The Heritage of Dedlow Marsh and Other Tales
by Bret Harte
OF DEDLOW MARSH.
A SECRET OF
THE HERITAGE OF DEDLOW MARSH.
The sun was going down on the Dedlow Marshes. The tide was
following it fast as if to meet the reddening lines of sky and water
in the west, leaving the foreground to grow blacker and blacker every
moment, and to bring out in startling contrast the few half-filled and
half-lit pools left behind and forgotten. The strong breath of the
Pacific fanning their surfaces at times kindled them into a dull glow
like dying embers. A cloud of sand- pipers rose white from one of the
nearer lagoons, swept in a long eddying ring against the sunset, and
became a black and dropping rain to seaward. The long sinuous line of
channel, fading with the light and ebbing with the tide, began to give
off here and there light puffs of gray-winged birds like sudden
exhalations. High in the darkening sky the long arrow-headed lines of
geese and 'brant' pointed towards the upland. As the light grew more
uncertain the air at times was filled with the rush of viewless and
melancholy wings, or became plaintive with far-off cries and
lamentations. As the Marshes grew blacker the far-scattered tussocks
and accretions on its level surface began to loom in exaggerated
outline, and two human figures, suddenly emerging erect on the bank of
the hidden channel, assumed the proportion of giants.
When they had moored their unseen boat, they still appeared for
some moments to be moving vaguely and aimlessly round the spot where
they had disembarked. But as the eye became familiar with the
darkness it was seen that they were really advancing inland, yet with
a slowness of progression and deviousness of course that appeared
inexplicable to the distant spectator. Presently it was evident that
this seemingly even, vast, black expanse was traversed and intersected
by inky creeks and small channels, which made human progression
difficult and dangerous. As they appeared nearer and their figures
took more natural proportions, it could be seen that each carried a
gun; that one was a young girl, although dressed so like her companion
in shaggy pea-jacket and sou'wester as to be scarcely distinguished
from him above the short skirt that came halfway down her high
india-rubber fishing-boots. By the time they had reached firmer
ground, and turned to look back at the sunset, it could be also seen
that the likeness between their faces was remarkable. Both, had
crisp, black, tightly curling hair; both had dark eyes and heavy
eyebrows; both had quick vivid complexions, slightly heightened by the
sea and wind. But more striking than their similarity of coloring was
the likeness of expression and bearing. Both wore the same air of
picturesque energy; both bore themselves with a like graceful
effrontery and self-possession.
The young man continued his way. The young girl lingered for a
moment looking seaward, with her small brown hand lifted to shade her
eyes,—a precaution which her heavy eyebrows and long lashes seemed to
render utterly gratuitous.
"Come along, Mag. What are ye waitin' for?" said the young man
"Nothin'. Lookin' at that boat from the Fort." Her clear eyes
were watching a small skiff, invisible to less keen-sighted
observers, aground upon a flat near the mouth of the channel. "Them
chaps will have a high ole time gunnin' thar, stuck in the mud, and
the tide goin' out like sixty!"
"Never you mind the sodgers," returned her companion, aggressively,
"they kin take care o' their own precious skins, or Uncle Sam will do
it for 'em, I reckon. Anyhow the people—that's you and me, Mag—is
expected to pay for their foolishness. That's what they're sent yer
for. Ye oughter to be satisfied with that," he added with deep
"I reckon they ain't expected to do much off o' dry land, and they
can't help bein' queer on the water," returned the young girl with a
reflecting sense of justice.
"Then they ain't no call to go gunnin', and wastin' Guv'nment
powder on ducks instead o' Injins."
"Thet's so," said the girl thoughtfully. "Wonder ef Guv'nment pays
for them frocks the Kernel's girls went cavortin' round Logport in
last Sunday—they looked like a cirkis."
"Like ez not the old Kernel gets it outer contracts—one way or
another. WE pay for it all the same," he added gloomily.
"Jest the same ez if they were MY clothes," said the girl, with a
quick, fiery, little laugh, "ain't it? Wonder how they'd like my
sayin' that to 'em when they was prancin' round, eh, Jim?"
But her companion was evidently unprepared for this sweeping
feminine deduction, and stopped it with masculine promptitude.
"Look yer—instead o' botherin' your head about what the Fort girls
wear, you'd better trot along a little more lively. It's late enough
"But these darned boots hurt like pizen," said the girl, limping.
"They swallowed a lot o' water over the tops while I was wadin' down
there, and my feet go swashin' around like in a churn every step."
"Lean on me, baby," he returned, passing his arm around her waist,
and dropping her head smartly on his shoulder. "Thar!" The act was
brotherly and slightly contemptuous, but it was sufficient to at once
establish their kinship.
They continued on thus for some moments in silence, the girl, I
fear, after the fashion of her sex, taking the fullest advantage of
this slightly sentimental and caressing attitude. They were moving
now along the edge of the Marsh, parallel with the line of rapidly
fading horizon, following some trail only known to their keen
youthful eyes. It was growing darker and darker. The cries of the
sea-birds had ceased; even the call of a belated plover had died away
inland; the hush of death lay over the black funereal pall of marsh at
their side. The tide had run out with the day. Even the sea-breeze
had lulled in this dead slack-water of all nature, as if waiting
outside the bar with the ocean, the stars, and the night.
Suddenly the girl stopped and halted her companion. The faint far
sound of a bugle broke the silence, if the idea of interruption could
have been conveyed by the two or three exquisite vibrations that
seemed born of that silence itself, and to fade and die in it without
break or discord. Yet it was only the 'retreat' call from the Fort
two miles distant and invisible.
The young girl's face had become irradiated, and her small mouth
half opened as she listened. "Do you know, Jim," she said with a
confidential sigh, "I allus put words to that when I hear it—it's so
pow'ful pretty. It allus goes to me like this: 'Goes the day, Far
away, With the light, And the night Comes along—Comes along— Comes
along—Like a-a so-o-ong.'" She here lifted her voice, a sweet, fresh,
boyish contralto, in such an admirable imitation of the bugle that her
brother, after the fashion of more select auditors, was for a moment
quite convinced that the words meant something. Nevertheless, as a
brother, it was his duty to crush this weakness. "Yes; and it
says:'shut your head, Go to bed,'" he returned irascibly; "and YOU'D
better come along, if we're goin' to hev any supper. There's Yeller
Bob hez got ahead of us over there with the game already."
The girl glanced towards a slouching burdened figure that now
appeared to be preceding them, straightened herself suddenly, and
then looked attentively towards the Marsh.
"Not the sodgers again?" said her brother impatiently.
"No," she said quickly; "but if that don't beat anythin'! I'd hev
sworn, Jim, that Yeller Bob was somewhere behind us. I saw him only
jest now when 'Taps' sounded, somewhere over thar." She pointed with
a half-uneasy expression in quite another direction from that in which
the slouching Yellow Bob had just loomed.
"Tell ye what, Mag, makin' poetry outer bugle calls hez kinder
muddled ye. THAT'S Yeller Bob ahead, and ye orter know Injins well
enuff by this time to remember that they allus crop up jest when ye
don't expect them. And there's the bresh jest afore us. Come!"
The 'bresh,' or low bushes, was really a line of stunted willows
and alders that seemed to have gradually sunk into the level of the
plain, but increased in size farther inland, until they grew to the
height and density of a wood. Seen from the channel it had the
appearance of a green cape or promontory thrust upon the Marsh.
Passing through its tangled recesses, with the aid of some unerring
instinct, the two companions emerged upon another and much larger
level that seemed as illimitable as the bay. The strong breath of
the ocean lying just beyond the bar and estuary they were now facing
came to them salt and humid as another tide. The nearer expanse of
open water reflected the after-glow, and lightened the landscape. And
between the two wayfarers and the horizon rose, bleak and startling,
the strange outlines of their home.
At first it seemed a ruined colonnade of many pillars, whose base
and pediment were buried in the earth, supporting a long
parallelogram of entablature and cornices. But a second glance
showed it to be a one-storied building, upheld above the Marsh by
numberless piles placed at regular distances; some of them sunken or
inclined from the perpendicular, increasing the first illusion.
Between these pillars, which permitted a free circulation of air,
and, at extraordinary tides, even the waters of the bay itself, the
level waste of marsh, the bay, the surges of the bar, and finally the
red horizon line, were distinctly visible. A railed gallery or
platform, supported also on piles, and reached by steps from the
Marsh, ran around the building, and gave access to the several rooms
But if the appearance of this lacustrine and amphibious dwelling
was striking, and not without a certain rude and massive grandeur,
its grounds and possessions, through which the brother and sister
were still picking their way, were even more grotesque and
remarkable. Over a space of half a dozen acres the flotsam and
jetsam of years of tidal offerings were collected, and even guarded
with a certain care. The blackened hulks of huge uprooted trees,
scarcely distinguishable from the fragments of genuine wrecks beside
them, were securely fastened by chains to stakes and piles driven in
the marsh, while heaps of broken and disjointed bamboo orange crates,
held together by ropes of fibre, glistened like ligamented bones
heaped in the dead valley. Masts, spars, fragments of shell-encrusted
boats, binnacles, round-houses and galleys, and part of the after-deck
of a coasting schooner, had ceased their wanderings and found rest in
this vast cemetery of the sea. The legend on a wheel-house, the
lettering on a stern or bow, served for mortuary inscription. Wailed
over by the trade winds, mourned by lamenting sea-birds, once every
year the tide visited its lost dead and left them wet with its tears.
To such a spot and its surroundings the atmosphere of tradition and
mystery was not wanting. Six years ago Boone Culpepper had built the
house, and brought to it his wife—variously believed to be a gypsy, a
Mexican, a bright mulatto, a Digger Indian, a South Sea princess from
Tahiti, somebody else's wife—but in reality a little Creole woman from
New Orleans, with whom he had contracted a marriage, with other
gambling debts, during a winter's vacation from his home in Virginia.
At the end of two years she had died, succumbing, as differently
stated, from perpetual wet feet, or the misanthropic idiosyncrasies of
her husband, and leaving behind her a girl of twelve and a boy of
sixteen to console him. How futile was this bequest may be guessed
from a brief summary of Mr. Culpepper's peculiarities. They were the
development of a singular form of aggrandizement and misanthropy. On
his arrival at Logport he had bought a part of the apparently
valueless Dedlow Marsh from the Government at less than a dollar an
acre, continuing his singular investment year by year until he was the
owner of three leagues of amphibious domain. It was then discovered
that this property carried with it the WATER FRONT of divers valuable
and convenient sites for manufactures and the commercial ports of a
noble bay, as well as the natural embarcaderos of some 'lumbering'
inland settlements. Boone Culpepper would not sell. Boone Culpepper
would not rent or lease. Boone Culpepper held an invincible blockade
of his neighbors, and the progress and improvement he
despised—granting only, after a royal fashion, occasional license,
revocable at pleasure, in the shape of tolls, which amply supported
him, with the game he shot in his kingfisher's eyrie on the Marsh.
Even the Government that had made him powerful was obliged to
'condemn' a part of his property at an equitable price for the
purposes of Fort Redwood, in which the adjacent town of Logport
shared. And Boone Culpepper, unable to resist the act, refused to
receive the compensation or quit-claim the town. In his scant
intercourse with his neighbors he always alluded to it as his own,
showed it to his children as part of their strange inheritance, and
exhibited the starry flag that floated from the Fort as a flaunting
insult to their youthful eyes. Hated, feared, and superstitiously
shunned by some, regarded as a madman by others, familiarly known as
'The Kingfisher of Dedlow,' Boone Culpepper was one day found floating
dead in his skiff, with a charge of shot through his head and
shoulders. The shot-gun lying at his feet at the bottom of the boat
indicated the 'accident' as recorded in the verdict of the coroner's
jury—but not by the people. A thousand rumors of murder or suicide
prevailed, but always with the universal rider, 'Served him right.'
So invincible was this feeling that but few attended his last rites,
which took place at high water. The delay of the officiating
clergyman lost the tide; the homely catafalque—his own boat—was left
aground on the Marsh, and deserted by all mourners except the two
children. Whatever he had instilled into them by precept and example,
whatever took place that night in their lonely watch by his bier on
the black marshes, it was certain that those who confidently looked
for any change in the administration of the Dedlow Marsh were cruelly
mistaken. The old Kingfisher was dead, but he had left in the nest
two young birds, more beautiful and graceful, it was true, yet as
fierce and tenacious of beak and talon.
Arriving at the house, the young people ascended the outer flight
of wooden steps, which bore an odd likeness to the companion-way of a
vessel, and the gallery, or 'deck,' as it was called—where a number of
nets, floats, and buoys thrown over the railing completed the nautical
resemblance. This part of the building was evidently devoted to
kitchen, dining-room, and domestic offices; the principal room in the
centre serving as hall or living-room, and communicating on the other
side with two sleeping apartments. It was of considerable size, with
heavy lateral beams across the ceiling—built, like the rest of the
house, with a certain maritime strength—and looked not unlike a saloon
cabin. An enormous open Franklin stove between the windows, as large
as a chimney, blazing with drift-wood, gave light and heat to the
apartment, and brought into flickering relief the boarded walls hung
with the spoils of sea and shore, and glittering with gun-barrels.
Fowling-pieces of all sizes, from the long ducking-gun mounted on a
swivel for boat use to the light single-barrel or carbine, stood in
racks against the walls; game-bags, revolvers in their holsters,
hunting and fishing knives in their sheaths, depended from hooks above
them. In one corner stood a harpoon; in another, two or three Indian
spears for salmon. The carpetless floor and rude chairs and settles
were covered with otter, mink, beaver, and a quantity of valuable
seal-skins, with a few larger pelts of the bear and elk. The only
attempt at decoration was the displayed wings and breasts of the wood
and harlequin duck, the muir, the cormorant, the gull, the gannet, and
the femininely delicate half-mourning of petrel and plover, nailed
against the wall. The influence of the sea was dominant above all,
and asserted its saline odors even through the spice of the curling
drift-wood smoke that half veiled the ceiling.
A berry-eyed old Indian woman with the complexion of dried salmon;
her daughter, also with berry eyes, and with a face that seemed
wholly made of a moist laugh; 'Yellow Bob,' a Digger 'buck,' so
called from the prevailing ochre markings of his cheek, and
'Washooh,' an ex-chief; a nondescript in a blanket, looking like a
cheap and dirty doll whose fibrous hair was badly nailed on his
carved wooden head, composed the Culpepper household. While the two
former were preparing supper in the adjacent dining-room, Yellow Bob,
relieved of his burden of game, appeared on the gallery and beckoned
mysteriously to his master through the window. James Culpepper went
out, returned quickly, and after a minute's hesitation and an uneasy
glance towards his sister, who had meantime pushed back her sou'wester
from her forehead, and without taking off her jacket had dropped into
a chair before the fire with her back towards him, took his gun
noiselessly from the rack, and saying carelessly that he would be back
in a moment, disappeared.
Left to herself, Maggie coolly pulled off her long boots and
stockings, and comfortably opposed to the fire two very pretty feet
and ankles, whose delicate purity was slightly blue-bleached by
confinement in the tepid sea-water. The contrast of their waxen
whiteness with her blue woolen skirt, and with even the skin of her
sunburnt hands and wrists, apparently amused her, and she sat for
some moments with her elbows on her knees, her skirts slightly
raised, contemplating them, and curling her toes with evident
satisfaction. The firelight playing upon the rich coloring of her
face, the fringe of jet-black curls that almost met the thick sweep
of eyebrows, and left her only a white strip of forehead, her short
upper lip and small chin, rounded but resolute, completed a piquant
and striking figure. The rich brown shadows on the smoke-stained
walls and ceiling, the occasional starting into relief of the
scutcheons of brilliant plumage, and the momentary glitter of the
steel barrels, made a quaint background to this charming picture.
Sitting there, and following some lingering memory of her tramp on
the Marsh, she hummed to herself a few notes of the bugle call that
had impressed her—at first softly, and finally with the full pitch of
Suddenly she stopped.
There was a faint and unmistakable rapping on the floor beneath
her. It was distinct, but cautiously given, as if intended to be
audible to her alone. For a moment she stood upright, her feet still
bare and glistening, on the otter skin that served as a rug. There
were two doors to the room, one from which her brother had
disappeared, which led to the steps, the other giving on the back
gallery, looking inland. With a quick instinct she caught up her gun
and ran to that one, but not before a rapid scramble near the railing
was followed by a cautious opening of the door. She was just in time
to shut it on the extended arm and light blue sleeve of an army
overcoat that protruded through the opening, and for a moment threw
her whole weight against it.
"A dhrop of whiskey, Miss, for the love of God."
She retained her hold, cocked her weapon, and stepped back a pace
from the door. The blue sleeve was followed by the rest of the
overcoat, and a blue cap with the infantry blazoning, and the letter
H on its peak. They were for the moment more distinguishable than the
man beneath them—grimed and blackened with the slime of the Marsh.
But what could be seen of his mud- stained face was more grotesque
than terrifying. A combination of weakness and audacity, insinuation
and timidity struggled through the dirt for expression. His small
blue eyes were not ill-natured, and even the intruding arm trembled
more from exhaustion than passion.
"On'y a dhrop, Miss," he repeated piteously, "and av ye pleeze,
quick! afore I'm stharved with the cold entoirely."
She looked at him intently—without lowering her gun.
"Who are you?"
"Thin, it's the truth I'll tell ye, Miss—whisth then!" he said in
a half-whisper; "I'm a desarter!"
"Then it was YOU that was doggin' us on the Marsh?"
"It was the sarjint I was lavin', Miss."
She looked at him hesitatingly.
"Stay outside there; if you move a step into the room, I'll blow
you out of it."
He stepped back on the gallery. She closed the door, bolted it,
and still holding the gun, opened a cupboard, poured out a glass of
whiskey, and returning to the door, opened it and handed him the
She watched him drain it eagerly, saw the fiery stimulant put life
into his shivering frame, trembling hands, and kindle his dull eye—
and—quietly raised her gun again.
"Ah, put it down, Miss, put it down! Fwhot's the use? Sure the
bullets yee carry in them oiyes of yours is more deadly! It's out
here oi'll sthand, glory be to God, all night, without movin' a fut
till the sarjint comes to take me, av ye won't levil them oiyes at me
like that. Ah, whirra! look at that now! but it's a gooddess she
is—the livin' Jaynus of warr, standin' there like a statoo, wid her
alybaster fut put forward."
In her pride and conscious superiority, any suggestion of shame at
thus appearing before a common man and a mendicant was as impossible
to her nature as it would have been to a queen or the goddess of his
simile. His presence and his compliment alike passed her calm modesty
unchallenged. The wretched scamp recognized the fact and felt its
power, and it was with a superstitious reverence asserting itself
through his native extravagance that he raised his grimy hand to his
cap in military salute and became respectfully rigid.
"Then the sodgers were huntin' YOU?" she said thoughtfully,
lowering her weapon.
"Thrue for you, Miss—they worr, and it's meself that was lyin'
flat in the ditch wid me faytures makin' an illigant cast in the
mud—more betoken, as ye see even now—and the sarjint and his daytail
thrampin' round me. It was thin that the mortial cold sthruck thro'
me mouth, and made me wake for the whiskey that would resthore me."
"What did you desert fer?"
"Ah, list to that now! Fwhat did I desart fer? Shure ev there was
the ghost of an inemy round, it's meself that would be in the front
now! But it was the letthers from me ould mother, Miss, that is
sthruck wid a mortial illness—long life to her!—in County Clare, and
me sisthers in Ninth Avenue in New York, fornint the daypo, that is
brekken their harruts over me listin' in the Fourth Infanthry to do
duty in a haythen wilderness. Av it was the cavalry—and it's me own
father that was in the Innishkillen Dthragoons, Miss—oi wouldn't
moind. Wid a horse betune me legs, it's on parade oi'd be now, Miss,
and not wandhering over the bare flure of the Marsh, stharved wid the
cold, the thirst, and hunger, wid the mud and the moire thick on me;
facin' an illigant young leddy as is the ekal ov a Fayld Marshal's
darter—not to sphake ov Kernal Preston's—ez couldn't hold a candle to
Brought up on the Spanish frontier, Maggie Culpepper was one of the
few American girls who was not familiar with the Irish race. The
rare smile that momentarily lit up her petulant mouth seemed to
justify the intruder's praise. But it passed quickly, and she
"That means you want more drink, suthin' to eat, and clothes.
Suppose my brother comes back and ketches you here?"
"Shure, Miss, he's just now hunten me, along wid his two haythen
Diggers, beyond the laygoon there. It worr the yellar one that
sphotted me lyin' there in the ditch; it worr only your own oiyes,
Miss—more power to their beauty for that!—that saw me folly him
unbeknownst here; and that desaved them, ye see!"
The young girl remained for an instant silent and thoughtful.
"We're no friends of the Fort," she said finally, "but I don't
reckon for that reason my brother will cotton to YOU. Stay out thar
where ye are, till I come to ye. If you hear me singin' again, you'll
know he's come back, and ye'd better scoot with what you've already
got, and be thankful."
She shut the door again and locked it, went into the dining-room,
returned with some provisions wrapped in paper, took a common wicker
flask from the wall, passed into her brother's bedroom, and came out
with a flannel shirt, overalls, and a coarse Indian blanket, and,
reopening the door, placed them before the astonished and delighted
vagabond. His eye glistened; he began, "Glory be to God," but for
once his habitual extravagance failed him. Nature triumphed with a
more eloquent silence over his well-worn art. He hurriedly wiped his
begrimed face and eyes with the shirt she had given him, and catching
the sleeve of her rough pea-jacket in his dirty hand, raised it to his
"Go!" she said imperiously. "Get away while you can."
"Av it vas me last words—it's speechless oi am," he stammered, and
disappeared over the railing.
She remained for a moment holding the door half open, and gazing
into the darkness that seemed to flow in like a tide. Then she shut
it, and going into her bedroom resumed her interrupted toilette. When
she emerged again she was smartly stockinged and slippered, and even
the blue serge skirt was exchanged for a bright print, with a white
fichu tied around her throat. An attempt to subdue her rebellious
curls had resulted in the construction from their ruins of a low
Norman arch across her forehead with pillared abutments of ringlets.
When her brother returned a few moments later she did not look up,
but remained, perhaps a little ostentatiously, bending over the fire.
"Bob allowed that the Fort boat was huntin' MEN—deserters, I
reckon," said Jim aggrievedly. "Wanted me to believe that he SAW one
on the Marsh hidin'. On'y an Injin lie, I reckon, to git a little
extra fire-water, for toting me out to the bresh on a fool's errand."
"Oh, THAT'S where you went!" said Maggie, addressing the fire.
"Since when hev you tuk partnership with the Guv'nment and Kernel
Preston to hunt up and take keer of their property?"
"Well, I ain't goin' to hev such wreckage as they pick up and
enlist set adrift on our marshes, Mag," said Jim decidedly.
"What would you hev done had you ketched him?" said Maggie, looking
suddenly into her brother's face.
"Given him a dose of snipe-shot that he'd remember, and be thankful
it wasn't slugs," said Jim promptly. Observing a deeper seriousness
in her attitude, he added, "Why, if it was in war-time he'd get a BALL
from them sodgers on sight."
"Yes; but YOU ain't got no call to interfere," said Maggie.
"Ain't I? Why, he's no better than an outlaw. I ain't sure that
he hasn't been stealin' or killin' somebody over theer."
"Not that man!" said Maggie impulsively.
"Not what man?" said her brother, facing her quickly.
"Why," returned Maggie, repairing her indiscretion with feminine
dexterity, "not ANY man who might have knocked you and me over on the
marshes in the dusk, and grabbed our guns."
"Wish he'd hev tried it," said the brother, with a superior smile,
but a quickly rising color. "Where d'ye suppose I'D hev been all the
Maggie saw her mistake, and for the first time in her life resolved
to keep a secret from her brother—overnight. "Supper's gettin'
cold," she said, rising.
They went into the dining-room—an apartment as plainly furnished
as the one they had quitted, but in its shelves, cupboards, and
closely fitting boarding bearing out the general nautical suggestion
of the house—and seated themselves before a small table on which their
frugal meal was spread. In this tete-a-tete position Jim suddenly
laid down his knife and fork and stared at his sister.
"What's the matter?" said Maggie, starting slightly. "How you do
"Who's been prinkin', eh?"
"My ha'r was in kinks all along o' that hat," said Maggie, with a
return of higher color, "and I had to straighten it. It's a boy's
hat, not a girl's."
But that necktie and that gown—and all those frills and tuckers?"
continued Jim generalizing, with a rapid twirling of his fingers over
her. "Are you expectin' Judge Martin, or the Expressman this
Judge Martin was the lawyer of Logport, who had proven her father's
will, and had since raved about his single interview with the
Kingfisher's beautiful daughter; the Expressman was a young fellow
who was popularly supposed to have left his heart while delivering
another valuable package on Maggie in person, and had "never been the
same man since." It was a well-worn fraternal pleasantry that had
done duty many a winter's evening, as a happy combination of moral
admonition and cheerfulness. Maggie usually paid it the tribute of a
quick little laugh and a sisterly pinch, but that evening those marks
of approbation were withheld.
"Jim dear," said she, when their Spartan repast was concluded and
they were reestablished before the living-room fire. "What was it
the Redwood Mill Kempany offered you for that piece near Dead Man's
Jim took his pipe from his lips long enough to say, "Ten thousand
dollars," and put it back again.
"And what do ye kalkilate all our property, letting alone this yer
house, and the driftwood front, is worth all together?"
"Includin' wot the Gov'nment owes us?—for that's all ours, ye
know?" said Jim quickly.
"No—leavin' that out—jest for greens, you know," suggested Maggie.
"Well nigh onter a hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars, I
reckon, by and large."
"That's a heap o' money, Jim! I reckon old Kernel Preston wouldn't
raise that in a hundred years," continued Maggie, warming her knees
by the fire.
"In five million years," said Jim, promptly sweeping away further
discussion. After a pause he added, "You and me, Mag, kin see
anybody's pile, and go 'em fifty thousand better."
There were a few moments of complete silence, in which Maggie
smoothed her knees, and Jim's pipe, which seemed to have become
gorged and apoplectic with its owner's wealth, snored unctuously.
"Jim dear, what if—it's on'y an idea of mine, you know—what if you
sold that piece to the Redwood Mill, and we jest tuk that money
and—and—and jest lifted the ha'r offer them folks at Logport? Jest
astonished 'em! Jest tuk the best rooms in that new hotel, got a hoss
and buggy, dressed ourselves, you and me, fit to kill, and made them
Fort people take a back seat in the Lord's Tabernacle, oncet for all.
You see what I mean, Jim," she said hastily, as her brother seemed to
be succumbing, like his pipe, in apoplectic astonishment, "jest on'y
to SHOW 'em what we COULD do if we keerd. Lord! when we done it and
spent the money we'd jest snap our fingers and skip back yer ez
nat'ral ez life! Ye don't think, Jim," she said, suddenly turning
half fiercely upon him, "that I'd allow to LIVE among 'em—to stay a
menet after that!"
Jim laid down his pipe and gazed at his sister with stony
deliberation. "And—what—do—you—kalkilate—to make by all that?" he
said with scornful distinctness.
"Why, jest to show 'em we HAVE got money, and could buy 'em all up
if we wanted to," returned Maggie, sticking boldly to her guns,
albeit with a vague conviction that her fire was weakened through
elevation, and somewhat alarmed at the deliberation of the enemy.
"And you mean to say they don't know it now," he continued with
"No," said Maggie. "Why, theer's that new school-marm over at
Logport, you know, Jim, the one that wanted to take your picter in
your boat for a young smuggler or fancy pirate or Eyetalian
fisherman, and allowed that you'r handsomed some, and offered to pay
you for sittin'—do you reckon SHE'D believe you owned the land her
schoolhouse was built on. No! Lots of 'em don't. Lots of 'em thinks
we're poor and low down—and them ez doesn't, thinks"—
"What?" asked her brother sharply.
"That we're MEAN."
The quick color came to Jim's cheek. "So," he said, facing her
quickly, "for the sake of a lot of riff-raff and scum that's drifted
here around us—jest for the sake of cuttin' a swell before them—you'll
go out among the hounds ez allowed your mother was a Spanish nigger or
a kanaka, ez called your father a pirate and landgrabber, ez much as
allowed he was shot by some one or killed himself a purpose, ez said
you was a heathen and a looney because you didn't go to school or
church along with their trash, ez kept away from Maw's sickness ez if
it was smallpox, and Dad's fun'ral ez if he was a hoss-thief, and left
you and me to watch his coffin on the marshes all night till the tide
kem back. And now you—YOU that jined hands with me that night over
our father lyin' there cold and despised—ez if he was a dead dog
thrown up by the tide— and swore that ez long ez that tide ebbed and
flowed it couldn't bring you to them, or them to you agin! You now
want—what? What? Why, to go and cast your lot among 'em, and live
among 'em, and join in their God-forsaken holler foolishness,
"Stop! It's a lie! I DIDN'T say that. Don't you dare to say it!"
said the girl, springing to her feet, and facing her brother in turn,
with flashing eyes.
For a moment the two stared at each other—it might have been as in
a mirror, so perfectly were their passions reflected in each line,
shade, and color of the other's face. It was as if they had each
confronted their own passionate and willful souls, and were
frightened. It had often occurred before, always with the same
invariable ending. The young man's eyes lowered first; the girl's
filled with tears.
"Well, ef ye didn't mean that, what did ye mean?" said Jim,
sinking, with sullen apology, back into his chair.
"I—only—meant it—for—for—revenge!" sobbed Maggie.
"Oh!" said Jim, as if allowing his higher nature to be touched by
this noble instinct. "But I didn't jest see where the revenge kem
"No? But, never mind now, Jim," said Maggie, ostentatiously
ignoring, after the fashion of her sex, the trouble she had provoked;
"but to think—that—that—you thought"—(sobbing).
