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Title: Mrs. Skagg's Husbands and Other Stories
Author: Harte, Bret
Language: English
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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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MRS. SKAGGS’S HUSBANDS


By Bret Harte



CONTENTS


MRS. SKAGGS’S HUSBANDS

HOW SANTA CLAUS CAME TO SIMPSON’S BAR

THE PRINCESS BOB AND HER FRIENDS

THE ILIAD OF SANDY BAR

MR. THOMPSON’S PRODIGAL

THE ROMANCE OR MADRONO HOLLOW

THE POET OF SIERRA FLAT

THE CHRISTMAS GIFT THAT CAME TO RUPERT



MRS. SKAGGS’S HUSBANDS.


PART I--WEST.


The sun was rising in the foot-hills. But for an hour the black mass
of Sierra eastward of Angel’s had been outlined with fire, and the
conventional morning had come two hours before with the down coach from
Placerville. The dry, cold, dewless California night still lingered
in the long canyons and folded skirts of Table Mountain. Even on the
mountain road the air was still sharp, and that urgent necessity for
something to keep out the chill, which sent the barkeeper sleepily among
his bottles and wineglasses at the station, obtained all along the road.

Perhaps it might be said that the first stir of life was in the
bar-rooms. A few birds twittered in the sycamores at the roadside, but
long before that glasses had clicked and bottles gurgled in the saloon
of the Mansion House. This was still lit by a dissipated-looking
hanging-lamp, which was evidently the worse for having been up all
night, and bore a singular resemblance to a faded reveller of Angel’s,
who even then sputtered and flickered in HIS socket in an arm-chair
below it,--a resemblance so plain that when the first level sunbeam
pierced the window-pane, the barkeeper, moved by a sentiment of
consistency and compassion, put them both out together.

Then the sun came up haughtily. When it had passed the eastern ridge it
began, after its habit, to lord it over Angel’s, sending the thermometer
up twenty degrees in as many minutes, driving the mules to the sparse
shade of corrals and fences, making the red dust incandescent, and
renewing its old imperious aggression on the spiked bosses of the convex
shield of pines that defended Table Mountain. Thither by nine o’clock
all coolness had retreated, and the “outsides” of the up stage plunged
their hot faces in its aromatic shadows as in water.

It was the custom of the driver of the Wingdam coach to whip up his
horses and enter Angel’s at that remarkable pace which the woodcuts in
the hotel bar-room represented to credulous humanity as the usual rate
of speed of that conveyance. At such times the habitual expression of
disdainful reticence and lazy official severity which he wore on the box
became intensified as the loungers gathered about the vehicle, and only
the boldest ventured to address him. It was the Hon. Judge Beeswinger,
Member of Assembly, who to-day presumed, perhaps rashly, on the strength
of his official position.

“Any political news from below, Bill?” he asked, as the latter slowly
descended from his lofty perch, without, however, any perceptible coming
down of mien or manner.

“Not much,” said Bill, with deliberate gravity. “The President o’ the
United States hezn’t bin hisself sens you refoosed that seat in the
Cabinet. The ginral feelin’ in perlitical circles is one o’ regret.”

Irony, even of this outrageous quality, was too common in Angel’s to
excite either a smile or a frown. Bill slowly entered the bar-room
during a dry, dead silence, in which only a faint spirit of emulation
survived.

“Ye didn’t bring up that agint o’ Rothschild’s this trip?” asked the
barkeeper, slowly, by way of vague contribution to the prevailing tone
of conversation.

“No,” responded Bill, with thoughtful exactitude. “He said he couldn’t
look inter that claim o’ Johnson’s without first consultin’ the Bank o’
England.”

The Mr. Johnson here alluded to being present as the faded reveller
the barkeeper had lately put out, and as the alleged claim notoriously
possessed no attractions whatever to capitalists, expectation naturally
looked to him for some response to this evident challenge. He did so
by simply stating that he would “take sugar” in his, and by walking
unsteadily toward the bar, as if accepting a festive invitation. To the
credit of Bill be it recorded that he did not attempt to correct the
mistake, but gravely touched glasses with him, and after saying “Here’s
another nail in your coffin,”--a cheerful sentiment, to which “And the
hair all off your head,” was playfully added by the others,--he threw
off his liquor with a single dexterous movement of head and elbow, and
stood refreshed.

“Hello, old major!” said Bill, suddenly setting down his glass. “Are YOU
there?”

It was a boy, who, becoming bashfully conscious that this epithet was
addressed to him, retreated sideways to the doorway, where he stood
beating his hat against the door-post with an assumption of indifference
that his downcast but mirthful dark eyes and reddening cheek scarcely
bore out. Perhaps it was owing to his size, perhaps it was to a certain
cherubic outline of face and figure, perhaps to a peculiar trustfulness
of expression, that he did not look half his age, which was really
fourteen.

Everybody in Angel’s knew the boy. Either under the venerable title
bestowed by Bill, or as “Tom Islington,” after his adopted father, his
was a familiar presence in the settlement, and the theme of much local
criticism and comment. His waywardness, indolence, and unaccountable
amiability--a quality at once suspicious and gratuitous in a pioneer
community like Angel’s--had often been the subject of fierce discussion.
A large and reputable majority believed him destined for the gallows; a
minority not quite so reputable enjoyed his presence without troubling
themselves much about his future; to one or two the evil predictions of
the majority possessed neither novelty nor terror.

“Anything for me, Bill?” asked the boy, half mechanically, with the air
of repeating some jocular formulary perfectly understood by Bill.

“Anythin’ for you!” echoed Bill, with an overacted severity equally well
understood by Tommy,--“anythin’ for you? No! And it’s my opinion there
won’t be anythin’ for you ez long ez you hang around bar-rooms and spend
your valooable time with loafers and bummers. Git!”

The reproof was accompanied by a suitable exaggeration of gesture
(Bill had seized a decanter) before which the boy retreated still
good-humoredly. Bill followed him to the door. “Dern my skin, if he
hezn’t gone off with that bummer Johnson,” he added, as he looked down
the road.

“What’s he expectin’, Bill?” asked the barkeeper.

“A letter from his aunt. Reckon he’ll hev to take it out in expectin’.
Likely they’re glad to get shut o’ him.”

“He’s leadin’ a shiftless, idle life here,” interposed the Member of
Assembly.

“Well,” said Bill, who never allowed any one but himself to abuse
his protege, “seein’ he ain’t expectin’ no offis from the hands of
an enlightened constitooency, it IS rayther a shiftless life.” After
delivering this Parthian arrow with a gratuitous twanging of the bow to
indicate its offensive personality, Bill winked at the barkeeper, slowly
resumed a pair of immense, bulgy buckskin gloves, which gave his fingers
the appearance of being painfully sore and bandaged, strode to the door
without looking at anybody, called out, “All aboard,” with a perfunctory
air of supreme indifference whether the invitation was heeded, remounted
his box, and drove stolidly away.

Perhaps it was well that he did so, for the conversation at once assumed
a disrespectful attitude toward Tom and his relatives. It was more than
intimated that Tom’s alleged aunt was none other than Tom’s real mother,
while it was also asserted that Tom’s alleged uncle did not himself
participate in this intimate relationship to the boy to an extent which
the fastidious taste of Angel’s deemed moral and necessary. Popular
opinion also believed that Islington, the adopted father, who received
a certain stipend ostensibly for the boy’s support, retained it as
a reward for his reticence regarding these facts. “He ain’t ruinin’
hisself by wastin’ it on Tom,” said the barkeeper, who possibly
possessed positive knowledge of much of Islington’s disbursements. But
at this point exhausted nature languished among some of the debaters,
and he turned from the frivolity of conversation to his severer
professional duties.

It was also well that Bill’s momentary attitude of didactic propriety
was not further excited by the subsequent conduct of his protege. For
by this time Tom, half supporting the unstable Johnson, who developed
a tendency to occasionally dash across the glaring road, but checked
himself mid way each time, reached the corral which adjoined the Mansion
House. At its farther extremity was a pump and horse-trough. Here,
without a word being spoken, but evidently in obedience to some habitual
custom, Tom led his companion. With the boy’s assistance, Johnson
removed his coat and neckcloth, turned back the collar of his shirt, and
gravely placed his head beneath the pump-spout. With equal gravity and
deliberation, Tom took his place at the handle. For a few moments
only the splashing of water and regular strokes of the pump broke the
solemnly ludicrous silence. Then there was a pause in which Johnson put
his hands to his dripping head, felt of it critically as if it belonged
to somebody else, and raised his eyes to his companion. “That ought
to fetch IT,” said Tom, in answer to the look. “Ef it don’t,” replied
Johnson, doggedly, with an air of relieving himself of all further
responsibility in the matter, “it’s got to, thet’s all!”

If “it” referred to some change in the physiognomy of Johnson, “it” had
probably been “fetched” by the process just indicated. The head that
went under the pump was large, and clothed with bushy, uncertain-colored
hair; the face was flushed, puffy, and expressionless, the eyes injected
and full. The head that came out from under the pump was of smaller size
and different shape, the hair straight, dark, and sleek, the face
pale and hollow-cheeked, the eyes bright and restless. In the haggard,
nervous ascetic that rose from the horse-trough there was very little
trace of the Bacchus that had bowed there a moment before. Familiar
as Tom must have been with the spectacle, he could not help looking
inquiringly at the trough, as if expecting to see some traces of the
previous Johnson in its shallow depths.

A narrow strip of willow, alder, and buckeye--a mere dusty, ravelled
fringe of the green mantle that swept the high shoulders of Table
Mountain--lapped the edge of the corral. The silent pair were quick to
avail themselves of even its scant shelter from the overpowering sun.
They had not proceeded far, before Johnson, who was walking quite
rapidly in advance, suddenly brought himself up, and turned to his
companion with an interrogative “Eh?”

“I didn’t speak,” said Tommy, quietly.

“Who said you spoke?” said Johnson, with a quick look of cunning. “In
course you didn’t speak, and I didn’t speak, neither. Nobody spoke. Wot
makes you think you spoke?” he continued, peering curiously into Tommy’s
eyes.

The smile which habitually shone there quickly vanished as the boy
stepped quietly to his companion’s side, and took his arm without a
word.

“In course you didn’t speak, Tommy,” said Johnson, deprecatingly. “You
ain’t a boy to go for to play an ole soaker like me. That’s wot I like
you for. Thet’s wot I seed in you from the first. I sez, ‘Thet ‘ere boy
ain’t goin’ to play you, Johnson! You can go your whole pile on him,
when you can’t trust even a bar-keep.’ Thet’s wot I said. Eh?”

This time Tommy prudently took no notice of the interrogation, and
Johnson went on: “Ef I was to ask you another question, you wouldn’t go
to play me neither,--would you, Tommy?”

“No,” said the boy.

“Ef I was to ask you,” continued Johnson, without heeding the reply, but
with a growing anxiety of eye and a nervous twitching of his lips,--“ef
I was to ask you, fur instance, ef that was a jackass rabbit thet jest
passed,--eh?--you’d say it was or was not, ez the case may be. You
wouldn’t play the ole man on thet?”

“No,” said Tommy, quietly, “it WAS a jackass rabbit.”

“Ef I was to ask you,” continued Johnson, “ef it wore, say, fur
instance, a green hat with yaller ribbons, you wouldn’t play me, and say
it did, onless,”--he added, with intensified cunning,--“onless it DID?”

“No,” said Tommy, “of course I wouldn’t; but then, you see, IT DID.”

“It did?”

“It did!” repeated Tommy, stoutly; “a green hat with yellow
ribbons--and--and--a red rosette.”

“I didn’t get to see the ros-ette,” said Johnson, with slow and
conscientious deliberation, yet with an evident sense of relief; “but
that ain’t sayin’ it warn’t there, you know. Eh?”

Tommy glanced quietly at his companion. There were great beads of
perspiration on his ashen-gray forehead and on the ends of his lank
hair; the hand which twitched spasmodically in his was cold and clammy,
the other, which was free, had a vague, purposeless, jerky activity, as
if attached to some deranged mechanism. Without any apparent concern in
these phenomena, Tommy halted, and, seating himself on a log, motioned
his companion to a place beside him. Johnson obeyed without a word.
Slight as was the act, perhaps no other incident of their singular
companionship indicated as completely the dominance of this careless,
half-effeminate, but self-possessed boy over this doggedly self-willed,
abnormally excited man.

“It ain’t the square thing,” said Johnson, after a pause, with a laugh
that was neither mirthful nor musical, and frightened away a lizard that
had been regarding the pair with breathless suspense,--“it ain’t the
square thing for jackass rabbits to wear hats, Tommy,--is it, eh?”

“Well,” said Tommy, with unmoved composure, “sometimes they do and
sometimes they don’t. Animals are mighty queer.” And here Tommy went
off in an animated, but, I regret to say, utterly untruthful and
untrustworthy account of the habits of California fauna, until he was
interrupted by Johnson.

“And snakes, eh, Tommy?” said the man, with an abstracted air, gazing
intently on the ground before him.

“And snakes,” said Tommy; “but they don’t bite, at least not that kind
you see. There!--don’t move, Uncle Ben, don’t move; they’re gone now.
And it’s about time you took your dose.”

Johnson had hurriedly risen as if to leap upon the log, but Tommy had
as quickly caught his arm with one hand while he drew a bottle from his
pocket with the other. Johnson paused, and eyed the bottle. “Ef you say
so, my boy,” he faltered, as his fingers closed nervously around it; “say
‘when,’ then.” He raised the bottle to his lips and took a long draught,
the boy regarding him critically. “When,” said Tommy, suddenly. Johnson
started, flushed, and returned the bottle quickly. But the color that
had risen to his cheek stayed there, his eye grew less restless, and
as they moved away again, the hand that rested on Tommy’s shoulder was
steadier.

Their way lay along the flank of Table Mountain,--a wandering trail
through a tangled solitude that might have seemed virgin and unbroken
but for a few oyster-cans, yeast-powder tins, and empty bottles that had
been apparently stranded by the “first low wash” of pioneer waves.
On the ragged trunk of an enormous pine hung a few tufts of gray hair
caught from a passing grizzly, but in strange juxtaposition at its foot
lay an empty bottle of incomparable bitters,--the chef-d’oeuvre of a
hygienic civilization, and blazoned with the arms of an all-healing
republic. The head of a rattlesnake peered from a case that had
contained tobacco, which was still brightly placarded with the
high-colored effigy of a popular danseuse. And a little beyond this the
soil was broken and fissured, there was a confused mass of roughly hewn
timber, a straggling line of sluicing, a heap of gravel and dirt, a rude
cabin, and the claim of Johnson.

Except for the rudest purposes of shelter from rain and cold, the cabin
possessed but little advantage over the simple savagery of surrounding
nature. It had all the practical directness of the habitation of some
animal, without its comfort or picturesque quality; the very birds that
haunted it for food must have felt their own superiority as architects.
It was inconceivably dirty, even with its scant capacity for accretion;
it was singularly stale, even in its newness and freshness of material.
Unspeakably dreary as it was in shadow, the sunlight visited it in
a blind, aching, purposeless way, as if despairing of mellowing its
outlines or of even tanning it into color.

The claim worked by Johnson in his intervals of sobriety was represented
by half a dozen rude openings in the mountain-side, with the heaped-up
debris of rock and gravel before the mouth of each. They gave very
little evidence of engineering skill or constructive purpose, or indeed
showed anything but the vague, successively abandoned essays of their
projector. To-day they served another purpose, for as the sun had heated
the little cabin almost to the point of combustion, curling up the long
dry shingles, and starting aromatic tears from the green pine beams,
Tommy led Johnson into one of the larger openings, and with a sense of
satisfaction threw himself panting upon its rocky floor. Here and there
the grateful dampness was condensed in quiet pools of water, or in
a monotonous and soothing drip from the rocks above. Without lay the
staring sunlight,--colorless, clarified, intense.

For a few moments they lay resting on their elbows in blissful
contemplation of the heat they had escaped. “Wot do you say,” said
Johnson, slowly, without looking at his companion, but abstractly
addressing himself to the landscape beyond,--“wot do you say to two
straight games fur one thousand dollars?”

“Make it five thousand,” replied Tommy, reflectively, also to the
landscape, “and I’m in.”

“Wot do I owe you now?” said Johnson, after a lengthened silence.

“One hundred and seventy-five thousand two hundred and fifty dollars,”
 replied Tommy, with business-like gravity.

“Well,” said Johnson, after a deliberation commensurate with the
magnitude of the transaction, “ef you win, call it a hundred and eighty
thousand, round. War’s the keerds?”

They were in an old tin box in a crevice of a rock above his head. They
were greasy and worn with service. Johnson dealt, albeit his right hand
was still uncertain,--hovering, after dropping the cards, aimlessly
about Tommy, and being only recalled by a strong nervous effort. Yet,
notwithstanding this incapacity for even honest manipulation, Mr.
Johnson covertly turned a knave from the bottom of the pack with such
shameless inefficiency and gratuitous unskilfulness, that even Tommy was
obliged to cough and look elsewhere to hide his embarrassment. Possibly
for this reason the young gentleman was himself constrained, by way of
correction, to add a valuable card to his own hand, over and above the
number he legitimately held.

Nevertheless, the game was unexciting, and dragged listlessly. Johnson
won. He recorded the fact and the amount with a stub of pencil and
shaking fingers in wandering hieroglyphics all over a pocket diary.
Then there was a long pause, when Johnson slowly drew something from his
pocket, and held it up before his companion. It was apparently a dull
red stone.

“Ef,” said Johnson, slowly, with his old look of simple cunning,--“ef
you happened to pick up sich a rock ez that, Tommy, what might you say
it was?”

“Don’t know,” said Tommy.

“Mightn’t you say,” continued Johnson, cautiously, “that it was gold, or
silver?”

“Neither,” said Tommy, promptly.

“Mightn’t you say it was quicksilver? Mightn’t you say that ef thar was
a friend o’ yourn ez knew war to go and turn out ten ton of it a day,
and every ton worth two thousand dollars, that he had a soft thing, a
very soft thing,--allowin’, Tommy, that you used sich language, which
you don’t?”

“But,” said the boy, coming to the point with great directness, “DO you
know where to get it? have you struck it, Uncle Ben?”

Johnson looked carefully around. “I hev, Tommy. Listen. I know whar
thar’s cartloads of it. But thar’s only one other specimen--the mate to
this yer--thet’s above ground, and thet’s in ‘Frisco. Thar’s an agint
comin’ up in a day or two to look into it. I sent for him. Eh?”

His bright, restless eyes were concentrated on Tommy’s face now, but the
boy showed neither surprise nor interest. Least of all did he betray
any recollection of Bill’s ironical and gratuitous corroboration of this
part of the story.

“Nobody knows it,” continued Johnson, in a nervous whisper,--“nobody
knows it but you and the agint in ‘Frisco. The boys workin’ round yar
passes by and sees the old man grubbin’ away, and no signs o’ color, not
even rotten quartz; the boys loafin’ round the Mansion House sees the
old man lyin’ round free in bar-rooms, and they laughs and sez, ‘Played
out,’ and spects nothin’. Maybe ye think they spects suthin now, eh?”
 queried Johnson, suddenly, with a sharp look of suspicion.

Tommy looked up, shook his head, threw a stone at a passing rabbit, but
did not reply.

“When I fust set eyes on you, Tommy,” continued Johnson, apparently
reassured, “the fust day you kem and pumped for me, an entire stranger,
and hevin no call to do it, I sez, ‘Johnson, Johnson,’ sez I,’ yer’s a
boy you kin trust. Yer’s a boy that won’t play you; yer’s a chap that’s
white and square,’--white and square, Tommy: them’s the very words I
used.”

He paused for a moment, and then went on in a confidential whisper,
“‘You want capital, Johnson,’ sez I, ‘to develop your resources, and
you want a pardner. Capital you can send for, but your pardner,
Johnson,--your pardner is right yer. And his name, it is Tommy
Islington.’ Them’s the very words I used.”

He stopped and chafed his clammy hands upon his knees. “It’s six months
ago sens I made you my pardner. Thar ain’t a lick I’ve struck sens
then, Tommy, thar ain’t a han’ful o’ yearth I’ve washed, thar ain’t
a shovelful o’ rock I’ve turned over, but I tho’t o’ you. ‘Share, and
share alike,’ sez I. When I wrote to my agint, I wrote ekal for my
pardner, Tommy Islington, he hevin no call to know ef the same was man
or boy.”

He had moved nearer the boy, and would perhaps have laid his hand
caressingly upon him, but even in his manifest affection there was
a singular element of awed restraint and even fear,--a suggestion of
something withheld even his fullest confidences, a hopeless perception
of some vague barrier that never could be surmounted. He may have been
at times dimly conscious that, in the eyes which Tommy raised to his,
there was thorough intellectual appreciation, critical good-humor, even
feminine softness, but nothing more. His nervousness somewhat heightened
by his embarrassment, he went on with an attempt at calmness which his
twitching white lips and unsteady fingers made pathetically grotesque.
“Thar’s a bill o’ sale in my bunk, made out accordin’ to law, of an ekal
ondivided half of the claim, and the consideration is two hundred and
fifty thousand dollars,--gambling debts,--gambling debts from me to you,
Tommy,--you understand?”--nothing could exceed the intense cunning of
his eye at this moment,--“and then thar’s a will.”

“A will?” said Tommy, in amused surprise.

Johnson looked frightened.

“Eh?” he said, hurriedly, “wot will? Who said anythin’ ‘bout a will,
Tommy?”

“Nobody,” replied Tommy, with unblushing calm.

Johnson passed his hand over his cold forehead, wrung the damp ends of
his hair with his fingers, and went on: “Times when I’m took bad ez I
was to-day, the boys about yer sez--you sez, maybe, Tommy--it’s whiskey.
It ain’t, Tommy. It’s pizen,--quicksilver pizen. That’s what’s the
matter with me. I’m salviated! Salviated with merkery.

“I’ve heerd o’ it before,” continued Johnson, appealing to the boy, “and
ez a boy o’ permiskus reading, I reckon you hev too. Them men as works
in cinnabar sooner or later gets salviated. It’s bound to fetch ‘em some
time. Salviated by merkery.”

“What are you goin’ to do for it?” asked Tommy.

“When the agint comes up, and I begins to realize on this yer mine,”
 said Johnson, contemplatively, “I goes to New York. I sez to the
barkeep’ o’ the hotel, ‘Show me the biggest doctor here.’ He shows me.
I sez to him, ‘Salviated by merkery,--a year’s standin’,--how much?’ He
sez, ‘Five thousand dollars, and take two o’ these pills at bedtime, and
an ekil number o’ powders at meals, and come back in a week.’ And I goes
back in a week, cured, and signs a certifikit to that effect.”

Encouraged by a look of interest in Tommy’s eye, he went on.

“So I gets cured. I goes to the barkeep’, and I sez, ‘Show me the
biggest, fashionblest house thet’s for sale yer.’ And he sez, ‘The
biggest, nat’rally b’longs to John Jacob Astor.’ And I sez, ‘Show him,’
and he shows him. And I sez, ‘Wot might you ask for this yer house?’ And
he looks at me scornful, and sez, ‘Go ‘way, old man; you must be sick.’
And I fetches him one over the left eye, and he apologizes, and I gives
him his own price for the house. I stocks that house with mohogany
furniture and pervisions, and thar we lives, you and me, Tommy, you and
me!”

The sun no longer shone upon the hillside. The shadows of the pines were
beginning to creep over Johnson’s claim, and the air within the cavern
was growing chill. In the gathering darkness his eyes shone brightly
as he went on: “Then thar comes a day when we gives a big spread. We
invites govners, members o’ Congress, gentlemen o’ fashion, and the
like. And among ‘em I invites a Man as holds his head very high, a Man I
once knew; but he doesn’t know I knows him, and he doesn’t remember me.
And he comes and he sits opposite me, and I watches him. And he’s very
airy, this Man, and very chipper, and he wipes his mouth with a white
hankercher, and he smiles, and he ketches my eye. And he sez, ‘A glass
o’ wine with you, Mr. Johnson’; and he fills his glass and I fills mine,
and we rises. And I heaves that wine, glass and all, right into his
damned grinnin’ face. And he jumps for me,--for he is very game, this
Man, very game,--but some on ‘em grabs him, and he sez, ‘Who be you?’
And I sez, ‘Skaggs! damn you, Skaggs! Look at me! Gimme back my wife and
child, gimme back the money you stole, gimme back the good name you
took away, gimme back the health you ruined, gimme back the last twelve
years! Give ‘em to me, damn you, quick, before I cuts your heart out!’
And naterally, Tommy, he can’t do it. And so I cuts his heart out, my
boy; I cuts his heart out.”

The purely animal fury of his eye suddenly changed again to cunning.
“You think they hangs me for it, Tommy, but they don’t. Not much, Tommy.
I goes to the biggest lawyer there, and I says to him, ‘Salviated by
merkery,--you hear me,--salviated by merkery.’ And he winks at me,
and he goes to the judge, and he sez, ‘This yer unfortnet man isn’t
responsible,--he’s been salviated by merkery.’ And he brings witnesses;
you comes, Tommy, and you sez ez how you’ve seen me took bad afore; and
the doctor, he comes, and he sez as how he’s seen me frightful; and the
jury, without leavin’ their seats, brings in a verdict o’ justifiable
insanity,--salviated by merkery.”

