Erema, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter X

A Nugget

In a sacred corner (as soon as ever we could attend to any thing) we hung up the leathern bag of tools, which had done much more toward saving the life of Uncle Sam than I did; for this had served as a kind of kedge, or drag, upon his little craft, retarding it from the great roll of billows, in which he must have been drowned outright. And even as it was, he took some days before he was like himself again.

Firm, who had been at the head of the valley, repairing some broken hurdles, declared that a water-spout had burst in the bosom of the mountain gorge where the Blue River has its origin, and the whole of its power got ponded back by a dam, which the Sawyer himself had made, at about five furlongs above the mill. Ephraim, being further up the gulch, and high above the roaring flood, did his utmost with the keen edge of his eyes to pierce into the mischief; but it rained so hard, and at the same time blew so violently around him, that he could see nothing of what went on, but hoped for the best, with uneasiness.

Now when the Sawyer came round so well as to have a clear mind of things, and learn that his mill was gone and his business lost, and himself, at this ripe time of life, almost driven to begin the world again, it was natural to expect that he ought to indulge in a good deal of grumbling. Many people came to comfort him, and to offer him deep condolence and the truest of true sympathy, and every thing that could be thought of, unless it were a loan of money. Of that they never thought, because it was such a trifling matter; and they all had confidence in his power to do any thing but pay them. They told him that he was a young man still, and Providence watched over him; in a year or two he would be all the better for this sad visitation. And he said yes to their excellent advice, and was very much obliged to them. At the same time it was clear to me, who watched him like a daughter, that he became heavy in his mind, and sighed, as these kind friends, one after the other, enjoyed what he still could do for them, but rode away out of his gate with too much delicacy to draw purse-strings. Not that he would have accepted a loan from the heartiest heart of all of them, only that he would have liked the offer, to understand their meaning. And several of them were men — as Firm, in his young indignation, told me — who had been altogether set up in life by the kindness of Sampson Gundry.

Perhaps the Sawyer, after all his years, had no right to be vexed by this. But whether he was right or wrong, I am sure that it preyed upon his mind, though he was too proud to speak of it. He knew that he was not ruined, although these friends assumed that he must be; and some of them were quite angry with him because they had vainly warned him. He could not remember these warnings, yet he contradicted none of them; and fully believing in the goodness of the world, he became convinced that he must have been hard in the days of his prosperity.

No sooner was he able to get about again than he went to San Francisco to raise money on his house and property for the rebuilding of the mill. Firm rode with him to escort him back, and so did Martin, the foreman; for although the times were not so bad as they used to be some ten years back, in the height of the gold fever, it still was a highly undesirable thing for a man who was known to have money about him to ride forth alone from San Francisco, or even Sacramento town. And having mentioned the foreman Martin, in justice to him I ought to say that although his entire loss from the disaster amounted only to a worn-out waistcoat of the value of about twenty cents, his vehemence in grumbling could only be equaled by his lofty persistence. By his great activity in running away and leaving his employer to meet the brunt, he had saved not only himself, but his wife and children and goods and chattels. This failed, however, to remove or even assuage his regret for the waistcoat; and he moaned and threatened to such good purpose that a speedy subscription was raised, which must have found him in clothes for the rest of his life, as well as a silver tea-pot with an inscription about his bravery.

When the three were gone, after strict injunctions from Mr. Gundry, and his grandson too, that I was on no account to venture beyond calling distance from the house, for fear of being run away with, I found the place so sad and lonesome that I scarcely knew what to do. I had no fear of robbers, though there were plenty in the neighborhood; for we still had three or four men about, who could be thoroughly trusted, and who staid with us on half wages rather than abandon the Sawyer in his trouble. Suan Isco, also, was as brave as any man, and could shoot well with a rifle. Moreover, the great dog Jowler was known and dreaded by all his enemies. He could pull down an Indian, or two half-castes, or three Mexicans, in about a second; and now he always went about with me, having formed a sacred friendship.

Uncle Sam had kissed me very warmly when he said “good-by,” and Firm had shown some disposition to follow his example; but much as I liked and admired Firm, I had my own ideas as to what was unbecoming, and now in my lonely little walks I began to think about it. My father’s resting-place had not been invaded by the imperious flood, although a line of driftage, in a zigzag swath, lay near the mound. This was my favorite spot for thinking, when I felt perplexed and downcast in my young unaided mind. For although I have not spoken of my musings very copiously, any one would do me wrong who fancied that I was indifferent. Through the great kindness of Mr. Gundry and other good friends around me, I had no bitter sense as yet of my own dependence and poverty. But the vile thing I had heard about my father, the horrible slander and wicked falsehood — for such I was certain it must be — this was continually in my thoughts, and quite destroyed my cheerfulness. And the worst of it was that I never could get my host to enter into it. Whenever I began, his face would change and his manner grow constrained, and his chief desire always seemed to lead me to some other subject.

