Excitement? The venerable Deacon Twinkham, the oldest inhabitant, said there had not been such an excitement at Hardhack since the meeting-house steeple blew down in a terrible equinoctial, forty-seven years before.
And who could wonder?
Even a larger town than Hardhack would have experienced unusual agitation at seeing one of its own boys, who had a few years before gone away poor, slender and twenty, come back with broad shoulders, a full beard, and a pocketful of money, dug out of the ugly hills of Nevada.
But even the return of Nathan Brown, in so unusual a condition for a Hardhackian to be found in, was not the fullness of Hardhack’s excitement, for Nathan had brought with him Tom Crewne and Harry Faxton, two friends he had made during his absence, and both of them broad-shouldered, full-bearded, and auriferous as Nathan himself.
No wonder the store at Hardhack was all the while crowded with those who knew all about Nathan, or wanted to—no wonder that “Seen ’m?” was the passing form of salutation for days.
The news spread like wildfire, and industrious farmers deliberately took a day, drove to town, and stood patiently on the door-steps of the store until they had seen one or more of the wonderful men.
The good Deacon Twinkham himself, who had, at a late prayer-meeting, stated that “his feet already felt the splashin’ of Jordan’s waves,” temporarily withdrew his aged limbs from the rugged banks famed in song, and caused them to bear him industriously up and down the Ridge Road, past Nathan’s mother’s house, until he saw all three of the bearded Croesuses seat themselves on the piazza to smoke. Then he departed, his good face affording an excellent study for a “Simeon in the Temple.”
Even the peaceful influences of the Sabbath were unable to restore tranquillity to Hardhack.
On Sunday morning the meeting-house was fuller than it had been since the funeral services of the last pastor. At each squeak of the door, every head was quickly turned; and when, in the middle of the first hymn, the three ex-miners filed decorously in, the staring organist held one chord of “Windham” so long that the breath of the congregation was entirely exhausted.
The very pulpit itself succombed to the popular excitement; and the Reverend Abednego Choker, after reading of the treasures of Solomon’s Temple, and of the glories of the New Testament, for the first and second lessons, preached from Isaiah xlvi. 6: “They lavish gold out of the bag and weigh silver in the balance.”
But all this excitement was as nothing compared with the tumult which agitated the tender hearts of the maidens at Hardhack.
Young, old, handsome, plain, smart and stupid, until now few of them had dared to hope for a change of name; for, while they possessed as many mental and personal charms as girls in general, all the enterprising boys of Hardhack had departed from their birthplace in search of the lucre which Hardback’s barren hills and lean meadows failed to supply, and the cause of their going was equally a preventive of the coming of others to fill their places.