In the excitement of his climax he had risen to his feet, but would have
fallen had not Tommy caught him and led him into the open air. In
this sharper light there was an odd change visible in his yellow-white
face,--a change which caused Tommy to hurriedly support him, half
leading, half dragging him toward the little cabin. When they had
reached it, Tommy placed him on a rude “bunk,” or shelf, and stood for
a moment in anxious contemplation of the tremor-stricken man before him.
Then he said rapidly: “Listen, Uncle Ben. I’m goin’ to town--to town,
you understand--for the doctor. You’re not to get up or move on any
account until I return. Do you hear?” Johnson nodded violently. “I’ll be
back in two hours.” In another moment he was gone.

For an hour Johnson kept his word. Then he suddenly sat up, and began
to gaze fixedly at a corner of the cabin. From gazing at it he began to
smile, from smiling at it he began to talk, from talking at it he began
to scream, from screaming he passed to cursing and sobbing wildly. Then
he lay quiet again.

He was so still that to merely human eyes he might have seemed asleep
or dead. But a squirrel, that, emboldened by the stillness, had entered
from the roof, stopped short upon a beam above the bunk, for he saw that
the man’s foot was slowly and cautiously moving toward the floor, and
that the man’s eyes were as intent and watchful as his own. Presently,
still without a sound, both feet were upon the floor. And then the bunk
creaked, and the squirrel whisked into the eaves of the roof. When he
peered forth again, everything was quiet, and the man was gone.

An hour later two muleteers on the Placerville Road passed a man with
dishevelled hair, glaring, bloodshot eyes, and clothes torn with bramble
and stained with the red dust of the mountain. They pursued him, when
he turned fiercely on the foremost, wrested a pistol from his grasp, and
broke away. Later still, when the sun had dropped behind Payne’s Ridge,
the underbrush on Deadwood Slope crackled with a stealthy but continuous
tread. It must have been an animal whose dimly outlined bulk, in the
gathering darkness, showed here and there in vague but incessant
motion; it could be nothing but an animal whose utterance was at once
so incoherent, monotonous, and unremitting. Yet, when the sound came
nearer, and the chaparral was parted, it seemed to be a man, and that
man Johnson.

Above the baying of phantasmal hounds that pressed him hard and drove
him on, with never rest or mercy; above the lashing of a spectral whip
that curled about his limbs, sang in his ears, and continually stung him
forward; above the outcries of the unclean shapes that thronged about
him,--he could still distinguish one real sound,--the rush and sweep of
hurrying waters. The Stanislaus River! A thousand feet below him drove
its yellowing current. Through all the vacillations of his unseated mind
he had clung to one idea,--to reach the river, to lave in it, to swim it
if need be, but to put it forever between him and the harrying shapes,
to drown forever in its turbid depths the thronging spectres, to wash
away in its yellow flood all stains and color of the past. And now he
was leaping from boulder to boulder, from blackened stump to stump,
from gnarled bush to bush, caught for a moment and withheld by clinging
vines, or plunging downward into dusty hollows, until, rolling,
dropping, sliding, and stumbling, he reached the river-bank, whereon
he fell, rose, staggered forward, and fell again with outstretched arms
upon a rock that breasted the swift current. And there he lay as dead.

A few stars came out hesitatingly above Deadwood Slope. A cold wind that
had sprung up with the going down of the sun fanned them into momentary
brightness, swept the heated flanks of the mountain, and ruffled the
river. Where the fallen man lay there was a sharp curve in the stream,
so that in the gathering shadows the rushing water seemed to leap out of
the darkness and to vanish again. Decayed drift-wood, trunks of trees,
fragments of broken sluicing,--the wash and waste of many a mile,--swept
into sight a moment, and were gone. All of decay, wreck, and foulness
gathered in the long circuit of mining-camp and settlement, all the
dregs and refuse of a crude and wanton civilization, reappeared for an
instant, and then were hurried away in the darkness and lost. No wonder
that as the wind ruffled the yellow waters the waves seemed to lift
their unclean hands toward the rock whereon the fallen man lay, as if
eager to snatch him from it, too, and hurry him toward the sea.

It was very still. In the clear air a horn blown a mile away was heard
distinctly. The jingling of a spur and a laugh on the highway over
Payne’s Ridge sounded clearly across the river. The rattling of harness
and hoofs foretold for many minutes the approach of the Wingdam coach,
that at last, with flashing lights, passed within a few feet of the
rock. Then for an hour all again was quiet. Presently the moon, round
and full, lifted herself above the serried ridge and looked down upon
the river. At first the bared peak of Deadwood Hill gleamed white and
skull-like. Then the shadows of Payne’s Ridge cast on the slope slowly
sank away, leaving the unshapely stumps, the dusty fissures, and
clinging outcrop of Deadwood Slope to stand out in black and silver.
Still stealing softly downward, the moonlight touched the bank and the
rock, and then glittered brightly on the river. The rock was bare and
the man was gone, but the river still hurried swiftly to the sea.


“Is there anything for me?” asked Tommy Islington, as, a week after,
the stage drew up at the Mansion House, and Bill slowly entered the
bar-room. Bill did not reply, but, turning to a stranger who had entered
with him, indicated with a jerk of his finger the boy. The stranger
turned with an air half of business, half of curiosity, and looked
critically at Tommy. “Is there anything for me?” repeated Tommy, a
little confused at the silence and scrutiny. Bill walked deliberately
to the bar, and, placing his back against it, faced Tommy with a look of
demure enjoyment.

“Ef,” he remarked slowly,--“ef a hundred thousand dollars down and half
a million in perspektive is ennything, Major, THERE IS!”


MRS. SKAGGS’S HUSBANDS.


PART II--EAST.


It was characteristic of Angel’s that the disappearance of Johnson, and
the fact that he had left his entire property to Tommy, thrilled the
community but slightly in comparison with the astounding discovery that
he had anything to leave. The finding of a cinnabar lode at Angel’s
absorbed all collateral facts or subsequent details. Prospectors from
adjoining camps thronged the settlement; the hillside for a mile on
either side of Johnson’s claim was staked out and pre-empted; trade
received a sudden stimulus; and, in the excited rhetoric of the “Weekly
Record,” “a new era had broken upon Angel’s.” “On Thursday last,” added
that paper, “over five hundred dollars was taken in over the bar of the
Mansion House.”

Of the fate of Johnson there was little doubt. He had been last seen
lying on a boulder on the river-bank by outside passengers of the
Wingdam night coach, and when Finn of Robinson’s Ferry admitted to have
fired three shots from a revolver at a dark object struggling in the
water near the ferry, which he “suspicioned” to be a bear, the question
seemed to be settled. Whatever might have been the fallibility of
his judgment, of the accuracy of his aim there could be no doubt. The
general belief that Johnson, after possessing himself of the muleteer’s
pistol, could have run amuck, gave a certain retributive justice to this
story, which rendered it acceptable to the camp.

It was also characteristic of Angel’s that no feeling of envy or
opposition to the good fortune of Tommy Islington prevailed there. That
he was thoroughly cognizant, from the first, of Johnson’s discovery,
that his attentions to him were interested, calculating, and speculative
was, however, the general belief of the majority,--a belief that,
singularly enough, awakened the first feelings of genuine respect for
Tommy ever shown by the camp. “He ain’t no fool; Yuba Bill seed thet
from the first,” said the barkeeper. It was Yuba Bill who applied for
the guardianship of Tommy after his accession to Johnson’s claim, and on
whose bonds the richest men of Calaveras were represented. It was
Yuba Bill, also, when Tommy was sent East to finish his education,
accompanied him to San Francisco, and, before parting with his charge on
the steamer’s deck, drew him aside, and said, “Ef at enny time you want
enny money, Tommy, over and ‘bove your ‘lowance, you kin write; but ef
you’ll take my advice,” he added, with a sudden huskiness mitigating
the severity of his voice, “you’ll forget every derned ole spavined,
string-halted bummer as you ever met or knew at Angel’s,--ev’ry one,
Tommy,--ev’ry one! And so--boy--take care of yourself--and--and God
bless ye, and pertikerly d--n me for a first-class A 1 fool.” It was
Yuba Bill, also, after this speech, glared savagely around, walked down
the crowded gang-plank with a rigid and aggressive shoulder, picked a
quarrel with his cabman, and, after bundling that functionary into his
own vehicle, took the reins himself, and drove furiously to his hotel.
“It cost me,” said Bill, recounting the occurrence somewhat later at
Angel’s,--“it cost me a matter o’ twenty dollars afore the jedge the
next mornin’; but you kin bet high thet I taught them ‘Frisco chaps
suthin new about drivin’. I didn’t make it lively in Montgomery Street
for about ten minutes,--O no!”

And so by degrees the two original locaters of the great Cinnabar lode
faded from the memory of Angel’s, and Calaveras knew them no more. In
five years their very names had been forgotten; in seven the name of the
town was changed; in ten the town itself was transported bodily to the
hillside, and the chimney of the Union Smelting Works by night flickered
like a corpse-light over the site of Johnson’s cabin, and by day
poisoned the pure spices of the pines. Even the Mansion House was
dismantled, and the Wingdam stage deserted the highway for a shorter cut
by Quicksilver City. Only the bared crest of Deadwood Hill, as of
old, sharply cut the clear blue sky, and at its base, as of old, the
Stanislaus River, unwearied and unresting, babbled, whispered, and
hurried away to the sea.


A midsummer’s day was breaking lazily on the Atlantic. There was not
wind enough to move the vapors in the foggy offing, but where the vague
distance heaved against a violet sky there were dull red streaks that,
growing brighter, presently painted out the stars. Soon the brown rocks
of Greyport appeared faintly suffused, and then the whole ashen line of
dead coast was kindled, and the lighthouse beacons went out one by one.
And then a hundred sail, before invisible, started out of the vapory
horizon, and pressed toward the shore. It was morning, indeed, and some
of the best society in Greyport, having been up all night, were thinking
it was time to go to bed.

For as the sky flashed brighter it fired the clustering red roofs of
a picturesque house by the sands that had all that night, from open
lattice and illuminated balcony, given light and music to the shore.
It glittered on the broad crystal spaces of a great conservatory that
looked upon an exquisite lawn, where all night long the blended odors
of sea and shore had swooned under the summer moon. But it wrought
confusion among the colored lamps on the long veranda, and startled
a group of ladies and gentlemen who had stepped from the drawing-room
window to gaze upon it. It was so searching and sincere in its way,
that, as the carriage of the fairest Miss Gillyflower rolled away, that
peerless young woman, catching sight of her face in the oval mirror,
instantly pulled down the blinds, and, nestling the whitest shoulders in
Greyport against the crimson cushions, went to sleep.

“How haggard everybody is! Rose, dear, you look almost intellectual,”
 said Blanche Masterman.

“I hope not,” said Rose, simply. “Sunrises are very trying. Look how
that pink regularly puts out Mrs. Brown-Robinson, hair and all!”

“The angels,” said the Count de Nugat, with a polite gesture toward
the sky, “must have find these celestial combinations very bad for the
toilette.”

“They’re safe in white,--except when they sit for their pictures in
Venice,” said Blanche. “How fresh Mr. Islington looks! It’s really
uncomplimentary to us.”

“I suppose the sun recognizes in me no rival,” said the young man,
demurely. “But,” he added, “I have lived much in the open air, and
require very little sleep.”

“How delightful!” said Mrs. Brown-Robinson, in a low, enthusiastic
voice and a manner that held the glowing sentiment of sixteen and the
practical experiences of thirty-two in dangerous combination;--“how
perfectly delightful! What sunrises you must have seen, and in such
wild, romantic places! How I envy you! My nephew was a classmate of
yours, and has often repeated to me those charming stories you tell of
your adventures. Won’t you tell some now? Do! How you must tire of us
and this artificial life here, so frightfully artificial, you know” (in
a confidential whisper); “and then to think of the days when you roamed
the great West with the Indians, and the bisons, and the grizzly bears!
Of course, you have seen grizzly bears and bisons?”

“Of course he has, dear,” said Blanche, a little pettishly, throwing
a cloak over her shoulders, and seizing her chaperon by the arm; “his
earliest infancy was soothed by bisons, and he proudly points to the
grizzly bear as the playmate of his youth. Come with me, and I’ll tell
you all about it. How good it is of you,” she added, sotto voce, to
Islington, as he stood by the carriage,--“how perfectly good it is of
you to be like those animals you tell us of, and not know your full
power. Think, with your experiences and our credulity, what stories you
MIGHT tell! And you are going to walk? Good night, then.” A slim, gloved
hand was frankly extended from the window, and the next moment the
carriage rolled away.

“Isn’t Islington throwing away a chance there?” said Captain Merwin, on
the veranda.

“Perhaps he couldn’t stand my lovely aunt’s superadded presence. But
then, he’s the guest of Blanche’s father, and I dare say they see enough
of each other as it is.”

“But isn’t it a rather dangerous situation?”

“For him, perhaps; although he’s awfully old, and very queer. For
her, with an experience that takes in all the available men in both
hemispheres, ending with Nugat over there, I should say a man more or
less wouldn’t affect her much, anyway. Of course,” he laughed, “these
are the accents of bitterness. But that was last year.”

Perhaps Islington did not overhear the speaker; perhaps, if he did, the
criticism was not new. He turned carelessly away, and sauntered out
on the road to the sea. Thence he strolled along the sands toward the
cliffs, where, meeting an impediment in the shape of a garden wall, he
leaped it with a certain agile, boyish ease and experience, and struck
across an open lawn toward the rocks again. The best society of Greyport
were not early risers, and the spectacle of a trespasser in an evening
dress excited only the criticism of grooms hanging about the stables, or
cleanly housemaids on the broad verandas that in Greyport architecture
dutifully gave upon the sea. Only once, as he entered the boundaries of
Cliffwood Lodge, the famous seat of Renwyck Masterman, was he aware of
suspicious scrutiny; but a slouching figure that vanished quickly in the
lodge offered no opposition to his progress. Avoiding the pathway to
the lodge, Islington kept along the rocks until, reaching a little
promontory and rustic pavilion, he sat down and gazed upon the sea.

And presently an infinite peace stole upon him. Except where the waves
lapped lazily the crags below, the vast expanse beyond seemed unbroken
by ripple, heaving only in broad ponderable sheets, and rhythmically, as
if still in sleep. The air was filled with a luminous haze that caught
and held the direct sunbeams. In the deep calm that lay upon the sea, it
seemed to Islington that all the tenderness of culture, magic of wealth,
and spell of refinement that for years had wrought upon that favored
shore had extended its gracious influence even here. What a pampered and
caressed old ocean it was; cajoled, flattered, and feted where it lay!
An odd recollection of the turbid Stanislaus hurrying by the ascetic
pines, of the grim outlines of Deadwood Hill, swam before his eyes,
and made the yellow green of the velvet lawn and graceful foliage seem
almost tropical by contrast. And, looking up, a few yards distant he
beheld a tall slip of a girl gazing upon the sea,--Blanche Masterman.

She had plucked somewhere a large fan-shaped leaf, which she held
parasol-wise, shading the blond masses of her hair, and hiding her gray
eyes. She had changed her festal dress, with its amplitude of flounce
and train, for a closely fitting half-antique habit whose scant outlines
would have been trying to limbs less shapely, but which prettily
accented the graceful curves and sweeping lines of this Greyport
goddess. As Islington rose, she came toward him with a frankly
outstretched hand and unconstrained manner. Had she observed him first?
I don’t know.

They sat down together on a rustic seat, Miss Blanche facing the sea,
and shading her eyes with the leaf.

“I don’t really know how long I have been sitting here,” said Islington,
“or whether I have not been actually asleep and dreaming. It seemed too
lovely a morning to go to bed. But you?”

From behind the leaf, it appeared that Miss Blanche, on retiring, had
been pursued by a hideous winged bug which defied the efforts of herself
and maid to dislodge. Odin, the Spitz dog, had insisted upon scratching
at the door. And it made her eyes red to sleep in the morning. And she
had an early call to make. And the sea looked lovely.

“I’m glad to find you here, whatever be the cause,” said Islington, with
his old directness. “To-day, as you know, is my last day in Greyport,
and it is much pleasanter to say good by under this blue sky than even
beneath your father’s wonderful frescos yonder. I want to remember you,
too, as part of this pleasant prospect which belongs to us all, rather
than recall you in anybody’s particular setting.”

“I know,” said Blanche, with equal directness, “that houses are one of
the defects of our civilization; but I don’t think I ever heard the idea
as elegantly expressed before. Where do you go?”

“I don’t know yet. I have several plans. I may go to South America and
become president of one of the republics,--I am not particular which. I
am rich, but in that part of America which lies outside of Greyport it
is necessary for every man to have some work. My friends think I
should have some great aim in life, with a capital A. But I was born a
vagabond, and a vagabond I shall probably die.”

“I don’t know anybody in South America,” said Blanche, languidly. “There
were two girls here last season, but they didn’t wear stays in the
house, and their white frocks never were properly done up. If you go to
South America, you must write to me.”

“I will. Can you tell me the name of this flower which I found in your
greenhouse. It looks much like a California blossom.”

“Perhaps it is. Father bought it of a half-crazy old man who came here
one day. Do you know him?”

Islington laughed. “I am afraid not. But let me present this in a less
business-like fashion.”

“Thank you. Remind me to give you one in return before you go,--or will
you choose yourself?”

They had both risen as by a common instinct.

“Good by.”

The cool flower-like hand lay in his for an instant.

“Will you oblige me by putting aside that leaf a moment before I go?”

“But my eyes are red, and I look like a perfect fright.”

Yet, after a long pause, the leaf fluttered down, and a pair of very
beautiful but withal very clear and critical eyes met his. Islington was
constrained to look away. When he turned again, she was gone.

“Mister Hislington,--sir!”

It was Chalker, the English groom, out of breath with running.

“Seein’ you alone, sir,--beg your pardon, sir,--but there’s a person--”

“A person! what the devil do you mean? Speak English--no, damn it, I
mean don’t,” said Islington, snappishly.

“I sed a person, sir. Beg pardon--no offence--but not a gent, sir. In
the lib’ry.”

A little amused even through the utter dissatisfaction with himself
and vague loneliness that had suddenly come upon him, Islington, as he
walked toward the lodge, asked, “Why isn’t he a gent?

“No gent--beggin’ your pardin, sir--‘ud guy a man in sarvis, sir. Takes
me ‘ands so, sir, as I sits in the rumble at the gate, and puts ‘em
downd so, sir, and sez, ‘Put ‘em in your pocket, young man,--or is it
a road agint you expects to see, that you ‘olds hup your ‘ands, hand
crosses ‘em like to that,’ sez he. ‘’Old ‘ard,’ sez he, ‘on the short
curves, or you’ll bust your precious crust,’ sez he. And hasks for you,
sir. This way, sir.”

They entered the lodge. Islington hurried down the long Gothic hall, and
opened the library door.

In an arm-chair, in the centre of the room, a man sat apparently
contemplating a large, stiff, yellow hat with an enormous brim, that
was placed on the floor before him. His hands rested lightly between his
knees, but one foot was drawn up at the side of his chair in a peculiar
manner. In the first glance that Islington gave, the attitude in some
odd, irreconcilable way suggested a brake. In another moment he dashed
across the room, and, holding out both hands, cried, “Yuba Bill!”

The man rose, caught Islington by the shoulders, wheeled him round,
hugged him, felt of his ribs like a good-natured ogre, shook his hands
violently, laughed, and then said, somewhat ruefully, “And how ever did
you know me?”

Seeing that Yuba Bill evidently regarded himself as in some elaborate
disguise, Islington laughed, and suggested that it must have been
instinct.

“And you?” said Bill, holding him at arm’s length, and surveying him
critically,--“you!--toe think--toe think--a little cuss no higher nor a
trace, a boy as I’ve flicked outer the road with a whip time in agin, a
boy ez never hed much clothes to speak of, turned into a sport!”

Islington remembered, with a thrill of ludicrous terror, that he still
wore his evening dress.

“Turned,” continued Yuba Bill, severely,--“turned into a restyourant
waiter,--a garsong! Eh, Alfonse, bring me a patty de foy grass and an
omelette, demme!”

“Dear old chap!” said Islington, laughing, and trying to put his
hand over Bill’s bearded mouth, “but you--YOU don’t look exactly like
yourself! You’re not well, Bill.” And indeed, as he turned toward the
light, Bill’s eyes appeared cavernous, and his hair and beard thickly
streaked with gray.

“Maybe it’s this yer harness,” said Bill, a little anxiously. “When I
hitches on this yer curb” (he indicated a massive gold watch-chain with
enormous links), “and mounts this ‘morning star,’” (he pointed to a very
large solitaire pin which had the appearance of blistering his whole
shirt-front), “it kinder weighs heavy on me, Tommy. Otherwise I’m all
right, my boy,--all right.” But he evaded Islington’s keen eye, and
turned from the light.

“You have something to tell me, Bill,” said Islington, suddenly, and
with almost brusque directness; “out with it.”

Bill did not speak, but moved uneasily toward his hat.

“You didn’t come three thousand miles, without a word of warning, to
talk to me of old times,” said Islington, more kindly, “glad as I would
have been to see you. It isn’t your way, Bill, and you know it. We shall
not be disturbed here,” he added, in reply to an inquiring glance that
Bill directed to the door, “and I am ready to hear you.”

“Firstly, then,” said Bill, drawing his chair nearer Islington, “answer
me one question, Tommy, fair and square, and up and down.”

“Go on,” said Islington, with a slight smile.

“Ef I should say to you, Tommy,--say to you to-day, right here, you must
come with me,--you must leave this place for a month, a year, two years
maybe, perhaps forever,--is there anything that ‘ud keep you,--anything,
my boy, ez you couldn’t leave?”

“No,” said Tommy, quietly; “I am only visiting here. I thought of
leaving Greyport to-day.”

“But if I should say to you, Tommy, come with me on a pasear to Chiny,
to Japan, to South Ameriky, p’r’aps, could you go?”

“Yes,” said Islington, after a slight pause.

“Thar isn’t ennything,” said Bill, drawing a little closer, and lowering
his voice confidentially,--“ennything in the way of a young woman--you
understand, Tommy--ez would keep you? They’re mighty sweet about here;
and whether a man is young or old, Tommy, there’s always some woman as
is brake or whip to him!”

In a certain excited bitterness that characterized the delivery of
this abstract truth, Bill did not see that the young man’s face flushed
slightly as he answered “No.”

“Then listen. It’s seven years ago, Tommy, thet I was working one o’
the Pioneer coaches over from Gold Hill. Ez I stood in front o’ the
stage-office, the sheriff o’ the county comes to me, and he sez, ‘Bill,’
sez he, ‘I’ve got a looney chap, as I’m in charge of, taking ‘im down to
the ‘sylum in Stockton. He’z quiet and peaceable, but the insides don’t
like to ride with him. Hev you enny objection to give him a lift on the
box beside you?’ I sez, ‘No; put him up.’ When I came to go and get up
on that box beside him, that man, Tommy,--that man sittin’ there, quiet
and peaceable, was--Johnson!

“He didn’t know me, my boy,” Yuba Bill continued, rising and putting his
hands on Tommy’s shoulders,--“he didn’t know me. He didn’t know nothing
about you, nor Angel’s, nor the quicksilver lode, nor even his own name.
He said his name was Skaggs, but I knowd it was Johnson. Thar was times,
Tommy, you might have knocked me off that box with a feather; thar
was times when if the twenty-seven passengers o’ that stage hed found
theirselves swimming in the American River five hundred feet below
the road, I never could have explained it satisfactorily to the
company,--never.

“The sheriff said,” Bill continued hastily, as if to preclude any
interruption from the young man,--“the sheriff said he had been
brought into Murphy’s Camp three years before, dripping with water, and
sufferin’ from perkussion of the brain, and had been cared for generally
by the boys ‘round. When I told the sheriff I knowed ‘im, I got him to
leave him in my care; and I took him to ‘Frisco, Tommy, to ‘Frisco,
and I put him in charge o’ the best doctors there, and paid his board
myself. There was nothin’ he didn’t have ez he wanted. Don’t look that
way, my dear boy, for God’s sake, don’t!”

“O Bill,” said Islington, rising and staggering to the window, “why did
you keep this from me?”

“Why?” said Bill, turning on him savagely,--“why? because I warn’t a
fool. Thar was you, winnin’ your way in college; thar was YOU, risin’ in
the world, and of some account to it; yer was an old bummer, ez good ez
dead to it,--a man ez oughter been dead afore! a man ez never denied it!
But you allus liked him better nor me,” said Bill, bitterly.

“Forgive me, Bill,” said the young man, seizing both his hands. “I know
you did it for the best; but go on.”

