When all the world was young, lad,
And all the trees were green,
And every goose a swan lad
And every lass a queen.
What! You didn't know Mary St. Clair? Well then, if you didn't know Mary St. Clair, you didn't know Northern California in the grand old days when there were giants in the land, when she lay new and nude before all men in her virgin glory. To me -- I was only a bit of a lad then, who had run away from school down in Oregon -- there were but two things in this world worth looking upon. One of these was all-glorious Mt. Shasta in her sheen of silver at night and mantle of purple and gold by day; the other was queer, dear, delightful Mary St. Clair. Must I repeat I was a lad? No, not as an apology for liking this beautiful and wayward woman -- with her pretty feet pressing hard and swifly on the downward road -- do 1 assert that I was very young, but merely to persuade you that I loved and respected her truly, and I do still.
Much has been said and written about Mary St. Clair -- nearly all of it fiction. Now, understand, I never scarcely touched her hand. It was impossible that I should. As I have said, I was but a lad of a dozen years when I saw her first in California, and she a woman -- well past her prime -- and surrounded by the strangest, strongest and bloodiest crowd of men I ever heard of. And in the later years of her life, when she came to me at Canyon City to die, she was old and all broken down. But she did me a kindness when a boy; and, while I may not mention it further now, I would take myself out behind my big, new barn and kick myself half way to Oakland if I could deny to that dead woman that I liked her always and still respect her memory.
But this is growing serious, and we must get on with her silk stockings.
One of her last husbands -- I think next to the very last -- George W. Clayton (hanged at Helena), wrote me -- I was living in Paris at the time of her death -- that the evening of her life was full of peace and tranquility. I hope so; for there was certainly neither peace or tranquility for her in the olden days at Yreka.
I think Clayton must have had a softening and refining influence over her hot nature, for he was himself one of the most quiet and refined of men. You may remember it was this Clayton who killed Long Dan, the friend of Prince Thomas, for upsetting his monte table one Sunday while on a" hurrah." I remember how Long Dan half rose up from the floor where he lay dying, and seeing Prince Thomas close by, pulled him down to his side and whispered," Prince, Prince, old boy, pull off my boots!" And then, when the boots were pulled off, Dan smiled his thanks and whispered as he died,"Prince, old boy, you owe those cigars, by the holy joker!"
You See the Prince had bet him the cigars that same day that he would die with his boots on.
But he didn't, you see.
I forget what Clayton was hanged for up in Montana. It must have been some very trifling affair, though, or it would have fixed itself on my mind. Killing some tenderfoot from the States, I suppose; certainly not for killing any of the old California boys, or 1 should have remembered it.
But to get on with the silk stockings.
Simon Oldham (you will find his name in the history of the Mexican War, where he figures as a most dashing officer.), had come back from a trip to San Francisco, and Mary St. Clair, or some one -- possibly several persons pooling in together -You see, no one can recollect all the details so far back, for this was well on to forty years ago!- gave him a great dinner at the American Hotel to celebrate his return.
But I do know that Mary St. Clair sent me twenty dollars by Seth Warner and his brother, Cal Warner -- two long-haired fiddlers and friends of mine from Oregon -- to come and sit up on the platform, between the fiddlers, at the end of the dining-hall. and repeat"Bingen on the Rhine" whenever Sim Oldham asked for it. And I remember that he asked for it between tunes, and they had a tune between courses right along. So I guess I recited"Bingen" about a dozen times.
Finally Oldham wanted Miss St. Clair to get up on the platform before the fiddlers and dance"Money Musk." She didn't want to do it. Flaxbrake (1 don't know his other name, but he had a monstrous jaw), took sides with Mary, as did the man next to him. and this made Oldham furious. And so, to keep peace -- although her face was burning with anger she climbed up with us, lifted her skirts and began to dance as never danced woman since the world began!
