Part 2 out of 4
Utterly oblivious of this artistic "shadowing" in the insignificant
person of the small boy who once or twice even crossed their path
with affected timidity, they continued an apparently confidential
previous interview. The words "stocks" and "shares" were alone
intelligible. Johnny had heard them during the day, but he was
struck by the fact that Uncle Ben seemed to be seeking information
from the paragon and was perfectly submissive and humble. But the
boy was considerably mystified when after a tramp of half an hour
they arrived upon the debatable ground of the Harrison-McKinstry
boundary. Having been especially warned never to go there, Johnny
as a matter of course was perfectly familiar with it. But what was
the incomprehensible stranger doing there? Was he brought by Uncle
Ben with a view of paralyzing both of the combatants with the
spectacle of his perfections? Was he a youthful sheriff, a young
judge, or maybe the son of the Governor of California? Or was it
that Uncle Ben was "silly" and didn't know the locality? Here was
an opportunity for him, Johnny, to introduce himself, and explain
and even magnify the danger, with perhaps a slight allusion to his
own fearless familiarity with it. Unfortunately, as he was making
up his small mind behind a tree, the paragon turned and with the
easy disdain that so well became him, said:
"Well, I wouldn't offer a dollar an acre for the whole ranch. But
if YOU choose to give a fancy price--that's your lookout."
To Johnny's already prejudiced mind, Uncle Ben received this just
contempt submissively, as he ought, but nevertheless he muttered
something "silly" in reply, which Johnny was really too disgusted
to listen to. Ought he not to step forward and inform the paragon
that he was wasting his time on a man who couldn't even spell
"ba-ker," and who was taught his letters by his, Johnny's, brother?
The paragon continued:
"And of course you know that merely your buying the title to the
land don't give you possession. You'll have to fight these
squatters and jumpers just the same. It'll be three instead of two
Uncle Ben's imbecile reply did not trouble Johnny. He had ears now
only for the superior intellect before him. IT continued coolly:
"Now let's take a look at that yield of yours. I haven't much time
to give you, as I expect some men to be looking for me here--and I
suppose you want this thing still kept a secret. I don't see how
you've managed to do it so far. Is your claim near? You live on
it--I think you said?"
But that the little listener was so preoccupied with the stranger,
this suggestion of Uncle Ben's having a claim worth the attention
of that distinguished presence would have set him thinking; the
little that he understood he set down to Uncle Ben's "gassin'." As
the two men moved forward again, he followed them until Uncle Ben's
house was reached.
It was a rude shanty of boards and rough boulders, half burrowing
in one of the largest mounds of earth and gravel, which had once
represented the tailings or refuse of the abandoned Indian Spring
Placer. In fact it was casually alleged by some that Uncle Ben
eked out the scanty "grub wages," he made by actual mining, in
reworking and sifting the tailings at odd times--a degrading work
hitherto practised only by Chinese, and unworthy the Caucasian
ambition. The mining code of honor held that a man might accept
the smallest results of his daily labor, as long as he was
sustained by the prospect of a larger "strike," but condemned his
contentment with a modest certainty. Nevertheless a little of
this suspicion encompassed his dwelling and contributed to its
loneliness, even as a long ditch, the former tail-race of the
claim, separated him from his neighbors. Prudently halting at the
edge of the wood, Johnny saw his resplendent vision cross the strip
of barren flat, and enter the cabin with Uncle Ben like any other
mortal. He sat down on a stump and awaited its return, which he
fondly hoped might be alone! At the end of half an hour he made a
short excursion to examine the condition of a blackberry bramble,
and returned to his post of observation. But there was neither
sound nor motion in the direction of the cabin. When another ten
minutes had elapsed, the door opened and to Johnny's intense
discomfiture, Uncle Ben appeared alone and walked leisurely towards
the woods. Burning with anxiety Johnny threw himself in Uncle
Ben's way. But here occurred one of those surprising inconsistencies
known only to children. As Uncle Ben turned his small gray eyes
upon him in a half astonished, half questioning manner, the potent
spirit of childish secretiveness suddenly took possession of the
boy. Wild horses could not now have torn from him that question
which only a moment before was on his lips.
"Hullo, Johnny! What are ye doin' here?" said Uncle Ben kindly.
"Nothin'." After a pause, in which he walked all round Uncle Ben's
large figure, gazing up at him as if he were a monument, he added,
"Why ain't you over at the collation?"
"Ruperth there," he answered promptly.
The idea of being thus vicariously present in the person of his
brother seemed a sufficient excuse. He leap-frogged over the stump
on which he had been sitting as an easy unembarrassing pause for
the next question. But Uncle Ben was apparently perfectly
satisfied with Johnny's reply, and nodding to him, walked away.
When his figure had disappeared in the bushes, Johnny cautiously
approached the cabin. At a certain distance he picked up a stone
and threw it against the door, immediately taking to his heels and
the friendly copse again. No one appearing he repeated the
experiment twice and even thrice with a larger stone and at a
nearer distance. Then he boldly skirted the cabin and dropped into
the race-way at its side. Following it a few hundred yards he came
upon a long disused shaft opening into it, which had been covered
with a rough trap of old planks, as if to protect incautious
wayfarers from falling in. Here a sudden and inexplicable fear
overtook Johnny, and he ran away. When he reached the hotel, almost
the first sight that met his astounded eyes was the spectacle of the
paragon, apparently still in undisturbed possession of all his
perfections--driving coolly off in a buggy with a fresh companion.
Meantime Mr. Ford, however touched by the sentimental significance
of the celebration, became slightly wearied of its details. As his
own room in the Eureka Hotel was actually thrilled by the brass
band without and the eloquence of speakers below, and had become
redolent of gunpowder and champagne exploded around it, he
determined to return to the school-house and avail himself of its
woodland quiet to write a few letters.
The change was grateful, the distant murmur of the excited
settlement came only as the soothing sound of wind among the
leaves. The pure air of the pines that filled every cranny of the
quiet school-room, and seemed to disperse all taint of human
tenancy, made the far-off celebrations as unreal as a dream. The
only reality of his life was here.
He took from his pocket a few letters one of which was worn and
soiled with frequent handling. He re-read it in a half methodical,
half patient way, as if he were waiting for some revelation it
inspired, which was slow that afternoon in coming. At other times
it had called up a youthful enthusiasm which was wont to transfigure
his grave and prematurely reserved face with a new expression.
To-day the revelation and expression were both wanting. He put the
letter back with a slight sigh, that sounded so preposterous in the
silent room that he could not forego an embarrassed smile. But the
next moment he set himself seriously to work on his correspondence.
Presently he stopped; once or twice he had been overtaken by a
vague undefinable sense of pleasure, even to the dreamy halting of
his pen. It was a sensation in no way connected with the subject
of his correspondence, or even his previous reflections--it was
partly physical, and yet it was in some sense suggestive. It must
be the intoxicating effect of the woodland air. He even fancied he
had noticed it before, at the same hour when the sun was declining
and the fresh odors of the undergrowth were rising. It certainly
was a perfume. He raised his eyes. There lay the cause on the
desk before him--a little nosegay of wild Californian myrtle
encircling a rose-bud which had escaped his notice.
There was nothing unusual in the circumstance. The children were
in the habit of making their offerings generally without particular
reference to time or occasion, and it might have been overlooked by
him during school-hours. He felt a pity for the forgotten posy
already beginning to grow limp in its neglected solitude. He
remembered that in some folk-lore of the children's, perhaps a
tradition of the old association of the myrtle with Venus, it was
believed to be emblematic of the affections. He remembered also
that he had even told them of this probable origin of their
superstition. He was still holding it in his hand when he was
conscious of a silken sensation that sent a magnetic thrill through
his fingers. Looking at it more closely he saw that the sprigs
were bound together, not by thread or ribbon, but by long filaments
of soft brown hair tightly wound around them. He unwound a single
hair and held it to the light. Its length, color, texture, and
above all a certain inexplicable instinct, told him it was Cressy
McKinstry's. He laid it down quickly, as if he had, in that act,
familiarly touched her person.
He finished his letter, but presently found himself again looking
at the myrtle and thinking about it. From the position in which it
had been placed it was evidently intended for him; the fancy of
binding it with hair was also intentional and not a necessity, as
he knew his feminine scholars were usually well provided with bits
of thread, silk, or ribbon. If it had been some new absurdity of
childish fashion introduced in the school, he would have noticed it
ere this. For it was this obtrusion of a personality that vaguely
troubled him. He remembered Cressy's hair; it was certainly very
beautiful, in spite of her occasional vagaries of coiffure. He
recalled how, one afternoon, it had come down when she was romping
with Octavia in the play-ground, and was surprised to find what a
vivid picture he retained of her lingering in the porch to put it
up; her rounded arms held above her head, her pretty shoulders,
full throat, and glowing face thrown back, and a wisp of the very
hair between her white teeth! He began another letter.
When it was finished the shadow of the pine-branch before the
window, thrown by the nearly level sun across his paper, had begun
slowly to reach the opposite wall. He put his work away, lingered
for a moment in hesitation over the myrtle sprays, and then locked
them in his desk with an odd feeling that he had secured in some
vague way a hold upon Cressy's future vagaries; then reflecting
that Uncle Ben, whom he had seen in town, would probably keep
holiday with the others, he resolved to wait no longer, but
strolled back to the hotel. The act however had not recalled Uncle
Ben to him by any association of ideas, for since his discovery of
Johnny Filgee's caricature he had failed to detect anything to
corroborate the caricaturist's satire, and had dismissed the
subject from his mind.
On entering his room at the hotel he found Rupert Filgee standing
moodily by the window, while his brother Johnny, overcome by a
repletion of excitement and collation, was asleep on the single
arm-chair. Their presence was not unusual, as Mr. Ford, touched by
the loneliness of these motherless boys, had often invited them to
come to his rooms to look over his books and illustrated papers.
"Well?" he said cheerfully.
Rupert did not reply or change his position. Mr. Ford, glancing at
him sharply, saw a familiar angry light in the boy's beautiful
eyes, slightly dimmed by a tear. Laying his hand gently on
Rupert's shoulder he said, "What's the matter, Rupert?"
"Nothin'," said the boy doggedly, with his eyes still fixed on the
"Has--has--Mrs. Tripp" (the fair proprietress) "been unkind?" he
went on lightly.
"You know, Rupe," continued Mr. Ford demurely, "she must show SOME
reserve before company--like to-day. It won't do to make a
Rupert maintained an indignant silence. But the dimple (which he
usually despised as a feminine blot) on the cheek nearer the master
became slightly accented. Only for a moment; the dark eyes clouded
"I wish I was dead, Mr. Ford."
"That's better. What do you want to do?"
"To work--make a livin' myself. Quit toten' wood and water at
home; quit cookin' and makin' beds, like a yaller Chinaman; quit
nussin' babies and dressin' 'em and undressin' 'em, like a girl.
