Three thousand men! Not a woman, not a child, down in that canyon of ours, so deep that the sun never reached us in the winter and but a little portion of the day in Summer,
Forests, fir and pine, in the canyon and out of the canyon up the hills and up the mountains, black and dense, till they broke against the colossal granite peaks far above us and crowned in the everlasting snow.
Three little streams cam tumbling down here from the snow peaks in different directions, meeting with a precision which showed that they knew their way perfectly through the woods; and from this little union of waters the camp had taken the name of "The Forks".
We had no law, no religion; but I insist, for all that, the men were not bad. It is true they shot and stabbed each other in a rather reckless manner; but then they did it in such a manly sort of a way that but little of the curse of Cain was supposed to follow.
Maybe it was because life was so desolate and dreary that these men threw it away so frequently, and with such refreshing indifference, in the misunderstandings at the Forks; for, after all, we led but wretched lives. That vast freedom of ours became a sort of desolation.
But men were grandly honest there. They invariably left gold in their gold pans from day to day open the claim -- ounces, pounds of it, thousands of dollars to be had to the taking up. Locks and keys were unknown, and, when the miner went down to town on Saturday night to settle his account, he, as a rule handed the merchant his purse and let him weigh whatever amount he demanded, without question.
The first woman came unheralded. Like all good things on earth, she came quietly as a snowflake down in our midst without ado or demonstration.
Who she was or where she came from no one seemed to know. Perhaps the propriety of questioning occurred to some of the men of the camp; but it never did to me. I had rather say, however, that when they found there was a real live woman in camp, a decent woman, who was willing to work and take her place beside the men in the great battle, bear her part in the common curse which demands that we shall toil to eat, they quietly accepted the fact, as men do the fact of the baby's arrival, without any question whatever,
This was not really the first woman to come into our camp of three thousand bearded men; and yet it was the first. There were five or six, maybe more, down at the Forks -- some from Sydney, some from New Orleans, and so on; but these were worse than no woman at all--waifs of the foam, painted children of passion. I am not disposed to put these women in the catalogue of saints. They were very devils, some of them.
These women set man against man and that Winter made many a crimson place in the great snowbanks of the streets. They started the first graveyard at the Forks; and kept it recruited, too, every holiday and almost every Sunday.
True, they did some good. I do not deny that. For example, I have in my mind now the picture of one, Sack Hill, from Mobile, holding the head of brave young fellow, shot through the temple, his long yellow hair in strings and streaming with blood. She held him so till he died; and mourned and would not be separated from him while a hope or a breath remained -- the blood on her hands, on her face, all over her costly silks and lace, and on the floor.
Then she had him buried elegantly as possible; sent for a preacher away over to Yreka to say the funeral service; put evergreens about his grave, and refused to be comforted.
All this was very beautiful-- a touch of tenderness in it all; but it was spoiled by the reflection that she had allured and almost forced the poor boy into the fight, in hopes of revenging herself on the man whom she hated and by whose hand he had to fall.
I knew another woman there who was very benevolent--in fact, they all were liberal with their money, and were the first and freest to bestow upon the needy. This woman was a Mexican--from Durango, I think; and her name was Dolores. Gentle in her manner, patient, sad; not often in the difficulties that distinguished the others; but generally alone, and by far the best liked of all these poor Magadalens. This good nature of hers made her most accessible, and so she was most sought for deeds of charity. Toward Spring it was said she was ill: but no one seemed to know, or may be no one cared.
If you will stop here to consider, it will occur to you that is is a man's disposition to avoid a sick woman; but a woman's disposition to seek out a sick man and nurse him back to health. This being true, here is a text for a sermon.
A bank had caved on a man-- only a prospector, a German, who lived alone in a little cabin on the hillside and crushed him frightfully, Nurses and physicians were necessary. The man was penniless and alone, and help had to come from the camp.
