|Home -> Other California History Books -> Down the Mother Lode -> Chapter 9|
|The Dragon and the Tomahawk
"Which I wish to remark,
And my language is plain,
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar,
Which the same I would rise to explain."
- Bret Harte.
Certain learned archaeologists maintain that there are marked racial similarities between the American Indians and the Chinese - physical characteristics dating from unknown centuries, when the widely sundered continents were probably one.
However that may be, in the days of gold in California the greatest animosity existed between the Indians and the Chinamen. The feeling began, presumably, through intermarriage and flourished like the celebrated milkweed vine of the foothills, which has been known to grow - I quote a '49er, now dead, which is perhaps taking an advantage - 12 inches in a day.
The tale is told of a Chinaman crossing a suspension footbridge, high over a winter torrent, from one part of a mining camp to another. An Indian ran to meet him. John Chinaman started back as quickly as he could on the swaying bridge. The faster Indian caught him, and, though miners on both shores sought to save the unfortunate "Chink" by a rain of bullets, it was too long range, and the Indian threw him to certain death in the river.
But the Indians did not always win, and this, then, is the tale of an encounter between Hop Sing and Digger Dan.
"In a game which held accountin',
On an old Sierra mountain - "
* * * * *
"Whassa malla, to-o much nail-o ketchem clo'e (clothes)?" snorted Hop Sing, coming around to the side verandah with two pins in his hand, to where Miss Jo Halstead was embroidering an antimacassar in bright worsteds.
"Oh, Sing, did you hurt your hand?" she cried.
"'Nother boy heap mad."
"Another boy? Aren't you doing the washing?"
"No do. Me - " but Jo had gone to the back yard. She found the tallest Chinaman she had ever seen, meekly bending to the washing, and quickly obeying the sharp orders rained upon his queue-circled poll by Hop Sing.
"But - Sing," protested Jo, stifling any sort of smile.
"Him no good! No got place! Me pay one-dollar-hop him stop one month, Chinee house. He no pay. Me makem work."
"Yes, but - what is that? Those are shots on the stage road over the hill! Oh, it must be another holdup! And Rand is shotgun messenger on the stage today. Hark! Hear the horses running! They're coming - fast. They're trying to make the town!"
"Ketchem, more horse run behind," answered Sing, listening intently, his slanting eyes glittering.
"Sing, you go and see what - "
"Can do! You get that boy, make 'em wash, alle same. He no good! You look see?" Joe turned to spy the frightened deputy washerman wriggling under the verandah. "Bime-by I kill 'um," remarked Sing, composedly. "No got time now. Missie Jo, wagon come, maybeso better you stop house-o."
Six horses topped the long hill, pulling the huge rockaway stage. They were coming at full speed, and the near wheeler was dripping with blood. A dead man hung over the high dashboard, where his feet had caught when he fell.
Leaning far out over the team was a young man holding the reins in one hand, while he lashed the shot-crazed horses to their last ounce of speed with the fifteen-foot whip. His sawed-off shotgun lay on the seat beside him. It was Rand!
"Oh, thank God!" moaned Joe, but in another moment, "Poor old Salt Peter! They must have killed him when he wouldn't stop. Sing - " but Hop Sing had vanished, leaving only his white apron across the wash bench.
As the stage thundered around the turn at the end of the main street, the wounded horse threw up his head, coughed bloody spume over the pointers (the second pair), and fell. Men were already scrambling onto their horses, and loping in from all directions. Rand cut out a buckskin leader, mounted, and dashed frantically back up the road followed by a dozen horsemen.
"Rand, who was it?"
"I don't know, exactly. Thought I saw Digger Dan - " They were over the hill, and Jo heard no more.
Hop Sing did not turn up for supper, but his tall substitute did fairly well, and Jo did not worry. Some time after dark, a weary Rand appeared.
"Well, Miss Jo, we got Digger Dan. At least we thought it was, but he won't say a word except that he wants to see you. I've come to escort you over to the jail. Will you trust yourself to me that far?"
