An Heiress from Redhorse
by Ambrose Bierce
CORONADO, June 20th.
I find myself more and more interested in him. It is not, I am
sure, hisdo you know any noun corresponding to the adjective
"handsome"? One does not like to say "beauty" when speaking of a
man. He is handsome enough, heaven knows; I should not even care
to trust you with himfaithful of all possible wives that you are
when he looks his best, as he always does. Nor do I think the
fascination of his manner has much to do with it. You recollect
that the charm of art inheres in that which is undefinable, and to
you and me, my dear Irene, I fancy there is rather less of that in
the branch of art under consideration than to girls in their first
season. I fancy I know how my fine gentleman produces many of his
effects, and could, perhaps, give him a pointer on heightening
them. Nevertheless, his manner is something truly delightful. I
suppose what interests me chiefly is the man's brains. His
conversation is the best I have ever heard, and altogether unlike
anyone's else. He seems to know everything, as, indeed, he ought,
for he has been everywhere, read everything, seen all there is to
seesometimes I think rather more than is good for himand had
acquaintance with the QUEEREST people. And then his voiceIrene,
when I hear it I actually feel as if I ought to have PAID AT THE
DOOR, though, of course, it is my own door.
I fear my remarks about Dr. Barritz must have been, being
thoughtless, very silly, or you would not have written of him with
such levity, not to say disrespect. Believe me, dearest, he has
more dignity and seriousness (of the kind, I mean, which is not
inconsistent with a manner sometimes playful and always charming)
than any of the men that you and I ever met. And young Raynoryou
knew Raynor at Montereytells me that the men all like him, and
that he is treated with something like deference everywhere. There
is a mystery, toosomething about his connection with the
Blavatsky people in Northern India. Raynor either would not or
could not tell me the particulars. I infer that Dr. Barritz is
thoughtdon't you dare to laugh at mea magician! Could anything
be finer than that? An ordinary mystery is not, of course, as good
as a scandal, but when it relates to dark and dreadful practices
to the exercise of unearthly powerscould anything be more
piquant? It explains, too, the singular influence the man has upon
me. It is the undefinable in his artblack art. Seriously, dear,
I quite tremble when he looks me full in the eyes with those
unfathomable orbs of his, which I have already vainly attempted to
describe to you. How dreadful if we have the power to make one
fall in love! Do you know if the Blavatsky crowd have that power
outside of Sepoy?
The strangest thing! Last evening while Auntie was attending one
of the hotel hops (I hate them) Dr. Barritz called. It was
scandalously lateI actually believe he had talked with Auntie in
the ballroom, and learned from her that I was alone. I had been
all the evening contriving how to worm out of him the truth about
his connection with the Thugs in Sepoy, and all of that black
business, but the moment he fixed his eyes on me (for I admitted
him, I'm ashamed to say) I was helpless, I trembled, I blushed, I
O Irene, Irene, I love the man beyond expression, and you know how
it is yourself!
Fancy! I, an ugly duckling from Redhorsedaughter (they say) of
old Calamity Jimcertainly his heiress, with no living relation
but an absurd old aunt, who spoils me a thousand and fifty ways
absolutely destitute of everything but a million dollars and a hope
in ParisI daring to love a god like him! My dear, if I had you
here, I could tear your hair out with mortification.
I am convinced that he is aware of my feeling, for he stayed but a
few moments, said nothing but what another man might have said half
as well, and pretending that he had an engagement went away. I
learned to-day (a little bird told methe bell bird) that he went
straight to bed. How does that strike you as evidence of exemplary
That little wretch, Raynor, called yesterday, and his babble set me
almost wild. He never runs downthat is to say, when he
exterminates a score of reputations, more or less, he does not
pause between one reputation and the next. (By the way, he
inquired about you, and his manifestations of interest in you had,
I confess, a good deal of vraisemblance.)
Mr. Raynor observes no game laws; like Death (which he would
inflict if slander were fatal) he has all seasons for his own. But
I like him, for we knew one another at Redhorse when we were young
and true-hearted and barefooted. He was known in those far fair
days as "Giggles," and IO Irene, can you ever forgive me?I was
called "Gunny." God knows why; perhaps in allusion to the material
of my pinafores; perhaps because the name is in alliteration with
"Giggles," for Gig and I were inseparable playmates, and the miners
may have thought it a delicate compliment to recognize some kind of
relationship between us.
Later, we took in a thirdanother of Adversity's brood, who, like
Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy, had a chronic inability to
adjudicate the rival claims (to himself) of Frost and Famine.
Between him and the grave there was seldom anything more than a
single suspender and the hope of a meal which would at the same
time support life and make it insupportable. He literally picked
up a precarious living for himself and an aged mother by
"chloriding the dumps," that is to say, the miners permitted him to
search the heaps of waste rock for such pieces of "pay ore" as had
been overlooked; and these he sacked up and sold at the Syndicate
Mill. He became a member of our firm"Gunny, Giggles, and Dumps,"
thenceforththrough my favor; for I could not then, nor can I now,
be indifferent to his courage and prowess in defending against
Giggles the immemorial right of his sex to insult a strange and
unprotected femalemyself. After old Jim struck it in the
Calamity, and I began to wear shoes and go to school, and in
emulation Giggles took to washing his face, and became Jack Raynor,
of Wells, Fargo & Co., and old Mrs. Barts was herself chlorided to
her fathers, Dumps drifted over to San Juan Smith and turned stage
driver, and was killed by road agents, and so forth.
Why do I tell you all this, dear? Because it is heavy on my heart.
