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not come one night, for I had a superstitious fear on account of its being my father's birthday. Uncle Sam had forgotten the date, and begged my pardon for proposing it; but he said that we must not put it off later than the following night, because the moonlight would be failing, and we durst not have any kind of lamp, and before the next moon the hard weather might begin. All this was before the liberal offers of his friends, of which I have spoken first, although they happened to come after it.
While the Sawyer had been keeping the treasure perdu, to abide the issue of his grandson's illness, he had taken good care both to watch it and to form some opinion of its shape and size; for, knowing the pile which I had described, he could not help finding it easily enough; and, indeed, the great fear was that others might find it, and come in great force to rob him; but nothing of that sort had happened, partly because he held his tongue rigidly, and partly, perhaps, because of the simple precaution which he had taken.
Now, however, it was needful to impart the secret to one man at least; for Firm, though recovering, was still so weak that it might have killed him to go into the water, or even to exert himself at all; and, strong as Uncle Sam was, he knew that even with hoisting-tackle, he alone could never bring that piece of bullion to bank; so, after much consideration, he resolved to tell Martin of the Mill, as being the most trusty man about the place, as well as the most surly; but he did not tell him until everything was ready, and then he took him straightway to the place.
Here, in the moonlight, we stood waiting, Firm and myself and Suan Isco, who had more dread than love of gold, and might be useful to keep watch, or even to lend a hand, for she was as strong as an ordinary man. The night was sultry, and the fire-flies (though dull in the radiance of the moon) darted, like soft little shooting-stars, across the still face of shadow, and the flood of the light of the moon was at its height, submerging everything.
While we were whispering and keeping in the shade, for fear of attracting any wanderer's notice, we saw the broad figure of the Sawyer rising from a hollow of the bank, and behind him came Martin the foreman, and we soon saw that due preparation had been made, for they took from under some driftwood (which had prevented us from observing it) a small moveable crane, and fixed it on a platform of planks which they set up in the river-bed.
"Pale-faces eat gold," Suan Isco said, reflectively, and as if to satisfy herself. "Dem eat, drink, die gold; den pull gold out of one other's ears. Welly hope Mellican mans get enough gold now."
"Don't be sarcastic, now, Suan," I answered; "as if it were possible to have enough!"
"For my part," said Firm, who had been unusually silent all the evening, "I wish it had never been found at all. As sure as I stand here, mischief will come of it. It will break up our household. I hope
it will turn out a lump of quartz, gilt on the face, as those big nuggets do, ninety-nine out of a hundred. I have had no faith in it all along."
"Because I found it, Mr. Firm, I suppose," I answered rather pettishly, for I never had liked Firm's incessant bitterness about my nugget. "Perhaps if you had found it, Mr. Firm, you would have had great faith in it.
"Can't say, can't say," was all Firm's reply; and he fell into the silent vein again.
"Heave-ho! heave-ho! there, you sons of cooks!" cried the Sawyer, who was splashing for his life in the water. "I've tackled 'un now! Just tighten up the belt, to see if he biteth centre-like. You can't lift 'un! Lord bless 'ee, not you. It'll take all I know to do that, I guess; and Firm ain't to lay no hand to it. Don't you be in such a doggoned hurry. Hold hard, can't you?"
For Suan and Martin were hauling for their lives, and even I caught hold of a rope-end, but had no idea what to do with it, when the Sawyer swung himself up to bank, and in half a minute all was orderly. He showed us exactly where to throw our weight, and he used his own to such good effect that, after some creaking and groaning, the long bill of the crane rose steadily, and a mass of dripping sparkles shone in the moonlight over the water.
"Hurrah! What a whale! How the tough ash bends !" cried Uncle Sam, panting like a boy, and doing nearly all the work himself. "Martin, lay your chest to it. We'll grass him in two seconds. Californy never saw a sight like this, I reckon."
