Devil's Ford by Bret Harte
It was a season of unequalled prosperity in Devil's Ford. The half a
dozen cabins scattered along the banks of the North Fork, as if by some
overflow of that capricious river, had become augmented during a week of
fierce excitement by twenty or thirty others, that were huddled together
on the narrow gorge of Devil's Spur, or cast up on its steep sides. So
sudden and violent had been the change of fortune, that the dwellers in
the older cabins had not had time to change with it, but still kept their
old habits, customs, and even their old clothes. The flour pan in which
their daily bread was mixed stood on the rude table side by side with the
"prospecting pans," half full of gold washed up from their morning's
work; the front windows of the newer tenements looked upon the one single
thoroughfare, but the back door opened upon the uncleared wilderness,
still haunted by the misshapen bulk of bear or the nightly gliding of
Neither had success as yet affected their boyish simplicity and the
frankness of old frontier habits; they played with their new-found riches
with the naive delight of children, and rehearsed their glowing future
with the importance and triviality of school-boys.
"I've bin kalklatin'," said Dick Mattingly, leaning on his long-
handled shovel with lazy gravity, "that when I go to Rome this winter,
I'll get one o' them marble sharps to chisel me a statoo o' some kind to
set up on the spot where we made our big strike. Suthin' to remember it
by, you know."
"What kind o' statoo—Washington or Webster?" asked one of the
Kearney brothers, without looking up from his work.
"No—I reckon one o' them fancy groups—one o' them Latin
goddesses that Fairfax is always gassin' about, sorter leadin', directin'
and bossin' us where to dig."
"You'd make a healthy-lookin' figger in a group," responded Kearney,
critically regarding an enormous patch in Mattingly's trousers. "Why
don't you have a fountain instead?"
"Where'll you get the water?" demanded the first speaker, in return.
"You know there ain't enough in the North Fork to do a week's washing for
the camp—to say nothin' of its color."
"Leave that to me," said Kearney, with self-possession. "When I've
built that there reservoir on Devil's Spur, and bring the water over the
ridge from Union Ditch, there'll be enough to spare for that."
"Better mix it up, I reckon—have suthin' half statoo, half
fountain," interposed the elder Mattingly, better known as "Maryland
Joe," "and set it up afore the Town Hall and Free Library I'm kalklatin'
to give. Do THAT, and you can count on me."
After some further discussion, it was gravely settled that Kearney
should furnish water brought from the Union Ditch, twenty miles away, at
a cost of two hundred thousand dollars, to feed a memorial fountain
erected by Mattingly, worth a hundred thousand dollars, as a crowning
finish to public buildings contributed by Maryland Joe, to the extent of
half a million more. The disposition of these vast sums by gentlemen
wearing patched breeches awakened no sense of the ludicrous, nor did any
doubt, reservation, or contingency enter into the plans of the charming
enthusiasts themselves. The foundation of their airy castles lay already
before them in the strip of rich alluvium on the river bank, where the
North Fork, sharply curving round the base of Devil's Spur, had for
centuries swept the detritus of gulch and canyon. They had barely crossed
the threshold of this treasure-house, to find themselves rich men; what
possibilities of affluence might be theirs when they had fully exploited
their possessions? So confident were they of that ultimate prospect, that
the wealth already thus obtained was religiously expended in engines and
machinery for the boring of wells and the conveyance of that precious
water which the exhausted river had long since ceased to yield. It seemed
as if the gold they had taken out was by some ironical compensation
gradually making its way back to the soil again through ditch and flume
Such was the position of affairs at Devil's Ford on the 13th of
August, 1860. It was noon of a hot day. Whatever movement there was in
the stifling air was seen rather than felt in a tremulous, quivering,
upward-moving dust along the flank of the mountain, through which the
spires of the pines were faintly visible. There was no water in the bared
and burning bars of the river to reflect the vertical sun, but under its
direct rays one or two tinned roofs and corrugated zinc cabins struck
fire, a few canvas tents became dazzling to the eye, and the white wooded
corral of the stage office and hotel insupportable. For two hours no one
ventured in the glare of the open, or even to cross the narrow,
unshadowed street, whose dull red dust seemed to glow between the lines
of straggling houses. The heated shells of these green unseasoned
tenements gave out a pungent odor of scorching wood and resin. The usual
hurried, feverish toil in the claim was suspended; the pick and shovel
were left sticking in the richest "pay gravel;" the toiling millionaires
themselves, ragged, dirty, and perspiring, lay panting under the nearest
shade, where the pipes went out listlessly, and conversation sank to
"There's Fairfax," said Dick Mattingly, at last, with a lazy effort.
His face was turned to the hillside, where a man had just emerged from
the woods, and was halting irresolutely before the glaring expanse of
upheaved gravel and glistening boulders that stretched between him and
the shaded group. "He's going to make a break for it," he added, as the
stranger, throwing his linen coat over his head, suddenly started into an
Indian trot through the pelting sunbeams toward them. This strange act
was perfectly understood by the group, who knew that in that intensely
dry heat the danger of exposure was lessened by active exercise and the
profuse perspiration that followed it. In another moment the stranger had
reached their side, dripping as if rained upon, mopping his damp curls
and handsome bearded face with his linen coat, as he threw himself
pantingly on the ground.
"I struck out over here first, boys, to give you a little warning," he
said, as soon as he had gained breath. "That engineer will be down here
to take charge as soon as the six o'clock stage comes in. He's an oldish
chap, has got a family of two daughters, and—I—am—
d——d if he is not bringing them down here with him."
"Oh, go long!" exclaimed the five men in one voice, raising themselves
on their hands and elbows, and glaring at the speaker.
"Fact, boys! Soon as I found it out I just waltzed into that Jew shop
at the Crossing and bought up all the clothes that would be likely to
suit you fellows, before anybody else got a show. I reckon I cleared out
the shop. The duds are a little mixed in style, but I reckon they're
clean and whole, and a man might face a lady in 'em. I left them round at
the old Buckeye Spring, where they're handy without attracting attention.
You boys can go there for a general wash-up, rig yourselves up without
saying anything, and then meander back careless and easy in your store
clothes, just as the stage is coming in, sabe?"
"Why didn't you let us know earlier?" asked Mattingly aggrievedly;
"you've been back here at least an hour."
"I've been getting some place ready for THEM," returned the new-
comer. "We might have managed to put the man somewhere, if he'd been
alone, but these women want family accommodation. There was nothing left
for me to do but to buy up Thompson's saloon."
"No?" interrupted his audience, half in incredulity, half in
"Fact! You boys will have to take your drinks under canvas again, I
reckon! But I made Thompson let those gold-framed mirrors that used to
stand behind the bar go into the bargain, and they sort of furnish the
room. You know the saloon is one of them patent houses you can take to
pieces, and I've been reckoning you boys will have to pitch in and help
me to take the whole shanty over to the laurel bushes, and put it up agin
"What's all that?" said the younger Kearney, with an odd mingling of
astonishment and bashful gratification.
"Yes, I reckon yours is the cleanest house, because it's the newest,
so you'll just step out and let us knock in one o' the gables, and clap
it on to the saloon, and make ONE house of it, don't you see? There'll be
two rooms, one for the girls and the other for the old man."
The astonishment and bewilderment of the party had gradually given way
to a boyish and impatient interest.
"Hadn't we better do the job at once?" suggested Dick Mattingly.
"Or throw ourselves into those new clothes, so as to be ready," added
the younger Kearney, looking down at his ragged trousers. "I say,
Fairfax, what are the girls like, eh?"
All the others had been dying to ask the question, yet one and all
laughed at the conscious manner and blushing cheek of the questioner.
"You'll find out quick enough," returned Fairfax, whose curt
carelessness did not, however, prevent a slight increase of color on his
own cheek. "We'd better get that job off our hands before doing anything
else. So, if you're ready, boys, we'll just waltz down to Thompson's and
pack up the shanty. He's out of it by this time, I reckon. You might as
well be perspiring to some purpose over there as gaspin' under this tree.
We won't go back to work this afternoon, but knock off now, and call it
half a day. Come! Hump yourselves, gentlemen. Are you ready? One, two,
three, and away!"
In another instant the tree was deserted; the figures of the five
millionaires of Devil's Ford, crossing the fierce glare of the open
space, with boyish alacrity, glistened in the sunlight, and then
disappeared in the nearest fringe of thickets.
Six hours later, when the shadow of Devil's Spur had crossed the
river, and spread a slight coolness over the flat beyond, the Pioneer
coach, leaving the summit, began also to bathe its heated bulk in the
long shadows of the descent. Conspicuous among the dusty passengers, the
two pretty and youthful faces of the daughters of Philip Carr, mining
superintendent and engineer, looked from the windows with no little
anxiety towards their future home in the straggling settlement below,
that occasionally came in view at the turns of the long zigzagging road.
A slight look of comical disappointment passed between them as they gazed
upon the sterile flat, dotted with unsightly excrescences that stood
equally for cabins or mounds of stone and gravel. It was so feeble and
inconsistent a culmination to the beautiful scenery they had passed
through, so hopeless and imbecile a conclusion to the preparation of that
long picturesque journey, with its glimpses of sylvan and pastoral glades
and canyons, that, as the coach swept down the last incline, and the
remorseless monotony of the dead level spread out before them, furrowed
by ditches and indented by pits, under cover of shielding their cheeks
from the impalpable dust that rose beneath the plunging wheels, they
buried their faces in their handkerchiefs, to hide a few half-hysterical
tears. Happily, their father, completely absorbed in a practical,
scientific, and approving contemplation of the topography and material
resources of the scene of his future labors, had no time to notice their
defection. It was not until the stage drew up before a rambling tenement
bearing the inscription, "Hotel and Stage Office," that he became fully
aware of it.
"We can't stop HERE, papa," said Christie Carr decidedly, with a shake
of her pretty head. "You can't expect that."
Mr. Carr looked up at the building; it was half grocery, half saloon.
Whatever other accommodations it contained must have been hidden in the
rear, as the flat roof above was almost level with the raftered ceiling
of the shop.
"Certainly," he replied hurriedly; "we'll see to that in a moment. I
dare say it's all right. I told Fairfax we were coming. Somebody ought to
"But they're not," said Jessie Carr indignantly; "and the few that
were here scampered off like rabbits to their burrows as soon as they saw
us get down."
It was true. The little group of loungers before the building had
suddenly disappeared. There was the flash of a red shirt vanishing in an
adjacent doorway; the fading apparition of a pair of high boots and blue
overalls in another; the abrupt withdrawal of a curly blond head from a
sashless window over the way. Even the saloon was deserted, although a
back door in the dim recess seemed to creak mysteriously. The
stage-coach, with the other passengers, had already rattled away.
"I certainly think Fairfax understood that I—" began Mr.
He was interrupted by the pressure of Christie's fingers on his arm
and a subdued exclamation from Jessie, who was staring down the
"What are they?" she whispered in her sister's ear. "Nigger minstrels,
a circus, or what?"
The five millionaires of Devil's Ford had just turned the corner of
the straggling street, and were approaching in single file. One glance
was sufficient to show that they had already availed themselves of the
new clothing bought by Fairfax, had washed, and one or two had shaved.
But the result was startling.
Through some fortunate coincidence in size, Dick Mattingly was the
only one who had achieved an entire new suit. But it was of funereal
black cloth, and although relieved at one extremity by a pair of high
riding boots, in which his too short trousers were tucked, and at the
other by a tall white hat, and cravat of aggressive yellow, the effect
was depressing. In agreeable contrast, his brother, Maryland Joe, was
attired in a thin fawn- colored summer overcoat, lightly worn open, so as
to show the unstarched bosom of a white embroidered shirt, and a pair of
nankeen trousers and pumps.
The Kearney brothers had divided a suit between them, the elder
wearing a tightly-fitting, single-breasted blue frock-coat and a pair of
pink striped cotton trousers, while the younger candidly displayed the
trousers of his brother's suit, as a harmonious change to a shining black
alpaca coat and crimson neckerchief. Fairfax, who brought up the rear,
had, with characteristic unselfishness, contented himself with a French
workman's blue blouse and a pair of white duck trousers. Had they shown
the least consciousness of their finery, or of its absurdity, they would
have seemed despicable. But only one expression beamed on the five
sunburnt and shining faces—a look of unaffected boyish
gratification and unrestricted welcome.
They halted before Mr. Carr and his daughters, simultaneously removed
their various and remarkable head coverings, and waited until Fairfax
advanced and severally presented them. Jessie Carr's half-frightened
smile took refuge in the trembling shadows of her dark lashes; Christie
Carr stiffened slightly, and looked straight before her.
"We reckoned—that is—we intended to meet you and the young
ladies at the grade," said Fairfax, reddening a little as he endeavored
to conceal his too ready slang, "and save you from trapesing—from
dragging yourselves up grade again to your house."
"Then there IS a house?" said Jessie, with an alarming frank laugh of
relief, that was, however, as frankly reflected in the boyishly
appreciative eyes of the young men.
"Such as it is," responded Fairfax, with a shade of anxiety, as he
glanced at the fresh and pretty costumes of the young women, and
dubiously regarded the two Saratoga trunks resting hopelessly on the
veranda. "I'm afraid it isn't much, for what you're accustomed to. But,"
he added more cheerfully, "it will do for a day or two, and perhaps
you'll give us the pleasure of showing you the way there now."
The procession was quickly formed. Mr. Carr, alive only to the actual
business that had brought him there, at once took possession of Fairfax,
and began to disclose his plans for the working of the mine, occasionally
halting to look at the work already done in the ditches, and to examine
the field of his future operations. Fairfax, not displeased at being thus
relieved of a lighter attendance on Mr. Carr's daughters, nevertheless
from time to time cast a paternal glance backwards upon their escorts,
who had each seized a handle of the two trunks, and were carrying them in
couples at the young ladies' side. The occupation did not offer much
freedom for easy gallantry, but no sign of discomfiture or uneasiness was
visible in the grateful faces of the young men. The necessity of changing
hands at times with their burdens brought a corresponding change of
cavalier at the lady's side, although it was observed that the younger
Kearney, for the sake of continuing a conversation with Miss Jessie, kept
his grasp of the handle nearest the young lady until his hand was nearly
cut through, and his arm worn out by exhaustion.
"The only thing on wheels in the camp is a mule wagon, and the mules
are packin' gravel from the river this afternoon," explained Dick
Mattingly apologetically to Christie, "or we'd have toted—I mean
carried—you and your baggage up to the shant—the—your
house. Give us two weeks more, Miss Carr—only two weeks to wash up
our work and realize—and we'll give you a pair of 2.40 steppers and
a skeleton buggy to meet you at the top of the hill and drive you over to
the cabin. Perhaps you'd prefer a regular carriage; some ladies do. And a
nigger driver. But what's the use of planning anything? Afore that time
comes we'll have run you up a house on the hill, and you shall pick out
the spot. It wouldn't take long—unless you preferred brick. I
suppose we could get brick over from La Grange, if you cared for it, but
it would take longer. If you could put up for a time with something of
stained glass and a mahogany veranda—"
In spite of her cold indignation, and the fact that she could
understand only a part of Mattingly's speech, Christie comprehended
enough to make her lift her clear eyes to the speaker, as she replied
freezingly that she feared she would not trouble them long with her
"Oh, you'll get over that," responded Mattingly, with an exasperating
confidence that drove her nearly frantic, from the manifest kindliness of
intent that made it impossible for her to resent it. "I felt that way
myself at first. Things will look strange and unsociable for a while,
until you get the hang of them. You'll naturally stamp round and cuss a
little—" He stopped in conscious consternation.
