From Sand Hill to Pine
Part 1 out of 4
This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
FROM SAND HILL TO PINE
by Bret Harte
FROM SAND HILL TO PINE
A NIECE OF SNAPSHOT HARRY'S
A TREASURE OF THE REDWOODS
A BELLE OF CANADA CITY
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FONDA
A JACK AND JILL OF THE SIERRAS
MR. BILSON'S HOUSEKEEPER
FROM SAND HILL TO PINE
A NIECE OF SNAPSHOT HARRY'S
There was a slight jarring though the whole frame of the coach, a
grinding and hissing from the brakes, and then a sudden jolt as the
vehicle ran upon and recoiled from the taut pole-straps of the now
arrested horses. The murmur of a voice in the road was heard,
followed by the impatient accents of Yuba Bill, the driver.
"Wha-a-t? Speak up, can't ye?"
Here the voice uttered something in a louder key, but equally
unintelligible to the now interested and fully awakened passengers.
One of them dropped the window nearest him and looked out. He
could see the faint glistening of a rain-washed lantern near the
wheelers' heads, mingling with the stronger coach lights, and the
glow of a distant open cabin door through the leaves and branches
of the roadside. The sound of falling rain on the roof, a soft
swaying of wind-tossed trees, and an impatient movement on the box-
seat were all they heard. Then Yuba Bill's voice rose again,
apparently in answer to the other.
"Why, that's half a mile away!"
"Yes, but ye might have dropped onto it in the dark, and it's all
on the down grade," responded the strange voice more audibly.
The passengers were now thoroughly aroused.
"What's up, Ned?" asked the one at the window of the nearest of two
figures that had descended from the box.
"Tree fallen across the road," said Ned, the expressman, briefly.
"I don't see no tree," responded the passenger, leaning out of the
window towards the obscurity ahead.
"Now, that's onfortnit!" said Yuba Bill grimly; "but ef any
gentleman will only lend him an opery glass, mebbe he can see round
the curve and over the other side o' the hill where it is. Now,
then," addressing the stranger with the lantern, "bring along your
axes, can't ye?"
"Here's one, Bill," said an officious outside passenger, producing
the instrument he had taken from its strap in the boot. It was the
"regulation" axe, beautifully shaped, highly polished, and utterly
ineffective, as Bill well knew.
"We ain't cuttin' no kindlin's," he said scornfully; then he added
brusquely to the stranger: "Fetch out your biggest wood axe--you've
got one, ye know--and look sharp."
"I don't think Bill need be so d----d rough with the stranger,
considering he's saved the coach a very bad smash," suggested a
reflective young journalist in the next seat. "He talks as if the
man was responsible."
"He ain't quite sure if that isn't the fact," said the express
messenger, in a lowered voice.
"Why? What do you mean?" clamored the others excitedly.
"Well--THIS is about the spot where the up coach was robbed six
months ago," returned the messenger.
"Dear me!" said the lady in the back seat, rising with a half
hysterical laugh, "hadn't we better get out before they come?"
"There is not the slightest danger, madam," said a quiet, observant
man, who had scarcely spoken before, "or the expressman would not
have told us; nor would he, I fancy, have left his post beside the
treasure on the box."
The slight sarcasm implied in this was enough to redden the
expressman's cheek in the light of the coach lamp which Yuba Bill
had just unshipped and brought to the window. He would have made
some tart rejoinder, but was prevented by Yuba Bill addressing the
passengers: "Ye'll have to put up with ONE light, I reckon, until
we've got this job finished."
"How long will it last, Bill?" asked the man nearest the window.
"Well," said Bill, with a contemptuous glance at the elegant coach
axe he was carrying in his hand, "considerin' these purty first-
class highly expensive hash choppers that the kempany furnishes us,
I reckon it may take an hour."
"But is there no place where we can wait?" asked the lady anxiously.
"I see a light in that house yonder."
"Ye might try it, though the kempany, as a rule, ain't in the habit
o' makin' social calls there," returned Bill, with a certain grim
significance. Then, turning to some outside passengers, he added,
"Now, then! them ez is goin' to help me tackle that tree, trot
down! I reckon that blitherin' idiot" (the stranger with the
lantern, who had disappeared) "will have sense enough to fetch us
some ropes with his darned axe."
The passengers thus addressed, apparently miners and workingmen,
good humoredly descended, all except one, who seemed disinclined to
leave the much coveted seat on the box beside the driver.
"I'll look after your places and keep my own," he said, with a
laugh, as the others followed Bill through the dripping rain. When
they had disappeared, the young journalist turned to the lady.
"If you would really like to go to that house, I will gladly
accompany you." It was possible that in addition to his youthful
chivalry there was a little youthful resentment of Yuba Bill's
domineering prejudices in his attitude. However, the quiet,
observant passenger lifted a look of approval to him, and added, in
his previous level, half contemptuous tone:--
"You'll be quite as well there as here, madam, and there is
certainly no reason for your stopping in the coach when the driver
chooses to leave it."
The passengers looked at each other. The stranger spoke with
authority, and Bill had certainly been a little arbitrary!
"I'll go too," said the passenger by the window. "And you'll come,
won't you, Ned?" he added to the express messenger. The young man
hesitated; he was recently appointed, and as yet fresh to the
business--but he was not to be taught his duty by an officious
stranger! He resented the interference youthfully by doing the
very thing he would have preferred NOT to do, and with assumed
carelessness--yet feeling in his pocket to assure himself that the
key of the treasure compartment was safe--turned to follow them.
"Won't YOU come too?" said the journalist, politely addressing the
"No, I thank you! I'll take charge of the coach," was the smiling
rejoinder, as he settled himself more comfortably in his seat.
The little procession moved away in silence. Oddly enough, no one,
except the lady, really cared to go, and two--the expressman and
journalist--would have preferred to remain on the coach. But the
national instinct of questioning any purely arbitrary authority
probably was a sufficient impulse. As they neared the opened door
of what appeared to be a four-roomed, unpainted, redwood boarded
cabin, the passenger who had occupied the seat near the window
"I'll go first and sample the shanty."
He was not, however, so far in advance of them but that the others
could hear quite distinctly his offhand introduction of their party
on the threshold, and the somewhat lukewarm response of the
inmates. "We thought we'd just drop in and be sociable until the
coach was ready to start again," he continued, as the other
passengers entered. "This yer gentleman is Ned Brice, Adams &
Co.'s expressman; this yer is Frank Frenshaw, editor of the
'Mountain Banner;' this yer's a lady, so it ain't necessary to give
HER name, I reckon--even if we knowed it! Mine's Sam Hexshill, of
Hexshill & Dobbs's Flour Mills, of Stockton, whar, ef you ever come
that way, I'll be happy to return the compliment and hospitality."
The room they had entered had little of comfort and brightness in
it except the fire of pine logs which roared and crackled in the
adobe chimney. The air would have been too warm but for the strong
west wind and rain which entered the open door freely. There was
no other light than the fire, and its tremulous and ever-changing
brilliancy gave a spasmodic mobility to the faces of those turned
towards it, or threw into stronger shadow the features that were
turned away. Yet, by this uncertain light, they could see the
figures of a man and two women. The man rose and, with a certain
apathetic gesture that seemed to partake more of weariness and long
suffering than positive discourtesy, tendered seats on chairs,
boxes, and even logs to the self-invited guests. The stage party
were surprised to see that this man was the stranger who had held
the lantern in the road.
"Ah! then you didn't go with Bill to help clear the road?" said the
The man slowly drew up his tall, shambling figure before the fire,
and then facing them, with his hands behind him, as slowly lowered
himself again as if to bring his speech to the level of his hearers
and give a lazier and more deliberate effect to his long-drawn
"Well--no!" he said slowly. "I--didn't--go--with--no--Bill--to--
help--clear--the road! I--don't--reckon--TO go--with--no--Bill--
to--clear--ANY road! I've just whittled this thing down to a pint,
and it's this--I ain't no stage kempany's nigger! So far as
turnin' out and warnin' 'em agin goin' to smash over a fallen tree,
and slap down into the canyon with a passel of innercent passengers,
I'm that much a white man, but I ain't no NIGGER to work clearing
things away for 'em, nor I ain't no scrub to work beside 'em." He
slowly straightened himself up again, and, with his former apathetic
air, looking down upon one of the women who was setting a coffee-pot
on the coals, added, "But I reckon my old woman here kin give you
some coffee and whiskey--of you keer for it."
Unfortunately the young expressman was more loyal to Bill than
diplomatic. "If Bill's a little rough," he said, with a heightened
color, "perhaps he has some excuse for it. You forget it's only
six months ago that this coach was 'held up' not a hundred yards
from this spot."
