“Looks as they was all Baptists, then, and took the boats to go by water,” was his contribution.
“My ol’ dad was a Baptist,” Hootchinoo Bill supplemented. “An’ he always did hold it was forty thousand miles nearer that way.”
This was the end of their levity. They ran the canoe in and climbed the high earth bank. A feeling of awe descended upon them as they walked the deserted streets. The sunlight streamed placidly over the town. A gentle wind tapped the halyards against the flagpole before the closed doors of the Caledonia Dance Hall. Mosquitoes buzzed, robins sang, and moose birds tripped hungrily among the cabins; but there was no human life nor sign of human life.
“I’m just dyin’ for a drink,” Hootchinoo Bill said and unconsciously his voice sank to a hoarse whisper.
His partner nodded his head, loth to hear his own voice break the stillness. They trudged on in uneasy silence till surprised by an open door. Above this door, and stretching the width of the building, a rude sign announced the same as the “Monte Carlo.” But beside the door, hat over eyes, chair tilted back, a man sat sunning himself. He was an old man. Beard and hair were long and white and patriarchal.
“If it ain’t ol’ Jim Cummings, turned up like us, too late for Resurrection!” said Kink Mitchell.
“Most like he didn’t hear Gabriel tootin’,” was Hootchinoo Bill’s suggestion.
“Hello, Jim! Wake up!” he shouted.
The old man unlimbered lamely, blinking his eyes and murmuring automatically: “What’ll ye have, gents? What’ll ye have?”
They followed him inside and ranged up against the long bar where of yore a half-dozen nimble bar-keepers found little time to loaf. The great room, ordinarily aroar with life, was still and gloomy as a tomb. There was no rattling of chips, no whirring of ivory balls. Roulette and faro tables were like gravestones under their canvas covers. No women’s voices drifted merrily from the dance-room behind. Ol’ Jim Cummings wiped a glass with palsied hands, and Kink Mitchell scrawled his initials on the dust-covered bar.
“Where’s the girls?” Hootchinoo Bill shouted, with affected geniality.
“Gone,” was the ancient bar-keeper’s reply, in a voice thin and aged as himself, and as unsteady as his hand.
“Where’s Bidwell and Barlow?”
“And Sweetwater Charley?”
“And his sister?”
“Your daughter Sally, then, and her little kid?”
“Gone, all gone.” The old man shook his head sadly, rummaging in an absent way among the dusty bottles.
“Great Sardanapolis! Where?” Kink Mitchell exploded, unable longer to restrain himself. “You don’t say you’ve had the plague?”
“Why, ain’t you heerd?” The old man chuckled quietly. “They-all’s gone to Dawson.”
“What-like is that?” Bill demanded. “A creek? or a bar? or a place?”