"That far, yes," archly, "'tis but a short space." Not for worlds would she have him guess her anxiety of the afternoon.
"I wish that 'twere for always."
"What can Digger Dan want of me," she evaded, thankful for the darkness which hid her blushes. "Rand, hear the wolves howling!"
"They are only coyotes, dear - Miss Joe, and afraid to venture into town except to the chicken roosts."
"Why, it's Hop Sing!" exclaimed Jo, upon first sight of the prisoner. "They've cut off half his queue and braided his hair in two pig tails, and put different clothes on him, and he does look like an Indian. How very extraordinary!"
"Kethem Digger Dan cloe," blazed Sing.
"That's a likely tale," said the sheriff, "betcha he knows more about stage robbin' than he'll let out."
"I am sure he does not about this one. He was with me every moment." Nevertheless, she could not help remembering the substitute Chinaman whom Sing had put in to do his washing. But, though the complex Oriental nature will never be quite understood by the Occidental, she had confidence in the loyalty of the Chinaman, who had served them for five years, and whose life had once been saved by her father.
"Ah Sing, will you tell me what happened," she asked, knowing well that a command would only elicit a stolid "No savvey." Put as a favor, or a confidence, he might respond.
"Him Digger Dan, no good! He stealem me clo'e. Ketchem. Missa Land (Rand) an' plenty man come, he lun (run). I ketchem him! Tlee (three) lobber (robber) come. To-o muchee men. I no can fight! He - "
"They tied him on a horse and drove it down the canyon for us to follow, while they got away."
"I tell you, he knows more about it than he's telling!"
"I don't think so, sheriff," said Rand, positively. The man turned to him, suspiciously.
"Me go home, all same Missie Joe?" Hop Sing raised an expressionless face and glared at the broad belt of the sheriff.
"Well, you can go, but I'm going to keep an eye on you and see that your apron's hanging in the Halstead's kitchen every day of your heathen life."
Later that night when Rand started home, strange incantations were going on in Sing's lean-to. In four china bowls punk was burning, and an old Chinaman was muttering weird invocations over the clothes of Digger Dan slowly smouldering in a coal-oil can in the middle of the floor. Hop Sing held one hand in the smoke, raised the other aloft and made a blood-curdling oath of some sort which, by the expression of his face, probably consigned the owner forever more to the nethermost depths 'of Tophet.
"Why, where is Ali Sing?" asked Jo the next morning, when she found the tall slave still in the kitchen.
"He got heap sick cousin. He go way. I stay. He come back bime-by." Jo knew that it was useless to question further.
The summer drifted by and still Sing did not return. Rand walked in one day with the first flurry of snow, from his claim in the south. He caught both of Jo's hands in his without a word, kissed them tenderly and let them go.
"Rand," she faltered, "it is so long since I've heard from you. You have been acting so strangely-for months!"
"Jo, have you not heard the talk that has been whispered with my name ever since Sing disappeared? They say that I know too much about the holdups; that I helped the Chinaman to escape; that Digger Dan and Hop Sing are one; that - "
"I would not listen to such falsehoods," cried the girl, her grey eyes flashing.
"You blessed little woman! But considering this, how can I say to you what - tell you that which glorifies the very life in my frame. How can I offer you a name tarnished by the suspicions of my fellow men?"
"Rand, I acknowledge no such allegations. Oh, I may be lost to all sense of womanly reserve, but - "
"When my name is cleared, I shall hope to enter Paradise. Till then I must not. I cannot bring disgrace upon you. I shall return to my old post of shotgun messenger - "
"Rand! No! Listen to me one moment. Last evening Digger Dan came to this very place. He told me that if you went back to the stage you would certainly be killed. They have been robbing all summer. It is said that Joaquin is in the mountains."
"No, they are Tom Bell's men."
Jo glanced up, startled. "Whoever it is, has sent you a warning."
