A Sappho of Green Springs
Part 1 out of 4
A SAPPHO OF GREEN SPRINGS
A SAPPHO OF GREEN SPRINGS
THE CHATELAINE OF BURNT RIDGE
THROUGH THE SANTA CLARA WHEAT
A MAECENAS OF THE PACIFIC SLOPE
A SAPPHO OF GREEN SPRINGS
"Come in," said the editor.
The door of the editorial room of the "Excelsior Magazine" began to
creak painfully under the hesitating pressure of an uncertain and
unfamiliar hand. This continued until with a start of irritation
the editor faced directly about, throwing his leg over the arm of
his chair with a certain youthful dexterity. With one hand
gripping its back, the other still grasping a proof-slip, and his
pencil in his mouth, he stared at the intruder.
The stranger, despite his hesitating entrance, did not seem in the
least disconcerted. He was a tall man, looking even taller by
reason of the long formless overcoat he wore, known as a "duster,"
and by a long straight beard that depended from his chin, which he
combed with two reflective fingers as he contemplated the editor.
The red dust which still lay in the creases of his garment and in
the curves of his soft felt hat, and left a dusty circle like a
precipitated halo around his feet, proclaimed him, if not a
countryman, a recent inland importation by coach. "Busy?" he said,
in a grave but pleasant voice. "I kin wait. Don't mind ME. Go
The editor indicated a chair with his disengaged hand and plunged
again into his proof-slips. The stranger surveyed the scant
furniture and appointments of the office with a look of grave
curiosity, and then, taking a chair, fixed an earnest, penetrating
gaze on the editor's profile. The editor felt it, and, without
looking up, said--
"Well, go on."
"But you're busy. I kin wait."
"I shall not be less busy this morning. I can listen."
"I want you to give me the name of a certain person who writes in
The editor's eye glanced at the second right-hand drawer of his
desk. It did not contain the names of his contributors, but what
in the traditions of his office was accepted as an equivalent,--a
revolver. He had never yet presented either to an inquirer. But
he laid aside his proofs, and, with a slight darkening of his
youthful, discontented face, said, "What do you want to know for?"
The question was so evidently unexpected that the stranger's face
colored slightly, and he hesitated. The editor meanwhile, without
taking his eyes from the man, mentally ran over the contents of the
last magazine. They had been of a singularly peaceful character.
There seemed to be nothing to justify homicide on his part or the
stranger's. Yet there was no knowing, and his questioner's bucolic
appearance by no means precluded an assault. Indeed, it had been a
legend of the office that a predecessor had suffered vicariously
from a geological hammer covertly introduced into a scientific
controversy by an irate professor.
"As we make ourselves responsible for the conduct of the magazine,"
continued the young editor, with mature severity, "we do not give
up the names of our contributors. If you do not agree with their
"But I DO," said the stranger, with his former composure, "and I
reckon that's why I want to know who wrote those verses called
'Underbrush,' signed 'White Violet,' in your last number. They're
The editor flushed slightly, and glanced instinctively around for
any unexpected witness of his ludicrous mistake. The fear of
ridicule was uppermost in his mind, and he was more relieved at his
mistake not being overheard than at its groundlessness.
"The verses ARE pretty," he said, recovering himself, with a
critical air, "and I am glad you like them. But even then, you
know, I could not give you the lady's name without her permission.
I will write to her and ask it, if you like."
The actual fact was that the verses had been sent to him
anonymously from a remote village in the Coast Range,--the address
being the post-office and the signature initials.
The stranger looked disturbed. "Then she ain't about here
anywhere?" he said, with a vague gesture. "She don't belong to
The young editor beamed with tolerant superiority: "No, I am sorry
"I should like to have got to see her and kinder asked her a few
questions," continued the stranger, with the same reflective
seriousness. "You see, it wasn't just the rhymin' o' them verses,--
and they kinder sing themselves to ye, don't they?--it wasn't the
chyce o' words,--and I reckon they allus hit the idee in the centre
shot every time,--it wasn't the idees and moral she sort o' drew
out o' what she was tellin',--but it was the straight thing
"The truth?" repeated the editor.
"Yes, sir. I've bin there. I've seen all that she's seen in the
brush--the little flicks and checkers o' light and shadder down in
the brown dust that you wonder how it ever got through the dark of
the woods, and that allus seems to slip away like a snake or a
lizard if you grope. I've heard all that she's heard there--the
creepin', the sighin', and the whisperin' through the bracken and
the ground-vines of all that lives there."
"You seem to be a poet yourself," said the editor, with a
"I'm a lumberman, up in Mendocino," returned the stranger, with
sublime naivete. "Got a mill there. You see, sightin' standin'
timber and selectin' from the gen'ral show of the trees in the
ground and the lay of roots hez sorter made me take notice." He
paused. "Then," he added, somewhat despondingly, "you don't know
who she is?"
"No," said the editor, reflectively; "not even if it is really a
WOMAN who writes."
"Well, you see, 'White Violet' may as well be the nom de plume of a
man as of a woman, especially if adopted for the purpose of
mystification. The handwriting, I remember, WAS more boyish than
"No," returned the stranger doggedly, "it wasn't no MAN. There's
ideas and words there that only come from a woman: baby-talk to the
birds, you know, and a kind of fearsome keer of bugs and creepin'
things that don't come to a man who wears boots and trousers.
Well," he added, with a return to his previous air of resigned
disappointment, "I suppose you don't even know what she's like?"
"No," responded the editor, cheerfully. Then, following an idea
suggested by the odd mingling of sentiment and shrewd perception in
the man before him, he added: "Probably not at all like anything
you imagine. She may be a mother with three or four children; or
an old maid who keeps a boarding-house; or a wrinkled school-
mistress; or a chit of a school-girl. I've had some fair verses
from a red-haired girl of fourteen at the Seminary," he concluded
with professional coolness.
The stranger regarded him with the naive wonder of an inexperienced
man. Having paid this tribute to his superior knowledge, he
regained his previous air of grave perception. "I reckon she ain't
none of them. But I'm keepin' you from your work. Good-by. My
name's Bowers--Jim Bowers, of Mendocino. If you're up my way, give
me a call. And if you do write to this yer 'White Violet,' and
she's willin', send me her address."
He shook the editor's hand warmly--even in its literal significance
of imparting a good deal of his own earnest caloric to the editor's
fingers--and left the room. His footfall echoed along the passage
and died out, and with it, I fear, all impression of his visit from
the editor's mind, as he plunged again into the silent task before
Presently he was conscious of a melodious humming and a light
leisurely step at the entrance of the hall. They continued on in
an easy harmony and unaffected as the passage of a bird. Both were
pleasant and both familiar to the editor. They belonged to Jack
Hamlin, by vocation a gambler, by taste a musician, on his way from
his apartments on the upper floor, where he had just risen, to drop
into his friend's editorial room and glance over the exchanges, as
was his habit before breakfast.
The door opened lightly. The editor was conscious of a faint odor
of scented soap, a sensation of freshness and cleanliness, the
impression of a soft hand like a woman's on his shoulder and, like
a woman's, momentarily and playfully caressing, the passage of a
graceful shadow across his desk, and the next moment Jack Hamlin
was ostentatiously dusting a chair with an open newspaper
preparatory to sitting down.
"You ought to ship that office-boy of yours, if he can't keep
things cleaner," he said, suspending his melody to eye grimly the
dust which Mr. Bowers had shaken from his departing feet.
The editor did not look up until he had finished revising a
difficult paragraph. By that time Mr. Hamlin had comfortably
settled himself on a cane sofa, and, possibly out of deference to
his surroundings, had subdued his song to a peculiarly low, soft,
and heartbreaking whistle as he unfolded a newspaper. Clean and
faultless in his appearance, he had the rare gift of being able to
get up at two in the afternoon with much of the dewy freshness and
all of the moral superiority of an early riser.
"You ought to have been here just now, Jack," said the editor.
"Not a row, old man, eh?" inquired Jack, with a faint accession of
"No," said the editor, smiling. Then he related the incidents of
the previous interview, with a certain humorous exaggeration which
was part of his nature. But Jack did not smile.
"You ought to have booted him out of the ranch on sight," he said.
"What right had he to come here prying into a lady's affairs?--at
least a lady as far as HE knows. Of course she's some old blowzy
with frumpled hair trying to rope in a greenhorn with a string of
words and phrases," concluded Jack, carelessly, who had an equally
cynical distrust of the sex and of literature.
"That's about what I told him," said the editor.
"That's just what you SHOULDN'T have told him," returned Jack.
"You ought to have stuck up for that woman as if she'd been your
own mother. Lord! you fellows don't know how to run a magazine.
You ought to let ME sit on that chair and tackle your customers."
"What would you have done, Jack?" asked the editor, much amused to
find that his hitherto invincible hero was not above the ordinary
human weakness of offering advice as to editorial conduct.
"Done?" reflected Jack. "Well, first, sonny, I shouldn't keep a
revolver in a drawer that I had to OPEN to get at."
"But what would you have said?"
"I should simply have asked him what was the price of lumber at
Mendocino," said Jack, sweetly, "and when he told me, I should have
said that the samples he was offering out of his own head wouldn't
suit. You see, you don't want any trifling in such matters. You
write well enough, my boy," continued he, turning over his paper,
"but what you're lacking in is editorial dignity. But go on with
your work. Don't mind me."
Thus admonished, the editor again bent over his desk, and his
friend softly took up his suspended song. The editor had not
proceeded far in his corrections when Jack's voice again broke the
"Where are those d----d verses, anyway?"
Without looking up, the editor waved his pencil towards an uncut
copy of the "Excelsior Magazine" lying on the table.
"You don't suppose I'm going to READ them, do you?" said Jack,
aggrievedly. "Why don't you say what they're about? That's your
business as editor."
But that functionary, now wholly lost and wandering in the non-
sequitur of an involved passage in the proof before him, only waved
an impatient remonstrance with his pencil and knit his brows.
Jack, with a sigh, took up the magazine.
A long silence followed, broken only by the hurried rustling of
sheets of copy and an occasional exasperated start from the editor.
The sun was already beginning to slant a dusty beam across his
desk; Jack's whistling had long since ceased. Presently, with an
exclamation of relief, the editor laid aside the last proof-sheet
and looked up.
