The Silverado Squatters
Robert Louis Stevenson

Part 2 out of 2

none of this fore-running haze, but the whole opaque white ocean
gave a start and swallowed a piece of mountain at a gulp. It was
to flee these poisonous fogs that I had left the seaboard, and
climbed so high among the mountains. And now, behold, here came
the fog to besiege me in my chosen altitudes, and yet came so
beautifully that my first thought was of welcome.

The sun had now gotten much higher, and through all the gaps of the
hills it cast long bars of gold across that white ocean. An eagle,
or some other very great bird of the mountain, came wheeling over
the nearer pine-tops, and hung, poised and something sideways, as
if to look abroad on that unwonted desolation, spying, perhaps with
terror, for the eyries of her comrades. Then, with a long cry, she
disappeared again towards Lake County and the clearer air. At
length it seemed to me as if the flood were beginning to subside.
The old landmarks, by whose disappearance I had measured its
advance, here a crag, there a brave pine tree, now began, in the
inverse order, to make their reappearance into daylight. I judged
all danger of the fog was over. This was not Noah's flood; it was
but a morning spring, and would now drift out seaward whence it
came. So, mightily relieved, and a good deal exhilarated by the
sight, I went into the house to light the fire.

I suppose it was nearly seven when I once more mounted the platform
to look abroad. The fog ocean had swelled up enormously since last
I saw it; and a few hundred feet below me, in the deep gap where
the Toll House stands and the road runs through into Lake County,
it had already topped the slope, and was pouring over and down the
other side like driving smoke. The wind had climbed along with it;
and though I was still in calm air, I could see the trees tossing
below me, and their long, strident sighing mounted to me where I

Half an hour later, the fog had surmounted all the ridge on the
opposite side of the gap, though a shoulder of the mountain still
warded it out of our canyon. Napa valley and its bounding hills
were now utterly blotted out. The fog, sunny white in the
sunshine, was pouring over into Lake County in a huge, ragged
cataract, tossing treetops appearing and disappearing in the spray.
The air struck with a little chill, and set me coughing. It smelt
strong of the fog, like the smell of a washing-house, but with a
shrewd tang of the sea salt.

Had it not been for two things--the sheltering spur which answered
as a dyke, and the great valley on the other side which rapidly
engulfed whatever mounted--our own little platform in the canyon
must have been already buried a hundred feet in salt and poisonous
air. As it was, the interest of the scene entirely occupied our
minds. We were set just out of the wind, and but just above the
fog; we could listen to the voice of the one as to music on the
stage; we could plunge our eyes down into the other, as into some
flowing stream from over the parapet of a bridge; thus we looked on
upon a strange, impetuous, silent, shifting exhibition of the
powers of nature, and saw the familiar landscape changing from
moment to moment like figures in a dream.

The imagination loves to trifle with what is not. Had this been
indeed the deluge, I should have felt more strongly, but the
emotion would have been similar in kind. I played with the idea,
as the child flees in delighted terror from the creations of his
fancy. The look of the thing helped me. And when at last I began
to flee up the mountain, it was indeed partly to escape from the
raw air that kept me coughing, but it was also part in play.

As I ascended the mountain-side, I came once more to overlook the
upper surface of the fog; but it wore a different appearance from
what I had beheld at daybreak. For, first, the sun now fell on it
from high overhead, and its surface shone and undulated like a
great nor'land moor country, sheeted with untrodden morning snow.
And next the new level must have been a thousand or fifteen hundred
feet higher than the old, so that only five or six points of all
the broken country below me, still stood out. Napa valley was now
one with Sonoma on the west. On the hither side, only a thin
scattered fringe of bluffs was unsubmerged; and through all the
gaps the fog was pouring over, like an ocean, into the blue clear
sunny country on the east. There it was soon lost; for it fell
instantly into the bottom of the valleys, following the water-shed;
and the hilltops in that quarter were still clear cut upon the
eastern sky.

Through the Toll House gap and over the near ridges on the other
side, the deluge was immense. A spray of thin vapour was thrown
high above it, rising and falling, and blown into fantastic shapes.
The speed of its course was like a mountain torrent. Here and
there a few treetops were discovered and then whelmed again; and
for one second, the bough of a dead pine beckoned out of the spray
like the arm of a drowning man. But still the imagination was
dissatisfied, still the ear waited for something more. Had this
indeed been water (as it seemed so, to the eye), with what a plunge
of reverberating thunder would it have rolled upon its course,
disembowelling mountains and deracinating pines! And yet water it
was, and sea-water at that--true Pacific billows, only somewhat
rarefied, rolling in mid air among the hilltops.

I climbed still higher, among the red rattling gravel and dwarf
underwood of Mount Saint Helena, until I could look right down upon
Silverado, and admire the favoured nook in which it lay. The sunny
plain of fog was several hundred feet higher; behind the protecting
spur a gigantic accumulation of cottony vapour threatened, with
every second, to blow over and submerge our homestead; but the
vortex setting past the Toll House was too strong; and there lay
our little platform, in the arms of the deluge, but still enjoying
its unbroken sunshine. About eleven, however, thin spray came
flying over the friendly buttress, and I began to think the fog had
hunted out its Jonah after all. But it was the last effort. The
wind veered while we were at dinner, and began to blow squally from
the mountain summit; and by half-past one, all that world of sea-
fogs was utterly routed and flying here and there into the south in
little rags of cloud. And instead of a lone sea-beach, we found
ourselves once more inhabiting a high mountainside, with the clear
green country far below us, and the light smoke of Calistoga
blowing in the air.

This was the great Russian campaign for that season. Now and then,
in the early morning, a little white lakelet of fog would be seen
far down in Napa Valley; but the heights were not again assailed,
nor was the surrounding world again shut off from Silverado.


The Toll House, standing alone by the wayside under nodding pines,
with its streamlet and water-tank; its backwoods, toll-bar, and
well trodden croquet ground; the ostler standing by the stable
door, chewing a straw; a glimpse of the Chinese cook in the back
parts; and Mr. Hoddy in the bar, gravely alert and serviceable, and
equally anxious to lend or borrow books;--dozed all day in the
dusty sunshine, more than half asleep. There were no neighbours,
except the Hansons up the hill. The traffic on the road was
infinitesimal; only, at rare intervals, a couple in a waggon, or a
dusty farmer on a springboard, toiling over "the grade" to that
metropolitan hamlet, Calistoga; and, at the fixed hours, the
passage of the stages.