Some one went to Dolores. She was in her room or cabin, out a little way from any one, alone and ill, sitting up in bed, looking "wild enough,"as the man afterward stated. He told her what had happened. She leaned her head on her hand a moment, and then lifted it, looked up, and drew a costly ring from her finger, the only one on her pale, thin hand, and gave it to the man, who hurried away to get other aid elsewhere.
Now there was nothing very odd of unusual in a woman giving a ring. That was often done. In fact, there was scarcely any coin on the Creek. In case of this kind a man generally gave the biggest nugget or specimen he had in his pocket, a ring if he could not do better, sometimes a six-shooter and so on, and let them make the best of it, but but always something, if that something was possible. Let this be said and remembered of these brave old men of the mountains.
A few day after this, it came out the Dolores was dead. Then it was whispered that she had starved to death. This last was said in a sort of whisper. It came out with a shudder like between the teeth, as if the men were afraid to say it.
On investigation, it was found that the poor woman had been ill some time, had lost her bloom and freshness, and what becomes of a woman of this kind, who has no money, when she has lost her bloom and strength? Never had much money, always gave it away to the needy as fast as she got it, and so had nothing to fight the world with when she fell ill.
Then came the man with the rent, the lord of the log cabin--a cross between a Shylock-Jew and a flint faced Yankee--took her rings and jewels, one by one. The baker grew exacting, and finally the butcher, refused to bring her meat. And that was all there was of it. That was the end.
That butcher never succeeded there after that. Some one wrote "Small-Pox"over his shop every night for a month, and it was shunned like a pest-house. But all that did not bring poor Dolores back to life. The ring was an antique gold, with a costly stone, and a Spanish name, which showed her to have been of good family. A wedding ring.
But this woman, however, was an exception and at best, when in health, with the exception of her generous and sympathetic nature, was probably no angel.
I was in a neighboring cabin, on night, when it was announced that the first woman had come to the camp. The intelligence was received with profound silence.
There was a piece of looking-glass tacked up over the fire-place of this cabin.
Old Baldy whistled a little air, and walked up to this glass sidewise, silently, and stood there smoothing down his beard.
"Ginger blue!"cried the Parson, at last, bounding up from his bench and throwing out his arms, as if throwing the words from the ends of his fingers. "Ginger blue! hell-ter-flicker!" And here he danced around the cabin in a terrible state of excitement, to the tune of a sting of iron-clad oaths that fell like chain shot. They called the Parson because it was said he could outswear any man on the river; an accomplishment I was inclined to doubt, wonderful as were his achievements in this line.
I am prepared to testify that during the half hour that I remained in that cabin, after the announcement, every on of the ten men there took a look the little triangular fragment of looking-glass that was tacked up over the fire-place.
The arrival of Eve in Paradise was certainly an event; but she came too early in the world's history to create much sensation.
Stop here, and fancy the arrival of the first woman on earth to-day--in this day of committees, conventions, brass-band receptions and woman's rights!
You fancy a princess had come upon us. A good angel, with song and harps; or, at the least, carpetbags, and extended crinoline, waterfalls, and false hair, an pack-train of Saratoga trunks, and all the adjuncts of civilization. Not at all. She had secured the cabin once occupied by the unhappy Dolores; and I took the first occasion to pass that way, and, if possible, to see her with my own eyes. I confess that deep down in my heart was a delicate hope, the faintest, far possible shadow of belief the this, after all, was my good angel. I walked as if in a dream when I approach the place. No one visible. I heard a sound like the washing of the waves, in the cabin--a dead, steady thud, and thud and thud. But under the eaves of the pine-thatch was a modes sign, written in charcoal ion a cedar shingle. It read:
"Washening and Irening dun hear".
The hopes of the young and the imaginations of all are like corks. Almost any other soul under the sun had been disgusted. I was not even displeased. Not being able to get sight of the first woman, I whistled cheerfully and walked on.