"But I didn't, Mag"—(caressingly).
With this very vague and impotent conclusion, Maggie permitted
herself to be drawn beside her brother, and for a few moments they
plumed each other's ruffled feathers, and smoothed each other's
lifted crests, like two beautiful young specimens of that halcyon
genus to which they were popularly supposed to belong. At the end of
half an hour Jim rose, and, yawning slightly, said in a perfunctory
"Where's the book?"
The book in question was the Bible. It had been the self-imposed
custom of these two young people to read aloud a chapter every night
as their one vague formula of literary and religious discipline. When
it was produced, Maggie, presuming on his affectionate and penitential
condition, suggested that to-night he should pick out "suthin'
interestin'." But this unorthodox frivolity was sternly put aside by
Jim—albeit, by way of compromise, he agreed to "chance it," i. e.,
open its pages at random.
He did so. Generally he allowed himself a moment's judicious pause
for a certain chaste preliminary inspection necessary before reading
aloud to a girl. To-night he omitted that modest precaution, and in a
pleasant voice, which in reading was singularly free from colloquial
infelicities of pronunciation, began at once:
"'Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the
inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord,
to the help of the Lord against the mighty.'"
"Oh, you looked first," said Maggie.
"I didn't now—honest Injin! I just opened."
"Go on," said Maggie, eagerly shoving him and interposing her neck
over his shoulder.
And Jim continued Deborah's wonderful song of Jael and Sisera to
the bitter end of its strong monosyllabic climax.
"There," he said, closing the volume, "that's what I call revenge.
That's the real Scripture thing—no fancy frills theer."
"Yes; but, Jim dear, don't you see that she treated him first—
sorter got round him with free milk and butter, and reg'larly
blandished him," argued Maggie earnestly.
But Jim declined to accept this feminine suggestion, or to pursue
the subject further, and after a fraternal embrace they separated for
the night. Jim lingered long enough to look after the fastening of
the door and windows, and Maggie remained for some moments at her
casement, looking across the gallery to the Marsh beyond.
The moon had risen, the tide was half up. Whatever sign or trace
of alien footprint or occupation had been there was already smoothly
obliterated; even the configuration of the land had changed. A black
cape had disappeared, a level line of shore had been eaten into by
teeth of glistening silver. The whole dark surface of the Marsh was
beginning to be streaked with shining veins as if a new life was
coursing through it. Part of the open bay before the Fort,
encroaching upon the shore, seemed in the moonlight to be reaching a
white and outstretched arm towards the nest of the Kingfisher.
The reveille at Fort Redwood had been supplemented full five
minutes by the voice of Lieutenant George Calvert's servant, before
that young officer struggled from his bed. His head was splitting,
his tongue and lips were dry and feverish, his bloodshot eyes were
shrinking from the insufferable light of the day, his mind a confused
medley of the past night and the present morning, of cards and wild
revelry, and the vision of a reproachfully trim orderly standing at
his door with reports and orders which he now held composedly in his
hand. For Lieutenant Calvert had been enjoying a symposium variously
known as "Stag Feed" and "A Wild Stormy Night" with several of his
brother officers, and a sickening conviction that it was not the first
or the last time he had indulged in these festivities. At that moment
he loathed himself, and then after the usual derelict fashion cursed
the fate that had sent him, after graduating, to a frontier
garrison—the dull monotony of whose duties made the Border horse-play
of dissipation a relief. Already he had reached the miserable point
of envying the veteran capacities of his superiors and equals. "If I
could drink like Kirby or Crowninshield, or if there was any other
cursed thing a man could do in this hole," he had wretchedly repeated
to himself, after each misspent occasion, and yet already he was
looking forward to them as part of a 'sub's' duty and worthy his
emulation. Already the dream of social recreation fostered by West
Point had been rudely dispelled. Beyond the garrison circle of
Colonel Preston's family and two officers' wives, there was no
society. The vague distrust and civil jealousy with which some
frontier communities regard the Federal power, heightened in this
instance by the uncompromising attitude the Government had taken
towards the settlers' severe Indian policy, had kept the people of
Logport aloof from the Fort. The regimental band might pipe to them
on Saturdays, but they would not dance.
Howbeit, Lieutenant Calvert dressed himself with uncertain hands
but mechanical regularity and neatness, and, under the automatic
training of discipline and duty, managed to button his tunic tightly
over his feelings, to pull himself together with his sword- belt,
compressing a still cadet-like waist, and to present that
indescribable combination of precision and jauntiness which his
brother officers too often allowed to lapse into frontier
carelessness. His closely clipped light hair, yet dripping from a
plunge in the cold water, had been brushed and parted with military
exactitude, and when surmounted by his cap, with the peak in an
artful suggestion of extra smartness tipped forward over his eyes,
only his pale face—a shade lighter than his little blonde
moustache—showed his last night's excesses. He was mechanically
reaching for his sword and staring confusedly at the papers on his
table when his servant interrupted:
"Major Bromley arranged that Lieutenant Kirby takes your sash this
morning, as you're not well, sir; and you're to report for special to
the colonel," he added, pointing discreetly to the envelope.
Touched by this consideration of his superior, Major Bromley, who
had been one of the veterans of last night's engagement, Calvert
mastered the contents of the envelope without the customary anathema
of specials, said, "Thank you, Parks," and passed out on the veranda.
The glare of the quiet sunlit quadrangle, clean as a well-swept
floor, the whitewashed walls and galleries of the barrack buildings
beyond, the white and green palisade of officers' cottages on either
side, and the glitter of a sentry's bayonet, were for a moment
intolerable to him. Yet, by a kind of subtle irony, never before had
the genius and spirit of the vocation he had chosen seemed to be as
incarnate as in the scene before him. Seclusion, self-restraint,
cleanliness, regularity, sobriety, the atmosphere of a wholesome life,
the austere reserve of a monastery without its mysterious or pensive
meditation, were all there. To escape which, he had of his own free
will successively accepted a fool's distraction, the inevitable result
of which was, the viewing of them the next morning with tremulous
nerves and aching eyeballs.
An hour later, Lieutenant George Calvert had received his final
instructions from Colonel Preston to take charge of a small
detachment to recover and bring back certain deserters, but notably
one, Dennis M'Caffrey of Company H, charged additionally with
mutinous solicitation and example. As Calvert stood before his
superior, that distinguished officer, whose oratorical powers had
been considerably stimulated through a long course of "returning
thanks for the Army," slightly expanded his chest and said
"I am aware, Mr. Calvert, that duties of this kind are somewhat
distasteful to young officers, and are apt to be considered in the
light of police detail; but I must remind you that no one part of a
soldier's duty can be held more important or honorable than another,
and that the fulfilment of any one, however trifling, must, with honor
to himself and security to his comrades, receive his fullest devotion.
A sergeant and a file of men might perform your duty, but I require,
in addition, the discretion, courtesy, and consideration of a
gentleman who will command an equal respect from those with whom his
duty brings him in contact. The unhappy prejudices which the settlers
show to the military authority here render this, as you are aware, a
difficult service, but I believe that you will, without forgetting the
respect due to yourself and the Government you represent, avoid
arousing these prejudices by any harshness, or inviting any conflict
with the civil authority. The limits of their authority you will find
in your written instructions; but you might gain their confidence, and
impress them, Mr. Calvert, with the idea of your being their AUXILIARY
in the interests of justice—you understand. Even if you are
unsuccessful in bringing back the men, you will do your best to
ascertain if their escape has been due to the sympathy of the
settlers, or even with their preliminary connivance. They may not be
aware that inciting enlisted men to desert is a criminal offence; you
will use your own discretion in informing them of the fact or not, as
occasion may serve you. I have only to add, that while you are on the
waters of this bay and the land covered by its tides, you have no
opposition of authority, and are responsible to no one but your
military superiors. Good-bye, Mr. Calvert. Let me hear a good
account of you."
Considerably moved by Colonel Preston's manner, which was as
paternal and real as his rhetoric was somewhat perfunctory, Calvert
half forgot his woes as he stepped from the commandant's piazza. But
he had to face a group of his brother officers, who were awaiting him.
"Good-bye, Calvert," said Major Bromley; "a day or two out on grass
won't hurt you—and a change from commissary whiskey will put you all
right. By the way, if you hear of any better stuff at Westport than
they're giving us here, sample it and let us know. Take care of
yourself. Give your men a chance to talk to you now and then, and you
may get something from them, especially Donovan. Keep your eye on
Ramon. You can trust your sergeant straight along."
"Good-bye, George," said Kirby. "I suppose the old man told you
that, although no part of a soldier's duty was better than another,
your service was a very delicate one, just fitted for you, eh? He
always does when he's cut out some hellish scrub-work for a chap. And
told you, too, that as long as you didn't go ashore, and kept to a
dispatch-boat, or an eight-oared gig, where you couldn't deploy your
men, or dress a line, you'd be invincible."
"He did say something like that," smiled Calvert, with an uneasy
recollection, however, that it was THE part of his superior's speech
that particularly impressed him.
"Of course," said Kirby gravely, "THAT, as an infantry officer, is
clearly your duty."
"And don't forget, George," said Rollins still more gravely, "that,
whatever may befall you, you belong to a section of that numerically
small but powerfully diversified organization—the American Army.
Remember that in the hour of peril you can address your men in any
language, and be perfectly understood. And remember that when you
proudly stand before them, the eyes not only of your own country, but
of nearly all the others, are upon you! Good-bye, Georgey. I heard
the major hint something about whiskey. They say that old pirate,
Kingfisher Culpepper, had a stock of the real thing from Robertson
County laid in his shebang on the Marsh just before he died. Pity we
aren't on terms with them, for the cubs cannot drink it, and might be
induced to sell. Shouldn't wonder, by the way, if your friend
M'Caffrey was hanging round somewhere there; he always had a keen
scent. You might confiscate it as an "incitement to desertion," you
know. The girl's pretty, and ought to be growing up now."
But haply at this point the sergeant stopped further raillery by
reporting the detachment ready; and drawing his sword, Calvert, with
a confused head, a remorseful heart, but an unfaltering step, marched
off his men on his delicate mission.
It was four o'clock when he entered Jonesville. Following a
matter-of-fact idea of his own, he had brought his men the greater
distance by a circuitous route through the woods, thus avoiding the
ostentatious exposure of his party on the open bay in a well-manned
boat to an extended view from the three leagues of shore and marsh
opposite. Crossing the stream, which here separated him from the
Dedlow Marsh by the common ferry, he had thus been enabled to halt
unperceived below the settlement and occupy the two roads by which
the fugitives could escape inland. He had deemed it not impossible
that, after the previous visit of the sergeant, the deserters hidden
in the vicinity might return to Jonesville in the belief that the
visit would not be repeated so soon. Leaving a part of his small
force to patrol the road and another to deploy over the upland
meadows, he entered the village. By the exercise of some boyish
diplomacy and a certain prepossessing grace, which he knew when and
how to employ, he became satisfied that the objects of his quest were
not THERE—however, their whereabouts might have been known to the
people. Dividing his party again, he concluded to take a corporal and
a few men and explore the lower marshes himself.
The preoccupation of duty, exercise, and perhaps, above all, the
keen stimulus of the iodine-laden salt air seemed to clear his mind
and invigorate his body. He had never been in the Marsh before, and
enjoyed its novelty with the zest of youth. It was the hour when the
tide of its feathered life was at its flood. Clouds of duck and teal
passing from the fresh water of the river to the salt pools of the
marshes perpetually swept his path with flying shadows; at times it
seemed as if even the uncertain ground around him itself arose and
sped away on dusky wings. The vicinity of hidden pools and sloughs
was betrayed by startled splashings; a few paces from their marching
feet arose the sunlit pinions of a swan. The air was filled with
multitudinous small cries and pipings. In this vocal confusion it was
some minutes before he recognized the voice of one of his out-flankers
calling to the other.
An important discovery had been made. In a long tongue of bushes
that ran down to the Marsh they had found a mud-stained uniform,
complete even to the cap, bearing the initial of the deserter's
"Is there any hut or cabin hereabouts, Schmidt?" asked Calvert.
"Dot vos schoost it, Lefdennun," replied his corporal. "Dot vos de
shanty from der Kingvisher—old Gulbebber. I pet a dollar, py
shimminy, dot der men haf der gekommt."
He pointed through the brake to a long, low building that now
raised itself, white in the sunlight, above the many blackened piles.
Calvert saw in a single reconnoitring glance that it had but one
approach—the flight of steps from the Marsh. Instructing his men to
fall in on the outer edge of the brake and await his orders, he
quickly made his way across the space and ascended the steps. Passing
along the gallery he knocked at the front door. There was no response.
He repeated his knock. Then the window beside it opened suddenly,
and he was confronted with the double- muzzle of a long ducking-gun.
Glancing instinctively along the barrels, he saw at their other
extremity the bright eyes, brilliant color, and small set mouth of a
remarkably handsome girl. It was the fact, and to the credit of his
training, that he paid more attention to the eyes than to the
challenge of the shining tubes before him.
"Jest stop where you are—will you!" said the girl determinedly.
Calvert's face betrayed not the slightest terror or surprise.
Immovable as on parade, he carried his white gloved hand to his cap,
and said gently, "With pleasure."
"Oh yes," said the girl quickly; "but if you move a step I'll jest
blow you and your gloves offer that railin' inter the Marsh."
"I trust not," returned Calvert, smiling.
"Because it would deprive me of the pleasure of a few moments'
conversation with you—and I've only one pair of gloves with me."
He was still watching her beautiful eyes—respectfully, admiringly,
and strategically. For he was quite convinced that if he DID move
she would certainly discharge one or both barrels at him.
"Where's the rest of you?" she continued sharply.
"About three hundred yards away, in the covert, not near enough to
"Will they come here?"
"I trust not."
"You trust not?" she repeated scornfully. "Why?
"Because they would be disobeying orders."
She lowered her gun slightly, but kept her black brows levelled at
him. "I reckon I'm a match for YOU," she said, with a slightly
contemptuous glance at his slight figure, and opened the door. For a
moment they stood looking at each other. He saw, besides the handsome
face and eyes that had charmed him, a tall slim figure, made broader
across the shoulders by an open pea-jacket that showed a man's red
flannel shirt belted at the waist over a blue skirt, with the collar
knotted by a sailor's black handkerchief, and turned back over a
pretty though sunburnt throat. She saw a rather undersized young
fellow in a jaunty undress uniform, scant of gold braid, and bearing
only the single gold shoulder-bars of his rank, but scrupulously neat
and well fitting. Light-colored hair cropped close, the smallest of
light moustaches, clear and penetrating blue eyes, and a few freckles
completed a picture that did not prepossess her. She was therefore
the more inclined to resent the perfect ease and self-possession with
which the stranger carried off these manifest defects before her.
She laid aside the gun, put her hands deep in the pockets of her
pea-jacket, and, slightly squaring her shoulders, said curtly, "What
do you want?"
"A very little information, which I trust it will not trouble you
to give me. My men have just discovered the uniform belonging to a
deserter from the Fort lying in the bushes yonder. Can you give me
the slightest idea how it came there?"
"What right have you trapseing over our property?" she said,
turning upon him sharply, with a slight paling of color.
"Then what did you come for?"
"To ask that permission, in case you would give me no information."
"Why don't you ask my brother, and not a woman? Were you afraid?"
"He could hardly have done me the honor of placing me in more peril
than you have," returned Calvert, smiling. "Then I have the pleasure
of addressing Miss Culpepper?"
"I'm Jim Culpepper's sister."
"And, I believe, equally able to give or refuse the permission I
"And what if I refuse?"
"Then I have only to ask pardon for having troubled you, go back,
and return here with the tide. You don't resist THAT with a shot-
gun, do you?" he asked pleasantly.
Maggie Culpepper was already familiar with the accepted theory of
the supreme jurisdiction of the Federal Sea. She half turned her
back upon him, partly to show her contempt, but partly to evade the
domination of his clear, good-humored, and self-sustained little
"I don't know anythin' about your deserters, nor what rags o'
theirs happen to be floated up here," she said, angrily, "and don't
care to. You kin do what you like."
"Then I'm afraid I should remain here a little longer, Miss
Culpepper; but my duty"—
"Your wot?" she interrupted, disdainfully.
"I suppose I AM talking shop," he said smilingly. "Then my
"Your business—pickin' up half-starved runaways!"
"And, I trust, sometimes a kind friend," he suggested, with a grave
"You TRUST? Look yer, young man, she said, with her quick, fierce,
little laugh, "I reckon you TRUST a heap too much!" She would like
to have added, "with your freckled face, red hair, and little
eyes"—but this would have obliged her to face them again, which she
did not care to do.
Calvert stepped back, lifted his hand to his cap, still pleasantly,
and then walked gravely along the gallery, down the steps, and
towards the cover. From her window, unseen, she followed his neat
little figure moving undeviatingly on, without looking to the left or
right, and still less towards the house he had just quitted. Then she
saw the sunlight flash on cross-belt plates and steel barrels, and a
light blue line issued from out the dark green bushes, round the
point, and disappeared. And then it suddenly occurred to her what she
had been doing! This, then, was her first step towards that fancy she
had so lately conceived, quarrelled over with her brother, and lay
awake last night to place anew, in spite of all opposition! This was
her brilliant idea of dazzling and subduing Logport and the Fort! Had
she grown silly, or what had happened? Could she have dreamed of the
coming of this whipper-snapper, with his insufferable airs, after that
beggarly deserter? I am afraid that for a few moments the miserable
fugitive had as small a place in Maggie's sympathy as the redoubtable
whipper-snapper himself. And now the cherished dream of triumph and
conquest was over! What a "looney" she had been! Instead of inviting
him in, and outdoing him in "company manners," and "fooling" him about
the deserter, and then blazing upon him afterwards at Logport in the
glory of her first spent wealth and finery, she had driven him away!
And now "he'll go and tell—tell the Fort girls of his hairbreadth
escape from the claws of the Kingfisher's daughter!"
The thought brought a few bitter tears to her eyes, but she wiped
them away. The thought brought also the terrible conviction that Jim
was right, that there could be nothing but open antagonism between
them and the traducers of their parents, as she herself had
instinctively shown! But she presently wiped that conviction away
also, as she had her tears.
Half an hour later she was attracted by the appearance from the
windows of certain straggling blue spots on the upland that seemed
moving diagonally towards the Marsh. She did not know that it was
Calvert's second "detail" joining him, but believed for a moment that
he had not yet departed, and was strangely relieved. Still later the
frequent disturbed cries of coot, heron, and marsh-hen, recognizing
the presence of unusual invaders of their solitude, distracted her yet
more, and forced her at last with increasing color and an uneasy sense
of shyness to steal out to the gallery for a swift furtive survey of
the Marsh. But an utterly unexpected sight met her eyes, and kept her
The birds were rising everywhere and drifting away with querulous
perturbation before a small but augmented blue detachment that was
moving with monotonous regularity towards the point of bushes where
she had seen the young officer previously disappear. In their midst,
between two soldiers with fixed bayonets, marched the man whom even at
that distance she instantly recognized as the deserter of the
preceding night, in the very clothes she had given him. To complete
her consternation, a little to the right marched the young officer
also, but accompanied by, and apparently on the most amicable terms
with, Jim—her own brother!
To forget all else and dart down the steps, flying towards the
point of bushes, scarcely knowing why or what she was doing, was to
Maggie the impulse and work of a moment. When she had reached it the
party were not twenty paces away. But here a shyness and hesitation
again seized her, and she shrank back in the bushes with an
instinctive cry to her brother inarticulate upon her lips. They came
nearer, they were opposite to her; her brother Jim keeping step with
the invader, and even conversing with him with an animation she had
seldom seen upon his face—they passed! She had been unnoticed except
by one. The roving eye of the deserter had detected her handsome face
among the leaves, slightly turned towards it, and poured out his whole
soul in a single swift wink of eloquent but indescribable confidence.
When they had quite gone, she crept back to the house, a little
reassured, but still tremulous. When her brother returned at
nightfall, he found her brooding over the fire, in the same attitude
as on the previous night.
"I reckon ye might hev seen me go by with the sodgers," he said,
seating himself beside her, a little awkwardly, and with an unusual
assumption of carelessness.
Maggie, without looking up, was languidly surprised. He had been
with the soldiers—and where?
"About two hours ago I met this yer Leftenant Calvert," he went on
with increasing awkwardness, "and—oh, I say, Mag—he said he saw you,
and hoped he hadn't troubled ye, and—and—ye saw him, didn't ye?"
Maggie, with all the red of the fire concentrated in her cheek as
she gazed at the flame, believed carelessly "that she had seen a
shrimp in uniform asking questions."
"Oh, he ain't a bit stuck up," said Jim quickly, "that's what I
like about him. He's ez nat'ral ez you be, and tuck my arm, walkin'
around, careless-like, laffen at what he was doin', ez ef it was a
game, and he wasn't sole commander of forty men. He's only a year or
two older than me—and—and"—he stopped and looked uneasily at Maggie.
"So ye've bin craw-fishin' agin?" said Maggie, in her deepest and
most scornful contralto.
"Who's craw-fishin'?" he retorted, angrily.
"What's this backen out o' what you said yesterday? What's all
this trucklin' to the Fort now?"
"What? Well now, look yer," said Jim, rising suddenly, with
reproachful indignation, "darned if I don't jest tell ye everythin'.
I promised HIM I wouldn't. He allowed it would frighten ye."
"FRIGHTEN ME!" repeated Maggie contemptuously, nevertheless with
her cheek paling again. "Frighten me—with what?"
"Well, since yer so cantankerous, look yer. We've been robbed!"
"Robbed?" echoed Maggie, facing him.
"Yes, robbed by that same deserter. Robbed of a suit of my
clothes, and my whiskey-flask, and the darned skunk had 'em on. And
if it hadn't bin for that Leftenant Calvert, and my givin' him
permission to hunt him over the Marsh, we wouldn't have caught him."
"Robbed?" repeated Maggie again, vaguely.
"Yes, robbed! Last night, afore we came home. He must hev got in
yer while we was comin' from the boat."
"Did, did that Leftenant say so?" stammered Maggie.
"Say it, of course he did! and so do I," continued Jim,
impatiently. "Why, there were my very clothes on his back, and he
daren't deny it. And if you'd hearkened to me jest now, instead of
flyin' off in tantrums, you'd see that THAT'S jest how we got him,
and how me and the Leftenant joined hands in it. I didn't give him
permission to hunt deserters, but THIEVES. I didn't help him to
ketch the man that deserted from HIM, but the skunk that took MY
clothes. For when the Leftenant found the man's old uniform in the
bush, he nat'rally kalkilated he must hev got some other duds near by
in some underhand way. Don't you see? eh? Why, look, Mag. Darned if
you ain't skeered after all! Who'd hev thought it? There now—sit
down, dear. Why, you're white ez a gull."
He had his arm round her as she sank back in the chair again with a
"There now," he said with fraternal superiority, "don't mind it,
Mag, any more. Why, it's all over now. You bet he won't trouble us
agin, for the Leftenant sez that now he's found out to be a thief,
they'll jest turn him over to the police, and he's sure o' getten six
months' state prison fer stealin' and burglarin' in our house.
But"—he stopped suddenly and looked at his sister's contracted face;
"look yer, Mag, you're sick, that's what's the matter. Take suthin'"—
"I'm better now," she said with an effort; "it's only a kind o'
blind chill I must hev got on the Marsh last night. What's that?"
She had risen, and grasping her brother's arm tightly had turned
quickly to the window. The casement had suddenly rattled.
"It's only the wind gettin' up. It looked like a sou'wester when I
came in. Lot o' scud flyin'. But YOU take some quinine, Mag. Don't
YOU go now and get down sick like Maw."
Perhaps it was this well-meant but infelicitous reference that
brought a moisture to her dark eyes, and caused her lips to
momentarily quiver. But it gave way to a quick determined setting of
her whole face as she turned it once more to the fire, and said,
"I reckon I'll sleep it off, if I go to bed now. What time does
the tide fall."
"About three, unless this yer wind piles it up on the Marsh afore
"I was only wonderin' if the boat wus safe," said Maggie, rising.
"You'd better hoist yourself outside some quinine, instead o'
talken about those things," said Jim, who preferred to discharge his
fraternal responsibility by active medication. "You aren't fit to
"Good night, Jim," she said suddenly, stopping before him.
"Good night, Mag." He kissed her with protecting and amiable
toleration, generously referring her hot hands and feverish lips to
that vague mystery of feminine complaint which man admits without
They separated. Jim, under the stimulus of the late supposed
robbery, ostentatiously fastening the doors and windows with assuring
comments, calculated to inspire confidence in his sister's startled
heart. Then he went to bed. He lay awake long enough to be
pleasantly conscious that the wind had increased to a gale, and to be
lulled again to sleep by the cosy security of the heavily timbered and
tightly sealed dwelling that seemed to ride the storm like the ship it
resembled. The gale swept through the piles beneath him and along the
gallery as through bared spars and over wave-washed decks. The whole
structure, attacked above, below, and on all sides by the fury of the
wind, seemed at times to be lifted in the air. Once or twice the
creaking timbers simulated the sound of opening doors and passing
footsteps, and again dilated as if the gale had forced a passage
through. But Jim slept on peacefully, and was at last only aroused by
the brilliant sunshine staring through his window from the clear
wind-swept blue arch beyond.
Dressing himself lazily, he passed into the sitting-room and
proceeded to knock at his sister's door, as was his custom; he was
amazed to find it open and the room empty. Entering hurriedly, he
saw that her bed was undisturbed, as if it had not been occupied, and
was the more bewildered to see a note ostentatiously pinned upon the
pillow, addressed in pencil, in a large school-hand, "To Jim."
Opening it impatiently, he was startled to read as follows:—
"Don't be angry, Jim dear—but it was all my fault—and I didn't
tell you. I knew all about the deserter, and I gave him the clothes
and things that they say he stole. It was while you was out that
night, and he came and begged of me, and was mournful and hidjus to
behold. I thought I was helping him, and getting our revenge on the
Fort, all at the same time. Don't be mad, Jim dear, and do not be
frighted fer me. I'm going over thar to make it all right—to free HIM
of stealing—to have YOU left out of it all—and take it all on myself.
Don't you be a bit feared for me. I ain't skeert of the wind or of
going. I'll close reef everything, clear the creek, stretch across to
Injen Island, hugg the Point, and bear up fer Logport. Dear Jim—don't
get mad—but I couldn't bear this fooling of you nor HIM—and that man
being took for stealing any longer!—Your loving sister,
With a confused mingling of shame, anger, and sudden fear he ran
out on the gallery. The tide was well up, half the Marsh had already
vanished, and the little creek where he had moored his skiff was now
an empty shining river. The water was everywhere— fringing the
tussocks of salt grass with concentric curves of spume and drift, or
tumultuously tossing its white-capped waves over the spreading expanse
of the lower bay. The low thunder of breakers in the farther estuary
broke monotonously on the ear. But his eye was fascinated by a dull
shifting streak on the horizon, that, even as he gazed, shuddered,
whitened along its whole line, and then grew ghastly gray again. It
was the ocean bar.
"Well, I must say," said Cicely Preston, emphasizing the usual
feminine imperative for perfectly gratuitous statement, as she pushed
back her chair from the commandant's breakfast table, "I MUST really
say that I don't see anything particularly heroic in doing something
wrong, lying about it just to get other folks into trouble, and then
rushing off to do penance in a high wind and an open boat. But she's
pretty, and wears a man's shirt and coat, and of course THAT settles
anything. But why earrings and wet white stockings and slippers? And
why that Gothic arch of front and a boy's hat? That's what I simply
ask;" and the youngest daughter of Colonel Preston rose from the
table, shook out the skirt of her pretty morning dress, and, placing
her little thumbs in the belt of her smart waist, paused witheringly
for a reply.
"You are most unfair, my child," returned Colonel Preston gravely.
"Her giving food and clothes to a deserter may have been only an
ordinary instinct of humanity towards a fellow-creature who appeared
to be suffering, to say nothing of M'Caffrey's plausible tongue. But
her periling her life to save him from an unjust accusation, and her
desire to shield her brother's pride from ridicule, is altogether
praiseworthy and extraordinary. And the moral influence of her
kindness was strong enough to make that scamp refuse to tell the plain
truth that might implicate her in an indiscretion, though it saved him
from state prison."
"He knew you wouldn't believe him if he had said the clothes were
given to him," retorted Miss Cicely, "so I don't see where the moral
influence comes in. As to her periling her life, those Marsh people
are amphibious anyway, or would be in those clothes. And as to her
motive, why, papa, I heard you say in this very room, and afterwards
to Mr. Calvert, when you gave him instructions, that you believed
those Culpeppers were capable of enticing away deserters; and you
forget the fuss you had with her savage brother's lawyer about that
water front, and how you said it was such people who kept up the
irritation between the Civil and Federal power."
The colonel coughed hurriedly. It is the fate of all great
organizers, military as well as civil, to occasionally suffer defeat
in the family circle.
"The more reason," he said, soothingly, "why we should correct
harsh judgments that spring from mere rumors. You should give
yourself at least the chance of overcoming your prejudices, my child.
Remember, too, that she is now the guest of the Fort."
"And she chooses to stay with Mrs. Bromley! I'm sure it's quite
enough for you and mamma to do duty—and Emily, who wants to know why
Mr. Calvert raves so about her—without MY going over there to stare."
Colonel Preston shook his head reproachfully, but eventually
retired, leaving the field to the enemy. The enemy, a little pink in
the cheeks, slightly tossed the delicate rings of its blonde crest,
settled its skirts again at the piano, but after turning over the
leaves of its music book, rose, and walked pettishly to the window.
But here a spectacle presented itself that for a moment dismissed
all other thoughts from the girl's rebellious mind.