The nearest building was the school-house, down the road; and the
school-ma'am boarded at the Toll House, walking thence in the
morning to the little brown shanty, where she taught the young ones
of the district, and returning thither pretty weary in the
afternoon. She had chosen this outlying situation, I understood,
for her health. Mr. Corwin was consumptive; so was Rufe; so was
Mr. Jennings, the engineer. In short, the place was a kind of
small Davos: consumptive folk consorting on a hilltop in the most
unbroken idleness. Jennings never did anything that I could see,
except now and then to fish, and generally to sit about in the bar
and the verandah, waiting for something to happen. Corwin and Rufe
did as little as possible; and if the school-ma'am, poor lady, had
to work pretty hard all morning, she subsided when it was over into
much the same dazed beatitude as all the rest.

Her special corner was the parlour--a very genteel room, with Bible
prints, a crayon portrait of Mrs. Corwin in the height of fashion,
a few years ago, another of her son (Mr. Corwin was not
represented), a mirror, and a selection of dried grasses. A large
book was laid religiously on the table--"From Palace to Hovel," I
believe, its name--full of the raciest experiences in England. The
author had mingled freely with all classes, the nobility
particularly meeting him with open arms; and I must say that
traveller had ill requited his reception. His book, in short, was
a capital instance of the Penny Messalina school of literature; and
there arose from it, in that cool parlour, in that silent, wayside,
mountain inn, a rank atmosphere of gold and blood and "Jenkins,"
and the "Mysteries of London," and sickening, inverted snobbery,
fit to knock you down. The mention of this book reminds me of
another and far racier picture of our island life. The latter
parts of Rocambole are surely too sparingly consulted in the
country which they celebrate. No man's education can be said to be
complete, nor can he pronounce the world yet emptied of enjoyment,
till he has made the acquaintance of "the Reverend Patterson,
director of the Evangelical Society." To follow the evolutions of
that reverend gentleman, who goes through scenes in which even Mr.
Duffield would hesitate to place a bishop, is to rise to new ideas.
But, alas! there was no Patterson about the Toll House. Only,
alongside of "From Palace to Hovel," a sixpenny "Ouida" figured.
So literature, you see, was not unrepresented.

The school-ma'am had friends to stay with her, other school-ma'ams
enjoying their holidays, quite a bevy of damsels. They seemed
never to go out, or not beyond the verandah, but sat close in the
little parlour, quietly talking or listening to the wind among the
trees. Sleep dwelt in the Toll House, like a fixture: summer
sleep, shallow, soft, and dreamless. A cuckoo-clock, a great
rarity in such a place, hooted at intervals about the echoing
house; and Mr. Jenning would open his eyes for a moment in the bar,
and turn the leaf of a newspaper, and the resting school-ma'ams in
the parlour would be recalled to the consciousness of their
inaction. Busy Mrs. Corwin and her busy Chinaman might be heard
indeed, in the penetralia, pounding dough or rattling dishes; or
perhaps Rufe had called up some of the sleepers for a game of
croquet, and the hollow strokes of the mallet sounded far away
among the woods: but with these exceptions, it was sleep and
sunshine and dust, and the wind in the pine trees, all day long.

A little before stage time, that castle of indolence awoke. The
ostler threw his straw away and set to his preparations. Mr.
Jennings rubbed his eyes; happy Mr. Jennings, the something he had
been waiting for all day about to happen at last! The boarders
gathered in the verandah, silently giving ear, and gazing down the
road with shaded eyes. And as yet there was no sign for the
senses, not a sound, not a tremor of the mountain road. The birds,
to whom the secret of the hooting cuckoo is unknown, must have set
down to instinct this premonitory bustle.

And then the first of the two stages swooped upon the Toll House
with a roar and in a cloud of dust; and the shock had not yet time
to subside, before the second was abreast of it. Huge concerns
they were, well-horsed and loaded, the men in their shirt-sleeves,
the women swathed in veils, the long whip cracking like a pistol;
and as they charged upon that slumbering hostelry, each shepherding
a dust storm, the dead place blossomed into life and talk and
clatter. This the Toll House?--with its city throng, its jostling
shoulders, its infinity of instant business in the bar? The mind
would not receive it! The heartfelt bustle of that hour is hardly
credible; the thrill of the great shower of letters from the post-
bag, the childish hope and interest with which one gazed in all
these strangers' eyes. They paused there but to pass: the blue-
clad China-boy, the San Francisco magnate, the mystery in the dust
coat, the secret memoirs in tweed, the ogling, well-shod lady with
her troop of girls; they did but flash and go; they were hull-down
for us behind life's ocean, and we but hailed their topsails on the
line. Yet, out of our great solitude of four and twenty mountain
hours, we thrilled to their momentary presence gauged and divined
them, loved and hated; and stood light-headed in that storm of
human electricity. Yes, like Piccadilly circus, this is also one
of life's crossing-places. Here I beheld one man, already famous
or infamous, a centre of pistol-shots: and another who, if not yet
known to rumour, will fill a column of the Sunday paper when he
comes to hang--a burly, thick-set, powerful Chinese desperado, six
long bristles upon either lip; redolent of whiskey, playing cards,
and pistols; swaggering in the bar with the lowest assumption of
the lowest European manners; rapping out blackguard English oaths
in his canorous oriental voice; and combining in one person the
depravities of two races and two civilizations. For all his lust
and vigour, he seemed to look cold upon me from the valley of the
shadow of the gallows. He imagined a vain thing; and while he
drained his cock-tail, Holbein's death was at his elbow. Once,
too, I fell in talk with another of these flitting strangers--like
the rest, in his shirt-sleeves and all begrimed with dust--and the
next minute we were discussing Paris and London, theatres and
wines. To him, journeying from one human place to another, this
was a trifle; but to me! No, Mr. Lillie, I have not forgotten it.

And presently the city-tide was at its flood and began to ebb.
Life runs in Piccadilly Circus, say, from nine to one, and then,
there also, ebbs into the small hours of the echoing policeman and
the lamps and stars. But the Toll House is far up stream, and near
its rural springs; the bubble of the tide but touches it. Before
you had yet grasped your pleasure, the horses were put to, the loud
whips volleyed, and the tide was gone. North and south had the two
stages vanished, the towering dust subsided in the woods; but there
was still an interval before the flush had fallen on your cheeks,
before the ear became once more contented with the silence, or the
seven sleepers of the Toll House dozed back to their accustomed
corners. Yet a little, and the ostler would swing round the great
barrier across the road; and in the golden evening, that dreamy inn
begin to trim its lamps and spread the board for supper.

As I recall the place--the green dell below; the spires of pine;
the sun-warm, scented air; that gray, gabled inn, with its faint
stirrings of life amid the slumber of the mountains--I slowly awake
to a sense of admiration, gratitude, and almost love. A fine
place, after all, for a wasted life to doze away in--the cuckoo
clock hooting of its far home country; the croquet mallets,
eloquent of English lawns; the stages daily bringing news of--the
turbulent world away below there; and perhaps once in the summer, a
salt fog pouring overhead with its tale of the Pacific.


