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The Twins of Table Mountain
by Bret Harte
I. THE TWINS OF TABLE MOUNTAIN
II. AN HEIRESS OF RED DOG
III. THE GREAT DEADWOOD MYSTERY
IV. A LEGEND OF SAMMTSTADT
V. VIEWS FROM A GERMAN SPION
THE TWINS OF TABLE MOUNTAIN.
A CLOUD ON THE MOUNTAIN.
They lived on the verge of a vast stony level, upheaved so far above the surrounding country that its vague outlines, viewed from the nearest valley, seemed a mere cloud-streak resting upon the lesser hills. The rush and roar of the turbulent river that washed its eastern base were lost at that height; the winds that strove with the giant pines that half way climbed its flanks spent their fury below the summit; for, at variance with most meteorological speculation, an eternal calm seemed to invest this serene altitude. The few Alpine flowers seldom thrilled their petals to a passing breeze; rain and snow fell alike perpendicularly, heavily, and monotonously over the granite bowlders scattered along its brown expanse. Although by actual measurement an inconsiderable elevation of the Sierran range, and a mere shoulder of the nearest white-faced peak that glimmered in the west, it seemed to lie so near the quiet, passionless stars, that at night it caught something of their calm remoteness.
The articulate utterance of such a locality should have been a whisper; a laugh or exclamation was discordant; and the ordinary tones of the human voice on the night of the 15th of May, 1868, had a grotesque incongruity.
In the thick darkness that clothed the mountain that night, the human figure would have been lost, or confounded with the outlines of outlying bowlders, which at such times took upon themselves the vague semblance of men and animals. Hence the voices in the following colloquy seemed the more grotesque and incongruous from being the apparent expression of an upright monolith, ten feet high, on the right, and another mass of granite, that, reclining, peeped over the verge.
"I lost the trail, and climbed up the slide."
Here followed a stumble, the clatter of stones down the mountain- side, and an oath so very human and undignified that it at once relieved the bowlders of any complicity of expression. The voices, too, were close together now, and unexpectedly in quite another locality.
"Looey Napoleon's declared war agin Germany."
Notwithstanding this exclamation, the interest of the latter speaker was evidently only polite and perfunctory. What, indeed, were the political convulsions of the Old World to the dwellers on this serene, isolated eminence of the New?
"I reckon it's so," continued the first voice. "French Pete and that thar feller that keeps the Dutch grocery hev hed a row over it; emptied their six-shooters into each other. The Dutchman's got two balls in his leg, and the Frenchman's got an onnessary buttonhole in his shirt-buzzum, and hez caved in."
This concise, local corroboration of the conflict of remote nations, however confirmatory, did not appear to excite any further interest. Even the last speaker, now that he was in this calm, dispassionate atmosphere, seemed to lose his own concern in his tidings, and to have abandoned every thing of a sensational and lower-worldly character in the pines below. There were a few moments of absolute silence, and then another stumble. But now the voices of both speakers were quite patient and philosophical.
"Hold on, and I'll strike a light," said the second speaker. "I brought a lantern along, but I didn't light up. I kem out afore sundown, and you know how it allers is up yer. I didn't want it, and didn't keer to light up. I forgot you're always a little dazed and strange-like when you first come up."
There was a crackle, a flash, and presently a steady glow, which the surrounding darkness seemed to resent. The faces of the two men thus revealed were singularly alike. The same thin, narrow outline of jaw and temple; the same dark, grave eyes; the same brown growth of curly beard and mustache, which concealed the mouth, and hid what might have been any individual idiosyncrasy of thought or expression,--showed them to be brothers, or better known as the "Twins of Table Mountain." A certain animation in the face of the second speaker,--the first-comer,--a certain light in his eye, might have at first distinguished him; but even this faded out in the steady glow of the lantern, and had no value as a permanent distinction, for, by the time they had reached the western verge of the mountain, the two faces had settled into a homogeneous calmness and melancholy.
The vague horizon of darkness, that a few feet from the lantern still encompassed them, gave no indication of their progress, until their feet actually trod the rude planks and thatch that formed the roof of their habitation; for their cabin half burrowed in the mountain, and half clung, like a swallow's nest, to the side of the deep declivity that terminated the northern limit of the summit. Had it not been for the windlass of a shaft, a coil of rope, and a few heaps of stone and gravel, which were the only indications of human labor in that stony field, there was nothing to interrupt its monotonous dead level. And, when they descended a dozen well-worn steps to the door of their cabin, they left the summit, as before, lonely, silent, motionless, its long level uninterrupted, basking in the cold light of the stars.
The simile of a "nest" as applied to the cabin of the brothers was no mere figure of speech as the light of the lantern first flashed upon it. The narrow ledge before the door was strewn with feathers. A suggestion that it might be the home and haunt of predatory birds was promptly checked by the spectacle of the nailed-up carcasses of a dozen hawks against the walls, and the outspread wings of an extended eagle emblazoning the gable above the door, like an armorial bearing. Within the cabin the walls and chimney-piece were dazzlingly bedecked with the party-colored wings of jays, yellow-birds, woodpeckers, kingfishers, and the poly- tinted wood-duck. Yet in that dry, highly-rarefied atmosphere, there was not the slightest suggestion of odor or decay.
The first speaker hung the lantern upon a hook that dangled from the rafters, and, going to the broad chimney, kicked the half-dead embers into a sudden resentful blaze. He then opened a rude cupboard, and, without looking around, called, "Ruth!"
The second speaker turned his head from the open doorway where he was leaning, as if listening to something in the darkness, and answered abstractedly,--
"I don't believe you have touched grub to-day!"
Ruth grunted out some indifferent reply.
"Thar hezen't been a slice cut off that bacon since I left," continued Rand, bringing a side of bacon and some biscuits from the cupboard, and applying himself to the discussion of them at the table. "You're gettin' off yer feet, Ruth. What's up?"
Ruth replied by taking an uninvited seat beside him, and resting his chin on the palms of his hands. He did not eat, but simply transferred his inattention from the door to the table.
"You're workin' too many hours in the shaft," continued Rand. "You're always up to some such d--n fool business when I'm not yer."
"I dipped a little west to-day," Ruth went on, without heeding the brotherly remonstrance, "and struck quartz and pyrites."
"Thet's you!--allers dippin' west or east for quartz and the color, instead of keeping on plumb down to the 'cement'!"*
* The local name for gold-bearing alluvial drift,--the bed of a prehistoric river.
"We've been three years digging for cement," said Ruth, more in abstraction than in reproach,--"three years!"
"And we may be three years more,--may be only three days. Why, you couldn't be more impatient if--if--if you lived in a valley."
Delivering this tremendous comparison as an unanswerable climax, Rand applied himself once more to his repast. Ruth, after a
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