With ready tact, and before Christie could reply, Maryland Joe had put
down the trunk and changed hands with his brother.
"You mustn't mind Dick, or he'll go off and kill himself with shame,"
he whispered laughingly in her ear. "He means all right, but he's picked
up so much slang here that he's about forgotten how to talk English, and
it's nigh on to four years since he's met a young lady."
Christie did not reply. Yet the laughter of her sister in advance with
the Kearney brothers seemed to make the reserve with which she tried to
crush further familiarity only ridiculous.
"Do you know many operas, Miss Carr?"
She looked at the boyish, interested, sunburnt face so near to her
own, and hesitated. After all, why should she add to her other real
disappointments by taking this absurd creature seriously?
"In what way?" she returned, with a half smile.
"To play. On the piano, of course. There isn't one nearer here than
Sacramento; but I reckon we could get a small one by Thursday. You
couldn't do anything on a banjo?" he added doubtfully; "Kearney's got
"I imagine it would be very difficult to carry a piano over those
mountains," said Christie laughingly, to avoid the collateral of the
"We got a billiard-table over from Stockton," half bashfully
interrupted Dick Mattingly, struggling from his end of the trunk to
recover his composure, "and it had to be brought over in sections on the
back of a mule, so I don't see why—" He stopped short again in
confusion, at a sign from his brother, and then added, "I mean, of
course, that a piano is a heap more delicate, and valuable, and all that
sort of thing, but it's worth trying for."
"Fairfax was always saying he'd get one for himself, so I reckon it's
possible," said Joe.
"Does he play?" asked Christie.
"You bet," said Joe, quite forgetting himself in his enthusiasm. "He
can snatch Mozart and Beethoven bald-headed."
In the embarrassing silence that followed this speech the fringe of
pine wood nearest the flat was reached. Here there was a rude "clearing,"
and beneath an enormous pine stood the two recently joined tenements.
There was no attempt to conceal the point of junction between Kearney's
cabin and the newly-transported saloon from the flat—no
architectural illusion of the palpable collusion of the two buildings,
which seemed to be telescoped into each other. The front room or living
room occupied the whole of Kearney's cabin. It contained, in addition to
the necessary articles for housekeeping, a "bunk" or berth for Mr. Carr,
so as to leave the second building entirely to the occupation of his
daughters as bedroom and boudoir.
There was a half-humorous, half-apologetic exhibition of the rude
utensils of the living room, and then the young men turned away as the
two girls entered the open door of the second room. Neither Christie nor
Jessie could for a moment understand the delicacy which kept these young
men from accompanying them into the room they had but a few moments
before decorated and arranged with their own hands, and it was not until
they turned to thank their strange entertainers that they found that they
The arrangement of the second room was rude and bizarre, but not
without a singular originality and even tastefulness of conception. What
had been the counter or "bar" of the saloon, gorgeous in white and gold,
now sawn in two and divided, was set up on opposite sides of the room as
separate dressing-tables, decorated with huge bunches of azaleas, that
hid the rough earthenware bowls, and gave each table the appearance of a
The huge gilt plate-glass mirror which had hung behind the bar still
occupied one side of the room, but its length was artfully divided by an
enormous rosette of red, white, and blue muslin—one of the
surviving Fourth of July decorations of Thompson's saloon. On either side
of the door two pathetic-looking, convent-like cots, covered with
spotless sheeting, and heaped up in the middle, like a snow-covered
grave, had attracted their attention. They were still staring at them
when Mr. Carr anticipated their curiosity.
"I ought to tell you that the young men confided to me the fact that
there was neither bed nor mattress to be had on the Ford. They have
filled some flour sacks with clean dry moss from the woods, and put half
a dozen blankets on the top, and they hope you can get along until the
messenger who starts to-night for La Grange can bring some bedding
Jessie flew with mischievous delight to satisfy herself of the truth
of this marvel. "It's so, Christie," she said laughingly— "three
flour-sacks apiece; but I'm jealous: yours are all marked 'superfine,'
and mine 'middlings.'"
Mr. Carr had remained uneasily watching Christie's shadowed face.
"What matters?" she said drily. "The accommodation is all in
"It will be better in a day or two," he continued, casting a longing
look towards the door—the first refuge of masculine weakness in an
impending domestic emergency. "I'll go and see what can be done," he said
feebly, with a sidelong impulse towards the opening and freedom. "I've
got to see Fairfax again to-night any way."
"One moment, father," said Christie, wearily. "Did you know anything
of this place and these—these people—before you came?"
"Certainly—of course I did," he returned, with the sudden
testiness of disturbed abstraction. "What are you thinking of? I knew the
geological strata and the—the report of Fairfax and his partners
before I consented to take charge of the works. And I can tell you that
there is a fortune here. I intend to make my own terms, and share in
"And not take a salary or some sum of money down?" said Christie,
slowly removing her bonnet in the same resigned way.
"I am not a hired man, or a workman, Christie," said her father
sharply. "You ought not to oblige me to remind you of that."
"But the hired men—the superintendent and his workmen—were
the only ones who ever got anything out of your last experience with
Colonel Waters at La Grange, and—and we at least lived among
civilized people there."
"These young men are not common people, Christie; even if they have
forgotten the restraints of speech and manners, they're gentlemen."
"Who are willing to live like—like negroes."
"You can make them what you please."
Christie raised her eyes. There was a certain cynical ring in her
father's voice that was unlike his usual hesitating abstraction. It both
puzzled and pained her.
"I mean," he said hastily, "that you have the same opportunity to
direct the lives of these young men into more regular, disciplined
channels that I have to regulate and correct their foolish waste of
industry and material here. It would at least beguile the time for
Fortunately for Mr. Carr's escape and Christie's uneasiness, Jessie,
who had been examining the details of the living-room, broke in upon this
"I'm sure it will be as good as a perpetual picnic. George Kearney
says we can have a cooking-stove under the tree outside at the back, and
as there will be no rain for three months we can do the cooking there,
and that will give us more room for—for the piano when it comes;
and there's an old squaw to do the cleaning and washing-up any
day—and—and—it will be real fun."
She stopped breathlessly, with glowing cheeks and sparkling
eyes—a charming picture of youth and trustfulness. Mr. Carr had
seized the opportunity to escape.
"Really, now, Christie," said Jessie confidentially, when they were
alone, and Christie had begun to unpack her trunk, and to mechanically
put her things away, "they're not so bad."
"Who?" asked Christie.
"Why, the Kearneys, and Mattinglys, and Fairfax, and the lot, provided
you don't look at their clothes. And think of it! they told me—for
they tell one EVERYTHING in the most alarming way— that those
clothes were bought to please US. A scramble of things bought at La
Grange, without reference to size or style. And to hear these creatures
talk, why, you'd think they were Astors or Rothschilds. Think of that
little one with the curls—I don't believe he is over seventeen, for
all his baby moustache—says he's going to build an assembly hall
for us to give a dance in next month; and apologizes the next breath to
tell us that there isn't any milk to be had nearer than La Grange, and we
must do without it, and use syrup in our tea to-morrow."
"And where is all this wealth?" said Christie, forcing herself to
smile at her sister's animation.
"Under our very feet, my child, and all along the river. Why, what we
thought was pure and simple mud is what they call 'gold-bearing
"I suppose that is why they don't brush their boots and trousers, it's
so precious," returned Christie drily. "And have they ever translated
this precious dirt into actual coin?"
"Bless you, yes. Why, that dirty little gutter, you know, that ran
along the side of the road and followed us down the hill all the way
here, that cost them—let me see—yes, nearly sixty thousand
dollars. And fancy! papa's just condemned it—says it won't do; and
they've got to build another."
An impatient sigh from Christie drew Jessie's attention to her
"Don't worry about our disappointment, dear. It isn't so very great. I
dare say we'll be able to get along here in some way, until papa is rich
again. You know they intend to make him share with them."
"It strikes me that he is sharing with them already," said Christie,
glancing bitterly round the cabin; "sharing everything— ourselves,
our lives, our tastes."
"Ye-e-s!" said Jessie, with vaguely hesitating assent. "Yes, even
these:" she showed two dice in the palm of her little hand. "I found 'em
in the drawer of our dressing-table."
"Throw them away," said Christie impatiently.
But Jessie's small fingers closed over the dice. "I'll give them to
the little Kearney. I dare say they were the poor boy's playthings."
The appearance of these relics of wild dissipation, however, had
lifted Christie out of her sublime resignation. "For Heaven's sake,
Jessie," she said, "look around and see if there is anything more!"
To make sure, they each began to scrimmage; the broken-spirited
Christie exhibiting both alacrity and penetration in searching obscure
corners. In the dining-room, behind the dresser, three or four books were
discovered: an odd volume of Thackeray, another of Dickens, a
memorandum-book or diary. "This seems to be Latin," said Jessie, fishing
out a smaller book. "I can't read it."
"It's just as well you shouldn't," said Christie shortly, whose ideas
of a general classical impropriety had been gathered from pages of
Lempriere's dictionary. "Put it back directly."
Jessie returned certain odes of one Horatius Flaccus to the corner,
and uttered an exclamation. "Oh, Christie! here are some letters tied up
with a ribbon."
They were two or three prettily written letters, exhaling a faint odor
of refinement and of the pressed flowers that peeped from between the
loose leaves. "I see, 'My darling Fairfax.' It's from some woman."
"I don't think much of her, whosoever she is," said Christie, tossing
the intact packet back into the corner.
"Nor I," echoed Jessie.
Nevertheless, by some feminine inconsistency, evidently the
circumstance did make them think more of HIM, for a minute later, when
they had reentered their own room, Christie remarked, "The idea of
petting a man by his family name! Think of mamma ever having called papa
"Oh, but his family name isn't Fairfax," said Jessie hastily; "that's
his FIRST name, his Christian name. I forget what's his other name, but
nobody ever calls him by it."
"Do you mean," said Christie, with glistening eyes and awful
deliberation—"do you mean to say that we're expected to fall in
with this insufferable familiarity? I suppose they'll be calling US by
our Christian names next."
"Oh, but they do!" said Jessie, mischievously.
"They call me Miss Jessie; and Kearney, the little one, asked me if
"And what did you say?"
"I said that you did," answered Jessie, with an affectation of
cherubic simplicity. "You do, dear; don't you? . . . There, don't get
angry, darling; I couldn't flare up all of a sudden in the face of that
poor little creature; he looked so absurd—and so—so
Christie turned away, relapsing into her old resigned manner, and
assuming her household duties in a quiet, temporizing way that was,
however, without hope or expectation.
Mr. Carr, who had dined with his friends under the excuse of not
adding to the awkwardness of the first day's housekeeping returned late
at night with a mass of papers and drawings, into which he afterwards
withdrew, but not until he had delivered himself of a mysterious package
entrusted to him by the young men for his daughters. It contained a
contribution to their board in the shape of a silver spoon and battered
silver mug, which Jessie chose to facetiously consider as an affecting
reminiscence of the youthful Kearney's christening days—which it
The young girls retired early to their white snow-drifts: Jessie not
without some hilarious struggles with hers, in which she was, however,
quickly surprised by the deep and refreshing sleep of youth; Christie to
lie awake and listen to the night wind, that had changed from the first
cool whispers of sunset to the sturdy breath of the mountain. At times
the frail house shook and trembled. Wandering gusts laden with the deep
resinous odors of the wood found their way through the imperfect jointure
of the two cabins, swept her cheek and even stirred her long, wide-open
lashes. A broken spray of pine needles rustled along the roof, or a pine
cone dropped with a quick reverberating tap-tap that for an instant
startled her. Lying thus, wide awake, she fell into a dreamy reminiscence
of the past, hearing snatches of old melody in the moving pines,
fragments of sentences, old words, and familiar epithets in the murmuring
wind at her ear, and even the faint breath of long-forgotten kisses on
her cheek. She remembered her mother—a pallid creature, who had
slowly faded out of one of her father's vague speculations in a vaguer
speculation of her own, beyond his ken—whose place she had promised
to take at her father's side. The words, "Watch over him, Christie; he
needs a woman's care," again echoed in her ears, as if borne on the night
wind from the lonely grave in the lonelier cemetery by the distant sea.
She had devoted herself to him with some little sacrifices of self, only
remembered now for their uselessness in saving her father the
disappointment that sprang from his sanguine and one- idea'd temperament.
She thought of him lying asleep in the other room, ready on the morrow to
devote those fateful qualities to the new enterprise that with equally
fateful disposition she believed would end in failure. It did not occur
to her that the doubts of her own practical nature were almost as
dangerous and illogical as his enthusiasm, and that for that reason she
was fast losing what little influence she possessed over him. With the
example of her mother's weakness before her eyes, she had become an
unsparing and distrustful critic, with the sole effect of awakening his
distrust and withdrawing his confidence from her.
He was beginning to deceive her as he had never deceived her mother.
Even Jessie knew more of this last enterprise than she did herself.
All that did not tend to decrease her utter restlessness. It was
already past midnight when she noticed that the wind had again abated.
The mountain breeze had by this time possessed the stifling valleys and
heated bars of the river in its strong, cold embraces; the equilibrium of
Nature was restored, and a shadowy mist rose from the hollow. A
stillness, more oppressive and intolerable than the previous commotion,
began to pervade the house and the surrounding woods. She could hear the
regular breathing of the sleepers; she even fancied she could detect the
faint impulses of the more distant life in the settlement. The far-off
barking of a dog, a lost shout, the indistinct murmur of some nearer
watercourse—mere phantoms of sound—made the silence more
irritating. With a sudden resolution she arose, dressed herself quietly
and completely, threw a heavy cloak over her head and shoulders, and
opened the door between the living-room and her own. Her father was
sleeping soundly in his bunk in the corner. She passed noiselessly
through the room, opened the lightly fastened door, and stepped out into
In the irritation and disgust of her walk hither, she had never
noticed the situation of the cabin, as it nestled on the slope at the
fringe of the woods; in the preoccupation of her disappointment and the
mechanical putting away of her things, she had never looked once from the
window of her room, or glanced backward out of the door that she had
entered. The view before her was a revelation—a reproach, a
surprise that took away her breath. Over her shoulders the newly risen
moon poured a flood of silvery light, stretching from her feet across the
shining bars of the river to the opposite bank, and on up to the very
crest of the Devil's Spur—no longer a huge bulk of crushing shadow,
but the steady exaltation of plateau, spur, and terrace clothed with
replete and unutterable beauty. In this magical light that beauty seemed
to be sustained and carried along by the river winding at its base,
lifted again to the broad shoulder of the mountain, and lost only in the
distant vista of death-like, overcrowning snow. Behind and above where
she stood the towering woods seemed to be waiting with opened ranks to
absorb her with the little cabin she had quitted, dwarfed into
insignificance in the vast prospect; but nowhere was there another sign
or indication of human life and habitation. She looked in vain for the
settlement, for the rugged ditches, the scattered cabins, and the
unsightly heaps of gravel. In the glamour of the moonlight they had
vanished; a veil of silver-gray vapor touched here and there with ebony
shadows masked its site. A black strip beyond was the river bank. All
else was changed. With a sudden sense of awe and loneliness she turned to
the cabin and its sleeping inmates—all that seemed left to her in
the vast and stupendous domination of rock and wood and sky.