In our rule at Silverado, there was a melancholy interregnum. The
queen and the crown prince with one accord fell sick; and, as I was
sick to begin with, our lone position on Mount Saint Helena was no
longer tenable, and we had to hurry back to Calistoga and a cottage
on the green. By that time we had begun to realize the
difficulties of our position. We had found what an amount of
labour it cost to support life in our red canyon; and it was the
dearest desire of our hearts to get a China-boy to go along with us
when we returned. We could have given him a whole house to
himself, self-contained, as they say in the advertisements; and on
the money question we were prepared to go far. Kong Sam Kee, the
Calistoga washerman, was entrusted with the affair; and from day to
day it languished on, with protestations on our part and
mellifluous excuses on the part of Kong Sam Kee.

At length, about half-past eight of our last evening, with the
waggon ready harnessed to convey us up the grade, the washerman,
with a somewhat sneering air, produced the boy. He was a handsome,
gentlemanly lad, attired in rich dark blue, and shod with snowy
white; but, alas! he had heard rumours of Silverado. He know it
for a lone place on the mountain-side, with no friendly wash-house
near by, where he might smoke a pipe of opium o' nights with other
China-boys, and lose his little earnings at the game of tan; and he
first backed out for more money; and then, when that demand was
satisfied, refused to come point-blank. He was wedded to his wash-
houses; he had no taste for the rural life; and we must go to our
mountain servantless. It must have been near half an hour before
we reached that conclusion, standing in the midst of Calistoga high
street under the stars, and the China-boy and Kong Sam Kee singing
their pigeon English in the sweetest voices and with the most
musical inflections.

We were not, however, to return alone; for we brought with us Joe
Strong, the painter, a most good-natured comrade and a capital hand
at an omelette. I do not know in which capacity he was most
valued--as a cook or a companion; and he did excellently well in

The Kong Sam Kee negotiation had delayed us unduly; it must have
been half-past nine before we left Calistoga, and night came fully
ere we struck the bottom of the grade. I have never seen such a
night. It seemed to throw calumny in the teeth of all the painters
that ever dabbled in starlight. The sky itself was of a ruddy,
powerful, nameless, changing colour, dark and glossy like a
serpent's back. The stars, by innumerable millions, stuck boldly
forth like lamps. The milky way was bright, like a moonlit cloud;
half heaven seemed milky way. The greater luminaries shone each
more clearly than a winter's moon. Their light was dyed in every
sort of colour--red, like fire; blue, like steel; green, like the
tracks of sunset; and so sharply did each stand forth in its own
lustre that there was no appearance of that flat, star-spangled
arch we know so well in pictures, but all the hollow of heaven was
one chaos of contesting luminaries--a hurry-burly of stars.
Against this the hills and rugged treetops stood out redly dark.

As we continued to advance, the lesser lights and milky ways first
grew pale, and then vanished; the countless hosts of heaven
dwindled in number by successive millions; those that still shone
had tempered their exceeding brightness and fallen back into their
customary wistful distance; and the sky declined from its first
bewildering splendour into the appearance of a common night.
Slowly this change proceeded, and still there was no sign of any
cause. Then a whiteness like mist was thrown over the spurs of the
mountain. Yet a while, and, as we turned a corner, a great leap of
silver light and net of forest shadows fell across the road and
upon our wondering waggonful; and, swimming low among the trees, we
beheld a strange, misshapen, waning moon, half-tilted on her back.

"Where are ye when the moon appears?" so the old poet sang, half-
taunting, to the stars, bent upon a courtly purpose.

"As the sunlight round the dim earth's midnight tower of shadow
Streaming past the dim, wide portals,
Viewless to the eyes of mortals,
Till it floods the moon's pale islet or the morning's golden

So sings Mr. Trowbridge, with a noble inspiration. And so had the
sunlight flooded that pale islet of the moon, and her lit face put
out, one after another, that galaxy of stars. The wonder of the
drive was over; but, by some nice conjunction of clearness in the
air and fit shadow in the valley where we travelled, we had seen
for a little while that brave display of the midnight heavens. It
was gone, but it had been; nor shall I ever again behold the stars
with the same mind. He who has seen the sea commoved with a great
hurricane, thinks of it very differently from him who has seen it
only in a calm. And the difference between a calm and a hurricane
is not greatly more striking than that between the ordinary face of
night and the splendour that shone upon us in that drive. Two in
our waggon knew night as she shines upon the tropics, but even that
bore no comparison. The nameless colour of the sky, the hues of
the star-fire, and the incredible projection of the stars
themselves, starting from their orbits, so that the eye seemed to
distinguish their positions in the hollow of space--these were
things that we had never seen before and shall never see again.

Meanwhile, in this altered night, we proceeded on our way among the
scents and silence of the forest, reached the top of the grade,
wound up by Hanson's, and came at last to a stand under the flying
gargoyle of the chute. Sam, who had been lying back, fast asleep,
with the moon on his face, got down, with the remark that it was
pleasant "to be home." The waggon turned and drove away, the noise
gently dying in the woods, and we clambered up the rough path,
Caliban's great feat of engineering, and came home to Silverado.

The moon shone in at the eastern doors and windows, and over the
lumber on the platform. The one tall pine beside. the ledge was
steeped in silver. Away up the canyon, a wild cat welcomed us with
three discordant squalls. But once we had lit a candle, and began
to review our improvements, homely in either sense, and count our
stores, it was wonderful what a feeling of possession and
permanence grow up in the hearts of the lords of Silverado. A bed
had still to be made up for Strong, and the morning's water to be
fetched, with clinking pail; and as we set about these household
duties, and showed off our wealth and conveniences before the
stranger, and had a glass of wine, I think, in honour of our
return, and trooped at length one after another up the flying
bridge of plank, and lay down to sleep in our shattered, moon-
pierced barrack, we were among the happiest sovereigns in the
world, and certainly ruled over the most contented people. Yet, in
our absence, the palace had been sacked. Wild cats, so the Hansons
said, had broken in and carried off a side of bacon, a hatchet, and
two knives.


No one could live at Silverado and not be curious about the story
of the mine. We were surrounded by so many evidences of expense
and toil, we lived so entirely in the wreck of that great
enterprise, like mites in the ruins of a cheese, that the idea of
the old din and bustle haunted our repose. Our own house, the
forge, the dump, the chutes, the rails, the windlass, the mass of
broken plant; the two tunnels, one far below in the green dell, the
other on the platform where we kept our wine; the deep shaft, with
the sun-glints and the water-drops; above all, the ledge, that
great gaping slice out of the mountain shoulder, propped apart by
wooden wedges, on whose immediate margin, high above our heads, the
one tall pine precariously nodded--these stood for its greatness;
while, the dog-hutch, boot-jacks, old boots, old tavern bills, and
the very beds that we inherited from bygone miners, put in human
touches and realized for us the story of the past.

