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Written by Hunter   
Wednesday, 08 October 2008 01:22

The next day Cherokee Sal had such rude sepulture [Footnote: Sepulture:
burial.] as Roaring-Camp afforded. After her body had been committed to
the hillside, there was a formal meeting of the camp to discuss what
should be done with her infant. A resolution to adopt it was unanimous
and enthusiastic. But an animated discussion in regard to the manner and
feasibility of providing for its wants at once sprung up. It was
remarkable that the argument partook of none of those fierce
personalities with which discussions were usually conducted at Roaring
Camp. [Footnote: It was remarkable--Roaring Camp. What does this mean?]
Tipton proposed that they should send the child to Red Dog,--a distance
of forty miles,--where female attention could be procured. But the
unlucky suggestion met with fierce and unanimous opposition. It was
evident that no plan which entailed parting from their new acquisition
would for a moment be entertained. "Besides," said Tom Ryder, "them
fellows at Red Dog would swap it, and ring in somebody else on us." A
disbelief in the honesty of other camps prevailed at Roaring Camp as in
other places.

Stumpy advanced nothing. Perhaps he felt a certain delicacy in
interfering with the selection of a possible successor in office. But
when questioned, he averred stoutly that he and "Jinny" [Footnote:
Jinny: the she-ass that had been procured as a nurse.]--the mammal
before alluded to--could manage to rear the child. There was something
original, independent, and heroic about the plan that pleased the camp.
Stumpy was retained. Certain articles were sent for to Sacramento.
"Mind," said the treasurer, as he pressed a bag of gold-dust into the
expressman's hand, "the best that can be got,--lace, you know, and
filigree-work and frills, never mind the cost!"

Strange to say, the child thrived. Perhaps the invigorating climate of
the mountain camp was compensation for material deficiencies. Nature
took the foundling to her broader breast. In that rare atmosphere of the
Sierra foot-hills,--that air pungent with balsamic odor, that ethereal
cordial at once bracing and exhilarating--he may have found food and
nourishment, or a subtle chemistry that transmuted ass's milk to lime
and phosphorus. Stumpy inclined to the belief that it was the latter and
good nursing. "Me and that ass," he would say, "has been father and
mother to him! Don't you," he would add, apostrophizing [Footnote:
Apostrophizing: using a special form of personal address.] the helpless
bundle before him, "never go back on us."

By the time he was a month old, the necessity of giving him a name
became apparent. He had generally been known as "the Kid," "Stumpy's
boy," "the Coyote" [Footnote: Coyote: also called prairie wolf.] (an
allusion to his vocal powers), and even by Kentuck's endearing
diminutive of "the little cus." But these were felt to be vague and
unsatisfactory, and were at last dismissed under another influence.
Gamblers and adventurers are generally superstitious, and Oakhurst one
day declared that the baby had brought "the luck" to Roaring Camp. It
was certain that of late they had been successful. "Luck" was the name
agreed upon, with the prefix of Tommy for greater convenience. No
allusion was made to the mother, and the father was unknown. "It's
better," said the philosophical Oakhurst, "to take a fresh deal all
round. Call him Luck and start him fair."

And so the work of regeneration began in Roaring Camp. Almost
imperceptibly a change came over the settlement. The cabin assigned to
"Tommy Luck"--or "The Luck," as he was more frequently called--first
showed signs of improvement. It was kept scrupulously clean, and
white-washed. Then it was boarded, clothed, and prepared. The rosewood
cradle--packed eighty miles by mule--had, in Stumpy's way of putting it,
"sorter killed the rest of the furniture." So the rehabilitation of the
cabin became a necessity. The men who were in the habit of lounging in
at Stumpy's to see "how The Luck got on" seemed to appreciate the
change, and, in self-defence, the rival establishment of "Tuttle's
grocery" bestirred itself, and imported a carpet and mirrors. The
reflections of the latter on the appearance of Roaring Camp tended to
produce stricter habits of personal cleanliness. Again, Stumpy imposed a
kind of quarantine upon those who aspired to the honor and privilege of
holding "The Luck." It was a cruel mortification to Kentuck--who, in the
carelessness of a large nature and the habits of frontier life, had
begun to regard all garments as a second cuticle, [Footnote: Cuticle:
outer skin.] which, like a snake's, only sloughed off through decay--to
be debarred this privilege from certain prudential reasons. [Footnote:
Certain prudential reasons. What were they?] Yet such was the subtle
influence of innovation that he thereafter appeared regularly every
afternoon in a clean shirt, and face still shining from his ablutions.
Nor were normal and social sanitary laws neglected. "Tommy," who was
supposed to spend his whole existence in a persistent attempt to repose,
must not be disturbed by noise. The shouting and yelling which had
gained the camp its infelicitous title were not permitted within hearing
distance of Stumpy's. The men conversed in whispers, or smoked with
Indian gravity. Profanity was tacitly given up in these sacred
precincts, and throughout the camp a popular form of expletive, known as
"Curse the luck!" was abandoned, as having a new personal bearing. Vocal
music was not interdicted, [Footnote: Interdicted: forbidden.] being
supposed to have a soothing, tranquillizing quality, and one song, sung
by "Man-o'-War Jack," an English sailor, from her majesty's Australian
colonies, was quite popular as a lullaby. It was a lugubrious recital of
the exploits of "the Arethusa, Seventy-four," in a muffled minor, ending
with a prolonged dying fall at the burden of each verse, "On b-o-o-o-ard
of the Arethusa." It was a fine sight to see Jack holding The Luck,
rocking from side to side as if with the motion of a ship, and crooning
forth this naval ditty. Either through the peculiar rocking of Jack or
the length of his song,--it contained ninety stanzas, and was continued
with conscientious deliberation to the bitter end,--the lullaby
generally had the desired effect. At such times the men would lie at
full length under the trees, in the soft summer twilight, smoking their
pipes and drinking in the melodious utterances. An indistinct idea that
this was pastoral happiness pervaded the camp. "This 'ere kind o'
think," said the Cockney Simmons, meditatively reclining on his elbow,
"is 'evingly." It reminded him of Greenwich.