Not a dozen yards away, on the wind-swept parade, a handsome young
fellow, apparently halted by the sentry, had impetuously turned upon
him in an attitude of indignant and haughty surprise. To the quick
fancy of the girl it seemed as if some disguised rustic god had been
startled by the challenge of a mortal. Under an oilskin hat, like the
petasus of Hermes, pushed back from his white forehead, crisp black
curls were knotted around a head whose beardless face was perfect as a
cameo cutting. In the close- fitting blue woolen jersey under his
open jacket the clear outlines and youthful grace of his upper figure
were revealed as clearly as in a statue. Long fishing-boots reaching
to his thighs scarcely concealed the symmetry of his lower limbs.
Cricket and lawn- tennis, knickerbockers and flannels had not at that
period familiarized the female eye to unfettered masculine outline,
and Cicely Preston, accustomed to the artificial smartness and
regularity of uniform, was perhaps the more impressed by the
stranger's lawless grace.
The sentry had repeated his challenge; an angry flush was deepening
on the intruder's cheek. At this critical moment Cicely threw open
the French windows and stepped upon the veranda.
The sentry saluted the familiar little figure of his colonel's
daughter with an explanatory glance at the stranger. The young
fellow looked up—and the god became human.
"I'm looking for my sister," he said, half awkwardly, half
defiantly; "she's here, somewhere."
"Yes—and perfectly safe, Mr. Culpepper, I think," said the arch-
hypocrite with dazzling sweetness; "and we're all so delighted. And
so brave and plucky and skillful in her to come all that way— and for
such a purpose."
"Then—you know—all about it"—stammered Jim, more relieved than he
had imagined—"and that I"—
"That you were quite ignorant of your sister helping the deserter.
Oh yes, of course," said Cicely, with bewildering promptitude. "You
see, Mr. Culpepper, we girls are SO foolish. I dare say I should have
done the same thing in her place, only I should never have had the
courage to do what she did afterwards. You really must forgive her.
But won't you come in—DO." She stepped back, holding the window open
with the half-coaxing air of a spoiled child. "This way is quickest.
DO come." As he still hesitated, glancing from her to the house, she
added, with a demure little laugh, "Oh, I forget—this is Colonel
Preston's quarters, and I'm his daughter."
And this dainty little fairy, so natural in manner, so tasteful in
attire, was one of the artificial over-dressed creatures that his
sister had inveighed against so bitterly! Was Maggie really to be
trusted? This new revelation coming so soon after the episode of the
deserter staggered him. Nevertheless he hesitated, looking up with a
certain boyish timidity into Cicely's dangerous eyes.
"Is—is—my sister there?"
"I'm expecting her with my mother every moment," responded this
youthful but ingenious diplomatist sweetly; "she might be here now;
but," she added with a sudden heart-broken flash of sympathy, "I know
HOW anxious you both must be. I'LL take you to her now. Only one
moment, please." The opportunity of leading this handsome savage as
it were in chains across the parade, before everybody, her father, her
mother, her sister, and HIS—was not to be lost. She darted into the
house, and reappeared with the daintiest imaginable straw hat on the
side of her head, and demurely took her place at his side. "It's only
over there, at Major Bromley's," she said, pointing to one of the
vine-clad cottage quarters; but you are a stranger here, you know, and
might get lost."
Alas! he was already that. For keeping step with those fairy-like
slippers, brushing awkwardly against that fresh and pretty skirt, and
feeling the caress of the soft folds; looking down upon the brim of
that beribboned little hat, and more often meeting the upturned blue
eyes beneath it, Jim was suddenly struck with a terrible conviction of
his own contrasting coarseness and deficiencies. How hideous those
oiled canvas fishing-trousers and pilot jacket looked beside this
perfectly fitted and delicately gowned girl! He loathed his collar,
his jersey, his turned-back sou'wester, even his height, which seemed
to hulk beside her— everything, in short, that the girl had recently
admired. By the time that they had reached Major Bromley's door he
had so far succumbed to the fair enchantress and realized her ambition
of a triumphant procession, that when she ushered him into the
presence of half a dozen ladies and gentlemen he scarcely recognized
his sister as the centre of attraction, or knew that Miss Cicely's
effusive greeting of Maggie was her first one. "I knew he was dying
to see you after all you had BOTH passed through, and I brought him
straight here," said the diminutive Machiavelli, meeting the
astonished gaze of her father and the curious eyes of her sister with
perfect calmness, while Maggie, full of gratitude and admiration of
her handsome brother, forgot his momentary obliviousness, and returned
her greeting warmly. Nevertheless, there was a slight movement of
reserve among the gentlemen at the unlooked-for irruption of this
sunburnt Adonis, until Calvert, disengaging himself from Maggie's
side, came forward with his usual frank imperturbability and quiet
tact, and claimed Jim as his friend and honored guest.
It then came out with that unostentatious simplicity which
characterized the brother and sister, and was their secure claim to
perfect equality with their entertainers, that Jim, on discovering
his sister's absence, and fearing that she might be carried by the
current towards the bar, had actually SWUM THE ESTUARY to Indian
Island, and in an ordinary Indian canoe had braved the same
tempestuous passage she had taken a few hours before. Cicely,
listening to this recital with rapt attention, nevertheless managed
to convey the impression of having fully expected it from the first.
"Of course he'd have come here; if she'd only waited," she said,
sotto voce, to her sister Emily.
"He's certainly the handsomer of the two," responded that young
"Of course," returned Cicely, with a superior air, "don't you see
she COPIES him."
Not that this private criticism prevented either from vying with
the younger officers in their attentions to Maggie, with perhaps the
addition of an open eulogy of her handsome brother, more or less
invidious in comparison to the officers. "I suppose it's an active
out-of-door life gives him that perfect grace and freedom," said
Emily, with a slight sneer at the smartly belted Calvert. "Yes; and he
don't drink or keep late hours," responded Cicely significantly. "His
sister says they always retire before ten o'clock, and that although
his father left him some valuable whiskey he seldom takes a drop of
it." "Therein," gravely concluded Captain Kirby, "lies OUR salvation.
If, after such a confession, Calvert doesn't make the most of his
acquaintance with young Culpepper to remove that whiskey from his path
and bring it here, he's not the man I take him for."
Indeed, for the moment it seemed as if he was not. During the next
three or four days, in which Colonel Preston had insisted upon
detaining his guests, Calvert touched no liquor, evaded the evening
poker parties at quarters, and even prevailed upon some of his
brother officers to give them up for the more general entertainment
of the ladies. Colonel Preston was politician enough to avail
himself of the popularity of Maggie's adventure to invite some of the
Logport people to assist him in honoring their neighbor. Not only was
the old feud between the Fort and the people thus bridged over, but
there was no doubt that the discipline of the Fort had been
strengthened by Maggie's extravagant reputation as a mediator among
the disaffected rank and file. Whatever characteristic license the
grateful Dennis M'Caffrey—let off with a nominal punishment—may have
taken in his praise of the "Quane of the Marshes," it is certain that
the men worshiped her, and that the band pathetically begged
permission to serenade her the last night of her stay.
At the end of that time, with a dozen invitations, a dozen
appointments, a dozen vows of eternal friendship, much hand- shaking,
and accompanied by a number of the officers to their boat, Maggie and
Jim departed. They talked but little on their way home; by some tacit
understanding they did not discuss those projects, only recalling
certain scenes and incidents of their visit. By the time they had
reached the little creek the silence and nervous apathy which usually
follow excitement in the young seemed to have fallen upon them. It
was not until after their quiet frugal supper that, seated beside the
fire, Jim looked up somewhat self- consciously in his sister's grave
and thoughtful face.
"Say, Mag, what was that idea o' yours about selling some land, and
taking a house at Logport?"
Maggie looked up, and said passively, "Oh, THAT idea?"
"Well," said Jim somewhat awkwardly, "it COULD be done, you know.
As she did not immediately reply, he continued uneasily, "Miss
Preston says we kin get a nice little house that is near the Fort,
until we want to build."
"Oh, then you HAVE talked about it?"
"Yes—that is—why, what are ye thinkin' of, Mag? Wasn't it YOUR
idea all along?" he said, suddenly facing her with querulous
embarrassment. They had been sitting in their usual evening
attitudes of Assyrian frieze profile, with even more than the usual
Assyrian frieze similarity of feature.
"Yes; but, Jim dear, do you think it the best thing for—for us to
do?" said Maggie, with half-frightened gravity.
At this sudden and startling exhibition of female inconsistency and
inconsequence, Jim was for a moment speechless. Then he recovered
himself, volubly, aggrievedly, and on his legs. What DID she mean?
Was he to give up understanding girls—or was it their sole vocation
in life to impede masculine processes and shipwreck masculine
conclusions? Here, after all she said the other night, after they had
nearly "quo'lled" over her "set idees," after she'd "gone over all
that foolishness about Jael and Sisera—and there wasn't any use for
it—after she'd let him run on to them officers all he was goin' to
do—nay, after SHE herself, for he had heard her, had talked to Calvert
about it, she wanted to know NOW if it was best." He looked at the
floor and the ceiling, as if expecting the tongued and grooved planks
to cry out at this crowning enormity.
The cause of it had resumed her sad gaze at the fire. Presently,
without turning her head, she reached up her long, graceful arm, and
clasping her brother's neck, brought his face down in profile with her
own, cheek against cheek, until they looked like the double outlines
of a medallion. Then she said—to the fire:
"Jim, do you think she's pretty?"
"Who?" said Jim, albeit his color had already answered the
"You know WHO. Do you like her?"
Jim here vaguely murmured to the fire that he thought her "kinder
nice," and that she dressed mighty purty. "Ye know, Mag," he said
with patronizing effusion, "you oughter get some gownds like hers."
"That wouldn't make me like her," said Maggie gravely.
"I don't know about that," said Jim politely, but with an appalling
hopelessness of tone. After a pause he added slyly, "'Pears to me
SOMEBODY ELSE thought somebody else mighty purty—eh?"
To his discomfiture she did not solicit further information. After
a pause he continued, still more archly:
"Do you like HIM, Mag?"
"I think he's a perfect gentleman," she said calmly.
He turned his eyes quickly from the glowing fire to her face. The
cheek that had been resting against his own was as cool as the night
wind that came through the open door, and the whole face was as fixed
and tranquil as the upper stars.
For a year the tide had ebbed and flowed on the Dedlow Marsh
unheeded before the sealed and sightless windows of the "Kingfisher's
Nest." Since the young birds had flown to Logport, even the Indian
caretakers had abandoned the piled dwelling for their old nomadic
haunts in the "bresh." The high spring tide had again made its annual
visit to the little cemetery of drift-wood, and, as if recognizing
another wreck in the deserted home, had hung a few memorial offerings
on the blackened piles, softly laid a garland of grayish drift before
it, and then sobbed itself out in the salt grass.
From time to time the faint echoes of the Culpeppers' life at
Logport reached the upland, and the few neighbors who had only known
them by hearsay shook their heads over the extravagance they as yet
only knew by report. But it was in the dead ebb of the tide and the
waning daylight that the feathered tenants of the Marsh seemed to
voice dismal prophecies of the ruin of their old master and mistress,
and to give themselves up to gloomiest lamentation and querulous
foreboding. Whether the traditional "bird of the air" had entrusted
his secret to a few ornithological friends, or whether from a natural
disposition to take gloomy views of life, it was certain that at this
hour the vocal expression of the Marsh was hopeless and despairing.
It was then that a dejected plover, addressing a mocking crew of
sandpipers on a floating log, seemed to bewail the fortune that was
being swallowed up by the riotous living and gambling debts of Jim.
It was then that the querulous crane rose, and testily protested
against the selling of his favorite haunt in the sandy peninsula,
which only six months of Jim's excesses had made imperative. It was
then that a mournful curlew, who, with the preface that he had always
been really expecting it, reiterated the story that Jim had been seen
more than once staggering home with nervous hands and sodden features
from a debauch with the younger officers; it was the same desponding
fowl who knew that Maggie's eyes had more than once filled with tears
at Jim's failings, and had already grown more hollow with many
watchings. It was a flock of wrangling teal that screamingly
discussed the small scandals, jealous heart-burnings, and curious
backbitings that had attended Maggie's advent into society. It was
the high-flying brent who, knowing how the sensitive girl, made
keenly conscious at every turn of her defective training and
ingenuous ignorance, had often watched their evening flight with
longing gaze, now "honked" dismally at the recollection. It was at
this hour and season that the usual vague lamentings of Dedlow Marsh
seemed to find at last a preordained expression. And it was at such a
time, when light and water were both fading, and the blackness of the
Marsh was once more reasserting itself, that a small boat was creeping
along one of the tortuous inlets, at times half hiding behind the bank
like a wounded bird. As it slowly penetrated inland it seemed to be
impelled by its solitary occupant in a hesitating uncertain way, as if
to escape observation rather than as if directed to any positive
bourn. Stopping beside a bank of reeds at last, the figure rose
stoopingly, and drew a gun from between its feet and the bottom of the
boat. As the light fell upon its face, it could be seen that it was
James Culpepper! James Culpepper! hardly recognizable in the swollen
features, bloodshot eyes, and tremulous hands of that ruined figure!
James Culpepper, only retaining a single trace of his former self in
his look of set and passionate purpose! And that purpose was to kill
himself—to be found dead, as his father had been before him—in an open
boat, adrift upon the Marsh!
It was not the outcome of a sudden fancy. The idea had first come
to him in a taunting allusion from the drunken lips of one of his
ruder companions, for which he had stricken the offender to the
earth. It had since haunted his waking hours of remorse and hopeless
fatuity; it had seemed to be the one relief and atonement he could
make his devoted sister; and, more fatuous than all, it seemed to the
miserable boy the one revenge he would take upon the faithless
coquette, who for a year had played with his simplicity, and had
helped to drive him to the distraction of cards and drink. Only that
morning Colonel Preston had forbidden him the house; and now it seemed
to him the end had come. He raised his distorted face above the reedy
bank for a last tremulous and half-frightened glance at the landscape
he was leaving forever. A glint in the western sky lit up the front
of his deserted dwelling in the distance, abreast of which the
windings of the inlet had unwittingly led him. As he looked he
started, and involuntarily dropped into a crouching attitude. For, to
his superstitious terror, the sealed windows of his old home were
open, the bright panes were glittering with the fading light, and on
the outer gallery the familiar figure of his sister stood, as of old,
awaiting his return! Was he really going mad, or had this last
vision of his former youth been purposely vouchsafed him?
But, even as he gazed, the appearance of another figure in the
landscape beyond the house proved the reality of his vision, and as
suddenly distracted him from all else. For it was the apparition of
a man on horseback approaching the house from the upland; and even at
that distance he recognized its well-known outlines. It was Calvert!
Calvert the traitor! Calvert, the man whom he had long suspected as
being the secret lover and destined husband of Cicely Preston!
Calvert, who had deceived him with his calm equanimity and his
affected preference for Maggie, to conceal his deliberate
understanding with Cicely. What was he doing here? Was he a double
traitor, and now trying to deceive HER—as he had him? And Maggie here!
This sudden return—this preconcerted meeting. It was infamy!
For a moment he remained stupefied, and then, with a mechanical
instinct, plunged his head and face in the lazy-flowing water, and
then once again rose cool and collected. The half-mad distraction of
his previous resolve had given way to another, more deliberate, but
not less desperate determination. He knew now WHY he came there—WHY
he had brought his gun—why his boat had stopped when it did!
Lying flat in the bottom, he tore away fragments of the crumbling
bank to fill his frail craft, until he had sunk it to the gunwale,
and below the low level of the Marsh. Then, using his hands as
noiseless paddles, he propelled this rude imitation of a floating log
slowly past the line of vision, until the tongue of bushes had hidden
him from view. With a rapid glance at the darkening flat, he then
seized his gun, and springing to the spongy bank, half crouching half
crawling through reeds and tussocks, he made his way to the brush. A
foot and eye less experienced would have plunged its owner helpless in
the black quagmire. At one edge of the thicket he heard hoofs
trampling the dried twigs. Calvert's horse was already there, tied to
a skirting alder.
He ran to the house, but, instead of attracting attention by
ascending the creaking steps, made his way to the piles below the
rear gallery and climbed to it noiselessly. It was the spot where
the deserter had ascended a year ago, and, like him, he could see and
hear all that passed distinctly. Calvert stood near the open door as
if departing. Maggie stood between him and the window, her face in
shadow, her hands clasped tightly behind her. A profound sadness,
partly of the dying day and waning light, and partly of some vague
expiration of their own sorrow, seemed to encompass them. Without
knowing why, a strange trembling took the place of James Culpepper's
fierce determination, and a film of moisture stole across his staring
"When I tell you that I believe all this will pass, and that you
will still win your brother back to you," said Calvert's sad but
clear voice, "I will tell you why—although, perhaps, it is only a
part of that confidence you command me to withhold. When I first saw
you, I myself had fallen into like dissolute habits; less excusable
than he, for I had some experience of the world and its follies. When
I met YOU, and fell under the influence of your pure, simple, and
healthy life; when I saw that isolation, monotony, misunderstanding,
even the sense of superiority to one's surroundings could be lived
down and triumphed over, without vulgar distractions or pitiful
ambitions; when I learned to love you—hear me out, Miss Culpepper, I
beg you—you saved ME—I, who was nothing to you, even as I honestly
believe you will still save your brother, whom you love."
"How do you know I didn't RUIN him?" she said, turning upon him
bitterly. "How do you know that it wasn't to get rid of OUR
monotony, OUR solitude that I drove him to this vulgar distraction,
this pitiful—yes, you were right—pitiful ambition?"
"Because it isn't your real nature," he said quietly.
"My real nature," she repeated with a half savage vehemence that
seemed to be goaded from her by his very gentleness, "my real nature!
What did HE—what do YOU know of it?—My real nature!— I'll tell you
what it was," she went on passionately. "It was to be revenged on you
all for your cruelty, your heartlessness, your wickedness to me and
mine in the past. It was to pay you off for your slanders of my dead
father—for the selfishness that left me and Jim alone with his dead
body on the Marsh. That was what sent me to Logport—to get even with
you—to—to fool and flaunt you! There, you have it now! And now that
God has punished me for it by crushing my brother—you—you expect me to
let you crush ME too."
"But," he said eagerly, advancing toward her, "you are wronging me—
you are wronging yourself, cruelly."
"Stop," she said, stepping back, with her hands still locked behind
her. "Stay where you are. There! That's enough!" She drew herself
up and let her hands fall at her side. "Now, let us speak of Jim,"
she said coldly.
Without seeming to hear her, he regarded her for the first time
with hopeless sadness.
"Why did you let my brother believe you were his rival with Cicely
Preston?" she asked impatiently.
"Because I could not undeceive him without telling him I hopelessly
loved his sister. You are proud, Miss Culpepper," he said, with the
first tinge of bitterness in his even voice. "Can you not understand
that others may be proud too?"
"No," she said bluntly; "it is not pride but weakness. You could
have told him what you knew to be true: that there could be nothing
in common between her folk and such savages as we; that there was a
gulf as wide as that Marsh and as black between our natures, our
training and theirs, and even if they came to us across it, now and
then, to suit their pleasure, light and easy as that tide—it was
still there to some day ground and swamp them! And if he doubted it,
you had only to tell him your own story. You had only to tell him
what you have just told me—that you yourself, an officer and a
gentleman, thought you loved me, a vulgar, uneducated, savage girl,
and that I, kinder to you than you to me or him, made you take it
back across that tide, because I couldn't let you link your life with
me, and drag you in the mire."
"You need not have said that, Miss Culpepper, returned Calvert with
the same gentle smile, "to prove that I am your inferior in all but
"And that?" she said quickly.
"Is my love."
His gentle face was as set now as her own as he moved back slowly
towards the door. There he paused.
"You tell me to speak of Jim, and Jim only. Then hear me. I
believe that Miss Preston cares for him as far as lies in her young
and giddy nature. I could not, therefore, have crushed HIS hope
without deceiving him, for there are as cruel deceits prompted by
what we call reason as by our love. If you think that a knowledge of
this plain truth would help to save him, I beg you to be kinder to him
than you have been to me,—or even, let me dare to hope, to YOURSELF."
He slowly crossed the threshold, still holding his cap lightly in
"When I tell you that I am going away to-morrow on a leave of
absence, and that in all probability we may not meet again, you will
not misunderstand why I add my prayer to the message your friends in
Logport charged me with. They beg that you will give up your idea of
returning here, and come back to them. Believe me, you have made
yourself loved and respected there, in spite—I beg pardon—perhaps I
should say BECAUSE of your pride. Good-night and good-bye."
For a single instant she turned her set face to the window with a
sudden convulsive movement, as if she would have called him back, but
at the same moment the opposite door creaked and her brother slipped
into the room. Whether a quick memory of the deserter's entrance at
that door a year ago had crossed her mind, whether there was some
strange suggestion in his mud-stained garments and weak deprecating
smile, or whether it was the outcome of some desperate struggle within
her, there was that in her face that changed his smile into a
frightened cry for pardon, as he ran and fell on his knees at her
feet. But even as he did so her stern look vanished, and with her arm
around him she bent over him and mingled her tears with his.
"I heard it all, Mag dearest! All! Forgive me! I have been
crazy!—wild!—I will reform!—I will be better! I will never disgrace
you again, Mag! Never, never! I swear it!"
She reached down and kissed him. After a pause, a weak boyish
smile struggled into his face.
"You heard what he said of HER, Mag. Do you think it might be
She lifted the damp curls from his forehead with a sad half-
maternal smile, but did not reply.
"And Mag, dear, don't you think YOU were a little—just a little—
hard on HIM? No! Don't look at me that way, for God's sake! There,
I didn't mean anything. Of course you knew best. There, Maggie dear,
look up. Hark there! Listen, Mag, do!"
They lifted their eyes to the dim distance seen through the open
door. Borne on the fading light, and seeming to fall and die with it
over marsh and river, came the last notes of the bugle from the Fort.
"There! Don't you remember what you used to say, Mag?"
The look that had frightened him had quite left her face now.
"Yes," she smiled, laying her cold cheek beside his softly. "Oh
yes! It was something that came and went, 'Like a song'—'Like a
A KNIGHT-ERRANT OF THE FOOTHILLS.
As Father Felipe slowly toiled up the dusty road towards the Rancho
of the Blessed Innocents, he more than once stopped under the shadow
of a sycamore to rest his somewhat lazy mule and to compose his own
perplexed thoughts by a few snatches from his breviary. For the good
padre had some reason to be troubled. The invasion of Gentile
Americans that followed the gold discovery of three years before had
not confined itself to the plains of the Sacramento, but stragglers
had already found their way to the Santa Cruz Valley, and the
seclusion of even the mission itself was threatened. It was true that
they had not brought their heathen engines to disembowel the earth in
search of gold, but it was rumored that they had already speculated
upon the agricultural productiveness of the land, and had espied "the
fatness thereof." As he reached the higher plateau he could see the
afternoon sea-fog—presently to obliterate the fair prospect—already
pulling through the gaps in the Coast Range, and on a nearer slope—no
less ominously—the smoke of a recent but more permanently destructive
Yankee saw-mill was slowly drifting towards the valley.
"Get up, beast!" said the father, digging his heels into the
comfortable flanks of his mule with some human impatience, "or art
THOU, too, a lazy renegade? Thinkest thou, besotted one, that the
heretic will spare thee more work than the Holy Church."
The mule, thus apostrophized in ear and flesh, shook its head
obstinately as if the question was by no means clear to its mind, but
nevertheless started into a little trot, which presently brought it to
the low adobe wall of the courtyard of "The Innocents," and entered
the gate. A few lounging peons in the shadow of an archway took off
their broad-brimmed hats and made way for the padre, and a half dozen
equally listless vaqueros helped him to alight. Accustomed as he was
to the indolence and superfluity of his host's retainers, to-day it
nevertheless seemed to strike some note of irritation in his breast.
A stout, middle-aged woman of ungirt waist and beshawled head and
shoulders appeared at the gateway as if awaiting him. After a formal
salutation she drew him aside into an inner passage.
"He is away again, your Reverence," she said.
"Ah—always the same?"
"Yes, your Reverence—and this time to 'a meeting' of the heretics
at their pueblo, at Jonesville—where they will ask him of his land
for a road."
"At a MEETING?" echoed the priest uneasily.
"Ah yes! a meeting—where Tiburcio says they shout and spit on the
ground, your Reverence, and only one has a chair and him they call a
'chairman' because of it, and yet he sits not but shouts and spits
even as the others and keeps up a tapping with a hammer like a very
pico. And there it is they are ever 'resolving' that which is not,
and consider it even as done."
"Then he is still the same," said the priest gloomily, as the woman
paused for breath.
"Only more so, your Reverence, for he reads nought but the
newspaper of the Americanos that is brought in the ship, the 'New
York 'errald'—and recites to himself the orations of their
legislators. Ah! it was an evil day when the shipwrecked American
sailor taught him his uncouth tongue, which, as your Reverence knows,
is only fit for beasts and heathen incantation."
"Pray Heaven THAT were all he learned of him," said the priest
hastily, "for I have great fear that this sailor was little better
than an atheist and an emissary from Satan. But where are these
newspapers and the fantasies of publicita that fill his mind? I
would see them, my daughter."
"You shall, your Reverence, and more too," she replied eagerly,
leading the way along the passage to a grated door which opened upon
a small cell-like apartment, whose scant light and less air came
through the deeply embayed windows in the outer wall. "Here is his
In spite of this open invitation, the padre entered with that air
of furtive and minute inspection common to his order. His glance
fell upon a rude surveyor's plan of the adjacent embryo town of
Jonesville hanging on the wall, which he contemplated with a cold
disfavor that even included the highly colored vignette of the
projected Jonesville Hotel in the left-hand corner. He then passed
to a supervisor's notice hanging near it, which he examined with a
suspicion heightened by that uneasiness common to mere worldly
humanity when opposed to an unknown and unfamiliar language. But an
exclamation broke from his lips when he confronted an election placard
immediately below it. It was printed in Spanish and English, and
Father Felipe had no difficulty in reading the announcement that "Don
Jose Sepulvida would preside at a meeting of the Board of Education in
Jonesville as one of the trustees."
"This is madness," said the padre.
Observing that Dona Maria was at the moment preoccupied in
examining the pictorial pages of an illustrated American weekly which
had hitherto escaped his eyes, he took it gently from her hand.
"Pardon, your Reverence," she said with slightly acidulous
deprecation, "but thanks to the Blessed Virgin and your Reverence's
teaching, the text is but gibberish to me and I did but glance at the
"Much evil may come in with the eye," said the priest
sententiously, "as I will presently show thee. We have here," he
continued, pointing to an illustration of certain college athletic
sports, "a number of youthful cavaliers posturing and capering in a
partly nude condition before a number of shameless women, who emulate
the saturnalia of heathen Rome by waving their handkerchiefs. We have
here a companion picture," he said, indicating an illustration of
gymnastic exercises by the students of a female academy at
"Commencement," "in which, as thou seest, even the aged of both sexes
unblushingly assist as spectators with every expression of immodest
"Have they no bull-fights or other seemly recreation that they must
indulge in such wantonness?" asked Dona Maria indignantly, gazing,
however, somewhat curiously at the baleful representations.
"Of all that, my daughter, has their pampered civilization long
since wearied," returned the good padre, "for see, this is what they
consider a moral and even a religious ceremony." He turned to an
illustration of a woman's rights convention; "observe with what rapt
attention the audience of that heathen temple watch the inspired
ravings of that elderly priestess on the dais. It is even this kind
of sacrilegious performance that I am told thy nephew Don Jose
expounds and defends."
"May the blessed saints preserve us; where will it lead to?"
murmured the horrified Dona Maria.
"I will show thee," said Father Felipe, briskly turning the pages
with the same lofty ignoring of the text until he came to a
representation of a labor procession. "There is one of their
periodic revolutions unhappily not unknown even in Mexico. Thou
perceivest those complacent artisans marching with implements of
their craft, accompanied by the military, in the presence of their
own stricken masters. Here we see only another instance of the
instability of all communities that are not founded on the principles
of the Holy Church."
"And what is to be done with my nephew?"
The good father's brow darkened with the gloomy religious zeal of
two centuries ago. "We must have a council of the family, the
alcalde, and the archbishop, at ONCE," he said ominously. To the
mere heretical observer the conclusion might have seemed lame and
impotent, but it was as near the Holy inquisition as the year of
grace 1852 could offer.
A few days after this colloquy the unsuspecting subject of it, Don
Jose Sepulvida, was sitting alone in the same apartment. The fading
glow of the western sky, through the deep embrasured windows, lit up
his rapt and meditative face. He was a young man of apparently
twenty-five, with a colorless satin complexion, dark eyes alternating
between melancholy and restless energy, a narrow high forehead, long
straight hair, and a lightly penciled moustache. He was said to
resemble the well-known portrait of the Marquis of Monterey in the
mission church, a face that was alleged to leave a deep and lasting
impression upon the observers. It was undoubtedly owing to this
quality during a brief visit of the famous viceroy to a remote and
married ancestress of Don Jose at Leon that the singular resemblance
may be attributed.
A heavy and hesitating step along the passage stopped before the
grating. Looking up, Don Jose beheld to his astonishment the
slightly inflamed face of Roberto, a vagabond American whom he had
lately taken into his employment.
Roberto, a polite translation of "Bob the Bucker," cleaned out at a
monte-bank in Santa Cruz, penniless and profligate, had sold his
mustang to Don Jose and recklessly thrown himself in with the
bargain. Touched by the rascal's extravagance, the quality of the
mare, and observing that Bob's habits had not yet affected his seat
in the saddle, but rather lent a demoniac vigor to his chase of wild
cattle, Don Jose had retained rider and horse in his service as
Bucking Bob, observing that his employer was alone, coolly opened
the door without ceremony, shut it softly behind him, and then closed
the wooden shutter of the grating. Don Jose surveyed him with mild
surprise and dignified composure. The man appeared perfectly
sober,—it was a peculiarity of his dissipated habits that, when not
actually raving with drink, he was singularly shrewd and practical.
