The Man On the Beach by Bret Harte
He lived beside a river that emptied into a great ocean. The narrow
strip of land that lay between him and the estuary was covered at high
tide by a shining film of water, at low tide with the cast-up offerings
of sea and shore. Logs yet green, and saplings washed away from inland
banks, battered fragments of wrecks and orange crates of bamboo, broken
into tiny rafts yet odorous with their lost freight, lay in long
successive curves,— the fringes and overlappings of the sea. At
high noon the shadow of a seagull's wing, or a sudden flurry and gray
squall of sand- pipers, themselves but shadows, was all that broke the
monotonous glare of the level sands.
He had lived there alone for a twelvemonth. Although but a few miles
from a thriving settlement, during that time his retirement had never
been intruded upon, his seclusion remained unbroken. In any other
community he might have been the subject of rumor or criticism, but the
miners at Camp Rogue and the traders at Trinidad Head, themselves
individual and eccentric, were profoundly indifferent to all other forms
of eccentricity or heterodoxy that did not come in contact with their
own. And certainly there was no form of eccentricity less aggressive than
that of a hermit, had they chosen to give him that appellation. But they
did not even do that, probably from lack of interest or perception. To
the various traders who supplied his small wants he was known as
"Kernel," "Judge," and "Boss." To the general public "The Man on the
Beach" was considered a sufficiently distinguishing title. His name, his
occupation, rank, or antecedents, nobody cared to inquire. Whether this
arose from a fear of reciprocal inquiry and interest, or from the
profound indifference before referred to, I cannot say.
He did not look like a hermit. A man yet young, erect, well- dressed,
clean-shaven, with a low voice, and a smile half melancholy, half
cynical, was scarcely the conventional idea of a solitary. His dwelling,
a rude improvement on a fisherman's cabin, had all the severe exterior
simplicity of frontier architecture, but within it was comfortable and
wholesome. Three rooms—a kitchen, a living room, and a
bedroom—were all it contained.
He had lived there long enough to see the dull monotony of one season
lapse into the dull monotony of the other. The bleak northwest
trade-winds had brought him mornings of staring sunlight and nights of
fog and silence. The warmer southwest trades had brought him clouds,
rain, and the transient glories of quick grasses and odorous beach
blossoms. But summer or winter, wet or dry season, on one side rose
always the sharply defined hills with their changeless background of
evergreens; on the other side stretched always the illimitable ocean as
sharply defined against the horizon, and as unchanging in its hue. The
onset of spring and autumn tides, some changes among his feathered
neighbors, the footprints of certain wild animals along the river's bank,
and the hanging out of party-colored signals from the wooded hillside far
inland, helped him to record the slow months. On summer afternoons, when
the sun sank behind a bank of fog that, moving solemnly shoreward, at
last encompassed him and blotted out sea and sky, his isolation was
complete. The damp gray sea that flowed above and around and about him
always seemed to shut out an intangible world beyond, and to be the only
real presence. The booming of breakers scarce a dozen rods from his
dwelling was but a vague and unintelligible sound, or the echo of
something past forever. Every morning when the sun tore away the misty
curtain he awoke, dazed and bewildered, as upon a new world. The first
sense of oppression over, he came to love at last this subtle spirit of
oblivion; and at night, when its cloudy wings were folded over his cabin,
he would sit alone with a sense of security he had never felt before. On
such occasions he was apt to leave his door open, and listen as for
footsteps; for what might not come to him out of this vague, nebulous
world beyond? Perhaps even SHE,—for this strange solitary was not
insane nor visionary. He was never in spirit alone. For night and day,
sleeping or waking, pacing the beach or crouching over his driftwood
fire, a woman's face was always before him,—the face for whose sake
and for cause of whom he sat there alone. He saw it in the morning
sunlight; it was her white hands that were lifted from the crested
breakers; it was the rustling of her skirt when the sea wind swept
through the beach grasses; it was the loving whisper of her low voice
when the long waves sank and died among the sedge and rushes. She was as
omnipresent as sea and sky and level sand. Hence when the fog wiped them
away, she seemed to draw closer to him in the darkness. On one or two
more gracious nights in midsummer, when the influence of the fervid
noonday sun was still felt on the heated sands, the warm breath of the
fog touched his cheek as if it had been hers, and the tears started to
Before the fogs came—for he arrived there in winter—he had
found surcease and rest in the steady glow of a lighthouse upon the
little promontory a league below his habitation. Even on the darkest
nights, and in the tumults of storm, it spoke to him of a patience that
was enduring and a steadfastness that was immutable. Later on he found a
certain dumb companionship in an uprooted tree, which, floating down the
river, had stranded hopelessly upon his beach, but in the evening had
again drifted away. Rowing across the estuary a day or two afterward, he
recognized the tree again from a "blaze" of the settler's axe still upon
its trunk. He was not surprised a week later to find the same tree in the
sands before his dwelling, or that the next morning it should be again
launched on its purposeless wanderings. And so, impelled by wind or tide,
but always haunting his seclusion, he would meet it voyaging up the river
at the flood, or see it tossing among the breakers on the bar, but always
with the confidence of its returning sooner or later to an anchorage
beside him. After the third month of his self-imposed exile, he was
forced into a more human companionship, that was brief but regular. He
was obliged to have menial assistance. While he might have eaten his
bread "in sorrow" carelessly and mechanically, if it had been prepared
for him, the occupation of cooking his own food brought the vulgarity and
materialness of existence so near to his morbid sensitiveness that he
could not eat the meal he had himself prepared. He did not yet wish to
die, and when starvation or society seemed to be the only alternative, he
chose the latter. An Indian woman, so hideous as to scarcely suggest
humanity, at stated times performed for him these offices. When she did
not come, which was not infrequent, he did not eat.
Such was the mental and physical condition of the Man on the Beach on
the 1st of January, 1869.
It was a still, bright day, following a week of rain and wind. Low
down the horizon still lingered a few white flecks—the flying
squadrons of the storm—as vague as distant sails. Southward the
harbor bar whitened occasionally but lazily; even the turbulent Pacific
swell stretched its length wearily upon the shore. And toiling from the
settlement over the low sand dunes, a carriage at last halted half a mile
from the solitary's dwelling.
"I reckon ye'll hev to git out here," said the driver, pulling up to
breathe his panting horses. "Ye can't git any nigher."
There was a groan of execration from the interior of the vehicle, a
hysterical little shriek, and one or two shrill expressions of feminine
disapprobation, but the driver moved not. At last a masculine head
expostulated from the window: "Look here; you agreed to take us to the
house. Why, it's a mile away at least!"
"Thar, or tharabouts, I reckon," said the driver, coolly crossing his
legs on the box.
"It's no use talking; I can never walk through this sand and horrid
glare," said a female voice quickly and imperatively. Then,
apprehensively, "Well, of all the places!"
"Well, I never!"
"This DOES exceed everything."
"It's really TOO idiotic for anything."