“Thar ain’t much more to tell, nor much use to tell it, as I can see,”
 said Bill, moodily. “He never could be cured, the doctors said, for he
had what they called monomania,--was always talking about his wife and
darter that somebody had stole away years ago, and plannin’ revenge
on that somebody. And six months ago he was missed. I tracked him to
Carson, to Salt Lake City, to Omaha, to Chicago, to New York,--and
here!”

“Here!” echoed Islington.

“Here! And that’s what brings me here to-day. Whethers he’s crazy or
well, whethers he’s huntin’ you or lookin’ up that other man, you must
get away from here. You mustn’t see him. You and me, Tommy, will go away
on a cruise. In three or four years he’ll be dead or missing, and then
we’ll come back. Come.” And he rose to his feet.

“Bill,” said Islington, rising also, and taking the hand of his friend,
with the same quiet obstinacy that in the old days had endeared him to
Bill, “wherever he is, here or elsewhere, sane or crazy, I shall seek
and find him. Every dollar that I have shall be his, every dollar that I
have spent shall be returned to him. I am young yet, thank God, and can
work; and if there is a way out of this miserable business, I shall find
it.”

“I knew,” said Bill, with a surliness that ill concealed his evident
admiration of the calm figure before him--“I knew the partikler style
of d--n fool that you was, and expected no better. Good by, then--God
Almighty! who’s that?”

He was on his way to the open French window, but had started back, his
face quite white and bloodless, and his eyes staring. Islington ran to
the window, and looked out. A white skirt vanished around the corner of
the veranda. When he returned, Bill had dropped into a chair.

“It must have been Miss Masterman, I think; but what’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” said Bill, faintly; “have you got any whiskey handy?”

Islington brought a decanter, and, pouring out some spirits, handed the
glass to Bill. Bill drained it, and then said, “Who is Miss Masterman?”

“Mr. Masterman’s daughter; that is, an adopted daughter, I believe.”

“Wot name?”

“I really don’t know,” said Islington, pettishly, more vexed than he
cared to own at this questioning.

Yuba Bill rose and walked to the window, closed it, walked back again
to the door, glanced at Islington, hesitated, and then returned to his
chair.

“I didn’t tell you I was married--did I?” he said suddenly, looking up
in Islington’s face with an unsuccessful attempt at a reckless laugh.

“No,” said Islington, more pained at the manner than the words.

“Fact,” said Yuba Bill. “Three years ago it was, Tommy,--three years
ago!”

He looked so hard at Islington, that, feeling he was expected to say
something, he asked vaguely, “Who did you marry?”

“Thet’s it!” said Yuba Bill; “I can’t ezactly say; partikly, though, a
she devil! generally, the wife of half a dozen other men.”

Accustomed, apparently, to have his conjugal infelicities a theme of
mirth among men, and seeing no trace of amusement on Islington’s grave
face, his dogged, reckless manner softened, and, drawing his chair
closer to Islington, he went on: “It all began outer this: we was coming
down Watson’s grade one night pretty free, when the expressman turns to
me and sez, ‘There’s a row inside, and you’d better pull up!’ I pulls
up, and out hops, first a woman, and then two or three chaps swearing
and cursin’, and tryin’ to drag some one arter them. Then it ‘pear’d,
Tommy, thet it was this woman’s drunken husband they was going to put
out for abusin’ her, and strikin’ her in the coach; and if it hadn’t
been for me, my boy, they’d hev left that chap thar in the road. But I
fixes matters up by putting her alongside o’ me on the box, and we drove
on. She was very white, Tommy,--for the matter o’ that, she was always
one o’ these very white women, that never got red in the face,--but she
never cried a whimper. Most wimin would have cried. It was queer, but
she never cried. I thought so at the time.

“She was very tall, with a lot o’ light hair meandering down the back of
her head, as long as a deer-skin whip-lash, and about the color. She hed
eyes thet’d bore you through at fifty yards, and pooty hands and feet.
And when she kinder got out o’ that stiff, narvous state she was in, and
warmed up a little, and got chipper, by G-d, sir, she was handsome,--she
was that!”

A little flushed and embarrassed at his own enthusiasm, he stopped, and
then said, carelessly, “They got off at Murphy’s.”

“Well,” said Islington.

“Well, I used to see her often arter thet, and when she was alone she
allus took the box-seat. She kinder confided her troubles to me, how her
husband got drunk and abused her; and I didn’t see much o’ him, for
he was away in ‘Frisco arter thet. But it was all square, Tommy,--all
square ‘twixt me and her.

“I got a going there a good deal, and then one day I sez to myself,
‘Bill, this won’t do,’ and I got changed to another route. Did you ever
know Jackson Filltree, Tommy?” said Bill, breaking off suddenly.

“No.”

“Might have heerd of him, p’r’aps?”

“No,” said Islington, impatiently.

“Jackson Filltree ran the express from White’s out to Summit, ‘cross the
North Fork of the Yuba. One day he sez to me, ‘Bill, that’s a mighty bad
ford at the North Fork.’ I sez, ‘I believe you, Jackson.’ ‘It’ll git
me some day, Bill, sure,’ sez he. I sez, ‘Why don’t you take the lower
ford?’ ‘I don’t know,’ sez he, ‘but I can’t.’ So ever after, when I
met him, he sez, ‘That North Fork ain’t got me yet.’ One day I was in
Sacramento, and up comes Filltree. He sez, ‘I’ve sold out the express
business on account of the North Fork, but it’s bound to get me yet,
Bill, sure’; and he laughs. Two weeks after they finds his body below
the ford, whar he tried to cross, comin’ down from the Summit way. Folks
said it was foolishness: Tommy, I sez it was Fate! The second day arter
I was changed to the Placerville route, thet woman comes outer the
hotel above the stage-office. Her husband, she said, was lying sick in
Placerville; that’s what she said; but it was Fate, Tommy, Fate. Three
months afterward, her husband takes an overdose of morphine for delirium
tremems, and dies. There’s folks ez sez she gave it to him, but it’s
Fate. A year after that I married her,--Fate, Tommy, Fate!

“I lived with her jest three months,” he went on, after a long
breath,--“three months! It ain’t much time for a happy man. I’ve seen
a good deal o’ hard life in my day, but there was days in that three
months longer than any day in my life,--days, Tommy, when it was a
toss-up whether I should kill her or she me. But thar, I’m done. You are
a young man, Tommy, and I ain’t goin’ to tell things thet, old as I am,
three years ago I couldn’t have believed.”

When at last, with his grim face turned toward the window, he sat
silently with his clinched hands on his knees before him, Islington
asked where his wife was now.

“Ask me no more, my boy,--no more. I’ve said my say.” With a gesture as
of throwing down a pair of reins before him, he rose, and walked to the
window.

“You kin understand, Tommy, why a little trip around the world ‘ud do me
good. Ef you can’t go with me, well and good. But go I must.”

“Not before luncheon, I hope,” said a very sweet voice, as Blanche
Masterman suddenly stood before them. “Father would never forgive me if
in his absence I permitted one of Mr. Islington’s friends to go in this
way. You will stay, won’t you? Do! And you will give me your arm now;
and when Mr. Islington has done staring, he will follow us into the
dining-room and introduce you.”


“I have quite fallen in love with your friend,” said Miss Blanche, as
they stood in the drawing-room looking at the figure of Bill, strolling,
with his short pipe in his mouth, through the distant shrubbery. “He
asks very queer questions, though. He wanted to know my mother’s maiden
name.”

“He is an honest fellow,” said Islington, gravely.

“You are very much subdued. You don’t thank me, I dare say, for keeping
you and your friend here; but you couldn’t go, you know, until father
returned.”

Islington smiled, but not very gayly.

“And then I think it much better for us to part here under these
frescos, don’t you? Good by.”

She extended her long, slim hand.

“Out in the sunlight there, when my eyes were red, you were very anxious
to look at me,” she added, in a dangerous voice.

Islington raised his sad eyes to hers. Something glittering upon her own
sweet lashes trembled and fell.

“Blanche!”

She was rosy enough now, and would have withdrawn her hand, but
Islington detained it. She was not quite certain but that her waist
was also in jeopardy. Yet she could not help saying, “Are you sure that
there isn’t anything in the way of a young woman that would keep you?”

“Blanche!” said Islington in reproachful horror.

“If gentlemen will roar out their secrets before an open window, with
a young woman lying on a sofa on the veranda, reading a stupid French
novel, they must not be surprised if she gives more attention to them
than her book.”

“Then you know all, Blanche?”

“I know,” said Blanche, “let’s see--I know the partiklar style
of--ahem!--fool you was, and expected no better. Good by.” And, gliding
like a lovely and innocent milk snake out of his grasp, she slipped
away.


To the pleasant ripple of waves, the sound of music and light voices,
the yellow midsummer moon again rose over Greyport. It looked upon
formless masses of rock and shrubbery, wide spaces of lawn and beach,
and a shimmering expanse of water. It singled out particular objects,--a
white sail in shore, a crystal globe upon the lawn, and flashed upon
something held between the teeth of a crouching figure scaling the low
wall of Cliffwood Lodge. Then, as a man and woman passed out from under
the shadows of the foliage into the open moonlight of the garden path,
the figure leaped from the wall, and stood erect and waiting in the
shadow.

It was the figure of an old man, with rolling eyes, his trembling hand
grasping a long, keen knife,--a figure more pitiable than pitiless, more
pathetic than terrible. But the next moment the knife was stricken from
his hand, and he struggled in the firm grasp of another figure that
apparently sprang from the wall beside him.

“D--n you, Masterman!” cried the old man, hoarsely; “give me fair play,
and I’ll kill you yet!”

“Which my name is Yuba Bill,” said Bill, quietly, “and it’s time this
d--n fooling was stopped.”

The old man glared in Bill’s face savagely. “I know you. You’re one
of Masterman’s friends,--d--n you,--let me go till I cut his heart
out,--let me go! Where is my Mary?--where is my wife?--there she is!
there!--there!--there! Mary!” He would have screamed, but Bill placed
his powerful hand upon his mouth, as he turned in the direction of the
old man’s glance. Distinct in the moonlight the figures of Islington and
Blanche, arm in arm, stood out upon the garden path.

“Give me my wife!” muttered the old man hoarsely, between Bill’s
fingers. “Where is she?”

A sudden fury passed over Yuba Bill’s face. “Where is your wife?” he
echoed, pressing the old man back against the garden wall, and holding
him there as in a vice. “Where is your wife?” he repeated, thrusting his
grim sardonic jaw and savage eyes into the old man’s frightened face.
“Where is Jack Adam’s wife? Where is MY wife? Where is the she-devil
that drove one man mad, that sent another to hell by his own hand, that
eternally broke and ruined me? Where! Where! Do you ask where? In
jail in Sacramento,--in jail, do you hear?--in jail for murder,
Johnson,--murder!”

The old man gasped, stiffened, and then, relaxing, suddenly slipped,
a mere inanimate mass, at Yuba Bill’s feet. With a sudden revulsion of
feeling, Yuba Bill dropped at his side, and, lifting him tenderly in
his arms, whispered, “Look up, old man, Johnson! look up, for
God’s sake!--it’s me,--Yuba Bill! and yonder is your daughter,
and--Tommy!--don’t you know--Tommy, little Tommy Islington?”

Johnson’s eyes slowly opened. He whispered, “Tommy! yes, Tommy! Sit by
me, Tommy. But don’t sit so near the bank. Don’t you see how the river
is rising and beckoning to me,--hissing, and boilin’ over the rocks?
It’s gittin higher!--hold me, Tommy,--hold me, and don’t let me go yet.
We’ll live to cut his heart out, Tommy,--we’ll live--we’ll--” His head
sank, and the rushing river, invisible to all eyes save his, leaped
toward him out of the darkness, and bore him away, no longer to the
darkness, but through it to the distant, peaceful shining sea.



HOW SANTA CLAUS CAME TO SIMPSON’S BAR.


It had been raining in the valley of the Sacramento. The North Fork
had overflowed its banks and Rattlesnake Creek was impassable. The few
boulders that had marked the summer ford at Simpson’s Crossing were
obliterated by a vast sheet of water stretching to the foothills. The up
stage was stopped at Grangers; the last mail had been abandoned in the
tules, the rider swimming for his life. “An area,” remarked the
“Sierra Avalanche,” with pensive local pride, “as large as the State of
Massachusetts is now under water.”

Nor was the weather any better in the foothills. The mud lay deep on the
mountain road; wagons that neither physical force nor moral objurgation
could move from the evil ways into which they had fallen, encumbered the
track, and the way to Simpson’s Bar was indicated by broken-down teams
and hard swearing. And farther on, cut off and inaccessible, rained
upon and bedraggled, smitten by high winds and threatened by high water,
Simpson’s Bar, on the eve of Christmas day, 1862, clung like a swallow’s
nest to the rocky entablature and splintered capitals of Table Mountain,
and shook in the blast.

As night shut down on the settlement, a few lights gleamed through
the mist from the windows of cabins on either side of the highway now
crossed and gullied by lawless streams and swept by marauding winds.
Happily most of the population were gathered at Thompson’s store,
clustered around a red-hot stove, at which they silently spat in some
accepted sense of social communion that perhaps rendered conversation
unnecessary. Indeed, most methods of diversion had long since been
exhausted on Simpson’s Bar; high water had suspended the regular
occupations on gulch and on river, and a consequent lack of money and
whiskey had taken the zest from most illegitimate recreation. Even Mr.
Hamlin was fain to leave the Bar with fifty dollars in his pocket,--the
only amount actually realized of the large sums won by him in the
successful exercise of his arduous profession. “Ef I was asked,” he
remarked somewhat later,--“ef I was asked to pint out a purty little
village where a retired sport as didn’t care for money could exercise
hisself, frequent and lively, I’d say Simpson’s Bar; but for a young man
with a large family depending on his exertions, it don’t pay.” As Mr.
Hamlin’s family consisted mainly of female adults, this remark is quoted
rather to show the breadth of his humor than the exact extent of his
responsibilities.

Howbeit, the unconscious objects of this satire sat that evening in the
listless apathy begotten of idleness and lack of excitement. Even the
sudden splashing of hoofs before the door did not arouse them. Dick
Bullen alone paused in the act of scraping out his pipe, and lifted
his head, but no other one of the group indicated any interest in, or
recognition of, the man who entered.

It was a figure familiar enough to the company, and known in Simpson’s
Bar as “The Old Man.” A man of perhaps fifty years; grizzled and scant
of hair, but still fresh and youthful of complexion. A face full of
ready, but not very powerful sympathy, with a chameleon-like aptitude
for taking on the shade and color of contiguous moods and feelings. He
had evidently just left some hilarious companions, and did not at first
notice the gravity of the group, but clapped the shoulder of the nearest
man jocularly, and threw himself into a vacant chair.

“Jest heard the best thing out, boys! Ye know Smiley, over yar,--Jim
Smiley,--funniest man in the Bar? Well, Jim was jest telling the richest
yarn about--”

“Smiley’s a ---- fool,” interrupted a gloomy voice.

“A particular ---- skunk,” added another in sepulchral accents.

A silence followed these positive statements. The Old Man glanced
quickly around the group. Then his face slowly changed. “That’s so,”
 he said reflectively, after a pause, “certingly a sort of a skunk and
suthin of a fool. In course.” He was silent for a moment as in painful
contemplation of the unsavoriness and folly of the unpopular Smiley.
“Dismal weather, ain’t it?” he added, now fully embarked on the current
of prevailing sentiment. “Mighty rough papers on the boys, and no show
for money this season. And tomorrow’s Christmas.”

There was a movement among the men at this announcement, but whether of
satisfaction or disgust was not plain. “Yes,” continued the Old Man in
the lugubrious tone he had, within the last few moments, unconsciously
adopted,--“yes, Christmas, and to-night’s Christmas eve. Ye see, boys,
I kinder thought--that is, I sorter had an idee, jest passin’ like, you
know--that may be ye’d all like to come over to my house to-night and
have a sort of tear round. But I suppose, now, you wouldn’t? Don’t feel
like it, may be?” he added with anxious sympathy, peering into the faces
of his companions.

“Well, I don’t know,” responded Tom Flynn with some cheerfulness.
“P’r’aps we may. But how about your wife, Old Man? What does SHE say to
it?”

The Old Man hesitated. His conjugal experience had not been a happy one,
and the fact was known to Simpson’s Bar. His first wife, a delicate,
pretty little woman, had suffered keenly and secretly from the jealous
suspicions of her husband, until one day he invited the whole Bar to his
house to expose her infidelity. On arriving, the party found the shy,
petite creature quietly engaged in her household duties, and retired
abashed and discomfited. But the sensitive woman did not easily recover
from the shock of this extraordinary outrage. It was with difficulty
she regained her equanimity sufficiently to release her lover from the
closet in which he was concealed and escape with him. She left a boy of
three years to comfort her bereaved husband. The Old Man’s present wife
had been his cook. She was large, loyal, and aggressive.

Before he could reply, Joe Dimmick suggested with great directness that
it was the “Old Man’s house,” and that, invoking the Divine Power, if
the case were his own, he would invite whom he pleased, even if in
so doing he imperilled his salvation. The Powers of Evil, he further
remarked, should contend against him vainly. All this delivered with a
terseness and vigor lost in this necessary translation.

“In course. Certainly. Thet’s it,” said the Old Man with a sympathetic
frown. “Thar’s no trouble about THET. It’s my own house, built every
stick on it myself. Don’t you be afeard o’ her, boys. She MAY cut up a
trifle rough,--ez wimmin do,--but she’ll come round.” Secretly the Old
Man trusted to the exaltation of liquor and the power of courageous
example to sustain him in such an emergency.

As yet, Dick Bullen, the oracle and leader of Simpson’s Bar, had not
spoken. He now took his pipe from his lips. “Old Man, how’s that yer
Johnny gettin’ on? Seems to me he didn’t look so peart last time I seed
him on the bluff heavin’ rocks at Chinamen. Didn’t seem to take much
interest in it. Thar was a gang of ‘em by yar yesterday,--drownded out
up the river,--and I kinder thought o’ Johnny, and how he’d miss ‘em!
May be now, we’d be in the way ef he wus sick?”

The father, evidently touched not only by this pathetic picture of
Johnny’s deprivation, but by the considerate delicacy of the speaker,
hastened to assure him that Johnny was better and that a “little fun
might ‘liven him up.” Whereupon Dick arose, shook himself, and saying,
“I’m ready. Lead the way, Old Man: here goes,” himself led the way with
a leap, a characteristic howl, and darted out into the night. As he
passed through the outer room he caught up a blazing brand from the
hearth. The action was repeated by the rest of the party, closely
following and elbowing each other, and before the astonished proprietor
of Thompson’s grocery was aware of the intention of his guests, the room
was deserted.

The night was pitchy dark. In the first gust of wind their temporary
torches were extinguished, and only the red brands dancing and flitting
in the gloom like drunken will-o’-the-wisps indicated their whereabouts.
Their way led up Pine-Tree Canyon, at the head of which a broad, low,
bark-thatched cabin burrowed in the mountain-side. It was the home of
the Old Man, and the entrance to the tunnel in which he worked when
he worked at all. Here the crowd paused for a moment, out of delicate
deference to their host, who came up panting in the rear.

“P’r’aps ye’d better hold on a second out yer, whilst I go in and see
thet things is all right,” said the Old Man, with an indifference he
was far from feeling. The suggestion was graciously accepted, the
door opened and closed on the host, and the crowd, leaning their backs
against the wall and cowering under the eaves, waited and listened.

For a few moments there was no sound but the dripping of water from the
eaves, and the stir and rustle of wrestling boughs above them. Then the
men became uneasy, and whispered suggestion and suspicion passed from
the one to the other. “Reckon she’s caved in his head the first lick!”
 “Decoyed him inter the tunnel and barred him up, likely.” “Got him down
and sittin’ on him.” “Prob’ly bilin suthin to heave on us: stand clear
the door, boys!” For just then the latch clicked, the door slowly
opened, and a voice said, “Come in out o’ the wet.”

The voice was neither that of the Old Man nor of his wife. It was the
voice of a small boy, its weak treble broken by that preternatural
hoarseness which only vagabondage and the habit of premature
self-assertion can give. It was the face of a small boy that looked up
at theirs,--a face that might have been pretty and even refined but
that it was darkened by evil knowledge from within, and dirt and hard
experience from without. He had a blanket around his shoulders and had
evidently just risen from his bed. “Come in,” he repeated, “and don’t
make no noise. The Old Man’s in there talking to mar,” he continued,
pointing to an adjacent room which seemed to be a kitchen, from which
the Old Man’s voice came in deprecating accents. “Let me be,” he added,
querulously, to Dick Bullen, who had caught him up, blanket and all, and
was affecting to toss him into the fire, “let go o’ me, you d----d old
fool, d’ye hear?”

Thus adjured, Dick Bullen lowered Johnny to the ground with a smothered
laugh, while the men, entering quietly, ranged themselves around a long
table of rough boards which occupied the centre of the room. Johnny then
gravely proceeded to a cupboard and brought out several articles which
he deposited on the table. “Thar’s whiskey. And crackers. And red
herons. And cheese.” He took a bite of the latter on his way to the
table. “And sugar.” He scooped up a mouthful en route with a small and
very dirty hand. “And terbacker. Thar’s dried appils too on the shelf,
but I don’t admire ‘em. Appils is swellin’. Thar,” he concluded, “now
wade in, and don’t be afeard. I don’t mind the old woman. She don’t
b’long to ME. S’long.”

He had stepped to the threshold of a small room, scarcely larger than a
closet, partitioned off from the main apartment, and holding in its dim
recess a small bed. He stood there a moment looking at the company, his
bare feet peeping from the blanket, and nodded.

“Hello, Johnny! You ain’t goin’ to turn in agin, are ye?” said Dick.

“Yes, I are,” responded Johnny, decidedly.

“Why, wot’s up, old fellow?”

“I’m sick.”

“How sick!”

“I’ve got a fevier. And childblains. And roomatiz,” returned Johnny,
and vanished within. After a moment’s pause, he added in the dark,
apparently from under the bedclothes,--“And biles!”

There was an embarrassing silence. The men looked at each other, and at
the fire. Even with the appetizing banquet before them, it seemed as if
they might again fall into the despondency of Thompson’s grocery, when
the voice of the Old Man, incautiously lifted, came deprecatingly from
the kitchen.

“Certainly! Thet’s so. In course they is. A gang o’ lazy drunken
loafers, and that ar Dick Bullen’s the ornariest of all. Didn’t hev
no more sabe than to come round yar with sickness in the house and no
provision. Thet’s what I said: ‘Bullen,’ sez I, ‘it’s crazy drunk you
are, or a fool,’ sez I, ‘to think o’ such a thing.’ ‘Staples,’ I sez,
‘be you a man, Staples, and ‘spect to raise h-ll under my roof and
invalids lyin’ round?’ But they would come,--they would. Thet’s wot you
must ‘spect o’ such trash as lays round the Bar.”

A burst of laughter from the men followed this unfortunate exposure.
Whether it was overheard in the kitchen, or whether the Old Man’s irate
companion had just then exhausted all other modes of expressing her
contemptuous indignation, I cannot say, but a back door was suddenly
slammed with great violence. A moment later and the Old Man reappeared,
haply unconscious of the cause of the late hilarious outburst, and
smiled blandly.

“The old woman thought she’d jest run over to Mrs. McFadden’s for a
sociable call,” he explained, with jaunty indifference, as he took a
seat at the board.

Oddly enough it needed this untoward incident to relieve the
embarrassment that was beginning to be felt by the party, and their
natural audacity returned with their host. I do not propose to record
the convivialities of that evening. The inquisitive reader will accept
the statement that the conversation was characterized by the same
intellectual exaltation, the same cautious reverence, the same
fastidious delicacy, the same rhetorical precision, and the same logical
and coherent discourse somewhat later in the evening, which distinguish
similar gatherings of the masculine sex in more civilized localities and
under more favorable auspices. No glasses were broken in the absence of
any; no liquor was uselessly spilt on floor or table in the scarcity of
that article.

It was nearly midnight when the festivities were interrupted. “Hush,”
 said Dick Bullen, holding up his hand. It was the querulous voice of
Johnny from his adjacent closet: “O dad!”

The Old Man arose hurriedly and disappeared in the closet. Presently he
reappeared. “His rheumatiz is coming on agin bad,” he explained, “and
he wants rubbin’.” He lifted the demijohn of whiskey from the table
and shook it. It was empty. Dick Bullen put down his tin cup with
an embarrassed laugh. So did the others. The Old Man examined their
contents and said hopefully, “I reckon that’s enough; he don’t need
much. You hold on all o’ you for a spell, and I’ll be back”; and
vanished in the closet with an old flannel shirt and the whiskey. The
door closed but imperfectly, and the following dialogue was distinctly
audible:--

“Now, Sonny, whar does she ache worst?”

“Sometimes over yar and sometimes under yer; but it’s most powerful from
yer to yer. Rub yer, dad.”

A silence seemed to indicate a brisk rubbing. Then Johnny:

“Hevin’ a good time out yer, dad?”

“Yes, sonny.”

“To-morrer’s Chrismiss, ain’t it?”

“Yes, Sonny. How does she feel now?”

“Better rub a little furder down. Wot’s Chrismiss, anyway? Wot’s it all
about?”