But in another moment the loneliness passed. A new and delicious sense
of an infinite hospitality and friendliness in their silent presence
began to possess her. This same slighted, forgotten, uncomprehended, but
still foolish and forgiving Nature seemed to be bending over her
frightened and listening ear with vague but thrilling murmurings of
freedom and independence. She felt her heart expand with its wholesome
breath, her soul fill with its sustaining truth.
What was that?
An unmistakable outburst of a drunken song at the foot of the
"Oh, my name it is Johnny from Pike,
I'm h-ll on a spree or a strike" . . .
She stopped as crimson with shame and indignation as if the viewless
singer had risen before her.
"I knew when to bet, and get up and get—"
"Hush! D—n it all. Don't you hear?"
There was the sound of hurried whispers, a "No" and "Yes," and then a
Christie crept nearer to the edge of the slope in the shadow of a
buckeye. In the clearer view she could distinguish a staggering figure in
the trail below who had evidently been stopped by two other expostulating
shadows that were approaching from the shelter of a tree.
The staggering figure endeavored to straighten itself, and then
slouched away in the direction of the settlement. The two mysterious
shadows retreated again to the tree, and were lost in its deeper shadow.
Christie darted back to the cabin, and softly reentered her room.
"I thought I heard a noise that woke me, and I missed you," said
Jessie, rubbing her eyes. "Did you see anything?"
"No," said Christie, beginning to undress.
"You weren't frightened, dear?"
"Not in the least," said Christie, with a strange little laugh. "Go to
The five impulsive millionaires of Devil's Ford fulfilled not a few of
their most extravagant promises. In less than six weeks Mr. Carr and his
daughters were installed in a new house, built near the site of the
double cabin, which was again transferred to the settlement, in order to
give greater seclusion to the fair guests. It was a long, roomy,
one-storied villa, with a not unpicturesque combination of deep veranda
and trellis work, which relieved the flat monotony of the interior and
the barrenness of the freshly- cleared ground. An upright piano, brought
from Sacramento, occupied the corner of the parlor. A suite of gorgeous
furniture, whose pronounced and extravagant glories the young girls
instinctively hid under home-made linen covers, had also been spoils from
afar. Elsewhere the house was filled with ornaments and decorations that
in their incongruity forcibly recalled the gilded plate-glass mirrors of
the bedroom in the old cabin. In the hasty furnishing of this Aladdin's
palace, the slaves of the ring had evidently seized upon anything that
would add to its glory, without reference always to fitness.
"I wish it didn't look so cussedly like a robber's cave," said George
Kearney, when they were taking a quiet preliminary survey of the
unclassified treasures, before the Carrs took possession.
"Or a gambling hell," said his brother reflectively.
"It's about the same thing, I reckon," said Dick Mattingly, who was
supposed, in his fiery youth, to have encountered the similarity.
Nevertheless, the two girls managed to bestow the heterogeneous
collection with tasteful adaptation to their needs. A crystal chandelier,
which had once lent a fascinating illusion to the game of Monte, hung
unlighted in the broad hall, where a few other bizarre and public
articles were relegated. A long red sofa or bench, which had done duty
beside a billiard-table found a place here also. Indeed, it is to be
feared that some of the more rustic and bashful youths of Devil's Ford,
who had felt it incumbent upon them to pay their respects to the
new-comers, were more at ease in this vestibule than in the arcana
beyond, whose glories they could see through the open door. To others, it
represented a recognized state of probation before their re-entree into
civilization again. "I reckon, if you don't mind, miss," said the
spokesman of one party, "ez this is our first call, we'll sorter hang out
in the hall yer, until you'r used to us." On another occasion, one
Whiskey Dick, impelled by a sense of duty, paid a visit to the new house
and its fair occupants, in a fashion frankly recounted by him afterwards
at the bar of the Tecumseh Saloon.
"You see, boys, I dropped in there the other night, when some of you
fellers was doin' the high-toned 'thankee, marm' business in the parlor.
I just came to anchor in the corner of the sofy in the hall, without
lettin' on to say that I was there, and took up a Webster's dictionary
that was on the table and laid it open— keerless like, on my knees,
ez if I was sorter consultin' it—and kinder dozed off there,
listenin' to you fellows gassin' with the young ladies, and that yer Miss
Christie just snakin' music outer that pianner, and I reckon I fell
asleep. Anyhow, I was there nigh on to two hours. It's mighty soothin',
them fashionable calls; sorter knocks the old camp dust outer a fellow,
and sets him up again."
It would have been well if the new life of the Devil's Ford had shown
no other irregularity than the harmless eccentricities of its original
locaters. But the news of its sudden fortune, magnified by report, began
presently to flood the settlement with another class of adventurers. A
tide of waifs, strays, and malcontents of old camps along the river began
to set towards Devil's Ford, in very much the same fashion as the debris,
drift, and alluvium had been carried down in bygone days and cast upon
its banks. A few immigrant wagons, diverted from the highways of travel
by the fame of the new diggings, halted upon the slopes of Devil's Spur
and on the arid flats of the Ford, and disgorged their sallow freight of
alkali-poisoned, prematurely-aged women and children and maimed and
fever-stricken men. Against this rude form of domesticity were opposed
the chromo-tinted dresses and extravagant complexions of a few single
unattended women—happily seen more often at night behind gilded
bars than in the garish light of day—and an equal number of
pale-faced, dark-moustached, well-dressed, and suspiciously idle men. A
dozen rivals of Thompson's Saloon had sprung up along the narrow main
street. There were two new hotels— one a "Temperance House," whose
ascetic quality was confined only to the abnegation of whiskey—a
rival stage office, and a small one-storied building, from which the
"Sierran Banner" fluttered weekly, for "ten dollars a year, in advance."
Insufferable in the glare of a Sabbath sun, bleak, windy, and flaring in
the gloom of a Sabbath night, and hopelessly depressing on all days of
the week, the First Presbyterian Church lifted its blunt steeple from the
barrenest area of the flats, and was hideous! The civic improvements so
enthusiastically contemplated by the five millionaires in the earlier
pages of this veracious chronicle—the fountain, reservoir,
town-hall, and free library—had not yet been erected. Their sites
had been anticipated by more urgent buildings and mining works,
unfortunately not considered in the sanguine dreams of the enthusiasts,
and, more significant still, their cost and expense had been also
anticipated by the enormous outlay of their earnings in the work upon
Nevertheless, the liberal fulfilment of their promise in the new house
in the suburbs blinded the young girls' eyes to their shortcomings in the
town. Their own remoteness and elevation above its feverish life kept
them from the knowledge of much that was strange, and perhaps disturbing
to their equanimity. As they did not mix with the immigrant
women—Miss Jessie's good-natured intrusion into one of their
half-nomadic camps one day having been met with rudeness and
suspicion—they gradually fell into the way of trusting the
responsibility of new acquaintances to the hands of their original hosts,
and of consulting them in the matter of local recreation. It thus
occurred that one day the two girls, on their way to the main street for
an hour's shopping at the Villa de Paris and Variety Store, were stopped
by Dick Mattingly a few yards from their house, with the remark that, as
the county election was then in progress, it would be advisable for them
to defer their intention for a few hours. As he did not deem it necessary
to add that two citizens, in the exercise of a freeman's franchise, had
been supplementing their ballots with bullets, in front of an admiring
crowd, they knew nothing of that accident that removed from Devil's Ford
an entertaining stranger, who had only the night before partaken of their
A week or two later, returning one morning from a stroll in the
forest, Christie and Jessie were waylaid by George Kearney and Fairfax,
and, under pretext of being shown a new and romantic trail, were diverted
from the regular path. This enabled Mattingly and Maryland Joe to cut
down the body of a man hanged by the Vigilance Committee a few hours
before on the regular trail, and to remonstrate with the committee on the
incompatibility of such exhibitions with a maidenly worship of
"With the whole county to hang a man in," expostulated Joe, "you might
keep clear of Carr's woods."
It is needless to add that the young girls never knew of this act of
violence, or the delicacy that kept them in ignorance of it. Mr. Carr was
too absorbed in business to give heed to what he looked upon as a
convulsion of society as natural as a geological upheaval, and too
prudent to provoke the criticism of his daughters by comment in their
An equally unexpected confidence, however, took its place. Mr. Carr
having finished his coffee one morning, lingered a moment over his
perfunctory paternal embraces, with the awkwardness of a preoccupied man
endeavoring by the assumption of a lighter interest to veil another
"And what are we doing to-day, Christie?" he asked, as Jessie left the
"Oh, pretty much the usual thing—nothing in particular. If
George Kearney gets the horses from the summit, we're going to ride over
to Indian Spring to picnic. Fairfax—Mr. Munroe—I always
forget that man's real name in this dreadfully familiar
country—well, he's coming to escort us, and take me, I
suppose—that is, if Kearney takes Jessie."
"A very nice arrangement," returned her father, with a slight nervous
contraction of the corners of his mouth and eyelids to indicate
mischievousness. "I've no doubt they'll both be here. You know they
usually are—ha! ha! And what about the two Mattinglys and Philip
Kearney, eh?" he continued; "won't they be jealous?"
"It isn't their turn," said Christie carelessly; "besides, they'll
probably be there."
"And I suppose they're beginning to be resigned," said Carr,
"What on earth are you talking of, father?"
She turned her clear brown eyes upon him, and was regarding him with
such manifest unconsciousness of the drift of his speech, and, withal, a
little vague impatience of his archness, that Mr. Carr was feebly
alarmed. It had the effect of banishing his assumed playfulness, which
made his serious explanation the more irritating.
"Well, I rather thought that—that young Kearney was paying
considerable attention to—to—to Jessie," replied her father,
with hesitating gravity.
"What! that boy?"
"Young Kearney is one of the original locators, and an equal partner
in the mine. A very enterprising young fellow. In fact, much more
advanced and bolder in his conceptions than the others. I find no
difficulty with him."
At another time Christie would have questioned the convincing quality
of this proof, but she was too much shocked at her father's first
suggestion, to think of anything else.
"You don't mean to say, father, that you are talking seriously of
these men—your friends—whom we see every day—and our
"No, no!" said Mr. Carr hastily; "you misunderstand. I don't suppose
that Jessie or you—"
"Or ME! Am I included?"
"You don't let me speak, Christie. I mean, I am not talking
seriously," continued Mr. Carr, with his most serious aspect, "of you and
Jessie in this matter; but it may be a serious thing to these young men
to be thrown continually in the company of two attractive girls."
"I understand—you mean that we should not see so much of them,"
said Christie, with a frank expression of relief so genuine as to utterly
discompose her father. "Perhaps you are right, though I fail to discover
anything serious in the attentions of young Kearney to
Jessie—or—whoever it may be—to me. But it will be very
easy to remedy it, and see less of them. Indeed, we might begin to-day
with some excuse."
"Yes—certainly. Of course!" said Mr. Carr, fully convinced of
his utter failure, but, like most weak creatures, consoling himself with
the reflection that he had not shown his hand or committed himself. "Yes;
but it would perhaps be just as well for the present to let things go on
as they were. We'll talk of it again— I'm in a hurry now," and,
edging himself through the door, he slipped away.
"What do you think is father's last idea?" said Christie, with, I
fear, a slight lack of reverence in her tone, as her sister reentered the
room. "He thinks George Kearney is paying you too much attention."
"No!" said Jessie, replying to her sister's half-interrogative,
half-amused glance with a frank, unconscious smile.
"Yes, and he says that Fairfax—I think it's Fairfax—is
equally fascinated with ME."
Jessie's brow slightly contracted as she looked curiously at her
"Of all things," she said, "I wonder if any one has put that idea into
his dear old head. He couldn't have thought it himself."
"I don't know," said Christie musingly; "but perhaps it's just as well
if we kept a little more to ourselves for a while."
"Did father say so?" said Jessie quickly.
"No, but that is evidently what he meant."
"Ye-es," said Jessie slowly, "unless—"
"Unless what?" said Christie sharply. "Jessie, you don't for a moment
mean to say that you could possibly conceive of anything else?"
"I mean to say," said Jessie, stealing her arm around her sister's
waist demurely, "that you are perfectly right. We'll keep away from these
fascinating Devil's Forders, and particularly the youngest Kearney. I
believe there has been some ill-natured gossip. I remember that the other
day, when we passed the shanty of that Pike County family on the slope,
there were three women at the door, and one of them said something that
made poor little Kearney turn white and pink alternately, and dance with
suppressed rage. I suppose the old lady—M'Corkle, that's her
name—would like to have a share of our cavaliers for her Euphemy
and Mamie. I dare say it's only right; I would lend them the cherub
occasionally, and you might let them have Mr. Munroe twice a week."
She laughed, but her eyes sought her sister's with a certain
watchfulness of expression.
Christie shrugged her shoulders, with a suggestion of disgust.
"Don't joke. We ought to have thought of all this before."
"But when we first knew them, in the dear old cabin, there wasn't any
other woman and nobody to gossip, and that's what made it so nice. I
don't think so very much of civilization, do you?" said the young lady
Christie did not reply. Perhaps she was thinking the same thing. It
certainly had been very pleasant to enjoy the spontaneous and chivalrous
homage of these men, with no further suggestion of recompense or
responsibility than the permission to be worshipped; but beyond that she
racked her brain in vain to recall any look or act that proclaimed the
lover. These men, whom she had found so relapsed into barbarism that they
had forgotten the most ordinary forms of civilization; these men, even in
whose extravagant admiration there was a certain loss of self-respect,
that as a woman she would never forgive; these men, who seemed to belong
to another race—impossible! Yet it was so.
