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|One Sunday in Stinson's Bar
"On that broad stage of empire won,
Whose footlights were the setting sun;
Whose flats a distant background rose
In trackless peaks of endless snows;
Here genius bows, and talent waits
To copy that but One creates."
- Bret Harte.
Now-a-days when you want to go from San Francisco to the Sierra Nevada country you step into your perfectly good Packard (or whatever it is - all the way down to a motorcycle side car), and you ferry across the bay and the straits, and if the motor-cop isn't around, you come shooting up the highway forty miles an hour, and at the end of a glorious five-hour run you are there.
In the early fifties - when there was less to see, too - you took more time to it. You came to Sacramento on the river boat. Then if you were rich, you bought a horse or a mule and rode for the rest of your journey. If you were poor, or thrifty perhaps, you walked, or tried to get a ride on one of the ox-freight teams which plied their way across Haggin Grant to Auburn and Dutch Flat, or to Folsom and Coloma.
Later a railway was built as far as Auburn station, then situated at a point three miles east of Loomis which was at that time called Pino.
Nothing remains of Auburn station. But the road bed of the old railway is still to be found in certain wooded tracts which have not given way to the fruit ranches; and the highway from Fair Oaks into Folsom follows the old cuts and grades for several miles.
In the days preceding and immediately following the discovery of gold in California, building was very difficult. Every stick of lumber in my grandfather's house came by ship "around the Horn," and the fruit trees grape vines, flowers, even bees, for his lovely garden: were all sent from Europe.
In the smaller settlements there was seldom more than one large building which could be used for social purposes, and this was often the card room or bar room in connection with the hotel of the town.
So here is the tale that was told of one Sunday in Stinson's bar room, in the late '50s at Auburn Station:
They tried to give a ball once a year at Stinson's. Persons came to it from 30 miles about, particularly if they were women, and every woman divided each dance among four men. When a man invited a lady to come to a dance, in many instances he insisted upon the privilege of buying her a silken gown and slippers to wear, and this was not considered unusual, nor was she in any way obligated to him for it. There were so few "ladies" that they were treated as little short of divinities.
This Saturday night there had been no dance, and the men at Gentleman Jack's table at Stinson's had played "three-card monte" on through the dawn and the sunrise, and into broad daylight. The door was pushed open, letting in a rush of cool, sweet air which guttered the candles set in old bottles, and drove the heavy fog of tobacco smoke toward the blackened ceiling. A voice boomed forth:
"Come on, now, gentlemen. Two ladies have come with posies in tall silver vases and a white altar cloth for this table. The preacher's coming over from Folsom, and there will be church held here in one hour. He's a busy man today. An infant will be given a license to travel the long and uncertain road to heaven, and a pair of happy lovers will be made one."
"One - unhappy pair."
It's William Duncan. He's intoxicated again," drawled Gentleman Jack, stretching his graceful length and smiling at a long, aristocratic figure crouched over a small table in a corner. "His last strike turned out to be only a small pocket, and so he drowns his woes in liquor, as usual." He bowed to his recent card partners. "Gentlemen, I am sincerely sorry for your losses this night. I shall sleep an hour before the holy man arrives. He sauntered out, stuffing a buckskin bag of gold dust into his pocket.
"There lies my pocket - in his pocket," muttered Duncan. "No, Stinson" raising his voice authoritatively, "I shall not go out. It is my desire to pray for my sins today * * * and there has a letter come from overseas which I must read - if I can. If I can - "
In an hour the room was cleared of smoke, greasy cards, poker chips and empty bottles. The bar was in a small room apart. The poker table, supplemented with a box, was covered with a handsome altar cloth flanked by huge silver candlesticks and vases which had been carried across the plains. Every individual in the community came to church and stayed afterward for the christening. At least twenty men expressed a wish to be god-father to the baby and the proud mother accepted all offers. When the christening was over, William Duncan lurched to his feet, his high-bred face full of tenderness, his long-fingered, fine grained hands poised over the rosy child, while he quoted:
"May time who sheds his blight o'er all,
And daily dooms some joy to death.