I have sat on an old sleeper, under the thick madronas near the
forge, with just a look over the dump on the green world below, and
seen the sun lying broad among the wreck, and heard the silence
broken only by the tinkling water in the shaft, or a stir of the
royal family about the battered palace, and my mind has gone back
to the epoch of the Stanleys and the Chapmans, with a grand tutti
of pick and drill, hammer and anvil, echoing about the canyon; the
assayer hard at it in our dining-room; the carts below on the road,
and their cargo of red mineral bounding and thundering down the
iron chute. And now all gone--all fallen away into this sunny
silence and desertion: a family of squatters dining in the
assayer's office, making their beds in the big sleeping room
erstwhile so crowded, keeping their wine in the tunnel that once
rang with picks.

But Silverado itself, although now fallen in its turn into decay,
was once but a mushroom, and had succeeded to other mines and other
flitting cities. Twenty years ago, away down the glen on the Lake
County side there was a place, Jonestown by name, with two thousand
inhabitants dwelling under canvas, and one roofed house for the
sale of whiskey. Round on the western side of Mount Saint Helena,
there was at the same date, a second large encampment, its name, if
it ever had one, lost for me. Both of these have perished, leaving
not a stick and scarce a memory behind them. Tide after tide of
hopeful miners have thus flowed and ebbed about the mountain,
coming and going, now by lone prospectors, now with a rush. Last,
in order of time came Silverado, reared the big mill, in the
valley, founded the town which is now represented, monumentally, by
Hanson's, pierced all these slaps and shafts and tunnels, and in
turn declined and died away.

"Our noisy years seem moments in the wake
Of the eternal silence."

As to the success of Silverado in its time of being, two reports
were current. According to the first, six hundred thousand dollars
were taken out of that great upright seam, that still hung open
above us on crazy wedges. Then the ledge pinched out, and there
followed, in quest of the remainder, a great drifting and
tunnelling in all directions, and a great consequent effusion of
dollars, until, all parties being sick of the expense, the mine was
deserted, and the town decamped. According to the second version,
told me with much secrecy of manner, the whole affair, mine, mill,
and town, were parts of one majestic swindle. There had never come
any silver out of any portion of the mine; there was no silver to
come. At midnight trains of packhorses might have been observed
winding by devious tracks about the shoulder of the mountain. They
came from far away, from Amador or Placer, laden with silver in
"old cigar boxes." They discharged their load at Silverado, in the
hour of sleep; and before the morning they were gone again with
their mysterious drivers to their unknown source. In this way,
twenty thousand pounds' worth of silver was smuggled in under cover
of night, in these old cigar boxes; mixed with Silverado mineral;
carted down to the mill; crushed, amalgated, and refined, and
despatched to the city as the proper product of the mine. Stock-
jobbing, if it can cover such expenses, must be a profitable
business in San Francisco.

I give these two versions as I got them. But I place little
reliance on either, my belief in history having been greatly
shaken. For it chanced that I had come to dwell in Silverado at a
critical hour; great events in its history were about to happen--
did happen, as I am led to believe; nay, and it will be seen that I
played a part in that revolution myself. And yet from first to
last I never had a glimmer of an idea what was going on; and even
now, after full reflection, profess myself at sea. That there was
some obscure intrigue of the cigar-box order, and that I, in the
character of a wooden puppet, set pen to paper in the interest of
somebody, so much, and no more, is certain.

Silverado, then under my immediate sway, belonged to one whom I
will call a Mr. Ronalds. I only knew him through the
extraordinarily distorting medium of local gossip, now as a
momentous jobber; now as a dupe to point an adage; and again, and
much more probably, as an ordinary Christian gentleman like you or
me, who had opened a mine and worked it for a while with better and
worse fortune. So, through a defective window-pane, you may see
the passer-by shoot up into a hunchbacked giant or dwindle into a
potbellied dwarf.

To Ronalds, at least, the mine belonged; but the notice by which he
held it would ran out upon the 30th of June--or rather, as I
suppose, it had run out already, and the month of grace would
expire upon that day, after which any American citizen might post a
notice of his own, and make Silverado his. This, with a sort of
quiet slyness, Rufe told me at an early period of our acquaintance.
There was no silver, of course; the mine "wasn't worth nothing, Mr.
Stevens," but there was a deal of old iron and wood around, and to
gain possession of this old wood and iron, and get a right to the
water, Rufe proposed, if I had no objections, to "jump the claim."

Of course, I had no objection. But I was filled with wonder. If
all he wanted was the wood and iron, what, in the name of fortune,
was to prevent him taking them? "His right there was none to
dispute." He might lay hands on all to-morrow, as the wild cats
had laid hands upon our knives and hatchet. Besides, was this mass
of heavy mining plant worth transportation? If it was, why had not
the rightful owners carted it away? If it was, would they not
preserve their title to these movables, even after they had lost
their title to the mine? And if it were not, what the better was
Rufe? Nothing would grow at Silverado; there was even no wood to
cut; beyond a sense of property, there was nothing to be gained.
Lastly, was it at all credible that Ronalds would forget what Rufe
remembered? The days of grace were not yet over: any fine morning
he might appear, paper in hand, and enter for another year on his
inheritance. However, it was none of my business; all seemed
legal; Rufe or Ronalds, all was one to me.

On the morning of the 27th, Mrs. Hanson appeared with the milk as
usual, in her sun-bonnet. The time would be out on Tuesday, she
reminded us, and bade me be in readiness to play my part, though I
had no idea what it was to be. And suppose Ronalds came? we asked.
She received the idea with derision, laughing aloud with all her
fine teeth. He could not find the mine to save his life, it
appeared, without Rufe to guide him. Last year, when he came, they
heard him "up and down the road a hollerin' and a raisin' Cain."
And at last he had to come to the Hansons in despair, and bid Rufe,
"Jump into your pants and shoes, and show me where this old mine
is, anyway!" Seeing that Ronalds had laid out so much money in the
spot, and that a beaten road led right up to the bottom of the
clump, I thought this a remarkable example. The sense of locality
must be singularly in abeyance in the case of Ronalds.

That same evening, supper comfortably over, Joe Strong busy at work
on a drawing of the dump and the opposite hills, we were all out on
the platform together, sitting there, under the tented heavens,
with the same sense of privacy as if we had been cabined in a
parlour, when the sound of brisk footsteps came mounting up the
path. We pricked our ears at this, for the tread seemed lighter
and firmer than was usual with our country neighbours. And
presently, sure enough, two town gentlemen, with cigars and kid
gloves, came debauching past the house. They looked in that place
like a blasphemy.

"Good evening," they said. For none of us had stirred; we all sat
stiff with wonder.

"Good evening," I returned; and then, to put them at their ease, "A
stiff climb," I added.

