BRUVVER JIM'S BABY
PHILIP VERRILL MIGHELS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
HARPER & BROTHERS
Copyright, 1904, by HARPER & BROTHERS.
All rights reserved.
Published May, 1904.
This Volume is
Dedicated, with much affection, to
I. A MIGHTY LITTLE HUNTER II. JIM MAKES DISCOVERIES III. THE WAY TO MAKE A DOLL IV. PLANNING A NEW CELEBRATION V. VISITORS AT THE CABIN VI. THE BELL FOR CHURCH VII. THE SUNDAY HAPPENINGS VIII. OLD JIM DISTRAUGHT IX. THE GUILTY MISS DOC X. PREPARATIONS FOR CHRISTMAS XI. TROUBLES AND DISCOVERIES XII. THE MAKING OF A CHRISTMAS-TREE XIII. THEIR CHRISTMAS-DAY XIV. "IF ONLY I HAD THE RESOLUTION" XV. THE GOLD IN BOREALIS XVI. ARRIVALS IN CAMP XVII. SKEEZUCKS GETS A NAME XVIII. WHEN THE PARSON DEPARTED XIX. OLD JIM'S RESOLUTION XX. IN THE TOILS OF THE BLIZZARD XXI. A BED IN THE SNOW XXII. CLEANING THEIR SLATE XXIII. A DAY OF JOY
BRUVVER JIM'S BABY
A MIGHTY LITTLE HUNTER
It all commenced that bright November day of the Indian rabbit drive and hunt. The motley army of the Piute tribe was sweeping tremendously across a sage-brush valley of Nevada, their force two hundred braves in number. They marched abreast, some thirty yards apart, and formed a line that was more than two miles long.
The spectacle presented was wonderful to see. Red, yellow, and indigo in their blankets and trappings, the hunters dotted out a line of color as far as sight could reach. Through the knee-high brush they swept ahead like a firing-line of battle, their guns incessantly booming, their advance never halted, their purpose as grim and inexorable as fate itself. Indeed, Death, the Reaper, multiplied two-hundred-fold and mowing a swath of incredible proportions, could scarcely have pillaged the land of its conies more thoroughly.
Before the on-press of the two-mile wall of red men with their smoking weapons, the panic-stricken rabbits scurried helplessly. Soon or late they must double back to their burrows, soon or late they must therefore die.
Behind the army, fully twenty Indian ponies, ridden by the youngster-braves of the cavalcade, were bearing great white burdens of the slaughtered hares.
The glint of gun-barrels, shining in the sun, flung back the light, from end to end of the undulating column. Billows of smoke, out-puffing unexpectedly, anywhere and everywhere along the line, marked down the tragedies where desperate bunnies, scudding from cover and racing up or down before the red men, were targets for fiercely biting hail of lead from two or three or more of the guns at once.
And nearly as frightened as the helpless creatures of the brush was a tiny little pony-rider, back of the army, mounted on a plodding horse that was all but hidden by its load of furry game. He was riding double, this odd little bit of a youngster, with a sturdy Indian boy who was on in front. That such a timid little dot of manhood should have been permitted to join the hunt was a wonder. He was apparently not more than three years old at the most. With funny little trousers that reached to his heels, with big brown eyes all eloquent of doubt, and with round, little, copper-colored cheeks, impinged upon by an old fur cap he wore, pulled down over forehead and ears, he appeared about as quaint a little man as one could readily discover.
But he seemed distressed. And how he did hang on! The rabbits secured upon the pony were crowding him backward most alarmingly. At first he had clung to the back of his fellow-rider's shirt with all the might and main of his tiny hands. As the burden of the rabbits had increased, however, the Indian hunters had piled them in between the timid little scamp and his sturdier companion, till now he was almost out on the horse's tail. His alarm had, therefore, become overwhelming. No fondness for the nice warm fur of the bunnies, no faith in the larger boy in front, could suffice to drive from his tiny face the look of woe unutterable, expressed by his eyes and his trembling little mouth.
The Indians, marching steadily onward, had come to the mountain that bounded the plain. Already a score were across the road that led to the mining-camp of Borealis, and were swarming up the sandy slope to complete the mighty swing of the army, deploying anew to sweep far westward through the farther half of the valley, and so at length backward whence they came.
The tiny chap of a game-bearer, gripping the long, velvet ears of one of the jack-rabbits tied to his horse, felt a horrid new sensation of sliding backward when the pony began to follow the hunters up the hill. Not only did the animal's rump seem to sink beneath him as they took the slope, but perspiration had made it amazingly smooth and insecure.
The big fat rabbits rolled against the desperate little man in a ponderous heap. The feet of one fell plump in his face, and seemed to kick, with the motion of the horse. Then a buckskin thong abruptly snapped in twain, somewhere deep in the bundle, and instantly the ears to which the tiny man was clinging, together with the head and body of that particular rabbit, and those of several others as well, parted company with the pony. Gracefully they slid across the tail of the much-relieved creature, and, pushing the tiny rider from his seat, they landed with him plump upon the earth, and were left behind.
Unhurt, but nearly buried by the four or five rabbits thus pulled from the load by his sudden descent from his perch, the dazed little fellow sat up in the sand and solemnly noted the rapid departure of the Indian army—pony, companion, and all.
Not only had his fall been unobserved by the marching braves, but the boy with whom he had just been riding was blissfully unaware of the fact that something behind had dismounted. The whole vast line of Piute braves pressed swiftly on. The shots boomed and clattered, as the hill-sides were startled by the echoes. Red, yellow, indigo—the blankets and trappings were momentarily growing less and less distinct.
More distant became the firing. Onward, ever onward, swung the great, long column of the hunters. Dully, then even faintly, came the noise of the guns.
At last the firing could be heard no more. The two hundred warriors, the ponies, the boys that rode—all were gone. Even the rabbits, that an hour before had scampered here and there in the brush with their furry feet, would never again go pattering through the sand. The sun shone warmly down. The great world of valley and mountains, gray, severe, unpeopled, was profoundly still, in that wonderful way of the dying year, when even the crickets and locusts have ceased to sing.
Clinging in silence to the long, soft ears of his motionless bunny, the timid little game-bearer sat there alone, big-eyed and dumb with wonder and childish alarm. He could see not far, unless it might be up the hill, for the sage-brush grew above his head and circumscribed his view. Miles and miles away, however, the mountains, in majesty of rock and snow, were sharply lifting upward into blue so deep and cloudless that its intimate proximity to the infinite was impressively manifest. The day was sweet of the ripeness of the year, and virginal as all that mighty land itself.
With two of the rabbits across his lap, the tiny hunter made no effort to rise. It was certainly secure to be sitting here in the sand, for at least a fellow could fall no farther, and the good, big mountain was not so impetuous or nervous as the pony.
An hour went by and the mere little mite of a man had scarcely moved. The sun was slanting towards the southwest corner of the universe. A flock of geese, in a great changing V, flew slowly over the valley, their wings beating gold from the sunlight, their honk! honk! honk! the note of the end of the year.
How soon they were gone! Then indeed all the earth was abandoned to the quiet little youngster and his still more quiet company of rabbits. There was no particular reason for moving. Where should he go, and how could he go, did he wish to leave? To carry his bunny would be quite beyond his strength; to leave him here would be equally beyond his courage.
But the sun was edging swiftly towards its hiding place; the frost of the mountain air was quietly sharpening its teeth. Already the long, gray shadow of the sage-brush fell like a cooling film across the little fellow's form and face.
Homeless, unmissed, and deserted, the tiny man could do nothing but sit there and wait. The day would go, the twilight come, and the night descend—the night with its darkness, its whispered mysteries, its wailing coyotes, cruising in solitary melancholy hither and thither in their search for food.
But the sun was still wheeling, like a brazen disk, on the rim of the hills, when something occurred. A tall, lanky man, something over forty years of age, as thin as a hammer and dusty as the road itself—a man with a beard and a long, gray, drooping mustache, and with drooping clothes—a man selected by shiftlessness to be its sign and mark—a miner in boots and overalls and great slouch hat—came tramping down a trail of the mountain. He was holding in his dusty arms a yellowish pup, that squirmed and wriggled and tried to lap his face, and comported himself in pup-wise antics, till his master was presently obliged to put him down in self-defence.
The pup knew his duty, as to racing about, bumping into bushes, snorting in places where game might abide, and thumping everything he touched with his super-active tail. Almost immediately he scented mysteries in plenty, for Indian ponies and hunters had left a fine, large assortment of trails in the sand, that no wise pup could consent to ignore.
With yelps of gladness and appreciation, the pup went awkwardly knocking through the brush, and presently halted—bracing abruptly with his clumsy paws—amazed and confounded by the sight of a frightened little red-man, sitting with his rabbits in the sand.
For a second the dog was voiceless. Then he let out a bark that made things jump, especially the tiny man and himself.
"Here, come here, Tintoretto," drawlingly called the man from the trail. "Come back here, you young tenderfoot."