This woman was called "the Widder." Why widow, rather than spinster, I do not know. Perhaps some inspired genius who had some knowledge of life, coupled with a regard for the truth, first spoke of her as "the Widder" as he tossed off a glass of gin and bitters with his companions at the "Howlin' Wilderness" Saloon, and thus baptized her in a name, not without a sort of special dignity in it, that should be hers as long as she should remain an individual element in the Camp.
Men, even the most bloated and besotted, walked as straight as possible up the trail that led by the Widow's cabin, as they passed that way at night; and kept back their jokes a war_hoops till far up the creek and out of her hearing in the pines.
A general improvement was noticed in all who dwelt in sight or hearing of her cabin. In fact, that portion of the creek became a sort of West End, and cabin rent went up in that vicinity. Men were made better, gentler. No doubt of that. If, then, one plain, ignorant woman, rude herself by nature, can do so much what is not left for gentle and cultured woman, who is or should be the true missionary of the West--the world?
A woman's weakness is her strength.
True, she is very plain. But you may adopt it as one of your rules of life, and act upon it with absolute certainty, that, if you have to trust any woman, trust a plain one, rather than a handsome one; for the plain ones were not made to sell, else they too had been made handsome.
"Not to be to particular about a delicate subject," said old Baldy who had been fortunate enough to see her, "her memory possibly may reach back to the Black Hawk War."
She was tall, gentle, genial too, and soon a favorite with her many, many patrons. She had a scar on the left side of her face, they said reaching from the chin to the cheek; but, with a woman's tact, she always kept her right side to her company, and the scar was not always noticed.
What had been her history, what troubles she had had, what tempests she had stood against, or what great storm had blown this solitary woman far into the great black sea of firs that belts about and lines in the shadow of the Sierras, like a lone white sea-dove you sometimes find far out in the China seas, no man knew; and, be it said to the credit of the Forks, no man cared to inquire.
This meeting together, this coming and going of thousands of men from all parts of the earth, where each man stood on the character he made there in a day, deadened curiosity, perhaps.
At all events, you can go, a stranger, to-day, anywhere along the Pacific, and, if your character indicates the gentleman, you are accepted as such, and no man cares to ask of your antecedents. A convenient thing, I grant, for many; but nevertheless, a good thing and a correct thing for any country.
The old Jewish law of every seven years forgiving each man his debt was an age in advance of our laws of to-day; and, if any means could be devised by which every seven years to forgive all men their offenses, and let them begin life anew all together, an even start, it would be better still.
She could not keep herself concealed. I saw her at last, hanging out clothes and talking at the same time to a crowd of admiring miners. She was a tawny woman, in a loose, thin calico dress, that clung about her long, thin body like a banner about a flagstaff on a still day, She had black eyes, and black circles about her eyes that made them look larger than an owl's at a little distance, as if the head were nearly half eyes. Her face was very plain; but rather melancholy than vicious , with a large mouth, which, as a rule, indicates an open-handed and generous nature.
But the crowning feature of this woman was her enormous head of hair. It was black as night and bushy as a Kanaka's; all about the head in a heap that seemed to be constantly in motion. But at the back and down between her shoulders it had gathered into a cue, and hung down there like a bell-rope with a black tassel at the end.
She generally kept her mouth closed. But I soon observed that, when she wanted to say anything she pulled up her back, took hold of the bell-rope and pulled and pulled til her mouth came open; then she would throw out her sunken breast and wind and wind with her two hands, and corkscrew at the back hair , and pull and twist and wind, until she had would herself up so tight that it was impossible to close either her mouth or her eyes. After that she could talk faster than any man in the world, and faster that a great many women, until she run down, and the bell-rope hung loose between her shoulders. Then her mouth would close suddenly, and she would have to stop that instant, even if in the midst of a sentence, until she could seize the bell-rope, pull herself open and wind herself up.