The woman with the coffee-pot here faced about, stood up, and,
either from design or some odd coincidence, fell into the same
dogged attitude that her husband had previously taken, except that
she rested her hands on her hips. She was prematurely aged, like
many of her class, and her black, snake-like locks, twisting loose
from her comb as she lifted her head, showed threads of white
against the firelight. Then with slow and implacable deliberation
"We 'forget'! Well! not much, sonny! We ain't forgot it, and we
ain't goin' to forget it, neither! We ain't bin likely to forget
it for any time the last six months. What with visitations from
the county constables, snoopin's round from 'Frisco detectives,
droppin's-in from newspaper men, and yawpin's and starin's from
tramps and strangers on the road--we haven't had a chance to
disremember MUCH! And when at last Hiram tackled the head stage
agent at Marysville, and allowed that this yer pesterin' and
persecutin' had got ter stop--what did that yer head agent tell
him? Told him to 'shet his head,' and be thankful that his
'thievin' old shanty wasn't burnt down around his ears!' Forget
that six months ago the coach was held up near here? Not much,
The situation was embarrassing to the guests, as ordinary politeness
called for some expression of sympathy with their gloomy hostess,
and yet a selfish instinct of humanity warned them that there must
be some foundation for this general distrust of the public. The
journalist was troubled in his conscience; the expressman took
refuge in an official reticence; the lady coughed slightly, and drew
nearer to the fire with a vague but safe compliment to its
brightness and comfort. It devolved upon Mr. Heckshill, who felt
the responsibility of his late airy introduction of the party, to
boldly keep up his role, with an equally non-committal, light-hearted
"Well, ma'am," he said, addressing his hostess, "it's a queer
world, and no man's got sabe enough to say what's the rights and
wrongs o' anything. Some folks believe one thing and act upon it,
and other folks think differently and act upon THAT! The only
thing ye kin safely say is that THINGS IS EZ THEY BE! My rule here
and at the mill is jest to take things ez I find 'em!"
It occurred to the journalist that Mr. Heckshill had the
reputation, in his earlier career, of "taking" such things as
unoccupied lands and timber "as he found them," without much
reference to their actual owners. Apparently he was acting upon
the same principle now, as he reached for the demijohn of whiskey
with the ingenuous pleasantry, "Did somebody say whiskey, or did I
But this did not satisfy Frenshaw. "I suppose," he said, ignoring
Heckshill's diplomatic philosophy, "that you may have been the
victim of some misunderstanding or some unfortunate coincidence.
Perhaps the company may have confounded you with your neighbors,
who are believed to be friendly to the gang; or you may have made
some injudicious acquaintances. Perhaps"--
He was stopped by a suppressed but not unmusical giggle, which
appeared to come from the woman in the corner who had not yet
spoken, and whose face and figure in the shadow he had previously
overlooked. But he could now see that her outline was slim and
graceful, and the contour of her head charming,--facts that had
evidently not escaped the observation of the expressman and Mr.
Heckshill, and that might have accounted for the cautious reticence
of the one and the comfortable moralizing of the other.
The old woman cast an uneasy glance on the fair giggler, but
replied to Frenshaw:
"That's it! 'injerdishus acquaintances!' But just because we might
happen to have friends, or even be sorter related to folks in
another line o' business that ain't none o' ours, the kempany
hain't no call to persecute US for it! S'pose we do happen to know
some one like"--
"Spit it out, aunty, now you've started in! I don't mind," said
the fair giggler, now apparently casting off all restraint in an
outburst of laughter.
"Well," said the old woman, with dogged desperation, "suppose,
then, that that young girl thar is the niece of Snapshot Harry, who
stopped the coach the last time"--
"And ain't ashamed of it, either!" interrupted the young girl,
rising and disclosing in the firelight an audacious but wonderfully
pretty face; "and supposing he IS my uncle, that ain't any cause
for their bedevilin' my poor old cousins Hiram and Sophy thar!"
For all the indignation of her words, her little white teeth
flashed mischievously in the dancing light, as if she rather
enjoyed the embarrassment of her audience, not excluding her own
relatives. Evidently cousin Sophy thought so too.
"It's all very well for you to laugh, Flo, you limb!" she retorted
querulously, yet with an admiring glance at the girl, "for ye know
thar ain't a man dare touch ye even with a word; but it's mighty
hard on me and Hiram, all the same."
"Never you mind, Sophy dear," said the girl, placing her hand half
affectionately, half humorously on the old woman's shoulder; "mebbe
I won't always be a discredit and a bother to you. Jest you hold
your hosses, and wait until uncle Harry 'holds up' the next Pioneer
Coach,"--the dancing devil in her eyes glanced as if accidentally
on the young expressman,--"and he'll make a big enough pile to send
me to Europe, and you'll be quit o' me."
The embarrassment, suspiciousness, and uneasiness of the coach
party here found relief in a half hysteric explosion of laughter,
in which even the dogged Hiram and Sophy joined. It seemed as
impossible to withstand the girl's invincible audacity as her
beauty. She was quick to perceive her advantage, and, with a
responsive laugh and a picturesque gesture of invitation, said:--
"Now that's all settled, ye'd better waltz in and have your whiskey
and coffee afore the stage starts. Ye kin comfort yourselves that
it ain't stolen or pizoned, even if it is served up to ye by
Snapshot Harry's niece!" With another easy gesture she swung the
demijohn over her arm, and, offering a tin cup to each of the men,
filled them in turn.
The ice thus broken, or perhaps thus perilously skated over, the
passengers were as profuse in their thanks and apologies as they
had been constrained and artificial before. Heckshill and Frenshaw
vied with each other for a glance from the audacious Flo. If their
compliments partook of an extravagance that was at times ironical,
the girl was evidently not deceived by it, but replied in kind.
Only the expressman who seemed to have fallen under the spell of
her audacious glances, was uneasy at the license of the others, yet
himself dumb towards her. The lady discreetly drew nearer to the
fire, the old woman, and her coffee; Hiram subsided into his
apathetic attitude by the fire.
A shout from the road at last proclaimed the return of Yuba Bill
and his helpers. It had the singular effect of startling the party
into a vague and uneasy consciousness of indiscretion, as if it had
been the voice of the outer world of law and order, and their
manner again became constrained. The leave-taking was hurried and
perfunctory; the diplomatic Heckshill again lapsed into glittering
generalities about "the best of friends parting." Only the
expressman lingered for a moment on the doorstep in the light of
the fire and the girl's dancing eyes.
"I hope," he stammered, with a very youthful blush, "to come the
next time--with--with--a better introduction."
"Uncle Harry's," she said, with a quick laugh and a mock curtsey,
as she turned away.
Once out of hearing, the party broke into hurried comment and
criticism of the scene they had just witnessed, and particularly of
the fair actress who had played so important a part, averring their
emphatic intention of wresting the facts from Yuba Bill at once,
and cross-examining him closely; but oddly enough, reaching the
coach and that redoubted individual, no one seemed to care to take
the initiative, and they all scrambled hurriedly to their seats
without a word. How far Yuba Bill's irritability and imperious
haste contributed to this, or a fear that he might in turn
catechise them kept them silent, no one knew. The cynically
observant passenger was not there; he and the sole occupant of the
box-seat, they were told, had joined the clearing party some
moments before, and would be picked up by Yuba Bill later on.
Five minutes after Bill had gathered up the reins, they reached the
scene of obstruction. The great pine-tree which had fallen from
the steep bank above and stretched across the road had been partly
lopped of its branches, divided in two lengths, which were now
rolled to either side of the track, leaving barely space for the
coach to pass. The huge vehicle "slowed up" as Yuba Bill
skillfully guided his six horses through this narrow alley, whose
tassels of pine, glistening with wet, brushed the panels and sides
of the coach, and effectually excluded any view from its windows.
Seen from the coach top, the horses appeared to be cleaving their
way through a dark, shining olive sea, that parted before and
closed behind them, as they slowly passed. The leaders were just
emerging from it, and Bill was gathering up his slackened reins,
when a peremptory voice called, "Halt!" At the same moment the
coach lights flashed upon a masked and motionless horseman in the
road. Bill made an impulsive reach for his whip, but in the same
instant checked himself, reined in his horses with a suppressed
oath, and sat perfectly rigid. Not so the expressman, who caught
up his rifle, but it was arrested by Bill's arm, and his voice in
Too late!--we're covered!--don't be a d----d fool!"
The inside passengers, still encompassed by obscurity, knew only
that the stage had stopped. The "outsiders" knew, by experience,
that they were covered by unseen guns in the wayside branches, and
"I didn't think it was the square thing to stop you, Bill, till
you'd got through your work," said a masterful but not unpleasant
voice, "and if you'll just hand down the express box, I'll pass you
and the rest of your load through free. But as we're both in a
hurry, you'd better look lively about it."
"Hand it down," said Bill gruffly to the expressman.
The expressman turned with a white check but blazing eyes to the
compartment below his seat. He lingered, apparently in some
difficulty with the lock of the compartment, but finally brought
out the box and handed it to another armed and masked figure that
appeared mysteriously from the branches beside the wheels.
"Thank you!" said the voice; "you can slide on now."
"And thank you for nothing," said Bill, gathering up his reins.
"It's the first time any of your kind had to throw down a tree to
hold me up!"
"You're lying, Bill!--though you don't know it," said the voice
cheerfully. "Far from throwing down a tree to stop you, it was I
sent word along the road to warn you from crashing down upon it,
and sending you and your load to h-ll before your time! Drive on!"
The angry Bill waited for no second comment, but laying his whip
over the backs of his team, drove furiously forward. So rapidly
had the whole scene passed that the inside passengers knew nothing
of it, and even those on the top of the coach roused from their
stupor and inglorious inaction only to cling desperately to the
terribly swaying coach as it thundered down the grade and try to
keep their equilibrium. Yet, furious as was their speed, Yuba Bill
could not help noticing that the expressman from time to time cast
a hurried glance behind him. Bill knew that the young man had
shown readiness and nerve in the attack, although both were
hopeless; yet he was so much concerned at his set white face and
compressed lips that when, at the end of three miles' unabated
speed, they galloped up to the first station, he seized the young
man by the arm, and, as the clamor of the news they had brought
rose around them, dragged him past the wondering crowd, caught a
decanter from the bar, and, opening the door of a side room, pushed
him into it and closed the door behind them.
"Look yar, Brice! Stop it! Quit it right thar!" he said
emphatically, laying his large hand on the young fellow's shoulder.