"What construction must they have put upon her father's acceptance of
their presents—of their company—of her freedom in their
presence? No! they must have understood from the beginning that she and
her sister had never looked upon them except as transient hosts and
chance acquaintances. Any other idea was preposterous. And
It was the recurrence of this "yet" that alarmed her. For she
remembered now that but for their slavish devotion they might claim to be
her equal. According to her father's account, they had come from homes as
good as their own; they were certainly more than her equal in fortune;
and her father had come to them as an employee, until they had taken him
into partnership. If there had only been sentiment of any kind connected
with any of them! But they were all alike, brave, unselfish,
humorous—and often ridiculous. If anything, Dick Mattingly was
funniest by nature, and made her laugh more. Maryland Joe, his brother,
told better stories (sometimes of Dick), though not so good a mimic as
the other Kearney, who had a fairly sympathetic voice in singing. They
were all good-looking enough; perhaps they set store on that—men
are so vain.
And as for her own rejected suitor, Fairfax Munroe, except for a kind
of grave and proper motherliness about his protecting manner, he
absolutely was the most indistinctive of them all. He had once brought
her some rare tea from the Chinese camp, and had taught her how to make
it; he had cautioned her against sitting under the trees at nightfall; he
had once taken off his coat to wrap around her. Really, if this were the
only evidence of devotion that could be shown, she was safe!
"Well," said Jessie, "it amuses you, I see."
Christie checked the smile that had been dimpling the cheek nearest
Jessie, and turned upon her the face of an elder sister.
"Tell me, have YOU noticed this extraordinary attention of Mr. Munroe
"Candidly?" asked Jessie, seating herself comfortably on the table
sideways, and endeavoring, to pull her skirt over her little feet.
"Don't be idiotic, and, above all, don't be slangy! Of course,
"Well, no. I can't say that I have."
"Then," said Christie, "why in the name of all that's preposterous, do
they persist in pairing me off with the least interesting man of the
Jessie leaped from the table.
"Come now," she said, with a little nervous laugh, "he's not so bad as
all that. You don't know him. But what does it matter now, as long as
we're not going to see them any more?"
"They're coming here for the ride to-day," said Christie resignedly.
"Father thought it better not to break it off at once."
"Father thought so!" echoed Jessie, stopping with her hand on the
"Yes; why do you ask?"
But Jessie had already left the room, and was singing in the hall.
The afternoon did not, however, bring their expected visitors. It
brought, instead, a brief note by the hands of Whiskey Dick from Fairfax,
apologizing for some business that kept him and George Kearney from
accompanying the ladies. It added that the horses were at the disposal of
themselves and any escort they might select, if they would kindly give
the message to Whiskey Dick.
The two girls looked at each other awkwardly; Jessie did not attempt
to conceal a slight pout.
"It looks as if they were anticipating us," she said, with a half-
forced smile. "I wonder, now, if there really has been any gossip? But
no! They wouldn't have stopped for that, unless—" She looked
curiously at her sister.
"Unless what?" repeated Christie; "you are horribly mysterious this
"Am I? It's nothing. But they're wanting an answer. Of course you'll
"And intimate we only care for their company! No! We'll say we're
sorry they can't come, and—accept their horses. We can do without
an escort, we two."
"Capital!" said Jessie, clapping her hands. "We'll show
"We'll show them nothing," interrupted Christie decidedly. "In our
place there's only the one thing to do. Where is this—Whiskey
"In the parlor."
"The parlor!" echoed Christie. "Whiskey Dick? What—is
"Yes; he's all right," said Jessie confidently. "He's been here
before, but he stayed in the hall; he was so shy. I don't think you saw
"I should think not—Whiskey Dick!"
"Oh, you can call him Mr. Hall, if you like," said Jessie, laughing.
"His real name is Dick Hall. If you want to be funny, you can say Alky
Hall, as the others do."
Christie's only reply to this levity was a look of superior
resignation as she crossed the hall and entered the parlor.
Then ensued one of those surprising, mystifying, and utterly
inexplicable changes that leave the masculine being so helpless in the
hands of his feminine master. Before Christie opened the door her face
underwent a rapid transformation: the gentle glow of a refined woman's
welcome suddenly beamed in her interested eyes; the impulsive courtesy of
an expectant hostess eagerly seizing a long- looked-for opportunity broke
in a smile upon her lips as she swept across the room, and stopped with
her two white outstretched hands before Whiskey Dick.
It needed only the extravagant contrast presented by that gentleman to
complete the tableau. Attired in a suit of shining black alpaca, the
visitor had evidently prepared himself with some care for a possible
interview. He was seated by the French window opening upon the veranda,
as if to secure a retreat in case of an emergency. Scrupulously washed
and shaven, some of the soap appeared to have lingered in his eyes and
inflamed the lids, even while it lent a sleek and shining lustre, not
unlike his coat, to his smooth black hair. Nevertheless, leaning back in
his chair, he had allowed a large white handkerchief to depend gracefully
from his fingers—a pose at once suggesting easy and elegant
"How kind of you to give me an opportunity to make up for my
misfortune when you last called! I was so sorry to have missed you. But
it was entirely my fault! You were hurried, I think—you conversed
with others in the hall—you—"
She stopped to assist him to pick up the handkerchief that had fallen,
and the Panama hat that had rolled from his lap towards the window when
he had started suddenly to his feet at the apparition of grace and
beauty. As he still nervously retained the two hands he had grasped, this
would have been a difficult feat, even had he not endeavored at the same
moment, by a backward furtive kick, to propel the hat out of the window,
at which she laughingly broke from his grasp and flew to the rescue.
"Don't mind it, miss," he said hurriedly. "It is not worth your
demeaning yourself to touch it. Leave it outside thar, miss. I wouldn't
have toted it in, anyhow, if some of those high-falutin' fellows hadn't
allowed, the other night, ez it were the reg'lar thing to do; as if,
miss, any gentleman kalkilated to ever put on his hat in the house afore
But Christie had already possessed herself of the unlucky object, and
had placed it upon the table. This compelled Whiskey Dick to rise again,
and as an act of careless good breeding to drop his handkerchief in it.
He then leaned one elbow upon the piano, and, crossing one foot over the
other, remained standing in an attitude he remembered to have seen in the
pages of an illustrated paper as portraying the hero in some drawing-room
scene. It was easy and effective, but seemed to be more favorable to
revery than conversation. Indeed, he remembered that he had forgotten to
consult the letterpress as to which it represented.
"I see you agree with me, that politeness is quite a matter of
intention," said Christie, "and not of mere fashion and rules. Now, for
instance," she continued, with a dazzling smile, "I suppose, according to
the rules, I ought to give you a note to Mr. Munroe, accepting his offer.
That is all that is required; but it seems so much nicer, don't you
think, to tell it to YOU for HIM, and have the pleasure of your company
and a little chat at the same time."
"That's it, that's just it, Miss Carr; you've hit it in the centre
this time," said Whiskey Dick, now quite convinced that his attitude was
not intended for eloquence, and shifting back to his own seat, hat and
all; "that's tantamount to what I said to the boys just now. 'You want an
excuse,' sez I, 'for not goin' out with the young ladies. So, accorden'
to rules, you writes a letter allowin' buzziness and that sorter thing
detains you. But wot's the facts? You're a gentleman, and as gentlemen
you and George comes to the opinion that you're rather playin' it for all
it's worth in this yer house, you know—comin' here night and day,
off and on, reg'lar sociable and fam'ly like, and makin' people talk
about things they ain't any call to talk about, and, what's a darned
sight more, YOU FELLOWS ain't got any right YET to allow 'em to talk
about, d'ye see?" he paused, out of breath.
It was Miss Christie's turn to move about. In changing her seat to the
piano-stool, so as to be nearer her visitor, she brushed down some loose
music, which Whiskey Dick hastened to pick up.
"Pray don't mind it," she said, "pray don't, really—let it
be—" But Whiskey Dick, feeling himself on safe ground in this
attention, persisted to the bitter end of a disintegrated and well-worn
"Travatore." "So that is what Mr. Munroe said," she remarked quietly.
"Not just then, in course, but it's what's bin on his mind and in his
talk for days off and on," returned Dick, with a knowing smile and a nod
of mysterious confidence. "Bless your soul, Miss Carr, folks like you and
me don't need to have them things explained. That's what I said to him,
sez I. 'Don't send no note, but just go up there and hev it out fair and
square, and say what you do mean.' But they would hev the note, and I
kalkilated to bring it. But when I set my eyes on you, and heard you
express yourself as you did just now, I sez to myself, sez I, 'Dick,
yer's a young lady, and a fash'nable lady at that, ez don't go foolin'
round on rules and etiketts'—excuse my freedom, Miss
Carr—'and you and her, sez I, 'kin just discuss this yer matter in
a sociable, off-hand, fash'nable way.' They're a good lot o' boys, Miss
Carr, a square lot—white men all of 'em; but they're a little soft
and green, may be, from livin' in these yer pine woods along o' the other
sap. They just worship the ground you and your sister tread
on—certain! of course! of course!" he added hurriedly, recognizing
Christie's half-conscious, deprecating gesture with more exaggerated
deprecation. "I understand. But what I wanter say is that they'd be
willin' to be that ground, and lie down and let you walk over
them—so to speak, Miss Carr, so to speak—if it would keep the
hem of your gown from gettin' soiled in the mud o' the camp. But it
wouldn't do for them to make a reg'lar curderoy road o' themselves for
the houl camp to trapse over, on the mere chance of your some time
passin' that way, would it now?"
"Won't you let me offer you some refreshment, Mr. Hall?" said
Christie, rising, with a slight color. "I'm really ashamed of my
forgetfulness again, but I'm afraid it's partly YOUR fault for
entertaining me to the exclusion of yourself. No, thank you, let me fetch
it for you."
She turned to a handsome sideboard near the door, and presently faced
him again with a decanter of whiskey and a glass in her hand, and a
return of the bewitching smile she had worn on entering.
"But perhaps you don't take whiskey?" suggested the arch deceiver,
with a sudden affected but pretty perplexity of eye, brow, and lips.
For the first time in his life Whiskey Dick hesitated between two
forms of intoxication. But he was still nervous and uneasy; habit
triumphed, and he took the whiskey. He, however, wiped his lips with a
slight wave of his handkerchief, to support a certain easy elegance which
he firmly believed relieved the act of any vulgar quality.
"Yes, ma'am," he continued, after an exhilarated pause. "Ez I said
afore, this yer's a matter you and me can discuss after the fashion o'
society. My idea is that these yer boys should kinder let up on you and
Miss Jessie for a while, and do a little more permiskus attention round
the Ford. There's one or two families yer with grown-up gals ez oughter
be squared; that is—the boys mighter put in a few fancy touches
among them—kinder take 'em buggy riding—or to
church—once in a while—just to take the pizen outer their
tongues, and make a kind o' bluff to the parents, d'ye see? That would
sorter divert their own minds; and even if it didn't, it would kinder get
'em accustomed agin to the old style and their own kind. I want to warn
ye agin an idea that might occur to you in a giniral way. I don't say you
hev the idea, but it's kind o' nat'ral you might be thinkin' of it some
time, and I thought I'd warn you agin it."
"I think we understand each other too well to differ much, Mr. Hall,"
said Christie, still smiling; "but what is the idea?"
The delicate compliment to their confidential relations and the slight
stimulus of liquor had tremulously exalted Whiskey Dick. Affecting to
look cautiously out of the window and around the room, he ventured to
draw nearer the young woman with a half-paternal, half-timid
"It might have occurred to you," he said, laying his handkerchief as
if to veil mere vulgar contact, on Christie's shoulder, "that it would be
a good thing on YOUR side to invite down some of your high-toned
gentlemen friends from 'Frisco to visit you and escort you round. It
seems quite nat'ral like, and I don't say it ain't, but—the boys
wouldn't stand for it."
In spite of her self-possession, Christie's eyes suddenly darkened,
and she involuntarily drew herself up. But Whiskey Dick, guiltily
attributing the movement to his own indiscreet gesture, said, "Excuse me,
miss," recovered himself by lightly dusting her shoulder with his
handkerchief, as if to remove the impression, and her smile returned.
"They wouldn't stand for it," said Dick, "and there'd be some
shooting! Not afore you, miss—not afore you, in course! But they'd
adjourn to the woods some morning with them city folks, and hev it out
with rifles at a hundred yards. Or, seein' ez they're city folks, the
boys would do the square thing with pistols at twelve paces. They're good
boys, as I said afore; but they're quick and tetchy—George, being
the youngest, nat'rally is the tetchiest. You know how it is, Miss Carr;
his pretty, gal-like face and little moustaches haz cost him half a dozen
scrimmages already. He'z had a fight for every hair that's growed in his
moustache since he kem here."
"Say no more, Mr. Hall!" said Christie, rising and pressing her hands
lightly on Dick's tremulous fingers. "If I ever had any such idea, I
should abandon it now; you are quite right in this as in your other
opinions. I shall never cease to be thankful to Mr. Munroe and Mr.
Kearney that they intrusted this delicate matter to your hands."
"Well," said the gratified and reddening visitor, "it ain't perhaps
the square thing to them or myself to say that they reckoned to have me
discuss their delicate affairs for them, but—"
"I understand," interrupted Christie. "They simply gave you the letter
as a friend. It was my good fortune to find you a sympathizing and
liberal man of the world." The delighted Dick, with conscious vanity
beaming from every feature of his shining face, lightly waved the
compliment aside with his handkerchief, as she continued, "But I am
forgetting the message. We accept the horses. Of course we COULD do
without an escort; but forgive my speaking so frankly, are YOU engaged
"Excuse me, miss, I don't take—" stammered Dick, scarcely
believing his ears.
"Could you give us your company as an escort?" repeated Christie with
Was he awake or dreaming, or was this some trick of liquor in his
often distorted fancy? He, Whiskey Dick! the butt of his friends, the
chartered oracle of the barrooms, even in whose wretched vanity there was
always the haunting suspicion that he was despised and scorned; he, who
had dared so much in speech, and achieved so little in fact! he, whose
habitual weakness had even led him into the wildest indiscretion here;
he—now offered a reward for that indiscretion! He, Whiskey Dick,
the solicited escort of these two beautiful and peerless girls! What
would they say at the Ford? What would his friends think? It would be all
over the Ford the next day. His past would be vindicated, his future
secured. He grew erect at the thought. It was almost in other voice, and
with no trace of his previous exaggeration, that he said, "With
"Then, if you will bring the horses at once, we shall be ready when
In another instant he had vanished, as if afraid to trust the reality
of his good fortune to the dangers of delay. At the end of half an hour
he reappeared, leading the two horses, himself mounted on a half-broken
mustang. A pair of large, jingling silver spurs and a stiff sombrero,
borrowed with the mustang from some mysterious source, were donned to do
honor to the occasion.
The young girls were not yet ready, but he was shown by the Chinese
servant into the parlor to wait for them. The decanter of whiskey and
glasses were still invitingly there. He was hot, trembling, and flushed
with triumph. He walked to the table and laid his hand on the decanter,
when an odd thought flashed upon him. He would not drink this time. No,
it should not be said that he, the selected escort of the elite of
Devil's Ford, had to fill himself up with whiskey before they started.