"Look yer, Don Kosay," he began in a brusque but guarded voice,
"you and me is pards. When ye picked me and the mare up and set us
on our legs again in this yer ranch, I allowed I'd tie to ye whenever
you was in trouble—and wanted me. And I reckon that's what's the
matter now. For from what I see and hear on every side, although
you're the boss of this consarn, you're surrounded by a gang of spies
and traitors. Your comings and goings, your ins and outs, is dogged
and followed and blown upon. The folks you trust is playing it on ye.
It ain't for me to say why or wherefore— what's their rights and
what's yourn—but I've come to tell ye that if you don't get up and get
outer this ranch them d—d priests and your own flesh and blood—your
aunts and your uncles and your cousins, will have you chucked outer
your property, and run into a lunatic asylum."
"Me—Don Jose Sepulvida—a lunatico! You are yourself crazy of
drink, friend Roberto."
"Yes," said Roberto grimly, "but that kind ain't ILLEGAL, while
your makin' ducks and drakes of your property and going into 'Merikin
ideas and 'Merikin speculations they reckon is. And speakin' on the
square, it ain't NAT'RAL."
Don Jose sprang to his feet and began to pace up and down his cell-
like study. "Ah, I remember now," he muttered, "I begin to
comprehend: Father Felipe's homilies and discourses! My aunt's too
affectionate care! My cousin's discreet consideration! The prompt
attention of my servants! I see it all! And you," he said, suddenly
facing Roberto, "why come you to tell me this?"
"Well, boss," said the American dryly, "I reckoned to stand by
"Ah," said Don Jose, visibly affected. "Good Roberto, come hither,
child, you may kiss my hand."
"If! it's all the same to you, Don Kosay,—THAT kin slide."
"Ah, if—yes," said Don Jose, meditatively putting his hand to his
forehead, "miserable that I am!—I remembered not you were Americano.
Pardon, my friend—embrace me—Conpanero y Amigo."
With characteristic gravity he reclined for a moment upon Robert's
astonished breast. Then recovering himself with equal gravity he
paused, lifted his hand with gentle warning, marched to a recess in
the corner, unhooked a rapier hanging from the wall, and turned to
"We will defend ourselves, friend Roberto. It is the sword of the
Comandante—my ancestor. The blade is of Toledo."
"An ordinary six-shooter of Colt's would lay over that," said
Roberto grimly—"but that ain't your game just now, Don Kosay. You
must get up and get, and at once. You must vamose the ranch afore
they lay hold of you and have you up before the alcalde. Once away
from here, they daren't follow you where there's 'Merikin law, and
when you kin fight 'em in the square."
"Good," said Don Jose with melancholy preciseness. "You are wise,
friend Roberto. We may fight them later, as you say—on the square,
or in the open Plaza. And you, camarado, YOU shall go with me—you and
Sincere as the American had been in his offer of service, he was
somewhat staggered at this imperative command. But only for a
moment. "Well," he said lazily, "I don't care if I do."
"But," said Don Jose with increased gravity, "you SHALL care,
friend Roberto. We shall make an alliance, an union. It is true, my
brother, you drink of whiskey, and at such times are even as a madman.
It has been recounted to me that it was necessary to your existence
that you are a lunatic three days of the week. Who knows? I myself,
though I drink not of aguardiente, am accused of fantasies for all
time. Necessary it becomes therefore that we should go TOGETHER. My
fantasies and speculations cannot injure you, my brother; your whiskey
shall not empoison me. We shall go together in the great world of
your American ideas of which I am much inflamed. We shall together
breathe as one the spirit of Progress and Liberty. We shall be even
as neophytes making of ourselves Apostles of Truth. I absolve and
renounce myself henceforth of my family. I shall take to myself the
sister and the brother, the aunt and the uncle, as we proceed. I
devote myself to humanity alone. I devote YOU, my friend, and the
mare—though happily she has not a Christian soul—to this glorious
The few level last rays of light lit up a faint enthusiasm in the
face of Don Jose, but without altering his imperturbable gravity. The
vaquero eyed him curiously and half doubtfully.
"We will go to-morrow," resumed Don Jose with solemn decision, "for
it is Wednesday. It was a Sunday that thou didst ride the mare up
the steps of the Fonda and demanded that thy liquor should be served
to thee in a pail. I remember it, for the landlord of the Fonda
claimed twenty pesos for damage and the kissing of his wife.
Therefore, by computation, good Roberto, thou shouldst be sober until
Friday, and we shall have two clear days to fly before thy madness
again seizes thee."
"They kin say what they like, Don Kosay, but YOUR head is level,"
returned the unabashed American, grasping Don Jose's hand. "All
right, then. Hasta manana, as your folks say."
"Hasta manana," repeated Don Jose gravely.
At daybreak next morning, while slumber still weighted the lazy
eyelids of "the Blessed Innocents," Don Jose Sepulvida and his trusty
squire Roberto, otherwise known as "Bucking Bob," rode forth unnoticed
from the corral.
Three days had passed. At the close of the third, Don Jose was
seated in a cosy private apartment of the San Mateo Hotel, where they
had halted for an arranged interview with his lawyer before reaching
San Francisco. From his window he could see the surrounding park-like
avenues of oaks and the level white high road, now and then clouded
with the dust of passing teams. But his eyes were persistently fixed
upon a small copy of the American Constitution before him. Suddenly
there was a quick rap on his door, and before he could reply to it a
man brusquely entered.
Don Jose raised his head slowly, and recognized the landlord. But
the intruder, apparently awed by the gentle, grave, and studious
figure before him, fell back for an instant in an attitude of surly
"Enter freely, my good Jenkinson," said Don Jose, with a quiet
courtesy that had all the effect of irony. "The apartment, such as
it is, is at your disposition. It is even yours, as is the house."
"Well, I'm darned if I know as it is," said the landlord,
recovering himself roughly, "and that's jest what's the matter. Yer's
that man of yours smashing things right and left in the bar- room and
chuckin' my waiters through the window."
"Softly, softly, good Jenkinson," said Don Jose, putting a mark in
the pages of the volume before him. "It is necessary first that I
should correct your speech. He is not my 'MAN,' which I comprehend
to mean a slave, a hireling, a thing obnoxious to the great American
nation which I admire and to which HE belongs. Therefore, good
Jenkinson, say 'friend,' 'companion,' 'guide,' philosopher,' if you
will. As to the rest, it is of no doubt as you relate. I myself have
heard the breakings of glass and small dishes as I sit here; three
times I have seen your waiters projected into the road with much
violence and confusion. To myself I have then said, even as I say to
you, good Jenkinson, 'Patience, patience, the end is not far.' In
four hours," continued Don Jose, holding up four fingers, "he shall
make a finish. Until then, not."
"Well, I'm d—d," ejaculated Jenkinson, gasping for breath in his
"Nay, excellent Jenkinson, not dam-ned but of a possibility dam-
AGED. That I shall repay when he have make a finish."
"But, darn it all," broke in the landlord angrily.
"Ah," said Don Jose gravely, "you would be paid before! Good; for
how much shall you value ALL you have in your bar?"
Don Jose's imperturbability evidently shook the landlord's faith in
the soundness of his own position. He looked at his guest critically
"It cost me two hundred dollars to fit it up," he said curtly.
Don Jose rose, and, taking a buckskin purse from his saddle-bag,
counted out four slugs* and handed them to the stupefied Jenkinson.
The next moment, however, his host recovered himself, and casting the
slugs back on the little table, brought his fist down with an emphasis
that made them dance.
* Hexagonal gold pieces valued at $50 each, issued by a private
firm as coin in the early days.
"But, look yer—suppose I want this thing stopped—you hear me—
"That would be interfering with the liberty of the subject, my good
Jenkinson—which God forbid!" said Don Jose calmly. "Moreover, it is
the custom of the Americanos—a habit of my friend Roberto—a necessity
of his existence—and so recognized of his friends. Patience and
courage, Senor Jenkinson. Stay—ah, I comprehend! you have—of a
"No, I'm a widower," said Jenkinson sharply.
"Then I congratulate you. My friend Roberto would have kissed her.
It is also of his habit. Truly you have escaped much. I embrace
He threw his arms gravely around Jenkinson, in whose astounded face
at last an expression of dry humor faintly dawned. After a moment's
survey of Don Jose's impenetrable gravity, he coolly gathered up the
gold coins, and saying that he would assess the damages and return the
difference, he left the room as abruptly as he had entered it.
But Don Jose was not destined to remain long in peaceful study of
the American Constitution. He had barely taken up the book again and
renewed his serious contemplation of its excellences when there was
another knock at his door. This time, in obedience to his invitation
to enter, the new visitor approached with more deliberation and a
He was a young man of apparently the same age as Don Jose,
handsomely dressed, and of a quiet self-possession and gravity almost
equal to his host's.
"I believe I am addressing Don Jose Sepulvida," he said with a
familiar yet courteous inclination of his handsome head. Don Jose,
who had risen in marked contrast to his reception of his former
"You are truly making to him a great honor."
"Well, you're going it blind as far as I'M concerned certainly,"
said the young man, with a slight smile, "for you don't know ME."
"Pardon, my friend," said Don Jose gently, "in this book, this
great Testament of your glorious nation, I have read that you are all
equal, one not above, one not below the other. I salute in you the
Nation! It is enough!"
"Thank you," returned the stranger, with a face that, saving the
faintest twinkle in the corner of his dark eyes, was as immovable as
his host's, "but for the purposes of my business I had better say I am
Jack Hamlin, a gambler, and am just now dealing faro in the Florida
saloon round the corner."
He paused carelessly, as if to allow Don Jose the protest he did
not make, and then continued,—
"The matter is this. One of your vaqueros, who is, however, an
American, was round there an hour ago bucking against faro, and put
up and LOST, not only the mare he was riding, but a horse which I
have just learned is yours. Now we reckon, over there, that we can
make enough money playing a square game, without being obliged to
take property from a howling drunkard, to say nothing of it not
belonging to him, and I've come here, Don Jose, to say that if you'll
send over and bring away your man and your horse, you can have 'em
"If I have comprehended, honest Hamlin," said Don Jose slowly,
"this Roberto, who was my vaquero and is my brother, has approached
this faro game by himself unsolicited?"
"He certainly didn't seem shy of it," said Mr. Hamlin with equal
gravity. "To the best of my knowledge he looked as if he'd been
"And if he had won, excellent Hamlin, you would have given him the
equal of his mare and horse?"
"A hundred dollars for each, yes, certainly."
"Then I see not why I should send for the property which is truly
no longer mine, nor for my brother who will amuse himself after the
fashion of his country in the company of so honorable a caballero as
yourself? Stay! oh imbecile that I am. I have not remembered. You
would possibly say that he has no longer of horses! Play him; play
him, admirable yet prudent Hamlin. I have two thousand horses! Of a
surety he cannot exhaust them in four hours. Therefore play him, trust
to me for recompensa, and have no fear."
A quick flush covered the stranger's cheek, and his eyebrows
momentarily contracted. He walked carelessly to the window, however,
glanced out, and then turned to Don Jose.
"May I ask, then," he said with almost sepulchral gravity, "is
anybody taking care of you?"
"Truly," returned Don Jose cautiously, "there is my brother and
"Ah! Roberto, certainly," said Mr. Hamlin profoundly.
"Why do you ask, considerate friend?"
"Oh! I only thought, with your kind of opinions, you must often
feel lonely in California. Good-bye." He shook Don Jose's hand
heartily, took up his hat, inclined his head with graceful
seriousness, and passed out of the room. In the hall he met the
"Well," said Jenkinson, with a smile half anxious, half
insinuating, "you saw him? What do you think of him?"
Mr. Hamlin paused and regarded Jenkinson with a calmly
contemplative air, as if he were trying to remember first who he was,
and secondly why he should speak to him at all. "Think of whom?" he
"Why him—you know—Don Jose."
"I did not see anything the matter with him," returned Hamlin with
"What? nothing queer?"
"Well, no—except that he's a guest in YOUR house," said Hamlin
with great cheerfulness. "But then, as you keep a hotel, you can't
help occasionally admitting a—gentleman."
Mr. Jenkinson smiled the uneasy smile of a man who knew that his
interlocutor's playfulness occasionally extended to the use of a
derringer, in which he was singularly prompt and proficient, and Mr.
Hamlin, equally conscious of that knowledge on the part of his
companion, descended the staircase composedly.
But the day had darkened gradually into night, and Don Jose was at
last compelled to put aside his volume. The sound of a large bell
rung violently along the hall and passages admonished him that the
American dinner was ready, and although the viands and the mode of
cooking were not entirely to his fancy, he had, in his grave
enthusiasm for the national habits, attended the table d'hote
regularly with Roberto. On reaching the lower hall he was informed
that his henchman had early succumbed to the potency of his
libations, and had already been carried by two men to bed. Receiving
this information with his usual stoical composure, he entered the
dining-room, but was surprised to find that a separate table had been
prepared for him by the landlord, and that a rude attempt had been
made to serve him with his own native dishes.
"Senores y Senoritas," said Don Jose, turning from it and with
grave politeness addressing the assembled company, "if I seem to- day
to partake alone and in a reserved fashion of certain viands that have
been prepared for me, it is truly from no lack of courtesy to your
distinguished company, but rather, I protest, to avoid the appearance
of greater discourtesy to our excellent Jenkinson, who has taken some
pains and trouble to comport his establishment to what he conceives to
be my desires. Wherefore, my friends, in God's name fall to, the same
as if I were not present, and grace be with you."
A few stared at the tall, gentle, melancholy figure with some
astonishment; a few whispered to their neighbors; but when, at the
conclusion of his repast, Don Jose arose and again saluted the
company, one or two stood up and smilingly returned the courtesy, and
Polly Jenkinson, the landlord's youngest daughter, to the great
delight of her companions, blew him a kiss.
After visiting the vaquero in his room, and with his own hand
applying some native ointment to the various contusions and scratches
which recorded the late engagements of the unconscious Roberto, Don
Jose placed a gold coin in the hands of the Irish chamber-maid, and
bidding her look after the sleeper, he threw his serape over his
shoulders and passed into the road. The loungers on the veranda gazed
at him curiously, yet half acknowledged his usual serious salutation,
and made way for him with a certain respect. Avoiding the few narrow
streets of the little town, he pursued his way meditatively along the
highroad, returning to the hotel after an hour's ramble, as the
evening stage-coach had deposited its passengers and departed.
"There's a lady waiting to see you upstairs," said the landlord
with a peculiar smile. "She rather allowed it wasn't the proper
thing to see you alone, or she wasn't quite ekal to it, I reckon, for
she got my Polly to stand by her."
"Your Polly, good Jenkinson?" said Don Jose interrogatively.
"My darter, Don Jose."
"Ah, truly! I am twice blessed," said Don Jose, gravely ascending
On entering the room he perceived a tall, large-featured woman with
an extraordinary quantity of blond hair parted on one side of her
broad forehead, sitting upon the sofa. Beside her sat Polly
Jenkinson, her fresh, honest, and rather pretty face beaming with
delighted expectation and mischief. Don Jose saluted them with a
formal courtesy, which, however, had no trace of the fact that he
really did not remember anything of them.
"I called," said the large-featured woman with a voice equally
pronounced, "in reference to a request from you, which, though
perhaps unconventional in the extreme, I have been able to meet by
the intervention of this young lady's company. My name on this card
may not be familiar to you—but I am 'Dorothy Dewdrop.'"
A slight movement of abstraction and surprise passed over Don
Jose's face, but as quickly vanished as he advanced towards her and
gracefully raised the tips of her fingers to his lips. "Have I then,
at last, the privilege of beholding that most distressed and deeply
injured of women! Or is it but a dream!"
It certainly was not, as far as concerned the substantial person of
the woman before him, who, however, seemed somewhat uneasy under his
words as well as the demure scrutiny of Miss Jenkinson. "I thought
you might have forgotten," she said with slight acerbity, "that you
desired an interview with the authoress of"—
"Pardon," interrupted Don Jose, standing before her in an attitude
of the deepest sympathizing dejection, "I had not forgotten. It is
now three weeks since I have read in the journal 'Golden Gate' the
eloquent and touching poem of your sufferings, and your aspirations,
and your miscomprehensions by those you love. I remember as yesterday
that you have said, that cruel fate have linked you to a soulless
state—that—but I speak not well your own beautiful language—you are in
tears at evenfall 'because that you are not understood of others, and
that your soul recoiled from iron bonds, until, as in a dream, you
sought succor and release in some true Knight of equal plight.'"
"I am told," said the large-featured woman with some satisfaction,
"that the poem to which you allude has been generally admired."
"Admired! Senora," said Don Jose, with still darker sympathy, "it
is not the word; it is FELT. I have felt it. When I read those
words of distress, I am touched of compassion! I have said, This
woman, so disconsolate, so oppressed, must be relieved, protected! I
have wrote to you, at the 'Golden Gate,' to see me here."
"And I have come, as you perceive," said the poetess, rising with a
slight smile of constraint; "and emboldened by your appreciation, I
have brought a few trifles thrown off"—
"Pardon, unhappy Senora," interrupted Don Jose, lifting his hand
deprecatingly without relaxing his melancholy precision, "but to a
cavalier further evidence is not required—and I have not yet make
finish. I have not content myself to WRITE to you. I have sent my
trusty friend Roberto to inquire at the 'Golden Gate' of your
condition. I have found there, most unhappy and persecuted friend—
that with truly angelic forbearance you have not told ALL—that you
are MARRIED, and that of a necessity it is your husband that is cold
and soulless and unsympathizing—and all that you describe."
"Sir!" said the poetess, rising in angry consternation.
"I have written to him," continued Don Jose, with unheeding
gravity; "have appealed to him as a friend, I have conjured him as a
caballero, I have threatened him even as a champion of the Right, I
have said to him, in effect—that this must not be as it is. I have
informed him that I have made an appointment with you even at this
house, and I challenged him to meet you here—in this room— even at
this instant, and, with God's help, we should make good our charges
against him. It is yet early; I have allowed time for the lateness of
the stage and the fact that he will come by another conveyance.
Therefore, O Dona Dewdrop, tremble not like thy namesake as it were
on the leaf of apprehension and expectancy. I, Don Jose, am here to
protect thee. I will take these charges"— gently withdrawing the
manuscripts from her astonished grasp— "though even, as I related to
thee before, I want them not, yet we will together confront him with
them and make them good against him."
"Are you mad?" demanded the lady in almost stentorious accents, "or
is this an unmanly hoax?" Suddenly she stopped in undeniable
consternation. "Good heavens," she muttered, "if Abner should
believe this. He is SUCH a fool! He has lately been queer and
jealous. Oh dear!" she said, turning to Polly Jenkinson with the
first indication of feminine weakness, "Is he telling the truth? is
he crazy? what shall I do?"
Polly Jenkinson, who had witnessed the interview with the intensest
enjoyment, now rose equal to the occasion.
"You have made a mistake," she said, uplifting her demure blue eyes
to Don Jose's dark and melancholy gaze. "This lady is a POETESS! The
sufferings she depicts, the sorrows she feels, are in the IMAGINATION,
in her fancy only."
"Ah!" said Don Jose gloomily; "then it is all false."
"No," said Polly quickly, "only they are not her OWN, you know.
They are somebody elses. She only describes them for another, don't
"And who, then, is this unhappy one?" asked the Don quickly.
"Well—a—friend," stammered Polly, hesitatingly.
"A friend!" repeated Don Jose. "Ah, I see, of possibility a dear
one, even," he continued, gazing with tender melancholy into the
untroubled cerulean depths of Polly's eyes, "even, but no, child, it
could not be! THOU art too young."
"Ah," said Polly, with an extraordinary gulp and a fierce nudge of
the poetess, "but it WAS me."
"You, Senorita," repeated Don Jose, falling back in an attitude of
mingled admiration and pity. "You, the child of Jenkinson!"
"Yes, yes," joined in the poetess hurriedly; "but that isn't going
to stop the consequences of your wretched blunder. My husband will
be furious, and will be here at any moment. Good gracious! what is
The violent slamming of a distant door at that instant, the sounds
of quick scuffling on the staircase, and the uplifting of an irate
voice had reached her ears and thrown her back in the arms of Polly
Jenkinson. Even the young girl herself turned an anxious gaze
towards the door. Don Jose alone was unmoved.
"Possess yourselves in peace, Senoritas," he said calmly. "We have
here only the characteristic convalescence of my friend and brother,
the excellent Roberto. He will ever recover himself from drink with
violence, even as he precipitates himself into it with fury. He has
been prematurely awakened. I will discover the cause."
With an elaborate bow to the frightened women, he left the room.
Scarcely had the door closed when the poetess turned quickly to
Polly. "The man's a stark staring lunatic, but, thank Heaven, Abner
will see it at once. And now let's get away while we can. To think,"
she said, snatching up her scattered manuscripts, "that THAT was all
the beast wanted."
"I'm sure he's very gentle and kind," said Polly, recovering her
dimples with a demure pout; "but stop, he's coming back."
It was indeed Don Jose re-entering the room with the composure of a
relieved and self-satisfied mind. "It is even as I said, Senora," he
began, taking the poetess's hand,—"and MORE. You are SAVED!"
As the women only stared at each other, he gravely folded his arms
and continued: "I will explain. For the instant I have not remember
that, in imitation of your own delicacy, I have given to your husband
in my letter, not the name of myself, but, as a mere Don Fulano, the
name of my brother Roberto—'Bucking Bob.' Your husband have this
moment arrive! Penetrating the bedroom of the excellent Roberto, he
has indiscreetly seize him in his bed, without explanation, without
introduction, without fear! The excellent Roberto, ever ready for
such distractions, have respond! In a word, to use the language of the
good Jenkinson—our host, our father—who was present, he have 'wiped
the floor with your husband,' and have even carried him down the
staircase to the street. Believe me, he will not return. You are
"Fool! Idiot! Crazy beast!" said the poetess, dashing past him
and out of the door. "You shall pay for this!"
Don Jose did not change his imperturbable and melancholy calm.
"And now, little one," he said, dropping on one knee before the
half-frightened Polly, "child of Jenkinson, now that thy perhaps too
excitable sponsor has, in a poet's caprice, abandoned thee for some
newer fantasy, confide in me thy distress, to me, thy Knight, and tell
the story of thy sorrows."
"But," said Polly, rising to her feet and struggling between a
laugh and a cry. "I haven't any sorrows. Oh dear! don't you see,
it's only her FANCY to make me seem so. There's nothing the matter
"Nothing the matter," repeated Don Jose slowly. "You have no
distress? You want no succor, no relief, no protector? This, then,
is but another delusion!" he said, rising sadly.
"Yes, no—that is—oh, my gracious goodness!" said Polly, hopelessly
divided between a sense of the ridiculous and some strange attraction
in the dark, gentle eyes that were fixed upon her half reproachfully.
"You don't understand."
Don Jose replied only with a melancholy smile, and then going to
the door, opened it with a bowed head and respectful courtesy. At
the act, Polly plucked up courage again, and with it a slight dash of
her old audacity.
"I'm sure I'm very sorry that I ain't got any love sorrows," she
said demurely. "And I suppose it's very dreadful in me not to have
been raving and broken-hearted over somebody or other as that woman
has said. Only," she waited till she had gained the secure vantage
of the threshold, "I never knew a gentleman to OBJECT to it before!"
With this Parthian arrow from her blue eyes she slipped into the
passage and vanished through the door of the opposite parlor. For an
instant Don Jose remained motionless and reflecting. Then, recovering
himself with grave precision, he deliberately picked up his narrow
black gloves from the table, drew them on, took his hat in his hand,
and solemnly striding across the passage, entered the door that had
just closed behind her.
It must not be supposed that in the meantime the flight of Don Jose
and his follower was unattended by any commotion at the rancho of the
Blessed Innocents. At the end of three hours' deliberation, in which
the retainers were severally examined, the corral searched, and the
well in the courtyard sounded, scouts were dispatched in different
directions, who returned with the surprising information that the
fugitives were not in the vicinity. A trustworthy messenger was sent
to Monterey for "custom-house paper," on which to draw up a formal
declaration of the affair. The archbishop was summoned from San Luis,
and Don Victor and Don Vincente Sepulvida, with the Donas Carmen and
Inez Alvarado, and a former alcalde, gathered at a family council the
next day. In this serious conclave the good Father Felipe once more
expounded the alienated condition and the dangerous reading of the
absent man. In the midst of which the ordinary post brought a letter
from Don Jose, calmly inviting the family to dine with him and Roberto
at San Mateo on the following Wednesday. The document was passed
gravely from hand to hand. Was it a fresh evidence of mental
aberration— an audacity of frenzy—or a trick of the vaquero? The
archbishop and alcalde shook their heads—it was without doubt a
lawless, even a sacrilegious and blasphemous fete. But a certain
curiosity of the ladies and of Father Felipe carried the day. Without
formally accepting the invitation it was decided that the family
should examine the afflicted man, with a view of taking active
measures hereafter. On the day appointed, the traveling carriage of
the Sepulvidas, an equipage coeval with the beginning of the century,
drawn by two white mules gaudily caparisoned, halted before the hotel
at San Mateo and disgorged Father Felipe, the Donas Carmen and Inez
Alvarado and Maria Sepulvida, while Don Victor and Don Vincente
Sepulvida, their attendant cavaliers on fiery mustangs, like
outriders, drew rein at the same time. A slight thrill of excitement,
as of the advent of a possible circus, had preceded them through the
little town; a faint blending of cigarette smoke and garlic announced
their presence on the veranda.
Ushered into the parlor of the hotel, apparently set apart for
their reception, they were embarrassed at not finding their host
present. But they were still more disconcerted when a tall full-
bearded stranger, with a shrewd amused-looking face, rose from a
chair by the window, and stepping forward, saluted them in fluent
Spanish with a slight American accent.
"I have to ask you, gentlemen and ladies," he began, with a certain
insinuating ease and frankness that alternately aroused and lulled
their suspicions, "to pardon the absence of our friend Don Jose
Sepulvida at this preliminary greeting. For to be perfectly frank
with you, although the ultimate aim and object of our gathering is a
social one, you are doubtless aware that certain infelicities and
misunderstandings—common to most families—have occurred, and a free,
dispassionate, unprejudiced discussion and disposal of them at the
beginning will only tend to augment the goodwill of our gathering."
"The Senor without doubt is"—suggested the padre, with a polite
"Pardon me! I forgot to introduce myself. Colonel Parker—
entirely at your service and that of these charming ladies."
The ladies referred to allowed their eyes to rest with evident
prepossession on the insinuating stranger. "Ah, a soldier," said Don
"Formerly," said the American lightly; "at present a lawyer, the
counsel of Don Jose."
A sudden rigor of suspicion stiffened the company; the ladies
withdrew their eyes; the priest and the Sepulvidas exchanged glances.
"Come," said Colonel Parker, with apparent unconsciousness of the
effect of his disclosure, "let us begin frankly. You have, I
believe, some anxiety in regard to the mental condition of Don Jose."
"We believe him to be mad," said Padre Felipe promptly,
"That is your opinion; good," said the lawyer quietly.
"And ours too," clamored the party, "without doubt."
"Good," returned the lawyer with perfect cheerfulness. "As his
relations, you have no doubt had superior opportunities for observing
his condition. I understand also that you may think it necessary to
have him legally declared non compos, a proceeding which, you are
aware, might result in the incarceration of our distinguished friend
in a mad-house."
"Pardon, Senor," interrupted Dona Maria proudly, "you do not
comprehend the family. When a Sepulvida is visited of God we do not
ask the Government to confine him like a criminal. We protect him in
his own house from the consequences of his frenzy."
"From the machinations of the worldly and heretical," broke in the
priest, "and from the waste and dispersion of inherited possessions."
"Very true," continued Colonel Parker, with unalterable good-humor;
"but I was only about to say that there might be conflicting evidence
of his condition. For instance, our friend has been here three days.
In that time he has had three interviews with three individuals under
singular circumstances." Colonel Parker then briefly recounted the
episodes of the landlord, the gambler, Miss Jenkinson and the poetess,
as they had been related to him. "Yet," he continued, "all but one of
these individuals are willing to swear that they not only believe Don
Jose perfectly sane, but endowed with a singularly sound judgment. In
fact, the testimony of Mr. Hamlin and Miss Jenkinson is remarkably
clear on that subject."
The company exchanged a supercilious smile. "Do you not see, O
Senor Advocate," said Don Vincente compassionately, "that this is but
a conspiracy to avail themselves of our relative's weakness. Of a
necessity they find him sane who benefits them."
"I have thought of that, and am glad to hear you say so," returned
the lawyer still more cheerfully, "for your prompt opinion emboldens
me to be at once perfectly frank with you. Briefly then, Don Jose has
summoned me here to make a final disposition of his property. In the
carrying out of certain theories of his, which it is not my province
to question, he has resolved upon comparative poverty for himself as
best fitted for his purpose, and to employ his wealth solely for
others. In fact, of all his vast possessions he retains for himself
only an income sufficient for the bare necessaries of life."
"And you have done this?" they asked in one voice.
"Not yet," said the lawyer.
"Blessed San Antonio, we have come in time!" ejaculated Dona
Carmen. "Another day and it would have been too late; it was an
inspiration of the Blessed Innocents themselves," said Dona Maria,
crossing herself. "Can you longer doubt that this is the wildest
madness?" said Father Felipe with flashing eyes.
"Yet," returned the lawyer, caressing his heavy beard with a
meditative smile, "the ingenious fellow actually instanced the vows
of YOUR OWN ORDER, reverend sir, as an example in support of his
theory. But to be brief. Conceiving, then, that his holding of
property was a mere accident of heritage, not admitted by him,
unworthy his acceptance, and a relic of superstitious ignorance"—
"This is the very sacrilege of Satanic prepossession," broke in the
"He therefore," continued the lawyer composedly, "makes over and
reverts the whole of his possessions, with the exceptions I have
stated, to his family and the Church."
