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Title: Mr. Jack Hamlin's Mediation
Author: Harte, Bret
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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MR. JACK HAMLIN’S MEDIATION


By Bret Harte



From: “ARGONAUT EDITION” OF THE WORKS OF BRET HARTE, VOL. 12.

P. F. COLLIER & SON

NEW YORK



CONTENTS


MR. JACK HAMLIN’S MEDIATION

THE MAN AT THE SEMAPHORE

AN ESMERALDA OF ROCKY CANYON

DICK SPINDLER’S FAMILY CHRISTMAS

WHEN THE WATERS WERE UP AT “JULES’”

THE BOOM IN THE “CALAVERAS CLARION”

THE SECRET OF SOBRIENTE’S WELL

LIBERTY JONES’S DISCOVERY



MR. JACK HAMLIN’S MEDIATION


At nightfall it began to rain. The wind arose too, and also began to
buffet a small, struggling, nondescript figure, creeping along the trail
over the rocky upland meadow towards Rylands’s rancho. At times its
head was hidden in what appeared to be wings thrown upward from its
shoulders; at times its broad-brimmed hat was cocked jauntily on one
side, and again the brim was fixed over the face like a visor. At one
moment a drifting misshapen mass of drapery, at the next its vague
garments, beaten back hard against the figure, revealed outlines far too
delicate for that rude enwrapping. For it was Mrs. Rylands herself,
in her husband’s hat and her “hired man’s” old blue army overcoat,
returning from the post-office two miles away. The wind continued its
aggression until she reached the front door of her newly plastered
farmhouse, and then a heavier blast shook the pines above the
low-pitched, shingled roof, and sent a shower of arrowy drops after her
like a Parthian parting, as she entered. She threw aside the overcoat
and hat, and somewhat inconsistently entered the sitting-room, to walk
to the window and look back upon the path she had just traversed. The
wind and the rain swept down a slope, half meadow, half clearing,--a
mile away,--to a fringe of sycamores. A mile further lay the stage road,
where, three hours later, her husband would alight on his return from
Sacramento. It would be a long wet walk for Joshua Rylands, as their
only horse had been borrowed by a neighbor.

In that fading light Mrs. Rylands’s oval cheek was shining still from
the raindrops, but there was something in the expression of her worried
face that might have as readily suggested tears. She was strikingly
handsome, yet quite as incongruous an ornament to her surroundings as
she had been to her outer wrappings a moment ago. Even the clothes she
now stood in hinted an inadaptibility to the weather--the house--the
position she occupied in it. A figured silk dress, spoiled rather than
overworn, was still of a quality inconsistent with her evident habits,
and the lace-edged petticoat that peeped beneath it was draggled with
mud and unaccustomed usage. Her glossy black hair, which had been tossed
into curls in some foreign fashion, was now wind-blown into a burlesque
of it. This incongruity was still further accented by the appearance of
the room she had entered. It was coldly and severely furnished, making
the chill of the yet damp white plaster unpleasantly obvious. A black
harmonium organ stood in one corner, set out with black and white
hymn-books; a trestle-like table contained a large Bible; half a dozen
black, horsehair-cushioned chairs stood, geometrically distant, against
the walls, from which hung four engravings of “Paradise Lost” in black
mourning frames; some dried ferns and autumn leaves stood in a vase on
the mantelpiece, as if the chill of the room had prematurely blighted
them. The coldly glittering grate below was also decorated with withered
sprays, as if an attempt had been made to burn them, but was frustrated
through damp. Suddenly recalled to a sense of her wet boots and the
new carpet, she hurriedly turned away, crossed the hall into the
dining-room, and thence passed into the kitchen. The “hired girl,” a
large-boned Missourian, a daughter of a neighboring woodman, was peeling
potatoes at the table. Mrs. Rylands drew a chair before the kitchen
stove, and put her wet feet on the hob.

“I’ll bet a cooky, Mess Rylands, you’ve done forgot the vanillar,” said
the girl, with a certain domestic and confidential familiarity.

Mrs. Rylands started guiltily. She made a miserable feint of looking in
her lap and on the table. “I’m afraid I did, Jane, if I didn’t bring it
in HERE.”

“That you didn’t,” returned Jane. “And I reckon ye forgot that ‘ar
pepper-sauce for yer husband.”

Mrs. Rylands looked up with piteous contrition. “I really don’t know
what’s the matter with me. I certainly went into the shop, and had it on
my list,--and--really”--

Jane evidently knew her mistress, and smiled with superior toleration.
“It’s kinder bewilderin’ goin’ in them big shops, and lookin’ round them
stuffed shelves.” The shop at the cross roads and post-office was 14
x 14, but Jane was nurtured on the plains. “Anyhow,” she added
good-humoredly, “the expressman is sure to look in as he goes by, and
you’ve time to give him the order.”

“But is he SURE to come?” asked Mrs. Rylands anxiously. “Mr. Rylands
will be so put out without his pepper-sauce.”

“He’s sure to come ef he knows you’re here. Ye kin always kalkilate on
that.”

“Why?” said Mrs. Rylands abstractedly.

“Why? ‘cause he just can’t keep his eyes off ye! That’s why he comes
every day,--‘tain’t jest for trade!”

This was quite true, not only of the expressman, but of the butcher
and baker, and the “candlestick-maker,” had there been so advanced a
vocation at the cross roads. All were equally and curiously attracted
by her picturesque novelty. Mrs. Rylands knew this herself, but without
vanity or coquettishness. Possibly that was why the other woman told
her. She only slightly deepened the lines of discontent in her cheek and
said abstractedly, “Well, when he comes, YOU ask him.”

She dried her shoes, put on a pair of slippers that had a faded splendor
about them, and went up to her bedroom. Here she hesitated for some time
between the sewing-machine and her knitting-needles, but finally settled
upon the latter, and a pair of socks for her husband which she had begun
a year ago. But she presently despaired of finishing them before
he returned, three hours hence, and so applied herself to the
sewing-machine. For a little while its singing hum was heard between the
blasts that shook the house, but the thread presently snapped, and the
machine was put aside somewhat impatiently, with a discontented drawing
of the lines around her handsome mouth. Then she began to “tidy” the
room, putting a great many things away and bringing out a great many
more, a process that was necessarily slow, owing to her falling into
attitudes of minute inspection of certain articles of dress, with
intervals of trying them on, and observing their effect in her mirror.
This kind of interruption also occurred while she was putting away some
books that were lying about on chairs and tables, stopping midway to
open their pages, becoming interested, and quite finishing one chapter,
with the book held close against the window to catch the fading light of
day. The feminine reader will gather from this that Mrs. Rylands, though
charming, was not facile in domestic duties. She had just glanced at the
clock, and lit the candle to again set herself to work, and thus bridge
over the two hours more of waiting, when there came a tap at the door.
She opened it to Jane.

“There’s an entire stranger downstairs, ez hez got a lame hoss and wants
to borry a fresh one.”

“We have none, you know,” said Mrs. Rylands, a little impatiently.

“Thet’s what I told him. Then he wanted to know ef he could lie by here
till he could get one or fix up his own hoss.”

“As you like; you know if you can manage it,” said Mrs. Rylands, a
little uneasily. “When Mr. Rylands comes you can arrange it between you.
Where is he now?”

“In the kitchen.”

“The kitchen!” echoed Mrs. Rylands.

“Yes, ma’am, I showed him into the parlor, but he kinder shivered his
shoulders, and reckoned ez how he’d go inter the kitchen. Ye see, ma’am,
he was all wet, and his shiny big boots was sloppy. But he ain’t one o’
the stuck-up kind, and he’s willin’ to make hisself cowf’ble before the
kitchen stove.”

“Well, then, he don’t want ME,” said Mrs. Rylands, with a relieved
voice.

“Yes’m,” said Jane, apparently equally relieved. “Only, I thought I’d
just tell you.”

A few minutes later, in crossing the upper hall, Mrs. Rylands heard
Jane’s voice from the kitchen raised in rustic laughter. Had she been
satirically inclined, she might have understood Jane’s willingness to
relieve her mistress of the duty of entertaining the stranger; had
she been philosophical, she might have considered the girl’s dreary,
monotonous life at the rancho, and made allowance for her joy at this
rare interruption of it. But I fear that Mrs. Rylands was neither
satirical nor philosophical, and presently, when Jane reentered, with
color in her alkaline face, and light in her huckleberry eyes, and said
she was going over to the cattle-sheds in the “far pasture,” to see
if the hired man didn’t know of some horse that could be got for the
stranger, Mrs. Rylands felt a little bitterness in the thought that the
girl would have scarcely volunteered to go all that distance in the rain
for HER. Yet, in a few moments she forgot all about it, and even the
presence of her guest in the house, and in one of her fitful abstracted
employments passed through the dining-room into the kitchen, and had
opened the door with an “Oh, Jane!” before she remembered her absence.

The kitchen, lit by a single candle, could be only partly seen by her
as she stood with her hand on the lock, although she herself was plainly
visible. There was a pause, and then a quiet, self-possessed, yet
amused, voice answered:--

“My name isn’t Jane, and if you’re the lady of the house, I reckon yours
wasn’t ALWAYS Rylands.”

At the sound of the voice Mrs. Rylands threw the door wide open, and as
her eyes fell upon the speaker--her unknown guest--she recoiled with a
little cry, and a white, startled face. Yet the stranger was young and
handsome, dressed with a scrupulousness and elegance which even the
stress of travel had not deranged, and he was looking at her with
a smile of recognition, mingled with that careless audacity and
self-possession which seemed to be the characteristic of his face.

“Jack Hamlin!” she gasped.

“That’s me, all the time,” he responded easily, “and YOU’RE Nell
Montgomery!”

“How did you know I was here? Who told you?” she said impetuously.

“Nobody! never was so surprised in my life! When you opened that door
just now you might have knocked me down with a feather.” Yet he spoke
lazily, with an amused face, and looked at her without changing his
position.

“But you MUST have known SOMETHING! It was no mere accident,” she went
on vehemently, glancing around the room.

“That’s where you slip up, Nell,” said Hamlin imperturbably. “It WAS an
accident and a bad one. My horse lamed himself coming down the grade. I
sighted the nearest shanty, where I thought I might get another horse.
It happened to be this.” For the first time he changed his attitude, and
leaned back contemplatively in his chair.

She came towards him quickly. “You didn’t use to lie, Jack,” she said
hesitatingly.

“Couldn’t afford it in my business,--and can’t now,” said Jack
cheerfully. “But,” he added curiously, as if recognizing something in
his companion’s agitation, and lifting his brown lashes to her, the
window, and the ceiling, “what’s all this about? What’s your little game
here?”

“I’m married,” she said, with nervous intensity,--“married, and this is
my husband’s house!”

“Not married straight out!--regularly fixed?”

“Yes,” she said hurriedly.

“One of the boys? Don’t remember any Rylands. SPELTER used to be very
sweet on you,--but Spelter mightn’t have been his real name?”

“None of our lot! No one you ever knew; a--a straight out, square man,”
 she said quickly.

“I say, Nell, look here! You ought to have shown up your cards without
even a call. You ought to have told him that you danced at the Casino.”

“I did.”

“Before he asked you to marry him?”

“Before.”

Jack got up from his chair, put his hands in his pockets, and looked
at her curiously. This Nell Montgomery, this music-hall “dance and song
girl,” this girl of whom so much had been SAID and so little PROVED!
Well, this was becoming interesting.

“You don’t understand,” she said, with nervous feverishness; “you
remember after that row I had with Jim, that night the manager gave us a
supper,--when he treated me like a dog?”

“He did that,” interrupted Jack.

“I felt fit for anything,” she said, with a half-hysterical laugh, that
seemed voiced, however, to check some slumbering memory. “I’d have cut
my throat or his, it didn’t matter which”--

“It mattered something to us, Nell,” put in Jack again, with polite
parenthesis; “don’t leave US out in the cold.”

“I started from ‘Frisco that night on the boat ready to fling myself
into anything--or the river!” she went on hurriedly. “There was a man
in the cabin who noticed me, and began to hang around. I thought he
knew who I was,--had seen me on the posters; and as I didn’t feel like
foolin’, I told him so. But he wasn’t that kind. He said he saw I was in
trouble and wanted me to tell him all.”

Mr. Hamlin regarded her cheerfully. “And you told him,” he said, “how
you had once run away from your childhood’s happy home to go on the
stage! How you always regretted it, and would have gone back but that
the doors were shut forever against you! How you longed to leave, but
the wicked men and women around you always”--

“I didn’t!” she burst out, with sudden passion; “you know I didn’t. I
told him everything: who I was, what I had done, what I expected to do
again. I pointed out the men--who were sitting there, whispering and
grinning at us, as if they were in the front row of the theatre--and
said I knew them all, and they knew me. I never spared myself a thing.
I said what people said of me, and didn’t even care to say it wasn’t
true!”

“Oh, come!” protested Jack, in perfunctory politeness.

“He said he liked me for telling the truth, and not being ashamed to do
it! He said the sin was in the false shame and the hypocrisy; for that’s
the sort of man he is, you see, and that’s like him always! He asked if
I would marry him--out of hand--and do my best to be his lawful wife.
He said he wanted me to think it over and sleep on it, and to-morrow he
would come and see me for an answer. I slipped off the boat at ‘Frisco,
and went alone to a hotel where I wasn’t known. In the morning I didn’t
know whether he’d keep his word or I’d keep mine. But he came! He said
he’d marry me that very day, and take me to his farm in Santa Clara.
I agreed. I thought it would take me out of everybody’s knowledge,
and they’d think me dead! We were married that day, before a regular
clergyman. I was married under my own name,”--she stopped and looked
at Jack, with a hysterical laugh,--“but he made me write underneath it,
‘known as Nell Montgomery;’ for he said HE wasn’t ashamed of it, nor
should I be.”

“Does he wear long hair and stick straws in it?” said Hamlin gravely.
“Does he ‘hear voices’ and have ‘visions’?”

“He’s a shrewd, sensible, hard-working man,--no more mad than you are,
nor as mad as I was the day I married him. He’s lived up to everything
he’s said.” She stopped, hesitated in her quick, nervous speech; her lip
quivered slightly, but she recalled herself, and looking imploringly,
yet hopelessly, at Jack, gasped, “And that’s what’s the matter!”

Jack fixed his eyes keenly upon her. “And you?” he said curtly.

“I?” she repeated wonderingly.

“Yes, what have YOU done?” he said, with sudden sharpness.

The wonder was so apparent in her eyes that his keen glance softened.
“Why,” she said bewilderingly, “I have been his dog, his slave,--as far
as he would let me. I have done everything; I have not been out of the
house until he almost drove me out. I have never wanted to go anywhere
or see any one; but he has always insisted upon it. I would have been
willing to slave here, day and night, and have been happy. But he said
I must not seem to be ashamed of my past, when he is not. I would have
worn common homespun clothes and calico frocks, and been glad of it, but
he insists upon my wearing my best things, even my theatre things; and
as he can’t afford to buy more, I wear these things I had. I know they
look beastly here, and that I’m a laughing-stock, and when I go out
I wear almost anything to try and hide them; but,” her lip quivered
dangerously again, “he wants me to do it, and it pleases him.”

Jack looked down. After a pause he lifted his lashes towards her
draggled skirt, and said in an easier, conversational tone, “Yes! I
thought I knew that dress. I gave it to you for that walking scene in
‘High Life,’ didn’t I?”

“No,” she said quickly, “it was the blue one with silver
trimming,--don’t you remember? I tried to turn it the first year I was
married, but it never looked the same.”

“It was sweetly pretty,” said Jack encouragingly, “and with that blue
hat lined with silver, it was just fetching! Somehow I don’t quite
remember this one,” and he looked at it critically.

“I had it at the races in ‘58, and that supper Judge Boompointer gave us
at ‘Frisco where Colonel Fish upset the table trying to get at Jim. Do
you know,” she said, with a little laugh, “it’s got the stains of the
champagne on it yet; it never would come off. See!” and she held the
candle with great animation to the breadth of silk before her.

“And there’s more of it on the sleeve,” said Jack; “isn’t there?”

Mrs. Rylands looked reproachfully at Jack.

“That isn’t champagne; don’t you know what it is?”

“No!”

“It’s blood,” she said gravely; “when that Mexican cut poor Ned so
bad,--don’t you remember? I held his head upon my arm while you bandaged
him.” She heaved a little sigh, and then added, with a faint laugh,
“That’s the worst thing about the clothes of a girl in the profession,
they get spoiled or stained before they wear out.”

This large truth did not seem to impress Mr. Hamlin. “Why did you leave
Santa Clara?” he said abruptly, in his previous critical tone.

“Because of the folks there. They were standoffish and ugly. You see,
Josh”--

“Who?”

“Josh Rylands!--HIM! He told everybody who I was, even those who had
never seen me in the bills,--how good I was to marry him, how he had
faith in me and wasn’t ashamed,--until they didn’t believe we were
married at all. So they looked another way when they met us, and didn’t
call. And all the while I was glad they didn’t, but he wouldn’t believe
it, and allowed I was pining on account of it.”

“And were you?”

“I swear to God, Jack, I’d have been content, and more, to have been
just there with him, seein’ nobody, letting every one believe I was dead
and gone, but he said it was wrong, and weak! Maybe it was,” she added,
with a shy, interrogating look at Jack, of which, however, he took no
notice. “Then when he found they wouldn’t call, what do you think he
did?”

“Beat you, perhaps,” suggested Jack cheerfully.

“He never did a thing to me that wasn’t straight out, square, and kind,”
 she said, half indignantly, half hopelessly. “He thought if HIS kind
of people wouldn’t see me, I might like to see my own sort. So without
saying anything to me, he brought down, of all things! Tinkie Clifford,
she that used to dance in the cheap variety shows at ‘Frisco, and her
particular friend, Captain Sykes. It would have just killed you, Jack,”
 she said, with a sudden hysteric burst of laughter, “to have seen Josh,
in his square, straight-out way, trying to be civil and help things
along. But,” she went on, as suddenly relapsing into her former attitude
of worried appeal, “I couldn’t stand it, and when she got to talking
free and easy before Josh, and Captain Sykes to guzzling champagne,
she and me had a row. She allowed I was putting on airs, and I made her
walk, in spite of Josh.”

“And Josh seemed to like it,” said Hamlin carelessly. “Has he seen her
since?”

“No; I reckon he’s cured of asking that kind of company for me. And then
we came here. But I persuaded him not to begin by going round telling
people who I was,--as he did the last time,--but to leave it to folks to
find out if they wanted to, and he gave in. Then he let me fix up this
house and furnish it my own way, and I did!”

“Do you mean to say that YOU fixed up that family vault of a
sitting-room?” said Jack, in horror.

“Yes, I didn’t want any fancy furniture or looking-glasses, and such
like, to attract folks, nor anything to look like the old times. I don’t
think any of the boys would care to come here. And I got rid of a lot of
sporting travelers, ‘wild-cat’ managers, and that kind of tramp in this
way. But”--She hesitated, and her face fell again.

“But what?” said Jack.

“I don’t think that Josh likes it either. He brought home the other day
‘My Johnny is a Shoemakiyure,’ and wanted me to try it on the organ. But
it reminded me how we used to get just sick of singing it on and off the
boards, and I couldn’t touch it. He wanted me to go to the circus that
was touring over at the cross roads, but it was the old Flanigin’s
circus, you know, the one Gussie Riggs used to ride in, with its old
clown and its old ringmaster and the old ‘wheezes,’ and I chucked it.”

“Look here,” said Jack, rising and surveying Mrs. Rylands critically.
“If you go on at this gait, I’ll tell you what that man of yours will
do. He’ll bolt with some of your old friends!”

She turned a quick, scared face upon him for an instant. But only for
an instant. Her hysteric little laugh returned, at once, followed by her
weary, worried look. “No, Jack, you don’t know him! If it was only that!
He cares only for me in his own way,--and,” she stammered as she went
on, “I’ve no luck in making him happy.”

She stopped. The wind shook the house and fired a volley of rain
against the windows. She took advantage of it to draw a torn lace-edged
handkerchief from her pocket behind, and keeping the tail of her eyes in
a frightened fashion on Jack, applied the handkerchief furtively, first
to her nose, and then to her eyes.

“Don’t do that,” said Jack fastidiously, “it’s wet enough outside.”
 Nevertheless, he stood up and gazed at her.

“Well,” he began.

She timidly drew nearer to him, and took a seat on the kitchen table,
looking up wistfully into his eyes.

“Well,” resumed Jack argumentatively, “if he won’t ‘chuck’ you, why
don’t you ‘chuck’ HIM?”

She turned quite white, and suddenly dropped her eyes. “Yes,” she said,
almost inaudibly, “lots of girls would do that.”

“I don’t mean go back to your old life,” continued Jack. “I reckon
you’ve had enough of that. But get into some business, you know, like
other women. A bonnet shop, or a candy shop for children, see? I’ll
help start you. I’ve got a couple of hundred, if not in my own pocket
in somebody’s else, just burning to be used! And then you can look about
you; and perhaps some square business man will turn up and you can marry
him. You know you can’t live this way, nohow. It’s killing you; it ain’t
fair on you, nor on Rylands either.”

“No,” she said quickly, “it ain’t fair on HIM. I know it, I know it
isn’t, I know it isn’t,” she repeated, “only”--She stopped.

“Only what?” said Jack impatiently.

She did not speak. After a pause she picked up the rolling-pin from
the table and began absently rolling it down her lap to her knee, as
if pressing out the stained silk skirt. “Only,” she stammered, slowly
rolling the pin handles in her open palms, “I--I can’t leave Josh.”

“Why can’t you?” said Jack quickly.

“Because--because--I,” she went on, with a quivering lip, working the
rolling-pin heavily down her knee as if she were crushing her answer out
of it,--“because--I--love him!”

There was a pause, a dash of rain against the window, and another dash
from her eyes upon her hands, the rolling-pin, and the skirts she had
gathered up hastily, as she cried, “O Jack! Jack! I never loved anybody
like him! I never knew what love was! I never knew a man like him
before! There never WAS one before!”

To this large, comprehensive, and passionate statement Mr. Jack Hamlin
made no reply. An audacity so supreme had conquered his. He walked to
the window, looked out upon the dark, rain-filmed pane that, however,
reflected no equal change in his own dark eyes, and then returned and
walked round the kitchen table. When he was at her back, without looking
at her, he reached out his hand, took her passive one that lay on the
table in his, grasped it heartily for a single moment, laid it gently
down, and returned around the table, where he again confronted her
cheerfully face to face.

“You’ll make the riffle yet,” he said quietly. “Just now I don’t see
what I could do, or where I could chip in your little game; but if I DO,
or you do, count me in and let me know. You know where to write,--my old
address at Sacramento.” He walked to the corner, took up his still wet
serape, threw it over his shoulders, and picked up his broad-brimmed
riding-hat.

“You’re not going, Jack?” she said hesitatingly, as she rubbed her wet
eyes into a consciousness of his movements. “You’ll wait to see HIM?
He’ll be here in an hour.”

“I’ve been here too long already,” said Jack. “And the less you say
about my calling, even accidentally, the better. Nobody will believe
it,--YOU didn’t yourself. In fact, unless you see how I can help you,
the sooner you consider us all dead and buried, the sooner your luck
will change. Tell your girl I’ve found my own horse so much better that
I have pushed on with him, and give her that.”

He threw a gold coin on the table.

“But your horse is still lame,” she said wonderingly. “What will you do
in this storm?”

“Get into the cover of the next wood and camp out. I’ve done it before.”

“But, Jack!”

He suddenly made a slight gesture of warning. His quick ear had caught
the approach of footsteps along the wet gravel outside. A mischievous
light slid into his dark eyes as he coolly moved backward to the door
and, holding it open, said, in a remarkably clear and distinct voice:--

“Yes, as you say, society is becoming very mixed and frivolous
everywhere, and you’d scarcely know San Francisco now. So delighted,
however, to have made your acquaintance, and regret my business prevents
my waiting to see your good husband. So odd that I should have known
your Aunt Jemima! But, as you say, the world is very small, after all. I
shall tell the deacon how well you are looking,--in spite of the kitchen
smoke in your eyes. Good-by! A thousand thanks for your hospitality.”

And Jack, bowing profoundly to the ground, backed out upon Jane, the
hired man, and the expressman, treading, I grieve to say, with some
deliberation upon the toes of the two latter, in order, possibly, that
in their momentary pain and discomposure they might not scan too closely
the face of this ingenious gentleman, as he melted into the night and
the storm.

Jane entered, with a slight toss of her head.

“Here’s your expressman,--ef you’re wantin’ him NOW.”

Mrs. Rylands was too preoccupied to notice her handmaiden’s significant
emphasis, as she indicated a fresh-looking, bashful young fellow, whose
confusion was evidently heightened by the unexpected egress of Mr.
Hamlin, and the point-blank presence of the handsome Mrs. Rylands.

“Oh, certainly,” said Mrs. Rylands quickly. “So kind of him to oblige
us. Give him the order, Jane, please.”

She turned to escape from the kitchen and these new intruders, when her
eye fell upon the coin left by Mr. Hamlin. “The gentleman wished you to
take that for your trouble, Jane,” she said hastily, pointing to it, and
passed out.

Jane cast a withering look after her retreating skirts, and picking the
coin from the table, turned to the hired man. “Run to the stable after
that dandified young feller, Dick, and hand that back to him. Ye kin say
that Jane Mackinnon don’t run arrants fur money, nor play gooseberry to
other folks fur fun.”


PART II


Mr. Joshua Rylands had, according to the vocabulary of his class, “found
grace” at the age of sixteen, while still in the spiritual state of
“original sin” and the political one of Missouri. He had not indeed
found it by persistent youthful seeking or spiritual insight, but
somewhat violently and turbulently at a camp-meeting. A village boy,
naturally gentle and impressible, with an original character,--limited,
however, in education and experience,--he had, after his first rustic
debauch with some vulgar companions, fallen upon the camp-meeting in
reckless audacity; and instead of being handed over to the district
constable, was taken in and placed upon “the anxious bench,” “rastled
with,” and exhorted by a strong revivalist preacher, “convicted of sin,”
 and--converted! It is doubtful if the shame of a public arrest and legal
punishment would have impressed his youthful spirit as much as did this
spiritual examination and trial, in which he himself became accuser.
Howbeit, its effect, though punitive, was also exemplary. He at once
cast off his evil companions; remaining faithful to his conversion, in
spite of their later “backslidings.” When, after the Western fashion,
the time came for him to forsake his father’s farm and seek a new
“quarter section” on some more remote frontier, he carried into that
secluded, lonely, half-monkish celibacy of pioneer life--which has been
the foundation of so much strong Western character--more than the usual
religious feeling. At once industrious and adventurous, he lived by “the
Word,” as he called it, and Nature as he knew it,--tempted by none of
the vices or sentiments of civilization. When he finally joined the
Californian emigration, it was not as a gold-seeker, but as a discoverer
of new agricultural fields; if the hardship was as great and the rewards
fewer, he nevertheless knew that he retained his safer isolation and
independence of spirit. Vice and civilization were to him synonymous
terms; it was the natural condition of the worldly and unregenerate.
Such was the man who chanced to meet “Nell Montgomery, the Pearl of the
Variety Stage,” on the Sacramento boat, in one of his forced visits
to civilization. Without knowing her in her profession, her frank
exposition of herself did not startle him; he recognized it, accepted
it, and strove to convert it. And as long as this daughter of Folly
forsook her evil ways for him, it was a triumph in which there was no
shame, and might be proclaimed from the housetop. When his neighbors
thought differently, and avoided them, he saw no inconsistency in
bringing his wife’s old friends to divert her: she might in time convert
THEM. He had no more fear of her returning to their ways than he had
of himself “backsliding.” Narrow as was his creed, he had none of the
harshness nor pessimism of the bigot. With the keenest self-scrutiny,
his credulity regarding others was touching.

The storm was still raging when he alighted that evening from the up
coach at the trail nearest his house. Although incumbered with a
heavy carpet-bag, he started resignedly on his two-mile tramp without
begrudging the neighborly act of his wife which had deprived him of
his horse. It was “like her” to do these things in her good-humored
abstraction, an abstraction, however, that sometimes worried him, from
the fear that it indicated some unhappiness with her present lot. He was
longing to rejoin her after his absence of three days, the longest time
they had been separated since their marriage, and he hurried on with
a certain lover-like excitement, quite new to his usually calm and
temperate blood.

Struggling with the storm and darkness, but always with the happy
consciousness of drawing nearer to her in that struggle, he labored on,
finding his perilous way over the indistinguishable trail by certain
landmarks in the distance, visible only to his pioneer eye. That heavier
shadow to the right was not the hillside, but the SLOPE to the distant
hill; that low, regular line immediately before him was not a fence or
wall, but the line of distant gigantic woods, a mile from his home. Yet
as he began to descend the slope towards the wood, he stopped and rubbed
his eyes. There was distinctly a light in it. His first idea was that he
had lost the trail and was nearing the woodman Mackinnon’s cabin. But a
more careful scrutiny revealed to him that it was really the wood, and
the light was a camp-fire. It was a rough night for camping out, but
they were probably some belated prospectors.

When he had reached the fringe of woodland, he could see quite plainly
that the fire was built beside one of the large pines, and that the
little encampment, which looked quite comfortable and secluded from the
storm-beaten trail, was occupied apparently by a single figure. By the
good glow of the leaping fire, that figure standing erect before it,
elegantly shaped, in the graceful folds of a serape, looked singularly
romantic and picturesque, and reminded Joshua Rylands--whose ideas of
art were purely reminiscent of boyish reading--of some picture in a
novel. The heavy black columns of the pines, glancing out of the concave
shadow, also seemed a fitting background to what might have been a scene
in a play. So strongly was he impressed by it that but for his anxiety
to reach his home, still a mile distant, and the fact that he was
already late, he would have penetrated the wood and the seclusion of the
stranger with an offer of hospitality for the night. The man, however,
was evidently capable of taking care of himself, and the outline of a
tethered horse was faintly visible under another tree. It might be
a surveyor or engineer,--the only men of a better class who were
itinerant.

But another and even greater surprise greeted him as he toiled up the
rocky slope towards his farmhouse. The windows of the sitting-room,
which were usually blank and black by night, were glittering with
unfamiliar light. Like most farmers, he seldom used the room except for
formal company, his wife usually avoiding it, and even he himself now
preferred the dining-room or the kitchen. His first suggestion that his
wife had visitors gave him a sense of pleasure on her account, mingled,
however, with a slight uneasiness of his own which he could not account
for. More than that, as he approached nearer he could hear the swell of
the organ above the roar of the swaying pines, and the cadences were
not of a devotional character. He hesitated for a moment, as he had
hesitated at the fire in the woods; yet it was surely his own house! He
hurried to the door, opened it; not only the light of the sitting-room
streamed into the hall, but the ruddier glow of an actual fire in the
disused grate! The familiar dark furniture had been rearranged to catch
some of the glow and relieve its sombreness. And his wife, rising from
the music-stool, was the room’s only occupant!

Mrs. Rylands gazed anxiously and timidly at her husband’s astonished
face, as he threw off his waterproof and laid down his carpet-bag. Her
own face was a little flurried with excitement, and his, half hidden in
his tawny beard, and, possibly owing to his self-introspective nature,
never spontaneously sympathetic, still expressed only wonder! Mrs.
Rylands was a little frightened. It is sometimes dangerous to meddle
with a man’s habits, even when he has grown weary of them.

“I thought,” she began hesitatingly, “that it would be more cheerful for
you in here, this stormy evening. I thought you might like to put your
wet things to dry in the kitchen, and we could sit here together, after
supper, alone.”

I am afraid that Mrs. Rylands did not offer all her thoughts. Ever
since Mr. Hamlin’s departure she had been uneasy and excited, sometimes
falling into fits of dejection, and again lighting up into hysterical
levity; at other times carefully examining her wardrobe, and then with a
sudden impulse rushing downstairs again to give orders for her husband’s
supper, and to make the extraordinary changes in the sitting-room
already noted. Only a few moments before he arrived, she had covertly
brought down a piece of music, and put aside the hymn-books, and taken,
with a little laugh, a pack of cards from her pocket, which she placed
behind the already dismantled vase on the chimney.

“I reckoned you had company, Ellen,” he said gravely, kissing her.

“No,” she said quickly. “That is,” she stopped with a sudden surge of
color in her face that startled her, “there was--a man--here, in the
kitchen--who had a lame horse, and who wanted to get a fresh one. But
he went away an hour ago. And he wasn’t in this room--at least, after it
was fixed up. So I’ve had no company.”