It was noticeable that while the voices betrayed the difference of age
and sex, they bore a singular resemblance to each other, and a certain
querulousness of pitch that was dominant.
"I reckon I've gone about as fur as I allow to go with them hosses,"
continued the driver suggestively, "and as time's vallyble, ye'd better
"The wretch does not mean to leave us here alone?" said a female voice
in shrill indignation. "You'll wait for us, driver?" said a masculine
"How long?" asked the driver.
There was a hurried consultation within. The words "Might send us
packing!" "May take all night to get him to listen to reason," "Bother!
whole thing over in ten minutes," came from the window. The driver
meanwhile had settled himself back in his seat, and whistled in patient
contempt of a fashionable fare that didn't know its own mind nor
destination. Finally, the masculine head was thrust out, and, with a
certain potential air of judicially ending a difficulty, said:—
"You're to follow us slowly, and put up your horses in the stable or
barn until we want you."
An ironical laugh burst from the driver. "Oh, yes—in the stable
or barn—in course. But, my eyes sorter failin' me, mebbee, now,
some ev you younger folks will kindly pint out the stable or barn of the
Kernel's. Woa!—will ye?—woa! Give me a chance to pick out
that there barn or stable to put ye in!" This in arch confidence to the
horses, who had not moved.
Here the previous speaker, rotund, dignified, and elderly, alighted
indignantly, closely followed by the rest of the party, two ladies and a
gentleman. One of the ladies was past the age, but not the fashion, of
youth, and her Parisian dress clung over her wasted figure and well-bred
bones artistically if not gracefully; the younger lady, evidently her
daughter, was crisp and pretty, and carried off the aquiline nose and
aristocratic emaciation of her mother with a certain piquancy and a dash
that was charming. The gentleman was young, thin, with the family
characteristics, but otherwise indistinctive.
With one accord they all faced directly toward the spot indicated by
the driver's whip. Nothing but the bare, bleak, rectangular outlines of
the cabin of the Man on the Beach met their eyes. All else was a desolate
expanse, unrelieved by any structure higher than the tussocks of scant
beach grass that clothed it. They were so utterly helpless that the
driver's derisive laughter gave way at last to good humor and suggestion.
"Look yer," he said finally, "I don't know ez it's your fault you don't
know this kentry ez well ez you do Yurup; so I'll drag this yer team over
to Robinson's on the river, give the horses a bite, and then meander down
this yer ridge, and wait for ye. Ye'll see me from the Kernel's." And
without waiting for a reply, he swung his horses' heads toward the river,
and rolled away.
The same querulous protest that had come from the windows arose from
the group, but vainly. Then followed accusations and recrimination. "It's
YOUR fault; you might have written, and had him meet us at the
settlement." "You wanted to take him by surprise!" "I didn't. You know if
I'd written that we were coming, he'd have taken good care to run away
from us." "Yes, to some more inaccessible place." "There can be none
worse than this," etc., etc. But it was so clearly evident that nothing
was to be done but to go forward, that even in the midst of their
wrangling they straggled on in Indian file toward the distant cabin,
sinking ankle-deep in the yielding sand, punctuating their verbal
altercation with sighs, and only abating it at a scream from the elder
"Gone on ahead!" grunted the younger gentleman, in a bass voice, so
incongruously large for him that it seemed to have been a ventriloquistic
contribution by somebody else.
It was too true. Maria, after adding her pungency to the general
conversation, had darted on ahead. But alas! that swift Camilla, after
scouring the plain some two hundred feet with her demitrain, came to
grief on an unbending tussock and sat down, panting but savage. As they
plodded wearily toward her, she bit her red lips, smacked them on her
cruel little white teeth like a festive and sprightly ghoul, and
"You DO look so like guys! For all the world like those English
shopkeepers we met on the Righi, doing the three-guinea excursion in
their Sunday clothes!"
Certainly the spectacle of these exotically plumed bipeds, whose fine
feathers were already bedrabbled by sand and growing limp in the sea
breeze, was somewhat dissonant with the rudeness of sea and sky and
shore. A few gulls screamed at them; a loon, startled from the lagoon,
arose shrieking and protesting, with painfully extended legs, in obvious
burlesque of the younger gentleman. The elder lady felt the justice of
her gentle daughter's criticism, and retaliated with simple
"Your skirt is ruined, your hair is coming down, your hat is half off
your head, and your shoes—in Heaven's name, Maria! what HAVE you
done with your shoes?"
Maria had exhibited a slim stockinged foot from under her skirt. It
was scarcely three fingers broad, with an arch as patrician as her nose.
"Somewhere between here and the carriage," she answered; "Dick can run
back and find it, while he is looking for your brooch, mamma. Dick's so
The robust voice of Dick thundered, but the wasted figure of Dick
feebly ploughed its way back, and returned with the missing buskin.
"I may as well carry them in my hand like the market girls at Saumur,
for we have got to wade soon," said Miss Maria, sinking her own terrors
in the delightful contemplation of the horror in her parent's face, as
she pointed to a shining film of water slowly deepening in a narrow swale
in the sands between them and the cabin.
"It's the tide," said the elder gentleman. "If we intend to go on we
must hasten; permit me, my dear madam," and before she could reply he had
lifted the astounded matron in his arms, and made gallantly for the ford.
The gentle Maria cast an ominous eye on her brother, who, with manifest
reluctance, performed for her the same office. But that acute young lady
kept her eyes upon the preceding figure of the elder gentleman, and
seeing him suddenly and mysteriously disappear to his armpits,
unhesitatingly threw herself from her brother's protecting arms,—an
action which instantly precipitated him into the water,—and paddled
hastily to the opposite bank, where she eventually assisted in pulling
the elderly gentleman out of the hollow into which he had fallen, and in
rescuing her mother, who floated helplessly on the surface, upheld by her
skirts, like a gigantic and variegated water-lily. Dick followed with a
single gaiter. In another minute they were safe on the opposite bank.
The elder lady gave way to tears; Maria laughed hysterically; Dick
mingled a bass oath with the now audible surf; the elder gentleman, whose
florid face the salt water had bleached, and whose dignity seemed to have
been washed away, accounted for both by saying he thought it was a
"It might have been," said a quiet voice behind them; "you should have
followed the sand dunes half a mile further to the estuary."
They turned instantly at the voice. It was that of the Man on the
Beach. They all rose to their feet and uttered together, save one, the
single exclamation, "James!" The elder gentleman said "Mr. North," and,
with a slight resumption of his former dignity, buttoned his coat over
his damp shirt front.
There was a silence, in which the Man on the Beach looked gravely down
upon them. If they had intended to impress him by any suggestion of a
gay, brilliant, and sensuous world beyond in their own persons, they had
failed, and they knew it. Keenly alive as they had always been to
external prepossession, they felt that they looked forlorn and ludicrous,
and that the situation lay in his hands. The elderly lady again burst
into tears of genuine distress, Maria colored over her cheek-bones, and
Dick stared at the ground in sullen disquiet.