You must know something more about this Sim Oldham before you will fully understand how imporant it was to keep peace with him, and why a woman of Mary St. Clair's spirit would put her own pride and personality under foot to keep him quiet. He had already killed four men in and about Yreka in less than a year's time. And the two he was to kill over this office next day made six. And Dr. Alexander, whom he killed over at Jacksonville, on the race-course -- shooting down a $10,000 horse to get at him -- made seven. But after that he cooled down a bit and never killed but two more men, common fellows from the States, I guess, and was finally killed himself in a bar-room in Orophee by a mere boy.
Now, when you know that the men who were at the hotel with him to feast and make merry over his return from San Francisco were men of similar bright, quick and artistic qualities, you will understand that Mary St. Clair knew she had a powder magazine to manage, and every occupant with a lighted cigar in his teeth! Why, there was Red Hot, hanged at Deer Lodge; Harry Locklash, killed at Pitt River; Sam Locklash, killed at Orophee; Cherokee Bob, killed at Millersburgh; Nels Scott; Dave English, hanged at Lewiston; Billy Peoples, hanged at Lewiston -- and so on, and so on.
I know.. It sounds strange to tell of giving a grand dinner to a man with all these spirited and genial gentlemen, gathered in from the big and the little mining-camps round about, to celebrate a journey to San Francisco. But bear in mind, in those days it was harder work to get from Yreka to San Francisco and back than it is to-day to go from this place to Paris and back. For the very first thing to do was to straddle an obstreperous mule and ride over a mountain to Scott's Valley, then take stage up the valley to the base of the snow-clad Scott's mountains, then on and on and on! Trinity mountains next -- a long, lonely trail for summers only, where, if a mule lost footing or you lost your balance, it was no longer on, on, on! -- but down, down, down!
Those were the days when Jim Long kept the saddle train over these mountains.
I mention Jim Long as the most remarkable man in all that time and country, in this: that he got religion and he died in bed, and never, so far as I can recollect, killed anybody.
His hands got all doubled up with rheumatism from riding in the rain and sleet and snow the first year and he could not handle a pistol or even the bridle-reins, but rode the same old mule for years and she would obey him better than a child; but finally his legs got doubled up, too, and his back got bent down from a backbone to a bowrod; then he got off his mule, got religion, and so -- remarkable as it may read -- died a peaceful Christian's death in the remote mountains of Northern California.
But how I do get away from the main point of my story. Surely I grow old and garrulous.
Mary danced! And oh, how Mary did dance! Did you see Lola Montez dance ? I went on the same ship with her to the Sandwich Islands, and she danced the heads off half the men on board that vessel. One man, a man of letters -- the brother of my best friend -- killed himself because of her before we came to land. And Menken '. Did you see Ada Isaacs Menken in"Mazeppa," at the old Tom Maguire Opera House ? Charles Dickens saw her dance at Astley's in London. She dicated her wonderful little book" Infelicia" to him. Get it and read the letter he wrote her in the introduction, and then read the book from lid to lid. There is no such poetry outside of the Bible as in that book. And yet her poetry of motion -- with that perfect form of hers -- surpassed her poetry of expression.
But Mary St. Clair -- there in the glare and fire of those maddened men's eyes -- surpassed Montez and Menken had they been both in one. She was dancing for life! Life -- not for herself -- she never cared much for herself, but she didn't want to see trouble -- death of others, and all that, just then. And so she danced and she danced and she danced!
She had silk stockings -- flaring, flaming, fiery-red silk stockings. Sim Oldham was wildly, madly glad. He turned over to Flaxbrake and his friend and said something in loud whispers. They drew back, indignantly. Then Oldham yelled out :" Them's my silk, I say!" He had very likely brought them with him for her from San Francisco. Nothing wrong at all in that, but it was not for him to tell it right there and then. Then, as she still danced on, desperatetely, and tried to not hear or heed, he half arose, and again shouted :" Mary, them's my silk, and 1 want 'em!"
