Bret Harte

Part 4 out of 4

was so utterly incomprehensible and inconsistent with Seth's avowed
hatred of the master that the boy must have been delirious.

He was roused by the entrance of the surgeon. "It's not so bad as
I thought," he said, with a reassuring nod. "It was a mighty close
shave between a shattered bone and a severed artery, but we've got
the ball, and he'll pull through in a week. By Jove! though--the
old fire-eater was more concerned about finding the ball than
living or dying! Go in there--he wants to see you. Don't let him
talk too much. He's called in a lot of his friends for some reason
or other--and there's a regular mass-meeting in there. Go in, and
get rid of 'em. I'll look after baby Filgee--though the little
chap will be all right again after another dressing."

The master cast a hurried look of relief at the surgeon, and re-
entered the front room. It was filled with men whom the master
instinctively recognized as his former adversaries. But they gave
way before him with a certain rude respect and half abashed
sympathy as McKinstry called him to his side. The wounded man
grasped his hand. "Lift me up a bit," he whispered. The master
assisted him with difficulty to his elbow.

"Gentlemen!" said McKinstry, with a characteristic wave of his
crippled hand towards the crowd as he laid the other on the
master's shoulder. "Ye heerd me talkin' a minit ago; ye heer me
now. This yer young man as we've slipped up on and meskalkilated
has told the truth--every time! Ye ken tie to him whenever and
wherever ye want to. Ye ain't expected to feel ez I feel, in
course, but the man ez goes back on HIM--quo'lls with me. That's
all--and thanks for inquiring friends. Ye'll git now, boys, and
leave him a minit with me."

The men filed slowly out, a few lingering long enough to shake the
master's hand with grave earnestness, or half smiling, half abashed
embarrassment. The master received the proffered reconciliation of
these men, who but a few hours before would have lynched him with
equal sincerity, with cold bewilderment. As the door closed on the
last of the party he turned to McKinstry. The wounded man had sunk
down again, but was regarding with drowsy satisfaction a leaden
bullet he was holding between his finger and thumb.

"This yer shot, Mr. Ford," he said in a slow voice, whose weakness
was only indicated by its extreme deliberation, "never kem from the
gun I gave ye--and was never fired by you." He paused and then
added with his old dull abstraction, "It's a long time since I've
run agin anythin' that makes me feel more--kam."

In Mr. McKinstry's weak condition the master did not dare to make
Johnny's revelation known to him, and contented himself by simply
pressing his hand, but the next moment the wounded man resumed,--

"That ball jest fits Seth's navy revolver--and the hound hes made
tracks outer the country."

"But what motive could he have in attacking YOU at such a time?"
asked the master.

"He reckoned that either I'd kill you and so he'd got shut of us
both in that way, without it being noticed; or if I missed you, the
others would hang YOU--ez they kalkilated to--for killing ME! The
idea kem to him when he overheard you hintin' you wouldn't return
my fire."

A shuddering conviction that McKinstry had divined the real truth
passed over the master. In the impulse of the moment he again
would have corroborated it by revealing Johnny's story, but a
glance at the growing feverishness of the wounded man checked his
utterance. "Don't talk of it now," he said hurriedly. "Enough for
me to know that you acquit ME. I am here now only to beg you to
compose yourself until the doctor comes back--as you seemed to be
alone, and Mrs. McKinstry"--he stopped in awkward embarrassment.

A singular confusion overspread the invalid's face. "She hed
steppt out afore this happened, owin' to contrairy opinions betwixt
me and her. Ye mout hev noticed, Mr. Ford, that gin'rally she
didn't 'pear to cotton to ye! Thar ain't a woman a goin' ez is the
ekal of Blair Rawlins' darter in nussin' a man and keeping him in
fightin' order, but in matters like things that consarn herself and
Cress, I begin to think, Mr. Ford, that somehow, she ain't exakly--
kam! Bein' kam yourself, ye'll put any unpleasantness down to
that. Wotever you hear from HER, and, for the matter o' that, from
her own darter too--for I'm takin' back the foolishness I said to
ye over yon about your runnin' off with Cress--you'll remember, Mr.
Ford, it warn't from no ill feeling to YOU, in her or Cress--but
on'y a want of kam! I mout hev had MY idees about Cress, you mout
hev had YOURS, and that fool Dabney mout hev had HIS; but it warn't
the old woman's--nor Cressy's--it warn't Blair Rawlins' darter's
idea--nor yet HER darter's! And why? For want o' kam! Times I
reckon it was left out o' woman's nater. And bein' kam yourself,
you understand it, and take it all in."