A breathless and stupefying silence fell upon the company. In the
dead hush the sound of Polly Jenkinson's piano, played in a distant
room, could be distinctly heard. With their vacant eyes staring at
him the speaker continued:
"That deed of gift I have drawn up as he dictated it. I don't mind
saying that in the opinion of some he might be declared non compos
upon the evidence of that alone. I need not say how relieved I am to
find that your opinion coincides with my own."
"But," gasped Father Felipe hurriedly, with a quick glance at the
others, "it does not follow that it will be necessary to resort to
these legal measures. Care, counsel, persuasion—"
"The general ministering of kinship—nursing, a woman's care—the
instincts of affection," piped Dona Maria in breathless eagerness.
"Any light social distraction—a harmless flirtation—a possible
attachment," suggested Dona Carmen shyly.
"Change of scene—active exercise—experiences—even as those you
have related," broke in Don Vincente.
"I for one have ever been opposed to LEGAL measures," said Don
Victor. "A mere consultation of friends—in fact, a fete like this is
"Good friends," said Father Felipe, who had by this time recovered
himself, taking out his snuff-box portentously, "it would seem truly,
from the document which this discreet caballero has spoken of, that
the errors of our dear Don Jose are rather of method than intent, and
that while we may freely accept the one"—
"Pardon," interrupted Colonel Parker with bland persistence, "but I
must point out to you that what we call in law 'a consideration' is
necessary to the legality of a conveyance, even though that
consideration be frivolous and calculated to impair the validity of
"Truly," returned the good padre insinuatingly; "but if a discreet
advocate were to suggest the substitution of some more pious and
"But that would be making it a perfectly sane and gratuitous
document, not only glaringly inconsistent with your charges, my good
friends, with Don Jose's attitude towards you and his flight from
home, but open to the gravest suspicion in law. In fact, its apparent
propriety in the face of these facts would imply improper influence."
The countenances of the company fell. The lawyer's face, however,
became still more good-humored and sympathizing. "The case is simply
this. If in the opinion of judge and jury Don Jose is declared
insane, the document is worthless except as a proof of that fact or a
possible indication of the undue influence of his relations, which
might compel the court to select his guardians and trustees elsewhere
than among them."
"Friend Abogado," said Father Felipe with extraordinary
deliberation, "the document thou hast just described so eloquently
convinces me beyond all doubt that Don Jose is not only perfectly
sane but endowed with a singular discretion. I consider it as a
delicate and high-spirited intimation to us, his friends and kinsmen,
of his unalterable and logically just devotion to his family and
religion, whatever may seem to be his poetical and imaginative manner
of declaring it. I think there is not one here," continued the padre,
looking around him impressively, "who is not entirely satisfied of Don
Jose's reason and competency to arrange his own affairs."
"Entirely," "truly," "perfectly," eagerly responded the others with
"Nay, more. To prevent any misconception, we shall deem it our
duty to take every opportunity of making our belief publicly known,"
added Father Felipe.
The padre and Colonel Parker gazed long and gravely into each
other's eyes. It may have been an innocent touch of the sunlight
through the window, but a faint gleam seemed to steal into the pupil
of the affable lawyer at the same moment that, probably from the like
cause, there was a slight nervous contraction of the left eyelid of
the pious father. But it passed, and the next instant the door opened
to admit Don Jose Sepulvida.
He was at once seized and effusively embraced by the entire company
with every protest of affection and respect. not only Mr. Hamlin and
Mr. Jenkinson, who accompanied him as invited guests, but Roberto, in
a new suit of clothes and guiltless of stain or trace of dissipation,
shared in the pronounced friendliness of the kinsmen. Padre Felipe
took snuff, Colonel Parker blew his nose gently.
Nor were they less demonstrative of their new convictions later at
the banquet. Don Jose, with Jenkinson and the padre on his right and
left, preserved his gentle and half-melancholy dignity in the midst of
the noisy fraternization. Even Padre Felipe, in a brief speech or
exhortation proposing the health of their host, lent himself in his
own tongue to this polite congeniality. "We have had also, my friends
and brothers," he said in peroration, "a pleasing example of the
compliment of imitation shown by our beloved Don Jose. No one who has
known him during his friendly sojourn in this community but will be
struck with the conviction that he has acquired that most marvelous
faculty of your great American nation, the exhibition of humor and of
the practical joke."
Every eye was turned upon the imperturbable face of Don Jose as he
slowly rose to reply. "In bidding you to this fete, my friends and
kinsmen," he began calmly, "it was with the intention of formally
embracing the habits, customs, and spirit of American institutions by
certain methods of renunciation of the past, as became a caballero of
honor and resolution. Those methods may possibly be known to some of
you." He paused for a moment as if to allow the members of his family
to look unconscious. "Since then, in the wisdom of God, it has
occurred to me that my purpose may be as honorably effected by a
discreet blending of the past and the present—in a word, by the
judicious combination of the interests of my native people and the
American nation. In consideration of that purpose, friends and
kinsmen, I ask you to join me in drinking the good health of my host
Senor Jenkinson, my future father-in- law, from whom I have to-day had
the honor to demand the hand of the peerless Polly, his daughter, as
the future mistress of the Rancho of the Blessed Innocents."
The marriage took place shortly after. Nor was the free will and
independence of Don Jose Sepulvida in the least opposed by his
relations. Whether they felt they had already committed themselves,
or had hopes in the future, did not transpire. Enough that the
escapade of a week was tacitly forgotten. The only allusion ever made
to the bridegroom's peculiarities was drawn from the demure lips of
the bride herself on her installation at the "Blessed Innocents."
"And what, little one, didst thou find in me to admire?" Don Jose
had asked tenderly.
"Oh, you seemed to be so much like that dear old Don Quixote, you
know," she answered demurely.
"Don Quixote," repeated Don Jose with gentle gravity. "But, my
child, that was only a mere fiction—a romance, of one Cervantes.
Believe me, of a truth there never was any such person!"
A SECRET OF TELEGRAPH HILL
As Mr. Herbert Bly glanced for the first time at the house which
was to be his future abode in San Francisco, he was somewhat
startled. In that early period of feverish civic improvement the
street before it had been repeatedly graded and lowered until the
dwelling—originally a pioneer suburban villa perched upon a slope of
Telegraph Hill—now stood sixty feet above the sidewalk, superposed
like some Swiss chalet on successive galleries built in the sand-hill,
and connected by a half-dozen distinct zigzag flights of wooden
staircase. Stimulated, however, by the thought that the view from the
top would be a fine one, and that existence there would have all the
quaint originality of Robinson Crusoe's tree-dwelling, Mr. Bly began
cheerfully to mount the steps. It should be premised that, although a
recently appointed clerk in a large banking house, Mr. Bly was
somewhat youthful and imaginative, and regarded the ascent as part of
that "Excelsior" climbing pointed out by a great poet as a
praiseworthy function of ambitious youth.
Reaching at last the level of the veranda, he turned to the view.
The distant wooded shore of Contra Costa, the tossing white-caps and
dancing sails of the bay between, and the foreground at his feet of
wharves and piers, with their reed-like jungles of masts and cordage,
made up a bright, if somewhat material, picture. To his right rose
the crest of the hill, historic and memorable as the site of the old
semaphoric telegraph, the tossing of whose gaunt arms formerly
thrilled the citizens with tidings from the sea. Turning to the house,
he recognized the prevailing style of light cottage architecture,
although incongruously confined to narrow building plots and the civic
regularity of a precise street frontage. Thus a dozen other villas,
formerly scattered over the slope, had been laboriously displaced and
moved to the rigorous parade line drawn by the street surveyor, no
matter how irregular and independent their design and structure.
Happily, the few scrub-oaks and low bushes which formed the scant
vegetation of this vast sand dune offered no obstacle and suggested no
incongruity. Beside the house before which Mr. Bly now stood, a
prolific Madeira vine, quickened by the six months' sunshine, had
alone survived the displacement of its foundations, and in its
untrimmed luxuriance half hid the upper veranda from his view.
Still glowing with his exertion, the young man rang the bell and
was admitted into a fair-sized drawing-room, whose tasteful and
well-arranged furniture at once prepossessed him. An open piano, a
sheet of music carelessly left on the stool, a novel lying face
downwards on the table beside a skein of silk, and the distant rustle
of a vanished skirt through an inner door, gave a suggestion of
refined domesticity to the room that touched the fancy of the homeless
and nomadic Bly. He was still enjoying, in half embarrassment, that
vague and indescribable atmosphere of a refined woman's habitual
presence, when the door opened and the mistress of the house formally
She was a faded but still handsome woman. Yet she wore that
peculiar long, limp, formless house-shawl which in certain phases of
Anglo-Saxon spinster and widowhood assumes the functions of the
recluse's veil and announces the renunciation of worldly vanities and
a resigned indifference to external feminine contour. The most
audacious masculine arm would shrink from clasping that shapeless
void in which the flatness of asceticism or the heavings of passion
might alike lie buried. She had also in some mysterious way imported
into the fresh and pleasant room a certain bombaziny shadow of the
past, and a suggestion of that appalling reminiscence known as "better
days." Though why it should be always represented by ashen memories,
or why better days in the past should be supposed to fix their fitting
symbol in depression in the present, Mr. Bly was too young and too
preoccupied at the moment to determine. He only knew that he was a
little frightened of her, and fixed his gaze with a hopeless
fascination on a letter which she somewhat portentously carried under
the shawl, and which seemed already to have yellowed in its arctic
"Mr. Carstone has written to me that you would call," said Mrs.
Brooks with languid formality. "Mr. Carstone was a valued friend of
my late husband, and I suppose has told you the circumstances— the
only circumstances—which admit of my entertaining his proposition of
taking anybody, even temporarily, under my roof. The absence of my
dear son for six months at Portland, Oregon, enables me to place his
room at the disposal of Mr. Carstone's young protege, who, Mr.
Carstone tells me, and I have every reason to believe, is, if perhaps
not so seriously inclined nor yet a church communicant, still of a
character and reputation not unworthy to follow my dear Tappington in
our little family circle as he has at his desk in the bank."
The sensitive Bly, struggling painfully out of an abstraction as to
how he was ever to offer the weekly rent of his lodgings to such a
remote and respectable person, and also somewhat embarrassed at being
appealed to in the third person, here started and bowed.
"The name of Bly is not unfamiliar to me," continued Mrs. Brooks,
pointing to a chair and sinking resignedly into another, where her
baleful shawl at once assumed the appearance of a dust-cover; "some
of my dearest friends were intimate with the Blys of Philadelphia.
They were a branch of the Maryland Blys of the eastern shore, of whom
my Uncle James married. Perhaps you are distantly related?"
Mrs. Brooks was perfectly aware that her visitor was of unknown
Western origin, and a poor but clever protege of the rich banker; but
she was one of a certain class of American women who, in the midst of
a fierce democracy, are more or less cat-like conservators of family
pride and lineage, and more or less felinely inconsistent and
treacherous to republican principles. Bly, who had just settled in
his mind to send her the rent anonymously—as a weekly
valentine—recovered himself and his spirits in his usual boyish
"I am afraid, Mrs. Brooks," he said gayly, "I cannot lay claim to
any distinguished relationship, even to that 'Nelly Bly' who, you
remember, 'winked her eye when she went to sleep.'" He stopped in
consternation. The terrible conviction flashed upon him that this
quotation from a popular negro-minstrel song could not possibly be
remembered by a lady as refined as his hostess, or even known to her
superior son. The conviction was intensified by Mrs. Brooks rising
with a smileless face, slightly shedding the possible vulgarity with a
shake of her shawl, and remarking that she would show him her son's
room, led the way upstairs to the apartment recently vacated by the
Preceded by the same distant flutter of unseen skirts in the
passage which he had first noticed on entering the drawing-room, and
which evidently did not proceed from his companion, whose self-
composed cerements would have repressed any such indecorous
agitation, Mr. Bly stepped timidly into the room. It was a very
pretty apartment, suggesting the same touches of tasteful refinement
in its furniture and appointments, and withal so feminine in its
neatness and regularity, that, conscious of his frontier habits and
experience, he felt at once repulsively incongruous. "I cannot
expect, Mr. Bly," said Mrs. Brooks resignedly, "that you can share my
son's extreme sensitiveness to disorder and irregularity; but I must
beg you to avoid as much as possible disturbing the arrangement of the
book-shelves, which, you observe, comprise his books of serious
reference, the Biblical commentaries, and the sermons which were his
habitual study. I must beg you to exercise the same care in reference
to the valuable offerings from his Sabbath-school scholars which are
upon the mantel. The embroidered book-marker, the gift of the young
ladies of his Bible-class in Dr. Stout's church, is also, you
perceive, kept for ornament and affectionate remembrance. The
harmonium— even if you are not yourself given to sacred song—I trust
you will not find in your way, nor object to my daughter continuing
her practice during your daily absence. Thank you. The door you are
looking at leads by a flight of steps to the side street."
"A very convenient arrangement," said Bly hopefully, who saw a
chance for an occasional unostentatious escape from a too protracted
contemplation of Tappington's perfections. "I mean," he added
hurriedly, "to avoid disturbing you at night."
"I believe my son had neither the necessity nor desire to use it
for that purpose," returned Mrs. Brooks severely; "although he found
it sometimes a convenient short cut to church on Sabbath when he was
Bly, who in his boyish sensitiveness to external impressions had by
this time concluded that a life divided between the past perfections
of Tappington and the present renunciations of Mrs. Brooks would be
intolerable, and was again abstractedly inventing some delicate excuse
for withdrawing without committing himself further, was here suddenly
attracted by a repetition of the rustling of the unseen skirt. This
time it was nearer, and this time it seemed to strike even Mrs.
Brooks's remote preoccupation. "My daughter, who is deeply devoted to
her brother," she said, slightly raising her voice, "will take upon
herself the care of looking after Tappington's precious mementoes, and
spare you the trouble. Cherry, dear! this way. This is the young
gentleman spoken of by Mr. Carstone, your papa's friend. My daughter
Cherubina, Mr. Bly."
The fair owner of the rustling skirt, which turned out to be a
pretty French print, had appeared at the doorway. She was a tall,
slim blonde, with a shy, startled manner, as of a penitent nun who
was suffering for some conventual transgression—a resemblance that
was heightened by her short-cut hair, that might have been cropped as
if for punishment. A certain likeness to her mother suggested that
she was qualifying for that saint's ascetic shawl—subject, however, to
rebellious intervals, indicated in the occasional sidelong fires of
her gray eyes. Yet the vague impression that she knew more of the
world than her mother, and that she did not look at all as if her name
was Cherubina, struck Bly in the same momentary glance.
"Mr. Bly is naturally pleased with what he has seen of our dear
Tappington's appointments; and as I gather from Mr. Carstone's letter
that he is anxious to enter at once and make the most of the dear
boy's absence, you will see, my dear Cherry, that Ellen has everything
ready for him?"
Before the unfortunate Bly could explain or protest, the young girl
lifted her gray eyes to his. Whether she had perceived and
understood his perplexity he could not tell; but the swift shy glance
was at once appealing, assuring, and intelligent. She was certainly
unlike her mother and brother. Acting with his usual impulsiveness,
he forgot his previous resolution, and before he left had engaged to
begin his occupation of the room on the following day.
The next afternoon found him installed. Yet, after he had unpacked
his modest possessions and put them away, after he had placed his few
books on the shelves, where they looked glaringly trivial and
frivolous beside the late tenant's severe studies; after he had set
out his scanty treasures in the way of photographs and some curious
mementoes of his wandering life, and then quickly put them back again
with a sudden angry pride at exposing them to the unsympathetic
incongruity of the other ornaments, he, nevertheless, felt ill at
ease. He glanced in vain around the pretty room. It was not the
delicately flowered wall-paper; it was not the white and blue muslin
window-curtains gracefully tied up with blue and white ribbons; it was
not the spotless bed, with its blue and white festooned mosquito-net
and flounced valances, and its medallion portrait of an unknown bishop
at the back; it was not the few tastefully framed engravings of
certain cardinal virtues, "The Rock of Ages," and "The Guardian
Angel"; it was not the casts in relief of "Night" and "Morning"; it
was certainly not the cosy dimity- covered arm-chairs and sofa, nor
yet the clean-swept polished grate with its cheerful fire sparkling
against the chill afternoon sea- fogs without; neither was it the mere
feminine suggestion, for that touched a sympathetic chord in his
impulsive nature; nor the religious and ascetic influence, for he had
occupied a monastic cell in a school of the padres at an old mission,
and slept profoundly;—it was none of those, and yet a part of all.
Most habitations retain a cast or shell of their previous tenant
that, fitting tightly or loosely, is still able to adjust itself to
the newcomer; in most occupied apartments there is still a shadowy
suggestion of the owner's individuality; there was nothing here that
fitted Bly—nor was there either, strange to say, any evidence of the
past proprietor in this inhospitality of sensation. It did not strike
him at the time that it was this very LACK of individuality which made
it weird and unreal, that it was strange only because it was
ARTIFICIAL, and that a REAL Tappington had never inhabited it.
He walked to the window—that never-failing resource of the unquiet
mind—and looked out. He was a little surprised to find, that, owing
to the grading of the house, the scrub-oaks and bushes of the hill
were nearly on the level of his window, as also was the adjoining side
street on which his second door actually gave. Opening this, the
sudden invasion of the sea-fog and the figure of a pedestrian casually
passing along the disused and abandoned pavement not a dozen feet from
where he had been comfortably seated, presented such a striking
contrast to the studious quiet and cosiness of his secluded apartment
that he hurriedly closed the door again with a sense of indiscreet
exposure. Returning to the window, he glanced to the left, and found
that he was overlooked by the side veranda of another villa in the
rear, evidently on its way to take position on the line of the street.
Although in actual and deliberate transit on rollers across the
backyard and still occulting a part of the view, it remained, after
the reckless fashion of the period, inhabited. Certainly, with a door
fronting a thoroughfare, and a neighbor gradually approaching him, he
would not feel lonely or lack excitement.
He drew his arm-chair to the fire and tried to realize the all-
pervading yet evasive Tappington. There was no portrait of him in
the house, and although Mrs. Brooks had said that he "favored" his
sister, Bly had, without knowing why, instinctively resented it. He
had even timidly asked his employer, and had received the vague reply
that he was "good-looking enough," and the practical but discomposing
retort, "What do you want to know for?" As he really did not know
why, the inquiry had dropped. He stared at the monumental crystal
ink-stand half full of ink, yet spotless and free from stains, that
stood on the table, and tried to picture Tappington daintily dipping
into it to thank the fair donors— "daughters of Rebecca." Who were
they? and what sort of man would they naturally feel grateful to?
What was that?
He turned to the window, which had just resounded to a slight tap
or blow, as if something soft had struck it. With an instinctive
suspicion of the propinquity of the adjoining street he rose, but a
single glance from the window satisfied him that no missile would
have reached it from thence. He scanned the low bushes on the level
before him; certainly no one could be hiding there. He lifted his
eyes toward the house on the left; the curtains of the nearest window
appeared to be drawn suddenly at the same moment. Could it have come
from there? Looking down upon the window-ledge, there lay the
mysterious missile—a little misshapen ball. He opened the window and
took it up. It was a small handkerchief tied into a soft knot, and
dampened with water to give it the necessary weight as a projectile.
Was it apparently the trick of a mischievous child? or—
But here a faint knock on the door leading into the hall checked
his inquiry. He opened it sharply in his excitement, and was
embarrassed to find the daughter of his hostess standing there, shy,
startled, and evidently equally embarrassed by his abrupt response.
"Mother only wanted me to ask you if Ellen had put everything to
rights," she said, making a step backwards.
"Oh, thank you. Perfectly," said Herbert with effusion. "Nothing
could be better done. In fact"—
"You're quite sure she hasn't forgotten anything? or that there
isn't anything you would like changed?" she continued, with her eyes
leveled on the floor.
"Nothing, I assure you," he said, looking at her downcast lashes.
As she still remained motionless, he continued cheerfully, "Would
you—would you—care to look round and see?"
"No; I thank you."
There was an awkward pause. He still continued to hold the door
open. Suddenly she moved forward with a school-girl stride, entered
the room, and going to the harmonium, sat down upon the music-stool
beside it, slightly bending forward, with one long, slim, white hand
on top of the other, resting over her crossed knees.
Herbert was a little puzzled. It was the awkward and brusque act
of a very young person, and yet nothing now could be more gentle and
self-composed than her figure and attitude.
"Yes," he continued, smilingly; "I am only afraid that I may not be
able to live quite up to the neatness and regularity of the example I
find here everywhere. You know I am dreadfully careless and not at
all orderly. I shudder to think what may happen; but you and your
mother, Miss Brooks, I trust, will make up your minds to overlook and
forgive a good deal. I shall do my best to be worthy of Mr. Tap—of my
predecessor—but even then I am afraid you'll find me a great bother."
She raised her shy eyelids. The faintest ghost of a long-buried
dimple came into her pale cheek as she said softly, to his utter
Had she uttered an oath he could not have been more startled than
he was by this choice gem of Western saloon-slang from the pure lips
of this Evangeline-like figure before him. He sat gazing at her with
a wild hysteric desire to laugh. She lifted her eyes again, swept him
with a slightly terrified glance, and said:
"Tap says you all say that when any one makes-believe politeness to
"Oh, your BROTHER says that, does he?" said Herbert, laughing.
"Yes, and sometimes 'Old rats.' But," she continued hurriedly, "HE
doesn't say it; he says YOU all do. My brother is very particular,
and very good. Doctor Stout loves him. He is thought very much of
in all Christian circles. That book-mark was given to him by one of
Every trace of her dimples had vanished. She looked so sweetly
grave, and withal so maidenly, sitting there slightly smoothing the
lengths of her pink fingers, that Herbert was somewhat embarrassed.
"But I assure you, Miss Brooks, I was not making-believe. I am
really very careless, and everything is so proper—I mean so neat and
pretty—here, that I"—he stopped, and, observing the same backward
wandering of her eye as of a filly about to shy, quickly changed the
subject. "You have, or are about to have, neighbors?" he said,
glancing towards the windows as he recalled the incident of a moment
"Yes; and they're not at all nice people. They are from Pike
County, and very queer. They came across the plains in '50. They
say 'Stranger'; the men are vulgar, and the girls very forward. Tap
forbids my ever going to the window and looking at them. They're quite
what you would call 'off color.'"
Herbert, who did not dare to say that he never would have dreamed
of using such an expression in any young girl's presence, was plunged
in silent consternation.
"Then your brother doesn't approve of them?" he said, at last,
"Oh, not at all. He even talked of having ground-glass put in all
these windows, only it would make the light bad."
Herbert felt very embarrassed. If the mysterious missile came from
these objectionable young persons, it was evidently because they
thought they had detected a more accessible and sympathizing
individual in the stranger who now occupied the room. He concluded
he had better not say anything about it.
Miss Brooks's golden eyelashes were bent towards the floor. "Do
you play sacred music, Mr. Bly?" she said, without raising them.
"I am afraid not."
"Perhaps you know only negro-minstrel songs?"
"I am afraid—yes."
"I know one." The dimples faintly came back again. "It's called
'The Ham-fat Man.' Some day when mother isn't in I'll play it for
Then the dimples fled again, and she immediately looked so
distressed that Herbert came to her assistance.
"I suppose your brother taught you that too?"
"Oh dear, no!" she returned, with her frightened glance; "I only
heard him say some people preferred that kind of thing to sacred
music, and one day I saw a copy of it in a music-store window in Clay
Street, and bought it. Oh no! Tappington didn't teach it to me."
In the pleasant discovery that she was at times independent of her
brother's perfections, Herbert smiled, and sympathetically drew a
step nearer to her. She rose at once, somewhat primly holding back
the sides of her skirt, school-girl fashion, with thumb and finger,
and her eyes cast down.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Bly."
"Must you go? Good afternoon."
She walked directly to the open door, looking very tall and stately
as she did so, but without turning towards him. When she reached it
she lifted her eyes; there was the slightest suggestion of a return of
her dimples in the relaxation of her grave little mouth. Then she
said, "good-bye, Mr. Bly," and departed.
The skirt of her dress rustled for an instant in the passage.
Herbert looked after her. "I wonder if she skipped then—she looks
like a girl that might skip at such a time," he said to himself. "How
very odd she is—and how simple! But I must pull her up in that slang
when I know her better. Fancy her brother telling her THAT! What a
pair they must be!" Nevertheless, when he turned back into the room
again he forbore going to the window to indulge further curiosity in
regard to his wicked neighbors. A certain new feeling of respect to
his late companion—and possibly to himself— held him in check. Much
as he resented Tappington's perfections, he resented quite as warmly
the presumption that he was not quite as perfect, which was implied in
that mysterious overture. He glanced at the stool on which she had
been sitting with a half- brotherly smile, and put it reverently on
one side with a very vivid recollection of her shy maidenly figure.
In some mysterious way too the room seemed to have lost its formal
strangeness; perhaps it was the touch of individuality—HERS—that had
been wanting? He began thoughtfully to dress himself for his regular
dinner at the Poodle Dog Restaurant, and when he left the room he
turned back to look once more at the stool where she had sat. Even
on his way to that fast and famous cafe of the period he felt, for
the first time in his thoughtless but lonely life, the gentle
security of the home he had left behind him.
It was three or four days before he became firmly adjusted to his
new quarters. During this time he had met Cherry casually on the
staircase, in going or coming, and received her shy greetings; but
she had not repeated her visit, nor again alluded to it. He had
spent part of a formal evening in the parlor in company with a
calling deacon, who, unappalled by the Indian shawl for which the
widow had exchanged her household cerements on such occasions,
appeared to Herbert to have remote matrimonial designs, as far at
least as a sympathetic deprecation of the vanities of the present, an
echoing of her sighs like a modest encore, a preternatural gentility
of manner, a vague allusion to the necessity of bearing "one another's
burdens," and an everlasting promise in store, would seem to imply.
To Herbert's vivid imagination, a discussion on the doctrinal points
of last Sabbath's sermon was fraught with delicate suggestion and an
acceptance by the widow of an appointment to attend the Wednesday
evening "Lectures" had all the shy reluctant yielding of a granted
rendezvous. Oddly enough, the more formal attitude seemed to be
reserved for the young people, who, in the suggestive atmosphere of
this spiritual flirtation, alone appeared to preserve the proprieties
and, to some extent, decorously chaperon their elders. Herbert
gravely turned the leaves of Cherry's music while she played and sang
one or two discreet but depressing songs expressive of her unalterable
but proper devotion to her mother's clock, her father's arm-chair, and
her aunt's Bible; and Herbert joined somewhat boyishly in the
soul-subduing refrain. Only once he ventured to suggest in a whisper
that he would like to add HER music-stool to the adorable inventory;
but he was met by such a disturbed and terrified look that he
desisted. "Another night of this wild and reckless dissipation will
finish me," he said lugubriously to himself when he reached the
solitude of his room. "I wonder how many times a week I'd have to
help the girl play the spiritual gooseberry downstairs before we could
have any fun ourselves?"
Here the sound of distant laughter, interspersed with vivacious
feminine shrieks, came through the open window. He glanced between
the curtains. His neighbor's house was brilliantly lit, and the
shadows of a few romping figures were chasing each other across the
muslin shades of the windows. The objectionable young women were
evidently enjoying themselves. In some conditions of the mind there
is a certain exasperation in the spectacle of unmeaning enjoyment, and
he shut the window sharply. At the same moment some one knocked at
It was Miss Brooks, who had just come upstairs.
"Will you please let me have my music-stool?"
He stared at her a moment in surprise, then recovering himself,
said, "Yes, certainly," and brought the stool. For an instant he was
tempted to ask why she wanted it, but his pride forbade him.
"Thank you. Good-night."
"I hope it wasn't in your way?"
"Not at all."
She vanished. Herbert was perplexed. Between young ladies whose
naive exuberance impelled them to throw handkerchiefs at his window
and young ladies whose equally naive modesty demanded the withdrawal
from his bedroom of a chair on which they had once sat, his lot seemed
to have fallen in a troubled locality. Yet a day or two later he
heard Cherry practising on the harmonium as he was ascending the
stairs on his return from business; she had departed before he entered
the room, but had left the music-stool behind her. It was not again
One Sunday, the second or third of his tenancy, when Cherry and her
mother were at church, and he had finished some work that he had
brought from the bank, his former restlessness and sense of
strangeness returned. The regular afternoon fog had thickened early,
and, driving him back from a cheerless, chilly ramble on the hill, had
left him still more depressed and solitary. In sheer desperation he
moved some of the furniture, and changed the disposition of several
smaller ornaments. Growing bolder, he even attacked the sacred shelf
devoted to Tappington's serious literature and moral studies. At
first glance the book of sermons looked suspiciously fresh and new for
a volume of habitual reference, but its leaves were carefully cut, and
contained one or two book-marks. It was only another evidence of that
perfect youth's care and neatness. As he was replacing it he noticed
a small object folded in white paper at the back of the shelf. To
put the book back into its former position it was necessary to take
this out. He did so, but its contents slid from his fingers and the
paper to the floor. To his utter consternation, looking down he saw a
pack of playing-cards strewn at his feet!
He hurriedly picked them up. They were worn and slippery from use,
and exhaled a faint odor of tobacco. Had they been left there by
some temporary visitor unknown to Tappington and his family, or had
they been hastily hidden by a servant? Yet they were of a make and
texture superior to those that a servant would possess; looking at
them carefully, he recognized them to be of a quality used by the
better-class gamblers. Restoring them carefully to their former
position, he was tempted to take out the other volumes, and was
rewarded with the further discovery of a small box of ivory counters,
known as "poker-chips." It was really very extraordinary! It was
quite the cache of some habitual gambler. Herbert smiled grimly at the
irreverent incongruity of the hiding- place selected by its unknown
and mysterious owner, and amused himself by fancying the horror of his
sainted predecessor had he made the discovery. He determined to
replace them, and to put some mark upon the volumes before them in
order to detect any future disturbance of them in his absence.