Look at HIM now," pointing to the sweetly unconscious Johnny, "look
at him there. Do you know what that means? It means I've got to
pack him home through the town jist ez he is thar, and then make a
fire and bile his food for him, and wash him and undress him and
put him to bed, and 'Now I lay me down to sleep' him, and tuck him
up; and Dad all the while 'scootin' round town with other idjits,
jawin' about 'progress' and the 'future of Injin Spring.' Much
future we've got over our own house, Mr. Ford. Much future he's
got laid up for me!"
The master, to whom those occasional outbreaks from Rupert were not
unfamiliar, smiled, albeit with serious eyes that belied his lips,
and consoled the boy as he had often done before. But he was
anxious to know the cause of this recent attack and its probable
relations to the fascinating Mrs. Tripp.
"I thought we talked all that over some time ago, Rupe. In a few
months you'll be able to leave school, and I'll advise your father
about putting you into something to give you a chance for yourself.
Patience, old fellow; you're doing very well. Consider--there's
your pupil, Uncle Ben."
"Oh, yes! That's another big baby to tot round in school when I
ain't niggerin' at home."
"And I don't see exactly what else you could do at Indian Spring,"
continued Mr. Ford.
"No," said Rupert gloomily, "but I could get away to Sacramento.
Yuba Bill says they take boys no bigger nor me in thar express
offices or banks--and in a year or two they're as good ez anybody
and get paid as big. Why, there was a fellow here, just now, no
older than you, Mr. Ford, and not half your learnin', and he
dressed to death with jewelry, and everybody bowin' and scrapin' to
him, that it was perfectly sickenin'."
Mr. Ford lifted his eyebrows. "Oh, you mean the young man of
Benham and Co., who was talking to Mrs. Tripp?" he said.
A quick flush of angry consciousness crossed Rupert's face.
"Maybe; he has just cheek enough for anythin'."
"And you want to be like him?" said Mr. Ford.
"You know what I mean, Mr. Ford. Not LIKE him. Why YOU'RE as good
as he is, any day," continued Rupert with relentless naivete; "but
if a jay-bird like that can get on, why couldn't I?"
There was no doubt that the master here pointed out the defectiveness
of Rupert's logic and the beneficence of patience and study, as
became their relations of master and pupil, but with the addition of
a certain fellow sympathy and some amusing recital of his own boyish
experiences, that had the effect of calling Rupert's dimples into
action again. At the end of half an hour the boy had become quite
tractable, and, getting ready to depart, approached his sleeping
brother with something like resignation. But Johnny's nap seemed to
have had the effect of transforming him into an inert jelly-like
mass. It required the joint exertions of both the master and Rupert
to transfer him bodily into the latter's arms, where, with a single
limp elbow encircling his brother's neck, he lay with his unfinished
slumber still visibly distending his cheeks, his eyelids, and even
lifting his curls from his moist forehead. The master bade Rupert
"good-night," and returned to his room as the boy descended the
stairs with his burden.
But here Providence, with, I fear, its occasional disregard of mere
human morality, rewarded Rupert after his own foolish desires.
Mrs. Tripp was at the foot of the stairs as Rupert came slowly
down. He saw her, and was covered with shame; she saw him and his
burden, and was touched with kindliness. Whether or not she was
also mischievously aware of Rupert's admiration, and was not
altogether displeased with it, I cannot say. In a voice that
thrilled him, she said:--
"What! Rupert, are you going so soon?"
"Yes, ma'am---on account of Johnny."
"But let me take him--I can keep him here to-night."
It was a great temptation, but Rupert had strength to refuse,
albeit with his hat pulled over his downcast eyes.
"Poor dear, how tired he looks."
She approached her still fresh and pretty face close to Rupert and
laid her lips on Johnny's cheek. Then she lifted her audacious
eyes to his brother, and pushing back his well-worn chip hat from
his clustering curls, she kissed him squarely on the forehead.
The boy stumbled, and then staggered blindly forward into the outer
darkness. But with a gentleman's delicacy he turned almost
instantly into a side street, as if to keep this consecration of
himself from vulgar eyes. The path he had chosen was rough and
weary, the night was dark, and Johnny was ridiculously heavy, but
he kept steadily on, the woman's kiss in the fancy of the foolish
boy shining on his forehead and lighting him onward like a star.
When the door closed on Rupert the master pulled down the blind,
and, trimming his lamp, tried to compose himself by reading.
Outside, the "Great Day for Indian Spring" was slowly evaporating
in pale mists from the river, and the celebration itself
spasmodically taking flight here and there in Roman candles and
rockets. An occasional outbreak from revellers in the bar-room
below, a stumbling straggler along the planked sidewalk before the
hotel, only seemed to intensify the rustic stillness. For the
future of Indian Spring was still so remote that Nature insensibly
re-invested its boundaries on the slightest relaxation of civic
influence, and Mr. Ford lifted his head from the glowing columns
of the "Star" to listen to the far-off yelp of a coyote on the
He was also conscious of the recurrence of that vague, pleasurable
recollection, so indefinite that, when he sought to identify it
with anything--even the finding of the myrtle sprays on his desk--
it evaded him. He tried to work, with the same interruption. Then
an uneasy sensation that he had not been sufficiently kind to
Rupert in his foolish love-troubles remorsefully seized him. A
half pathetic, half humorous picture of the miserable Rupert
staggering under the double burden of his sleeping brother and a
misplaced affection, or possibly abandoning the one or both in the
nearest ditch in a reckless access of boyish frenzy and fleeing his
home forever, rose before his eyes. He seized his hat with the
intention of seeking him--or forgetting him in some other occupation
by the way. For Mr. Ford had the sensitive conscience of many
imaginative people; an unfailing monitor, it was always calling his
whole moral being into play to evade it.
As he crossed the passage he came upon Mrs. Tripp hooded and
elaborately attired in a white ball dress, which however did not,
to his own fancy, become her as well as her ordinary costume. He
was passing her with a bow, when she said, with complacent
consciousness of her appearance, "Aren't you going to the ball to-
He remembered then that "an opening ball" at the Court-house was a
part of the celebration. "No," he said smiling; "but it is a pity
that Rupert couldn't have seen you in your charming array."
"Rupert," said the lady, with a slightly coquettish laugh; "you
have made him as much a woman-hater as yourself. I offered to take
him in our party, and he ran away to you." She paused, and giving
him a furtive critical glance said, with an easy mingling of
confidence and audacity, "Why don't YOU go? Nobody'll hurt you."
"I'm not so sure of that," replied Mr. Ford gallantly. "There's
the melancholy example of Rupert always before me."
Mrs. Tripp tossed her chignon and descended a step of the stairs.
"You'd better go," she continued, looking up over the balusters.
"You can look on if you can't dance."
Now Mr. Ford COULD dance, and it so chanced, rather well, too.
With this consciousness he remained standing in half indignant
hesitation on the landing as she disappeared. Why shouldn't he go?
It was true, he had half tacitly acquiesced in the reserve with
which he had been treated, and had never mingled socially in the
gatherings of either sex at Indian Spring--but that was no reason.
He could at least dress himself, walk to the Court-house and--look
Any black coat and white shirt was sufficiently de rigueur for
Indian Spring. Mr. Ford added the superfluous elegance of a
forgotten white waistcoat. When he reached the sidewalk it was
only nine o'clock, but the windows of the Court-house were already
flaring like a stranded steamer on the barren bank where it had
struck. On the way thither he was once or twice tempted to change
his mind, and hesitated even at the very door. But the fear that
his hesitation would be noticed by the few loungers before it, and
the fact that some of them were already hesitating through
bashfulness, determined him to enter.
The clerks' office and judges' chambers on the lower floor had been
invaded by wraps, shawls, and refreshments, but the dancing was
reserved for the upper floor or courtroom, still unfinished.
Flags, laurel-wreaths, and appropriate floral inscriptions hid its
bare walls; but the coat of arms of the State, already placed over
the judges' dais with its illimitable golden sunset, its triumphant
goddess, and its implacable grizzly, seemed figuratively to typify
the occasion better than the inscriptions. The room was close and
crowded. The flickering candles in tin sconces against the walls,
or depending in rude chandeliers of barrel-hoops from the ceiling,
lit up the most astounding diversity of female costume the master
had ever seen. Gowns of bygone fashions, creased and stained with
packing and disuse, toilets of forgotten festivity revised with
modern additions; garments in and out of season--a fur-trimmed
jacket and a tulle skirt, a velvet robe under a pique sacque; fresh
young faces beneath faded head-dresses, and mature and buxom charms
in virgin' white. The small space cleared for the dancers was
continually invaded by the lookers-on, who in files of three deep
lined the room.
As the master pushed his way to the front, a young girl, who had
been standing in the sides of a quadrille, suddenly darted with a
nymph-like quickness among the crowd and was for an instant hidden.
Without distinguishing either face or figure, Mr. Ford recognized
in the quick, impetuous action a characteristic movement of
Cressy's; with an embarrassing instinct that he could not account
for, he knew she had seen him, and that, for some inexplicable
reason, he was the cause of her sudden disappearance.
But it was only for a moment. Even while he was vaguely scanning
the crowd she reappeared and took her place beside her mystified
partner--the fascinating stranger of Johnny's devotion and Rupert's
dislike. She was pale; he had never seen her so beautiful. All
that he had thought distasteful and incongruous in her were but
accessories of her loveliness at that moment, in that light, in
that atmosphere, in that strange assembly. Even her full pink
gauze dress, from which her fair young shoulders slipped as from a
sunset cloud, seemed only the perfection of virginal simplicity;
her girlish length of limb and the long curves of her neck and back
were now the outlines of thorough breeding. The absence of color
in her usually fresh face had been replaced by a faint magnetic
aurora that seemed to him half spiritual. He could not take his
eyes from her; he could not believe what he saw. Yet that was
Cressy McKinstry--his pupil! Had he ever really seen her? Did he
know her now? Small wonder that all eyes were bent upon her, that
a murmur of unspoken admiration, or still more intense hush of
silence moved the people around him. He glanced hurriedly at them,
and was oddly relieved by this evident participation in his
She was dancing now, and with that same pale restraint and curious
quiet that had affected him so strongly. She had not even looked
in his direction, yet he was aware by the same instinct that had at
first possessed him that she knew he was present. His desire to
catch her eye was becoming mingled with a certain dread, as if in a
single interchange of glances the illusions of the moment would
either vanish utterly or become irrevocably fixed. He forced
himself, when the set was finished, to turn away, partly to avoid
contact with some acquaintances who had drifted before him, and
whom politeness would have obliged him to ask to dance, and partly
to collect his thoughts. He determined to make a tour of the rooms
and then go quietly home. Those who recognized him made way for
him with passive curiosity; the middle-aged and older adding a
confidential sympathy and equality that positively irritated him.