She stopped as if shot, sprang to the floor, and then, passing down -- smiling on all the men as she passed -- she came to Oldham, at the head of the table. She paused only long enough to hiss in his face :"And you shall have them. I will send them to you with my compliments."
Then, passing on toward the door, she turned hastily, and, reaching her hand out over the men seated at the table, said with firmness and authority :
"Gentlemen, keep your places! 1 command you, keep your places! Let no man move till I send in the flowing bowl and come back!"
And she was gone and did not come back immediately. But Laughing Joe, Hugh Sheer's bar-tender, came in almost immediately with a great, big, wooden, Mexican bowl, such as the Mexican miners used to wash gold with in those days. And he set this big, steaming bowl down before Sim Oldham, and with that smile of his, as broad as a fire-place, he was gone.
This big Mexican bowl -- but, Lord, Lord! how ignorant you modern folk all are! -- was quite another thing from the cradle or the rocker which the Americans used. It was rattle and rock and rock and rattle every day and everywhere! And wouldn't we few bald-headed old fellows love to hear it all over again -- this music of the mountains -- if only once more before we die!
I went back up to Yreka last summer and I engaged Frank Smith -- gentle, kind and honest old Flagstaff Frank Smith -- to hunt up, in some old, forgotten gulch, one of these old cradles, to be sent me here and be placed in my little old log cabin. Well, he got the cradle and wrote me that it would come down by express very soon. But a pretty little milliner came along from Oregon about that time and he married her. And what's that got to do with it ? Well, I don't know what that's got to do with it. All 1 know is, 1 didn't get the cradle.
Hugh Sheer's bar-tender, Laughing Joe, left lots of his vast smile with Sim Oldham. Oldham lifted up the ladle daintily, filled cup after cup, cup after cup, and seemed all serenity and peace. And all the men at the table -- true to the last command of Mary St. Clair -- kept in their places and quietly emptied their cups. I don't know what it was, hot drink -- possibly egg-nogg, or some like beastly concoction. But the two fiddlers did not relish this temporary tranquility. They seemed to think it the calm before the storm, and soon Seth Warner, in a sort of want-to-go-out-to-get-a-drink way said," Hold my fiddle a minute,Bub," and slid softly to the floor and out the back way. Then his brother put his fiddle and bow under his arm softly, but saw, or fancied he saw, Sim Oldham watching him. Then he, too, said," Hold my fiddle a second. Bub," and got down and out the other way. But he had game and goodness enough to crane his neck back and in at the edge of the door, and ask," Have a drink, Bub ?"
As said before, 1 was young. 1 could easily have taken both fiddles with me and got out on a very good excuse, but I had no apprehension of trouble ahead at all.
And now the cups were sent up a second time. Sim Oldham was in his element, and, apparently, serenely happy. He dipped and poured and poured and dipped, and the bowl was getting low. At last he seemed to feel something in the bottom of the bowl with his long silver ladle. He dug it up with his ladle. Dripping and drowned and streaming it hung there -- a long, stringy mass of red. And Mary St. Clair stood in the door at his back.
Sim Oldham half arose, still holding the long ladle with its load of dripping, drowning, stringing and streaming mass of red. He saw, or rather felt, that Mary St. Clair was behind him --" had the drop," as it were.
"Now, what in hell," he roared,"is them."
Maybe the grim truth had dawned on him already, for he turned green and pale and pale and green, and his hand surely trembled as Mary St. Clair stepped right up behind him and hissed in his ear :
"Them's your silk, with my compliments!"
Some of the men went down, leaning over like, as if hunting for hats -- or handkerchiefs. But they got to the door and got out -- Oldham at the head, and with never a word.
Perhaps he was sick next day, and, maybe, it was only cunning; for he did not appear next day till after dark, and then the two men who had been waiting for him were drunk. And so he piled them up in a corner together and did not get a scratch.
The Silks of Mary St.Clair
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