"You had better get up," said the Man on the Beach, after a moment's
thought, "and come up to the cabin. I cannot offer you a change of
garments, but you can dry them by the fire."
They all rose together, and again said in chorus, "James!" but this
time with an evident effort to recall some speech or action previously
resolved upon and committed to memory. The elder lady got so far as to
clasp her hands and add, "You have not forgotten us—James, oh,
James!"; the younger gentleman to attempt a brusque "Why, Jim, old boy,"
that ended in querulous incoherence; the young lady to cast a
half-searching, half-coquettish look at him; and the old gentleman to
begin, "Our desire, Mr. North"—but the effort was futile. Mr. James
North, standing before them with folded arms, looked from the one to the
"I have not thought much of you for a twelvemonth," he said, quietly,
"but I have not forgotten you. Come!"
He led the way a few steps in advance, they following silently. In
this brief interview they felt he had resumed the old dominance and
independence, against which they had rebelled; more than that, in this
half failure of their first concerted action they had changed their
querulous bickerings to a sullen distrust of each other, and walked
moodily apart as they followed James North into his house. A fire blazed
brightly on the hearth; a few extra seats were quickly extemporized from
boxes and chests, and the elder lady, with the skirt of her dress folded
over her knees,—looking not unlike an exceedingly overdressed
jointed doll,—dried her flounces and her tears together. Miss Maria
took in the scant appointments of the house in one single glance, and
then fixed her eyes upon James North, who, the least concerned of the
party, stood before them, grave and patiently expectant.
"Well," began the elder lady in a high key, "after all this worry and
trouble you have given us, James, haven't you anything to say? Do you
know—have you the least idea what you are doing? what egregious
folly you are committing? what everybody is saying? Eh? Heavens and
earth!—do you know who I am?"
"You are my father's brother's widow, Aunt Mary," returned James,
quietly. "If I am committing any folly it only concerns myself; if I
cared for what people said I should not be here; if I loved society
enough to appreciate its good report I should stay with it."
"But they say you have run away from society to pine alone for a
worthless creature—a woman who has used you, as she has used and
thrown away others—a—"
"A woman," chimed in Dick, who had thrown himself on James's bed while
his patent leathers were drying, "a woman that all the fellers know never
intended"—here, however, he met James North's eye, and muttering
something about "whole thing being too idiotic to talk about," relapsed
"You know," continued Mrs. North, "that while we and all our set shut
our eyes to your very obvious relations with that woman, and while I
myself often spoke of it to others as a simple flirtation, and averted a
scandal for your sake, and when the climax was reached, and she herself
gave you an opportunity to sever your relations, and nobody need have
been wiser—and she'd have had all the blame—and it's only
what she's accustomed to—you—you! you, James North!—you
must nonsensically go, and, by this extravagant piece of idiocy and
sentimental tomfoolery, let everybody see how serious the whole affair
was, and how deep it hurt you! and here in this awful place,
alone—where you're half drowned to get to it and are willing to be
wholly drowned to get away! Oh, don't talk to me! I won't hear
it—it's just too idiotic for anything!"
The subject of this outburst neither spoke nor moved a single
"Your aunt, Mr. North, speaks excitedly," said the elder gentleman;
"yet I think she does not overestimate the unfortunate position in which
your odd fancy places you. I know nothing of the reasons that have
impelled you to this step; I only know that the popular opinion is that
the cause is utterly inadequate. You are still young, with a future
before you. I need not say how your present conduct may imperil that. If
you expected to achieve any good— even to your own
satisfaction—but this conduct—"
"Yes—if there was anything to be gained by it!" broke in Mrs.
"If you ever thought she'd come back!—but that kind of woman
don't. They must have change. Why"—began Dick suddenly, and as
suddenly lying down again.
"Is this all you have come to say?" asked James North, after a
moment's patient silence, looking from one to the other.
"All?" screamed Mrs. North; "is it not enough?"
"Not to change my mind nor my residence at present," replied North,
"Do you mean to continue this folly all your life?"
"And have a coroner's inquest, and advertisements and all the facts in
"And have HER read the melancholy details, and know that you were
faithful and she was not?"
This last shot was from the gentle Maria, who bit her lips as it
glanced from the immovable man.
"I believe there is nothing more to say," continued North, quietly. "I
am willing to believe your intentions are as worthy as your zeal. Let us
say no more," he added, with grave weariness; "the tide is rising, and
your coachman is signaling you from the bank."
There was no mistaking the unshaken positiveness of the man, which was
all the more noticeable from its gentle but utter indifference to the
wishes of the party. He turned his back upon them as they gathered
hurriedly around the elder gentleman, while the words, "He cannot be in
his right mind," "It's your duty to do it," "It's sheer insanity," "Look
at his eye!" all fell unconsciously upon his ear.
"One word more, Mr. North," said the elder gentleman, a little
portentously, to conceal an evident embarrassment. "It may be that your
conduct might suggest to minds more practical than your own the existence
of some aberration of the intellect—some temporary mania—that
might force your best friends into a quasi-legal attitude of—"
"Declaring me insane," interrupted James North, with the slight
impatience of a man more anxious to end a prolix interview than to combat
an argument. "I think differently. As my aunt's lawyer, you know that
within the last year I have deeded most of my property to her and her
family. I cannot believe that so shrewd an adviser as Mr. Edmund Carter
would ever permit proceedings that would invalidate that conveyance."
Maria burst into a laugh of such wicked gratification that James
North, for the first time, raised his eyes with something of interest to
her face. She colored under them, but returned his glance with another
like a bayonet flash. The party slowly moved toward the door, James North
"Then this is your final answer?" asked Mrs. North, stopping
imperiously on the threshold.
"I beg your pardon?" queried North, half abstractedly.
"Your final answer?"
Mrs. North flounced away a dozen rods in rage. This was unfortunate
for North. It gave them the final attack in detail. Dick began: "Come
along! You know you can advertise for her with a personal down there and
the old woman wouldn't object as long as you were careful and put in an
appearance now and then!"
As Dick limped away, Mr. Carter thought, in confidence, that the whole
matter—even to suit Mr. North's sensitive nature—might be
settled there. "SHE evidently expects you to return. My opinion is that
she never left San Francisco. You can't tell anything about these
With this last sentence on his indifferent ear, James North seemed to
be left free. Maria had rejoined her mother; but as they crossed the
ford, and an intervening sand-hill hid the others from sight, that
piquant young lady suddenly appeared on the hill and stood before
"And you're not coming back?" she said directly.
"I cannot say."
"Tell me! what is there about some women to make men love them
"Love," replied North, quietly.
"No, it cannot be—it is not THAT!"
North looked over the hill and round the hill, and looked bored.
"Oh, I'm going now. But one moment, Jem! I didn't want to come. They
dragged me here. Good-by."
