Colonel Starbottle's Client
Part 2 out of 4
farther on. She reached it unperceived, and--another trick of the
old days--quickly extemporized a side-saddle from Simmons' Mexican
tree, with its high cantle and horn bow, and the aid of a blanket.
Then leaping to her seat, she rapidly threw off her mantle, tied it
by its sleeves around her waist, tucked it under one knee, and let
it fall over her horse's flanks. By this time Blue Lightning was
also struck with a flash of equine recollection and pricked up his
ears. Mrs. Baker uttered a little chirping cry which he remembered,
and the next moment they were both careering over the Ridge.
The trail that she had taken, though precipitate, difficult, and
dangerous in places, was a clear gain of two miles on the stage
road. There was less chance of her being followed or meeting any
one. The greater canyons were already in shadow; the pines on the
farther ridges were separating their masses, and showing individual
silhouettes against the sky, but the air was still warm, and the
cool breath of night, as she well knew it, had not yet begun to
flow down the mountain. The lower range of Burnt Ridge was still
uneclipsed by the creeping shadow of the mountain ahead of her.
Without a watch, but with this familiar and slowly changing dial
spread out before her, she knew the time to a minute. Heavy Tree
Hill, a lesser height in the distance, was already wiped out by
that shadowy index finger--half past seven! The stage would be at
Hickory Hill just before half past eight; she ought to anticipate
it, if possible,--it would stay ten minutes to change horses,--she
MUST arrive before it left!
There was a good two-mile level before the rise of the next range.
Now, Blue Lightning! all you know! And that was much,--for with
the little chip hat and fluttering ribbons well bent down over the
bluish mane, and the streaming gauze of her mantle almost level
with the horse's back, she swept down across the long tableland
like a skimming blue-jay. A few more bird-like dips up and down
the undulations, and then came the long, cruel ascent of the
Acrid with perspiration, caking with dust, slithering in the
slippery, impalpable powder of the road, groggily staggering in a
red dusty dream, coughing, snorting, head-tossing; becoming
suddenly dejected, with slouching haunch and limp legs on easy
slopes, or wildly spasmodic and agile on sharp acclivities, Blue
Lightning began to have ideas and recollections! Ah! she was a
devil for a lark--this lightly-clinging, caressing, blarneying,
cooing creature--up there! He remembered her now. Ha! very well
then. Hoop-la! And suddenly leaping out like a rabbit, bucking,
trotting hard, ambling lightly, "loping" on three legs and
recreating himself,--as only a California mustang could,--the
invincible Blue Lightning at last stood triumphantly upon the
summit. The evening star had just pricked itself through the
golden mist of the horizon line,--eight o'clock! She could do it
now! But here, suddenly, her first hesitation seized her. She
knew her horse, she knew the trail, she knew herself,--but did she
know THE MAN to whom she was riding? A cold chill crept over her,
and then she shivered in a sudden blast; it was Night at last
swooping down from the now invisible Sierras, and possessing all it
touched. But it was only one long descent to Hickory Hill now, and
she swept down securely on its wings. Half-past eight! The lights
of the settlement were just ahead of her--but so, too, were the two
lamps of the waiting stage before the post-office and hotel.
Happily the lounging crowd were gathered around the hotel, and she
slipped into the post-office from the rear, unperceived. As she
stepped behind the partition, its only occupant--a good-looking
young fellow with a reddish mustache--turned towards her with a
flush of delighted surprise. But it changed at the sight of the
white, determined face and the brilliant eyes that had never looked
once towards him, but were fixed upon a large bag, whose yawning
mouth was still open and propped up beside his desk.
"Where is the through money letter that came in that bag?" she said
"What--do--you--mean?" he stammered, with a face that had suddenly
grown whiter than her own.
"I mean that it's a DECOY, checked at Heavy Tree Crossing, and that
Mr. Home, of San Francisco, is now waiting at my office to know if
you have taken it!"
The laugh and lie that he had at first tried to summon to mouth and
lips never reached them. For, under the spell of her rigid,
truthful face, he turned almost mechanically to his desk, and took
out a package.
"Good God! you've opened it already!" she cried, pointing to the
The expression on her face, more than anything she had said,
convinced him that she knew all. He stammered under the new alarm
that her despairing tone suggested. "Yes!--I was owing some bills--
the collector was waiting here for the money, and I took something
from the packet. But I was going to make it up by next mail--I
"How much have you taken?"
"Only a trifle. I"--
"A hundred dollars!"
She dragged the money she had brought from Laurel Run from her
pocket, and counting out the sum, replaced it in the open package.
He ran quickly to get the sealing wax, but she motioned him away as
she dropped the package back into the mail-bag. "No; as long as
the money is found in the bag the package may have been broken
ACCIDENTALLY. Now burst open one or two of those other packages a
little--so;" she took out a packet of letters and bruised their
official wrappings under her little foot until the tape fastening
was loosened. "Now give me something heavy." She caught up a
brass two-pound weight, and in the same feverish but collected
haste wrapped it in paper, sealed it, stamped it, and, addressing
it in a large printed hand to herself at Laurel Hill, dropped it in
the bag. Then she closed it and locked it; he would have assisted
her, but she again waved him away. "Send for the expressman, and
keep yourself out of the way for a moment," she said curtly.
An attitude of weak admiration and foolish passion had taken the
place of his former tremulous fear. He obeyed excitedly, but
without a word. Mrs. Baker wiped her moist forehead and parched
lips, and shook out her skirt. Well might the young expressman
start at the unexpected revelation of those sparkling eyes and that
demurely smiling mouth at the little window.
She put her finger quickly to her lips, and threw a world of
unutterable and enigmatical meaning into her mischievous face.
"There's a big San Francisco swell takin' my place at Laurel to-
"And it's a pity that the Omnibus Way Bag happened to get such a
shaking up and banging round already, coming here."
"I say," continued Mrs. Baker, with great gravity and dancing eyes,
"that it would be just AWFUL if that keerful city clerk found
things kinder mixed up inside when he comes to open it. I wouldn't
give him trouble for the world, Charley."
"No, ma'am, it ain't like you."
"So you'll be particularly careful on MY account."
"Mrs. Baker," said Charley, with infinite gravity, "if that bag
SHOULD TUMBLE OFF A DOZEN TIMES between this and Laurel Hill, I'll
hop down and pick it up myself."
"Thank you! shake!"
They shook hands gravely across the window-ledge.
"And you ain't going down with us, Mrs. Baker?"
"Of course not; it wouldn't do,--for I AIN'T HERE,--don't you see?"
She handed him the bag through the door. He took it carefully, but
in spite of his great precaution fell over it twice on his way to
the road, where from certain exclamations and shouts it seemed that
a like miserable mischance attended its elevation to the boot.
Then Mrs. Baker came back into the office, and, as the wheels
rolled away, threw herself into a chair, and inconsistently gave
way for the first time to an outburst of tears. Then her hand was
grasped suddenly and she found Green on his knees before her. She
started to her feet.
"Don't move," he said, with weak hysteric passion, "but listen to
me, for God's sake! I am ruined, I know, even though you have just
saved me from detection and disgrace. I have been mad!--a fool, to
do what I have done, I know, but you do not know all--you do not
know why I did it--you cannot think of the temptation that has
driven me to it. Listen, Mrs. Baker. I have been striving to get
money, honestly, dishonestly--any way, to look well in YOUR eyes--
to make myself worthy of you--to make myself rich, and to be able
to offer you a home and take you away from Laurel Run. It was all
for YOU, it was all for love of YOU, Betsy, my darling. Listen to
In the fury, outraged sensibility, indignation, and infinite
disgust that filled her little body at that moment, she should have
been large, imperious, goddess-like, and commanding. But God is at
times ironical with suffering womanhood. She could only writhe her
hand from his grasp with childish contortions; she could only glare
at him with eyes that were prettily and piquantly brilliant; she
could only slap at his detaining hand with a plump and velvety
palm, and when she found her voice it was high falsetto. And all
she could say was, "Leave me be, looney, or I'll scream!"
He rose, with a weak, confused laugh, half of miserable affectation
and half of real anger and shame.
"What did you come riding over here for, then? What did you take
all this risk for? Why did you rush over here to share my
disgrace--for YOU are as much mixed up with this now as I am--if
you didn't calculate to share EVERYTHING ELSE with me? What did
you come here for, then, if not for ME?"
"What did I come here for?" said Mrs. Baker, with every drop of red
blood gone from her cheek and trembling lip. "What--did--I--come
here for? Well!--I came here for JOHN BAKER'S sake! John Baker,
who stood between you and death at Burnt Ridge, as I stand between
you and damnation at Laurel Run, Mr. Green! Yes, John Baker, lying
under half of Burnt Ridge, but more to me this day than any living
man crawling over it--in--in"--oh, fatal climax!--"in a month o'
Sundays! What did I come here for? I came here as John Baker's
livin' wife to carry on dead John Baker's work. Yes, dirty work
this time, may be, Mr. Green! but his work and for HIM only--
precious! That's what I came here for; that's what I LIVE for;
that's what I'm waiting for--to be up to HIM and his work always!
That's me--Betsy Baker!"
She walked up and down rapidly, tying her chip hat under her chin
again. Then she stopped, and taking her chamois purse from her
pocket, laid it sharply on the desk.
"Stanton Green, don't be a fool! Rise up out of this, and be a man
again. Take enough out o' that bag to pay what you owe Gov'ment,
send in your resignation, and keep the rest to start you in an
honest life elsewhere. But light out o' Hickory Hill afore this
She pulled her mantle from the wall and opened the door.
"You are going?" he said bitterly.
"Yes." Either she could not hold seriousness long in her
capricious little fancy, or, with feminine tact, she sought to make
the parting less difficult for him, for she broke into a dazzling
smile. "Yes, I'm goin' to run Blue Lightning agin Charley and that
way bag back to Laurel Run, and break the record."
. . . . . .
It is said that she did! Perhaps owing to the fact that the grade
of the return journey to Laurel Run was in her favor, and that she
could avoid the long, circuitous ascent to the summit taken by the
stage, or that, owing to the extraordinary difficulties in the
carriage of the way bag,--which had to be twice rescued from under
the wheels of the stage,--she entered the Laurel Run post-office as
the coach leaders came trotting up the hill. Mr. Home was already
on the platform.