The Widow had admirers from the first; many and many a worshiper, and not altogether without reason, There was about her a certain sweetness of nature that contrasted well with the rough life in which she was thrown; and the strong men noted this, and liked the sense of her presence.
Besides that, this woman had a certain sincerity about the, a virtue that is as rare as it is dear to man. I think, if we look at ourselves clearly, we will discover that this one quality wins upon us more that any other -- that is more than beauty, more than gold--sincerity, earnestness. For my part, I only make that one demand on any man or nay woman. You cannot be graceful at will, or wealthy, or beautiful, or always good natured; but you can be in earnest. You can refuse to lie, either in word or in deed. I demand that you shall be in earnest before you shall approach me. Be in earnest even in you villainy.
As the Summer wore away, her suitors dropped off like early candidates for office, and left the field almost entirely to the two leading men of the camp-- Sandy and the Parson.
Sandy was a man of magnificent stature, with a graceful flow of sandy beard, but and ignorant, awkward child of Nature. A born leader of men, but a man who declined to lead unless forced to come to the front by his fellows, and for the time take charge of whatever little matter was under consideration in the camp. Sandy was a man you believed in, trusted, and honored from the first . There was not a crafty fiber or thought in his physical or mental make-up.
The Parson was a successful miner; a massive, Gothic man, though not so tall as Sandy. He had been a sailor, I think. At all events, he had a blue band of India ink with little diamonds of red set in between the bands, on his left wrist. Possibly it was his right wrist, for I cannot recall positively at this distance of time; but I think it was the left.
The Parson was the first authority in history politics, theology, anything whatever that came up. I do not think he was learned; but he was always so positive, and always to ready with his opinions and so ready to back them up too, that all were willing to ask his opinion in matters of doubt, and few were willing to question his replies.
After a while it became talked about that Sandy was losing ground with the Widow--or rather, that the Parson was having it pretty much his own way there, as in other things in the camp, and that Sandy rarely put in an appearance.
About this time a pretty little cottage began to peep through the trees from a little hill back of town.; and then it came out that this, with its glass widows and green window blinds, was the property of the Parson, and destined as the home of the Widow.
I think the camp was rather pleased at this. True, there was a bit of ambition and a grain of cunning too in the Parson's nature which made the free, wild men of the mountains look upon him sometimes with less favor then they did on Sandy. Still they liked him, and were glad that the Widow was to have a home at last.
But somehow the wedding did not come on as soon as was expected , and the Widow kept on rubbing, rubbing, and rubbing, day after day, week after week, as if nothing of the kind was ever to happen to her.
Late in the Fall, on evening as the men stood in a semicircle in the Howlin' Wilderness saloon, with their back to the blazing log fire, Sandy brought his fist down emphatically on the bar, as he took part in the conversation, and turning to the crowd, said:
"It's an everlatin' and a burnin' shame!"
He rested his right elbow on the bar, and drew the back of his left hand across his mouth, as if embarrassed, and again began:
"It's a breathin' and a burnin' shame, I say, that the woman has got for to go on in this way, awashin' of duds for us fellow of this here camp. If this here camp can't afford one lady in it precincts why, then I shall pull up stakes and to to where the tall cedars cast their shadows over the coyote, and the coyote howls and howls--and--and--"
He wiped his hand again, and broke down utterly. But he had said enough. A responsive chord was touched and the men fairly sprang to their feet with delight at the thought.
Some of the best things in life are like leads of gold--we come upon them it a kind of sudden discovery.
The Parson's eyes twinkled with delight. "I move that Sandy take the chair for this occasion and second the motion, and plank down twenty ounces for the Widow."
Sandy removed his slouch hat, blushed behind his beard and the new dignity, and said:
"Bully for you! I raise you five ounces and ante the dust."
Here he drew a long, heavy purse from his pocket, and passed it over to the barkeeper, who thereby became treasurer of the enterprise without further remarks. The Parson's eye twinkled again.