But Tintoretto answered that he wouldn't. He also said, in the language of puppy barks, that important discoveries demanded not only his but his master's attention where he was, forthwith.
There was nothing else for it; the mountain was obliged to come to Mohammed—or the man to the pup. Then the miner, no less than Tintoretto, was astonished.
To ward off the barking, the red little hunter had raised his arm across his face, but his big brown eyes were visible above his hand, and their childish seriousness appealed to the man at once.
"Well, cut my diamonds if it ain't a kid!" drawled he. "Injun pappoose, or I'm an elk! Young feller, where'd you come from, hey? What in mischief do you think you're doin' here?"
The tiny "Injun" made no reply. Tintoretto tried some puppy addresses. He gave a little growl of friendship, and, clambering over rabbits and all, began to lick the helpless child on the face and hands with unmistakable cordiality. One of the rabbits fell and rolled over. Tintoretto bounded backward in consternation, only to gather his courage almost instantly upon him and bark with lusty defiance.
"Shut up, you anermated disturbance," commanded his owner, mildly. "You're enough to scare the hair off an elephant," and, squatting in front of the wondering child, he looked at him pleasantly. "What you up to, young feller, sittin' here by yourself?" he inquired. "Scared? Needn't be scared of brother Jim, I reckon. Say, you 'ain't been left here for good? I saw the gang of Injuns, clean across the country, from up on the ridge. It must be the last of their drives. That it? And you got left?"
The little chap looked up at him seriously and winked his big, brown eyes, but he shut his tiny mouth perhaps a trifle tighter than before. As a matter of fact, the miner expected some such stoical silence.
The pup, for his part, was making advances of friendship towards the motionless rabbits.
"Wal, say, Piute," added Jim, after scanning the country with his kindly eyes, "I reckon you'd better go home with me to Borealis. The Injuns wouldn't look to find you now, and you can't go on settin' here a waitin' for pudding and gravy to pass up the road for dinner. What do you say? Want to come with me and ride on the outside seat to Borealis?"
Considerably to the man's amazement the youngster nodded a timid affirmative.
"By honky, Tintoretto, I'll bet he savvies English as well as you," said Jim. "All right, Borealis or bust! I reckon a man who travels twenty miles to git him a pup, and comes back home with you and this here young Piute, is as good as elected to office. Injun, what's your name?"
The tiny man apparently had nothing to impart by way of an answer.
"'Ain't got any, maybe," commented Jim. "What's the matter with me namin' you, hey? Suppose I call you Aborigineezer? All in favor, ay! Contrary minded? Carried unanimously and the motion prevails."
The child, for some unaccountable reason, seemed appalled.
"We can't freight all them rabbits," decided the miner. "And, Tintoretto, you are way-billed to do some walkin'."
He took up the child, who continued to cling to the ears of his one particular hare. As all the jacks were tied together, all were lifted and were dangling down against the miner's legs.
"Huh! you can tell what some people want by the way they hang right on," said Jim. "Wal, no harm in lettin' you stick to one. We can eat him for dinner to-morrow, I guess, and save his hide in the bargain."
He therefore cut the buckskin thong and all but one of the rabbits fell to the earth, on top of Tintoretto, who thought he was climbed upon by half a dozen bears. He let out a yowp that scared himself half into fits, and, scooting from under the danger, turned about and flung a fearful challenge of barking at the prostrate enemy.
"Come on, unlettered ignoramus," said his master, and, holding the wondering little foundling on his arm, with his rabbit still clutched by the ears, he proceeded down to the roadway, scored like a narrow gray streak through the brush, and plodded onward towards the mining-camp of Borealis.
JIM MAKES DISCOVERIES
It was dark and there were five miles of boot-tracks and seven miles of pup-tracks left in the sand of the road when Jim, Tintoretto, and Aborigineezer came at length to a point above the small constellation of lights that marked the spot where threescore of men had builded a town.
From the top of the ridge they had climbed, the man and the pup alone looked down on the camp, for the weary little "Injun" had fallen asleep. Had he been awake, the all to be seen would have been of little promise. Great, sombre mountains towered darkly up on every side, roofed over by an arch of sky amazingly brilliant with stars. Below, the darkness was the denser for the depth of the hollow in the hills. Vaguely the one straight street of Borealis was indicated by the lamps, like a thin Milky Way in a meagre universe of lesser lights, dimly glowing and sparsely scattered on the rock-strewn acclivities.
From down there came the sounds of life. Half-muffled music, raucous singing, blows of a hammer, yelpings of a dog, hissing of steam escaping somewhere from a boiler—all these and many other disturbances of the night furnished a microcosmic medley of the toiling, playing, hoping, and fearing, where men abide, creating that frailest and yet most enduring of frailties—a human community.
The sight of his town could furnish no novelties to the miner on top of the final rise, and feeling somewhat tired by the weight of his small companion, as well as hungry from his walking, old Jim skirted the rocky slope as best he might, and so came at length to an isolated cabin.
This dark little house was built in the brush, quite up on the hill above the town, and not far away from a shallow ravine where a trickle of water from a spring had encouraged a straggling growth of willows, alders, and scrub. Some four or five acres of hill-side about the place constituted the "Babylonian Glory" mining-claim, which Jim accounted his, and which had seen about as much of his labor as might be developed by digging for gold in a barrel.
"Nobody home," said the owner to his dog, as he came to the door and shouldered it open. "Wal, all the more for us."
That any one might have been at home in the place was accounted for simply by the fact that certain worthies, playing in and out of luck, as the wheel of fate might turn them down or up, sometimes lived with Jim for a month at a time, and sometimes left him in solitude for weeks. One such transient partner he had left at the cabin when he started off to get the pup now tagging at his heels. This house-partner, having departed, might and might not return, either now, a week from now, or ever.
The miner felt his way across the one big room which the shack afforded, and came to a series of bunks, built like a pantry against the wall. Into one of these he rolled his tiny foundling, after which he lighted a candle that stood in a bottle, and revealed the smoky interior of the place.
Three more of the bunks were built in the eastern end of the room; a fireplace occupied a portion of the wall against the hill; a table stood in the centre of the floor, and a number of mining tools littered a corner. Cooking utensils were strewn on the table liberally, while others hung against the wall or depended from hooks in the chimney. This was practically all there was, but the place was home.
Tintoretto, beholding his master preparing a fire to heat up some food, delved at once into everything and every place where a wet little nose could be thrust. Having snorted in the dusty corners, he trotted to the bench whereon the water-bucket stood, and, standing on his hind legs, gratefully lapped up a drink from the pail. His thirst appeased, he clambered ambitiously into one of the bunks, discovered a nice pair of boots, and, dragging one out on the floor, proceeded to carry it under the table and to chew it as heartily as possible.
There was presently savory smoke, sufficient for an army, in the place, while sounds of things sizzling made music for the hungry. The miner laid bare a section of the table, which he set with cups, plates, and iron tools for eating. He then dished up two huge supplies of steaming beans and bacon, two monster cups of coffee, black as tar, and cut a giant pile of dun-colored bread.
"Aborigineezer," he said, "the banquet waits."
Thereupon he fetched his weary little guest to the board and attempted to seat him on a stool. The tiny man tried to open his eyes, but the effort failed. Had he been awake and sitting erect on the seat provided for his use, his head could hardly have come to the level of the supper.
"Can't you come to, long enough to eat?" inquired the much-concerned miner. "No? Wal, that's too bad. Couldn't drink the coffee or go the beans? H'm, I guess I can't take you down to show you off to the boys to-night. You'll have to git to your downy couch." He returned the slumbering child to the bunk, where he tucked him into the blankets.
Tintoretto did ample justice to the meal, however, and filled in so thoroughly that his round little pod of a stomach was a burden to carry. He therefore dropped himself down on the floor, breathed out a sigh of contentment, and shut his two bright eyes.
Old Jim concluded a feast that made those steaming heaps of food diminish to the point of vanishing. He sat there afterwards, leaning his grizzled head upon his hand and looking towards the bunk where the tiny little chap he had found was peacefully sleeping. The fire burned low in the chimney; the candle sank down in its socket. On the floor the pup was twitching in his dreams. Outside the peace, too vast to be ruffled by puny man, had settled on all that tremendous expanse of mountains.
When his candle was about to expire the miner deliberately prepared himself for bed, and crawled in the bunk with his tiny guest, where he slept like the pup and the child, so soundly that nothing could suffice to disturb his dreams.
The arrows of the sun itself, flung from the ridge of the opposite hills, alone dispelled the slumbers in the cabin.
The hardy old Jim arose from his blankets, and presently flung the door wide open.
"Come in," he said to the day. "Come in."
The pup awoke, and, running out, barked in a crazy way of gladness. His master washed his face and hands at a basin just outside the door, and soon had breakfast piping hot. By then it was time to look to Aborigineezer. To Jim's delight the little man was wide awake and looking at him gravely from the blankets, his funny old cap still in place on his head, pulled down over his ears.