"Miz Halstead," called a strident voice, "th' stage's jest in, an' you're paw's took awful sick up on the Middle Fork, at his mine."
"I shall have to go on the morning stage. Will you not please - " to Rand.
"Jo, I do not fear death. It is dishonor that maddens me, for your sake. The snows have come. They are already fitting runners to the stages. The mails and the 'dust' must get through in spite of all. I go out on the first sleigh; this one you must take. This winter I shall vindicate my name, if it is humanly possible to do so." He kissed the end of one long curl of her hair, and was gone.
Some weeks later, during a lull between storms, Rand's face lit up with the feeling which but one woman in the world could inspire, as the stage pulled in to Middle Fork.
"Father is not quite recovered, but I thought it best to get him out before we were snowed in. Rand, Digger Dan came," she added, in a whisper; 'the stage will be stopped today. Yet, it is gathering for a storm. I dare not stay. What shall I do?"
"Come along. I will protect you."
Two miles further, as they topped a hill, Texas, the driver, pulled the laboring six far to the side.
"Why?" asked Rand.
"Cut, there," answered Texas, "an' it's piled high with a drift."
"Look out for stumps."
"I've got 'em spotted," muttered Tex.
"What's that?" swinging his gun quickly to the right. The horses plunged, snorting, quickly to the left, the sleigh hit a snow-covered stump, and it was only Tex's expert driving that saved it from overturning.
"Some animal. I saw his hide." A hide Rand had seen, but it was the coyote-skin coat of an Indian who had made one sign and instantly vanished. Very quickly the dreaded halt came.
"Look out, Tex! There's a rifle barrel from behind that tree trunk."
"Halt it is. There's nothing we can do." Was it Jo's presence in the stage below that made him give in without a struggle, or did he know that the Wells-Fargo box had vanished from under the driver's seat? Or was it knowledge of the horde of yelling Indians which rose from the snowy brush, and swooped down upon the shooting robbers? Four of them were brought, in triumph, to the town on the stage.
"Where is the express box?" asked the sheriff.
"I do not know," answered Rand, defiantly.
"Cached away up on the mountain, I suppose, where the others are."
"Sir!" thundered Rand, "I have brought in, the bandits, as I promised, to clear my own namen - all but Digger Dan, who escaped. When I say that I do not know what happened to the box, you will please understand that
"Here comes Digger Dan now, carrying something."
"No Indian ever carried anything in baskets slung on a pole!"
"Hel-lo, Missie Jo, how you do?" blandly remarked Digger Dan's double.
"Ketchem Missa Land's money, nis bas-a-kit."
"What's in the other one.
"Nat one, lock (rock). Makern heap easy carry-em."
"Where did you get the box?"
"You savvey place him horse get scare; him wagon, he fa' over top-side down. Him money, he fa' out. Him stop place snow melt away by heap big tlee tlunk. Me see. Missa Land, I know he like. I ketchem."
When Rand took Jo home they were met by a smiling Sing in a snowy white apron.
"Where's the other boy?" asked Jo.
"Him boy? I tellum get out quick, or I killum, sure!"
"Ah Sing, how can I ever thank you for all the six months you've spent in the brush?"
"He all-li, Massa Land. You ketchem me come out nat jail. I heap savvey you come see Missie Jo. Missie papa, lo-ong time now, he ketchee me no die. Missie Jo, alla same my girl-o."
"Those Indians - "
"Were Sing's friends, dear, dressed up."
"Sing, where did Digger Dan go to?"
"He go hell," remarked Sing, pleasantly. "He lun away to Oustamah (Indian village). Me ketchum. Alla squaw ketchern plenty tar on head, makern big cly (cry, Indian word for wake). Me killum him. Goo-bye, me go cookem velly fine dinner. Missie Jo, Massa Land, you get marry now. Me hope you ketchem plenty boy!" From his point of view what greater blessing could he wish them? Later, he peeked in curiously from the kitchen, but, as kisses are not included in the Chinese curriculum, he failed to be interested and returned to his baking.