"Be a man! You've shown you are one, green ez you are, for you had
the sand in ye--the clear grit to-night, yet you'd have been a dead
man now, if I hadn't stopped ye! Man! you had no show from the
beginning! You've done your level best to save your treasure, and
I'm your witness to the kempany, and proud of it, too! So shet
your head and--and," pouring out a glass of whiskey, "swaller that!"
But Brice waved him aside with burning eyes and dry lips.
"You don't know it all, Bill!" he said, with a half choked voice.
"Swear that you'll keep it a secret," he said feverishly, gripping
Bill's arm in turn, "and I'll tell you."
"THE COACH WAS ROBBED BEFORE THAT!"
"Wot yer say?" ejaculated Bill.
"The treasure--a packet of greenbacks--had been taken from the box
before the gang stopped us!"
"The h-ll, you say!"
"Listen! When you told me to hand down the box, I had an idea--a
d----d fool one, perhaps--of taking that package out and jumping
from the coach with it. I knew they would fire at me only; I might
get away, but if they killed me, I'd have done only my duty, and
nobody else would have got hurt. But when I got to the box I found
that the lock had been forced and the money was gone. I managed to
snap the lock again before I handed it down. I thought they might
discover it at once and chase us, but they didn't."
"And then thar war no greenbacks in the box that they took?" gasped
Bill, with staring eyes.
Bill raised his hand in the air as if in solemn adjuration, and
then brought it down on his knee, doubling up in a fit of
uncontrollable but perfectly noiseless laughter. "Oh, Lord!" he
gasped, "hol' me afore I bust right open! Hush," he went on, with
a jerk of his fingers towards the next room, "not a word o' this to
any one! It's too much to keep, I know; it's nearly killing me!
but we must swaller it ourselves! Oh, Jerusalem the Golden! Oh,
Brice! Think o' that face o' Snapshot Harry's ez he opened that
treasure box afore his gang in the brush! And he allers so keen
and so easy and so cock sure! Created snakes! I'd go through this
every trip for one sight of him as he just riz up from that box and
cussed!" He again shook with inward convulsions till his face grew
purple, and even the red came back to the younger man's cheek.
"But this don't bring the money back, Bill," said Brice gloomily.
Yuba Bill swallowed the glass of whiskey at a gulp, wiped his mouth
and eyes, smothered a second explosion, and then gravely confronted
"When do you think it was taken, and how?"
"It must have been taken when I left the coach on the road and went
over to that settler's cabin," said Brice bitterly. "Yet I
believed everything was safe, and I left two men--both passengers--
one inside and one on the box, that man who sat the other side of
"Jee whillikins!" ejaculated Bill, with his hand to his forehead,
"the men I clean forgot to pick up in the road, and now I reckon
they never intended to be picked up, either."
"No doubt a part of the gang," said Brice, with increased
bitterness; "I see it all now."
"No!" said Bill decisively, "that ain't Snapshot Harry's style;
he's a clean fighter, with no underhand tricks. And I don't
believe he threw down that tree, either. Look yer, sonny!" he
added, suddenly laying his hand on Brice's shoulder, "a hundred to
one that that was the work of a couple o' d----d sneaks or traitors
in that gang who kem along as passengers. I never took any stock
in that coyote who paid extra for his box-seat."
Brice knew that Bill never looked kindly on any passenger who, by
bribing the ticket agent, secured this favorite seat, which Bill
felt was due to his personal friends and was in his own selection.
He only returned gloomily:--
"I don't see what difference it makes to us which robber got the
"Ye don't," said Bill, raising his head, with a sudden twinkle in
his eyes. "Then ye don't know Snapshot Harry. Do ye suppose he's
goin' to sit down and twiddle his thumbs with that skin game played
on him? No, sir," he continued, with a thoughtful deliberation,
drawing his fingers slowly through his long beard, "he spotted it--
and smelt out the whole trick ez soon ez he opened that box, and
that's why he didn't foller us! He'll hunt those sneak thieves
into h-ll but what he'll get 'em, and," he went on still more
slowly, "by the livin' hokey! I reckon, sonny, that's jest how
ye'll get your chance to chip in!"
"I don't understand," said Brice impatiently.
"Well," said Bill, with more provoking slowness, as if he were
communing with himself rather than Brice, "Harry's mighty proud and
high toned, and to be given away like this has cut down into his
heart, you bet. It ain't the money he's thinkin' of; it's this
split in the gang--the loss of his power ez boss, ye see--and ef he
could get hold o' them chaps he'd let the money slide ez long ez
they didn't get it. So you've got a detective on your side that's
worth the whole police force of Californy! Ye never heard anything
about Snapshot Harry, did ye?" asked Bill carelessly, raising his
eyes to Brice's eager face.
The young man flushed slightly. "Very little," he said. At the
same time a vision of the pretty girl in the settler's cabin
flashed upon him with a new significance.
"He's more than half white, in some ways," said Bill thoughtfully,
"and they say he lives somewhere about here in a cabin in the bush,
with a crippled sister and her darter, who both swear by him. It
mightn't be hard to find him--ef a man was dead set on it."
Brice faced about with determined eyes. "I'LL DO IT," he said
"Ye might," said Bill, still more deliberately stroking his beard,
"mention my name, ef ye ever get to see him."
"Your name," ejaculated the astonished Brice.
"My name," repeated Bill calmly. "He knows it's my bounden duty to
kill him ef I get the chance, and I know that he'd plug me full o'
holes in a minit ef thar war a necessity for it. But in these yer
affairs, sonny, it seems to be the understood thing by the kempany
that I'm to keep fiery young squirts like you, and chuckle-headed
passengers like them"--jerking his thumb towards the other room--
"from gettin' themselves killed by their rashness. So ontil the
kempany fill the top o' that coach with men who ain't got any
business to do BUT fightin' other men who ain't got any other
business to do BUT to fight them--the odds are agin us! Harry has
always acted square to me--that's how I know he ain't in this
sneak-thief business, and why he didn't foller us, suspectin'
suthin', and I've always acted square to him. All the same, I'd
like ter hev seen his face when that box was opened! Lordy!" Here
Bill again collapsed in his silent paroxysm of mirth. "Ye might
tell him how I laughed!"
"I would hardly do that, Bill," said the young man, smiling in
spite of himself. "But you've given me an idea, and I'll work it
Bill glanced at the young fellow's kindling eyes and flushing
cheek, and nodded. "Well, rastle with that idea later on, sonny.
I'll fix you all right in my report to the kempany, but the rest
you must work alone. I've started out the usual posse, circus-
ridin' down the road after Harry. He'd be a rough customer to meet
just now," continued Bill, with a chuckle, "ef thar was the ghost
of a chance o' them comin' up with him, for him and his gang is
scattered miles away by this." He paused, tossed off another glass
of whiskey, wiped his mouth, and saying to Brice, with a wink,
"It's about time to go and comfort them thar passengers," led the
way through the crowded barroom into the stage office.
The spectacle of Bill's humorously satisfied face and Brice's
bright eyes and heightened color was singularly effective. The
"inside" passengers, who had experienced neither the excitement nor
the danger of the robbery, yet had been obliged to listen to the
hairbreadth escapes of the others, pooh-poohed the whole affair,
and even the "outsides" themselves were at last convinced that the
robbery was a slight one, with little or no loss to the company.
The clamor subsided almost as suddenly as it had arisen; the wiser
passengers fashioned their attitude on the sang-froid of Yuba Bill,
and the whole coach load presently rolled away as complacently as
if nothing had happened.
The robbery furnished the usual amount of copy for the local press.
There was the inevitable compliment to Yuba Bill for his well-known
coolness; the conduct of the young expressman, "who, though new to
the service, displayed an intrepidity that only succumbed to
numbers," was highly commended, and even the passengers received
their meed of praise, not forgetting the lady, "who accepted the
incident with the light-hearted pleasantry characteristic of the
Californian woman." There was the usual allusion to the necessity
of a Vigilance Committee to cope with this "organized lawlessness"
but it is to be feared that the readers of "The Red Dog Clarion,"
however ready to lynch a horse thief, were of the opinion that rich
stage express companies were quite able to take care of their own
It was with full cognizance of these facts and their uselessness to
him that the next morning Mr. Ned Brice turned from the road where
the coach had just halted on the previous night and approached the
settler's cabin. If a little less sanguine than he was in Yuba
Bill's presence, he was still doggedly inflexible in his design,
whatever it might have been, for he had not revealed it even to
Yuba Bill. It was his own; it was probably crude and youthful in
its directness, but for that reason it was probably more convincing
than the vacillations of older counsel.
He paused a moment at the closed door, conscious, however, of some
hurried movement within which signified that his approach had been
observed. The door was opened, and disclosed only the old woman.
The same dogged expression was on her face as when he had last seen
it, with the addition of querulous expectancy. In reply to his
polite "Good-morning," she abruptly faced him with her hands still
on the door.
"Ye kin stop right there! Ef yer want ter make any talk about this
yar robbery, ye might ez well skedaddle to oncet, for we ain't
'takin' any' to-day!"
"I have no wish to talk about the robbery," said Brice quietly,
"and as far as I can prevent it, you will not be troubled by any
questions. If you doubt my word or the intentions of the company,
perhaps you will kindly read that."
He drew from his pocket a still damp copy of "The Red Dog Clarion"
and pointed to a paragraph.
"Wot's that?" she said querulously, feeling for her spectacles.
"Shall I read it?"