There was plenty of room for us all to stand round the monster and admire it. In shape it was just like a fat toad, squatting with his shoulders up and panting. Even a rough resemblance to the head and the haunches might be discovered, and a few spots of quartz shone here and there on the glistening and bossy surface. Some of us began to feel and handle it with vast admiration; but Firm, with his heavy boots, made a vicious kick at it, and a few bright scales, like sparks, flew off.
"Why, what ails the lad?" cried the Sawyer in some wrath; "what harm hath the stone ever done to him? To my mind, this here lump is a proof of the whole creation of the world, and who hath lived long enough to gainsay? Here this lump hath lain, without changing colour, since creation's day; here it is, as big and heavy as when the Lord laid hand to it. What good to argue agin' such facts? Supposin' the world come out o' nothing, with nobody to fetch it, or to say a word of orders, how ever could it 'a managed to get a lump of gold like this in it? They clever fellers is too clever. Let 'em put all their heads together, and turn out a nugget, and I'll believe them."
Uncle Sam's reasoning was too deep for any but himself to follow. He was not long in perceiving this, though we were content to admire his words, without asking him to explain them; so he only said, "Well, well," and began to try with both hands if he could heft this lump. He
stirred it, and moved it, and raised it a little, as the glisten of the light upon its roundings showed; but lift it fairly from the ground he could not, however he might bow his sturdy legs and bend his mighty back to it; and, strange to say, he was pleased for once to acknowledge his own iscomfiture.
"Five hundred and a half I used to lift to the height of my kneecap easily; I may 'a fallen off now a hundredweight with years, and strings in my back, and rheumatics; but this here little toad is a clear hundredweight out and beyond my heftage. If there's a pound here, there's not an ounce under six hundredweight, I'll lay a thousand dollars. Miss Rema, give a name to him. All the thundering nuggets has thundering names.
"Then this shall be called 'Uncle Sam,'" I answered; is the largest and the best of all."
"It shall stand, Miss," cried Martin, who was in great spirits, and seemed to have bettered himself for ever. "You could not have given it a finer name, Miss, if you had considered for a century. Uncle Sam is the name of our glorious race, from the kindness of our natur'. Everybody's uncle we are now in vartue of superior knowledge, and freedom, and giving of general advice, and stickin' to all the world, or all the good of it. Darned if old Sam aren't the front of creation!"
"Well, well," said the Sawyer, "let us call it 'Uncle Sam,' if the dear young lady likes it; it would be bad luck to change the name; but for all that, we must look uncommon sharp, or some of our glorious race will come and steal it, afore we unbutton our eyes."
"Pooh !" cried Martin, but he knew very well that his master's words were common sense; and we left him on guard with a double-barrelled gun, and Jowler to keep watch with him. And the next day he told us that he had spent the night in such a frame of mind from continual thought, that when our pet cow came to drink at daybreak, it was but the blowing of her breath that saved her from taking a bullet between her soft, tame eyes.
Now, it could not in any kind of way hold good that such things should continue; and the Sawyer, though loth to lose sight of the nugget, perceived that he must not sacrifice all the morals of the neighbourhood to it, and he barely had time to despatch it on its road at the bottom of a load of lumber, with Martin to drive, and Jowler to sit up, and Firm to ride behind, when a troop of mixed robbers came riding across, with a four-wheel cart and two sturdy mules, enough to drag off everything. They had clearly heard of the golden toad, and desired to know more of him; but Uncle Sam, with his usual blandness, met these men at the gate of his yard, and upon the top-rail, to ease his arm, he rested a rifle of heavy metal, with seven revolving chambers. The robbers found out that they had lost their way, and Mr. Gundry answered that so they had, and the sooner they found it in another direction, the better it would be for them. They thought that he had all his men inside, and they were
mighty civil, though we had only two negroes to help us, and Suan Isco, with a great gun cocked. But their curiosity was such that they could not help asking about the gold; and, sooner than shoot them, Uncle Sam replied that, upon his honour, the nugget was gone. And the fame of his word was so well known, that these fellows (none of whom could tell the truth even at confession) believed him on the spot, and begged his pardon for trespassing on his premises. They hoped that he would not say a word to the Vigilance Committee, who hanged a poor fellow for losing his road; and he told them that if they made off at once, nobody should pursue them, and so they rode off very happily.
