Erema, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XII

Gold and Grief

It may have been an hour, but it seemed an age, ere the sound of the horn, in Firm’s strong blast, released me from my hiding-place. I had heard no report of fire-arms, nor perceived any sign of conflict; and certainly the house was not on fire, or else I must have seen the smoke. For being still in great alarm, I had kept a very sharp lookout.

Ephraim Gundry came to meet me, which was very kind of him. He carried his bugle in his belt, that he might sound again for me, if needful. But I was already running toward the house, having made up my mind to be resolute. Nevertheless, I was highly pleased to have his company, and hear what had been done.

“Please to let me help you,” he said, with a smile. “Why, miss, you are trembling dreadfully. I assure you there is no cause for that.”

“But you might have been killed, and Uncle Sam, and Martin, and every body. Oh, those men did look so horrible!”

“Yes, they always do till you come to know them. But bigger cowards were never born. If they can take people by surprise, and shoot them without any danger, it is a splendid treat to them. But if any one like grandfather meets them face to face in the daylight, their respect for law and life returns. It is not the first visit they have paid us. Grandfather kept his temper well. It was lucky for them that he did.”

Remembering that the Rovers must have numbered nearly three to one, even if all our men were stanch, I thought it lucky for ourselves that there had been no outbreak. But Firm seemed rather sorry that they had departed so easily. And knowing that he never bragged, I began to share his confidence.

“They must be shot, sooner or later,” he said, “unless, indeed, they should be hanged. Their manner of going on is out of date in these days of settlement. It was all very well ten years ago. But now we are a civilized State, and the hand of law is over us. I think we were wrong to let them go. But of course I yield to the governor. And I think he was afraid for your sake. And to tell the truth, I may have been the same.”

Here he gave my arm a little squeeze, which appeared to me quite out of place; therefore I withdrew and hurried on. Before he could catch me I entered the door, and found the Sawyer sitting calmly with his own long pipe once more, and watching Suan cooking.

“They rogues have had all the best of our victuals,” he said, as soon as he had kissed me. “Respectable visitors is my delight, and welcome to all of the larder; but at my time of life it goes agin the grain to lease out my dinner to galley-rakers. Suan, you are burning the fat again.”

Suan Isco, being an excellent cook (although of quiet temper), never paid heed to criticism, but lifted her elbow and went on. Mr. Gundry knew that it was wise to offer no further meddling, although it is well to keep them up to their work by a little grumbling. But when I came to see what broken bits were left for Suan to deal with, I only wondered that he was not cross.

“Thank God for a better meal than I deserve,” he said, when they all had finished. “Suan, you are a treasure, as I tell you every day a’most. Now if they have left us a bottle of wine, let us have it up. We be all in the dumps. But that will never do, my lad.”

He patted Firm on the shoulder, as if he were the younger man of the two, and his grandson went down to the wreck of the cellar; while I, who had tried to wait upon them in an eager, clumsy way, perceived that something was gone amiss, something more serious and lasting than the mischief made by the robber troop. Was it that his long ride had failed, and not a friend could be found to help him?

When Martin and the rest were gone, after a single glass of wine, and Ephraim had made excuse of something to be seen to, the Sawyer leaned back in his chair, and his cheerful face was troubled. I filled his pipe and lit it for him, and waited for him to speak, well knowing his simple and outspoken heart. But he looked at me and thanked me kindly, and seemed to be turning some grief in his mind.

“It ain’t for the money,” he said at last, talking more to himself than to me; “the money might ‘a been all very well and useful in a sort of way. But the feelin’— the feelin’ is the thing I look at, and it ought to have been more hearty. Security! Charge on my land, indeed! And I can run away, but my land must stop behind! What security did I ask of them? ’Tis enough a’most to make a rogue of me.”

“Nothing could ever do that, Uncle Sam,” I exclaimed, as I came and sat close to him, while he looked at me bravely, and began to smile.

“Why, what was little missy thinking of?” he asked. “How solid she looks! Why, I never see the like!”

“Then you ought to have seen it, Uncle Sam. You ought to have seen it fifty times, with every body who loves you. And who can help loving you, Uncle Sam?”

“Well, they say that I charged too much for lumber, a-cuttin’ on the cross, and the backstroke work. And it may ‘a been so, when I took agin a man. But to bring up all that, with the mill strown down, is a cowardly thing, to my thinking. And to make no count of the beadin’ I threw in, whenever it were a straightforrard job, and the turpsy knots, and the clogging of the teeth —’tis a bad bit to swallow, when the mill is strown.”

“But the mill shall not be strown, Uncle Sam. The mill shall be built again. And I will find the money.”

Mr. Gundry stared at me and shook his head. He could not bear to tell me how poor I was, while I thought myself almost made of money. “Five thousand dollars you have got put by for me,” I continued, with great importance. “Five thousand dollars from the sale and the insurance fund. And five thousand dollars must be five-and-twenty thousand francs. Uncle Sam, you shall have every farthing of it. And if that won’t build the mill again, I have got my mother’s diamonds.”

“Five thousand dollars!” cried the Sawyer, in amazement, opening his great gray eyes at me. And then he remembered the tale which he had told, to make me seem independent. “Oh yes, to be sure, my dear; now I recollect. To be sure — to be sure — your own five thousand dollars. But never will I touch one cent of your nice little fortune; no, not to save my life. After all, I am not so gone in years but what I can build the mill again myself. The Lord hath spared my hands and eyes, and gifted me still with machinery. And Firm is a very handy lad, and can carry out a job pretty fairly, with better brains to stand over him, although it has not pleased the Lord to gift him with sense of machinery, like me. But that is all for the best, no doubt. If Ephraim had too much of brains, he might have contradicted me. And that I could never abide, God knows, from any green young jackanapes.”