“O, it’s a day.”

This exhaustive definition was apparently satisfactory, for there was a
silent interval of rubbing. Presently Johnny again:

“Mar sez that everywhere else but yer everybody gives things to
everybody Chrismiss, and then she jist waded inter you. She sez thar’s
a man they call Sandy Claws, not a white man, you know, but a kind o’
Chinemin, comes down the chimbley night afore Chrismiss and gives things
to chillern,--boys like me. Puts ‘em in their butes! Thet’s what she
tried to play upon me. Easy now, pop, whar are you rubbin’ to,--thet’s
a mile from the place. She jest made that up, didn’t she, jest to
aggrewate me and you? Don’t rub thar. . . . Why, dad!”

In the great quiet that seemed to have fallen upon the house the sigh
of the near pines and the drip of leaves without was very distinct.
Johnny’s voice, too, was lowered as he went on, “Don’t you take on now,
fur I’m gettin’ all right fast. Wot’s the boys doin’ out thar?”

The Old Man partly opened the door and peered through. His guests were
sitting there sociably enough, and there were a few silver coins and a
lean buckskin purse on the table. “Bettin’ on suthin,--some little game
or ‘nother. They’re all right,” he replied to Johnny, and recommenced
his rubbing.

“I’d like to take a hand and win some money,” said Johnny, reflectively,
after a pause.

The Old Man glibly repeated what was evidently a familiar formula, that
if Johnny would wait until he struck it rich in the tunnel he’d have
lots of money, etc., etc.

“Yes,” said Johnny, “but you don’t. And whether you strike it or I win
it, it’s about the same. It’s all luck. But it’s mighty cur’o’s about
Chrismiss,--ain’t it? Why do they call it Chrismiss?”

Perhaps from some instinctive deference to the overhearing of his
guests, or from some vague sense of incongruity, the Old Man’s reply was
so low as to be inaudible beyond the room.

“Yes,” said Johnny, with some slight abatement of interest, “I’ve heerd
o’ HIM before. Thar, that’ll do, dad. I don’t ache near so bad as I did.
Now wrap me tight in this yer blanket. So. Now,” he added in a muffled
whisper, “sit down yer by me till I go asleep.” To assure himself of
obedience, he disengaged one hand from the blanket and, grasping his
father’s sleeve, again composed himself to rest.

For some moments the Old Man waited patiently. Then the unwonted
stillness of the house excited his curiosity, and without moving from
the bed, he cautiously opened the door with his disengaged hand, and
looked into the main room. To his infinite surprise it was dark and
deserted. But even then a smouldering log on the hearth broke, and by
the upspringing blaze he saw the figure of Dick Bullen sitting by the
dying embers.

“Hello!”

Dick started, rose, and came somewhat unsteadily toward him.

“Whar’s the boys?” said the Old Man.

“Gone up the canyon on a little pasear. They’re coming back for me in a
minit. I’m waitin’ round for ‘em. What are you starin’ at, Old Man?” he
added with a forced laugh; “do you think I’m drunk?”

The Old Man might have been pardoned the supposition, for Dick’s eyes
were humid and his face flushed. He loitered and lounged back to the
chimney, yawned, shook himself, buttoned up his coat and laughed.
“Liquor ain’t so plenty as that, Old Man. Now don’t you git up,” he
continued, as the Old Man made a movement to release his sleeve from
Johnny’s hand. “Don’t you mind manners. Sit jest whar you be; I’m goin’
in a jiffy. Thar, that’s them now.”

There was a low tap at the door. Dick Bullen opened it quickly, nodded
“Good night” to his host, and disappeared. The Old Man would have
followed him but for the hand that still unconsciously grasped his
sleeve. He could have easily disengaged it: it was small, weak, and
emaciated. But perhaps because it WAS small, weak, and emaciated, he
changed his mind, and, drawing his chair closer to the bed, rested his
head upon it. In this defenceless attitude the potency of his earlier
potations surprised him. The room flickered and faded before his eyes,
reappeared, faded again, went out, and left him--asleep.

Meantime Dick Bullen, closing the door, confronted his companions. “Are
you ready?” said Staples. “Ready,” said Dick; “what’s the time?” “Past
twelve,” was the reply; “can you make it?--it’s nigh on fifty miles, the
round trip hither and yon.” “I reckon,” returned Dick, shortly. “Whar’s
the mare?” “Bill and Jack’s holdin’ her at the crossin’.” “Let ‘em hold
on a minit longer,” said Dick.

He turned and re-entered the house softly. By the light of the guttering
candle and dying fire he saw that the door of the little room was open.
He stepped toward it on tiptoe and looked in. The Old Man had fallen
back in his chair, snoring, his helpless feet thrust out in a line with
his collapsed shoulders, and his hat pulled over his eyes. Beside him,
on a narrow wooden bedstead, lay Johnny, muffled tightly in a blanket
that hid all save a strip of forehead and a few curls damp with
perspiration. Dick Bullen made a step forward, hesitated, and glanced
over his shoulder into the deserted room. Everything was quiet. With
a sudden resolution he parted his huge mustaches with both hands and
stooped over the sleeping boy. But even as he did so a mischievous
blast, lying in wait, swooped down the chimney, rekindled the hearth,
and lit up the room with a shameless glow from which Dick fled in
bashful terror.

His companions were already waiting for him at the crossing. Two of them
were struggling in the darkness with some strange misshapen bulk, which
as Dick came nearer took the semblance of a great yellow horse.

It was the mare. She was not a pretty picture. From her Roman nose to
her rising haunches, from her arched spine hidden by the stiff machillas
of a Mexican saddle, to her thick, straight, bony legs, there was not a
line of equine grace. In her half-blind but wholly vicious white eyes,
in her protruding under lip, in her monstrous color, there was nothing
but ugliness and vice.

“Now then,” said Staples, “stand cl’ar of her heels, boys, and up with
you. Don’t miss your first holt of her mane, and mind ye get your off
stirrup QUICK. Ready!”

There was a leap, a scrambling struggle, a bound, a wild retreat of the
crowd, a circle of flying hoofs, two springless leaps that jarred the
earth, a rapid play and jingle of spurs, a plunge, and then the voice of
Dick somewhere in the darkness, “All right!”

“Don’t take the lower road back onless you’re hard pushed for time!
Don’t hold her in down hill! We’ll be at the ford at five. G’lang!
Hoopa! Mula! GO!”

A splash, a spark struck from the ledge in the road, a clatter in the
rocky cut beyond, and Dick was gone.

*****

Sing, O Muse, the ride of Richard Bullen! Sing, O Muse of chivalrous
men! the sacred quest, the doughty deeds, the battery of low churls, the
fearsome ride and grewsome perils of the Flower of Simpson’s Bar! Alack!
she is dainty, this Muse! She will have none of this bucking brute and
swaggering, ragged rider, and I must fain follow him in prose, afoot!

It was one o’clock, and yet he had only gained Rattlesnake Hill. For
in that time Jovita had rehearsed to him all her imperfections and
practised all her vices. Thrice had she stumbled. Twice had she thrown
up her Roman nose in a straight line with the reins, and, resisting bit
and spur, struck out madly across country. Twice had she reared, and,
rearing, fallen backward; and twice had the agile Dick, unharmed,
regained his seat before she found her vicious legs again. And a mile
beyond them, at the foot of a long hill, was Rattlesnake Creek. Dick
knew that here was the crucial test of his ability to perform his
enterprise, set his teeth grimly, put his knees well into her flanks,
and changed his defensive tactics to brisk aggression. Bullied and
maddened, Jovita began the descent of the hill. Here the artful Richard
pretended to hold her in with ostentatious objurgation and well-feigned
cries of alarm. It is unnecessary to add that Jovita instantly ran away.
Nor need I state the time made in the descent; it is written in the
chronicles of Simpson’s Bar. Enough that in another moment, as it seemed
to Dick, she was splashing on the overflowed banks of Rattlesnake Creek.
As Dick expected, the momentum she had acquired carried her beyond the
point of balking, and, holding her well together for a mighty leap, they
dashed into the middle of the swiftly flowing current. A few moments
of kicking, wading, and swimming, and Dick drew a long breath on the
opposite bank.

The road from Rattlesnake Creek to Red Mountain was tolerably level.
Either the plunge in Rattlesnake Creek had dampened her baleful fire,
or the art which led to it had shown her the superior wickedness of
her rider, for Jovita no longer wasted her surplus energy in wanton
conceits. Once she bucked, but it was from force of habit; once she
shied, but it was from a new freshly painted meeting-house at the
crossing of the county road. Hollows, ditches, gravelly deposits,
patches of freshly springing grasses, flew from beneath her rattling
hoofs. She began to smell unpleasantly, once or twice she coughed
slightly, but there was no abatement of her strength or speed. By two
o’clock he had passed Red Mountain and begun the descent to the plain.
Ten minutes later the driver of the fast Pioneer coach was overtaken and
passed by a “man on a Pinto hoss,”--an event sufficiently notable for
remark. At half past two Dick rose in his stirrups with a great shout.
Stars were glittering through the rifted clouds, and beyond him, out of
the plain, rose two spires, a flagstaff, and a straggling line of black
objects. Dick jingled his spurs and swung his riata, Jovita bounded
forward, and in another moment they swept into Tuttleville and drew up
before the wooden piazza of “The Hotel of All Nations.”

What transpired that night at Tuttleville is not strictly a part of this
record. Briefly I may state, however, that after Jovita had been
handed over to a sleepy ostler, whom she at once kicked into unpleasant
consciousness, Dick sallied out with the bar-keeper for a tour of
the sleeping town. Lights still gleamed from a few saloons and
gambling-houses; but, avoiding these, they stopped before several
closed shops, and by persistent tapping and judicious outcry roused
the proprietors from their beds, and made them unbar the doors of their
magazines and expose their wares. Sometimes they were met by curses, but
oftener by interest and some concern in their needs, and the interview
was invariably concluded by a drink. It was three o’clock before
this pleasantry was given over, and with a small waterproof bag of
india-rubber strapped on his shoulders Dick returned to the hotel. But
here he was waylaid by Beauty,--Beauty opulent in charms, affluent in
dress, persuasive in speech, and Spanish in accent! In vain she repeated
the invitation in “Excelsior,” happily scorned by all Alpine-climbing
youth, and rejected by this child of the Sierras,--a rejection softened
in this instance by a laugh and his last gold coin. And then he sprang
to the saddle and dashed down the lonely street and out into the
lonelier plain, where presently the lights, the black line of houses,
the spires, and the flagstaff sank into the earth behind him again and
were lost in the distance.

The storm had cleared away, the air was brisk and cold, the outlines of
adjacent landmarks were distinct, but it was half past four before Dick
reached the meeting-house and the crossing of the county road. To avoid
the rising grade he had taken a longer and more circuitous road, in
whose viscid mud Jovita sank fetlock deep at every bound. It was a
poor preparation for a steady ascent of five miles more; but Jovita,
gathering her legs under her, took it with her usual blind, unreasoning
fury, and a half-hour later reached the long level that led to
Rattlesnake Creek. Another half-hour would bring him to the creek. He
threw the reins lightly upon the neck of the mare, chirruped to her, and
began to sing.

Suddenly Jovita shied with a bound that would have unseated a less
practised rider. Hanging to her rein was a figure that had leaped from
the bank, and at the same time from the road before her arose a
shadowy horse and rider. “Throw up your hands,” commanded this second
apparition, with an oath.

Dick felt the mare tremble, quiver, and apparently sink under him. He
knew what it meant and was prepared.

“Stand aside, Jack Simpson, I know you, you d----d thief. Let me pass
or--”

He did not finish the sentence. Jovita rose straight in the air with a
terrific bound, throwing the figure from her bit with a single shake
of her vicious head, and charged with deadly malevolence down on the
impediment before her. An oath, a pistol-shot, horse and highwayman
rolled over in the road, and the next moment Jovita was a hundred
yards away. But the good right arm of her rider, shattered by a bullet,
dropped helplessly at his side.

Without slacking his speed he shifted the reins to his left hand. But a
few moments later he was obliged to halt and tighten the saddle-girths
that had slipped in the onset. This in his crippled condition took some
time. He had no fear of pursuit, but looking up he saw that the eastern
stars were already paling, and that the distant peaks had lost their
ghostly whiteness, and now stood out blackly against a lighter sky. Day
was upon him. Then completely absorbed in a single idea, he forgot
the pain of his wound, and mounting again dashed on toward Rattlesnake
Creek. But now Jovita’s breath came broken by gasps, Dick reeled in his
saddle, and brighter and brighter grew the sky.

Ride, Richard; run, Jovita; linger, O day!

For the last few rods there was a roaring in his ears. Was it exhaustion
from loss of blood, or what? He was dazed and giddy as he swept down
the hill, and did not recognize his surroundings. Had he taken the wrong
road, or was this Rattlesnake Creek?

It was. But the brawling creek he had swam a few hours before had risen,
more than doubled its volume, and now rolled a swift and resistless
river between him and Rattlesnake Hill. For the first time that night
Richard’s heart sank within him. The river, the mountain, the quickening
east, swam before his eyes. He shut them to recover his self-control. In
that brief interval, by some fantastic mental process, the little room
at Simpson’s Bar and the figures of the sleeping father and son rose
upon him. He opened his eyes wildly, cast off his coat, pistol, boots,
and saddle, bound his precious pack tightly to his shoulders, grasped
the bare flanks of Jovita with his bared knees, and with a shout dashed
into the yellow water. A cry rose from the opposite bank as the head
of a man and horse struggled for a few moments against the battling
current, and then were swept away amidst uprooted trees and whirling
drift-wood.

*****

The Old Man started and woke. The fire on the hearth was dead, the
candle in the outer room flickering in its socket, and somebody was
rapping at the door. He opened it, but fell back with a cry before the
dripping half-naked figure that reeled against the doorpost.

“Dick?”

“Hush! Is he awake yet?”

“No,--but, Dick?--”

“Dry up, you old fool! Get me some whiskey QUICK!” The Old Man flew and
returned with--an empty bottle! Dick would have sworn, but his strength
was not equal to the occasion. He staggered, caught at the handle of the
door, and motioned to the Old Man.

“Thar’s suthin’ in my pack yer for Johnny. Take it off. I can’t.”

The Old Man unstrapped the pack and laid it before the exhausted man.

“Open it, quick!”

He did so with trembling fingers. It contained only a few poor
toys,--cheap and barbaric enough, goodness knows, but bright with paint
and tinsel. One of them was broken; another, I fear, was irretrievably
ruined by water; and on the third--ah me! there was a cruel spot.

“It don’t look like much, that’s a fact,” said Dick, ruefully . . . .
“But it’s the best we could do. . . . Take ‘em, Old Man, and put ‘em in
his stocking, and tell him--tell him, you know--hold me, Old Man--” The
Old Man caught at his sinking figure. “Tell him,” said Dick, with a weak
little laugh,--“tell him Sandy Claus has come.”


And even so, bedraggled, ragged, unshaven and unshorn, with one arm
hanging helplessly at his side, Santa Claus came to Simpson’s Bar and
fell fainting on the first threshold. The Christmas dawn came slowly
after, touching the remoter peaks with the rosy warmth of ineffable
love. And it looked so tenderly on Simpson’s Bar that the whole mountain
as if caught in a generous action, blushed to the skies.



THE PRINCESS BOB AND HER FRIENDS.


She was a Klamath Indian. Her title was, I think, a compromise between
her claim as daughter of a chief, and gratitude to her earliest white
protector, whose name, after the Indian fashion, she had adopted. “Bob”
 Walker had taken her from the breast of her dead mother at a time when
the sincere volunteer soldiery of the California frontier were impressed
with the belief that extermination was the manifest destiny of the
Indian race. He had with difficulty restrained the noble zeal of his
compatriots long enough to convince them that the exemption of one
Indian baby would not invalidate this theory. And he took her to his
home,--a pastoral clearing on the banks of the Salmon River,--where she
was cared for after a frontier fashion.

Before she was nine years old, she had exhausted the scant kindliness of
the thin, overworked Mrs. Walker. As a playfellow of the young Walkers
she was unreliable; as a nurse for the baby she was inefficient. She
lost the former in the trackless depths of a redwood forest; she basely
abandoned the latter in an extemporized cradle, hanging like a chrysalis
to a convenient bough. She lied and she stole,--two unpardonable sins
in a frontier community, where truth was a necessity and provisions were
the only property. Worse than this, the outskirts of the clearing
were sometimes haunted by blanketed tatterdemalions with whom she
had mysterious confidences. Mr. Walker more than once regretted his
indiscreet humanity; but she presently relieved him of responsibility,
and possibly of bloodguiltiness, by disappearing entirely.

When she reappeared, it was at the adjacent village of Logport, in
the capacity of housemaid to a trader’s wife, who, joining some little
culture to considerable conscientiousness, attempted to instruct her
charge. But the Princess proved an unsatisfactory pupil to even so
liberal a teacher. She accepted the alphabet with great good-humor,
but always as a pleasing and recurring novelty, in which all interest
expired at the completion of each lesson. She found a thousand uses
for her books and writing materials other than those known to civilized
children. She made a curious necklace of bits of slate-pencil, she
constructed a miniature canoe from the pasteboard covers of her primer,
she bent her pens into fish-hooks, and tattooed the faces of her
younger companions with blue ink. Religious instruction she received as
good-humoredly, and learned to pronounce the name of the Deity with
a cheerful familiarity that shocked her preceptress. Nor could her
reverence be reached through analogy; she knew nothing of the Great
Spirit, and professed entire ignorance of the Happy Hunting-Grounds.
Yet she attended divine service regularly, and as regularly asked for a
hymn-book; and it was only through the discovery that she had collected
twenty-five of these volumes and had hidden them behind the woodpile,
that her connection with the First Baptist Church of Logport ceased. She
would occasionally abandon these civilized and Christian privileges, and
disappear from her home, returning after several days of absence with an
odor of bark and fish, and a peace-offering to her mistress in the shape
of venison or game.

To add to her troubles, she was now fourteen, and, according to the laws
of her race, a woman. I do not think the most romantic fancy would have
called her pretty. Her complexion defied most of those ambiguous similes
through which poets unconsciously apologize for any deviation from the
Caucasian standard. It was not wine nor amber colored; if anything, it
was smoky. Her face was tattooed with red and white lines on one cheek,
as if a duo-toothed comb had been drawn from cheek-bone to jaw, and, but
for the good-humor that beamed from her small berry-like eyes and shone
in her white teeth, would have been repulsive. She was short and stout.
In her scant drapery and unrestrained freedom she was hardly statuesque,
and her more unstudied attitudes were marred by a simian habit of softly
scratching her left ankle with the toes of her right foot, in moments of
contemplation.

I think I have already shown enough to indicate the incongruity of her
existence with even the low standard of civilization that obtained
at Logport in the year 1860. It needed but one more fact to prove the
far-sighted poetical sagacity and prophetic ethics of those sincere
advocates of extermination, to whose virtues I have done but scant
justice in the beginning of this article. This fact was
presently furnished by the Princess. After one of her periodical
disappearances,--this time unusually prolonged,--she astonished Logport
by returning with a half-breed baby of a week old in her arms. That
night a meeting of the hard-featured serious matrons of Logport was held
at Mrs. Brown’s. The immediate banishment of the Princess was demanded.
Soft-hearted Mrs. Brown endeavored vainly to get a mitigation or
suspension of the sentence. But, as on a former occasion, the Princess
took matters into her own hands. A few mornings afterwards, a wicker
cradle containing an Indian baby was found hanging on the handle of
the door of the First Baptist Church. It was the Parthian arrow of the
flying Princess. From that day Logport knew her no more.


It had been a bright clear day on the upland, so clear that the ramparts
of Fort Jackson and the flagstaff were plainly visible twelve miles away
from the long curving peninsula that stretched a bared white arm around
the peaceful waters of Logport Bay. It had been a clear day upon the
sea-shore, albeit the air was filled with the flying spume and shifting
sand of a straggling beach whose low dunes were dragged down by the long
surges of the Pacific and thrown up again by the tumultuous trade-winds.
But the sun had gone down in a bank of fleecy fog that was beginning to
roll in upon the beach. Gradually the headland at the entrance of the
harbor and the lighthouse disappeared, then the willow fringe that
marked the line of Salmon River vanished, and the ocean was gone. A
few sails still gleamed on the waters of the bay; but the advancing
fog wiped them out one by one, crept across the steel-blue expanse,
swallowed up the white mills and single spire of Logport, and, joining
with reinforcements from the marshes, moved solemnly upon the hills. Ten
minutes more and the landscape was utterly blotted out; simultaneously
the wind died away, and a death-like silence stole over sea and shore.
The faint clang, high overhead, of unseen brent, the nearer call of
invisible plover, the lap and wash of undistinguishable waters, and the
monotonous roll of the vanished ocean, were the only sounds. As night
deepened, the far-off booming of the fog-bell on the headland at
intervals stirred the thick air.

Hard by the shore of the bay, and half hidden by a drifting sand-hill,
stood a low nondescript structure, to whose composition sea and shore
had equally contributed. It was built partly of logs and partly of
driftwood and tarred canvas. Joined to one end of the main building--the
ordinary log-cabin of the settler--was the half-round pilot-house of
some wrecked steamer, while the other gable terminated in half of a
broken whale-boat. Nailed against the boat were the dried skins of wild
animals, and scattered about lay the flotsam and jetsam of many years’
gathering,--bamboo crates, casks, hatches, blocks, oars, boxes, part of
a whale’s vertebrae, and the blades of sword-fish. Drawn up on the beach
of a little cove before the house lay a canoe. As the night thickened
and the fog grew more dense, these details grew imperceptible, and only
the windows of the pilot-house, lit up by a roaring fire within the hut,
gleamed redly through the mist.

By this fire, beneath a ship’s lamp that swung from the roof, two
figures were seated, a man and a woman. The man, broad-shouldered and
heavily bearded, stretched his listless powerful length beyond a broken
bamboo chair, with his eyes fixed on the fire. The woman crouched
cross-legged upon the broad earthen hearth, with her eyes blinkingly
fixed on her companion. They were small, black, round, berry-like eyes,
and as the firelight shone upon her smoky face, with its one striped
cheek of gorgeous brilliancy, it was plainly the Princess Bob and no
other.

Not a word was spoken. They had been sitting thus for more than an
hour, and there was about their attitude a suggestion that silence was
habitual. Once or twice the man rose and walked up and down the narrow
room, or gazed absently from the windows of the pilot-house, but never
by look or sign betrayed the slightest consciousness of his companion.
At such times the Princess from her nest by the fire followed him with
eyes of canine expectancy and wistfulness. But he would as inevitably
return to his contemplation of the fire, and the Princess to her
blinking watchfulness of his face.

They had sat there silent and undisturbed for many an evening in fair
weather and foul. They had spent many a day in sunshine and storm,
gathering the unclaimed spoil of sea and shore. They had kept these mute
relations, varied only by the incidents of the hunt or meagre household
duties, for three years, ever since the man, wandering moodily over the
lonely sands, had fallen upon the half-starved woman lying in the little
hollow where she had crawled to die. It had seemed as if they would
never be disturbed, until now, when the Princess started, and, with the
instinct of her race, bent her ear to the ground.

The wind had risen and was rattling the tarred canvas. But in another
moment there plainly came from without the hut the sound of voices.
Then followed a rap at the door; then another rap; and then, before they
could rise to their feet, the door was flung briskly open.

“I beg your pardon,” said a pleasant but somewhat decided contralto
voice, “but I don’t think you heard me knock. Ah, I see you did not. May
I come in?”

There was no reply. Had the battered figurehead of the Goddess of
Liberty, which lay deeply embedded in the sand on the beach, suddenly
appeared at the door demanding admittance, the occupants of the cabin
could not have been more speechlessly and hopelessly astonished than at
the form which stood in the open doorway.

It was that of a slim, shapely, elegantly dressed young woman. A
scarlet-lined silken hood was half thrown back from the shining mass of
the black hair that covered her small head; from her pretty shoulders
dropped a fur cloak, only restrained by a cord and tassel in her small
gloved hand. Around her full throat was a double necklace of large white
beads, that by some cunning feminine trick relieved with its infantile
suggestion the strong decision of her lower face.

“Did you say yes? Ah, thank you. We may come in, Barker.” (Here a shadow
in a blue army overcoat followed her into the cabin, touched its cap
respectfully, and then stood silent and erect against the wall.) “Don’t
disturb yourself in the least, I beg. What a distressingly unpleasant
night! Is this your usual climate?”

Half graciously, half absently overlooking the still embarrassed silence
of the group, she went on: “We started from the fort over three hours
ago,--three hours ago, wasn’t it, Barker?” (the erect Barker touched his
cap,)--“to go to Captain Emmons’s quarters on Indian Island,--I think
you call it Indian Island, don’t you?” (she was appealing to the
awe-stricken Princess,)--“and we got into the fog and lost our way; that
is, Barker lost his way,” (Barker touched his cap deprecatingly,) “and
goodness knows where we didn’t wander to until we mistook your light
for the lighthouse and pulled up here. No, no, pray keep your seat, do!
Really I must insist.”