She felt herself again blushing at having blushed, and a little
terrified. There was no reason for it. But for Jack’s warning, she would
have been quite ready to tell her husband all. She had never blushed
before him over her past life; why she should now blush over seeing
Jack, of all people! made her utter a little hysterical laugh. I am
afraid that this experienced little woman took it for granted that her
husband knew that if Jack or any man had been there as a clandestine
lover, she would not have blushed at all. Yet with all her experience,
she did not know that she had blushed simply because it was to Jack that
she had confessed that she loved the man before her. Her husband noted
the blush as part of her general excitement. He permitted her to drag
him into the room and seat him before the hearth, where she sank down on
one knee to pull off his heavy rubber boots. But he waved her aside at
this, pulled them off with his own hands, and let her take them to the
kitchen and bring back his slippers. By this time a smile had lighted
up his hard face. The room was certainly more comfortable and cheerful.
Still he was a little worried; was there not in these changes a falling
away from the grace of self-abnegation which she had so sedulously
practiced?

When supper was served by Jane, in the dull dining-room, Mr. Rylands,
had he not been more engaged in these late domestic changes, might
have noticed that the Missouri girl waited upon him with a certain
commiserating air that was remarkable by its contrast with the frigid
ceremonious politeness with which she attended her mistress. It had not
escaped Mrs. Rylands, however, who ever since Jack’s abrupt departure
had noticed this change in the girl’s demeanor to herself, and with
a woman’s intuitive insight of another woman, had fathomed it. The
comfortable tete-a-tete with Jack, which Jane had looked forward to,
Mrs. Rylands had anticipated herself, and then sent him off! When Joshua
thanked his wife for remembering the pepper-sauce, and Mrs. Rylands
pathetically admitted her forgetfulness, the head-toss which Jane
gave as she left the room was too marked to be overlooked by him. Mrs.
Rylands gave a hysterical little laugh. “I am afraid Jane doesn’t like
my sending away the expressman just after I had also dismissed the
stranger whom she had taken a fancy to, and left her without company,”
 she said unwisely.

Mr. Rylands did not laugh. “I reckon,” he returned slowly, “that Jane
must feel kinder lonely; she bears all the burden of our bein’ outer the
world, without any of our glory in the cause of it.”

Nevertheless, when supper was over, and the pair were seated in the
sitting-room before the fire, this episode was forgotten. Mrs. Rylands
produced her husband’s pipe and tobacco-pouch. He looked around the
formal walls and hesitated. He had been in the habit of smoking in the
kitchen.

“Why not here?” said Mrs. Rylands, with a sudden little note of
decision. “Why should we keep this room only for company that don’t
come? I call it silly.”

This struck Mr. Rylands as logical. Besides, undoubtedly the fire had
mellowed the room. After a puff or two he looked at his wife musingly.
“Couldn’t you make yourself one of them cigarettys, as they call ‘em?
Here’s the tobacco, and I’ll get you the paper.”

“I COULD,” she said tentatively. Then suddenly, “What made you think of
it? You never saw ME smoke!”

“No,” said Rylands, “but that lady, your old friend, Miss Clifford,
does, and I thought you might be hankering after it.”

“How do you know Tinkie Clifford smokes?” said Mrs. Rylands quickly.

“She lit a cigaretty that day she called.”

“I hate it,” said Mrs. Rylands shortly.

Mr. Rylands nodded approval, and puffed meditatively.

“Josh, have you seen that girl since?”

“No,” said Joshua.

“Nor any other girl like her?”

“No,” said Joshua wonderingly. “You see I only got to know her on your
account, Ellen, that she might see you.”

“Well, don’t you do it any more! None of ‘em! Promise me!” She leaned
forward eagerly in her chair.

“But Ellen,”--her husband began gravely.

“I know what you’re going to say, but they can’t do me any good, and you
can’t do them any good as you did ME, so there!”

Mr. Rylands was silent, and smiled meditatively.

“Josh!”

“Yes.”

“When you met me that night on the Sacramento boat, and looked at me,
did you--did I,” she hesitated,--“did you look at me because I had been
crying?”

“I thought you were troubled in spirit, and looked so.”

“I suppose I looked worried, of course; I had no time to change or even
fix my hair; I had on that green dress, and it NEVER was becoming. And
you only spoke to me on account of my awful looks?”

“I saw only your wrestling soul, Ellen, and I thought you needed comfort
and help.”

She was silent for a moment, and then, leaning forward, picked up the
poker and began to thrust it absently between the bars.

“And if it had been some other girl crying and looking awful, you’d have
spoken to her all the same?”

This was a new idea to Mr. Rylands, but with most men logic is supreme.
“I suppose I would,” he said slowly.

“And married her?” She rattled the bars of the grate with the poker as
if to drown the inevitable reply.

Mr. Rylands loved the woman before him, but it pleased him to think that
he loved truth better. “If it had been necessary to her salvation, yes,”
 he said.

“Not Tinkie?” she said suddenly.

“SHE never would have been in your contrite condition.”

“Much you know! Girls like that can cry as well as laugh, just as they
want to. Well! I suppose I DID look horrid.” Nevertheless, she seemed
to gain some gratification from her husband’s reply, and changed
the subject as if fearful of losing that satisfaction by further
questioning.

“I tried some of those songs you brought, but I don’t think they go
well with the harmonium,” she said, pointing to some music on its rack,
“except one. Just listen.” She rose, and with the same nervous quickness
she had shown before, went to the instrument and began to sing and play.
There was a hopeless incongruity between the character of the instrument
and the spirit of the song. Mrs. Rylands’s voice was rather forced and
crudely trained, but Joshua Rylands, sitting there comfortably slippered
by the fire and conscious of the sheeted rain against the window, felt
it good. Presently he arose, and lounging heavily over to the fair
performer, leaned down and imprinted a kiss on the labyrinthine fringes
of her hair. At which Mrs. Rylands caught blindly at his hand nearest
her, and without lifting her other hand from the keys, or her eyes from
the music, said tentatively:--

“You know there’s a chorus just here! Why can’t you try it with me?”

Mr. Rylands hesitated a moment, then, with a preliminary cough, lifted a
voice as crude as hers, but powerful through much camp-meeting exercise,
and roared a chorus which was remarkable chiefly for requiring that
archness and playfulness in execution which he lacked. As the whole
house seemed to dilate with the sound, and the wind outside to withhold
its fury, Mr. Rylands felt that physical delight which children feel
in personal outcry, and was grateful to his wife for the opportunity.
Laying his hand affectionately on her shoulder, he noticed for the first
time that she was in a kind of evening-dress, and that her delicate
white shoulder shone through the black lace that enveloped it.

For an instant Mr. Rylands was shocked at this unwonted exposure. He
had never seen his wife in evening-dress before. It was true they were
alone, and in their own sitting-room, but the room was still invested
with that formality and publicity which seemed to accent this
indiscretion. The simple-minded frontier man’s mind went back to Jane,
to the hired man, to the expressman, the stranger, all of whom might
have noticed it also.

“You have a new dress,” he said slowly, “have you worn it all day?”

“No,” she said, with a timid smile. “I only put it on just before you
came. It’s the one I used to wear in the ballroom scene in ‘Gay Times in
‘Frisco.’ You don’t know it, I know. I thought I would wear it tonight,
and then,” she suddenly grasped his hand, “you’ll let me put all these
things away forever! Won’t you, Josh? I’ve seen such nice pretty calico
at the store to-day, and I can make up one or two home dresses, like
Jane’s, only better fitting, of course. In fact, I asked them to send
the roll up here to-morrow for you to see.”

Mr. Rylands felt relieved. Perhaps his views had changed about the moral
effect of her retaining these symbols of her past, for he consented to
the calico dresses, not, however, without an inward suspicion that she
would not look so well in them, and that the one she had on was more
becoming.

Meantime she tried another piece of music. It was equally incongruous
and slightly Bacchantic.

“There used to be a mighty pretty dance went to that,” she said, nodding
her head in time with the music, and assisting the heavily spasmodic
attempts of the instrument with the pleasant levity of her voice. “I
used to do it.”

“Ye might try it now, Ellen,” suggested her husband, with a
half-frightened, half-amused tolerance.

“YOU play, then,” said Mrs. Rylands quickly, offering her seat to him.

Mr. Rylands sat down to the harmonium, as Mrs. Rylands briskly moved
the table and chairs against the wall. Mr. Rylands played slowly and
strenuously, as from a conscientious regard of the instrument. Mrs.
Rylands stood in the centre of the floor, making a rather pretty,
animated picture, as she again stimulated the heavy harmonium swell not
only with her voice but her hands and feet. Presently she began to skip.

I should warn the reader here that this was before the “shawl” or
“skirt” dancing was in vogue, and I am afraid that pretty Mrs. Rylands’s
performances would now be voted slow. Her silk skirt and frilled
petticoat were lifted just over her small ankles and tiny bronze-kid
shoes. In the course of a pirouette or two, there was a slight further
revelation of blue silk stockings and some delicate embroidery, but
really nothing more than may be seen in the sweep of a modern waltz.
Suddenly the music ceased. Mr. Rylands had left the harmonium and walked
over to the hearth. Mrs. Rylands stopped, and came towards him with a
flushed, anxious face.

“It don’t seem to go right, does it?” she said, with her nervous laugh.
“I suppose I’m getting too old now, and I don’t quite remember it.”

“Better forget it altogether,” he replied gravely. He stopped at seeing
a singular change in her face, and added awkwardly, “When I told you I
didn’t want you to be ashamed of your past, nor to try to forget what
you were, I didn’t mean such things as that!”

“What did you mean?” she said timidly.

The truth was that Mr. Rylands did not know. He had known this sort of
thing only in the abstract. He had never had the least acquaintance with
the class to which his wife had belonged, nor known anything of their
methods. It was a revelation to him now, in the woman he loved, and who
was his wife. He was not shocked so much as he was frightened.

“You shall have the dress to-morrow, Ellen,” he said gently, “and
you can put away these gewgaws. You don’t need to look like Tinkie
Clifford.”

He did not see the look of triumph that lit up her eye, but added, “Go
on and play.”

She sat down obediently to the instrument. He watched her for a few
moments from the toe of her kid slipper on the pedals to the swell
of her shoulders above the keyboard, with a strange, abstracted face.
Presently she stopped and came over to him.

“And when I’ve got these nice calico frocks, and you can’t tell me from
Jane, and I’m a good housekeeper, and settle down to be a farmer’s wife,
maybe I’ll have a secret to tell you.”

“A secret?” he repeated gravely. “Why not now?”

Her face was quite aglow with excitement and a certain timid mischief as
she laughed: “Not while you are so solemn. It can wait.”

He looked at his watch. “I must give some orders to Jim about the stock
before he turns in,” he said.

“He’s gone to the stables already,” said Mrs. Rylands.

“No matter; I can go there and find him.”

“Shall I bring your boots?” she said quickly.

“I’ll put them on when I pass through the kitchen. I won’t be long away.
Now go to bed. You are looking tired,” he said gently, as he gazed at
the drawn lines about her eyes and mouth. Her former pretty color
struck him also as having changed of late, and as being irregular and
inharmonious.

As Mrs. Rylands obediently ascended the stairs she heaved a faint sigh,
her only recognition of her husband’s criticism. He turned and passed
quickly into the kitchen. He wanted to be alone to collect his thoughts.
But he was surprised to find Jane still there, sitting bolt upright in
a chair in the corner. Apparently she had been expecting him, for as he
entered she stood up, and wiped her cheek and mouth with one hand, as if
to compress her lips the more tightly.

“I reckoned,” she began, “that unless you war for forgettin’ everythin’
in these yer goings on, ye’d be passin’ through here to tend to your
stock. I’ve got a word to say to ye, Mr. Rylands. When I first kem over
here to help, I got word from the folks around that your wife afore
you married her was just one o’ them bally dancers. Well, that was YOUR
lookout, not mine! Jane Mackinnon ain’t the kind to take everybody’s
sayin’ as gospil, but she kalkilates to treat folks ez she finds ‘em.
When she finds ‘em lyin’ and deceivin’; when she finds em purtendin’ one
thing and doin’ another; when she finds ‘em makin’ fools tumble to ‘em;
playing soots on their own husbands, and turnin’ an honest house into a
music-hall and a fandango shop, she kicks! You hear me! Jane Mackinnon
kicks!”

“What do you mean?” said Mr. Rylands sternly.

“I mean,” said Miss Mackinnon, striking her hips with the back of her
hands smartly, and accenting each word that dropped like a bullet from
her mouth with an additional blow,--“I--mean--that--your--wife--had
one--of--her--old--hangers-on--from--‘Frisco--here--in--this
very--kitchen--all--the--arternoon; there! I mean that whiles she was
waitin’ here for you, she was canoodlin’ and cryin’ over old times with
him! I saw her myself through the winder. That’s what I mean, Mr. Joshua
Rylands.”

“It’s false! She had some poor stranger here with a lame horse. She told
me so herself.”

Jane Mackinnon laughed shrilly.

“Did she tell you that the poor stranger was young and pretty-faced,
with black moustarches? that his store clothes must have cost a fortin,
saying nothing of his gold-lined, broadcloth sarrapper? Did she say that
his horse was so lame that when I went to get another he wouldn’t WAIT
for it? Did she tell you WHO he was?”

“No, she did not know,” said Rylands sternly, but with a whitening face.

“Well, I’ll tell you! The gambler, the shooter!--the man whose name
is black enough to stain any woman he knows. Jim recognized him like
a shot; he sez, the moment he clapped eyes on him at the door, ‘Dod
blasted, if it ain’t Jack Hamlin!’”

Little as Mr. Rylands knew of the world, he had heard that name. But it
was not THAT he was thinking of. He was thinking of the camp-fire in the
wood, the handsome figure before it, the tethered horse. He was thinking
of the lighted sitting-room, the fire, his wife’s bare shoulders, her
slippers, stockings, and the dance. He saw it all,--a lightning-flash to
his dull imagination. The room seemed to expand and then grow smaller,
the figure of Jane to sway backwards and forwards before him. He
murmured the name of God with lips that were voiceless, caught at the
kitchen table to steady himself, held it till he felt his arms grow
rigid, and then recovered himself,--white, cold, and sane.

“Speak a word of this to HER,” he said deliberately, “enter her room
while I’m gone, even leave the kitchen before I come back, and I’ll
throw you into the road. Tell that hired man, if he dares to breathe it
to a soul I’ll strangle him.”

The unlooked-for rage of this quiet, God-fearing man, and dupe, as she
believed, was terrible, but convincing. She shrank back into the corner
as he coolly drew on his boots and waterproof, and without another word
left the house.

He knew what he was going to do as well as if it had been ordained for
him. He knew he would find the young man in the wood; for whatever were
the truth of the other stories, he and the visitor were identical; he
had seen him with his own eyes. He would confront him face to face and
know all; and until then, he could not see his wife again. He walked on
rapidly, but without feverishness or mental confusion. He saw his duty
plainly,--if Ellen had “backslidden,” he must give her another trial.
These were his articles of faith. He should not put her away; but she
should nevermore be wife to him. It was HE who had tempted her, it was
true; perhaps God would forgive her for that reason, but HE could never
love her again.

The fury of the storm had somewhat abated as he reached the wood. The
fire was still there, but no longer a leaping flame. A dull glow in
the darkness of the forest aisles was all that indicated its position.
Rylands at once plunged in that direction; he was near enough to see the
red embers when he heard a sharp click, and a voice called:--

“Hold up!”

Mr. Hamlin was a light sleeper. The crackle of underbrush had been
enough to disturb him. The voice was his; the click was the cocking of
his revolver.

Rylands was no coward, but halted diplomatically.

“Now, then,” said Mr. Hamlin’s voice, “a little more this way, IN THE
LIGHT, if you please!”

Rylands moved as directed, and saw Mr. Hamlin lying before the fire,
resting easily on one hand, with his revolver in the other.

“Thank you!” said Jack. “Excuse my precautions, but it is night, and
this is, for the present, my bedroom.”

“My name is Rylands; you called at my house this afternoon and saw my
wife,” said Rylands slowly.

“I did,” said Hamlin. “It was mighty kind of you to return my call so
soon, but I didn’t expect it.”

“I reckon not. But I know who you are, and that you are an old associate
of hers, in the days of her sin and unregeneration. I want you to answer
me, before God and man, what was your purpose in coming there to-day?”

“Look here! I don’t think it’s necessary to drag in strangers to hear my
answer,” said Jack, lying down again, “but I came to borrow a horse.”

“Is that the truth?”

Jack got upon his feet very solemnly, put on his hat, drew down his
waistcoat, and approached Mr. Rylands with his hands in his pockets.

“Mr. Rylands,” he said, with great suavity of manner, “this is the
second time today that I have had the honor of having my word doubted by
your family. Your wife was good enough to question my assertion that I
didn’t know that she was living here, but that was a woman’s vanity. You
have no such excuse. There is my horse yonder, lame, as you may see. I
didn’t lame him for the sake of seeing your wife nor you.”

There was that in Mr. Hamlin’s audacity and perfect self-possession
which, even while it irritated, never suggested deceit. He was too
reckless of consequence to lie. Mr. Rylands was staggered and half
convinced. Nevertheless, he hesitated.

“Dare you tell me everything that happened between my wife and you?”

“Dare you listen?” said Mr. Hamlin quietly.

Mr. Rylands turned a little white. After a moment he said:--

“Yes.”

“Good!” said Mr. Hamlin. “I like your grit, though I don’t mind telling
you it’s the ONLY thing I like about you. Sit down. Well, I haven’t seen
Nell Montgomery for three years until I met her as your wife, at your
house. She was surprised as I was, and frightened as I wasn’t. She spent
the whole interview in telling me the history of her marriage and her
life with you, and nothing more. I cannot say that it was remarkably
entertaining, or that she was as amusing as your wife as she was as Nell
Montgomery, the variety actress. When she had finished, I came away.”

Mr. Rylands, who had seated himself, made a movement as if to rise. But
Mr. Hamlin laid his hand on his knee.

“I asked you if you dared to listen. I have something myself to say of
that interview. I found your wife wearing the old dresses that other men
had given her, and she said she wore them because she thought it pleased
you. I found that you, who are questioning my calling upon her, had
already got the worst of her old chums to visit her without asking her
consent; I found that instead of being the first one to lie for her
and hide her, you were the first one to tell anybody her history, just
because you thought it was to the glory of God generally, and of Joshua
Rylands in particular.”

“A man’s motives are his own,” stammered Rylands.

“Sorry you didn’t see it when you questioned mine just now,” said Jack
coolly.

“Then she complained to you?” said Rylands hesitatingly.

“I didn’t say that,” said Jack shortly.

“But you found her unhappy?”

“Damnably.”

“And you advised her”--said Rylands tentatively.

“I advised her to chuck you and try to get a better husband.” He paused,
and then added, with a disgusted laugh, “but she didn’t tumble to it,
for a d----d silly reason.”

“What reason?” said Rylands hurriedly.

“Said she LOVED you,” returned Jack, kicking a brand back into the fire.
Mr. Rylands’s white cheeks flamed out suddenly like the brand. Seeing
which, Jack turned upon him deliberately.

“Mr. Joshua Rylands, I’ve seen many fools in my time. I’ve seen men
holding four aces backed down because they thought they KNEW the other
man had a royal flush! I’ve seen a man sell his claim for a wild-cat
share, with the gold lying a foot below him in the ground he walked on.
I’ve seen a dead shot shoot wild because he THOUGHT he saw something in
the other man’s eye. I’ve seen a heap of God-forsaken fools, but I never
saw one before who claimed God as a pal. You’ve got a wife a d----d
sight truer to you for what you call her ‘sin,’ than you’ve ever been
to her, with all your d----d salvation! And as you couldn’t make her
otherwise, though you’ve tried to hard enough, it seems to me that for
square downright chuckle-headedness, you can take the cake! Good-night!
Now, run away and play! You’re making me tired.”

“One moment,” said Mr. Rylands awkwardly and hurriedly. “I may have
wronged you; I was mistaken. Won’t you come back with me and accept
my--our--hospitality?”

“Not much,” said Jack. “I left your house because I thought it better
for you and her that no one should know of my being there.”

“But you were already recognized,” said Mr. Rylands. “It was Jane who
lied about you, and your return with me will confute her slanders.”

“Who?” asked Jack.

“Jane, our hired girl.”

Mr. Hamlin uttered an indescribable laugh.

“That’s just as well! You simply tell Jane you SAW me; that I was
greatly shocked at what she said, but that I forgive her. I don’t think
she’ll say any more.”


Strange to add, Mr. Hamlin’s surmise was correct. Mr. Rylands found Jane
still in the kitchen alone, terrified, remorseful, yet ever after
silent on the subject. Stranger still, the hired man became equally
uncommunicative. Mrs. Rylands, attributing her husband’s absence only
to care of the stock, had gone to bed in a feverish condition, and Mr.
Rylands did not deem it prudent to tell her of his interview. The next
day she sent for the doctor, and it was deemed necessary for her to
keep her bed for a few days. Her husband was singularly attentive and
considerate during that time, and it was probable that Mrs. Rylands
seized that opportunity to tell him the secret she spoke of the night
before. Whatever it was,--for it was not generally known for a few
months later,--it seemed to draw them closer together, imparted a
protecting dignity to Joshua Rylands, which took the place of his
former selfish austerity, gave them a future to talk of confidentially,
hopefully, and sometimes foolishly, which took the place of their more
foolish past, and when the roll of calico came from the cross roads, it
contained also a quantity of fine linen, laces, small caps, and other
trifles, somewhat in contrast to the more homely materials ordered.

And when three months were past, the sitting-room was often lit up and
made cheerful, particularly on that supreme occasion when, with a great
deal of enthusiasm, all the women of the countryside flocked to see Mrs.
Rylands and her first baby. And a more considerate and devoted couple
than the father and mother they had never known.



THE MAN AT THE SEMAPHORE


In the early days of the Californian immigration, on the extremest point
of the sandy peninsula, where the bay of San Francisco debouches into
the Pacific, there stood a semaphore telegraph. Tossing its black arms
against the sky,--with its back to the Golden Gate and that vast expanse
of sea whose nearest shore was Japan,--it signified to another semaphore
further inland the “rigs” of incoming vessels, by certain uncouth signs,
which were again passed on to Telegraph Hill, San Francisco, where they
reappeared on a third semaphore, and read to the initiated “schooner,”
 “brig” “ship,” or “steamer.” But all homesick San Francisco had learned
the last sign, and on certain days of the month every eye was turned to
welcome those gaunt arms widely extended at right angles, which meant
“sidewheel steamer” (the only steamer which carried the mails) and
“letters from home.” In the joyful reception accorded to that herald of
glad tidings, very few thought of the lonely watcher on the sand dunes
who dispatched them, or even knew of that desolate Station.

For desolate it was beyond description. The Presidio, with its
voiceless, dismounted cannon and empty embrasures hidden in a hollow,
and the Mission Dolores, with its crumbling walls and belfry tower lost
in another, made the ultima thule of all San Francisco wandering. The
Cliff house and Fort Point did not then exist; from Black Point the
curving line of shore of “Yerba Buena”--or San Francisco--showed only
a stretch of glittering wind-swept sand dunes, interspersed with
straggling gullies of half-buried black “scrub oak.” The long six
months’ summer sun fiercely beat upon it from the cloudless sky above;
the long six months’ trade winds fiercely beat upon it from the west;
the monotonous roll-call of the long Pacific surges regularly beat upon
it from the sea. Almost impossible to face by day through sliding sands
and buffeting winds, at night it was impracticable through the dense
sea-fog that stole softly through the Golden Gate at sunset. Thence,
until morning, sea and shore were a trackless waste, bounded only by the
warning thunders of the unseen sea. The station itself, a rudely built
cabin, with two windows,--one furnished with a telescope,--looked like
a heap of driftwood, or a stranded wreck left by the retiring sea; the
semaphore--the only object for leagues--lifted above the undulating
dunes, took upon itself various shapes, more or less gloomy, according
to the hour or weather,--a blasted tree, the masts and clinging spars
of a beached ship, a dismantled gallows; or, with the background of a
golden sunset across the Gate, and its arms extended at right angles,
to a more hopeful fancy it might have seemed the missionary Cross, which
the enthusiast Portala lifted on that heathen shore a hundred years
before.

Not that Dick Jarman--the solitary station keeper--ever indulged this
fancy. An escaped convict from one of her Britannic Majesty’s penal
colonies, a “stowaway” in the hold of an Australian ship, he had landed
penniless in San Francisco, fearful of contact with his more honest
countrymen already there, and liable to detection at any moment. Luckily
for him, the English immigration consisted mainly of gold-seekers en
route to Sacramento and the southern mines. He was prudent enough to
resist the temptation to follow them, and accepted the post of semaphore
keeper,--the first work offered him,--which the meanest immigrant,
filled with dreams of gold, would have scorned. His employers asked him
no questions, and demanded no references; his post could be scarcely
deemed one of trust,--there was no property for him to abscond with but
the telescope; he was removed from temptation and evil company in his
lonely waste; his duties were as mechanical as the instrument he worked,
and interruption of them would be instantly known at San Francisco. For
this he would receive his board and lodging and seventy-five dollars a
month,--a sum to be ridiculed in those “flush days,” but which seemed to
the broken-spirited and half-famished stowaway a princely independence.

And then there was rest and security! He was free from that torturing
anxiety and fear of detection which had haunted him night and day for
three months. The ceaseless vigilance and watchful dread he had known
since his escape, he could lay aside now. The rude cabin on the sand
dune was to him as the long-sought cave to some hunted animal. It seemed
impossible that any one would seek him there. He was spared alike the
contact of his enemies or the shame of recognizing even a friendly face,
until by each he would be forgotten. From his coign of vantage on that
desolate waste, and with the aid of his telescope, no stranger could
approach within two or three miles of his cabin without undergoing his
scrutiny. And at the worst, if he was pursued here, before him was the
trackless shore and the boundless sea!

And at times there was a certain satisfaction in watching, unseen and in
perfect security, the decks of passing ships. With the aid of his glass
he could mingle again with the world from which he was debarred, and
gloomily wonder who among those passengers knew their solitary watcher,
or had heard of his deeds; it might have made him gloomier had he known
that in those eager faces turned towards the golden haven there was
little thought of anything but themselves. He tried to read in faces on
board the few outgoing ships the record of their success with a strange
envy. They were returning home! HOME! For sometimes--but seldom--he
thought of his own home and his past. It was a miserable past of forgery
and embezzlement that had culminated a career of youthful dissipation
and self-indulgence, and shut him out, forever, from the staid old
English cathedral town where he was born. He knew that his relations
believed and wished him dead. He thought of this past with little
pleasure, but with little remorse. Like most of his stamp, he believed
it was ill-luck, chance, somebody else’s fault, but never his own
responsible action. He would not repent; he would be wiser only. And he
would not be retaken--alive!

Two or three months passed in this monotonous duty, in which he partly
recovered his strength and his nerves. He lost his furtive, restless,
watchful look; the bracing sea air and the burning sun put into his face
the healthy tan and the uplifted frankness of a sailor. His eyes grew
keener from long scanning of the horizon; he knew where to look
for sails, from the creeping coastwise schooner to the far-rounding
merchantman from Cape Horn. He knew the faint line of haze that
indicated the steamer long before her masts and funnels became visible.
He saw no soul except the solitary boatman of the little “plunger,”
 who landed his weekly provisions at a small cove hard by. The boatman
thought his secretiveness and reticence only the surliness of his
nation, and cared little for a man who never asked for the news, and to
whom he brought no letters. The long nights which wrapped the cabin in
sea-fog, and at first seemed to heighten the exile’s sense of security,
by degrees, however, became monotonous, and incited an odd restlessness,
which he was wont to oppose by whiskey,--allowed as a part of his
stores,--which, while it dulled his sensibilities, he, however, never
permitted to interfere with his mechanical duties.

He had been there five months, and the hills on the opposite shore
between Tamalpais were already beginning to show their russet yellow
sides. One bright morning he was watching the little fleet of Italian
fishing-boats hovering in the bay. This was always a picturesque
spectacle, perhaps the only one that relieved the general monotony of
his outlook. The quaint lateen sails of dull red, or yellow, showing
against the sparkling waters, and the red caps or handkerchiefs of the
fishermen, might have attracted even a more abstracted man. Suddenly one
of the larger boats tacked, and made directly for the little cove
where his weekly plunger used to land. In an instant he was alert
and suspicious. But a close examination of the boat through his glass
satisfied him that it contained, in addition to the crew, only two or
three women, apparently the family of the fishermen. As it ran up on
the beach and the entire party disembarked he could see it was merely
a careless, peaceable invasion, and he thought no more about it. The
strangers wandered about the sands, gesticulating and laughing; they
brought a pot ashore, built a fire, and cooked a homely meal. He
could see that from time to time the semaphore--evidently a novelty to
them--had attracted their attention; and having occasion to signal the
arrival of a bark, the working of the uncouth arms of the instrument
drew the children in half-frightened curiosity towards it, although the
others held aloof, as if fearful of trespassing upon some work of the
government, no doubt secretly guarded by the police. A few mornings
later he was surprised to see upon the beach, near the same locality,
a small heap of lumber which had evidently been landed in the early
morning fog. The next day an old tent appeared on the spot, and the
men, evidently fishermen, began the erection of a rude cabin beside it.
Jarman had been long enough there to know that it was government land,
and that these manifestly humble “squatters” upon it would not be
interfered with for some time to come. He began to be uneasy again; it
was true they were fully half a mile from him, and they were foreigners;
but might not their reckless invasion of the law attract others, in
this lawless country, to do the same? It ought to be stopped. For once
Richard Jarman sided with legal authority.

But when the cabin was completed, it was evident from what he saw of its
rude structure that it was only a temporary shelter for the fisherman’s
family and the stores, and refitting of the fishing-boat, more
convenient to them than the San Francisco wharves. The beach was
utilized for the mending of nets and sails, and thus became half
picturesque. In spite of the keen northwestern trades, the cloudless,
sunshiny mornings tempted these southerners back to their native al
fresco existence; they not only basked in the sun, but many of their
household duties, and even the mysteries of their toilet, were performed
in the open air. They did not seem to care to penetrate into the
desolate region behind them; their half-amphibious habit kept them near
the water’s edge, and Richard Jarman, after taking his limited walks
for the first few mornings in another direction, found it no longer
necessary to avoid the locality, and even forgot their propinquity.

But one morning, as the fog was clearing away and the sparkle of the
distant sea was beginning to show from his window, he rose from his
belated breakfast to fetch water from the “breaker” outside, which had
to be replenished weekly from Sancelito, as there was no spring in his
vicinity. As he opened the door, he was inexpressibly startled by the
figure of a young woman standing in front of it, who, however, half
fearfully, half laughingly withdrew before him. But his own manifest
disturbance apparently gave her courage.

“I jess was looking at that thing,” she said bashfully, pointing to the
semaphore.

He was still more astonished, for, looking at her dark eyes and olive
complexion, he had expected her to speak Italian or broken English. And,
possibly because for a long time he had seen and known little of women,
he was quite struck with her good looks. He hesitated, stammered, and
then said:--

“Won’t you come in?”

She drew back still farther and made a rapid gesture of negation with
her head, her hand, and even her whole lithe figure. Then she said, with
a decided American intonation:--

“No, sir.”

“Why not?” said Jarman mechanically.

The girl sidled up against the cabin, keeping her eyes fixed on Jarman
with a certain youthful shrewdness.

“Oh, you know!” she said.

“I really do not. Tell me why.”

She drew herself up against the wall a little proudly, though still
youthfully, with her hands behind her.

“I ain’t that kind of girl,” she said simply.

The blood rushed to Jarman’s checks. Dissipated and abandoned as his
life had been, small respecter of women as he was, he was shocked and
shamed. Knowing too, as he did, how absorbed he was in other things, he
was indignant, because not guilty.

“Do as you please, then,” he said shortly, and reentered the cabin. But
the next moment he saw his error in betraying an irritation that was
open to misconstruction. He came out again, scarcely looking at the
girl, who was lounging away.

“Do you want me to explain to you how the thing works?” he said
indifferently. “I can’t show you unless a ship comes in.”

The girl’s eyes brightened softly as she turned to him.

“Do tell me,” she said, with an anticipatory smile and flash of white
teeth. “Won’t you?”

She certainly was very pretty and simple, in spite of her late speech.
Jarman briefly explained to her the movements of the semaphore arms and
their different significance. She listened with her capped head a little
on one side like an attentive bird, and her arms unconsciously imitating
the signs. Certainly, for all that she SPOKE like an American, her
gesticulation was Italian.

“And then,” she said triumphantly when he paused, “when the sailors see
that sign up they know they are coming in the harbor.”

Jarman smiled, as he had not smiled since he had been there. He
corrected this mistake of her eager haste to show her intelligence, and,
taking the telescope, pointed out the other semaphore,--a thin black
outline on a distant inland hill. He then explained how HIS signs were
repeated by that instrument to San Francisco.

“My! Why, I always allowed that was only the cross stuck up in the Lone
Mountain Cemetery,” she said.

“You are a Catholic?”

“I reckon.”

“And you are an Italian?”

“Father is, but mother was a ‘Merikan, same as me. Mother’s dead.”

“And your father is the fisherman yonder?”

“Yes,--but,” with a look of pride, “he’s got the biggest boat of any.”

“And only you and your family are ashore here?”

“Yes, and sometimes Mark.” She laughed an odd little laugh.