"I see your five ounces and go you ten better."
"Called," said Sandy; and he pecked at the barkeeper, which little motion of the head meant that that further amount was to be weighted from the purse for the benefit of the Widow.
One by one the boys came forward' and, as the enterprise got noised about the camp, they came down to the Howlin' Wilderness saloon till far in the night, to contribute what they called their "widow's mite."
Even the head man of the company up the Creek known as the "Gay Roosters" and who was notoriously the most rough and reckless man in the camp, jumped a first-class poker game, where he was playing at twenty dollars ante and pass the buck, to come in and weigh out dust enough to "call" the Parson and Sandy.
The Forks felt proud of itself for the deed. Men slept sounder and woke in a better humor with themselves for the act.
Yet all this time is was pretty well conceded that the gold, and the Widow too, would very soon fall to the possession of the Parson.
"Set 'em deep, Parson! Set 'em deep!" said head to th "Gay Rooster," as he shook hands with the Parson that night, winked at the boys, and returned to his game of poker.
There had been many a funeral at the Forks; but never a birth or a wedding. But now this last, with all its rites and mysteries, was about to come upon the Forks; and the Forks felt dignified and elated. Not one of the three thousand bearded men showed unconcern. It was the great topic--the Presidential Campaign, the Dolly Varden of the day. The approaching wedding was the morning talk, the talk at noon, and the talk at night.
And it was good for the camp. The last fight was forgotten. Monte took a back seat in the minds of these strange, strong men; and, if the truth could be told, I dare say the German undertaker who had set up under the hill, noted a marked decline in his business.
The boys were with the Parson; and the Parson with the boys. They all conceded that he was a royal good fellow, and that the Widow could not well do better.
The amount of gold raised by the men in their sudden and impulsive charity was in itself, for one in the Widow's station, a reasonable fortune.
"What if she gits up and gits?"
The man who said that a narrow-minded, one-eyed, suspicious fellow, who barely escaped being kicked down by the head of the "Gay Roosters," and kicked into the street by the crowd.
Still later in the Fall the Parson sat in Howlin' Wilderness, with his back to blazing, crackling fire, having it all his own way at his favorite game of old sledge. He had led his queen for the jack just as though he knew where every card in the pack was entrenched. Then he led the king with like composure, and was just crooking his fingers up his sleeve for the ace, when a man in black, with a beaver hat and a white neck-tie rode by the widow on a black horse.
"Sombody's a dyin' up the creek, I 'speck," said Stubbs. "Maybe it's old Yallar. He allers was a kind of a prayin', codfish eat' cuss, anyhow."
Here Stubbs turned and kicked nervously at the fire.
The game did not go on after that. No one said anything. Perhaps that was the trouble. The men fell to thinking, and the game lost its interest.
There was no fight of importance at the Howlin' Wilderness that night, and by midnight the frequenters of the saloon had withdrawn. The candles were then put out, and the proprietors barricaded the door against belated drunkards, spread their blankets on a monte table, with their pistols under their heads, and by the smouldering fire were at rest.
The ground was frozen hard next morning, the miners flocked into the Howlin' Wilderness. The Parson was leading off gaily again and swearing with unusual eloquence and brilliancy, when a tall, thin, and sallow man, from Missouri, known as "The Jumper," entered. He looked wild and excited, and stepped high, as if on stilts.
The tall thin man went straight up to the bar, struck his knuckles on the counter, and nodded at the red bottle before him. It came forward with a glass tumbler, and he drank deep, alone and in silence.
When a miner of the Sierras enters a saloon where other men are seated, and drinks alone, without inviting any one, it is meant as a deliberate insult to those present, unless there is some dreadful thing on his mind.
The Jumper, tall and fidgety, turned to the Parson, bent his back over the counter, and pushed back his hat. Then he drew his right sleeve across his mouth, and let his arms fall down at his side limp and helpless, and his round, brown butternut head roll loose and awkward from shoulder to shoulder.