Ought he not to take Miss Brooks in his confidence? Or should he
say nothing about it at present, and trust to chance to discover the
sacrilegious hider? Could it possibly be Cherry herself, guilty of
the same innocent curiosity that had impelled her to buy the "Ham-fat
Man"? Preposterous! Besides, the cards had been used, and she could
not play poker alone!
He watched the rolling fog extinguish the line of Russian Hill, the
last bit of far perspective from his window. He glanced at his
neighbor's veranda, already dripping with moisture; the windows were
blank; he remembered to have heard the girls giggling in passing down
the side street on their way to church, and had noticed from behind
his own curtains that one was rather pretty. This led him to think of
Cherry again, and to recall the quaint yet melancholy grace of her
figure as she sat on the stool opposite. Why had she withdrawn it so
abruptly; did she consider his jesting allusion to it indecorous and
presuming? Had he really meant it seriously; and was he beginning to
think too much about her? Would she ever come again? How nice it
would be if she returned from church alone early, and they could have
a comfortable chat together here! Would she sing the "Ham-fat Man"
for him? Would the dimples come back if she did? Should he ever know
more of this quaint repressed side of her nature? After all, what a
dear, graceful, tantalizing, lovable creature she was! Ought he not
at all hazards try to know her better? Might it not be here that he
would find a perfect realization of his boyish dreams, and in HER all
that—what nonsense he was thinking!
Suddenly Herbert was startled by the sound of a light but hurried
foot upon the wooden outer step of his second door, and the quick but
ineffective turning of the door-handle. He started to his feet, his
mind still filled with a vision of Cherry. Then he as suddenly
remembered that he had locked the door on going out, putting the key
in his overcoat pocket. He had returned by the front door, and his
overcoat was now hanging in the lower hall.
The door again rattled impetuously. Then it was supplemented by a
female voice in a hurried whisper: "Open quick, can't you? do hurry!"
He was confounded. The voice was authoritative, not unmusical; but
it was NOT Cherry's. Nevertheless he called out quickly, "One
moment, please, and I'll get the key!" dashed downstairs and up
again, breathlessly unlocked the door and threw it open.
Nobody was there!
He ran out into the street. On one side it terminated abruptly on
the cliff on which his dwelling was perched; on the other, it
descended more gradually into the next thoroughfare; but up and down
the street, on either hand, no one was to be seen. A slightly
superstitious feeling for an instant crept over him. Then he
reflected that the mysterious visitor could in the interval of his
getting the key have easily slipped down the steps of the cliff or
entered the shrubbery of one of the adjacent houses. But why had she
not waited? And what did she want? As he reentered his door he
mechanically raised his eyes to the windows of his neighbor's. This
time he certainly was not mistaken. The two amused, mischievous faces
that suddenly disappeared behind the curtain as he looked up showed
that the incident had not been unwitnessed. Yet it was impossible that
it could have been either of THEM. Their house was only accessible by
a long detour. It might have been the trick of a confederate; but the
tone of half familiarity and half entreaty in the unseen visitor's
voice dispelled the idea of any collusion. He entered the room and
closed the door angrily. A grim smile stole over his face as he
glanced around at the dainty saint-like appointments of the absent
Tappington, and thought what that irreproachable young man would have
said to the indecorous intrusion, even though it had been a mistake.
Would those shameless Pike County girls have dared to laugh at HIM?
But he was again puzzled to know why he himself should have been
selected for this singular experience. Why was HE considered fair
game for these girls? And, for the matter of that, now that he
reflected upon it, why had even this gentle, refined, and melancholy
Cherry thought it necessary to talk slang to HIM on their first
acquaintance, and offer to sing him the "Ham-fat Man"? It was true he
had been a little gay, but never dissipated. Of course he was not a
saint, like Tappington—oh, THAT was it! He believed he understood it
now. He was suffering from that extravagant conception of what
worldliness consists of, so common to very good people with no
knowledge of the world. Compared to Tappington he was in their eyes,
of course, a rake and a roue. The explanation pleased him. He would
not keep it to himself. He would gain Cherry's confidence and enlist
her sympathies. Her gentle nature would revolt at this injustice to
their lonely lodger. She would see that there were degrees of
goodness besides her brother's. She would perhaps sit on that stool
again and NOT sing the "Ham-fat Man."
A day or two afterwards the opportunity seemed offered to him. As
he was coming home and ascending the long hilly street, his eye was
taken by a tall graceful figure just preceding him. It was she. He
had never before seen her in the street, and was now struck with her
ladylike bearing and the grave superiority of her perfectly simple
attire. In a thoroughfare haunted by handsome women and striking
toilettes, the refined grace of her mourning costume, and a certain
stateliness that gave her the look of a young widow, was a contrast
that evidently attracted others than himself. It was with an odd
mingling of pride and jealousy that he watched the admiring yet
respectful glances of the passers-by, some of whom turned to look
again, and one or two to retrace their steps and follow her at a
decorous distance. This caused him to quicken his own pace, with a
new anxiety and a remorseful sense of wasted opportunity. What a
booby he had been, not to have made more of his contiguity to this
charming girl—to have been frightened at the naive decorum of her
maidenly instincts! He reached her side, and raised his hat with a
trepidation at her new-found graces—with a boldness that was defiant
of her other admirers. She blushed slightly.
"I thought you'd overtake me before," she said naively. "I saw YOU
ever so long ago."
He stammered, with an equal simplicity, that he had not dared to.
She looked a little frightened again, and then said hurriedly: "I
only thought that I would meet you on Montgomery Street, and we would
walk home together. I don't like to go out alone, and mother cannot
always go with me. Tappington never cared to take me out—I don't know
why. I think he didn't like the people staring and stop ping us. But
they stare more—don't you think?—when one is alone. So I thought if
you were coming straight home we might come together—unless you have
something else to do?"
Herbert impulsively reiterated his joy at meeting her, and averred
that no other engagement, either of business or pleasure, could or
would stand in his way. Looking up, however, it was with some
consternation that he saw they were already within a block of the
"Suppose we take a turn around the hill and come back by the old
street down the steps?" he suggested earnestly.
The next moment he regretted it. The frightened look returned to
her eyes; her face became melancholy and formal again.
"No!" she said quickly. "That would be taking a walk with you like
these young girls and their young men on Saturdays. That's what
Ellen does with the butcher's boy on Sundays. Tappington often used
to meet them. Doing the 'Come, Philanders,' as he says you call it."
It struck Herbert that the didactic Tappington's method of
inculcating a horror of slang in his sister's breast was open to some
objection; but they were already on the steps of their house, and he
was too much mortified at the reception of his last unhappy suggestion
to make the confidential disclosure he had intended, even if there had
still been time.
"There's mother waiting for me," she said, after an awkward pause,
pointing to the figure of Mrs. Brooks dimly outlined on the veranda.
"I suppose she was beginning to be worried about my being out alone.
She'll be so glad I met you." It didn't appear to Herbert, however,
that Mrs. Brooks exhibited any extravagant joy over the occurrence,
and she almost instantly retired with her daughter into the
sitting-room, linking her arm in Cherry's, and, as it were,
empanoplying her with her own invulnerable shawl. Herbert went to his
room more dissatisfied with himself than ever.
Two or three days elapsed without his seeing Cherry; even the well-
known rustle of her skirt in the passage was missing. On the third
evening he resolved to bear the formal terrors of the drawing-room
again, and stumbled upon a decorous party consisting of Mrs. Brooks,
the deacon, and the pastor's wife—but not Cherry. It struck him on
entering that the momentary awkwardness of the company and the formal
beginning of a new topic indicated that HE had been the subject of
their previous conversation. In this idea he continued, through that
vague spirit of opposition which attacks impulsive people in such
circumstances, to generally disagree with them on all subjects, and to
exaggerate what he chose to believe they thought objectionable in him.
He did not remain long; but learned in that brief interval that
Cherry had gone to visit a friend in Contra Costa, and would be absent
a fortnight; and he was conscious that the information was conveyed to
him with a peculiar significance.
The result of which was only to intensify his interest in the
absent Cherry, and for a week to plunge him in a sea of conflicting
doubts and resolutions. At one time he thought seriously of
demanding an explanation from Mrs. Brooks, and of confiding to her—
as he had intended to do to Cherry—his fears that his character had
been misinterpreted, and his reasons for believing so. But here he
was met by the difficulty of formulating what he wished to have
explained, and some doubts as to whether his confidences were prudent.
At another time he contemplated a serious imitation of Tappington's
perfections, a renunciation of the world, and an entire change in his
habits. He would go regularly to church—HER church, and take up
Tappington's desolate Bible-class. But here the torturing doubt arose
whether a young lady who betrayed a certain secular curiosity, and who
had evidently depended upon her brother for a knowledge of the world,
would entirely like it. At times he thought of giving up the room and
abandoning for ever this doubly dangerous proximity; but here again he
was deterred by the difficulty of giving a satisfactory reason to his
employer, who had procured it as a favor. His passion—for such he
began to fear it to be—led him once to the extravagance of asking a
day's holiday from the bank, which he vaguely spent in the streets of
Oakland in the hope of accidentally meeting the exiled Cherry.
The fortnight slowly passed. She returned, but he did not see her.
She was always out or engaged in her room with some female friend
when Herbert was at home. This was singular, as she had never
appeared to him as a young girl who was fond of visiting or had ever
affected female friendships. In fact, there was little doubt now
that, wittingly or unwittingly, she was avoiding him.
He was moodily sitting by the fire one evening, having returned
early from dinner. In reply to his habitual but affectedly careless
inquiry, Ellen had told him that Mrs. Brooks was confined to her room
by a slight headache, and that Miss Brooks was out. He was trying to
read, and listening to the wind that occasionally rattled the casement
and caused the solitary gas-lamp that was visible in the side street
to flicker and leap wildly. Suddenly he heard the same footfall upon
his outer step and a light tap at the door. Determined this time to
solve the mystery, he sprang to his feet and ran to the door; but to
his anger and astonishment it was locked and the key was gone. Yet he
was positive that HE had not taken it out.
The tap was timidly repeated. In desperation he called out,
"Please don't go away yet. The key is gone; but I'll find it in a
moment." Nevertheless he was at his wits' end.
There was a hesitating pause and then the sound of a key cautiously
thrust into the lock. It turned; the door opened, and a tall figure,
whose face and form were completely hidden in a veil and long gray
shawl, quickly glided into the room and closed the door behind it.
Then it suddenly raised its arms, the shawl was parted, the veil fell
aside, and Cherry stood before him!
Her face was quite pale. Her eyes, usually downcast, frightened,
or coldly clear, were bright and beautiful with excitement. The
dimples were faintly there, although the smile was sad and half
hysterical. She remained standing, erect and tall, her arms dropped
at her side, holding the veil and shawl that still depended from her
"So—I've caught you!" she said, with a strange little laugh. "Oh
yes. 'Please don't go away yet. I'll get the key in a moment,'" she
continued, mimicking his recent utterance.
He could only stammer, "Miss Brooks—then it was YOU?"
"Yes; and you thought it was SHE, didn't you? Well, and you're
caught! I didn't believe it; I wouldn't believe it when they said
it. I determined to find it out myself. And I have; and it's true."
Unable to determine whether she was serious or jesting, and
conscious only of his delight at seeing her again, he advanced
impulsively. But her expression instantly changed: she became at
once stiff and school-girlishly formal, and stepped back towards the
"Don't come near me, or I'll go," she said quickly, with her hand
upon the lock.
"But not before you tell me what you mean," he said half laughingly
half earnestly. "Who is SHE? and what wouldn't you have believed?
For upon my honor, Miss Brooks, I don't know what you are talking
His evident frankness and truthful manner appeared to puzzle her.
"You mean to say you were expecting no one?" she said sharply.
"I assure you I was not."
"And—and no woman was ever here—at that door?"
He hesitated. "Not to-night—not for a long time; not since you
returned from Oakland."
"Then there WAS one?"
"I believe so."
"You BELIEVE—you don't KNOW?"
"I believed it was a woman from her voice; for the door was locked,
and the key was downstairs. When I fetched it and opened the door,
she—or whoever it was—was gone."
"And that's why you said so imploringly, just now, 'Please don't go
away yet'? You see I've caught you. Ah! I don't wonder you blush!"
If he had, his cheeks had caught fire from her brilliant eyes and
the extravagantly affected sternness—as of a school-girl monitor— in
her animated face. Certainly he had never seen such a transformation.
"Yes; but, you see, I wanted to know who the intruder was," he
said, smiling at his own embarrassment.
"You did—well, perhaps THAT will tell you? It was found under
your door before I went away." She suddenly produced from her pocket
a folded paper and handed it to him. It was a misspelt scrawl, and
ran as follows:—
"Why are you so cruel? Why do you keep me dansing on the stepps
before them gurls at the windows? Was it that stuckup Saint, Miss
Brooks, that you were afraid of, my deer? Oh, you faithless trater!
Wait till I ketch you! I'll tear your eyes out and hern!"
It did not require great penetration for Herbert to be instantly
convinced that the writer of this vulgar epistle and the owner of the
unknown voice were two very different individuals. The note was
evidently a trick. A suspicion of its perpetrators flashed upon him.
"Whoever the woman was, it was not she who wrote the note," he said
positively. "Somebody must have seen her at the door. I remember
now that those girls—your neighbors—were watching me from their
window when I came out. Depend upon it, that letter comes from
Cherry's eyes opened widely with a sudden childlike perception, and
then shyly dropped. "Yes," she said slowly; "they DID watch you.
They know it, for it was they who made it the talk of the
neighborhood, and that's how it came to mother's ears." She stopped,
and, with a frightened look, stepped back towards the door again.
"Then THAT was why your mother"—
"Oh yes," interrupted Cherry quickly. "That was why I went over to
Oakland, and why mother forbade my walking with you again, and why
she had a talk with friends about your conduct, and why she came near
telling Mr. Carstone all about it until I stopped her." She checked
herself—he could hardly believe his eyes—the pale, nun- like girl was
"I thank you, Miss Brooks," he said gravely, "for your
thoughtfulness, although I hope I could have still proven my
innocence to Mr. Carstone, even if some unknown woman tried my door
by mistake, and was seen doing it. But I am pained to think that YOU
could have believed me capable of so wanton and absurd an
impropriety—and such a gross disrespect to your mother's house."
"But," said Cherry with childlike naivete, "you know YOU don't
think anything of such things, and that's what I told mother."
"You told your mother THAT?"
"Oh yes—I told her Tappington says it's quite common with young
men. Please don't laugh—for it's very dreadful. Tappington didn't
laugh when he told it to me as a warning. He was shocked."
"But, my dear Miss Brooks"—
"There—now you're angry—and that's as bad. Are you sure you
didn't know that woman?"
"Yet you seemed very anxious just now that she should wait till you
opened the door."
"That was perfectly natural."
"I don't think it was natural at all."
"But—according to Tappington"—
"Because my brother is very good you need not make fun of him."
"I assure you I have no such intention. But what more can I say?
I give you my word that I don't know who that unlucky woman was. No
doubt she may have been some nearsighted neighbor who had mistaken the
house, and I dare say was as thoroughly astonished at my voice as I
was at hers. Can I say more? Is it necessary for me to swear that
since I have been here no woman has ever entered that door—but"—
"I know what you mean," she said hurriedly, with her old frightened
look, gliding to the outer door. "It's shameful what I've done. But
I only did it because—because I had faith in you, and didn't believe
what they said was true." She had already turned the lock. There were
tears in her pretty eyes.
"Stop," said Herbert gently. He walked slowly towards her, and
within reach of her frightened figure stopped with the timid respect
of a mature and genuine passion. "You must not be seen going out of
that door," he said gravely. "You must let me go first, and, when I
am gone, lock the door again and go through the hall to your own room.
No one must know that I was in the house when you came in at that
Without offering his hand he lifted his eyes to her face. The
dimples were all there—and something else. He bowed and passed out.
Ten minutes later he ostentatiously returned to the house by the
front door, and proceeded up the stairs to his own room. As he cast
a glance around he saw that the music-stool had been moved before the
fire, evidently with the view of attracting his attention. Lying upon
it, carefully folded, was the veil that she had worn. There could be
no doubt that it was left there purposely. With a smile at this
strange girl's last characteristic act of timid but compromising
recklessness, after all his precautions, he raised it tenderly to his
lips, and then hastened to hide it from the reach of vulgar eyes. But
had Cherry known that its temporary resting-place that night was under
his pillow she might have doubted his superior caution.
When he returned from the bank the next afternoon, Cherry rapped
ostentatiously at his door. "Mother wishes me to ask you," she began
with a certain prim formality, which nevertheless did not preclude
dimples, "if you would give us the pleasure of your company at our
Church Festival to-night? There will be a concert and a collation.
You could accompany us there if you cared. Our friends and
Tappington's would be so glad to see you, and Dr. Stout would be
delighted to make your acquaintance."
"Certainly!" said Herbert, delighted and yet astounded. "Then," he
added in a lower voice, "your mother no longer believes me so
"Oh no," said Cherry in a hurried whisper, glancing up and down the
passage; "I've been talking to her about it, and she is satisfied
that it is all a jealous trick and slander of these neighbors. Why, I
told her that they had even said that I was that mysterious woman;
that I came that way to you because she had forbidden my seeing you
"What! You dared say that?"
"Yes don't you see? Suppose they said they HAD seen me coming in
last night—THAT answers it," she said triumphantly.
"Oh, it does?" he said vacantly.
"Perfectly. So you see she's convinced that she ought to put you
on the same footing as Tappington, before everybody; and then there
won't be any trouble. You'll come, won't you? It won't be so VERY
good. And then, I've told mother that as there have been so many
street-fights, and so much talk about the Vigilance Committee lately,
I ought to have somebody for an escort when I am coming home. And if
you're known, you see, as one of US, there'll be no harm in your
"Thank you," he said, extending his hand gratefully.
Her fingers rested a moment in his. "Where did you put it?" she
"It? Oh! IT'S all safe," he said quickly, but somewhat vaguely.
"But I don't call the upper drawer of your bureau safe," she
returned poutingly, "where EVERYBODY can go. So you'll find it NOW
inside the harmonium, on the keyboard."
"Oh, thank you."
"It's quite natural to have left it there ACCIDENTALLY—isn't it?"
she said imploringly, assisted by all her dimples. Alas! she had
forgotten that he was still holding her hand. Consequently, she had
not time to snatch it away and vanish, with a stifled little cry,
before it had been pressed two or three times to his lips. A little
ashamed of his own boldness, Herbert remained for a few moments in the
doorway listening, and looking uneasily down the dark passage.
Presently a slight sound came over the fanlight of Cherry's room.
Could he believe his ears? The saint-like Cherry— no doubt tutored,
for example's sake, by the perfect Tappington— was softly whistling.
In this simple fashion the first pages of this little idyl were
quietly turned. The book might have been closed or laid aside even
then. But it so chanced that Cherry was an unconscious prophet; and
presently it actually became a prudential necessity for her to have a
masculine escort when she walked out. For a growing state of
lawlessness and crime culminated one day the deep tocsin of the
Vigilance Committee, and at its stroke fifty thousand peaceful men,
reverting to the first principles of social safety, sprang to arms,
assembled at their quarters, or patrolled the streets. In another
hour the city of San Francisco was in the hands of a mob—the most
peaceful, orderly, well organized, and temperate the world had ever
known, and yet in conception as lawless, autocratic, and imperious as
the conditions it opposed.
Herbert, enrolled in the same section with his employer and one or
two fellow-clerks, had participated in the meetings of the committee
with the light-heartedness and irresponsibility of youth, regretting
only the loss of his usual walk with Cherry and the hours that kept
him from her house. He was returning from a protracted meeting one
night, when the number of arrests and searching for proscribed and
suspected characters had been so large as to induce fears of organized
resistance and rescue, and on reaching the foot of the hill found it
already so late, that to avoid disturbing the family he resolved to
enter his room directly by the door in the side street. On inserting
his key in the lock it met with some resisting obstacle, which,
however, yielded and apparently dropped on the mat inside. Opening
the door and stepping into the perfectly dark apartment, he trod upon
this object, which proved to be another key. The family must have
procured it for their convenience during his absence, and after
locking the door had carelessly left it in the lock. It was lucky
that it had yielded so readily.
The fire had gone out. He closed the door and lit the gas, and
after taking off his overcoat moved to the door leading into the
passage to listen if anybody was still stirring. To his utter
astonishment he found it locked. What was more remarkable—the key
was also INSIDE! An inexplicable feeling took possession of him. He
glanced suddenly around the room, and then his eye fell upon the bed.
Lying there, stretched at full length, was the recumbent figure of a
He was apparently in the profound sleep of utter exhaustion. The
attitude of his limbs and the order of his dress—of which only his
collar and cravat had been loosened—showed that sleep must have
overtaken him almost instantly. In fact, the bed was scarcely
disturbed beyond the actual impress of his figure. He seemed to be a
handsome, matured man of about forty; his dark straight hair was a
little thinned over the temples, although his long heavy moustache was
still youthful and virgin. His clothes, which were elegantly cut and
of finer material than that in ordinary use, the delicacy and neatness
of his linen, the whiteness of his hands, and, more particularly, a
certain dissipated pallor of complexion and lines of recklessness on
the brow and cheek, indicated to Herbert that the man before him was
one of that desperate and suspected class—some of whose proscribed
members he had been hunting—the professional gambler!
Possibly the magnetism of Herbert's intent and astonished gaze
affected him. He moved slightly, half opened his eyes, said "Halloo,
Tap," rubbed them again, wholly opened them, fixed them with a lazy
stare on Herbert, and said:
"Now, who the devil are you?"
"I think I have the right to ask that question, considering that
this is my room," said Herbert sharply.
The stranger half raised himself on his elbow, glanced round the
room, settled himself slowly back on the pillows, with his hands
clasped lightly behind his head, dropped his eyelids, smiled, and
"What?" demanded Herbert, with a resentful sense of sacrilege to
Cherry's virgin slang.
"Well, old rats then! D'ye think I don't know this shebang? Look
here, Johnny, what are you putting on all this side for, eh? What's
your little game? Where's Tappington?"
"If you mean Mr. Brooks, the son of this house, who formerly lived
in this room," replied Herbert, with a formal precision intended to
show a doubt of the stranger's knowledge of Tappington, "you ought to
know that he has left town."
"Left town!" echoed the stranger, raising himself again. "Oh, I
see! getting rather too warm for him here? Humph! I ought to have
thought of that. Well, you know, he DID take mighty big risks,
anyway!" He was silent a moment, with his brows knit and a rather
dangerous expression in his handsome face. "So some d—d hound gave
"I hadn't the pleasure of knowing Mr. Brooks except by reputation,
as the respected son of the lady upon whose house you have just
intruded," said Herbert frigidly, yet with a creeping consciousness
of some unpleasant revelation.
The stranger stared at him for a moment, again looked carefully
round the room, and then suddenly dropped his head back on the
pillow, and with his white hands over his eyes and mouth tried to
restrain a spasm of silent laughter. After an effort he succeeded,
wiped his moist eyes, and sat up.
"So you didn't know Tappington, eh?" he said, lazily buttoning his
"No more do I."
He retied his cravat, yawned, rose, shook himself perfectly neat
again, and going to Herbert's dressing-table quietly took up a brush
and began to lightly brush himself, occasionally turning to the window
to glance out. Presently he turned to Herbert and said:
"Well, Johnny, what's your name?"
"I am Herbert Bly, of Carstone's Bank."
"So, and a member of this same Vigilance Committee, I reckon," he
"Well, Mr. Bly, I owe you an apology for coming here, and some
thanks for the only sleep I've had in forty-eight hours. I struck
this old shebang at about ten o'clock, and it's now two, so I reckon
I've put in about four hours' square sleep. Now, look here." He
beckoned Herbert towards the window. "Do you see those three men
standing under that gaslight? Well, they're part of a gang of
Vigilantes who've hunted me to the hill, and are waiting to see me
come out of the bushes, where they reckon I'm hiding. Go to them and
say that I'm here! Tell them you've got Gentleman George— George
Dornton, the man they've been hunting for a week—in this room. I
promise you I won't stir, nor kick up a row, when they've come. Do
it, and Carstone, if he's a square man, will raise your salary for it,
and promote you." He yawned slightly, and then slowly looking around
him, drew the easy-chair towards him and dropped comfortably in it,
gazing at the astounded and motionless Herbert with a lazy smile.
"You're wondering what my little game is, Johnny, ain't you? Well,
I'll tell you. What with being hunted from pillar to post, putting
my old pards to no end of trouble, and then slipping up on it
whenever I think I've got a sure thing like this,"—he cast an almost
affectionate glance at the bed,—"I've come to the conclusion that it's
played out, and I might as well hand in my checks. It's only a
question of my being RUN OUT of 'Frisco, or hiding until I can SLIP
OUT myself; and I've reckoned I might as well give them the trouble
and expense of transportation. And if I can put a good thing in your
way in doing it—why, it will sort of make things square with you for
the fuss I've given you."
Even in the stupefaction and helplessness of knowing that the man
before him was the notorious duellist and gambler George Dornton, one
of the first marked for deportation by the Vigilance Committee,
Herbert recognized all he had heard of his invincible coolness,
courage, and almost philosophic fatalism. For an instant his
youthful imagination checked even his indignation. When he recovered
himself, he said, with rising color and boyish vehemence:
"Whoever YOU may be, I am neither a police officer nor a spy. You
have no right to insult me by supposing that I would profit by the
mistake that made you my guest, or that I would refuse you the
sanctuary of the roof that covers your insult as well as your
The stranger gazed at him with an amused expression, and then rose
and stretched out his hand.
"Shake, Mr. Bly! You're the only man that ever kicked George
Dornton when he deserved it. Good-night!" He took his hat and
walked to the door.
"Stop!" said Herbert impulsively; "the night is already far gone;
go back and finish your sleep."
"You mean it?"
The stranger turned, walked back to the bed, unfastening his coat
and collar as he did so, and laid himself down in the attitude of a
"I will call you in the morning," continued Herbert. "By that
time,"—he hesitated,—"by that time your pursuers may have given up
their search. One word more. You will be frank with me?"
"Tappington and you are—friends?"
"His mother and sister know nothing of this?"
"I reckon he didn't boast of it. I didn't. Is that all?"
"Don't YOU worry about HIM. Good-night."
But even at that moment George Dornton had dropped off in a quiet,
Bly turned down the light, and, drawing his easy-chair to the
window, dropped into it in bewildering reflection. This then was the
secret—unknown to mother and daughter—unsuspected by all! This was the
double life of Tappington, half revealed in his flirtation with the
neighbors, in the hidden cards behind the books, in the mysterious
visitor—still unaccounted for—and now wholly exploded by this sleeping
confederate, for whom, somehow, Herbert felt the greatest sympathy!
What was to be done? What should he say to Cherry—to her mother—to
Mr. Carstone? Yet he had felt he had done right. From time to time
he turned to the motionless recumbent shadow on the bed and listened
to its slow and peaceful respiration. Apart from that undefinable
attraction which all original natures have for each other, the
thrice-blessed mystery of protection of the helpless, for the first
time in his life, seemed to dawn upon him through that night.
Nevertheless, the actual dawn came slowly. Twice he nodded and
awoke quickly with a start. The third time it was day. The
street-lamps were extinguished, and with them the moving, restless
watchers seemed also to have vanished. Suddenly a formal deliberate
rapping at the door leading to the hall startled him to his feet.
It must be Ellen. So much the better; he could quickly get rid of
her. He glanced at the bed; Dornton slept on undisturbed. He
unlocked the door cautiously, and instinctively fell back before the
erect, shawled, and decorous figure of Mrs. Brooks. But an utterly
new resolution and excitement had supplanted the habitual resignation
of her handsome features, and given them an angry sparkle of
Recollecting himself, he instantly stepped forward into the
passage, drawing to the door behind him, as she, with equal celerity,
opposed it with her hand.
"Mr. Bly," she said deliberately, "Ellen has just told me that your
voice has been heard in conversation with some one in this room late
last night. Up to this moment I have foolishly allowed my daughter to
persuade me that certain infamous scandals regarding your conduct here
were false. I must ask you as a gentleman to let me pass now and
"But, my dear madam, one moment. Let me first explain—I beg"—
stammered Herbert with a half-hysterical laugh. "I assure you a
But she had pushed him aside and entered precipitately. With a
quick feminine glance round the room she turned to the bed, and then
halted in overwhelming confusion.
"It's a friend," said Herbert in a hasty whisper. "A friend of
mine who returned with me late, and whom, on account of the disturbed
state of the streets, I induced to stay here all night. He was so
tired that I have not had the heart to disturb him yet."
"Oh, pray don't!—I beg"—said Mrs. Brooks with a certain youthful
vivacity, but still gazing at the stranger's handsome features as she
slowly retreated. "Not for worlds!"
Herbert was relieved; she was actually blushing.
"You see, it was quite unpremeditated, I assure you. We came in
together," whispered Herbert, leading her to the door, "and I"—
"Don't believe a word of it, madam," said a lazy voice from the
bed, as the stranger leisurely raised himself upright, putting the
last finishing touch to his cravat as he shook himself neat again.
"I'm an utter stranger to him, and he knows it. He found me here,
biding from the Vigilantes, who were chasing me on the hill. I got
in at that door, which happened to be unlocked. He let me stay
because he was a gentleman—and—I wasn't. I beg your pardon, madam,
for having interrupted him before you; but it was a little rough to
have him lie on MY account when he wasn't the kind of man to lie on
his OWN. You'll forgive him—won't you, please?—and, as I'm taking
myself off now, perhaps you'll overlook MY intrusion too."
It was impossible to convey the lazy frankness of this speech, the
charming smile with which it was accompanied, or the easy yet
deferential manner with which, taking up his hat, he bowed to Mrs.