“Mark? Who’s he?” he asked quickly.

He had not noticed the sudden coquettish pose and half-affected
bashfulness of the girl; he was thinking only of the possibility of
detection by strangers.

“Oh, he is Marco Franti, but I call him ‘Mark.’ It’s the same name, you
know, and it makes him mad,” said the girl, with the same suggestion of
archness and coquetry.

But all this was lost on Jarman.

“Oh, another Italian,” he said, relieved. She turned away a little
awkwardly when he added, “But you haven’t told me YOUR name, you know.”

“Cara.”

“Cara,--that’s ‘dear’ in Italian, isn’t it?” he said, with a
reminiscence of the opera and a half smile.

“Yes,” she said a little scornfully, “but it means Carlotta,--Charlotte,
you know. Some girls call me Charley,” she said hurriedly.

“I see--Cara--or Carlotta Franti.”

To his surprise she burst into a peal of laughter.

“I reckon not YET. Franti is Mark’s name, not mine. Mine is
Murano,--Carlotta Murano. Good-by.” She moved away, then stopped
suddenly and said, “I’m comin’ again some time when the thing is
working,” and with a nod of her head, ran away. He looked after her;
could see the outlines of her youthful figure in her slim cotton
gown,--limp and clinging in the damp sea air, and the sudden revelation
of her bare ankles thrust stockingless into canvas shoes.

He went back into his cabin, when presently his attention was engrossed
by an incoming vessel. He made the signals, half expecting, almost
hoping, that the girl would return to watch him. But her figure was
already lost in the sand dunes. Yet he fancied he still heard the echoes
of her voice and his own in this cabin which had so long been dumb and
voiceless, and he now started at every sound. For the first time he
became aware of the dreadful disorder and untidiness of its uninvaded
privacy. He could scarcely believe he had been living with his stove,
his bed, and cooking utensils all in one corner of the barnlike room,
and he began to put them “to rights” in a rough, hard formality,
strongly suggestive of his convict experience. He rolled up his blankets
into a hard cylinder at the head of his cot. He scraped out his kettles
and saucepans, and even “washed down” the floor, afterwards sprinkling
clean dry sand, hot with the noonday sunshine, on its half-dried boards.
In arranging these domestic details he had to change the position of a
little mirror; and glancing at it for the first time in many days, he
was dissatisfied with his straggling beard,--grown during his voyage
from Australia,--and although he had retained it as a disguise, he at
once shaved it off, leaving only a mustache, and revealing a face from
which a healthier life and out-of-door existence had removed the last
traces of vice and dissipation. But he did not know it.

All the next day he thought of his fair visitor, and found himself often
repeating her odd remark that she was “not that kind of girl,” with a
smile that was alternately significant or vacant. Evidently she could
take care of herself, he thought, although her very good looks no doubt
had exposed her to the rude attentions of fishermen or the common drift
of San Francisco wharves. Perhaps this was why her father brought her
here. When the day passed and she came not, he began vaguely to wonder
if he had been rude to her. Perhaps he had taken her simple remark too
seriously; perhaps she had expected he would only laugh, and had found
him dull and stupid. Perhaps he had thrown away an opportunity. An
opportunity for what? To renew his old life and habits? No, no! The
horrors of his recent imprisonment and escape were still too fresh in
his memory; he was not safe yet. Then he wondered if he had not grown
spiritless and pigeon-livered in his solitude and loneliness. The next
day he searched for her with his glass, and saw her playing with one
of the children on the beach,--a very picture of child or nymphlike
innocence. Perhaps it was because she was not “that kind of girl” that
she had attracted him. He laughed bitterly. Yes; that was very funny;
he, an escaped convict, drawn towards honest, simple innocence! Yet he
knew--he was positive--he had not thought of any ill when he spoke to
her. He took a singular, a ridiculous pride in and credit to himself for
that. He repeated it incessantly to himself. Then what made her angry?
Himself! The devil! Did he carry, then, the record of his past life
forever in his face--in his speech--in his manners? The thought made
him sullen. The next day he would not look towards the shore; it was
wonderful what excitement and satisfaction he got out of that strange
act of self-denial; it made the day seem full that had been so vacant
before; yet he could not tell why or wherefore. He felt injured, but he
rather liked it. Yet in the night he was struck with the idea that she
might have gone back to San Francisco, and he lay awake longing for
the morning light to satisfy him. Yet when the fog cleared, and from
a nearer point, behind a sand dune, he discovered, by the aid of his
glass, that she was seated on the sun-warmed sands combing out her long
hair like a mermaid, he immediately returned to the cabin, and that
morning looked no more that way. In the afternoon, there being no sails
in sight, he turned aside from the bay and walked westward towards the
ocean, halting only at the league-long line of foam which marked the
breaking Pacific surges. Here he was surprised to see a little child,
half-naked, following barefooted the creeping line of spume, or running
after the detached and quivering scraps of foam that chased each other
over the wet sand, and only a little further on, to come upon Cara
herself, sitting with her elbows on her knees and her round chin in her
hands, apparently gazing over the waste of waters before her. A sudden
and inexplicable shyness overtook him. He hesitated, and stepped
half-hidden in a gully between the sand dunes.

As yet he had not been observed; the young girl called to the child and,
suddenly rising, threw off her red cap and shawl and quietly began to
disrobe herself. A couple of coarse towels were at her feet. Jarman
instantly comprehended that she was going to bathe with the child. She
undoubtedly knew as well as he did that she was safe in that solitude;
that no one could intrude upon her privacy from the bay shore, nor from
the desolate inland trail to the sea, without her knowledge. Of his
own contiguity she had evidently taken no thought, believing him safely
housed in his cabin beside the semaphore. She lifted her hands, and with
a sudden movement shook out her long hair and let it fall down her back
at the same moment that her unloosened blouse began to slip from her
shoulders. Richard Jarman turned quickly and walked noiselessly and
rapidly away, until the little hillock had shut out the beach.

His retreat was as sudden, unreasoning, and unpremeditated as his
intrusion. It was not like himself, he knew, and yet it was as perfectly
instinctive and natural as if he had intruded upon a sister. In the
South Seas he had seen native girls diving beside the vessels for coins,
but they had provoked no such instinct as that which possessed him now.
More than that, he swept a quick, wrathful glance along the horizon on
either side, and then, mounting a remote hillock which still hid him
from the beach, he sat there and kept watch and ward. From time to time
the strong sea-breeze brought him the sound of infantine screams and
shouts of girlish laughter from the unseen shore; he only looked the
more keenly and suspiciously for any wandering trespasser, and did not
turn his head. He lay there nearly half an hour, and when the sounds had
ceased, rose and made his way slowly back to the cabin. He had not gone
many yards before he heard the twitter of voices and smothered laughter
behind him. He turned; it was Cara and the child,--a girl of six or
seven. Cara’s face was rosy,--possibly from her bath, and possibly
from some shame-faced consciousness. He slackened his pace, and as they
ranged beside him said, “Good-morning!”

“Lord!” said Cara, stifling another laugh, “we didn’t know you were
around; we thought you were always ‘tending your telegraph, didn’t we,
Lucy?” (to the child, who was convulsed with mirth and sheepishness).
“Why, we’ve been taking a wash in the sea.” She tried to gather up her
long hair, which had been left to stray over her shoulders and dry in
the sunlight, and even made a slight pretense of trying to conceal the
wet towels they were carrying.

Jarman did not laugh. “If you had told me,” he said gravely, “I could
have kept watch for you with my glass while you were there. I could see
further than you.”

“Tould you see US?” asked the little girl, with hopeful vivacity.

“No!” said Jarman, with masterly evasion. “There are little sandhills
between this and the beach.”

“Then how tould other people see us?” persisted the child.

Jarman could see that the older girl was evidently embarrassed, and
changed the subject. “I sometimes go out,” he said, “when I can see
there are no vessels in sight, and I take ray glass with me. I can
always get back in time to make signals. I thought, in fact,” he said,
glancing at Cara’s brightening face, “that I might get as far as
your house on the shore some day.” To his surprise, her embarrassment
suddenly seemed to increase, although she had looked relieved before,
and she did not reply. After a moment she said abruptly:--

“Did you ever see the sea-lions?”

“No,” said Jarman.

“Not the big ones on Seal Rock, beyond the cliffs?” continued the girl,
in real astonishment.

“No,” repeated Jarman. “I never walked in that direction.” He vaguely
remembered that they were a curiosity which sometimes attracted parties
thither, and for that reason he had avoided the spot.

“Why, I have sailed all around the rock in father’s boat,” continued
Cara, with importance. “That’s the best way to see ‘em, and folks from
Frisco sometimes takes a sail out there just on purpose,--it’s too sandy
to walk or drive there. But it’s only a step from here. Look here!” she
said suddenly, and frankly opening her fine eyes upon him. “I’m going
to take Lucy there to-morrow, and I’ll show you.” Jarman felt his cheeks
flush quickly with a pleasure that embarrassed him. “It won’t take
long,” added Cara, mistaking his momentary hesitation, “and you can
leave your telegraph alone. Nobody will be there, so no one will see you
and nobody know it.”

He would have gone then, anyway, he knew, yet in his absurd
self-consciousness he was glad that her last suggestion had relieved him
of a sense of reckless compliance. He assented eagerly, when with a wave
of her hand, a flash of her white teeth, and the same abruptness she had
shown at their last parting, she caught Lucy by the arm and darted away
in a romping race to her dwelling. Jarman started after her. He had
not wanted to go to her father’s house particularly, but why was SHE
evidently as averse to it? With the subtle pleasure that this admission
gave him there was a faint stirring of suspicion.

It was gone when he found her and Lucy the next morning, radiant with
the sunshine, before his door. The restraint of their previous meetings
had been removed in some mysterious way, and they chatted gayly as they
walked towards the cliffs. She asked him frankly many questions about
himself, why he had come there, and if he “wasn’t lonely;” she answered
frankly--I fear much more frankly than he answered her--the many
questions he asked her about herself and her friends. When they reached
the cliffs they descended to the beach, which they found deserted.
Before them--it seemed scarce a pistol shot from the shore arose a high,
broad rock, beaten at its base by the long Pacific surf, on which a
number of shapeless animals were uncouthly disporting. This was Seal
Rock, the goal of their journey.

Yet after a few moments they no longer looked at it, but seated on the
sand, with Lucy gathering shells at the water’s edge, they continued
their talk. Presently the talk became eager confidences, and
then,--there were long and dangerous lapses of silence, when both were
fain to make perfunctory talk with Lucy on the beach. After one of those
silences Jarman said:--

“Do you know I rather thought yesterday you didn’t want me to come to
your father’s house. Why was that?”

“Because Marco was there,” said the girl frankly.

“What had HE to do with it?” said Jarman abruptly.

“He wants to marry me.”

“And do you want to marry HIM?” said Jarman quickly.

“No,” said the girl passionately.

“Why don’t you get rid of him, then?”

“I can’t, he’s hiding here,--he’s father’s friend.”

“Hiding? What’s he been doing?”

“Stealing. Stealing gold-dust from miners. I never cared for him anyway.
And I hate a thief!”

She looked up quickly. Jarman had risen to his feet, his face turned to
sea.

“What are you looking at?” she said wonderingly.

“A ship,” said Jarman, in a strange, hoarse voice. “I must hurry back
and signal. I’m afraid I haven’t even time to walk with you,--I must run
for it. Good-by!”

He turned without offering his hand and ran hurriedly in the direction
of the semaphore.

Cara, discomfited, turned her black eyes to the sea. But it seemed empty
as before, no sail, no ship on the horizon line, only a little schooner
slowly beating out of the Gate. Ah, well! It no doubt was there,--that
sail,--though she could not see it; how keen and far-seeing his
handsome, honest eyes were! She heaved a little sigh, and, calling Lucy
to her side, began to make her way homeward. But she kept her eyes on
the semaphore; it seemed to her the next thing to seeing him,--this man
she was beginning to love. She waited for the gaunt arms to move with
the signal of the vessel he had seen. But, strange to say, it was
motionless. He must have been mistaken.

All this, however, was driven from her mind in the excitement that she
found on her return thrilling her own family. They had been warned that
a police boat with detectives on board had been dispatched from San
Francisco to the cove. Luckily, they had managed to convey the fugitive
Franti on board a coastwise schooner,--Cara started as she remembered
the one she had seen beating out of the Gate,--and he was now safe from
pursuit. Cara felt relieved; at the same time she felt a strange joy
at her heart, which sent the conscious blood to her cheek. She was not
thinking of the escaped Marco, but of Jarman. Later, when the police
boat arrived,--whether the detectives had been forewarned of Marco’s
escape or not,--they contented themselves with a formal search of the
little fishing-hut and departed. But their boat remained lying off the
shore.

That night Cara tossed sleeplessly on her bed; she was sorry she had
ever spoken of Marco to Jarman. It was unnecessary now; perhaps he
disbelieved her and thought she loved Marco; perhaps that was the reason
of his strange and abrupt leave-taking that afternoon. She longed for
the next day, she could tell him everything now.

Towards morning she slept fitfully, but was awakened by the sound of
voices on the sands outside the hut. Its flimsy structure, already
warped by the fierce day-long sun, allowed her through chinks and
crevices not only to recognize the voices of the detectives, but to hear
distinctly what they said. Suddenly the name of Jarman struck upon her
ear. She sat upright in bed, breathless.

“Are you sure it’s the same man?” asked a second voice.

“Perfectly,” answered the first. “He was tracked to ‘Frisco, but
disappeared the day he landed. We knew from our agents that he never
left the bay. And when we found that somebody answering his description
got the post of telegraph operator out here, we knew that we had spotted
our man and the L250 sterling offered for his capture.”

“But that was five months ago. Why didn’t you take him then?”

“Couldn’t! For we couldn’t hold him without the extradition papers from
Australia. We sent for ‘em; they’re due to-day or to-morrow on the mail
steamer.”

“But he might have got away at any time?”

“He couldn’t without our knowing it. Don’t you see? Every time the
signals went up, we in San Francisco knew he was at his post. We had him
safe, out here on these sandhills, as if he’d been under lock and key in
‘Frisco. He was his own keeper, and reported to us.”

“But since you’re here and expect the papers to-morrow, why don’t you
‘cop’ him now?”

“Because there isn’t a judge in San Francisco that would hold him
a moment unless he had those extradition papers before him. He’d be
discharged, and escape.”

“Then what are you going to do?”

“As soon as the steamer is signaled in ‘Frisco, we’ll board her in the
bay, get the papers, and drop down upon him.”

“I see; and as HE’S the signal man, the darned fool”--

“Will give the signal himself.”

The laugh that followed was so cruel that the young girl shuddered. But
the next moment she slipped from the bed, erect, pale, and determined.

The voices seemed gradually to retreat. She dressed herself hurriedly,
and passed noiselessly through the room of her still sleeping parent,
and passed out. A gray fog was lifting slowly over the sands and sea,
and the police boat was gone. She no longer hesitated, but ran quickly
in the direction of Jarman’s cabin. As she ran, her mind seemed to be
swept clear of all illusion and fancy; she saw plainly everything that
had happened; she knew the mystery of Jarman’s presence here,--the
secret of his life,--the dreadful cruelty of her remark to him,--the man
that she knew now she loved. The sun was painting the black arms of the
semaphore as she toiled over the last stretch of sand and knocked
loudly at the door. There was no reply. She knocked again; the cabin was
silent. Had he already fled?--and without seeing her and knowing all!
She tried the handle of the door; it yielded; she stepped boldly into
the room, with his name upon her lips. He was lying fully dressed upon
his couch. She ran eagerly to his side and stopped. It needed only a
single glance at his congested face, his lips parted with his heavy
breath, to see that the man was hopelessly, helplessly drunk!

Yet even then, without knowing that it was her thoughtless speech which
had driven him to seek this foolish oblivion of remorse and sorrow,
she saw only his HELPLESSNESS. She tried in vain to rouse him; he
only muttered a few incoherent words and sank back again. She looked
despairingly around. Something must be done; the steamer might be
visible at any moment. Ah, yes,--the telescope! She seized it and swept
the horizon. There was a faint streak of haze against the line of sea
and sky, abreast the Golden Gate. He had once told her what it meant.
It WAS the steamer! A sudden thought leaped into her clear and active
brain. If the police boat should chance to see that haze too, and saw
no warning signal from the semaphore, they would suspect something. That
signal must be made, BUT NOT THE RIGHT ONE! She remembered quickly
how he had explained to her the difference between the signals for a
coasting steamer and the one that brought the mails. At that distance
the police boat could not detect whether the semaphore’s arms were
extended to perfect right angles for the mail steamer, or if the left
arm slightly deflected for a coasting steamer. She ran out to the
windlass and seized the crank. For a moment it defied her strength; she
redoubled her efforts: it began to creak and groan, the great arms were
slowly uplifted, and the signal made.

But the familiar sounds of the moving machinery had pierced through
Jarman’s sluggish consciousness as no other sound in heaven or earth
could have done, and awakened him to the one dominant sense he had
left,--the habit of duty. She heard him roll from the bed with an oath,
stumble to the door, and saw him dash forward with an affrighted face,
and plunge his head into a bucket of water. He emerged from it pale and
dripping, but with the full light of reason and consciousness in his
eyes. He started when he saw her; even then she would have fled, but he
caught her firmly by the wrist.

Then with a hurried, trembling voice she told him all and everything. He
listened in silence, and only at the end raised her hand gravely to his
lips.

“And now,” she added tremulously, “you must fly--quick--at once; or it
will be too late!”

But Richard Jarman walked slowly to the door of his cabin, still holding
her hand, and said quietly, pointing to his only chair:--

“Sit down; we must talk first.”

What they said was never known, but a few moments later they left the
cabin, Jarman carrying in a small bag all his possessions, and Cara
leaning on his arm. An hour later the priest of the Mission Dolores was
called upon to unite in matrimony a frank, honest-looking sailor and an
Italian gypsy-looking girl. There were many hasty unions in those days,
and the Holy Church was only too glad to be able to give them its
legal indorsement. But the good Padre was a little sorry for the honest
sailor, and gave the girl some serious advice.

The San Francisco papers the next morning threw some dubious light upon
the matter in a paragraph headed, “Another Police Fiasco.”

“We understand that the indefatigable police of San Francisco, after
ascertaining that Marco Franti, the noted gold-dust thief, was hiding on
the shore near the Presidio, proceeded there with great solemnity, and
arrived, as usual, a few hours after their man had escaped. But the
climax of incapacity was reached when, as it is alleged, the sweetheart
of the absconding Franti, and daughter of a brother fisherman, eloped
still later, and joined her lover under the very noses of the police.
The attempt of the detectives to excuse themselves at headquarters by
reporting that they were also on the track of an alleged escaped Sydney
Duck was received with the derision and skepticism it deserved, as it
seemed that these worthies mistook the mail steamer, which they should
have boarded to get certain extradition papers, for a coasting steamer.”

*****

It was not until four years later that Murano was delighted to recognize
in the husband of his long-lost daughter a very rich cattle-owner in
Southern California, called Jarman; but he never knew that he had been
an escaped convict from Sydney, who had lately received a full pardon
through the instrumentality of divers distinguished people in Australia.



AN ESMERALDA OF ROCKY CANYON


It is to be feared that the hero of this chronicle began life as an
impostor. He was offered to the credulous and sympathetic family of a
San Francisco citizen as a lamb, who, unless bought as a playmate
for the children, would inevitably pass into the butcher’s hands.
A combination of refined sensibility and urban ignorance of nature
prevented them from discerning certain glaring facts that betrayed his
caprid origin. So a ribbon was duly tied round his neck, and in pleasing
emulation of the legendary “Mary,” he was taken to school by the
confiding children. Here, alas the fraud was discovered, and history was
reversed by his being turned out by the teacher, because he was NOT “a
lamb at school.” Nevertheless, the kind-hearted mother of the family
persisted in retaining him, on the plea that he might yet become
“useful.” To her husband’s feeble suggestion of “gloves,” she returned
a scornful negative, and spoke of the weakly infant of a neighbor, who
might later receive nourishment from this providential animal. But even
this hope was destroyed by the eventual discovery of his sex. Nothing
remained now but to accept him as an ordinary kid, and to find amusement
in his accomplishments,--eating, climbing, and butting. It must be
confessed that these were of a superior quality; a capacity to eat
everything from a cambric handkerchief to an election poster, an
agility which brought him even to the roofs of houses, and a power of
overturning by a single push the chubbiest child who opposed him, made
him a fearful joy to the nursery. This last quality was incautiously
developed in him by a negro boy-servant, who, later, was hurriedly
propelled down a flight of stairs by his too proficient scholar.
Having once tasted victory, “Billy” needed no further incitement to his
performances. The small wagon which he sometimes consented to draw for
the benefit of the children never hindered his attempts to butt the
passer-by. On the contrary, on well-known scientific principles he added
the impact of the bodies of the children projected over his head in his
charge, and the infelicitous pedestrian found himself not only knocked
off his legs by Billy, but bombarded by the whole nursery.

Delightful as was this recreation to juvenile limbs, it was felt to be
dangerous to the adult public. Indignant protestations were made, and
as Billy could not be kept in the house, he may be said to have at
last butted himself out of that sympathetic family and into a hard and
unfeeling world. One morning he broke his tether in the small back yard.
For several days thereafter he displayed himself in guilty freedom on
the tops of adjacent walls and outhouses. The San Francisco suburb
where his credulous protectors lived was still in a volcanic state
of disruption, caused by the grading of new streets through rocks and
sandhills. In consequence the roofs of some houses were on the level
of the doorsteps of others, and were especially adapted to Billy’s
performances. One afternoon, to the admiring and perplexed eyes of the
nursery, he was discovered standing on the apex of a neighbor’s new
Elizabethan chimney, on a space scarcely larger than the crown of a hat,
calmly surveying the world beneath him. High infantile voices appealed
to him in vain; baby arms were outstretched to him in hopeless
invitation; he remained exalted and obdurate, like Milton’s hero,
probably by his own merit “raised to that bad eminence.” Indeed, there
was already something Satanic in his budding horns and pointed mask as
the smoke curled softly around him. Then he appropriately vanished,
and San Francisco knew him no more. At the same time, however, one Owen
M’Ginnis, a neighboring sandhill squatter, also disappeared, leaving San
Francisco for the southern mines, and he was said to have taken Billy
with him,--for no conceivable reason except for companionship. Howbeit,
it was the turning-point of Billy’s career; such restraint as kindness,
civilization, or even policemen had exercised upon his nature was gone.
He retained, I fear, a certain wicked intelligence, picked up in San
Francisco with the newspapers and theatrical and election posters he
had consumed. He reappeared at Rocky Canyon among the miners as an
exceedingly agile chamois, with the low cunning of a satyr. That was all
that civilization had done for him!

If Mr. M’Ginnis had fondly conceived that he would make Billy “useful,”
 as well as companionable, he was singularly mistaken. Horses and mules
were scarce in Rocky Canyon, and he attempted to utilize Billy by making
him draw a small cart, laden with auriferous earth, from his claim to
the river. Billy, rapidly gaining strength, was quite equal to the task,
but alas! not his inborn propensity. An incautious gesture from the
first passing miner Billy chose to construe into the usual challenge.
Lowering his head, from which his budding horns had been already pruned
by his master, he instantly went for his challenger, cart and all. Again
the scientific law already pointed out prevailed. With the shock of
the onset the entire contents of the cart arose and poured over the
astonished miner, burying him from sight. In any other but a Californian
mining-camp such a propensity in a draught animal would have been
condemned, on account of the damage and suffering it entailed, but in
Rocky Canyon it proved unprofitable to the owner from the very
amusement and interest it excited. Miners lay in wait for Billy with
a “greenhorn,” or new-comer, whom they would put up to challenge the
animal by some indiscreet gesture. In this way hardly a cartload of
“pay-gravel” ever arrived safely at its destination, and the unfortunate
M’Ginnis was compelled to withdraw Billy as a beast of burden. It
was whispered that so great had his propensity become, under repeated
provocation, that M’Ginnis himself was no longer safe. Going ahead
of his cart one day to remove a fallen bough from the trail, Billy
construed the act of stooping into a playful challenge from his
master,--with the inevitable result.

The next day M’Ginnis appeared with a wheelbarrow, but without Billy.
From that day he was relegated to the rocky crags above the camp, from
whence he was only lured occasionally by the mischievous miners, who
wished to exhibit his peculiar performances. For although Billy had
ample food and sustenance among the crags, he had still a civilized
longing for posters; and whenever a circus, a concert, or a political
meeting was “billed” in the settlement, he was on hand while the paste
was yet fresh and succulent. In this way it was averred that he
once removed a gigantic theatre bill setting forth the charms of the
“Sacramento Pet,” and being caught in the act by the advance agent, was
pursued through the main street, carrying the damp bill on his horns,
eventually affixing it, after his own peculiar fashion, on the back of
Judge Boompointer, who was standing in front of his own court-house.

In connection with the visits of this young lady another story
concerning Billy survives in the legends of Rocky Canyon. Colonel
Starbottle was at that time passing through the settlement on election
business, and it was part of his chivalrous admiration for the sex to
pay a visit to the pretty actress. The single waiting-room of the little
hotel gave upon the veranda, which was also level with the street. After
a brief yet gallant interview, in which he oratorically expressed
the gratitude of the settlement with old-fashioned Southern courtesy,
Colonel Starbottle lifted the chubby little hand of the “Pet” to his
lips, and, with a low bow, backed out upon the veranda. But the Pet was
astounded by his instant reappearance, and by his apparently casting
himself passionately and hurriedly at her feet! It is needless to say
that he was followed closely by Billy, who from the street had casually
noticed him, and construed his novel exit into an ungentlemanly
challenge.

Billy’s visits, however, became less frequent, and as Rocky Canyon
underwent the changes incidental to mining settlements, he was presently
forgotten in the invasion of a few Southwestern families, and the
adoption of amusements less practical and turbulent than he had
afforded. It was alleged that he was still seen in the more secluded
fastnesses of the mountains, having reverted to a wild state, and it was
suggested by one or two of the more adventurous that he might yet become
edible, and a fair object of chase. A traveler through the Upper Pass of
the canyon related how he had seen a savage-looking, hairy animal like
a small elk perched upon inaccessible rocks, but always out of gunshot.
But these and other legends were set at naught and overthrown by an
unexpected incident.

The Pioneer Coach was toiling up the long grade towards Skinners Pass
when Yuba Bill suddenly pulled up, with his feet on the brake.

“Jimminy!” he ejaculated, drawing a deep breath.

The startled passenger beside him on the box followed the direction of
his eyes. Through an opening in the wayside pines he could see, a few
hundred yards away, a cuplike hollow in the hillside of the vividest
green. In the centre a young girl of fifteen or sixteen was dancing and
keeping step to the castanet “click” of a pair of “bones,” such as negro
minstrels use, held in her hands above her head. But, more singular
still, a few paces before her a large goat, with its neck roughly
wreathed with flowers and vines, was taking ungainly bounds and leaps
in imitation of its companion. The wild background of the Sierras, the
pastoral hollow, the incongruousness of the figures, and the vivid color
of the girl’s red flannel petticoat showing beneath her calico skirt,
that had been pinned around her waist, made a striking picture, which
by this time had attracted all eyes. Perhaps the dancing of the girl
suggested a negro “break-down” rather than any known sylvan measure; but
all this, and even the clatter of the bones, was made gracious by the
distance.

“Esmeralda! by the living Harry!” shouted the excited passenger on the
box.

Yuba Bill took his feet off the brake, and turned a look of deep scorn
upon his companion as he gathered the reins again.

“It’s that blanked goat, outer Rocky Canyon beyond, and Polly Harkness!
How did she ever come to take up with HIM?”

Nevertheless, as soon as the coach reached Rocky Canyon, the story was
quickly told by the passengers, corroborated by Yuba Bill, and highly
colored by the observer on the box-seat. Harkness was known to be a
new-comer who lived with his wife and only daughter on the other side of
Skinners Pass. He was a “logger” and charcoal-burner, who had eaten his
way into the serried ranks of pines below the pass, and established in
these efforts an almost insurmountable cordon of fallen trees, stripped
bark, and charcoal pits around the clearing where his rude log
hut stood,--which kept his seclusion unbroken. He was said to be a
half-savage mountaineer from Georgia, in whose rude fastnesses he had
distilled unlawful whiskey, and that his tastes and habits unfitted him
for civilization. His wife chewed and smoked; he was believed to make a
fiery brew of his own from acorns and pine nuts; he seldom came to Rocky
Canyon except for provisions; his logs were slipped down a “shoot” or
slide to the river, where they voyaged once a month to a distant mill,
but HE did not accompany them. The daughter, seldom seen at Rocky
Canyon, was a half-grown girl, brown as autumn fern, wild-eyed,
disheveled, in a homespun skirt, sunbonnet, and boy’s brogans. Such were
the plain facts which skeptical Rocky Canyon opposed to the passengers’
legends. Nevertheless, some of the younger miners found it not out of
their way to go over Skinners Pass on the journey to the river, but with
what success was not told. It was said, however, that a celebrated New
York artist, making a tour of California, was on the coach one day going
through the pass, and preserved the memory of what he saw there in a
well-known picture entitled “Dancing Nymph and Satyr,” said by competent
critics to be “replete with the study of Greek life.” This did not
affect Rocky Canyon, where the study of mythology was presumably
displaced by an experience of more wonderful flesh-and-blood people, but
later it was remembered with some significance.

Among the improvements already noted, a zinc and wooden chapel had been
erected in the main street, where a certain popular revivalist preacher
of a peculiar Southwestern sect regularly held exhortatory services. His
rude emotional power over his ignorant fellow-sectarians was well known,
while curiosity drew others. His effect upon the females of his flock
was hysterical and sensational. Women prematurely aged by frontier
drudgery and child-bearing, girls who had known only the rigors and
pains of a half-equipped, ill-nourished youth in their battling with the
hard realities of nature around them, all found a strange fascination in
the extravagant glories and privileges of the unseen world he pictured
to them, which they might have found in the fairy tales and nursery
legends of civilized children, had they known them. Personally he was
not attractive; his thin pointed face, and bushy hair rising on
either side of his square forehead in two rounded knots, and his long,
straggling, wiry beard dropping from a strong neck and shoulders,
were indeed of a common Southwestern type; yet in him they suggested
something more. This was voiced by a miner who attended his first
service, and as the Reverend Mr. Withholder rose in the pulpit, the
former was heard to audibly ejaculate, “Dod blasted!--if it ain’t
Billy!” But when on the following Sunday, to everybody’s astonishment,
Polly Harkness, in a new white muslin frock and broad-brimmed Leghorn
hat, appeared before the church door with the real Billy, and exchanged
conversation with the preacher, the likeness was appalling.

I grieve to say that the goat was at once christened by Rocky Canyon as
“The Reverend Billy,” and the minister himself was Billy’s “brother.”
 More than that, when an attempt was made by outsiders, during
the service, to inveigle the tethered goat into his old butting
performances, and he took not the least notice of their insults and
challenges, the epithet “blanked hypocrite” was added to his title.

Had he really reformed? Had his pastoral life with his nymph-like
mistress completely cured him of his pugnacious propensity, or had
he simply found it was inconsistent with his dancing, and seriously
interfered with his “fancy steps”? Had he found tracts and hymn-books
were as edible as theatre posters? These were questions that Rocky
canyon discussed lightly, although there was always the more serious
mystery of the relations of the Reverend Mr. Withholder, Polly Harkness,
and the goat towards each other. The appearance of Polly at church was
no doubt due to the minister’s active canvass of the districts. But had
he ever heard of Polly’s dancing with the goat? And where in this plain,
angular, badly dressed Polly was hidden that beautiful vision of the
dancing nymph which had enthralled so many? And when had Billy ever
given any suggestion of his Terpsichorean abilities--before or since?
Were there any “points” of the kind to be discerned in him now? None!
Was it not more probable that the Reverend Mr. Withholder had himself
been dancing with Polly, and been mistaken for the goat? Passengers who
could have been so deceived with regard to Polly’s beauty might have as
easily mistaken the minister for Billy. About this time another incident
occurred which increased the mystery.

The only male in the settlement who apparently dissented from the
popular opinion regarding Polly was a new-comer, Jack Filgee. While
discrediting her performance with the goat,--which he had never
seen,--he was evidently greatly prepossessed with the girl herself.
Unfortunately, he was equally addicted to drinking, and as he was
exceedingly shy and timid when sober, and quite unpresentable at other
times, his wooing, if it could be so called, progressed but slowly.
Yet when he found that Polly went to church, he listened so far to the
exhortations of the Reverend Mr. Withholder as to promise to come
to “Bible class” immediately after the Sunday service. It was a hot
afternoon, and Jack, who had kept sober for two days, incautiously
fortified himself for the ordeal by taking a drink before arriving. He
was nervously early, and immediately took a seat in the empty church
near the open door. The quiet of the building, the drowsy buzzing of
flies, and perhaps the soporific effect of the liquor caused his eyes
to close and his head to fall forward on his breast repeatedly. He
was recovering himself for the fourth time when he suddenly received a
violent cuff on the ear, and was knocked backward off the bench on which
he was sitting. That was all he knew.