The old look of drowsy pain had settled so strongly in his red eyes
again that the master was fain to put his hand gently over them,
and with a faint smile beg him to compose himself to sleep. This
he finally did after a whispered suggestion that he himself was
feeling "more kam." The master sat for some moments with his hand
upon the sleeping man's eyes, and a vague and undefinable sense of
loneliness seemed to fall upon him from the empty rafters of the
silent and deserted house. The rising wind moaned fitfully around
its bleak shell with the despairing sound of far and forever
receding voices. So strong was the impression that when the doctor
and McKinstry's attending brother re-entered the room, the master
still lingered beside the bed with a dazed sensation of abandonment
that the doctor's practical reassuring smile could hardly dispel.

"He's doing splendidly now," he said, listening to the sleeper's
more regular respiration: "and I'd advise you to go now, Mr. Ford,
before he wakes, lest he might be tempted to excite himself by
talking to you again. He's really quite out of danger now. Good-
night! I'll drop in on you at the hotel when I return."

The master, albeit still confused and bewildered, felt his way to
the door and out into the open night. The wind was still
despairingly wrestling with the tree-tops, but the far receding
voices seemed to be growing fainter in the distance, until, as he
passed on, they too seemed to pass away forever.

. . . . . .

Monday morning had come again, and the master was at his desk in
the school house early, with a still damp and inky copy of the Star
fresh from the press before him. The free breath of the pines was
blowing in the window, and bringing to his ears the distant voices
of his slowly gathering flock, as he read as follows:--

"The perpetrator of the dastardly outrage at the Indian Spring
Academy on Thursday last--which, through unfortunate
misrepresentation of the facts, led to a premature calling out of
several of our most public-spirited citizens, and culminated in a
most regrettable encounter between Mr. McKinstry and the
accomplished and estimable principal of the school--has, we regret
to say, escaped condign punishment by leaving the country with his
relations. If, as is seriously whispered, he was also guilty of an
unparalleled offence against a chivalrous code which will exclude
him in the future from ever seeking redress at the Court of Honor,
our citizens will be only too glad to get rid of the contamination
of being obliged to arrest him. Those of our readers who know the
high character of the two gentlemen who were thus forced into a
hostile meeting, will not be surprised to know that the most ample
apologies were tendered on both sides, and that the entente
cordiale has been thoroughly restored. The bullet--which it is
said played a highly important part in the subsequent explanation,
proving to have come from a REVOLVER fired by some outsider--has
been extracted from Mr. McKinstry's thigh, and he is doing well,
with every prospect of a speedy recovery."

Smiling, albeit not uncomplacently, at this valuable contribution
to history from an unfettered press, his eye fell upon the next
paragraph, perhaps not so complacently:--

"Benjamin Daubigny, Esq., who left town for Sacramento on important
business, not entirely unconnected with his new interests in Indian
Springs, will, it is rumored, be shortly joined by his wife, who
has been enabled by his recent good fortune to leave her old home
in the States, and take her proper proud position at his side.
Although personally unknown to Indian Springs, Mrs. Daubigny is
spoken of as a beautiful and singularly accomplished woman, and it
is to be regretted that her husband's interests will compel them to
abandon Indian Springs for Sacramento as a future residence. Mr.
Daubigny was accompanied by his private secretary Rupert, the
eldest son of H. G. Filgee, Esq., who has been a promising graduate
of the Indian Spring Academy, and offers a bright example to the
youth of this district. We are happy to learn that his younger
brother is recovering rapidly from a slight accident received last
week through the incautious handling of firearms."

The master, with his eyes upon the paper, remained so long plunged
in a reverie that the school-room was quite filled and his little
flock was wonderingly regarding him before he recalled himself. He
was hurriedly reaching his hand towards the bell when he was
attracted by the rising figure of Octavia Dean.

"Please, sir, you didn't ask if we had any news!"

"True--I forgot," said the master smiling. "Well, have you
anything to tell us?"

"Yes, sir. Cressy McKinstry has left school."


"Yes, sir; she's married."

"Married," repeated the master with an effort, yet conscious of the
eyes concentrated upon his colorless face. "Married--and to whom?"

"To Joe Masters, sir, at the Baptist Chapel at Big Bluff, Sunday,
an' Marm McKinstry was thar with her."

There was a momentary and breathless pause. Then the voices of his
little pupils--those sage and sweet truants from tradition, those
gentle but relentless historians of the future--rose around him in
shrill chorus--"WHY, WE KNOWED IT ALL ALONG, SIR!"


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