"You'll have to ballast your next way bag, boss," said Charley,
gravely, as it escaped his clutches once more in the dust of the
road, "or you'll have to make a new contract with the company.
We've lost ten minutes in five miles over that bucking thing."
Home did not reply, but quickly dragged his prize into the office,
scarcely noticing Mrs. Baker, who stood beside him pale and
breathless. As the bolt of the bag was drawn, revealing its
chaotic interior, Mrs. Baker gave a little sigh. Home glanced
quickly at her, emptied the bag upon the floor, and picked up the
broken and half-filled money parcel. Then he collected the
scattered coins and counted them. "It's all right, Mrs. Baker," he
said gravely. "HE'S safe this time."
"I'm so glad!" said little Mrs. Baker, with a hypocritical gasp.
"So am I," returned Home, with increasing gravity, as he took the
coin, "for, from all I have gathered this afternoon, it seems he
was an old pioneer of Laurel Run, a friend of your husband's, and,
I think, more fool than knave!" He was silent for a moment,
clicking the coins against each other; then he said carelessly:
"Did he get quite away, Mrs. Baker?"
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," said Mrs. Baker,
with a lofty air of dignity, but a somewhat debasing color. "I
don't see why I should know anything about it, or why he should go
away at all."
"Well," said Mr. Home, laying his hand gently on the widow's
shoulder, "well, you see, it might have occurred to his friends
that the COINS WERE MARKED! That is, no doubt, the reason why he
would take their good advice and go. But, as I said before, Mrs.
Baker, YOU'RE all right, whatever happens,--the Government stands
A NIGHT AT "HAYS."
It was difficult to say if Hays' farmhouse, or "Hays," as it was
familiarly called, looked any more bleak and cheerless that winter
afternoon than it usually did in the strong summer sunshine.
Painted a cold merciless white, with scant projections for shadows,
a roof of white-pine shingles, bleached lighter through sun and
wind, and covered with low, white-capped chimneys, it looked even
more stark and chilly than the drifts which had climbed its low
roadside fence, and yet seemed hopeless of gaining a foothold on
the glancing walls, or slippery, wind-swept roof. The storm, which
had already heaped the hollows of the road with snow, hurled its
finely-granulated flakes against the building, but they were
whirled along the gutters and ridges, and disappeared in smokelike
puffs across the icy roof. The granite outcrop in the hilly field
beyond had long ago whitened and vanished; the dwarf firs and
larches which had at first taken uncouth shapes in the drift
blended vaguely together, and then merged into an unbroken formless
wave. But the gaunt angles and rigid outlines of the building
remained sharp and unchanged. It would seem as if the rigors of
winter had only accented their hardness, as the fierceness of
summer had previously made them intolerable.
It was believed that some of this unyielding grimness attached to
Hays himself. Certain it is that neither hardship nor prosperity
had touched his character. Years ago his emigrant team had broken
down in this wild but wooded defile of the Sierras, and he had been
forced to a winter encampment, with only a rude log-cabin for
shelter, on the very verge of the promised land. Unable to enter
it himself, he was nevertheless able to assist the better-equipped
teams that followed him with wood and water and a coarse forage
gathered from a sheltered slope of wild oats. This was the
beginning of a rude "supply station" which afterwards became so
profitable that when spring came and Hays' team were sufficiently
recruited to follow the flood of immigrating gold-seekers to the
placers and valleys, there seemed no occasion for it. His fortune
had been already found in the belt of arable slope behind the
wooded defile, and in the miraculously located coign of vantage on
what was now the great highway of travel and the only oasis and
first relief of the weary journey; the breaking down of his own
team at that spot had not only been the salvation of those who
found at "Hays" the means of prosecuting the last part of their
pilgrimage, but later provided the equipment of returning teams.
The first two years of this experience had not been without
hardship and danger. He had been raided by Indians and besieged
for three days in his stockaded cabin; he had been invested by
wintry drifts of twenty feet of snow, cut off equally from incoming
teams from the pass and the valley below. During the second year
his wife had joined him with four children, but whether the
enforced separation had dulled her conjugal affection, or whether
she was tempted by a natural feminine longing for the land of
promise beyond, she sought it one morning with a fascinating
teamster, leaving her two sons and two daughters behind her; two
years later the elder of the daughters followed the mother's
example, with such maidenly discretion, however, as to forbear
compromising herself by any previous matrimonial formality
whatever. From that day Hays had no further personal intercourse
with the valley below. He put up a hotel a mile away from the
farmhouse that he might not have to dispense hospitality to his
customers, nor accept their near companionship. Always a severe
Presbyterian, and an uncompromising deacon of a far-scattered and
scanty community who occasionally held their service in one of his
barns, he grew more rigid, sectarian, and narrow day by day. He
was feared, and although neither respected nor loved, his
domination and endurance were accepted. A grim landlord, hard
creditor, close-fisted patron, and a smileless neighbor who neither
gambled nor drank, "Old Hays," as he was called, while yet scarce
fifty, had few acquaintances and fewer friends. There were those
who believed that his domestic infelicities were the result of his
unsympathetic nature; it never occurred to any one (but himself
probably) that they might have been the cause. In those Sierran
altitudes, as elsewhere, the belief in original sin--popularly
known as "pure cussedness"--dominated and overbore any consideration
of passive, impelling circumstances or temptation, unless they had
been actively demonstrated with a revolver. The passive expression
of harshness, suspicion, distrust, and moroseness was looked upon as
The storm raged violently as Hays emerged from the last of a long
range of outbuildings and sheds, and crossed the open space between
him and the farmhouse. Before he had reached the porch, with its
scant shelter, he had floundered through a snowdrift, and faced the
full fury of the storm. But the snow seemed to have glanced from
his hard angular figure as it had from his roof-ridge, for when he
entered the narrow hall-way his pilot jacket was unmarked, except
where a narrow line of powdered flakes outlined the seams as if
worn. To the right was an apartment, half office, half sitting-
room, furnished with a dark and chilly iron safe, a sofa and chairs
covered with black and coldly shining horsehair. Here Hays not
only removed his upper coat but his under one also, and drawing a
chair before the fire sat down in his shirt-sleeves. It was his
usual rustic pioneer habit, and might have been some lingering
reminiscence of certain remote ancestors to whom clothes were an
impediment. He was warming his hands and placidly ignoring his
gaunt arms in their thinly-clad "hickory" sleeves, when a young
girl of eighteen sauntered, half perfunctorily, half inquisitively
into the room. It was his only remaining daughter. Already
elected by circumstances to a dry household virginity, her somewhat
large features, sallow complexion, and tasteless, unattractive
dress, did not obviously suggest a sacrifice. Since her sister's
departure she had taken sole charge of her father's domestic
affairs and the few rude servants he employed, with a certain
inherited following of his own moods and methods. To the neighbors
she was known as "Miss Hays,"--a dubious respect that, in a
community of familiar "Sallies," "Mamies," "Pussies," was grimly
prophetic. Yet she rejoiced in the Oriental appellation of
"Zuleika." To this it is needless to add that it was impossible to
conceive any one who looked more decidedly Western.
"Ye kin put some things in my carpet bag agin the time the sled
comes round," said her father meditatively, without looking up.
"Then you're not coming back tonight?" asked the girl curiously.
"What's goin' on at the summit, father?"
"I am," he said grimly. "You don't reckon I kalkilate to stop
thar! I'm going on as far as Horseley's to close up that contract
afore the weather changes."
"I kinder allowed it was funny you'd go to the hotel to-night.
There's a dance there; those two Wetherbee girls and Mamie Harris
passed up the road an hour ago on a wood-sled, nigh blown to pieces
and sittin' up in the snow like skeert white rabbits."
Hays' brow darkened heavily.
"Let 'em go," he said, in a hard voice that the fire did not seem
to have softened. "Let 'em go for all the good their fool-parents
will ever get outer them, or the herd of wayside cattle they've let
them loose among.
"I reckon they haven't much to do at home, or are hard put for
company, to travel six miles in the snow to show off their prinkin'
to a lot of idle louts shiny with bear's grease and scented up with
doctor's stuff," added the girl, shrugging her shoulders, with a
touch of her father's mood and manner.
Perhaps it struck Hays at that moment that her attitude was
somewhat monstrous and unnatural for one still young and presumably
like other girls, for, after glancing at her under his heavy brows,
he said, in a gentler tone:--
"Never YOU mind, Zuly. When your brother Jack comes home he'll
know what's what, and have all the proper New York ways and style.
It's nigh on three years now that he's had the best training Dr.
Dawson's Academy could give,--sayin' nothing of the pow'ful
Christian example of one of the best preachers in the States. They
mayn't have worldly, ungodly fandangoes where he is, and riotous
livin', and scarlet abominations, but I've been told that they've
'tea circles,' and 'assemblies,' and 'harmony concerts' of young
folks--and dancin'--yes, fine square dancin' under control. No, I
ain't stinted him in anythin'. You kin remember that, Zuleika,
when you hear any more gossip and backbitin' about your father's
meanness. I ain't spared no money for him."
"I reckon not," said the girl, a little sharply. "Why, there's
that draft fur two hundred and fifty dollars that kem only last
week from the Doctor's fur extras."
"Yes," replied Hays, with a slight knitting of the brows, "the
Doctor mout hev writ more particklers, but parsons ain't allus
business men. I reckon these here extrys were to push Jack along
in the term, as the Doctor knew I wanted him back here in the
spring, now that his brother has got to be too stiff-necked and
self-opinionated to do his father's work." It seemed from this
that there had been a quarrel between Hays and his eldest son, who
conducted his branch business at Sacramento, and who had in a
passion threatened to set up a rival establishment to his father's.
And it was also evident from the manner of the girl that she was by
no means a strong partisan of her father in the quarrel.
"You'd better find out first how all the schoolin' and trainin' of
Jack's is goin' to jibe with the Ranch, and if he ain't been
eddicated out of all knowledge of station business or keer for it.