He picked himself up with a certain dignity, partly new to him, and
partly the result of his condition, and staggered, somewhat bruised and
disheveled, to the nearest saloon. Here a few frequenters who had
seen him pass, who knew his errand and the devotion to Polly which had
induced it, exhibited a natural concern.

“How’s things down at the gospel shop?” said one. “Look as ef you’d been
wrastlin’ with the Sperit, Jack!”

“Old man must hev exhorted pow’ful,” said another, glancing at his
disordered Sunday attire.

“Ain’t be’n hevin’ a row with Polly? I’m told she slings an awful left.”

Jack, instead of replying, poured out a dram of whiskey, drank it,
and putting down his glass, leaned heavily against the counter as he
surveyed his questioners with a sorrow chastened by reproachful dignity.

“I’m a stranger here, gentlemen,” he said slowly “ye’ve known me only a
little; but ez ye’ve seen me both blind drunk and sober, I reckon ye’ve
caught on to my gin’ral gait! Now I wanter put it to you, ez fair-minded
men, ef you ever saw me strike a parson?”

“No,” said a chorus of sympathetic voices. The barkeeper, however, with
a swift recollection of Polly and the Reverend Withholder, and some
possible contingent jealousy in Jack, added prudently, “Not yet.”

The chorus instantly added reflectively, “Well, no not yet.”

“Did ye ever,” continued Jack solemnly, “know me to cuss, sass,
bully-rag, or say anything agin parsons, or the church?”

“No,” said the crowd, overthrowing prudence in curiosity, “ye never
did,--we swear it! And now, what’s up?”

“I ain’t what you call ‘a member in good standin’,’” he went on,
artistically protracting his climax. “I ain’t be’n convicted o’ sin;
I ain’t ‘a meek an’ lowly follower;’ I ain’t be’n exactly what I orter
be’n; I hevn’t lived anywhere up to my lights; but is thet a reason why
a parson should strike me?”

“Why? What? When did he? Who did?” asked the eager crowd, with one
voice.

Jack then painfully related how he had been invited by the Reverend
Mr. Withholder to attend the Bible class. How he had arrived early,
and found the church empty. How he had taken a seat near the door to
be handy when the parson came. How he just felt “kinder kam and good,”
 listenin’ to the flies buzzing, and must have fallen asleep,--only he
pulled himself up every time,--though, after all, it warn’t no crime to
fall asleep in an empty church! How “all of a suddent” the parson came
in, “give him a clip side o’ the head,” and knocked him off the bench,
and left him there!

“But what did he SAY?” queried the crowd.

“Nuthin’. Afore I could get up, he got away.”

“Are you sure it was him?” they asked. “You know you SAY you was
asleep.”

“Am I sure?” repeated Jack scornfully. “Don’t I know thet face and
beard? Didn’t I feel it hangin’ over me?”

“What are you going to do about it?” continued the crowd eagerly.

“Wait till he comes out--and you’ll see,” said Jack, with dignity.

This was enough for the crowd; they gathered excitedly at the door,
where Jack was already standing, looking towards the church. The moments
dragged slowly; it might be a long meeting. Suddenly the church door
opened and a figure appeared, looking up and down the street. Jack
colored--he recognized Polly--and stepped out into the road. The crowd
delicately, but somewhat disappointedly, drew back in the saloon. They
did not care to interfere in THAT sort of thing.

Polly saw him, and came hurriedly towards him. She was holding something
in her hand.

“I picked this up on the church floor,” she said shyly, “so I reckoned
you HAD be’n there,--though the parson said you hadn’t,--and I just
excused myself and ran out to give it ye. It’s yourn, ain’t it?”
 She held up a gold specimen pin, which he had put on in honor of the
occasion. “I had a harder time, though, to git this yer,--it’s yourn
too,--for Billy was laying down in the yard, back o’ the church, and
just comf’bly swallerin’ it.”

“Who?” said Jack quickly.

“Billy,--my goat.”

Jack drew a long breath, and glanced back at the saloon. “Ye ain’t goin’
back to class now, are ye?” he said hurriedly. “Ef you ain’t, I’ll--I’ll
see ye home.”

“I don’t mind,” said Polly demurely, “if it ain’t takin’ ye outer y’ur
way.”

Jack offered his arm, and hurrying past the saloon, the happy pair were
soon on the road to Skinners Pass.


Jack did not, I regret to say, confess his blunder, but left the
Reverend Mr. Withholder to remain under suspicion of having committed an
unprovoked assault and battery. It was characteristic of Rocky Canyon,
however, that this suspicion, far from injuring his clerical reputation,
incited a respect that had been hitherto denied him. A man who could
hit out straight from the shoulder had, in the language of the critics,
“suthin’ in him.” Oddly enough, the crowd that had at first sympathized
with Jack now began to admit provocations. His subsequent silence, a
disposition when questioned on the subject to smile inanely, and, later,
when insidiously asked if he had ever seen Polly dancing with the goat,
his bursting into uproarious laughter completely turned the current of
opinion against him. The public mind, however, soon became engrossed by
a more interesting incident.

The Reverend Mr. Withholder had organized a series of Biblical tableaux
at Skinnerstown for the benefit of his church. Illustrations were to be
given of “Rebecca at the Well,” “The Finding of Moses,” “Joseph and
his Brethren;” but Rocky Canyon was more particularly excited by the
announcement that Polly Harkness would personate “Jephthah’s Daughter.”
 On the evening of the performance, however, it was found that this
tableau had been withdrawn and another substituted, for reasons not
given. Rocky Canyon, naturally indignant at this omission to represent
native talent, indulged in a hundred wild surmises. But it was generally
believed that Jack Filgee’s revengeful animosity to the Reverend Mr.
Withholder was at the bottom of it. Jack, as usual, smiled inanely, but
nothing was to be got from him. It was not until a few days later, when
another incident crowned the climax of these mysteries, that a full
disclosure came from his lips.

One morning a flaming poster was displayed at Rocky Canyon, with a
charming picture of the “Sacramento Pet” in the briefest of skirts,
disporting with a tambourine before a goat garlanded with flowers, who
bore, however, an undoubted likeness to Billy. The text in enormous
letters, and bristling with points of admiration, stated that the “Pet”
 would appear as “Esmeralda,” assisted by a performing goat, especially
trained by the gifted actress. The goat would dance, play cards, and
perform those tricks of magic familiar to the readers of Victor Hugo’s
beautiful story of the “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and finally knock
down and overthrow the designing seducer, Captain Phoebus. The marvelous
spectacle would be produced under the patronage of the Hon. Colonel
Starbottle and the Mayor of Skinnerstown.

As all Rocky Canyon gathered open-mouthed around the poster, Jack
demurely joined the group. Every eye was turned upon him.

“It don’t look as if yer Polly was in THIS show, any more than she
was in the tablows,” said one, trying to conceal his curiosity under a
slight sneer. “She don’t seem to be doin’ any dancin’!”

“She never DID any dancin’,” said Jack, with a smile.

“Never DID! Then what was all these yarns about her dancin’ up at the
pass?”

“It was the Sacramento Pet who did all the dancin’; Polly only LENT
the goat. Ye see, the Pet kinder took a shine to Billy arter he bowled
Starbottle over thet day at the hotel, and she thought she might teach
him tricks. So she DID, doing all her teachin’ and stage-rehearsin’ up
there at the pass, so’s to be outer sight, and keep this thing dark. She
bribed Polly to lend her the goat and keep her secret, and Polly never
let on a word to anybody but me.”

“Then it was the Pet that Yuba Bill saw dancin’ from the coach?”

“Yes.”

“And that yer artist from New York painted as an ‘Imp and Satire’?”

“Yes.”

“Then that’s how Polly didn’t show up in them tablows at Skinnerstown?
It was Withholder who kinder smelt a rat, eh? and found out it was only
a theayter gal all along that did the dancin’?”

“Well, you see,” said Jack, with affected hesitation, “thet’s another
yarn. I don’t know mebbe ez I oughter tell it. Et ain’t got anything
to do with this advertisement o’ the Pet, and might be rough on old man
Withholder! Ye mustn’t ask me, boys.”

But there was that in his eye, and above all in this lazy
procrastination of the true humorist when he is approaching his climax,
which rendered the crowd clamorous and unappeasable. They WOULD have the
story!

Seeing which, Jack leaned back against a rock with great gravity, put
his hands in his pockets, looked discontentedly at the ground, and
began: “You see, boys, old Parson Withholder had heard all these yarns
about Polly and thet trick-goat, and he kinder reckoned that she might
do for some one of his tablows. So he axed her if she’d mind standin’
with the goat and a tambourine for Jephthah’s Daughter, at about the
time when old Jeph comes home, sailin’ in and vowin’ he’ll kill the
first thing he sees,--jest as it is in the Bible story. Well, Polly
didn’t like to say it wasn’t HER that performed with the goat, but the
Pet, for thet would give the Pet dead away; so Polly agrees to come thar
with the goat and rehearse the tablow. Well, Polly’s thar, a little
shy; and Billy,--you bet HE’S all there, and ready for the fun; but the
darned fool who plays Jephthah ain’t worth shucks, and when HE comes
in he does nothin’ but grin at Polly and seem skeert at the goat. This
makes old Withholder jest wild, and at last he goes on the platform
hisself to show them how the thing oughter be done. So he comes bustlin’
and prancin’ in, and ketches sight o’ Polly dancin’ in with the goat to
welcome him; and then he clasps his hands--so--and drops on his knees,
and hangs down his head--so--and sez, ‘Me chyld! me vow! Oh,
heavens!’ But jest then Billy--who’s gettin’ rather tired o’ all this
foolishness--kinder slues round on his hind legs, and ketches sight o’
the parson!” Jack paused a moment, and thrusting his hands still deeper
in his pockets, said lazily, “I don’t know if you fellers have noticed
how much old Withholder looks like Billy?”

There was a rapid and impatient chorus of “Yes! yes!” and “Go on!”

“Well,” continued Jack, “when Billy sees Withholder kneelin’ thar
with his head down, he gives a kind o’ joyous leap and claps his hoofs
together, ez much ez to say, ‘I’m on in this scene,’ drops his own head,
and jest lights out for the parson!”

“And butts him clean through the side scenes into the street,”
 interrupted a delighted auditor.

But Jack’s face never changed. “Ye think so?” he said gravely. “But
thet’s jest whar ye slip up; and thet’s jest whar Billy slipped up!” he
added slowly. “Mebbe ye’ve noticed, too, thet the parson’s built kinder
solid about the head and shoulders. It mought hev be’n thet, or thet
Billy didn’t get a fair start, but thet goat went down on his fore legs
like a shot, and the parson gave one heave, and jest scooted him off the
platform! Then the parson reckoned thet this yer ‘tablow’ had better
be left out, as thar didn’t seem to be any other man who could play
Jephthah, and it wasn’t dignified for HIM to take the part. But the
parson allowed thet it might be a great moral lesson to Billy!”

And it WAS, for from that moment Billy never attempted to butt again.
He performed with great docility later on in the Pet’s engagement at
Skinnerstown; he played a distinguished role throughout the provinces;
he had had the advantages of Art from “the Pet,” and of Simplicity from
Polly, but only Rocky Canyon knew that his real education had come with
his first rehearsal with the Reverend Mr. Withholder.



DICK SPINDLER’S FAMILY CHRISTMAS


There was surprise and sometimes disappointment in Rough and Ready, when
it was known that Dick Spindler intended to give a “family” Christmas
party at his own house. That he should take an early opportunity to
celebrate his good fortune and show hospitality was only expected from
the man who had just made a handsome “strike” on his claim; but that it
should assume so conservative, old-fashioned, and respectable a form was
quite unlooked-for by Rough and Ready, and was thought by some a trifle
pretentious. There were not half-a-dozen families in Rough and Ready;
nobody ever knew before that Spindler had any relations, and this
“ringing in” of strangers to the settlement seemed to indicate at least
a lack of public spirit. “He might,” urged one of his critics, “hev
given the boys,--that had worked alongside o’ him in the ditches by day,
and slung lies with him around the camp-fire by night,--he might hev
given them a square ‘blow out,’ and kep’ the leavin’s for his old
Spindler crew, just as other families do. Why, when old man Scudder had
his house-raisin’ last year, his family lived for a week on what was
left over, arter the boys had waltzed through the house that night,--and
the Scudders warn’t strangers, either.” It was also evident that there
was an uneasy feeling that Spindler’s action indicated an unhallowed
leaning towards the minority of respectability and exclusiveness, and
a desertion--without the excuse of matrimony--of the convivial and
independent bachelor majority of Rough and Ready.

“Ef he was stuck after some gal and was kinder looking ahead, I’d hev
understood it,” argued another critic.

“Don’t ye be too sure he ain’t,” said Uncle Jim Starbuck gloomily.
“Ye’ll find that some blamed woman is at the bottom of this yer ‘family’
gathering. That and trouble ez almost all they’re made for!”

There happened to be some truth in this dark prophecy, but none of the
kind that the misogynist supposed. In fact, Spindler had called a
few evenings before at the house of the Rev. Mr. Saltover, and Mrs.
Saltover, having one of her “Saleratus headaches,” had turned him over
to her widow sister, Mrs. Huldy Price, who obediently bestowed upon
him that practical and critical attention which she divided with the
stocking she was darning. She was a woman of thirty-five, of singular
nerve and practical wisdom, who had once smuggled her wounded husband
home from a border affray, calmly made coffee for his deceived pursuers
while he lay hidden in the loft, walked four miles for that medical
assistance which arrived too late to save him, buried him secretly in
his own “quarter section,” with only one other witness and mourner, and
so saved her position and property in that wild community, who believed
he had fled. There was very little of this experience to be traced in
her round, fresh-colored brunette cheek, her calm black eyes, set in
a prickly hedge of stiff lashes, her plump figure, or her frank,
courageous laugh. The latter appeared as a smile when she welcomed Mr.
Spindler. “She hadn’t seen him for a coon’s age,” but “reckoned he was
busy fixin’ up his new house.”

“Well, yes,” said Spindler, with a slight hesitation, “ye see, I’m
reckonin’ to hev a kinder Christmas gatherin’ of my”--he was about to
say “folks,” but dismissed it for “relations,” and finally settled upon
“relatives” as being more correct in a preacher’s house.

Mrs. Price thought it a very good idea. Christmas was the natural season
for the family to gather to “see who’s here and who’s there, who’s
gettin’ on and who isn’t, and who’s dead and buried. It was lucky
for them who were so placed that they could do so and be joyful.”
 Her invincible philosophy probably carried her past any dangerous
recollections of the lonely grave in Kansas, and holding up the stocking
to the light, she glanced cheerfully along its level to Mr. Spindler’s
embarrassed face by the fire.

“Well, I can’t say much ez to that,” responded Spindler, still
awkwardly, “for you see I don’t know much about it anyway.”

“How long since you’ve seen ‘em?” asked Mrs. Price, apparently
addressing herself to the stocking.

Spindler gave a weak laugh. “Well, you see, ef it comes to that, I’ve
never seen ‘em!”

Mrs. Price put the stocking in her lap and opened her direct eyes
on Spindler. “Never seen ‘em?” she repeated. “Then, they’re not near
relations?”

“There are three cousins,” said Spindler, checking them off on his
fingers, “a half-uncle, a kind of brother-in-law,--that is, the brother
of my sister-in-law’s second husband,--and a niece. That’s six.”

“But if you’ve not seen them, I suppose they’ve corresponded with you?”
 said Mrs. Price.

“They’ve nearly all of ‘em written to me for money, seeing my name
in the paper ez hevin’ made a strike,” returned Spindler simply; “and
hevin’ sent it, I jest know their addresses.”

“Oh!” said Mrs. Price, returning to the stocking.

Something in the tone of her ejaculation increased Spindler’s
embarrassment, but it also made him desperate. “You see, Mrs. Price,”
 he blurted out, “I oughter tell ye that I reckon they are the folks that
‘hevn’t got on,’ don’t you see, and so it seemed only the square thing
for me, ez had ‘got on,’ to give them a sort o’ Christmas festival.
Suthin’, don’t ye know, like what your brother-in-law was sayin’ last
Sunday in the pulpit about this yer peace and goodwill ‘twixt man and
man.”

Mrs. Price looked again at the man before her. His sallow, perplexed
face exhibited some doubt, yet a certain determination, regarding
the prospect the quotation had opened to him. “A very good idea, Mr.
Spindler, and one that does you great credit,” she said gravely.

“I’m mighty glad to hear you say so, Mrs. Price,” he said, with an
accent of great relief, “for I reckoned to ask you a great favor! You
see,” he fell into his former hesitation, “that is--the fact is--that
this sort o’ thing is rather suddent to me,--a little outer my line,
don’t you see, and I was goin’ to ask ye ef you’d mind takin’ the hull
thing in hand and runnin it for me.”

“Running it for you,” said Mrs. Price, with a quick eye-shot from under
the edge of her lashes. “Man alive! What are you thinking of?”

“Bossin’ the whole job for me,” hurried on Spindler, with nervous
desperation. “Gettin’ together all the things and makin’ ready for
‘em,--orderin’ in everythin’ that’s wanted, and fixin’ up the rooms,--I
kin step out while you’re doin’ it,--and then helpin’ me receivin’ ‘em,
and sittin’ at the head o’ the table, you know,--like ez ef you was the
mistress.”

“But,” said Mrs. Price, with her frank laugh, “that’s the duty of one of
your relations,--your niece, for instance,--or cousin, if one of them is
a woman.”

“But,” persisted Spindler, “you see, they’re strangers to me; I don’t
know ‘em, and I do you. You’d make it easy for ‘em,--and for me,--don’t
you see? Kinder introduce ‘em,--don’t you know? A woman of your gin’ral
experience would smooth down all them little difficulties,” continued
Spindler, with a vague recollection of the Kansas story, “and put
everybody on velvet. Don’t say ‘No,’ Mrs. Price! I’m just kalkilatin’ on
you.”

Sincerity and persistency in a man goes a great way with even the best
of women. Mrs. Price, who had at first received Spindler’s request as an
amusing originality, now began to incline secretly towards it. And, of
course, began to suggest objections.

“I’m afraid it won’t do,” she said thoughtfully, awakening to the fact
that it would do and could be done. “You see, I’ve promised to spend
Christmas at Sacramento with my nieces from Baltimore. And then there’s
Mrs. Saltover and my sister to consult.”

But here Spindler’s simple face showed such signs of distress that the
widow declared she would “think it over,”--a process which the sanguine
Spindler seemed to consider so nearly akin to talking it over that Mrs.
Price began to believe it herself, as he hopefully departed.

She “thought it over” sufficiently to go to Sacramento and excuse
herself to her nieces. But here she permitted herself to “talk it over,”
 to the infinite delight of those Baltimore girls, who thought this
extravaganza of Spindler’s “so Californian and eccentric!” So that it
was not strange that presently the news came back to Rough and Ready,
and his old associates learned for the first time that he had never seen
his relatives, and that they would be doubly strangers. This did not
increase his popularity; neither, I grieve to say, did the intelligence
that his relatives were probably poor, and that the Reverend Mr.
Saltover had approved of his course, and had likened it to the rich
man’s feast, to which the halt and blind were invited. Indeed, the
allusion was supposed to add hypocrisy and a bid for popularity to
Spindler’s defection, for it was argued that he might have feasted
“Wall-eyed Joe” or “Tangle-foot Billy,”--who had once been “chawed” by
a bear while prospecting,--if he had been sincere. Howbeit, Spindler’s
faith was oblivious to these criticisms, in his joy at Mr. Saltover’s
adhesion to his plans and the loan of Mrs. Price as a hostess. In
fact, he proposed to her that the invitation should also convey that
information in the expression, “by the kind permission of the Rev. Mr.
Saltover,” as a guarantee of good faith, but the widow would have none
of it. The invitations were duly written and dispatched.

“Suppose,” suggested Spindler, with a sudden lugubrious
apprehension,--“suppose they shouldn’t come?”

“Have no fear of that,” said Mrs. Price, with a frank laugh.

“Or ef they was dead,” continued Spindler.

“They couldn’t all be dead,” said the widow cheerfully.

“I’ve written to another cousin by marriage,” said Spindler dubiously,
“in case of accident; I didn’t think of him before, because he was
rich.”

“And have you ever seen him either, Mr. Spindler?” asked the widow, with
a slight mischievousness.

“Lordy! No!” he responded, with unaffected concern.

Only one mistake was made by Mrs. Price in her arrangements for the
party. She had noticed what the simple-minded Spindler could never have
conceived,--the feeling towards him held by his old associates, and had
tactfully suggested that a general invitation should be extended to them
in the evening.

“You can have refreshments, you know, too, after the dinner, and games
and music.”

“But,” said the unsophisticated host, “won’t the boys think I’m playing
it rather low down on them, so to speak, givin’ ‘em a kind o’ second
table, as ef it was the tailings after a strike?”

“Nonsense,” said Mrs. Price, with decision. “It’s quite fashionable in
San Francisco, and just the thing to do.”

To this decision Spindler, in his blind faith in the widow’s management,
weakly yielded. An announcement in the “Weekly Banner” that, “On
Christmas evening Richard Spindler, Esq., proposed to entertain his
friends and fellow citizens at an ‘at home,’ in his own residence,”
 not only widened the breach between him and the “boys,” but awakened an
active resentment that only waited for an outlet. It was understood that
they were all coming; but that they should have “some fun out of it”
 which might not coincide with Spindler’s nor his relatives’ sense of
humor seemed a foregone conclusion.

Unfortunately, too, subsequent events lent themselves to this irony of
the situation.

He was so obviously sincere in his intent, and, above all, seemed to
place such a pathetic reliance on her judgment, that she hesitated to
let him know the shock his revelation had given her. And what might his
other relations prove to be? Good Lord! Yet, oddly enough, she was so
prepossessed by him, and so fascinated by his very Quixotism, that it
was perhaps for these complex reasons that she said a little stiffly:--

“One of these cousins, I see, is a lady, and then there is your niece.
Do you know anything about them, Mr. Spindler?”

His face grew serious. “No more than I know of the others,” he said
apologetically. After a moment’s hesitation he went on: “Now you speak
of it, it seems to me I’ve heard that my niece was di-vorced. But,” he
added, brightening up, “I’ve heard that she was popular.”

Mrs. Price gave a short laugh, and was silent for a few minutes. Then
this sublime little woman looked up at him. What he might have seen in
her eyes was more than he expected, or, I fear, deserved. “Cheer up, Mr.
Spindler,” she said manfully. “I’ll see you through this thing, don’t
you mind! But don’t you say anything about--about--this Vigilance
Committee business to anybody. Nor about your niece--it was your niece,
wasn’t it?--being divorced. Charley (the late Mr. Price) had a queer
sort of sister, who--but that’s neither here nor there! And your niece
mayn’t come, you know; or if she does, you ain’t bound to bring her out
to the general company.”

At parting, Spindler, in sheer gratefulness, pressed her hand, and
lingered so long over it that a little color sprang into the widow’s
brown cheek. Perhaps a fresh courage sprang into her heart, too, for
she went to Sacramento the next day, previously enjoining Spindler on no
account to show any answers he might receive. At Sacramento her nieces
flew to her with confidences.

“We so wanted to see you, Aunt Huldy, for we’ve heard something so
delightful about your funny Christmas Party!” Mrs. Price’s heart sank,
but her eyes snapped. “Only think of it! One of Mr. Spindler’s long-lost
relatives--a Mr. Wragg--lives in this hotel, and papa knows him. He’s
a sort of half-uncle, I believe, and he’s just furious that Spindler
should have invited him. He showed papa the letter; said it was
the greatest piece of insolence in the world; that Spindler was an
ostentatious fool, who had made a little money and wanted to use him
to get into society; and the fun of the whole thing was that this
half-uncle and whole brute is himself a parvenu,--a vulgar, ostentatious
creature, who was only a”--

“Never mind what he was, Kate,” interrupted Mrs. Price hastily. “I call
his conduct a shame.”

“So do we,” said both girls eagerly. After a pause Kate clasped her
knees with her locked fingers, and rocking backwards and forwards, said,
“Milly and I have got an idea, and don’t you say ‘No’ to it. We’ve had
it ever since that brute talked in that way. Now, through him, we know
more about this Mr. Spindler’s family connections than you do; and we
know all the trouble you and he’ll have in getting up this party. You
understand? Now, we first want to know what Spindler’s like. Is he a
savage, bearded creature, like the miners we saw on the boat?”

Mrs. Price said that, on the contrary, he was very gentle, soft-spoken,
and rather good-looking.

“Young or old?”

“Young,--in fact, a mere boy, as you may judge from his actions,”
 returned Mrs. Price, with a suggestive matronly air.

Kate here put up a long-handled eyeglass to her fine gray eyes, fitted
it ostentatiously over her aquiline nose, and then said, in a voice of
simulated horror, “Aunt Huldy,--this revelation is shocking!”

Mrs. Price laughed her usual frank laugh, albeit her brown cheek took
upon it a faint tint of Indian red. “If that’s the wonderful idea you
girls have got, I don’t see how it’s going to help matters,” she said
dryly.

“No, that’s not it? We really have an idea. Now look here.”

Mrs. Price “looked here.” This process seemed to the superficial
observer to be merely submitting her waist and shoulders to the arms of
her nieces, and her ears to their confidential and coaxing voices.

Twice she said “it couldn’t be thought of,” and “it was impossible;”
 once addressed Kate as “You limb!” and finally said that she “wouldn’t
promise, but might write!”

*****

It was two days before Christmas. There was nothing in the air, sky,
or landscape of that Sierran slope to suggest the season to the Eastern
stranger. A soft rain had been dropping for a week on laurel, pine, and
buckeye, and the blades of springing grasses and shyly opening flowers.
Sedate and silent hillsides that had grown dumb and parched towards the
end of the dry season became gently articulate again; there were murmurs
in hushed and forgotten canyons, the leap and laugh of water among the
dry bones of dusty creeks, and the full song of the larger forks and
rivers. Southwest winds brought the warm odor of the pine sap swelling
in the forest, or the faint, far-off spice of wild mustard springing
in the lower valleys. But, as if by some irony of Nature, this gentle
invasion of spring in the wild wood brought only disturbance and
discomfort to the haunts and works of man. The ditches were overflowed,
the fords of the Fork impassable, the sluicing adrift, and the trails
and wagon roads to Rough and Ready knee-deep in mud. The stage-coach
from Sacramento, entering the settlement by the mountain highway, its
wheels and panels clogged and crusted with an unctuous pigment like mud
and blood, passed out of it through the overflowed and dangerous ford,
and emerged in spotless purity, leaving its stains behind with Rough
and Ready. A week of enforced idleness on the river “Bar” had driven
the miners to the more comfortable recreation of the saloon bar, its
mirrors, its florid paintings, its armchairs, and its stove. The steam
of their wet boots and the smoke of their pipes hung over the latter
like the sacrificial incense from an altar. But the attitude of the men
was more critical and censorious than contented, and showed little of
the gentleness of the weather or season.

“Did you hear if the stage brought down any more relations of
Spindler’s?”

The barkeeper, to whom this question was addressed, shifted his lounging
position against the bar and said, “I reckon not, ez far ez I know.”

“And that old bloat of a second cousin--that crimson beak--what kem
down yesterday,--he ain’t bin hangin’ round here today for his reg’lar
pizon?”

“No,” said the barkeeper thoughtfully, “I reckon Spindler’s got him
locked up, and is settin’ on him to keep him sober till after Christmas,
and prevent you boys gettin’ at him.”

“He’ll have the jimjams before that,” returned the first speaker; “and
how about that dead beat of a half-nephew who borrowed twenty dollars of
Yuba Bill on the way down, and then wanted to get off at Shootersvilie,
but Bill wouldn’t let him, and scooted him down to Spindler’s and
collected the money from Spindler himself afore he’d give him up?”

“He’s up thar with the rest of the menagerie,” said the barkeeper, “but
I reckon that Mrs. Price hez bin feedin’ him up. And ye know the old
woman--that fifty-fifth cousin by marriage--whom Joe Chandler swears he
remembers ez an old cook for a Chinese restaurant in Stockton,--darn my
skin ef that Mrs. Price hasn’t rigged her out in some fancy duds of her
own, and made her look quite decent.”

A deep groan here broke from Uncle Jim Starbuck.

“Didn’t I tell ye?” he said, turning appealingly to the others. “It’s
that darned widow that’s at the bottom of it all! She first put Spindler
up to givin’ the party, and now, darn my skin, ef she ain’t goin to fix
up these ragamuffins and drill ‘em so we can’t get any fun outer ‘em
after all! And it’s bein’ a woman that’s bossin’ the job, and not
Spindler, we’ve got to draw things mighty fine and not cut up too rough,
or some of the boys will kick.”

“You bet,” said a surly but decided voice in the crowd.

“And,” said another voice, “Mrs. Price didn’t live in ‘Bleeding Kansas’
for nothing.”

“Wot’s the programme you’ve settled on, Uncle Jim?” said the barkeeper
lightly, to check what seemed to promise a dangerous discussion.

“Well,” said Starbuck, “we kalkilate to gather early Christmas night in
Hooper’s Hollow and rig ourselves up Injun fashion, and then start for
Spindler’s with pitch-pine torches, and have a ‘torchlight dance’ around
the house; them who does the dancin’ and yellin’ outside takin’ their
turn at goin’ in and hevin’ refreshment. Jake Cooledge, of Boston, sez
if anybody objects to it, we’ve only got to say we’re ‘Mummers of the
Olden Times,’ sabe? Then, later, we’ll have ‘Them Sabbath Evening Bells’
performed on prospectin’ pans by the band. Then, at the finish, Jake
Cooledge is goin’ to give one of his surkastic speeches,--kinder
welcomin’ Spindler’s family to the Free Openin’ o’ Spindler’s Almshouse
and Reformatory.” He paused, possibly for that approbation which,
however, did not seem to come spontaneously. “It ain’t much,” he added
apologetically, “for we’re hampered by women; but we’ll add to the
programme ez we see how things pan out. Ye see, from what we can hear,
all of Spindler’s relations ain’t on hand yet! We’ve got to wait, like
in elckshun times, for ‘returns from the back counties.’ Hello! What’s
that?”

It was the swish and splutter of hoofs on the road before the door. The
Sacramento coach! In an instant every man was expectant, and Starbuck
darted outside on the platform. Then there was the usual greeting and
bustle, the hurried ingress of thirsty passengers into the saloon, and a
pause. Uncle Jim returned, excitedly and pantingly. “Look yer, boys! Ef
this ain’t the richest thing out! They say there’s two more relations o’
Spindler’s on the coach, come down as express freight, consigned,--d’ye
hear?--consigned to Spindler!”

“Stiffs, in coffins?” suggested an eager voice.

“I didn’t get to hear more. But here they are.”

There was the sudden irruption of a laughing, curious crowd into the
bar-room, led by Yuba Bill, the driver. Then the crowd parted, and
out of their midst stepped two children, a boy and a girl, the oldest
apparently of not more than six years, holding each other’s hands. They
were coarsely yet cleanly dressed, and with a certain uniform precision
that suggested formal charity. But more remarkable than all, around the
neck of each was a little steel chain, from which depended the regular
check and label of the powerful Express Company, Wells; Fargo & Co., and
the words: “To Richard Spindler.” “Fragile.” “With great care.” “Collect
on delivery.” Occasionally their little hands went up automatically and
touched their labels, as if to show them. They surveyed the crowd, the
floor, the gilded bar, and Yuba Bill without fear and without wonder.
There was a pathetic suggestion that they were accustomed to this
observation.

“Now, Bobby,” said Yuba Bill, leaning back against the bar, with an air
half-paternal, half-managerial, “tell these gents how you came here.”

“By Wellth, Fargoth Expreth,” lisped Bobby.

“Whar from?”

“Wed Hill, Owegon.”

“Red Hill, Oregon? Why, it’s a thousand miles from here,” said a
bystander.

“I reckon,” said Yuba Bill coolly, “they kem by stage to Portland, by
steamer to ‘Frisco, steamer again to Stockton, and then by stage over
the whole line. Allers by Wells, Fargo & Co.’s Express, from agent to
agent, and from messenger to messenger. Fact! They ain’t bin tetched or
handled by any one but the Kempany’s agents; they ain’t had a line or
direction except them checks around their necks! And they’ve wanted for
nothin’ else. Why, I’ve carried heaps o’ treasure before, gentlemen,
and once a hundred thousand dollars in greenbacks, but I never carried
anythin’ that was watched and guarded as them kids! Why, the division
inspector at Stockton wanted to go with ‘em over the line; but Jim
Bracy, the messenger, said he’d call it a reflection on himself and
resign, ef they didn’t give ‘em to him with the other packages! Ye had a
pretty good time, Bobby, didn’t ye? Plenty to eat and drink, eh?”

The two children laughed a little weak laugh, turned each other
bashfully around, and then looked up shyly at Yuba Bill and said,
“Yeth.”