"Yes," replied the leader; "but we have to thank you for this

I did not like the man's tone. None of us liked it. He did not
seem embarrassed by the meeting, but threw us his remarks like
favours, and strode magisterially by us towards the shaft and

Presently we heard his voice raised to his companion. "We drifted
every sort of way, but couldn't strike the ledge." Then again:
"It pinched out here." And once more: "Every minor that ever
worked upon it says there's bound to be a ledge somewhere."

These were the snatches of his talk that reached us, and they had a
damning significance. We, the lords of Silverado, had come face to
face with our superior. It is the worst of all quaint and of all
cheap ways of life that they bring us at last to the pinch of some
humiliation. I liked well enough to be a squatter when there was
none but Hanson by; before Ronalds, I will own, I somewhat quailed.
I hastened to do him fealty, said I gathered he was the Squattee,
and apologized. He threatened me with ejection, in a manner grimly
pleasant--more pleasant to him, I fancy, than to me; and then he
passed off into praises of the former state of Silverado. "It was
the busiest little mining town you ever saw:" a population of
between a thousand and fifteen hundred souls, the engine in full
blast, the mill newly erected; nothing going but champagne, and
hope the order of the day. Ninety thousand dollars came out; a
hundred and forty thousand were put in, making a net loss of fifty
thousand. The last days, I gathered, the days of John Stanley,
were not so bright; the champagne had ceased to flow, the
population was already moving elsewhere, and Silverado had begun to
wither in the branch before it was cut at the root. The last shot
that was fired knocked over the stove chimney, and made that hole
in the roof of our barrack, through which the sun was wont to visit
slug-a-beds towards afternoon. A noisy, last shot, to inaugurate
the days of silence.

Throughout this interview, my conscience was a good deal exercised;
and I was moved to throw myself on my knees and own the intended
treachery. But then I had Hanson to consider. I was in much the
same position as Old Rowley, that royal humourist, whom "the rogue
had taken into his confidence." And again, here was Ronalds on the
spot. He must know the day of the month as well as Hanson and I.
If a broad hint were necessary, he had the broadest in the world.
For a large board had been nailed by the crown prince on the very
front of our house, between the door and window, painted in
cinnabar--the pigment of the country--with doggrel rhymes and
contumelious pictures, and announcing, in terms unnecessarily
figurative, that the trick was already played, the claim already
jumped, and Master Sam the legitimate successor of Mr. Ronalds.
But no, nothing could save that man; quem deus vult perdere, prius
dementat. As he came so he went, and left his rights depending.

Late at night, by Silverado reckoning, and after we were all abed,
Mrs. Hanson returned to give us the newest of her news. It was
like a scene in a ship's steerage: all of us abed in our different
tiers, the single candle struggling with the darkness, and this
plump, handsome woman, seated on an upturned valise beside the
bunks, talking and showing her fine teeth, and laughing till the
rafters rang. Any ship, to be sure, with a hundredth part as many
holes in it as our barrack, must long ago have gone to her last
port. Up to that time I had always imagined Mrs. Hanson's
loquacity to be mere incontinence, that she said what was uppermost
for the pleasure of speaking, and laughed and laughed again as a
kind of musical accompaniment. But I now found there was an art in
it, I found it less communicative than silence itself. I wished to
know why Ronalds had come; how he had found his way without Rufe;
and why, being on the spot, he had not refreshed his title. She
talked interminably on, but her replies were never answers. She
fled under a cloud of words; and when I had made sure that she was
purposely eluding me, I dropped the subject in my turn, and let her
rattle where she would.

She had come to tell us that, instead of waiting for Tuesday, the
claim was to be jumped on the morrow. How? If the time were not
out, it was impossible. Why? If Ronalds had come and gone, and
done nothing, there was the less cause for hurry. But again I
could reach no satisfaction. The claim was to be jumped next
morning, that was all that she would condescend upon.

And yet it was not jumped the next morning, nor yet the next, and a
whole week had come and gone before we heard more of this exploit.
That day week, however, a day of great heat, Hanson, with a little
roll of paper in his hand, and the eternal pipe alight; Breedlove,
his large, dull friend, to act, I suppose, as witness; Mrs. Hanson,
in her Sunday best; and all the children, from the oldest to the
youngest;--arrived in a procession, tailing one behind another up
the path. Caliban was absent, but he had been chary of his
friendly visits since the row; and with that exception, the whole
family was gathered together as for a marriage or a christening.
Strong was sitting at work, in the shade of the dwarf madronas near
the forge; and they planted themselves about him in a circle, one
on a stone, another on the waggon rails, a third on a piece of
plank. Gradually the children stole away up the canyon to where
there was another chute, somewhat smaller than the one across the
dump; and down this chute, for the rest of the afternoon, they
poured one avalanche of stones after another, waking the echoes of
the glen. Meantime we elders sat together on the platform, Hanson
and his friend smoking in silence like Indian sachems, Mrs. Hanson
rattling on as usual with an adroit volubility, saying nothing, but
keeping the party at their ease like a courtly hostess.

Not a word occurred about the business of the day. Once, twice,
and thrice I tried to slide the subject in, but was discouraged by
the stoic apathy of Rufe, and beaten down before the pouring
verbiage of his wife. There is nothing of the Indian brave about
me, and I began to grill with impatience. At last, like a highway
robber, I cornered Hanson, and bade him stand and deliver his
business. Thereupon he gravely rose, as though to hint that this
was not a proper place, nor the subject one suitable for squaws,
and I, following his example, led him up the plank into our
barrack. There he bestowed himself on a box, and unrolled his
papers with fastidious deliberation. There were two sheets of
note-paper, and an old mining notice, dated May 30th, 1879, part
print, part manuscript, and the latter much obliterated by the
rains. It was by this identical piece of paper that the mine had
been held last year. For thirteen months it had endured the
weather and the change of seasons on a cairn behind the shoulder of
the canyon; and it was now my business, spreading it before me on
the table, and sitting on a valise, to copy its terms, with some
necessary changes, twice over on the two sheets of note-paper. One
was then to be placed on the same cairn--a "mound of rocks" the
notice put it; and the other to be lodged for registration.

Rufe watched me, silently smoking, till I came to the place for the
locator's name at the end of the first copy; and when I proposed
that he should sign, I thought I saw a scare in his eye. "I don't
think that'll be necessary," he said slowly; "just you write it
down." Perhaps this mighty hunter, who was the most active member
of the local school board, could not write. There would be nothing
strange in that. The constable of Calistoga is, and has been for
years, a bed-ridden man, and, if I remember rightly, blind. He had
more need of the emoluments than another, it was explained; and it
was easy for him to "depytize," with a strong accent on the last.
So friendly and so free are popular institutions.

