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It was curt and businesslike, stating that unless Lasham at once
sent a remittance for the support of his brother and sister--two
children in charge of the writer--they must find a home elsewhere.
That the arrears were long standing, and the repeated promises of
Lasham to send money had been unfulfilled. That the writer could
stand it no longer. This would be his last communication unless
the money were sent forthwith.

It was by no means a novel or, under the circumstances, a shocking
disclosure to Daddy. He had seen similar missives from daughters,
and even wives, consequent on the varying fortunes of his
neighbors; no one knew better than he the uncertainties of a
miner's prospects, and yet the inevitable hopefulness that buoyed
him up. He tossed it aside impatiently, when his eye caught a
strip of paper he had overlooked lying upon the blanket near the
envelope. It contained a few lines in an unformed boyish hand
addressed to "my brother," and evidently slipped into the letter
after it was written. By the uncertain candlelight Daddy read as
follows:--


Dear Brother, Rite to me and Cissy rite off. Why aint you done it?
It's so long since you rote any. Mister Recketts ses you dont care
any more. Wen you rite send your fotograff. Folks here ses I aint
got no big bruther any way, as I disremember his looks, and cant
say wots like him. Cissy's kryin' all along of it. I've got a
hedake. William Walker make it ake by a blo. So no more at
present from your loving little bruther Jim.


The quick, hysteric laugh with which Daddy read this was quite
consistent with his responsive, emotional nature; so, too, were the
ready tears that sprang to his eyes. He put the candle down
unsteadily, with a casual glance at the sick man. It was notable,
however, that this look contained less sympathy for the ailing "big
brother" than his emotion might have suggested. For Daddy was
carried quite away by his own mental picture of the helpless
children, and eager only to relate his impressions of the incident.
He cast another glance at the invalid, thrust the papers into his
pocket, and clapping on his hat slipped from the cabin and ran to
the house of festivity. Yet it was characteristic of the man, and
so engrossed was he by his one idea, that to the usual inquiries
regarding his patient he answered, "he's all right," and plunged at
once into the incident of the dunning letter, reserving--with the
instinct of an emotional artist--the child's missive until the
last. As he expected, the money demand was received with indignant
criticisms of the writer.

"That's just like 'em in the States," said Captain Fletcher;
"darned if they don't believe we've only got to bore a hole in the
ground and snake out a hundred dollars. Why, there's my wife--with
a heap of hoss sense in everything else--is allus wonderin' why I
can't rake in a cool fifty betwixt one steamer day and another."

"That's nothin' to my old dad," interrupted Gus Houston, the
"infant" of the camp, a bright-eyed young fellow of twenty; "why,
he wrote to me yesterday that if I'd only pick up a single piece of
gold every day and just put it aside, sayin' 'That's for popper and
mommer,' and not fool it away--it would be all they'd ask of me."

"That's so," added another; "these ignorant relations is just the
ruin o' the mining industry. Bob Falloner hez bin lucky in his
strike to-day, but he's a darned sight luckier in being without
kith or kin that he knows of."

Daddy waited until the momentary irritation had subsided, and then
drew the other letter from his pocket. "That ain't all, boys," he
began in a faltering voice, but gradually working himself up to a
pitch of pathos; "just as I was thinking all them very things, I
kinder noticed this yer poor little bit o' paper lyin' thar
lonesome like and forgotten, and I--read it--and well--gentlemen--
it just choked me right up!" He stopped, and his voice faltered.

"Go slow, Daddy, go slow!" said an auditor smilingly. It was
evident that Daddy's sympathetic weakness was well known.

Daddy read the child's letter. But, unfortunately, what with his
real emotion and the intoxication of an audience, he read it
extravagantly, and interpolated a child's lisp (on no authority
whatever), and a simulated infantile delivery, which, I fear, at
first provoked the smiles rather than the tears of his audience.
Nevertheless, at its conclusion the little note was handed round
the party, and then there was a moment of thoughtful silence.

"Tell you what it is, boys," said Fletcher, looking around the
table, "we ought to be doin' suthin' for them kids right off! Did
you," turning to Daddy, "say anythin' about this to Dick?"