"Well! well! Spit it out!" cried the Parson as he arose from the bench, with a dreadful oath. "Spit it out! What it h__ is busted now?"
Here the head rolled and the arms swung more than ever, and the man seemed in dreadful agony of mind.
The Parson sprang across the room and caught him by the shoulder. He shook him till hes teeth rattled like quartz in a mill.
"The--the man in black," gasped The Jumper."The black man, on the black horse, with a white choker. Sandy--the--the Widow."
The Parson sunk into a seat, dropped his face in his hands for a moment, trembled only a little, and arose pale and silent. He did not swear at all. I am perfectly certain he did not swear. I know we all spoke of that for a long time afterward, and considered it one of the most remarkable things in all the strange conduct of this man.
When the Parson arose, The Jumper shook himself loose from the counter, and tilted across to the other side of the room, to give him place.
The stricken man put his hands of the counter, peeked over the bar keeper's shoulder at this favorite bottle, as if mournfully to a friend, but said not a word. He emptied a glass, and then, without looking right or left, opened the door, and went straight up to the Parsonage. The Parsonage was the name the boys gave to the cottage on the hill among the trees.
"Gone for his two little bull-pups." said Stubbs. That was what the Parson called his silver-mounted derringers.
"There will be a funeral at the Forks to-morrow," gasped The Jumper.
Here the German undertaker arose cheerfully, and went down to his shop.
"Well, Sandy is no sardine. Bet you boots Sandy ain't no sardine!" said Stubbs. "And, anyhow, he's got the start just a little, if the Parson does nail him. For he's had her first' and that's a heap, I think, for wimmen's mighty precious in the mines--sumthin to die for, you bet."
The Parson was absent for hours, and the Howlin' Wilderness began to grow impatient.
"He's a heeling himself like a fighting-cock," said Stubbs; "and, if Sandy don't go to kingdom come with his boots on, then chaw me up for a shrimp."
The man here went to the door, opened it, put his head out in the frosty weather, and peered up the creek for sandy, and across the creek for the Parson, but neither was in sight.
The "Gay Rooster" company knocked off from their work, with many others and came to town. The Howlin' Wilderness was crowded and doing a rushing business.
The two bar-keepers shifted and carefully arranged the sand-bags under the counter, which in that day and country were placed there in every well-regulated drinking saloon so as to intercept whatever stray bits of lead might be thrown in the direction of their bodies in the coming battle, and calmly awaited results.
About dark, a thin blue smoke, as from burning paper, curled up from the chimney of the Parsonage, and the Parson came slowly forth.
"Blamed if he hasn't been a making of his will and a burning of his letters. Looks grimmer than a deacon too," added the man, as the Parson neared the saloon.
He spoke quietly to the boys, as he entered, but did not swear. That was thought again remarkable, indeed.
He went up to the bar, tapped on the counter with his knuckles, threw his head back over his shoulder toward the crowd, and yet apparently without seeing any one, and said:
"Boys, fall in line, fall in line. Rally around me once again."
They fell in line; or at least the majority die. Some, however, stood off in little knots and groups on the other side, and pretended not to have heard or noticed what was going on. These it was at once understood were fast friends of Sandy's and unbelievers in the Parson.
The glasses were filled quietly, slowly and respectfully, almost like filling a grave, and then emptied in silence.
Again it was observed that the Parson did not swear. That was considered as remarkable as the omission of prayer from the service in a well-regulated church, and I am sure contributed to throw a spirit of restraint over the whole party friendly to the Parson. Besides it was noticed that he was pale, haggard, and had hardly a word to say, and, most of all, had barely touched the glass to his lips.
No one, however, ventured to advise, question or in any way disturb him. All were quiet and respectful. It was very evident that the feeling in the Forks was largely with the Parson.
Sandy did not appear that evening. This of course, was greatly against him. The Forks began to suspect that he feared to take the responsibility of his act, and meet the man he had so strangely deceived and so deeply injured.