He read it slowly aloud. I grieve to say it had been jointly
concocted the night before at the office of the "Clarion" by
himself and the young journalist--the latter's assistance being his
own personal tribute to the graces of Miss Flo. It read as
"The greatest assistance was rendered by Hiram Tarbox, Esq., a
resident of the vicinity, in removing the obstruction, which was,
no doubt, the preliminary work of some of the robber gang, and in
providing hospitality for the delayed passengers. In fact, but for
the timely warning of Yuba Bill by Mr. Tarbox, the coach might have
crashed into the tree at that dangerous point, and an accident
ensued more disastrous to life and limb than the robbery itself."
The sudden and unmistakable delight that expanded the old woman's
mouth was so convincing that it might have given Brice a tinge of
remorse over the success of his stratagem, had he not been utterly
absorbed in his purpose. "Hiram!" she shouted suddenly.
The old man appeared from some back door with a promptness that
proved his near proximity, and glanced angrily at Brice until he
caught sight of his wife's face. Then his anger changed to wonder.
"Read that again, young feller," she said exultingly.
Brice re-read the paragraph aloud for Mr. Tarbox's benefit.
"That 'ar 'Hiram Tarbox, Esquire,' means YOU, Hiram," she gasped,
in delighted explanation.
Hiram seized the paper, read the paragraph himself, spread out the
whole page, examined it carefully, and then a fatuous grin began
slowly to extend itself over his whole face, invading his eyes and
ears, until the heavy, harsh, dogged lines of his nostrils and jaws
had utterly disappeared.
"B'gosh!" he said, "that's square! Kin I keep it?"
"Certainly," said Brice. "I brought it for you."
"Is that all ye came for?" said Hiram, with sudden suspicion.
"No," said the young man frankly. Yet he hesitated a moment as he
added, "I would like to see Miss Flora."
His hesitation and heightened color were more disarming to suspicion
than the most elaborate and carefully prepared indifference. With
their knowledge and pride in their relative's fascinations they felt
it could have but one meaning! Hiram wiped his mouth with his hand,
assumed a demure expression, glanced at his wife, and answered:--
"She ain't here now."
Mr. Brice's face displayed his disappointment. But the true lover
holds a talisman potent with old and young. Mrs. Tarbox felt a
sneaking maternal pity for this suddenly stricken Strephon.
"She's gone home," she added more gently--"went at sun-up this
"Home," repeated Brice. "Where's that?"
Mrs. Tarbox looked at her husband and hesitated. Then she said--a
little in her old manner--"Her uncle's."
"Can you direct me the way there?" asked Brice simply.
The astonishment in their faces presently darkened into suspicion
again. "Ef that's your little game," began Hiram, with a lowering
"I have no little game but to see her and speak with her," said
Brice boldly. "I am alone and unarmed, as you see," he continued,
pointing to his empty belt and small dispatch bag slung on his
shoulder, "and certainly unable to do any one any harm. I am
willing to take what risks there are. And as no one knows of my
intention, nor of my coming here, whatever might happen to me, no
one need know it. You would be safe from questioning."
There was that hopeful determination in his manner that overrode
their resigned doggedness. "Ef we knew how to direct you thar,"
said the old woman cautiously, "ye'd be killed outer hand afore ye
even set eyes on the girl. The house is in a holler with hills
kept by spies; ye'd be a dead man as soon as ye crossed its
"Wot do YOU know about it?" interrupted her husband quickly, in
querulous warning. "Wot are ye talkin' about?"
"You leave me alone, Hiram! I ain't goin' to let that young feller
get popped off without a show, or without knowin' jest wot he's got
to tackle, nohow ye kin fix it! And can't ye see he's bound to go,
whatever ye says?"
Mr. Tarbox saw this fact plainly in Brice's eyes, and hesitated.
"The most that I kin tell ye," he said gloomily, "is the way the
gal takes when she goes from here, but how far it is, or if it
ain't a blind, I can't swar, for I hevn't bin thar myself, and
Harry never comes here but on an off night, when the coach ain't
runnin' and thar's no travel." He stopped suddenly and uneasily,
as if he had said too much.
"Thar ye go, Hiram, and ye talk of others gabblin'! So ye might as
well tell the young feller how that thar ain't but one way, and
that's the way Harry takes, too, when he comes yer oncet in an age
to talk to his own flesh and blood, and see a Christian face that
ain't agin him!"
Mr. Tarbox was silent. "Ye know whar the tree was thrown down on
the road," he said at last.
"The mountain rises straight up on the right side of the road, all
hazel brush and thorn--whar a goat couldn't climb."
"But that's a lie! for thar's a little trail, not a foot wide, runs
up from the road for a mile, keepin' it in view all the while, but
bein' hidden by the brush. Ye kin see everything from thar, and
hear a teamster spit on the road."
"Go on," said Brice impatiently.
"Then it goes up and over the ridge, and down the other side into a
little gulch until it comes to the canyon of the North Fork, where
the stage road crosses over the bridge high up. The trail winds
round the bank of the Fork and comes out on the LEFT side of the
stage road about a thousand feet below it. That's the valley and
hollow whar Harry lives, and that's the only way it can be found.
For all along the LEFT of the stage road is a sheer pitch down that
thousand feet, whar no one kin git up or down."
"I understand," said Brice, with sparkling eyes. "I'll find my way
"And when ye git thar, look out for yourself!" put in the woman
earnestly. "Ye may have regular greenhorn's luck and pick up Flo
afore ye cross the boundary, for she's that bold that when she gets
lonesome o' stayin' thar she goes wanderin' out o' bounds."
"Hev ye any weppin,--any shootin'-iron about ye?" asked Tarbox,
with a latent suspicion.
The young man smiled, and again showed his empty belt. "None!" he
"I ain't sure ef that ain't the safest thing arter all with a shot
like Harry," remarked the old man grimly. "Well, so long!" he
added, and turned away.
It was clearly a leave-taking, and Brice, warmly thanking them
both, returned to the road.
It was not far to the scene of the obstruction, yet but for
Tarbox's timely hint, the little trail up the mountain side would
have escaped his observation. Ascending, he soon found himself
creeping along a narrow ledge of rock, hidden from the road that
ran fifty yards below by a thick network growth of thorn and
bramble, which still enabled him to see its whole parallel length.
Perilous in the extreme to any hesitating foot, at one point,
directly above the obstruction, the ledge itself was missing--
broken away by the fall of the tree from the forest crest higher
up. For an instant Brice stood dizzy and irresolute before the
gap. Looking down for a foothold, his eye caught the faint imprint
of a woman's shoe on a clayey rock projecting midway of the chasm.
It must have been the young girl's footprint made that morning, for
the narrow toe was pointed in the direction she would go! Where
SHE could pass should he shrink from going? Without further
hesitation he twined his fingers around the roots above him, and
half swung, half pulled himself along until he once more felt the
ledge below him.
From time to time, as he went on along the difficult track, the
narrow little toe-print pointed the way to him, like an arrow
through the wilds. It was a pleasant thought, and yet a perplexing
one. Would he have undertaken this quest just to see her? Would
he be content with that if his other motive failed? For as he made
his way up to the ridge he was more than once assailed by doubts of
the practical success of his enterprise. In the excitement of last
night, and even the hopefulness of the early morning, it seemed an
easy thing to persuade the vain and eccentric highwayman that their
interests might be identical, and to convince him that his,
Brice's, assistance to recover the stolen greenbacks and insure the
punishment of the robber, with the possible addition of a reward
from the express company, would be an inducement for them to work
together. The risks that he was running seemed to his youthful
fancy to atone for any defects in his logic or his plans. Yet as
he crossed the ridge, leaving the civilized highway behind him, and
descended the narrow trail, which grew wilder at each step, his
arguments seemed no longer so convincing. He now hurried forward,
however, with a feverish haste to anticipate the worst that might
The trail grew more intricate in the deep ferns; the friendly
little footprint had vanished in this primeval wilderness. As he
pushed through the gorge, he could hear at last the roar of the
North Fork forcing its way through the canyon that crossed the
gorge at right angles. At last he reached its current, shut in by
two narrow precipitous walls that were spanned five hundred feet
above by the stage road over a perilous bridge. As he approached
the gloomy canyon, he remembered that the river, seen from above,
seemed to have no banks, but to have cut its way through the solid
He found, however, a faint ledge made by caught driftwood from the
current and the debris of the overhanging cliffs. Again the narrow
footprint on the ooze was his guide. At last, emerging from the
canyon, a strange view burst upon his sight. The river turned
abruptly to the right, and, following the mountain side, left a
small hollow completely walled in by the surrounding heights. To
his left was the ridge he had descended from on the other side, and
he now understood the singular detour he had made. He was on the
other side of the stage road also, which ran along the mountain
shelf a thousand feet above him. The wall, a sheer cliff, made the
hollow inaccessible from that side. Little hills covered with
buckeye encompassed it. It looked like a sylvan retreat, and yet
was as secure in its isolation and approaches as the outlaw's den
that it was.
He was gazing at the singular prospect when a shot rang in the air.
It seemed to come from a distance, and he interpreted it as a
signal. But it was followed presently by another; and putting his
hand to his hat to keep it from falling, he found that the upturned
brim had been pierced by a bullet. He stopped at this evident
hint, and, taking his dispatch bag from his shoulder, placed it
significantly upon a boulder, and looked around as if to await the
appearance of the unseen marksman. The rifle shot rang out again,
the bag quivered, and turned over with a bullet hole through it!
