“Her presence,” the doctor added, “has had a singularly helpful effect upon him.”
“I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.”
—WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY.
Mariposa, in the days when I first knew it, was still a wreck of the gold fever. The merest skeleton of its former self, it lay there in the gulch between the chaparral-covered foothills and hugged its memories of the days when it was young and lusty and had a murder every morning for breakfast. All around it the gashed and seamed and scarred and furrowed earth bore testimony to the labors of those stirring times, when men dug a fortune out of the ground in a day—and spent it in the town at night.
It was my first visit to the town, but I soon found that the people still lived in the past. The first man with whom I talked made vivid for my eyes the placer mines down the bed of the creek, in his young days as thronged as a city street, but now deserted and blistering in the sun; made me hear the sounds of bar-room frolicking and fighting, and the rolling chorus of “Forty-nine”; made me see, as he had seen, the piles of gold-dust and nuggets upon the gaming tables, and the hundreds of gold-weighted miners trooping into town on Saturday night. And every man and woman with whom I talked did the same thing for me, with new incidents and characters, until the hours became a fast-moving panorama of the “days of gold,” and I began to feel as if I myself were living through their excitements and had drawn their delirium into my veins.
My hostess, herself an old-timer, began the entertainment anew as we sat on her porch in the early forenoon of the next day, breathing deep draughts of the honey-scented air blowing down the hills from thousands of pink-flowered manzanita bushes. She told me how she and her sister had alighted from the stage in Mariposa one evening, so many years before, when they were both “just slips of girls.” They were the very first white women there, and the men, hundreds of them, who had not seen the form of woman, save Indian squaws, for many months, came to their shanty, called their father outside and begged to be allowed just to look at them. So the two came shyly out, hand in hand, and the men crowded around them with looks of respectful adoration, and then passed on to make way for others. One fell on his knees and kissed the hem of her dress. And presently a voice rose out of the throng, and the whole great crowd quickly joined in the hymn, “Nearer, my God, to Thee.”
As we talked, one or another old-timer stopped to greet us and to add for my entertainment still more recollections of the days when they and hope and Mariposa were young. My pulses beat fast with the excitement of that dead life which their stories called into being again and I forgot that they and the century too had grown old since the times of which they spoke—until the Newspaper Man came along, and the sight of him brought me back to the present with a sudden jerk. I had seen him last in San Francisco, only a week previous, but he had been in out-of-the-way, ghost-of-the-past Mariposa, he told me, for several days, reporting a murder trial for his paper.