The next day the saloon was crowded more densely than before. Men stood off in little knots and groups, talking earnestly. There was but one topic--only the one great subject--the impending meeting between the two leading men of the camp, and the probable result.
The Parson was among the first present that day, pale and careworn. They treated him with all the delicacy of women. Not a word was said in his presence of his misfortune, or the occasion of their meeting. To the further credit of the Forks I am bound to say that there was scarcely and intoxicated man present.
The day passed and still Sandy did not appear. Had there been any other way out of camp than through the Forks and up the rugged, winding corkscrew stairway of rocks opposite, and in the face of the town, it might have been suspected that he had taken the Widow and fled to other lands.
The Parson came down a little late the next morning, pale and quiet, as before. He did not swear. This time, in fact he did not even drink. He sat sat down on a bench behind the monte table with his back to the fire and his face to the door. The men respectfully left a rather broad lane between the Parson and the door, and the monte table was not patronized.
The day passed; dusk, and still Sandy did not appear. By this time he had hardly three friends in the house.
"Hasn't got the soul of a chicken!" "Cave in at last!" "Gone down in his boot!" "Busted in the snapper! "Lost his grip!" "Don't dare show his hand!" These and like expressions, thrown out now and then from the little knots of men here and there, were the certain indications that Sandy had lost his place in the hearts of the leading men of the Forks.
Toward midnight the bolt lifted! Shoo! The door opened and Sandy entered, backed up against the wall by the door, and stood there, tall and silent.
His great beard was trimmed a little, his bushy hair carefully combed behind his ears, and the neck-tie was now subdued into a near love-knot, in spite of its old persistent habit of twisting around fluttering out over his left shoulder. His eye met the Parson's but did not quail.
The bar-keeper settled down gratefully behind the bags of sand, so that his eyes only remained visible above the horizon.
The head of the "Gay Roosters" tilted a table up till it made a respectable barricade for his breast, and the crowd silently settled back in the corners, packed tighter than sardines in a tin box.
You might have heard a mouse, had it crossed the floor. Even the fretful fire seemed to hold for the time its snappish red tongue, and the wind without to lean against the door and listen.
The Parson slowly arose from the table. He has his right hand in his pocket, and was very pale.
Experienced shootists, old hands at mortal combat with their kind, glanced from man to man, measured every motion, every look, with all the intense eagerness of artists who are favored with one great and especial sight, not to be met again. Others held their heads down, and only waited in a confused sort of manner for the barking of the dogs.
Neither of Sandy's hands were visible; but, as the Parson took a few steps forward, and partly drew his hand from his pocket, Sandy's right one came up like a steel spring, and the ugly black muzzle of a six shooter was in the Parson's face.
Still he advanced, till his face almost touched the muzzle of the pistol: He seemed not to see it, or to have the least conception of his danger.
It was strange that Sandy did not pull. Maybe he was surprised at the singular action of the Parson. Perhaps he had his eye on the unlifted right hand of his antagonist. At all events he had the "drop" and could afford to wait the smallest part of a second, and see what he would do.
"I have been a-waiting" The Parson halted a long time at the participle. "I have been a-waiting for you, Sandy, a long time."
His voice trembled. The voice that had thundered above a hundred bar room fights, and had directed the men through many a difficulty in the camp, was now low and uncertain.
"Sandy," he began again, and he took hold of the counter with his left hand, "I am going away, Your cabin is too small now, and I want you and--and--your--your family to take care of the Parsonage till I come back."
Sandy sank back closer still to the wall, and his arm hung down at his side.
"You will move into the Parsonage tomorrow morning. It's full of good things for Winter. You will move in it, I say, tomorrow mornin' early! Promise me that."
The Parson's voice was a little severe here. More determined than before; and as he concluded, he drew the key from his pocket and handed it to Sandy.