Jack Hamlin had closed the magazine, but with one hand thrown over
the back of the sofa he was still holding it, his slim forefinger
between its leaves to keep the place, and his handsome profile and
dark lashes lifted towards the window. The editor, smiling at this
unwonted abstraction, said quietly,--
"Well, what do you think of them?"
Jack rose, laid the magazine down, settled his white waistcoat with
both hands, and lounged towards his friend with audacious but
slightly veiled and shining eyes. "They sort of sing themselves to
you," he said, quietly, leaning beside the editor's desk, and
looking down upon him. After a pause he said, "Then you don't know
what she's like?"
"That's what Mr. Bowers asked me," remarked the editor.
"I suppose you also wish me to write and ask for permission to give
you her address?" said the editor, with great gravity.
"No," said Jack, coolly. "I propose to give it to YOU within a
week, and you will pay me with a breakfast. I should like to have
it said that I was once a paid contributor to literature. If I
don't give it to you, I'll stand you a dinner, that's all."
"Done!" said the editor. "And you know nothing of her now?"
"No," said Jack, promptly. "Nor you?"
"No more than I have told you."
"That'll do. So long!" And Jack, carefully adjusting his glossy
hat over his curls at an ominously wicked angle, sauntered lightly
from the room. The editor, glancing after his handsome figure and
hearing him take up his pretermitted whistle as he passed out,
began to think that the contingent dinner was by no means an
Howbeit, he plunged once more into his monotonous duties. But the
freshness of the day seemed to have departed with Jack, and the
later interruptions of foreman and publisher were of a more
practical character. It was not until the post arrived that the
superscription on one of the letters caught his eye, and revived
his former interest. It was the same hand as that of his unknown
contributor's manuscript--ill-formed and boyish. He opened the
envelope. It contained another poem with the same signature, but
also a note--much longer than the brief lines that accompanied the
first contribution--was scrawled upon a separate piece of paper.
This the editor opened first, and read the following, with an
amazement that for the moment dominated all other sense:--
MR. EDITOR,--I see you have got my poetry in. But I don't see the
spondulix that oughter follow. Perhaps you don't know where to
send it. Then I'll tell you. Send the money to Lock Box 47, Green
Springs P. O., per Wells Fargo's Express, and I'll get it there, on
account of my parents not knowing. We're very high-toned, and they
would think it's low making poetry for papers. Send amount usually
paid for poetry in your papers. Or may be you think I make poetry
for nothing? That's where you slip up!
Yours truly, WHITE VIOLET.
P. S.--If you don't pay for poetry, send this back. It's as good
as what you did put in, and is just as hard to make. You hear me?
that's me--all the time.
The editor turned quickly to the new contribution for some
corroboration of what he felt must be an extraordinary blunder.
But no! The few lines that he hurriedly read breathed the same
atmosphere of intellectual repose, gentleness, and imagination as
the first contribution. And yet they were in the same handwriting
as the singular missive, and both were identical with the previous
Had he been the victim of a hoax, and were the verses not original?
No; they were distinctly original, local in color, and even local
in the use of certain old English words that were common in the
Southwest. He had before noticed the apparent incongruity of the
handwriting and the text, and it was possible that for the purposes
of disguise the poet might have employed an amanuensis. But how
could he reconcile the incongruity of the mercenary and slangy
purport of the missive itself with the mental habit of its author?
Was it possible that these inconsistent qualities existed in the
one individual? He smiled grimly as he thought of his visitor
Bowers and his friend Jack. He was startled as he remembered the
purely imaginative picture he had himself given to the seriously
interested Bowers of the possible incongruous personality of the
Was he quite fair in keeping this from Jack? Was it really
honorable, in view of their wager? It is to be feared that a very
human enjoyment of Jack's possible discomfiture quite as much as
any chivalrous friendship impelled the editor to ring eventually
for the office-boy.
"See if Mr. Hamlin is in his rooms."
The editor then sat down, and wrote rapidly as follows:--
DEAR MADAM,--You are as right as you are generous in supposing that
only ignorance of your address prevented the manager from
previously remitting the honorarium for your beautiful verses. He
now begs to send it to you in the manner you have indicated. As
the verses have attracted deserved attention, I have been applied
to for your address. Should you care to submit it to me to be used
at my discretion, I shall feel honored by your confidence. But
this is a matter left entirely to your own kindness and better
judgment. Meantime, I take pleasure in accepting "White Violet's"
present contribution, and remain, dear madam, your obedient servant,
The boy returned as he was folding the letter. Mr. Hamlin was not
only NOT in his rooms, but, according to his negro servant Pete,
had left town an hour ago for a few days in the country.
"Did he say where?" asked the editor, quickly.
"No, sir: he didn't know."
"Very well. Take this to the manager." He addressed the letter,
and, scrawling a few hieroglyphics on a memorandum-tag, tore it
off, and handed it with the letter to the boy.
An hour later he stood in the manager's office. "The next number
is pretty well made up," he said, carelessly, "and I think of
taking a day or two off."
"Certainly," said the manager. "It will do you good. Where do you
think you'll go?"
"I haven't quite made up my mind."
"Hullo!" said Jack Hamlin.
He had halted his mare at the edge of an abrupt chasm. It did not
appear to be fifty feet across, yet its depth must have been nearly
two hundred to where the hidden mountain-stream, of which it was
the banks, alternately slipped, tumbled, and fell with murmuring
and monotonous regularity. One or two pine-trees growing on the
opposite edge, loosened at the roots, had tilted their straight
shafts like spears over the abyss, and the top of one, resting on
the upper branches of a sycamore a few yards from him, served as an
aerial bridge for the passage of a boy of fourteen to whom Mr.
Hamlin's challenge was addressed.
The boy stopped midway in his perilous transit, and, looking down
upon the horseman, responded, coolly, "Hullo, yourself!"
"Is that the only way across this infernal hole, or the one you
prefer for exercise?" continued Hamlin, gravely.
The boy sat down on a bough, allowing his bare feet to dangle over
the dizzy depths, and critically examined his questioner. Jack had
on this occasion modified his usual correct conventional attire by
a tasteful combination of a vaquero's costume, and, in loose white
bullion-fringed trousers, red sash, jacket, and sombrero, looked
infinitely more dashing and picturesque than his original.
Nevertheless, the boy did not reply. Mr. Hamlin's pride in his
usual ascendency over women, children, horses, and all unreasoning
animals was deeply nettled. He smiled, however, and said, quietly,--
"Come here, George Washington. I want to talk to you."
Without rejecting this august yet impossible title, the boy
presently lifted his feet, and carelessly resumed his passage
across the chasm until, reaching the sycamore, he began to let
himself down squirrel-wise, leap by leap, with an occasional
trapeze swinging from bough to bough, dropping at last easily to
the ground. Here he appeared to be rather good-looking, albeit the
sun and air had worked a miracle of brown tan and freckles on his
exposed surfaces, until the mottling of his oval cheeks looked like
a polished bird's egg. Indeed, it struck Mr. Hamlin that he was as
intensely a part of that sylvan seclusion as the hidden brook that
murmured, the brown velvet shadows that lay like trappings on the
white flanks of his horse, the quivering heat, and the stinging
spice of bay. Mr. Hamlin had vague ideas of dryads and fauns, but
at that moment would have bet something on the chances of their
"I did not hear what you said just now, general," he remarked, with
great elegance of manner, "but I know from your reputation that it
could not be a lie. I therefore gather that there IS another way
The boy smiled; rather, his very short upper lip apparently
vanished completely over his white teeth, and his very black eyes,
which showed a great deal of the white around them, danced in their
"But YOU couldn't find it," he said, slyly.
"No more could you find the half-dollar I dropped just now, unless
I helped you."
Mr. Hamlin, by way of illustration, leaned deeply over his left
stirrup, and pointed to the ground. At the same moment a bright
half-dollar absolutely appeared to glitter in the herbage at the
point of his finger. It was a trick that had always brought great
pleasure and profit to his young friends, and some loss and
discomfiture of wager to his older ones.
The boy picked up the coin: "There's a dip and a level crossing
about a mile over yer,"--he pointed,--"but it's through the woods,
and they're that high with thick bresh."
"Bresh," repeated the boy; "THAT,"--pointing to a few fronds of
bracken growing in the shadow of the sycamore.
"Yes; I said 'bresh,'" returned the boy, doggedly. "YOU might get
through, ef you war spry, but not your hoss. Where do you want to
"Do you know, George," said Mr. Hamlin, lazily throwing his right
leg over the horn of his saddle for greater ease and deliberation
in replying, "it's very odd, but that's just what I'D like to know.
Now, what would YOU, in your broad statesmanlike views of things
Quite convinced of the stranger's mental unsoundness, the boy
glanced again at his half-dollar, as if to make sure of its
integrity, pocketed it doubtfully, and turned away.
"Where are you going?" said Hamlin, resuming his seat with the
agility of a circus-rider, and spurring forward.
"To Green Springs, where I live, two miles over the ridge on the
far slope,"--indicating the direction.
"Ah!" said Jack, with thoughtful gravity. "Well, kindly give my
love to your sister, will you?"
"George Washington didn't have no sister," said the boy, cunningly.
"Can I have been mistaken?" said Hamlin, lifting his hand to his
forehead with grieved accents. "Then it seems YOU have. Kindly
give her my love."
"Which one?" asked the boy, with a swift glance of mischief. "I've
"The one that's like you," returned Hamlin, with prompt exactitude.
"Now, where's the 'bresh' you spoke of?"
"Keep along the edge until you come to the log-slide. Foller that,
and it'll lead you into the woods. But ye won't go far, I tell ye.
When you have to turn back, instead o' comin' back here, you kin
take the trail that goes round the woods, and that'll bring ye out
into the stage road ag'in near the post-office at the Green Springs
crossin' and the new hotel. That'll be war ye'll turn up, I
reckon," he added, reflectively. "Fellers that come yer gunnin'
and fishin' gin'rally do," he concluded, with a half-inquisitive
"Ah?" said Mr. Hamlin, quietly shedding the inquiry. "Green
Springs Hotel is where the stage stops, eh?"
"Yes, and at the post-office," said the boy. "She'll be along here
soon," he added.
"If you mean the Santa Cruz stage," said Hamlin, "she's here
already. I passed her on the ridge half an hour ago."
The boy gave a sudden start, and a quick uneasy expression passed
over his face. "Go 'long with ye!" he said, with a forced smile:
"it ain't her time yet."
