by Bret Harte
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