New York ain't Hays' Ranch, and these yer 'assemblies' and
'harmony' doin's and their airs and graces may put him out of
conceit with our plain ways. I reckon ye didn't take that to mind
when you've been hustlin' round payin' two hundred and fifty dollar
drafts for Jack and quo'llin' with Bijah! I ain't sayin' nothin',
father, only mebbe if Bijah had had drafts and extrys flourished
around him a little more, mebbe he'd have been more polite and not
so rough spoken. Mebbe," she continued with a little laugh, "even
I'D be a little more in the style to suit Master Jack when he comes
ef I had three hundred dollars' worth of convent schoolin' like
"Yes, and you'd have only made yourself fair game for ev'ry
schemin', lazy sport or counter-jumper along the road from this to
Sacramento!" responded Hays savagely.
Zuleika laughed again constrainedly, but in a way that might have
suggested that this dreadful contingency was still one that it was
possible to contemplate without entire consternation. As she moved
slowly towards the door she stopped, with her hand on the lock, and
said tentatively: "I reckon you won't be wantin' any supper before
you go? You're almost sure to be offered suthin' up at Horseley's,
while if I have to cook you up suthin' now and still have the men's
regular supper to get at seven, it makes all the expense of an
Hays hesitated. He would have preferred his supper now, and had
his daughter pressed him would have accepted it. But economy,
which was one of Zuleika's inherited instincts, vaguely appearing
to him to be a virtue, interchangeable with chastity and
abstemiousness, was certainly to be encouraged in a young girl. It
hardly seems possible that with an eye single to the integrity of
the larder she could ever look kindly on the blandishments of his
sex, or, indeed, be exposed to them. He said simply: "Don't cook
for me," and resumed his attitude before the fire as the girl left
As he sat there, grim and immovable as one of the battered fire-
dogs before him, the wind in the chimney seemed to carry on a deep-
throated, dejected, and confidential conversation with him, but
really had very little to reveal. There were no haunting
reminiscences of his married life in this room, which he had always
occupied in preference to the company or sitting-room beyond.
There were no familiar shadows of the past lurking in its corners
to pervade his reverie. When he did reflect, which was seldom,
there was always in his mind a vague idea of a central injustice to
which he had been subjected, that was to be avoided by circuitous
movement, to be hidden by work, but never to be surmounted. And
to-night he was going out in the storm, which he could understand
and fight, as he had often done before, and he was going to drive a
bargain with a man like himself and get the better of him if he
could, as he had done before, and another day would be gone, and
that central injustice which he could not understand would be
circumvented, and he would still be holding his own in the world.
And the God of Israel whom he believed in, and who was a hard but
conscientious Providence, something like himself, would assist him
perhaps some day to the understanding of this same vague injustice
which He was, for some strange reason, permitting. But never more
unrelenting and unsparing of others than when under conviction of
Sin himself, and never more harsh and unforgiving than when fresh
from the contemplation of the Divine Mercy, he still sat there
grimly holding his hand to a warmth that never seemed to get nearer
his heart than that, when his daughter re-entered the room with his
To rise, put on his coat and overcoat, secure a fur cap on his head
by a woolen comforter, covering his ears and twined round his
throat, and to rigidly offer a square and weather-beaten cheek to
his daughter's dusty kiss, did not, apparently, suggest any
lingering or hesitation. The sled was at the door, which, for a
tumultuous moment, opened on the storm and the white vision of a
horse knee-deep in a drift, and then closed behind him. Zuleika
shot the bolt, brushed some flakes of the invading snow from the
mat, and, after frugally raking down the fire on the hearth her
father had just quitted, retired through the long passage to the
kitchen and her domestic supervision.
It was a few hours later, supper had long past; the "hands" had one
by one returned to their quarters under the roof or in the adjacent
lofts, and Zuleika and the two maids had at last abandoned the
kitchen for their bedrooms beyond. Zuleika herself, by the light
of a solitary candle, had entered the office and had dropped
meditatively into a chair, as she slowly raked the warm ashes over
the still smouldering fire. The barking of dogs had momentarily
attracted her attention, but it had suddenly ceased. It was
followed, however, by a more startling incident,--a slight movement
outside, and an attempt to raise the window!
She was not frightened; perhaps there was little for her to fear;
it was known that Hays kept no money in the house, the safe was
only used for securities and contracts, and there were half a dozen
men within call. It was, therefore, only her usual active, burning
curiosity for novel incident that made her run to the window and
peer out; but it was with a spontaneous cry of astonishment she
turned and darted to the front door, and opened it to the muffled
figure of a young man.
"Jack! Saints alive! Why, of all things!" she gasped, incoherently.
He stopped her with an impatient gesture and a hand that prevented
her from closing the door again.
"Dad ain't here?" he asked quickly.
"When'll he be back?"
"Good," he said, turning to the door again. She could see a
motionless horse and sleigh in the road, with a woman holding the
He beckoned to the woman, who drove to the door and jumped out.
Tall, handsome, and audacious, she looked at Zuleika with a quick
laugh of confidence, as at some recognized absurdity.
"Go in there," said the young man, opening the door of the office;
"I'll come back in a minute."
As she entered, still smiling, as if taking part in some humorous
but risky situation, he turned quickly to Zuleika and said in a low
voice: "Where can we talk?"
The girl held out her hand and glided hurriedly through the passage
until she reached a door, which she opened. By the light of a
dying fire he could see it was her bedroom. Lighting a candle on
the mantel, she looked eagerly in his face as he threw aside his
muffler and opened his coat. It disclosed a spare, youthful
figure, and a thin, weak face that a budding mustache only seemed
to make still more immature. For an instant brother and sister
gazed at each other. Astonishment on her part, nervous impatience
on his, apparently repressed any demonstration of family affection.
Yet when she was about to speak he stopped her roughly.
"There now; don't talk. I know what you're goin' to say--could say
it myself if I wanted to--and it's no use. Well then, here I am.
You saw HER. Well, she's MY WIFE--we've been married three months.
Yes, my WIFE; married three months ago. I'm here because I ran
away from school--that is, I HAVEN'T BEEN THERE for the last three
months. I came out with her last steamer; we went up to the Summit
Hotel last night--where they didn't know me--until we could see how
the land lay, before popping down on dad. I happened to learn that
he was out to-night, and I brought her down here to have a talk.
We can go back again before he comes, you know, unless"--
"But," interrupted the girl, with sudden practicality, "you say you
ain't been at Doctor Dawson's for three months! Why, only last
week he drew on dad for two hundred and fifty dollars for your
He glanced around him and then arranged his necktie in the glass
above the mantel with a nervous laugh.
"OH, THAT! I fixed that up, and got the money for it in New York
to pay our passage with. It's all right, you know."
The girl stood looking at the ingenious forger with an odd,
breathless smile. It was difficult to determine, however, if
gratified curiosity were not its most dominant expression.
"And you've got a wife--and THAT'S her?" she resumed.
"Where did you first meet her? Who is she?"
"She's an actress--mighty popular in 'Frisco--I mean New York. Lot
o' chaps tried to get her--I cut 'em out. For all dad's trying to
keep me at Dawson's--I ain't such a fool, eh?"
Nevertheless, as he stood there stroking his fair mustache, his
astuteness did not seem to impress his sister to enthusiastic
assent. Yet she did not relax her breathless, inquisitive smile as
she went on:--
"And what are you going to do about dad?"
He turned upon her querulously.
"Well, that's what I want to talk about."
"You'll catch it!" she said impressively. But here her brother's
nervousness broke out into a weak, impotent fury. It was evident,
too, that in spite of its apparent spontaneous irritation its
intent was studied. Catch it! Would he? Oh, yes! Well, she'd
see WHO'D catch it! Not him. No, he'd had enough of this
meanness, and wanted it ended! He wasn't a woman to be treated
like his sister,--like their mother--like their brother, if it came
to that, for he knew how he was to be brought back to take Bijah's
place in the spring; he'd heard the whole story. No, he was going
to stand up for his rights,--he was going to be treated as the son
of a man who was worth half a million ought to be treated! He
wasn't going to be skimped, while his father was wallowing in money
that he didn't know what to do with,--money that by rights ought to
have been given to their mother and their sister. Why, even the
law wouldn't permit such meanness--if he was dead. No, he'd come
back with Lottie, his wife, to show his father that there was one
of the family that couldn't be fooled and bullied, and wouldn't put
up with it any longer. There was going to be a fair division of
the property, and his sister Annie's property, and hers--Zuleika's--
too, if she'd have the pluck to speak up for herself. All this
and much more he said. Yet even while his small fury was genuine
and characteristic, there was such an evident incongruity between
himself and his speech that it seemed to fit him loosely, and in a
measure flapped in his gestures like another's garment. Zuleika,
who had exhibited neither disgust nor sympathy with his rebellion,
but had rather appeared to enjoy it as a novel domestic
performance, the morality of which devolved solely upon the
performer, retained her curious smile. And then a knock at the
door startled them.
It was the stranger,--slightly apologetic and still humorous, but
firm and self-confident withal. She was sorry to interrupt their
family council, but the fire was going out where she sat, and she
would like a cup of tea or some refreshment. She did not look at
Jack, but, completely ignoring him, addressed herself to Zuleika
with what seemed to be a direct challenge; in that feminine eye-
grapple there was a quick, instinctive, and final struggle between
the two women. The stranger triumphed. Zuleika's vacant smile
changed to one of submission, and then, equally ignoring her
brother in this double defeat, she hastened to the kitchen to do
the visitor's bidding. The woman closed the door behind her, and
took Zuleika's place before the fire.
"Well?" she said, in a half-contemptuous toleration.
"Well?" said Jack, in an equally ill-disguised discontent, but an
evident desire to placate the woman before him. "It's all right,
you know. I've had my say. It'll come right, Lottie, you'll see."
The woman smiled again, and glanced around the bare walls of the
"And I suppose," she said, drily, "when it comes right I'm to take
the place of your sister in the charge of this workhouse and
succeed to the keys of that safe in the other room?"
"It'll come all right, I tell you; you can fix things up here any
way you'll like when we get the old man straight," said Jack, with
the iteration of feebleness. "And as to that safe, I've seen it
chock full of securities."