Nothing could exceed the languid grace of the latter part of this
speech,--nothing except the easy unconsciousness with which she glided
by the offered chair of her stammering, embarrassed host and stood
beside the open hearth.

“Barker will tell you,” she continued, warming her feet by the fire,
“that I am Miss Portfire, daughter of Major Portfire, commanding the
post. Ah, excuse me, child!” (She had accidentally trodden upon the bare
yellow toes of the Princess.) “Really, I did not know you were there. I
am very near-sighted.” (In confirmation of her statement, she put to
her eyes a dainty double eyeglass that dangled from her neck.) “It’s a
shocking thing to be near-sighted, isn’t it?”

If the shamefaced uneasy man to whom this remark was addressed could
have found words to utter the thought that even in his confusion
struggled uppermost in his mind, he would, looking at the bold, dark
eyes that questioned him, have denied the fact. But he only stammered,
“Yes.” The next moment, however, Miss Portfire had apparently forgotten
him and was examining the Princess through her glass.

“And what is your name, child?”

The Princess, beatified by the eyes and eyeglass, showed all her white
teeth at once, and softly scratched her leg.

“Bob?”

“Bob? What a singular name!”

Miss Portfire’s host here hastened to explain the origin of the
Princess’s title.

“Then YOU are Bob.” (Eye-glass.)

“No, my name is Grey,--John Grey.” And he actually achieved a bow where
awkwardness was rather the air of imperfectly recalling a forgotten
habit.

“Grey?--ah, let me see. Yes, certainly. You are Mr. Grey the recluse,
the hermit, the philosopher, and all that sort of thing. Why, certainly;
Dr. Jones, our surgeon, has told me all about you. Dear me, how
interesting a rencontre! Lived all alone here for seven--was it seven
years?--yes, I remember now. Existed quite au naturel, one might say.
How odd! Not that I know anything about that sort of thing, you know.
I’ve lived always among people, and am really quite a stranger, I assure
you. But honestly, Mr.--I beg your pardon--Mr. Grey, how do you like
it?”

She had quietly taken his chair and thrown her cloak and hood over its
back, and was now thoughtfully removing her gloves. Whatever were the
arguments,--and they were doubtless many and profound,--whatever the
experience,--and it was doubtless hard and satisfying enough,--by which
this unfortunate man had justified his life for the last seven years,
somehow they suddenly became trivial and terribly ridiculous before this
simple but practical question.

“Well, you shall tell me all about it after you have given me something
to eat. We will have time enough; Barker cannot find his way back
in this fog to-night. Now don’t put yourselves to any trouble on my
account. Barker will assist?”

Barker came forward. Glad to escape the scrutiny of his guest, the
hermit gave a few rapid directions to the Princess in her native tongue,
and disappeared in the shed. Left a moment alone, Miss Portfire took
a quick, half-audible, feminine inventory of the cabin. “Books, guns,
skins, ONE chair, ONE bed, no pictures, and no looking-glass!” She took
a book from the swinging shelf and resumed her seat by the fire as the
Princess re-entered with fresh fuel. But while kneeling on the hearth
the Princess chanced to look up and met Miss Portfire’s dark eyes over
the edge of her book.

“Bob!”

The Princess showed her teeth.

“Listen. Would you like to have fine clothes, rings, and beads like
these, to have your hair nicely combed and put up so? Would you?”

The Princess nodded violently.

“Would you like to live with me and have them? Answer quickly. Don’t
look round for HIM. Speak for yourself. Would you? Hush; never mind
now.”

The hermit re-entered, and the Princess, blinking, retreated into the
shadow of the whale-boat shed, from which she did not emerge even when
the homely repast of cold venison, ship biscuit, and tea was served.
Miss Portfire noticed her absence: “You really must not let me interfere
with your usual simple ways. Do you know this is exceedingly interesting
to me, so pastoral and patriarchal and all that sort of thing. I must
insist upon the Princess coming back; really, I must.”

But the Princess was not to be found in the shed, and Miss Portfire, who
the next minute seemed to have forgotten all about her, took her place
in the single chair before an extemporized table. Barker stood behind
her, and the hermit leaned against the fireplace. Miss Portfire’s
appetite did not come up to her protestations. For the first time in
seven years it occurred to the hermit that his ordinary victual might be
improved. He stammered out something to that effect.

“I have eaten better, and worse,” said Miss Portfire, quietly.

“But I thought you--that is, you said--”

“I spent a year in the hospitals, when father was on the Potomac,”
 returned Miss Portfire, composedly. After a pause she continued: “You
remember after the second Bull Run--But, dear me! I beg your pardon; of
course, you know nothing about the war and all that sort of thing, and
don’t care.” (She put up her eye-glass and quietly surveyed his broad
muscular figure against the chimney.) “Or, perhaps, your prejudices--But
then, as a hermit you know you have no politics, of course. Please don’t
let me bore you.”

To have been strictly consistent, the hermit should have exhibited no
interest in this topic. Perhaps it was owing to some quality in the
narrator, but he was constrained to beg her to continue in such phrases
as his unfamiliar lips could command. So that, little by little, Miss
Portfire yielded up incident and personal observation of the contest
then raging; with the same half-abstracted, half-unconcerned air that
seemed habitual to her, she told the stories of privation, of suffering,
of endurance, and of sacrifice. With the same assumption of timid
deference that concealed her great self-control, she talked of
principles and rights. Apparently without enthusiasm and without effort,
of which his morbid nature would have been suspicious, she sang the
great American Iliad in a way that stirred the depths of her solitary
auditor to its massive foundations. Then she stopped and asked quietly,
“Where is Bob?”

The hermit started. He would look for her. But Bob, for some reason,
was not forthcoming. Search was made within and without the hut, but in
vain. For the first time that evening Miss Portfire showed some anxiety.
“Go,” she said to Barker, “and find her. She MUST be found; stay, give
me your overcoat, I’ll go myself.” She threw the overcoat over her
shoulders and stepped out into the night. In the thick veil of fog that
seemed suddenly to inwrap her, she stood for a moment irresolute, and
then walked toward the beach, guided by the low wash of waters on the
sand. She had not taken many steps before she stumbled over some dark
crouching object. Reaching down her hand she felt the coarse wiry mane
of the Princess.

“Bob!”

There was no reply.

“Bob. I’ve been looking for you, come.”

“Go ‘way.”

“Nonsense, Bob. I want you to stay with me to-night, come.”

“Injin squaw no good for waugee woman. Go ‘way.”

“Listen, Bob. You are daughter of a chief: so am I. Your father had many
warriors: so has mine. It is good that you stay with me. Come.”

The Princess chuckled and suffered herself to be lifted up. A few
moments later and they re-entered the hut, hand in hand.

With the first red streaks of dawn the next day the erect Barker touched
his cap at the door of the hut. Beside him stood the hermit, also just
risen from his blanketed nest in the sand. Forth from the hut, fresh
as the morning air, stepped Miss Portfire, leading the Princess by the
hand. Hand in hand also they walked to the shore, and when the Princess
had been safely bestowed in the stern sheets, Miss Portfire turned and
held out her own to her late host.

“I shall take the best of care of her, of course. You will come and see
her often. I should ask you to come and see me, but you are a hermit,
you know, and all that sort of thing. But if it’s the correct anchorite
thing, and can be done, my father will be glad to requite you for this
night’s hospitality. But don’t do anything on my account that interferes
with your simple habits. Good by.”

She handed him a card, which he took mechanically.

“Good by.”

The sail was hoisted, and the boat shoved off. As the fresh morning
breeze caught the white canvas it seemed to bow a parting salutation.
There was a rosy flash of promise on the water, and as the light craft
darted forward toward the ascending sun, it seemed for a moment uplifted
in its glory.


Miss Portfire kept her word. If thoughtful care and intelligent kindness
could regenerate the Princess, her future was secure. And it really
seemed as if she were for the first time inclined to heed the lessons
of civilization and profit by her new condition. An agreeable change was
first noticed in her appearance. Her lawless hair was caught in a net,
and no longer strayed over her low forehead. Her unstable bust was
stayed and upheld by French corsets; her plantigrade shuffle was limited
by heeled boots. Her dresses were neat and clean, and she wore a double
necklace of glass beads. With this physical improvement there also
seemed some moral awakening. She no longer stole nor lied. With the
possession of personal property came a respect for that of others. With
increased dependence on the word of those about her came a thoughtful
consideration of her own. Intellectually she was still feeble, although
she grappled sturdily with the simple lessons which Miss Portfire set
before her. But her zeal and simple vanity outran her discretion, and
she would often sit for hours with an open book before her, which she
could not read. She was a favorite with the officers at the fort, from
the Major, who shared his daughter’s prejudices and often yielded to her
powerful self-will, to the subalterns, who liked her none the less that
their natural enemies, the frontier volunteers, had declared war
against her helpless sisterhood. The only restraint put upon her was the
limitation of her liberty to the enclosure of the fort and parade; and
only once did she break this parole, and was stopped by the sentry as
she stepped into a boat at the landing.

The recluse did not avail himself of Miss Portfire’s invitation. But
after the departure of the Princess he spent less of his time in the
hut, and was more frequently seen in the distant marshes of Eel River
and on the upland hills. A feverish restlessness, quite opposed to his
usual phlegm, led him into singular freaks strangely inconsistent with
his usual habits and reputation. The purser of the occasional steamer
which stopped at Logport with the mails reported to have been boarded,
just inside the bar, by a strange bearded man, who asked for a newspaper
containing the last war telegrams. He tore his red shirt into narrow
strips, and spent two days with his needle over the pieces and the
tattered remnant of his only white garment; and a few days afterward
the fishermen on the bay were surprised to see what, on nearer approach,
proved to be a rude imitation of the national flag floating from a spar
above the hut.

One evening, as the fog began to drift over the sand-hills, the recluse
sat alone in his hut. The fire was dying unheeded on the hearth, for
he had been sitting there for a long time, completely absorbed in the
blurred pages of an old newspaper. Presently he arose, and, refolding
it,--an operation of great care and delicacy in its tattered
condition,--placed it under the blankets of his bed. He resumed his seat
by the fire, but soon began drumming with his fingers on the arm of his
chair. Eventually this assumed the time and accent of some air. Then
he began to whistle softly and hesitatingly, as if trying to recall
a forgotten tune. Finally this took shape in a rude resemblance, not
unlike that which his flag bore to the national standard, to Yankee
Doodle. Suddenly he stopped.

There was an unmistakable rapping at the door. The blood which had at
first rushed to his face now forsook it and settled slowly around his
heart. He tried to rise, but could not. Then the door was flung open,
and a figure with a scarlet-lined hood and fur mantle stood on the
threshold. With a mighty effort he took one stride to the door. The next
moment he saw the wide mouth and white teeth of the Princess, and was
greeted by a kiss that felt like a baptism.

To tear the hood and mantle from her figure in the sudden fury that
seized him, and to fiercely demand the reason of this masquerade, was
his only return to her greeting. “Why are you here? did you steal these
garments?” he again demanded in her guttural language, as he shook her
roughly by the arm. The Princess hung her head. “Did you?” he screamed,
as he reached wildly for his rifle.

“I did?”

His hold relaxed, and he staggered back against the wall. The Princess
began to whimper. Between her sobs, she was trying to explain that the
Major and his daughter were going away, and that they wanted to send her
to the Reservation; but he cut her short. “Take off those things!” The
Princess tremblingly obeyed. He rolled them up, placed them in the canoe
she had just left, and then leaped into the frail craft. She would have
followed, but with a great oath he threw her from him, and with one
stroke of his paddle swept out into the fog, and was gone.

“Jessamy,” said the Major, a few days after, as he sat at dinner with
his daughter, “I think I can tell you something to match the mysterious
disappearance and return of your wardrobe. Your crazy friend, the
recluse, has enlisted this morning in the Fourth Artillery. He’s a
splendid-looking animal, and there’s the right stuff for a soldier in
him, if I’m not mistaken. He’s in earnest too, for he enlists in the
regiment ordered back to Washington. Bless me, child, another goblet
broken; you’ll ruin the mess in glassware, at this rate!”

“Have you heard anything more of the Princess, papa?”

“Nothing, but perhaps it’s as well that she has gone. These cursed
settlers are at their old complaints again about what they call ‘Indian
depredations,’ and I have just received orders from head-quarters to
keep the settlement clear of all vagabond aborigines. I am afraid,
my dear, that a strict construction of the term would include your
protegee.”

The time for the departure of the Fourth Artillery had come. The night
before was thick and foggy. At one o’clock, a shot on the ramparts
called out the guard and roused the sleeping garrison. The new sentry,
Private Grey, had challenged a dusky figure creeping on the glacis, and,
receiving no answer, had fired. The guard sent out presently returned,
bearing a lifeless figure in their arms. The new sentry’s zeal, joined
with an ex-frontiersman’s aim, was fatal.

They laid the helpless, ragged form before the guard-house door, and
then saw for the first time that it was the Princess. Presently she
opened her eyes. They fell upon the agonized face of her innocent
slayer, but haply without intelligence or reproach.

“Georgy!” she whispered.

“Bob!”

“All’s same now. Me get plenty well soon. Me make no more fuss. Me go to
Reservation.”

Then she stopped, a tremor ran through her limbs, and she lay still. She
had gone to the Reservation. Not that devised by the wisdom of man, but
that one set apart from the foundation of the world for the wisest as
well as the meanest of His creatures.



THE ILIAD OF SANDY BAR.


Before nine o’clock it was pretty well known all along the river that
the two partners of the “Amity Claim” had quarrelled and separated at
daybreak. At that time the attention of their nearest neighbor had
been attracted by the sounds of altercations and two consecutive
pistol-shots. Running out, he had seen, dimly, in the gray mist that
rose from the river, the tall form of Scott, one of the partners,
descending the hill toward the canyon; a moment later, York, the
other partner, had appeared from the cabin, and walked in an opposite
direction toward the river, passing within a few feet of the curious
watcher. Later it was discovered that a serious Chinaman, cutting
wood before the cabin, had witnessed part of the quarrel. But John was
stolid, indifferent, and reticent. “Me choppee wood, me no fightee,”
 was his serene response to all anxious queries. “But what did they SAY,
John?” John did not sabe. Colonel Starbottle deftly ran over the various
popular epithets which a generous public sentiment might accept as
reasonable provocation for an assault. But John did not recognize them.
“And this yer’s the cattle,” said the Colonel, with some severity, “that
some thinks oughter be allowed to testify ag’in’ a White Man! Git--you
heathen!”

Still the quarrel remained inexplicable. That two men, whose amiability
and grave tact had earned for them the title of “The Peacemakers,” in
a community not greatly given to the passive virtues,--that these men,
singularly devoted to each other, should suddenly and violently
quarrel, might well excite the curiosity of the camp. A few of the more
inquisitive visited the late scene of conflict, now deserted by its
former occupants. There was no trace of disorder or confusion in the
neat cabin. The rude table was arranged as if for breakfast; the pan of
yellow biscuit still sat upon that hearth whose dead embers might have
typified the evil passions that had raged there but an hour before. But
Colonel Starbottle’s eye--albeit somewhat bloodshot and rheumy--was more
intent on practical details. On examination, a bullet-hole was found in
the doorpost, and another, nearly opposite, in the casing of the window.
The Colonel called attention to the fact that the one “agreed with” the
bore of Scott’s revolver, and the other with that of York’s derringer.
“They must hev stood about yer,” said the Colonel, taking position; “not
mor’n three feet apart, and--missed!” There was a fine touch of pathos
in the falling inflection of the Colonel’s voice, which was not without
effect. A delicate perception of wasted opportunity thrilled his
auditors.

But the Bar was destined to experience a greater disappointment. The two
antagonists had not met since the quarrel, and it was vaguely rumored
that, on the occasion of a second meeting, each had determined to kill
the other “on sight.” There was, consequently, some excitement--and,
it is to be feared, no little gratification--when, at ten o’clock, York
stepped from the Magnolia Saloon into the one long straggling street of
the camp, at the same moment that Scott left the blacksmith’s shop at
the forks of the road. It was evident, at a glance, that a meeting could
only be avoided by the actual retreat of one or the other.

In an instant the doors and windows of the adjacent saloons were filled
with faces. Heads unaccountably appeared above the river-banks and from
behind bowlders. An empty wagon at the cross-road was suddenly crowded
with people, who seemed to have sprung from the earth. There was much
running and confusion on the hillside. On the mountain-road, Mr. Jack
Hamlin had reined up his horse, and was standing upright on the seat of
his buggy. And the two objects of this absorbing attention approached
each other.

“York’s got the sun,” “Scott’ll line him on that tree,” “He’s waitin’
to draw his fire,” came from the cart; and then it was silent. But
above this human breathlessness the river rushed and sang, and the
wind rustled the tree-tops with an indifference that seemed obtrusive.
Colonel Starbottle felt it, and in a moment of sublime preoccupation,
without looking around, waved his cane behind him, warningly to all
nature, and said, “Shu!”

The men were now within a few feet of each other. A hen ran across the
road before one of them. A feathery seed-vessel, wafted from a wayside
tree, fell at the feet of the other. And, unheeding this irony of
nature, the two opponents came nearer, erect and rigid, looked in each
other’s eyes, and--passed!

Colonel Starbottle had to be lifted from the cart. “This yer camp is
played out,” he said, gloomily, as he affected to be supported into
the Magnolia. With what further expression he might have indicated his
feelings it was impossible to say, for at that moment Scott joined the
group. “Did you speak to me?” he asked of the Colonel, dropping his
hand, as if with accidental familiarity, on that gentleman’s shoulder.
The Colonel, recognizing some occult quality in the touch, and some
unknown quantity in the glance of his questioner, contented himself by
replying, “No, sir,” with dignity. A few rods away, York’s conduct
was as characteristic and peculiar. “You had a mighty fine chance; why
didn’t you plump him?” said Jack Hamlin, as York drew near the buggy.
“Because I hate him,” was the reply, heard only by Jack. Contrary
to popular belief, this reply was not hissed between the lips of the
speaker, but was said in an ordinary tone. But Jack Hamlin, who was an
observer of mankind, noticed that the speaker’s hands were cold, and
his lips dry, as he helped him into the buggy, and accepted the seeming
paradox with a smile.


When Sandy Bar became convinced that the quarrel between York and Scott
could not be settled after the usual local methods, it gave no further
concern thereto. But presently it was rumored that the “Amity Claim” was
in litigation, and that its possession would be expensively disputed by
each of the partners. As it was well known that the claim in question
was “worked out” and worthless, and that the partners, whom it had
already enriched, had talked of abandoning it but a day or two before
the quarrel, this proceeding could only be accounted for as gratuitous
spite. Later, two San Francisco lawyers made their appearance in this
guileless Arcadia, and were eventually taken into the saloons, and--what
was pretty much the same thing--the confidences of the inhabitants. The
results of this unhallowed intimacy were many subpoenas; and, indeed,
when the “Amity Claim” came to trial, all of Sandy Bar that was not in
compulsory attendance at the county seat came there from curiosity. The
gulches and ditches for miles around were deserted. I do not propose to
describe that already famous trial. Enough that, in the language of the
plaintiff’s counsel, “it was one of no ordinary significance, involving
the inherent rights of that untiring industry which had developed the
Pactolian resources of this golden land”; and, in the homelier phrase
of Colonel Starbottle, “A fuss that gentlemen might hev settled in ten
minutes over a social glass, ef they meant business; or in ten seconds
with a revolver, ef they meant fun.” Scott got a verdict, from which
York instantly appealed. It was said that he had sworn to spend his last
dollar in the struggle.

In this way Sandy Bar began to accept the enmity of the former partners
as a lifelong feud, and the fact that they had ever been friends was
forgotten. The few who expected to learn from the trial the origin of
the quarrel were disappointed. Among the various conjectures, that
which ascribed some occult feminine influence as the cause was naturally
popular, in a camp given to dubious compliment of the sex. “My word
for it, gentlemen,” said Colonel Starbottle, who had been known in
Sacramento as a Gentleman of the Old School, “there’s some lovely
creature at the bottom of this.” The gallant Colonel then proceeded to
illustrate his theory, by divers sprightly stories, such as Gentlemen of
the Old School are in the habit of repeating, but which, from deference
to the prejudices of gentlemen of a more recent school, I refrain from
transcribing here. But it would appear that even the Colonel’s theory
was fallacious. The only woman who personally might have exercised
any influence over the partners was the pretty daughter of “old man
Folinsbee,” of Poverty Flat, at whose hospitable house--which exhibited
some comforts and refinements rare in that crude civilization--both York
and Scott were frequent visitors. Yet into this charming retreat York
strode one evening, a month after the quarrel, and, beholding Scott
sitting there, turned to the fair hostess with the abrupt query, “Do you
love this man?” The young woman thus addressed returned that answer--at
once spirited and evasive--which would occur to most of my fair readers
in such an exigency. Without another word, York left the house. “Miss
Jo” heaved the least possible sigh as the door closed on York’s curls
and square shoulders, and then, like a good girl, turned to her insulted
guest “But would you believe it, dear?” she afterward related to an
intimate friend, “the other creature, after glowering at me for a
moment, got upon its hind legs, took its hat, and left, too; and that’s
the last I’ve seen of either.”

The same hard disregard of all other interests or feelings in the
gratification of their blind rancor characterized all their actions.
When York purchased the land below Scott’s new claim, and obliged the
latter, at a great expense, to make a long detour to carry a “tail-race”
 around it, Scott retaliated by building a dam that overflowed York’s
claim on the river. It was Scott, who, in conjunction with Colonel
Starbottle, first organized that active opposition to the Chinamen,
which resulted in the driving off of York’s Mongolian laborers; it was
York who built the wagon-road and established the express which rendered
Scott’s mules and pack-trains obsolete; it was Scott who called into
life the Vigilance Committee which expatriated York’s friend,
Jack Hamlin; it was York who created the “Sandy Bar Herald,” which
characterized the act as “a lawless outrage,” and Scott as a “Border
Ruffian”; it was Scott, at the head of twenty masked men, who, one
moonlight night, threw the offending “forms” into the yellow river, and
scattered the types in the dusty road. These proceedings were received
in the distant and more civilized outlying towns as vague indications
of progress and vitality. I have before me a copy of the “Poverty Flat
Pioneer,” for the week ending August 12, 1856, in which the editor,
under the head of “County Improvements,” says: “The new Presbyterian
Church on C Street, at Sandy Bar, is completed. It stands upon the lot
formerly occupied by the Magnolia Saloon, which was so mysteriously
burnt last month. The temple, which now rises like a Phoenix from the
ashes of the Magnolia, is virtually the free gift of H. J. York, Esq.,
of Sandy Bar, who purchased the lot and donated the lumber. Other
buildings are going up in the vicinity, but the most noticeable is the
‘Sunny South Saloon,’ erected by Captain Mat. Scott, nearly opposite the
church. Captain Scott has spared no expense in the furnishing of this
saloon, which promises to be one of the most agreeable places of
resort in old Tuolumne. He has recently imported two new, first-class
billiard-tables, with cork cushions. Our old friend, ‘Mountain
Jimmy,’ will dispense liquors at the bar. We refer our readers to the
advertisement in another column. Visitors to Sandy Bar cannot do better
than give ‘Jimmy’ a call.” Among the local items occurred the following:
“H. J. York, Esq., of Sandy Bar, has offered a reward of $100 for
the detection of the parties who hauled away the steps of the new
Presbyterian Church, C Street, Sandy Bar, during divine service on
Sabbath evening last. Captain Scott adds another hundred for the capture
of the miscreants who broke the magnificent plate-glass windows of the
new saloon on the following evening. There is some talk of reorganizing
the old Vigilance Committee at Sandy Bar.”

When, for many months of cloudless weather, the hard, unwinking sun of
Sandy Bar had regularly gone down on the unpacified wrath of these
men, there was some talk of mediation. In particular, the pastor of the
church to which I have just referred--a sincere, fearless, but perhaps
not fully enlightened man--seized gladly upon the occasion of York’s
liberality to attempt to reunite the former partners. He preached an
earnest sermon on the abstract sinfulness of discord and rancor. But
the excellent sermons of the Rev. Mr. Daws were directed to an ideal
congregation that did not exist at Sandy Bar,--a congregation of beings
of unmixed vices and virtues, of single impulses, and perfectly logical
motives, of preternatural simplicity, of childlike faith, and grown-up
responsibilities. As, unfortunately, the people who actually attended
Mr. Daws’s church were mainly very human, somewhat artful, more
self-excusing than self-accusing, rather good-natured, and decidedly
weak, they quietly shed that portion of the sermon which referred to
themselves, and, accepting York and Scott--who were both in defiant
attendance--as curious examples of those ideal beings above referred
to, felt a certain satisfaction--which, I fear, was not altogether
Christian-like--in their “raking-down.” If Mr. Daws expected York and
Scott to shake hands after the sermon, he was disappointed. But he did
not relax his purpose. With that quiet fearlessness and determination
which had won for him the respect of men who were too apt to regard
piety as synonymous with effeminacy, he attacked Scott in his own house.
What he said has not been recorded, but it is to be feared that it was
part of his sermon. When he had concluded, Scott looked at him, not
unkindly, over the glasses of his bar, and said, less irreverently than
the words might convey, “Young man, I rather like your style; but when
you know York and me as well as you do God Almighty, it’ll be time to
talk.”