The boys might turn to each other in their astonishment, as he proudly
passed with his fair companions, and say, "It's Whiskey Dick," but he'd
be d——d if they should add, "and full as ever." No, sir! Nor
when he was riding beside these real ladies, and leaning over them at
some confidential moment, should they even know it from his breath! No. .
. . Yet a thimbleful, taken straight, only a thimbleful, wouldn't be
much, and might help to pull him together. He again reached his trembling
hand for the decanter, hesitated, and then, turning his back upon it,
resolutely walked to the open window. Almost at the same instant he found
himself face to face with Christie on the veranda.
She looked into his bloodshot eyes, and cast a swift glance at the
"Won't you take something before you go?" she said sweetly.
"I—reckon—not, jest now," stammered Whiskey Dick, with a
"You're right," said Christie. "I see you are like me. It's too hot
for anything fiery. Come with me."
She led him into the dining-room, and pouring out a glass of iced tea
handed it to him. Poor Dick was not prepared for this terrible
culmination. Whiskey Dick and iced tea! But under pretence of seeing if
it was properly flavored, Christie raised it to her own lips.
"Try it, to please me."
He drained the goblet.
"Now, then," said Christie gayly, "let's find Jessie, and be off!"
Whatever might have been his other deficiencies as an escort, Whiskey
Dick was a good horseman, and, in spite of his fractious brute, exhibited
such skill and confidence as to at once satisfy the young girls of his
value to them in the management of their own horses, to whom side-saddles
were still an alarming novelty. Jessie, who had probably already learned
from her sister the purport of Dick's confidences, had received him with
equal cordiality and perhaps a more unqualified amusement; and now, when
fairly lifted into the saddle by his tremulous but respectful hands, made
a very charming picture of youthful and rosy satisfaction. And when
Christie, more fascinating than ever in her riding-habit, took her place
on the other side of Dick, as they sallied from the gate, that gentleman
felt his cup of happiness complete. His triumphal entree into the world
of civilization and fashion was secure. He did not regret the untasted
liquor; here was an experience in after years to lean his back against
comfortably in bar-rooms, to entrance or defy mankind. He had even got so
far as to formulate in fancy the sentence: "I remember, gentlemen, that
one afternoon, being on a pasear with two fash'nable young ladies," etc.,
At present, however, he was obliged to confine himself to the
functions of an elegant guide and cicerone—when not engaged in
"having it out" with his horse. Their way lay along the slope, crossing
the high-road at right angles, to reach the deeper woods beyond. Dick
would have lingered on the highway—ostensibly to point out to his
companions the new flume that had taken the place of the condemned ditch,
but really in the hope of exposing himself in his glory to the curious
eyes of the wayfaring world.
Unhappily the road was deserted in the still powerful sunlight, and he
was obliged to seek the cover of the woods, with a passing compliment to
the parent of his charges. Waving his hands towards the flume, he said,
"Look at that work of your father's; there ain't no other man in
Californy but Philip Carr ez would hev the grit to hold up such a bluff
agin natur and agin luck ez that yer flume stands for. I don't say it
'cause you're his daughters, ladies! That ain't the style, ez YOU know,
in sassiety, Miss Carr," he added, turning to Christie as the more
socially experienced. "No! but there ain't another man to be found ez
could do it. It cost already two hundred thousand; it'll cost five
hundred thousand afore it's done; and every cent of it is got out of the
yearth beneath it, or HEZ got to be out of it. 'Tain't ev'ry man, Miss
Carr, ez hev got the pluck to pledge not only what he's got, but what he
reckons to git."
"But suppose he don't get it?" said Christie, slightly contracting her
"Then there's the flume to show for it," said Dick.
"But of what use is the flume, if there isn't any more gold?"
continued Christie, almost angrily.
"That's good from YOU, miss," said Dick, giving way to a fit of
hilarity. "That's good for a fash'nable young lady—own daughter of
Philip Carr. She sez, says she," continued Dick, appealing to the sedate
pines for appreciation of Christie's rare humor, "'Wot's the use of a
flume, when gold ain't there?' I must tell that to the boys."
"And what's the use of the gold in the ground when the flume isn't
there to work it out?" said Jessie to her sister, with a cautioning
glance towards Dick.
But Dick did not notice the look that passed between the sisters. The
richer humor of Jessie's retort had thrown him into convulsions of
"And now SHE says, wot's the use o' the gold without the flume? 'Xcuse
me, ladies, but that's just puttin' the hull question that's agitatin'
this yer camp inter two speeches as clear as crystal. There's the hull
crowd outside—and some on 'em inside, like Fairfax, hez their
doubts—ez says with Miss Christie; and there's all of us inside, ez
holds Miss Jessie's views."
"I never heard Mr. Munroe say that the flume was wrong," said Jessie
"Not to you, nat'rally," said Dick, with a confidential look at
Christie; "but I reckon he'd like some of the money it cost laid out for
suthin' else. But what's the odds? The gold is there, and WE'RE bound to
Dick was the foreman of a gang of paid workmen, who had replaced the
millionaires in mere manual labor, and the WE was a polite figure of
The conversation seemed to have taken an unfortunate turn, and both
the girls experienced a feeling of relief when they entered the long
gulch or defile that led to Indian Spring. The track now becoming narrow,
they were obliged to pass in single file along the precipitous hillside,
led by this escort. This effectually precluded any further speech, and
Christie at once surrendered herself to the calm, obliterating influences
of the forest. The settlement and its gossip were far behind and
forgotten. In the absorption of nature, her companions passed out of her
mind, even as they sometimes passed out of her sight in the windings of
the shadowy trail. As she rode alone, the fronds of breast-high ferns
seemed to caress her with outstretched and gently-detaining hands;
strange wildflowers sprang up through the parting underbrush; even the
granite rocks that at times pressed closely upon the trail appeared as if
cushioned to her contact with star-rayed mosses, or lightly flung after
her long lassoes of delicate vines. She recalled the absolute freedom of
their al-fresco life in the old double cabin, when she spent the greater
part of her waking hours under the mute trees in the encompassing
solitude, and, half regretting the more civilized restraints of this
newer and more ambitious abode, forgot that she had ever rebelled against
it. The social complication that threatened her now seemed to her rather
the outcome of her half-civilized parlor than of the sylvan glade. How
easy it would have been to have kept the cabin, and then to have gone
away entirely, than for her father to have allowed them to be compromised
with the growing fortunes of the settlement! The suspicions and distrust
that she had always felt of their fortunes seemed to grow with the
involuntary admission of Whiskey Dick that they were shared by others who
were practical men. She was fain to have recourse to the prospect again
to banish these thoughts, and this opened her eyes to the fact that her
companions had been missing from the trail ahead of her for some time.
She quickened her pace slightly to reach a projecting point of rock that
gave her a more extended prospect. But they had evidently
She was neither alarmed nor annoyed. She could easily overtake them
soon, for they would miss her, and return or wait for her at the spring.
At the worst she would have no difficulty in retracing her steps home. In
her present mood, she could readily spare their company; indeed she was
not sorry that no other being should interrupt that sympathy with the
free woods which was beginning to possess her.
She was destined, however, to be disappointed. She had not proceeded a
hundred yards before she noticed the moving figure of a man beyond her in
the hillside chaparral above the trail. He seemed to be going in the same
direction as herself, and, as she fancied, endeavoring to avoid her. This
excited her curiosity to the point of urging her horse forward until the
trail broadened into the level forest again, which she now remembered was
a part of the environs of Indian Spring. The stranger hesitated, pausing
once or twice with his back towards her, as if engaged in carefully
examining the dwarf willows to select a switch. Christie slightly checked
her speed as she drew nearer; when, as if obedient to a sudden
resolution, he turned and advanced towards her. She was relieved and yet
surprised to recognize the boyish face and figure of George Kearney. He
was quite pale and agitated, although attempting, by a jaunty swinging of
the switch he had just cut, to assume the appearance of ease and
Here was an opportunity. Christie resolved to profit by it. She did
not doubt that the young fellow had already passed her sister on the
trail, but, from bashfulness, had not dared to approach her. By inviting
his confidence, she would doubtless draw something from him that would
deny or corroborate her father's opinion of his sentiments. If he was
really in love with Jessie, she would learn what reasons he had for
expecting a serious culmination of his suit, and perhaps she might be
able delicately to open his eyes to the truth. If, as she believed, it
was only a boyish fancy, she would laugh him out of it with that
camaraderie which had always existed between them. A half motherly
sympathy, albeit born quite as much from a contemplation of his beautiful
yearning eyes as from his interesting position, lightened the smile with
which she greeted him.
"So you contrived to throw over your stupid business and join us,
after all," she said; "or was it that you changed your mind at the last
moment?" she added mischievously. "I thought only we women were permitted
that!" Indeed, she could not help noticing that there was really a strong
feminine suggestion in the shifting color and slightly conscious eyelids
of the young fellow.
"Do young girls always change their minds?" asked George, with an
"Not, always; but sometimes they don't know their own mind—
particularly if they are very young; and when they do at last, you clever
creatures of men, who have interpreted their ignorance to please
yourselves, abuse them for being fickle." She stopped to observe the
effect of what she believed a rather clear and significant exposition of
Jessie's and George's possible situation. But she was not prepared for
the look of blank resignation that seemed to drive the color from his
face and moisten the fire of his dark eyes.
"I reckon you're right," he said, looking down.
"Oh! we're not accusing you of fickleness," said Christie gayly;
"although you didn't come, and we were obliged to ask Mr. Hall to join
us. I suppose you found him and Jessie just now?"
But George made no reply. The color was slowly coming back to his
face, which, as she glanced covertly at him, seemed to have grown so much
older that his returning blood might have brought two or three years with
"Really, Mr. Kearney," she said dryly, "one would think that some
silly, conceited girl"—she was quite earnest in her epithets, for a
sudden, angry conviction of some coquetry and disingenuousness in Jessie
had come to her in contemplating its effects upon the young fellow at her
side—"some country jilt, had been trying her rustic hand upon
"She is not silly, conceited, nor countrified," said George, slowly
raising his beautiful eyes to the young girl half reproachfully. "It is I
who am all that. No, she is right, and you know it."
Much as Christie admired and valued her sister's charms, she thought
this was really going too far. What had Jessie ever done— what was
Jessie—to provoke and remain insensible to such a blind devotion as
this? And really, looking at him now, he was not so VERY YOUNG for
Jessie; whether his unfortunate passion had brought out all his latent
manliness, or whether he had hitherto kept his serious nature in the
background, certainly he was not a boy. And certainly his was not a
passion that he could be laughed out of. It was getting very tiresome.
She wished she had not met him—at least until she had had some
clearer understanding with her sister. He was still walking beside her,
with his hand on her bridle rein, partly to lead her horse over some
boulders in the trail, and partly to conceal his first embarrassment.
When they had fairly reached the woods, he stopped.
"I am going to say good-by, Miss Carr."
"Are you not coming further? We must be near Indian Spring, now; Mr.
Hall and—and Jessie—cannot be far away. You will keep me
company until we meet them?"
"No," he replied quietly. "I only stopped you to say good-by. I am
"Not from Devil's Ford?" she asked, in half-incredulous astonishment.
"At least, not for long?"
"I am not coming back," he replied.
"But this is very abrupt," she said hurriedly, feeling that in some
ridiculous way she had precipitated an equally ridiculous catastrophe.
"Surely you are not going away in this fashion, without saying good-by to
Jessie and—and father?"
"I shall see your father, of course—and you will give my regards
to Miss Jessie."
He evidently was in earnest. Was there ever anything so perfectly
preposterous? She became indignant.
"Of course," she said coldly, "I won't detain you; your business must
be urgent, and I forgot—at least I had forgotten until to-
day—that you have other duties more important than that of squire
of dames. I am afraid this forgetfulness made me think you would not part
from us in quite such a business fashion. I presume, if you had not met
me just now, we should none of us have seen you again?"
He did not reply.
"Will you say good-by, Miss Carr?"
He held out his hand.
"One moment, Mr. Kearney. If I have said anything which you think
justifies this very abrupt leave-taking, I beg you will forgive and
forget it—or, at least, let it have no more weight with you than
the idle words of any woman. I only spoke generally. You
know—I— I might be mistaken."
His eyes, which had dilated when she began to speak, darkened; his
color, which had quickly come, as quickly sank when she had ended.
"Don't say that, Miss Carr. It is not like you, and—it is
useless. You know what I meant a moment ago. I read it in your reply. You
meant that I, like others, had deceived myself. Did you not?"
She could not meet those honest eyes with less than equal honesty. She
knew that Jessie did not love him—would not marry him—
whatever coquetry she might have shown.
"I did not mean to offend you," she said hesitatingly; "I only half
suspected it when I spoke."
"And you wish to spare me the avowal?" he said bitterly.
"To me, perhaps, yes, by anticipating it. I could not tell what ideas
you might have gathered from some indiscreet frankness of Jessie—or
my father," she added, with almost equal bitterness.
"I have never spoken to either," he replied quickly. He stopped, and
added, after a moment's mortifying reflection, "I've been brought up in
the woods, Miss Carr, and I suppose I have followed my feelings, instead
of the etiquette of society."
Christie was too relieved at the rehabilitation of Jessie's
truthfulness to notice the full significance of his speech.
"Good-by," he said again, holding out his hand.
She extended her own, ungloved, with a frank smile. He held it for a
moment, with his eyes fixed upon hers. Then suddenly, as if obeying an
uncontrollable impulse, he crushed it like a flower again and again
against his burning lips, and darted away.
Christie sank back in her saddle with a little cry, half of pain and
half of frightened surprise. Had the poor boy suddenly gone mad, or was
this vicarious farewell a part of the courtship of Devil's Ford? She
looked at her little hand, which had reddened under the pressure, and
suddenly felt the flush extending to her cheeks and the roots of her
hair. This was intolerable.
It was her sister emerging from the wood to seek her. In another
moment she was at her side.
"We thought you were following," said Jessie. "Good heavens! how you
look! What has happened?"
"Nothing. I met Mr. Kearney a moment ago on the trail. He is going
away, and—and—" She stopped, furious and flushing.
"And," said Jessie, with a burst of merriment, "he told you at last he
loved you. Oh, Christie!"
The abrupt departure of George Kearney from Devil's Ford excited but
little interest in the community, and was soon forgotten. It was
generally attributed to differences between himself and his partners on
the question of further outlay of their earnings on mining
improvements—he and Philip Carr alone representing a sanguine
minority whose faith in the future of the mine accepted any risks. It was
alleged by some that he had sold out to his brother; it was believed by
others that he had simply gone to Sacramento to borrow money on his
share, in order to continue the improvements on his own responsibility.
The partners themselves were uncommunicative; even Whiskey Dick, who
since his remarkable social elevation had become less oracular, much to
his own astonishment, contributed nothing to the gossip except a
suggestion that as the fiery temper of George Kearney brooked no
opposition, even from his brother, it was better they should separate
before the estrangement became serious.