"Time to wash for breakfast," announced the miner. "But I don't guarantee the washin' will be the kind that mother used to give," and taking his tiny foundling in his arms he carried him out to the basin by the door.
For a moment he looked in doubt at the only apology for a wash-rag the shanty afforded.
"Wal, it's an awful dirty cloth that you can't put a little more blackness on, I reckon," he drawled, and dipping it into the water he rubbed it vigorously across the gasping little fellow's face.
Then, indeed, the man was astounded. A wide streak, white as milk, had appeared on the baby countenance.
"Pierce my pearls!" exclaimed the miner, "if ever I saw a rag in my shack before that would leave a white mark on anything! Say!" And he took off the youngster's old fur cap.
He was speechless for a moment, for the little fellow's hair was as brown as a nut.
"I snum!" said Jim, wiping the wondering little face in a sort of fever of discovery and taking off color at every daub with the rag. "White kid—painted! Ain't an Injun by a thousand miles!"
And this was the truth. A timid little paleface, fair as dawn itself, but smeared with color that was coming away in blotches, emerged from the process of washing and gazed with his big, brown eyes at his foster-parent, in a way that made the miner weak with surprise. Such a pretty and wistful little armful of a boy he was certain had never been seen before in all the world.
"I snum! I certainly snum!" he said again. "I'll have to take you right straight down to the boys!"
At this the little fellow looked at him appealingly. His lip began to tremble.
"No-body—wants—me," he said, in baby accents, "no-body—wants—me—anywhere."
THE WAY TO MAKE A DOLL
For a moment after the quaint little pilgrim had spoken, the miner stared at him almost in awe. Had a gold nugget dropped at his feet from the sky his amazement could scarcely have been greater.
"What's that?" he said. "Nobody wants you, little boy? What's the matter with me and the pup?" And taking the tiny chap up in his arms he sat in the doorway and held him snugly to his rough, old heart and rocked back and forth, in a tumult of feeling that nothing could express.
"Little pard," he said, "you bet me and Tintoretto want you, right here."
For his part, Tintoretto thumped the house and the step and the miner's shins with the clumsy tail that was wagging his whole puppy body. Then he clambered up and pushed his awkward paws in the little youngster's face, and licked his ear and otherwise overwhelmed him with attentions, till his master pushed him off. At this he growled and began to chew the big, rough hand that suppressed his demonstrations.
In lieu of the ears of the rabbit to which he had clung throughout the night, the silent little man on the miner's knee was holding now to Jim's enormous fist, which he found conveniently supplied. He said nothing more, and for quite a time old Jim was content to watch his baby face.
"A white little kid—that nobody wants—but me and Tintoretto," he mused, aloud, but to himself. "Where did you come from, pardner, anyhow?"
The tiny foundling made no reply. He simply looked at the thin, kindly face of his big protector in his quaint, baby way, but kept his solemn little mouth peculiarly closed.
The miner tried a score of questions, tenderly, coaxingly, but never a thing save that confident clinging to his hand and a nod or a shake of the head resulted.
By some means, quite his own, the man appeared to realize that the grave little fellow had never prattled as children usually do, and that what he had said had been spoken with difficulties, only overcome by stress of emotion. The mystery of whence a bit of a boy so tiny could have come, and who he was, especially after his baby statement that nobody wanted him, anywhere, remained unbroken, after all the miner's queries. Jim was at length obliged to give it up.
"Do you like that little dog?" he said, as Tintoretto renewed his overtures of companionship. "Do you like old brother Jim and the pup?"
Solemnly the little pilgrim nodded.
"Want some breakfast, all pretty, in our own little house?"
Once more the quaint and grave little nod was forthcoming.
"All right. We'll have it bustin' hot in the shake of a crockery animal's tail," announced the miner.
He carried the mite of a man inside and placed him again in the bunk, where the little fellow found his rabbit and drew it into his arms.
The banquet proved to be a repetition of the supper of the night before, except that two great flapjacks were added to the menu, greased with fat from the bacon and sprinkled a half-inch thick with soft brown sugar.
When the cook fetched his hungry little guest to the board the rabbit came as well.
"You ought to have a dolly," decided Jim, with a knowing nod. "If only I had the ingenuity I could make one, sure," and throughout the meal he was planning the manufacture of something that should beat the whole wide world for cleverness.
The result of his cogitation was that he took no time for washing the dishes after breakfast, but went to work at once to make a doll. The initial step was to take the hide from the rabbit. Sadly but unresistingly the little pilgrim resigned his pet, and never expected again to possess the comfort of its fur against his face.
With the skin presently rolled up in a nice light form, however, the miner was back in the cabin, looking for something of which to fashion a body and head for the lady-to-be. There seemed to be nothing handy, till he thought of a peeled potato for the lady's head and a big metal powder-flask to supply the body.
Unfortunately, as potatoes were costly, the only tuber they had in the house was a weazened old thing that parted with its wrinkled skin reluctantly and was not very white when partially peeled. However, Jim pared off enough of its surface on which to make a countenance, and left the darker hide above to form the dolly's hair. He bored two eyes, a nose, and a mouth in the toughened substance, and blackened them vividly with soot from the chimney. After this he bored a larger hole, beneath the chin, and pushed the head thus created upon the metal spout of the flask, where it certainly stuck with firmness.
With a bit of cord the skin of the rabbit was now secured about the neck and body of the lady's form, and her beauty was complete. That certain particles of powder rattled lightly about in her graceful interior only served to render her manners more animated and her person more like good, lively company, for Jim so decided himself.
"There you are. That's the prettiest dolly you ever saw anywhere," said he, as he handed it over to the willing little chap. "And she all belongs to you."
The mite of a boy took her hungrily to his arms, and Jim was peculiarly affected.
"Do you want to give her a name?" he said.
Slowly the quaint little pilgrim shook his head.
"Have you got a name?" the miner inquired, as he had a dozen times before.
This time a timid nod was forthcoming.
"Oh," said Jim, in suppressed delight. "What is your nice little name?"
For a moment coyness overtook the tiny man. Then he faintly replied, "Nu-thans."
"Nuisance?" repeated the miner, and again he saw the timid little nod.
"But that ain't a name," said Jim. "Is 'Nuisance' all the name the baby's got?"
His bit of a guest seemed to think very hard, but at last he nodded as before.
"Well, string my pearls," said the miner to himself, "if somebody 'ain't been mean and low!" He added, cheerfully, "Wal, it's easier to live down a poor name than it is to live up to a fine one, any day, but we'll name you somethin' else, I reckon, right away. And ain't that dolly nice?"
The two were in the midst of appreciating the charms of her ladyship when the cabin door was abruptly opened and in came a coatless, fat, little, red-headed man, puffing like a bellows and pulling down his shirtsleeves with a great expenditure of energy, only to have them immediately crawl back to his elbows.
"Hullo, Keno," drawled the lanky Jim. "I thought you was mad and gone away and died."
"Me? Not me!" puffed the visitor.
"What's that?" and he nodded himself nearly off his balance towards the tiny guest he saw upon a stool.
With a somewhat belated bark, Tintoretto suddenly came out from his boot-chewing contest underneath the table and gave the new-comer an apoplectic start.
"Hey!" he cried. "Hey! By jinks! a whole menajry!"
"That's the pup," said Jim. "And, Keno, here's a poor little skeezucks that I found a-sittin' in the brush, 'way over to Coyote Valley. I fetched him home last night, and I was just about to take him down to camp and show him to the boys."
"By jinks!" said Keno. "Alive!"
"Alive and smart as mustard," said the suddenly proud possessor of a genuine surprise. "You bet he's smart! I've often noticed how there never yet was any other kind of a baby. That's one consolation left to every fool man livin'—he was once the smartest baby in the world,"
"Alive!" repeated Keno, as before. "I'm goin' right down and tell the camp!"
He bolted out at the door like a shot, and ran down the hill to Borealis with all his might.
Aware that the news would be spread like a sprinkle of rain, the lanky Jim put on his hat with a certain jaunty air of importance, and taking the grave little man on his arm, with the new-made doll and the pup for company, he followed, where Keno had just disappeared from view, down the slope.
A moment later the town was in sight, and groups of flannel-shirted, dusty-booted, slouchily attired citizens were discernible coming out of buildings everywhere.
Running up the hill again, puffing with added explosiveness, Keno could hardly contain his excitement.
"I've told em!" he panted. "They know he's alive and smart as mustard!"
PLANNING A NEW CELEBRATION
The cream, as it were, of the population of the mining-camp were ready to receive the group from up on the hill. There were nearly twenty men in the delegation, representing every shade of inelegance. Indeed, they demonstrated beyond all argument that the ways of looking rough and unkempt are infinite. There were tall and short who were rough, bearded and shaved who were rougher, and washed and unwashed who were roughest. And there were still many denizens of Borealis not then on exhibition.