"It'll hold one less to-night," she said, looking at the fire.
"What are you talking about?" he asked, in querulous suspicion.
She drew a paper from her pocket.
"It's that draft of yours that you were crazy enough to sign
Dawson's name to. It was lying out there on the desk. I reckon it
isn't a thing you care to have kept as evidence, even by your
She held it in the flames until it was consumed.
"By Jove, your head is level, Lottie!" he said, with an admiration
that was not, however, without a weak reserve of suspicion.
"No, it isn't, or I wouldn't be here," she said, curtly. Then she
added, as if dismissing the subject, "Well, what did you tell her?"
"Oh, I said I met you in New York. You see I thought she might
think it queer if she knew I only met you in San Francisco three
weeks ago. Of course I said we were married."
She looked at him with weary astonishment.
"And of course, whether things go right or not, she'll find out
that I've got a husband living, that I never met you in New York,
but on the steamer, and that you've lied. I don't see the USE of
it. You said you were going to tell the whole thing squarely and
say the truth, and that's why I came to help you."
"Yes; but don't you see, hang it all!" he stammered, in the
irritation of weak confusion, "I had to tell her SOMETHING. Father
won't dare to tell her the truth, no more than he will the
neighbors. He'll hush it up, you bet; and when we get this thing
fixed you'll go and get your divorce, you know, and we'll be
married privately on the square."
He looked so vague, so immature, yet so fatuously self-confident,
that the woman extended her hand with a laugh and tapped him on the
back as she might have patted a dog. Then she disappeared to
follow Zuleika in the kitchen.
When the two women returned together they were evidently on the
best of terms. So much so that the man, with the easy reaction of
a shallow nature, became sanguine and exalted, even to an
ostentatious exhibition of those New York graces on which the
paternal Hays had set such store. He complacently explained the
methods by which he had deceived Dr. Dawson; how he had himself
written a letter from his father commanding him to return to take
his brother's place, and how he had shown it to the Doctor and been
three months in San Francisco looking for work and assisting Lottie
at the theatre, until a conviction of the righteousness of his
cause, perhaps combined with the fact that they were also short of
money and she had no engagement, impelled him to his present heroic
step. All of which Zuleika listened to with childish interest, but
superior appreciation of his companion. The fact that this woman
was an actress, an abomination vaguely alluded to by her father as
being even more mysteriously wicked than her sister and mother, and
correspondingly exciting, as offering a possible permanent relief
to the monotony of her home life, seemed to excuse her brother's
weakness. She was almost ready to become his partisan--AFTER she
had seen her father.
They had talked largely of their plans; they had settled small
details of the future and the arrangement of the property; they had
agreed that Zuleika should be relieved of her household drudgery,
and sent to a fashionable school in San Francisco with a music
teacher and a dressmaker. They had discussed everything but the
precise manner in which the revelation should be conveyed to Hays.
There was still plenty of time for that, for he would not return
until to-morrow at noon, and it was already tacitly understood that
the vehicle of transmission should be a letter from the Summit
Hotel. The possible contingency of a sudden outburst of human
passion not entirely controlled by religious feeling was to be
They were sitting comfortably before the replenished fire; the wind
was still moaning in the chimney, when, suddenly, in a lull of the
storm the sound of sleigh-bells seemed to fill the room. It was
followed by a voice from without, and, with a hysterical cry,
Zuleika started to her feet. The same breathless smile with which
she had greeted her brother an hour ago was upon her lips as she
"Lord, save us!--but it's dad come back!"
I grieve to say that here the doughty redresser of domestic wrongs
and retriever of the family honor lapsed white-faced in his chair
idealess and tremulous. It was his frailer companion who rose to
the occasion and even partly dragged him with her. "Go back to the
hotel," she said quickly, "and take the sled with you,--you are not
fit to face him now! But he does not know ME, and I will stay!"
To the staring Zuleika: "I am a stranger stopped by a broken sleigh
on my way to the hotel. Leave the rest to me. Now clear out, both
of you. I'll let him in."
She looked so confident, self-contained, and superior, that the
thought of opposition never entered their minds, and as an
impatient rapping rose from the door they let her, with a half-
impatient, half-laughing gesture, drive them before her from the
room. When they had disappeared in the distance, she turned to the
front door, unbolted and opened it. Hays blundered in out of the
snow with a muttered exclamation, and then, as the light from the
open office door revealed a stranger, started and fell back.
"Miss Hays is busy," said the woman quietly, "I am afraid, on my
account. But my sleigh broke down on the way to the hotel and I
was forced to get out here. I suppose this is Mr. Hays?"
A strange woman--by her dress and appearance a very worldling--and
even braver in looks and apparel than many he had seen in the
cities--seemed, in spite of all his precautions, to have fallen
short of the hotel and been precipitated upon him! Yet under the
influence of some odd abstraction he was affected by it less than
he could have believed. He even achieved a rude bow as he bolted
the door and ushered her into the office. More than that, he found
himself explaining to the fair trespasser the reasons of his return
to his own home. For, like a direct man, he had a consciousness of
some inconsistency in his return--or in the circumstances that
induced a change of plans which might conscientiously require an
"You see, ma'am, a rather singular thing happened to me after I
passed the summit. Three times I lost the track, got off it
somehow, and found myself traveling in a circle. The third time,
when I struck my own tracks again, I concluded I'd just follow them
back here. I suppose I might have got the road again by tryin' and
fightin' the snow--but ther's some things not worth the fightin'.
This was a matter of business, and, after all, ma'am, business
ain't everythin', is it?"
He was evidently in some unusual mood, the mood that with certain
reticent natures often compels them to make their brief confidences
to utter strangers rather than impart them to those intimate
friends who might remind them of their weakness. She agreed with
him pleasantly, but not so obviously as to excite suspicion. "And
you preferred to let your business go, and come back to the comfort
of your own home and family."
"The comfort of my home and family?" he repeated in a dry,
deliberate voice. "Well, I reckon I ain't been tempted much by
THAT. That isn't what I meant." But he went back to the phrase,
repeating it grimly, as if it were some mandatory text. "The
comfort of my OWN HOME AND FAMILY! Well, Satan hasn't set THAT
trap for my feet yet, ma'am. No; ye saw my daughter? well, that's
all my family; ye see this room? that's all my home. My wife ran
away from me; my daughter cleared out too, my eldest son as was
with me here has quo'lled with me and reckons to set up a rival
business agin me. No," he said, still more meditatively and
deliberately; "it wasn't to come back to the comforts of my own
home and family that I faced round on Heavy Tree Hill, I reckon."
As the woman, for certain reasons, had no desire to check this
auspicious and unlooked for confidence, she waited patiently. Hays
remained silent for an instant, warming his hands before the fire,
and then looked up interrogatively.
"A professor of religion, ma'am, or under conviction?"
"Not exactly," said the lady smiling.
"Excuse me, but in spite of your fine clothes I reckoned you had a
serious look just now. A reader of Scripture, may be?"
"I know the Bible."
"You remember when the angel with the flamin' sword appeared unto
Saul on the road to Damascus?"
"It mout hev been suthin' in that style that stopped me," he said
slowly and tentatively. "Though nat'rally I didn't SEE anything,
and only had the queer feelin'. It might hev been THAT shied my
mare off the track."
"But Saul was up to some wickedness, wasn't he?" said the lady
smilingly, "while YOU were simply going somewhere on business?"
"Yes," said Hays thoughtfully, "but my BUSINESS might hev seemed
like persecution. I don't mind tellin' you what it was if you'd
care to listen. But mebbe you're tired. Mebbe you want to retire.
You know," he went on with a sudden hospitable outburst, "you
needn't be in any hurry to go; we kin take care of you here to-
night, and it'll cost you nothin'. And I'll send you on with my
sleigh in the mornin'. Per'aps you'd like suthin' to eat--a cup of
tea--or--I'll call Zuleika;" and he rose with an expression of
But the lady, albeit with a self-satisfied sparkle in her dark
eyes, here carelessly assured him that Zuleika had already given
her refreshment, and, indeed, was at that moment preparing her own
room for her. She begged he would not interrupt his interesting
Hays looked relieved.
"Well, I reckon I won't call her, for what I was goin' to say ain't
exackly the sort o' thin' for an innocent, simple sort o' thing
like her to hear--I mean," he interrupted himself hastily--"that
folks of more experience of the world like you and me don't mind
speakin' of--I'm sorter takin' it for granted that you're a married
The lady, who had regarded him with a sudden rigidity, here relaxed
her expression and nodded.
"Well," continued Hays, resuming his place by the fire, "you see
this yer man I was goin' to see lives about four miles beyond the
summit on a ranch that furnishes most of the hay for the stock that
side of the Divide. He's bin holdin' off his next year's contracts
with me, hopin' to make better terms from the prospects of a late
spring and higher prices. He held his head mighty high and talked
big of waitin' his own time. I happened to know he couldn't do
He put his hands on his knees and stared at the fire, and then went
"Ye see this man had had crosses and family trials. He had a wife
that left him to jine a lot of bally dancers and painted women in
the 'Frisco playhouses when he was livin' in the southern country.
You'll say that was like MY own case,--and mebbe that was why it
came to him to tell me about it,--but the difference betwixt HIM
and ME was that instead of restin' unto the Lord and findin' Him,
and pluckin' out the eye that offended him 'cordin' to Scripter, as
I did, HE followed after HER tryin' to get her back, until, findin'
that wasn't no use, he took a big disgust and came up here to hide
hisself, where there wasn't no playhouse nor play-actors, and no
wimmen but Injin squaws. He pre-empted the land, and nat'rally,
there bein' no one ez cared to live there but himself, he had it
all his own way, made it pay, and, as I was sayin' before, held his
head high for prices. Well--you ain't gettin' tired, ma'am?"
"No," said the lady, resting her cheek on her hand and gazing on
the fire, "it's all very interesting; and so odd that you two men,
with nearly the same experiences, should be neighbors."
"Say buyer and seller, ma'am, not neighbors--at least Scriptoorily--
nor friends. Well,--now this is where the Speshal Providence
comes in,--only this afternoon Jim Briggs, hearin' me speak of
"WHOSE offishness?" asked the lady.