“Do you know where you are goin’?” asked Starbuck, in a constrained
voice.

It was the little girl who answered quickly and eagerly:--

“Yes, to Krissmass and Sandy Claus.”

“To what?” asked Starbuck.

Here the boy interposed with a superior air:--

“Thee meanth Couthin Dick. He’th got Krithmath.”

“Where’s your mother?”

“Dead.”

“And your father?”

“In orthpittal.”

There was a laugh somewhere on the outskirts of the crowd. Every one
faced angrily in that direction, but the laugher had disappeared. Yuba
Bill, however, sent his voice after him. “Yes, in hospital! Funny, ain’t
it?--amoosin’ place! Try it. Step over here, and in five minutes, by the
living Hoky, I’ll qualify you for admission, and not charge you a cent!”
 He stopped, gave a sweeping glance of dissatisfaction around him, and
then, leaning back against the bar, beckoned to some one near the door,
and said in a disgusted tone, “You tell these galoots how it happened,
Bracy. They make me sick!”

Thus appealed to, Bracy, the express messenger, stepped forward in Yuba
Bill’s place.

“It’s nothing particular, gentlemen,” he said, with a laugh, “only
it seems that some man called Spindler, who lives about here, sent an
invitation to the father of these children to bring his family to a
Christmas party. It wasn’t a bad sort of thing for Spindler to do,
considering that they were his poor relations, though they didn’t know
him from Adam,--was it?” He paused; several of the bystanders cleared
their throats, but said nothing. “At least,” resumed Bracy, “that’s what
the boys up at Red Hill, Oregon, thought, when they heard of it. Well,
as the father was in hospital with a broken leg, and the mother only a
few weeks dead, the boys thought it mighty rough on these poor kids if
they were done out of their fun because they had no one to bring them.
The boys couldn’t afford to go themselves, but they got a little money
together, and then got the idea of sendin’ ‘em by express. Our agent at
Red Hill tumbled to the idea at once; but he wouldn’t take any money in
advance, and said he would send ‘em ‘C. O. D.’ like any other package.
And he did, and here they are! That’s all! And now, gentlemen, as I’ve
got to deliver them personally to this Spindler, and get his receipt and
take off their checks, I reckon we must toddle. Come, Bill, help take
‘em up!”

“Hold on!” said a dozen voices. A dozen hands were thrust into a dozen
pockets; I grieve to say some were regretfully withdrawn empty, for it
was a hard season in Rough and Ready. But the expressman stepped before
them, with warning, uplifted hand.

“Not a cent, boys,--not a cent! Wells, Fargo’s Express Company don’t
undertake to carry bullion with those kids, at least on the same
contract!” He laughed, and then looking around him, said confidentially
in a lower voice, which, however, was quite audible to the children,
“There’s as much as three bags of silver in quarter and half dollars in
my treasure box in the coach that has been poured, yes, just showered
upon them, ever since they started, and have been passed over from agent
to agent and messenger to messenger,--enough to pay their passage from
here to China! It’s time to say quits now. But bet your life, they are
not going to that Christmas party poor!”

He caught up the boy, as Yuba Bill lifted the little girl to his
shoulder, and both passed out. Then one by one the loungers in the
bar-room silently and awkwardly followed, and when the barkeeper turned
back from putting away his decanters and glasses, to his astonishment
the room was empty.

*****

Spindler’s house, or “Spindler’s Splurge,” as Rough and Ready chose to
call it, stood above the settlement, on a deforested hillside, which,
however, revenged itself by producing not enough vegetation to cover
even the few stumps that were ineradicable. A large wooden structure
in the pseudo-classic style affected by Westerners, with an incongruous
cupola, it was oddly enough relieved by a still more incongruous veranda
extending around its four sides, upheld by wooden Doric columns, which
were already picturesquely covered with flowering vines and sun-loving
roses. Mr. Spindler had trusted the furnishing of its interior to the
same contractor who had upholstered the gilded bar-room of the Eureka
Saloon, and who had apparently bestowed the same design and material,
impartially, on each. There were gilded mirrors all over the house and
chilly marble-topped tables, gilt plaster Cupids in the corners, and
stuccoed lions “in the way” everywhere. The tactful hands of Mrs. Price
had screened some of these with seasonable laurels, fir boughs, and
berries, and had imparted a slight Christmas flavor to the house. But
the greater part of her time had been employed in trying to subdue the
eccentricities of Spindler’s amazing relations; in tranquilizing Mrs.
“Aunt” Martha Spindler,--the elderly cook before alluded to,--who was
inclined to regard the gilded splendors of the house as indicative
of dangerous immorality; in restraining “Cousin” Morley Hewlett
from considering the dining-room buffet as a bar for “intermittent
refreshment;” and in keeping the weak-minded nephew, Phinney Spindler,
from shooting at bottles from the veranda, wearing his uncle’s clothes,
or running up an account in his uncle’s name for various articles at
the general stores. Yet the unlooked-for arrival of the two children had
been the one great compensation and diversion for her. She wrote at once
to her nieces a brief account of her miraculous deliverance. “I think
these poor children dropped from the skies here to make our Christmas
party possible, to say nothing of the sympathy they have created in
Rough and Ready for Spindler. He is going to keep them as long as
he can, and is writing to the father. Think of the poor little tots
traveling a thousand miles to ‘Krissmass,’ as they call it!--though they
were so well cared for by the messengers that their little bodies were
positively stuffed like quails. So, you see, dear, we will be able to
get along without airing your famous idea. I’m sorry, for I know you’re
just dying to see it all.”

Whatever Kate’s “idea” might have been, there certainly seemed now no
need of any extraneous aid to Mrs. Price’s management. Christmas came at
last, and the dinner passed off without serious disaster. But the ordeal
of the reception of Rough and Ready was still to come. For Mrs. Price
well knew that although “the boys” were more subdued, and, indeed,
inclined to sympathize with their host’s uncouth endeavor, there was
still much in the aspect of Spindler’s relations to excite their sense
of the ludicrous.

But here Fortune again favored the house of Spindler with a dramatic
surprise, even greater than the advent of the children had been. In the
change that had come over Rough and Ready, “the boys” had decided, out
of deference to the women and children, to omit the first part of their
programme, and had approached and entered the house as soberly and
quietly as ordinary guests. But before they had shaken hands with the
host and hostess, and seen the relations, the clatter of wheels was
heard before the open door, and its lights flashed upon a carriage and
pair,--an actual private carriage,--the like of which had not been seen
since the governor of the State had come down to open the new ditch!
Then there was a pause, the flash of the carriage lamps upon white silk,
the light tread of a satin foot on the veranda and in the hall, and the
entrance of a vision of loveliness! Middle-aged men and old dwellers
of cities remembered their youth; younger men bethought themselves of
Cinderella and the Prince! There was a thrill and a hush as this last
guest--a beautiful girl, radiant with youth and adornment--put a dainty
glass to her sparkling eye and advanced familiarly, with outstretched
hand, to Dick Spindler. Mrs. Price gave a single gasp, and drew back
speechless.

“Uncle Dick,” said a laughing contralto voice, which, indeed, somewhat
recalled Mrs. Price’s own, in its courageous frankness, “I am so
delighted to come, even if a little late, and so sorry that Mr. M’Kenna
could not come on account of business.”

Everybody listened eagerly, but none more eagerly and surprisingly than
the host himself. M’Kenna! The rich cousin who had never answered the
invitation! And Uncle Dick! This, then, was his divorced niece! Yet even
in his astonishment he remembered that of course no one but himself and
Mrs. Price knew it,--and that lady had glanced discreetly away.

“Yes,” continued the half-niece brightly. “I came from Sacramento with
some friends to Shootersville, and from thence I drove here; and though
I must return to-night, I could not forego the pleasure of coming, if
it was only for an hour or two, to answer the invitation of the uncle I
have not seen for years.” She paused, and, raising her glasses, turned a
politely questioning eye towards Mrs. Price. “One of our relations?” she
said smilingly to Spindler.

“No,” said Spindler, with some embarrassment, “a--a friend!”

The half-niece extended her hand. Mrs. Price took it.

But the fair stranger,--what she did and said were the only things
remembered in Rough and Ready on that festive occasion; no one thought
of the other relations; no one recalled them nor their eccentricities;
Spindler himself was forgotten. People only recollected how Spindler’s
lovely niece lavished her smiles and courtesies on every one, and
brought to her feet particularly the misogynist Starbuck and the
sarcastic Cooledge, oblivious of his previous speech; how she sat at
the piano and sang like an angel, hushing the most hilarious and excited
into sentimental and even maudlin silence; how, graceful as a nymph, she
led with “Uncle Dick” a Virginia reel until the whole assembly joined,
eager for a passing touch of her dainty hand in its changes; how, when
two hours had passed,--all too swiftly for the guests,--they stood with
bared heads and glistening eyes on the veranda to see the fairy coach
whirl the fairy princess away! How--but this incident was never known to
Rough and Ready.

It happened in the sacred dressing-room, where Mrs. Price was cloaking
with her own hands the departing half-niece of Mr. Spindler. Taking that
opportunity to seize the lovely relative by the shoulders and shake her
violently, she said: “Oh, yes, and it’s all very well for you, Kate, you
limb! For you’re going away, and will never see Rough and Ready and poor
Spindler again. But what am I to do, miss? How am I to face it out?
For you know I’ve got to tell him at least that you’re no half-niece of
his!”

“Have you?” said the young lady.

“Have I?” repeated the widow impatiently. “Have I? Of course I have!
What are you thinking of?”

“I was thinking, aunty,” said the girl audaciously, “that from what
I’ve seen and heard to-night, if I’m not his half-niece now, it’s only a
question of time! So you’d better wait. Good-night, dear.”

And, really,--it turned out that she was right!



WHEN THE WATERS WERE UP AT “JULES’”


When the waters were up at “Jules’” there was little else up on that
monotonous level. For the few inhabitants who calmly and methodically
moved to higher ground, camping out in tents until the flood
had subsided, left no distracting wreckage behind them. A dozen
half-submerged log cabins dotted the tranquil surface of the waters,
without ripple or disturbance, looking in the moonlight more like the
ruins of centuries than of a few days. There was no current to sap their
slight foundations or sweep them away; nothing stirred that silent lake
but the occasional shot-like indentations of a passing raindrop, or,
still more rarely, a raft, made of a single log, propelled by some
citizen on a tour of inspection of his cabin roof-tree, where some of
his goods were still stored. There was no sense of terror in this bland
obliteration of the little settlement; the ruins of a single burnt-up
cabin would have been more impressive than this stupid and even
grotesquely placid effect of the rival destroying element. People took
it naturally; the water went as it had come,--slowly, impassively,
noiselessly; a few days of fervid Californian sunshine dried the cabins,
and in a week or two the red dust lay again as thickly before their
doors as the winter mud had lain. The waters of Rattlesnake Creek
dropped below its banks, the stage-coach from Marysville no longer made
a detour of the settlement. There was even a singular compensation to
this amicable invasion; the inhabitants sometimes found gold in those
breaches in the banks made by the overflow. To wait for the “old
Rattlesnake sluicing” was a vernal hope of the trusting miner.

The history of “Jules’,” however, was once destined to offer a singular
interruption of this peaceful and methodical process. The winter of
1859-60 was an exceptional one. But little rain had fallen in the
valleys, although the snow lay deep in the high Sierras. Passes were
choked, ravines filled, and glaciers found on their slopes. And when the
tardy rains came with the withheld southwesterly “trades,” the regular
phenomenon recurred; Jules’ Flat silently, noiselessly, and peacefully
went under water; the inhabitants moved to the higher ground, perhaps
a little more expeditiously from an impatience born of the delay. The
stagecoach from Marysville made its usual detour and stopped before the
temporary hotel, express offices, and general store of “Jules’,” under
canvas, bark, and the limp leaves of a spreading alder. It deposited a
single passenger,--Miles Hemmingway, of San Francisco, but originally of
Boston,--the young secretary of a mining company, dispatched to report
upon the alleged auriferous value of “Jules’.” Of this he had been by
no means impressed as he looked down upon the submerged cabins from the
box-seat of the coach and listened to the driver’s lazy recital of
the flood, and of the singularly patient acceptance of it by the
inhabitants.

It was the old story of the southwestern miner’s indolence and
incompetency,--utterly distasteful to his northern habits of thought
and education. Here was their old fatuous endurance of Nature’s wild
caprices, without that struggle against them which brought others
strength and success; here was the old philosophy which accepted the
prairie fire and cyclone, and survived them without advancement,
yet without repining. Perhaps in different places and surroundings a
submission so stoic might have impressed him; in gentlemen who tucked
their dirty trousers in their muddy boots and lived only for the gold
they dug, it did not seem to him heroic. Nor was he mollified as
he stood beside the rude refreshment bar--a few planks laid on
trestles--and drank his coffee beneath the dripping canvas roof, with an
odd recollection of his boyhood and an inclement Sunday-school picnic.
Yet these men had been living in this shiftless fashion for three weeks!
It exasperated him still more to think that he might have to wait there
a few days longer for the water to subside sufficiently for him to make
his examination and report. As he took a proffered seat on a candle-box,
which tilted under him, and another survey of the feeble makeshifts
around him, his irascibility found vent.

“Why, in the name of God, didn’t you, after you had been flooded out
ONCE, build your cabins PERMANENTLY on higher ground?”

Although the tone of his voice was more disturbing than his question, it
pleased one of the loungers to affect to take it literally.

“Well, ez you’ve put it that way,--‘in the name of God!’”--returned the
man lazily, “it mout hev struck us that ez HE was bossin’ the job, so
to speak, and handlin’ things round here generally, we might leave it to
Him. It wasn’t OUR flood to monkey with.”

“And as He didn’t coven-ant, so to speak, to look arter this higher
ground ‘speshally, and make an Ararat of it for us, ez far ez we
could see, we didn’t see any reason for SETTLIN’ yer,” put in a second
speaker, with equal laziness.

The secretary saw his mistake instantly, and had experience enough
of Western humor not to prolong the disadvantage of his unfortunate
adjuration. He colored slightly and said, with a smile, “You know what
I mean; you could have protected yourselves better. A levee on the bank
would have kept you clear of the highest watermark.”

“Hey you ever heard WHAT the highest watermark was?” said the first
speaker, turning to another of the loungers without looking at the
secretary.

“Never heard it,--didn’t know there was a limit before,” responded the
man.

The first speaker turned back to the secretary. “Did you ever know what
happened at ‘Bulger’s,’ on the North Fork? They had one o’ them levees.”

“No. What happened?” asked the secretary impatiently.

“They was fixed suthin’ like us,” returned the first speaker. “THEY
allowed they’d build a levee above THEIR highest watermark, and did. It
worked like a charm at first; but the water hed to go somewhere, and it
kinder collected at the first bend. Then it sorter raised itself on its
elbows one day, and looked over the levee down upon whar some of the
boys was washin’ quite comf’ble. Then it paid no sorter attention to the
limit o’ that high watermark, but went six inches better! Not slow and
quiet like ez it useter to, ez it does HERE, kinder fillin’ up from
below, but went over with a rush and a current, hevin’ of course the
whole height of the levee to fall on t’other side where the boys were
sluicing.” He paused, and amidst a profound silence added, “They say
that ‘Bulger’s’ was scattered promiscuous-like all along the fort for
five miles. I only know that one of his mules and a section of sluicing
was picked up at Red Flat, eight miles away!”

Mr. Hemmingway felt that there WAS an answer to this, but, being wise,
also felt that it would be unavailing. He smiled politely and said
nothing, at which the first speaker turned to him:--

“Thar ain’t anything to see to-day, but to-morrow, ez things go, the
water oughter be droppin’. Mebbe you’d like to wash up now and clean
yourself,” he added, with a glance at Hemmingway’s small portmanteau.
“Ez we thought you’d likely be crowded here, we’ve rigged up a corner
for you at Stanton’s shanty with the women.”

The young man’s cheek flushed slightly at some possible irony in this,
and he protested with considerable stress that he was quite ready “to
rough it” where he was.

“I reckon it’s already fixed,” returned the man decisively, “so you’d
better come and I’ll show you the way.”

“One moment,” said Hemmingway, with a smile; “my credentials are
addressed to the manager of the Boone Ditch Company at ‘Jules’.’ Perhaps
I ought to see him first.”

“All right; he’s Stanton.”

“And”--hesitated the secretary, “YOU, who appear to understand the
locality so well,--I trust I may have the pleasure”--

“Oh, I’m Jules.”

The secretary was a little startled and amused. So “Jules” was a person,
and not a place!

“Then you’re a pioneer?” asked Hemmingway, a little less dictatorially,
as they passed out under the dripping trees.

“I struck this creek in the fall of ‘49, comin’ over Livermore’s
Pass with Stanton,” returned Jules, with great brevity of speech and
deliberate tardiness of delivery. “Sent for my wife and two children the
next year; wife died same winter, change bein’ too sudden for her, and
contractin’ chills and fever at Sweetwater. When I kem here first thar
wasn’t six inches o’ water in the creek; out there was a heap of it over
there where you see them yallowish-green patches and strips o’ brush
and grass; all that war water then, and all that growth hez sprung up
since.”

Hemmingway looked around him. The “higher ground” where they stood was
in reality only a mound-like elevation above the dead level of the flat,
and the few trees were merely recent young willows and alders. The area
of actual depression was much greater than he had imagined, and its
resemblance to the bed of some prehistoric inland sea struck him
forcibly. A previous larger inundation than Jules’ brief experience had
ever known had been by no means improbable. His cheek reddened at his
previous hasty indictment of the settlers’ ignorance and shiftlessness,
and the thought that he had probably committed his employers to his
own rash confidence and superiority of judgment. However, there was no
evidence that this diluvial record was not of the remote past. He smiled
again with greater security as he thought of the geological changes that
had since tempered these cataclysms, and the amelioration brought by
settlement and cultivation. Nevertheless, he would make a thorough
examination to-morrow.

Stanton’s cabin was the furthest of these temporary habitations, and
was partly on the declivity which began to slope to the river’s bank. It
was, like the others, a rough shanty of unplaned boards, but, unlike the
others, it had a base of logs laid lengthwise on the ground and parallel
with each other, on which the flooring and structure were securely
fastened. This gave it the appearance of a box slid on runners, or a
Noah’s Ark whose bulk had been reduced. Jules explained that the logs,
laid in that manner, kept the shanty warmer and free from damp. In reply
to Hemmingway’s suggestion that it was a great waste of material, Jules
simply replied that the logs were the “flotsam and jetsam” of the creek
from the overflowed mills below.

Hemmingway again smiled. It was again the old story of Western waste
and prodigality. Accompanied by Jules, however, he climbed up the huge,
slippery logs which made a platform before the door, and entered.

The single room was unequally divided; the larger part containing three
beds, by day rolled in a single pile in one corner to make room for a
table and chairs. A few dresses hanging from nails on the wall showed
that it was the women’s room. The smaller compartment was again
subdivided by a hanging blanket, behind which was a rude bunk or berth
against the wall, a table made of a packing-box, containing a tin basin
and a can of water. This was his apartment.

“The women-folks are down the creek, bakin’, to-day,” said Jules
explanatorily; “but I reckon that one of ‘em will be up here in a jiffy
to make supper, so you just take it easy till they come. I’ve got to
meander over to the claim afore I turn in, but you just lie by to-night
and take a rest.”

He turned away, leaving Hemmingway standing in the doorway still
distraught and hesitating. Nor did the young man recognize the delicacy
of Jules’ leave-taking until he had unstrapped his portmanteau and found
himself alone, free to make his toilet, unembarrassed by company. But
even then he would have preferred the rough companionship of the miners
in the common dormitory of the general store to this intrusion upon
the half-civilization of the women, their pitiable little comforts and
secret makeshifts. His disgust of his own indecision which brought him
there naturally recoiled in the direction of his host and hostesses, and
after a hurried ablution, a change of linen, and an attempt to remove
the stains of travel from his clothes, he strode out impatiently into
the open air again.

It was singularly mild even for the season. The southwest trades blew
softly, and whispered to him of San Francisco and the distant Pacific,
with its long, steady swell. He turned again to the overflowed Flat
beneath him, and the sluggish yellow water that scarcely broke a ripple
against the walls of the half-submerged cabins. And this was the water
for whose going down they were waiting with an immobility as tranquil
as the waters themselves! What marvelous incompetency,--or what infinite
patience! He knew, of course, their expected compensation in this
“ground sluicing” at Nature’s own hand; the long rifts in the banks of
the creek which so often showed “the color” in the sparkling scales of
river gold disclosed by the action of the water; the heaps of reddish
mud left after its subsidence around the walls of the cabins,--a deposit
that often contained a treasure a dozen times more valuable than the
cabin itself! And then he heard behind him a laugh, a short and panting
breath, and turning, beheld a young woman running towards him.

In his first astounded sight of her, in her limp nankeen sunbonnet,
thrown back from her head by the impetus of her flight, he saw only too
much hair, two much white teeth, too much eye-flash, and, above
all,--as it appeared to him,--too much confidence in the power of these
qualities. Even as she ran, it seemed to him that she was pulling down
ostentatiously the rolled-up sleeves of her pink calico gown over her
shapely arms. I am inclined to think that the young gentleman’s temper
was at fault, and his conclusion hasty; a calmer observer would have
detected nothing of this in her frankly cheerful voice. Nevertheless,
her evident pleasure in the meeting seemed to him only obtrusive
coquetry.

“Lordy! I reckoned to git here afore you’d get through fixin’ up, and in
time to do a little prinkin’ myself, and here you’re out already.” She
laughed, glancing at his clean shirt and damp hair. “But all the same,
we kin have a talk, and you kin tell me all the news afore the other
wimmen get up here. It’s a coon’s age since I was at Sacramento and
saw anybody or anything.” She stopped and, instinctively detecting some
vague reticence in the man before her, said, still laughing, “You’re Mr.
Hemmingway, ain’t you?”

Hemmingway took off his hat quickly, with a slight start at his
forgetfulness. “I beg your pardon; yes, certainly.”

“Aunty Stanton thought it was ‘Hummingbird,’” said the girl, with a
laugh, “but I reckoned not. I’m Jinney Jules, you know; folks call me
‘J. J.’ It wouldn’t do for a Hummingbird and a Jay Jay to be in the same
camp, would it? It would be just TOO funny!”

Hemmingway did not find the humor of this so singularly exhaustive, but
he was already beginning to be ashamed of his attitude towards her. “I’m
very sorry to be giving you all this trouble by my intrusion, for I was
quite willing to stay at the store yonder. Indeed,” he added, with
a burst of frankness quite as sincere as her own, “if you think your
father will not be offended, I would gladly go there now.”

If he still believed in her coquetry and vanity, he would have been
undeceived and crushed by the equal and sincere frankness with which she
met this ungallant speech.

“No! I reckon he wouldn’t care, if you’d be as comf’ble and fit for
to-morrow. But ye WOULDN’T,” she said reflectively. “The boys thar
sit up late over euchre, and swear a heap, and Simpson, who’d sleep
alongside of ye, snores pow’ful, I’ve heard. Aunty Stanton kin do her
level at that, too, and they say”--with a laugh--“that I kin, too, but
you’re away off in that corner, and it won’t reach you. So, takin’ it
all, by the large, you’d better stay whar ye are. We wimmen, that is,
the most of us, will be off and away down to Rattlesnake Bar shoppin’
afore sun up, so ye’ll sleep ez long ez ye want to, and find yer
breakfast ready when ye wake. So I’ll jest set to and get ye some
supper, and ye kin tell me all the doin’s in Sacramento and ‘Frisco
while I’m workin’.”

In spite of her unconscious rebuff to his own vanity, Hemmingway felt a
sense of relief and less constraint in his relations to this decidedly
provincial hostess.

“Can I help you in any way?” he asked eagerly.

“Well, ye MIGHT bring me an armful o’ wood from the pile under the
alders, ef ye ain’t afraid o’ dirtyin’ your coat,” she said tentatively.

Mr. Hemmingway was not afraid; he declared himself delighted. He brought
a generous armful of small cut willow boughs, and deposited them before
a small stove, which seemed a temporary substitute for the usual large
adobe chimney that generally occupied the entire gable of a miner’s
cabin. An elbow and short length of stovepipe carried the smoke through
the cabin side. But he also noticed that his fair companion had used
the interval to put on a pair of white cuffs and a collar. However, she
brushed the green moss from his sleeve with some toweling, and although
this operation brought her so near to him that her breath--as soft and
warm as the southwest trades--stirred his hair, it was evident that this
contiguity was only frontier familiarity, as far removed from conscious
coquetry as it was, perhaps, from educated delicacy.

“The boys gin’rally kem to take up enough wood for me to begin with,”
 she said, “but I reckon they didn’t know I was comin’ up so soon.”

Hemmingway’s distrust returned a little at this obvious suggestion that
he was only a substitute for their general gallantry, but he smiled and
said somewhat bluntly, “I don’t suppose you lack for admirers here.”

The girl, however, took him literally. “Lordy, no! Me and Mamie Robinson
are the only girls for fifteen miles along the creek. ADMIRIN’! I call
it jest PESTERIN’ sometimes! I reckon I’ll hev to keep a dog!”

Hemmingway shivered. Yes, she was not only conscious, but spoilt
already. He pictured to himself the uncouth gallantries of the
settlement, the provincial badinage, the feeble rivalries of the young
men whom he had seen at the general store. Undoubtedly this was what she
was expecting in HIM!

“Well,” she said, turning from the fire she had kindled, “while I’m
settin’ the table, tell me what’s a-doin’ in Sacramento! I reckon you’ve
got heaps of lady friends thar,--I’m told there’s lots of fashions just
from the States.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know enough of them to interest you,” he said dryly.

“Go on and talk,” she replied. “Why, when Tom Flynn kem back from
Sacramento, and he warn’t thar more nor a week, he jest slung yarns
about his doin’s thar to last the hull rainy season.”

Half amused and half annoyed, Hemmingway seated himself on the little
platform beside the open door, and began a conscientious description of
the progress of Sacramento, its new buildings, hotels, and theatres,
as it had struck him on his last visit. For a while he was somewhat
entertained by the girl’s vivacity and eager questioning, but presently
it began to pall. He continued, however, with a grim sense of duty, and
partly as a reason for watching her in her household duties. Certainly
she was graceful! Her tall, lithe, but beautifully moulded figure,
even in its characteristic southwestern indolence, fell into poses as
picturesque as they were unconscious. She lifted the big molasses-can
from its shelf on the rafters with the attitude of a Greek water-bearer.
She upheaved the heavy flour-sack to the same secure shelf with the
upraised palms of an Egyptian caryatid. Suddenly she interrupted
Hemmingway’s perfunctory talk with a hearty laugh. He started, looked
up from his seat on the platform, and saw that she was standing over him
and regarding him with a kind of mischievous pity.

“Look here,” she said, “I reckon that’ll do! You kin pull up short! I
kin see what’s the matter with you; you’re jest plumb tired, tuckered
out, and want to turn in! So jest you sit that quiet until I get supper
ready and never mind me.” In vain Hemmingway protested, with a rising
color. The girl only shook her head. “Don’t tell me! You ain’t keering
to talk, and you’re only playin’ Sacramento statistics on me,” she
retorted, with unfeigned cheerfulness. “Anyhow, here’s the wimmen
comin’, and supper is ready.”

There was a sound of weary, resigned ejaculations and pantings, and
three gaunt women in lustreless alpaca gowns appeared before the cabin.
They seemed prematurely aged and worn with labor, anxiety, and ill
nourishment. Doubtless somewhere in these ruins a flower like Jay Jules
had once flourished; doubtless somewhere in that graceful nymph herself
the germ of this dreary maturity was hidden. Hemmingway welcomed them
with a seriousness equal to their own. The supper was partaken with the
kind of joyless formality which in the southwest is supposed to indicate
deep respect, even the cheerful Jay falling under the influence, and it
was with a feeling of relief that at last the young man retired to his
fenced-off corner for solitude and repose. He gathered, however,
that before “sun up” the next morning the elder women were going to
Rattlesnake Bar for the weekly shopping, leaving Jay as before to
prepare his breakfast and then join them later. It was already a change
in his sentiments to find himself looking forward to that tete-a-tete
with the young girl, as a chance of redeeming his character in her
eyes. He was beginning to feel he had been stupid, unready, and withal
prejudiced. He undressed himself in his seclusion, broken only by the
monotonous voices in the adjoining apartment. From time to time he
heard fragments and scraps of their conversation, always in reference to
affairs of the household and settlement, but never of himself,--not even
the suggestion of a prudent lowering of their voices,--and fell asleep.
He woke up twice in the night with a sensation of cold so marked and
distinct from his experience of the early evening, that he was fain to
pile his clothes over his blankets to keep warm. He fell asleep again,
coming once more to consciousness with a sense of a slight jar, but
relapsing again into slumber for he knew not how long. Then he was
fully awakened by a voice calling him, and, opening his eyes, beheld the
blanket partition put aside, and the face of Jay thrust forward. To
his surprise it wore a look of excited astonishment dominated by
irrepressible laughter.

“Get up quick as you kin,” she said gaspingly; “this is about the
killingest thing that ever happened!”

She disappeared, but he could still hear her laughing, and to his utter
astonishment with her disappearance the floor seemed to change its
level. A giddy feeling seized him; he put his feet to the floor; it
was unmistakably wet and oozing. He hurriedly clothed himself, still
accompanied by the strange feeling of oscillation and giddiness, and
passed though the opening into the next room. Again his step produced
the same effect upon the floor, and he actually stumbled against her
shaking figure, as she wiped the tears of uncontrollable mirth from her
eyes with her apron. The contact seemed to upset her remaining gravity.
She dropped into a chair, and, pointing to the open door, gasped, “Look
thar! Lordy! How’s that for high?” threw her apron over her head, and
gave way to an uproarious fit of laughter.

Hemmingway turned to the open door. A lake was before him on the level
of the cabin. He stepped forward on the platform; the water was right
and left, all around him. The platform dipped slightly to his step. The
cabin was afloat,--afloat upon its base of logs like a raft, the whole
structure upheld by the floor on which the logs were securely fastened.
The high ground had disappeared--the river--its banks the green area
beyond. They, and THEY alone, were afloat upon an inland sea.

He turned an astounded and serious face upon her mirth. “When did it
happen?” he demanded. She checked her laugh, more from a sense of polite
deference to his mood than any fear, and said quietly, “That gets me.
Everything was all right two hours ago when the wimmen left. It was
too early to get your breakfast and rouse ye out, and I felt asleep, I
reckon, until I felt a kind o’ slump and a jar.” Hemmingway remembered
his own half-conscious sensation. “Then I got up and saw we was adrift.
I didn’t waken ye, for I thought it was only a sort of wave that would
pass. It wasn’t until I saw we were movin’ and the hull rising ground
gettin’ away, that I thought o’ callin’ ye.”

He thought of the vanished general store, of her father, the workers on
the bank, the helpless women on their way to the Bar, and turned almost
savagely on her.

“But the others,--where are they?” he said indignantly. “Do you call
that a laughing matter?”

She stopped at the sound of his voice as at a blow. Her face hardened
into immobility, yet when she replied it was with the deliberate
indolence of her father. “The wimmen are up on the hills by this time.
The boys hev bin drowned out many times afore this and got clear off,
on sluice boxes and timber, without squealing. Tom Flynn went down
ten miles to Sayer’s once on two bar’ls, and I never heard that HE was
cryin’ when they picked him up.”

A flush came to Hemmingway’s cheek, but with it a gleam of intelligence.
Of course the inundation was known to them FIRST, and there was the
wreckage to support them. They had clearly saved themselves. If they had
abandoned the cabin, it was because they knew its security, perhaps had
even seen it safely adrift.

“Has this ever happened to the cabin before?” he asked, as he thought of
its peculiar base.

“No.”

He looked at the water again. There was a decided current. The overflow
was evidently no part of the original inundation. He put his hand in
the water. It was icy cold. Yes, he understood it now. It was the sudden
melting of snow in the Sierras which had brought this volume down the
canyon. But was there more still to come?

“Have you anything like a long pole or stick in the cabin?”

“Nary,” said the girl, opening her big eyes and shaking her head with
a simulation of despair, which was, however, flatly contradicted by her
laughing mouth.

“Nor any cord or twine?” he continued.

She handed him a ball of coarse twine.

“May I take a couple of these hooks?” he asked, pointing to some rough
iron hooks in the rafters, on which bacon and jerked beef were hanging.

She nodded. He dislodged the hooks, greased them with the bacon rind,
and affixed them to the twine.

“Fishin’?” she asked demurely.

“Exactly,” he replied gravely.

He threw the line in the water. It slackened at about six feet,
straightened, and became taut at an angle, and then dragged. After one
or two sharp jerks he pulled it up. A few leaves and grasses were caught
in the hooks. He examined them attentively.

“We’re not in the creek,” he said, “nor in the old overflow. There’s no
mud or gravel on the hooks, and these grasses don’t grow near water.”