Webber, the blacksmith; Lufkins, the teamster; Bone, the "barkeep"; Dunn, the carpenter, and Field, who had first discovered precious ore at Borealis, and sold out his claims for a gold watch and chain—which subsequently proved to be brass—all these and many another shining light of the camp could be counted in the modest assemblage gathered together to have a look at the "kid" just reported by Keno.
Surprise had been laid on double, in the town, by the news of what had occurred. In the first place, it was almost incredible that old "If-only" Jim had actually made his long-threatened pilgrimage to fetch his promised pup, but to have him back here, not only with the dog in question, but also with a tiny youngster found at the edge of the wilderness, was far too much to comprehend.
In a single bound, old Jim had been elevated to a starry firmament of importance, from wellnigh the lowest position of insignificance in the camp, attained by his general worthlessness and shiftlessness—of mind and demeanor—which qualities had passed into a proverb of the place. Procrastination, like a cuckoo, had made its nest in his pockets, where the hands of Jim would hatch its progeny. Labor and he abhorred each other mightily. He had never been known to strike a lick of work till larder and stomach were both of them empty and credit had taken to the hills. He drawled in his speech till the opening parts of the good resolutions he frequently uttered were old and forgotten before the remainders were spoken. He loitered in his walk, said the boys, till he clean forgot whether he was going up hill or down. "Hurry," he had always said, by way of a motto, "is an awful waste of time that a feller could go easy in."
Yet in his shambling, easy-going way, old Jim had drifted into nearly every heart in the camp. His townsmen knew he had once had a good education, for outcroppings thereof jutted from his personality even as his cheek-bones jutted out of his russet old countenance.
Not by any means consenting to permit old Jim to understand how astonishment was oozing from their every pore, the men brought forth by Keno's news could not, however, entirely mask their incredulity and interest. As Jim came deliberately down the trail, with the pale little foundling on his arm, he was greeted with every possible term of familiarity, to all of which he drawled a response in kind.
Not a few in the group of citizens pulled off their hats at the nearer approach of the child, then somewhat sheepishly put them on again. With stoical resolutions almost immediately upset, they gathered closely in about the miner and his tiny companion, crowding the red-headed Keno away from his place of honor next to the child.
The quaint little pilgrim, in his old, fur cap and long, "man's" trousers, looked at the men in a grave way of doubt and questioning.
"It's a sure enough kid, all the same," said one of the men, as if he had previously entertained some doubts of the matter. "And ain't he white!"
"Of course a white kid's white," answered the barkeep, scornfully.
"Awful cute little shaver," said another. "By cracky, Jim, you must have had him up yer sleeve for a week! He don't look more'n about one week old."
"Aw, listen to the man afraid to know anything about anything!" broke in the blacksmith. "One week! He's four or five months, or I'm a woodchuck."
"You kin tell by his teeth," suggested a leathery individual, stroking his bony jaw knowingly. "I used to be up on the game myself, but I'm a little out of practice jest at present."
"Shut up, you scare him, Shaky," admonished the teamster. "He's a pretty little chipmunk. Jim, wherever did you git him?"
Jim explained every detail of his trip to fetch the pup, stretching out his story of finding the child and bringing him hither, with pride in every item of his wonderful performance. His audience listened with profound attention, broken only by an occasional exclamation.
"Old If-only Jim! Old son-of-a-sea-cook!" repeated one, time after time.
Meanwhile the silent little man himself was clinging to the miner's flannel collar with all his baby strength. With shy little glances he scanned the members of the group, and held the tighter to the one safe anchorage in which he seemed to feel a confidence. A number of the rough men furtively attempted a bit of coquetry, to win the favor of a smile.
"You don't mean, Jim, you found him jest a-settin' right in the bresh, with them dead jack-rabbits lyin' all 'round?" insisted the carpenter.
"That's what," said Jim, and reluctantly he brought the tale to its final conclusion, adding his theory of the loss of the child by the Indians on their hunt, and bearing down hard on the one little speech that the tiny foundling had made just this morning.
The rough men were silenced by this. One by one they took off their hats again, smoothed their hair, and otherwise made themselves a trifle prettier to look upon.
"Well, what you goin' to do with him, Jim?" inquired Field, after a moment.
"Oh, I'll grow him up," said Jim. "And some day I'll send him to college."
"College be hanged!" said Field. "A lot of us best men in Borealis never went to college—and we're proud of it!"
"So the little feller said nobody wanted him, did he?" asked the blacksmith. "Well, I wouldn't mind his stayin' 'round the shop. Where do you s'pose he come from first? And painted like a little Piute Injun! No wonder he's a scared little tike."
"I ain't the one which scares him," announced a man whose hair, beard, and eyes all stuck out amazingly. "If I'd 'a' found him first he'd like me same as he takes to Jim."
"Speakin' of catfish, where the little feller come from original is what gits to me," said Field, the father of Borealis, reflectively. "You see, if he's four or five months old, why he's sure undergrowed. You could drink him up in a cupful of coffee and never even cough. And bein' undergrowed, why, how could he go on a rabbit-drive along with the Injuns? I'll bet you there's somethin' mysterious about his origin."
"Huh! Don't you jump onto no little shaver's origin when you 'ain't got any too much to speak of yourself," the blacksmith commanded. "He's as big as any little skeezucks of his size!"
"Kin he read an' write?" asked a person of thirty-six, who had "picked up" the mentioned accomplishments at the age of thirty-five.
"He's alive and smart as mustard!" put in Keno, a champion by right of prior acquaintance with the timid little man.
"Wal, that's all right, but mustard don't do no sums in 'rithmetic," said the bar-keep. "I'm kind of stuck, myself, on this here pup."
Tintoretto had been busily engaged making friends in any direction most handily presented. He wound sinuously out of the barkeep's reach, however, with pup-wise discrimination. The attention of the company was momentarily directed to the small dog, who came in for not a few of the camp's outspoken compliments.
"He's mebbe all right, but he's homely as Aunt Marier comin' through the thrashin'-machine," decided the teamster.
The carpenter added: "He's so all-fired awkward he can't keep step with hisself."
"Wal, he ain't so rank in his judgment as some I could indicate," drawled Jim, prepared to defend both pup and foundling to the last extent. "At least, he never thought he was smart, abscondin' with a little free sample of a brain."
"What kind of a mongrel is he, anyway?" inquired Bone.
"Thorough-breed," replied old Jim. "There ain't nothing in him but dog."
The blacksmith was still somewhat longingly regarding the pale little man who continued to cling to the miner's collar. "What's his name?" said he.
"Tintoretto," answered Jim, still on the subject of his yellowish pup.
"Tintoretto?" said the company, and they variously attacked the appropriateness of any such a "handle."
"What fer did you ever call him that?" asked Bone.
"Wal, I thought he deserved it," Jim confessed.
"Poor little kid—that's all I've got to say," replied the compassionate blacksmith.
"That ain't the kid's name," corrected Jim, with alacrity. "That's what I call the pup."
"That's worse," said Field. "For he's a dumb critter and can't say nothing back."
"But what's the little youngster's name?" inquired the smith, once again.
"Yes, what's the little shaver's name?" echoed the teamster. "If it's as long as the pup's, why, give us only a mile or two at first, and the rest to-morrow."
"I was goin' to name him 'Aborigineezer,'" Jim admitted, somewhat sheepishly. "But he ain't no Piute Injun, so I can't."
"Hard-hearted ole sea-serpent!" ejaculated Field. "No wonder he looks like cryin'."
"Oh, he ain't goin' to cry," said the blacksmith, roughly patting the frightened little pilgrim's cheek with his great, smutty hand. "What's he got to cry about, now he's here in Borealis?"
"Well, leave him cry, if he wants to," said the fat little Keno. "I 'ain't heard a baby cry fer six or seven years."
"Go off in a corner and cry in your pocket, and leave it come out as you want it," suggested Bone. "Jim, you said the little feller kin talk?"
"Like a greasy dictionary," said Jim, proudly.
"Well, start him off on somethin' stirrin'."
"You can't start a little youngster off a-talkin' when you want to, any more than you can start a turtle runnin' to a fire," drawled Jim, sagely.
"Then, kin he walk?" insisted the bar-keep.
Jim said, "What do you s'pose he's wearin' pants for, if he couldn't?"
"Put him down and leave us see him, then."
"This ain't no place for a child to be walkin' 'round loose," objected the gray old miner. "He'll walk some other time."
"Aw, put him down," coaxed the smith. "We'd like to see a little feller walk. There's never bin no such a sight in Borealis."
"Yes, put him down!" chorused the crowd.
"We'll give him plenty of elbow-room," added Webber. "Git back there, boys, and give him a show."
As the group could be satisfied with nothing less, and Jim was aware of their softer feelings, he disengaged the tiny hand that was closed on his collar and placed his tiny charge upon his feet in the road.
How very small, indeed, he looked in his quaint little trousers and his old fur cap!
Instantly he threw the one little arm not engaged with the furry doll about the big, dusty knee of his known protector, and buried his face in the folds of the rough, blue overalls.