When I had done my scrivening, Hanson strolled out, and addressed
Breedlove, "Will you step up here a bit?" and after they had
disappeared a little while into the chaparral and madrona thicket,
they came back again, minus a notice, and the deed was done. The
claim was jumped; a tract of mountain-side, fifteen hundred feet
long by six hundred wide, with all the earth's precious bowels, had
passed from Ronalds to Hanson, and, in the passage, changed its
name from the "Mammoth" to the "Calistoga." I had tried to get
Rufe to call it after his wife, after himself, and after Garfield,
the Republican Presidential candidate of the hour--since then
elected, and, alas! dead--but all was in vain. The claim had once
been called the Calistoga before, and he seemed to feel safety in
returning to that.

And so the history of that mine became once more plunged in
darkness, lit only by some monster pyrotechnical displays of
gossip. And perhaps the most curious feature of the whole matter
is this: that we should have dwelt in this quiet corner of the
mountains, with not a dozen neighbours, and yet struggled all the
while, like desperate swimmers, in this sea of falsities and
contradictions. Wherever a man is, there will be a lie.


I must try to convey some notion of our life, of how the days
passed and what pleasure we took in them, of what there was to do
and how we set about doing it, in our mountain hermitage. The
house, after we had repaired the worst of the damages, and filled
in some of the doors and windows with white cotton cloth, became a
healthy and a pleasant dwelling-place, always airy and dry, and
haunted by the outdoor perfumes of the glen. Within, it had the
look of habitation, the human look. You had only to go into the
third room, which we did not use, and see its stones, its sifting
earth, its tumbled litter; and then return to our lodging, with the
beds made, the plates on the rack, the pail of bright water behind
the door, the stove crackling in a corner, and perhaps the table
roughly laid against a meal,--and man's order, the little clean
spots that he creates to dwell in, were at once contrasted with the
rich passivity of nature. And yet our house was everywhere so
wrecked and shattered, the air came and went so freely, the sun
found so many portholes, the golden outdoor glow shone in so many
open chinks, that we enjoyed, at the same time, some of the
comforts of a roof and much of the gaiety and brightness of al
fresco life. A single shower of rain, to be sure, and we should
have been drowned out like mice. But ours was a Californian
summer, and an earthquake was a far likelier accident than a shower
of rain.

Trustful in this fine weather, we kept the house for kitchen and
bedroom, and used the platform as our summer parlour. The sense of
privacy, as I have said already, was complete. We could look over
the clump on miles of forest and rough hilltop; our eyes commanded
some of Napa Valley, where the train ran, and the little country
townships sat so close together along the line of the rail. But
here there was no man to intrude. None but the Hansons were our
visitors. Even they came but at long intervals, or twice daily, at
a stated hour, with milk. So our days, as they were never
interrupted, drew out to the greater length; hour melted insensibly
into hour; the household duties, though they were many, and some of
them laborious, dwindled into mere islets of business in a sea of
sunny day-time; and it appears to me, looking back, as though the
far greater part of our life at Silverado had been passed, propped
upon an elbow, or seated on a plank, listening to the silence that
there is among the hills.

My work, it is true, was over early in the morning. I rose before
any one else, lit the stove, put on the water to boil, and strolled
forth upon the platform to wait till it was ready. Silverado would
then be still in shadow, the sun shining on the mountain higher up.
A clean smell of trees, a smell of the earth at morning, hung in
the air. Regularly, every day, there was a single bird, not
singing, but awkwardly chirruping among the green madronas, and the
sound was cheerful, natural, and stirring. It did not hold the
attention, nor interrupt the thread of meditation, like a blackbird
or a nightingale; it was mere woodland prattle, of which the mind
was conscious like a perfume. The freshness of these morning
seasons remained with me far on into the day.

As soon as the kettle boiled, I made porridge and coffee; and that,
beyond the literal drawing of water, and the preparation of
kindling, which it would be hyperbolical to call the hewing of
wood, ended my domestic duties for the day. Thenceforth my wife
laboured single-handed in the palace, and I lay or wandered on the
platform at my own sweet will. The little corner near the forge,
where we found a refuge under the madronas from the unsparing early
sun, is indeed connected in my mind with some nightmare encounters
over Euclid, and the Latin Grammar. These were known as Sam's
lessons. He was supposed to be the victim and the sufferer; but
here there must have been some misconception, for whereas I
generally retired to bed after one of these engagements, he was no
sooner set free than he dashed up to the Chinaman's house, where he
had installed a printing press, that great element of civilization,
and the sound of his labours would be faintly audible about the
canyon half the day.

To walk at all was a laborious business; the foot sank and slid,
the boots were cut to pieces, among sharp, uneven, rolling stones.
When we crossed the platform in any direction, it was usual to lay
a course, following as much as possible the line of waggon rails.
Thus, if water were to be drawn, the water-carrier left the house
along some tilting planks that we had laid down, and not laid down
very well. These carried him to that great highroad, the railway;
and the railway served him as far as to the head of the shaft. But
from thence to the spring and back again he made the best of his
unaided way, staggering among the stones, and wading in low growth
of the calcanthus, where the rattlesnakes lay hissing at his
passage. Yet I liked to draw water. It was pleasant to dip the
gray metal pail into the clean, colourless, cool water; pleasant to
carry it back, with the water ripping at the edge, and a broken
sunbeam quivering in the midst.

But the extreme roughness of the walking confined us in common
practice to the platform, and indeed to those parts of it that were
most easily accessible along the line of rails. The rails came
straight forward from the shaft, here and there overgrown with
little green bushes, but still entire, and still carrying a truck,
which it was Sam's delight to trundle to and fro by the hour with
various ladings. About midway down the platform, the railroad
trended to the right, leaving our house and coasting along the far
side within a few yards of the madronas and the forge, and not far
of the latter, ended in a sort of platform on the edge of the dump.
There, in old days, the trucks were tipped, and their load sent
thundering down the chute. There, besides, was the only spot where
we could approach the margin of the dump. Anywhere else, you took
your life in your right hand when you came within a yard and a half
to peer over. For at any moment the dump might begin to slide and
carry you down and bury you below its ruins. Indeed, the
neighbourhood of an old mine is a place beset with dangers. For as
still as Silverado was, at any moment the report of rotten wood
might tell us that the platform had fallen into the shaft; the dump
might begin to pour into the road below; or a wedge slip in the
great upright seam, and hundreds of tons of mountain bury the scene
of our encampment.