"Horseley's offishness,--Horseley's the name of the man I'm talkin'
about. Well, hearin' that, he says: "You hold on, Hays, and he'll
climb down. That wife of his has left the stage--got sick of it--
and is driftin' round in 'Frisco with some fellow. When Horseley
gets to hear that, you can't keep him here,--he'll settle up, sell
out, and realize on everything he's got to go after her agin,--you
bet. That's what Briggs said. Well, that's what sent me up to
Horseley's to-night--to get there, drop the news, and then pin him
down to that contract."
"It looked like a good stroke of business and a fair one," said the
lady in an odd voice. It was so odd that Hays looked up. But she
had somewhat altered her position, and was gazing at the ceiling,
and with her hand to her face seemed to have just recovered from a
slight yawn, at which he hesitated with a new and timid sense of
"You're gettin' tired, ma'am?"
"Oh dear, no!" she said in the same voice, but clearing her throat
with a little cough. "And why didn't you see this Mr. Horseley
after all? Oh, I forgot!--you said you changed your mind from
something you'd heard."
He had turned his eyes to the fire again, but without noticing as
he did so that she slowly moved her face, still half hidden by her
hand, towards him and was watching him intently.
"No," he said, slowly, "nothin' I heard, somethin' I felt. It mout
hev been that that set me off the track. It kem to me all of a
sudden that he might be sittin' thar calm and peaceful like ez I
might be here, hevin' forgot all about her and his trouble, and
here was me goin' to drop down upon him and start it all fresh
agin. It looked a little like persecution--yes, like persecution.
I got rid of it, sayin' to myself it was business. But I'd got off
the road meantime, and had to find it again, and whenever I got
back to the track and was pointed for his house, it all seemed to
come back on me and set me off agin. When that had happened three
times, I turned round and started for home."
"And do you mean to say," said the lady, with a discordant laugh,
"that you believe, because YOU didn't go there and break the news,
that nobody else will? That he won't hear of it from the first man
"He don't meet any one up where he lives, and only Briggs and
myself know it, and I'll see that Briggs don't tell. But it was
mighty queer this whole thing comin' upon me suddenly,--wasn't it?"
"Very queer," replied the lady; "for"--with the same metallic
laugh--"you don't seem to be given to this kind of weakness with
your own family."
If there was any doubt as to the sarcastic suggestion of her voice,
there certainly could be none in the wicked glitter of her eyes
fixed upon his face under her shading hand. But haply he seemed
unconscious of both, and even accepted her statement without an
"Yes," he said, communingly, to the glaring embers of the hearth,
"it must have been a special revelation."
There was something so fatuous and one-idea'd in his attitude and
expression, so monstrously inconsistent and inadequate to what
was going on around him, and so hopelessly stupid--if a mere
simulation--that the angry suspicion that he was acting a part
slowly faded from her eyes, and a hysterical smile began to twitch
her set lips. She still gazed at him. The wind howled drearily in
the chimney; all that was economic, grim, and cheerless in the room
seemed to gather as flitting shadows around that central figure.
Suddenly she arose with such a quick rustling of her skirts that he
lifted his eyes with a start; for she was standing immediately
before him, her hands behind her, her handsome, audacious face bent
smilingly forward, and her bold, brilliant eyes within a foot of
"Now, Mr. Hays, do you want to know what this warning or special
revelation of yours REALLY meant? Well, it had nothing whatever to
do with that man on the summit. No. The whole interest, gist, and
meaning of it was simply this, that you should turn round and come
straight back here and"--she drew back and made him an exaggerated
theatrical curtsey--"have the supreme pleasure of making MY
acquaintance! That was all. And now, as you've HAD IT, in five
minutes I must be off. You've offered me already your horse and
sleigh to go to the summit. I accept it and go! Good-by!"
He knew nothing of a woman's coquettish humor; he knew still less
of that mimic stage from which her present voice, gesture, and
expression were borrowed; he had no knowledge of the burlesque
emotions which that voice, gesture, and expression were supposed to
portray, and finally and fatally he was unable to detect the
feminine hysteric jar and discord that underlay it all. He thought
it was strong, characteristic, and real, and accepted it literally.
"Ef you allow you can't stay, why I'll go and get the horse. I
reckon he ain't bin put up yet."
He grimly resumed his coat and hat and disappeared through the
passage into the kitchen, whence, a moment later, Zuleika came
"Well, what has happened?" she said eagerly.
"It's all right," said the woman quickly, "though he knows nothing
yet. But I've got things fixed generally, so that he'll be quite
ready to have it broken to him by this time to-morrow. But don't
you say anything till I've seen Jack and you hear from HIM.
She spoke rapidly; her cheeks were quite glowing from some sudden
energy; so were Zuleika's with the excitement of curiosity.
Presently the sound of sleigh-bells again filled the room. It was
Hays leading the horse and sleigh to the door, beneath a sky now
starlit and crisp under a northeast wind. The fair stranger cast a
significant glance at Zuleika, and whispered hurriedly, "You know
he must not come with me. You must keep him here."
She ran to the door muffled and hooded, leaped into the sleigh, and
gathered up the reins.
"But you cannot go alone," said Hays, with awkward courtesy. "I
"You're too tired to go out again, dad," broke in Zuleika's voice
quickly. "You ain't fit; you're all gray and krinkly now, like as
when you had one of your last spells. She'll send the sleigh back
"I can find my way," said the lady briskly; "there's only one turn
off, I believe, and that"--
"Leads to the stage station three miles west. You needn't be
afraid of gettin' off on that, for you'll likely see the down stage
crossin' your road ez soon ez you get clear of the ranch."
"Good-night," said the lady. An arc of white spray sprang before
the forward runner, and the sleigh vanished in the road.
Father and daughter returned to the office.
"You didn't get to know her, dad, did ye?" queried Zuleika.
"No," responded Hays gravely, "except to see she wasn't no
backwoods or mountaineering sort. Now, there's the kind of woman,
Zuly, as knows her own mind and yours too; that a man like your
brother Jack oughter pick out when he marries."
Zuleika's face beamed behind her father. "You ain't goin' to sit
up any longer, dad?" she said, as she noticed him resume his seat
by the fire. "It's gettin' late, and you look mighty tuckered out
with your night's work."
"Do you know what she said, Zuly?" returned her father, after a
pause, which turned out to have been a long, silent laugh.
"She said," he repeated slowly, "that she reckoned I came back here
to-night to have the pleasure of her acquaintance!" He brought his
two hands heavily down upon his knees, rubbing them down
deliberately towards his ankles, and leaning forward with his face
to the fire and a long-sustained smile of complete though tardy
He was still in this attitude when Zuleika left him. The wind
crooned over him confidentially, but he still sat there, given up
apparently to some posthumous enjoyment of his visitor's departing
It was scarcely daylight when Zuleika, while dressing, heard a
quick tapping upon her shutter. She opened it to the scared and
bewildered face of her brother.
"What happened with her and father last night?" he said hoarsely.
"Read that. It was brought to me half an hour ago by a man in
dad's sleigh, from the stage station."
He handed her a crumpled note with trembling fingers. She took it
"The game's up and I'm out of it! Take my advice and clear out of
it too, until you can come back in better shape. Don't be such a
fool as to try and follow me. Your father isn't one, and that's
where you've slipped up."
"He shall pay for it, whatever he's done," said her brother with an
access of wild passion. "Where is he?"
"Why, Jack, you wouldn't dare to see him now?"
"Wouldn't I?" He turned and ran, convulsed with passion, before
the windows towards the front of the house. Zuleika slipped out of
her bedroom and ran to her father's room. He was not there.
Already she could hear her brother hammering frantically against
the locked front door.
The door of the office was partly open. Her father was still
there. Asleep? Yes, for he had apparently sunk forward before the
cold hearth. But the hands that he had always been trying to warm
were colder than the hearth or ashes, and he himself never again
spoke nor stirred.
. . . . . .
It was deemed providential by the neighbors that his youngest and
favorite son, alarmed by news of his father's failing health, had
arrived from the Atlantic States just at the last moment. But it
was thought singular that after the division of the property he
entirely abandoned the Ranch, and that even pending the division
his beautiful but fastidious Eastern bride declined to visit it
with her husband.
JOHNSON'S "OLD WOMAN."
It was growing dark, and the Sonora trail was becoming more
indistinct before me at every step. The difficulty had increased
over the grassy slope, where the overflow from some smaller
watercourse above had worn a number of diverging gullies so like
the trail as to be undistinguishable from it. Unable to determine
which was the right one, I threw the reins over the mule's neck and
resolved to trust to that superior animal's sagacity, of which I
had heard so much. But I had not taken into account the equally
well-known weaknesses of sex and species, and Chu Chu had already
shown uncontrollable signs of wanting her own way. Without a
moment's hesitation, feeling the relaxed bridle, she lay down and
In this perplexity the sound of horse's hoofs ringing out of the
rocky canyon beyond was a relief, even if momentarily embarrassing.
An instant afterwards a horse and rider appeared cantering round
the hill on what was evidently the lost trail, and pulled up as I
succeeded in forcing Chu Chu to her legs again.
"Is that the trail from Sonora?" I asked.
"Yes;" but with a critical glance at the mule, "I reckon you ain't
going thar tonight."
"It's a matter of eighteen miles, and most of it a blind trail
through the woods after you take the valley."
"Is it worse than this?"
"What's the matter with this trail? Ye ain't expecting a
racecourse or a shell road over the foothills--are ye?"
"No. Is there any hotel where I can stop?"
"Nor any house?"
"Thank you. Good-night."
He had already passed on, when he halted again and turned in his
saddle. "Look yer. Just a spell over yon canyon ye'll find a
patch o' buckeyes; turn to the right and ye'll see a trail.
That'll take ye to a shanty. You ask if it's Johnson's."
"I am. You ain't lookin' for Vanderbilt or God Almighty up here,
are you? Well, then, you hark to me, will you? You say to my old
woman to give you supper and a shakedown somewhar to-night. Say I
sent you. So long."