"But I SAW her," repeated Hamlin, much amused. "Are you expecting
company? Hullo! Where are you off to? Come back."
But his companion had already vanished in the thicket with the
undeliberate and impulsive act of an animal. There was a momentary
rustle in the alders fifty feet away, and then all was silent. The
hidden brook took up its monotonous murmur, the tapping of a
distant woodpecker became suddenly audible, and Mr. Hamlin was
"Wonder whether he's got parents in the stage, and has been playing
truant here," he mused, lazily. "Looked as if he'd been up to some
devilment, or more like as if he was primed for it. If he'd been a
little older, I'd have bet he was in league with some road-agents
to watch the coach. Just my luck to have him light out as I was
beginning to get some talk out of him." He paused, looked at his
watch, and straightened himself in his stirrups. "Four o'clock. I
reckon I might as well try the woods and what that imp calls the
'bresh;' I may strike a shanty or a native by the way."
With this determination, Mr. Hamlin urged his horse along the faint
trail by the brink of the watercourse which the boy had just
indicated. He had no definite end in view beyond the one that had
brought him the day before to that locality--his quest of the
unknown poetess. His clue would have seemed to ordinary humanity
the faintest. He had merely noted the provincial name of a certain
plant mentioned in the poem, and learned that its habitat was
limited to the southern local range; while its peculiar nomenclature
was clearly of French Creole or Gulf State origin. This gave him a
large though sparsely-populated area for locality, while it
suggested a settlement of Louisianians or Mississippians near the
Summit, of whom, through their native gambling proclivities, he was
professionally cognizant. But he mainly trusted Fortune. Secure in
his faith in the feminine character of that goddess, he relied a
great deal on her well-known weakness for scamps of his quality.
It was not long before he came to the "slide"--a lightly-cut or
shallow ditch. It descended slightly in a course that was far from
straight, at times diverging to avoid the obstacles of trees or
boulders, at times shaving them so closely as to leave smooth
abrasions along their sides made by the grinding passage of long
logs down the incline. The track itself was slippery from this,
and preoccupied all Hamlin's skill as a horseman, even to the point
of stopping his usual careless whistle. At the end of half an hour
the track became level again, and he was confronted with a singular
He had entered the wood, and the trail seemed to cleave through a
far-stretching, motionless sea of ferns that flowed on either side
to the height of his horse's flanks. The straight shafts of the
trees rose like columns from their hidden bases and were lost again
in a roof of impenetrable leafage, leaving a clear space of fifty
feet between, through which the surrounding horizon of sky was
perfectly visible. All the light that entered this vast sylvan
hall came from the sides; nothing permeated from above; nothing
radiated from below; the height of the crest on which the wood was
placed gave it this lateral illumination, but gave it also the
profound isolation of some temple raised by long-forgotten hands.
In spite of the height of these clear shafts, they seemed dwarfed
by the expanse of the wood, and in the farthest perspective the
base of ferns and the capital of foliage appeared almost to meet.
As the boy had warned him, the slide had turned aside, skirting the
wood to follow the incline, and presently the little trail he now
followed vanished utterly, leaving him and his horse adrift breast-
high in this green and yellow sea of fronds. But Mr. Hamlin,
imperious of obstacles, and touched by some curiosity, continued to
advance lazily, taking the bearings of a larger red-wood in the
centre of the grove for his objective point. The elastic mass gave
way before him, brushing his knees or combing his horse's flanks
with wide-spread elfin fingers, and closing up behind him as he
passed, as if to obliterate any track by which he might return.
Yet his usual luck did not desert him here. Being on horseback, he
found that he could detect what had been invisible to the boy and
probably to all pedestrians, namely, that the growth was not
equally dense, that there were certain thinner and more open spaces
that he could take advantage of by more circuitous progression,
always, however, keeping the bearings of the central tree. This he
at last reached, and halted his panting horse. Here a new idea
which had been haunting him since he entered the wood took fuller
possession of him. He had seen or known all this before! There
was a strange familiarity either in these objects or in the
impression or spell they left upon him. He remembered the verses!
Yes, this was the "underbrush" which the poetess had described: the
gloom above and below, the light that seemed blown through it like
the wind, the suggestion of hidden life beneath this tangled
luxuriance, which she alone had penetrated,--all this was here.
But, more than that, here was the atmosphere that she had breathed
into the plaintive melody of her verse. It did not necessarily
follow that Mr. Hamlin's translation of her sentiment was the
correct one, or that the ideas her verses had provoked in his mind
were at all what had been hers: in his easy susceptibility he was
simply thrown into a corresponding mood of emotion and relieved
himself with song. One of the verses he had already associated in
his mind with the rhythm of an old plantation melody, and it struck
his fancy to take advantage of the solitude to try its effect.
Humming to himself, at first softly, he at last grew bolder, and
let his voice drift away through the stark pillars of the sylvan
colonnade till it seemed to suffuse and fill it with no more effort
than the light which strayed in on either side. Sitting thus, his
hat thrown a little back from his clustering curls, the white neck
and shoulders of his horse uplifting him above the crested mass of
fern, his red sash the one fleck of color in their olive depths, I
am afraid he looked much more like the real minstrel of the grove
than the unknown poetess who transfigured it. But this, as has
been already indicated, was Jack Hamlin's peculiar gift. Even as
he had previously outshone the vaquero in his borrowed dress, he
now silenced and supplanted a few fluttering blue-jays--rightful
tenants of the wood--with a more graceful and airy presence and a
far sweeter voice.
The open horizon towards the west had taken a warmer color from the
already slanting sun when Mr. Hamlin, having rested his horse,
turned to that direction. He had noticed that the wood was thinner
there, and, pushing forward, he was presently rewarded by the sound
of far-off wheels, and knew he must be near the high-road that the
boy had spoken of. Having given up his previous intention of
crossing the stream, there seemed nothing better for him to do than
to follow the truant's advice and take the road back to Green
Springs. Yet he was loath to leave the wood, halting on its verge,
and turning to look back into its charmed recesses. Once or twice--
perhaps because he recalled the words of the poem--that yellowish
sea of ferns had seemed instinct with hidden life, and he had even
fancied, here and there, a swaying of its plumed crests. Howbeit,
he still lingered long enough for the open sunlight into which he
had obtruded to point out the bravery of his handsome figure. Then
he wheeled his horse, the light glanced from polished double bit
and bridle-fripperies, caught his red sash and bullion buttons,
struck a parting flash from his silver spurs, and he was gone!
For a moment the light streamed unbrokenly through the wood. And
then it could be seen that the yellow mass of undergrowth HAD moved
with the passage of another figure than his own. For ever since he
had entered the shade, a woman, shawled in a vague, shapeless
fashion, had watched him wonderingly, eagerly, excitedly, gliding
from tree to tree as he advanced, or else dropping breathlessly
below the fronds of fern whence she gazed at him as between parted
fingers. When he wheeled she had run openly to the west, albeit
with hidden face and still clinging shawl, and taken a last look at
his retreating figure. And then, with a faint but lingering sigh,
she drew back into the shadow of the wood again and vanished also.
At the end of twenty minutes Mr. Hamlin reined in his mare. He had
just observed in the distant shadows of a by-lane that intersected
his road the vanishing flutter of two light print dresses. Without
a moment's hesitation he lightly swerved out of the high-road and
followed the retreating figures.
As he neared them, they seemed to be two slim young girls,
evidently so preoccupied with the rustic amusement of edging each
other off the grassy border into the dust of the track that they
did not perceive his approach. Little shrieks, slight scufflings,
and interjections of "Cynthy! you limb!" "Quit that, Eunice, now!"
and "I just call that real mean!" apparently drowned the sound of
his canter in the soft dust. Checking his speed to a gentle trot,
and pressing his horse close beside the opposite fence, he passed
them with gravely uplifted hat and a serious, preoccupied air. But
in that single, seemingly conventional glance, Mr. Hamlin had seen
that they were both pretty, and that one had the short upper lip of
his errant little guide. A hundred yards farther on he halted, as
if irresolutely, gazed doubtfully ahead of him, and then turned
back. An expression of innocent--almost childlike--concern was
clouding the rascal's face. It was well, as the two girls had
drawn closely together, having been apparently surprised in the
midst of a glowing eulogium of this glorious passing vision by its
sudden return. At his nearer approach, the one with the short
upper lip hid that piquant feature and the rest of her rosy face
behind the other's shoulder, which was suddenly and significantly
opposed to the advance of this handsome intruder, with a certain
dignity, half real, half affected, but wholly charming. The
protectress appeared--possibly from her defensive attitude--the
superior of her companion.
Audacious as Jack was to his own sex, he had early learned that
such rare but discomposing graces as he possessed required a
certain apologetic attitude when presented to women, and that it
was only a plain man who could be always complacently self-
confident in their presence. There was, consequently, a hesitating
lowering of this hypocrite's brown eyelashes as he said, in almost
"Excuse me, but I fear I've taken the wrong road. I'm going to
"I reckon you've taken the wrong road, wherever you're going,"
returned the young lady, having apparently made up her mind to
resent each of Jack's perfections as a separate impertinence: "this
is a PRIVATE road." She drew herself fairly up here, although
gurgled at in the ear and pinched in the arm by her companion.
"I beg your pardon," said Jack, meekly. "I see I'm trespassing on
your grounds. I'm very sorry. Thank you for telling me. I should
have gone on a mile or two farther, I suppose, until I came to your
house," he added, innocently.
"A mile or two! You'd have run chock ag'in' our gate in another
minit," said the short-lipped one, eagerly. But a sharp nudge from
her companion sent her back again into cover, where she waited
expectantly for another crushing retort from her protector.
But, alas! it did not come. One cannot be always witty, and Jack
looked distressed. Nevertheless, he took advantage of the pause.
"It was so stupid in me, as I think your brother"--looking at
Short-lip--"very carefully told me the road."
The two girls darted quick glances at each other. "Oh, Bawb!" said
the first speaker, in wearied accents,--"THAT limb! He don't
"But he DID care," said Hamlin, quietly, "and gave me a good deal
of information. Thanks to him, I was able to see that ferny wood
that's so famous--about two miles up the road. You know--the one
that there's a poem written about!"