"Nary--why, he's clean off his head with fever--don't understand a
word--and just babbles," returned Daddy, forgetful of his roseate
diagnosis a moment ago, "and hasn't got a cent."

"We must make up what we can amongst us afore the mail goes to-
night," said the "infant," feeling hurriedly in his pockets.
"Come, ante up, gentlemen," he added, laying the contents of his
buckskin purse upon the table.

"Hold on, boys," said a quiet voice. It was their host Falloner,
who had just risen and was slipping on his oilskin coat. "You've
got enough to do, I reckon, to look after your own folks. I've
none! Let this be my affair. I've got to go to the Express Office
anyhow to see about my passage home, and I'll just get a draft for
a hundred dollars for that old skeesicks--what's his blamed name?
Oh, Ricketts"--he made a memorandum from the letter--"and I'll send
it by express. Meantime, you fellows sit down there and write
something--you know what--saying that Dick's hurt his hand and
can't write--you know; but asked you to send a draft, which you're
doing. Sabe? That's all! I'll skip over to the express now and
get the draft off, and you can mail the letter an hour later. So
put your dust back in your pockets and help yourselves to the
whiskey while I'm gone." He clapped his hat on his head and
disappeared.

"There goes a white man, you bet!" said Fletcher admiringly, as the
door closed behind their host. "Now, boys," he added, drawing a
chair to the table, "let's get this yer letter off, and then go
back to our game."

Pens and ink were produced, and an animated discussion ensued as to
the matter to be conveyed. Daddy's plea for an extended explanatory
and sympathetic communication was overruled, and the letter was
written to Ricketts on the simple lines suggested by Falloner.

"But what about poor little Jim's letter? That ought to be
answered," said Daddy pathetically.

"If Dick hurt his hand so he can't write to Ricketts, how in
thunder is he goin' to write to Jim?" was the reply.

"But suthin' oughter be said to the poor kid," urged Daddy
piteously.

"Well, write it yourself--you and Gus Houston make up somethin'
together. I'm going to win some money," retorted Fletcher,
returning to the card-table, where he was presently followed by all
but Daddy and Houston.

"Ye can't write it in Dick's name, because that little brother
knows Dick's handwriting, even if he don't remember his face.
See?" suggested Houston.

"That's so," said Daddy dubiously; "but," he added, with elastic
cheerfulness, we can write that Dick 'says.' See?"

"Your head's level, old man! Just you wade in on that."

Daddy seized the pen and "waded in." Into somewhat deep and
difficult water, I fancy, for some of it splashed into his eyes,
and he sniffled once or twice as he wrote. "Suthin' like this," he
said, after a pause:--


DEAR LITTLE JIMMIE,--Your big brother havin' hurt his hand, wants
me to tell you that otherways he is all hunky and A1. He says he
don't forget you and little Cissy, you bet! and he's sendin' money
to old Ricketts straight off. He says don't you and Cissy mind
whether school keeps or not as long as big Brother Dick holds the
lines. He says he'd have written before, but he's bin follerin' up
a lead mighty close, and expects to strike it rich in a few days.


"You ain't got no sabe about kids," said Daddy imperturbably;
"they've got to be humored like sick folks. And they want
everythin' big--they don't take no stock in things ez they are--
even ef they hev 'em worse than they are. 'So,'" continued Daddy,
reading to prevent further interruption, "'he says you're just to
keep your eyes skinned lookin' out for him comin' home any time--
day or night. All you've got to do is to sit up and wait. He
might come and even snake you out of your beds! He might come with
four white horses and a nigger driver, or he might come disguised
as an ornary tramp. Only you've got to be keen on watchin'.' (Ye
see," interrupted Daddy explanatorily, "that'll jest keep them kids
lively.) 'He says Cissy's to stop cryin' right off, and if Willie
Walker hits yer on the right cheek you just slug out with your left
fist, 'cordin' to Scripter.' Gosh," ejaculated Daddy, stopping
suddenly and gazing anxiously at Houston, "there's that blamed
photograph--I clean forgot that."




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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