He took out his white handkerchief and waved it. Another shot
followed, and the handkerchief was snapped from his fingers, torn
from corner to corner. A feeling of desperation and fury seized
him; he was being played with by a masked and skillful assassin,
who only waited until it pleased him to fire the deadly shot! But
this time he could see the rifle smoke drifting from under a
sycamore not a hundred yards away. He set his white lips together,
but with a determined face and unfaltering step walked directly
towards it. In another moment he believed and almost hoped that
all would be over. With such a marksman he would not be maimed,
but killed outright.
He had not covered half the distance before a man lounged out from
behind the tree carelessly shouldering his rifle. He was tall but
slightly built, with an amused, critical manner, and nothing about
him to suggest the bloodthirsty assassin. He met Brice halfway,
dropping his rifle slantingly across his breast with his hands
lightly grasping the lock, and gazed at the young man curiously.
"You look as if you'd had a big scare, old man, but you've clear
grit for all that!" he said, with a critical and reassuring smile.
"Now, what are you doing here? Stay," he continued, as Brice's
parched lips prevented him from replying immediately. "I ought to
know your face. Hello! you're the expressman!" His glance
suddenly shifted, and swept past Brice over the ground beyond him
to the entrance of the hollow, but his smile returned as he
apparently satisfied himself that the young man was alone. "Well,
what do you want?"
"I want to see Snapshot Harry," said Brice, with an effort. His
voice came back more slowly than his color, but that was perhaps
hurried by a sense of shame at his physical weakness.
"What you want is a drop o' whiskey," said the stranger good
humoredly, taking his arm, "and we'll find it in that shanty just
behind the tree." To Brice's surprise, a few steps in that
direction revealed a fair-sized cabin, with a slight pretentiousness
about it of neatness, comfort, and picturesque effect, far superior
to the Tarbox shanty. A few flowers were in boxes on the window--
signs, as Brice fancied, of feminine taste. When they reached the
threshold, somewhat of this quality was also visible in the
interior. When Brice had partaken of the whiskey, the stranger, who
had kept silence, pointed to a chair, and said smilingly:--
"I am Henry Dimwood, alias Snapshot Harry, and this is my house."
"I came to speak with you about the robbery of greenbacks from the
coach last night," began Brice hurriedly, with a sudden access of
hope at his reception. "I mean, of course,"--he stopped and
hesitated,--"the actual robbery before YOU stopped us."
"What!" said Harry, springing to his feet, "do you mean to say YOU
Brice's heart sank, but he remained steadfast and truthful. "Yes,"
he said, "I knew it when I handed down the box. I saw that the
lock had been forced, but I snapped it together again. It was my
fault. Perhaps I should have warned you, but I am solely to
"Did Yuba Bill know of it?" asked the highwayman, with singular
"Not at the time, I give you my word!" replied Brice quickly,
thinking only of loyalty to his old comrade. "I never told him
till we reached the station."
"And he knew it then?" repeated Harry eagerly.
"Did he say anything? Did he do anything? Did he look astonished?"
Brice remembered Bill's uncontrollable merriment, but replied
vaguely and diplomatically, "He was certainly astonished."
A laugh gathered in Snapshot Harry's eyes which at last overspread
his whole face, and finally shook his frame as he sat helplessly
down again. Then, wiping his eyes, he said in a shaky voice:--
"It would have been sure death to have trusted myself near that
station, but I think I'd have risked it just to have seen Bill's
face when you told him! Just think of it! Bill, who was a match
for anybody! Bill, who was never caught napping! Bill, who only
wanted supreme control of things to wipe me off the face of the
earth! Bill, who knew how everything was done, and could stop it
if he chose, and then to have been ROBBED TWICE IN ONE EVENING BY
MY GANG! Yes, sir! Yuba Bill and his rotten old coach were GONE
THROUGH TWICE INSIDE HALF AN HOUR by the gang!"
"Then you knew of it too?" said Brice, in uneasy astonishment.
"Afterwards, my young friend--like Yuba Bill--afterwards." He
stopped; his whole expression changed. "It was done by two
sneaking hounds," he said sharply; "one whom I suspected before,
and one, a new hand, a pal of his. They were detached to watch the
coach and be satisfied that the greenbacks were aboard, for it
isn't my style to 'hold up' except for something special. They
were to take seats on the coach as far as Ringwood Station, three
miles below where we held you up, and to get out there and pass the
word to us that it was all right. They didn't; that made us a
little extra careful, seeing something was wrong, but never
suspecting THEM. We found out afterwards that they got one of my
scouts to cut down that tree, saying it was my orders and a part of
our game, calculating in the stoppage and confusion to collar the
swag and get off with it. Without knowing it, YOU played into
their hands by going into Tarbox's cabin."
"But how did you know this?" interrupted Brice, in wonder.
"They forgot one thing," continued Snapshot Harry grimly. "They
forgot that half an hour before and half an hour after a stage is
stopped we have that road patrolled, every foot of it. While I was
opening the box in the brush, the two fools, sneaking along the
road, came slap upon one of my patrols, and then tried to run for
it. One was dropped, but before he was plugged full of holes and
hung up on a tree, he confessed, and said the other man who escaped
had the greenbacks."
Brice's face fell. "Then they are lost," he said bitterly.
"Not unless he eats them--as he may want to do before I'm done on
him, for he must either starve or come out. That road is still
watched by my men from Tarbox's cabin to the bridge. He's there
somewhere, and can't get forward or backward. Look!" he said,
rising and going to the door. "That road," he pointed to the stage
road,--a narrow ledge flanked on one side by a precipitous mountain
wall, and on the other by an equally precipitate descent,--"is his
limit and tether, and he can't escape on either side."
"But the trail?"
"There is but one entrance to it,--the way you came, and that is
guarded too. From the time you entered it until you reached the
bottom, you were signaled here from point to point! HE would have
been dropped! I merely gave YOU a hint of what might have happened
to you, if you were up to any little game! You took it like a
white man. Come, now! What is your business?"
Thus challenged, Brice plunged with youthful hopefulness into his
plan; if, as he voiced it, it seemed to him a little extravagant,
he was buoyed up by the frankness of the highwayman, who also had
treated the double robbery with a levity that seemed almost as
extravagant. He suggested that they should work together to
recover the money; that the express company should know that the
unprecedented stealthy introduction of robbers in the guise of
passengers was not Snapshot Harry's method, and he repudiated it as
unmanly and unsportsmanlike; and that, by using his superior skill
and knowledge of the locality to recover the money and deliver the
culprit into the company's hands, he would not only earn the reward
that they should offer, but that he would evoke a sentiment that
all Californians would understand and respect. The highwayman
listened with a tolerant smile, but, to Brice's surprise, this
appeal to his vanity touched him less than the prospective
punishment of the thief.
"It would serve the d----d hound right," he muttered, "if, instead
of being shot like a man, he was made to 'do time' in prison, like
the ordinary sneak thief that he is." When Brice had concluded, he
said briefly, "The only trouble with your plans, my young friend,
is that about twenty-five men have got to consider them, and have
THEIR say about it. Every man in my gang is a shareholder in these
greenbacks, for I work on the square; and it's for him to say
whether he'll give them up for a reward and the good opinion of the
express company. Perhaps," he went on, with a peculiar smile,
"it's just as well that you tried it on me first! However, I'll
sound the boys, and see what comes of it, but not until you're safe
off the premises."
"And you'll let me assist you?" said Brice eagerly.
Snapshot Harry smiled again. "Well, if you come across the d----d
thief, and you recognize him and can get the greenbacks from him,
I'll pass over the game to you." He rose and added, apparently by
way of farewell, "Perhaps it's just as well that I should give you
a guide part of the way to prevent accidents." He went to a door
leading to an adjoining room, and called "Flo!"
Brice's heart leaped! If he had forgotten her in the excitement of
his interview, he atoned for it by a vivid blush. Her own color
was a little heightened as she slipped into the room, but the two
managed to look demurely at each other, without a word of
"This is my niece, Flora," said Snapshot Harry, with a slight wave
of the hand that was by no means uncourtly, "and her company will
keep you from any impertinent questioning as well as if I were with
you. This is Mr. Brice, Flo, who came to see me on business, and
has quite forgotten my practical joking."
The girl acknowledged Brice's bow with a shyness very different
from her manner of the evening before. Brice felt embarrassed and
evidently showed it, for his host, with a smile, put an end to the
constraint by shaking the young man's hand heartily, bidding him
good-by, and accompanying him to the door.
Once on their way, Mr. Brice's spirits returned. "I told you last
night," he said, "that I hoped to meet you the next time with a
better introduction. You suggested your uncle's. Well, are you
"But you didn't come to see ME," said the girl mischievously.
"How do you know what my intentions were?" returned the young man
gayly, gazing at the girl's charming face with a serious doubt as
to the singleness of his own intentions.
"Oh, because I know," she answered, with a toss of her brown head.
"I heard what you said to uncle Harry."
Mr. Brice's brow contracted. "Perhaps you saw me, too, when I
came," he said, with a slight touch of bitterness as he thought of
Miss Flo laughed. Brice walked on silently; the girl was heartless
and worthy of her education. After a pause she said demurely, "I
knew he wouldn't hurt you--but YOU didn't. That's where you showed
your grit in walking straight on."
"And I suppose you were greatly amused," he replied scornfully.
The girl lifted her arms a little wearily, as with a half sigh she
readjusted her brown braids under her uncle's gray slouch hat,
which she had caught up as she passed out. "Thar ain't much to
laugh at here!" she said. "But it was mighty funny when you tried
to put your hat straight, and then found thur was that bullet hole
right through the brim! And the way you stared at it--Lordy!"