The shot told! Short-lip burst into a display of dazzling little
teeth and caught the other girl convulsively by the shoulders. The
superior girl bent her pretty brows, and said, "Eunice, what's gone
of ye? Quit that!" but, as Hamlin thought, paled slightly.
"Of course," said Hamlin, quickly, "you know--the poem everybody's
talking about. Dear me! let me see! how does it go?" The rascal
knit his brows, said, "Ah, yes," and then murmured the verse he had
lately sung quite as musically.
Short-lip was shamelessly exalted and excited. Really she could
scarcely believe it! She already heard herself relating the whole
occurrence. Here was the most beautiful young man she had ever
seen--an entire stranger--talking to them in the most beautiful and
natural way, right in the lane, and reciting poetry to her sister!
It was like a novel--only more so. She thought that Cynthia, on
the other hand, looked distressed, and--she must say it--"silly."
All of which Jack noted, and was wise. He had got all he wanted--
at present. He gathered up his reins.
"Thank you so much, and your brother, too, Miss Cynthia," he said,
without looking up. Then, adding, with a parting glance and smile,
"But don't tell Bob how stupid I was," he swiftly departed.
In half an hour he was at the Green Springs Hotel. As he rode into
the stable yard, he noticed that the coach had only just arrived,
having been detained by a land-slip on the Summit road. With the
recollection of Bob fresh in his mind, he glanced at the loungers
at the stage office. The boy was not there, but a moment later
Jack detected him among the waiting crowd at the post-office
opposite. With a view of following up his inquiries, he crossed
the road as the boy entered the vestibule of the post-office. He
arrived in time to see him unlock one of a row of numbered letter-
boxes rented by subscribers, which occupied a partition by the
window, and take out a small package and a letter. But in that
brief glance Mr. Hamlin detected the printed address of the
"Excelsior Magazine" on the wrapper. It was enough. Luck was
certainly with him.
He had time to get rid of the wicked sparkle that had lit his dark
eyes, and to lounge carelessly towards the boy as the latter broke
open the package, and then hurriedly concealed it in his jacket-
pocket, and started for the door. Mr. Hamlin quickly followed him,
unperceived, and, as he stepped into the street, gently tapped him
on the shoulder. The boy turned and faced him quickly. But Mr.
Hamlin's eyes showed nothing but lazy good-humor.
"Hullo, Bob. Where are you going?"
The boy again looked up suspiciously at this revelation of his
"Home," he said, briefly.
"Oh, over yonder," said Hamlin, calmly. "I don't mind walking with
you as far as the lane."
He saw the boy's eyes glance furtively towards an alley that ran
beside the blacksmith's shop a few rods ahead, and was convinced
that he intended to evade him there. Slipping his arm carelessly
in the youth's, he concluded to open fire at once.
"Bob," he said, with irresistible gravity, "I did not know when I
met you this morning that I had the honor of addressing a poet--
none other than the famous author of 'Underbrush.'"
The boy started back, and endeavored to withdraw his arm, but Mr.
Hamlin tightened his hold, without, however, changing his careless
"You see," he continued, "the editor is a friend of mine, and,
being afraid this package might not get into the right hands--as
you didn't give your name--he deputized me to come here and see
that it was all square. As you're rather young, for all you're so
gifted, I reckon I'd better go home with you, and take a receipt
from your parents. That's about square, I think?"
The consternation of the boy was so evident and so far beyond Mr.
Hamlin's expectation that he instantly halted him, gazed into his
shifting eyes, and gave a long whistle.
"Who said it was for ME? Wot you talkin' about? Lemme go!" gasped
the boy, with the short intermittent breath of mingled fear and
"Bob," said Mr. Hamlin, in a singularly colorless voice which was
very rare with him, and an expression quite unlike his own, "what
is your little game?"
The boy looked down in dogged silence.
"Out with it! Who are you playing this on?"
"It's all among my own folks; it's nothin' to YOU," said the boy,
suddenly beginning to struggle violently, as if inspired by this
"Among your own folks, eh? White Violet and the rest, eh? But
SHE'S not in it?"
"Hand me over that package. I'll give it back to you again."
The boy handed it to Mr. Hamlin. He read the letter, and found the
inclosure contained a twenty-dollar gold-piece. A half-
supercilious smile passed over his face at this revelation of the
inadequate emoluments of literature and the trifling inducements to
crime. Indeed, I fear the affair began to take a less serious
moral complexion in his eyes.
"Then White Violet--your sister Cynthia, you know," continued Mr.
Hamlin, in easy parenthesis--"wrote for this?" holding the coin
contemplatively in his fingers, "and you calculated to nab it
The quick searching glance with which Bob received the name of his
sister, Mr. Hamlin attributed only to his natural surprise that
this stranger should be on such familiar terms with her; but the
boy responded immediately and bluntly:--
"No! SHE didn't write for it. She didn't want nobody to know who
she was. Nobody wrote for it but me. Nobody KNEW FOLKS WAS PAID
FOR PO'TRY BUT ME. I found it out from a feller. I wrote for it.
I wasn't goin' to let that skunk of an editor have it himself!"
"And you thought YOU would take it," said Hamlin, his voice
resuming its old tone. "Well, George--I mean Bob, your conduct was
praiseworthy, although your intentions were bad. Still, twenty
dollars is rather too much for your trouble. Suppose we say five
and call it square?" He handed the astonished boy five dollars.
"Now, George Washington," he continued, taking four other twenty-
dollar pieces from his pocket, and adding them to the inclosure,
which he carefully refolded, "I'm going to give you another chance
to live up to your reputation. You'll take that package, and hand
it to White Violet, and say you found it, just as it is, in the
lock-box. I'll keep the letter, for it would knock you endways if
it was seen, and I'll make it all right with the editor. But, as
I've got to tell him that I've seen White Violet myself, and know
she's got it, I expect YOU to manage in some way to have me see
her. I'll manage the rest of it; and I won't blow on you, either.
You'll come back to the hotel, and tell me what you've done. And
now, George " concluded Mr. Hamlin, succeeding at last in fixing
the boy's evasive eye with a peculiar look, "it may be just as well
for you to understand that I know every nook and corner of this
place, that I've already been through that underbrush you spoke of
once this morning, and that I've got a mare that can go wherever
YOU can, and a d----d sight quicker!"
"I'll give the package to White Violet," said the boy, doggedly.
"And you'll come back to the hotel?"
The boy hesitated, and then said, "I'll come back."
"All right, then. Adios, general."
Bob disappeared around the corner of a cross-road at a rapid trot,
and Mr. Hamlin turned into the hotel.
"Smart little chap that!" he said to the barkeeper.
"You bet!" returned the man, who, having recognized Mr. Hamlin, was
delighted at the prospect of conversing with a gentleman of such
decidedly dangerous reputation. "But he's been allowed to run a
little wild since old man Delatour died, and the widder's got
enough to do, I reckon, lookin' arter her four gals, and takin'
keer of old Delatour's ranch over yonder. I guess it's pretty hard
sleddin' for her sometimes to get clo'es and grub for the famerly,
without follerin' Bob around."
"Sharp girls, too, I reckon; one of them writes things for the
magazines, doesn't she?--Cynthia, eh?" said Mr. Hamlin, carelessly.
Evidently this fact was not a notorious one to the barkeeper. He,
however, said, "Dunno; mabbee; her father was eddicated, and the
widder Delatour, too, though she's sorter queer, I've heard tell.
Lord! Mr. Hamlin, YOU oughter remember old man Delatour! From
Opelousas, Louisiany, you know! High old sport French style,
frilled bosom--open-handed, and us'ter buck ag'in' faro awful!
Why, he dropped a heap o' money to YOU over in San Jose two years
ago at poker! You must remember him!"
The slightest possible flush passed over Mr. Hamlin's brow under
the shadow of his hat, but did not get lower than his eyes. He
suddenly HAD recalled the spendthrift Delatour perfectly, and as
quickly regretted now that he had not doubled the honorarium he had
just sent to his portionless daughter. But he only said, coolly,
"No," and then, raising his pale face and audacious eyes, continued
in his laziest and most insulting manner, "no: the fact is, my mind
is just now preoccupied in wondering if the gas is leaking
anywhere, and if anything is ever served over this bar except
elegant conversation. When the gentleman who mixes drinks comes
back, perhaps you'll be good enough to tell him to send a whisky
sour to Mr. Jack Hamlin in the parlor. Meantime, you can turn off
your soda fountain: I don't want any fizz in mine."
Having thus quite recovered himself, Mr. Hamlin lounged gracefully
across the hall into the parlor. As he did so, a darkish young
man, with a slim boyish figure, a thin face, and a discontented
expression, rose from an armchair, held out his hand, and, with a
saturnine smile, said:--
The two men remained gazing at each other with a half-amused, half-
guarded expression. Mr. Hamlin was first to begin. "I didn't
think YOU'D be such a fool as to try on this kind of thing, Fred,"
he said, half seriously.
"Yes, but it was to keep you from being a much bigger one that I
hunted you up," said the editor, mischievously. "Read that. I got
it an hour after you left." And he placed a little triumphantly in
Jack's hand the letter he had received from White Violet.
Mr. Hamlin read it with an unmoved face, and then laid his two
hands on the editor's shoulders. "Yes, my young friend, and you
sat down and wrote her a pretty letter and sent her twenty dollars--
which, permit me to say, was d----d poor pay! But that isn't your
fault, I reckon: it's the meanness of your proprietors."
"But it isn't the question, either, just now, Jack, however you
have been able to answer it. Do you mean to say seriously that you
want to know anything more of a woman who could write such a
"I don't know," said Jack, cheerfully. "She might be a devilish
sight funnier than if she hadn't written it--which is the fact."
"You mean to say SHE didn't write it?"
"Who did, then?"
"Her brother Bob."
After a moment's scrutiny of his friend's bewildered face, Mr.
Hamlin briefly related his adventures, from the moment of his
meeting Bob at the mountain-stream to the barkeeper's gossiping
comment and sequel. "Therefore," he concluded, "the author of
'Underbrush' is Miss Cynthia Delatour, one of four daughters of a
widow who lives two miles from here at the crossing. I shall see
her this evening and make sure; but to-morrow morning you will pay
me the breakfast you owe me. She's good-looking, but I can't say I
fancy the poetic style: it's a little too high-toned for me.