She raised a burning face and eyes to his. He leaned forward and
imprinted the perfunctory cousinly kiss of the period upon her cheek.
"Not that way," she said angrily, clutching his wrists with her long,
thin fingers; "you shan't kiss me in that way, James North."
With the faintest, ghost-like passing of a twinkle in the corners of
his sad eyes, he touched his lips to hers. With the contact, she caught
him round the neck, pressed her burning lips and face to his forehead,
his cheeks, the very curves of his chin and throat, and—with a
laugh was gone.
Had the kinsfolk of James North any hope that their visit might revive
some lingering desire he still combated to enter once more the world they
represented, that hope would have soon died. Whatever effect this episode
had upon the solitary,—and he had become so self-indulgent of his
sorrow, and so careless of all that came between him and it, as to meet
opposition with profound indifference,—the only appreciable result
was a greater attraction for the solitude that protected him, and he grew
even to love the bleak shore and barren sands that had proved so
inhospitable to others. There was a new meaning to the roar of the
surges, an honest, loyal sturdiness in the unchanging persistency of the
uncouth and blustering trade-winds, and a mute fidelity in the shining
sands, treacherous to all but him. With such bandogs to lie in wait for
trespassers, should he not be grateful?
If no bitterness was awakened by the repeated avowal of the
unfaithfulness of the woman he loved, it was because he had always made
the observation and experience of others give way to the dominance of his
own insight. No array of contradictory facts ever shook his belief or
unbelief; like all egotists, he accepted them as truths controlled by a
larger truth of which he alone was cognizant. His simplicity, which was
but another form of his egotism, was so complete as to baffle ordinary
malicious cunning, and so he was spared the experience and knowledge that
come to a lower nature, and help debase it.
Exercise and the stimulus of the few wants that sent him hunting or
fishing kept up his physical health. Never a lover of rude freedom or
outdoor life his sedentary predilections and nice tastes kept him from
lapsing into barbarian excess; never a sportsman he followed the chase
with no feverish exaltation. Even dumb creatures found out his secret,
and at times, stalking moodily over the upland, the brown deer and elk
would cross his path without fear or molestation, or, idly lounging in
his canoe within the river bar, flocks of wild fowl would settle within
stroke of his listless oar. And so the second winter of his hermitage
drew near its close, and with it came a storm that passed into local
history, and is still remembered. It uprooted giant trees along the
river, and with them the tiny rootlets of the life he was idly
The morning had been fitfully turbulent, the wind veering several
points south and west, with suspicions lulls, unlike the steady onset of
the regular southwest trades. High overhead the long manes of racing
cirro stratus streamed with flying gulls and hurrying water-fowl; plover
piped incessantly, and a flock of timorous sand-pipers sought the low
ridge of his cabin, while a wrecking crew of curlew hastily manned the
uprooted tree that tossed wearily beyond the bar. By noon the flying
clouds huddled together in masses, and then were suddenly exploded in one
vast opaque sheet over the heavens. The sea became gray, and suddenly
wrinkled and old. There was a dumb, half-articulate cry in the
air,—rather a confusion of many sounds, as of the booming of
distant guns, the clangor of a bell, the trampling of many waves, the
creaking of timbers and soughing of leaves, that sank and fell ere you
could yet distinguish them. And then it came on to blow. For two hours it
blew strongly. At the time the sun should have set the wind had
increased; in fifteen minutes darkness shut down, even the white sands
lost their outlines, and sea and shore and sky lay in the grip of a
relentless and aggressive power.
Within his cabin, by the leaping light of his gusty fire, North sat
alone. His first curiosity passed, the turmoil without no longer carried
his thought beyond its one converging centre. SHE had come to him on the
wings of the storm, even as she had been borne to him on the summer
fog-cloud. Now and then the wind shook the cabin, but he heeded it not.
He had no fears for its safety; it presented its low gable to the full
fury of the wind that year by year had piled, and even now was piling,
protecting buttresses of sand against it. With each succeeding gust it
seemed to nestle more closely to its foundations, in the whirl of flying
sand that rattled against its roof and windows. It was nearly midnight
when a sudden thought brought him to his feet. What if SHE were exposed
to the fury of such a night as this? What could he do to help her?
Perhaps even now, as he sat there idle, she—Hark! was not that a
gun—No? Yes, surely!
He hurriedly unbolted the door, but the strength of the wind and the
impact of drifted sand resisted his efforts. With a new and feverish
strength possessing him he forced it open wide enough to permit his
egress when the wind caught him as a feather, rolled him over and over,
and then, grappling him again, held him down hard and fast against the
drift. Unharmed, but unable to move, he lay there, hearing the
multitudinous roar of the storm, but unable to distinguish one familiar
sound in the savage medley. At last he managed to crawl flat on his face
to the cabin, and refastening the door, threw himself upon his bed.
He was awakened from a fitful dream of his Cousin Maria. She with a
supernatural strength seemed to be holding the door against some unseen,
unknown power that moaned and strove without, and threw itself in
despairing force against the cabin. He could see the lithe undulations of
her form as she alternately yielded to its power, and again drew the door
against it, coiling herself around the log-hewn doorpost with a hideous,
snake-like suggestion. And then a struggle and a heavy blow, which shook
the very foundations of the structure, awoke him. He leaped to his feet,
and into an inch of water! By the flickering firelight he could see it
oozing and dripping from the crevices of the logs and broadening into a
pool by the chimney. A scrap of paper torn from an envelope was floating
idly on its current. Was it the overflow of the backed-up waters of the
river? He was not left long in doubt. Another blow upon the gable of the
house, and a torrent of spray leaped down the chimney, scattered the
embers far and wide, and left him in utter darkness. Some of the spray
clung to his lips. It was salt. The great ocean had beaten down the river
bar and was upon him!
Was there aught to fly to? No! The cabin stood upon the highest point
of the sand spit, and the low swale on one side crossed by his late
visitors was a seething mass of breakers, while the estuary behind him
was now the ocean itself. There was nothing to do but to wait.
The very helplessness of his situation was, to a man of his peculiar
temperament, an element of patient strength. The instinct of
self-preservation was still strong in him, but he had no fear of death,
nor, indeed, any presentiment of it; yet if it came, it was an easy
solution of the problem that had been troubling him, and it wiped off the
slate! He thought of the sarcastic prediction of his cousin, and death in
the form that threatened him was the obliteration of his home and even
the ground upon which it stood. There would be nothing to record, no
stain could come upon the living. The instinct that kept him true to HER
would tell her how he died; if it did not, it was equally well. And with
this simple fatalism his only belief, this strange man groped his way to
his bed, lay down, and in a few moments was asleep. The storm still
roared without. Once again the surges leaped against the cabin, but it
was evident that the wind was abating with the tide.
