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JIMMY'S BIG BROTHER FROM CALIFORNIA


As night crept up from the valley that stormy afternoon, Sawyer's
Ledge was at first quite blotted out by wind and rain, but
presently reappeared in little nebulous star-like points along the
mountain side, as the straggling cabins of the settlement were one
by one lit up by the miners returning from tunnel and claim. These
stars were of varying brilliancy that evening, two notably so--one
that eventually resolved itself into a many-candled illumination of
a cabin of evident festivity; the other into a glimmering taper in
the window of a silent one. They might have represented the
extreme mutations of fortune in the settlement that night: the
celebration of a strike by Robert Falloner, a lucky miner; and the
sick-bed of Dick Lasham, an unlucky one.

The latter was, however, not quite alone. He was ministered to by
Daddy Folsom, a weak but emotional and aggressively hopeful
neighbor, who was sitting beside the wooden bunk whereon the
invalid lay. Yet there was something perfunctory in his attitude:
his eyes were continually straying to the window, whence the
illuminated Falloner festivities could be seen between the trees,
and his ears were more intent on the songs and laughter that came
faintly from the distance than on the feverish breathing and
unintelligible moans of the sufferer.

Nevertheless he looked troubled equally by the condition of his
charge and by his own enforced absence from the revels. A more
impatient moan from the sick man, however, brought a change to his
abstracted face, and he turned to him with an exaggerated
expression of sympathy.

"In course! Lordy! I know jest what those pains are: kinder ez ef
you was havin' a tooth pulled that had roots branchin' all over ye!
My! I've jest had 'em so bad I couldn't keep from yellin'! That's
hot rheumatics! Yes, sir, I oughter know! And" (confidentially)
"the sing'ler thing about 'em is that they get worse jest as
they're going off--sorter wringin' yer hand and punchin' ye in the
back to say 'Good-by.' There!" he continued, as the man sank
exhaustedly back on his rude pillow of flour-sacks. "There! didn't
I tell ye? Ye'll be all right in a minit, and ez chipper ez a jay
bird in the mornin'. Oh, don't tell me about rheumatics--I've bin
thar! On'y mine was the cold kind--that hangs on longest--yours is
the hot, that burns itself up in no time!"

If the flushed face and bright eyes of Lasham were not enough to
corroborate this symptom of high fever, the quick, wandering laugh
he gave would have indicated the point of delirium. But the too
optimistic Daddy Folsom referred this act to improvement, and went
on cheerfully: "Yes, sir, you're better now, and"--here he assumed
an air of cautious deliberation, extravagant, as all his assumptions
were--"I ain't sayin' that--ef--you--was--to--rise--up" (very
slowly) "and heave a blanket or two over your shoulders--jest by way
o' caution, you know--and leanin' on me, kinder meander over to Bob
Falloner's cabin and the boys, it wouldn't do you a heap o' good.
Changes o' this kind is often prescribed by the faculty." Another
moan from the sufferer, however, here apparently corrected Daddy's
too favorable prognosis. "Oh, all right! Well, perhaps ye know
best; and I'll jest run over to Bob's and say how as ye ain't
comin', and will be back in a jiffy!"

"The letter," said the sick man hurriedly, "the letter, the letter!"

Daddy leaned suddenly over the bed. It was impossible for even his
hopefulness to avoid the fact that Lasham was delirious. It was a
strong factor in the case--one that would certainly justify his
going over to Falloner's with the news. For the present moment,
however, this aberration was to be accepted cheerfully and humored
after Daddy's own fashion. "Of course--the letter, the letter," he
said convincingly; "that's what the boys hev bin singin' jest now--


'Good-by, Charley; when you are away,
Write me a letter, love; send me a letter, love!'


That's what you heard, and a mighty purty song it is too, and
kinder clings to you. It's wonderful how these things gets in your
head."

"The letter--write--send money--money--money, and the photograph--
the photograph--photograph--money," continued the sick man, in the
rapid reiteration of delirium.

"In course you will--to-morrow--when the mail goes," returned Daddy
soothingly; "plenty of them. Jest now you try to get a snooze,
will ye? Hol' on!--take some o' this."

There was an anodyne mixture on the rude shelf, which the doctor
had left on his morning visit. Daddy had a comfortable belief that
what would relieve pain would also check delirium, and he
accordingly measured out a dose with a liberal margin to allow of
waste by the patient in swallowing in his semi-conscious state. As
he lay more quiet, muttering still, but now unintelligibly, Daddy,
waiting for a more complete unconsciousness and the opportunity to
slip away to Falloner's, cast his eyes around the cabin. He
noticed now for the first time since his entrance that a crumpled
envelope bearing a Western post-mark was lying at the foot of the
bed. Daddy knew that the tri-weekly post had arrived an hour
before he came, and that Lasham had evidently received a letter.
Sure enough the letter itself was lying against the wall beside
him. It was open. Daddy felt justified in reading it.




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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