Brooks as he advanced toward the door.
"But," said Mrs. Brooks, hurriedly glancing from Herbert to the
stranger, "it must be the Vigilantes who are now hanging about the
street. Ellen saw them from her window, and thought they were YOUR
friends, Mr. Bly. This gentleman—your friend"—she had become a
little confused in her novel excitement—"really ought not to go out
now. It would be madness."
"If you wouldn't mind his remaining a little longer, it certainly
would be safer," said Herbert, with wondering gratitude.
"I certainly shouldn't consent to his leaving my house now," said
Mrs. Brooks with dignity; "and if you wouldn't mind calling Cherry
here, Mr. Bly—she's in the dining-room—and then showing yourself for
a moment in the street and finding out what they wanted, it would be
the best thing to do."
Herbert flew downstairs; in a few hurried words he gave the same
explanation to the astounded Cherry that he had given to her mother,
with the mischievous addition that Mrs. Brooks's unjust suspicions had
precipitated her into becoming an amicable accomplice, and then ran
out into the street. Here he ascertained from one of the Vigilantes,
whom he knew, that they were really seeking Dornton; but that,
concluding that the fugitive had already escaped to the wharves, they
expected to withdraw their surveillance at noon. Somewhat relieved,
he hastened back, to find the stranger calmly seated on the sofa in
the parlor with the same air of frank indifference, lazily relating
the incidents of his flight to the two women, who were listening with
every expression of sympathy and interest. "Poor fellow!" said
Cherry, taking the astonished Bly aside into the hall, "I don't
believe he's half as bad as THEY said he is—or as even HE makes
himself out to be. But DID you notice mother?"
Herbert, a little dazed, and, it must be confessed, a trifle uneasy
at this ready acceptance of the stranger, abstractedly said he had
"Why, it's the most ridiculous thing. She's actually going round
WITHOUT HER SHAWL, and doesn't seem to know it."
When Herbert finally reached the bank that morning he was still in
a state of doubt and perplexity. He had parted with his grateful
visitor, whose safety in a few hours seemed assured, but without the
least further revelation or actual allusion to anything antecedent to
his selecting Tappington's room as refuge. More than that, Herbert
was convinced from his manner that he had no intention of making a
confidant of Mrs. Brooks, and this convinced him that Dornton's
previous relations with Tappington were not only utterly inconsistent
with that young man's decorous reputation, but were unsuspected by the
family. The stranger's familiar knowledge of the room, his mysterious
allusions to the "risks" Tappington had taken, and his sudden silence
on the discovery of Bly's ignorance of the whole affair all pointed to
some secret that, innocent or not, was more or less perilous, not only
to the son but to the mother and sister. Of the latter's ignorance he
had no doubt—but had he any right to enlighten them? Admitting that
Tappington had deceived them with the others, would they thank him for
opening their eyes to it? If they had already a suspicion, would they
care to know that it was shared by him? Halting between his frankness
and his delicacy, the final thought that in his budding relations
with the daughter it might seem a cruel bid for her confidence, or a
revenge for their distrust of him, inclined him to silence. But an
unforeseen occurrence took the matter from his hands. At noon he was
told that Mr. Carstone wished to see him in his private room!
Satisfied that his complicity with Dornton's escape was discovered,
the unfortunate Herbert presented himself, pale but self-possessed,
before his employer. That brief man of business bade him be seated,
and standing himself before the fireplace, looked down curiously, but
not unkindly, upon his employee.
"Mr. Bly, the bank does not usually interfere with the private
affairs of its employees, but for certain reasons which I prefer to
explain to you later, I must ask you to give me a straightforward
answer to one or two questions. I may say that they have nothing to
do with your relations to the bank, which are to us perfectly
More than ever convinced that Mr. Carstone was about to speak of
his visitor, Herbert signified his willingness to reply.
"You have been seen a great deal with Miss Brooks lately—on the
street and elsewhere—acting as her escort, and evidently on terms of
intimacy. To do you both justice, neither of you seemed to have made
it a secret or avoided observation; but I must ask you directly if it
is with her mother's permission?"
Considerably relieved, but wondering what was coming, Herbert
answered, with boyish frankness, that it was.
"Are you—engaged to the young lady?"
"Are you—well, Mr. Bly—briefly, are you what is called 'in love'
with her?" asked the banker, with a certain brusque hurrying over of
a sentiment evidently incompatible with their present business
Herbert blushed. It was the first time he had heard the question
voiced, even by himself.
"I am," he said resolutely.
"And you wish to marry her?"
"If I dared ask her to accept a young man with no position as yet,"
"People don't usually consider a young man in Carstone's Bank of no
position," said the banker dryly; "and I wish for your sake THAT were
the only impediment. For I am compelled to reveal to you a secret."
He paused, and folding his arms, looked fixedly down upon his clerk.
"Mr. Bly, Tappington Brooks, the brother of your sweetheart, was a
defaulter and embezzler from this bank!"
Herbert sat dumfounded and motionless.
"Understand two things," continued Mr. Carstone quickly. "First,
that no purer or better women exist than Miss Brooks and her mother.
Secondly, that they know nothing of this, and that only myself and
one other man are in possession of the secret."
He slightly changed his position, and went on more deliberately.
"Six weeks ago Tappington sat in that chair where you are sitting
now, a convicted hypocrite and thief. Luckily for him, although his
guilt was plain, and the whole secret of his double life revealed to
me, a sum of money advanced in pity by one of his gambling
confederates had made his accounts good and saved him from suspicion
in the eyes of his fellow-clerks and my partners. At first he tried
to fight me on that point; then he blustered and said his mother could
have refunded the money; and asked me what was a paltry five thousand
dollars! I told him, Mr. Bly, that it might be five years of his
youth in state prison; that it might be five years of sorrow and shame
for his mother and sister; that it might be an everlasting stain on
the name of his dead father—my friend. He talked of killing himself:
I told him he was a cowardly fool. He asked me to give him up to the
authorities: I told him I intended to take the law in my own hands and
give him another chance; and then he broke down. I transferred him
that very day, without giving him time to communicate with anybody, to
our branch office at Portland, with a letter explaining his position
to our agent, and the injunction that for six months he should be
under strict surveillance. I myself undertook to explain his sudden
departure to Mrs. Brooks, and obliged him to write to her from time
to time." He paused, and then continued: "So far I believe my plan
has been successful: the secret has been kept; he has broken with the
evil associates that ruined him here—to the best of my knowledge he
has had no communication with them since; even a certain woman here
who shared his vicious hidden life has abandoned him."
"Are you sure?" asked Herbert involuntarily, as he recalled his
"I believe the Vigilance Committee has considered it a public duty
to deport her and her confederates beyond the State," returned
Another idea flashed upon Herbert. "And the gambler who advanced
the money to save Tappington?" he said breathlessly.
"Wasn't such a hound as the rest of his kind, if report says true,"
answered Carstone. "He was well known here as George Dornton—
Gentleman George—a man capable of better things. But he was before
your time, Mr. Bly—YOU don't know him."
Herbert didn't deem it a felicitous moment to correct his employer,
and Mr. Carstone continued: "I have now told you what I thought it
was my duty to tell you. I must leave YOU to judge how far it
affects your relations with Miss Brooks."
Herbert did not hesitate. "I should be very sorry, sir, to seem to
undervalue your consideration or disregard your warning; but I am
afraid that even if you had been less merciful to Tappington, and he
were now a convicted felon, I should change neither my feelings nor my
intentions to his sister."
"And you would still marry her?" said Carstone sternly; "YOU, an
employee of the bank, would set the example of allying yourself with
one who had robbed it?"
"I—am afraid I would, sir," said Herbert slowly.
"Even if it were a question of your remaining here?" said Carstone
Poor Herbert already saw himself dismissed and again taking up his
weary quest for employment; but, nevertheless, he answered stoutly:
"And nothing will prevent you marrying Miss Brooks?"
"Nothing—save my inability to support her."
"Then," said Mr. Carstone, with a peculiar light in his eyes, "it
only remains for the bank to mark its opinion of your conduct by
INCREASING YOUR SALARY TO ENABLE YOU TO DO SO! Shake hands, Mr.
Bly," he said, laughing. "I think you'll do to tie to—and I believe
the young lady will be of the same opinion. But not a word to either
her or her mother in regard to what you have heard. And now I may
tell you something more. I am not without hope of Tappington's
future, nor—d—n it!—without some excuse for his fault, sir. He was
artificially brought up. When my old friend died, Mrs. Brooks, still
a handsome woman, like all her sex wouldn't rest until she had another
devotion, and wrapped herself and her children up in the Church.
Theology may be all right for grown people, but it's apt to make
children artificial; and Tappington was pious before he was fairly
good. He drew on a religious credit before he had a moral capital
behind it. He was brought up with no knowledge of the world, and when
he went into it—it captured him. I don't say there are not saints
born into the world occasionally; but for every one you'll find a lot
of promiscuous human nature. My old friend Josh Brooks had a heap of
it, and it wouldn't be strange if some was left in his children, and
burst through their straight-lacing in a queer way. That's all!
Good-morning, Mr. Bly. Forget what I've told you for six months, and
then I shouldn't wonder if Tappington was on hand to give his sister
. . . . . . .
Mr. Carstone's prophecy was but half realized. At the end of six
months Herbert Bly's discretion and devotion were duly rewarded by
Cherry's hand. But Tappington did NOT give her away. That saintly
prodigal passed his period of probation with exemplary rectitude,
but, either from a dread of old temptation, or some unexplained
reason, he preferred to remain in Portland, and his fastidious nest
on Telegraph Hill knew him no more. The key of the little door on
the side street passed, naturally, into the keeping of Mrs. Bly.
Whether the secret of Tappington's double life was ever revealed to
the two women is not known to the chronicler. Mrs. Bly is reported
to have said that the climate of Oregon was more suited to her
brother's delicate constitution than the damp fogs of San Francisco,
and that his tastes were always opposed to the mere frivolity of
metropolitan society. The only possible reason for supposing that the
mother may have become cognizant of her son's youthful errors was in
the occasional visits to the house of the handsome George Dornton,
who, in the social revolution that followed the brief reign of the
Vigilance Committee, characteristically returned as a dashing
stockbroker, and the fact that Mrs. Brooks seemed to have discarded
her ascetic shawl forever. But as all this was contemporaneous with
the absurd rumor, that owing to the loneliness induced by the marriage
of her daughter she contemplated a similar change in her own
condition, it is deemed unworthy the serious consideration of this
CAPTAIN JIM'S FRIEND.
Hardly one of us, I think, really believed in the auriferous
probabilities of Eureka Gulch. Following a little stream, we had one
day drifted into it, very much as we imagined the river gold might
have done in remoter ages, with the difference that WE remained there,
while the river gold to all appearances had not. At first it was
tacitly agreed to ignore this fact, and we made the most of the
charming locality, with its rare watercourse that lost itself in
tangled depths of manzanita and alder, its laurel-choked pass, its
flower-strewn hillside, and its summit crested with rocking pines.
"You see," said the optimistic Rowley, water's the main thing after
all. If we happen to strike river gold, thar's the stream for
washing it; if we happen to drop into quartz—and that thar rock looks
mighty likely—thar ain't a more natural-born site for a mill than that
right bank, with water enough to run fifty stamps. That hillside is
an original dump for your tailings, and a ready found inclined road
for your trucks, fresh from the hands of Providence; and that road
we're kalkilatin' to build to the turnpike will run just easy along
Later, when we were forced to accept the fact that finding gold was
really the primary object of a gold-mining company, we still remained
there, excusing our youthful laziness and incertitude by brilliant and
effective sarcasms upon the unremunerative attractions of the gulch.
Nevertheless, when Captain Jim, returning one day from the nearest
settlement and post-office, twenty miles away, burst upon us with
"Well, the hull thing'll be settled now, boys; Lacy Bassett is coming
down yer to look round," we felt considerably relieved.
And yet, perhaps, we had as little reason for it as we had for
remaining there. There was no warrant for any belief in the special
divining power of the unknown Lacy Bassett, except Captain Jim's
extravagant faith in his general superiority, and even that had always
been a source of amused skepticism to the camp. We were already
impatiently familiar with the opinions of this unseen oracle; he was
always impending in Captain Jim's speech as a fragrant memory or an
unquestioned authority. When Captain Jim began, "Ez Lacy was one day
tellin' me," or, "Ez Lacy Bassett allows," or more formally, when
strangers were present, "Ez a partickler friend o' mine, Lacy
Bassett—maybe ez you know him— sez," the youthful and lighter members
of the Eureka Mining Company glanced at each other in furtive
enjoyment. Nevertheless no one looked more eagerly forward to the
arrival of this apocryphal sage than these indolent skeptics. It was
at least an excitement; they were equally ready to accept his
condemnation of the locality or his justification of their original
He came. He was received by the Eureka Mining Company lying on
their backs on the grassy site of the prospective quartz mill, not
far from the equally hypothetical "slide" to the gulch. He came by
the future stage road—at present a thickset jungle of scrub-oaks and
ferns. He was accompanied by Captain Jim, who had gone to meet him on
the trail, and for a few moments all critical inspection of himself
was withheld by the extraordinary effect he seemed to have upon the
faculties of his introducer.
Anything like the absolute prepossession of Captain Jim by this
stranger we had never imagined. He approached us running a little
ahead of his guest, and now and then returning assuringly to his side
with the expression of a devoted Newfoundland dog, which in fluffiness
he generally resembled. And now, even after the introduction was
over, when he made a point of standing aside in an affectation of
carelessness, with his hands in his pockets, the simulation was so
apparent, and his consciousness and absorption in his friend so
obvious, that it was a relief to us to recall him into the
As to our own first impressions of the stranger, they were probably
correct. We all disliked him; we thought him conceited, self-
opinionated, selfish, and untrustworthy. But later, reflecting that
this was possibly the result of Captain Jim's over-praise, and finding
none of these qualities as yet offensively opposed to our own
selfishness and conceit, we were induced, like many others, to forget
our first impressions. We could easily correct him if he attempted to
impose upon US, as he evidently had upon Captain Jim. Believing, after
the fashion of most humanity, that there was something about US
particularly awe-inspiring and edifying to vice or weakness of any
kind, we good-humoredly yielded to the cheap fascination of this
showy, self-saturated, over-dressed, and underbred stranger. Even the
epithet of "blower" as applied to him by Rowley had its mitigations;
in that Trajan community a bully was not necessarily a coward, nor
florid demonstration always a weakness.
His condemnation of the gulch was sweeping, original, and striking.
He laughed to scorn our half-hearted theory of a gold deposit in the
bed and bars of our favorite stream. We were not to look for
auriferous alluvium in the bed of any present existing stream, but in
the "cement" or dried-up bed of the original prehistoric rivers that
formerly ran parallel with the present bed, and which—he demonstrated
with the stem of Pickney's pipe in the red dust—could be found by
sinking shafts at right angles with the stream. The theory was to us,
at that time, novel and attractive. It was true that the scientific
explanation, although full and gratuitous, sounded vague and
incoherent. It was true that the geological terms were not always
correct, and their pronunciation defective, but we accepted such
extraordinary discoveries as "ignus fatuus rock," "splendiferous
drift," "mica twist" (recalling a popular species of tobacco), "iron
pirates," and "discomposed quartz" as part of what he not inaptly
called a "tautological formation," and were happy. Nor was our
contentment marred by the fact that the well-known scientific
authority with whom the stranger had been intimate,—to the point of
"sleeping together" during a survey,— and whom he described as a bent
old man with spectacles, must have aged considerably since one of our
party saw him three years before as a keen young fellow of
twenty-five. Inaccuracies like those were only the carelessness of
genius. "That's my opinion, gentlemen," he concluded, negligently
rising, and with pointed preoccupation whipping the dust of Eureka
Gulch from his clothes with his handkerchief, "but of course it ain't
nothin' to me."
Captain Jim, who had followed every word with deep and trustful
absorption, here repeated, "It ain't nothing to him, boys," with a
confidential implication of the gratuitous blessing we had received,
and then added, with loyal encouragement to him, "It ain't nothing to
you, Lacy, in course," and laid his hand on his shoulder with infinite
We, however, endeavored to make it something to Mr. Lacy Bassett.
He was spontaneously offered a share in the company and a part of
Captain Jim's tent. He accepted both after a few deprecating and
muttered asides to Captain Jim, which the latter afterwards explained
to us was the giving up of several other important enterprises for our
sake. When he finally strolled away with Rowley to look over the
gulch, Captain Jim reluctantly tore himself away from him only for the
pleasure of reiterating his praise to us as if in strictest confidence
and as an entirely novel proceeding.
"You see, boys, I didn't like to say it afore HIM, we bein' old
friends; but, between us, that young feller ez worth thousands to the
camp. Mebbee," he continued with grave naivete, "I ain't said much
about him afore, mebbee, bein' old friends and accustomed to him—you
know how it is, boys,—I haven't appreciated him as much ez I ought,
and ez you do. In fact, I don't ezakly remember how I kem to ask him
down yer. It came to me suddent, one day only a week ago Friday
night, thar under that buckeye; I was thinkin' o' one of his sayins,
and sez I—thar's Lacy, if he was here he'd set the hull thing right.
It was the ghost of a chance my findin' him free, but I did. And
there HE is, and yer WE are settled! Ye noticed how he just knocked
the bottom outer our plans to work. Ye noticed that quick sort o'
sneerin' smile o' his, didn't ye—that's Lacy! I've seen him knock
over a heap o' things without sayin' anythin'—with jist that smile."
It occurred to us that we might have some difficulty in utilizing
this smile in our present affairs, and that we should have probably
preferred something more assuring, but Captain Jim's faith was
"What is he, anyway?" asked Joe Walker lazily.
"Eh!" echoed Captain Jim in astonishment. "What is Lacy Bassett?"
"Yes, what is he?" repeated Walker.
"I've knowed him now goin' as four year," said Captain Jim with
slow reflective contentment. "Let's see. It was in the fall o' '54
I first met him, and he's allus been the same ez you see him now."
"But what is his business or profession? What does he do?"
Captain Jim looked reproachfully at his questioner.
"Do?" he repeated, turning to the rest of us as if disdaining a
direct reply. "Do?—why, wot he's doin' now. He's allus the same,
allus Lacy Bassett."
Howbeit, we went to work the next day under the superintendence of
the stranger with youthful and enthusiastic energy, and began the
sinking of a shaft at once. To do Captain Jim's friend justice, for
the first few weeks he did not shirk a fair share of the actual labor,
replacing his objectionable and unsuitable finery with a suit of
serviceable working clothes got together by general contribution of
the camp, and assuring us of a fact we afterwards had cause to
remember, that "he brought nothing but himself into Eureka Gulch." It
may be added that he certainly had not brought money there, as Captain
Jim advanced the small amounts necessary for his purchases in the
distant settlement, and for the still smaller sums he lost at cards,
which he played with characteristic self-sufficiency.
Meantime the work in the shaft progressed slowly but regularly.
Even when the novelty had worn off and the excitement of anticipation
grew fainter, I am afraid that we clung to this new form of occupation
as an apology for remaining there; for the fascinations of our
vagabond and unconventional life were more potent than we dreamed of.
We were slowly fettered by our very freedom; there was a strange
spell in this very boundlessness of our license that kept us from even
the desire of change; in the wild and lawless arms of nature herself
we found an embrace as clinging, as hopeless and restraining, as the
civilization from which we had fled. We were quite content after a
few hours' work in the shaft to lie on our backs on the hillside
staring at the unwinking sky, or to wander with a gun through the
virgin forest in search of game scarcely less vagabond than ourselves.
We indulged in the most extravagant and dreamy speculations of the
fortune we should eventually discover in the shaft, and believed that
we were practical. We broke our "saleratus bread" with appetites
unimpaired by restlessness or anxiety; we went to sleep under the
grave and sedate stars with a serene consciousness of having fairly
earned our rest; we awoke the next morning with unabated
trustfulness, and a sweet obliviousness of even the hypothetical
fortunes we had perhaps won or lost at cards overnight. We paid no
heed to the fact that our little capital was slowly sinking with the
shaft, and that the rainy season—wherein not only "no man could work,"
but even such play as ours was impossible—was momentarily impending.
In the midst of this, one day Lacy Bassett suddenly emerged from
the shaft before his "shift" of labor was over with every sign of
disgust and rage in his face and inarticulate with apparent passion.
In vain we gathered round him in concern; in vain Captain Jim
regarded him with almost feminine sympathy, as he flung away his pick
and dashed his hat to the ground.
"What's up, Lacy, old pard? What's gone o' you?" said Captain Jim
"Look!" gasped Lacy at last, when every eye was on him, holding up
a small fragment of rock before us and the next moment grinding it
under his heel in rage. "Look! To think that I've been fooled agin
by this blanked fossiliferous trap—blank it! To think that after me
and Professor Parker was once caught jist in this way up on the
Stanislaus at the bottom of a hundred-foot shaft by this rotten
trap—that yer I am—bluffed agin!"
There was a dead silence; we looked at each other blankly.
"But, Bassett," said Walker, picking up a part of the fragment,
"we've been finding this kind of stuff for the last two weeks."
"But how?" returned Lacy, turning upon him almost fiercely. "Did
ye find it superposed on quartz, or did you find it NOT superposed on
quartz? Did you find it in volcanic drift, or did ye find it in old
red-sandstone or coarse illuvion? Tell me that, and then ye kin talk.
But this yer blank fossiliferous trap, instead o' being superposed on
top, is superposed on the bottom. And that means"—
"What?" we all asked eagerly.
"Why—blank it all—that this yer convulsion of nature, this
prehistoric volcanic earthquake, instead of acting laterally and
chuckin' the stream to one side, has been revolutionary and turned
the old river-bed bottom-side up, and yer d—d cement hez got half the
globe atop of it! Ye might strike it from China, but nowhere else."
We continued to look at one another, the older members with
darkening faces, the younger with a strong inclination to laugh.
Captain Jim, who had been concerned only in his friend's emotion, and
who was hanging with undisguised satisfaction on these final
convincing proofs of his superior geological knowledge, murmured
approvingly and confidingly, "He's right, boys! Thar ain't another
man livin' ez could give you the law and gospil like that! Ye can
tie to what he says. That's Lacy all over."
Two weeks passed. We had gathered, damp and disconsolate, in the
only available shelter of the camp. For the long summer had ended
unexpectedly to us; we had one day found ourselves caught like the
improvident insect of the child's fable with gauzy and unseasonable
wings wet and bedraggled in the first rains, homeless and hopeless.
The scientific Lacy, who lately spent most of his time as a bar- room
oracle in the settlement, was away, and from our dripping canvas we
could see Captain Jim returning from a visit to him, slowly plodding
along the trail towards us.
"It's no use, boys," said Rowley, summarizing the result of our
conference, "we must speak out to him, and if nobody else cares to do
it I will. I don't know why we should be more mealy-mouthed than they
are at the settlement. They don't hesitate to call Bassett a
dead-beat, whatever Captain Jim says to the contrary."
The unfortunate Captain Jim had halted irresolutely before the
gloomy faces in the shelter. Whether he felt instinctively some
forewarning of what was coming I cannot say. There was a certain
dog-like consciousness in his eye and a half-backward glance over his
shoulder as if he were not quite certain that Lacy was not following.
The rain had somewhat subdued his characteristic fluffiness, and he
cowered with a kind of sleek storm-beaten despondency over the smoking
fire of green wood before our tent.
Nevertheless, Rowley opened upon him with a directness and decision
that astonished us. He pointed out briefly that Lacy Bassett had
been known to us only through Captain Jim's introduction. That he
had been originally invited there on Captain Jim's own account, and
that his later connection with the company had been wholly the result
of Captain Jim's statements. That, far from being any aid or
assistance to them, Bassett had beguiled them by apocryphal knowledge
and sham scientific theories into an expensive and gigantic piece of
folly. That, in addition to this, they had just discovered that he
had also been using the credit of the company for his own individual
expenses at the settlement while they were working on his d—d fool
shaft—all of which had brought them to the verge of bankruptcy. That,
as a result, they were forced now to demand his resignation—not only
on their general account, but for Captain Jim's sake—believing firmly,
as they did, that he had been as grossly deceived in his friendship
for Lacy Bassett as THEY were in their business relations with him.
Instead of being mollified by this, Captain Jim, to our greater
astonishment, suddenly turned upon the speaker, bristling with his
old canine suggestion.
"There! I said so! Go on! I'd have sworn to it afore you opened
your lips. I knowed it the day you sneaked around and wanted to know
wot his business was! I said to myself, Cap, look out for that
sneakin' hound Rowley, he's no friend o' Lacy's. And the day Lacy so
far demeaned himself as to give ye that splendid explanation o'
things, I watched ye; ye didn't think it, but I watched ye. Ye can't
fool me! I saw ye lookin' at Walker there, and I said to myself,
Wot's the use, Lacy, wot's the use o' your slingin' them words to such
as THEM? Wot do THEY know? It's just their pure jealousy and
ignorance. Ef you'd come down yer, and lazed around with us and
fallen into our common ways, you'd ha' been ez good a man ez the next.
But no, it ain't your style, Lacy, you're accustomed to high-toned
men like Professor Parker, and you can't help showing it. No wonder
you took to avoidin' us; no wonder I've had to foller you over the
Burnt Wood Crossin' time and again, to get to see ye. I see it all
now: ye can't stand the kempany I brought ye to! Ye had to wipe the
slum gullion of Eureka Gulch off your hands, Lacy"— He stopped,
gasped for breath, and then lifted his voice more savagely, "And now,
what's this? Wot's this hogwash? this yer lyin' slander about his
gettin' things on the kempany's credit? Eh, speak up, some of ye!"
We were so utterly shocked and stupefied at the degradation of this
sudden and unexpected outburst from a man usually so honorable,
gentle, self-sacrificing, and forgiving, that we forgot the cause of
it and could only stare at each other. What was this cheap stranger,
with his shallow swindling tricks, to the ignoble change he had worked
upon the man before us. Rowley and Walker, both fearless fighters and
quick to resent an insult, only averted their saddened faces and
turned aside without a word.
"Ye dussen't say it! Well, hark to me then," he continued with
white and feverish lips. "I put him up to helpin' himself. I told
him to use the kempany's name for credit. Ye kin put that down to
ME. And when ye talk of HIS resigning, I want ye to understand that
I resign outer this rotten kempany and TAKE HIM WITH ME! Ef all the
gold yer lookin' for was piled up in that shaft from its bottom in
hell to its top in the gulch, it ain't enough to keep me here away
from him! Ye kin take all my share—all MY rights yer above ground and
below it—all I carry,"—he threw his buckskin purse and revolver on the
ground,—"and pay yourselves what you reckon you've lost through HIM.
But you and me is quits from to- day."
He strode away before a restraining voice or hand could reach him.
His dripping figure seemed to melt into the rain beneath the
thickening shadows of the pines, and the next moment he was gone.
From that day forward Eureka Gulch knew him no more. And the camp
itself somehow melted away during the rainy season, even as he had
Three years had passed. The pioneer stage-coach was sweeping down
the long descent to the pastoral valley of Gilead, and I was looking
towards the village with some pardonable interest and anxiety. For I
carried in my pocket my letters of promotion from the box seat of the
coach—where I had performed the functions of treasure messenger for
the Excelsior Express Company—to the resident agency of that company
in the bucolic hamlet before me. The few dusty right-angled streets,
with their rigid and staringly new shops and dwellings, the stern
formality of one or two obelisk- like meeting-house spires, the
illimitable outlying plains of wheat and wild oats beyond, with their
monotony scarcely broken by skeleton stockades, corrals, and
barrack-looking farm buildings, were all certainly unlike the unkempt
freedom of the mountain fastnesses in which I had lately lived and
moved. Yuba Bill, the driver, whose usual expression of humorous
discontent deepened into scorn as he gathered up his reins as if to
charge the village and recklessly sweep it from his path, indicated a
huge, rambling, obtrusively glazed, and capital-lettered building with
a contemptuous flick of his whip as we passed. "Ef you're
kalkilatin' we'll get our partin' drink there you're mistaken. That's
wot they call a TEMPERANCE HOUSE—wot means a place where the licker ye
get underhand is only a trifle worse than the hash ye get above-board.
I suppose it's part o' one o' the mysteries o' Providence that
wharever you find a dusty hole like this—that's naturally THIRSTY—ye
run agin a 'temperance' house. But never YOU mind! I shouldn't
wonder if thar was a demijohn o' whiskey in the closet of your back
office, kept thar by the feller you're relievin'—who was a white man
and knew the ropes."
A few minutes later, when my brief installation was over, we DID
find the demijohn in the place indicated. As Yuba Bill wiped his
mouth with the back of his heavy buckskin glove, he turned to me not
unkindly. "I don't like to set ye agin Gile-ad, which is a
scrip-too-rural place, and a God-fearin' place, and a nice dry place,
and a place ez I've heard tell whar they grow beans and pertatoes and
garden sass; but afore three weeks is over, old pard, you'll be
howlin' to get back on that box seat with me, whar you uster sit, and
be ready to take your chances agin, like a little man, to get drilled
through with buckshot from road agents. You hear me! I'll give you
three weeks, sonny, just three weeks, to get your butes full o'
hayseed and straws in yer har; and I'll find ye wadin' the North Fork
at high water to get out o' this." He shook my hand with grim
tenderness, removing his glove—a rare favor—to give me the pressure of
his large, soft, protecting palm, and strode away. The next moment he
was shaking the white dust of Gilead from his scornful chariot-wheels.