And so the feud progressed; and so, as in more illustrious examples, the
private and personal enmity of two representative men led gradually to
the evolution of some crude, half-expressed principle or belief. It was
not long before it was made evident that those beliefs were identical
with certain broad principles laid down by the founders of the American
Constitution, as expounded by the statesmanlike A; or were the fatal
quicksands, on which the ship of state might be wrecked, warningly
pointed out by the eloquent B. The practical result of all which was the
nomination of York and Scott to represent the opposite factions of Sandy
Bar in legislative councils.

For some weeks past, the voters of Sandy Bar and the adjacent camps had
been called upon, in large type, to “RALLY!” In vain the great pines
at the cross-roads--whose trunks were compelled to bear this and other
legends--moaned and protested from their windy watch-towers. But one
day, with fife and drum, and flaming transparency, a procession filed
into the triangular grove at the head of the gulch. The meeting
was called to order by Colonel Starbottle, who, having once enjoyed
legislative functions, and being vaguely known as a “war-horse,” was
considered to be a valuable partisan of York. He concluded an appeal for
his friend, with an enunciation of principles, interspersed with one or
two anecdotes so gratuitously coarse that the very pines might have been
moved to pelt him with their cast-off cones, as he stood there. But he
created a laugh, on which his candidate rode into popular notice; and
when York rose to speak, he was greeted with cheers. But, to the general
astonishment, the new speaker at once launched into bitter denunciation
of his rival. He not only dwelt upon Scott’s deeds and example, as known
to Sandy Bar, but spoke of facts connected with his previous career,
hitherto unknown to his auditors. To great precision of epithet and
directness of statement, the speaker added the fascination of revelation
and exposure. The crowd cheered, yelled, and were delighted, but when
this astounding philippic was concluded, there was a unanimous call
for “Scott!” Colonel Starbottle would have resisted this manifest
impropriety, but in vain. Partly from a crude sense of justice, partly
from a meaner craving for excitement, the assemblage was inflexible; and
Scott was dragged, pushed, and pulled upon the platform.

As his frowsy head and unkempt beard appeared above the railing, it was
evident that he was drunk. But it was also evident, before he opened his
lips, that the orator of Sandy Bar--the one man who could touch their
vagabond sympathies (perhaps because he was not above appealing to
them)--stood before them. A consciousness of this power lent a certain
dignity to his figure, and I am not sure but that his very physical
condition impressed them as a kind of regal unbending and large
condescension. Howbeit, when this unexpected Hector arose from the
ditch, York’s myrmidons trembled.

“There’s naught, gentlemen,” said Scott, leaning forward on the
railing,--“there’s naught as that man hez said as isn’t true. I was run
outer Cairo; I did belong to the Regulators; I did desert from the army;
I did leave a wife in Kansas. But thar’s one thing he didn’t charge me
with, and, maybe, he’s forgotten. For three years, gentlemen, I was
that man’s pardner!--” Whether he intended to say more, I cannot tell;
a burst of applause artistically rounded and enforced the climax, and
virtually elected the speaker. That fall he went to Sacramento, York
went abroad; and for the first time in many years, distance and a new
atmosphere isolated the old antagonists.


With little of change in the green wood, gray rock, and yellow river,
but with much shifting of human landmarks, and new faces in its
habitations, three years passed over Sandy Bar. The two men, once so
identified with its character, seemed to have been quite forgotten.
“You will never return to Sandy Bar,” said Miss Folinsbee, the “Lily of
Poverty Flat,” on meeting York in Paris, “for Sandy Bar is no more.
They call it Riverside now; and the new town is built higher up on the
river-bank. By the by, ‘Jo’ says that Scott has won his suit about the
‘Amity Claim,’ and that he lives in the old cabin, and is drunk half his
time. O, I beg your pardon,” added the lively lady, as a flush crossed
York’s sallow cheek; “but, bless me, I really thought that old grudge
was made up. I’m sure it ought to be.”

It was three months after this conversation, and a pleasant summer
evening, that the Poverty Flat coach drew up before the veranda of the
Union Hotel at Sandy Bar. Among its passengers was one, apparently a
stranger, in the local distinction of well-fitting clothes and closely
shaven face, who demanded a private room and retired early to rest. But
before sunrise next morning he arose, and, drawing some clothes from his
carpet-bag, proceeded to array himself in a pair of white duck trousers,
a white duck overshirt, and straw hat. When his toilet was completed, he
tied a red bandanna handkerchief in a loop and threw it loosely over his
shoulders. The transformation was complete. As he crept softly down the
stairs and stepped into the road, no one would have detected in him the
elegant stranger of the previous night, and but few have recognized the
face and figure of Henry York of Sandy Bar.

In the uncertain light of that early hour, and in the change that had
come over the settlement, he had to pause for a moment to recall where
he stood. The Sandy Bar of his recollection lay below him, nearer the
river; the buildings around him were of later date and newer fashion.
As he strode toward the river, he noticed here a schoolhouse and there a
church. A little farther on, “The Sunny South” came in view, transformed
into a restaurant, its gilding faded and its paint rubbed off. He now
knew where he was; and, running briskly down a declivity, crossed a
ditch, and stood upon the lower boundary of the Amity Claim.

The gray mist was rising slowly from the river, clinging to the
tree-tops and drifting up the mountain-side, until it was caught among
those rocky altars, and held a sacrifice to the ascending sun. At his
feet the earth, cruelly gashed and scarred by his forgotten engines,
had, since the old days, put on a show of greenness here and there, and
now smiled forgivingly up at him, as if things were not so bad after
all. A few birds were bathing in the ditch with a pleasant suggestion of
its being a new and special provision of nature, and a hare ran into an
inverted sluice-box, as he approached, as if it were put there for that
purpose.

He had not yet dared to look in a certain direction. But the sun was now
high enough to paint the little eminence on which the cabin stood. In
spite of his self-control, his heart beat faster as he raised his eyes
toward it. Its window and door were closed, no smoke came from its adobe
chimney, but it was else unchanged. When within a few yards of it, he
picked up a broken shovel, and, shouldering it with a smile, strode
toward the door and knocked. There was no sound from within. The smile
died upon his lips as he nervously pushed the door open.

A figure started up angrily and came toward him,--a figure whose
bloodshot eyes suddenly fixed into a vacant stare, whose arms were
at first outstretched and then thrown up in warning gesticulation,--a
figure that suddenly gasped, choked, and then fell forward in a fit.

But before he touched the ground, York had him out into the open air and
sunshine. In the struggle, both fell and rolled over on the ground. But
the next moment York was sitting up, holding the convulsed frame of his
former partner on his knee, and wiping the foam from his inarticulate
lips. Gradually the tremor became less frequent, and then ceased; and
the strong man lay unconscious in his arms.

For some moments York held him quietly thus, looking in his face. Afar,
the stroke of a wood-man’s axe--a mere phantom of sound--was all
that broke the stillness. High up the mountain, a wheeling hawk hung
breathlessly above them. And then came voices, and two men joined them.

“A fight?” No, a fit; and would they help him bring the sick man to the
hotel?

And there, for a week, the stricken partner lay, unconscious of aught
but the visions wrought by disease and fear. On the eighth day, at
sunrise, he rallied, and, opening his eyes, looked upon York, and
pressed his hand; then he spoke:--

“And it’s you. I thought it was only whiskey.”

York replied by taking both of his hands, boyishly working them backward
and forward, as his elbow rested on the bed, with a pleasant smile.

“And you’ve been abroad. How did you like Paris?”

“So, so. How did YOU like Sacramento?”

“Bully.”

And that was all they could think to say. Presently Scott opened his
eyes again.

“I’m mighty weak.”

“You’ll get better soon.”

“Not much.”

A long silence followed, in which they could hear the sounds of
wood-chopping, and that Sandy Bar was already astir for the coming
day. Then Scott slowly and with difficulty turned his face to York, and
said,--

“I might hev killed you once.”

“I wish you had.”

They pressed each other’s hands again, but Scott’s grasp was evidently
failing. He seemed to summon his energies for a special effort.

“Old man!”

“Old chap.”

“Closer!”

York bent his head toward the slowly fading face.

“Do ye mind that morning?”

“Yes.”

A gleam of fun slid into the corner of Scott’s blue eye, as he
whispered,--

“Old man, thar WAS too much saleratus in that bread.”

It is said that these were his last words. For when the sun, which had
so often gone down upon the idle wrath of these foolish men, looked
again upon them reunited, it saw the hand of Scott fall cold and
irresponsive from the yearning clasp of his former partner, and it knew
that the feud of Sandy Bar was at an end.



MR THOMPSON’S PRODIGAL


We all knew that Mr. Thompson was looking for his son, and a pretty bad
one at that. That he was coming to California for this sole object was
no secret to his fellow-passengers; and the physical peculiarities, as
well as the moral weaknesses, of the missing prodigal were made equally
plain to us through the frank volubility of the parent. “You was
speaking of a young man which was hung at Red Dog for sluice-robbing,”
 said Mr. Thompson to a steerage passenger, one day; “be you aware of
the color of his eyes?” “Black,” responded the passenger. “Ah,” said
Mr. Thompson, referring to some mental memoranda, “Char-les’s eyes was
blue.” He then walked away. Perhaps it was from this unsympathetic mode
of inquiry, perhaps it was from that Western predilection to take a
humorous view of any principle or sentiment persistently brought before
them, that Mr. Thompson’s quest was the subject of some satire among the
passengers. A gratuitous advertisement of the missing Charles, addressed
to “Jailers and Guardians,” circulated privately among them; everybody
remembered to have met Charles under distressing circumstances. Yet
it is but due to my countrymen to state that when it was known that
Thompson had embarked some wealth in this visionary project, but little
of this satire found its way to his ears, and nothing was uttered in
his hearing that might bring a pang to a father’s heart, or imperil
a possible pecuniary advantage of the satirist. Indeed, Mr. Bracy
Tibbets’s jocular proposition to form a joint-stock company to
“prospect” for the missing youth received at one time quite serious
entertainment.

Perhaps to superficial criticism Mr. Thompson’s nature was not
picturesque nor lovable. His history, as imparted at dinner, one day, by
himself, was practical even in its singularity. After a hard and wilful
youth and maturity,--in which he had buried a broken-spirited wife, and
driven his son to sea,--he suddenly experienced religion. “I got it in
New Orleans in ‘59,” said Mr. Thompson, with the general suggestion
of referring to an epidemic. “Enter ye the narrer gate. Parse me the
beans.” Perhaps this practical quality upheld him in his apparently
hopeless search. He had no clew to the whereabouts of his runaway son;
indeed, scarcely a proof of his present existence. From his indifferent
recollection of the boy of twelve, he now expected to identify the man
of twenty-five.

It would seem that he was successful. How he succeeded was one of the
few things he did not tell. There are, I believe, two versions of the
story. One, that Mr. Thompson, visiting a hospital, discovered his son
by reason of a peculiar hymn, chanted by the sufferer, in a delirious
dream of his boyhood. This version, giving as it did wide range to the
finer feelings of the heart, was quite popular; and as told by the Rev.
Mr. Gushington, on his return from his California tour, never failed to
satisfy an audience. The other was less simple, and, as I shall adopt it
here, deserves more elaboration.

It was after Mr. Thompson had given up searching for his son among the
living, and had taken to the examination of cemeteries, and a careful
inspection of the “cold hic jacets of the dead.” At this time he was a
frequent visitor of “Lone Mountain,”--a dreary hill-top, bleak enough in
its original isolation, and bleaker for the white-faced marbles by which
San Francisco anchored her departed citizens, and kept them down in
a shifting sand that refused to cover them, and against a fierce and
persistent wind that strove to blow them utterly away. Against this wind
the old man opposed a will quite as persistent,--a grizzled, hard face,
and a tall, crape-bound hat drawn tightly over his eyes,--and so spent
days in reading the mortuary inscriptions audibly to himself. The
frequency of Scriptural quotation pleased him, and he was fond of
corroborating them by a pocket Bible. “That’s from Psalms,” he said,
one day, to an adjacent grave-digger. The man made no reply. Not at all
rebuffed, Mr. Thompson at once slid down into the open grave, with a
more practical inquiry, “Did you ever, in your profession, come across
Char-les Thompson?” “Thompson be d----d!” said the grave-digger,
with great directness. “Which, if he hadn’t religion, I think he is,”
 responded the old man, as he clambered out of the grave.

It was, perhaps, on this occasion that Mr. Thompson stayed later than
usual. As he turned his face toward the city, lights were beginning
to twinkle ahead, and a fierce wind, made visible by fog, drove him
forward, or, lying in wait, charged him angrily from the corners of
deserted suburban streets. It was on one of these corners that something
else, quite as indistinct and malevolent, leaped upon him with an oath,
a presented pistol, and a demand for money. But it was met by a will of
iron and a grip of steel. The assailant and assailed rolled together on
the ground. But the next moment the old man was erect; one hand grasping
the captured pistol, the other clutching at arm’s length the throat of a
figure, surly, youthful, and savage.

“Young man,” said Mr. Thompson, setting his thin lips together, “what
might be your name?”

“Thompson!”

The old man’s hand slid from the throat to the arm of his prisoner,
without relaxing its firmness.

“Char-les Thompson, come with me,” he said, presently, and marched his
captive to the hotel. What took place there has not transpired, but it
was known the next morning that Mr. Thompson had found his son.


It is proper to add to the above improbable story, that there was
nothing in the young man’s appearance or manners to justify it. Grave,
reticent, and handsome, devoted to his newly found parent, he assumed
the emoluments and responsibilities of his new condition with a certain
serious ease that more nearly approached that which San Francisco
society lacked, and--rejected. Some chose to despise this quality as a
tendency to “psalm-singing”; others saw in it the inherited qualities
of the parent, and were ready to prophesy for the son the same hard
old age. But all agreed that it was not inconsistent with the habits of
money-getting, for which father and son were respected.

And yet, the old man did not seem to be happy. Perhaps it was that
the consummation of his wishes left him without a practical mission;
perhaps--and it is the more probable--he had little love for the son he
had regained. The obedience he exacted was freely given, the reform he
had set his heart upon was complete; and yet, somehow, it did not
seem to please him. In reclaiming his son, he had fulfilled all the
requirements that his religious duty required of him, and yet the act
seemed to lack sanctification. In this perplexity, he read again the
parable of the Prodigal Son,--which he had long ago adopted for
his guidance,--and found that he had omitted the final feast
of reconciliation. This seemed to offer the proper quality of
ceremoniousness in the sacrament between himself and his son; and so, a
year after the appearance of Charles, he set about giving him a party.
“Invite everybody, Char-les,” he said, dryly; “everybody who knows that
I brought you out of the wine-husks of iniquity, and the company of
harlots; and bid them eat, drink, and be merry.”

Perhaps the old man had another reason, not yet clearly analyzed. The
fine house he had built on the sand-hills sometimes seemed lonely and
bare. He often found himself trying to reconstruct, from the grave
features of Charles, the little boy whom he but dimly remembered in the
past, and of whom lately he had been thinking a great deal. He believed
this to be a sign of impending old age and childishness; but coming, one
day, in his formal drawing-room, upon a child of one of the servants,
who had strayed therein, he would have taken him in his arms, but the
child fled from before his grizzled face. So that it seemed eminently
proper to invite a number of people to his house, and, from the array
of San Francisco maidenhood, to select a daughter-in-law. And then there
would be a child--a boy, whom he could “rare up” from the beginning,
and--love--as he did not love Charles.

We were all at the party. The Smiths, Joneses, Browns, and Robinsons
also came, in that fine flow of animal spirits, unchecked by any respect
for the entertainer, which most of us are apt to find so fascinating.
The proceedings would have been somewhat riotous, but for the social
position of the actors. In fact, Mr. Bracy Tibbets, having naturally a
fine appreciation of a humorous situation, but further impelled by the
bright eyes of the Jones girls, conducted himself so remarkably as to
attract the serious regard of Mr. Charles Thompson, who approached him,
saying quietly: “You look ill, Mr. Tibbets; let me conduct you to your
carriage. Resist, you hound, and I’ll throw you through that window.
This way, please; the room is close and distressing.” It is hardly
necessary to say that but a part of this speech was audible to the
company, and that the rest was not divulged by Mr. Tibbets, who
afterward regretted the sudden illness which kept him from witnessing a
certain amusing incident, which the fastest Miss Jones characterized as
the “richest part of the blow-out,” and which I hasten to record.

It was at supper. It was evident that Mr. Thompson had overlooked
much lawlessness in the conduct of the younger people, in his abstract
contemplation of some impending event. When the cloth was removed, he
rose to his feet, and grimly tapped upon the table. A titter, that broke
out among the Jones girls, became epidemic on one side of the board.
Charles Thompson, from the foot of the table, looked up in tender
perplexity. “He’s going to sing a Doxology,” “He’s going to pray,”
 “Silence for a speech,” ran round the room.

“It’s one year to-day, Christian brothers and sisters,” said Mr.
Thompson, with grim deliberation,--“one year to-day since my son
came home from eating of wine-husks and spending of his substance on
harlots.” (The tittering suddenly ceased.) “Look at him now. Char-les
Thompson, stand up.” (Charles Thompson stood up.) “One year ago
to-day,--and look at him now.”

He was certainly a handsome prodigal, standing there in his cheerful
evening-dress,--a repentant prodigal, with sad, obedient eyes turned
upon the harsh and unsympathetic glance of his father. The youngest
Miss Smith, from the pure depths of her foolish little heart, moved
unconsciously toward him.

“It’s fifteen years ago since he left my house,” said Mr. Thompson,
“a rovier and a prodigal. I was myself a man of sin, O Christian
friends,--a man of wrath and bitterness” (“Amen,” from the eldest Miss
Smith),--“but praise be God, I’ve fled the wrath to come. It’s five
years ago since I got the peace that passeth understanding. Have you got
it, friends?” (A general sub-chorus of “No, no,” from the girls,
and, “Pass the word for it,” from Midshipman Coxe, of the U. S. sloop
Wethersfield.) “Knock, and it shall be opened to you.

“And when I found the error of my ways, and the preciousness of grace,”
 continued Mr. Thompson, “I came to give it to my son. By sea and land I
sought him far, and fainted not. I did not wait for him to come to me,
which the same I might have done, and justified myself by the Book of
books, but I sought him out among his husks, and--” (the rest of the
sentence was lost in the rustling withdrawal of the ladies). “Works,
Christian friends, is my motto. By their works shall ye know them, and
there is mine.”

The particular and accepted work to which Mr. Thompson was alluding had
turned quite pale, and was looking fixedly toward an open door leading
to the veranda, lately filled by gaping servants, and now the scene of
some vague tumult. As the noise continued, a man, shabbily dressed, and
evidently in liquor, broke through the opposing guardians, and staggered
into the room. The transition from the fog and darkness without to the
glare and heat within evidently dazzled and stupefied him. He removed
his battered hat, and passed it once or twice before his eyes, as he
steadied himself, but unsuccessfully, by the back of a chair. Suddenly,
his wandering glance fell upon the pale face of Charles Thompson; and
with a gleam of childlike recognition, and a weak, falsetto laugh, he
darted forward, caught at the table, upset the glasses, and literally
fell upon the prodigal’s breast.

“Sha’ly! yo’ d----d ol’ scoun’rel, hoo rar ye!”

“Hush--sit down!--hush!” said Charles Thompson, hurriedly endeavoring to
extricate himself from the embrace of his unexpected guest.

“Look at ‘m!” continued the stranger, unheeding the admonition, but
suddenly holding the unfortunate Charles at arm’s length, in loving and
undisguised admiration of his festive appearance. “Look at ‘m! Ain’t he
nasty? Sha’ls, I’m prow of yer!”

“Leave the house!” said Mr. Thompson, rising, with a dangerous look in
his cold, gray eye. “Char-les, how dare you?”

“Simmer down, ole man! Sha’ls, who’s th’ ol’ bloat? Eh?”

“Hush, man; here, take this!” With nervous hands, Charles Thompson
filled a glass with liquor. “Drink it and go--until to-morrow--any time,
but--leave us!--go now!” But even then, ere the miserable wretch could
drink, the old man, pale with passion, was upon him. Half carrying him
in his powerful arms, half dragging him through the circling crowd of
frightened guests, he had reached the door, swung open by the waiting
servants, when Charles Thompson started from a seeming stupor, crying,--

“Stop!”

The old man stopped. Through the open door the fog and wind drove
chilly. “What does this mean?” he asked, turning a baleful face on
Charles.

“Nothing--but stop--for God’s sake. Wait till to-morrow, but not
to-night. Do not--I implore you--do this thing.”

There was something in the tone of the young man’s voice, something,
perhaps, in the contact of the struggling wretch he held in his powerful
arms; but a dim, indefinite fear took possession of the old man’s heart.
“Who,” he whispered, hoarsely, “is this man?”

Charles did not answer.

“Stand back, there, all of you,” thundered Mr. Thompson, to the crowding
guests around him. “Char-les--come here! I command you--I--I--I--beg
you--tell me WHO is this man?”

Only two persons heard the answer that came faintly from the lips of
Charles Thompson,--

“YOUR SON.”


When day broke over the bleak sand-hills, the guests had departed from
Mr. Thompson’s banquet-halls. The lights still burned dimly and coldly
in the deserted rooms,--deserted by all but three figures, that huddled
together in the chill drawing-room, as if for warmth. One lay in drunken
slumber on a couch; at his feet sat he who had been known as Charles
Thompson; and beside them, haggard and shrunken to half his size, bowed
the figure of Mr. Thompson, his gray eye fixed, his elbows upon his
knees, and his hands clasped over his ears, as if to shut out the sad,
entreating voice that seemed to fill the room.

“God knows I did not set about to wilfully deceive. The name I gave that
night was the first that came into my thought,--the name of one whom
I thought dead,--the dissolute companion of my shame. And when you
questioned further, I used the knowledge that I gained from him to touch
your heart to set me free; only, I swear, for that! But when you told
me who you were, and I first saw the opening of another life before
me--then--then--O, sir, if I was hungry, homeless, and reckless, when
I would have robbed you of your gold, I was heart-sick, helpless, and
desperate, when I would have robbed you of your love!”

The old man stirred not. From his luxurious couch the newly found
prodigal snored peacefully.

“I had no father I could claim. I never knew a home but this. I was
tempted. I have been happy,--very happy.”

He rose and stood before the old man. “Do not fear that I shall come
between your son and his inheritance. To-day I leave this place, never
to return. The world is large, sir, and, thanks to your kindness, I now
see the way by which an honest livelihood is gained. Good by. You will
not take my hand? Well, well. Good by.”

He turned to go. But when he had reached the door he suddenly came back,
and, raising with both hands the grizzled head, he kissed it once and
twice.

“Char-les.”

There was no reply.

“Char-les!”

The old man rose with a frightened air, and tottered feebly to the door.
It was open. There came to him the awakened tumult of a great city, in
which the prodigal’s footsteps were lost forever.



THE ROMANCE OF MADRONO HOLLOW.


The latch on the garden gate of the Folinsbee Ranch clicked twice.
The gate itself was so much in shadow that lovely night, that “old man
Folinsbee,” sitting on his porch, could distinguish nothing but a tall
white hat and beside it a few fluttering ribbons, under the pines that
marked the entrance. Whether because of this fact, or that he considered
a sufficient time had elapsed since the clicking of the latch for more
positive disclosure, I do not know; but after a few moments’ hesitation
he quietly laid aside his pipe and walked slowly down the winding path
toward the gate. At the Ceanothus hedge he stopped and listened.

There was not much to hear. The hat was saying to the ribbons that it
was a fine night, and remarking generally upon the clear outline of the
Sierras against the blue-black sky. The ribbons, it so appeared, had
admired this all the way home, and asked the hat if it had ever seen
anything half so lovely as the moonlight on the summit. The hat never
had; it recalled some lovely nights in the South in Alabama (“in the
South in Ahlabahm” was the way the old man heard it), but then there
were other things that made this night seem so pleasant. The ribbons
could not possibly conceive what the hat could be thinking about. At
this point there was a pause, of which Mr. Folinsbee availed himself to
walk very grimly and craunchingly down the gravel-walk toward the
gate. Then the hat was lifted, and disappeared in the shadow, and Mr.
Folinsbee confronted only the half-foolish, half-mischievous, but wholly
pretty face of his daughter.

It was afterward known to Madrono Hollow that sharp words passed between
“Miss Jo” and the old man, and that the latter coupled the names of one
Culpepper Starbottle and his uncle, Colonel Starbottle, with certain
uncomplimentary epithets, and that Miss Jo retaliated sharply. “Her
father’s blood before her father’s face boiled up and proved her truly
of his race,” quoted the blacksmith, who leaned toward the noble verse
of Byron. “She saw the old man’s bluff and raised him,” was the directer
comment of the college-bred Masters.

