Ghost Miner

         Jedediah Isaacson stumbled a bit while walking along side the Northern California stream and paused for a moment to regain his footing. He looked ahead and saw a flat opening that seemed to be a place where others had set up camp in the past.
         “Well, Benjamin Franklin,” he said to his donkey, “this looks ‘bout as good o’ place as any.”
         It was still early, around 2:00 in the afternoon, but Jedediah had spent the morning panning for gold and had found enough dust to buy some supplies when they went into town the next morning. Plus, at sixty-seven years of age, he was tired, and he figured Benjamin Franklin could use the rest as well. When they reached the clearing they stopped and Jedediah unloaded the pack that rested on his donkey.
         “Why don’t ya go wander a while in the stream there and I’ll git our stuff laid out.”
         Benjamin Franklin meandered over to the water and took a drink before wading out further. Jedediah unpacked their camping gear and spent a little time forming a fire pit for later. It was warm, so no need for a tent tonight. When he was finished he sat down by the stream and leaned against a rock. The stream ran alongside a cliff which was directly across from where Jedediah was and there on the opposite side was a large bush, as big as a tree, at the edge of the water that made its way up about twenty or so feet. Jedediah’s hand idly rubbed the ground until his fingers absentmindedly found a medium sized pebble. He picked it up and tossed it across the stream and into the bush. He saw it go through and heard it hit the other side of the mountain. Wait. That didn’t sound normal. He stood up, found another rock and threw it harder. Same thing, a sort of echo.
         “Well, I’ll be. That there ain’t no normal cliffside,” he mused, “There’s gosta be some sorta cave er sumpthin’ over yonder.”
         He fished through Benjamin Franklin’s pack that was lying on the ground and found his pick, shovel, and his old oil lantern. He waded across the stream to where the bush was and made his way around to see what he could find. There, hidden from sight, was the mouth of a small cave just wide and tall enough to enter without stooping over.
         “Benjamin Franklin! C’mon over ch’ere fer a minute!”
         His donkey ambled over and stood beside him.
         “Now you wait and I’m gonna see what’s inside. We maght could find us a treasure or two, ‘cause ain’t nobody could find this place ‘cept by accident.”
         Jedediah lit his lantern, adjusted the wick and strolled in, hoping to mine some vast vein of gold…but could see that his trek had an obstacle almost immediately. About thirty feet in was a large pile of rocks blocking further exploration. He looked up and around and realized that this sort of thing was probably just a cave-in from one of those tremors that happened from time to time in these parts.
         “West Virginia was so much easier,” he mused. “At least the ground don’t move on ye. Well, Benjamin Franklin,” he yelled back, “We still gots us some day left. May’s well move some rocks and see if I can continue.” Benjamin Franklin stayed there at the cave’s opening, eyes half closed, nonplussed by the whole affair.
         Jedediah set his lantern on a natural shelf he found on the cave’s wall about three feet high and began the task of moving rocks to the side of the cave. After fifteen minutes he reached down to remove what seemed to be the hundredth rock and jumped back with a start. There on the ground was a shoe connected to the bottom part of a leg! At least it looked like a leg. He could see a bare bone just at the top of the shoe, then a black pant leg covering the rest. He stood there for a solid minute staring at this thing that did not belong here. The shoe was not new. In fact, it was the same kind he used to wear back in the 1850’s to church. There was probably a body connected to this thing and it looked like it had been buried a long time, he reasoned. Slowly he edged his way back over and removed another rock revealing another shoe and part of another buried leg. Jedediah was never one to be afraid of a dead body, but the shock of seeing this where it was at this time was a bit unnerving. Fortunately this shock was wearing off rapidly.
         “Poor feller,” he thought, “Prob’ly never knew what hit ‘im.”
         He slowly removed rocks, one by one, revealing more of the man until he was again surprised. The man was lying on his stomach and right around his back Jedediah pulled away a stone that uncovered the small skeleton of a hand connected to a skinless arm. The more he uncovered he saw the once light blue dress that was worn by a woman. So, there were two. The man lying on his stomach and the woman had fallen over onto his back, and was face down as well.