On the long summer days The Luck was usually carried to the gulch from
whence the golden store of Roaring Camp was taken. There, on a blanket
spread over pine boughs, he would lie while the men were working in the
ditches below. Latterly there was a rude attempt to decorate this bower
with flowers and sweet-smelling shrubs, and generally some one would
bring him a cluster of wild honeysuckles, azaleas, or the painted
blossoms of Las Mariposas. [Footnote: Las Mariposas: the Mariposa
lilies; also called butterfly lilies.] The men had suddenly awakened to
the fact that there were beauty and significance in these trifles, which
they had so long trodden carelessly beneath their feet. A flake of
glittering mica, a fragment of variegated quartz, a bright pebble from
the bed of the creek, became beautiful to eyes thus cleared and
strengthened, and were invariably put aside for The Luck. It was
wonderful how many treasures the woods and hillsides yielded that "would
do for Tommy." Surrounded by playthings such as never child out of
fairyland had before, it is to be hoped that Tommy was content. He
appeared to be serenely happy, albeit there was an infantine gravity
about him, a contemplative light in his round gray eyes, that sometimes
worried Stumpy. He was always tractable and quiet, and it is recorded
that once, having crept beyond his "corral," [Footnote: Corral: an
inclosure for animals.]--a hedge of tessellated [Footnote: Tessellated:
checkered.] pine boughs which surrounded his bed,--he dropped over the
bank on his head in the soft earth, and remained with his mottled legs
in the air in that position for at least five minutes with unflinching
gravity. He was extricated without a murmur. I hesitate to record the
many other instances of his sagacity, which rest, unfortunately, upon
the statements of prejudiced friends. Some of them were not without a
tinge of superstition. "I crep' up the bank just now," said Kentuck one
day, in a breathless state of excitement, "and dern my skin if he wasn't
a-talking to a jaybird as was a-sittin' on his lap. There they was, just
as free and sociable as anything you please, a-jawin' at each other just
like two cherrybums." Howbeit, whether creeping over the pine boughs or
lying lazily on his back blinking at the leaves above him, to him the
birds sang, the squirrels chattered, and the flowers bloomed. Nature was
his nurse and playfellow. For him she would let slip between the leaves
golden shafts of sunlight that fell just within his grasp; she would
send wandering breezes to visit him with the balm of bay and resinous
gum; to him the tall redwoods nodded familiarly and sleepily, the
bumblebees buzzed, and the rooks cawed an accompaniment.

Such was the golden summer of Roaring Camp. They were "flush times," and
the luck was with them. The claims had yielded enormously. The camp was
jealous of its privileges and looked suspiciously on strangers. No
encouragement was given to immigration, and, to make their seclusion
more perfect, the land on either side of the mountain wall that
surrounded the camp they duly preempted. [Footnote: Pre-empted: claimed
by special privilege of purchase.] This, and a reputation for singular
proficiency with the revolver, kept the reserve of Roaring Camp
inviolate. The expressman--their only connecting link with the
surrounding world--sometimes told wonderful stories of the camp. He
would say, "They've a street up there in 'Roaring' that would lay over
any street in Red Dog. They've got vines and flowers round their houses,
and they wash themselves twice a day. But they're mighty rough on
strangers, and they worship an Ingin baby."

With the prosperity of the camp came a desire for further improvement.
It was proposed to build a hotel in the following spring, and to invite
one or two decent families to reside there for the sake of The Luck, who
might perhaps profit by female companionship. The sacrifice that this
concession to the sex cost these men, who were fiercely skeptical in
regard to its general virtue and usefulness, can only be accounted for
by their affection for Tommy. A few still held out. But the resolve
could not be carried into effect for three months, and the minority
meekly yielded in the hope that something might turn up to prevent it.
And it did. The winter of 1851 will long be remembered in the foot
hills. The snow lay deep on the Sierras, and every mountain creek became
a river, and every river a lake. Each gorge and gulch was transformed
into a tumultuous watercourse that descended the hillsides, tearing down
giant trees and scattering its drift and debris along the plain. Red Dog
had been twice under water, and Roaring Camp had been forewarned. "Water
put the gold into them gulches," said Stumpy. "It's been here once and
will not be here again!" And that night the North Fork suddenly leaped
over its banks and swept up the triangular valley of Roaring Camp. In
the confusion of rushing water, crashing trees, and crackling timber,
and the darkness which seemed to flow with the water and blot out the
fair valley, but little could be done to collect the scattered camp.
When the morning broke, the cabin of Stumpy, nearest the river-bank, was
gone. Higher up the gulch they found the body of its unlucky owner; but
the pride, the hope, the joy, The Luck, of Roaring Camp had disappeared.

--BRET HARTE (adapted.)

[Footnote: Where is the scene of the story laid? What is the probable
time? It was Bret Harte's peculiar power to find tenderness and fineness
of feeling among rough men. Where do you see these things in this story?
Does the story show "poetic insight"? Cf. Hawthorne's definition.
[Footnote: "What is called poetic insight is the gift of discerning,
in this sphere of strangely mingled elements, the beauty and majesty
that are compelled to assume a garb so sordid."--House of the
Seven Gables, Chap. II.] Why did the miners insist on "frills" for
Tommy? Does the change wrought in Roaring Camp seem to you to be
reasonable? What was the real "luck" that Tommy brought to Roaring
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