“I wrote to my sister what I had done, and I found that she also felt as I did about it. Every summer I come here and see that the hollyhocks grow and flourish as we wish them to; and, at her request, I gather and send to her some of the blooms. These in my lap are for that purpose, and two weeks from now she will be weeping over them in her London home. If we could only have known—then—how we should feel about it now!”
The day was hot, and the wind was high, and the alkali dust from the sagebrush plains sifted into the car, and whitened the stuffy upholstering, and burrowed into the nerves of the passengers. Everybody longed for the coming of night, and the relief of the climb up the cool heights of the Sierras.
I looked out on the sun-flooded platform at Winnemucca and wondered, with a feeling of irritation against all things earthly, what I should do with myself during all the long, hot, and uncomfortable hours that were still to be endured. And then I saw the big, broad-shouldered figure and the round, good-natured face of the Nevadan enter the car and come straight toward my section. At once I forgot the heat and the alkali dust, and my heart sang with joy, for I knew the Nevadan of old, and knew him for the prince of story tellers. So there was content in my soul and foreknowledge of delightful entertainment with tales new and old. For the Nevadan’s old stories are just as interesting as his new ones, because you never recognize them as anything you ever heard before. His store of yarns is limitless and needs only a listener to set it unwinding, like an endless cable, warranted to run as long as his audience laughs.
So the Nevadan talked, and I listened and felt at peace with the world. And presently he began to tell me about Johnson Sides.
“Of course, you ’ve heard about him, have n’t you?” he asked. “Everybody who has lived on either slope of the Sierras must have heard about Johnson. Well, Johnson Sides is a whole lot of a man, even if he is only a Piute Indian. It ain’t quite fair, though, to speak of him as only an Indian, for he has developed into an individual and wears store clothes.
“The first time I ever saw Johnson was away back, years ago, when I first went to Virginia City. Going down C Street one day I stopped to look at some workmen who were excavating for the foundation of a house. They had been blasting, and were working away like good fellows getting the pieces of rock off the site. On the south side of the biggest stone they had removed, where the sun shone on him and he was sheltered from the wind, a big Piute was lying on the ground and watching the workmen as if he had been their boss. He was wrapped in an army blanket, new but dirty, and he wore a fairly good hat and a pair of boots without holes. His face and hands were dirty, and his hair hung around his ears and neck and eyes in that fine disorder which the Piutes admire.