Erema, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XV

Brought to Bank

The sanity of a man is mainly tested among his neighbors and kindred by the amount of consideration which he has consistently given to cash. If money has been the chief object of his life, and he for its sake has spared nobody, no sooner is he known to be successful than admiration overpowers all the ill-will he has caused. He is shrewd, sagacious, long-headed, and great; he has earned his success, and few men grudge, while many seek to get a slice of it; but he, as a general rule, declines any premature distribution, and for this custody of his wealth he is admired all the more by those who have no hope of sharing it.

As soon as ever it was known that Uncle Sam had lodged at his banker’s a tremendous lump of gold, which rumor declared to be worth at least a hundred thousand dollars, friends from every side poured in, all in hot haste, to lend him their last farthing. The Sawyer was pleased with their kindness, but thought that his second-best whiskey met the merits of the case. And he was more particular than usual with his words; for, according to an old saying of the diggers, a big nugget always has children, and, being too heavy to go very far, it is likely to keep all its little ones at home. Many people, therefore, were longing to seek for the frogs of this great toad; for so in their slang the miners called them, with a love of preternatural history. But Mr. Gundry allowed no search for the frogs, or even the tadpoles, of his patriarchal nugget. And much as he hated the idea of sowing the seeds of avarice in any one, he showed himself most consistent now in avoiding that imputation; for not only did he refuse to show the bed of his great treasure, after he had secured it, but he fenced the whole of it in, and tarred the fence, and put loopholes in it; and then he established Jowler where he could neither be shot nor poisoned, and kept a man with a double-barreled rifle in the ruin of the mill, handy to shoot, but not easy to be shot; and this was a resolute man, being Martin himself, who had now no business. Of course Martin grumbled; but the worse his temper was, the better for his duty, as seems to be the case with a great many men; and if any one had come to console him in his grumbling, never would he have gone away again.

It would have been reckless of me to pretend to say what any body ought to do; from the first to the last I left every thing to those who knew so much better; at the same time I felt that it might have done no harm if I had been more consulted, though I never dreamed of saying so, because the great gold had been found by me, and although I cared for it scarcely more than for the tag of a boot-lace, nobody seemed to me able to enter into it quite as I did; and as soon as Firm’s danger and pain grew less, I began to get rather impatient, but Uncle Sam was not to be hurried.

Before ever he hoisted that rock of gold, he had made up his mind for me to be there, and he even put the business off, because I would 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 every thing 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 every thing.

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 drift-wood (which had prevented us from observing it) a small movable crane, and fixed it on a platform of planks which they set up in the river-bed.

“Palefaces eat gold,” Suan Isco said, reflectively, and as if to satisfy herself. “Dem eat, drink, die gold; dem 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 horn 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 color, 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 discomfiture.

“Five hundred and a half I used to lift to the height of my knee-cap easily; I may ‘a fallen off now a hundred-weight 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 hundred-weight, 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, “because he 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 forever. “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’. Every body’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-barreled 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 loath to lose sight of the nugget, perceived that he must not sacrifice all the morals of the neighborhood to it, and he barely had time to dispatch 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 every thing. 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 honor, 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.

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