THE MINER'S SUNDAY. THIS is the Sunday sun that streams through the cabin window and through the chinks of the cabin wall.
It is the same sunshine as that of the week day. Yet as the miner wakes and realizes it is Sunday it has a different appearance and conveys a different impression from that of the weekday sun. Everything seems more quiet, more restful, and even more staid and serious. There belongs to it and to the landscape as he looks out a flavor of far-away Eastern Sabbath bells and Sunday morning's hush and longer family prayer than usual and Sunday-school. But there is not a church bell within ten miles and there never will be one heard on this flat. There is not the least approach to church society or religious organization or observance. There is not, so far as known, so much as a man in the least religiously inclined. We are a hard lot. No work on the claim to-day. The pick and shovel will rest where thrown Saturday afternoon and only a trickle of yellowish water from the reservoir will seep through the long line of sluices instead of yesterday's muddy surge rushing through--sand, gravel and grating pebble and boulder.
But there is work of another sort to be done and a great deal of it. After breakfast shaving. That small mirror of most imperfect glass, whose reflection distorts the features, screwing up one side of the face and enlarging the other in an unnatural fashion, is suitably adjusted. A smell of soap pervades the air. He lathers and shaves and relathers and reshaves with a tedious and painful precision, the while making faces at himself in the glass as he brings one portion of his countenance after another more directly under the sweep of the razor. In some cases he comes off with a few scratches or leaves a hirsute oasis here and there of uncut bristle. Black pantaloons, a white shirt, a felt or straw hat, a linen duster and the Sunday boots. This is his dandy outfit. In his pocket is a buckskin purse, once yellow, now faded to a dull gray, holding gold dust, a few ounces more or less, perhaps five, perhaps ten. It is the company dust and is to be sold and turned into bright, yellow gold pieces. And why all this preparation? "To go to camp." Camp is three miles away over the mountain yonder. A group of ramshackle cabins, alternating with saloons, three grocery stores, a hotel, an express office and a Justice of the Peace, all in a hot gulch, with hillsides long ago swept of trees, scarred with cuts and streaked with patches of dry yellowish ledge. "Camp" to him has all the importance and interest of a great metropolis. It is the centre of news. The stage passes through it on the way to a larger camp. Two boss gamblers reside there. There is a faro game on occasions, a billiard table with a mountainous sort of bed, where the balls roll as they please and after an eccentric fashion of their own.
The camp is for him the first nerve-centre of civilization and the only outlet to the great world which he has left. You, fresh from the great city, regard this dilapidated place as an out-of-the-way corner; but to him, living on his remote flat, with but two cabins in sight for as many miles, camp is a place of importance. The news is fresh here; the city papers are here; the political candidates speak here; the one-horse show comes here and all the minor lawsuits are tried here. Camp is reached after a long, hot walk. He suffers in his store clothes from the heat. In his working every-day flannels he would not so much mind it, but the restraint and chokiness of starched linen are fatiguing. It is laborious even to be "dressed up" on a hot day. Of this he is not aware. He has not yet so far analyzed into the depth and causes of sensations, yet it is a labor in tropical weather to wear and bear good clothes--clothes which cannot safely be perspired in; clothes which one can't "lop down" in; clothes which require care in the keeping, as well as dignity and uprightness; I mean physical uprightness. He never so much suffered from the heat on a week day as on Sundays and the cause was mainly the difference between clothes which demanded consideration and respect and those which did not.
He repairs first to the Magnolia. He has long in imagination seen it from afar. How cool is the big barroom. The landlord keeps the floor well wet down. That Magnolia floor is one of the few places where water, unmixed with other fluid, is useful and grateful. How comforting and soothing is the first drink. A long drink in a long tumbler, with plenty of ice, soda water and whiskey. If heaven be anywhere as a material locality it is in that first cool drink after a three-mile July tramp over the kiln-dried hills and herbage of the California foothills. The Magnolia is the social heart-centre of camp. There he finds the doctor. The doctor drinks with him. The doctor drinks with everybody. There, too, is the Justice of the Peace. The Justice drinks with him. The Justice holds his Court at the Magnolia. The proprietor of the Magnolia is the camp constable and between drinks during trials calls viva voce the witnesses in the case. The Judge drinks with him. The Judge generally drinks. The principal camp gambler is at the Magnolia. He takes a light drink. He is a wise man and knows the advantage and profit of keeping a cool head. The regular camp drunkard sits in the rear in one of the arm-chairs back of the billiard table. He looks so humble, so respectful--and so dry, that our miner's heart moves to pity and he "asks him up." He complies, but not with undue haste. This treats of the era between 1865 and 1870. The camp drunkard had not then so "lost his grip" as to be unmindful of a certain slowness, deliberation and dignity befitting a gentleman. But when he does arrive at the bar he takes a "four-fingered" drink.