For an instant he had an idea of seeking out Mrs. Tripp and
claiming her as a partner, merely to show her that he danced.
He had nearly made the circuit of the room when he was surprised by
the first strains of a waltz. Waltzing was not a strong feature of
Indian Spring festivity, partly that the Church people had serious
doubts if David's saltatory performances before the Ark included
"round dances," and partly that the young had not yet mastered its
difficulties. When he yielded to his impulse to look again at the
dancers he found that only three or four couples had been bold
enough to take the floor. Cressy McKinstry and her former partner
were one of them. In his present exaltation he was not astonished
to find that she had evidently picked up the art in her late visit,
and was now waltzing with quiet grace and precision, but he was
surprised that her partner was far from being equally perfect, and
that after a few turns she stopped and smilingly disengaged her
waist from his arm. As she stepped back she turned with unerring
instinct to that part of the room where the master stood, and raised
her eyes through the multitude of admiring faces to his. Their eyes
met in an isolation as supreme as if they had been alone. It was an
attraction the more dangerous because unformulated--a possession
without previous pledge, promise, or even intention--a love that did
not require to be "made."
He approached her quietly and even more coolly than he thought
possible. "Will you allow me a trial?" he asked.
She looked in his face, and as if she had not heard the question
but was following her own thought, said, "I knew you would come; I
saw you when you first came in." Without another word she put her
hand in his, and as if it were part of an instinctive action of
drawing closer to him, caught with her advancing foot the accent of
the waltz, and the next moment the room seemed to slip away from
them into whirling space.
The whole thing had passed so rapidly from the moment he approached
her to the first graceful swing of her full skirt at his side, that
it seemed to him almost like the embrace of a lovers' meeting. He
had often been as near her before, had stood at her side at school,
and even leaned over her desk, but always with an irritated
instinct of reserve that had equally affected her, and which he now
understood. With her conscious but pale face so near his own, with
the faint odor of her hair clinging to her, and with the sweet
confusion of the half lingering, half withheld contact of her hand
and arm, all had changed. He did not dare to reflect that he could
never again approach her except with this feeling. He did not dare
to think of anything; he abandoned himself to the sense that had
begun with the invasion of her hair-bound myrtle in the silent
school-room, and seemed to have at last led her to his arms. They
were moving now in such perfect rhythm and unison that they seemed
scarcely conscious of motion. Once when they neared the open
window he caught a glimpse of the round moon rising above the
solemn heights of the opposite shore, and felt the cool breath of
mountain and river sweep his cheek and mingle a few escaped threads
of her fair hair with his own. With that glimpse and that
sensation the vulgarity and the tawdriness of their surroundings,
the guttering candles in their sconces, the bizarre figures, the
unmeaning faces seemed to be whirled far into distant space. They
were alone with night and nature; it was they who were still; all
else had receded in a vanishing perspective of dull reality, in
which they had no part.
Play on, O waltz of Strauss! Whirl on, O love and youth! For you
cannot whirl so swiftly but that this receding world will return
again with narrowing circle to hem you in. Faster, O cracked
clarionet! Louder, O too brazen bassoon! Keep back, O dull and
earthy environment, till master and pupil have dreamed their
They are in fancy alone on the river-bank, only the round moon
above them and their linked shadows faintly fluttering in the
stream. They have drawn so closely together now that her arm is
encircling his neck, her soft eyes uplifted like the moon's
reflection and drowning into his; closer and closer till their
hearts stop beating and their lips have met in a first kiss.
Faster, O little feet! swing clear, O Cressy's skirt and keep the
narrowing circle back! . . . They are again alone; the judges'
dais and the emblazoning of the State caught in a single whirling
flash of consciousness are changed to an altar, seen dimly through
the bridal veil that covers her fair head. There is the murmur of
voices mingling two lives in one. They turn and pass proudly down
between the aisles of wondering festal faces. Ah! the circle is
drawing closer. One more quick whirl to keep them back, O flying
skirt and dainty-winged feet! Too late! The music stops. The
tawdry walls shut in again, the vulgar crowds return, they stand
pale and quiet, the centre of a ring of breathless admiring,
frightened, or forbidding faces. Her arms fold like wings at her
side. The waltz is over.
A shrill feminine chorus assail her with praises, struck here and
there with a metallic ring of envy; a dozen all-daring cavaliers,
made reckless by her grace and beauty, clamor for her hand in the
next waltz. She replies, not to them, but to him, "Not again," and
slips away in the crowd with that strange new shyness that of all
her transformations seems the most delicious. Yet so conscious are
they of their mutual passion that they do not miss each other, and
he turns away as if their next meeting were already an appointed
tryst. A few congratulate him on his skill. Johnny's paragon
looks after him curiously; certain elders shake hands with him
perplexedly, as if not quite sure of the professional consistency
of his performance. Those charming tide-waiters on social success,
the fair, artfully mingling expectation with compliment, only
extract from him the laughing statement that this one waltz was the
single exception allowed him from the rule of his professional
conduct, and he refers them to his elder critics. A single face,
loutish, looming, and vindictive, stands on among the crowd--the
face of Seth Davis. He had not seen him since he left the school;
he had forgotten his existence; even now he only remembered his
successor, Joe Masters, and he looked curiously around to see if
that later suitor of Cressy's was present. It was not until he
reached the door that he began to think seriously of Seth Davis's
jealous face, and was roused to a singular indignation. "Why
hadn't this great fool vented his jealousy on the openly
compromising Masters," he thought. He even turned and walked back
with some vaguely aggressive instinct, but the young man had
disappeared. With this incident still in his mind he came upon
Uncle Ben and Hiram McKinstry standing among the spectators in the
doorway. Why might not Uncle Ben be jealous too? and if his single
waltz had really appeared so compromising why should not Cressy's
father object? But both men--albeit, McKinstry usually exhibited a
vague unreasoning contempt for Uncle Ben--were unanimous in their
congratulations and outspoken admiration.
"When I see'd you sail in, Mr. Ford," said Uncle Ben, with abstract
reflectiveness, "I sez to the fellers, 'lie low, boys, and you'll
see style.' And when you put on them first steps, I sez, 'that's
French--the latest high-toned French style--outer the best masters,
and--and outer the best books. For why?' sez I. 'It's the same
long, sliding stroke you see in his copies. There's that long up
sweep, and that easy curve to the right with no hitch. That's the
sorter swing he hez in readin' po'try too. That's why it's called
the po'try of motion,' sez I. 'And you ken bet your boots, boys,
it's all in the trainin' o' education.'"
"Mr. Ford," said Mr. McKinstry gravely, slightly waving a lavender-
colored kid glove, with which he had elected to conceal his maimed
hand, and at the same moment indicate a festal occasion: "I hev to
thank ye for the way you took out that child o' mine, like ez she
woz an ontried filly, and put her through her paces. I don't dance
myself, partikly in that gait--which I take to be suthin' betwixt a
lope and a canter and I don't get to see much dancin' nowadays on
account o' bein' worrited by stock, but seein' you two together
just now, suthin' came over me, and I don't think I ever felt so
kam in my life."
The blood rushed to the master's cheek with an unexpected
consciousness of guilt and shame. "But," he stammered awkwardly,
"your daughter dances beautifully herself; she has certainly had
"That," said McKinstry, laying his gloved hand impressively on the
master's shoulder, with the empty little finger still more
emphasized by being turned backward in the net; "that may be ez it
ez, but I wanted to say that it was the simple, easy, fammily touch
that you gev it, that took me. Toward the end, when you kinder
gathered her up and she sorter dropped her head into your breast-
pocket, and seemed to go to sleep, like ez ef she was still a
little girl, it so reminded me of the times when I used to tote her
myself walkin' by the waggin at Platt River, that it made me wish
the old woman was here to see it."
Still coloring, the master cast a rapid, sidelong glance at
McKinstry's dark red face and beard, but in the slow satisfaction
of his features there was no trace of that irony which the master's
"Then your wife is not here?" said Mr. Ford abstractedly.
"She war at church. She reckoned that I'd do to look arter Cressy--
she bein', so to speak, under conviction. D'ye mind walkin' this
way a bit; I want to speak a word with ye?" He put his maimed hand
through the master's arm, after his former fashion, and led him to
"Did ye happen to see Seth Davis about yer?"
"I believe I saw him a moment ago," returned Mr. Ford half
"Did he get off anythin' rough on ye?"
"Certainly not," said the master haughtily. "Why should he dare?"
"That's so," said McKinstry meditatively. "You had better keep
right on in that line. That's your gait, remember. Leave him--or
his father--it's the same thing--to ME. Don't YOU let yourself be
roped in to this yer row betwixt me and the Davises. You ain't got
no call to do it. It's already been on my mind your bringin' that
gun to me in the Harrison row. The old woman hadn't oughter let
you--nor Cress either. Hark to me, Mr. Ford! I reckon to stand
between you and both the Davises till the cows come home--only--
mind YOU give him the go-by when he happens to meander along
"I'm very much obliged to you," said Ford with disproportionately
sudden choler; "but I don't propose to alter my habits for a
ridiculous school-boy whom I have dismissed." The unjust and
boyish petulance of his speech instantly flashed upon him, and he
felt his cheek burn again.
McKinstry regarded him with dull, red, slumbrous eyes. "Don't you
go to lose your best holt, Mr. Ford--and that's kam. Keep your
kam--and you've allus got the dead wood on Injin Springs. I ain't
got it," he continued, in his slowest, most passionless manner,
"and a row more or less ain't much account to me--but YOU, you keep
your kam." He paused, stepped back, and regarding the master, with
a slight wave of his crippled hand over his whole person, as if
indicating some personal adornment, said, "It sets you off!"
He nodded, turned, and re-entered the ball-room. Mr. Ford, without
trusting himself to further speech, elbowed his way through the
crowded staircase to the street. But even there his strange anger,
as well as the equally strange remorse, which had seized him in
McKinstry's presence, seemed to evaporate in the clear moonlight
and soft summer air. There was the river-bank, with the tremulous
river glancing through the dreamy mist, as they had seen it from
the window together. He even turned to look back on the lighted
ball-room, as if SHE might have been looking out, too. But he knew
he should see her again to-morrow, and he hurriedly put aside all
reserve, all thought of the future, all examination of his conduct,
to walk home enwrapped in the vaguer pleasure of the past. Rupert
Filgee, to whom he had never given a second thought, now peacefully
slumbering beside his baby brother, had not gone home in more
foolish or more dangerous company.
When he reached the hotel, he was surprised to find it only eleven
o'clock. No one had returned, the building was deserted by all but
the bar-keeper and a flirting chambermaid, who regarded him with
aggrieved astonishment. He began to feel very foolish, and half
regretted that he had not stayed to dance with Mrs. Tripp; or, at
least, remained as a quiet onlooker apart from the others. With a
hasty excuse about returning to write letters for the morning's
post, he took a candle and slowly remounted the stairs to his room.