         For the better part of an hour, as he moved the remainder of the rocks to the side, Jedediah carefully uncovered the story that began to form in his mind. When the ceiling of the cave gave way, the woman had fallen over on top of this man who was positioned lower than her. In the man’s hand Jedediah found a little box containing a small, diamond ring, still there. The cave collapsed on a proposal. Jedediah stood there for a few moments taking this in. Happiness, excitement, hopes for the future, all happening at one time for these two…then it was done. His suddenly mind went back, back to a long time ago.
         He was born and had lived in Mann, West Virginia until he was twenty. He had heard many things about the gold rush in 1849 and saved all his money from his job at the feed store as well as from the other odd jobs he’d taken around the various farms so that he could afford to move. He didn’t get to the outskirts of Shasta, California until July of 1851, but he figured that there was still plenty of gold to go around. He remembered the very moment he rounded the corner of the hardware store in town, inadvertently bumping into and meeting Mabel Clemons, the local school teacher, and falling head over heals in love with her there right on the spot. For whatever reason Mabel loved him back and they were married in May of 1852.
         There was nothing he wouldn’t do for her. He had been especially lucky one day in 1857, finding an unusually large chunk of gold, enough to be able to build her a nice little house they could live in. The moment of him showing her the gold nugget flooded his mind, of her crying out in delight and tears streaming down her cheeks as she hugged him. It was only much later he understood that Mabel expressed this delight because she knew that he had received pleasure in showing her that he could care for her. He remembered the birth of their daughter in 1859 and then her death two days later. He and Mabel held onto each other as they stood over the tiny stone placed over little Rebecca’s grave underneath the big tree just to the south of their house. What had shattered them had brought them closer.
         They spent countless evenings together as she read books to him into the night until they were tired, books by Robert Louis Stevenson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, so many. He remembered the many moments of spontaneous and repetitive humor between them that couldn’t be explained to anyone else. And that one day in 1861 when he came home from a long day of prospecting and she greeted him, standing in the doorway of their home holding a baby donkey.
         “I bought him for you to help you carry your things,” she said with her sweet, shy smile, “I named him Benjamin Franklin after our stove.”
         They laughed and laughed until they all fell down, Benjamin Franklin hee-hawing as they rolled around slapping the ground in hysterics.  
          They loved each other for twenty-two years, and then Mabel had a cough that wouldn’t go away. He buried her beneath that large tree next to Rebecca.
         Jedediah looked at this couple resting at his feet, the young man in a simple suit, common in the mid 1800’s, and the young woman in her light blue modest dress. He was only mining for gold, now this. He felt the nudge on his hand as Benjamin Franklin sidled up next to him.
         “Benjamin Franklin,” he said, “we need to give these kids a proper burial. It ain’t right that we disturbed ‘em, but we’ll do right by ‘em fer sure.”
         Jedediah moved the girl so that she was lying on her back, and the man in the same position right beside her to the right. He adjusted them so it was as if they died holding hands. He took the ring out of the little box and gently placed it on the frail bone of the left hand ring finger of the girl. He made his way back to his campsite, found his newest blanket, brought it into the cave and carefully placed it over top this young couple. After inspecting his work to see that everything was to his satisfaction, he carefully covered them with the boulders, making sure the pile was even higher than he found it by bringing in more rocks from outside the cave. Then he walked back to his campsite one more time, found a piece of old cardboard, some ink and a brush and wrote these words: “We don’t know your names, but Jedediah Isaacson is mighty thankful for stirring up the memories of his Mabel. Rest in peace.”
         Jedediah stood back and looked at his handiwork. Slowly his chin began to quiver, his shoulders moved up and down a bit, and a tear fell on his cheek. Benjamin Franklin quietly leaned against him and they waited together…for something. They stayed until the ghosts seemed to rest.
         “I didn’t deserve you, Mabel,” he whispered, “but I sure loved you…dang, do I miss you. Thanks for lettin’ me find you again in this cave.”
            He scratched Benjamin Franklin behind the ears, and then they turned and walked out into the early evening.


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