Mr. Carr did not disguise his annoyance at the loss of his young
disciple and firm ally. But an unlucky allusion to his previous remarks
on Kearney's attentions to Jessie, and a querulous regret that he had
permitted a disruption of their social intimacy, brought such an ominous
and frigid opposition, not only from Christie, but even the frivolous
Jessie herself, that Carr sank back in a crushed and terrified silence.
"I only meant to say," he stammered after a pause, in which he, however,
resumed his aggrieved manner, "that FAIRFAX seems to come here still, and
HE is not such a particular friend of mine."
"But she is—and has your interest entirely at heart," said
Jessie, stoutly, "and he only comes here to tell us how things are going
on at the works."
"And criticise your father, I suppose," said Mr. Carr, with an attempt
at jocularity that did not, however, disguise an irritated
suspiciousness. "He really seems to have supplanted ME as he has poor
Kearney in your estimation."
"Now, father," said Jessie, suddenly seizing him by the shoulders in
affected indignation, but really to conceal a certain embarrassment that
sprang quite as much from her sister's quietly observant eye as her
father's speech, "you promised to let this ridiculous discussion drop.
You will make me and Christie so nervous that we will not dare to open
the door to a visitor, until he declares his innocence of any matrimonial
intentions. You don't want to give color to the gossip that agreement
with your views about the improvements is necessary to getting on with
"Who dares talk such rubbish?" said Carr, reddening; "is that the kind
of gossip that Fairfax brings here?"
"Hardly, when it's known that he don't quite agree with you, and DOES
come here. That's the best denial of the gossip."
Christie, who had of late loftily ignored these discussions, waited
until her father had taken his departure.
"Then that is the reason why you still see Mr. Munroe, after what you
said," she remarked quietly to Jessie.
Jessie, who would have liked to escape with her father, was obliged to
pause on the threshold of the door, with a pretty assumption of blank
forgetfulness in her blue eyes and lifted eyebrows.
"Said what? when?" she asked vacantly.
"When—when Mr. Kearney that day—in the woods—went
away," said Christie, faintly coloring.
"Oh! THAT day," said Jessie briskly; "the day he just gloved your hand
with kisses, and then fled wildly into the forest to conceal his
"The day he behaved very foolishly," said Christie, with reproachful
calmness, that did not, however, prevent a suspicion of indignant
moisture in her eyes—"when you explained"—
"That it wasn't meant for ME," interrupted Jessie.
"That it was to you that MR. MUNROE'S attentions were directed. And
then we agreed that it was better to prevent any further advances of this
kind by avoiding any familiar relations with either of them."
"Yes," said Jessie, "I remember; but you're not confounding my seeing
Fairfax occasionally now with that sort of thing. HE doesn't kiss my hand
like anything," she added, as if in abstract reflection.
"Nor run away, either," suggested the trodden worm, turning.
There was an ominous silence.
"Do you know we are nearly out of coffee?" said Jessie choking, but
moving towards the door with Spartan-like calmness.
"Yes. And something must be done this very day about the washing,"
said Christie, with suppressed emotion, going towards the opposite
Tears stood in each other's eyes with this terrible exchange of
domestic confidences. Nevertheless, after a moment's pause, they
deliberately turned again, and, facing each other with frightful
calmness, left the room by purposeless and deliberate exits other than
those they had contemplated—a crushing abnegation of self, that, to
some extent, relieved their surcharged feelings.
Meantime the material prosperity of Devil's Ford increased, if a
prosperity based upon no visible foundation but the confidences and hopes
of its inhabitants could be called material. Few, if any, stopped to
consider that the improvements, buildings, and business were simply the
outlay of capital brought from elsewhere, and as yet the settlement or
town, as it was now called, had neither produced nor exported capital of
itself equal to half the amount expended. It was true that some land was
cultivated on the further slope, some mills erected and lumber furnished
from the inexhaustible forest; but the consumers were the inhabitants
themselves, who paid for their produce in borrowed capital or unlimited
credit. It was never discovered that while all roads led to Devil's Ford,
Devil's Ford led to nowhere. The difficulties overcome in getting things
into the settlement were never surmounted for getting things out of it.
The lumber was practically valueless for export to other settlements
across the mountain roads, which were equally rich in timber. The theory
so enthusiastically held by the original locators, that Devil's Ford was
a vast sink that had, through ages, exhausted and absorbed the trickling
wealth of the adjacent hills and valleys, was suffering an ironical
One morning it was known that work was stopped at the Devil's Ford
Ditch—temporarily only, it was alleged, and many of the old workmen
simply had their labor for the present transferred to excavating the
river banks, and the collection of vast heaps of "pay gravel." Specimens
from these mounds, taken from different localities, and at different
levels, were sent to San Francisco for more rigid assay and analysis. It
was believed that this would establish the fact of the permanent richness
of the drifts, and not only justify past expenditure, but a renewed
outlay of credit and capital. The suspension of engineering work gave Mr.
Carr an opportunity to visit San Francisco on general business of the
mine, which could not, however, prevent him from arranging further
combinations with capital. His two daughters accompanied him. It offered
an admirable opportunity for a shopping expedition, a change of scene,
and a peaceful solution of their perplexing and anomalous social
relations with Devil's Ford. In the first flush of gratitude to their
father for this opportune holiday, something of harmony had been restored
to the family circle that had of late been shaken by discord.
But their sanguine hopes of enjoyment were not entirely fulfilled.
Both Jessie and Christie were obliged to confess to a certain
disappointment in the aspect of the civilization they were now
reentering. They at first attributed it to the change in their own habits
during the last three months, and their having become barbarous and
countrified in their seclusion. Certainly in the matter of dress they
were behind the fashions as revealed in Montgomery Street. But when the
brief solace afforded them by the modiste and dressmaker was past, there
seemed little else to be gained. They missed at first, I fear, the
chivalrous and loyal devotion that had only amused them at Devil's Ford,
and were the more inclined, I think, to distrust the conscious and more
civilized gallantry of the better dressed and more carefully presented
men they met. For it must be admitted that, for obvious reasons, their
criticisms were at first confined to the sex they had been most in
contact with. They could not help noticing that the men were more eager,
annoyingly feverish, and self-asserting in their superior elegance and
external show than their old associates were in their frank, unrestrained
habits. It seemed to them that the five millionaires of Devil's Ford, in
their radical simplicity and thoroughness, were perhaps nearer the type
of true gentlemanhood than these citizens who imitated a civilization
they were unable yet to reach.
The women simply frightened them, as being, even more than the men,
demonstrative and excessive in their fine looks, their fine dresses,
their extravagant demand for excitement. In less than a week they found
themselves regretting—not the new villa on the slope of Devil's
Ford, which even in its own bizarre fashion was exceeded by the barbarous
ostentation of the villas and private houses around them—but the
double cabin under the trees, which now seemed to them almost
aristocratic in its grave simplicity and abstention. In the mysterious
forests of masts that thronged the city's quays they recalled the
straight shafts of the pines on Devil's slopes, only to miss the sedate
repose and infinite calm that used to environ them. In the feverish,
pulsating life of the young metropolis they often stopped oppressed,
giddy, and choking; the roar of the streets and thoroughfares was
meaningless to them, except to revive strange memories of the deep,
unvarying monotone of the evening wind over their humbler roof on the
Sierran hillside. Civic bred and nurtured as they were, the recurrence of
these sensations perplexed and alarmed them.
"It seems so perfectly ridiculous," said Jessie, "for us to feel as
out of place here as that Pike County servant girl in Sacramento who had
never seen a steamboat before; do you know, I quite had a turn the other
day at seeing a man on the Stockton wharf in a red shirt, with a rifle on
"And you wanted to go and speak to him?" said Christie, with a sad
"No, that's just it; I felt awfully hurt and injured that he did not
come up and speak to ME! I wonder if we got any fever or that sort of
thing up there; it makes one quite superstitious."
Christie did not reply; more than once before she had felt that
inexplicable misgiving. It had sometimes seemed to her that she had never
been quite herself since that memorable night when she had slipped out of
their sleeping-cabin, and stood alone in the gracious and commanding
presence of the woods and hills. In the solitude of night, with the hum
of the great city rising below her— at times even in theatres or
crowded assemblies of men and women— she forgot herself, and again
stood in the weird brilliancy of that moonlight night in mute worship at
the foot of that slowly-rising mystic altar of piled terraces, hanging
forests, and lifted plateaus that climbed forever to the lonely skies.
Again she felt before her the expanding and opening arms of the
protecting woods. Had they really closed upon her in some pantheistic
embrace that made her a part of them? Had she been baptized in that
moonlight as a child of the great forest? It was easy to believe in the
myths of the poets of an idyllic life under those trees, where, free from
conventional restrictions, one loved and was loved. If she, with her own
worldly experience, could think of this now, why might not George Kearney
have thought? . . . She stopped, and found herself blushing even in the
darkness. As the thought and blush were the usual sequel of her
reflections, it is to be feared that they may have been at times the
Mr. Carr, however, made up for his daughters' want of sympathy with
metropolitan life. To their astonishment, he not only plunged into the
fashionable gayeties and amusements of the town, but in dress and manner
assumed the role of a leader of society. The invariable answer to their
half-humorous comment was the necessities of the mine, and the policy of
frequenting the company of capitalists, to enlist their support and
confidence. There was something in this so unlike their father, that what
at any other time they would have hailed as a relief to his habitual
abstraction now half alarmed them. Yet he was not dissipated—he did
not drink nor gamble. There certainly did not seem any harm in his
frequenting the society of ladies, with a gallantry that appeared to be
forced and a pleasure that to their critical eyes was certainly
apocryphal. He did not drag his daughters into the mixed society of that
period; he did not press upon them the company of those he most
frequented, and whose accepted position in that little world of fashion
was considered equal to their own. When Jessie strongly objected to the
pronounced manners of a certain widow, whose actual present wealth and
pecuniary influence condoned for a more uncertain prehistoric past, Mr.
Carr did not urge a further acquaintance. "As long as you're not thinking
of marrying again, papa," Jessie had said finally, "I don't see the
necessity of our knowing her." "But suppose I were," had replied Mr. Carr
with affected humor. "Then you certainly wouldn't care for any one like
her," his daughter had responded triumphantly. Mr. Carr smiled, and
dropped the subject, but it is probable that his daughters' want of
sympathy with his acquaintances did not in the least interfere with his
social prestige. A gentleman in all his relations and under all
circumstances, even his cold scientific abstraction was provocative; rich
men envied his lofty ignorance of the smaller details of money-making,
even while they mistrusted his judgment. A man still well preserved, and
free from weakening vices, he was a dangerous rival to younger and faster
San Francisco, in the eyes of the sex, who knew how to value a repose
they did not themselves possess.
Suddenly Mr. Carr announced his intention of proceeding to Sacramento,
on further business of the mine, leaving his two daughters in the family
of a wealthy friend until he should return for them. He opposed their
ready suggestion to return to Devil's Ford with a new and unnecessary
inflexibility: he even met their compromise to accompany him to
Sacramento with equal decision.
"You will be only in my way," he said curtly. "Enjoy yourselves here
while you can."
Thus left to themselves, they tried to accept his advice. Possibly
some slight reaction to their previous disappointment may have already
set in; perhaps they felt any distraction to be a relief to their anxiety
about their father. They went out more; they frequented concerts and
parties; they accepted, with their host and his family, an invitation to
one of those opulent and barbaric entertainments with which a noted San
Francisco millionaire distracted his rare moments of reflection in his
gorgeous palace on the hills. Here they could at least be once more in
the country they loved, albeit of a milder and less heroic type, and a
little degraded by the overlapping tinsel and scattered spangles of the
It was a three days' fete; the style and choice of amusements left to
the guests, and an equal and active participation by no means necessary
or indispensable. Consequently, when Christie and Jessie Carr proposed a
ride through the adjacent canyon on the second morning, they had no
difficulty in finding horses in the well- furnished stables of their
opulent entertainers, nor cavaliers among the other guests, who were too
happy to find favor in the eyes of the two pretty girls who were supposed
to be abnormally fastidious and refined. Christie's escort was a
good-natured young banker, shrewd enough to avoid demonstrative
attentions, and lucky enough to interest her during the ride with his
clear and half- humorous reflections on some of the business speculations
of the day. If his ideas were occasionally too clever, and not always
consistent with a high sense of honor, she was none the less interested
to know the ethics of that world of speculation into which her father had
plunged, and the more convinced, with mingled sense of pride and anxiety,
that his still dominant gentlemanhood would prevent his coping with it on
equal terms. Nor could she help contrasting the conversation of the
sharp-witted man at her side with what she still remembered of the vague,
touching, boyish enthusiasm of the millionaires of Devil's Ford. Had her
escort guessed the result of this contrast, he would hardly have been as
gratified as he was with the grave attention of her beautiful eyes.
The fascination of a gracious day and the leafy solitude of the canyon
led them to prolong their ride beyond the proposed limit, and it became
necessary towards sunset for them to seek some shorter cut home.
"There's a vaquero in yonder field," said Christie's escort, who was
riding with her a little in advance of the others, "and those fellows
know every trail that a horse can follow. I'll ride on, intercept him,
and try my Spanish on him. If I miss him, as he's galloping on, you might
try your hand on him yourself. He'll understand your eyes, Miss Carr, in
As he dashed away, to cover his first audacity of compliment, Christie
lifted the eyes thus apostrophized to the opposite field. The vaquero,
who was chasing some cattle, was evidently too preoccupied to heed the
shouts of her companion, and wheeling round suddenly to intercept one of
the deviating fugitives, permitted Christie's escort to dash past him
before that gentleman could rein in his excited steed. This brought the
vaquero directly in her path. Perceiving her, he threw his horse back on
its haunches, to prevent a collision. Christie rode up to him, suddenly
uttered a cry, and halted. For before her, sunburnt in cheek and throat,
darker in the free growth of moustache and curling hair, clad in the
coarse, picturesque finery of his class, undisguised only in his boyish
beauty, sat George Kearney.
The blood, that had forsaken her astonished face, rushed as quickly
back. His eyes, which had suddenly sparkled with an electrical glow, sank
before hers. His hand dropped, and his cheek flushed with a dark
"You here, Mr. Kearney? How strange!—but how glad I am to meet
She tried to smile; her voice trembled, and her little hand shook as
she extended it to him.
He raised his dark eyes quickly, and impulsively urged his horse to
her side. But, as if suddenly awakening to the reality of the situation,
he glanced at her hurriedly, down at his barbaric finery, and threw a
searching look towards her escort.
In an instant Christie saw the infelicity of her position, and its
dangers. The words of Whiskey Dick, "He wouldn't stand that," flashed
across her mind. There was no time to lose. The banker had already gained
control over his horse, and was approaching them, all unconscious of the
fixed stare with which George was regarding him. Christie hastily seized
the hand which he had allowed to fall at his side, and said
"Will you ride with me a little way, Mr. Kearney?"
He turned the same searching look upon her. She met it clearly and
steadily; he even thought reproachfully.