Her musical laugh was infectious, and swept away his outraged
dignity. He laughed too. At last she said, gazing at his hat, "It
won't do for you to go back to your folks wearin' that sort o'
thing. Here! Take mine!" With a saucy movement she audaciously
lifted his hat from his head, and placed her own upon it.
"But this is your uncle's hat," he remonstrated.
"All the same; he spoiled yours," she laughed, adjusting his hat
upon her own head. "But I'll keep yours to remember you by. I'll
loop it up by this hole, and it'll look mighty purty. Jes' see!"
She plucked a wild rose from a bush by the wayside, and, passing
the stalk through the bullet hole, pinned the brim against the
crown by a thorn. "There," she said, putting on the hat again with
a little affectation of coquetry, "how's that?"
Mr. Brice thought it very picturesque and becoming to the graceful
head and laughing eyes beneath it, and said so. Then, becoming in
his turn audacious, he drew nearer to her side.
"I suppose you know the forfeit of putting on a gentleman's hat?"
Apparently she did, for she suddenly made a warning gesture, and
said, "Not here! It would be a bigger forfeit than you'd keer
fo'." Before he could reply she turned aside as if quite
innocently, and passed into the shade of a fringe of buckeyes. He
followed quickly. "I didn't mean that," she said; but in the mean
time he had kissed the pink tip of her ear under its brown coils.
He was, nevertheless, somewhat discomfited by her undisturbed
manner and serene face. "Ye don't seem to mind bein' shot at," she
said, with an odd smile, "but it won't do for you to kalkilate that
EVERYBODY shoots as keerfully as uncle Harry."
"I don't understand," he replied, struck by her manner.
"Ye ain't very complimentary, or you'd allow that other folks might
be wantin' what you took just now, and might consider you was
poachin'," she returned gravely. "My best and strongest holt among
those men is that uncle Harry would kill the first one who tried
anything like that on--and they know it. That's how I get all the
liberty I want here, and can come and go alone as I like."
Brice's face flushed quickly with genuine shame and remorse. "Do
forgive me," he said hurriedly. "I didn't think--I'm a brute and a
"Uncle Harry allowed you was either drunk or a born idiot when you
was promenadin' into the valley just now," she said, with a smile.
"And what did you think?" he asked a little uneasily.
"I thought you didn't look like a drinkin' man," she answered
Brice bit his lip and walked on silently, at which she cast a
sidelong glance under her widely spaced heavy lashes and said
demurely, "I thought last night it was mighty good for you to stand
up for your frien' Yuba Bill, and then, after ye knew who I was, to
let the folks see you kinder cottoned to me too. Not in the style
o' that land-grabber Heckshill, nor that peart newspaper man,
neither. Of course I gave them as good as they sent," she went on,
with a little laugh, but Brice could see that her sensitive lip in
profile had the tremulous and resentful curve of one who was
accustomed to slight and annoyance. Was it possible that this
reckless, self-contained girl felt her position keenly?
"I am proud to have your good opinion," he said, with a certain
respect mingled with his admiring glance, "even if I have not your
"Oh, he likes you well enough, or he wouldn't have hearkened to you
a minute," she said quickly. "When you opened out about them
greenbacks, I jes' clutched my cheer SO," she illustrated her words
with a gesture of her hands, and her face actually seemed to grow
pale at the recollection,--and I nigh started up to stop ye; but
that idea of Yuba Bill bein' robbed TWICE I think tickled him
awful. But it was lucky none o' the gang heard ye or suspected
anything. I reckon that's why he sent me with you,--to keep them
from doggin' you and askin' questions that a straight man like you
would be sure to answer. But they daren't come nigh ye as long as
I'm with you!" She threw back her head and rose-crested hat with a
mock air of protection that, however, had a certain real pride in
"I am very glad of that, if it gives me the chance of having your
company alone," returned Brice, smiling, "and very grateful to your
uncle, whatever were his reasons for making you my guide. But you
have already been that to me," and he told her of the footprints.
"But for you," he added, with gentle significance, "I should not
have been here."
She was silent for a moment, and he could only see the back of her
head and its heavy brown coils. After a pause she asked abruptly,
"Where's your handkerchief?"
He took it from his pocket; her ingenious uncle's bullet had torn
rather than pierced the cambric.
"I thought so," she said, gravely examining it, "but I kin mend it
as good as new. I reckon you allow I can't sew," she continued,
"but I do heaps of mendin', as the digger squaw and Chinamen we
have here do only the coarser work. I'll send it back to you, and
meanwhiles you keep mine."
She drew a handkerchief from her pocket and handed it to him. To
his great surprise it was a delicate one, beautifully embroidered,
and utterly incongruous to her station. The idea that flashed upon
him, it is to be feared, showed itself momentarily in his
hesitation and embarrassment.
She gave a quick laugh. "Don't be frightened. It's bought and
paid for. Uncle Harry don't touch passengers' fixin's; that ain't
his style. You oughter know that." Yet in spite of her laugh, he
could see the sensitive pout of her lower lip.
"I was only thinking," he said hurriedly and sympathetically, "that
it was too fine for me. But I will be proud to keep it as a
souvenir of you. It's not too pretty for THAT!"
"Uncle gets me these things. He don't keer what they cost," she
went on, ignoring the compliment. "Why, I've got awfully fine
gowns up there that I only wear when I go to Marysville oncet in a
"Does he take you there?" asked Brice.
"No!" she answered quietly. "Not"--a little defiantly--"that he's
afeard, for they can't prove anything against him; no man kin swear
to him, and thar ain't an officer that keers to go for him. But
he's that shy for ME he don't keer to have me mixed with him."
"But nobody recognizes you?"
"Sometimes--but I don't keer for that." She cocked her hat a
little audaciously, but Brice noticed that her arms afterwards
dropped at her side with the same weary gesture he had observed
before. "Whenever I go into shops it's always 'Yes, miss,' and
'No, miss,' and 'Certainly, Miss Dimwood.' Oh, they're mighty
respectful. I reckon they allow that Snapshot Harry's rifle
Presently she faced him again, for their conversation had been
carried on in profile. There was a critical, searching look in her
"Here I'm talkin' to you as if you were one"-- Mr. Brice was
positive she was going to say "one of the gang," but she hesitated
and concluded, "one of my relations--like cousin Hiram."
"I wish you would think of me as being as true a friend," said the
young man earnestly.
She did not reply immediately, but seemed to be examining the
distance. They were not far from the canyon now, and the river
bank. A fringe of buckeyes hid the base of the mountain, which had
begun to tower up above them to the invisible stage road overhead.
"I am going to be a real guide to you now," she said suddenly.
"When we reach that buckeye corner and are out of sight, we will
turn into it instead of going through the canyon. You shall go up
the mountain to the stage road, from THIS side."
"But it is impossible!" he exclaimed, in astonishment. "Your uncle
"Coming DOWN, but not going up," she returned, with a laugh. "I
found it, and no one knows it but myself."
He glanced up at the towering cliff; its nearly perpendicular
flanks were seamed with fissures, some clefts deeply set with
stunted growths of thorn and "scrub," but still sheer and
forbidding, and then glanced back at her incredulously. "I will
show you," she said, answering his look with a smile of triumph.
"I haven't tramped over this whole valley for nothing! But wait
until we reach the river bank. They must think that we've gone
through the canyon."
"Yes--any one who is watching us," said the girl dryly.
A few steps further on brought them to the buckeye thicket, which
extended to the river bank and mouth of the canyon. The girl
lingered for a moment ostentatiously before it, and then, saying
"Come," suddenly turned at right angles into the thicket. Brice
followed, and the next moment they were hidden by its friendly
screen from the valley. On the other side rose the mountain wall,
leaving a narrow trail before them. It was composed of the rocky
debris and fallen trees of the cliff, from which buckeyes and
larches were now springing. It was uneven, irregular, and slowly
ascending; but the young girl led the way with the free footstep of
a mountaineer, and yet a grace that was akin to delicacy. Nor
could he fail to notice that, after the Western girl's fashion, she
was shod more elegantly and lightly than was consistent with the
rude and rustic surroundings. It was the same slim shoe-print
which had guided him that morning. Presently she stopped, and
seemed to be gazing curiously at the cliff side. Brice followed
the direction of her eyes. On a protruding bush at the edge of one
of the wooded clefts of the mountain flank something was hanging,
and in the freshening southerly wind was flapping heavily, like a
raven's wing, or as if still saturated with the last night's rain.
"That's mighty queer!" said Flo, gazing intently at the unsightly
and incongruous attachment to the shrub, which had a vague, weird
suggestion. "It wasn't there yesterday."
"It looks like a man's coat," remarked Brice uneasily.
"Whew!" said the girl. "Then somebody has come down who won't go
up again! There's a lot of fresh rocks and brush here, too.
What's that?" She was pointing to a spot some yards before them
where there had been a recent precipitation of debris and uprooted
shrubs. But mingled with it lay a mass of rags strangely akin to
the tattered remnant that flagged from the bush a hundred feet
above them. The girl suddenly uttered a sharp feminine cry of
mingled horror and disgust,--the first weakness of sex she had
shown,--and, recoiling, grasped Brice's arm. "Don't go there!
But Brice had already seen that which, while it shocked him, was
urging him forward with an invincible fascination. Gently
releasing himself, and bidding the girl stand back, he moved toward
the unsightly heap. Gradually it disclosed a grotesque caricature
of a human figure, but so maimed and doubled up that it seemed a
stuffed and fallen scarecrow. As is common in men stricken
suddenly down by accident in the fullness of life, the clothes
asserted themselves before all else with a hideous ludicrousness,
obliterating even the majesty of death in their helpless yet
ironical incongruity. The garments seemed to have never fitted the
wearer, but to have been assumed in ghastly jocularity,--a boot
half off the swollen foot, a ripped waistcoat thrown over the
shoulder, were like the properties of some low comedian. At first
the body appeared to be headless; but as Brice cleared away the
debris and lifted it, he saw with horror that the head was twisted
under the shoulder, and swung helplessly from the dislocated neck.
