Tales of the Argonauts
It was at a little mining-camp in the California Sierras that he first dawned upon
me in all his grotesque sweetness.
I had arrived early in the morning, but not in time to intercept the friend who was
the object of my visit. He had gone "prospecting,"--so they told me on the river,--
and would not probably return until late in the afternoon. They could not say what
direction he had taken; they could not suggest that I would be likely to find him if I
followed. But it was the general opinion that I had better wait.
I looked around me. I was standing upon the bank of the river; and apparently the
only other human beings in the world were my interlocutors, who were even then
just disappearing from my horizon, down the steep bank, toward the river's dry
bed. I approached the edge of the bank.
Where could I wait?
Oh! anywhere,--down with them on the river-bar, where they were working, if I
liked. Or I could make myself at home in any of those cabins that I found lying
round loose. Or perhaps it would be cooler and pleasanter for me in my friend's
cabin on the hill. Did I see those three large sugar-pines, and, a little to the right,
a canvas roof and chimney, over the bushes? Well, that was my friend's,--that
was Dick Sylvester's cabin. I could stake my horse in that little hollow, and just
hang round there till he came. I would find some books in the shanty. I could
amuse myself with them or I could play with the baby.
But they had already gone. I leaned over the bank, and called after their
vanishing figures,--"What did you say I could do?" The answer floated slowly up
on the hot, sluggish air,--
"Pla-a-y with the ba-by."
The lazy echoes took it up, and tossed it languidly from hill to hill, until Bald
Mountain opposite made some incoherent remark about the baby; and then all
I must have been mistaken. My friend was not a man of family; there was not a
woman within forty miles of the river camp; he never was so passionately
devoted to children as to import a luxury so expensive. I must have been