Meanwhile the subject of these animadversions proceeded slowly along
the road to a point where the Folinsbee mansion came in view,--a long,
narrow, white building, unpretentious, yet superior to its neighbors,
and bearing some evidences of taste and refinement in the vines that
clambered over its porch, in its French windows, and the white muslin
curtains that kept out the fierce California sun by day, and were now
touched with silver in the gracious moonlight. Culpepper leaned against
the low fence, and gazed long and earnestly at the building. Then the
moonlight vanished ghostlike from one of the windows, a material glow
took its place, and a girlish figure, holding a candle, drew the white
curtains together. To Culpepper it was a vestal virgin standing before
a hallowed shrine; to the prosaic observer I fear it was only a
fair-haired young woman, whose wicked black eyes still shone with
unfilial warmth. Howbeit, when the figure had disappeared he stepped
out briskly into the moonlight of the high-road. Here he took off his
distinguishing hat to wipe his forehead, and the moon shone full upon
his face.

It was not an unprepossessing one, albeit a trifle too thin and lank and
bilious to be altogether pleasant. The cheek-bones were prominent,
and the black eyes sunken in their orbits. Straight black hair fell
slantwise off a high but narrow forehead, and swept part of a hollow
cheek. A long black mustache followed the perpendicular curves of his
mouth. It was on the whole a serious, even Quixotic face, but at
times it was relieved by a rare smile of such tender and even pathetic
sweetness, that Miss Jo is reported to have said that, if it would only
last through the ceremony, she would have married its possessor on the
spot. “I once told him so,” added that shameless young woman; “but the
man instantly fell into a settled melancholy, and hasn’t smiled since.”

A half-mile below the Folinsbee Ranch the white road dipped and was
crossed by a trail that ran through Madrono hollow. Perhaps because it
was a near cut-off to the settlement, perhaps from some less practical
reason, Culpepper took this trail, and in a few moments stood among the
rarely beautiful trees that gave their name to the valley. Even in that
uncertain light the weird beauty of these harlequin masqueraders was
apparent; their red trunks--a blush in the moonlight, a deep blood-stain
in the shadow--stood out against the silvery green foliage. It was as
if Nature in some gracious moment had here caught and crystallized the
gypsy memories of the transplanted Spaniard, to cheer him in his lonely
exile.

As Culpepper entered the grove he heard loud voices. As he turned toward
a clump of trees, a figure so bizarre and characteristic that it might
have been a resident Daphne--a figure over-dressed in crimson silk
and lace, with bare brown arms and shoulders, and a wreath of
honeysuckle--stepped out of the shadow. It was followed by a man.
Culpepper started. To come to the point briefly, he recognized in the
man the features of his respected uncle, Colonel Starbottle; in the
female, a lady who may be briefly described as one possessing absolutely
no claim to an introduction to the polite reader. To hurry over equally
unpleasant details, both were evidently under the influence of liquor.

From the excited conversation that ensued, Culpepper gathered that
some insult had been put upon the lady at a public ball which she had
attended that evening; that the Colonel, her escort, had failed to
resent it with the sanguinary completeness that she desired. I regret
that, even in a liberal age, I may not record the exact and even
picturesque language in which this was conveyed to her hearers. Enough
that at the close of a fiery peroration, with feminine inconsistency
she flew at the gallant Colonel, and would have visited her delayed
vengeance upon his luckless head, but for the prompt interference of
Culpepper. Thwarted in this, she threw herself upon the ground, and then
into unpicturesque hysterics. There was a fine moral lesson, not only in
this grotesque performance of a sex which cannot afford to be grotesque,
but in the ludicrous concern with which it inspired the two men.
Culpepper, to whom woman was more or less angelic, was pained and
sympathetic; the Colonel, to whom she was more or less improper, was
exceedingly terrified and embarrassed. Howbeit the storm was soon over,
and after Mistress Dolores had returned a little dagger to its sheath
(her garter), she quietly took herself out of Madrono Hollow, and
happily out of these pages forever. The two men, left to themselves,
conversed in low tones. Dawn stole upon them before they separated:
the Colonel quite sobered and in full possession of his usual jaunty
self-assertion; Culpepper with a baleful glow in his hollow cheek, and
in his dark eyes a rising fire.


The next morning the general ear of Madrono Hollow was filled with
rumors of the Colonel’s mishap. It was asserted that he had been invited
to withdraw his female companion from the floor of the Assembly Ball
at the Independence Hotel, and that, failing to do this, both were
expelled. It is to be regretted that in 1854 public opinion was divided
in regard to the propriety of this step, and that there was some
discussion as to the comparative virtue of the ladies who were not
expelled; but it was generally conceded that the real casus belli was
political. “Is this a dashed Puritan meeting?” had asked the
Colonel, savagely. “It’s no Pike County shindig,” had responded the
floor-manager, cheerfully. “You’re a Yank!” had screamed the Colonel,
profanely qualifying the noun. “Get! you border ruffian,” was the reply.
Such at least was the substance of the reports. As, at that sincere
epoch, expressions like the above were usually followed by prompt
action, a fracas was confidently looked for.

Nothing, however, occurred. Colonel Starbottle made his appearance next
day upon the streets with somewhat of his usual pomposity, a little
restrained by the presence of his nephew, who accompanied him, and who,
as a universal favorite, also exercised some restraint upon the curious
and impertinent. But Culpepper’s face wore a look of anxiety quite at
variance with his usual grave repose. “The Don don’t seem to take
the old man’s set-back kindly,” observed the sympathizing blacksmith.
“P’r’aps he was sweet on Dolores himself,” suggested the sceptical
expressman.

It was a bright morning, a week after this occurrence, that Miss Jo
Folinsbee stepped from her garden into the road. This time the latch did
not click as she cautiously closed the gate behind her. After a moment’s
irresolution, which would have been awkward but that it was charmingly
employed, after the manner of her sex, in adjusting a bow under a
dimpled but rather prominent chin, and in pulling down the fingers of
a neatly fitting glove, she tripped toward the settlement. Small wonder
that a passing teamster drove his six mules into the wayside ditch and
imperilled his load, to keep the dust from her spotless garments; small
wonder that the “Lightning Express” withheld its speed and flash to let
her pass, and that the expressman, who had never been known to exchange
more than rapid monosyllables with his fellow-man, gazed after her with
breathless admiration. For she was certainly attractive. In a country
where the ornamental sex followed the example of youthful Nature, and
were prone to overdress and glaring efflorescence, Miss Jo’s simple
and tasteful raiment added much to the physical charm of, if it did
not actually suggest a sentiment to, her presence. It is said that
Euchre-deck Billy, working in the gulch at the crossing, never saw
Miss Folinsbee pass but that he always remarked apologetically to his
partner, that “he believed he MUST write a letter home.” Even Bill
Masters, who saw her in Paris presented to the favorable criticism of
that most fastidious man, the late Emperor, said that she was stunning,
but a big discount on what she was at Madrono Hollow.

It was still early morning, but the sun, with California extravagance,
had already begun to beat hotly on the little chip hat and blue ribbons,
and Miss Jo was obliged to seek the shade of a bypath. Here she
received the timid advances of a vagabond yellow dog graciously, until,
emboldened by his success, he insisted upon accompanying her, and,
becoming slobberingly demonstrative, threatened her spotless skirt with
his dusty paws, when she drove him from her with some slight acerbity,
and a stone which haply fell within fifty feet of its destined mark.
Having thus proved her ability to defend herself, with characteristic
inconsistency she took a small panic, and, gathering her white skirts in
one hand, and holding the brim of her hat over her eyes with the other,
she ran swiftly at least a hundred yards before she stopped. Then she
began picking some ferns and a few wild-flowers still spared to the
withered fields, and then a sudden distrust of her small ankles seized
her, and she inspected them narrowly for those burrs and bugs and snakes
which are supposed to lie in wait for helpless womanhood. Then she
plucked some golden heads of wild oats, and with a sudden inspiration
placed them in her black hair, and then came quite unconsciously upon
the trail leading to Madrono Hollow.

Here she hesitated. Before her ran the little trail, vanishing at last
into the bosky depths below. The sun was very hot. She must be very far
from home. Why should she not rest awhile under the shade of a madrono?

She answered these questions by going there at once. After thoroughly
exploring the grove, and satisfying herself that it contained no other
living human creature, she sat down under one of the largest trees, with
a satisfactory little sigh. Miss Jo loved the madrono. It was a cleanly
tree; no dust ever lay upon its varnished leaves; its immaculate shade
never was known to harbor grub or insect.

She looked up at the rosy arms interlocked and arched above her head.
She looked down at the delicate ferns and cryptogams at her feet.
Something glittered at the root of the tree. She picked it up; it was a
bracelet. She examined it carefully for cipher or inscription; there was
none. She could not resist a natural desire to clasp it on her arm,
and to survey it from that advantageous view-point. This absorbed her
attention for some moments; and when she looked up again she beheld at a
little distance Culpepper Starbottle.

He was standing where he had halted, with instinctive delicacy, on first
discovering her. Indeed, he had even deliberated whether he ought not
to go away without disturbing her. But some fascination held him to the
spot. Wonderful power of humanity! Far beyond jutted an outlying spur of
the Sierra, vast, compact, and silent. Scarcely a hundred yards away, a
league-long chasm dropped its sheer walls of granite a thousand feet. On
every side rose up the serried ranks of pine-trees, in whose close-set
files centuries of storm and change had wrought no breach. Yet all this
seemed to Culpepper to have been planned by an all-wise Providence as
the natural background to the figure of a pretty girl in a yellow dress.

Although Miss Jo had confidently expected to meet Culpepper somewhere
in her ramble, now that he came upon her suddenly, she felt disappointed
and embarrassed. His manner, too, was more than usually grave and
serious; and more than ever seemed to jar upon that audacious levity
which was this giddy girl’s power and security in a society where all
feeling was dangerous. As he approached her she rose to her feet, but
almost before she knew it he had taken her hand and drawn her to a seat
beside him. This was not what Miss Jo had expected, but nothing is so
difficult to predicate as the exact preliminaries of a declaration of
love.

What did Culpepper say? Nothing, I fear, that will add anything to
the wisdom of the reader; nothing, I fear, that Miss Jo had not
heard substantially from other lips before. But there was a certain
conviction, fire-speed, and fury in the manner that was deliciously
novel to the young lady. It was certainly something to be courted in
the nineteenth century with all the passion and extravagance of the
sixteenth; it was something to hear, amid the slang of a frontier
society, the language of knight-errantry poured into her ear by this
lantern-jawed, dark-browed descendant of the Cavaliers.

I do not know that there was anything more in it. The facts, however, go
to show that at a certain point Miss Jo dropped her glove, and that in
recovering it Culpepper possessed himself first of her hand and then her
lips. When they stood up to go Culpepper had his arm around her waist,
and her black hair, with its sheaf of golden oats, rested against the
breast pocket of his coat. But even then I do not think her fancy was
entirely captive. She took a certain satisfaction in this demonstration
of Culpepper’s splendid height, and mentally compared it with a former
flame, one lieutenant McMirk, an active, but under-sized Hector, who
subsequently fell a victim to the incautiously composed and monotonous
beverages of a frontier garrison. Nor was she so much preoccupied but
that her quick eyes, even while absorbing Culpepper’s glances, were yet
able to detect, at a distance, the figure of a man approaching. In an
instant she slipped out of Culpepper’s arm, and, whipping her hands
behind her, said, “There’s that horrid man!”

Culpepper looked up and beheld his respected uncle panting and blowing
over the hill. His brow contracted as he turned to Miss Jo: “You don’t
like my uncle!”

“I hate him!” Miss Jo was recovering her ready tongue.

Culpepper blushed. He would have liked to enter upon some details of the
Colonel’s pedigree and exploits, but there was not time. He only smiled
sadly. The smile melted Miss Jo. She held out her hand quickly, and said
with even more than her usual effrontery, “Don’t let that man get you
into any trouble. Take care of yourself, dear, and don’t let anything
happen to you.”

Miss Jo intended this speech to be pathetic; the tenure of life among
her lovers had hitherto been very uncertain. Culpepper turned toward
her, but she had already vanished in the thicket.

The Colonel came up panting. “I’ve looked all over town for you, and be
dashed to you, sir. Who was that with you?”

“A lady.” (Culpepper never lied, but he was discreet.)

“D--m ‘em all! Look yar, Culp, I’ve spotted the man who gave the order
to put me off the floor” (“flo” was what the Colonel said) “the other
night!”

“Who was it?” asked Culpepper, listlessly.

“Jack Folinsbee.”

“Who?”

“Why, the son of that dashed nigger-worshipping psalm-singing Puritan
Yankee. What’s the matter, now? Look yar, Culp, you ain’t goin’ back on
your blood, ar’ ye? You ain’t goin’ back on your word? Ye ain’t going
down at the feet of this trash, like a whipped hound?”

Culpepper was silent. He was very white. Presently he looked up and said
quietly. “No.”


Culpepper Starbottle had challenged Jack Folinsbee, and the challenge
was accepted. The cause alleged was the expelling of Culpepper’s uncle
from the floor of the Assembly Ball by the order of Folinsbee. This much
Madrono Hollow knew and could swear to; but there were other strange
rumors afloat, of which the blacksmith was an able expounder. “You see,
gentlemen,” he said to the crowd gathered around his anvil, “I ain’t
got no theory of this affair, I only give a few facts as have come to
my knowledge. Culpepper and Jack meets quite accidental like in Bob’s
saloon. Jack goes up to Culpepper and says, ‘A word with you.’ Culpepper
bows and steps aside in this way, Jack standing about HERE.” (The
blacksmith demonstrates the position of the parties with two old
horseshoes on the anvil.) “Jack pulls a bracelet from his pocket and
says, ‘Do you know that bracelet?’ Culpepper says, ‘I do not,’ quite
cool-like and easy. Jack says, ‘You gave it to my sister.’ Culpepper
says, still cool as you please, ‘I did not.’ Jack says, ‘You lie, G-d
d-mn you,’ and draws his derringer. Culpepper jumps forward about here”
 (reference is made to the diagram) “and Jack fires. Nobody hit. It’s
a mighty cur’o’s thing, gentlemen,” continued the blacksmith,
dropping suddenly into the abstract, and leaning meditatively on his
anvil,--“it’s a mighty cur’o’s thing that nobody gets hit so often. You
and me empties our revolvers sociably at each other over a little game,
and the room full and nobody gets hit! That’s what gets me.”

“Never mind, Thompson,” chimed in Bill Masters, “there’s another and a
better world where we shall know all that and--become better shots. Go
on with your story.”

“Well, some grabs Culpepper and some grabs Jack, and so separates them.
Then Jack tells ‘em as how he had seen his sister wear a bracelet which
he knew was one that had been given to Dolores by Colonel Starbottle.
That Miss Jo wouldn’t say where she got it, but owned up to having seen
Culpepper that day. Then the most cur’o’s thing of it yet, what does
Culpepper do but rise up and takes all back that he said, and allows
that he DID give her the bracelet. Now my opinion, gentlemen, is that he
lied; it ain’t like that man to give a gal that he respects anything off
of that piece, Dolores. But it’s all the same now, and there’s but one
thing to be done.”

The way this one thing was done belongs to the record of Madrono Hollow.
The morning was bright and clear; the air was slightly chill, but that
was from the mist which arose along the banks of the river. As early
as six o’clock the designated ground--a little opening in the madrono
grove--was occupied by Culpepper Starbottle, Colonel Starbottle, his
second, and the surgeon. The Colonel was exalted and excited, albeit
in a rather imposing, dignified way, and pointed out to the surgeon the
excellence of the ground, which at that hour was wholly shaded from the
sun, whose steady stare is more or less discomposing to your duellist.
The surgeon threw himself on the grass and smoked his cigar. Culpepper,
quiet and thoughtful, leaned against a tree and gazed up the river.
There was a strange suggestion of a picnic about the group, which was
heightened when the Colonel drew a bottle from his coat-tails, and,
taking a preliminary draught, offered it to the others. “Cocktails,
sir,” he explained with dignified precision. “A gentleman, sir, should
never go out without ‘em. Keeps off the morning chill. I remember going
out in ‘53 with Hank Boompirater. Good ged, sir, the man had to put on
his overcoat, and was shot in it. Fact.”

But the noise of wheels drowned the Colonel’s reminiscences, and a
rapidly driven buggy, containing Jack Folinsbee, Calhoun Bungstarter,
his second, and Bill Masters, drew up on the ground. Jack Folinsbee
leaped out gayly. “I had the jolliest work to get away without the
governor’s hearing,” he began, addressing the group before him with the
greatest volubility. Calhoun Bungstarter touched his arm, and the young
man blushed. It was his first duel.

“If you are ready, gentlemen,” said Mr. Bungstarter, “we had better
proceed to business. I believe it is understood that no apology will be
offered or accepted. We may as well settle preliminaries at once, or
I fear we shall be interrupted. There is a rumor in town that the
Vigilance Committee are seeking our friends the Starbottles, and I
believe, as their fellow-countryman, I have the honor to be included in
their warrant.”

At this probability of interruption, that gravity which had hitherto
been wanting fell upon the group. The preliminaries were soon arranged
and the principals placed in position. Then there was a silence.

To a spectator from the hill, impressed with the picnic suggestion, what
might have been the popping of two champagne corks broke the stillness.

Culpepper had fired in the air. Colonel Starbottle uttered a low curse.
Jack Folinsbee sulkily demanded another shot.

Again the parties stood opposed to each other. Again the word was given,
and what seemed to be the simultaneous report of both pistols rose upon
the air. But after an interval of a few seconds all were surprised to
see Culpepper slowly raise his unexploded weapon and fire it harmlessly
above his head. Then, throwing the pistol upon the ground, he walked to
a tree and leaned silently against it.

Jack Folinsbee flew into a paroxysm of fury. Colonel Starbottle raved
and swore. Mr. Bungstarter was properly shocked at their conduct.
“Really, gentlemen, if Mr. Culpepper Starbottle declines another shot, I
do not see how we can proceed.”

But the Colonel’s blood was up, and Jack Folinsbee was equally
implacable. A hurried consultation ensued, which ended by Colonel
Starbottle taking his nephew’s place as principal, Bill Masters acting
as second, vice Mr. Bungstarter, who declined all further connection
with the affair.

Two distinct reports rang through the Hollow. Jack Folinsbee dropped his
smoking pistol, took a step forward, and then dropped heavily upon his
face.

In a moment the surgeon was at his side. The confusion was heightened
by the trampling of hoofs, and the voice of the blacksmith bidding them
flee for their lives before the coming storm. A moment more and the
ground was cleared, and the surgeon, looking up, beheld only the white
face of Culpepper bending over him.

“Can you save him?”

“I cannot say. Hold up his head a moment, while I run to the buggy.”

Culpepper passed his arm tenderly around the neck of the insensible man.
Presently the surgeon returned with some stimulants.

“There, that will do, Mr. Starbottle, thank you. Now my advice is to get
away from here while you can. I’ll look after Folinsbee. Do you hear?”

Culpepper’s arm was still round the neck of his late foe, but his head
had drooped and fallen on the wounded man’s shoulder. The surgeon looked
down, and, catching sight of his face, stooped and lifted him gently
in his arms. He opened his coat and waistcoat. There was blood upon his
shirt, and a bullet-hole in his breast. He had been shot unto death at
the first fire.



THE POET OF SIERRA FLAT.


As the enterprising editor of the “Sierra Flat Record” stood at his case
setting type for his next week’s paper, he could not help hearing the
woodpeckers who were busy on the roof above his head. It occurred to
him that possibly the birds had not yet learned to recognize in the rude
structure any improvement on nature, and this idea pleased him so much
that he incorporated it in the editorial article which he was then
doubly composing. For the editor was also printer of the “Record”;
and although that remarkable journal was reputed to exert a power felt
through all Calaveras and a greater part of Tuolumne County, strict
economy was one of the conditions of its beneficent existence.

Thus preoccupied, he was startled by the sudden irruption of a small
roll of manuscript, which was thrown through the open door and fell at
his feet. He walked quickly to the threshold and looked down the tangled
trail which led to the high-road. But there was nothing to suggest the
presence of his mysterious contributor. A hare limped slowly away, a
green-and-gold lizard paused upon a pine stump, the woodpeckers ceased
their work. So complete had been his sylvan seclusion, that he found
it difficult to connect any human agency with the act; rather the hare
seemed to have an inexpressibly guilty look, the woodpeckers to maintain
a significant silence, and the lizard to be conscience-stricken into
stone.

An examination of the manuscript, however, corrected this injustice to
defenceless nature. It was evidently of human origin,--being verse,
and of exceeding bad quality. The editor laid it aside. As he did so he
thought he saw a face at the window. Sallying out in some indignation,
he penetrated the surrounding thicket in every direction, but his search
was as fruitless as before. The poet, if it were he, was gone.

A few days after this the editorial seclusion was invaded by voices of
alternate expostulation and entreaty. Stepping to the door, the editor
was amazed at beholding Mr. Morgan McCorkle, a well-known citizen of
Angelo, and a subscriber to the “Record,” in the act of urging, partly
by force and partly by argument, an awkward young man toward the
building. When he had finally effected his object, and, as it were,
safely landed his prize in a chair, Mr. McCorkle took off his hat,
carefully wiped the narrow isthmus of forehead which divided his black
brows from his stubby hair, and with an explanatory wave of his hand
toward his reluctant companion, said, “A borned poet, and the cussedest
fool you ever seed!”

Accepting the editor’s smile as a recognition of the introduction, Mr.
McCorkle panted and went on: “Didn’t want to come! ‘Mister Editor don’t
went to see me, Morg,’ sez he. ‘Milt,’ sez I, ‘he do; a borned poet like
you and a gifted genius like he oughter come together sociable!’ And I
fetched him. Ah, will yer?” The born poet had, after exhibiting signs
of great distress, started to run. But Mr. McCorkle was down upon him
instantly, seizing him by his long linen coat, and settled him back in
his chair. “Tain’t no use stampeding. Yer ye are and yer ye stays. For
yer a borned poet,--ef ye are as shy as a jackass rabbit. Look at ‘im
now!”

He certainly was not an attractive picture. There was hardly a notable
feature in his weak face, except his eyes, which were moist and shy and
not unlike the animal to which Mr. McCorkle had compared him. It was the
face that the editor had seen at the window.

“Knowed him for fower year,--since he war a boy,” continued Mr. McCorkle
in a loud whisper. “Allers the same, bless you! Can jerk a rhyme as easy
as turnin’ jack. Never had any eddication; lived out in Missooray all
his life. But he’s chock full o’ poetry. On’y this mornin’ sez I to
him,--he camps along o’ me,--‘Milt!’ sez I, ‘are breakfast ready?’ and
he up and answers back quite peert and chipper, ‘The breakfast it is
ready, and the birds is singing free, and it’s risin’ in the dawnin’
light is happiness to me!’ When a man,” said Mr. McCorkle, dropping his
voice with deep solemnity, “gets off things like them, without any
call to do it, and handlin’ flapjacks over a cookstove at the same
time,--that man’s a borned poet.”

There was an awkward pause. Mr. McCorkle beamed patronizingly on
his protege. The born poet looked as if he were meditating another
flight,--not a metaphorical one. The editor asked if he could do
anything for them.

“In course you can,” responded Mr. McCorkle, “that’s jest it. Milt,
where’s that poetry!”

The editor’s countenance fell as the poet produced from his pocket a
roll of manuscript. He, however, took it mechanically and glanced over
it. It was evidently a duplicate of the former mysterious contribution.

The editor then spoke briefly but earnestly. I regret that I cannot
recall his exact words, but it appeared that never before, in the
history of the “Record,” had the pressure been so great upon its
columns. Matters of paramount importance, deeply affecting the material
progress of Sierra, questions touching the absolute integrity of
Calaveras and Tuolumne as social communities, were even now waiting
expression. Weeks, nay, months, must elapse before that pressure would
be removed, and the “Record” could grapple with any but the sternest of
topics. Again, the editor had noticed with pain the absolute decline
of poetry in the foot-hills of the Sierras. Even the works of Byron and
Moore attracted no attention in Dutch Flat, and a prejudice seemed to
exist against Tennyson in Grass Valley. But the editor was not without
hope for the future. In the course of four or five years, when the
country was settled,--

“What would be the cost to print this yer?” interrupted Mr. McCorkle,
quietly.

“About fifty dollars, as an advertisement,” responded the editor with
cheerful alacrity.

Mr. McCorkle placed the sum in the editor’s hand. “Yer see thet’s what
I sez to Milt, ‘Milt,’ sez I, ‘pay as you go, for you are a borned
poet. Hevin no call to write, but doin’ it free and spontaneous like, in
course you pays. Thet’s why Mr. Editor never printed your poetry.’”

“What name shall I put to it?” asked the editor.

“Milton.”

It was the first word that the born poet had spoken during the
interview, and his voice was so very sweet and musical that the editor
looked at him curiously, and wondered if he had a sister.

“Milton; is that all?”

“Thet’s his furst name,” exclaimed Mr. McCorkle.