When he awoke it was high noon, and the sun was shining brightly. For
some time he lay in a delicious languor, doubting if he was alive or
dead, but feeling through every nerve and fibre an exquisite sense of
peace—a rest he had not known since his boyhood—a relief he
scarcely knew from what. He felt that he was smiling, and yet his pillow
was wet with the tears that glittered still on his lashes. The sand
blocking up his doorway, he leaped lightly from his window. A few clouds
were still sailing slowly in the heavens, the trailing plumes of a great
benediction that lay on sea and shore. He scarcely recognized the
familiar landscape; a new bar had been formed in the river, and a narrow
causeway of sand that crossed the lagoon and marshes to the river bank
and the upland trail seemed to bring him nearer to humanity again. He was
conscious of a fresh, childlike delight in all this, and when, a moment
later, he saw the old uprooted tree, now apparently forever moored and
imbedded in the sand beside his cabin, he ran to it with a sense of
Its trailing roots were festooned with clinging sea-weed and the long,
snaky, undulating stems of the sea-turnip; and fixed between two crossing
roots was a bamboo orange crate, almost intact. As he walked toward it he
heard a strange cry, unlike anything the barren sands had borne before.
Thinking it might be some strange sea bird caught in the meshes of the
sea-weed, he ran to the crate and looked within. It was half filled with
sea-moss and feathery algae. The cry was repeated. He brushed aside the
weeds with his hands. It was not a wounded sea bird, but a living human
As he lifted it from its damp enwrappings he saw that it was an infant
eight or nine months old. How and when it had been brought there, or what
force had guided that elfish cradle to his very door, he could not
determine; but it must have been left early, for it was quite warm, and
its clothing almost dried by the blazing morning sun. To wrap his coat
about it, to run to his cabin with it, to start out again with the
appalling conviction that nothing could be done for it there, occupied
some moments. His nearest neighbor was Trinidad Joe, a "logger," three
miles up the river. He remembered to have heard vaguely that he was a man
of family. To half strangle the child with a few drops from his whisky
flask, to extricate his canoe from the marsh, and strike out into the
river with his waif, was at least to do something. In half an hour he had
reached the straggling cabin and sheds of Trinidad Joe, and from the few
scanty flowers that mingled with the brushwood fence, and a surplus of
linen fluttering on the line, he knew that his surmise as to Trinidad
Joe's domestic establishment was correct.
The door at which he knocked opened upon a neat, plainly-furnished
room, and the figure of a buxom woman of twenty-five. With an awkwardness
new to him, North stammered out the circumstances of his finding the
infant, and the object of his visit. Before he had finished, the woman,
by some feminine trick, had taken the child from his hands ere he knew
it; and when he paused, out of breath, burst into a fit of laughter.
North tried to laugh too, but failed.
When the woman had wiped the tears from a pair of very frank blue
eyes, and hidden two rows of very strong white teeth again, she
"Look yar! You're that looney sort a' chap that lives alone over on
the spit yonder, ain't ye?"
North hastened to admit all that the statement might imply.
"And so ye've had a baby left ye to keep you company? Lordy!" Here she
looked as if dangerously near a relapse, and then added, as if in
explanation of her conduct,—
"When I saw ye paddlin' down here,—you thet ez shy as elk in
summer,—I sez, 'He's sick.' But a baby,—Oh, Lordy!"
For a moment North almost hated her. A woman who, in this pathetic,
perhaps almost tragic, picture saw only a ludicrous image, and that image
himself, was of another race than that he had ever mingled with.
Profoundly indifferent as he had always been to the criticism of his
equals in station, the mischievous laughter of this illiterate woman
jarred upon him worse than his cousin's sarcasm. It was with a little
dignity that he pointed out the fact that at present the child needed
nourishment. "It's very young," he added. "I'm afraid it wants its
"Whar is it to get it?" asked the woman.
James North hesitated, and looked around. There should be a baby
somewhere! there MUST be a baby somewhere! "I thought that you," he
stammered, conscious of an awkward coloring,—"I—that
is—I—" He stopped short, for she was already cramming her
apron into her mouth, too late, however, to stop the laugh that
overflowed it. When she found her breath again, she said,—
"Look yar! I don't wonder they said you was looney! I'm Trinidad Joe's
onmarried darter, and the only woman in this house. Any fool could have
told you that. Now, ef you can rig us up a baby out o' them facts, I'd
like to see it done."
Inwardly furious but outwardly polite, James North begged her pardon,
deplored his ignorance, and, with a courtly bow, made a movement to take
the child. But the woman as quickly drew it away.
"Not much," she said, hastily. "What! trust that poor critter to you?
No, sir! Thar's more ways of feeding a baby, young man, than you knows
on, with all your 'nat'ral nourishment.' But it looks kinder logy and
North freezingly admitted that he had given the infant whisky as a
"You did? Come, now, that ain't so looney after all. Well, I'll take
the baby, and when Dad comes home we'll see what can be done."
North hesitated. His dislike of the woman was intense, and yet he knew
no one else and the baby needed instant care. Besides, he began to see
the ludicrousness of his making a first call on his neighbors with a
foundling to dispose of. She saw his hesitation, and said,—
"Ye don't know me, in course. Well, I'm Bessy Robinson, Trinidad Joe
Robinson's daughter. I reckon Dad will give me a character if you want
references, or any of the boys on the river."
"I'm only thinking of the trouble I'm giving you, Miss Robinson, I
assure you. Any expense you may incur—"
"Young man," said Bessy Robinson, turning sharply on her heel, and
facing him with her black brows a little contracted, "if it comes to
expenses, I reckon I'll pay you for that baby, or not take it at all. But
I don't know you well enough to quarrel with you on sight. So leave the
child to me, and, if you choose, paddle down here to-morrow, after sun
up—the ride will do you good—and see it, and Dad thrown in.
Good by!" and with one powerful but well- shaped arm thrown around the
child, and the other crooked at the dimpled elbow a little aggressively,
she swept by James North and entered a bedroom, closing the door behind
When Mr. James North reached his cabin it was dark. As he rebuilt his
fire, and tried to rearrange the scattered and disordered furniture, and
remove the debris of last night's storm, he was conscious for the first
time of feeling lonely. He did not miss the child. Beyond the instincts
of humanity and duty he had really no interest in its welfare or future.
He was rather glad to get rid of it, he would have preferred to some one
else, and yet SHE looked as if she were competent. And then came the
reflection that since the morning he had not once thought of the woman he
loved. The like had never occurred in his twelvemonth solitude. So he set
to work, thinking of her and of his sorrows, until the word "Looney," in
connection with his suffering, flashed across his memory. "Looney!" It
was not a nice word. It suggested something less than insanity; something
that might happen to a common, unintellectual sort of person. He
remembered the loon, an ungainly feathered neighbor, that was popularly
supposed to have lent its name to the adjective. Could it be possible
that people looked upon him as one too hopelessly and uninterestingly
afflicted for sympathy or companionship, too unimportant and common for
even ridicule; or was this but the coarse interpretation of that vulgar
Nevertheless, the next morning "after sun up" James North was at
Trinidad Joe's cabin. That worthy proprietor himself—a long, lank
man, with even more than the ordinary rural Western characteristics of
ill health, ill feeding, and melancholy—met him on the bank,
clothed in a manner and costume that was a singular combination of the
frontiersman and the sailor. When North had again related the story of
his finding the child, Trinidad Joe pondered.
