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How Old Man Plunkett Went Home
by [?]

Emboldened by the laughter which followed his description of the filial utterances of Melinda, he again repeated her speech, with more or less elaboration, joining in with, and indeed often leading, the hilarity that accompanied it, and returning to it, with more or less incoherency, several times during the evening.

And so, at various times and at various places, but chiefly in bar-rooms, did this Ulysses of Monte Flat recount the story of his wanderings. There were several discrepancies in his statement; there was sometimes considerable prolixity of detail; there was occasional change of character and scenery; there was once or twice an absolute change in the denoument: but always the fact of his having visited his wife and children remained. Of course, in a sceptical community like that of Monte Flat,–a community accustomed to great expectation and small realization,–a community wherein, to use the local dialect, “they got the color, and struck hardpan,” more frequently than any other mining-camp,–in such a community, the fullest credence was not given to old man Plunkett’s facts. There was only one exception to the general unbelief,–Henry York of Sandy Bar. It was he who was always an attentive listener; it was his scant purse that had often furnished Plunkett with means to pursue his unprofitable speculations; it was to him that the charms of Melinda were more frequently rehearsed; it was he that had borrowed her photograph; and it was he that, sitting alone in his little cabin one night, kissed that photograph, until his honest, handsome face glowed again in the firelight.

It was dusty in Monte Flat. The ruins of the long dry season were crumbling everywhere: everywhere the dying summer had strewn its red ashes a foot deep, or exhaled its last breath in a red cloud above the troubled highways. The alders and cottonwoods, that marked the line of the water-courses, were grimy with dust, and looked as if they might have taken root in the open air. The gleaming stones of the parched water-courses themselves were as dry bones in the valley of death. The dusty sunset at times painted the flanks of the distant hills a dull, coppery hue: on other days, there was an odd, indefinable earthquake halo on the volcanic cones of the farther coast-spurs. Again an acrid, resinous smoke from the burning wood on Heavytree Hill smarted the eyes, and choked the free breath of Monte Flat; or a fierce wind, driving every thing, including the shrivelled summer, like a curled leaf before it, swept down the flanks of the Sierras, and chased the inhabitants to the doors of their cabins, and shook its red fist in at their windows. And on such a night as this, the dust having in some way choked the wheels of material progress in Monte Flat, most of the inhabitants were gathered listlessly in the gilded bar-room of the Moquelumne Hotel, spitting silently at the red-hot stove that tempered the mountain winds to the shorn lambs of Monte Flat, and waiting for the rain.

Every method known to the Flat of beguiling the time until the advent of this long-looked-for phenomenon had been tried. It is true, the methods were not many, being limited chiefly to that form of popular facetiae known as practical joking; and even this had assumed the seriousness of a business-pursuit. Tommy Roy, who had spent two hours in digging a ditch in front of his own door, into which a few friends casually dropped during the evening, looked ennuye and dissatisfied. The four prominent citizens, who, disguised as foot-pads, had stopped the county treasurer on the Wingdam road, were jaded from their playful efforts next morning. The principal physician and lawyer of Monte Flat, who had entered into an unhallowed conspiracy to compel the sheriff of Calaveras and his posse to serve a writ of ejectment on a grizzly bear, feebly disguised under the name of one “Major Ursus,” who haunted the groves of Heavytree Hill, wore an expression of resigned weariness. Even the editor of “The Monte Flat Monitor,” who had that morning written a glowing account of a battle with the Wipneck Indians, for the benefit of Eastern readers,–even HE looked grave and worn. When, at last, Abner Dean of Angel’s, who had been on a visit to San Francisco, walked into the room, he was, of course, victimized in the usual way by one or two apparently honest questions, which ended in his answering them, and then falling into the trap of asking another, to his utter and complete shame and mortification; but that was all. Nobody laughed; and Abner, although a victim, did not lose his good-humor. He turned quietly on his tormentors, and said,–