But on entering he found himself unprepared for that singular lack
of sympathy with which familiar haunts always greet our new
experiences; he could hardly believe that he had left that room
only two hours before; it seemed so uncongenial and strange to the
sensation that was still possessing him. Yet there were his table,
his books, his arm-chair, his bed as he had left them; even a
sticky fragment of gingerbread that had fallen from Johnny's
pocket. He had not yet reached that stage of absorbing passion
where he was able to put the loved one in his own surroundings; she
as yet had no place in this quiet room; he could scarcely think of
her here, and he MUST think of her, if he had to go elsewhere. An
extravagant idea of walking the street until his restless dream was
over seized him, but even in his folly the lackadaisical, moonstruck
quality of such a performance was too obvious. The school-house!
He would go there; it was only a pleasant walk, the night was
lovely, and he could bring the myrtle-spray from his desk. It was
too significant now--if not too precious--to be kept there. Perhaps
he had not examined it closely, nor the place where it had lain;
there might be an additional sign, word, or token he had overlooked.
The thought thrilled him, even while he was calmly arguing to
himself that it was an instinct of caution.
The air was quieter and warmer than usual, though still
characteristic of the locality in its dry, dewless clarity. The
grass was yet warm from the day-long sun, and when he entered the
pines that surrounded the schoolhouse, they had scarcely yet lost
their spicy heat. The moon, riding high, filled the dark aisles
with a delicious twilight that lent itself to his waking dreams.
It was not long before to-morrow; he could easily manage to bring
her here in the grove at recess, and would speak with her there.
It did not occur to him what he should say, or why he should say
it; it did not occur to him that he had no other provocation than
her eyes, her conscious manner, her eloquent silence, and her
admission that she had expected him. It did not occur to him that
all this was inconsistent with what he knew of her antecedents, her
character, and her habits. It was this very inconsistency that
charmed and convinced him. We are always on the lookout for these
miracles of passion. We may doubt the genuineness of an affection
that is first-hand, but never of one that is transferred.
He approached the school-house and unlocking the door closed it
behind him, not so much to keep out human intrusion as the invasion
of bats and squirrels. The nearly vertical moon, while it
perfectly lit the playground and openings in the pines around the
house, left the interior in darkness, except the reflection upon
the ceiling from the shining gravel without. Partly from a sense
of precaution and partly because he was familiar with the position
of the benches, he did not strike a light, and reached his own desk
unerringly, drew his chair before it and unlocked it, groped in its
dark recess for the myrtle spray, felt its soft silken binding with
an electrical thrill, drew it out, and in the security of the
darkness, raised it to his lips.
To make room for it in his breast pocket he was obliged to take out
his letters--among them the well-worn one he had tried to read that
morning. A mingling of pleasure and remorse came over him as he
felt that it was already of the past, and as he dropped it
carelessly into the empty desk it fell with a faint, hollow sound
as if it were ashes to ashes.
What was that?
The noise of steps upon the gravel, light laughter, the moving of
two or three shadows on the ceiling, the sound of voices, a man's,
a child's, and HERS!
Could it be possible? Was not he mistaken? No! the man's voice
was Masters'; the child's, Octavia's; the woman's, HERS.
He remained silent in the shadow. The school-room was not far from
the trail where she would have had to pass going home from the
ball. But why had she come there? had they seen him arrive? and
were mischievously watching him? The sound of Cressy's voice and
the lifting of the unprotected window near the door convinced him
to the contrary.
"There, that'll do. Now you two can step aside. 'Tave, take him
over to yon fence, and keep him there till I get in. No--thank
you, sir--I can assist myself. I've done it before. It ain't the
first time I've been through this window, is it, 'Tave?"
Ford's heart stopped beating. There was a moment of laughing
expostulation, the sound of retreating voices, the sudden darkening
of the window, the billowy sweep of a skirt, the faint quick flash
of a little ankle, and Cressy McKinstry swung herself into the room
and dropped lightly on the floor.
She advanced eagerly up the moonlit passage between the two rows of
benches. Suddenly she stopped; the master rose at the same moment
with outstretched warning hand to check the cry of terror he felt
sure would rise to her lips. But he did not know the lazy nerves
of the girl before him. She uttered no outcry. And even in the
faint dim light he could see only the same expression of conscious
understanding come over her face that he had seen in the ball-room,
mingled with a vague joy that parted her breathless lips. As he
moved quickly forward their hands met; she caught his with a quick
significant pressure and darted back to the window.
"Oh, 'Tave!" (very languidly.)
"You two had better wait for me at the edge of the trail yonder,
and keep a lookout for folks going by. Don't let them see you
hanging round so near. Do you hear? I'm all right."
With her hand still meaningly lifted, she stood gazing at the two
figures until they slowly receded towards the distant trail. Then
she turned as he approached her, the reflection of the moonlit road
striking up into her shining eyes and eager waiting face. A dozen
questions were upon his lips, a dozen replies were ready upon hers.
But they were never uttered, for the next moment her eyes half
closed, she leaned forward and fell--into a kiss.
She was the first to recover, holding his face in her hands, turned
towards the moonlight, her own in passionate shadow. "Listen," she
said quickly. "They think I came here to look for something I left
in my desk. They thought it high fun to come with me--these two.
I did come to look for something--not in my desk, but yours."
"Was it this?" he whispered, taking the myrtle from his breast.
She seized it with a light cry, putting it first to her lips and
then to his. Then clasping his face again between her soft palms,
she turned it to the window and said: "Look at them and not at me."
He did so--seeing the two figures slowly walking in the trail. And
holding her there firmly against his breast, it seemed a blasphemy
to ask the question that had been upon his lips.
"That's not all," she murmured, moving his face backwards and
forwards to her lips as if it were something to which she was
giving breath. "When we came to the woods I felt that you would be
"And feeling that, you brought HIM?" said Ford, drawing back.
"Why not?" she replied indolently. "Even if he had seen you, I
could have managed to have you walk home with me."
"But do you think it's quite fair? Would he like it?"
"Would HE like it?" she echoed lazily.
"Cressy," said the young man earnestly, gazing into her shadowed
face. "Have you given him any right to object? Do you understand
She stopped as if thinking. "Do you want me to call him in?" she
said quietly, but without the least trace of archness or coquetry.
"Would you rather he were here--or shall we go out now and meet
him? I'll say you just came as I was going out."
What should he say? "Cressy," he asked almost curtly, "do you love
It seemed such a ridiculous thing to ask, holding her thus in his
arms, if it were true; it seemed such a villainous question, if it
"I think I loved you when you first came," she said slowly. "It
must have been that that made me engage myself to him," she added
simply. "I knew I loved you, and thought only of you when I was
away. I came back because I loved you. I loved you the day you
came to see Maw--even when I thought you came to tell her of
Masters, and to say that you couldn't take me back."
"But you don't ask me if I love you?"
"But you do--you couldn't help it now," she said confidently.
What could he do but reply as illogically with a closer embrace,
albeit a slight tremor as if a cold wind had blown across the open
window, passed over him. She may have felt it too, for she
presently said, "Kiss me and let me go."
"But we must have a longer talk, darling--when--when--others are
"Do you know the far barn near the boundary?" she asked.
"I used to take your books there, afternoons to--to--be with you,"
she whispered, "and Paw gave orders that no one was to come nigh it
while I was there. Come to-morrow, just before sundown."
A long embrace followed, in which all that they had not said
seemed, to them at least, to become articulate on their tremulous
and clinging lips. Then they separated, he unlocking the door
softly to give her egress that way. She caught up a book from a
desk in passing, and then slipped like a rosy shaft of the coming
dawn across the fading moonlight, and a moment after her slow
voice, without a tremor of excitement, was heard calling to her
The conversation which Johnny Filgee had overheard between Uncle
Ben and the gorgeous stranger, although unintelligible to his
infant mind, was fraught with some significance to the adult
settlers of Indian Spring. The town itself, like most interior
settlements, was originally a mining encampment, and as such its
founders and settlers derived their possession of the soil under
the mining laws that took precedence of all other titles. But
although that title was held to be good even after the abandonment
of their original occupation, and the establishment of shops,
offices, and dwellings on the site of the deserted places, the
suburbs of the town and outlying districts were more precariously
held by squatters, under the presumption of their being public land
open to preemption, or the settlement of school-land warrants upon
them. Few of the squatters had taken the trouble to perfect even
these easy titles, merely holding "possession" for agricultural or
domiciliary purposes, and subject only to the invasion of
"jumpers," a class of adventurers who, in the abeyance of
recognized legal title, "jumped" or forcibly seized such portions
of a squatter's domains as were not protected by fencing or
superior force. It was therefore with some excitement that Indian
Spring received the news that a Mexican grant of three square
leagues, which covered the whole district, had been lately
confirmed by the Government, and that action would be taken to
recover possession. It was understood that it would not affect the
adverse possessions held by the town under the mining laws, but it
would compel the adjacent squatters like McKinstry, Davis, Masters,
and Filgee, and jumpers like the Harrisons, to buy the legal title,
or defend a slow but losing lawsuit. The holders of the grant--
rich capitalists of San Francisco--were open to compromise to those
in actual possession, and in the benefits of this compromise the
unscrupulous "jumper," who had neither sown nor reaped, but simply
dispossessed the squatter who had done both, shared equally with
A diversity of opinion as to the effect of the new claim naturally
obtained; the older settlers still clung to their experiences of an
easy aboriginal holding of the soil, and were sceptical both as to
the validity and justice of these revived alien grants; but the
newer arrivals hailed this certain tenure of legal titles as a
guarantee to capital and an incentive to improvement. There was
also a growing and influential party of Eastern and Northern men,
who were not sorry to see a fruitful source of dissension and
bloodshed removed. The feuds of the McKinstrys and Harrisons, kept
alive over a boundary to which neither had any legal claim, would
seem to bring them hereafter within the statute law regarding
ordinary assaults without any ethical mystification. On the other
hand McKinstry and Harrison would each be able to arrange any
compromise with the new title holders for the lands they possessed,
or make over that "actual possession" for a consideration. It was
feared that both men, being naturally lawless, would unite to
render any legal eviction a long and dangerous process, and that
they would either be left undisturbed till the last, or would force
a profitable concession. But a greater excitement followed when it
was known that a section of the land had already been sold by the
owners of the grant, that this section exactly covered the
debatable land of the McKinstry-Harrison boundaries, and that the
new landlord would at once attempt its legal possession. The
inspiration of genius that had thus effected a division of the
Harrison-McKinstry combination at its one weak spot excited even
the admiration of the sceptics. No one in Indian Spring knew its
real author, for the suit was ostensibly laid in the name of a San
Francisco banker. But the intelligent reader of Johnny Filgee's
late experience during the celebration will have already recognized
Uncle Ben as the man, and it becomes a part of this veracious
chronicle at this moment to allow him to explain, not only his
intentions, but the means by which he carried them out, in his own
It was one afternoon at the end of his usual solitary lesson, and
the master and Uncle Ben were awaiting the arrival of Rupert.