However, I love my love with a C, because she is your Contributor;
I hate her with a C, because of her Connections; I met her by
Chance and treated her with Civility; her name is Cynthia, and she
lives on a Cross-road."
"But you surely don't expect you will ever see Bob, again!" said
the editor, impatiently. "You have trusted him with enough to
start him for the Sandwich Islands, to say nothing of the ruinous
precedent you have established in his mind of the value of poetry.
I am surprised that a man of your knowledge of the world would have
faith in that imp the second time."
"My knowledge of the world," returned Mr. Hamlin, sententiously,
"tells me that's the only way you can trust anybody. ONCE doesn't
make a habit, nor show a character. I could see by his bungling
that he had never tried this on before. Just now the temptation to
wipe out his punishment by doing the square thing, and coming back
a sort of hero, is stronger than any other. 'Tisn't everybody that
gets that chance," he added, with an odd laugh.
Nevertheless, three hours passed without bringing Bob. The two men
had gone to the billiard-room, when a waiter brought a note, which
he handed to Mr. Hamlin with some apologetic hesitation. It bore
no superscription, but had been brought by a boy who described Mr.
Hamlin perfectly, and requested that the note should be handed to
him with the remark that "Bob had come back."
"And is he there now?" asked Mr. Hamlin, holding the letter
unopened in his hand.
"No, sir; he run right off."
The editor laughed, but Mr. Hamlin, having perused the note, put
away his cue. "Come into my room," he said.
The editor followed, and Mr. Hamlin laid the note before him on the
table. "Bob's all right," he said, "for I'll bet a thousand
dollars that note is genuine."
It was delicately written, in a cultivated feminine hand, utterly
unlike the scrawl that had first excited the editor's curiosity,
and ran as follows:--
He who brought me the bounty of your friend--for I cannot call a
recompense so far above my deserts by any other name--gives me also
to understand that you wished for an interview. I cannot believe
that this is mere idle curiosity, or that you have any motive that
is not kindly and honorable, but I feel that I must beg and pray
you not to seek to remove the veil behind which I have chosen to
hide myself and my poor efforts from identification. I THINK I
know you--I KNOW I know myself--well enough to believe it would
give neither of us any happiness. You will say to your generous
friend that he has already given the Unknown more comfort and hope
than could come from any personal compliment or publicity, and you
will yourself believe that you have all unconsciously brightened a
sad woman's fancy with a Dream and a Vision that before today had
been unknown to
"Have you read it?" asked Mr. Hamlin.
"Then you don't want to see it any more, or even remember you ever
saw it," said Mr. Hamlin, carefully tearing the note into small
pieces and letting them drift from the windows like blown blossoms.
"But, I say, Jack! look here; I don't understand! You say you have
already seen this woman, and yet"--
"I HAVEN'T seen her," said Jack, composedly, turning from the
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that you and I, Fred, are going to drop this fooling right
here and leave this place for Frisco by first stage to-morrow, and--
that I owe you that dinner."
When the stage for San Francisco rolled away the next morning with
Mr. Hamlin and the editor, the latter might have recognized in the
occupant of a dust-covered buggy that was coming leisurely towards
them the tall figure, long beard, and straight duster of his late
visitor, Mr. James Bowers. For Mr. Bowers was on the same quest
that the others had just abandoned. Like Mr. Hamlin, he had been
left to his own resources, but Mr. Bowers's resources were a life-
long experience and technical skill; he too had noted the
topographical indications of the poem, and his knowledge of the
sylva of Upper California pointed as unerringly as Mr. Hamlin's
luck to the cryptogamous haunts of the Summit. Such abnormal
growths were indicative of certain localities only, but, as they
were not remunerative from a pecuniary point of view, were to be
avoided by the sagacious woodman. It was clear, therefore, that
Mr. Bowers's visit to Green Springs was not professional, and that
he did not even figuratively accept the omen.
He baited and rested his horse at the hotel, where his bucolic
exterior, however, did not elicit that attention which had been
accorded to Mr. Hamlin's charming insolence or the editor's
cultivated manner. But he glanced over a township map on the walls
of the reading-room, and took note of the names of the owners of
different lots, farms, and ranches, passing that of Delatour with
the others. Then he drove leisurely in the direction of the woods,
and, reaching them, tied his horse to a young sapling in the shade,
and entered their domain with a shambling but familiar woodman's
It is not the purpose of this brief chronicle to follow Mr. Bowers
in his professional diagnosis of the locality. He recognized
Nature in one of her moods of wasteful extravagance,--a waste that
his experienced eye could tell was also sapping the vitality of
those outwardly robust shafts that rose around him. He knew,
without testing them, that half of these fair-seeming columns were
hollow and rotten at the core; he could detect the chill odor of
decay through the hot balsamic spices stirred by the wind that
streamed through their long aisles,--like incense mingling with the
exhalations of a crypt. He stopped now and then to part the heavy
fronds down to their roots in the dank moss, seeing again, as he
had told the editor, the weird SECOND twilight through their
miniature stems, and the microcosm of life that filled it. But,
even while paying this tribute to the accuracy of the unknown
poetess, he was, like his predecessor, haunted more strongly by the
atmosphere and melody of her verse. Its spell was upon him, too.
Unlike Mr. Hamlin, he did not sing. He only halted once or twice,
silently combing his straight narrow beard with his three fingers,
until the action seemed to draw down the lines of his face into
limitless dejection, and an inscrutable melancholy filled his small
gray eyes. The few birds which had hailed Mr. Hamlin as their
successful rival fled away before the grotesque and angular half-
length of Mr. Bowers, as if the wind had blown in a scarecrow from
the distant farms.
Suddenly he observed the figure of a woman, with her back towards
him, leaning motionless against a tree, and apparently gazing
intently in the direction of Green Springs. He had approached so
near to her that it was singular she had not heard him. Mr. Bowers
was a bashful man in the presence of the other sex. He felt
exceedingly embarrassed; if he could have gone away without
attracting her attention he would have done so. Neither could he
remain silent, a tacit spy of her meditation. He had recourse to a
polite but singularly artificial cough.
To his surprise, she gave a faint cry, turned quickly towards him,
and then shrank back and lapsed quite helpless against the tree.
Her evident distress overcame his bashfulness. He ran towards her.
"I'm sorry I frighted ye, ma'am, but I was afraid I might skeer ye
more if I lay low, and said nothin'."
Even then, if she had been some fair young country girl, he would
have relapsed after this speech into his former bashfulness. But
the face and figure she turned towards him were neither young nor
fair: a woman past forty, with gray threads and splashes in her
brushed-back hair, which was turned over her ears in two curls like
frayed strands of rope. Her forehead was rather high than broad,
her nose large but well-shaped, and her eyes full but so singularly
light in color as to seem almost sightless. The short upper lip of
her large mouth displayed her teeth in an habitual smile, which was
in turn so flatly contradicted by every other line of her careworn
face that it seemed gratuitously artificial. Her figure was hidden
by a shapeless garment that partook equally of the shawl, cloak,
"I am very foolish," she began, in a voice and accent that at once
asserted a cultivated woman, "but I so seldom meet anybody here
that a voice quite startled me. That, and the heat," she went on,
wiping her face, into which the color was returning violently--"for
I seldom go out as early as this--I suppose affected me."
Mr. Bowers had that innate Far-Western reverence for womanhood
which I fancy challenges the most polished politeness. He remained
patient, undemonstrative, self-effacing, and respectful before her,
his angular arm slightly but not obtrusively advanced, the offer of
protection being in the act rather than in any spoken word, and
requiring no response.
"Like as not, ma'am," he said, cheerfully looking everywhere but in
her burning face. "The sun IS pow'ful hot at this time o' day; I
felt it myself comin' yer, and, though the damp of this timber
kinder sets it back, it's likely to come out ag'in. Ye can't check
it no more than the sap in that choked limb thar"--he pointed
ostentatiously where a fallen pine had been caught in the bent and
twisted arm of another, but which still put out a few green tassels
beyond the point of impact. "Do you live far from here, ma'am?" he
"Only as far as the first turning below the hill."
"I've got my buggy here, and I'm goin' that way, and I can jist set
ye down thar cool and comfortable. Ef," he continued, in the same
assuring tone, without waiting for a reply, "ye'll jist take a good
grip of my arm thar," curving his wrist and hand behind him like a
shepherd's crook, "I'll go first, and break away the brush for ye."
She obeyed mechanically, and they fared on through the thick ferns
in this fashion for some moments, he looking ahead, occasionally
dropping a word of caution or encouragement, but never glancing at
her face. When they reached the buggy he lifted her into it
carefully,--and perpendicularly, it struck her afterwards, very
much as if she had been a transplanted sapling with bared and
sensitive roots,--and then gravely took his place beside her.
"Bein' in the timber trade myself, ma'am," he said, gathering up
the reins, "I chanced to sight these woods, and took a look around.
My name is Bowers, of Mendocino; I reckon there ain't much that
grows in the way o' standin' timber on the Pacific Slope that I
don't know and can't locate, though I DO say it. I've got ez big a
mill, and ez big a run in my district, ez there is anywhere. Ef
you're ever up my way, you ask for Bowers--Jim Bowers--and that's
There is probably nothing more conducive to conversation between
strangers than a wholesome and early recognition of each other's
foibles. Mr. Bowers, believing his chance acquaintance a superior
woman, naively spoke of himself in a way that he hoped would
reassure her that she was not compromising herself in accepting his
civility, and so satisfy what must be her inevitable pride. On the
other hand, the woman regained her self-possession by this
exhibition of Mr. Bowers's vanity, and, revived by the refreshing
breeze caused by the rapid motion of the buggy along the road,
thanked him graciously.
"I suppose there are many strangers at the Green Springs Hotel,"
she said, after a pause.
"I didn't get to see 'em, as I only put up my hoss there," he
replied. "But I know the stage took some away this mornin': it
seemed pretty well loaded up when I passed it."
The woman drew a deep sigh. The act struck Mr. Bowers as a
possible return of her former nervous weakness. Her attention must
at once be distracted at any cost--even conversation.
"Perhaps," he began, with sudden and appalling lightness, "I'm
a-talkin' to Mrs. McFadden?"
"No," said the woman, abstractedly.
"Then it must be Mrs. Delatour? There are only two township lots
on that crossroad."
"My name IS Delatour," she said, somewhat wearily.