"It mout hev been stowed away in one of them crates for safe-
keeping," he said, musingly, "and washed off the deck o' one o' them
Tahiti brigs goin' down fer oranges. Least-ways, it never got thar from
"But it's a miracle its life was saved at all. It must have been some
hours in the water."
"Them brigs lays their course well inshore, and it was just mebbe a
toss up if the vessel clawed off the reef at all! And ez to the child
keepin' up, why, dog my skin! that's just the contrariness o' things,"
continued Joe, in sententious cynicism. "Ef an able seaman had fallen
from the yard-arm that night he'd been sunk in sight o' the ship, and
thet baby ez can't swim a stroke sails ashore, sound asleep, with the
waves for a baby-jumper."
North, who was half relieved, yet half awkwardly disappointed at not
seeing Bessy, ventured to ask how the child was doing.
"She'll do all right now," said a frank voice above, and, looking up,
North discerned the round arms, blue eyes, and white teeth of the
daughter at the window. "She's all hunky, and has an appetite— ef
she hezn't got her 'nat'ral nourishment.' Come, Dad! heave ahead, and
tell the stranger what you and me allow we'll do, and don't stand there
swappin' lies with him."
"Weel," said Trinidad Joe, dejectedly, "Bess allows she can rar that
baby and do justice to it. And I don't say—though I'm her
father—that she can't. But when Bess wants anything she wants it
all, clean down; no half-ways nor leavin's for her."
"That's me! go on, Dad—you're chippin' in the same notch every
time," said Miss Robinson, with cheerful directness.
"Well, we agree to put the job up this way. We'll take the child and
you'll give us a paper or writin' makin' over all your right and title.
Without knowing exactly why he did, Mr. North objected decidedly.
"Do you think we won't take good care of it?" asked Miss Bessy,
"That is not the question," said North, a little hotly. "In the first
place, the child is not mine to give. It has fallen into my hands as a
trust,—the first hands that received it from its parents. I do not
think it right to allow any other hands to come between theirs and
Miss Bessy left the window. In another moment she appeared from the
house, and, walking directly towards North, held out a somewhat
substantial hand. "Good!" she said, as she gave his fingers an honest
squeeze. "You ain't so looney after all. Dad, he's right! He shan't gin
it up, but we'll go halves in it, he and me. He'll be father and I'll be
mother 'til death do us part, or the reg'lar family turns up.
Well—what do you say?"
More pleased than he dared confess to himself with the praise of this
common girl, Mr. James North assented. Then would he see the baby? He
would, and Trinidad Joe having already seen the baby, and talked of the
baby, and felt the baby, and indeed had the baby offered to him in every
way during the past night, concluded to give some of his valuable time to
logging, and left them together.
Mr. North was obliged to admit that the baby was thriving. He moreover
listened with polite interest to the statement that the baby's eyes were
hazel, like his own; that it had five teeth; that she was, for a girl of
that probable age, a robust child; and yet Mr. North lingered. Finally,
with his hand on the door-lock, he turned to Bessy and said,—
"May I ask you an odd question, Miss Robinson?"
"Why did you think I was—'looney'?"
The frank Miss Robinson bent her head over the baby.
"Because you WERE looney."
"You'll get over it."
And under the shallow pretext of getting the baby's food, she retired
to the kitchen, where Mr. North had the supreme satisfaction of seeing
her, as he passed the window, sitting on a chair with her apron over her
head, shaking with laughter.
For the next two or three days he did not visit the Robinsons, but
gave himself up to past memories. On the third day he had—it must
be confessed not without some effort—brought himself into that
condition of patient sorrow which had been his habit. The episode of the
storm and the finding of the baby began to fade, as had faded the visit
of his relatives. It had been a dull, wet day and he was sitting by his
fire, when there came a tap at his door. "Flora;" by which juvenescent
name his aged Indian handmaid was known, usually announced her presence
with an imitation of a curlew's cry: it could not be her. He fancied he
heard the trailing of a woman's dress against the boards, and started to
his feet, deathly pale, with a name upon his lips. But the door was
impatiently thrown open, and showed Bessy Robinson! And the baby!
With a feeling of relief he could not understand he offered her a
seat. She turned her frank eyes on him curiously.
"You look skeert!"
"I was startled. You know I see nobody here!"
"Thet's so. But look yar, do you ever use a doctor?"
Not clearly understanding her, he in turn asked, "Why?"
"Cause you must rise up and get one now—thet's why. This yer
baby of ours is sick. We don't use a doctor at our house, we don't
beleeve in 'em, hain't no call for 'em—but this yer baby's parents
mebbee did. So rise up out o' that cheer and get one."
James North looked at Miss Robinson and rose, albeit a little in
doubt, and hesitating.
Miss Robinson saw it. "I shouldn't hev troubled ye, nor ridden three
mile to do it, if ther hed been any one else to send. But Dad's over at
Eureka, buying logs, and I'm alone. Hello—wher yer goin'?"
North had seized his hat and opened the door. "For a doctor," he
"Did ye kalkilate to walk six miles and back?"
"Certainly—I have no horse."
"But I have, and you'll find her tethered outside. She ain't much to
look at, but when you strike the trail she'll go."
"But YOU—how will YOU return?"
"Well," said Miss Robinson, drawing her chair to the fire, taking off
her hat and shawl, and warming her knees by the blaze, "I didn't reckon
to return. You'll find me here when you come back with the doctor. Go!
She did not have to repeat the command. In another instant James North
was in Miss Bessy's seat—a man's dragoon saddle,—and pounding
away through the sand. Two facts were in his mind: one was that he, the
"looney," was about to open communication with the wisdom and
contemporary criticism of the settlement, by going for a doctor to
administer to a sick and anonymous infant in his possession; the other
was that his solitary house was in the hands of a self-invited,
large-limbed, illiterate, but rather comely young woman. These facts he
could not gallop away from, but to his credit be it recorded that he
fulfilled his mission zealously, if not coherently, to the doctor, who
during the rapid ride gathered the idea that North had rescued a young
married woman from drowning, who had since given birth to a child.
The few words that set the doctor right when he arrived at the cabin
might in any other community have required further explanation, but Dr.
Duchesne, an old army surgeon, was prepared for everything and
indifferent to all. "The infant," he said, "was threatened with
inflammation of the lungs; at present there was no danger, but the
greatest care and caution must be exercised. Particularly exposure should
be avoided." "That settles the whole matter, then," said Bessy
potentially. Both gentlemen looked their surprise. "It means," she
condescended to further explain, "that YOU must ride that filly home,
wait for the old man to come to- morrow, and then ride back here with
some of my duds, for thar's no 'day-days' nor picknicking for that baby
ontil she's better. And I reckon to stay with her ontil she is."