Uncle Ben's educational progress lately, through dint of slow
tenacity, had somewhat improved, and he had just completed from
certain forms and examples in a book before him a "Letter to a
Consignee" informing him that he, Uncle Ben, had just shipped "2
cwt. Ivory Elephant Tusks, 80 peculs of rice and 400bbls. prime
mess pork from Indian Spring;" and another beginning "Honored
Madam," and conveying in admirably artificial phraseology the
"lamented decease" of the lady's husband from yellow fever,
contracted on the Gold Coast, and Uncle Ben was surveying his work
with critical satisfaction when the master, somewhat impatiently,
consulted his watch. Uncle Ben looked up.
"I oughter told ye that Rupe didn't kalkilate to come to day."
"I reckon because I told him he needn't. I allowed to--to hev a
little private talk with ye, Mr. Ford, if ye didn't mind."
Mr. Ford's face did not shine with invitation. "Very well," he
said, "only remember I have an engagement this afternoon."
"But that ain't until about sundown, said Uncle Ben quietly. "I
won't keep ye ez long ez that."
Mr. Ford glanced quickly at Uncle Ben with a rising color. "What
do you know of my engagements?" he said sharply.
"Nothin', Mr. Ford," returned Uncle Ben simply; "but hevin' bin
layin' round, lookin' for ye here and at the hotel for four or five
days allus about that time and not findin' you, I rather kalkilated
you might hev suthin' reg'lar on hand."
There was certainly nothing in his face or manner to indicate the
least evasion or deceit, or indeed anything but his usual naivete,
perhaps a little perturbed and preoccupied by what he was going to
say. "I had an idea of writin' you a letter," he continued,
"kinder combinin' practice and confidential information, you know.
To be square with you, Mr. Ford, in pint o' fact, I've got it HERE.
But ez it don't seem to entirely gibe with the facts, and leaves a
heap o' things onsaid and onseen, perhaps it's jest ez wall ez I
read it to you myself--putten' in a word here and there, and
explainin' it gin'rally. Do you sabe?"
The master nodded, and Uncle Ben drew from his desk a rude
portfolio made from the two covers of a dilapidated atlas, and took
from between them a piece of blotting-paper, which through
inordinate application had acquired the color and consistency of a
slate, and a few pages of copy-book paper, that to the casual
glance looked like sheets of exceedingly difficult music.
Surveying them with a blending of chirographic pride, orthographic
doubt, and the bashful consciousness of a literary amateur, he
traced each line with a forefinger inked to the second joint, and
slowly read aloud as follows:--
"'Mr. Ford, Teacher.
"'DEAR SIR,--Yours of the 12th rec'd and contents noted.'" ("I
did'nt," explained Uncle Ben parenthetically, "receive any letter
of yours, but I thought I might heave in that beginning from copy
for practice. The rest is ME.") "'In refference to my having
munney,"' continued Uncle Ben reading and pointing each word as he
read, "'and being able to buy Ditch Stocks an' Land'"--
"One moment," said Mr. Ford interrupting, "I thought you were going
to leave out copy. Come to what you have to say."
"But I HEV--this is all real now. Hold on and you'll see," said
Uncle Ben. He resumed with triumphant emphasis:--
"'When it were gin'rally allowed that I haddent a red cent, I want
to explain to you Mister Ford for the first time a secret. This
here is how it was done. When I first came to Injian Spring, I
settled down into the old Palmetto claim, near a heap of old
taillings. Knowin' it were against rools, and reg'lar Chinyman's
bizness to work them I diddn't let on to enyboddy what I did--witch
wos to turn over some of the quarts what I thought was likely and
Orrifferus. Doing this I kem uppon some pay ore which them
Palmetto fellers had overlookt, or more likely had kaved in uppon
them from the bank onknown. Workin' at it in od times by and
large, sometimes afore sun up and sometimes after sundown, and all
the time keeping up a day's work on the clame for a show to the
boys, I emassed a honist fortun in 2 years of 50,000 dolers and
still am. But it will be askd by the incredjulos Reeder How did
you never let out anything to Injian Spring, and How did you get
rid of your yeald? Mister Ford, the Anser is I took it twist a
month on hoss back over to La Port and sent it by express to a bank
in Sacramento, givin' the name of Daubigny, witch no one in La Port
took for me. The Ditch Stok and the Land was all took in the same
name, hens the secret was onreviled to the General Eye--stop a
minit,'" he interrupted himself quickly as the master in an
accession of impatient scepticism was about to break in upon him,
"it ain't all." Then dropping his voice to a tremulous and almost
funereal climax, he went on:--
"'Thus we see that pashent indurstry is Rewarded in Spite of Mining
Rools and Reggylashuns, and Predgudisses agin Furrin Labor is
played out and fleeth like a shad-or contenueyeth not long in One
Spot, and that a Man may apear to be off no Account and yet Emass
that witch is far abov rubles and Fadith not Away.
"'Hoppin' for a continneyance
"'of your fevors I remain,
"'Yours to command,
The gloomy satisfaction with which Uncle Ben regarded this
peroration--a satisfaction that actually appeared to be equal to
the revelation itself--only corroborated the master's indignant
"Come," he said, impulsively taking the paper from Uncle Ben's
reluctant hand, "how much of this is a concoction of yours and
Rupe's--and how much is a true story? Do you really mean?"--
"Hold on, Mr. Ford!" interrupted Uncle Ben, suddenly fumbling in
the breast-pocket of his red shirt, "I reckoned on your being a
little hard with me, remembering our first talk 'bout these things--
so I allowed I'd bring you some proof." Slowly extracting a long
legal envelope from his pocket, he opened it, and drew out two or
three crisp certificates of stock, and handed them to the master.
"Ther's one hundred shares made out to Benj Daubigny. I'd hev
brought you over the deed of the land too, but ez it's rather hard
to read off-hand, on account of the law palaver, I've left it up at
the shanty to tackle at odd times by way of practising. But ef you
like we'll go up thar, and I'll show it to you."
Still haunted by his belief in Uncle Ben's small duplicities, Mr.
Ford hesitated. These were certainly bona fide certificates of
stock made out to "Daubigny." But he had never actually accepted
Uncle Ben's statement of his identity with that person, and now it
was offered as a corroboration of a still more improbable story.
He looked at Uncle Ben's simple face slightly deepening in color
under his scrutiny--perhaps with conscious guilt.
"Have you made anybody your confidant? Rupe, for instance?" he
"In course not," replied Uncle Ben with a slight stiffening of
wounded pride. "On'y yourself, Mr. Ford, and the young feller
Stacey from the bank--ez was obligated to know it. In fact, I wos
kalkilatin' to ask you to help me talk to him about that yer
Mr. Ford's scepticism was at last staggered. Any practical joke or
foolish complicity between the agent of the bank and a man like
Uncle Ben was out of the question, and if the story were his own
sole invention, he would have scarcely dared to risk so accessible
and uncompromising a denial as the agent had it in his power to
He held out his hand to Uncle Ben. "Let me congratulate you," he
said heartily, "and forgive me if your story really sounded so
wonderful I couldn't quite grasp it. Now let me ask you something
more. Have you had any reason for keeping this a secret, other
than your fear of confessing that you violated a few bigoted and
idiotic mining rules--which, after all, are binding only upon
sentiment--and which your success has proved to be utterly
"There WAS another reason, Mr. Ford," said Uncle Ben, wiping away
an embarrassed smile with the back of his hand, "that is, to be
square with you, WHY I thought of consultin' you. I didn't keer to
have McKinstry, and"--he added hurriedly, "in course Harrison, too,
know that I bought up the title to thur boundary."
"I understand," nodded the master. "I shouldn't think you would."
"Why shouldn't ye?" asked Uncle Ben quickly.
"Well--I don't suppose you care to quarrel with two passionate
Uncle Ben's face changed. Presently, however, with his hand to his
face, he managed to manipulate another smile, only it appeared for
the purpose of being as awkwardly wiped away.
"Say ONE passionate man, Mr. Ford."
"Well, one if you like," returned the master cheerfully. "But for
the matter of that, why any? Come--do you mind telling me why you
bought the land at all? You know it's of little value to any but
McKinstry and Harrison."
"Soppose," said Uncle Ben slowly, with a great affectation of
wiping his ink-spotted desk with his sleeve, "soppose that I had
got kinder tired of seein' McKinstry and Harrison allus fightin'
and scrimmagin' over their boundary line. Soppose I kalkilated
that it warn't the sort o' thing to induce folks to settle here.
Soppose I reckoned that by gettin' the real title in my hands I'd
have the deadwood on both o' them, and settle the thing my own way,
"That certainly was a very laudable intention," returned Mr. Ford,
observing Uncle Ben curiously, "and from what you said just now
about one passionate man, I suppose you have determined already WHO
to favor. I hope your public spirit will be appreciated by Indian
Spring at least--if it isn't by those two men."
"You lay low and keep dark and you'll see," returned his companion
with a hopefulness of speech which his somewhat anxious eagerness
however did not quite bear out. "But you're not goin' yet,
surely," he added, as the master again absently consulted his
watch. "It's on'y half past four. It's true thar ain't any more
to tell," he added simply, "but I had an idea that you might hev
took to this yer little story of mine more than you 'pear to be,
and might be askin' questions and kinder bedevlin' me with jokes ez
to what I was goin' to do--and all that. But p'raps it don't seem
so wonderful to you arter all. Come to think of it--squarely now,"
he said, with a singular despondency, "I'm rather sick of it
"My dear old boy," said Ford, grasping both his hands, with a swift
revulsion of shame at his own utterly selfish abstraction, "I am
overjoyed at your good luck. More than that, I can say honestly,
old fellow, that it couldn't have fallen in more worthy hands, or
to any one whose good fortune would have pleased me more. There!
And if I've been slow and stupid in taking it in, it is because
it's so wonderful, so like a fairy tale of virtue rewarded--as if
you were a kind of male Cinderella, old man!" He had no intention
of lying--he had no belief that he was: he had only forgotten that
his previous impressions and hesitations had arisen from the very
fact that he DID doubt the consistency of the story with his belief
in Uncle Ben's weakness. But he thought himself now so sincere
that the generous reader, who no doubt is ready to hail the perfect
equity of his neighbor's good luck, will readily forgive him.
In the plenitude of this sincerity, Ford threw himself at full
length on one of the long benches, and with a gesture invited Uncle
Ben to make himself equally at his ease. "Come," he said with
boyish gayety, "let's hear your plans, old man. To begin with,
who's to share them with you? Of course there are 'the old folks
at home' first; then you have brothers--and perhaps sisters?" He
stopped and glanced with a smile at Uncle Ben; the idea of there
being a possible female of his species struck his fancy.