“Now, that’s mighty cute of you,” she said admiringly, as she knelt
beside him on the platform. “Let’s see what you’ve caught. Look yer!”
 she added, suddenly lifting a limp stalk, “that’s ‘old man,’ and thar
ain’t a scrap of it grows nearer than Springer’s Rise,--four miles from
home.”

“Are you sure?” he asked quickly.

“Sure as pop! I used to go huntin’ it for smellidge.”

“For what?” he said, with a bewildered smile.

“For this,”--she thrust the leaves to his nose and then to her own
pink nostrils; “for--for”--she hesitated, and then with a mischievous
simulation of correctness added, “for the perfume.”

He looked at her admiringly. For all her five feet ten inches, what
a mere child she was, after all! What a fool he was to have taken a
resentful attitude towards her! How charming and graceful she looked,
kneeling there beside him!

“Tell me,” he said suddenly, in a gentler voice, “what were you laughing
at just now?”

Her brown eyes wavered for a moment, and then brimmed with merriment.
She threw herself sideways, in a leaning posture, supporting herself on
one arm, while with her other hand she slowly drew out her apron string,
as she said, in a demure voice:--

“Well, I reckoned it was jest too killin’ to think of you, who didn’t
want to talk to me, and would hev given your hull pile to hev skipped
out o’ this, jest stuck here alongside o’ me, whether you would or no,
for Lord knows how long!”

“But that was last night,” he said, in a tone of raillery. “I was tired,
and you said so yourself, you know. But I’m ready to talk now. What
shall I tell you?”

“Anything,” said the girl, with a laugh.

“What I am thinking of?” he said, with frankly admiring eyes.

“Yes.”

“Everything?”

“Yes, everything.” She stopped, and leaning forward, suddenly caught
the brim of his soft felt hat, and drawing it down smartly over his
audacious eyes, said, “Everything BUT THAT.”

It was with some difficulty and some greater embarrassment that he
succeeded in getting his eyes free again. When he did so, she had risen
and entered the cabin. Disconcerted as he was, he was relieved to see
that her expression of amusement was unchanged. Was her act a piece
of rustic coquetry, or had she resented his advances? Nor did her next
words settle the question.

“Ye kin do yer nice talk and philanderin’ after we’ve settled whar we
are, what we’re goin’, and what’s goin’ to happen. Jest now it ‘pears
to me that ez these yere logs are the only thing betwixt us and ‘kingdom
come,’ ye’d better be hustlin’ round with a few spikes to clinch ‘em to
the floor.”

She handed him a hammer and a few spikes. He obediently set to work,
with little confidence, however, in the security of the fastening. There
was neither rope nor chain for lashing the logs together; a stronger
current and a collision with some submerged stump or wreckage would
loosen them and wreck the cabin. But he said nothing. It was the girl
who broke the silence.

“What’s your front name?”

“Miles.”

“MILES,--that’s a funny name. I reckon that’s why you war so FAR OFF and
DISTANT at first.”

Mr. Hemmingway thought this very witty, and said so. “But,” he added,
“when I was a little nearer a moment ago, you stopped me.”

“But you was moving faster than the shanty was. I reckon you don’t take
that gait with your lady friends at Sacramento! However, you kin talk
now.”

“But you forget I don’t know ‘where we are,’ nor ‘what’s going to
happen.’”

“But I do,” she said quietly. “In a couple of hours we’ll be picked up,
so you’ll be free again.”

Something in the confidence of her manner made him go to the door again
and look out. There was scarcely any current now, and the cabin seemed
motionless. Even the wind, which might have acted upon it, was
wanting. They were apparently in the same position as before, but his
sounding-line showed that the water was slightly falling. He came back
and imparted the fact with a certain confidence born of her previous
praise of his knowledge. To his surprise she only laughed and said
lazily, “We’ll be all right, and you’ll be free, in about two hours.”

“I see no sign of it,” he said, looking through the door again.

“That’s because you’re looking in the water and the sky and the mud for
it,” she said, with a laugh. “I reckon you’ve been trained to watch them
things a heap better than to study the folks about here.”

“I daresay you’re right,” said Hemmingway cheerfully, “but I don’t
clearly see what the folks about here have to do with our situation just
now.”

“You’ll see,” she said, with a smile of mischievous mystery. “All the
same,” she added, with a sudden and dangerous softness in her eyes, “I
ain’t sayin’ that YOU ain’t kinder right neither.”

An hour ago he would have laughed at the thought that a mere look and
sentence like this from the girl could have made his heart beat. “Then I
may go on and talk?”

She smiled, but her eyes said, “Yes,” plainly.

He turned to take a chair near her. Suddenly the cabin trembled, there
was a sound of scraping, a bump, and then the whole structure tilted to
one side and they were both thrown violently towards the corner, with a
swift inrush of water. Hemmingway quickly caught the girl by the waist;
she clung to him instinctively, yet still laughing, as with a desperate
effort he succeeded in dragging her to the upper side of the slanting
cabin, and momentarily restoring its equilibrium. They remained for an
instant breathless. But in that instant he had drawn her face to his and
kissed her.

She disengaged herself gently with neither excitement nor emotion, and
pointing to the open door said, “Look there!”

Two of the logs which formed the foundation of their floor were quietly
floating in the water before the cabin! The submerged obstacle or snag
which had torn them from their fastening was still holding the cabin
fast. Hemmingway saw the danger. He ran along the narrow ledge to the
point of contact and unhesitatingly leaped into the icy cold water. It
reached his armpits before his feet struck the obstacle,--evidently a
stump with a projecting branch. Bracing himself against it, he shoved
off the cabin. But when he struck out to follow it, he found that the
log nearest him was loose and his grasp might tear it away. At the
same moment, however, a pink calico arm fluttered above his head, and a
strong grasp seized his coat collar. The cabin half revolved as the girl
dragged him into the open door.

“You bantam!” she said, with a laugh, “why didn’t you let ME do that?
I’m taller than you! But,” she added, looking at his dripping clothes
and dragging out a blanket from the corner, “I couldn’t dry myself
as quick as you kin!” To her surprise, however, Hemmingway tossed the
blanket aside, and pointing to the floor, which was already filmed with
water, ran to the still warm stove, detached it from its pipe, and threw
it overboard. The sack of flour, bacon, molasses, and sugar, and all the
heavier articles followed it into the stream. Relieved of their weight
the cabin base rose an inch or two higher. Then he sat down and said,
“There! that may keep us afloat for that ‘couple of hours’ you speak of.
So I suppose I may talk now!”

“Ye haven’t no time,” she said, in a graver voice. “It won’t be as long
as a couple of hours now. Look over thar!”

He looked where she pointed across the gray expanse of water. At first
he could see nothing. Presently he saw a mere dot on its face which at
times changed to a single black line.

“It’s a log, like these,” he said.

“It’s no log. It’s an Injun dug-out*--comin’ for me.”

     * A canoe made from a hollowed log.

“Your father?” he said joyfully.

She smiled pityingly. “It’s Tom Flynn. Father’s got suthin’ else to look
arter. Tom Flynn hasn’t.”

“And who’s Tom Flynn?” he asked, with an odd sensation.

“The man I’m engaged to,” she said gravely, with a slight color.

The rose that blossomed on her cheek faded in his. There was a moment of
silence. Then he said frankly, “I owe you some apology. Forgive my folly
and impertinence a moment ago. How could I have known this?”

“You took no more than you deserved, or that Tom would have objected
to,” she said, with a little laugh. “You’ve been mighty kind and handy.”

She held out her hand; their fingers closed together in a frank
pressure. Then his mind went back to his work, which he had
forgotten,--to his first impressions of the camp and of her. They both
stood silent, watching the canoe, now quite visible, and the man that
was paddling it, with an intensity that both felt was insincere.

“I’m afraid,” he said, with a forced laugh, “that I was a little too
hasty in disposing of your goods and possessions. We could have kept
afloat a little longer.”

“It’s all the same,” she said, with a slight laugh; “it’s jest as well
we didn’t look too comf’ble--to HIM.”

He did not reply; he did not dare to look at her. Yes! It was the same
coquette he had seen last night. His first impressions were correct.

The canoe came on rapidly now, propelled by a powerful arm. In a few
moments it was alongside, and its owner leaped on the platform. It was
the gentleman with his trousers tucked in his boots, the second voice
in the gloomy discussion in the general store last evening. He nodded
simply to the girl, and shook Hemmingway’s hand warmly.

Then he made a hurried apology for his delay: it was so difficult to
find “the lay” of the drifted cabin. He had struck out first for the
most dangerous spot,--the “old clearing,” on the right bank, with its
stumps and new growths,--and it seemed he was right. And all the rest
were safe, and “nobody was hurt.”

“All the same, Tom,” she said, when they were seated and paddling off
again, “you don’t know HOW NEAR YOU CAME TO LOSING ME.” Then she
raised her beautiful eyes and looked significantly, not at HIM, but at
Hemmingway.

When the water was down at “Jules’” the next day, they found certain
curious changes and some gold, and the secretary was able to make a
favorable report. But he made none whatever of his impressions “when
the water was up at ‘Jules’,’” though he often wondered if they were
strictly trustworthy.



THE BOOM IN THE “CALAVERAS CLARION”


The editorial sanctum of the “Calaveras Clarion” opened upon the
“composing-room” of that paper on the one side, and gave apparently upon
the rest of Calaveras County upon the other. For, situated on the very
outskirts of the settlement and the summit of a very steep hill, the
pines sloped away from the editorial windows to the long valley of the
South Fork and--infinity. The little wooden building had invaded Nature
without subduing it. It was filled night and day with the murmur of
pines and their fragrance. Squirrels scampered over its roof when it was
not preoccupied by woodpeckers, and a printer’s devil had once seen a
nest-building blue jay enter the composing window, flutter before one
of the slanting type-cases with an air of deliberate selection, and then
fly off with a vowel in its bill.

Amidst these sylvan surroundings the temporary editor of the “Clarion”
 sat at his sanctum, reading the proofs of an editorial. As he was
occupying that position during a six weeks’ absence of the bona fide
editor and proprietor, he was consequently reading the proof with some
anxiety and responsibility. It had been suggested to him by certain
citizens that the “Clarion” needed a firmer and more aggressive policy
towards the Bill before the Legislature for the wagon road to the South
Fork. Several Assembly men had been “got at” by the rival settlement of
Liberty Hill, and a scathing exposure and denunciation of such methods
was necessary. The interests of their own township were also to be
“whooped up.” All this had been vigorously explained to him, and he had
grasped the spirit, if not always the facts, of his informants. It is
to be feared, therefore, that he was perusing his article more with
reference to its vigor than his own convictions. And yet he was not so
greatly absorbed as to be unmindful of the murmur of the pines
without, his half-savage environment, and the lazy talk of his sole
companions,--the foreman and printer in the adjoining room.

“Bet your life! I’ve always said that a man INSIDE a newspaper office
could hold his own agin any outsider that wanted to play rough or tried
to raid the office! Thar’s the press, and thar’s the printin’ ink and
roller! Folks talk a heap o’ the power o’ the Press!--I tell ye, ye
don’t half know it. Why, when old Kernel Fish was editin’ the ‘Sierra
Banner,’ one o’ them bullies that he’d lampooned in the ‘Banner’ fought
his way past the Kernel in the office, into the composin’-room, to
wreck everythin’ and ‘pye’ all the types. Spoffrel--ye don’t remember
Spoffrel?--little red-haired man?--was foreman. Spoffrel fended him off
with the roller and got one good dab inter his eyes that blinded him,
and then Spoffrel sorter skirmished him over to the press,--a plain
lever just like ours,--whar the locked-up form of the inside was still
a-lyin’! Then, quick as lightnin’, Spoffrel tilts him over agin it, and
HE throws out his hand and ketches hold o’ the form to steady himself,
when Spoffrel just runs the form and the hand under the press and down
with the lever! And that held the feller fast as grim death! And when
at last he begs off, and Spoff lets him loose, the hull o’ that ‘ere
lampooning article he objected to was printed right onto the skin o’ his
hand! Fact, and it wouldn’t come off, either.”

“Gosh, but I’d like to hev seen it,” said the printer. “There ain’t any
chance, I reckon, o’ such a sight here. The boss don’t take no risks
lampoonin’, and he” (the editor knew he was being indicated by some
unseen gesture of the unseen workman) “ain’t that style.”

“Ye never kin tell,” said the foreman didactically, “what might happen!
I’ve known editors to get into a fight jest for a little innercent
bedevilin’ o’ the opposite party. Sometimes for a misprint. Old man
Pritchard of the ‘Argus’ oncet had a hole blown through his arm because
his proofreader had called Colonel Starbottle’s speech an ‘ignominious’
defense, when the old man hed written ‘ingenuous’ defense.”

The editor paused in his proof-reading. He had just come upon the
sentence: “We cannot congratulate Liberty Hill--in its superior
elevation--upon the ignominious silence of the representative of all
Calaveras when this infamous Bill was introduced.” He referred to his
copy. Yes! He had certainly written “ignominious,”--that was what his
informants had suggested. But was he sure they were right? He had a
vague recollection, also, that the representative alluded to--Senator
Bradley--had fought two duels, and was a “good” though somewhat
impulsive shot! He might alter the word to “ingenuous” or “ingenious,”
 either would be finely sarcastic, but then--there was his foreman, who
would detect it! He would wait until he had finished the entire article.
In that occupation he became oblivious of the next room, of a silence,
a whispered conversation, which ended with a rapping at the door and the
appearance of the foreman in the doorway.

“There’s a man in the office who wants to see the editor,” he said.

“Show him in,” replied the editor briefly. He was, however, conscious
that there was a singular significance in his foreman’s manner, and an
eager apparition of the other printer over the foreman’s shoulder.

“He’s carryin’ a shot-gun, and is a man twice as big as you be,” said
the foreman gravely.

The editor quickly recalled his own brief and as yet blameless record
in the “Clarion.” “Perhaps,” he said tentatively, with a gentle smile,
“he’s looking for Captain Brush” (the absent editor).

“I told him all that,” said the foreman grimly, “and he said he wanted
to see the man in charge.”

In proportion as the editor’s heart sank his outward crest arose. “Show
him in,” he said loftily.

“We KIN keep him out,” suggested the foreman, lingering a moment; “me
and him,” indicating the expectant printer behind him, “is enough for
that.”

“Show him up,” repeated the editor firmly.

The foreman withdrew; the editor seated himself and again took up
his proof. The doubtful word “ignominious” seemed to stand out of the
paragraph before him; it certainly WAS a strong expression! He was about
to run his pencil through it when he heard the heavy step of his visitor
approaching. A sudden instinct of belligerency took possession of him,
and he wrathfully threw the pencil down.

The burly form of the stranger blocked the doorway. He was dressed like
a miner, but his build and general physiognomy were quite distinct
from the local variety. His upper lip and chin were clean-shaven, still
showing the blue-black roots of the beard which covered the rest of his
face and depended in a thick fleece under his throat. He carried a small
bundle tied up in a silk handkerchief in one hand, and a “shot-gun” in
the other, perilously at half-cock. Entering the sanctum, he put down
his bundle and quietly closed the door behind him. He then drew an empty
chair towards him and dropped heavily into it with his gun on his
knees. The editor’s heart dropped almost as heavily, although he quite
composedly held out his hand.

“Shall I relieve you of your gun?”

“Thank ye, lad--noa. It’s moor coomfortable wi’ me, and it’s main
dangersome to handle on the half-cock. That’s why I didn’t leave ‘im on
the horse outside!”

At the sound of his voice and occasional accent a flash of intelligence
relieved the editor’s mind. He remembered that twenty miles away, in
the illimitable vista from his windows, lay a settlement of English
north-country miners, who, while faithfully adopting the methods,
customs, and even slang of the Californians, retained many of their
native peculiarities. The gun he carried on his knee, however, was
evidently part of the Californian imitation.

“Can I do anything for you?” said the editor blandly.

“Ay! I’ve coom here to bill ma woife.”

“I--don’t think I understand,” hesitated the editor, with a smile.

“I’ve coom here to get ye to put into your paaper a warnin’, a notiss,
that onless she returns to my house in four weeks, I’ll have nowt to do
wi’ her again.”

“Oh!” said the editor, now perfectly reassured, “you want an
advertisement? That’s the business of the foreman; I’ll call him.” He
was rising from his seat when the stranger laid a heavy hand on his
shoulder and gently forced him down again.

“Noa, lad! I don’t want noa foreman nor understrappers to take this job.
I want to talk it over wi’ you. Sabe? My woife she bin up and awaa these
six months. We had a bit of difference, that ain’t here nor there, but
she skedaddled outer my house. I want to give her fair warning, and let
her know I ain’t payin’ any debts o’ hers arter this notiss, and I ain’t
takin’ her back arter four weeks from date.”

“I see,” said the editor glibly. “What’s your wife’s name?”

“Eliza Jane Dimmidge.”

“Good,” continued the editor, scribbling on the paper before him;
“something like this will do: ‘Whereas my wife, Eliza Jane Dimmidge,
having left my bed and board without just cause or provocation, this
is to give notice that I shall not be responsible for any debts of her
contracting on or after this date.’”

“Ye must be a lawyer,” said Mr. Dimmidge admiringly.

It was an old enough form of advertisement, and the remark showed
incontestably that Mr. Dimmidge was not a native; but the editor smiled
patronizingly and went on: “‘And I further give notice that if she does
not return within the period of four weeks from this date, I shall take
such proceedings for relief as the law affords.’”

“Coom, lad, I didn’t say THAT.”

“But you said you wouldn’t take her back.”

“Ay.”

“And you can’t prevent her without legal proceedings. She’s your wife.
But you needn’t take proceedings, you know. It’s only a warning.”

Mr. Dimmidge nodded approvingly. “That’s so.”

“You’ll want it published for four weeks, until date?” asked the editor.

“Mebbe longer, lad.”

The editor wrote “till forbid” in the margin of the paper and smiled.

“How big will it be?” said Mr. Dimmidge.

The editor took up a copy of the “Clarion” and indicated about an inch
of space. Mr. Dimmidge’s face fell.

“I want it bigger,--in large letters, like a play-card,” he said.
“That’s no good for a warning.”

“You can have half a column or a whole column if you like,” said the
editor airily.

“I’ll take a whole one,” said Mr. Dimmidge simply.

The editor laughed. “Why! it would cost you a hundred dollars.”

“I’ll take it,” repeated Mr. Dimmidge.

“But,” said the editor gravely, “the same notice in a small space will
serve your purpose and be quite legal.”

“Never you mind that, lad! It’s the looks of the thing I’m arter, and
not the expense. I’ll take that column.”

The editor called in the foreman and showed him the copy. “Can you
display that so as to fill a column?”

The foreman grasped the situation promptly. It would be big business for
the paper. “Yes,” he said meditatively, “that bold-faced election type
will do it.”

Mr. Dimmidge’s face brightened. The expression “bold-faced” pleased him.
“That’s it! I told you. I want to bill her in a portion of the paper.”

“I might put in a cut,” said the foreman suggestively; “something like
this.” He took a venerable woodcut from the case. I grieve to say it was
one which, until the middle of the present century, was common enough in
the newspaper offices in the Southwest. It showed the running figure of
a negro woman carrying her personal property in a knotted handkerchief
slung from a stick over her shoulder, and was supposed to represent “a
fugitive slave.”

Mr. Dimmidge’s eyes brightened. “I’ll take that, too. It’s a little
dark-complected for Mrs. P., but it will do. Now roon away, lad,” he
said to the foreman, as he quietly pushed him into the outer office
again and closed the door. Then, facing the surprised editor, he said,
“Theer’s another notiss I want ye to put in your paper; but that’s
atween US. Not a word to THEM,” he indicated the banished foreman with a
jerk of his thumb. “Sabe? I want you to put this in another part o’ your
paper, quite innocent-like, ye know.” He drew from his pocket a gray
wallet, and taking out a slip of paper read from it gravely, “‘If this
should meet the eye of R. B., look out for M. J. D. He is on your track.
When this you see write a line to E. J. D., Elktown Post Office.’ I want
this to go in as ‘Personal and Private’--sabe?--like them notisses in
the big ‘Frisco papers.”

“I see,” said the editor, laying it aside. “It shall go in the same
issue in another column.”

Apparently Mr. Dimmidge expected something more than this reply, for
after a moment’s hesitation he said with an odd smile:

“Ye ain’t seein’ the meanin’ o’ that, lad?”

“No,” said the editor lightly; “but I suppose R. B. does, and it isn’t
intended that any one else should.”

“Mebbe it is, and mebbe it isn’t,” said Mr. Dimmidge, with a
self-satisfied air. “I don’t mind saying atween us that R. B. is the man
as I’ve suspicioned as havin’ something to do with my wife goin’ away;
and ye see, if he writes to E. J. D.--that’s my wife’s initials--at
Elktown, I’LL get that letter and so make sure.”

“But suppose your wife goes there first, or sends?”

“Then I’ll ketch her or her messenger. Ye see?”

The editor did not see fit to oppose any argument to this phenomenal
simplicity, and Mr. Dimmidge, after settling his bill with the foreman,
and enjoining the editor to the strictest secrecy regarding the origin
of the “personal notice,” took up his gun and departed, leaving the
treasury of the “Clarion” unprecedentedly enriched, and the editor to
his proofs.

The paper duly appeared the next morning with the column advertisement,
the personal notice, and the weighty editorial on the wagon road. There
was a singular demand for the paper, the edition was speedily exhausted,
and the editor was proportionately flattered, although he was surprised
to receive neither praise nor criticism from his subscribers. Before
evening, however, he learned to his astonishment that the excitement was
caused by the column advertisement. Nobody knew Mr. Dimmidge, nor his
domestic infelicities, and the editor and foreman, being equally in the
dark, took refuge in a mysterious and impressive evasion of all inquiry.
Never since the last San Francisco Vigilance Committee had the office
been so besieged. The editor, foreman, and even the apprentice, were
buttonholed and “treated” at the bar, but to no effect. All that could
be learned was that it was a bona fide advertisement, for which one
hundred dollars had been received! There were great discussions and
conflicting theories as to whether the value of the wife, or the
husband’s anxiety to get rid of her, justified the enormous expense and
ostentatious display. She was supposed to be an exceedingly beautiful
woman by some, by others a perfect Sycorax; in one breath Mr. Dimmidge
was a weak, uxorious spouse, wasting his substance on a creature who did
not care for him, and in another a maddened, distracted, henpecked man,
content to purchase peace and rest at any price. Certainly, never was
advertisement more effective in its publicity, or cheaper in proportion
to the circulation it commanded. It was copied throughout the whole
Pacific slope; mighty San Francisco papers described its size and
setting under the attractive headline, “How they Advertise a Wife in the
Mountains!” It reappeared in the Eastern journals, under the title of
“Whimsicalities of the Western Press.” It was believed to have crossed
to England as a specimen of “Transatlantic Savagery.” The real editor
of the “Clarion” awoke one morning, in San Francisco, to find his paper
famous. Its advertising columns were eagerly sought for; he at once
advanced the rates. People bought successive issues to gaze upon this
monumental record of extravagance. A singular idea, which, however,
brought further fortune to the paper, was advanced by an astute critic
at the Eureka Saloon. “My opinion, gentlemen, is that the whole blamed
thing is a bluff! There ain’t no Mr. Dimmidge; there ain’t no Mrs.
Dimmidge; there ain’t no desertion! The whole rotten thing is an
ADVERTISEMENT o’ suthin’! Ye’ll find afore ye get through with it
that that there wife won’t come back until that blamed husband buys
Somebody’s Soap, or treats her to Somebody’s particular Starch or Patent
Medicine! Ye jest watch and see!” The idea was startling, and seized
upon the mercantile mind. The principal merchant of the town, and
purveyor to the mining settlements beyond, appeared the next morning at
the office of the “Clarion.” “Ye wouldn’t mind puttin’ this ‘ad’ in
a column alongside o’ the Dimmidge one, would ye?” The young editor
glanced at it, and then, with a serpent-like sagacity, veiled, however,
by the suavity of the dove, pointed out that the original advertiser
might think it called his bona fides into question and withdraw his
advertisement. “But if we secured you by an offer of double the amount
per column?” urged the merchant. “That,” responded the locum tenens,
“was for the actual editor and proprietor in San Francisco to determine.
He would telegraph.” He did so. The response was, “Put it in.” Whereupon
in the next issue, side by side with Mr. Dimmidge’s protracted warning,
appeared a column with the announcement, in large letters, “WE HAVEN’T
LOST ANY WIFE, but WE are prepared to furnish the following goods at
a lower rate than any other advertiser in the county,” followed by the
usual price list of the merchant’s wares. There was an unprecedented
demand for that issue. The reputation of the “Clarion,” both as a shrewd
advertising medium and a comic paper, was established at once. For a few
days the editor waited with some apprehension for a remonstrance from
the absent Dimmidge, but none came. Whether Mr. Dimmidge recognized that
this new advertisement gave extra publicity to his own, or that he was
already on the track of the fugitive, the editor did not know. The
few curious citizens who had, early in the excitement, penetrated
the settlement of the English miners twenty miles away in search of
information, found that Mr. Dimmidge had gone away, and that Mrs.
Dimmidge had NEVER resided there with him!

Six weeks passed. The limit of Mr. Dimmidge’s advertisement had been
reached, and, as it was not renewed, it had passed out of the pages
of the “Clarion,” and with it the merchant’s advertisement in the next
column. The excitement had subsided, although its influence was still
felt in the circulation of the paper and its advertising popularity. The
temporary editor was also nearing the limit of his incumbency, but had
so far participated in the good fortune of the “Clarion” as to receive
an offer from one of the San Francisco dailies.

It was a warm night, and he was alone in his sanctum. The rest of the
building was dark and deserted, and his solitary light, flashing out
through the open window, fell upon the nearer pines and was lost in the
dark, indefinable slope below. He had reached the sanctum by the
rear, and a door which he also left open to enjoy the freshness of
the aromatic air. Nor did it in the least mar his privacy. Rather the
solitude of the great woods without seemed to enter through that
door and encompassed him with its protecting loneliness. There was
occasionally a faint “peep” in the scant eaves, or a “pat-pat,” ending
in a frightened scurry across the roof, or the slow flap of a heavy
wing in the darkness below. These gentle disturbances did not, however,
interrupt his work on “The True Functions of the County Newspaper,” the
editorial on which he was engaged.

Presently a more distinct rustling against the straggling blackberry
bushes beside the door attracted his attention. It was followed by a
light tapping against the side of the house. The editor started and
turned quickly towards the open door. Two outside steps led to the
ground. Standing upon the lower one was a woman. The upper part of her
figure, illuminated by the light from the door, was thrown into greater
relief by the dark background of the pines. Her face was unknown to
him, but it was a pleasant one, marked by a certain good-humored
determination.

“May I come in?” she said confidently.

“Certainly,” said the editor. “I am working here alone because it is
so quiet.” He thought he would precipitate some explanation from her by
excusing himself.

“That’s the reason why I came,” she said, with a quiet smile.

She came up the next step and entered the room. She was plainly but
neatly dressed, and now that her figure was revealed he saw that she was
wearing a linsey-woolsey riding-skirt, and carried a serviceable rawhide
whip in her cotton-gauntleted hand. She took the chair he offered her
and sat down sideways on it, her whip hand now also holding up her
skirt, and permitting a hem of clean white petticoat and a smart,
well-shaped boot to be seen.

“I don’t remember to have had the pleasure of seeing you in Calaveras
before,” said the editor tentatively.

“No. I never was here before,” she said composedly, “but you’ve heard
enough of me, I reckon. I’m Mrs. Dimmidge.” She threw one hand over
the back of the chair, and with the other tapped her riding-whip on the
floor.

The editor started. Mrs. Dimmidge! Then she was not a myth. An absurd
similarity between her attitude with the whip and her husband’s entrance
with his gun six weeks before forced itself upon him and made her an
invincible presence.

“Then you have returned to your husband?” he said hesitatingly.

“Not much!” she returned, with a slight curl of her lip.

“But you read his advertisement?”

“I saw that column of fool nonsense he put in your paper--ef that’s
what you mean,” she said with decision, “but I didn’t come here to see
HIM--but YOU.”

The editor looked at her with a forced smile, but a vague misgiving. He
was alone at night in a deserted part of the settlement, with a plump,
self-possessed woman who had a contralto voice, a horsewhip, and--he
could not help feeling--an evident grievance.

“To see me?” he repeated, with a faint attempt at gallantry. “You are
paying me a great compliment, but really”--

“When I tell you I’ve come three thousand miles from Kansas straight
here without stopping, ye kin reckon it’s so,” she replied firmly.

“Three thousand miles!” echoed the editor wonderingly.

“Yes. Three thousand miles from my own folks’ home in Kansas, where six
years ago I married Mr. Dimmidge,--a British furriner as could scarcely
make himself understood in any Christian language! Well, he got round
me and dad, allowin’ he was a reg’lar out-and-out profeshnal miner,--had
lived in mines ever since he was a boy; and so, not knowin’ what kind o’
mines, and dad just bilin’ over with the gold fever, we were married and
kem across the plains to Californy. He was a good enough man to look at,
but it warn’t three months before I discovered that he allowed a wife
was no better nor a nigger slave, and he the master. That made me open
my eyes; but then, as he didn’t drink, and didn’t gamble, and didn’t
swear, and was a good provider and laid by money, why I shifted along
with him as best I could. We drifted down the first year to Sonora, at
Red Dog, where there wasn’t another woman. Well, I did the nigger slave
business,--never stirring out o’ the settlement, never seein’ a town
or a crowd o’ decent people,--and he did the lord and master! We played
that game for two years, and I got tired. But when at last he allowed
he’d go up to Elktown Hill, where there was a passel o’ his countrymen
at work, with never a sign o’ any other folks, and leave me alone at Red
Dog until he fixed up a place for me at Elktown Hill,--I kicked! I gave
him fair warning! I did as other nigger slaves did,--I ran away!”

A recollection of the wretched woodcut which Mr. Dimmidge had selected
to personify his wife flashed upon the editor with a new meaning.
Yet perhaps she had not seen it, and had only read a copy of the
advertisement. What could she want? The “Calaveras Clarion,” although a
“Palladium” and a “Sentinel upon the Heights of Freedom” in reference to
wagon roads, was not a redresser of domestic wrongs,--except through its
advertising columns! Her next words intensified that suggestion.

“I’ve come here to put an advertisement in your paper.”

The editor heaved a sigh of relief, as once before. “Certainly,” he said
briskly. “But that’s another department of the paper, and the printers
have gone home. Come to-morrow morning early.”

“To-morrow morning I shall be miles away,” she said decisively,
“and what I want done has got to be done NOW! I don’t want to see no
printers; I don’t want ANYBODY to know I’ve been here but you. That’s
why I kem here at night, and rode all the way from Sawyer’s Station,
and wouldn’t take the stage-coach. And when we’ve settled about the
advertisement, I’m going to mount my horse, out thar in the bushes, and
scoot outer the settlement.”

“Very good,” said the editor resignedly. “Of course I can deliver your
instructions to the foreman. And now--let me see--I suppose you wish to
intimate in a personal notice to your husband that you’ve returned.”

“Nothin’ o’ the kind!” said Mrs. Dimmidge coolly. “I want to placard him
as he did me. I’ve got it all written out here. Sabe?”

She took from her pocket a folded paper, and spreading it out on the
editor’s desk, with a certain pride of authorship read as follows:--

“Whereas my husband, Micah J. Dimmidge, having given out that I have
left his bed and board,--the same being a bunk in a log cabin and pork
and molasses three times a day,--and having advertised that he’d pay
no debts of MY contractin’,--which, as thar ain’t any, might be easier
collected than debts of his own contractin’,--this is to certify that
unless he returns from Elktown Hill to his only home in Sonora in one
week from date, payin’ the cost of this advertisement, I’ll know the
reason why.--Eliza Jane Dimmidge.”

“Thar,” she added, drawing a long breath, “put that in a column of the
‘Clarion,’ same size as the last, and let it work, and that’s all I want
of you.”

“A column?” repeated the editor. “Do you know the cost is very
expensive, and I COULD put it in a single paragraph?”

“I reckon I kin pay the same as Mr. Dimmidge did for HIS,” said the lady
complacently. “I didn’t see your paper myself, but the paper as copied
it--one of them big New York dailies--said that it took up a whole
column.”

The editor breathed more freely; she had not seen the infamous woodcut
which her husband had selected. At the same moment he was struck with a
sense of retribution, justice, and compensation.

“Would you,” he asked hesitatingly,--“would you like it illustrated--by
a cut?”

“With which?”

“Wait a moment; I’ll show you.”

He went into the dark composing-room, lit a candle, and rummaging in a
drawer sacred to weather-beaten, old-fashioned electrotyped advertising
symbols of various trades, finally selected one and brought it to Mrs.
Dimmidge. It represented a bare and exceedingly stalwart arm wielding a
large hammer.

“Your husband being a miner,--a quartz miner,--would that do?” he asked.
(It had been previously used to advertise a blacksmith, a gold-beater,
and a stone-mason.)

The lady examined it critically.