Mr. Bowers was conversationally stranded. He was not at all
anxious to know her name, yet, knowing it now, it seemed to suggest
that there was nothing more to say. He would, of course, have
preferred to ask her if she had read the poetry about the
Underbrush, and if she knew the poetess, and what she thought of
it; but the fact that she appeared to be an "eddicated" woman made
him sensitive of displaying technical ignorance in his manner of
talking about it. She might ask him if it was "subjective or
"objective"--two words he had heard used at the Debating Society at
Mendocino on the question, "Is poetry morally beneficial?" For a
few moments he was silent. But presently she took the initiative
in conversation, at first slowly and abstractedly, and then, as if
appreciating his sympathetic reticence, or mayhap finding some
relief in monotonous expression, talked mechanically, deliberately,
but unostentatiously about herself. So colorless was her
intonation that at times it did not seem as if she was talking to
him, but repeating some conversation she had held with another.
She had lived there ever since she had been in California. Her
husband had bought the Spanish title to the property when they
first married. The property at his death was found to be greatly
involved; she had been obliged to part with much of it to support
her children--four girls and a boy. She had been compelled to
withdraw the girls from the convent at Santa Clara to help about
the house; the boy was too young--she feared, too shiftless--to do
anything. The farm did not pay; the land was poor; she knew
nothing about farming; she had been brought up in New Orleans,
where her father had been a judge, and she didn't understand
country life. Of course she had been married too young--as all
girls were. Lately she had thought of selling off and moving to
San Francisco, where she would open a boarding-house or a school
for young ladies. He could advise her, perhaps, of some good
opportunity. Her own girls were far enough advanced to assist her
in teaching; one particularly, Cynthia, was quite clever, and spoke
French and Spanish fluently.
As Mr. Bowers was familiar with many of these counts in the
feminine American indictment of life generally, he was not perhaps
greatly moved. But in the last sentence he thought he saw an
opening to return to his main object, and, looking up cautiously,
"And mebbe write po'try now and then?" To his great discomfiture,
the only effect of this suggestion was to check his companion's
speech for some moments and apparently throw her back into her
former abstraction. Yet, after a long pause, as they were turning
into the lane, she said, as if continuing the subject:--
"I only hope that, whatever my daughters may do, they won't marry
The yawning breaches in the Delatour gates and fences presently
came in view. They were supposed to be reinforced by half a dozen
dogs, who, however, did their duty with what would seem to be the
prevailing inefficiency, retiring after a single perfunctory yelp
to shameless stretching, scratching, and slumber. Their places
were taken on the veranda by two negro servants, two girls
respectively of eight and eleven, and a boy of fourteen, who
remained silently staring. As Mr. Bowers had accepted the widow's
polite invitation to enter, she was compelled, albeit in an equally
dazed and helpless way, to issue some preliminary orders:--
"Now, Chloe--I mean aunt Dinah--do take Eunice--I mean Victorine
and Una--away, and--you know--tidy them; and you, Sarah--it's
Sarah, isn't it?--lay some refreshment in the parlor for this
gentleman. And, Bob, tell your sister Cynthia to come here with
Eunice." As Bob still remained staring at Mr. Bowers, she added,
in weary explanation, "Mr. Bowers brought me over from the Summit
woods in his buggy--it was so hot. There--shake hands and thank
him, and run away--do!"
They crossed a broad but scantily-furnished hall. Everywhere the
same look of hopeless incompleteness, temporary utility, and
premature decay; most of the furniture was mismatched and
misplaced; many of the rooms had changed their original functions
or doubled them; a smell of cooking came from the library, on whose
shelves, mingled with books, were dresses and household linen, and
through the door of a room into which Mrs. Delatour retired to
remove her duster Mr. Bowers caught a glimpse of a bed, and of a
table covered with books and papers, at which a tall, fair girl was
writing. In a few moments Mrs. Delatour returned, accompanied by
this girl, and Eunice, her short-lipped sister. Bob, who joined
the party seated around Mr. Bowers and a table set with cake, a
decanter, and glasses, completed the group. Emboldened by the
presence of the tall Cynthia and his glimpse of her previous
literary attitude, Mr. Bowers resolved to make one more attempt.
"I suppose these yer young ladies sometimes go to the wood, too?"
As his eye rested on Cynthia, she replied:--
"I reckon on account of the purty shadows down in the brush, and
the soft light, eh? and all that?" he continued, with a playful
manner but a serious accession of color.
"Why, the woods belong to us. It's mar's property!" broke in
Eunice with a flash of teeth.
"Well, Lordy, I wanter know!" said Mr. Bowers, in some astonishment.
"Why, that's right in my line, too! I've been sightin' timber all
along here, and that's how I dropped in on yer mar." Then, seeing a
look of eagerness light up the faces of Bob and Eunice, he was
encouraged to make the most of his opportunity. "Why, ma'am," he
went on, cheerfully, "I reckon you're holdin' that wood at a pretty
stiff figger, now."
"Why?" asked Mrs. Delatour, simply.
Mr. Bowers delivered a wink at Bob and Eunice, who were still
watching him with anxiety. "Well, not on account of the actool
timber, for the best of it ain't sound," he said, "but on account
of its bein' famous! Everybody that reads that pow'ful pretty poem
about it in the 'Excelsior Magazine' wants to see it. Why, it
would pay the Green Springs hotel-keeper to buy it up for his
customers. But I s'pose you reckon to keep it--along with the
poetess--in your famerly?"
Although Mr. Bowers long considered this speech as the happiest and
most brilliant effort of his life, its immediate effect was not,
perhaps, all that could be desired. The widow turned upon him a
restrained and darkening face. Cynthia half rose with an appealing
"Oh, mar!" and Bob and Eunice, having apparently pinched each other
to the last stage of endurance, retired precipitately from the room
in a prolonged giggle.
"I have not yet thought of disposing of the Summit woods, Mr.
Bowers," said Mrs. Delatour, coldly, "but if I should do so, I will
consult you. You must excuse the children, who see so little
company, they are quite unmanageable when strangers are present.
Cynthia, WILL you see if the servants have looked after Mr.
Bowers's horse? You know Bob is not to be trusted."
There was clearly nothing else for Mr. Bowers to do but to take his
leave, which he did respectfully, if not altogether hopefully. But
when he had reached the lane, his horse shied from the unwonted
spectacle of Bob, swinging his hat, and apparently awaiting him,
from the fork of a wayside sapling.
"Hol' up, mister. Look here!"
Mr. Bowers pulled up. Bob dropped into the road, and, after a
backward glance over his shoulder, said:--
"Drive 'longside the fence in the shadder." As Mr. Bowers obeyed,
Bob approached the wheels of the buggy in a manner half shy, half
mysterious. "You wanter buy them Summit woods, mister?"
"Well, per'aps, sonny. Why?" smiled Mr. Bowers.
"Coz I'll tell ye suthin'. Don't you be fooled into allowin' that
Cynthia wrote that po'try. She didn't--no more'n Eunice nor me.
Mar kinder let ye think it, 'cos she don't want folks to think SHE
did it. But mar wrote that po'try herself; wrote it out o' them
thar woods--all by herself. Thar's a heap more po'try thar, you
bet, and jist as good. And she's the one that kin write it--you
hear me? That's my mar, every time! You buy that thar wood, and
get mar to run it for po'try, and you'll make your pile, sure! I
ain't lyin'. You'd better look spry: thar's another feller
snoopin' 'round yere--only he barked up the wrong tree, and thought
it was Cynthia, jist as you did."
"Another feller?" repeated the astonished Bowers.
"Yes; a rig'lar sport. He was orful keen on that po'try, too, you
bet. So you'd better hump yourself afore somebody else cuts in.
Mar got a hundred dollars for that pome, from that editor feller
and his pardner. I reckon that's the rig'lar price, eh?" he added,
with a sudden suspicious caution.
"I reckon so," replied Mr. Bowers, blankly. "But--look here, Bob!
Do you mean to say it was your mother--your MOTHER, Bob, who wrote
that poem? Are you sure?"
"D'ye think I'm lyin'?" said Bob, scornfully. "Don't I know?
Don't I copy 'em out plain for her, so as folks won't know her
handwrite? Go 'way! you're loony!" Then, possibly doubting if
this latter expression were strictly diplomatic with the business
in hand, he added, in half-reproach, half-apology, "Don't ye see I
don't want ye to be fooled into losin' yer chance o' buying up that
Summit wood? It's the cold truth I'm tellin' ye."
Mr. Bowers no longer doubted it. Disappointed as he undoubtedly
was at first,--and even self-deceived,--he recognized in a flash
the grim fact that the boy had stated. He recalled the apparition
of the sad-faced woman in the wood--her distressed manner, that to
his inexperienced mind now took upon itself the agitated trembling
of disturbed mystic inspiration. A sense of sadness and remorse
succeeded his first shock of disappointment.
"Well, are ye going to buy the woods?" said Bob, eying him grimly.
"Ye'd better say."
Mr. Bowers started. "I shouldn't wonder, Bob," he said, with a
smile, gathering up his reins. "Anyhow, I'm comin' back to see
your mother this afternoon. And meantime, Bob, you keep the first
chance for me."
He drove away, leaving the youthful diplomatist standing with his
bare feet in the dust. For a minute or two the young gentleman
amused himself by a few light saltatory steps in the road. Then a
smile of scornful superiority, mingled perhaps with a sense of
previous slights and unappreciation, drew back his little upper
lip, and brightened his mottled cheek.
"I'd like ter know," he said, darkly, "what this yer God-forsaken
famerly would do without ME!"
It is to be presumed that the editor and Mr. Hamlin mutually kept
to their tacit agreement to respect the impersonality of the
poetess, for during the next three months the subject was seldom
alluded to by either. Yet in that period White Violet had sent two
other contributions, and on each occasion Mr. Hamlin had insisted
upon increasing the honorarium to the amount of his former gift.
In vain the editor pointed out the danger of this form of
munificence; Mr. Hamlin retorted by saying that if he refused he
would appeal to the proprietor, who certainly would not object to
taking the credit of this liberality. "As to the risks," concluded
Jack, sententiously, "I'll take them; and as far as you're
concerned, you certainly get the worth of your money."
Indeed, if popularity was an indiction, this had become suddenly
true. For the poetess's third contribution, without changing its
strong local color and individuality, had been an unexpected
outburst of human passion--a love-song, that touched those to whom
the subtler meditative graces of the poetess had been unknown.