Uncle Ben, who had hitherto always exercised a severe restraint--
partly from respect and partly from caution--over his long limbs in
the school-house, here slowly lifted one leg over another bench,
and sat himself astride of it, leaning forward on his elbow, his
chin resting between his hands.
"As far as the old folks goes, Mr. Ford, I'm a kind of an orphan."
"A KIND of orphan?" echoed Ford.
"Yes," said Uncle Ben, leaning heavily on his chin, so that the
action of his jaws with the enunciation of each word slightly
jerked his head forward as if he were imparting confidential
information to the bench before him. "Yes, that is, you see, I'm
all right ez far as the old man goes--HE'S dead; died way back in
Mizzouri. But ez to my mother, it's sorter betwixt and between--
kinder unsartain. You see, Mr. Ford, she went off with a city
feller--an entire stranger to me--afore the old man died, and
that's wot broke up my schoolin'. Now whether she's here, there,
or yon, can't be found out, though Squire Tompkins allowed--and he
were a lawyer--that the old man could get a divorce if he wanted,
and that you see would make me a whole orphan, ef I keerd to prove
title, ez the lawyers say. Well--thut sorter lets the old folks
out. Then my brother was onc't drowned in the North Platt, and I
never had any sisters. That don't leave much family for plannin'
"No," said the master reflectively, gazing at Uncle Ben, "unless
you avail yourself of your advantages now and have one of your own.
I suppose now that you are rich, you'll marry."
Uncle Ben slightly changed his position, and then with his finger
and thumb began to apparently feed himself with certain crumbs
which had escaped from the children's luncheon-baskets and were
still lying on the bench. Intent on this occupation and without
raising his eyes to the master, he returned slowly, "Well, you see,
I'm sorter married already."
The master sat up quickly.
"What, YOU married--now?"
"Well, perhaps that's a question. It's a good deal like my beein'
an orphan--oncertain and onsettled." He paused to pursue an
evasive crumb to the end of the bench and having captured it, went
on: "It was when I was younger than you be, and she warn't very old
neither. But she knew a heap more than I did; and ez to readin'
and writin', she was thar, I tell you, every time. You'd hev
admired to see her, Mr. Ford." As he paused here as if he had
exhausted the subject, the master said impatiently, "Well, where is
Uncle Ben shook his head slowly. "I ain't seen her sens I left
Mizzouri, goin' on five years ago."
"But why haven't you? What was the matter?" persisted the master.
"Well--you see--I runned away. Not SHE, you know, but I--I
scooted, skedaddled out here."
"But what for?" asked the master, regarding Uncle Ben with hopeless
wonder. "Something must have happened. What was it? Was she"--
"She WAS a good schollard," said Uncle Ben gravely, "and allowed to
be sech, by all. She stood about so high," he continued, indicating
with his hand a medium height. "War little and dark complected."
"But you must have had some reason for leaving her?"
"I've sometimes had an idea," said Uncle Ben cautiously, "that
mebbee runnin' away ran in some fam'lies. Now, there war my mother
run off with an entire stranger, and yer's me ez run off by myself.
And what makes it the more one-like is that jest as dad allus
allowed he could get a devorce agin mother, so my wife could hev
got one agin me for leavin' her. And it's almost an evenhanded
game that she hez. It's there where the oncertainty comes in."
"But are you satisfied to remain in this doubt? or do you propose,
now that you are able, to institute a thorough search for her?"
"I was kalkilatin' to look around a little," said Uncle Ben simply.
"And return to her if you find her?" continued the master.
"I didn't say that, Mr. Ford."
"But if she hasn't got a divorce from you that's what you'll have
to do, and what you ought to do--if I understand your story. For
by your own showing, a more causeless, heartless, and utterly
inexcusable desertion than yours, I never heard of."
"Do you think so?" said Uncle Ben with exasperating simplicity.
"Do I think so?" repeated Mr. Ford, indignantly. "Everybody'll
think so. They can't think otherwise. You say you deserted her,
and you admit she did nothing to provoke it."
"No," returned Uncle Ben quickly, "nothin'. Did I tell you, Mr.
Ford, that she could play the pianner and sing?"
"No," said Mr. Ford, curtly, rising impatiently and crossing the
room. He was more than half convinced that Uncle Ben was deceiving
him. Either under the veil of his hide-bound simplicity he was an
utterly selfish, heartless, secretive man, or else he was telling
an idiotic falsehood.
"I'm sorry I can neither congratulate you nor condole with you on
what you have just told me. I cannot see that you have the least
excuse for delaying a single moment to search for your wife and
make amends for your conduct. And if you want my opinion it
strikes me as being a much more honorable way of employing your new
riches than mediating in your neighbors' squabbles. But it's
getting late and I'm afraid we must bring our talk to an end. I
hope you'll think this over before we meet again--and think
Nevertheless, as they both left the schoolhouse, Mr. Ford lingered
over the locking of the door to give Uncle Ben a final chance for
further explanation. But none came. The new capitalist of Indian
Spring regarded him with an intensification of his usual half sad,
half embarrassed smile, and only said: "You understand this yer's a
secret, Mr. Ford?"
"Certainly," said Ford with ill-concealed irritation.
"'Bout my bein' sorter married?"
"Don't be alarmed," he responded dryly; "it's not a taking story."
They separated; Uncle Ben, more than ever involved in his usual
unsatisfactory purposes, wending his way towards his riches; the
master lingering to observe his departure before he plunged, in
virtuous superiority, into the woods that fringed the Harrison and
The religious attitude which Mrs. McKinstry had assumed towards her
husband's weak civilized tendencies was not entirely free from
human rancor. That strong loyal nature which had unsexed itself
in the one idea of duty, now that duty seemed to be no longer
appreciated took refuge in her forgotten womanhood and in the
infinitesimally small arguments, resources, and manoeuvres at its
command. She had conceived a singular jealousy of this daughter
who had changed her husband's nature, and who had supplanted the
traditions of the household life; she had acquired an exaggerated
depreciation of those feminine charms which had never been a factor
in her own domestic happiness. She saw in her husband's desire to
mitigate the savage austerities of their habits only a weak
concession to the powers of beauty and adornment--degrading
vanities she had never known in their life-long struggle for
frontier supremacy--that had never brought them victorious out of
that struggle. "Frizzles," "furblows," and "fancy fixin's" had
never helped them in their exodus across the plains; had never
taken the place of swift eyes, quick ears, strong hands, and
endurance; had never nursed the sick or bandaged the wounded. When
envy or jealousy invades the female heart after forty it is apt to
bring a bitterness which knows no attenuating compensation in that
coquetry, emulation, passionate appeal, or innocent tenderness,
which makes tolerable the jealous caprices of the younger woman.
The struggle for rivalry is felt to be hopeless, the power of
imitation is gone. Of her forgotten womanhood Mrs. McKinstry
revived only a capacity to suffer meanly and inflict mean suffering
upon others. In the ruined castle of her youth, and the falling in
of banqueting hall and bower, the dungeon and torture-chamber
appeared to have been left, or, to use her own metaphor, she had
querulously complained to the parson that, "Accordin' to some
folks, she mout hev bin the barren fig-tree e-lected to bear
Her methods were not entirely different from those employed by her
suffering sisterhood in like emergencies. The unlucky Hiram,
"worrited by stock," was hardly placated or consoled by learning
from her that it was only the result of his own weakness, acting
upon the 'cussedness of the stock-dispersing Harrisons; the
perplexity into which he was thrown by the news of the new legal
claim to his land was not soothed by the suggestion that it was a
trick of that Yankee civilization to which he was meanly succumbing.
She who had always been a rough but devoted nurse in sickness was
now herself overtaken by vague irregular disorders which involved
the greatest care and the absence of all exciting causes. The
attendance of McKinstry and Cressy at a "crazy quilting party" had
brought on "blind chills;" the importation of a melodeon for Cressy
to play on had superinduced an "innerd rash," and a threatened
attack of "palsy creeps" had only been warded off by the timely
postponement of an evening party suggested by her daughter. The old
nomadic instinct, morbidly excited by her discontent, caused her to
lay artful plans for a further emigration. She knew she had the
germs of "mash fever" caught from the adjacent river; she related
mysterious information, gathered in "class meeting," of the superior
facilities for stock raising on the higher foot-hills; she
resuscitated her dead and gone Missouri relations in her daily
speech, to a manifest invidious comparison with the living; she
revived even the incidents of her early married life with the same
baleful intent. The acquisition of a few "biled shirts" by Hiram
for festive appearances with Cressy painfully reminded her that he
had married her in "hickory;" she further accented the change by
herself appearing in her oldest clothes, on the hypothesis that it
was necessary for some one to keep up the traditions of the past.
Her attitude towards Cressy would have been more decided had she
ever possessed the slightest influence over her, or had even
understood her with the intuitive sympathies of the maternal
relations. Yet she went so far as to even openly regret the
breaking off of the match with Seth Davis, whose family, at least,
still retained the habits and traditions she revered; but she was
promptly silenced by her husband informing her that words "that had
to be tuk back" had already passed between him and Seth's father,
and that, according to those same traditions, blood was more likely
to be spilled than mingled. Whether she was only withheld from
attempting a reconciliation herself through lack of tact and
opportunity remains to be seen. For the present she encouraged
Masters's attentions under a new and vague idea that a flirtation
which distracted Cressy from her studies was displeasing to
McKinstry and inimical to his plans. Blindly ignorant of Mr.
Ford's possible relations to her daughter, and suspecting nothing,
she felt towards him only a dull aversion as being the senseless
pivot of her troubles. Seeing no one, and habitually closing her
ears to any family allusion to Cressy's social triumphs, she was
unaware of even the popular admiration their memorable waltz had
On the morning of the day that Uncle Ben had confided to the master
his ingenious plan for settling the boundary disputes, the barking
of McKinstry's yellow dog announced the approach of a stranger to
the ranch. It proved to be Mr. Stacey--not only as dazzlingly
arrayed as when he first rose above Johnny Filgee's horizon, but
wearing, in addition to his jaunty business air, a look of
complacent expectation of the pretty girl whom he had met at the
ball. He had not seen her for a month. It was a happy inspiration
of his own that enabled him to present himself that morning in the
twin functions of a victorious Mercury and Apollo.
McKinstry had to be summoned from an adjacent meadow, while Cressy,
in the mean time, undertook to entertain the gallant stranger.
This was easily done. It was part of her fascinations that,
disdaining the ordinary real or assumed ignorance of the ingenue of
her class, she generally exhibited to her admirers (with perhaps
the single exception of the master) a laughing consciousness of the
state of mind into which her charms had thrown them. She understood
their passion if she could not accept it. This to a bashful rustic
community was helpful, but in the main unsatisfactory; with advances
so promptly unmasked, the most strategic retreat was apt to become
an utter rout. Leaning against the lintel of the door, her curved
hand shading the sparkling depths of her eyes, and the sunlight
striking down upon the pretty curves of her languid figure, she
awaited the attack.
