughed at this young man with hands white and small and a waist like a woman's, and now that he was dying it wanted to be forgiven.
It was something to the Forks that it had allowed this boy to bear his own Christian name; the only example of the kind on its records.
The Widow was not very talkative after that, and Sandy went away earlier than usual. He thought to drop in and see the boy; but turned aside and called at the Howling Wilderness. In a few minutes he went back to the cabin of the sufferer. Gently he lifted the latch, and on tiptoe he softly entered the room where he lay.
The man was utterly amazed. The Widow sat there, holding his hands now, now pushing back the soft long hair from his face, folding back the blankets, cooling his hot brow with her soft fresh hand, and looking into his eyes all the time with a tenderness that was new to Sandy. The boy was wild with the fever, and weak and helpless. Men stood back around the wall and in the dark; they had not dared to speak to her as she entered. They were so amazed that a woman would dare do this thing to come in among them alone, take this boy in her arms, wave them back wild beasts as they were, they stood there mute with amazement and devotion. "I will go now!" The boy then reached his hands and tried to rise up. "I will go away up, up, out of it all. I don't fit in here. I don't belong here. I don't know the people, and the people don't know me." Then he was still, and his mind wandered in another direction, when he began again. " Now I will go; and I will go alone. I am so, so tired. I am so hot and thirsty here. I will cross on the cool mountain and rest as I go." The woman looked in his face, took his face in her hands as she sat by the bed, raised him tenderly and talked in a low soft voice all night long; soft and sweet and tender to the stranger as the voice of a mother.
She held his hand all night, as if she would hold him back from crossing over the river, and talked to him tenderly as if to draw him back to earth.
The gray dawn came at last, stealing down the mouth of the great black chimney, through the little window in the wall, where a paper did the duty of a pane, and there the men still stood in a row around the walls of the cabin, and there the Widow still sat holding the boy's hand, cooling his brow, calling him back to the world.
And he came. He opened his eyes and knew his fellow men, for these fevers of the mountain are sudden and severe, and their work is soon done or abandoned.
After that the camp had a patron saint. The Parson fell ill next, but the boys rated him so soundly about his motive as if any man could have a motive in falling ill that he fell to cursing, and cursed himself into a perspiration, and so got well.
One morning the Widow found a nugget of gold on her doorstep. What particular goose of the camp had laid that great gold egg before her door she did not know. Maybe, after all, it was only the devotion of some honest, clear headed man, some wealthy, fortunate fellow who wanted to quietly reward her for her noble deeds in the day of trouble.
Then came another nugget, and then another. She laid them in a row on her mantel piece, and men (for visitors were not so infrequent now as at first) would come in, handle them, make their observations, guess from what claim this one came or that; and no man there ever told or hinted or in any way remarked that he had sent this or that, or had had any part in the splendid gifts that lay so carelessly on the little Widow's mantel piece.
The little dreamer, the boy-poet, was once more seen on the trail with his pick and pan looking for gold in the earth by day, for gold in the skies at night. But never a word did he whisper of the awful threat of the Parson.Start reading Chapter10 of The First Famlies of the Sierras