"Aw, poor little tike!" said one of the men. "Take him back up, Jim. Anyway, you 'ain't yet told us his name, and how kin any little shaver walk which ain't got a name?"
Jim took the mere little toy of a man again in his arms and held him close against his heart.
"He 'ain't really got any name," he confessed. "If only I had the poetic vocabulary I'd give him a high-class out-and-outer."
"What's the matter with a good old home-made name like Si or Hank or Zeke?" inquired Field, who had once been known as Hank himself.
"They ain't good enough," objected Jim. "If only I can git an inspiration I'll fit him out like a barn with a bran'-new coat of paint."
"Well, s'pose—" started Keno, but what he intended to say was never concluded.
"What's the fight?" interrupted a voice, and the men shuffled aside to give room to a well-dressed, dapper-looking man. It was Parky, the gambler. He was tall, and easy of carriage, and cultivated a curving black mustache. In his scarf he wore a diamond as large as a marble. At his heels a shivering little black-and-tan dog, with legs no larger than pencils and with a skull of secondary importance to its eyes, followed him mincingly into the circle and stood beside his feet with its tail curved in under its body.
"What have you got? Huh! Nothing but a kid!" said the gambler, in supreme contempt.
"And a pup!" said Keno, aggressively.
The gambler ignored the presence of the child, especially as Tintoretto bounded clumsily forward and bowled his own shaking effigy of a canine endways in one glad burst of friendship.
The black-and-tan let out a feeble yelp. With his boot the gambler threw Tintoretto six feet away, where he landed on his feet and turned about growling and barking in puppywise questioning of this sudden manoeuvre. With a few more staccato yelps, the shivering black-and-tan retreated behind the gambler's legs.
"Of all the ugly brutes I ever seen," said Parky, "that's the worst yellow flea-trap of the whole caboose."
"Wal, I don't know," drawled Jim, as he patted his timid little pilgrim on the back in a way of comfort. "All dogs look alike to a flea, and I reckon Tintoretto is as good flea-feed as the next. And, anyhow, I wouldn't have a dog the fleas had deserted. When the fleas desert a dog, it's the same as when the rats desert a ship. About that time a dog has lost his doghood, and then he ain't no better than a man who's lost his manhood."
"Aw, I'd thump you and the cur together if you didn't have that kid on deck," sneered the gambler.
"You couldn't thump a drum," answered Jim, easily. "Come back here, Tintoretto. Don't you touch that skinny little critter with the shakes. I wouldn't let you eat no such a sugar-coated insect."
The crowd was enjoying the set-to of words immensely. They now looked to Parky for something hot. But the man of card-skill had little wit of words.
"Don't git too funny, old boy," he cautioned. "I'd just as soon have you for breakfast as not."
"I wish the fleas could say as much for you or your imitation dog," retorted Jim. "There's just three things in Borealis that go around smellin' thick of perfume, and you and that little two-ounce package of dog-degeneration are maybe some worse than the other."
Parky made a belligerent motion, but Webber, the blacksmith, caught his arm in a powerful grip.
"Not to-day," he said. "The boys don't want no gun-play here this mornin'."
"You're a lot of old women and babies," said Parky, and pushing through the group he walked away, a certain graceful insolence in his bearing.
"Speakin' of catfish," said Field, "we ought to git up some kind of a celebration to welcome Jim's little skeezucks to the camp."
"That's the ticket," agreed Bone. "What's the matter with repeatin' the programme we had for the Fourth of July?"
"No, we want somethin' new," objected the smith. "It ought to be somethin' we never had before."
"Why not wait till Christmas and git good and ready?" said Jim.
The argument was that Christmas was something more than four weeks away.
"We've got to have a rousin' big Christmas fer little Skeezucks, anyhow," suggested Bone. "What sort of a celebration is there that we 'ain't never had in Borealis?"
"Church," said Keno, promptly.
This caused a silence for a moment.
"Guess that's so, but—who wants church?" inquired the teamster.
"We might git up somethin' worse," said a voice in the crowd.
"How?" demanded another.
"It wouldn't be so far off the mark for a little kid like him," tentatively asserted Field, the father of the camp, "S'pose we give it a shot?"
"Anything suits me," agreed the carpenter. "Church might be kind of decent, after all. Jim, what you got to say 'bout the subject?"
Jim was still patting the timid little foundling on the back with a comforting hand.
"Who'd be preacher?" said he.
They were stumped for a moment.
"Why—you," said Keno. "Didn't you find little Skeezucks?"
"Kerrect," said Bone. "Jim kin talk like a steam fire-engine squirtin' languages."
"If only I had the application," said Jim, modestly, "I might git up somethin' passable. Where could we have it?"
This was a stumper again. No building in the camp had ever been consecrated to the uses of religious worship.
Bone came to the rescue without delay.
"You kin have my saloon, and not a cent of cost," said he.
"Bully fer Bone!" said several of the men.
"Y-e-s, but would it be just the tip-toppest, tippe-bob-royal of a place?" inquired Field, a little cautiously.
"What's the matter with it?" said Bone. "When it's church it's church, and I guess it would know the way to behave! If there's anything better, trot it out."
"You can come to the shop if it suits any better," said the blacksmith. "It 'ain't got no floor of gold, and there ain't nothing like wings, exceptin' wheels, but the fire kin be kept all day to warm her up, and there's plenty of room fer all which wants to come."
"If I'm goin' to do the preachin',' I'd like the shop first rate," said Jim. "What day is to-day?"
"Friday," replied the teamster.
"All right. Then we'll say on Sunday we celebrate with church in Webber's blacksmith shop," agreed old Jim, secretly delighted beyond expression. "We won't git gay with anything too high-falootin', but we'd ought to git Shorty Hobb to show up with his fiddle."
"Certain!" assented the barkeep. "You kin leave that part of the game to me."
"If we've got it all settled, I reckon I'll go back up to the shack," said Jim. "The little feller 'ain't had a chance yet to play with his doll."
"Is that a doll?" inquired the teamster, regarding the grave little pilgrim's bundle of fur in curiosity. "How does he know it's a doll?"
"He knows a good sight more than lots of older people," answered Jim. "And if only I've got the gumption I'll make him a whole slough of toys and things."
"Well, leave us say good-bye to him 'fore you go," said the blacksmith. "Does he savvy shakin' hands?"
He gave a little grip to the tiny hand that held the doll, and all the others did the same. Little Skeezucks looked at them gravely, his quaint baby face playing havoc with their rough hearts.
"Softest little fingers I ever felt," said Webber. "I'd give twenty dollars if he'd laugh at me once."
"Awful nice little shaver," said another.
"I once had a mighty touchin' story happen to me, myself," said Keno, solemnly.
"What was it?" inquired a sympathetic miner.
"Couldn't bear to tell it—not this mornin'," said Keno. "Too touchin'."
"Good-bye fer just at present, little Skeezucks," said Field, and, suddenly divesting himself of his brazen watch and chain, he offered it up as a gift, with spontaneous generosity. "Want it, Skeezucks?" said he. "Don't you want to hear it go?"
The little man would relax neither his clutch on Jim's collar nor his hold of his doll, wherefore he had no hand with which to accept the present.
"Do you think he runs a pawn-shop, Field?" said the teamster. "Put it back."
The men all guffawed in their raucous way.
"Keeps mighty good time, all the same," said Field, and he re-swung the chain, like a hammock, from the parted wings of his vest, and dropped the huskily ticking guardian of the minutes back to its place in his pocket.
"Watches that don't keep perfect time," drawled Jim, "are scarcer than wimmin who tell their age on the square."
"Better come over, Jim, and have a drink," suggested the barkeep. "You're sure one of the movin' spirits of Borealis."
"No, I don't think I'll start the little feller off with the drinkin' example," replied the miller. "You'll often notice that the men who git the name of bein' movin' spirits is them that move a good deal of whiskey into their interior department. I reckon we'll mosey home the way we are."
"I guess I'll join you up above," said the fat little Keno, pulling stoutly at his sleeves. "You'll need me, anyway, to cut some brush fer the fire."
With tiny Skeezucks gravely looking backward at the group of men all waving their hats in a rough farewell, old Jim started proudly up the trail that led to the Babylonian Glory claim, with Tintoretto romping awkwardly at his heels.
Suddenly, Webber, the blacksmith, left the groups and ran quickly after them up the slope.
"Say, Jim," he said. "I thought, perhaps, if you reckoned little Skeezucks ought to bunk down here in town—why—I wouldn't mind if you fetched him over to the house. There's plenty of room."
"Wal, not to-day I won't," said Jim. "But thank you, Webber, all the same."
"All right, but if you change your mind it won't be no trouble at all," and, not a little disappointed, the smith waved once more to the little pilgrim on the miner's arm and went back down the hill.
Then up spoke Keno.
"Bone and Lufkins both wanted me to tell you, Jim, if you happen to want a change fer little Skeezucks, you can fetch him down to them," he said. "But of course we ain't agoin' to let 'em have our little kid in no great shakes of a hurry."