But that horror gave way to a more intense and thrilling emotion as
he saw the face--although strangely free from laceration or
disfigurement, and impurpled and distended into the simulation of a
self-complacent smile--was a face he recognized! It was the face
of the cynical traveler in the coach--the man who he was now
satisfied had robbed it.
A strange and selfish resentment took possession of him. Here was
the man through whom he had suffered shame and peril, and who even
now seemed complacently victorious in death. He examined him
closely; his coat and waistcoat had been partly torn away in his
fall; his shirt still clung to him, but through its torn front
could be seen a heavy treasure belt encircling his waist.
Forgetting his disgust, Brice tore away the shirt and unloosed the
belt. It was saturated with water like the rest of the clothing,
but its pocket seemed heavy and distended. In another instant he
had opened it, and discovered the envelope containing the packet of
greenbacks, its seal still inviolate and unbroken. It was the
A faint sigh recalled him to himself. The girl was standing a few
feet from him, regarding him curiously.
"It's the thief himself!" he said, in a breathless explanation.
"In trying to escape he must have fallen from the road above. But
here are the greenbacks safe! We must go back to your uncle at
once," he said excitedly. "Come!"
"Are you mad?" she cried, in astonishment.
"No," returned Brice, in equal astonishment, "but you know I agreed
with him that we should work together to recover the money, and I
must show him our good luck."
"He told you that if you met the thief and could get the money from
him, you were welcome to it," said the girl gravely, "and you HAVE
"But not in the way he meant," returned Brice hurriedly. "This
man's death is the result of his attempting to escape from your
uncle's guards along the road; the merit of it belongs to them and
your uncle. It would be cowardly and mean of me to take advantage
The girl looked at him with an expression of mingled admiration and
pity. "But the guards were placed there before he ever saw you,"
said she impatiently. "And whatever uncle Harry may want to do, he
must do what the gang says. And with the money once in their
possession, or even in yours, if they knew it, I wouldn't give much
for its chances--or YOURS either--for gettin' out o' this hollow
"But if THEY are treacherous, that is no reason why I should be
so," protested Brice stoutly.
"You've no right to say they were treacherous when they knew
nothing of your plans," said the girl sharply. "Your company would
have more call to say YOU were treacherous to it for making a plan
without consultin' them." Brice winced, for he had never thought
of that before. "You can offer that reward AFTER you get away from
here with the greenbacks. But," she added proudly, with a toss of
her head, "go back if you want to! Tell him all! Tell him where
you found it--tell him I did not take you through the canyon, but
was showin' you a new trail I had never shown to THEM! Tell him
that I am a traitor, for I have given them and him away to you, a
stranger, and that you consider yourself the only straight and
honest one about here!"
Brice flushed with shame. "Forgive me," he said hurriedly; "you
are right and I am wrong again. I will do just what you say. I
will first place these greenbacks in a secure place--and then"--
"Get away first--that's your only holt," she interrupted him
quickly, her eyes still flashing through indignant tears. "Come
quick, for I must put you on the trail before they miss me."
She darted forward; he followed, but she kept the lead, as much, he
fancied, to evade his observation as to expedite his going.
Presently they stopped before the sloping trunk of a huge pine that
had long since fallen from the height above, but, although
splintered where it had broken ground, had preserved some fifty
feet of its straight trunk erect and leaning like a ladder against
the mountain wall. "There," she said, hurriedly pointing to its
decaying but still projecting lateral branches, "you climb it--I
have. At the top you'll find it's stuck in a cleft among the
brush. There's a little hollow and an old waterway from a spring
above which makes a trail through the brush. It's as good as the
trail you took from the stage road this mornin', but it's not as
safe comin' down. Keep along it to the spring, and it will land ye
jest the other side of uncle Hiram's cabin. Go quick! I'll wait
here until ye've reached the cleft."
"But you," he said, turning toward her, "how can I ever thank you?"
As if anticipating a leave-taking, the girl had already withdrawn
herself a few yards away, and simply made an upward gesture with
her hand. "Quick! Up with you! Every minute now is a risk to
Thus appealed to, Brice could only comply. Perhaps he was a little
hurt at the girl's evident desire to avoid a gentler parting.
Securing his prized envelope within his breast, he began to ascend
the tree. Its inclination, and the aid offered by the broken
stumps of branches, made this comparatively easy, and in a few
moments he reached its top, and stood upon a little ledge in the
wall. A swift glance around him revealed the whole waterway or
fissure slanting upward along the mountain face. Then he turned
quickly to look down the dizzy height. At first he could
distinguish nothing but the top of the buckeyes and their white
clustering blossoms. Then something fluttered,--the torn white
handkerchief of his that she had kept. And then he caught a single
glimpse of the flower-plumed hat receding rapidly among the trees,
and Flora Dimwood was gone.
In twenty-four hours Edward Brice was in San Francisco. But
although successful and the bearer of the treasure, it is doubtful
if he approached this end of his journey with the temerity he had
shown on entering the robbers' valley. A consciousness that the
methods he had employed might excite the ridicule, if not the
censure, of his principals, or that he might have compromised them
in his meeting with Snapshot Harry, considerably modified his
youthful exultation. It is possible that Flora's reproach, which
still rankled in his mind, may have quickened his sensitiveness on
that point. However, he had resolved to tell the whole truth,
except his episode with Flora, and to place the conduct of Snapshot
Harry and the Tarboxes in as favorable a light as possible. But
first he had recourse to the manager, a man of shrewd worldly
experience, who had recommended him to his place. When he had
finished and handed him the treasured envelope, the man looked at
him with a critical and yet not unkindly expression. "Perhaps it's
just as well, Brice, that you did come to me at first, and did not
make your report to the president and directors."
"I suppose," said Brice diffidently, "that they wouldn't have liked
my communicating with the highwayman without their knowledge?"
"More than that--they wouldn't have believed your story."
"Not believe it?" cried Brice, flushing quickly. "Do you think"--
The manager checked him with a laugh. "Hold on! I believe every
word of it, and why? Because you've added nothing to it to make
yourself the regular hero. Why, with your opportunity, and no one
able to contradict you, you might have told me you had a hand-to-
hand fight with the thief, and had to kill him to recover the
money, and even brought your handkerchief and hat back with the
bullet holes to prove it." Brice winked as he thought of the fair
possessor of those articles. "But as a story for general
circulation, it won't do. Have you told it to any one else? Does
any one know what happened but yourself?"
Brice thought of Flora, but he had resolved not to compromise her,
and he had a consciousness that she would be equally loyal to him.
"No one," he answered boldly.
"Very good. And I suppose you wouldn't mind if it were kept out of
the newspapers? You're not hankering after a reputation as a
"Certainly not," said Brice indignantly.
"Well, then, we'll keep it where it is. You will say nothing. I
will hand over the greenbacks to the company, but only as much of
your story as I think they'll stand. You're all right as it is.
Yuba Bill has already set you up in his report to the company, and
the recovery of this money will put you higher! Only, the PUBLIC
need know nothing about it."
"But," asked Brice amazedly, "how can it be prevented? The
shippers who lost the money will have to know that it has been
"Why should they? The company will assume the risk, and repay them
just the same. It's a great deal better to have the reputation for
accepting the responsibility than for the shippers to think that
they only get their money through the accident of its recovery."
Brice gasped at this large business truth. Besides, it occurred to
him that it kept the secret, and Flora's participation in it, from
Snapshot Harry and the gang. He had not thought of that before.
"Come," continued the manager, with official curtness. "What do
you say? Are you willing to leave it to me?"
Brice hesitated a moment. It was not what his impulsive truthful
nature had suggested. It was not what his youthful fancy had
imagined. He had not worked upon the sympathies of the company on
behalf of Snapshot Harry as he believed he would do. He had not
even impressed the manager. His story, far from exciting a
chivalrous sentiment, had been pronounced improbable. Yet he
reflected he had so far protected HER, and he consented with a
Nevertheless, the result ought to have satisfied him. A dazzling
check, inclosed in a letter of thanks from the company the next
day, and his promotion from "the road" to the San Francisco office,
would have been quite enough for any one but Edward Brice. Yet he
was grateful, albeit a little frightened and remorseful over his
luck. He could not help thinking of the kindly tolerance of the
highwayman, the miserable death of the actual thief, which had
proved his own salvation, and above all the generous, high-spirited
girl who had aided his escape. While on his way to San Francisco,
and yet in the first glow of his success, he had written her a few
lines from Marysville, inclosed in a letter to Mr. Tarbox. He had
received no reply.
Then a week passed. He wrote again, and still no reply. Then a
vague feeling of jealousy took possession of him as he remembered
her warning hint of the attentions to which she was subjected, and
he became singularly appreciative of Snapshot Harry's proficiency
as a marksman. Then, cruelest of all, for your impassioned lover
is no lover at all if not cruel in his imaginings, he remembered
how she had evaded her uncle's espionage with HIM; could she not
equally with ANOTHER? Perhaps that was why she had hurried him
away,--why she had prevented his returning to her uncle. Following
this came another week of disappointment and equally miserable
cynical philosophy, in which he persuaded himself he was perfectly
satisfied with his material advancement, that it was the only
outcome of his adventure to be recognized; and he was more
miserable than ever.
