The Californians Tale by Mark Twain
STORYTELLER: When I was young, I went looking for gold in California. I never found enough to make me rich. But I did discover a beautiful part of the country. It was called "the Stanislau." The Stanislau was like Heaven on Earth. It had bright green hills and deep forests where soft winds touched the trees.
Other men, also looking for gold, had reached the Stanislau hills of California many years before I did. They had built a town in the valley with sidewalks and stores, banks and schools. They had also built pretty little houses for their families.
At first, they found a lot of gold in the Stanislau hills. But their good luck did not last. After a few years, the gold disappeared. By the time I reached the Stanislau, all the people were gone, too.
Grass now grew in the streets. And the little houses were covered by wild rose bushes. Only the sound of insects filled the air as I walked through the empty town that summer day so long ago. Then, I realized I was not alone after all.
A man was smiling at me as he stood in front of one of the little houses. This house was not covered by wild rose bushes. A nice little garden in front of the house was full of blue and yellow flowers. White curtains hung from the windows and floated in the soft summer wind.
Still smiling, the man opened the door of his house and motioned to me. I went inside and could not believe my eyes. I had been living for weeks in rough mining camps with other gold miners. We slept on the hard ground, ate canned beans from cold metal plates and spent our days in the difficult search for gold.
I saw a bright rug on the shining wooden floor. Pictures hung all around the room. And on little tables there were seashells, books and china vases full of flowers. A woman had made this house into a home.
One of the pictures on the wall was not hanging straight. He noticed it and went to fix it. He stepped back several times to make sure the picture was really straight. Then he gave it a gentle touch with his hand.
"She always does that," he explained to me. "It is like the finishing pat a mother gives her child's hair after she has brushed it. I have seen her fix all these things so often that I can do it just the way she does. I don't know why I do it. I just do it."
As he talked, I realized there was something in this room that he wanted me to discover. I looked around. When my eyes reached a corner of the room near the fireplace, he broke into a happy laugh and rubbed his hands together.
"That's it!" he cried out. "You have found it! I knew you would. It is her picture. I went to a little black shelf that held a small picture of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. There was a sweetness and softness in the woman's expression that I had never seen before.
"Oh yes," the man replied. "I got a letter. Would you like to hear it? He took a yellowed letter out of his shirt pocket and read it to us. It was full of loving messages to him and to other people – their close friends and neighbors. When the man finished reading it, he looked at his friend. "Oh no, you are doing it again, Tom! You always cry when I read a letter from her. I'm going to tell her this time!"
I was glad to see his two friends, Tom and Joe, coming down the road as the sun began to set. The old miners were carrying guitars. They also brought flowers and a bottle of whiskey. They put the flowers in vases and began to play some fast and lively songs on their guitars.
Henry's friends kept giving him glasses of whiskey, which they made him drink. When I reached for one of the two glasses left on the table, Tom stopped my arm. "Drop that glass and take the other one!" he whispered. He gave the remaining glass of whiskey to Henry just as the clock began to strike midnight.
In a moment, his two friends had picked him up and carried him into the bedroom. They closed the door and came back. They seemed to be getting ready to leave. So I said, "Please don't go gentlemen. She will not know me. I am a stranger to her."
"She went to see her parents about six months after she got married. On her way back, on a Saturday evening in June, when she was almost here, the Indians captured her. No one ever saw her again. Henry lost his mind. He thinks she is still alive. When June comes, he thinks she has gone on her trip to see her parents. Then he begins to wait for her to come back. He gets out that old letter. And we come around to visit so he can read it to us.
Joe picked up his hat and his guitar. "We have done this every June for nineteen years," he said. "The first year there were twenty-seven of us. Now just the two of us are left." He opened the door of the pretty little house. And the two old men disappeared into the darkness of the Stanislau.