"I haven't seen you, Miss Cressy, since we danced together--a month
"That was mighty rough papers," said Cressy, who was purposely
dialectical to strangers, "considering that you trapsed up and down
the lane, past the house, twice yesterday."
"Then you saw me?" said the young man, with a slightly discomfited
"I did. And so did the hound, and so, I reckon, did Joe Masters
and the hired man. And when you pranced back on the home stretch,
there was the hound, Masters, the hired man, and Maw all on your
trail, and Paw bringin' up the rear with a shot-gun. There was
about a half a mile of you altogether." She removed her hand from
her eyes to indicate with a lazily graceful sweep this somewhat
imaginative procession, and laughed.
"You are certainly well guarded," said Stacey hesitatingly; "and
looking at you, Miss Cressy," he added boldly, "I don't wonder at
"Well, it IS reckoned that next to Paw's boundaries I'm pretty well
protected from squatters and jumpers."
Forceful and quaint as her language was, the lazy sweetness of her
intonation, and the delicate refinement of her face, more than
atoned for it. It was unconventional and picturesque as her
gestures. So at least thought Mr. Stacey, and it emboldened him to
"Well, Miss Cressy, as my business with your father to-day was to
try to effect a compromise of his boundary claims, perhaps you
might accept my services in your own behalf."
"Which means," responded the young lady pertly, "the same thing to
ME as to Paw. No trespassers but yourself. Thank you, sir." She
twirled lightly on her heel and dropped him that exaggerated
curtsey known to the school-children as a "cheese." It permitted
in its progress the glimpse of a pretty little slipper which
completed his subjugation.
"Well, if it's only a fair compromise," he began laughingly.
"Compromise means somebody giving up. Who is it?" she asked.
The infatuated Stacey had reached the point of thinking this
repartee if possible more killing than his own.
"Ha! That's for Miss Cressy to say."
But the young lady leaning back against the lintel with the
comfortable ease of being irresponsibly diverted, sagely pointed
out that that was the function of the arbitrator.
"Ah well, suppose we begin by giving up Seth Davis, eh? You see
that I'm pretty well posted, Miss Cressy."
"You alarm me," said Cressy sweetly. "But I reckon he HAD given
"He was in the running that night at the ball. Looked half savage
while I was dancing with you. Wanted to eat me."
"Poor Seth! And he used to be SO particular in his food," said the
Mr. Stacey was convulsed. "And there's Mr. Dabney--Uncle Ben," he
continued, "eh? Very quiet but very sly. A dark horse, eh?
Pretends to take lessons for the sake of being near some one, eh?
Would he were a boy again because somebody else is a girl?"
"I should be frightened of you if you lived here always," returned
Cressy with invincible naivete; "but perhaps then you wouldn't know
Stacey simply accepted this as a compliment. "And there's
Masters," he said insinuatingly.
"Not Joe?" said Cressy with a low laugh, turning her eyes to the
"Yes," said Stacey with a quick, uneasy smile. "Ah! I see we
mustn't drop HIM. Is he out THERE?" he added, trying to follow the
direction of her eyes.
But the young girl kept her face studiously averted. "Is that
all?" she asked after a pause.
"Well--there's that solemn school-master, who cut me out of the
waltz with you--that Mr. Ford."
Had he been a perfectly cool and impartial observer he would have
seen the slight tremor cross Cressy's soft eyelids even in profile,
followed by that momentary arrest of her whole face, mouth,
dimples, and eyes, which had overtaken it the night the master
entered the ball-room. But he was neither, and it passed quickly
and unnoticed. Her usual lithe but languid play of expression and
color came back, and she turned her head lazily towards the
speaker. "There's Paw coming. I suppose you wouldn't mind giving
me a sample of your style of arbitrating with him, before you try
it on me?"
"Certainly not," said Stacey, by no means displeased at the
prospect of having so pretty and intelligent a witness in the
daughter of what he believed would form an attractive display of
his diplomatic skill and graciousness to the father. "Don't go
away. I've got nothing to say Miss Cressy could not understand and
The jingling of spurs, and the shadow of McKinstry and his shot-gun
falling at this moment between the speaker and Cressy, spared her
the necessity of a reply. McKinstry cast an uneasy glance around
the apartment, and not seeing Mrs. McKinstry looked relieved, and
even the deep traces of the loss of a valuable steer that morning
partly faded from his Indian-red complexion. He placed his shot-
gun carefully in the corner, took his soft felt hat from his head,
folded it and put it in one of the capacious pockets of his jacket,
turned to his daughter, and laying his maimed hand familiarly on
her shoulder, said gravely, without looking at Stacey, "What might
the stranger be wantin', Cress?"
"Perhaps I'd better answer that myself," said Stacey briskly. "I'm
acting for Benham and Co., of San Francisco, who have bought the
Spanish title to part of this property. I"--
"Stop there!" said McKinstry, in a voice dull but distinct. He
took his hat from his pocket, put it on, walked to the corner and
took up his gun, looked at Stacey for the first time with narcotic
eyes that seemed to drowsily absorb his slight figure, then put the
gun back half contemptuously, and with a wave of his hand towards
the door, said: "We'll settle this yer outside. Cress, you stop in
here. There's man's talk goin' on."
"But, Paw," said Cressy, laying her hand languidly on her father's
sleeve without the least change of color or amused expression.
"This gentleman has come over here on a compromise."
"On a--WHICH?" said McKinstry, glancing scornfully out of the door
for some rare species of mustang vaguely suggested to him in that
"To see if we couldn't come to some fair settlement," said Stacey.
"I've no objection to going outside with you, but I think we can
discuss this matter here just as well." His fine feathers had not
made him a coward, although his heart had beaten a little faster at
this sudden recollection of the dangerous reputation of his host.
"Go on," said McKinstry.
"The plain facts of the case are these," continued Stacey, with
more confidence. "We have sold a strip of this property covering
the land in dispute between you and Harrison. We are bound to put
our purchaser in peaceable possession. Now to save time we are
willing to buy that possession of any man who can give it. We are
told that you can."
"Well, considerin' that for the last four years I've been fightin'
night and day agin them low-down Harrisons for it, I reckon you've
been lied to," said McKinstry deliberately. "Why--except the
clearing on the north side, whar I put up a barn, thar ain't an
acre of it as hasn't been shifted first this side and then that as
fast ez I druv boundary stakes and fences, and the Harrisons pulled
'em up agin. Thar ain't more than fifty acres ez I've hed a clear
hold on, and I wouldn't hev had that ef it hadn't bin for the barn,
the raisin' alone o' which cost me a man, two horses, and this yer
"Put us in possession of even that fifty acres, and WE'LL undertake
to hold the rest and eject those Harrisons from it," returned
Stacey complacently. "You understand that the moment we've made a
peaceable entrance to even a foothold on your side, the Harrisons
are only trespassers, and with the title to back us we can call on
the whole sheriff's posse to put them off. That's the law."
"That ar the law?" repeated McKinstry meditatively.
"Yes," said Stacey. "So," he continued, with a self-satisfied
smile to Cressy, "far from being hard on you, Mr. McKinstry, we're
rather inclined to put you on velvet. We offer you a fair price
for the only thing you can give us--actual possession; and we help
you with your old grudge against the Harrisons. We not only clear
them out, but we pay YOU for even the part they held adversely to
Mr. McKinstry passed his three whole fingers over his forehead and
eyes as if troubled by a drowsy aching. "Then you don't reckon to
hev anythin' to say to them Harrisons?"
"We don't propose to recognize them in the matter at all," returned
"Nor allow 'em anythin'?"
"Not a cent! So you see, Mr. McKinstry," he continued magnanimously,
yet with a mischievous smile to Cressy, "there is nothing in this
amicable discussion that requires to be settled outside."
"Ain't there?" said McKinstry, in a dull, deliberate voice, raising
his eyes for the second time to Stacey. They were bloodshot, with
a heavy, hanging furtiveness, not unlike one of his own hunted
steers. "But I ain't kam enuff in yer." He moved to the door with
a beckoning of his fateful hand. "Outside a minit--EF you please."
Stacey started, shrugged his shoulders, and half defiantly stepped
beyond the threshold. Cressy, unchanged in color or expression,
lazily followed to the door.
"Wot," said McKinstry, slowly facing Stacey; "wot ef I refoose?
Wot ef I say I don't allow any man, or any bank, or any compromise,
to take up my quo'r'lls? Wot ef I say that low-down and mean as
them Harrisons is, they don't begin to be ez mean, ez low-down, ez
underhanded, ez sneakin' ez that yer compromise? Wot ef I say that
ef that's the kind o' hogwash that law and snivelization offers me
for peace and quietness, I'll take the fightin', and the law-
breakin', and the sheriff, and all h-ll for his posse instead? Wot
ef I say that?"
"It will only be my duty to repeat it," said Stacey, with an
affected carelessness which, however, did not conceal his surprise
and his discomfiture. "It's no affair of mine."
"Unless," said Cressy, assuming her old position against the lintel
of the door, and smoothing the worn bear-skin that served as a mat
with the toe of her slipper, "unless you've mixed it up with your
other arbitration, you know."
"Wot other arbitration?" asked McKinstry suddenly, with murky eyes.
Stacey cast a rapid, half indignant glance at the young girl, who
received it with her hands tucked behind her back, her lovely head
bent submissively forward, and a prolonged little laugh.
"Oh nothing, Paw," she said, "only a little private foolishness
betwixt me and the gentleman. You'd admire to hear him talk, Paw--
about other things than business. He's just that chipper and gay."
Nevertheless, as with a muttered "Good-morning" the young fellow
turned away, she quietly brushed past her father, and followed him--
with her hands still penitently behind her, and the rosy palms
turned upward--as far as the gate. Her single long Marguerite
braid of hair trailing down her back nearly to the hem of her
skirt, appeared to accent her demure reserve. At the gate she
shaded her eyes with her hand, and glanced upward.
"It don't seem to be a good day for arbitrating. A trifle early in
the season, ain't it?"
"Good-morning, Miss McKinstry."
She held out her hand. He took it with an affected ease but
cautiously, as if it had been the velvet paw of a young panther who
had scratched him. After all, what was she but the cub of the
untamed beast, McKinstry? He was well out of it! He was not
revengeful--but business was business, and he had given them the
As his figure disappeared behind the buckeyes of the lane, Cressy
cast a glance at the declining sun. She re-entered the house, and
went directly to her room. As she passed the window, she could see
her father already remounted galloping towards the tules, as if in
search of that riparian "kam" his late interview had disturbed. A
few straggling bits of color in the sloping meadows were the
children coming home from school. She hastily tied a girlish sun-
bonnet under her chin, and slipping out of the back door, swept
like a lissom shadow along the line of fence until she seemed to
melt into the umbrage of the woods that fringed the distant north
Meanwhile, unaware of her husband's sudden relapse to her old
border principles and of the visit that had induced it, Mrs.
