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.”