The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Stories HTML version

A Mother Of Five
She was a mother--and a rather exemplary one--of five children, although her own age
was barely nine. Two of these children were twins, and she generally alluded to them as
"Mr. Amplach's children," referring to an exceedingly respectable gentleman in the next
settlement who, I have reason to believe, had never set eyes on her or them. The twins
were quite naturally alike--having been in a previous state of existence two ninepins--and
were still somewhat vague and inchoate below their low shoulders in their long clothes,
but were also firm and globular about the head, and there were not wanting those who
professed to see in this an unmistakable resemblance to their reputed father. The other
children were dolls of different ages, sex, and condition, but the twins may be said to
have been distinctly her own conception. Yet such was her admirable and impartial
maternity that she never made any difference between them. "The Amplach's children"
was a description rather than a distinction.
She was herself the motherless child of Robert Foulkes, a hardworking but somewhat
improvident teamster on the Express Route between Big Bend and Reno. His daily
avocation, when she was not actually with him in the wagon, led to an occasional
dispersion of herself and her progeny along the road and at wayside stations between
those places. But the family was generally collected together by rough but kindly hands
already familiar with the handling of her children. I have a very vivid recollection of Jim
Carter trampling into a saloon, after a five-mile walk through a snowdrift, with an
Amplach twin in his pocket. "Suthin' ought to be done," he growled, "to make Meary a
little more careful o' them Amplach children; I picked up one outer the snow a mile
beyond Big Bend." "God bless my soul!" said a casual passenger, looking up hastily; "I
didn't know Mr. Amplach was married." Jim winked diabolically at us over his glass. "No
more did I," he responded gloomily, "but you can't tell anything about the ways o' them
respectable, psalm-singing jay birds." Having thus disposed of Amplach's character, later
on, when he was alone with Mary, or "Meary," as she chose to pronounce it, the rascal
worked upon her feelings with an account of the infant Amplach's sufferings in the
snowdrift and its agonized whisperings for "Meary! Meary!" until real tears stood in
Mary's blue eyes. "Let this be a lesson to you," he concluded, drawing the ninepin
dexterously from his pocket, "for it took nigh a quart of the best forty-rod whisky to bring
that child to." Not only did Mary firmly believe him, but for weeks afterwards "Julian
Amplach"--this unhappy twin--was kept in a somnolent attitude in the cart, and was
believed to have contracted dissipated habits from the effects of his heroic treatment.
Her numerous family was achieved in only two years, and succeeded her first child,
which was brought from Sacramento at considerable expense by a Mr. William Dodd,
also a teamster, on her seventh birthday. This, by one of those rare inventions known only
to a child's vocabulary, she at once called "Misery"--probably a combination of "Missy,"
as she herself was formerly termed by strangers, and "Missouri," her native State. It was
an excessively large doll at first--Mr. Dodd wishing to get the worth of his money--but
time, and perhaps an excess of maternal care, remedied the defect, and it lost flesh and
certain unemployed parts of its limbs very rapidly. It was further reduced in bulk by