McKinstry was slowly returning from a lugubrious recital of her
moods and feelings at the parson's. As she crossed the barren flat
and reached the wooded upland midway between the school-house and
the ranch, she saw before her the old familiar figure of Seth Davis
lounging on the trail. In her habitual loyalty to her husband's
feuds she would probably have stalked defiantly past him,
notwithstanding her late regrets of the broken engagement, but Seth
began to advance awkwardly towards her. In fact, he had noticed
the tall, gaunt, plaid-shawled and holland-bonneted figure
approaching, and had waited for it.
As he seemed intent upon getting in her way she stopped and raised
her right hand warningly before her. In spite of the shawl and the
sun-bonnet, suffering had implanted a rude Runic dignity to her
attitude. "Words that hev to be took back, Seth Davis," she said
hastily, "hev passed between you and my man. Out of my way, then,
that I may pass, too."
"Not much betwixt you and me, Aunt Rachel," he said with slouching
deprecation, using the old household title by which he had
familiarly known her. "I've nothin agin you--and I kin prove it by
wot I'm yer to say. And I ain't trucklin' to yer for myself, for
ez far ez me and your'n ez concerned," he continued, with a
malevolent glance, "thar ain't gold enough in Caleforny to mak the
weddin' ring that could hitch me and Cress together. I want to
tell you that you're bein' played; that you're bein' befooled and
bamboozled and honey-fogled. Thet while you're groanin' at class-
meetin' and Hiram's quo'llin' with Dad, and Joe Masters waitin'
round to pick up any bone that's throwed him, that sneakin',
hypocritical Yankee school-master is draggin' your daughter to h-ll
with him on the sly."
"Quit that, Seth Davis," said Mrs. McKinstry sternly, "or be man
enough to tell it to a man. That's Hiram's business to know."
"And what if he knows it well enough and winks at it? What if he's
willin' enough to truckle to it, to curry favor with them sneakin'
Yanks?" said Seth malignantly.
A spasm of savage conviction seized Mrs. McKinstry. But it was
more from her jealous fears of her husband's disloyalty than
concern for her daughter's transgression. Nevertheless, she said
desperately, "It's a lie. Where are your proofs?"
"Proofs?" returned Seth. "Who is it sneaks around the school-house
to have private talks with the school-master, and edges him on with
Cressy afore folks? Your husband. Who goes sneakin' off every
arternoon with that same cantin' hound of a school-master? Your
daughter. Who's been carryin' on together, and hidin' thick enough
to be ridden out on a rail together? Your daughter and the school-
master. Proofs?--ask anybody. Ask the children. Look yar--you,
He had suddenly directed his voice to a blackberry bush near the
trail, from which the curly head of Johnny Filgee had just
appeared. That home-returning infant painfully disengaged himself,
his slate, his books, and his small dinner-pail half filled with
fruit as immature as himself, and came towards them sideways.
"Yer's a dime, Johnny, to git some candy," said Seth, endeavoring
to distort his passion-set face into a smile.
Johnny Filgee's small, berry-stained palm promptly closed over the
"Now, don't lie. Where's Cressy?"
"Kithin' her bo."
"Good boy. What bo?"
Johnny hesitated. He had once seen the school-master and Cressy
together; he had heard it whispered by the other children that they
loved each other. But looking at Seth and Mrs. McKinstry he felt
that something more tremendous than this stupid fact was required
of him for grown-up people, and being honest and imaginative, he
determined that it should be worth the money.
"Speak up, Johnny, don't be afeard to tell."
Johnny was not "afeard"--he was only thinking. He had it! He
remembered that he had just seen his paragon, the brilliant Stacey,
coming from the boundary woods. What more poetical and startlingly
effective than to connect him with Cressy? He replied promptly:--
"Mithter Thtathy. He gived her a watch and ring of truly gold.
Goin' to be married at Thacramento."
"You lyin' limb," said Seth, seizing him roughly. But Mrs.
"Let that brat go," she said with gleaming eyes. "I want to talk
to you." Seth released Johnny. "It's a trick,' he said, "he's bin
put up to it by that Ford."
But Johnny, after securing a safe vantage behind the blackberry
bush, determined to give them another trial--with facts.
"I know mor'n that," he called out.
"Git--you measly pup," said Seth savagely.
"I know Theriff Briggth, he rid over the boundary with a lot o' men
and horthes," said Johnny, with that hurried delivery with which he
was able to estop interruption. "Theed 'em go by. Maur Harrithon
theth his dad's goin' to chuck out ole McKinthtry. Hooray!"
Mrs. McKinstry turned her dark face sharply on Seth. "What's that
"Nothin' but children's gassin'," he answered, meeting her eyes
with an evil consciousness half loutish, half defiant, "and ef it
war true, it would only sarve Hiram McKinstry right."
She laid her hand upon his shoulder with swift suspicion. "Out o'
my way, Seth Davis," she said suddenly, pushing him aside. "Ef
this ez any underhanded work of yours, you'll pay for it."
She strode past him in the direction of Johnny, but at the approach
of the tall woman with the angry eyes, the boy flew. She hesitated
a moment, turned again with a threatening wave of the hand to Seth,
and started off rapidly in the direction of the boundary.
She had not placed so much faith in the boy's story as in the vague
revelation of evil in Davis's manner. If there was any "cussedness"
afoot, Seth, convinced of Cressy's unfaithfulness, and with no
further hope of any mediation from the parents, would know it.
Unless Hiram had been warned, he was still lulled in his fatuous
dream of civilization. At that time he and his men were in the
tules with the stock; to be satisfied, she herself must go to the
She reached the ridge of the cottonwoods and sycamores, and a few
hundred yards further brought her to the edge of that gentle
southern slope which at last sank into the broad meadow of the
debatable ground. In spite of Stacey's invidious criticism of its
intrinsic value, this theatre of savage dissension, violence, and
bloodshed was by some irony of nature a pastoral landscape of
singular and peaceful repose. The soft glacis stretching before
her was in spring cerulean with lupins, and later starred with
mariposas. The meadow was transversely crossed by a curving line
of alders that indicated a rare water-course, of which in the dry
season only a single pool remained to flash back the unvarying sky.
There had been no attempt at cultivation of this broad expanse;
wild oats, mustard, and rank grasses left it a tossing sea of
turbulent and variegated color whose waves rode high enough to
engulf horse and rider in their choking depths. Even the traces of
human struggle, the uprooted stakes, scattered fence-rails, and
empty post-holes were forever hidden under these billows of
verdure. Midway of the field and near the water-course arose
McKinstry's barn--the solitary human structure whose rude,
misshapen, bulging sides and swallow-haunted eaves bursting with
hay from the neighboring pasture, seemed however only an
extravagant growth of the prolific soil. Mrs. McKinstry gazed at
it anxiously. There was no sign of life or movement near or around
it; it stood as it had always stood, deserted and solitary. But
turning her eyes to the right, beyond the water-course, she could
see a slight regular undulation of the grassy sea and what appeared
to be the drifting on its surface of half a dozen slouched hats in
the direction of the alders. There was no longer any doubt; a
party from the other side was approaching the border.
A shout and the quick galloping of hoofs behind her sent a thrill
of relief to her heart. She had barely time to draw aside as her
husband and his followers swept past her down the slope. But it
needed not his furious cry, "The Harrisons hev sold us out," to
tell her that the crisis had come.
She held her breath as the cavalcade diverged, and in open order
furiously approached the water-course, and she could see a sudden
check and hesitation in the movement in the meadow at that
unlooked-for onset. Then she thought of the barn. It would be a
rallying-point for them if driven back--a tower of defence if
besieged. There were arms secreted beneath the hay for such an
emergency. She would run there, swing-to its open doors, and get
ready to barricade them.
She ran crouchingly, seeking the higher grasses and brambles of the
ridge to escape observation from the meadow until she could descend
upon the barn from the rear. She threw aside her impeding shawl;
her brown holland sun-bonnet, torn off her head and hanging by its
strings from her shoulders, let her coarse silver-threaded hair
stream like a mane over her back; her face and hands were bleeding
from thorns and whitened by dust. But she struggled on fiercely
like some hunted animal until she reached the descending trail,
when, letting herself go blindly, only withheld by the long grasses
she clutched at wildly on either side, she half fell, half stumbled
down the slope and emerged beside the barn, breathless and exhausted.
But what a contrast was there! For an instant she could scarcely
believe that she had left the ridge with her husband's savage
outcry in her ears, and in her eyes the swift vision of his furious
cavalcade. The boundary meadow was hidden by the soft lines of
graceful willows in whose dim recesses the figures of the
passionate horsemen seemed to have melted forever. There was
nothing now to interrupt the long vista of peaceful beauty that
stretched before her through this lonely hollow to the distant
sleeping hills. The bursting barn in the foreground, heaped with
grain that fringed its eaves and bristled from its windows and
doors until its unlovely bulk was hidden in trailing feathery
outlines; the gentle flutter of wings and soothing twitter of
swallows and jays around its open rafters, and the drifting shadows
of a few circling crows above it; the drowsy song of bees on the
wild mustard that half hid its walls with yellow bloom; the sound
of faintly-trickling water in one of those old Indian-haunted
springs that had given its name to the locality; all these for an
instant touched the senses of this hard, fierce woman as she had
not been touched since she was a girl. For one brief moment the
joys of peace and that matured repose that never had been hers
flashed upon her; but with it came the savage consciousness that
even now it was being wrested away, and the thought fired her blood
again. She listened eagerly for a second in the direction of the
meadow; there was no report of fire-arms--there was yet time to
prepare the barn for defence. She ran to the front of the building
and seized the latch of the half-closed door. A little feminine
cry that was half a laugh came from within, with the rapid rustle
of a skirt and as the door swung open a light figure vanished
through the rear window. The slanting sunlight falling in the
shadowed interior disclosed only the single erect figure of the
school-master John Ford.
The first confusion and embarrassment of an interrupted rendezvous
that had colored Ford's cheeks, gave way to a look of alarm as he
caught sight of the bleeding face and dishevelled figure of Mrs.
McKinstry. She saw it. To her distorted fancy it seemed only a
proof of deeper guilt. Without a word she closed the heavy door
behind her and swung the huge cross-bar unaided to its place. She
then turned and confronted him, wiping the dust from her face and
arms with her torn and dangling sun-bonnet in a way that recalled
her attitude on the first day he had met her.
"That was Cress with ye?" she said.
He hesitated, still gazing at her in wonder.
He started. "I don't propose to," he retorted indignantly. "It
"I don't ask ye how long this yer's bin goin' on," she said,
pointing to Cressy's sun-bonnet, a few books, and a scattered
nosegay of wild flowers lying on the hay; "and I don't want to
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