"Do!" she said hurriedly. "I ask it as a favor. I want to speak to
you. Jessie and I are here alone. Father is away. YOU are one of our
He hesitated. She turned to the astonished young banker, who rode
"I have just met an old friend. Will you please ride back as quickly
as you can, and tell Jessie that Mr. Kearney is here, and ask her to join
She watched her dazed escort, still speechless from the spectacle of
the fastidious Miss Carr tete-a-tete with a common Mexican vaquero,
gallop off in the direction of the canyon, and then turned to George.
"Now take me home, the shortest way, as quick as you can."
"Home?" echoed George.
"I mean to Mr. Prince's house. Quick! before they can come up to
He mechanically put spurs to his horse; she followed. They presently
struck into a trail that soon diverged again into a disused logging track
through the woods.
"This is the short cut to Prince's, by two miles," he said, as they
entered the woods.
As they were still galloping, without exchanging a word, Christie
began to slacken her speed; George did the same. They were safe from
intrusion at the present, even if the others had found the short cut.
Christie, bold and self-reliant a moment ago, suddenly found herself
growing weak and embarrassed. What had she done?
She checked her horse suddenly.
"Perhaps we had better wait for them," she said timidly.
George had not raised his eyes to hers.
"You said you wanted to hurry home," he replied gently, passing his
hand along his mustang's velvety neck, "and—and you had something
to say to me."
"Certainly," she answered, with a faint laugh. "I'm so astonished at
meeting you here. I'm quite bewildered. You are living here; you have
forsaken us to buy a ranche?" she continued, looking at him
His brow colored slightly.
"No, I'm living here, but I have bought no ranche. I'm only a hired
man on somebody else's ranche, to look after the cattle."
He saw her beautiful eyes fill with astonishment and—something
else. His brow cleared; he went on, with his old boyish laugh:
"No, Miss Carr. The fact is, I'm dead broke. I've lost everything
since I saw you last. But as I know how to ride, and I'm not afraid of
work, I manage to keep along."
"You have lost money in—in the mines?" said Christie
"No"—he replied quickly, evading her eyes. "My brother has my
interest, you know. I've been foolish on my own account solely. You know
I'm rather inclined to that sort of thing. But as long as my folly don't
affect others, I can stand it."
"But it may affect others—and THEY may not think of it as
folly—" She stopped short, confused by his brightening color and
eyes. "I mean— Oh, Mr. Kearney, I want you to be frank with me. I
know nothing of business, but I know there has been trouble about the
mine at Devil's Ford. Tell me honestly, has my father anything to do with
it? If I thought that through any imprudence of his, you had
suffered—if I believed that you could trace any misfortune of yours
to him—to US—I should never forgive myself"—she stopped
and flashed a single look at him—"I should never forgive YOU for
The look of pain which had at first shown itself in his face, which
never concealed anything, passed, and a quick smile followed her feminine
"Miss Carr," he said, with boyish eagerness, "if any man suggested to
me that your father wasn't the brightest and best of his kind— too
wise and clever for the fools about him to understand—I'd—I'd
Confused by his ready and gracious disclaimer of what she had NOT
intended to say, there was nothing left for her but to rush upon what she
really intended to say, with what she felt was shameful
"One word more, Mr. Kearney," she began, looking down, but feeling the
color come to her face as she spoke. "When you spoke to me the day you
left, you must have thought me hard and cruel. When I tell you that I
thought you were alluding to Jessie and some feeling you had for
"For Jessie!" echoed George.
"You will understand that—that—"
"That what?" said George, drawing nearer to her.
"That I was only speaking as she might have spoken had you talked to
her of me," added Christie hurriedly, slightly backing her horse away
But this was not so easy, as George was the better rider, and by an
imperceptible movement of his wrist and foot had glued his horse to her
side. "He will go now," she had thought, but he didn't.
"We must ride on," she suggested faintly.
"No," he said with a sudden dropping of his boyish manner and a slight
lifting of his head. "We must ride together no further, Miss Carr. I must
go back to the work I am hired to do, and you must go on with your party,
whom I hear coming. But when we part here you must bid me
good-by—not as Jessie's sister—but as Christie—the
one—the only woman that I love, or that I ever have loved."
He held out his hand. With the recollection of their previous parting,
she tremblingly advanced her own. He took it, but did not raise it to his
lips. And it was she who found herself half confusedly retaining his hand
in hers, until she dropped it with a blush.
"Then is this the reason you give for deserting us as you have
deserted Devil's Ford?" she said coldly.
He lifted his eyes to her with a strange smile, and said, "Yes,"
wheeled his horse, and disappeared in the forest.
He had left her thus abruptly once before, kissed, blushing, and
indignant. He was leaving her now, unkissed, but white and indignant. Yet
she was so self-possessed when the party joined her, that the singular
rencontre and her explanation of the stranger's sudden departure excited
no further comment. Only Jessie managed to whisper in her ear,—
"I hope you are satisfied now that it wasn't me he meant?"
"Not at all," said Christie coldly.
A few days after the girls had returned to San Francisco, they
received a letter from their father. His business, he wrote, would detain
him in Sacramento some days longer. There was no reason why they should
return to Devil's Ford in the heat of the summer; their host had written
to beg him to allow them a more extended visit, and, if they were
enjoying themselves, he thought it would be well not to disoblige an old
friend. He had heard they had a pleasant visit to Mr. Prince's place, and
that a certain young banker had been very attentive to Christie.
"Do you know what all this means, dear?" asked Jessie, who had been
watching her sister with an unusually grave face.
Christie whose thoughts had wandered from the letter, replied
"I suppose it means that we are to wait here until father sends for
"It means a good deal more. It means that papa has had another
reverse; it means that the assay has turned out badly for the mine—
that the further they go from the flat the worse it gets—that all
the gold they will probably ever see at Devil's Ford is what they have
already found or will find on the flat; it means that all Devil's Ford is
only a 'pocket,' and not a 'lead.'" She stopped, with unexpected tears in
"Who told you this?" asked Christie breathlessly.
"Fairfax—Mr. Munroe," stammered her sister, "writes to me as if
we already knew it—tells me not to be alarmed, that it isn't so
bad— and all that."
"How long has this happened, Jessie?" said Christie, taking her hand,
with a white but calm face.
"Nearly ever since we've been here, I suppose. It must be so, for he
says poor papa is still hopeful of doing something yet."
"And Mr. Munroe writes to you?" said Christie abstractedly.
"Of course," said Jessie quickly. "He feels interested
"Nobody tells ME anything," said Christie.
"No," said Christie bitterly.
"What on earth DID you talk about? But people don't confide in you
because they're afraid of you. You're so—"
"So gently patronizing, and so 'I-don't-suppose-you-can-help-it,-
poor-thing,' in your general style," said Jessie, kissing her. "There! I
only wish I was like you. What do you say if we write to father that
we'll go back to Devil's Ford? Mr. Munroe thinks we will be of service
there just now. If the men are dissatisfied, and think we're spending
"I'm afraid Mr. Munroe is hardly a disinterested adviser. At least, I
don't think it would look quite decent for you to fly back without your
father, at his suggestion," said Christie coldly. "He is not the only
partner. We are spending no money. Besides, we have engaged to go to Mr.
Prince's again next week."
"As you like, dear," said Jessie, turning away to hide a faint
Nevertheless, when they returned from their visit to Mr. Prince's, and
one or two uneventful rides, Christie looked grave. It was only a few
days later that Jessie burst upon her one morning.
"You were saying that nobody ever tells you anything. Well, here's
your chance. Whiskey Dick is below."
"Whiskey Dick?" repeated Christie. "What does he want?"
"YOU, love. Who else? You know he always scorns me as not being
high-toned and elegant enough for his social confidences. He asked for
With an uneasy sense of some impending revelation, Christie descended
to the drawing-room. As she opened the door, a strong flavor of that
toilet soap and eau de Cologne with which Whiskey Dick was in the habit
of gracefully effacing the traces of dissipation made known his presence.
In spite of a new suit of clothes, whose pristine folds refused to adapt
themselves entirely to the contour of his figure, he was somewhat subdued
by the unexpected elegance of the drawing-room of Christie's host. But a
glance at Christie's sad but gracious face quickly reassured him. Taking
from his hat a three-cornered parcel, he unfolded a handsome saffrona
rose, which he gravely presented to her. Having thus reestablished his
position, he sank elegantly into a tete-a-tete ottoman. Finding the
position inconvenient to face Christie, who had seated herself on a
chair, he transferred himself to the other side of the ottoman, and
addressed her over its back as from a pulpit.
"Is this really a fortunate accident, Mr. Hall, or did you try to find
us?" said Christie pleasantly.
"Partly promiskuss, and partly coincident, Miss Christie, one up and
t'other down," said Dick lightly. "Work being slack at present at Devil's
Ford, I reck'ned I'd take a pasear down to 'Frisco, and dip into the
vortex o' fash'nable society and out again." He lightly waved a new
handkerchief to illustrate his swallow-like intrusion. "This yer minglin'
with the bo-tong is apt to be wearisome, ez you and me knows, unless
combined with experience and judgment. So when them boys up there allows
that there's a little too much fash'nable society and San Francisco
capital and high- falutin' about the future goin' on fer square surface
mining, I sez, 'Look yere, gentlemen,' sez I, 'you don't see the pint.
The pint is to get the pop'lar eye fixed, so to speak, on Devil's Ford.
When a fash'nable star rises above the 'Frisco horizon—like Miss
Carr—and, so to speak, dazzles the gineral eye, people want to know
who she is. And when people say that's the accomplished daughter o' the
accomplished superintendent of the Devil's Ford claim—otherwise
known as the Star-eyed Goddess o' Devil's Ford— every eye is fixed
on the mine, and Capital, so to speak, tumbles to her.' And when they sez
that the old man—excuse my freedom, but that's the way the boys
talk of your father, meaning no harm— the old man, instead o'
trying to corral rich widders—grass or otherwise—to spend
their money on the big works for the gold that ain't there
yet—should stay in Devil's Ford and put all his sabe and genius
into grindin' out the little gold that is there, I sez to them that it
ain't your father's style. 'His style,' sez I, 'ez to go in and build
them works.' When they're done he turns round to Capital, and sez
he—'Look yer,' sez he, 'thar's all the works you want, first
quality—cost a million; thar's all the water you want,
onlimited—cost another million; thar's all the pay gravel you want
in and outer the ground—call it two millions more. Now my time's
too vally'ble; my professhun's too high-toned to WORK mines. I MAKE 'em.
Hand me over a check for ten millions and call it square, and work it for
yourself.' So Capital hands over the money and waltzes down to run the
mine, and you original locators walks round with yer hands in yer pockets
a-top of your six million profit, and you let's Capital take the work and
Preposterous as this seemed from the lips of Whiskey Dick, Christie
had a haunting suspicion that it was not greatly unlike the theories
expounded by the clever young banker who had been her escort. She did not
interrupt his flow of reminiscent criticism; when he paused for breath,
she said, quietly:
"I met Mr. George Kearney the other day in the country."
Whiskey Dick stopped awkwardly, glanced hurriedly at Christie, and
coughed behind his handkerchief.
him, you say. Was he—er—er—well?"
"In health, yes; but otherwise he has lost everything," said Christie,
fixing her eyes on the embarrassed Dick.
"Yes—er—in course—in course—" continued Dick,
nervously glancing round the apartment as if endeavoring to find an
opening to some less abrupt statement of the fact.
"And actually reduced to take some menial employment," added Christie,
still regarding Dick with her clear glance.
"That's it—that's just it," said Dick, beaming as he suddenly
found his delicate and confidential opportunity. "That's it, Miss
Christie; that's just what I was sayin' to the boys. 'Ez it the square
thing,' sez I, 'jest because George hez happened to hypothecate every
dollar he has, or expects to hev, to put into them works, only to please
Mr. Carr, and just because he don't want to distress that intelligent
gentleman by letting him see he's dead broke—for him to go and
demean himself and Devil's Ford by rushing away and hiring out as a
Mexican vaquero on Mexican wages? Look,' sez I, 'at the disgrace he
brings upon a high-toned, fash'nable girl, at whose side he's walked and
danced, and passed rings, and sentiments, and bokays in the changes o'
the cotillion and the mizzourka. And wot,' sez I, 'if some day, prancing
along in a fash'nable cavalcade, she all of a suddents comes across him
drivin' a Mexican steer?' That's what I said to the boys. And so you met
him, Miss Christie, as usual," continued Dick, endeavoring under the
appearance of a large social experience to conceal an eager anxiety to
know the details—"so you met him; and, in course, you didn't let on
yer knew him, so to speak, nat'rally, or p'raps you kinder like asked him
to fix your saddle-girth, and give him a five-dollar piece—eh?"
Christie, who had risen and gone to the window, suddenly turned a very
pale face and shining eyes on Dick.
"Mr. Hall," she said, with a faint attempt at a smile, "we are old
friends, and I feel I can ask you a favor. You once before acted as our
escort—it was for a short but a happy time—will you accept a
larger trust? My father is busy in Sacramento for the mine: will you,
without saying anything to anybody, take Jessie and me back at once to
"Will I? Miss Christie," said Dick, choking between an intense
gratification and a desire to keep back its vulgar exhibition, "I shall
"When I say keep it a secret"—she hesitated—"I don't mean
that I object to your letting Mr. Kearney, if you happen to know where he
is, understand that we are going back to Devil's Ford."
"Cert'nly—nat'rally," said Dick, waving his hand gracefully;
"sorter drop him a line, saying that bizness of a social and delicate
nature—being the escort of Miss Christie and Jessie Carr to Devil's
Ford—prevents my having the pleasure of calling."
"That will do very well, Mr. Hall," said Christie, faintly smiling
through her moist eyelashes. "Then will you go at once and secure tickets
for to-night's boat, and bring them here? Jessie and I will arrange
"Cert'nly," said Dick impulsively, and preparing to take a graceful
"We'll be impatient until you return with the tickets," said Christie
Dick shook hands gravely, got as far as the door, and paused.
"You think it better to take the tickets now?" he said dubiously.
"By all means," said Christie impetuously. "I've set my heart on going
to-night—and unless you secure berths early—"
"In course—in course," interrupted Dick nervously.
"But what?" said Christie impatiently.
Dick hesitated, shut the door carefully, and, looking round the room,
lightly shook out his handkerchief, apparently flicked away an
embarrassing suggestion, and said, with a little laugh:
"It's ridiklous, perfectly ridiklous, Miss Christie; but not bein' in
the habit of carryin' ready money, and havin' omitted to cash a draft on
Wells, Fargo Co.—"
"Of course," said Christie rapidly. "How forgetful I am! Pray forgive
me, Mr. Hall. I didn't think. I'll run up and get it from our host; he
will be glad to be our banker."
"One moment, Miss Christie," said Dick lightly, as his thumb and
finger relaxed in his waistcoat pocket over the only piece of money in
the world that had remained to him after his extravagant purchase of
Christie's saffrona rose, "one moment: in this yer monetary transaction,
if you like, you are at liberty to use MY name."