"She certainly is unable to bear any exposure at present," said the
doctor, with an amused side glance at North's perplexed face. "Miss
Robinson is right. I'll ride with you over the sands as far as the
"I'm afraid," said North, feeling it incumbent upon him to say
something, "that you'll hardly find it as comfortable here as—"
"I reckon not," she said simply, "but I didn't expect much."
North turned a little wearily away. "Good night," she said suddenly,
extending her hand, with a gentler smile of lip and eye than he had ever
before noticed, "good night—take good care of Dad."
The doctor and North rode together some moments in silence. North had
another fact presented to him, i. e. that he was going a- visiting, and
that he had virtually abandoned his former life; also that it would be
profanation to think of his sacred woe in the house of a stranger.
"I dare say," said the doctor, suddenly, "you are not familiar with
the type of woman Miss Bessy presents so perfectly. Your life has been
spent among the conventional class."
North froze instantly at what seemed to be a probing of his secret.
Disregarding the last suggestion, he made answer simply and truthfully
that he had never met any Western girl like Bessy.
"That's your bad luck," said the doctor. "You think her coarse and
Mr. North had been so much struck with her kindness that really he had
not thought of it.
"That's not so," said the doctor, curtly; "although even if you told
her so she would not think any the less of you—nor of herself. If
she spoke rustic Greek instead of bad English, and wore a cestus in place
of an ill-fitting corset, you'd swear she was a goddess. There's your
trail. Good night."
James North did not sleep well that night. He had taken Miss Bessy's
bedroom, at her suggestion, there being but two, and "Dad never using
sheets and not bein' keerful in his habits." It was neat, but that was
all. The scant ornamentation was atrocious; two or three highly colored
prints, a shell work-box, a ghastly winter bouquet of skeleton leaves and
mosses, a star-fish, and two china vases hideous enough to have been
worshiped as Buddhist idols, exhibited the gentle recreation of the fair
occupant, and the possible future education of the child. In the morning
he was met by Joe, who received the message of his daughter with his
usual dejection, and suggested that North stay with him until the child
was better. That event was still remote; North found, on his return to
his cabin, that the child had been worse; but he did not know, until Miss
Bessy dropped a casual remark, that she had not closed her own eyes that
night. It was a week before he regained his own quarters, but an active
week—indeed, on the whole, a rather pleasant week. For there was a
delicate flattery in being domineered by a wholesome and handsome woman,
and Mr. James North had by this time made up his mind that she was both.
Once or twice he found himself contemplating her splendid figure with a
recollection of the doctor's compliment, and later, emulating her own
frankness, told her of it.
"And what did YOU say?" she asked.
"Oh, I laughed and said—nothing."
And so did she.
A month after this interchange of frankness, she asked him if he could
spend the next evening at her house. "You see," she said, "there's to be
a dance down at the hall at Eureka, and I haven't kicked a fut since last
spring. Hank Fisher's comin' up to take me over, and I'm goin' to let the
shanty slide for the night."
"But what's to become of the baby?" asked North, a little testily.
"Well," said Miss Robinson, facing him somewhat aggressively, "I
reckon it won't hurt ye to take care of it for a night. Dad can't—
and if he could, he don't know how. Liked to have pizened me after mar
died. No, young man, I don't propose to ask Hank Fisher to tote thet
child over to Eureka and back, and spile his fun."
"Then I suppose I must make way for Mr. Hank—Hank—Fisher?"
said North, with the least tinge of sarcasm in his speech.
"Of course. You've got nothing else to do, you know."
North would have given worlds to have pleaded a previous engagement on
business of importance, but he knew that Bessy spoke truly. He had
nothing to do. "And Fisher has, I suppose?" he asked.
"Of course—to look after ME!"
A more unpleasant evening James North had not spent since the first
day of his solitude. He almost began to hate the unconscious cause of his
absurd position, as he paced up and down the floor with it. "Was there
ever such egregious folly?" he began, but remembering he was quoting
Maria North's favorite resume of his own conduct, he stopped. The child
cried, missing, no doubt, the full rounded curves and plump arm of its
nurse. North danced it violently, with an inward accompaniment that was
not musical, and thought of the other dancers. "Doubtless," he mused,
"she has told this beau of hers that she has left the baby with the
'looney' Man on the Beach. Perhaps I may be offered a permanent
engagement as a harmless simpleton accustomed to the care of children.
Mothers may cry for me. The doctor is at Eureka. Of course, he will be
there to see his untranslated goddess, and condole with her over the
imbecility of the Man on the Beach." Once he carelessly asked Joe who the
"Well," said Joe, mournfully, "thar's Widder Higsby and darter; the
four Stubbs gals; in course Polly Doble will be on hand with that feller
that's clerking over at the Head for Jones, and Jones's wife. Then thar's
French Pete, and Whisky Ben, and that chap that shot Archer,—I
disremember his name,—and the barber—what's that little
mulatto's name—that 'ar Kanaka? I swow!" continued Joe, drearily,
"I'll be forgettin' my own next—and—"
"That will do," interrupted North, only half concealing his disgust as
he rose and carried the baby to the other room, beyond the reach of names
that might shock its ladylike ears. The next morning he met the
from-dance-returning Bessy abstractedly, and soon took his leave, full of
a disloyal plan, conceived in the sleeplessness of her own bedchamber. He
was satisfied that he owed a duty to its unknown parents to remove the
child from the degrading influences of the barber Kanaka, and Hank Fisher
especially, and he resolved to write to his relatives, stating the case,
asking a home for the waif and assistance to find its parents. He
addressed this letter to his cousin Maria, partly in consideration of the
dramatic farewell of that young lady, and its possible influence in
turning her susceptible heart towards his protege. He then quietly
settled back to his old solitary habits, and for a week left the
Robinsons unvisited. The result was a morning call by Trinidad Joe on the
hermit. "It's a whim of my gal's, Mr. North," he said, dejectedly, "and
ez I told you before and warned ye, when that gal hez an idee, fower yoke
of oxen and seving men can't drag it outer her. She's got a idee o'
larnin'—never hevin' hed much schoolin', and we ony takin' the
papers, permiskiss like—and she says YOU can teach her— not
hevin' anythin' else to do. Do ye folly me?"
"Yes," said North, "certainly."
"Well, she allows ez mebbee you're proud, and didn't like her takin'
care of the baby for nowt; and she reckons that ef you'll gin her some
book larnin', and get her to sling some fancy talk in fash'n'ble
style—why, she'll call it squar."
"You can tell her," said North, very honestly, "that I shall be only
too glad to help her in any way, without ever hoping to cancel my debt of
obligation to her."
"Then it's a go?" said the mystified Joe, with a desperate attempt to
convey the foregoing statement to his own intellect in three Saxon
"It's a go," replied North, cheerfully.