Because I walk the Valley of Humility. Because I am subduing
myself to permanent consciousness of my unworthiness to unloose the
latchet of Dr. Barritz's shoe. Because-oh, dear, oh, dearthere's
a cousin of Dumps at this hotel! I haven't spoken to him. I never
had any acquaintance with him, butdo you suppose he has
recognized me? Do, please, give me in your next your candid, sure-
enough opinion about it, and say you don't think so. Do you think
He knows about me already and that is why He left me last evening
when He saw that I blushed and trembled like a fool under His eyes?
You know I can't bribe ALL the newspapers, and I can't go back on
anybody who was good to Gunny at Redhorsenot if I'm pitched out
of society into the sea. So the skeleton sometimes rattles behind
the door. I never cared much before, as you know, but nowNOW it
is not the same. Jack Raynor I am sure ofhe will not tell him.
He seems, indeed, to hold him in such respect as hardly to dare
speak to him at all, and I'm a good deal that way myself. Dear,
dear! I wish I had something besides a million dollars! If Jack
were three inches taller I'd marry him alive and go back to
Redhorse and wear sackcloth again to the end of my miserable days.
We had a perfectly splendid sunset last evening, and I must tell
you all about it. I ran away from Auntie and everybody, and was
walking alone on the beach. I expect you to believe, you infidel!
that I had not looked out of my window on the seaward side of the
hotel and seen him walking alone on the beach. If you are not lost
to every feeling of womanly delicacy you will accept my statement
without question. I soon established myself under my sunshade and
had for some time been gazing out dreamily over the sea, when he
approached, walking close to the edge of the waterit was ebb
tide. I assure you the wet sand actually brightened about his
feet! As he approached me, he lifted his hat, saying: "Miss
Dement, may I sit with you?or will you walk with me?"
The possibility that neither might be agreeable seems not to have
occurred to him. Did you ever know such assurance? Assurance? My
dear, it was gall, downright GALL! Well, I didn't find it
wormwood, and replied, with my untutored Redhorse heart in my
throat: "II shall be pleased to do ANYTHING." Could words have
been more stupid? There are depths of fatuity in me, friend o' my
soul, which are simply bottomless!
He extended his hand, smiling, and I delivered mine into it without
a moment's hesitation, and when his fingers closed about it to
assist me to my feet, the consciousness that it trembled made me
blush worse than the red west. I got up, however, and after a
while, observing that he had not let go my hand, I pulled on it a
little, but unsuccessfully. He simply held on, saying nothing, but
looking down into my face with some kind of a smileI didn't know
how could I?whether it was affectionate, derisive, or what, for
I did not look at him. How beautiful he was!with the red fires
of the sunset burning in the depths of his eyes. Do you know,
dear, if the Thugs and Experts of the Blavatsky region have any
special kind of eyes? Ah, you should have seen his superb
attitude, the godlike inclination of his head as he stood over me
after I had got upon my feet! It was a noble picture, but I soon
destroyed it, for I began at once to sink again to the earth.
There was only one thing for him to do, and he did it; he supported
me with an arm about my waist.
"Miss Dement, are you ill?" he said.
It was not an exclamation; there was neither alarm nor solicitude
in it. If he had added: "I suppose that is about what I am
expected to say," he would hardly have expressed his sense of the
situation more clearly. His manner filled me with shame and
indignation, for I was suffering acutely. I wrenched my hand out
of his, grasped the arm supporting me, and, pushing myself free,
fell plump into the sand and sat helpless. My hat had fallen off
in the struggle, and my hair tumbled about my face and shoulders in
the most mortifying way.
"Go away from me," I cried, half choking. "Oh, PLEASE go away,
youyou Thug! How dare you think THAT when my leg is asleep?"
I actually said those identical words! And then I broke down and
sobbed. Irene, I BLUBBERED!
His manner altered in an instantI could see that much through my
fingers and hair. He dropped on one knee beside me, parted the
tangle of hair, and said, in the tenderest way: My poor girl, God
knows I have not intended to pain you. How should I?I who love
youI who have loved you forfor years and years!"
He had pulled my wet hands away from my face and was covering them
with kisses. My cheeks were like two coals, my whole face was
flaming and, I think, steaming. What could I do? I hid it on his
shoulderthere was no other place. And, oh, my dear friend, how
my leg tingled and thrilled, and how I wanted to kick!
We sat so for a long time. He had released one of my hands to pass
his arm about me again, and I possessed myself of my handkerchief
and was drying my eyes and my nose. I would not look up until that
was done; he tried in vain to push me a little away and gaze into
my eyes. Presently, when it was all right, and it had grown a bit
dark, I lifted my head, looked him straight in the eyes, and smiled
my bestmy level best, dear.
"What do you mean," I said, "by 'years and years'?"
"Dearest," he replied, very gravely, very earnestly, "in the
absence of the sunken cheeks, the hollow eyes, the lank hair, the
slouching gait, the rags, dirt, and youth, can you notwill you
not understand? Gunny, I'm Dumps!"
In a moment I was upon my feet and he upon his. I seized him by
the lapels of his coat and peered into his handsome face in the
deepening darkness. I was breathless with excitement.
"And you are not dead?" I asked, hardly knowing what I said.
"Only dead in love, dear. I recovered from the road agent's
bullet, but this, I fear, is fatal."
"But about JackMr. Raynor? Don't you know"
"I am ashamed to say, darling, that it was through that unworthy
person's invitation that I came here from Vienna."
Irene, they have played it upon your affectionate friend,
MARY JANE DEMENT.
P.S.The worst of it is that there is no mystery. That was an
invention of Jack to arouse my curiosity and interest. James is
not a Thug. He solemnly assures me that in all his wanderings he
has never set foot in Sepoy.