“It does look a little like Micah’s arm,” she said meditatively.
“Well--you kin put it in.”

The editor was so well pleased with his success that he must needs make
another suggestion. “I suppose,” he said ingenuously, “that you don’t
want to answer the ‘Personal’?”

“‘Personal’?” she repeated quickly, “what’s that? I ain’t seen no
‘Personal.’” The editor saw his blunder. She, of course, had never seen
Mr. Dimmidge’s artful “Personal;” THAT the big dailies naturally had not
noticed nor copied. But it was too late to withdraw now. He brought
out a file of the “Clarion,” and snipping out the paragraph with his
scissors, laid it before the lady.

She stared at it with wrinkled brows and a darkening face.

“And THIS was in the same paper?--put in by Mr. Dimmidge?” she asked
breathlessly.

The editor, somewhat alarmed, stammered “Yes.” But the next moment he
was reassured. The wrinkles disappeared, a dozen dimples broke out where
they had been, and the determined, matter-of-fact Mrs. Dimmidge burst
into a fit of rosy merriment. Again and again she laughed, shaking
the building, startling the sedate, melancholy woods beyond, until the
editor himself laughed in sheer vacant sympathy.

“Lordy!” she said at last, gasping, and wiping the laughter from her wet
eyes. “I never thought of THAT.”

“No,” explained the editor smilingly; “of course you didn’t. Don’t you
see, the papers that copied the big advertisement never saw that little
paragraph, or if they did, they never connected the two together.”

“Oh, it ain’t that,” said Mrs. Dimmidge, trying to regain her composure
and holding her sides. “It’s that blessed DEAR old dunderhead of a
Dimmidge I’m thinking of. That gets me. I see it all now. Only, sakes
alive! I never thought THAT of him. Oh, it’s just too much!” and she
again relapsed behind her handkerchief.

“Then I suppose you don’t want to reply to it,” said the editor.

Her laughter instantly ceased. “Don’t I?” she said, wiping her face into
its previous complacent determination. “Well, young man, I reckon that’s
just what I WANT to do! Now, wait a moment; let’s see what he said,”
 she went on, taking up and reperusing the “Personal” paragraph. “Well,
then,” she went on, after a moment’s silent composition with moving
lips, “you just put these lines in.”

The editor took up his pencil.

“To Mr. J. D. Dimmidge.--Hope you’re still on R. B.’s tracks. Keep
there!--E. J. D.”

The editor wrote down the line, and then, remembering Mr. Dimmidge’s
voluntary explanation of HIS “Personal,” waited with some confidence for
a like frankness from Mrs. Dimmidge. But he was mistaken.

“You think that he--R. B.--or Mr. Dimmidge--will understand this?” he at
last asked tentatively. “Is it enough?”

“Quite enough,” said Mrs. Dimmidge emphatically. She took a roll of
greenbacks from her pocket, selected a hundred-dollar bill and then a
five, and laid them before the editor. “Young man,” she said, with a
certain demure gravity, “you’ve done me a heap o’ good. I never spent
money with more satisfaction than this. I never thought much o’ the
‘power o’ the Press,’ as you call it, afore. But this has been a right
comfortable visit, and I’m glad I ketched you alone. But you understand
one thing: this yer visit, and WHO I am, is betwixt you and me only.”

“Of course I must say that the advertisement was AUTHORIZED,” returned
the editor. “I’m only the temporary editor. The proprietor is away.”

“So much the better,” said the lady complacently. “You just say you
found it on your desk with the money; but don’t you give me away.”

“I can promise you that the secret of your personal visit is safe with
me,” said the young man, with a bow, as Mrs. Dimmidge rose. “Let me see
you to your horse,” he added. “It’s quite dark in the woods.”

“I can see well enough alone, and it’s just as well you shouldn’t know
HOW I kem or HOW I went away. Enough for you to know that I’ll be miles
away before that paper comes out. So stay where you are.”

She pressed his hand frankly and firmly, gathered up her riding-skirt,
slipped backwards to the door, and the next moment rustled away into the
darkness.

Early the next morning the editor handed Mrs. Dimmidge’s advertisement,
and the woodcut he had selected, to his foreman. He was purposely brief
in his directions, so as to avoid inquiry, and retired to his sanctum.
In the space of a few moments the foreman entered with a slight
embarrassment of manner.

“You’ll excuse my speaking to you, sir,” he said, with a singular
mixture of humility and cunning. “It’s no business of mine, I know; but
I thought I ought to tell you that this yer kind o’ thing won’t pay any
more,--it’s about played out!”

“I don’t think I understand you,” said the editor loftily, but with
an inward misgiving. “You don’t mean to say that a regular, actual
advertisement”--

“Of course, I know all that,” said the foreman, with a peculiar smile;
“and I’m ready to back you up in it, and so’s the boy; but it won’t
pay.”

“It HAS paid a hundred and five dollars,” said the editor, taking the
notes from his pocket; “so I’d advise you to simply attend to your duty
and set it up.”

A look of surprise, followed, however, by a kind of pitying smile,
passed over the foreman’s face. “Of course, sir, THAT’S all right, and
you know your own business; but if you think that the new advertisement
will pay this time as the other one did, and whoop up another column
from an advertiser, I’m afraid you’ll slip up. It’s a little ‘off color’
now,--not ‘up to date,’--if it ain’t a regular ‘back number,’ as you’ll
see.”

“Meantime I’ll dispense with your advice,” said the editor curtly, “and
I think you had better let our subscribers and advertisers do the same,
or the ‘Clarion’ might also be obliged to dispense with your SERVICES.”

“I ain’t no blab,” said the foreman, in an aggrieved manner, “and I
don’t intend to give the show away even if it don’t PAY. But I thought
I’d tell you, because I know the folks round here better than you do.”

He was right. No sooner had the advertisement appeared than the editor
found that everybody believed it to be a sheer invention of his own to
“once more boom” the “Clarion.” If they had doubted MR. Dimmidge, they
utterly rejected MRS. Dimmidge as an advertiser! It was a stale joke
that nobody would follow up; and on the heels of this came a letter from
the editor-in-chief.


MY DEAR BOY,--You meant well, I know, but the second Dimmidge “ad” was
a mistake. Still, it was a big bluff of yours to show the money, and I
send you back your hundred dollars, hoping you won’t “do it again.”
 Of course you’ll have to keep the advertisement in the paper for two
issues, just as if it were a real thing, and it’s lucky that there’s
just now no pressure in our columns. You might have told a better story
than that hogwash about your finding the “ad” and a hundred dollars
lying loose on your desk one morning. It was rather thin, and I don’t
wonder the foreman kicked.


The young editor was in despair. At first he thought of writing to Mrs.
Dimmidge at the Elktown Post-Office, asking her to relieve him of his
vow of secrecy; but his pride forbade. There was a humorous concern, not
without a touch of pity, in the faces of his contributors as he passed;
a few affected to believe in the new advertisement, and asked him vague,
perfunctory questions about it. His position was trying, and he was not
sorry when the term of his engagement expired the next week, and he left
Calaveras to take his new position on the San Francisco paper.

He was standing in the saloon of the Sacramento boat when he felt a
sudden heavy pressure on his shoulder, and looking round sharply, beheld
not only the black-bearded face of Mr. Dimmidge, lit up by a smile, but
beside it the beaming, buxom face of Mrs. Dimmidge, overflowing with
good-humor. Still a little sore from his past experience, he was about
to address them abruptly, when he was utterly vanquished by the hearty
pressure of their hands and the unmistakable look of gratitude in their
eyes.

“I was just saying to ‘Lizy Jane,” began Mr. Dimmidge breathlessly,
“if I could only meet that young man o’ the ‘Clarion’ what brought us
together again”--

“You’d be willin’ to pay four times the amount we both paid him,”
 interpolated the laughing Mrs. Dimmidge.

“But I didn’t bring you together,” burst out the dazed young man, “and
I’d like to know, in the name of Heaven, what brought you together now?”

“Don’t you see, lad,” said the imperturbable Mr. Dimmidge, “‘Lizy Jane
and myself had qua’lled, and we just unpacked our fool nonsense in your
paper and let the hull world know it! And we both felt kinder skeert and
shamed like, and it looked such small hogwash, and of so little account,
for all the talk it made, that we kinder felt lonely as two separated
fools that really ought to share their foolishness together.”

“And that ain’t all,” said Mrs. Dimmidge, with a sly glance at her
spouse, “for I found out from that ‘Personal’ you showed me that this
particular old fool was actooally jealous!--JEALOUS!”

“And then?” said the editor impatiently.

“And then I KNEW he loved me all the time.”



THE SECRET OF SOBRIENTE’S WELL


Even to the eye of the most inexperienced traveler there was no doubt
that Buena Vista was a “played-out” mining camp. There, seamed and
scarred by hydraulic engines, was the old hillside, over whose denuded
surface the grass had begun to spring again in fitful patches; there
were the abandoned heaps of tailings already blackened by sun and rain,
and worn into mounds like ruins of masonry; there were the waterless
ditches, like giant graves, and the pools of slumgullion, now dried into
shining, glazed cement. There were two or three wooden “stores,” from
which the windows and doors had been taken and conveyed to the newer
settlement of Wynyard’s Gulch. Four or five buildings that still were
inhabited--the blacksmith’s shop, the post-office, a pioneer’s
cabin, and the old hotel and stage-office--only accented the general
desolation. The latter building had a remoteness of prosperity far
beyond the others, having been a wayside Spanish-American posada, with
adobe walls of two feet in thickness, that shamed the later shells of
half-inch plank, which were slowly warping and cracking like dried pods
in the oven-like heat.

The proprietor of this building, Colonel Swinger, had been looked
upon by the community as a person quite as remote, old-fashioned, and
inconsistent with present progress as the house itself. He was an old
Virginian, who had emigrated from his decaying plantation on the James
River only to find the slaves, which he had brought with him, freed men
when they touched Californian soil; to be driven by Northern progress
and “smartness” out of the larger cities into the mountains, to fix
himself at last, with the hopeless fatuity of his race, upon an already
impoverished settlement; to sink his scant capital in hopeless shafts
and ledges, and finally to take over the decaying hostelry of Buena
Vista, with its desultory custom and few, lingering, impecunious guests.
Here, too, his old Virginian ideas of hospitality were against his
financial success; he could not dun nor turn from his door those
unfortunate prospectors whom the ebbing fortunes of Buena Vista had left
stranded by his side.

Colonel Swinger was sitting in a wicker-work rocking-chair on the
veranda of his hotel--sipping a mint julep which he held in his hand,
while he gazed into the dusty distance. Nothing could have convinced him
that he was not performing a serious part of his duty as hotel-keeper
in this attitude, even though there were no travelers expected, and the
road at this hour of the day was deserted. On a bench at his side Larry
Hawkins stretched his lazy length,--one foot dropped on the veranda,
and one arm occasionally groping under the bench for his own tumbler
of refreshment. Apart from this community of occupation, there was
apparently no interchange of sentiment between the pair. The silence
had continued for some moments, when the colonel put down his glass and
gazed earnestly into the distance.

“Seein’ anything?” remarked the man on the bench, who had sleepily
regarded him.

“No,” said the colonel, “that is--it’s only Dick Ruggles crossin’ the
road.”

“Thought you looked a little startled, ez if you’d seen that ar
wanderin’ stranger.”

“When I see that wandering stranger, sah,” said the colonel decisively,
“I won’t be sittin’ long in this yer chyar. I’ll let him know in about
ten seconds that I don’t harbor any vagrants prowlin’ about like poor
whites or free niggers on my propahty, sah!”

“All the same, I kinder wish ye did see him, for you’d be settled in
YOUR mind and I’d be easier in MINE, ef you found out what he was doin’
round yer, or ye had to admit that it wasn’t no LIVIN’ man.”

“What do you mean?” said the colonel, testily facing around in his
chair.

His companion also altered his attitude by dropping his other foot
to the floor, sitting up, and leaning lazily forward with his hands
clasped.

“Look yer, colonel. When you took this place, I felt I didn’t have no
call to tell ye all I know about it, nor to pizen yer mind by any darned
fool yarns I mout hev heard. Ye know it was one o’ them old Spanish
haciendas?”

“I know,” said the colonel loftily, “that it was held by a grant from
Charles the Fifth of Spain, just as my propahty on the James River was
given to my people by King James of England, sah!”

“That ez as may be,” returned his companion, in lazy indifference;
“though I reckon that Charles the Fifth of Spain and King James of
England ain’t got much to do with what I’m goin’ to tell ye. Ye see, I
was here long afore YOUR time, or any of the boys that hev now cleared
out; and at that time the hacienda belonged to a man named Juan
Sobriente. He was that kind o’ fool that he took no stock in mining.
When the boys were whoopin’ up the place and finding the color
everywhere, and there was a hundred men working down there in the gulch,
he was either ridin’ round lookin’ up the wild horses he owned, or
sittin’ with two or three lazy peons and Injins that was fed and looked
arter by the priests. Gosh! now I think of it, it was mighty like YOU
when you first kem here with your niggers. That’s curious, too, ain’t
it?”

He had stopped, gazing with an odd, superstitious wonderment at the
colonel, as if overcome by this not very remarkable coincidence.
The colonel, overlooking or totally oblivious to its somewhat
uncomplimentary significance, simply said, “Go on. What about him?”

“Well, ez I was sayin’, he warn’t in it nohow, but kept on his reg’lar
way when the boom was the biggest. Some of the boys allowed it was
mighty oncivil for him to stand off like that, and others--when he
refused a big pile for his hacienda and the garden, that ran right into
the gold-bearing ledge--war for lynching him and driving him outer the
settlement. But as he had a pretty darter or niece livin’ with him,
and, except for his partickler cussedness towards mining, was kinder
peaceable and perlite, they thought better of it. Things went along like
this, until one day the boys noticed--particklerly the boys that had
slipped up on their luck--that old man Sobriente was gettin’ rich,--had
stocked a ranch over on the Divide, and had given some gold candlesticks
to the mission church. That would have been only human nature and
business, ef he’d had any during them flush times; but he hadn’t. This
kinder puzzled them. They tackled the peons,--his niggers,--but it was
all ‘No sabe.’ They tackled another man,--a kind of half-breed Kanaka,
who, except the priest, was the only man who came to see him, and was
supposed to be mighty sweet on the darter or niece,--but they didn’t
even get the color outer HIM. Then the first thing we knowed was that
old Sobriente was found dead in the well!”

“In the well, sah!” said the colonel, starting up. “The well on my
propahty?”

“No,” said his companion. “The old well that was afterwards shut up.
Yours was dug by the last tenant, Jack Raintree, who allowed that he
didn’t want to ‘take any Sobriente in his reg’lar whiskey and water.’
Well, the half-breed Kanaka cleared out after the old man’s death, and
so did that darter or niece; and the church, to whom old Sobriente had
left this house, let it to Raintree for next to nothin’.”

“I don’t see what all that has got to do with that wandering tramp,”
 said the colonel, who was by no means pleased with this history of his
property.

“I’ll tell ye. A few days after Raintree took it over, he was lookin’
round the garden, which old Sobriente had always kept shut up agin
strangers, and he finds a lot of dried-up ‘slumgullion’ * scattered all
about the borders and beds, just as if the old man had been using it for
fertilizing. Well, Raintree ain’t no fool; he allowed the old man wasn’t
one, either; and he knew that slumgullion wasn’t worth no more than mud
for any good it would do the garden. So he put this yer together with
Sobriente’s good luck, and allowed to himself that the old coyote had
been secretly gold-washin’ all the while he seemed to be standin’ off
agin it! But where was the mine? Whar did he get the gold? That’s what
got Raintree. He hunted all over the garden, prospected every part of
it,--ye kin see the holes yet,--but he never even got the color!”

     * That is, a viscid cement-like refuse of gold-washing.

He paused, and then, as the colonel made an impatient gesture, he went
on.

“Well, one night just afore you took the place, and when Raintree was
gettin’ just sick of it, he happened to be walkin’ in the garden. He was
puzzlin’ his brain agin to know how old Sobriente made his pile, when
all of a suddenst he saw suthin’ a-movin’ in the brush beside the house.
He calls out, thinkin’ it was one of the boys, but got no answer. Then
he goes to the bushes, and a tall figger, all in black, starts out afore
him. He couldn’t see any face, for its head was covered with a hood, but
he saw that it held suthin’ like a big cross clasped agin its breast.
This made him think it was one them priests, until he looks agin and
sees that it wasn’t no cross it was carryin,’ but a PICKAXE! He makes
a jump towards it, but it vanished! He traipsed over the hull
garden,--went though ev’ry bush,--but it was clean gone. Then the hull
thing flashed upon him with a cold shiver. The old man bein’ found dead
in the well! the goin’ away of the half-breed and the girl! the findin’
o’ that slumgullion! The old man HAD made a strike in that garden, the
half-breed had discovered his secret and murdered him, throwin’ him down
the well! It war no LIVIN’ man that he had seen, but the ghost of old
Sobriente!”

The colonel emptied the remaining contents of his glass at a single
gulp, and sat up. “It’s my opinion, sah, that Raintree had that night
more than his usual allowance of corn-juice on board; and it’s only
a wonder, sah, that he didn’t see a few pink alligators and sky-blue
snakes at the same time. But what’s this got to do with that wanderin’
tramp?”

“They’re all the same thing, colonel, and in my opinion that there tramp
ain’t no more alive than that figger was.”

“But YOU were the one that saw this tramp with your own eyes,” retorted
the colonel quickly, “and you never before allowed it was a spirit!”

“Exactly! I saw it whar a minit afore nothin’ had been standin’, and a
minit after nothin’ stood,” said Larry Hawkins, with a certain serious
emphasis; “but I warn’t goin’ to say it to ANYBODY, and I warn’t goin’
to give you and the hacienda away. And ez nobody knew Raintree’s story,
I jest shut up my head. But you kin bet your life that the man I saw
warn’t no livin’ man!”

“We’ll see, sah!” said the colonel, rising from his chair with his
fingers in the armholes of his nankeen waistcoat, “ef he ever intrudes
on my property again. But look yar! don’t ye go sayin’ anything of this
to Polly,--you know what women are!”

A faint color came into Larry’s face; an animation quite different to
the lazy deliberation of his previous monologue shone in his eyes, as
he said, with a certain rough respect he had not shown before to his
companion, “That’s why I’m tellin’ ye, so that ef SHE happened to see
anything and got skeert, ye’d know how to reason her out of it.”

“‘Sh!” said the colonel, with a warning gesture.

A young girl had just appeared in the doorway, and now stood leaning
against the central pillar that supported it, with one hand above her
head, in a lazy attitude strongly suggestive of the colonel’s Southern
indolence, yet with a grace entirely her own. Indeed, it overcame the
negligence of her creased and faded yellow cotton frock and unbuttoned
collar, and suggested--at least to the eyes of ONE man--the curving and
clinging of the jasmine vine against the outer column of the veranda.
Larry Hawkins rose awkwardly to his feet.

“Now what are you two men mumblin’ and confidin’ to each other? You look
for all the world like two old women gossips,” she said, with languid
impertinence.

It was easy to see that a privileged and recognized autocrat spoke.
No one had ever questioned Polly Swinger’s right to interrupting,
interfering, and saucy criticisms. Secure in the hopeless or chivalrous
admiration of the men around her, she had repaid it with a frankness
that scorned any coquetry; with an indifference to the ordinary feminine
effect or provocation in dress or bearing that was as natural as it was
invincible. No one had ever known Polly to “fix up” for anybody, yet
no one ever doubted the effect, if she had. No one had ever rebuked her
charming petulance, or wished to.

Larry gave a weak, vague laugh. Colonel Swinger as ineffectively assumed
a mock parental severity. “When you see two gentlemen, miss, discussin’
politics together, it ain’t behavin’ like a lady to interrupt. Better
run away and tidy yourself before the stage comes.”

The young lady replied to the last innuendo by taking two spirals of
soft hair, like “corn silk,” from her oval cheek, wetting them with
her lips, and tucking them behind her ears. Her father’s ungentlemanly
suggestion being thus disposed of, she returned to her first charge.

“It ain’t no politics; you ain’t been swearing enough for THAT! Come,
now! It’s the mysterious stranger ye’ve been talking about!”

Both men stared at her with unaffected concern.

“What do YOU know about any mysterious stranger?” demanded her father.

“Do you suppose you men kin keep a secret,” scoffed Polly. “Why, Dick
Ruggles told me how skeert ye all were over an entire stranger, and he
advised me not to wander down the road after dark. I asked him if he
thought I was a pickaninny to be frightened by bogies, and that if
he hadn’t a better excuse for wantin’ ‘to see me home’ from the Injin
spring, he might slide.”

Larry laughed again, albeit a little bitterly, for it seemed to him that
the excuse was fully justified; but the colonel said promptly, “Dick’s
a fool, and you might have told him there were worse things to be met on
the road than bogies. Run away now, and see that the niggers are on hand
when the stage comes.”

Two hours later the stage came with a clatter of hoofs and a cloud of
red dust, which precipitated itself and a dozen thirsty travelers
upon the veranda before the hotel bar-room; it brought also the usual
“express” newspapers and much talk to Colonel Swinger, who always
received his guests in a lofty personal fashion at the door, as he might
have done in his old Virginian home; but it brought likewise--marvelous
to relate--an ACTUAL GUEST, who had two trunks and asked for a room! He
was evidently a stranger to the ways of Buena Vista, and particularly
to those of Colonel Swinger, and at first seemed inclined to resent the
social attitude of his host, and his frank and free curiosity. When he,
however, found that Colonel Swinger was even better satisfied to give
an account of HIS OWN affairs, his family, pedigree, and his present
residence, he began to betray some interest. The colonel told him
all the news, and would no doubt have even expatiated on his ghostly
visitant, had he not prudently concluded that his guest might decline to
remain in a haunted inn. The stranger had spoken of staying a week; he
had some private mining speculations to watch at Wynyard’s Gulch,--the
next settlement, but he did not care to appear openly at the “Gulch
Hotel.” He was a man of thirty, with soft, pleasing features and a
singular litheness of movement, which, combined with a nut-brown, gypsy
complexion, at first suggested a foreigner. But his dialect, to the
colonel’s ears, was distinctly that of New England, and to this was
added a puritanical and sanctimonious drawl. “He looked,” said the
colonel in after years, “like a blank light mulatter, but talked like a
blank Yankee parson.” For all that, he was acceptable to his host, who
may have felt that his reminiscences of his plantation on the James
River were palling on Buena Vista ears, and was glad of his new auditor.
It was an advertisement, too, of the hotel, and a promise of its future
fortunes. “Gentlemen having propahty interests at the Gulch, sah, prefer
to stay at Buena Vista with another man of propahty, than to trust to
those new-fangled papah-collared, gingerbread booths for traders that
they call ‘hotels’ there,” he had remarked to some of “the boys.” In his
preoccupation with the new guest, he also became a little neglectful
of his old chum and dependent, Larry Hawkins. Nor was this the only
circumstance that filled the head of that shiftless loyal retainer
of the colonel with bitterness and foreboding. Polly Swinger--the
scornfully indifferent, the contemptuously inaccessible, the coldly
capricious and petulant--was inclined to be polite to the stranger!

The fact was that Polly, after the fashion of her sex, took it into
her pretty head, against all consistency and logic, suddenly to make
an exception to her general attitude towards mankind in favor of one
individual. The reason-seeking masculine reader will rashly conclude
that this individual was the CAUSE as well as the object; but I am
satisfied that every fair reader of these pages will instinctively know
better. Miss Polly had simply selected the new guest, Mr. Starbuck, to
show OTHERS, particularly Larry Hawkins, what she COULD do if she were
inclined to be civil. For two days she “fixed up” her distracting hair
at him so that its silken floss encircled her head like a nimbus; she
tucked her oval chin into a white fichu instead of a buttonless collar;
she appeared at dinner in a newly starched yellow frock! She talked
to him with “company manners;” said she would “admire to go to San
Francisco,” and asked if he knew her old friends the Fauquier girls
from “Faginia.” The colonel was somewhat disturbed; he was glad that his
daughter had become less negligent of her personal appearance; he could
not but see, with the others, how it enhanced her graces; but he was,
with the others, not entirely satisfied with her reasons. And he could
not help observing--what was more or less patent to ALL--that Starbuck
was far from being equally responsive to her attentions, and at times
was indifferent and almost uncivil. Nobody seemed to be satisfied with
Polly’s transformation but herself.

But eventually she was obliged to assert herself. The third evening
after Starbuck’s arrival she was going over to the cabin of Aunt Chloe,
who not only did the washing for Buena Vista, but assisted Polly in
dressmaking. It was not far, and the night was moonlit. As she crossed
the garden she saw Starbuck moving in the manzanita bushes beyond; a
mischievous light came into her eyes; she had not EXPECTED to meet him,
but she had seen him go out, and there were always POSSIBILITIES. To her
surprise, however, he merely lifted his hat as she passed, and
turned abruptly in another direction. This was more than the little
heart-breaker of Buena Vista was accustomed to!

“Oh, Mr. Starbuck!” she called, in her laziest voice.

He turned almost impatiently.

“Since you’re so civil and pressing, I thought I’d tell you I was just
runnin’ over to Aunt Chloe’s,” she said dryly.

“I should think it was hardly the proper thing for a young lady to do
at this time of night,” he said superciliously. “But you know best,--you
know the people here.”

Polly’s cheeks and eyes flamed. “Yes, I reckon I do,” she said crisply;
“it’s only a STRANGER here would think of being rude. Good-night, Mr.
Starbuck!”

She tripped away after this Parthian shot, yet feeling, even in her
triumph, that the conceited fool seemed actually relieved at her
departure! And for the first time she now thought that she had seen
something in his face that she did not like! But her lazy independence
reasserted itself soon, and half an hour later, when she had left Aunt
Chloe’s cabin, she had regained her self-esteem. Yet, to avoid meeting
him again, she took a longer route home, across the dried ditch and over
the bluff, scarred by hydraulics, and so fell, presently, upon the old
garden at the point where it adjoined the abandoned diggings. She was
quite sure she had escaped a meeting with Starbuck, and was gliding
along under the shadow of the pear-trees, when she suddenly stopped. An
indescribable terror overcame her as she stared at a spot in the garden,
perfectly illuminated by the moonlight not fifty yards from where she
stood. For she saw on its surface a human head--a man’s head!--seemingly
on the level of the ground, staring in her direction. A hysterical laugh
sprang from her lips, and she caught at the branches above her or
she would have fallen! Yet in that moment the head had vanished! The
moonlight revealed the empty garden,--the ground she had gazed at,--but
nothing more!

She had never been superstitious. As a child she had heard the negroes
talk of “the hants,”--that is, “the HAUNTS” or spirits,--but had
believed it a part of their ignorance, and unworthy a white child,--the
daughter of their master! She had laughed with Dick Ruggles over the
illusions of Larry, and had shared her father’s contemptuous disbelief
of the wandering visitant being anything but a living man; yet she would
have screamed for assistance now, only for the greater fear of making
her weakness known to Mr. Starbuck, and being dependent upon him for
help. And with it came the sudden conviction that HE had seen this awful
vision, too. This would account for his impatience of her presence and
his rudeness. She felt faint and giddy. Yet after the first shock had
passed, her old independence and pride came to her relief. She would go
to the spot and examine it. If it were some trick or illusion, she would
show her superiority and have the laugh on Starbuck. She set her white
teeth, clenched her little hands, and started out into the moonlight.
But alas! for women’s weakness. The next moment she uttered a scream and
almost fell into the arms of Mr. Starbuck, who had stepped out of the
shadows beside her.

“So you see you HAVE been frightened,” he said, with a strange, forced
laugh; “but I warned you about going out alone!”

Even in her fright she could not help seeing that he, too, seemed pale
and agitated, at which she recovered her tongue and her self-possession.

“Anybody would be frightened by being dogged about under the trees,” she
said pertly.

“But you called out before you saw me,” he said bluntly, “as if
something had frightened you. That was WHY I came towards you.”

She knew it was the truth; but as she would not confess to her vision,
she fibbed outrageously.

“Frightened,” she said, with pale but lofty indignation. “What was there
to frighten me? I’m not a baby, to think I see a bogie in the dark!”
 This was said in the faint hope that HE had seen something too. If it
had been Larry or her father who had met her, she would have confessed
everything.

“You had better go in,” he said curtly. “I will see you safe inside the
house.”

She demurred at this, but as she could not persist in her first bold
intention of examining the locality of the vision without admitting its
existence, she permitted him to walk with her to the house, and then at
once fled to her own room. Larry and her father noticed their entrance
together and their agitated manner, and were uneasy. Yet the colonel’s
paternal pride and Larry’s lover’s respect kept the two men from
communicating their thoughts to each other.

“The confounded pup has been tryin’ to be familiar, and Polly’s set him
down,” thought Larry, with glowing satisfaction.

“He’s been trying some of his sanctimonious Yankee abolition talk on
Polly, and she shocked him!” thought the colonel exultingly.

But poor Polly had other things to think of in the silence of her room.
Another woman would have unburdened herself to a confidante; but
Polly was too loyal to her father to shatter his beliefs, and too
high-spirited to take another and a lesser person into her confidence.
She was certain that Aunt Chloe would be full of sympathetic belief and
speculations, but she would not trust a nigger with what she couldn’t
tell her own father. For Polly really and truly believed that she had
seen a ghost, no doubt the ghost of the murdered Sobriente, according
to Larry’s story. WHY he should appear with only his head above ground
puzzled her, although it suggested the Catholic idea of purgatory, and
he was a Catholic! Perhaps he would have risen entirely but for that
stupid Starbuck’s presence; perhaps he had a message for HER alone. The
idea pleased Polly, albeit it was a “fearful joy” and attended with some
cold shivering. Naturally, as a gentleman, he would appear to HER--the
daughter of a gentleman--the successor to his house--rather than to
a Yankee stranger. What was she to do? For once her calm nerves were
strangely thrilled; she could not think of undressing and going to
bed, and two o’clock surprised her, still meditating, and occasionally
peeping from her window upon the moonlit but vacant garden. If she saw
him again, would she dare to go down alone? Suddenly she started to
her feet with a beating heart! There was the unmistakable sound of a
stealthy footstep in the passage, coming towards her room. Was it he? In
spite of her high resolves she felt that if the door opened she should
scream! She held her breath--the footsteps came nearer--were before her
door--and PASSED!

Then it was that the blood rushed back to her cheek with a flush of
indignation. Her room was at the end of the passage; there was nothing
beyond but a private staircase, long disused, except by herself, as a
short cut through the old patio to the garden. No one else knew of
it, and no one else had the right of access to it! This insolent human
intrusion--as she was satisfied it was now--overcame her fear, and
she glided to the door. Opening it softly, she could hear the stealthy
footsteps descending. She darted back, threw a shawl over her head and
shoulders, and taking the small Derringer pistol which it had always
been part of her ostentatious independence to place at her bed-head,
she as stealthily followed the intruder. But the footsteps had died
away before she reached the patio, and she saw only the small deserted,
grass-grown courtyard, half hidden in shadows, in whose centre stood the
fateful and long sealed-up well! A shudder came over her at again being
brought into contact with the cause of her frightful vision, but as her
eyes became accustomed to the darkness, she saw something more real and
appalling! The well was no longer sealed! Fragments of bricks and boards
lay around it! One end of a rope, coiled around it like a huge snake,
descended its foul depths; and as she gazed with staring eyes, the
head and shoulders of a man emerged slowly from it! But it was NOT the
ghostly apparition of last evening, and her terror changed to scorn and
indignation as she recognized the face of Starbuck!

Their eyes met; an oath broke from his lips. He made a movement to
spring from the well, but as the girl started back, the pistol held
in her hand was discharged aimlessly in the air, and the report echoed
throughout the courtyard. With a curse Starbuck drew back, instantly
disappeared in the well, and Polly fell fainting on the steps. When she
came to, her father and Larry were at her side. They had been alarmed
at the report, and had rushed quickly to the patio, but not in time to
prevent the escape of Starbuck and his accomplice. By the time she had
recovered her consciousness, they had learned the full extent of that
extraordinary revelation which she had so innocently precipitated.
Sobriente’s well had really concealed a rich gold ledge,--actually
tunneled and galleried by him secretly in the past,--and its only other
outlet was an opening in the garden hidden by a stone which turned on a
swivel. Its existence had been unknown to Sobriente’s successor, but
was known to the Kanaka who had worked with Sobriente, who fled with
his daughter after the murder, but who no doubt was afraid to return
and work the mine. He had imparted the secret to Starbuck, another
half-breed, son of a Yankee missionary and Hawaiian wife, who had
evidently conceived this plan of seeking Buena Vista with an accomplice,
and secretly removing such gold as was still accessible. The accomplice,
afterwards identified by Larry as the wandering tramp, failed to
discover the secret entrance FROM the garden, and Starbuck was
consequently obliged to attempt it from the hotel--for which purpose
he had introduced himself as a boarder--by opening the disused well
secretly at night. These facts were obtained from papers found in the
otherwise valueless trunks, weighted with stones for ballast, which
Starbuck had brought to the hotel to take away his stolen treasure in,
but which he was obliged to leave in his hurried flight. The attempt
would have doubtless succeeded but for Polly’s courageous and timely
interference!