VISITORS AT THE CABIN
When Jim and his company had disappeared from view up the rock-strewn slope, the men left below remained in a group, to discuss not only the marvellous advent of a genuine youngster in Borealis, but likewise the fitness of old If-only Jim as a foster-parent.
"I wouldn't leave him raise a baby rattlesnake of mine," said Field, whose watch had not been accepted by the foundling. "In fact, there ain't but a few of us here into camp which knows the funderments of motherhood, anyhow."
"I don't mind givin' Jim a few little pointers on the racket," responded Bone. "Never knew Jim yet to chuck out my advice.
"He's too lazy to chuck it," vouchsafed the teamster. "He just lets it trickle out and drip."
"Well, we'll watch him, that's all," Field remarked, with a knowing squint in his eyes, and employing a style he would not have dared to parade in the hearing of Jim. "Borealis has come to her formaline period, and she can't afford to leave this child be raised extraneous. It's got to be done with honor and glory to the camp, even if we have to take the kid away from Jim complete."
"He found the little skeezucks, all the same," the blacksmith reminded them. "That counts for somethin'. He's got a right to keep him for a while, at least, unless the mother should heave into town."
"Or the dad," added Lufkins.
"Shoot the dad!" answered Bone. "A dad which would let a little feller small as him git lost in the brush don't deserve to git him back."
"Mysterious case, sure as lizards is insects," said an individual heretofore silent. "I guess I'll go and tell Miss Doc Dennihan."
"'Ain't Miss Doc bin told—and her the only decent woman in the camp?" inquired Field. "I'll go along and see you git it right."
"No Miss Doc in mine," said the smith.
"I'll git back and blow my fire up before she's plump dead out. Fearful vinegar Miss Doc would make if ever she melted."
Miss Dennihan, sister of "Doc" Dennihan, was undeniably If-only Jim's exact antithesis—a scrupulously tidy, exacting lady, so severe in her virtues and so acrid in denunciations of the lack of down-east circumspection that nearly every man in camp shied off from her abode as he might have shied from a bath in nitric acid. Six months prior to this time she had come to Borealis from the East, unexpectedly plumping down upon her brother "Doc" with all her moral fixity of purpose, not only to his great distress of mind, but also to that of all his acquaintances as well. She had raided the ethical standing of miners, teamsters, and men-about-town; she had outwardly and inwardly condemned the loose and indecorous practices of the camp; she had made herself an accusing hand, as it were, pointing out the road to perdition which all and sundry of the citizens of Borealis, including "Doc," were travelling. If-only Jim had promptly responded to her natural antipathy to all that he represented, and the strained relations between the pair had furnished much amusement for the male population of the place.
It was now to this lady that Field and his friend proposed a visit. The group of men broke up, and the news that each one had to tell of the doings of Jim was widely spread; and the wonder increased till it stretched to the farthest confines of the place. Then as fast as the miners and other laborers, who were busy with work, could get away for a time sufficiently long, they made the pilgrimage up the slope to the cabin where the tiny foundling had domicile. They found the timid little man seated, with his doll, on the floor, from which he watched them gravely, in his baby way.
Half the honors of receiving the groups and showing off the quaint little Skeezucks were assumed by Keno, with a grace that might have been easy had he not been obliged to pull down his shirt-sleeves with such exasperating frequency.
But Jim was the hero of the hour, as he very well knew. Time after time, and ever with thrilling new detail and added incident, he recounted the story of his find, gradually robbing even Tintoretto, the pup, of such of the glory as he really had earned.
The pup, however, was recklessly indifferent. He could pile up fresh glories every minute by bowling the little pilgrim on his back and walking on his chest to lap his ear. This he proceeded to do, in his clumsy way of being friendly, with a regularity only possible to an enthusiast. And every time he did it anew, either Keno or Jim or a visitor would shy something at him and call him names. This, however, only served to incite him to livelier antics of licking everybody's face, wagging himself against the furniture, and dragging the various bombarding missiles between the legs of all the company.
There were men, who apparently had nothing else to do, who returned to the cabin on the hill with every new visiting deputation. A series of ownership in and familiarity with the grave little chap and his story came upon them rapidly. Field, the father of Borealis, was the most assiduous guide the camp afforded. By afternoon he knew more about the child than even Jim himself.
For his part, the lanky Jim sat on a stool, looking wiser than Solomon and Moses rolled in one, and greeted his wondering acquaintances with a calm and dignity that his oneness in the great event was magnifying hourly. That such an achievement as finding a lost little pilgrim in the wilderness might be expected of his genius every day was firmly impressed upon himself, if not on all who came.
"Speakin' of catfish, Jim thinks he's hoein' some potatoes." said Field to a group of his friends. "If one of us real live spirits of Borealis had bin in his place, it's ten to one we'd 'a' found a pair of twins."
All the remainder of the day, and even after dinner, and up to eight o'clock in the evening, the new arrivals, or the old ones over again, made the cabin on the hill their Mecca.
"Shut the door, Keno, and sit outside, and tell any more that come along, the show is over for the day," instructed Jim, at last. "The boy is goin' to bed."
"Did he bring a nightie?" said Keno.
"Forgot it, I reckon," answered Jim, as he took the tired little chap in his arms. "If only I had the enterprise I'd make him one to-night."
But it never got made. The pretty little armful of a boy went to sleep with all his baby garments on, the long "man's" trousers and all, and Jim permitted all to remain in place, for the warmth thereof, he said. Into the bunk went the tiny bundle of humanity, his doll tightly held to his breast.
Then Jim sat down and watched the bunk, till Keno had come inside and climbed in a bed and begun a serenade. At twelve o'clock the miner was still awake. He went to his door, and, throwing it open, looked out at the great, dark mountains and the brilliant sky.
"If only I had the steam I'd open up the claim and make the little feller rich," he drawled to himself. Then he closed the door, and, removing his clothing, got into the berth where his tiny guest was sleeping, and knew no more till the morning came and a violent knocking on his window prodded his senses into something that answered for activity.
"Come in!" he called. "Come in, and don't waste all that noise."
The pup awoke and let out a bark.
In response to the miner's invitation the caller opened the door and entered. Jim and Keno had their heads thrust out of their bunks, but the two popped in abruptly at the sight of a tall female figure. She was homely, a little sharp as to features, and a little near together and piercing as to eyes. Her teeth were prominent, her mouth unquestionably generous in dimensions, and a mole grew conspicuously upon her chin. Nevertheless, she looked, as Jim had once confessed, "remarkly human." On her head she wore a sun-bonnet. Her black alpaca dress was as styleless and as shiny as a stovepipe. It was short, moreover, and therefore permitted a view of a large, flat pair of shoes on which polish for the stovepipe aforesaid had been lavishly coated.
It was Miss Doc Dennihan. Having duly heard of the advent of a quaint little boy, found in the brush by the miner, she had come thus early in the morning to gratify a certain hunger that her nature felt for the sight of a child. But always one of the good woman's prides had been concealment of her feelings, desires, and appetites. She had formed a habit, likewise, of hiding not a few of her intentions. Instead of inquiring now for what she sought, she glanced swiftly about the interior of the cabin and said:
"Ain't you lazy-joints got up yet in this here cabin?"
"Been up and hoisted the sun and went back to bed," drawled Jim, while Keno drew far back in his berth and fortified himself behind his blankets. "Glad to see you, but sorry you've got to be goin' again so soon."
"I 'ain't got to be goin'," corrected the visitor, with decision. "I jest thought I'd call in and see if your clothin' and kitchen truck was needin' a woman's hand. Breakfast over to our house is finished and John has went to work, and everything has bin did up complete, so 'tain't as if I was takin' the time away from John; and this here place is disgraceful dirty, as I could see with nuthin' but a store eye. Is these here over-halls your'n?"
"When I'm in 'em I reckon they are," drawled Jim, in some disquietude of mind. "But don't you touch 'em! Them pants is heirlooms. Wouldn't have anybody fool with them for a million dollars."
"They don't look worth no such a figger," said Miss Dennihan, as she held them up and scanned them with a critical eye. "They're wantin' a patch in the knee. It's lucky fer you I toted my bag. I kin always match overhalls, new or faded."
Keno slyly ventured to put forth his head, but instantly drew it back again.
Jim, in his bunk, was beginning to sweat. He held his little foundling by the hand and piled up a barrier of blankets before them. That many another of the male residents of Borealis had been honored by similar visitations on the part of Miss Doc was quite the opposite of reassuring. That the lady generally came as a matter of curiosity, and remained in response to a passion for making things glisten with cleanliness, he had heard from a score of her victims. He knew she was here to get her eyes on the grave little chap he was cuddling from sight, but he had no intention of sharing the tiny pilgrim with any one whose attentions would, he deemed, afford a trial to the nerves.
"Seems to me the last time I saw old Doc his shirt needed stitchin' in the sleeve," he said. "How about that, Keno?"
Keno was dumb as a clam.