And he felt relieved. For he was not quite satisfied with his own want
of frankness to her. But here was a way to pay off the debt he owed her,
and yet retain his own dignity. And now he could tell her what he had
done, and he trusted to the ambitious instinct that prompted her to seek
a better education to explain his reasons for it.
He saw her that evening and confessed all to her frankly. She kept her
head averted, but when she turned her blue eyes to him they were wet with
honest tears. North had a man's horror of a ready feminine lachrymal
gland; but it was not like Bessy to cry, and it meant something; and then
she did it in a large, goddess-like way, without sniffling, or chocking,
or getting her nose red, but rather with a gentle deliquescence, a
harmonious melting, so that he was fain to comfort her with nearer
contact, gentleness in his own sad eyes, and a pressure of her large
"It's all right, I s'pose," she said, sadly; "but I didn't reckon on
yer havin' any relations, but thought you was alone, like me."
James North, thinking of Hank Fisher and the "mullater," could not
help intimating that his relations were very wealthy and fashionable
people, and had visited him last summer. A recollection of the manner in
which they had so visited him and his own reception of them prevented his
saying more. But Miss Bessy could not forego a certain feminine
curiosity, and asked,—
"Did they come with Sam Baker's team?"
"And Sam drove the horses here for a bite?"
"I believe so."
"And them's your relations?"
Miss Robinson reached over the cradle and enfolded the sleeping infant
in her powerful arms. Then she lifted her eyes, wrathful through her
still glittering tears, and said, slowly, "They don't—
"Oh, why? I saw them! That's why, and enough! You can't play any such
gay and festive skeletons on this poor baby for flesh and blood parents.
"I think you judge them hastily, Miss Bessy," said North, secretly
amused; "my aunt may not, at first, favorably impress strangers, yet she
has many friends. But surely you do not object to my cousin Maria, the
"What! that dried cuttle-fish, with nothing livin' about her but her
eyes? James North, ye may be a fool like the old woman,— perhaps
it's in the family,—but ye ain't a devil, like that gal! That ends
And it did. North dispatched a second letter to Maria saying that he
had already made other arrangements for the baby. Pleased with her easy
victory, Miss Bessy became more than usually gracious, and the next day
bowed her shapely neck meekly to the yoke of her teacher, and became a
docile pupil. James North could not have helped noticing her ready
intelligence, even had he been less prejudiced in her favor than he was
fast becoming now. If he had found it pleasant before to be admonished by
her there was still more delicious flattery in her perfect trust in his
omniscient skill as a pilot over this unknown sea. There was a certain
enjoyment in guiding her hand over the writing-book, that I fear he could
not have obtained from an intellect less graciously sustained by its
physical nature. The weeks flew quickly by on gossamer wings, and when
she placed a bunch of larkspurs and poppies in his hand one morning, he
remembered for the first that it was spring.
I cannot say that there was more to record of Miss Bessy's education
than this. Once North, half jestingly, remarked that he had never yet
seen her admirer, Mr. Hank Fisher. Miss Bessy (coloring but
cool)—"You never will!" North (white but hot)— "Why?" Miss
Bessy (faintly)—"I'd rather not." North (resolutely)—"I
insist." Bessy (yielding)—"As my teacher?" North (hesitatingly, at
the limitation of the epithet)—"Y-e-e-s!" Bessy—"And you'll
promise never to speak of it again?" North— "Never." Bessy
(slowly—"Well, he said I did an awful thing to go over to your
cabin and stay." North (in the genuine simplicity of a refined
nature)—"But how?" Miss Bessy (half piqued, but absolutely admiring
that nature)—"Quit! and keep your promise!"
They were so happy in these new relations that it occurred to Miss
Bessy one day to take James North to task for obliging her to ask to be
his pupil. "You knew how ignorant I was," she added; and Mr. North
retorted by relating to her the doctor's criticism on her independence.
"To tell you the truth," he added, "I was afraid you would not take it as
kindly as he thought."
"That is, you thought me as vain as yourself. It seems to me you and
the doctor had a great deal to say to each other."
"On the contrary," laughed North, "that was all we said."
"And you didn't make fun of me?"
Perhaps it was not necessary for North to take her hand to emphasize
his denial, but he did.
Miss Bessy, being still reminiscent, perhaps, did not notice it. "If
it hadn't been for that ar—I mean that thar—no, that
baby—I wouldn't have known you!" she said dreamily.
"No," returned North, mischievously, "but you still would have known
No woman is perfect. Miss Bessy looked at him with a sudden—her
first and last—flash of coquetry. Then stooped and kissed—the
James North was a simple gentleman, but not altogether a fool. He
returned the kiss, but not vicariously.
There was a footstep on the porch. These two turned the hues of a
dying dolphin, and then laughed. It was Joe. He held a newspaper in his
hand. "I reckon ye woz right, Mr. North, about my takin' these yar papers
reg'lar. For I allow here's suthin' that may clar up the mystery o' that
baby's parents." With the hesitation of a slowly grappling intellect, Joe
sat down on the table and read from the San Francisco "Herald" as
follows: "'It is now ascertained beyond doubt that the wreck reported by
the Aeolus was the American brig Pomare bound hence to Tahiti. The worst
surmises are found correct. The body of the woman has been since
identified as that of the beau-ti-ful daughter
swow that name just tackles me."
"Gin it to me, Dad," said Bessy pertly. "You never had any education,
any way. Hear your accomplished daughter." With a mock bow to the new
schoolmaster, and a capital burlesque of a confident school girl, she
strode to the middle of the room the paper held and folded book-wise in
her hands. "Ahem! Where did you leave off? Oh, 'the beautiful daughter of
Terpsichore—whose name was prom-i-nently connected with a
mysterious social scandal of last year—the gifted but unfortunate
Grace Chatterton'—No—don't stop me—there's some more!
'The body of her child, a lovely infant of six months, has not been
recovered, and it is supposed was washed overboard.' There! may be that's
the child, Mr. North. Why, Dad! Look, O my God! He's falling. Catch him,
But her strong arm had anticipated her father's. She caught him,
lifted him to the bed, on which he lay henceforth for many days
unconscious. Then fever supervened, and delirium, and Dr. Duchesne
telegraphed for his friends; but at the end of a week and the opening of
a summer day the storm passed, as the other storm had passed, and he
awoke, enfeebled, but at peace. Bessy was at his side—he was glad
"Bessy, dear," he said hesitatingly, "when I am stronger I have
something to tell you."
"I know it all, Jem," she said with a trembling lip; "I heard it
all—no, not from THEM, but from your own lips in your delirium. I'm
glad it came from YOU—even then."
"Do you forgive me, Bessy?"
She pressed her lips to his forehead and said hastily, and then
falteringly, as if afraid of her impulse:—
"And you will still be mother to the child?"
"No dear, not hers, but MINE!"
She started, cried a little, and then putting her arms around him,
And as there was but one way of fulfilling that sacred promise, they
were married in the autumn.