Many people had listened to this impassioned but despairing cry
from some remote and charmed solitude, who had never read poetry
before, who translated it into their own limited vocabulary and
more limited experience, and were inexpressibly affected to find
that they, too, understood it; it was caught up and echoed by the
feverish, adventurous, and unsatisfied life that filled that day
and time. Even the editor was surprised and frightened. Like most
cultivated men, he distrusted popularity: like all men who believe
in their own individual judgment, he doubted collective wisdom.
Yet now that his protegee had been accepted by others, he
questioned that judgment and became her critic. It struck him that
her sudden outburst was strained; it seemed to him that in this
mere contortion of passion the sibyl's robe had become rudely
disarranged. He spoke to Hamlin, and even approached the tabooed
"Did you see anything that suggested this sort of business in--in--
that woman--I mean in--your pilgrimage, Jack?"
"No," responded Jack, gravely. "But it's easy to see she's got
hold of some hay-footed fellow up there in the mountains with
straws in his hair, and is playing him for all he's worth. You
won't get much more poetry out of her, I reckon."
Is was not long after this conversation that one afternoon, when
the editor was alone, Mr. James Bowers entered the editorial room
with much of the hesitation and irresolution of his previous visit.
As the editor had not only forgotten him, but even, dissociated him
with the poetess, Mr. Bowers was fain to meet his unresponsive eye
and manner with some explanation.
"Ye disremember my comin' here, Mr. Editor, to ask you the name o'
the lady who called herself 'White Violet,' and how you allowed you
couldn't give it, but would write and ask for it?"
Mr. Editor, leaning back in his chair, now remembered the
occurrence, but was distressed to add that the situation remained
unchanged, and that he had received no such permission.
"Never mind THAT, my lad," said Mr. Bowers, gravely, waving his
hand. "I understand all that; but, ez I've known the lady ever
since, and am now visiting her at her house on the Summit, I reckon
it don't make much matter."
It was quite characteristic of Mr. Bowers's smileless earnestness
that he made no ostentation of this dramatic retort, nor of the
undisguised stupefaction of the editor.
"Do you mean to say that you have met White Violet, the author of
these poems?" repeated the editor.
"Which her name is Delatour,--the widder Delatour,--ez she has
herself give me permission to tell you," continued Mr. Bowers, with
a certain abstracted and automatic precision that dissipated any
suggestion of malice in the reversed situation.
"Delatour!--a widow!" repeated the editor.
"With five children," continued Mr. Bowers. Then, with unalterable
gravity, he briefly gave an outline of her condition and the
circumstances of his acquaintance with her.
"But I reckoned YOU might have known suthin' o' this; though she
never let on you did," he concluded, eying the editor with troubled
The editor did not think it necessary to implicate Mr. Hamlin. He
said, briefly, "I? Oh, no!"
"Of course, YOU might not have seen her?" said Mr. Bowers, keeping
the same grave, troubled gaze on the editor.
"Of course not," said the editor, somewhat impatient under the
singular scrutiny of Mr. Bowers; "and I'm very anxious to know how
she looks. Tell me, what is she like?"
"She is a fine, pow'ful, eddicated woman," said Mr. Bowers, with
slow deliberation. "Yes, sir,--a pow'ful woman, havin' grand ideas
of her own, and holdin' to 'em." He had withdrawn his eyes from
the editor, and apparently addressed the ceiling in confidence.
"But what does she look like, Mr. Bowers?" said the editor,
"Well, sir, she looks--LIKE--IT! Yes,"--with deliberate caution,--
"I should say, just like it."
After a pause, apparently to allow the editor to materialize this
ravishing description, he said, gently, "Are you busy just now?"
"Not very. What can I do for you?"
"Well, not much for ME, I reckon," he returned, with a deeper
respiration, that was his nearest approach to a sigh, "but suthin'
perhaps for yourself and--another. Are you married?"
"No," said the editor, promptly.
"Nor engaged to any--young lady?"--with great politeness.
"Well, mebbe you think it a queer thing for me to say,--mebbe you
reckon you KNOW it ez well ez anybody,--but it's my opinion that
White Violet is in love with you."
"With me?" ejaculated the editor, in a hopeless astonishment that
at last gave way to an incredulous and irresistible laugh.
A slight touch of pain passed over Mr. Bowers's dejected face, but
left the deep outlines set with a rude dignity. "It's SO," he
said, slowly, "though, as a young man and a gay feller, ye may
think it's funny."
"No, not funny, but a terrible blunder, Mr. Bowers, for I give you
my word I know nothing of the lady and have never set eyes upon
"No, but she has on YOU. I can't say," continued Mr. Bowers, with
sublime naivete, "that I'd ever recognize you from her description,
but a woman o' that kind don't see with her eyes like you and me,
but with all her senses to onct, and a heap more that ain't senses
as we know 'em. The same eyes that seed down through the brush and
ferns in the Summit woods, the same ears that heerd the music of
the wind trailin' through the pines, don't see you with my eyes or
hear you with my ears. And when she paints you, it's nat'ril for a
woman with that pow'ful mind and grand idees to dip her brush into
her heart's blood for warmth and color. Yer smilin', young man.
Well, go on and smile at me, my lad, but not at her. For you don't
know her. When you know her story as I do, when you know she was
made a wife afore she ever knew what it was to be a young woman,
when you know that the man she married never understood the kind o'
critter he was tied to no more than ef he'd been a steer yoked to a
Morgan colt, when ye know she had children growin' up around her
afore she had given over bein' a sort of child herself, when ye
know she worked and slaved for that man and those children about
the house--her heart, her soul, and all her pow'ful mind bein' all
the time in the woods along with the flickering leaves and the
shadders,--when ye mind she couldn't get the small ways o' the
ranch because she had the big ways o' Natur' that made it,--then
you'll understand her."
Impressed by the sincerity of his visitor's manner, touched by the
unexpected poetry of his appeal, and yet keenly alive to the
absurdity of an incomprehensible blunder somewhere committed, the
editor gasped almost hysterically,--
"But why should all this make her in love with ME?"
"Because ye are both gifted," returned Mr. Bowers, with sad but
unconquerable conviction; "because ye're both, so to speak, in a
line o' idees and business that draws ye together,--to lean on each
other and trust each other ez pardners. Not that YE are ezakly her
ekal," he went on, with a return to his previous exasperating
naivete, "though I've heerd promisin' things of ye, and ye're still
young, but in matters o' this kind there is allers one ez hez to be
looked up to by the other,--and gin'rally the wrong one. She looks
up to you, Mr. Editor,--it's part of her po'try,--ez she looks down
inter the brush and sees more than is plain to you and me. Not,"
he continued, with a courteously deprecating wave of the hand, "ez
you hain't bin kind to her--mebbe TOO kind. For thar's the purty
letter you writ her, thar's the perlite, easy, captivatin' way you
had with her gals and that boy--hold on!"--as the editor made a
gesture of despairing renunciation,--"I ain't sayin' you ain't
right in keepin' it to yourself,--and thar's the extry money you
sent her every time. Stop! she knows it was EXTRY, for she made a
p'int o' gettin' me to find out the market price o' po'try in
papers and magazines, and she reckons you've bin payin' her four
hundred per cent. above them figgers--hold on! I ain't sayin' it
ain't free and liberal in you, and I'd have done the same thing;
yet SHE thinks"--
But the editor had risen hastily to his feet with flushing cheeks.
"One moment, Mr. Bowers," he said, hurriedly. "This is the most
dreadful blunder of all. The gift is not mine. It was the
spontaneous offering of another who really admired our friend's
work,--a gentleman who"-- He stopped suddenly.
The sound of a familiar voice, lightly humming, was borne along the
passage; the light tread of a familiar foot was approaching. The
editor turned quickly towards the open door,--so quickly that Mr.
Bowers was fain to turn also.
For a charming instant the figure of Jack Hamlin, handsome,
careless, and confident, was framed in the doorway. His dark eyes,
with their habitual scorn of his average fellow-man, swept
superciliously over Mr. Bowers, and rested for an instant with
caressing familiarity on the editor.
"Well, sonny, any news from the old girl at the Summit?"
"No-o," hastily stammered the editor, with a half-hysterical laugh.
"No, Jack. Excuse me a moment."
"All right; busy, I see. Hasta manana."
The picture vanished, the frame was empty.
"You see," continued the editor, turning to Mr. Bowers, "there has
been a mistake. I"--but he stopped suddenly at the ashen face of
Mr. Bowers, still fixed in the direction of the vanished figure.
"Are you ill?"
Mr. Bowers did not reply, but slowly withdrew his eyes, and turned
them heavily on the editor. Then, drawing a longer, deeper breath,
he picked up his soft felt hat, and, moulding it into shape in his
hands as if preparing to put it on, he moistened his dry, grayish
lips, and said, gently:--
"Friend o' yours?"
"Yes," said the editor--"Jack Hamlin. Of course, you know him?"
Mr. Bowers here put his hat on his head, and, after a pause, turned
round slowly once or twice, as if he had forgotten it, and was
still seeking it. Finally he succeeded in finding the editor's
hand, and shook it, albeit his own trembled slightly. Then he
"I reckon you're right. There's bin a mistake. I see it now.
Good-by. If you're ever up my way, drop in and see me." He then
walked to the doorway, passed out, and seemed to melt into the
afternoon shadows of the hall.
He never again entered the office of the "Excelsior Magazine,"
neither was any further contribution ever received from White
Violet. To a polite entreaty from the editor, addressed first to
"White Violet" and then to Mrs. Delatour, there was no response.
The thought of Mr. Hamlin's cynical prophecy disturbed him, but
that gentleman, preoccupied in filling some professional
engagements in Sacramento, gave him no chance to acquire further
explanations as to the past or the future. The youthful editor was
at first in despair and filled with a vague remorse of some
unfulfilled duty. But, to his surprise, the readers of the
magazine seemed to survive their talented contributor, and the
feverish life that had been thrilled by her song, in two months had
apparently forgotten her. Nor was her voice lifted from any alien
quarter; the domestic and foreign press that had echoed her lays
seemed to respond no longer to her utterance.