I have already compared the dump to a rampart, built certainly by
some rude people, and for prehistoric wars. It was likewise a
frontier. All below was green and woodland, the tall pines soaring
one above another, each with a firm outline and full spread of
bough. All above was arid, rocky, and bald. The great spout of
broken mineral, that had dammed the canyon up, was a creature of
man's handiwork, its material dug out with a pick and powder, and
spread by the service of the tracks. But nature herself, in that
upper district, seemed to have had an eye to nothing besides
mining; and even the natural hill-side was all sliding gravel and
precarious boulder. Close at the margin of the well leaves would
decay to skeletons and mummies, which at length some stronger gust
would carry clear of the canyon and scatter in the subjacent woods.
Even moisture and decaying vegetable matter could not, with all
nature's alchemy, concoct enough soil to nourish a few poor
grasses. It is the same, they say, in the neighbourhood of all
silver mines; the nature of that precious rock being stubborn with
quartz and poisonous with cinnabar. Both were plenty in our
Silverado. The stones sparkled white in the sunshine with quartz;
they were all stained red with cinnabar. Here, doubtless, came the
Indians of yore to paint their faces for the war-path; and
cinnabar, if I remember rightly, was one of the few articles of
Indian commerce. Now, Sam had it in his undisturbed possession, to
pound down and slake, and paint his rude designs with. But to me
it had always a fine flavour of poetry, compounded out of Indian
story and Hawthornden's allusion:

"Desire, alas! I desire a Zeuxis new,
From Indies borrowing gold, from Eastern skies
Most bright cinoper . . ."

Yet this is but half the picture; our Silverado platform has
another side to it. Though there was no soil, and scarce a blade
of grass, yet out of these tumbled gravel-heaps and broken
boulders, a flower garden bloomed as at home in a conservatory.
Calcanthus crept, like a hardy weed, all over our rough parlour,
choking the railway, and pushing forth its rusty, aromatic cones
from between two blocks of shattered mineral. Azaleas made a big
snow-bed just above the well. The shoulder of the hill waved white
with Mediterranean heath. In the crannies of the ledge and about
the spurs of the tall pine, a red flowering stone-plant hung in
clusters. Even the low, thorny chaparral was thick with pea-like
blossom. Close at the foot of our path nutmegs prospered,
delightful to the sight and smell. At sunrise, and again late at
night, the scent of the sweet bay trees filled the canyon, and the
down-blowing night wind must have borne it hundreds of feet into
the outer air.

All this vegetation, to be sure, was stunted. The madrona was here
no bigger than the manzanita; the bay was but a stripling shrub;
the very pines, with four or five exceptions in all our upper
canyon, were not so tall as myself, or but a little taller, and the
most of them came lower than my waist. For a prosperous forest
tree, we must look below, where the glen was crowded with green
spires. But for flowers and ravishing perfume, we had none to
envy: our heap of road-metal was thick with bloom, like a hawthorn
in the front of June; our red, baking angle in the mountain, a
laboratory of poignant scents. It was an endless wonder to my
mind, as I dreamed about the platform, following the progress of
the shadows, where the madrona with its leaves, the azalea and
calcanthus with their blossoms, could find moisture to support such
thick, wet, waxy growths, or the bay tree collect the ingredients
of its perfume. But there they all grew together, healthy, happy,
and happy-making, as though rooted in a fathom of black soil.

Nor was it only vegetable life that prospered. We had, indeed, few
birds, and none that had much of a voice or anything worthy to be
called a song. My morning comrade had a thin chirp, unmusical and
monotonous, but friendly and pleasant to hear. He had but one
rival: a fellow with an ostentatious cry of near an octave
descending, not one note of which properly followed another. This
is the only bird I ever knew with a wrong ear; but there was
something enthralling about his performance. You listened and
listened, thinking each time he must surely get it right; but no,
it was always wrong, and always wrong the same way. Yet he seemed
proud of his song, delivered it with execution and a manner of his
own, and was charming to his mate. A very incorrect, incessant
human whistler had thus a chance of knowing how his own music
pleased the world. Two great birds--eagles, we thought--dwelt at
the top of the canyon, among the crags that were printed on the
sky. Now and again, but very rarely, they wheeled high over our
heads in silence, or with a distant, dying scream; and then, with a
fresh impulse, winged fleetly forward, dipped over a hilltop, and
were gone. They seemed solemn and ancient things, sailing the blue
air: perhaps co-oeval with the mountain where they haunted,
perhaps emigrants from Rome, where the glad legions may have
shouted to behold them on the morn of battle.

But if birds were rare, the place abounded with rattlesnakes--the
rattlesnake's nest, it might have been named. Wherever we brushed
among the bushes, our passage woke their angry buzz. One dwelt
habitually in the wood-pile, and sometimes, when we came for
firewood, thrust up his small head between two logs, and hissed at
the intrusion. The rattle has a legendary credit; it is said to be
awe-inspiring, and, once heard, to stamp itself for ever in the
memory. But the sound is not at all alarming; the hum of many
insects, and the buzz of the wasp convince the ear of danger quite
as readily. As a matter of fact, we lived for weeks in Silverado,
coming and going, with rattles sprung on every side, and it never
occurred to us to be afraid. I used to take sun-baths and do
calisthenics in a certain pleasant nook among azalea and
calcanthus, the rattles whizzing on every side like spinning-
wheels, and the combined hiss or buzz rising louder and angrier at
any sudden movement; but I was never in the least impressed, nor
ever attacked. It was only towards the end of our stay, that a man
down at Calistoga, who was expatiating on the terrifying nature of
the sound, gave me at last a very good imitation; and it burst on
me at once that we dwelt in the very metropolis of deadly snakes,
and that the rattle was simply the commonest noise in Silverado.
Immediately on our return, we attacked the Hansons on the subject.
They had formerly assured us that our canyon was favoured, like
Ireland, with an entire immunity from poisonous reptiles; but, with
the perfect inconsequence of the natural man, they were no sooner
found out than they went off at score in the contrary direction,
and we were told that in no part of the world did rattlesnakes
attain to such a monstrous bigness as among the warm, flower-dotted
rocks of Silverado. This is a contribution rather to the natural
history of the Hansons, than to that of snakes.

One person, however, better served by his instinct, had known the
rattle from the first; and that was Chuchu, the dog. No rational
creature has ever led an existence more poisoned by terror than
that dog's at Silverado. Every whiz of the rattle made him bound.
His eyes rolled; he trembled; he would be often wet with sweat.
One of our great mysteries was his terror of the mountain. A
little away above our nook, the azaleas and almost all the
vegetation ceased. Dwarf pines not big enough to be Christmas
trees, grew thinly among loose stone and gravel scaurs. Here and
there a big boulder sat quiescent on a knoll, having paused there
till the next rain in his long slide down the mountain. There was
here no ambuscade for the snakes, you could see clearly where you
trod; and yet the higher I went, the more abject and appealing
became Chuchu's terror. He was an excellent master of that
composite language in which dogs communicate with men, and he would
assure me, on his honour, that there was some peril on the
mountain; appeal to me, by all that I held holy, to turn back; and
at length, finding all was in vain, and that I still persisted,
ignorantly foolhardy, he would suddenly whip round and make a bee-
line down the slope for Silverado, the gravel showering after him.
What was he afraid of? There were admittedly brown bears and
California lions on the mountain; and a grizzly visited Rufe's
poultry yard not long before, to the unspeakable alarm of Caliban,
who dashed out to chastise the intruder, and found himself, by
moonlight, face to face with such a tartar. Something at least
there must have been: some hairy, dangerous brute lodged
permanently among the rocks a little to the north-west of
Silverado, spending his summer thereabout, with wife and family.