The men looked a moment in each other's eyes. Perhaps they we both embarrassed. The door was convenient. That seemed to Sandy the best way out of his confusion, and he opened it softly and disappeared. The Howlin' Wilderness was paralyzed with wonder.
The Parson looked a little while out in the dark through the open door and was gone. The was a murmur of disappointment behind him.
"Don't you fear!" at last chimed in the head of the "Gay Roosters." "Don't you never fear! That old sea dog, the Parson, is deeper than a infernal gulf."
"Look here!" He put up his finger to the side of his nose, after a pause, and, stroking his beard mysteriously, said: "I say, look here! Shoo! Not a Word! Softly now! Powder! That's what it means. Powder! Gits 'em both into the Parsonage and blows 'em to kingdom come together! Gay loving move that will be, won't it?"
The Howlin' Wilderness was reconciled. It was certain that the end was not yet, by a great deal. It was again struck with wonder, however; and for want of a better expression, took a drink and settled down to a game of monte.
Early the next morning--a morning full of unutterable storms and drifts of snow--Sandy, with his bride and their few effects, entered the Parsonage, as he had promised.
The Parson was not to be seen.
Men stood about the door of the Howlin' Wilderness, and up and down the single street, in little knots, noting the course of things at the Parsonage, and now and then shaking their loose blanket coats and brushing off the fast falling snow.
After a while, when the smoke rose up from the chimney top and curled above the Parsonage with a home like leisure as if a woman's hand tended the fire below, a man with hes face muffled up, was seen making his way slowly up the rugged way that led led from the town across the Sierra.
It was a desperate and dangerous undertaking at that season of the year. He made but poor headway, in the face of the storm that came pelting down in his face form the fields of eternal snow: but he seemed determined, and pushed slowly on. Some times it was observed he would turn, and, shading his eyes from the snow, look down intently at the peaceful smoke drifting through the trees above the Parsonage.
"Some poor idiot will pass in his check tonight if he don't come back pretty soon," said Stubbs, as he nodded at the man up the hill, brushed the snow from his sleeves, and went back into the saloon.
Sandy soon took his old place in the hearts of the boys. His wife was the sun and moon and the particular star of the camp; and the Parson was for a time almost forgotten, save by the two people at the Parsonage. Often Sandy sought him, up and down the creek; but he was not to be found. He had evidently left the camp.
After a month or two the talk became more general and respectful about the Parson.
It was with a little surprise that the Forks discovered, one evening, while discussing his merits and recounting his achievements, that he had never really killed a man during all his stay in the camp. How a man could have maintained the reputation for courage that this man had, and have held the influence over men that he did, without having killed a single man, seemed to the Forks unaccountable. Still they spoke of this man with kindness and almost with gentleness , and missed him through all the long, weary Winter more that they were willing to admit.
Spring came a last; but not the Parson. The Summer passed; but the Parson still refused to appear.
Early in 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 few other bones, badly eaten by wolves, and a small silver mounted pistol.
The party came down to the Forks one night, where Sandy and his friends were enjoying themselves at the Howlin' Wilderness.
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. Sandy touched it tenderly, almost reverently.
The boys stood in line at the bar. The glassed were filled in silence.
The Sandy pushed back his black slouch hat, pulled it from his head and laid it on the counter.
"Boys," he began, as he stood on one legs, leaning against the counter, and looking sadly down into the tumbler. "Boys, here's to--here's to the--"
He looked down, and began again.
"Boys he was deep, deep down to the bed rock, boys; but the pay grit was there--pure, pure, gold."
The strong men drank, and wiped their beards and eyes with their sleeves, as they turned away. Sandy did not touch the glass to his lips; but his brown face and beard were wet somehow, as he took up his hat and went to the door. He looked up the hill, along the rocky trail; the, brushing his eyes with his hands, went slowly and sadly back to the cottage in the trees, to tell the sad new to his "family."
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