It is possible that some readers of these pages may remember a
previous chronicle by the same historian wherein it was recorded
that the volatile spirit of Mr. Hamlin, slightly assisted by
circumstances, passed beyond these voices at the Ranch of the
Blessed Fisherman, some two years later. As the editor stood
beside the body of his friend on the morning of the funeral, he
noticed among the flowers laid upon his bier by loving hands a
wreath of white violets. Touched and disturbed by a memory long
since forgotten, he was further embarrassed, as the cortege
dispersed in the Mission graveyard, by the apparition of the tall
figure of Mr. James Bowers from behind a monumental column. The
editor turned to him quickly.
"I am glad to see you here," he said, awkwardly, and he knew not
why; then, after a pause, "I trust you can give me some news of
Mrs. Delatour. I wrote to her nearly two years ago, but had no
"Thar's bin no Mrs. Delatour for two years," said Mr. Bowers,
contemplatively stroking his beard; "and mebbe that's why. She's
bin for two years Mrs. Bowers."
"I congratulate you," said the editor; "but I hope there still
remains a White Violet, and that, for the sake of literature, she
has not given up"--
"Mrs. Bowers," interrupted Mr. Bowers, with singular deliberation,
"found that makin' po'try and tendin' to the cares of a growin'-up
famerly was irritatin' to the narves. They didn't jibe, so to
speak. What Mrs. Bowers wanted--and what, po'try or no po'try,
I've bin tryin' to give her--was Rest! She's bin havin' it
comfor'bly up at my ranch at Mendocino, with her children and me.
Yes, sir"--his eye wandered accidentally to the new-made grave--
"you'll excuse my sayin' it to a man in your profession, but it's
what most folks will find is a heap better than readin' or writin'
or actin' po'try--and that's Rest!"
THE CHATELAINE OF BURNT RIDGE
It had grown dark on Burnt Ridge. Seen from below, the whole
serrated crest that had glittered in the sunset as if its
interstices were eaten by consuming fires, now, closed up its ranks
of blackened shafts and became again harsh and sombre chevaux de
frise against the sky. A faint glow still lingered over the red
valley road, as if it were its own reflection, rather than any
light from beyond the darkened ridge. Night was already creeping
up out of remote canyons and along the furrowed flanks of the
mountain, or settling on the nearer woods with the sound of home-
coming and innumerable wings. At a point where the road began to
encroach upon the mountain-side in its slow winding ascent the
darkness had become so real that a young girl cantering along the
rising terrace found difficulty in guiding her horse, with eyes
still dazzled by the sunset fires.
In spite of her precautions, the animal suddenly shied at some
object in the obscured roadway, and nearly unseated her. The
accident disclosed not only the fact that she was riding in a man's
saddle, but also a foot and ankle that her ordinary walking-dress
was too short to hide. It was evident that her equestrian exercise
was extempore, and that at that hour and on that road she had not
expected to meet company. But she was apparently a good horsewoman,
for the mischance which might have thrown a less practical or more
timid rider seemed of little moment to her. With a strong hand and
determined gesture she wheeled her frightened horse back into the
track, and rode him directly at the object. But here she herself
slightly recoiled, for it was the body of a man lying in the road.
As she leaned forward over her horse's shoulder, she could see by
the dim light that he was a miner, and that, though motionless, he
was breathing stertorously. Drunk, no doubt!--an accident of the
locality alarming only to her horse. But although she cantered
impatiently forward, she had not proceeded a hundred yards before
she stopped reflectively, and trotted back again. He had not
moved. She could now see that his head and shoulders were covered
with broken clods of earth and gravel, and smaller fragments lay at
his side. A dozen feet above him on the hillside there was a foot
trail which ran parallel with the bridle-road, and occasionally
overhung it. It seemed possible that he might have fallen from the
trail and been stunned.
Dismounting, she succeeded in dragging him to a safer position by
the bank. The act discovered his face, which was young, and
unknown to her. Wiping it with the silk handkerchief which was
loosely slung around his neck after the fashion of his class, she
gave a quick feminine glance around her and then approached her own
and rather handsome face near his lips. There was no odor of
alcohol in the thick and heavy respiration. Mounting again, she
rode forward at an accelerated pace, and in twenty minutes had
reached a higher tableland of the mountain, a cleared opening in
the forest that showed signs of careful cultivation, and a large,
rambling, yet picturesque-looking dwelling, whose unpainted red-
wood walls were hidden in roses and creepers. Pushing open a
swinging gate, she entered the inclosure as a brown-faced man,
dressed as a vaquero, came towards her as if to assist her to
alight. But she had already leaped to the ground and thrown him
"Miguel," she said, with a mistress's quiet authority in her boyish
contralto voice, "put Glory in the covered wagon, and drive down
the road as far as the valley turning. There's a man lying near
the right bank, drunk, or sick, may be, or perhaps crippled by a
fall. Bring him up here, unless somebody has found him already, or
you happen to know who he is and where to take him."
The vaquero raised his shoulders, half in disappointed expectation
of some other command. "And your brother, senora, he has not
A light shadow of impatience crossed her face. "No," she said,
bluntly. "Come, be quick."
She turned towards the house as the man moved away. Already a
gaunt-looking old man had appeared in the porch, and was awaiting
her with his hand shadowing his angry, suspicious eyes, and his
lips moving querulously.
"Of course, you've got to stand out there and give orders and 'tend
to your own business afore you think o' speaking to your own flesh
and blood," he said aggrievedly. "That's all YOU care!"
"There was a sick man lying in the road, and I've sent Miguel to
look after him," returned the girl, with a certain contemptuous
"Oh, yes!" struck in another voice, which seemed to belong to the
female of the first speaker's species, and to be its equal in age
and temper, "and I reckon you saw a jay bird on a tree, or a
squirrel on the fence, and either of 'em was more important to you
than your own brother."
"Steve didn't come by the stage, and didn't send any message,"
continued the young girl, with the same coldly resigned manner.
"No one had any news of him, and, as I told you before, I didn't
"Why don't you say right out you didn't WANT any?" said the old
man, sneeringly. "Much you inquired! No; I orter hev gone myself,
and I would if I was master here, instead of me and your mother
bein' the dust of the yearth beneath your feet."
The young girl entered the house, followed by the old man, passing
an old woman seated by the window, who seemed to be nursing her
resentment and a large Bible which she held clasped against her
shawled bosom at the same moment. Going to the wall, she hung up
her large hat and slightly shook the red dust from her skirts as
she continued her explanation, in the same deep voice, with a
certain monotony of logic and possibly of purpose and practice
"You and mother know as well as I do, father, that Stephen is no
more to be depended upon than the wind that blows. It's three
years since he has been promising to come, and even getting money
to come, and yet he has never showed his face, though he has been a
dozen times within five miles of this house. He doesn't come
because he doesn't want to come. As to YOUR going over to the
stage-office, I went there myself at the last moment to save you
the mortification of asking questions of strangers that they know
have been a dozen times answered already."
There was such a ring of absolute truthfulness, albeit worn by
repetition, in the young girl's deep honest voice that for one
instant her two more emotional relatives quailed before it; but
only for a moment.
"That's right!" shrilled the old woman. "Go on and abuse your own
brother. It's only the fear you have that he'll make his fortune
yet and shame you before the father and mother you despise."
The young girl remained standing by the window, motionless and
apparently passive, as if receiving an accepted and usual
punishment. But here the elder woman gave way to sobs and some
incoherent snuffling, at which the younger went away. Whether she
recognized in her mother's tears the ordinary deliquescence of
emotion, or whether, as a woman herself, she knew that this mere
feminine conventionality could not possibly be directed at her, and
that the actual conflict between them had ceased, she passed slowly
on to an inner hall, leaving the male victim, her unfortunate
father, to succumb, as he always did sooner or later, to their
influence. Crossing the hall, which was decorated with a few elk
horns, Indian trophies, and mountain pelts, she entered another
room, and closed the door behind her with a gesture of relief.
The room, which looked upon a porch, presented a singular
combination of masculine business occupations and feminine taste
and adornment. A desk covered with papers, a shelf displaying a
ledger and account-books, another containing works of reference, a
table with a vase of flowers and a lady's riding-whip upon it, a
map of California flanked on either side by an embroidered silken
workbag and an oval mirror decked with grasses, a calendar and
interest-table hanging below two school-girl crayons of classic
heads with the legend, "Josephine Forsyth fecit,"--were part of its
incongruous accessories. The young girl went to her desk, but
presently moved and turned towards the window thoughtfully. The
last gleam had died from the steel-blue sky; a few lights like star
points began to prick out the lower valley. The expression of
monotonous restraint and endurance had not yet faded from her face.
Yet she had been accustomed to scenes like the one she had just
passed though since her girlhood. Five years ago, Alexander
Forsyth, her uncle, had brought her to this spot--then a mere log
cabin on the hillside--as a refuge from the impoverished and
shiftless home of his elder brother Thomas and his ill-tempered
wife. Here Alexander Forsyth, by reason of his more dominant
character and business capacity, had prospered until he became a
rich and influential ranch owner. Notwithstanding her father's
jealousy of Alexander's fortune, and the open rupture that followed
between the brothers, Josephine retained her position in the heart
and home of her uncle without espousing the cause of either; and
her father was too prudent not to recognize the near and
prospective advantages of such a mediator. Accustomed to her
parents' extravagant denunciations, and her uncle's more repressed
but practical contempt of them, the unfortunate girl early
developed a cynical disbelief in the virtues of kinship in the
abstract, and a philosophical resignation to its effects upon her
personally. Believing that her father and uncle fairly represented
the fraternal principle, she was quite prepared for the early
defection and distrust of her vagabond and dissipated brother
Stephen, and accepted it calmly. True to an odd standard of
justice, which she had erected from the crumbling ruins of her own
domestic life, she was tolerant of everything but human perfection.
This quality, however fatal to her higher growth, had given her a
peculiar capacity for business which endeared her to her uncle.
Familiar with the strong passions and prejudices of men, she had
none of those feminine meannesses, a wholesome distrust of which
had kept her uncle a bachelor. It was not strange, therefore, that
when he died two years ago it was found that he had left her his
entire property, real and personal, limited only by a single
condition. She was to undertake the vocation of a "sole trader,"
and carry on the business under the name of "J. Forsyth." If she
married, the estate and property was to be held distinct from her
husband's, inalienable under the "Married Woman's Property Act,"
and subject during her life only to her own control and personal
Back to Full Books