One day, when the heat of the summer came forth, and the peaches began to blush toward it, and bronze-ribbed figs grew damask-gray with a globule of sirup in their eyes, and melons and pumpkins already had curved their fluted stalks with heaviness, and the dust of the plains was beginning to fly, and the bright spring flowers were dead more swiftly even than they first were born, I sat with Suan Isco at my father’s cross, and told her to make me cry with some of all the many sad things she knew. She knew a wondrous number of things insatiably sad and wild; and the quiet way in which she told them (not only without any horror, but as if they were rightly to be expected), also the deep and rather guttural tone of voice, and the stillness of the form, made it impossible to help believing verily every word she said.

That there should be in the world such things, so dark, unjust, and full of woe, was enough to puzzle a child brought up among the noblest philosophers; whereas I had simply been educated by good unpretentious women, who had partly retired from the world, but not to such a depth as to drown all thought of what was left behind them. These were ready at any time to return upon good opportunity; and some of them had done so, with many tears, when they came into property.

“Please to tell me no more now,” I said at last to Suan; “my eyes are so sore they will be quite red, and perhaps Uncle Sam will come home to-night. I am afraid he has found some trouble with the money, or he ought to have been at home before. Don’t you think so, Suan?”

“Yes, yes; trouble with the money. Always with the white mans that.”

“Very well. I shall go and look for some money. I had a most wonderful dream last night. Only I must go quite alone. You had better go and look to the larder, Suan. If they come, they are sure to be hungry.”

“Yes, yes; the white mans always hungry, sep when thirsty.”

The Indian woman, who had in her heart a general contempt for the white race, save those of our own household, drew her bright-colored shawl around her, and set off with her peculiar walk. Her walk was not ungraceful, because it was so purely natural; but it differed almost as much as the step of a quadruped from what we are taught. I, with heavy thoughts but careless steps, set off on my wanderings. I wanted to try to have no set purpose, course, or consideration, but to go wherever chance should lead me, without choice, as in my dream. And after many vague turns, and even closings of rebellious eyes, I found myself, perhaps by the force of habit, at the ruins of the mill.

I seemed to recognize some resemblance (which is as much as one can expect) to the scene which had been in my sleep before me. But sleeping I had seen roaring torrents; waking, I beheld a quiet stream. The little river, as blue as ever, and shrinking from all thoughts of wrath, showed nothing in its pure gaze now but a gladness to refresh and cool. In many nicely sheltered corners it was full of soft reflection as to the good it had to do; and then, in silver and golden runnels, on it went to do it. And the happy voice and many sweetly flashing little glances told that it knew of the lovely lives beside it, created and comforted by itself.

But I looked at the dark ruin it had wrought, and like a child I was angry with it for the sake of Uncle Sam. Only the foundations and the big heavy stones of the mill were left, and the clear bright water purled around, or made little eddies among them. All were touched with silvery sound, and soft caressing dimples. But I looked at the passionate mountains first, to be sure of no more violence; for if a burned child dreads the fire, one half drowned may be excused for little faith in water. The mountains in the sunshine looked as if nothing could move their grandeur, and so I stepped from stone to stone, in the bed of the placid brightness.

Presently I came to a place where one of the great black piles, driven in by order of the Sawyer, to serve as a back-stay for his walls, had been swept by the flood from its vertical sinking, but had not been swept away. The square tarred post of mountain pine reclined down stream, and gently nodded to the current’s impact. But overthrown as it was, it could not make its exit and float away, as all its brethren had done. At this I had wondered before, and now I went to see what the reason was. By throwing a short piece of plank from one of the shattered foundations into a nick in the shoulder of the reclining pile, I managed to get there and sit upon it, and search for its obstruction.

The water was flowing smoothly toward me, and as clear as crystal, being scarcely more than a foot in depth. And there, on the upper verge of the hole, raised by the leverage of the butt from the granite sand of the river-bed, I saw a great bowlder of rich yellow light. I was so much amazed that I cried out at once, “Oh! what a beautiful great yellow fish!” And I shouted to Jowler, who had found where I was, and followed me, as usual. The great dog was famous for his love of fishing, and had often brought a fine salmon forth.

Jowler was always a zealous fellow, and he answered eagerly to my call by dashing at once into the water, and following the guidance of my hand. But when he saw what I pointed at, he was bitterly disappointed, and gave me to understand as much by looking at me foolishly. “Now don’t be a stupid dog,” I said; “do what I tell you immediately. Whatever it is, bring it out, Sir.”

Jowler knew that I would be obeyed whenever I called him “Sir;” so he ducked his great head under the water, and tugged with his teeth at the object. His back corded up, and his tail grew rigid with the intensity of his labor, but the task was quite beyond him. He could not even stir the mighty mass at which he struggled, but he bit off a little projecting corner, and came to me with it in his mouth. Then he laid his dripping jaws on my lap, and his ears fell back, and his tail hung down with utter sense of failure.

I patted his broad intelligent forehead, and wiped his black eyes with his ears, and took from his lips what he offered to me. Then I saw that his grinders were framed with gold, as if he had been to a dentist regardless of expense, and into my hand he dropped a lump of solid glittering virgin ore. He had not the smallest idea of having done any thing worthy of human applause; and he put out his long red tongue and licked his teeth to get rid of uneatable dross, and gave me a quiet nudge to ask what more I wanted of him.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50