"You never seen nuthin' of the sort," corrected Miss Doc, with asperity, and, removing her bonnet, she sat down on a stool, Jim's overalls in hand and her bag in her lap. "John's mended regular, all but his hair, and if soap-suds and bear's-grease would patch his top he wouldn't be bald another day."
"He ain't exactly bald," drawled the uncomfortable miner. "His hair was parted down the middle by a stroke of lightnin'. Or maybe you combed it yourself."
"Don't you try to git comical with me!" she answered. "I didn't come here for triflin'."
Her back being turned towards the end of the room wherein the redheaded Keno was ensconced, that diffident individual furtively put forth his hand and clutched up his boots and trousers from the floor. The latter he managed to adjust as he wormed about in the berth. Then silently, stealthily, trembling with excitement, he put out his feet, and suddenly bolting for the door, with his boots in hand, let out a yell and shot from the house like a demon, the pup at his heels, loudly barking.
"Keno! Keno! come back here and stand your share!" bawled Jim, lustily, but to no avail.
"Mercy in us!" Miss Doc exclaimed. "That man must be crazy."
Jim sank back in his bunk hopelessly.
"It's only his clothes makes him look foolish," he answered. "He's saner than I am, plain as day."
"Then it's lucky I came," decided the visitor, vigorously sewing at the trousers. "The looks of this house is enough to drive any man insane. You're an ornary, shiftless pack of lazy-joints as ever I seen. Why don't you git up and cook your breakfast?"
Perspiration oozed from the modest Jim afresh.
"I never eat breakfast in the presence of ladies," said he.
"Well, you needn't mind me. I'm jest a plain, sensible woman," replied Miss Dennihan. "I don't want to see no feller-critter starve."
Jim writhed in the blankets. "I didn't s'pose you could stay all day," he ventured.
"I kin stay till I mend all your garmints and tidy up this here cabin," she announced, calmly. "So let your mind rest easy." She meant to see that child if it took till evening to do so.
"Maybe I can go to sleep again and dream I'm dead," said Jim, in growing despair.
"If you kin, and me around, you can beat brother John all to cream," she responded, smoothing out the mended overalls and laying them down on a stool. "Now you kin give me your shirt."
Jim galvanically gathered the blankets in a tightened noose about his neck.
"Hold on!" he said. "Hold on! This shirt is a bran'-new article, and you'd spoil it if you come within twenty-five yards of it with a needle."
"Where's your old one?" she demanded, atilt for something more to repair. Her gaze searched the bunks swiftly, and Jim was sure she was looking for the little man behind him. "Where's your old one went?" she repeated.
"I turned it over on a friend of mine," drawled Jim, who meant he had deftly reversed it on himself. "It's a poor shirt that won't work both ways."
"Ain't there nuthin' more I kin mend?" she asked.
"Not unless it's somethin' of Doc's down to your lovely little home."
"Oh, I ain't agoin' to go, if that's what you're drivin' at," she answered, as she swiftly assembled the soiled utensils of the cuisine. "I'll tidy up this here pig-pen if it takes a week, and you kin hop up and come down easy."
"I wouldn't have you go for nothing," drawled Jim, squirming with abnormal impatience to be up and doing. "Angel's visits are comin' fewer and fewer in a box every day."
"That's bogus," answered the lady. "I sense your oilin' me over. You git up and go and git a fresh pail of water."
"I'd like to," Jim said, convincingly, "but the only time I ever broke my arm was when I went out for a bucket of water before breakfast."
"You ain't agoin' is what you mean, with all them come-a-long-way-round excuses," she conjectured. "You've got the name of bein' the laziest-jointed, mos' shiftless man into camp."
"Wal," drawled the helpless miner, "a town without a horrible example is deader than the spikes in Adam's coffin. And the next best thing to being a livin' example is to hang around the house where one of 'em stays in his bunk all mornin'."
"If that's another of them underhanded hints of your'n, you might as well save your breath," she replied. "I'll go and git the water myself, fer them dishes is goin' to git cleaned."
She took up the bucket at once. Outside, the sounds of some one scooting rapidly away brought to Jim a thought of Keno's recently demonstrated presence of mind.
Cautiously sitting up in the berth, so soon as Miss Doc had disappeared with the pail, he hurriedly drew on his boots. A sound of returning footsteps came to his startled ears. He leaped back up in the bunk, boots and all, and covered himself with the blanket, to the startlement of the timid little chap, who was sitting there to watch developments. Both drew down as Miss Doc reappeared in the door.
"I might as well tote a kettleful, too," she said, and taking that soot-plated article from its hook in the chimney she once more started for the spring.
This time, like a guilty burglar, old Jim crept out to the door. Then with one quick resolve he caught up his trousers, and snatching his pale little guest from the berth, flung a blanket about them, sneaked swiftly out of the cabin, stole around to its rear, and ran with long-legged awkwardness down through a shallow ravine to the cover of a huge heap of bowlders, where he paused to finish his toilet.
"Hoot! Hoot!" sounded furtively from somewhere near. Then Keno came ducking towards him from below, with Tintoretto in his wake, so rampantly glad in his puppy heart that he instantly climbed on the timid little Skeezucks, sitting for convenience on the earth, and bowled him head over heels.
"Here, pup, you abate yourself," said Jim. "Be solemnly glad and let it go at that." And he took up the gasping little chap, whose doll was, as ever, clasped fondly to his heart.
"How'd you make it?" inquired Keno. "Has she gone for good?"
"No, she's gone for water," answered the miner, ruefully. "She's set on cleanin' up the cabin. I'll bet when she's finished we'll have to pan the gravel mighty careful to find even a color of our once happy home."
"Well, you got away, anyhow," said Keno, consolingly. "You can't have your cake and eat it too."
"No, that's the one nasty thing about cake," said Jim. He sat on a rock and addressed the wondering little pilgrim, who was watching his face with baby gravity. "Did she scare the boy?" he asked. "Is he gittin' hungry? Does pardner want some breakfast?"
The little fellow nodded.
"What would little Skeezucks like old brother Jim to make for breakfast?"
The quaint bit of a man drew a trifle closer to the rough old coat and timidly answered:
The two men started mildly.
"By jinks!" said the awe-smitten Keno. "By jinks!—talkin'!"
"I told you so," said Jim, suppressing his excitement. "Bread and milk?" he repeated. "Just bread and milk. You poor little shaver! Wal, that's as easy as oyster stew or apple-dumplin'. Baby want anything else?"
The small boy shook a negative.
"By jinks!" said Keno, as before. "Look at him go it!"
"I'll make some bread to-day, if ever we git back into Eden," said Jim. "And I'll make him a lot of things. If only I had the stuff in me I'd make him a Noah's ark and a train of cars and a fat mince-pie. Would little Skeezucks like a train of cars?"
Again the little pilgrim shook his head.
"Then what more would the baby like?" coaxed the miner.
Again with his shy little cuddling up the wee man answered, "Moey—bwead—an'—milk."
"By jinks!" repeated the flabbergasted Keno, and he pulled at his sleeves with all his strength.
"Say, Keno," said Jim, "go find Miss Doc's goat and milk him for the boy."
"Miss Doc may be home by now," objected Keno, apprehensively.
"Well, then, sneak up and see if she has gone off real mad."
"S'posen she 'ain't?" Keno promptly hedged. "S'posen she seen me?"
"You've got all out-doors to skedaddle in, I reckon."
Keno, however, had many objections to any manner of venture with the wily Miss Dennihan. It took nearly half an hour of argument to get him up to the brow of the slope. Then, to his uncontainable delight, he beheld the disgusted and somewhat defeated Miss Doc more than half-way down the trail to Borealis, and making shoe-tracks with assuring rapidity.
"Hoot! Hoot!" he called, in a cautious utterance. "She's went, and the cabin looks just the same—from here."
But Jim, when he came there, with his tiny guest upon his arm, looked long at the well-scrubbed floor and the tidy array of pots, pans, plates, and cups.
"We'll never find the salt, or nothin', for a week," he drawled. "It does take some people an awful long time to learn not to meddle with the divine order of things."
THE BELL FOR CHURCH
What with telling little Skeezucks of all the things he meant to make, and fondling the grave bit of babyhood, and trying to work out the story of how he came to be utterly unsought for, deserted, and parentless, Jim had hardly more than time enough remaining, that day, in which to entertain the visiting men, who continued to climb the hill to the house.
Throughout that Saturday there was never more than fifteen minutes when some of the big, rough citizens of Borealis were not on hand, attempting always to get the solemn little foundling to answer some word to their efforts at baby conversation. But neither to them, for the strange array of presents they offered, nor to Jim himself, for all his gentle coaxing, would the tiny chap vouchsafe the slightest hint of who he was or whence he had come.
It is doubtful if he knew. By the hour he sat where they placed him, holding his doll with something more deep and hungry than affection, and looking at Jim or the visitors in his pretty, baby way of gravity and questioning.
When he sat on old Jim's knee, however, he leaned in confidence against him, and sighed with a sweet little sound of contentment, as poignant to reinspire a certain ecstasy of sadness in the miner's breast as it was to excite an envy in the hearts of the others.