The editor here suggested that as there had been another poet of that
name--

“Milt might be took for him! Thet’s bad,” reflected Mr. McCorkle with
simple gravity. “Well, put down his hull name,--Milton Chubbuck.”

The editor made a note of the fact. “I’ll set it up now,” he said. This
was also a hint that the interview was ended. The poet and patron, arm
in arm, drew towards the door. “In next week’s paper,” said the editor,
smilingly, in answer to the childlike look of inquiry in the eyes of the
poet, and in another moment they were gone.

The editor was as good as his word. He straight-way betook himself to
his case, and, unrolling the manuscript, began his task. The woodpeckers
on the roof recommenced theirs, and in a few moments the former sylvan
seclusion was restored. There was no sound in the barren, barn-like room
but the birds above, and below the click of the composing-rule as the
editor marshalled the types into lines in his stick, and arrayed them in
solid column on the galley. Whatever might have been his opinion of the
copy before him, there was no indication of it in his face, which wore
the stolid indifference of his craft. Perhaps this was unfortunate, for
as the day wore on and the level rays of the sun began to pierce the
adjacent thicket, they sought out and discovered an anxious ambushed
figure drawn up beside the editor’s window,--a figure that had sat
there motionless for hours. Within, the editor worked on as steadily and
impassively as Fate. And without, the born poet of Sierra Flat sat and
watched him as waiting its decree.


The effect of the poem on Sierra Flat was remarkable and unprecedented.
The absolute vileness of its doggerel, the gratuitous imbecility of its
thought, and above all the crowning audacity of the fact that it was
the work of a citizen and published in the county paper, brought it
instantly into popularity. For many months Calaveras had languished for
a sensation; since the last vigilance committee nothing had transpired
to dispel the listless ennui begotten of stagnant business and growing
civilization. In more prosperous moments the office of the “Record”
 would have been simply gutted and the editor deported; at present the
paper was in such demand that the edition was speedily exhausted. In
brief, the poem of Mr. Milton Chubbuck came like a special providence
to Sierra Flat. It was read by camp-fires, in lonely cabins, in
flaring bar-rooms and noisy saloons, and declaimed from the boxes of
stagecoaches. It was sung in Poker Flat with the addition of a local
chorus, and danced as an unhallowed rhythmic dance by the Pyrrhic
phalanx of One Horse Gulch, known as “The Festive Stags of Calaveras.”
 Some unhappy ambiguities of expression gave rise to many new readings,
notes, and commentaries, which, I regret to state, were more often
marked by ingenuity than delicacy of thought or expression.

Never before did poet acquire such sudden local reputation. From the
seclusion of McCorkle’s cabin and the obscurity of culinary labors, he
was haled forth into the glowing sunshine of Fame. The name of Chubbuck
was written in letters of chalk on unpainted walls, and carved with a
pick on the sides of tunnels. A drink known variously as “The Chubbuck
Tranquillizer,” or “The Chubbuck Exalter,” was dispensed at the
bars. For some weeks a rude design for a Chubbuck statue, made up of
illustrations from circus and melodeon posters, representing the genius
of Calaveras in brief skirts on a flying steed in the act of crowning
the poet Chubbuck, was visible at Keeler’s Ferry. The poet himself was
overborne with invitations to drink and extravagant congratulations.
The meeting between Colonel Starbottle of Siskyion and Chubbuck, as
previously arranged by our “Boston,” late of Roaring Camp, is said to
have been indescribably affecting. The Colonel embraced him unsteadily.
“I could not return to my constituents at Siskyion, sir, if this hand,
which has grasped that of the gifted Prentice and the lamented Poe,
should not have been honored by the touch of the godlike Chubbuck.
Gentlemen, American literature is looking up. Thank you, I will take
sugar in mine.” It was “Boston” who indited letters of congratulations
from H. W. Longfellow, Tennyson, and Browning, to Mr. Chubbuck,
deposited them in the Sierra Flat post-office, and obligingly consented
to dictate the replies.

The simple faith and unaffected delight with which these manifestations
were received by the poet and his patron might have touched the hearts
of these grim masters of irony, but for the sudden and equal development
in both of the variety of weak natures. Mr. McCorkle basked in the
popularity of his protege, and became alternately supercilious or
patronizing toward the dwellers of Sierra Flat; while the poet, with
hair carefully oiled and curled, and bedecked with cheap jewelry and
flaunting neck-handkerchief, paraded himself before the single hotel.
As may be imagined, this new disclosure of weakness afforded intense
satisfaction to Sierra Flat, gave another lease of popularity to the
poet, and suggested another idea to the facetious “Boston.”

At that time a young lady popularly and professionally known as the
“California Pet” was performing to enthusiastic audiences in the
interior. Her specialty lay in the personation of youthful masculine
character; as a gamin of the street she was irresistible, as a
negro-dancer she carried the honest miner’s heart by storm. A saucy,
pretty brunette, she had preserved a wonderful moral reputation even
under the Jove-like advances of showers of gold that greeted her
appearance on the stage at Sierra Flat. A prominent and delighted member
of that audience was Milton Chubbuck. He attended every night. Every
day he lingered at the door of the Union Hotel for a glimpse of the
“California Pet.” It was not long before he received a note
from her,--in “Boston’s” most popular and approved female
hand,--acknowledging his admiration. It was not long before “Boston” was
called upon to indite a suitable reply. At last, in furtherance of his
facetious design, it became necessary for “Boston” to call upon the
young actress herself and secure her personal participation. To her
he unfolded a plan, the successful carrying out of which he felt would
secure his fame to posterity as a practical humorist. The “California
Pet’s” black eyes sparkled approvingly and mischievously. She only
stipulated that she should see the man first,--a concession to her
feminine weakness which years of dancing Juba and wearing trousers and
boots had not wholly eradicated from her wilful breast. By all means, it
should be done. And the interview was arranged for the next week.

It must not be supposed that during this interval of popularity Mr.
Chubbuck had been unmindful of his poetic qualities. A certain portion
of each day he was absent from town,--“a communin’ with natur’,” as Mr.
McCorkle expressed it,--and actually wandering in the mountain trails,
or lying on his back under the trees, or gathering fragrant herbs and
the bright-colored berries of the Marzanita. These and his company he
generally brought to the editor’s office, late in the afternoon,
often to that enterprising journalist’s infinite weariness. Quiet and
uncommunicative, he would sit there patiently watching him at his work
until the hour for closing the office arrived, when he would as quietly
depart. There was something so humble and unobtrusive in these visits,
that the editor could not find it in his heart to deny them, and
accepting them, like the woodpeckers, as a part of his sylvan
surroundings, often forgot even his presence. Once or twice, moved by
some beauty of expression in the moist, shy eyes, he felt like seriously
admonishing his visitor of his idle folly; but his glance falling upon
the oiled hair and the gorgeous necktie, he invariably thought better of
it. The case was evidently hopeless.

The interview between Mr. Chubbuck and the “California Pet” took place
in a private room of the Union Hotel; propriety being respected by
the presence of that arch-humorist, “Boston.” To this gentleman we are
indebted for the only true account of the meeting. However reticent
Mr. Chubbuck might have been in the presence of his own sex, toward the
fairer portion of humanity he was, like most poets, exceedingly voluble.
Accustomed as the “California Pet” had been to excessive compliment, she
was fairly embarrassed by the extravagant praises of her visitor. Her
personation of boy characters, her dancing of the “champion jig,” were
particularly dwelt upon with fervid but unmistakable admiration.
At last, recovering her audacity and emboldened by the presence of
“Boston,” the “California Pet” electrified her hearers by demanding,
half jestingly, half viciously, if it were as a boy or a girl that she
was the subject of his flattering admiration.

“That knocked him out o’ time,” said the delighted “Boston,” in his
subsequent account of the interview. “But do you believe the d----d
fool actually asked her to take him with her; wanted to engage in the
company.”

The plan, as briefly unfolded by “Boston,” was to prevail upon Mr.
Chubbuck to make his appearance in costume (already designed and
prepared by the inventor) before a Sierra Flat audience, and recite
an original poem at the Hall immediately on the conclusion of the
“California Pet’s” performance. At a given signal the audience were to
rise and deliver a volley of unsavory articles (previously provided by
the originator of the scheme); then a select few were to rush on the
stage, seize the poet, and, after marching him in triumphal procession
through town, were to deposit him beyond its uttermost limits, with
strict injunctions never to enter it again. To the first part of the
plan the poet was committed, for the latter portion it was easy enough
to find participants.

The eventful night came, and with it an audience that packed the long
narrow room with one dense mass of human beings. The “California Pet”
 never had been so joyous, so reckless, so fascinating and audacious
before. But the applause was tame and weak compared to the ironical
outburst that greeted the second rising of the curtain and the entrance
of the born poet of Sierra Flat. Then there was a hush of expectancy,
and the poet stepped to the foot-lights and stood with his manuscript in
his hand.

His face was deadly pale. Either there was some suggestion of his fate
in the faces of his audience, or some mysterious instinct told him of
his danger. He attempted to speak, but faltered, tottered, and staggered
to the wings.

Fearful of losing his prey, “Boston” gave the signal and leaped upon
the stage. But at the same moment a light figure darted from behind the
scenes, and delivering a kick that sent the discomfited humorist back
among the musicians, cut a pigeon-wing, executed a double-shuffle,
and then advancing to the foot-lights with that inimitable look, that
audacious swagger and utter abandon which had so thrilled and fascinated
them a moment before, uttered the characteristic speech: “Wot are you
goin’ to hit a man fur, when he’s down, s-a-a-y?”

The look, the drawl, the action, the readiness, and above all the
downright courage of the little woman, had its effect. A roar of
sympathetic applause followed the act. “Cut and run while you can,” she
whispered hurriedly over her one shoulder, without altering the other’s
attitude of pert and saucy defiance toward the audience. But even as she
spoke the poet tottered and sank fainting upon the stage. Then she threw
a despairing whisper behind the scenes, “Ring down the curtain.”

There was a slight movement of opposition in the audience, but among
them rose the burly shoulders of Yuba Bill, the tall, erect figure of
Henry York of Sandy Bar, and the colorless, determined face of John
Oakhurst. The curtain came down.

Behind it knelt the “California Pet” beside the prostrate poet. “Bring
me some water. Run for a doctor. Stop!! CLEAR OUT, ALL OF YOU!”

She had unloosed the gaudy cravat and opened the shirt-collar of the
insensible figure before her. Then she burst into an hysterical laugh.

“Manuela!”

Her tiring-woman, a Mexican half-breed, came toward her.

“Help me with him to my dressing-room, quick; then stand outside and
wait. If any one questions you, tell them he’s gone. Do you hear? HE’s
gone.”

The old woman did as she was bade. In a few moments the audience had
departed. Before morning so also had the “California Pet,” Manuela,
and--the poet of Sierra Flat.

But, alas! with them also had departed the fair fame of the “California
Pet.” Only a few, and these it is to be feared of not the best moral
character themselves, still had faith in the stainless honor of their
favorite actress. “It was a mighty foolish thing to do, but it’ll all
come out right yet.” On the other hand, a majority gave her full credit
and approbation for her undoubted pluck and gallantry, but deplored that
she should have thrown it away upon a worthless object. To elect for
a lover the despised and ridiculed vagrant of Sierra Flat, who had not
even the manliness to stand up in his own defence, was not only evidence
of inherent moral depravity, but was an insult to the community. Colonel
Starbottle saw in it only another instance of the extreme frailty of the
sex; he had known similar cases; and remembered distinctly, sir, how a
well-known Philadelphia heiress, one of the finest women that ever rode
in her kerridge, that, gad, sir! had thrown over a Southern member of
Congress to consort with a d----d nigger. The Colonel had also noticed a
singular look in the dog’s eye which he did not entirely fancy. He would
not say anything against the lady, sir, but he had noticed--And here
haply the Colonel became so mysterious and darkly confidential as to be
unintelligible and inaudible to the bystanders.

A few days after the disappearance of Mr. Chubbuck a singular report
reached Sierra Flat, and it was noticed that “Boston,” who since the
failure of his elaborate joke had been even more depressed in spirits
than is habitual with great humorists, suddenly found that his presence
was required in San Francisco. But as yet nothing but the vaguest
surmises were afloat, and nothing definite was known.

It was a pleasant afternoon when the editor of the “Sierra Flat Record”
 looked up from his case and beheld the figure of Mr. Morgan McCorkle
standing in the doorway. There was a distressed look on the face of
that worthy gentleman that at once enlisted the editor’s sympathizing
attention. He held an open letter in his hand, as he advanced toward the
middle of the room.

“As a man as has allers borne a fair reputation,” began Mr. McCorkle
slowly, “I should like, if so be as I could, Mister Editor, to make a
correction in the columns of your valooable paper.”

Mr. Editor begged him to proceed.

“Ye may not disremember that about a month ago I fetched here what so be
as we’ll call a young man whose name might be as it were Milton--Milton
Chubbuck.”

Mr. Editor remembered perfectly.

“Thet same party I’d knowed better nor fower year, two on ‘em campin’
out together. Not that I’d known him all the time, fur he war shy and
strange at spells and had odd ways that I took war nat’ral to a borned
poet. Ye may remember that I said he was a borned poet?”

The editor distinctly did.

“I picked this same party up in St. Jo., takin’ a fancy to his face, and
kinder calklating he’d runn’d away from home,--for I’m a married man,
Mr. Editor, and hev children of my own,--and thinkin’ belike he was a
borned poet.”

“Well?” said the editor.

“And as I said before, I should like now to make a correction in the
columns of your valooable paper.”

“What correction!” asked the editor.

“I said, ef you remember my words, as how he was a borned poet.”

“Yes.”

“From statements in this yer letter it seems as how I war wrong.”

“Well!”

“She war a woman.”



THE CHRISTMAS GIFT THAT CAME TO RUPERT.


A STORY FOR LITTLE SOLDIERS.


It was the Christmas season in California,--a season of falling rain and
springing grasses. There were intervals when, through driving clouds and
flying scud, the sun visited the haggard hills with a miracle, and death
and resurrection were as one, and out of the very throes of decay a
joyous life struggled outward and upward. Even the storms that swept
down the dead leaves nurtured the tender buds that took their places.
There were no episodes of snowy silence; over the quickening fields the
farmer’s ploughshare hard followed the furrows left by the latest rains.
Perhaps it was for this reason that the Christmas evergreens which
decorated the drawing-room took upon themselves a foreign aspect, and
offered a weird contrast to the roses, seen dimly through the windows,
as the southwest wind beat their soft faces against the panes.


“Now,” said the Doctor, drawing his chair closer to the fire, and
looking mildly but firmly at the semicircle of flaxen heads around him,
“I want it distinctly understood before I begin my story, that I am not
to be interrupted by any ridiculous questions. At the first one I shall
stop. At the second, I shall feel it my duty to administer a dose of
castor-oil, all around. The boy that moves his legs or arms will be
understood to invite amputation. I have brought my instruments with me,
and never allow pleasure to interfere with my business. Do you promise?”

“Yes, sir,” said six small voices, simultaneously. The volley was,
however, followed by half a dozen dropping questions.

“Silence! Bob, put your feet down, and stop rattling that sword. Flora
shall sit by my side, like a little lady, and be an example to the rest.
Fung Tang shall stay, too, if he likes. Now, turn down the gas a little;
there, that will do,--just enough to make the fire look brighter, and to
show off the Christmas candles. Silence, everybody! The boy who cracks
an almond, or breathes too loud over his raisins, will be put out of the
room?”

There was a profound silence. Bob laid his sword tenderly aside, and
nursed his leg thoughtfully. Flora, after coquettishly adjusting the
pocket of her little apron, put her arm upon the Doctor’s shoulder, and
permitted herself to be drawn beside him. Fung Tang, the little heathen
page, who was permitted, on this rare occasion, to share the Christian
revels in the drawing-room, surveyed the group with a smile that was at
once sweet and philosophical. The light ticking of a French clock on the
mantel, supported by a young shepherdess of bronze complexion and great
symmetry of limb, was the only sound that disturbed the Christmas-like
peace of the apartment,--a peace which held the odors of evergreens, new
toys, cedar-boxes, glue, and varnish in an harmonious combination that
passed all understanding.

“About four years ago at this time,” began the Doctor, “I attended
a course of lectures in a certain city. One of the professors,
who was a sociable, kindly man,--though somewhat practical and
hard-headed,--invited me to his house on Christmas night. I was very
glad to go, as I was anxious to see one of his sons, who, though only
twelve years old, was said to be very clever. I dare not tell you how
many Latin verses this little fellow could recite, or how many English
ones he had composed. In the first place, you’d want me to repeat them;
secondly, I’m not a judge of poetry, Latin or English. But there were
judges who said they were wonderful for a boy, and everybody predicted
a splendid future for him. Everybody but his father. He shook his head
doubtingly, whenever it was mentioned, for, as I have told you, he was a
practical, matter-of-fact man.

“There was a pleasant party at the Professor’s that night. All the
children of the neighborhood were there, and among them the Professor’s
clever son, Rupert, as they called him,--a thin little chap, about as
tall as Bobby there, and as fair and delicate as Flora by my side. His
health was feeble, his father said; he seldom ran about and played with
other boys, preferring to stay at home and brood over his books, and
compose what he called his verses.

“Well, we had a Christmas-tree just like this, and we had been laughing
and talking, calling off the names of the children who had presents
on the tree, and everybody was very happy and joyous, when one of the
children suddenly uttered a cry of mingled surprise and hilarity, and
said, ‘Here’s something for Rupert; and what do you think it is?’

“We all guessed. ‘A desk’; ‘A copy of Milton’; ‘A gold pen’; ‘A rhyming
dictionary? ‘No? what then?’

“‘A drum!’

“‘A what?’ asked everybody.

“‘A drum! with Rupert’s name on it?’

“Sure enough there it was. A good-sized, bright, new, brass-bound drum,
with a slip of paper on it, with the inscription, ‘FOR RUPERT.’

“Of course we all laughed, and thought it a good joke. ‘You see you’re
to make a noise in the world, Rupert!’ said one. ‘Here’s parchment for
the poet,’ said another. ‘Rupert’s last work in sheepskin covers,’ said
a third. ‘Give us a classical tune, Rupert,’ said a fourth; and so on.
But Rupert seemed too mortified to speak; he changed color, bit his
lips, and finally burst into a passionate fit of crying, and left the
room. Then those who had joked him felt ashamed, and everybody began
to ask who had put the drum there. But no one knew, or if they did, the
unexpected sympathy awakened for the sensitive boy kept them silent.
Even the servants were called up and questioned, but no one could
give any idea where it came from. And, what was still more singular,
everybody declared that up to the moment it was produced, no one had
seen it hanging on the tree. What do I think? Well, I have my own
opinion. But no questions! Enough for you to know that Rupert did not
come down stairs again that night, and the party soon after broke up.

“I had almost forgotten those things, for the war of the Rebellion
broke out the next spring, and I was appointed surgeon in one of the
new regiments, and was on my way to the seat of war. But I had to pass
through the city where the Professor lived, and there I met him. My
first question was about Rupert. The Professor shook his head sadly.
‘He’s not so well,’ he said; ‘he has been declining since last
Christmas, when you saw him. A very strange case,’ he added, giving it
a long Latin name,--‘a very singular case. But go and see him yourself,’
he urged; ‘it may distract his mind and do him good?’

“I went accordingly to the Professor’s house, and found Rupert lying on
a sofa, propped up with pillows. Around him were scattered his books,
and, what seemed in singular contrast, that drum I told you about was
hanging on a nail, just above his head. His face was thin and wasted;
there was a red spot on either cheek, and his eyes were very bright and
widely opened. He was glad to see me, and when I told him where I was
going, he asked a thousand questions about the war. I thought I had
thoroughly diverted his mind from its sick and languid fancies, when he
suddenly grasped my hand and drew me toward him.

“‘Doctor,’ said he, in a low whisper, ‘you won’t laugh at me if I tell
you something?’

“‘No, certainly not,’ I said.

“‘You remember that drum?’ he said, pointing to the glittering toy that
hung against the wall. ‘You know, too, how it came to me. A few weeks
after Christmas, I was lying half asleep here, and the drum was hanging
on the wall, when suddenly I heard it beaten; at first, low and slowly,
then faster and louder, until its rolling filled the house. In the
middle of the night, I heard it again. I did not dare to tell anybody
about it, but I have heard it every night ever since.’

“He paused and looked anxiously in my face. ‘Sometimes,’ he continued,
‘it is played softly, sometimes loudly, but always quickening to a
long-roll, so loud and alarming that I have looked to see people coming
into my room to ask what was the matter. But I think, Doctor,--I think,’
he repeated slowly, looking up with painful interest into my face, ‘that
no one hears it but myself.’

“I thought so, too, but I asked him if he had heard it at any other
time.

“‘Once or twice in the daytime,’ he replied, ‘when I have been reading
or writing; then very loudly, as though it were angry, and tried in that
way to attract my attention away from my books.’

“I looked into his face, and placed my hand upon his pulse. His eyes
were very bright, and his pulse a little flurried and quick. I then
tried to explain to him that he was very weak, and that his senses were
very acute, as most weak people’s are; and how that when he read,
or grew interested and excited, or when he was tired at night, the
throbbing of a big artery made the beating sound he heard. He listened
to me with a sad smile of unbelief, but thanked me, and in a little
while I went away. But as I was going down stairs, I met the Professor.
I gave him my opinion of the case,--well, no matter what it was.

“‘He wants fresh air and exercise,’ said the Professor, ‘and some
practical experience of life, sir?’ The Professor was not a bad man, but
he was a little worried and impatient, and thought--as clever people are
apt to think--that things which he didn’t understand were either silly
or improper.

“I left the city that very day, and in the excitement of battle-fields
and hospitals, I forgot all about little Rupert, nor did I hear of him
again, until one day, meeting an old classmate in the army, who had
known the Professor, he told me that Rupert had become quite insane, and
that in one of his paroxysms he had escaped from the house, and as he
had never been found, it was feared that he had fallen in the river and
was drowned. I was terribly shocked for the moment, as you may imagine;
but, dear me, I was living just then among scenes as terrible and
shocking, and I had little time to spare to mourn over poor Rupert.

“It was not long after receiving this intelligence that we had a
terrible battle, in which a portion of our army was surprised and driven
back with great slaughter. I was detached from my brigade to ride over
to the battle-field and assist the surgeons of the beaten division, who
had more on their hands than they could attend to. When I reached the
barn that served for a temporary hospital, I went at once to work. Ah,
Bob,” said the Doctor, thoughtfully taking the bright sword from the
hands of the half-frightened Bob, and holding it gravely before him,
“these pretty playthings are symbols of cruel, ugly realities.

“I turned to a tall, stout Vermonter,” he continued very slowly, tracing
a pattern on the rug with the point of the scabbard, “who was badly
wounded in both thighs, but he held up his hands and begged me to help
others first who needed it more than he. I did not at first heed his
request, for this kind of unselfishness was very common in the army;
but he went on, ‘For God’s sake, Doctor, leave me here; there is a
drummer-boy of our regiment--a mere child--dying, if he isn’t dead now.
Go, and see him first. He lies over there. He saved more than one life.
He was at his post in the panic this morning, and saved the honor of the
regiment.’ I was so much more impressed by the man’s manner than by the
substance of his speech, which was, however, corroborated by the other
poor fellows stretched around me, that I passed over to where the
drummer lay, with his drum beside him. I gave one glance at his
face--and--yes, Bob--yes, my children--it WAS Rupert.

“Well! well! it needed not the chalked cross which my brother-surgeons
had left upon the rough board whereon he lay to show how urgent was the
relief he sought; it needed not the prophetic words of the Vermonter,
nor the damp that mingled with the brown curls that clung to his pale
forehead, to show how hopeless it was now. I called him by name. He
opened his eyes--larger, I thought, in the new vision that was beginning
to dawn upon him--and recognized me. He whispered, ‘I’m glad you are
come, but I don’t think you can do me any good.’

“I could not tell him a lie. I could not say anything. I only pressed
his hand in mine, as he went on.

“‘But you will see father, and ask him to forgive me. Nobody is to blame
but myself. It was a long time before I understood why the drum came to
me that Christmas night, and why it kept calling to me every night, and
what it said. I know it now. The work is done, and I am content. Tell
father it is better as it is. I should have lived only to worry and
perplex him, and something in me tells me this is right.’

“He lay still for a moment, and then, grasping my hand, said,--

“‘Hark!’

“I listened, but heard nothing but the suppressed moans of the wounded
men around me. ‘The drum,’ he said faintly; ‘don’t you hear it? The drum
is calling me.’

“He reached out his arm to where it lay, as though he would embrace it.

“‘Listen,’ he went on, ‘it’s the reveille. There are the ranks drawn
up in review. Don’t you see the sunlight flash down the long line of
bayonets? Their faces are shining,--they present arms,--there comes the
General; but his face I cannot look at, for the glory round his head. He
sees me; he smiles, it is--” And with a name upon his lips that he had
learned long ago, he stretched himself wearily upon the planks, and lay
quite still.


“That’s all. No questions now; never mind what became of the drum. Who’s
that snivelling? Bless my soul, where’s my pill-box?”





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