They stand in a row at the bar. The barkeeper is mixing the "long" and the short drinks. Each man waits, says nothing and eyes every motion of the bartender. The silence is impressive. All is ready. Each glass is grasped and raised, and then from each to each, and more than all, from all to the drink donor, there is a nod, that incantatory phrase is uttered, "Well, here's luck," and the poison is down. As it rasps, they call "Ahem!" with varied degrees of modulation. But this is a careful and prudent miner and he now repairs to the store. There his dust is weighed, sold, and the week's provision ordered. His combined partners' "divvys" are put aside in a lump and safely stored. Now the weight is off his mind. He returns to the attractions of camp.
These are not numerous. There is the Magnolia, the Bella Union, the Court Exchange, the post and express office. There are the "boys." He learns the news of the county or district. The Mount Vernon is paying four dollars per day. Long Shortman has gone on another spree and hasn't done any work for the last ten days. Jimmy McNeil has sent for his wife's sister. She is unmarried. Sullivan has had another row with his wife and she has complained to the authorities. Sam Gedney is going to run for County Clerk on the Democratic ticket. Bob Delmame lost $200 at the game the other night. A San Francisco company have bought the Crazy gulch quartz lead and will put a ten-stamp mill on it. The school-master was drunk last Friday night. Ford shot at McGillis the other night, but did not hit him. There is scandal and talk concerning the Frenchwoman who keeps the peanut stand and the Justice of the Peace. The Wiley girls, two sisters who have recently moved into camp, are making a sensation, and their small parlor at times won't hold the crowd of semi-bald and unconsciously middle-aged miners and others who are calling on them with possible matrimony in prospective. They may pass along the street about the middle of the afternoon and such "ragging out" was never seen before in this camp. The curious have investigated the tracks made by their little gaiters in the red dust of the upper road and report them the smallest feet ever seen in this section. Billy Devins of the Blue-jay claim is thought to have the best show with the eldest, and Goldberry of the livery stable with the youngest. No. He won't let his best horse and buggy to anybody now and takes her out riding three times a week. But they're snappy and uncertain, and nobody can count on them for a certainty. So runs the week's news, which he picks up with sundry drinks.
He enjoys the luxury of a hotel dinner--a dinner he is not obliged to prepare with his own hands--a decidedly plain dinner in metropolitan estimation, but to him, commencing with soup and ending with pie, a sumptuous repast. It is moonlight and he takes his way back by the old trail home. Old not in years, but in association. It is but the track of twenty years or so, yet for him how old is it in thought. How many, many times he has travelled over it.
That poker game is going on in one corner of the Magnolia. The "hard case" from over the hill is trying to beat it. He has been so trying every Sunday night in that same saloon and in that same corner for the last twenty years. He has grown old in trying. It has kept him poor, yet he thinks he can play poker. He is encouraged in this impression by a considerate few. He works for them. They "scoop him in" regularly. He will go home to-morrow morning, and during the week wash out a couple of ounces more for the benefit of "Scotty" and "Texas." It is 11 o'clock and time to go home. That three-mile walk is before him; he has taken as many drinks as is prudent, possibly one or two more. The camp saloon revelries are beginning to quiet down. Most of the prominent drunks have fallen in the cause. The chronic drunk of the camp is talking at the bar. But he will thus talk all night; he never stops talking--or drinking. He has been here more or less drunk ever since 1852. He is phenomenal and not a standard for ordinary intemperates. Almost every camp has known such a drunkard. Some are alive yet. They are of the immortal few not born to die. It would be madness to compete with such.
So he sets out on his lonely walk. Of how much has he thought while plodding over it. Here the same big buckeye brushes against his face as it did in the "spring of '50," when he was twenty years younger and had a sweetheart in the "States," whose memory was fresh and warm. It has all died out since. The letters became less and less, the years more and more, and then all came to a dead standstill and he received the village paper, and there, appropriately below the column of deaths, he read of her marriage, whereat he went to camp and plunged wildly into all the concert saloon could give and made things howl and boldly challenged the chronic poker game and won. The trail turns suddenly. It has run over the rocks by the river, its trail at times for many feet almost illegible, a vague smoothly-worn streak over ledge and loose boulders, polished and strewn with new white sand and pebbles by some unusually high freshet. But here the shelving bank suddenly ceases. It becomes a precipice. Up the hard-worn path in the red earth he climbs forty, fifty, sixty feet. It is closely hedged with chemisal. Now he emerges near the brow of the high rocky bluff. In all its moonlit glory surges, bubbles, and roars the river below. Its yellow muddiness of the day is now changed to a dark shade of brown, with tremulous silver bars. Night and the moon are the artists.