He was gone before I could accept or decline. An extraordinary
noise proceeded from Chu Chu, not unlike a suppressed chuckle. I
looked sharply at her; she coughed affectedly, and, with her head
and neck stretched to their greatest length, appeared to contemplate
her neat little off fore shoe with admiring abstraction. But as
soon as I had mounted she set off abruptly, crossed the rocky
canyon, apparently sighted the patch of buckeyes of her own
volition, and without the slightest hesitation found the trail to
the right, and in half an hour stood before the shanty.
It was a log cabin with an additional "lean-to" of the same
material, roofed with bark, and on the other side a larger and more
ambitious "extension" built of rough, unplaned, and unpainted
redwood boards, lightly shingled. The "lean-to" was evidently used
as a kitchen, and the central cabin as a living-room. The barking
of a dog as I approached called four children of different sizes to
the open door, where already an enterprising baby was feebly
essaying to crawl over a bar of wood laid across the threshold to
"Is this Johnson's house?"
My remark was really addressed to the eldest, a boy of apparently
nine or ten, but I felt that my attention was unduly fascinated by
the baby, who at that moment had toppled over the bar, and was
calmly eyeing me upside down, while silently and heroically
suffocating in its petticoats. The boy disappeared without
replying, but presently returned with a taller girl of fourteen or
fifteen. I was struck with the way that, as she reached the door,
she passed her hands rapidly over the heads of the others as if
counting them, picked up the baby, reversed it, shook out its
clothes, and returned it to the inside, without even looking at it.
The act was evidently automatic and habitual.
I repeated my question timidly.
Yes, it WAS Johnson's, but he had just gone to King's Mills. I
replied, hurriedly, that I knew it,--that I had met him beyond the
canyon. As I had lost my way and couldn't get to Sonora to-night,
he had been good enough to say that I might stay there until
morning. My voice was slightly raised for the benefit of Mr.
Johnson's "old woman," who, I had no doubt, was inspecting me
furtively from some corner.
The girl drew the children away, except the boy. To him she said
simply, "Show the stranger whar to stake out his mule, 'Dolphus,"
and disappeared in the "extension" without another word. I
followed my little guide, who was perhaps more actively curious,
but equally unresponsive. To my various questions he simply
returned a smile of exasperating vacuity. But he never took his
eager eyes from me, and I was satisfied that not a detail of my
appearance escaped him. Leading the way behind the house to a
little wood, whose only "clearing" had been effected by decay or
storm, he stood silently apart while I picketed Chu Chu, neither
offering to assist me nor opposing any interruption to my survey of
the locality. There was no trace of human cultivation in the
surroundings of the cabin; the wilderness still trod sharply on the
heels of the pioneer's fresh footprints, and even seemed to
obliterate them. For a few yards around the actual dwelling there
was an unsavory fringe of civilization in the shape of cast-off
clothes, empty bottles, and tin cans, and the adjacent thorn and
elder bushes blossomed unwholesomely with bits of torn white paper
and bleaching dish-cloths. This hideous circle never widened;
Nature always appeared to roll back the intruding debris; no bird
nor beast carried it away; no animal ever forced the uncleanly
barrier; civilization remained grimly trenched in its own exuvia.
The old terrifying girdle of fire around the hunter's camp was not
more deterring to curious night prowlers than this coarse and
When I regained the cabin I found it empty, the doors of the lean-
to and extension closed, but there was a stool set before a rude
table, upon which smoked a tin cup of coffee, a tin dish of hot
saleratus biscuit, and a plate of fried beef. There was something
odd and depressing in this silent exclusion of my presence. Had
Johnson's "old woman" from some dark post of observation taken a
dislike to my appearance, or was this churlish withdrawal a
peculiarity of Sierran hospitality? Or was Mrs. Johnson young and
pretty, and hidden under the restricting ban of Johnson's jealousy,
or was she a deformed cripple, or even a bedridden crone? From the
extension at times came a murmur of voices, but never the accents
of adult womanhood. The gathering darkness, relieved only by a
dull glow from the smouldering logs in the adobe chimney, added to
my loneliness. In the circumstances I knew I ought to have put
aside the repast and given myself up to gloomy and pessimistic
reflection; but Nature is often inconsistent, and in that keen
mountain air, I grieve to say, my physical and moral condition was
not in that perfect accord always indicated by romancers. I had an
appetite and I gratified it; dyspepsia and ethical reflections
might come later. I ate the saleratus biscuit cheerfully, and was
meditatively finishing my coffee when a gurgling sound from the
rafters above attracted my attention. I looked up; under the
overhang of the bark roof three pairs of round eyes were fixed upon
me. They belonged to the children I had previously seen, who, in
the attitude of Raphael's cherubs, had evidently been deeply
interested spectators of my repast. As our eyes met an
inarticulate giggle escaped the lips of the youngest.
I never could understand why the shy amusement of children over
their elders is not accepted as philosophically by its object as
when it proceeds from an equal. We fondly believe that when Jones
or Brown laughs at us it is from malice, ignorance, or a desire to
show his superiority, but there is always a haunting suspicion in
our minds that these little critics REALLY see something in us to
laugh at. I, however, smiled affably in return, ignoring any
possible grotesqueness in my manner of eating in private.
"Come here, Johnny," I said blandly.
The two elder ones, a girl and a boy, disappeared instantly, as if
the crowning joke of this remark was too much for them. From a
scraping and kicking against the log wall I judged that they had
quickly dropped to the ground outside. The younger one, the
giggler, remained fascinated, but ready to fly at a moment's
"Come here, Johnny, boy," I repeated gently. "I want you to go to
your mother, please, and tell her"--
But here the child, who had been working its face convulsively,
suddenly uttered a lugubrious howl and disappeared also. I ran to
the front door and looked out in time to see the tallest girl, who
had received me, walking away with it under her arm, pushing the
boy ahead of her and looking back over her shoulder, not unlike a
youthful she-bear conducting her cubs from danger. She disappeared
at the end of the extension, where there was evidently another
It was very extraordinary. It was not strange that I turned back
to the cabin with a chagrin and mortification which for a moment
made me entertain the wild idea of saddling Chu Chu, and shaking
the dust of that taciturn house from my feet. But the ridiculousness
of such an act, to say nothing of its ingratitude, as quickly
presented itself to me. Johnson had offered me only food and
shelter; I could have claimed no more from the inn I had asked him
to direct me to. I did not re-enter the house, but, lighting my
last cigar, began to walk gloomily up and down the trail. With the
outcoming of the stars it had grown lighter; through a wind opening
in the trees I could see the heavy bulk of the opposite mountain,
and beyond it a superior crest defined by a red line of forest fire,
which, however, cast no reflection on the surrounding earth or sky.
Faint woodland currents of air, still warm from the afternoon sun,
stirred the leaves around me with long-drawn aromatic breaths. But
these in time gave way to the steady Sierran night wind sweeping
down from the higher summits, and rocking the tops of the tallest
pines, yet leaving the tranquillity of the dark lower aisles
unshaken. It was very quiet; there was no cry nor call of beast or
bird in the darkness; the long rustle of the tree-tops sounded as
faint as the far-off wash of distant seas. Nor did the resemblance
cease there; the close-set files of the pines and cedars, stretching
in illimitable ranks to the horizon, were filled with the
immeasurable loneliness of an ocean shore. In this vast silence I
began to think I understood the taciturnity of the dwellers in the
When I returned, however, I was surprised to find the tallest girl
standing by the door. As I approached she retreated before me, and
pointing to the corner where a common cot bed had been evidently
just put up, said, "Ye can turn in thar, only ye'll have to rouse
out early when 'Dolphus does the chores," and was turning towards
the extension again, when I stopped her almost appealingly.
"One moment, please. Can I see your mother?"
She stopped and looked at me with a singular expression. Then she
"You know, fust rate, she's dead."
She was turning away again, but I think she must have seen my
concern in my face, for she hesitated. "But," I said quickly, "I
certainly understood your father, that is, Mr. Johnson," I added,
interrogatively, "to say that--that I was to speak to"--I didn't
like to repeat the exact phrase--"his WIFE."
"I don't know what he was playin' ye for," she said shortly. "Mar
has been dead mor'n a year."
"But," I persisted, "is there no grown-up woman here?"
"Then who takes care of you and the children?"
"Yourself and your father--eh?"
"Dad ain't here two days running, and then on'y to sleep."
"And you take the entire charge of the house?"
"Yes, and the log tallies."
"The log tallies?"
"Yes; keep count and measure the logs that go by the slide."
It flashed upon me that I had passed the slide or declivity on the
hillside, where logs were slipped down into the valley, and I
inferred that Johnson's business was cutting timber for the mill.
"But you're rather young for all this work," I suggested.
"I'm goin' on sixteen," she said gravely.
Indeed, for the matter of that, she might have been any age. Her
face, on which sunburn took the place of complexion, was already
hard and set. But on a nearer view I was struck with the fact that
her eyes, which were not large, were almost indistinguishable from
the presence of the most singular eyelashes I had ever seen.
Intensely black, intensely thick, and even tangled in their
profusion, they bristled rather than fringed her eyelids,
obliterating everything but the shining black pupils beneath,
which were like certain lustrous hairy mountain berries. It was
this woodland suggestion that seemed to uncannily connect her with
the locality. I went on playfully:--
"That's not VERY old--but tell me--does your father, or DID your
father, ever speak of you as his 'old woman?'"
She nodded. "Then you thought I was mar?" she said, smiling.
It was such a relief to see her worn face relax its expression of
pathetic gravity--although this operation quite buried her eyes in
their black thickest hedge again--that I continued cheerfully: "It
wasn't much of a mistake, considering all you do for the house and
"Then you didn't tell Billy 'to go and be dead in the ground with
mar,' as he 'lows you did?" she said half suspiciously, yet
trembling on the edge of a smile.
No, I had not, but I admitted that my asking him to go to his
mother might have been open to this dismal construction by a
sensitive infant mind. She seemed mollified, and again turned to
"Good-night, Miss--you know your father didn't tell me your real
name," I said.
"Good-night, Miss Karline."
I held out my hand.
She looked at it and then at me through her intricate eyelashes.
