Read CHAPTER XXVII - BILLIE PIPER AND DEBOON of First Fam'lies of the Sierras, free online book, by Joaquin Miller, on

It is more than possible that we, in America, did once have a real Bourbon amongst us. If a Bonaparte could come and wed with us, and cast his fortune with us, why certainly a very heir to the crown of France might come and spend his life with us, live and die unknown. I don’t know that we ever had any kings, or sons of kings, or daughters of kings, or any thing of the kind with us in the little Eden of the Sierras, but I do know that we had some odd men there, and some great men too, men that deserved to be kings, whatever they may have been.

And what they were, what they had been, no man ever knew. There was a truce to investigation. The family tree stood in the form of a sombre pine at each man’s cabin door. That was enough. You could not go outside of the camp for inquiry. The eternal girdle of snow lifted its front in everlasting protest. How then shall I tell you who this silent widow that refused to go away, that refused to surrender, that refused to open her lips how shall I tell you who she was, why she remained, or from whence she came?

As for Billie Piper, the majority of the camp of course had long settled down to the unalterable conviction that he remained for the love of the Widow. And the camp hated him for it. He was shunned, despised, for he did not look the man; he did not even act the man. When he was insulted he did not resent it. He only held his head at such times, gave the road to all, avoided all for weeks together, went on with his work in a feeble way, for he was very feeble now, and never made answer to any one.

About this time he fell ill; or at least the report ran that he was ill. Sandy was absent on business in the valley below.

One evening the Widow was seen to enter his cabin. The camp was indignant. There were now many women in the place, and her actions did not pass unobserved.

The next day the woman, the leader of society in the little mountain metropolis, cut the Widow in the street, or rather on the hill-side, for the mining town had passed away, and there was no street now.

Two sun-bonnets, made of paste-board and calico, that reached far out over the faces of the wearers, like the cover of a pedler’s wagon, met that afternoon on the hill-side.

“It’s awful!”

“It’s just awful!”

The two covered wagons were poked up close against each other.

“She staid all night!”

“She staid with him till daylight!”

“I will cut her.”

“I have cut her.”

The two covered wagons parted and passed on.

You remember Deboon? Well, let us see how the California gold mines treated some of the bold fellows who once courted fortune nearly a quarter of a century ago in the Sierras. These mines were great mills. They ground men, soul and body, to powder. Time, like a great river, turned the stones, and this man, like thousands and thousands of others, was ground down to nothing.

Twenty years had now passed. Twenty terrible years, in which this brave and resolute man had dared more than Cæsar, had endured more than Ney; and he now found that the entire end of his father’s name had been, somewhere in the Sierras, worn or torn away, and hid or covered up for ever in the tailings. He was now nothing but “Bab.” While ground-sluicing one night, and possibly wondering what other deduction could be made and not leave him nameless, he was caught in a cave, sluiced out, and carried head-first through the flume.

This last venture wore him down to about the condition of an old quarter-coin, where neither date, name, nor nationality can be deciphered. His jaws were crushed, and limbs broken, till they lay in every direction, like the claws of a sea-crab.

They took him to the County Hospital, and there they called him “Old Bab.” It was a year before he got about; and then he came leaning on a staff, with a frightful face. He had lost all spirit. He sat moodily about the hospital, and sometimes said bitter things.

One day he said of Grasshopper Jim, who was a great talker, “That man must necessarily lie. There is not truth enough in the United States to keep his tongue going for ever as it does.”

One evening a young candidate told him he was going to make a speech, and very patronizingly asked him to come out and hear him. Old Bab looked straight at the wall, as if counting the stripes on the paper, then said, half to himself, “The fact of Balaam’s ass making a speech has had a more demoralizing influence than any other event told in the Holy Bible; for ever since that time every lineal descendant seems determined to follow his example.”

His face was never relieved by a smile, and his chin stuck out fearfully: so that one day, when Snapping Andy, who was licensed by the miners to be the champion growler of the camp, called him “Old Baboon,” it was as complete as a baptismal ceremony, and he was known by no other name.

Some women visited him one evening; fallen angels women with the trail of the serpent all over them. They gave him a pipe and money, and, above all, words of encouragement and kindness.

He moodily filled the meerschaum they had brought him, and after driving a volume of smoke through his nose, looked quietly up and said: “Society is wrong. These women are not bad women. For my part, I begin to find so much that is evil in that which the world calls good, and so much that is good in what the world calls evil, that I refuse to draw a distinction where God has not.”

Then he fired a double-barrelled volley at society through his nose, and throwing out volume after volume of smoke as a sort of redoubt between himself and the world he hated, drifted silently into a tropical, golden land of dreams.