Next to Jim, he loved Tintoretto—that joyous, irresponsible bit of pup-wise gladness whose tail was so utterly inadequate to express his enthusiasm that he wagged his whole fuzzy self in the manner of an awkward fish. Never was the tiny man seated with his doll on the floor that the pup failed to pounce upon him and push him over, half a dozen times. Never did this happen that one of the men, or Jim himself, did not at once haul Tintoretto, growling, away by the tail or the ear and restore their tiny guest to his upright position. Never did such a good Samaritan fail to raise his hand for a cuff at the pup, nor ever did one of them actually strike. It ended nearly always in the pup's attack on the hand in question, which he chewed and pawed at and otherwise befriended as only a pup, in his freedom from worries and cares, can do.
With absolutely nothing prepared, and with nothing but promises made and forgotten, old Jim beheld the glory of Sunday morning come, with the bite and crystalline sunshine of the season in the mountain air.
God's thoughts must be made in Nevada, so lofty and flawless is the azure sky, so utterly transparent is the atmosphere, so huge, gray, and passionless the mighty reach of mountains!
Man's little thought was expressed in the camp of Borealis, which appeared like a herd of small, brown houses, pitifully insignificant in all that immensity, and gathered together as if for company, trustfully nestling in the hand of the earth-mother, known to be so gentle with her children. On the hill-sides, smaller mining houses stood, each one emphasized by the blue-gray heap of earth and granite—the dump—formed by the labors of the restless men who burrowed in the rock for precious metal. The road, which seemed to have no ending-place, was blazed through the brush and through the hills in either direction across the miles and miles of this land without a people. The houses of Borealis stood to right and left of this path through the wilderness, as if by common consent to let it through.
Meagre, unknown, unimportant Borealis, with her threescore men and one decent woman, shared, like the weightiest empire, in the smile, the care, the yearning of the ever All-Pitiful, greeting the earth with another perfect day.
Intelligence of what could be expected, in the way of a celebration at the blacksmith-shop of Webber, had been more than merely spread; it had almost been flooded over town. Long before the hour of ten, scheduled by common consent for church to commence, Webber was sweeping sundry parings of horse-hoof and scraps of iron to either side of his hard earth floor, and sprinkling the dust with water that he flirted from his barrel. He likewise wiped off the anvil with his leathern apron, and making a fire in the forge to take off the chill, thrust in a huge hunk of iron to irradiate the heat.
Many of the denizens of Borealis came and laid siege to the barber-shop as early as six in the morning. Hardly a man in the place, except Parky, the gambler, had been dressed in extravagance so imposing since the 4th of July as was early apparent in the street. Bright new shirts, red, blue, and even white, came proudly to the front. Trousers were dropped outside of boots, and the boots themselves were polished. A run on bear's-grease and hair-oil lent a shining halo to nearly every head the camp could boast. Then the groups began to gather near the open shop of the smith.
"We'd ought to have a bell," suggested Lufkins, the teamster. "Churches always ring the bell to let the parson know it's time he was showin' up to start the ball."
"Well, I'll string up a bar of steel," said Webber. "You can get a crackin' fine lot of noise out of that."
He strung it up in a framework just outside the door, ordinarily employed for hoisting heavy wagons from the earth. Then with a hammer he struck it sharply.
The clear, ringing tone that vibrated all through the hills was a stirring note indeed. So the bell-ringer struck his steel again.
"That ain't the way to do the job," objected Field. "That sounds like scarin' up voters at a measly political rally."
"Can you do it any better?" said the smith, and he offered his hammer.
"Here comes Doc Dennihan," interrupted the barkeep. "Ask Doc how it's done. If he don't know, we'll have to wait for old If-only Jim hisself."
The brother of the tall Miss Doc was a small man with outstanding ears, the palest gray eyes, and the quietest of manners. He was not a doctor of anything, hence his title. Perhaps the fact that the year before he had quietly shot all six of the bullets of his Colt revolver into the body of a murderous assailant before that distinguished person could fall to the earth had invested his townsmen and admirers with a modest desire to do him a titular honor. Howsoever that might have been, he had always subsequently found himself addressed with sincere respect, while his counsel had been sought on every topic, possible, impossible, and otherwise, mooted in all Borealis. The fact that his sister was the "boss of his shack," and that he, indeed, was a henpecked man, was never, by any slip of courtesy, conversationally paraded, especially in his hearing.
Appealed to now concerning the method of ringing the bar of steel for worshipful purposes, he took a bite at his nails before replying. Then he said:
"Well, I'd ring it a little bit faster than you would for a funeral and a little bit slower than you would for a fire."
"That's the stuff!" said Field. "I knowed that Doc would know."
But Doc refused them, nevertheless, when they asked if he would deign to do the ringing himself. Consequently Field, the father of the camp, made a gallant attempt at the work, only to miss the "bell" with his hammer and strike himself on the knee, after which he limped to a seat, declaring they didn't need a bell-ringing anyhow. Upon the blacksmith the duty devolved by natural selection.
He rang a lusty summons from the steel, that fetched all the dressed-up congregation of the town hastening to the scene. Still, old Jim, the faithful Keno, little Skeezucks, and Tintoretto failed to appear. A deputation was therefore sent up the hill, where Jim was found informing his household that if only he had the celerity of action he would certainly make a Sunday suit of clothing for the tiny little man. For himself, he had washed and re-turned his shirt, combed his hair, and put on a better pair of boots, which the pup had been chewing to occupy his leisure time.
The small but impressive procession came slowly down the trail at last, Jim in the lead, with the grave little foundling on his arm.
"Boys," said he, as at last he entered the dingy shop and sat his quaint bit of a man on the anvil, over which he had thoughtfully thrown his coat—"boys, if only I'd had about fifteen minutes more of time I'd have thought up all the tricks you ever saw in a church."
The men filed in, awkwardly taking off their hats, and began to seat themselves as best they could, on anything they found available. Webber, the smith, went stoutly at his bellows, and blew up a fire that flamed two feet above the forge, fountaining fiercely with sparks of the iron in the coal, and tossing a ruddy light to the darkest corners of the place. The incense of labor—that homely fragrance of the smithy all over the world—spread fresh and new to the very door itself. Old Jim edged closer to the anvil and placed his hand on the somewhat frightened little foundling, sitting there so gravely, and clasping his doll in fondness to his heart.
Outside, it was noted, Field had halted the red-headed Keno for a moment's whispered conversation. Keno nodded knowingly. Then he came inside, and, addressing them all, but principally Jim, he said:
"Say, before we open up, Miss Doc would like to know if she kin come."
A silence fell on all the men. Webber went hurriedly and closed the ponderous door.
"Wal, she wouldn't be apt to like it till we get a little practised up," said the diplomatic Jim, who knew the tenor of his auditors. "Tell her maybe she kin—some other time."
"This ain't no regular elemercenary institution," added the teamster.
"Why not now?" demanded Field. "Why can't she come?"
"Becuz," said the smith, "this church ain't no place for a woman, anyhow."
A general murmur of assent came from all the men save Field and Doc Dennihan himself.
"Leave the show commence," said a voice.
"Start her up," said another.
"Wal, now," drawled Jim, as he nervously stroked his beard, "let's take it easy. Which opening do all you fellers prefer?"
No one answered.
One man finally inquired. "How many kinds is there?"
Jim said, "Wal, there's the Methodist, the Baptist, the Graeco-Roman, Episcopalian, and—the catch-as-catch-can."
"Give us the ketch-and-kin-ketch-as-you-kin," responded the spokesman.
"Mebbe we ought to begin with Sunday-school," suggested the blacksmith. "That would sort of get us ready for the real she-bang."
"How do you do it?" inquired Lufkins, the teamster.
"Oh, it's just mostly catechism," Jim imparted, sagely.
"And what's catechism?" said Bone.
"Catechism," drawled the miner, "is where you ask a lot of questions that only the children can answer."
"I know," responded the blacksmith, squatting down before the anvil. "Little Skeezucks, who made you?"
The quaint little fellow looked at the brawny man timidly. How pale, how wee he appeared in all that company, as he sat on the great lump of iron, solemnly winking his big, brown eyes and clinging to his make-shift of a doll!
"Aw, say, give him something easy," said Lufkins.
"That's what they used to bang at me," said the smith, defending his position. "But I'll ask him the easiest one of the lot. Baby boy," he said, in a gentle way of his own, "who is it makes everything?—who makes all the lovely things in the world?"
Shyly the tiny man leaned back on the arm he felt he knew, and gravely, to the utter astonishment of the big, rough men, in his sweet baby utterance, he said:
A roar of laughter instantly followed, giving the youngster a start that almost shook him from his seat.
"By jinks!" said Keno. "That's all right. You bet he knows."
But the Sunday-school programme was not again attempted. When something like calm had settled once more on the audience, If-only Jim remarked that he guessed they would have to quit their fooling and get down to the business of church.