“Oh, Uncle Sam, let me tell you something — something very important!”

“No, my dear, nothing more just now. It has done me good to have a little talk, and scared the blue somethings out of me. But just go and ask whatever is become of Firm. He was riled with them greasers. It was all I could do to keep the boy out of a difficulty with them. And if they camp any where nigh, it is like enough he may go hankerin’ after them. The grand march of intellect hathn’t managed yet to march old heads upon young shoulders. And Firm might happen to go outside the law.”

The thought of this frightened me not a little; for Firm, though mild of speech, was very hot of spirit at any wrong, as I knew from tales of Suan Isco, who had brought him up and made a glorious idol of him. And now, when she could not say where he was, but only was sure that he must be quite safe (in virtue of a charm from a great medicine man which she had hung about him), it seemed to me, according to what I was used to, that in these regions human life was held a great deal too lightly.

It was not for one moment that I cared about Firm, any more than is the duty of a fellow-creature. He was a very good young man, and in his way good-looking, educated also quite enough, and polite, and a very good carver of a joint; and when I spoke, he nearly always listened. But of course he was not to be compared as yet to his grandfather, the true Sawyer.

When I ran back from Suan Isco, who was going on about her charm, and the impossibility of any one being scalped who wore it, I found Mr. Gundry in a genial mood. He never made himself uneasy about any trifles. He always had a very pure and lofty faith in the ways of Providence, and having lost his only son Elijah, he was sure that he never could lose Firm. He had taken his glass of hot whiskey and water, which always made him temperate; and if he felt any of his troubles deeply, he dwelt on them now from a high point of view.

“I may ‘a said a little too much, my dear, about the badness of mankind,” he observed, with his pipe lying comfortably on his breast; “all sayings of that sort is apt to go too far. I ought to have made more allowance for the times, which gets into a ticklish state, when a old man is put about with them. Never you pay no heed whatever to any harsh words I may have used. All that is a very bad thing for young folk.”

“But if they treated you badly, Uncle Sam, how can you think that they treated you well?”

He took some time to consider this, because he was true in all his thoughts; and then he turned off to something else.

“Why, the smashing of the mill may have been a mercy, although in disguise to the present time of sight. It will send up the price of scantlings, and we was getting on too fast with them. By the time we have built up the mill again we shall have more orders than we know how to do with. When I come to reckon of it, to me it appears to be the reasonable thing to feel a lump of grief for the old mill, and then to set to and build a stronger one. Yes, that must be about the right thing to do. And we’ll have all the neighbors in when we lay foundations.”

“But what will be the good of it, Uncle Sam, when the new mill may at any time be washed away again?”

“Never, at any time,” he answered, very firmly, gazing through the door as if he saw the vain endeavor. “That little game can easily be stopped, for about fifty dollars, by opening down the bank toward the old track of the river. The biggest waterspout that ever came down from the mountains could never come anigh the mill, but go right down the valley. It hath been in my mind to do it often, and now that I see the need, I will. Firm and I will begin tomorrow.”

“But where is all the money to come from, Uncle Sam? You said that all your friends had refused to help you.”

“Never mind, my dear. I will help myself. It won’t be the first time, perhaps, in my life.”

“But supposing that I could help you, just some little? Supposing that I had found the biggest lump of gold ever found in all California?”

Mr. Gundry ought to have looked surprised, and I was amazed that he did not; but he took it as quietly as if I had told him that I had just picked up a brass button of his; and I thought that he doubted my knowledge, very likely, even as to what gold was.

“It is gold, Uncle Sam, every bit of it gold — here is a piece of it; just look — and as large, I am sure, as this table. And it may be as deep as this room, for all that one can judge to the contrary. Why, it stopped the big pile from coming to the top, when even you went down the river.”

“Well, now, that explains a thing or two,” said the Sawyer, smiling peacefully, and beginning to think of another pipe, if preparation meant any thing. “Two things have puzzled me about that stump, and, indeed, I might say three things. Why did he take such a time to drive? and why would he never stand up like a man? and why wouldn’t he go away when he ought to?”

“Because he had the best of all reasons, Uncle Sam. He was anchored on his gold, as I have read in French, and he had a good right to be crooked about it, and no power could get him away from it.”

“Hush, my dear, hush! It is not at all good for young people to let their minds run on so. But this gold looks very good indeed. Are you sure that it is a fair sample, and that there is any more of it?”

“How can you be so dreadfully provoking, Uncle Sam, when I tell you that I saw it with my own eyes? And there must be at least half a ton of it.”

“Well, half a hundred-weight will be enough for me. And you shall have all the rest, my dear — that is, if you will spare me a bit, Miss Remy. It all belongs to you by discovery, according to the diggers’ law. And your eyes are so bright about it, miss, that the whole of your heart must be running upon it.”

“Then you think me as bad as the rest of the world! How I wish that I had never seen it! It was only for you that I cared about it — for you, for you; and I will never touch a scrap of it.”

Mr. Gundry had only been trying me, perhaps. But I did not see it in that light, and burst into a flood of childish tears, that he should misunderstand me so. Gold had its usual end, in grief. Uncle Sam rose up to soothe me and to beg my pardon, and to say that perhaps he was harsh because of the treatment he had received from his friends. He took me in his arms and kissed me; but before I could leave off sobbing, the crack of a rifle rang through the house, and Suan Isco, with a wail, rushed out.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31