As Christie and Jessie Carr looked from the windows of the coach,
whose dust-clogged wheels were slowly dragging them, as if reluctant,
nearer the last stage of their journey to Devil's Ford, they were
conscious of a change in the landscape, which they could not entirely
charge upon their changed feelings. The few bared open spaces on the
upland, the long stretch of rocky ridge near the summit, so vivid and so
velvety during their first journey, were now burnt and yellow; even the
brief openings in the forest were seared as if by a hot iron in the
scorching rays of a half year's sun. The pastoral slopes of the valley
below were cloaked in lustre-leather: the rare watercourses along the
road had faded from the waiting eye and ear; it seemed as if the long and
dry summer had even invaded the close-set ranks of pines, and had blown a
simoom breath through the densest woods, leaving its charred red ashes on
every leaf and spray along the tunnelled shade. As they leaned out of the
window and inhaled the half-dead spices of the evergreens, they seemed to
have entered the atmosphere of some exhausted passion—of some
fierce excitement that was even now slowly burning itself out.
It was a relief at last to see the straggling houses of Devil's Ford
far below come once more into view, as they rounded the shoulder of
Devil's Spur and began the long descent. But as they entered the town a
change more ominous and startling than the desiccation of the landscape
forced itself upon them. The town was still there, but where were the
inhabitants? Four months ago they had left the straggling street thronged
with busy citizens—groups at every corner, and a chaos of
merchandise and traders in the open plaza or square beside the
Presbyterian church. Now all was changed. Only a few wayfarers lifted
their heads lazily as the coach rattled by, crossing the deserted square
littered with empty boxes, and gliding past empty cabins or vacant shop
windows, from which not only familiar faces, but even the window sashes
themselves, were gone. The great unfinished serpent-like flume, crossing
the river on gigantic trestles, had advanced as far as the town, stooping
over it like some enormous reptile that had sucked its life blood and was
gorged with its prey.
Whiskey Dick, who had left the stage on the summit to avail himself of
a shorter foot trail to the house, that would give him half an hour's
grace to make preparations, met them at the stage office with a buggy. A
glance at the young girls, perhaps, convinced him that the graces of
elegant worldly conversation were out of place with the revelation he
read on their faces. Perhaps, he, too, was a trifle indisposed. The short
journey to the house was made in profound silence.
The villa had been repainted and decorated, and it looked fresher, and
even, to their preoccupied minds, appeared more attractive than ever.
Thoughtful hands had taken care of the vines and rose-bushes on the
trellises; water—that precious element in Devil's Ford—had
not been spared in keeping green through the long drought the plants
which the girls had so tenderly nurtured. It was the one oasis in which
the summer still lingered; and yet a singular sense of loss came over the
girls as they once more crossed its threshold. It seemed no longer their
"Ef I was you, Miss Christie, I'd keep close to the house for a day or
two, until—until—things is settled," said Dick; "there's a
heap o' tramps and sich cattle trapsin' round. P'raps you wouldn't feel
so lonesome if you was nearer town—for instance, 'bout wher' you
"In the dear old cabin," said Christie quickly; "I remember it; I wish
we were there now."
"Do you really? Do you?" said Whiskey Dick, with suddenly twinkling
eyes. "That's like you to say it. That's what I allus said," continued
Dick, addressing space generally; "if there's any one ez knows how to
come square down to the bottom rock without flinchin', it's your
high-toned, fash'nable gals. But I must meander back to town, and let the
boys know you're in possession, safe and sound. It's right mean that
Fairfax and Mattingly had to go down to Lagrange on some low business
yesterday, but they'll be back to-morrow. So long."
Left alone, the girls began to realize their strange position. They
had conceived no settled plan. The night they left San Francisco they had
written an earnest letter to their father, telling him that on learning
the truth about the reverses of Devil's Ford, they thought it their duty
to return and share them with others, without obliging him to prefer the
request, and with as little worry to him as possible. He would find them
ready to share his trials, and in what must be the scene of their work
"It will bring father back," said Christie; "he won't leave us here
alone; and then together we must come to some understanding with
him—with THEM—for somehow I feel as if this house belonged to
us no longer."
Her surmise was not far wrong. When Mr. Carr arrived hurriedly from
Sacramento the next evening, he found the house deserted. His daughters
were gone; there were indications that they had arrived, and, for some
reason, suddenly departed. The vague fear that had haunted his guilty
soul after receiving their letter, and during his breathless journey, now
seemed to be realized. He was turning from the empty house, whose
reproachful solitude frightened him, when he was confronted on the
threshold by the figure of Fairfax Munroe.
"I came to the stage office to meet you," he said; "you must have left
the stage at the summit."
"I did," said Carr angrily. "I was anxious to meet my daughters
quickly, to know the reason of their foolish alarm, and to know also who
had been frightening them. Where are they?"
"They are safe in the old cabin beyond, that has been put up ready to
receive them again," said Fairfax quietly.
"But what is the meaning of this? Why are they not here?" demanded
Carr, hiding his agitation in a burst of querulous rage.
"Do YOU ask, Mr. Carr?" said Fairfax sadly. "Did you expect them to
remain here until the sheriff took possession? No one knows better than
yourself that the money advanced you on the deeds of this homestead has
never been repaid."
Carr staggered, but recovered himself with feeble violence.
"Since you know so much of my affairs, how do you know that this claim
will ever be pressed for payment? How do you know it is not the advance
"Because I have seen the woman who advanced it," said Fairfax
hopelessly. "She was here to look at the property before your daughters
"Well?" said Carr nervously.
"Well! You force me to tell you something I should like to forget. You
force me to anticipate a disclosure I expected to make to you only when I
came to ask permission to woo your daughter Jessie; and when I tell you
what it is, you will understand that I have no right to criticise your
conduct. I am only explaining my own."
"Go on," said Carr impatiently.
"When I first came to this country, there was a woman I loved
passionately. She treated me as women of her kind only treat men like me;
she ruined me, and left me. That was four years ago. I love your
daughter, Mr. Carr, but she has never heard it from my lips. I would not
woo her until I had told you all. I have tried to do it ere this, and
failed. Perhaps I should not now, but—"
"But what?" said Carr furiously; "speak out!"
"But this. Look!" said Fairfax, producing from his pocket the packet
of letters Jessie had found; "perhaps you know the handwriting?"
"What do you mean?" gasped Carr.
"That woman—my mistress—is the woman who advanced you
money, and who claims this house."
The interview, and whatever came of it, remained a secret with the two
men. When Mr. Carr accepted the hospitality of the old cabin again, it
was understood that he had sacrificed the new house and its furniture to
some of the more pressing debts of the mine, and the act went far to
restore his waning popularity. But a more genuine feeling of relief was
experienced by Devil's Ford when it was rumored that Fairfax Munroe had
asked for the hand of Jessie Carr, and that some promise contingent upon
the equitable adjustment of the affairs of the mine had been given by Mr.
Carr. To the superstitious mind of Devil's Ford and its few remaining
locators, this new partnership seemed to promise that unity of interest
and stability of fortune that Devil's Ford had lacked. But nothing could
be done until the rainy season had fairly set in; until the
long-looked-for element that was to magically separate the gold from the
dross in those dull mounds of dust and gravel had come of its own free
will, and in its own appointed channels, independent of the feeble
auxiliaries that had hopelessly riven the rocks on the hillside, or hung
incomplete and unfinished in lofty scaffoldings above the settlement.
The rainy season came early. At first in gathered mists on the higher
peaks that were lifted in the morning sun only to show a fresher field of
dazzling white below; in white clouds that at first seemed to be mere
drifts blown across from those fresh snowfields, and obscuring the clear
blue above; in far-off murmurs in the hollow hills and gulches; in nearer
tinkling melody and baby prattling in the leaves. It came with bright
flashes of sunlight by day, with deep, monotonous shadow at night; with
the onset of heavy winds, the roar of turbulent woods, the tumultuous
tossing of leafy arms, and with what seemed the silent dissolution of the
whole landscape in days of steady and uninterrupted downfall. It came
extravagantly, for every canyon had grown into a torrent, every gulch a
waterspout, every watercourse a river, and all pouring into the North
Fork, that, rushing past the settlement, seemed to threaten it with
lifted crest and flying mane. It came dangerously, for one night the
river, leaping the feeble barrier of Devil's Ford, swept away houses and
banks, scattered with unconscious irony the laboriously collected heaps
of gravel left for hydraulic machinery, and spread out a vast and silent
lake across the submerged flat.
In the hurry and confusion of that night the girls had thrown open
their cabin to the escaping miners, who hurried along the slope that was
now the bank of the river. Suddenly Christie felt her arm grasped, and
she was half-led, half-dragged, into the inner room. Her father stood
"Where is George Kearney?" he asked tremulously.
"George Kearney!" echoed Christie, for a moment believing the
excitement had turned her father's brain. "You know he is not here; he is
in San Francisco."
"He is here—I tell you," said Carr impatiently; "he has been
here ever since the high water, trying to save the flume and
"George—here!" Christie could only gasp.
"Yes! He passed here a few moments ago, to see if you were all safe,
and he has gone on towards the flume. But what he is trying to do is
madness. If you see him, implore him to do no more. Let him abandon the
accursed flume to its fate. It has worked already too much woe upon us
all; why should it carry his brave and youthful soul down with it?"
The words were still ringing in her ears, when he suddenly passed
away, with the hurrying crowd. Scarcely knowing what she did, she ran
out, vaguely intent only on one thought, seeking only the one face,
lately so dear in recollection that she felt she would die if she never
saw it again. Perplexed by confused voices in the woods, she lost track
of the crowd, until the voices suddenly were raised in one loud outcry,
followed by the crashing of timber, the splashing of water, a silence,
and then a dull, continuous roar. She ran vaguely on in the direction of
the reservoir, with her father's injunction still in her mind, until a
terrible idea displaced it, and she turned at right angles suddenly, and
ran towards the slope leading down to the submerged flat. She had barely
left the shelter of the trees behind her before the roar of water seemed
to rise at her very feet. She stopped, dazed, bewildered, and
horror-stricken, on the edge of the slope. It was the slope no longer,
but the bank of the river itself!
Even in the gray light of early morning, and with inexperienced eyes,
she saw all too clearly now. The trestle-work had given way; the curving
mile of flume, fallen into the stream, and, crushed and dammed against
the opposite shore, had absolutely turned the whole river through the
half-finished ditch and partly excavated mine in its way, a few rods
further on to join the old familiar channel. The bank of the river was
changed; the flat had become an island, between which and the slope where
she stood the North Fork was rolling its resistless yellow torrent. As
she gazed spellbound, a portion of the slope beneath her suddenly seemed
to sink and crumble, and was swallowed up in the rushing stream. She
heard a cry of warning behind her, but, rooted to the spot by a fearful
fascination, she heeded it not.
Again there was a sudden disruption, and another part of the slope
sank to rise no more; but this time she felt herself seized by the waist
and dragged back. It was her father standing by her side.
He was flushed and excited, gazing at the water with a strange
"Do you see it? Do you know what has happened?" he asked quickly.
"The flume has fallen and turned the river," said Christie hurriedly.
"But—have you seen him—is he safe?"
"He—who?" he answered vacantly.
"He is safe," he said impatiently. "But, do you see, Christie? Do you
know what this means?"
He pointed with his tremulous hand to the stream before them.
"It means we are ruined," said Christie coldly.
"Nothing of the kind! It means that the river is doing the work of the
flume. It is sluicing off the gravel, deepening the ditch, and altering
the slope which was the old bend of the river. It will do in ten minutes
the work that would take us a year. If we can stop it in time, or control
it, we are safe; but if we can not, it will carry away the bed and
deposit with the rest, and we are ruined again."
With a gesture of impotent fury, he dashed away in the direction of an
equally excited crowd, that on a point of the slope nearer the island
were gesticulating and shouting to a second group of men, who on the
opposite shore were clambering on over the choked debris of the flume
that had dammed and diverted the current. It was evident that the same
idea had occurred to them, and they were risking their lives in the
attempt to set free the impediments. Shocked and indignant as Christie
had been at the degrading absorption of material interests at such a
moment, the element of danger lifted the labors of these men into
heroism, and she began to feel a strange exultation as she watched them.
Under the skilful blows of their axes, in a few moments the vast body of
drift began to disintegrate, and then to swing round and move towards the
old channel. A cheer went up, but as suddenly died away again. An
overlapping fringe of wreckage had caught on the point of the island and
arrested the whole mass.
The men, who had gained the shore with difficulty, looked back with a
cry of despair. But the next moment from among them leaped a figure,
alert, buoyant, invincible, and, axe in hand, once more essayed the
passage. Springing from timber to timber, he at last reached the point of
obstruction. A few strokes of the axe were sufficient to clear it; but at
the first stroke it was apparent that the striker was also losing his
hold upon the shore, and that he must inevitably be carried away with the
tossing debris. But this consideration did not seem to affect him; the
last blow was struck, and as the freed timbers rolled on, over and over,
he boldly plunged into the flood. Christie gave a little cry—her
heart had bounded with him; it seemed as if his plunge had splashed the
water in her eyes. He did not come to the surface until he had passed the
point below where her father stood, and then struggling feebly, as if
stunned or disabled by a blow. It seemed to her that he was trying to
approach the side of the river where she was. Would he do it? Could she
help him? She was alone; he was hidden from the view of the men on the
point, and no succor could come from them. There was a fringe of alder
nearly opposite their cabin that almost overhung the stream. She ran to
it, clutched it with a frantic hand, and, leaning over the boiling water,
uttered for the first time his name:
As if called to the surface by the magic of her voice, he rose a few
yards from her in mid-current, and turned his fading eyes towards the
bank. In another moment he would have been swept beyond her reach, but
with a supreme effort he turned on one side; the current, striking him
sideways, threw him towards the bank, and she caught him by his sleeve.
For an instant it seemed as if she would be dragged down with him. For
one dangerous moment she did not care, and almost yielded to the spell;
but as the rush of water pressed him against the bank, she recovered
herself, and managed to lift him beyond its reach. And then she sat down,
half-fainting, with his white face and damp curls upon her breast.
"George, darling, speak to me! Only one word! Tell me, have I saved
His eyes opened. A faint twinkle of the old days came to them—a
boyish smile played upon his lips.
"For yourself—or Jessie?"
She looked around her with a little frightened air. They were alone.
There was but one way of sealing those mischievous lips, and she found
"That's what I allus said, gentlemen," lazily remarked Whiskey Dick, a
few weeks later, leaning back against the bar, with his glass in his
hand. "'George,' sez I, 'it ain't what you SAY to a fash'nable,
high-toned young lady; it's what you DOES ez makes or breaks you.' And
that's what I sez gin'rally o' things in the Ford. It ain't what Carr and
you boys allows to do; it's the gin'ral average o' things ez IS done that
gives tone to the hull, and hez brought this yer new luck to you