In the hope of familiarizing myself with the local interests of the
community, I took up a copy of the "Gilead Guardian" which lay on my
desk, forgetting for the moment the usual custom of the country press
to displace local news for long editorials on foreign subjects and
national politics. I found, to my disappointment, that the "Guardian"
exhibited more than the usual dearth of domestic intelligence,
although it was singularly oracular on "The State of Europe," and
"Jeffersonian Democracy." A certain cheap assurance, a copy-book
dogmatism, a colloquial familiarity, even in the impersonal plural,
and a series of inaccuracies and blunders here and there, struck some
old chord in my memory. I was mutely wondering where and when I had
become personally familiar with rhetoric like that, when the door of
the office opened and a man entered. I was surprised to recognize
I had not seen him since he had indignantly left us, three years
before, in Eureka Gulch. The circumstances of his defection were
certainly not conducive to any voluntary renewal of friendship on
either side; and although, even as a former member of the Eureka
Mining Company, I was not conscious of retaining any sense of injury,
yet the whole occurrence flashed back upon me with awkward
distinctness. To my relief, however, he greeted me with his old
cordiality; to my amusement he added to it a suggestion of the large
forgiveness of conscious rectitude and amiable toleration. I thought,
however, I detected, as he glanced at the paper which was still in my
hand and then back again at my face, the same uneasy canine
resemblance I remembered of old. He had changed but little in
appearance; perhaps he was a trifle stouter, more mature, and slower
in his movements. If I may return to my canine illustration, his
grayer, dustier, and more wiry ensemble gave me the impression that
certain pastoral and agricultural conditions had varied his type, and
he looked more like a shepherd's dog in whose brown eyes there was an
abiding consciousness of the care of straying sheep, and possibly of
one black one in particular.
He had, he told me, abandoned mining and taken up farming on a
rather large scale. He had prospered. He had other interests at
stake, "A flour-mill with some improvements—and—and"—here his eyes
wandered to the "Guardian" again, and he asked me somewhat abruptly
what I thought of the paper. Something impelled me to restrain my
previous fuller criticism, and I contented myself by saying briefly
that I thought it rather ambitious for the locality. "That's the
word," he said with a look of gratified relief, "'ambitious'—you've
just hit it. And what's the matter with thet? Ye kan't expect a
high-toned man to write down to the level of every karpin' hound, ken
ye now? That's what he says to me"— He stopped half confused, and
then added abruptly: "That's one o' my investments."
"Why, Captain Jim, I never suspected that you"—
"Oh, I don't WRITE it," he interrupted hastily. "I only furnish
the money and the advertising, and run it gin'rally, you know; and
I'm responsible for it. And I select the eddyter—and"—he continued,
with a return of the same uneasy wistful look—"thar's suthin' in thet,
you know, eh?"
I was beginning to be perplexed. The memory evoked by the style of
the editorial writing and the presence of Captain Jim was assuming a
suspicious relationship to each other. "And who's your editor?" I
"Oh, he's—he's—er—Lacy Bassett," he replied, blinking his eyes
with a hopeless assumption of carelessness. "Let's see! Oh yes! You
knowed Lacy down there at Eureka. I disremembered it till now. Yes,
sir!" he repeated suddenly and almost rudely, as if to preclude any
adverse criticism, "he's the eddyter!"
To my surprise he was quite white and tremulous with nervousness.
I was very sorry for him, and as I really cared very little for the
half-forgotten escapade of his friend except so far as it seemed to
render HIM sensitive, I shook his hand again heartily and began to
talk of our old life in the gulch—avoiding as far as possible any
allusion to Lacy Bassett. His face brightened; his old simple
cordiality and trustfulness returned, but unfortunately with it his
old disposition to refer to Bassett. "Yes, they waz high old times,
and ez I waz sayin' to Lacy on'y yesterday, there is a kind o' freedom
'bout that sort o' life that runs civilization and noospapers mighty
hard, however high-toned they is. Not but what Lacy ain't right," he
added quickly, "when he sez that the opposition the 'Guardian' gets
here comes from ignorant low-down fellers ez wos brought up in
played-out camps, and can't tell a gentleman and a scholar and a
scientific man when they sees him. No! So I sez to Lacy, 'Never you
mind, it's high time they did, and they've got to do it and to swaller
the "Guardian," if I sink double the money I've already put into the
I was not long in discovering from other sources that the
"Guardian" was not popular with the more intelligent readers of
Gilead, and that Captain Jim's extravagant estimate of his friend was
by no means indorsed by the community. But criticism took a humorous
turn even in that practical settlement, and it appeared that Lacy
Bassett's vanity, assumption, and ignorance were an unfailing and
weekly joy to the critical, in spite of the vague distrust they
induced in the more homely-witted, and the dull acquiescence of that
minority who accepted the paper for its respectable exterior and
advertisements. I was somewhat grieved, however, to find that Captain
Jim shared equally with his friend in this general verdict of
incompetency, and that some of the most outrageous blunders were put
down to HIM. But I was not prepared to believe that Lacy had directly
or by innuendo helped the public to this opinion.
Whether through accident or design on his part, Lacy Bassett did
not personally obtrude himself upon my remembrance until a month
later. One dazzling afternoon, when the dust and heat had driven the
pride of Gilead's manhood into the surreptitious shadows of the
temperance hotel's back room, and had even cleared the express office
of its loungers, and left me alone with darkened windows in the
private office, the outer door opened and Captain Jim's friend entered
as part of that garish glitter I had shut out. To do the scamp strict
justice, however, he was somewhat subdued in his dress and manner,
and, possibly through some gentle chastening of epigram and revolver
since I had seen him last, was less aggressive and exaggerated. I had
the impression, from certain odors wafted through the apartment and a
peculiar physical exaltation that was inconsistent with his evident
moral hesitancy, that he had prepared himself for the interview by a
previous visit to the hidden fountains of the temperance hotel.
"We don't seem to have run agin each other since you've been here,"
he said with an assurance that was nevertheless a trifle forced "but
I reckon we're both busy men, and there's a heap too much loafing
goin' on in Gilead. Captain Jim told me he met you the day you
arrived; said you just cottoned to the 'Guardian' at once and thought
it a deal too good for Gilead; eh? Oh, well, jest ez likely he DIDN'T
say it—it was only his gassin'. He's a queer man—is Captain Jim."
I replied somewhat sharply that I considered him a very honest man,
a very simple man, and a very loyal man.
"That's all very well," said Bassett, twirling his cane with a
patronizing smile, "but, as his friend, don't you find him
considerable of a darned fool?"
I could not help retorting that I thought HE had found that hardly
"YOU think so," he said querulously, apparently ignoring everything
but the practical fact,—"and maybe others do; but that's where you're
mistaken. It don't pay. It may pay HIM to be runnin' me as his
particular friend, to be quotin' me here and there, to be gettin'
credit of knowin' me and my friends and ownin' me—by Gosh! but I don't
see where the benefit to ME comes in. Eh? Take your own case down
there at Eureka Gulch; didn't he send for me just to show me up to you
fellers? Did I want to have anything to do with the Eureka Company?
Didn't he set me up to give my opinion about that shaft just to show
off what I knew about science and all that? And what did he get me to
join the company for? Was it for you? No! Was it for me? No! It
was just to keep me there for HIMSELF, and kinder pit me agin you
fellers and crow over you! Now that ain't my style! It may be HIS—it
may be honest and simple and loyal, as you say, and it may be all
right for him to get me to run up accounts at the settlement and then
throw off on me—but it ain't my style. I suppose he let on that I did
that. No? He didn't? Well then, why did he want to run me off with
him, and out the whole concern in an underhand way and make me leave
with nary a character behind me, eh? Now, I never said anything about
this before—did I? It ain't like me. I wouldn't have said anything
about it now, only you talked about MY being benefited by his darned
foolishness. Much I've made outer HIM."
Despicable, false, and disloyal as this was, perhaps it was the
crowning meanness of such confidences that his very weakness seemed
only a reflection of Captain Jim's own, and appeared in some strange
way to degrade his friend as much as himself. The simplicity of his
vanity and selfishness was only equalled by the simplicity of Captain
Jim's admiration of it. It was a part of my youthful inexperience of
humanity that I was not above the common fallacy of believing that a
man is "known by the company he keeps," and that he is in a manner
responsible for its weakness; it was a part of that humanity that I
felt no surprise in being more amused than shocked by this revelation.
It seemed a good joke on Captain Jim!
"Of course YOU kin laugh at his darned foolishness; but, by Gosh,
it ain't a laughing matter to me!"
"But surely he's given you a good position on the 'Guardian,'" I
urged. "That was disinterested, certainly."
"Was it? I call that the cheekiest thing yet. When he found he
couldn't make enough of me in private life, he totes me out in public
as HIS editor—the man who runs HIS paper! And has his name in print
as the proprietor, the only chance he'd ever get of being before the
public. And don't know the whole town is laughing at him!"
"That may be because they think HE writes some of the articles," I
Again the insinuation glanced harmlessly from his vanity. "That
couldn't be, because I do all the work, and it ain't his style," he
said with naive discontent. "And it's always the highest style, done
to please him, though between you and me it's sorter castin' pearls
before swine—this 'Frisco editing—and the public would be just as
satisfied with anything I could rattle off that was peart and
sassy,—something spicy or personal. I'm willing to climb down and do
it, for there's nothin' stuck-up about me, you know; but that darned
fool Captain Jim has got the big head about the style of the paper,
and darned if I don't think he's afraid if there's a lettin' down,
people may think it's him! Ez if! Why, you know as well as me that
there's a sort of snap I could give these things that would show it
was me and no slouch did them, in a minute."
I had my doubts about the elegance or playfulness of Mr. Bassett's
trifling, but from some paragraphs that appeared in the next issue of
the "Guardian" I judged that he had won over Captain Jim—if indeed
that gentleman's alleged objections were not entirely the outcome of
Bassett's fancy. The social paragraphs themselves were clumsy and
vulgar. A dull-witted account of a select party at Parson Baxter's,
with a point-blank compliment to Polly Baxter his daughter, might have
made her pretty cheek burn but for her evident prepossession for the
meretricious scamp, its writer. But even this horse-play seemed more
natural than the utterly artificial editorials with their pinchbeck
glitter and cheap erudition; and thus far it appeared harmless.
I grieve to say that these appearances were deceptive. One
afternoon, as I was returning from a business visit to the outskirts
of the village, I was amazed on reentering the main street to find a
crowd collected around the "Guardian" office, gazing at the broken
glass of its windows and a quantity of type scattered on the ground.
But my attention was at that moment more urgently attracted by a
similar group around my own office, who, however, seemed more
cautious, and were holding timorously aloof from the entrance. As I
ran rapidly towards them, a few called out, "Look out—he's in there!"
while others made way to let me pass. With the impression of fire or
robbery in my mind, I entered precipitately, only to find Yuba Bill
calmly leaning back in an arm-chair with his feet on the back of
another, a glass of whiskey from my demijohn in one hand and a huge
cigar in his mouth. Across his lap lay a stumpy shotgun which I at
once recognized as "the Left Bower," whose usual place was at his feet
on the box during his journeys. He looked cool and collected,
although there were one or two splashes of printer's ink on his shirt
and trousers, and from the appearance of my lavatory and towel he had
evidently been removing similar stains from his hands. Putting his
gun aside and grasping my hand warmly without rising, he began with
even more than his usual lazy imperturbability:
"Well, how's Gilead lookin' to-day?"
It struck me as looking rather disturbed, but, as I was still too
bewildered to reply, he continued lazily:
"Ez you didn't hunt me up, I allowed you might hev got kinder
petrified and dried up down yer, and I reckoned to run down and
rattle round a bit and make things lively for ye. I've jist cleared
out a newspaper office over thar. They call it the 'Guardi-an,'
though it didn't seem to offer much pertection to them fellers ez was
in it. In fact, it wasn't ez much a fight ez it orter hev been. It
was rather monotonous for me."
"But what's the row, Bill? What has happened?" I asked excitedly.
"Nothin' to speak of, I tell ye," replied Yuba Bill reflectively.
"I jest meandered into that shop over there, and I sez, 'I want ter
see the man ez runs this yer mill o' literatoor an' progress.' Thar
waz two infants sittin' on high chairs havin' some innocent little
game o' pickin' pieces o' lead outer pill-boxes like, and as soon ez
they seed me one of 'em crawled under his desk and the other scooted
outer the back door. Bimeby the door opens again, and a fluffy
coyote-lookin' feller comes in and allows that HE is responsible for
that yer paper. When I saw the kind of animal he was, and that he
hadn't any weppings, I jist laid the Left Bower down on the floor.
Then I sez, 'You allowed in your paper that I oughter hev a little
sevility knocked inter me, and I'm here to hev it done. You ken begin
it now.' With that I reached for him, and we waltzed oncet or twicet
around the room, and then I put him up on the mantelpiece and on them
desks and little boxes, and took him down again, and kinder wiped the
floor with him gin'rally, until the first thing I knowed he was
outside the winder on the sidewalk. On'y blamed if I didn't forget to
open the winder. Ef it hadn't been for that, it would hev been all
quiet and peaceful-like, and nobody hev knowed it. But the sash being
in the way, it sorter created a disturbance and unpleasantness
"But what was it all about?" I repeated. "What had he done to
"Ye'll find it in that paper," he said, indicating a copy of the
"Guardian" that lay on my table with a lazy nod of his head. "P'r'aps
you don't read it? No more do I. But Joe Bilson sez to me yesterday:
'Bill,' sez he, 'they're goin' for ye in the "Guardian."' 'Wot's
that?' sez I. 'Hark to this,' sez he, and reads out that bit that
you'll find there."
I had opened the paper, and he pointed to a paragraph. "There it
is. Pooty, ain't it?" I read with amazement as follows:—
"If the Pioneer Stage Company want to keep up with the times, and
not degenerate into the old style 'one hoss' road-wagon business,
they'd better make some reform on the line. They might begin by
shipping off some of the old-time whiskey-guzzling drivers who are
too high and mighty to do anything but handle the ribbons, and are
above speaking to a passenger unless he's a favorite or one of their
set. Over-praise for an occasional scrimmage with road agents, and
flattery from Eastern greenhorns, have given them the big head. If
the fool-killer were let loose on the line with a big club, and
knocked a little civility into their heads, it wouldn't be a bad
thing, and would be a particular relief to the passengers for Gilead
who have to take the stage from Simpson's Bar."
"That's my stage," said Yuba Bill quietly, when I had ended; "and
"But it's impossible," I said eagerly. "That insult was never
written by Captain Jim."
"Captain Jim," repeated Yuba Bill reflectively. "Captain Jim,—
yes, that was the name o' the man I was playin' with. Shortish hairy
feller, suthin' between a big coyote and the old-style hair- trunk.
Fought pretty well for a hay-footed man from Gil-e-ad."
"But you've whipped the wrong man, Bill," I said. "Think again!
Have you had any quarrel lately?—run against any newspaper man?" The
recollection had flashed upon me that Lacy Bassett had lately returned
from a visit to Stockton.
Yuba Bill regarded his boots on the other arm-chair for a few
moments in profound meditation. "There was a sort o' gaudy insect,"
he began presently, "suthin' halfway betwixt a boss-fly and a devil's
darnin'-needle, ez crawled up onter the box seat with me last week,
and buzzed! Now I think on it, he talked high- faluten' o' the
inflooence of the press and sech. I may hev said 'shoo' to him when
he was hummin' the loudest. I mout hev flicked him off oncet or
twicet with my whip. It must be him. Gosh!" he said suddenly, rising
and lifting his heavy hand to his forehead, "now I think agin he was
the feller ez crawled under the desk when the fight was goin' on, and
stayed there. Yes, sir, that was HIM. His face looked sorter
familiar, but I didn't know him moultin' with his feathers off." He
turned upon me with the first expression of trouble and anxiety I had
ever seen him wear. "Yes, sir, that's him. And I've kem—me, Yuba
Bill!—kem MYSELF, a matter of twenty miles, totin' a GUN—a gun, by
Gosh!—to fight that—that—that potatar-bug!" He walked to the window,
turned, walked back again, finished his whiskey with a single gulp,
and laid his hand almost despondingly on my shoulder. "Look ye, old—
old fell, you and me's ole friends. Don't give me away. Don't let
on a word o' this to any one! Say I kem down yer howlin' drunk on a
gen'ral tear! Say I mistook that newspaper office for a cigar- shop,
and—got licked by the boss! Say anythin' you like, 'cept that I took
a gun down yer to chase a fly that had settled onter me. Keep the
Left Bower in yer back office till I send for it. Ef you've got a
back door somewhere handy where I can slip outer this without bein'
seen I'd be thankful."
As this desponding suggestion appeared to me as the wisest thing
for him to do in the then threatening state of affairs outside,—
which, had he suspected it, he would have stayed to face,—I quickly
opened a door into a courtyard that communicated through an alley with
a side street. Here we shook hands and parted; his last dejected
ejaculation being, "That potatobug!" Later I ascertained that Captain
Jim had retired to his ranch some four miles distant. He was not
seriously hurt, but looked, to use the words of my informant, "ez ef
he'd been hugged by a playful b'ar." As the "Guardian" made its
appearance the next week without the slightest allusion to the fracas,
I did not deem it necessary to divulge the real facts. When I called
to inquire about Captain Jim's condition, he himself, however,
volunteered an explanation.
"I don't mind tellin' you, ez an old friend o' mine and Lacy's,
that the secret of that there attack on me and the 'Guardian' was
perlitikal. Yes, sir! There was a powerful orginization in the
interest o' Halkins for assemblyman ez didn't like our high-toned
editorials on caucus corruption, and hired a bully to kem down here
and suppress us. Why, this yer Lacy spotted the idea to oncet; yer
know how keen be is."
"Was Lacy present?" I asked as carelessly as I could.
Captain Jim glanced his eyes over his shoulder quite in his old
furtive canine fashion, and then blinked them at me rapidly. "He
war! And if it warn't for HIS pluck and HIS science and HIS
strength, I don't know whar I'D hev been now! Howsomever, it's all
right. I've had a fair offer to sell the 'Guardian' over at
Simpson's Bar, and it's time I quit throwin' away the work of a man
like Lacy Bassett upon it. And between you and me, I've got an idea
and suthin' better to put his talens into."
It was not long before it became evident that the "talens" of Mr.
Lacy Bassett, as indicated by Captain Jim, were to grasp at a seat in
the state legislature. An editorial in the "Simpson's Bar Clarion"
boldly advocated his pretensions. At first it was believed that the
article emanated from the gifted pen of Lacy himself, but the style
was so unmistakably that of Colonel Starbottle, an eminent political
"war-horse" of the district, that a graver truth was at once
suggested, namely, that the "Guardian" had simply been transferred to
Simpson's Bar, and merged into the "Clarion" solely on this condition.
At least it was recognized that it was the hand of Captain Jim which
guided the editorial fingers of the colonel, and Captain Jim's money
that distended the pockets of that gallant political leader.
Howbeit Lacy Bassett was never elected; in fact he was only for one
brief moment a candidate. It was related that upon his first
ascending the platform at Simpson's Bar a voice in the audience said
lazily, "Come down!" That voice was Yuba Bill's. A slight confusion
ensued, in which Yuba Bill whispered a few words in the colonel's ear.
After a moment's hesitation the "war-horse" came forward, and in his
loftiest manner regretted that the candidate had withdrawn. The next
issue of the "Clarion" proclaimed with no uncertain sound that a base
conspiracy gotten up by the former proprietor of the "Guardian" to
undermine the prestige of the Great Express Company had been
ruthlessly exposed, and the candidate on learning it HIMSELF for the
first time, withdrew his name from the canvass, as became a high-toned
gentleman. Public opinion, ignoring Lacy Bassett completely,
unhesitatingly denounced Captain Jim.
During this period I had paid but little heed to Lacy Bassett's
social movements, or the successes which would naturally attend such
a character with the susceptible sex. I had heard that he was engaged
to Polly Baxter, but that they had quarrelled in consequence of his
flirtations with others, especially a Mrs. Sweeny, a profusely
ornamented but reputationless widow. Captain Jim had often alluded
with a certain respectful pride and delicacy to Polly's ardent
appreciation of his friend, and had more than half hinted with the
same reverential mystery to their matrimonial union later, and his
intention of "doing the square thing" for the young couple. But it
was presently noticed that these allusions became less frequent during
Lacy's amorous aberrations, and an occasional depression and unusual
reticence marked Captain Jim's manner when the subject was discussed
in his presence. He seemed to endeavor to make up for his friend's
defection by a kind of personal homage to Polly, and not unfrequently
accompanied her to church or to singing-class. I have a vivid
recollection of meeting him one afternoon crossing the fields with
her, and looking into her face with that same wistful, absorbed, and
uneasy canine expression that I had hitherto supposed he had reserved
for Lacy alone. I do not know whether Polly was averse to the
speechless devotion of these yearning brown eyes; her manner was
animated and the pretty cheek that was nearest me mantled as I passed;
but I was struck for the first time with the idea that Captain Jim
loved her! I was surprised to have that fancy corroborated in the
remark of another wayfarer whom I met, to the effect, "That now that
Bassett was out o' the running it looked ez if Captain Jim was makin'
up for time!" Was it possible that Captain Jim had always loved her?
I did not at first know whether to be pained or pleased for his sake.
But I concluded that whether the unworthy Bassett had at last found a
RIVAL in Captain Jim or in the girl herself, it was a displacement
that was for Captain Jim's welfare. But as I was about leaving Gilead
for a month's transfer to the San Francisco office, I had no
opportunity to learn more from the confidences of Captain Jim.
I was ascending the principal staircase of my San Francisco hotel
one rainy afternoon, when I was pointedly recalled to Gilead by the
passing glitter of Mrs. Sweeny's jewelry and the sudden vanishing
behind her of a gentleman who seemed to be accompanying her. A few
moments after I had entered my room I heard a tap at my door, and
opened it upon Lacy Bassett. I thought he looked a little confused
and agitated. Nevertheless, with an assumption of cordiality and
ease he said, "It appears we're neighbors. That's my room next to
yours." He pointed to the next room, which I then remembered was a
sitting-room en suite with my own, and communicating with it by a
second door, which was always locked. It had not been occupied since
my tenancy. As I suppose my face did not show any extravagant delight
at the news of his contiguity, he added, hastily, "There's a transom
over the door, and I thought I'd tell you you kin hear everything from
the one room to the other."
I thanked him, and told him dryly that, as I had no secrets to
divulge and none that I cared to hear, it made no difference to me.
As this seemed to increase his confusion and he still hesitated
before the door, I asked him if Captain Jim was with him.
"No," he said quickly. "I haven't seen him for a month, and don't
want to. Look here, I want to talk to you a bit about him." He
walked into the room, and closed the door behind him. "I want to
tell you that me and Captain Jim is played! All this runnin' o' me
and interferin' with me is played! I'm tired of it. You kin tell
him so from me."
"Then you have quarrelled?"
"Yes. As much as any man can quarrel with a darned fool who can't
take a hint."
"One moment. Have you quarrelled about Polly Baxter?"
"Yes," he answered querulously. "Of course I have. What does he
mean by interfering?
"Now listen to me, Mr. Bassett," I interrupted. "I have no desire
to concern myself in your association with Captain Jim, but since you
persist in dragging me into it, you must allow me to speak plainly.
From all that I can ascertain you have no serious intentions of
marrying Polly Baxter. You have come here from Gilead to follow Mrs.
Sweeny, whom I saw you with a moment ago. Now, why do you not frankly
give up Miss Baxter to Captain Jim, who will make her a good husband,
and go your own way with Mrs. Sweeny? If you really wish to break off
your connection with Captain Jim, that's the only way to do it."
His face, which had exhibited the weakest and most pitiable
consciousness at the mention of Mrs. Sweeny, changed to an expression
of absolute stupefaction as I concluded.
"Wot stuff are you tryin' to fool me with?" he said at last
"I mean," I replied sharply, "that this double game of yours is
disgraceful. Your association with Mrs. Sweeny demands the
withdrawal of any claim you have upon Miss Baxter at once. If you
have no respect for Captain Jim's friendship, you must at least show
common decency to her."
He burst into a half-relieved, half-hysteric laugh. "Are you
crazy?" gasped he. "Why, Captain Jim's just huntin' ME down to make
ME marry Polly. That's just what the row's about. That's just what
he's interferin' for—just to carry out his darned fool ideas o'
gettin' a wife for me; just his vanity to say HE'S made the match.
It's ME that he wants to marry to that Baxter girl—not himself. He's
too cursed selfish for that."
I suppose I was not different from ordinary humanity, for in my
unexpected discomfiture I despised Captain Jim quite as much as I did
the man before me. Reiterating my remark that I had no desire to mix
myself further in their quarrels, I got rid of him with as little
ceremony as possible. But a few minutes later, when the farcical side
of the situation struck me, my irritation was somewhat mollified,
without however increasing my respect for either of the actors. The
whole affair had assumed a triviality that was simply amusing, nothing
more, and I even looked forward to a meeting with Captain Jim and HIS
exposition of the matter—which I knew would follow—with pleasurable
anticipation. But I was mistaken.
One afternoon, when I was watching the slanting volleys of rain
driven by a strong southwester against the windows of the hotel
reading-room, I was struck by the erratic movements of a dripping
figure outside that seemed to be hesitating over the entrance to the
hotel. At times furtively penetrating the porch as far as the
vestibule, and again shyly recoiling from it, its manner was so
strongly suggestive of some timid animal that I found myself suddenly
reminded of Captain Jim and the memorable evening of his exodus from
Eureka Gulch. As the figure chanced to glance up to the window where
I stood I saw to my astonishment that it WAS Captain Jim himself, but
so changed and haggard that I scarcely knew him. I instantly ran out
into the hall and vestibule, but when I reached the porch he had
disappeared. Either he had seen me and wished to avoid me, or he had
encountered the object of his quest, which I at once concluded must be
Lacy Bassett. I was so much impressed and worried by his appearance
and manner, that, in this belief, I overcame my aversion to meeting
Bassett, and even sought him through the public rooms and lobbies in
the hope of finding Captain Jim with him. But in vain; possibly he
had succeeded in escaping his relentless friend.
As the wind and rain increased at nightfall and grew into a
tempestuous night, with deserted streets and swollen waterways, I did
not go out again, but retired early, inexplicably haunted by the
changed and brooding face of Captain Jim. Even in my dreams he
pursued me in his favorite likeness of a wistful, anxious, and uneasy
hound, who, on my turning to caress him familiarly, snapped at me
viciously, and appeared to have suddenly developed a snarling rabid
fury. I seemed to be awakened at last by the sound of his voice. For
an instant I believed the delusion a part of my dream. But I was
mistaken; I was lying broad awake, and the voice clearly had come from
the next room, and was distinctly audible over the transom.
"I've had enough of it," he said, "and I'm givin' ye now—this
night—yer last chance. Quit this hotel and that woman, and go back
to Gilead and marry Polly. Don't do it and I'll kill ye, ez sure ez
you sit there gapin' in that chair. If I can't get ye to fight me
like a man,—and I'll spit in yer face or put some insult onto you
afore that woman, afore everybody, ez would make a bigger skunk nor
you turn,—I'll hunt ye down and kill ye in your tracks."
There was a querulous murmur of interruption in Lacy's voice, but
whether of defiance or appeal I could not distinguish. Captain Jim's
voice again rose, dogged and distinct.
"Ef YOU kill me it's all the same, and I don't say that I won't
thank ye. This yer world is too crowded for yer and me, Lacy
Bassett. I've believed in ye, trusted in ye, lied for ye, and fought
for ye. From the time I took ye up—a feller-passenger to
'Fresco—believin' there wor the makin's of a man in ye, to now, you
fooled me,—fooled me afore the Eureka boys; fooled me afore Gilead;
fooled me afore HER; fooled me afore God! It's got to end here.
Ye've got to take the curse of that foolishness off o' me! You've got
to do one single thing that's like the man I took ye for, or you've
got to die. Times waz when I'd have wished it for your account—that's
gone, Lacy Bassett! You've got to do it for ME. You've got to do it
so I don't see 'd—d fool' writ in the eyes of every man ez looks at
He had apparently risen and walked towards the door. His voice
sounded from another part of the room.
"I'll give ye till to-morrow mornin' to do suthin' to lift this
curse off o' me. Ef you refoose, then, by the living God, I'll slap
yer face in the dinin'-room, or in the office afore them all! You hear
There was a pause, and then a quick sharp explosion that seemed to
fill and expand both rooms until the windows were almost lifted from
their casements, a hysterical inarticulate cry from Lacy, the violent
opening of a door, hurried voices, and the tramping of many feet in
the passage. I sprang out of bed, partly dressed myself, and ran into
the hall. But by that time I found a crowd of guests and servants
around the next door, some grasping Bassett, who was white and
trembling, and others kneeling by Captain Jim, who was half lying in
the doorway against the wall.
"He heard it all," Bassett gasped hysterically, pointing to me.
"HE knows that this man wanted to kill me."
Before I could reply, Captain Jim partly raised himself with a
convulsive effort. Wiping away the blood that, oozing from his lips,
already showed the desperate character of his internal wound, he said
in a husky and hurried voice: "It's all right, boys! It's my fault.
It was ME who done it. I went for him in a mean underhanded way jest
now, when he hadn't a weppin nor any show to defend himself. We
gripped. He got a holt o' my derringer—you see that's MY pistol
there, I swear it—and turned it agin me in self-defense, and sarved me
right. I swear to God, gentlemen, it's so!" Catching sight of my
face, he looked at me, I fancied half imploringly and half
triumphantly, and added, "I might hev knowed it! I allers allowed
Lacy Bassett was game!—game, gentlemen—and he was. If it's my last
word, I say it—he was game!"
And with this devoted falsehood upon his lips and something of the
old canine instinct in his failing heart, as his head sank back he
seemed to turn it towards Bassett, as if to stretch himself out at
his feet. Then the light failed from his yearning upward glance, and
the curse of foolishness was lifted from him forever.
So conclusive were the facts, that the coroner's jury did not deem
it necessary to detain Mr. Bassett for a single moment after the
inquest. But he returned to Gilead, married Polly Baxter, and
probably on the strength of having "killed his man," was unopposed on
the platform next year, and triumphantly elected to the legislature!