Then she struck it aside briskly, but not unkindly, said "Quit
foolin', now," as she might have said to one of the children, and
disappeared through the inner door. Not knowing whether to be
amused or indignant, I remained silent a moment. Then I took a
turn outside in the increasing darkness, listened to the now
hurrying wind over the tree-tops, re-entered the cabin, closed the
door, and went to bed.
But not to sleep. Perhaps the responsibility towards these
solitary children, which Johnson had so lightly shaken off,
devolved upon me as I lay there, for I found myself imagining a
dozen emergencies of their unprotected state, with which the elder
girl could scarcely grapple. There was little to fear from
depredatory man or beast--desperadoes of the mountain trail never
stooped to ignoble burglary, bear or panther seldom approached a
cabin--but there was the chance of sudden illness, fire, the
accidents that beset childhood, to say nothing of the narrowing
moral and mental effect of their isolation at that tender age. It
was scandalous in Johnson to leave them alone.
In the silence I found I could hear quite distinctly the sound of
their voices in the extension, and it was evident that Caroline was
putting them to bed. Suddenly a voice was uplifted--her own! She
began to sing and the others to join her. It was the repetition of
a single verse of a well-known lugubrious negro melody. "All the
world am sad and dreary," wailed Caroline, in a high head-note,
"everywhere I roam." "Oh, darkieth," lisped the younger girl in
response, "how my heart growth weary, far from the old folkth at
h-o-o-me." This was repeated two or three times before the others
seemed to get the full swing of it, and then the lines rose and
fell sadly and monotonously in the darkness. I don't know why, but
I at once got the impression that those motherless little creatures
were under a vague belief that their performance was devotional,
and was really filling the place of an evening hymn. A brief and
indistinct kind of recitation, followed by a dead silence, broken
only by the slow creaking of new timber, as if the house were
stretching itself to sleep too, confirmed my impression. Then all
became quiet again.
But I was more wide awake than before. Finally I rose, dressed
myself, and dragging my stool to the fire, took a book from my
knapsack, and by the light of a guttering candle, which I
discovered in a bottle in the corner of the hearth, began to read.
Presently I fell into a doze. How long I slept I could not tell,
for it seemed to me that a dreamy consciousness of a dog barking at
last forced itself upon me so strongly that I awoke. The barking
appeared to come from behind the cabin in the direction of the
clearing where I had tethered Chu Chu. I opened the door
hurriedly, ran round the cabin towards the hollow, and was almost
at once met by the bulk of the frightened Chu Chu, plunging out of
the darkness towards me, kept only in check by her reata in the
hand of a blanketed shape slowly advancing with a gun over its
shoulder out of the hollow. Before I had time to recover from my
astonishment I was thrown into greater confusion by recognizing the
shape as none other than Caroline!
Without the least embarrassment or even self-consciousness of her
appearance, she tossed the end of the reata to me with the curtest
explanation as she passed by. Some prowling bear or catamount had
frightened the mule. I had better tether it before the cabin away
from the wind.
"But I thought wild beasts never came so near," I said quickly.
"Mule meat's mighty temptin'," said the girl sententiously and
passed on. I wanted to thank her; I wanted to say how sorry I was
that she had been disturbed; I wanted to compliment her on her
quiet midnight courage, and yet warn her against recklessness; I
wanted to know whether she had been accustomed to such alarms; and
if the gun she carried was really a necessity. But I could only
respect her reticence, and I was turning away when I was struck by
a more inexplicable spectacle. As she neared the end of the
extension I distinctly saw the tall figure of a man, moving with a
certain diffidence and hesitation that did not, however, suggest
any intention of concealment, among the trees; the girl apparently
saw him at the same moment and slightly slackened her pace. Not
more than a dozen feet separated them. He said something that was
inaudible to my ears,--but whether from his hesitation or the
distance I could not determine. There was no such uncertainty in
her reply, however, which was given in her usual curt fashion: "All
right. You can trapse along home now and turn in."
She turned the corner of the extension and disappeared. The tall
figure of the man wavered hesitatingly for a moment, and then
vanished also. But I was too much excited by curiosity to accept
this unsatisfactory conclusion, and, hastily picketing Chu Chu a
few rods from the front door, I ran after him, with an instinctive
feeling that he had not gone far. I was right. A few paces
distant he had halted in the same dubious, lingering way. "Hallo!"
He turned towards me in the like awkward fashion, but with neither
astonishment nor concern.
"Come up and take a drink with me before you go," I said, "if
you're not in a hurry. I'm alone here, and since I HAVE turned out
I don't see why we mightn't have a smoke and a talk together."
I looked up at the six feet of strength before me and repeated
wonderingly, "Dare not?"
"SHE wouldn't like it." He made a movement with his right shoulder
towards the extension.
"Nonsense!" I said. "She isn't in the cabin,--you won't see HER.
Come along." He hesitated, although from what I could discern of
his bearded face it was weakly smiling.
He obeyed, following me not unlike Chu Chu, I fancied, with the
same sense of superior size and strength and a slight whitening of
the eye, as if ready to shy at any moment. At the door he
"backed." Then he entered sideways. I noticed that he cleared the
doorway at the top and the sides only by a hair's breadth.
By the light of the fire I could see that, in spite of his full
first growth of beard, he was young,--even younger than myself,--
and that he was by no means bad-looking. As he still showed signs
of retreating at any moment, I took my flask and tobacco from my
saddle-bags, handed them to him, pointed to the stool, and sat down
myself upon the bed.
"You live near here?"
"Yes," he said a little abstractedly, as if listening for some
interruption, "at Ten Mile Crossing."
"Why, that's two miles away."
"Then you don't live here--on the clearing?"
"No. I b'long to the mill at 'Ten Mile.'"
"You were on your way home?"
"No," he hesitated, looking at his pipe; "I kinder meander round
here at this time, when Johnson's away, to see if everything's
"I see--you're a friend of the family."
"'Deed no!" He stopped, laughed, looked confused, and added,
apparently to his pipe, "That is, a sorter friend. Not much.
SHE"--he lowered his voice as if that potential personality filled
the whole cabin--"wouldn't like it."
"Then at night, when Johnson's away, you do sentry duty round the
"Yes, 'sentry dooty,' that's it,"--he seemed impressed with the
suggestion--"that's it! Sentry dooty. You've struck it, pardner."
"And how often is Johnson away?"
"'Bout two or three times a week on an average."
"But Miss Caroline appears to be able to take care of herself. She
has no fear."
"Fear! Fear wasn't hangin' round when SHE was born!" He paused.
"No, sir. Did ye ever look into them eyes?"
I hadn't, on account of the lashes. But I didn't care to say this,
and only nodded.
"There ain't the created thing livin' or dead, that she can't stand
straight up to and look at."
I wondered if he had fancied she experienced any difficulty in
standing up before that innocently good-humored face, but I could
not resist saying:--
"Then I don't see the use of your walking four miles to look after
I was sorry for it the next minute, for he seemed to have awkwardly
broken his pipe, and had to bend down for a long time afterwards to
laboriously pick up the smallest fragments of it. At last he said,
"Ye noticed them bits o' flannin' round the chillern's throats?"
I remembered that I had, but was uncertain whether it was intended
as a preventive of cold or a child's idea of decoration. I nodded.
"That's their trouble. One night, when old Johnson had been off
for three days to Coulterville, I was prowling round here and I
didn't git to see no one, though there was a light burnin' in the
shanty all night. The next night I was here again,--the same light
twinklin', but no one about. I reckoned that was mighty queer, and
I jess crep' up to the house an' listened. I heard suthin' like a
little cough oncet in a while, and at times suthin' like a little
moan. I didn't durst to sing out for I knew SHE wouldn't like it,
but whistled keerless like, to let the chillern know I was there.
But it didn't seem to take. I was jess goin' off, when--darn my
skin!--if I didn't come across the bucket of water I'd fetched up
from the spring THAT MORNIN', standin' there full, and NEVER TAKEN
IN! When I saw that I reckoned I'd jess wade in, anyhow, and I
knocked. Pooty soon the door was half opened, and I saw her eyes
blazin' at me like them coals. Then SHE 'lowed I'd better 'git up
and git,' and shet the door to! Then I 'lowed she might tell me
what was up--through the door. Then she said, through the door, as
how the chillern lay all sick with that hoss-distemper, diphthery.
Then she 'lowed she'd use a doctor ef I'd fetch him. Then she
'lowed again I'd better take the baby that hadn't ketched it yet
along with me, and leave it where it was safe. Then she passed out
the baby through the door all wrapped up in a blankit like a
papoose, and you bet I made tracks with it. I knowed thar wasn't
no good going to the mill, so I let out for White's, four miles
beyond, whar there was White's old mother. I told her how things
were pointin', and she lent me a hoss, and I jess rounded on Doctor
Green at Mountain Jim's, and had him back here afore sun-up! And
then I heard she wilted,--regularly played out, you see,--for she
had it all along wuss than the lot, and never let on or whimpered!"
"It was well you persisted in seeing her that night," I said,
watching the rapt expression of his face. He looked up quickly,
became conscious of my scrutiny, and dropped his eyes again, smiled
feebly, and drawing a circle in the ashes with the broken pipe-
"But SHE didn't like it, though."
I suggested, a little warmly, that if she allowed her father to
leave her alone at night with delicate children, she had no right
to choose WHO should assist her in an emergency. It struck me
afterwards that this was not very complimentary to him, and I added
hastily that I wondered if she expected some young lady to be
passing along the trail at midnight! But this reminded me of
Johnson's style of argument, and I stopped.
"Yes," he said meekly, "and ef she didn't keer enough for herself
and her brothers and sisters, she orter remember them Beazeley
"Beazeley children?" I repeated wonderingly.
"Yes; them two little ones, the size of Mirandy; they're Beazeley's."
"Who is Beazeley, and what are his children doing here?"
"Beazeley up and died at the mill, and she bedevilled her father to
let her take his two young 'uns here."
"You don't mean to say that with her other work she's taking care
of other people's children too?"
"Yes, and eddicatin' them."
"Yes; teachin' them to read and write and do sums. One of our
loggers ketched her at it when she was keepin' tally."