FIRM AND INFIRM.
STRANGE as it may appear, our quiet little home was not yet disturbed by that great discovery of gold. The Sawyer went up to the summit of esteem in public opinion; but to himself, and to us, he was the same as ever. He worked with his own hard hands, and busy head, just as he used to do; for although the mill was still in ruins, there was plenty of the finer work to do, which always required band-labour. And at night he would sit at the end of the table furthest from the fireplace, with his spectacles on, and his red cheeks glowing, while he designed the future mill, which was to be built in the spring, and transcend every mill ever heard, thought, or dreamt of.
We all looked forward to a quiet winter, snug with warmth and cheer indoors, and bright outside with sparkling trees, brisk air, and frosty appetite; when a foolish idea arose, which spoiled the comfort at least of two of us. Ephraim Gundry found out, or fancied, that he was entirely filled with love of a very young maid, who never dreamt of such things, and hated even to hear of them; and the maid, unluckily, was myself.
During the time of his ailment, I had been with him continually, being only too glad to assuage his pain, or turn his thoughts away from it. I partly suspected that he had incurred his bitter wound for my sake; though I never imputed his zeal to more than a young man's natural wrath at an outrage. But now he left me no longer in doubt, and made me most uncomfortable. Perhaps I was hard upon him, and afterwards I often thought so; for he was very kind and gentle; but I was an orphan child, and had no one to advise me in such matters. I believe that he should have considered this, and allowed me to grow a little older; but perhaps he himself was too young as yet, and too bashful, to know how to manage things. It was the very evening after his return from Sacramento, and the beauty of the weather still abode in the soft warm depth around us. In every tint of rock and tree, and playful glass of river, a quiet clearness seemed to lie, and a rich content of colour. The grandeur of the world was such, that one could only rest among it, seeking neither voice nor thought.
Therefore I was more surprised than pleased to hear my name ring loudly through the echoing hollows, and then to see the bushes shaken, and an eager form leap out. I did not answer a word, but sat with a wreath of white bouvardia and small adiantum round my head, which I had plaited anyhow.
"What a lovely dear you are!" cried Firm, and then he seemed frightened at his own words.
"I had no idea that you would have finished your dinner so soon as this, Mr. Firm."
"And you did not want me. You are vexed to see me. Tell the truth, Miss Rema."
"I always tell the truth," I answered; "and I did not want to be disturbed just now. I have so many things to think of."
"And not me among them. Oh no, of course, you never think of me, Erema."
"It is very unkind of you to say that," I answered, looking clearly at him, as a child looks at a man. "And it is not true, I assure you, Firm. Whenever I have thought of dear Uncle Sam, I very often go on to think of you, because he is so fond of you."
"But not for my own sake, Erema; you never think of me for my own sake."
"But yes, I do, I assure you, Mr. Firm; I do greatly. There is scarcely a day that I do not remember how hungry you are, and I think of you."
"Tush!" replied Firm, with a lofty gaze. that does not in any way express my meaning. above all eating, when it dwells upon you, Erema. fond of you, Erema."
"Even for a moment My mind is very much I have always been
"You have always been good to me, Firm," I said, as I managed to get a great branch between us. "After your grandfather, and Suan Isco, and Jowler, I think that I like you best of almost anybody left to me. And you know that I never forget your slippers."
"Erema, you drive me almost wild, by never understanding me. Now, will you just listen to a little common sense? You know that I am not romantic."
"Yes, Firm; yes, I know that you never did anything wrong in any way."
"You would like me better if I did. What an extraordinary thing it is! Oh, Erema, I beg your pardon."
He had seen in a moment, as men seem to do, when they study the much quicker face of a girl, that his words had keenly wounded methat I had applied them to my father, of whom I was always thinking; though I scarcely ever spoke of him. But I knew that Firm had meant no harm, and I gave him my hand, though I could not speak.
"My darling," he said, "you are very dear to me, dearer than all the world beside. I will not worry you any more, Only say that you do not hate me."