And there was, or there had been, another animal. Once, under the
broad daylight, on that open stony hillside, where the baby pines
were growing, scarcely tall enough to be a badge for a MacGregor's
bonnet, I came suddenly upon his innocent body, lying mummified by
the dry air and sun: a pigmy kangaroo. I am ingloriously ignorant
of these subjects; had never heard of such a beast; thought myself
face to face with some incomparable sport of nature; and began to
cherish hopes of immortality in science. Rarely have I been
conscious of a stranger thrill than when I raised that singular
creature from the stones, dry as a board, his innocent heart long
quiet, and all warm with sunshine. His long hind legs were stiff,
his tiny forepaws clutched upon his breast, as if to leap; his poor
life cut short upon that mountain by some unknown accident. But
the kangaroo rat, it proved, was no such unknown animal; and my
discovery was nothing.

Crickets were not wanting. I thought I could make out exactly four
of them, each with a corner of his own, who used to make night
musical at Silverado. In the matter of voice, they far excelled
the birds, and their ringing whistle sounded from rock to rock,
calling and replying the same thing, as in a meaningless opera.
Thus, children in full health and spirits shout together, to the
dismay of neighbours; and their idle, happy, deafening
vociferations rise and fall, like the song of the crickets. I used
to sit at night on the platform, and wonder why these creatures
were so happy; and what was wrong with man that he also did not
wind up his days with an hour or two of shouting; but I suspect
that all long-lived animals are solemn. The dogs alone are hardly
used by nature; and it seems a manifest injustice for poor Chuchu
to die in his teens, after a life so shadowed and troubled,
continually shaken with alarm, and the tear of elegant sentiment
permanently in his eye.

There was another neighbour of ours at Silverado, small but very
active, a destructive fellow. This was a black, ugly fly--a bore,
the Hansons called him--who lived by hundreds in the boarding of
our house. He entered by a round hole, more neatly pierced than a
man could do it with a gimlet, and he seems to have spent his life
in cutting out the interior of the plank, but whether as a dwelling
or a store-house, I could never find. When I used to lie in bed in
the morning for a rest--we had no easy-chairs in Silverado--I would
hear, hour after hour, the sharp cutting sound of his labours, and
from time to time a dainty shower of sawdust would fall upon the
blankets. There lives no more industrious creature than a bore.

And now that I have named to the reader all our animals and insects
without exception--only I find I have forgotten the flies--he will
be able to appreciate the singular privacy and silence of our days.
It was not only man who was excluded: animals, the song of birds,
the lowing of cattle, the bleating of sheep, clouds even, and the
variations of the weather, were here also wanting; and as, day
after day, the sky was one dome of blue, and the pines below us
stood motionless in the still air, so the hours themselves were
marked out from each other only by the series of our own affairs,
and the sun's great period as he ranged westward through the
heavens. The two birds cackled a while in the early morning; all
day the water tinkled in the shaft, the bores ground sawdust in the
planking of our crazy palace--infinitesimal sounds; and it was only
with the return of night that any change would fall on our
surroundings, or the four crickets begin to flute together in the

Indeed, it would be hard to exaggerate the pleasure that we took in
the approach of evening. Our day was not very long, but it was
very tiring. To trip along unsteady planks or wade among shifting
stones, to go to and fro for water, to clamber down the glen to the
Toll House after meat and letters, to cook, to make fires and beds,
were all exhausting to the body. Life out of doors, besides, under
the fierce eye of day, draws largely on the animal spirits. There
are certain hours in the afternoon when a man, unless he is in
strong health or enjoys a vacant mind, would rather creep into a
cool corner of a house and sit upon the chairs of civilization.
About that time, the sharp stones, the planks, the upturned boxes
of Silverado, began to grow irksome to my body; I set out on that
hopeless, never-ending quest for a more comfortable posture; I
would be fevered and weary of the staring sun; and just then he
would begin courteously to withdraw his countenance, the shadows
lengthened, the aromatic airs awoke, and an indescribable but happy
change announced the coming of the night.

The hours of evening, when we were once curtained in the friendly
dark, sped lightly. Even as with the crickets, night brought to us
a certain spirit of rejoicing. It was good to taste the air; good
to mark the dawning of the stars, as they increased their
glittering company; good, too, to gather stones, and send them
crashing down the chute, a wave of light. It seemed, in some way,
the reward and the fulfilment of the day. So it is when men dwell
in the open air; it is one of the simple pleasures that we lose by
living cribbed and covered in a house, that, though the coming of
the day is still the most inspiriting, yet day's departure, also,
and the return of night refresh, renew, and quiet us; and in the
pastures of the dusk we stand, like cattle, exulting in the absence
of the load.

Our nights wore never cold, and they were always still, but for one
remarkable exception. Regularly, about nine o'clock, a warm wind
sprang up, and blew for ten minutes, or maybe a quarter of an hour,
right down the canyon, fanning it well out, airing it as a mother
airs the night nursery before the children sleep. As far as I
could judge, in the clear darkness of the night, this wind was
purely local: perhaps dependant on the configuration of the glen.
At least, it was very welcome to the hot and weary squatters; and
if we were not abed already, the springing up of this lilliputian
valley-wind would often be our signal to retire.

I was the last to go to bed, as I was still the first to rise.
Many a night I have strolled about the platform, taking a bath of
darkness before I slept. The rest would be in bed, and even from
the forge I could hear them talking together from bunk to bunk. A
single candle in the neck of a pint bottle was their only
illumination; and yet the old cracked house seemed literally
bursting with the light. It shone keen as a knife through all the
vertical chinks; it struck upward through the broken shingles; and
through the eastern door and window, it fell in a great splash upon
the thicket and the overhanging rock. You would have said a
conflagration, or at the least a roaring forge; and behold, it was
but a candle. Or perhaps it was yet more strange to see the
procession moving bedwards round the corner of the house, and up
the plank that brought us to the bedroom door; under the immense
spread of the starry heavens, down in a crevice of the giant
mountain these few human shapes, with their unshielded taper, made
so disproportionate a figure in the eye and mind. But the more he
is alone with nature, the greater man and his doings bulk in the
consideration of his fellow-men. Miles and miles away upon the
opposite hill-tops, if there were any hunter belated or any
traveller who had lost his way, he must have stood, and watched and
wondered, from the time the candle issued from the door of the
assayer's office till it had mounted the plank and disappeared
again into the miners' dormitory.


Back to Full Books