O'er thee let years so gently fall,
They shall not crush one flower beneath!"
"Ah, 'here comes the bride!' 'All the world's a stage!' Let us on with the next scene," and he reeled back to his little table in the corner.
The kissing and congratulations after the wedding were interrupted by the shouts of a man on horseback, and riding hard.
"Where's the minister? Send for Doc Miller! That beast of a Mexican horse thief - he' shot Jim Muldoon down at Dolton's Bar. Jim caught he's stealing his horse and I'm afraid the dirty greaser's killed him. We got 'im, though, before he skipped. Somebody go down to Rattlesnake for Doc Miller. They're bringing 'em both here."
When Doc Miller saw Muldoon stretched on the barroom table, the same table which a few minutes before had served as an altar he shook his head.
"He will be gone in half an hour," he said. The men standing about began taking off their hats.
"I wish to write home," whispered Muldoon. The young mother handed her baby to its father and seizing pencil and paper, ran forward. The minister opened his prayer book at the service for the dying.
When that service had been read, and what had been Muldoon carried away to be made ready for the last sleep, only the minister and the tall Englishman were left in the bar-room.
"In the midst of life we are in death," muttered Duncan.
"True," rebuked the other "so live well the life which the Lord, thy God, hath provided thee." Will Duncan laughed aloud.
"It is too late, Man-o'-God! There is no place in the world for a younger son." The minister had not heard. He sprang toward the open window, calling:
"Wait! It is written - 'Thou shalt not kill!' Bring him in, like just and honest men, for a hearing. He may be a horse thief and a murderer but you shall take the rope from his neck and he shall speak in his own defense before he goes to his Maker."
So a hearing was given (although grudgingly, and with audible grumbling) by the friends of Muldoon across the table which had so lately been his bier, but in the end they took the Mexican out for the short-cut to retribution.
Two hours later, around the same table was solemnized the funeral service of Jim Muldoon. The minister would not return for six weeks. It must be held at once. Gentleman Jack gave a suit of finest black broadcloth for a shroud. and the little bride, keeping one flower from her wedding bouquet, placed the rest in the dead man's hands. She kissed him softly on his forehead, whispering through her tears. "For the ones at home who loved you," and stood watching as six men carried him away to the tiny cemetery under the trees. on a hill.
Vesper services were over and the weary minister and his congregation had gone before Duncan found courage to open and read his letter. His elder brother, heir to the title and great houses and landed estates of his family, had been killed in the hunting field and he, being next in line, was to come home to succeed to the position.
He, William - Duncan - Claibourne - Earl of - but no, his family name had never been told in California.
Portions of the services he had heard that day drifted through his mind: "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. * * * We do sign him with the sign of the cross in token hereafter that he shall manfully fight against the sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ's faithful soldier unto his life's end." So, the child starting on his earthly journey with the minister's blessing and the backing of twenty god-fathers!
The holy old church service which he had heard at home in stately English cathedrals - the nuggets in the contribution plate - the radiant bride who had come across the plains to hear "Dearly Beloved, We are gathered together," standing beside the man she loved. The service for the dying: "When we shall have served thee in our generation we may be gathered unto our Fathers, having the testimony of a good conscience, the confidence of a certain faith, in favor with Thee our God, and in perfect charity with the world." So, Jim Muldoon, cut down before his time, and his slayer out there in the darkness on the end of a rope.
The dying candle picked out in flame a withered cabbage rose under the table; a baby's mitten, the letter written for the man who had died, the Mexican's sombrero on a chair, the gilt sun and moon and stars on the glass face of the grandfather clock by the window.
Duncan's head fell forward in his clasped arms on the table, and in his dreams he heard the huntsman's silver horn from across the seas calling him home to carry on the destiny of the ancient and honorable name which was his. His "strike of pay ore" in his "land of gold."
The candle wick in a shallow pool of tallow flared high, and went out.
The old clock chimed twelve.