And now that they had told her ALL, they only wanted to know what had
first excited HER suspicions, and driven her to seek the well as the
object of Starbuck’s machinations? THEY had noticed her manner when she
entered the house that night, and Starbuck’s evident annoyance. Had she
taxed him with her suspicions, and so discovered a clue?

It was a terrible temptation to Polly to pose as a more perfect heroine,
and one may not blame her if she did not rise entirely superior to it.
Her previous belief, that the head of the accomplice at the opening of
the garden was that of a GHOST, she now felt was certainly in the way,
as was also her conduct to Starbuck, whom she believed to be equally
frightened, and whom she never once suspected! So she said, with a
certain lofty simplicity, that there were SOME THINGS which she really
did not care to talk about, and Larry and her father left her that night
with the firm conviction that the rascal Starbuck had tried to tempt her
to fly with him and his riches, and had been crushingly foiled. Polly
never denied this, and once, in later days, when admiringly taxed with
it by Larry, she admitted with dove-like simplicity that she MAY have
been too foolishly polite to her father’s guest for the sake of her
father’s hotel.

However, all this was of small account to the thrilling news of a new
discovery and working of the “old gold ledge” at Buena Vista! As the
three kept their secret from the world, the discovery was accepted in
the neighborhood as the result of careful examination and prospecting on
the part of Colonel Swinger and his partner Larry Hawkins. And when
the latter gentleman afterwards boldly proposed to Polly Swinger, she
mischievously declared that she accepted him only that the secret might
not go “out of the family.”



LIBERTY JONES’S DISCOVERY


It was at best merely a rocky trail winding along a shelf of the eastern
slope of the Santa Cruz range, yet the only road between the sea and the
inland valley. The hoof-prints of a whole century of zigzagging mules
were impressed on the soil, regularly soaked by winter rains and dried
by summer suns during that period; the occasional ruts of heavy,
rude, wooden wheels--long obsolete--were still preserved and visible.
Weather-worn boulders and ledges, lying in the unclouded glare of an
August sky, radiated a quivering heat that was intolerable, even while
above them the masts of gigantic pines rocked their tops in the cold
southwestern trades from the unseen ocean beyond. A red, burning dust
lay everywhere, as if the heat were slowly and visibly precipitating
itself.

The creaking of wheels and axles, the muffled plunge of hoofs, and the
cough of a horse in the dust thus stirred presently broke the profound
woodland silence. Then a dirty white canvas-covered emigrant wagon
slowly arose with the dust along the ascent. It was travel-stained and
worn, and with its rawboned horses seemed to have reached the last
stage of its journey and fitness. The only occupants, a man and a girl,
appeared to be equally jaded and exhausted, with the added querulousness
of discontent in their sallow and badly nourished faces. Their voices,
too, were not unlike the creaking they had been pitched to overcome, and
there was an absence of reserve and consciousness in their speech, which
told pathetically of an equal absence of society.

“It’s no user talkin’! I tell ye, ye hain’t got no more sense than a
coyote! I’m sick and tired of it, doggoned if I ain’t! Ye ain’t no more
use nor a hossfly,--and jest ez hinderin’! It was along o’ you that we
lost the stock at Laramie, and ef ye’d bin at all decent and takin’,
we’d hev had kempany that helped, instead of laggin’ on yere alone!”

“What did ye bring me for?” retorted the girl shrilly. “I might hev
stayed with Aunt Marty. I wasn’t hankerin’ to come.”

“Bring ye for?” repeated her father contemptuously; “I reckoned ye might
he o’ some account here, whar wimmin folks is skeerce, in the way o’
helpin’,--and mebbe gettin’ yer married to some likely feller. Mighty
much chance o’ that, with yer yaller face and skin and bones.”

“Ye can’t blame me for takin’ arter you, dad,” she said, with a shrill
laugh, but no other resentment of his brutality.

“Ye want somebody to take arter you--with a club,” he retorted angrily.
“Ye hear! Wot’s that ye’re doin’ now?”

She had risen and walked to the tail of the wagon. “Goin’ to get out and
walk. I’m tired o’ bein’ jawed at.”

She jumped into the road. The act was neither indignant nor vengeful;
the frequency of such scenes had blunted their sting. She was probably
“tired” of the quarrel, and ended it rudely. Her father, however, let
fly a Parthian arrow.

“Ye needn’t think I’m goin’ to wait for ye, ez I hev! Ye’ve got to keep
tetch with the team, or get left. And a good riddance of bad rubbidge.”

In reply the girl dived into the underwood beside the trail, picked a
wild berry or two, stripped a wand of young hazel she had broken off,
and switching it at her side, skipped along on the outskirts of the
wood and ambled after the wagon. Seen in the full, merciless glare of a
Californian sky, she justified her father’s description; thin and bony,
her lank frame outstripped the body of her ragged calico dress, which
was only kept on her shoulders by straps,--possibly her father’s
cast-off braces. A boy’s soft felt hat covered her head, and shadowed
her only notable feature, a pair of large dark eyes, looking larger for
the hollow temples which narrowed the frame in which they were set.

So long as the wagon crawled up the ascent the girl knew she could
easily keep up with it, or even distance the tired horses. She made one
or two incursions into the wood, returning like an animal from quest of
food, with something in her mouth, which she was tentatively chewing,
and once only with some inedible mandrono berries, plucked solely for
their brilliant coloring. It was very hot and singularly close; the
higher current of air had subsided, and, looking up, a singular haze
seemed to have taken its place between the treetops. Suddenly she heard
a strange, rumbling sound; an odd giddiness overtook her, and she was
obliged to clutch at a sapling to support herself; she laughed vacantly,
though a little frightened, and looked vaguely towards the summit of the
road; but the wagon had already disappeared. A strange feeling of
nausea then overcame her; she spat out the leaves she had been chewing,
disgustedly. But the sensation as quickly passed, and she once more
sought the trail and began slowly to follow the tracks of the wagon. The
air blew freshly, the treetops began again to rock over her head, and
the incident was forgotten.

Presently she paused; she must have missed the trail, for the wagon
tracks had ended abruptly before a large boulder that lay across the
mountain trail. She dipped into the woods again; here there were other
wagon tracks that confused her. It was like her dogged, stupid father
to miss the trail; she felt a gleam of malicious satisfaction at his
discomfiture. Sooner or later, he would have to retrace his steps and
virtually come back for her! She took up a position where two rough
wheel ruts and tracks intersected each other, one of which must be
the missing trail. She noticed, too, the broader hoof-prints of cattle
without the following wheel ruts, and instead of traces, the long smooth
trails made by the dragging of logs, and knew by these tokens that she
must be near the highway or some woodman’s hut or ranch. She began to be
thirsty, and was glad, presently, when her quick, rustic ear caught
the tinkling of water. Yet it was not so easy to discover, and she was
getting footsore and tired again before she found it, some distance
away, in a gully coming from a fissure in a dislocated piece of outcrop.
It was beautifully clear, cold, and sparkling, with a slightly sweetish
taste, yet unlike the brackish “alkali” of the plains. It refreshed and
soothed her greatly, so much that, reclining against a tree, but where
she would be quite visible from the trail, her eyes closed dreamily, and
presently she slept.

When she awoke, the shafts of sunlight were striking almost level into
her eyes. She must have slept two hours. Her father had not returned;
she knew the passage of the wagon would have awakened her. She began to
feel strange, but not yet alarmed; it was only the uncertainty that made
her uneasy. Had her father really gone on by some other trail? Or had he
really hurried on and left her, as he said he would? The thought
brought an odd excitement to her rather than any fear. A sudden sense of
freedom, as if some galling chain had dropped from her, sent a singular
thrill through her frame. Yet she felt confused with her independence,
not knowing what to do with it, and momentarily dazzled with the
possible gift.

At this moment she heard voices, and the figures of two men appeared on
the trail.

They were talking earnestly, and walking as if familiar with the spot,
yet gazing around them as if at some novelty of the aspect.

“And look there,” said one; “there has been some serious disturbance of
that outcrop,” pointing in the direction of the spring; “the lower
part has distinctly subsided.” He spoke with a certain authority, and
dominance of position, and was evidently the superior, as he was the
elder of the two, although both were roughly dressed.

“Yes, it does kinder look as if it had lost its holt, like the ledge
yonder.”

“And you see I am right; the movement was from east to west,” continued
the elder man.

The girl could not comprehend what they said, and even thought them
a little silly. But she advanced towards them; at which they stopped
short, staring at her. With feminine instinct she addressed the more
important one:--

“Ye ain’t passed no wagon nor team goin’ on, hev ye?”

“What sort of wagon?” said the man.

“Em’grant wagon, two yaller hosses. Old man--my dad--drivin’.” She added
the latter kinship as a protecting influence against strangers, in spite
of her previous independence.

The men glanced at each other.

“How long ago?”

The girl suddenly remembered that she had slept two hours.

“Sens noon,” she said hesitatingly.

“Since the earthquake?”

“Wot’s that?”

The man came impatiently towards her. “How did you come here?”

“Got outer the wagon to walk. I reckon dad missed the trail, and hez got
off somewhere where I can’t find him.”

“What trail was he on,--where was he going?”

“Sank Hozay,* I reckon. He was goin’ up the grade--side o’ the hill; he
must hev turned off where there’s a big rock hangin’ over.”

     * San Jose.

“Did you SEE him turn off?”

“No.”

The second man, who was in hearing distance, had turned away, and was
ostentatiously examining the sky and the treetops; the man who had
spoken to her joined him, and they said something in a low voice. They
turned again and came slowly towards her. She, from some obscure sense
of imitation, stared at the treetops and the sky as the second man had
done. But the first man now laid his hand kindly on her shoulder and
said, “Sit down.”

Then they told her there had been an earthquake so strong that it had
thrown down a part of the hillside, including the wagon trail. That a
wagon team and driver, such as she had described, had been carried down
with it, crushed to fragments, and buried under a hundred feet of rock
in the gulch below. A party had gone down to examine, but it would be
weeks perhaps before they found it, and she must be prepared for the
worst. She looked at them vaguely and with tearless eyes.

“Then ye reckon dad’s dead?”

“We fear it.”

“Then wot’s a-goin’ to become o’ me?” she said simply.

They glanced again at each other. “Have you no friends in California?”
 said the elder man.

“Nary one.”

“What was your father going to do?”

“Dunno. I reckon HE didn’t either.”

“You may stay here for the present,” said the elder man meditatively.
“Can you milk?”

The girl nodded. “And I suppose you know something about looking after
stock?” he continued.

The girl remembered that her father thought she didn’t, but this was no
time for criticism, and she again nodded.

“Come with me,” said the older man, rising. “I suppose,” he added,
glancing at her ragged frock, “everything you have is in the wagon.”

She nodded, adding with the same cold naivete, “It ain’t much!”

They walked on, the girl following; at times straying furtively on
either side, as if meditating an escape in the woods,--which indeed
had once or twice been vaguely in her thoughts,--but chiefly to avoid
further questioning and not to hear what the men said to each other. For
they were evidently speaking of her, and she could not help hearing
the younger repeat her words, “Wot’s agoin’ to become o’ me?” with
considerable amusement, and the addition: “She’ll take care of herself,
you bet! I call that remark o’ hers the richest thing out.”

“And I call the state of things that provoked it--monstrous!” said the
elder man grimly. “You don’t know the lives of these people.”

Presently they came to an open clearing in the forest, yet so incomplete
that many of the felled trees, partly lopped of their boughs, still
lay where they had fallen. There was a cabin or dwelling of unplaned,
unpainted boards; very simple in structure, yet made in a workmanlike
fashion, quite unlike the usual log cabin she had seen. This made her
think that the elder man was a “towny,” and not a frontiersman like the
other.

As they approached the cabin the elder man stopped, and turning to her,
said:--

“Do you know Indians?”

The girl started, and then recovering herself with a quick laugh:
“G’lang!--there ain’t any Injins here!”

“Not the kind YOU mean; these are very peaceful. There’s a squaw here
whom you will”--he stopped, hesitated as he looked critically at the
girl, and then corrected himself--“who will help you.”

He pushed open the cabin door and showed an interior, equally simple but
well joined and fitted,--a marvel of neatness and finish to the frontier
girl’s eye. There were shelves and cupboards and other conveniences, yet
with no ostentation of refinement to frighten her rustic sensibilities.

Then he pushed open another door leading into a shed and called “Waya.”
 A stout, undersized Indian woman, fitted with a coarse cotton gown, but
cleaner and more presentable than the girl’s one frock, appeared in the
doorway. “This is Waya, who attends to the cooking and cleaning,” he
said; “and by the way, what is your name?”

“Libby Jones.”

He took a small memorandum book and a “stub” of pencil from his pocket.
“Elizabeth Jones,” he said, writing it down. The girl interposed a long
red hand.

“No,” she interrupted sharply, “not Elizabeth, but Libby, short for
Lib’rty.”

“Liberty?”

“Yes.”

“Liberty Jones, then. Well, Waya, this is Miss Jones, who will look
after the cows and calves--and the dairy.” Then glancing at her torn
dress, he added: “You’ll find some clean things in there, until I can
send up something from San Jose. Waya will show you.”

Without further speech he turned away with the other man. When they were
some distance from the cabin, the younger remarked:--

“More like a boy than a girl, ain’t she?”

“So much the better for her work,” returned the elder grimly.

“I reckon! I was only thinkin’ she didn’t han’some much either as a boy
or girl, eh, doctor?” he pursued.

“Well! as THAT won’t make much difference to the cows, calves, or the
dairy, it needn’t trouble US,” returned the doctor dryly. But here a
sudden outburst of laughter from the cabin made them both turn in that
direction. They were in time to see Liberty Jones dancing out of the
cabin door in a large cotton pinafore, evidently belonging to the
squaw, who was following her with half-laughing, half-frightened
expostulations. The two men stopped and gazed at the spectacle.

“Don’t seem to be takin’ the old man’s death very pow’fully,” said the
younger, with a laugh.

“Quite as much as he deserved, I daresay,” said the doctor curtly. “If
the accident had happened to HER, he would have whined and whimpered to
us for the sake of getting something, but have been as much relieved,
you may be certain. SHE’S too young and too natural to be a hypocrite
yet.”

Suddenly the laughter ceased and Liberty Jones’s voice arose, shrill
but masterful: “Thar, that’ll do! Quit now! You jest get back to your
scrubbin’--d’ye hear? I’m boss o’ this shanty, you bet!”

The doctor turned with a grim smile to his companion. “That’s the only
thing that bothered me, and I’ve been waiting for. She’s settled it.
She’ll do. Come.”

They turned away briskly through the wood. At the end of half an hour’s
walk they found the team that had brought them there in waiting, and
drove towards San Jose. It was nearly ten miles before they passed
another habitation or trace of clearing. And by this time night had
fallen upon the cabin they had left, and upon the newly made orphan and
her Indian companion, alone and contented in that trackless solitude.

*****

Liberty Jones had been a year at the cabin. In that time she had learned
that her employer’s name was Doctor Ruysdael, that he had a lucrative
practice in San Jose, but had also “taken up” a league or two of wild
forest land in the Santa Cruz range, which he preserved and held after
a fashion of his own, which gave him the reputation of being a “crank”
 among the very few neighbors his vast possessions permitted, and the
equally few friends his singular tastes allowed him. It was believed
that a man owning such an enormous quantity of timber land, who should
refuse to set up a sawmill and absolutely forbid the felling of trees;
who should decline to connect it with the highway to Santa Cruz, and
close it against improvement and speculation, had given sufficient
evidence of his insanity; but when to this was added the rumor that he
himself was not only devoid of the human instinct of hunting the wild
animals with which his domain abounded, but that he held it so sacred to
their use as to forbid the firing of a gun within his limits, and that
these restrictions were further preserved and “policed” by the scattered
remnants of a band of aborigines,--known as “digger Injins,”--it was
seriously hinted that his eccentricity had acquired a political and
moral significance, and demanded legislative interference. But the
doctor was a rich man, a necessity to his patients, a good marksman,
and, it was rumored, did not include his fellow men among the animals he
had a distaste for killing.

Of all this, however, Liberty knew little and cared less. The solitude
appealed to her sense of freedom; she did not “hanker” after a society
she had never known. At the end of the first week, when the doctor
communicated to her briefly, by letter, the convincing proofs of the
death of her father and his entombment beneath the sunken cliff, she
accepted the fact without comment or apparent emotion. Two months
later, when her only surviving relative, “Aunt Marty,” of Missouri,
acknowledged the news--communicated by Doctor Ruysdael--with Scriptural
quotations and the cheerful hope that it “would be a lesson to her”
 and she would “profit in her new place,” she left her aunt’s letter
unanswered.

She looked after the cows and calves with an interest that was almost
possessory, patronized and played with the squaw,--yet made her feel
her inferiority,--and moved among the peaceful aborigines with
the domination of a white woman and a superior. She tolerated the
half-monthly visits of “Jim Hoskins,” the young companion of the doctor,
who she learned was the doctor’s factor and overseer of the property,
who lived seven miles away on an agricultural clearing, and whose
control of her actions was evidently limited by the doctor,--for the
doctor’s sake alone. Nor was Mr. Hoskins inclined to exceed those
limits. He looked upon her as something abnormal,--a “crank” as
remarkable in her way as her patron was in his, neuter of sex and vague
of race, and he simply restricted his supervision to the bringing
and taking of messages. She remained sole queen of the domain. A rare
straggler from the main road, penetrating this seclusion, might have
scarcely distinguished her from Waya, in her coarse cotton gown and
slouched hat, except for the free stride which contrasted with her
companion’s waddle. Once, in following an estrayed calf, she had
crossed the highway and been saluted by a passing teamster in the digger
dialect; yet the mistake left no sting in her memory. And, like the
digger, she shrank from that civilization which had only proved a hard
taskmaster.

The sole touch of human interest she had in her surroundings was in the
rare visits of the doctor and his brief but sincere commendation of
her rude and rustic work. It is possible that the strange, middle-aged,
gray-haired, intellectual man, whose very language was at times
mysterious and unintelligible to her, and whose suggestion of power awed
her, might have touched some untried filial chord in her being. Although
she felt that, save for absolute freedom, she was little more to him
than she had been to her father, yet he had never told her she had
“no sense,” that she was “a hindrance,” and he had even praised her
performance of her duties. Eagerly as she looked for his coming, in
his actual presence she felt a singular uneasiness of which she was not
entirely ashamed, and if she was relieved at his departure, it none
the less left her to a delightful memory of him, a warm sense of his
approval, and a fierce ambition to be worthy of it, for which she would
have sacrificed herself or the other miserable retainers about her, as a
matter of course. She had driven Waya and the other squaws far along
the sparse tableland pasture in search of missing stock; she herself
had lain out all night on the rocks beside an ailing heifer. Yet, while
satisfied to earn his praise for the performance of her duty, for some
feminine reason she thought more frequently of a casual remark he had
made on his last visit: “You are stronger and more healthy in this
air,” he had said, looking critically into her face. “We have got that
abominable alkali out of your system, and wholesome food will do the
rest.” She was not sure she had quite understood him, but she remembered
that she had felt her face grow hot when he spoke,--perhaps because she
had not understood him.

His next visit was a day or two delayed, and in her anxiety she had
ventured as far as the highway to earnestly watch for his coming. From
her hiding-place in the underwood she could see the team and Jim Hoskins
already waiting for him. Presently she saw him drive up to the trail
in a carryall with a party of ladies and gentlemen. He alighted, bade
“Good-by” to the party, and the team turned to retrace its course. But
in that single moment she had been struck and bewildered by what
seemed to her the dazzlingly beautiful apparel of the women, and their
prettiness. She felt a sudden consciousness of her own coarse, shapeless
calico gown, her straggling hair, and her felt hat, and a revulsion
of feeling seized her. She crept like a wounded animal out of the
underwood, and then ran swiftly and almost fiercely back towards the
cabin. She ran so fast that for a time she almost kept pace with the
doctor and Hoskins in the wagon on the distant trail. Then she dived
into the underwood again, and making a short cut through the
forest, came at the end of two hours within hailing distance of the
cabin,--footsore and exhausted, in spite of the strange excitement that
had driven her back. Here she thought she heard voices--his voice
among the rest--calling her, but the same singular revulsion of feeling
hurried her vaguely on again, even while she experienced a foolish
savage delight in not answering the summons. In this erratic wandering
she came upon the spring she had found on her first entrance in the
forest a year ago, and drank feverishly a second time at its trickling
source. She could see that since her first visit it had worn a great
hollow below the tree roots and now formed a shining, placid pool. As
she stooped to look at it, she suddenly observed that it reflected her
whole figure as in a cruel mirror,--her slouched hat and loosened
hair, her coarse and shapeless gown, her hollow cheeks and dry yellow
skin,--in all their hopeless, uncompromising details. She uttered a
quick, angry, half-reproachful cry, and turned again to fly. But she had
not gone far before she came upon the hurrying figures and anxious faces
of the doctor and Hoskins. She stopped, trembling and irresolute.

“Ah,” said the doctor, in a tone of frank relief. “Here you are! I was
getting worried about you. Waya said you had been gone since morning!”
 He stopped and looked at her attentively. “Is anything the matter?”

His evident concern sent a warm glow over her chilly frame, and yet the
strange sensation remained. “No--no!” she stammered.

Doctor Ruysdael turned to Hoskins. “Go back and tell Waya I’ve found
her.”

Libby felt that the doctor only wanted to get rid of his companion, and
became awed again.

“Has anybody been bothering you?”

“No.”

“Have the diggers frightened you?”

“No”--with a gesture of contempt.

“Have you and Waya quarreled?”

“Nary”--with a faint, tremulous smile.

He still stared at her, and then dropped his blue eyes musingly. “Are
you lonely here? Would you rather go to San Jose?”

Like a flash the figures of the two smartly dressed women started up
before her again, with every detail of their fresh and wholesome finery
as cruelly distinct as had been her own shapeless ugliness in the mirror
of the spring. “No! NO!” she broke out vehemently and passionately.
“Never!”

He smiled gently. “Look here! I’ll send you up some books. You
read--don’t you?” She nodded quickly. “Some magazines and papers. Odd I
never thought of it before,” he added half musingly. “Come along to the
cabin. And,” he stopped again and said decisively, “the next time you
want anything, don’t wait for me to come, but write.”

A few days after he left she received a package of books,--an odd
collection of novels, magazines, and illustrated journals of the period.
She received them eagerly as an evidence of his concern for her, but it
is to be feared that her youthful nature found little satisfaction in
the gratification of fancy. Many of the people she read of were strange
to her; many of the incidents related seemed to her mere lies; some
tales which treated of people in her own sphere she found profoundly
uninteresting. In one of the cheaper magazines she chanced upon a
fashion plate; she glanced eagerly through all the others for a like
revelation until she got a dozen together, when she promptly relegated
the remaining literature to a corner and oblivion. The text accompanying
the plates was in a jargon not always clear, but her instinct supplied
the rest. She dispatched by Hoskins a note to Doctor Ruysdael: “Please
send me some brite kalikers and things for sewing. You told me to ask.”
 A few days later brought the response in a good-sized parcel.

Yet this did not keep her from her care of the stock nor her rambles in
the forest; she was quick to utilize her rediscovery of the spring for
watering the cattle; it was not so far afield as the half-dried creek in
the canyon, and was a quiet sylvan spot. She ate her frugal midday meal
there and drank of its waters, and, secure in her seclusion, bathed
there and made her rude toilet when the cows were driven home. But she
did not again look into its mirrored surface when it was tranquil!

And so a month passed. But when Doctor Ruysdael was again due at the
cabin, a letter was brought by Hoskins, with the news that he was called
away on professional business down the coast, and could not come until
two weeks later. In the disappointment that overcame her, she did not at
first notice that Hoskins was gazing at her with a singular expression,
which was really one of undisguised admiration. Never having seen this
before in the eyes of any man who looked at her, she referred it to some
vague “larking” or jocularity, for which she was in no mood.

“Say, Libby! you’re gettin’ to be a right smart-lookin’ gal. Seems to
agree with ye up here,” said Hoskins with an awkward laugh. “Darned ef
ye ain’t lookin’ awful purty!”

“G’long!” said Liberty Jones, more than ever convinced of his badinage.

“Fact,” said Hoskins energetically. “Why, Doc would tell ye so, too. See
ef he don’t!”

At this Liberty Jones felt her face grow hot. “You jess get!” she said,
turning away in as much embarrassment as anger. Yet he hovered near
her with awkward attentions that pleased while it still angered her.
He offered to go with her to look up the cows; she flatly declined, yet
with a strange satisfaction in his evident embarrassment. This may have
lent some animation to her face, for he drew a long breath and said:--

“Don’t go pertendin’ ye don’t know yer purty. Say, let me and you walk
a bit and have a talk together.” But Libby had another idea in her mind
and curtly dismissed him. Then she ran swiftly to the spring, for the
words “The Doc will tell ye so, too” were ringing in her ears. The
doctor who came with the two beautifully dressed women! HE--would tell
her she was pretty! She had not dared to look at herself in that crystal
mirror since that dreadful day two months ago. She would now.

It was a pretty place in the cool shade of the giant trees, and the
hoof-marks of cattle drinking from the run beneath the pool had not
disturbed the margin of that tranquil sylvan basin. For a moment she
stood tremulous and uncertain, and then going up to the shining mirror,
dropped on her knees before it with her thin red hands clasped on her
lap. Unconsciously she had taken the attitude of prayer; perhaps there
was something like it in her mind.

And then the light glanced full on the figure that she saw there!

It fell on a full oval face and throat guileless of fleck or stain,
smooth as a child’s and glowing with health; on large dark eyes, no
longer sunk in their orbits, but filled with an eager, happy light; on
bared arms now shapely in contour and cushioned with firm flesh; on a
dazzling smile, the like of which had never been on the face of Liberty
Jones before!

She rose to her feet, and yet lingered as if loath to part from this
delightful vision. Then a fear overcame her that it was some trick of
the water, and she sped swiftly back to the house to consult the little
mirror which hung in her sleeping-room, but which she had never glanced
at since the momentous day of the spring. She took it shyly into the
sunshine, and found that it corroborated the reflection of the spring.
That night she worked until late at the calico Doctor Ruysdael had sent
her, and went to bed happy. The next day brought her Hoskins again with
a feeble excuse of inquiring if she had a letter for the doctor, and
she was surprised to find that he was reinforced by a stranger from
Hoskins’s farm, who was equally awkward and vaguely admiring. But the
appearance of the TWO men produced a singular phase in her impressions
and experience. She was no longer indignant at Hoskins, but she found
relief in accepting the compliments of the stranger in preference,
and felt a delight in Hoskins’s discomfiture. Waya, promoted to
the burlesque of a chaperone, grinned with infinite delight and
understanding.

When at last the day came for the doctor’s arrival, he was duly met by
Hoskins, and as duly informed by that impressible subordinate of the
great change in Liberty’s appearance. But the doctor was far from being
equally impressed with his factor’s story, and indeed showed much more
interest in the appearance of the stock which they met along the road.
Once the doctor got out of the wagon to inspect a cow, and particularly
the coat of a rough draught horse that had been turned out and put under
Liberty’s care. “His skin is like velvet,” said the doctor. “The girl
evidently understands stock, and knows how to keep them in condition.”

“I reckon she’s beginning to understand herself, too,” said Hoskins.
“Golly! wait till ye see HER.”

The doctor DID see her, but with what feelings he did not as frankly
express. She was not at the cabin when they arrived, but presently
appeared from the direction of the spring where, for reasons of her
own, she had evidently made her toilet. Doctor Ruysdael was astounded;
Hoskins’s praise was not exaggerated; and there was an added charm
that Hoskins was not prepared for. She had put on a gown of her own
making,--the secret toil of many a long night,--amateurishly fashioned
from some cheap yellow calico the doctor had sent her, yet fitting her
wonderfully, and showing every curve of her graceful figure. Unaccented
by a corset,--an article she had never known,--even the lines of the
stiff, unyielding calico had a fashion that was nymph-like and suited
her unfettered limbs. Doctor Ruysdael was profoundly moved. Though a
philosopher, he was practical. He found himself suddenly confronted not
only by a beautiful girl, but a problem! It was impossible to keep
the existence of this woodland nymph from the knowledge of his
distant neighbors; it was equally impossible for him to assume the
responsibility of keeping a goddess like this in her present position.
He had noticed her previous improvement, but had never dreamed that pure
and wholesome living could in two months work such a miracle. And he
was to a certain degree responsible, HE had created her,--a beautiful
Frankenstein, whose lustrous, appealing eyes were even now menacing his
security and position.

Perhaps she saw trouble and perplexity in the face where she had
expected admiration and pleasure, for a slight chill went over her as
he quickly praised the appearance of the stock and spoke of her own
improvement. But when they were alone, he turned to her abruptly.

“You said you had no wish to go to San Jose?”

“No.” Yet she was conscious that her greatest objection had been
removed, and she colored faintly.

“Listen to me,” he said dryly. “You deserve a better position than
this,--a better home and surroundings than you have here. You are older,
too,--a woman almost,--and you must look ahead.”

A look of mingled fright, reproach, and appeal came into her eloquent
face. “Yer wantin’ to send me away?” she stammered.

“No,” he said frankly. “It is you who are GROWING away. This is no
longer the place for you.”

“But I want to stay. I don’t wanter go. I am--I WAS happy here.”

“But I’m thinking of giving up this place. It takes up too much of my
time. You must be provided”--

“YOU are going away?” she said passionately.

“Yes.”

“Take me with you. I’ll go anywhere!--to San Jose---wherever you go.
Don’t turn me off as dad did, for I’ll foller you as I never followed
dad. I’ll go with you--or I’ll die!”

There was neither fear nor shame in her words; it was the outspoken
instinct of the animal he had been rearing; he was convinced and
appalled by it.

“I am returning to San Jose at once,” he said gravely. “You shall go
with me--FOR THE PRESENT! Get yourself ready!”

He took her to San Jose, and temporarily to the house of a patient,--a
widow lady,--while he tried, alone, to grapple with the problem that now
confronted him. But that problem became more complicated at the end of
the third day, by Liberty Jones falling suddenly and alarmingly ill.
The symptoms were so grave that the doctor, in his anxiety, called in
a brother physician in consultation. When the examination was over, the
two men withdrew and stared at each other.

“Of course there is no doubt that the symptoms all point to slow
arsenical poisoning,” said the consulting doctor.

“Yes,” said Ruysdael quickly, “yet it is utterly inexplicable, both as
to motive and opportunity.”

“Humph!” said the other grimly, “young ladies take arsenic in minute
doses to improve the complexion and promote tissue, forgetting that the
effects are cumulative when they stop suddenly. Your young friend has
‘sworn off’ too quickly.”

“But it is impossible,” said Doctor Ruysdael impatiently. “She is a mere
child--a country girl--ignorant of such habits.”

“Humph! the peasants in the Tyrol try it on themselves after noticing
the effect on the coats of cattle.”

Doctor Ruysdael started. A recollection of the sleek draught horse
flashed upon him. He rose and hastily re-entered the patient’s room. In
a few moments he returned. “Do you think I could remove her at once to
the mountains?” he said gravely.

“Yes, with care and a return to graduated doses of the same poison; you
know it’s the only remedy just now,” answered the other.

By noon the next day the doctor and his patient had returned to the
cabin, but Ruysdael himself carried the helpless Liberty Jones to the
spring and deposited her gently beside it. “You may drink now,” he said
gravely.

The girl did so eagerly, apparently imbibing new strength from the
sparkling water. The doctor meanwhile coolly filled a phial from the
same source, and made a hasty test of the contents by the aid of some
other phials from his case. The result seemed to satisfy him. Then he
said gravely:

“And THIS is the spring you had discovered?”

The girl nodded.

“And you and the cattle have daily used it?”

She nodded again wonderingly. Then she caught his hand appealingly.

“You won’t send me away?”

He smiled oddly as he glanced from the waters of the hill to the
brimming eyes. “No.”

“No-r,” tremulously, “go away--yourself?”

The doctor looked this time only into her eyes. There was a tremendous
idea in his own, which seemed in some way to have solved that dreadful
problem.

“No! We will stay here TOGETHER.”

*****

Six months later there was a paragraph in the San Francisco press: “The
wonderful Arsenical Spring in the Santa Cruz Mountain, known as ‘Liberty
Spring,’ discovered by Doctor Ruysdael, has proved such a remarkable
success that we understand the temporary huts for patients are to be
shortly replaced by a magnificent Spa Hotel worthy of the spot, and the
eligible villa sites it has brought into the market. It will be a source
of pleasure to all to know that the beautiful nymph--a worthy successor
to the far-famed ‘Elise’ of the German ‘Brunnen’--who has administered
the waters to so many grateful patients will still be in attendance,
although it is rumored that she is shortly to become the wife of the
distinguished discoverer.”





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