We were both silent for some moments.
"I suppose you know Johnson?" I said finally.
"But you call here at other times than when you're helping her?"
"Never been in the house before."
He looked slowly around him as he spoke, raising his eyes to the
bare rafters above, and drawing a few long breaths, as if he were
inhaling the aura of some unseen presence. He appeared so
perfectly gratified and contented, and I was so impressed with this
humble and silent absorption of the sacred interior, that I felt
vaguely conscious that any interruption of it was a profanation,
and I sat still, gazing at the dying fire. Presently he arose,
stretched out his hand, shook mine warmly, said, "I reckon I'll
meander along," took another long breath, this time secretly, as if
conscious of my eyes, and then slouched sideways out of the house
into the darkness again, where he seemed suddenly to attain his
full height, and so looming, disappeared. I shut the door, went to
bed, and slept soundly.
So soundly that when I awoke the sun was streaming on my bed from
the open door. On the table before me my breakfast was already
laid. When I had dressed and eaten it, struck by the silence, I
went to the door and looked out. 'Dolphus was holding Chu Chu by
the reata a few paces from the cabin.
"Where's Caroline?" I asked.
He pointed to the woods and said: "Over yon: keeping tally."
"Did she leave any message?"
"Said I was to git your mule for you."
"Yes; said you was to go."
I went, but not until I had scrawled a few words of thanks on a
leaf of my notebook, which I wrapped about my last Spanish dollar,
addressed it to "Miss Johnson," and laid it upon the table.
. . . . . .
It was more than a year later that in the bar-room of the Mariposa
Hotel a hand was laid upon my sleeve. I looked up. It was
He drew from his pocket a Spanish dollar. "I reckoned," he said,
cheerfully, "I'd run again ye somewhar some time. My old woman
told me to give ye that when I did, and say that she 'didn't keep
no hotel.' But she allowed she'd keep the letter, and has spelled
it out to the chillern."
Here was the opportunity I had longed for to touch Johnson's pride
and affection in the brave but unprotected girl. "I want to talk
to you about Miss Johnson," I said, eagerly.
"I reckon so," he said, with an exasperating smile. "Most fellers
do. But she ain't Miss Johnson no more. She's married."
"Not to that big chap over from Ten Mile Mills?" I said breathlessly.
"What's the matter with HIM," said Johnson. "Ye didn't expect her
to marry a nobleman, did ye?"
I said I didn't see why she shouldn't--and believed that she HAD.
THE NEW ASSISTANT AT PINE CLEARING SCHOOL.
The schoolmistress of Pine Clearing was taking a last look around
her schoolroom before leaving it for the day. She might have done
so with pride, for the schoolroom was considered a marvel of
architectural elegance by the citizens, and even to the ordinary
observer was a pretty, villa-like structure, with an open cupola
and overhanging roof of diamond-shaped shingles and a deep
Elizabethan porch. But it was the monument of a fierce struggle
between a newer civilization and a barbarism of the old days, which
had resulted in the clearing away of the pines--and a few other
things as incongruous to the new life and far less innocent, though
no less sincere. It had cost the community fifteen thousand
dollars, and the lives of two of its citizens.
Happily there was no stain of this on the clean white walls, the
beautifully-written gilt texts, or the shining blackboard that
had offered no record which could not be daily wiped away. And,
certainly, the last person in the world to suggest any reminiscences
of its belligerent foundation was the person of the schoolmistress.
Mature, thin, precise,--not pretty enough to have excited Homeric
feuds, nor yet so plain as to preclude certain soothing graces,--
she was the widow of a poor Congregational minister, and had been
expressly imported from San Francisco to squarely mark the issue
between the regenerate and unregenerate life. Low-voiced,
gentlewomanly, with the pallor of ill-health perhaps unduly accented
by her mourning, which was still cut modishly enough to show off her
spare but good figure, she was supposed to represent the model of
pious, scholastic refinement. The Opposition--sullen in ditches and
at the doors of saloons, or in the fields truculent as their own
cattle--nevertheless had lowered their crests and buttoned their
coats over their revolutionary red shirts when SHE went by.
As she was stepping from the threshold, she was suddenly confronted
by a brisk business-looking man, who was about to enter. "Just in
time to catch you, Mrs. Martin," he said hurriedly; then, quickly
correcting his manifest familiarity, he added: "I mean, I took the
liberty of running in here on my way to the stage office. That
matter you spoke of is all arranged. I talked it over with the
other trustees, wrote to Sam Barstow, and he's agreeable, and has
sent somebody up, and," he rapidly consulted his watch, "he ought
to be here now; and I'm on my way to meet him with the other
Mrs. Martin, who at once recognized her visitor as the Chairman of
the School Board, received the abrupt information with the slight
tremulousness, faint increase of color, and hurried breathing of a
"But," she said, "it was only a SUGGESTION of mine, Mr. Sperry; I
really have no right to ask--I had no idea"--
"It's all right, ma'am,--never you mind. We put the case square to
Barstow. We allowed that the school was getting too large for you
to tackle,--I mean, you know, to superintend single-handed; and
that these Pike County boys they're running in on us are a little
too big and sassy for a lady like you to lasso and throw down--I
mean, to sorter control--don't you see? But, bless you, Sam
Barstow saw it all in a minit! He just jumped at it. I've got his
letter here--hold on"--he hastily produced a letter from his
pocket, glanced ever it, suddenly closed it again with embarrassed
quickness, yet not so quickly but that the woman's quicker eyes
were caught, and nervously fascinated by the expression "I'm d----d"
in a large business hand--and said in awkward haste, "No matter
about reading it now--keep you too long--but he's agreed all right,
you know. Must go now--they'll be waiting. Only I thought I'd
drop in a-passin', to keep you posted;" and, taking off his hat, he
began to back from the porch.
"Is--is--this gentleman who is to assist me--a--a mature professional
man--or a--graduate?" hesitated Mrs. Martin, with a faint smile.
"Don't really know--I reckon Sam--Mr. Barstow--fixed that all
right. Must really go now;" and, still holding his hat in his hand
as a polite compromise for his undignified haste, he fairly ran
Arrived at the stage office, he found the two other trustees
awaiting him, and the still more tardy stage-coach. One, a large,
smooth-faced, portly man, was the Presbyterian minister; the other,
of thinner and more serious aspect, was a large mill-owner.
"I presume," said the Rev. Mr. Peaseley, slowly, "that as our good
brother Barstow, in the urgency of the occasion, has, to some
extent, anticipated OUR functions in engaging this assistant, he
is--a--a--satisfied with his capacity?"
"Sam knows what he's about," said the mill-owner cheerfully, "and
as he's regularly buckled down to the work here, and will go his
bottom dollar on it, you can safely leave things to him."
"He certainly has exhibited great zeal," said the reverend
"Zeal," echoed Sperry enthusiastically, "zeal? Why, he runs Pine
Clearing as he runs his bank and his express company in Sacramento,
and he's as well posted as if he were here all the time. Why, look
here;" he nudged the mill-owner secretly, and, as the minister's
back was momentarily turned, pulled out the letter he had avoided
reading to Mrs. Martin, and pointed to a paragraph. "I'll be
d----d," said the writer, "but I'll have peace and quietness at Pine
Clearing, if I have to wipe out or make over the whole Pike County
gang. Draw on me for a piano if you think Mrs. Martin can work it.
But don't say anything to Peaseley first, or he'll want it changed
for a harmonium, and that lets us in for psalm-singing till you
can't rest. Mind! I don't object to Church influence--it's a good
hold!--but you must run IT with other things equal, and not let it
run YOU. I've got the schoolhouse insured for thirty thousand
dollars--special rates too."
The mill-owner smiled. "Sam's head is level! But," he added, "he
don't say much about the new assistant he's sending."
"Only here," he says, "I reckon the man I send will do all round;
for Pike County has its claims as well as Boston."
"What does that mean?" asked the mill-owner.
"I reckon he means he don't want Pine Clearing to get too high-
toned any more than he wants it too low down. He's mighty square
in his averages--is Sam."
Here speculation was stopped by the rapid oncoming of the stage-
coach in all the impotent fury of a belated arrival. "Had to go
round by Montezuma to let off Jack Hill," curtly explained the
driver, as he swung himself from the box, and entered the hotel
bar-room in company with the new expressman, who had evidently
taken Hill's place on the box-seat. Autocratically indifferent to
further inquiry, he called out cheerfully: "Come along, boys, and
hear this yer last new yarn about Sam Barstow,--it's the biggest
thing out." And in another moment the waiting crowd, with glasses
in their hands, were eagerly listening to the repetition of the
"yarn" from the new expressman, to the apparent exclusion of other
matters, mundane and practical.
Thus debarred from information, the three trustees could only watch
the passengers as they descended, and try to identify their
expected stranger. But in vain: the bulk of the passengers they
already knew, the others were ordinary miners and laborers; there
was no indication of the new assistant among them. Pending further
inquiry they were obliged to wait the conclusion of the expressman's
humorous recital. This was evidently a performance of some artistic
merit, depending upon a capital imitation of an Irishman, a German
Jew, and another voice, which was universally recognized and
applauded as being "Sam's style all over!" But for the presence of
the minister, Sperry and the mill-owner would have joined the
enthusiastic auditors, and inwardly regretted the respectable
obligations of their official position.
When the story-teller had concluded amidst a general call for more
drinks, Sperry approached the driver. The latter recognizing him,
turned to his companion carelessly, said, "Here's one of 'em," and
was going away when Sperry stopped him.
"We were expecting a young man."
"Yes," said the driver, impatiently, "and there he is, I reckon."
"We don't mean the new expressman," said the minister, smiling
blandly, "but a young man who"--
"THAT ain't no new expressman," returned the driver in scornful
deprecation of his interlocutor's ignorance. "He only took Hill's
place from Montezuma. He's the new kid reviver and polisher for
that University you're runnin' here. I say--you fellers oughter
get him to tell you that story of Sam Barstow and the Chinaman.
It'd limber you fellers up to hear it."
"I fear there's some extraordinary mistake here," said Mr.
Peaseley, with a chilling Christian smile.
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