A month had passed, when one morning he received a small package by
post. The address was in a handwriting unknown to him, but opening
the parcel he was surprised to find only a handkerchief neatly
folded. Examining it closely, he found it was his own,--the one he
had given her, the rent made by her uncle's bullet so ingeniously
and delicately mended as to almost simulate embroidery. The joy
that suddenly filled him at this proof of her remembrance showed
him too plainly how hollow had been his cynicism and how lasting
his hope! Turning over the wrapper eagerly, he discovered what he
had at first thought was some business card. It was, indeed,
printed and not engraved, in some common newspaper type, and bore
the address, "Hiram Tarbox, Land and Timber Agent, 1101 California
Street." He again examined the parcel; there was nothing else,--
not a line from HER! But it was a clue at last, and she had not
forgotten him! He seized his hat, and ten minutes later was
breasting the steep sand hill into which California Street in those
days plunged, and again emerged at its crest, with a few struggling
But when he reached the summit he could see that the outline of the
street was still plainly marked along the distance by cottages and
new suburban villa-like blocks of houses. No. 1101 was in one of
these blocks, a small tenement enough, but a palace compared to Mr.
Tarbox's Sierran cabin. He impetuously rang the bell, and without
waiting to be announced dashed into the little drawing-room and Mr.
Tarbox's presence. That had changed too; Mr. Tarbox was arrayed in
a suit of clothes as new, as cheaply decorative, as fresh and,
apparently, as damp as his own drawing room.
"Did you get my letter? Did you give her the one I inclosed? Why
didn't you answer?" burst out Brice, after his first breathless
Mr. Tarbox's face here changed so suddenly into his old dejected
doggedness that Brice could have imagined himself back in the
Sierran cabin. The man straightened and bowed himself at Brice's
questions, and then replied with bold, deliberate emphasis:
"Yes, I DID get your letter. I DIDN'T give no letter o' yours to
her. And I didn't answer your letter BEFORE, for I didn't propose
to answer it AT ALL."
"Why?" demanded Brice indignantly.
"I didn't give her your letter because I didn't kalkilate to be any
go-between 'twixt you and Snapshot Harry's niece. Look yar, Mr.
Brice. Sense I read that 'ar paragraph in that paper you gave me,
I allowed to myself that it wasn't the square thing for me to have
any more doin's with him, and I quit it. I jest chucked your
letter in the fire. I didn't answer you because I reckoned I'd no
call to correspond with ye, and when I showed ye that trail over to
Harry's camp, it was ended. I've got a house and business to look
arter, and it don't jibe with keepin' company with 'road agents.'
That's what I got outer that paper you gave me, Mr. Brice."
Rage and disgust filled Brice at the man's utter selfishness and
shameless desertion of his kindred, none the less powerfully that
he remembered the part he himself had played in concocting the
paragraph. "Do you mean to say," he demanded passionately, "that
for the sake of that foolish paragraph you gave up your own
kindred? That you truckled to the mean prejudices of your
neighbors and kept that poor, defenseless girl from the only honest
roof she could find refuge under? That you dared to destroy my
letter to her, and made her believe I was as selfish and ungrateful
"Young feller," said Mr. Tarbox still more deliberately, yet with a
certain dignity that Brice had never noticed before, "what's
between you and Flo, and what rights she has fer thinkin' ye 'ez
selfish' and 'ez ongrateful' ez me--ef she does, I dunno!--but when
ye talk o' me givin' up my kindred, and sling such hogwash ez
'ongrateful' and 'selfish' round this yer sittin'-room, mebbe it
mout occur to ye that Harry Dimwood might hev HIS opinion o' what
was 'ongrateful' and 'selfish' ef I'd played in between his niece
and a young man o' the express company, his nat'ral enemy. It's
one thing to hev helped ye to see her in her uncle's own camp, but
another to help ye by makin' a clandecent post-offis o' my cabin.
Ef, instead o' writin', you'd hev posted yourself by comin' to me,
you mout hev found out that when I broke with Harry I offered to
take Flo with me for good and all--ef he'd keep away from us. And
that's the kind o' 'honest roof' that that thar 'poor defenseless
girl' got under when her crippled mother died three weeks ago, and
left Harry free. It was by 'trucklin'' to them 'mean prejudices,'
and readin' that thar 'foolish paragraph,' that I settled this
thing then and thar!"
Brice's revulsion of sentiment was so complete, and the gratitude
that beamed in his eyes was so sincere, that Mr. Tarbox hardly
needed the profuse apologies which broke from him. "Forgive me!"
he continued to stammer, "I have wronged you, wronged HER--
everybody. But as you know, Mr. Tarbox, how I have felt over this,
how deeply--how passionately"--
"It DOES make a man loony sometimes," said Mr. Tarbox, relaxing
into demure dryness again, "so I reckon you DID! Mebbe she
reckoned so, too, for she asked me to give you the handkercher I
sent ye. It looked as if she'd bin doin' some fancy work on it."
Brice glanced quickly at Mr. Tarbox's face. It was stolid and
imperturbable. She had evidently kept the secret of what passed in
the hollow to herself. For the first time he looked around the
room curiously. "I didn't know you were a land agent before," he
"No more I was! All that kem out o' that paragraph, Mr. Brice.
That man Heckshill, who was so mighty perlite that night, wrote to
me afterwards that he didn't know my name till he'd seed that
paragraph, and he wanted to know ef, ez a 'well-known citizen,' I
could recommend him some timber lands. I recommended him half o'
my own quarter section, and he took it. He's puttin' up a mill
thar, and that's another reason why we want peace and quietness up
thar. I'm tryin' (betwixt and between us, Mr. Brice) to get Harry
to cl'ar out and sell his rights in the valley and the water power
on the Fork to Heckshill and me. I'm opening a business here."
"Then you've left Mrs. Tarbox with Miss Flora in your cabin while
you attend to business here," said Brice tentatively.
"Not exactly, Mr. Brice. The old woman thought it a good chance to
come to 'Frisco and put Flo in one o' them Catholic convent
schools--that asks no questions whar the raw logs come from, and
turns 'em out first-class plank all round. You foller me, Mr.
Brice? But Mrs. Tarbox is jest in the next room, and would admire
to tell ye all this--and I'll go in and send her to you." And with
a patronizing wave of the hand, Mr. Tarbox complacently disappeared
in the hall.
Mr. Brice was not sorry to be left to himself in his utter
bewilderment! Flo, separated from her detrimental uncle, and
placed in a convent school! Tarbox, the obscure pioneer, a shrewd
speculator emerging into success, and taking the uncle's place!
And all this within that month which he had wasted with absurd
repinings. How feeble seemed his own adventure and advancement;
how even ludicrous his pretensions to any patronage and superiority.
How this common backwoodsman had set him in his place as easily as
SHE had evaded the advances of the journalist and Heckshill! They
had taught him a lesson; perhaps even the sending back of his
handkerchief was part of it! His heart grew heavy; he walked to the
window and gazed out with a long sigh.
A light laugh, that might have been an echo of the one which had
attracted him that night in Tarbox's cabin, fell upon his ear. He
turned quickly to meet Flora Dimwood's laughing eyes shining upon
him as she stood in the doorway.
Many a time during that month he had thought of this meeting--had
imagined what it would be like--what would be his manner towards
her--what would be her greeting, and what they would say. He would
be cold, gentle, formal, gallant, gay, sad, trustful, reproachful,
even as the moods in which he thought of her came to his foolish
brain. He would always begin with respectful seriousness, or a
frankness equal to her own, but never, never again would he offend
as he had offended under the buckeyes! And now, with her pretty
face shining upon him, all his plans, his speeches, his preparations
vanished, and left him dumb. Yet he moved towards her with a brief
articulate something on his lips,--something between a laugh and a
sigh,--but that really was a kiss, and--in point of fact--promptly
folded her in his arms.
Yet it was certainly direct, and perhaps the best that could be
done, for the young lady did not emerge from it as coolly, as
unemotionally, nor possibly as quickly as she had under the shade
of the buckeyes. But she persuaded him--by still holding his hand--
to sit beside her on the chilly, highly varnished "green rep"
sofa, albeit to him it was a bank in a bower of enchantment. Then
she said, with adorable reproachfulness, "You don't ask what I did
with the body."
Mr. Edward Brice started. He was young, and unfamiliar with the
evasive expansiveness of the female mind at such supreme moments.
"The body--oh, yes--certainly."
"I buried it myself--it was suthin too awful!--and the gang would
have been sure to have found it, and the empty belt. I burned
THAT. So that nobody knows nothin'."
It was not a time for strictly grammatical negatives, and I am
afraid that the girl's characteristically familiar speech, even
when pathetically corrected here and there by the influence of the
convent, endeared her the more to him. And when she said, "And
now, Mr. Edward Brice, sit over at that end of the sofy and let's
talk," they talked. They talked for an hour, more or less
continuously, until they were surprised by a discreet cough and the
entrance of Mrs. Tarbox. Then there was more talk, and the
discovery that Mr. Brice was long due at the office.
"Ye might drop in, now and then, whenever ye feel like it, and Flo
is at home," suggested Mrs. Tarbox at parting.
Mr. Brice DID drop in frequently during the next month. On one of
these occasions Mr. Tarbox accompanied him to the door. "And now--
ez everything is settled and in order, Mr. Brice, and ef you should
be wantin' to say anything about it to your bosses at the office,
ye may mention MY name ez Flo Dimwood's second cousin, and say I'm
a depositor in their bank. And," with greater deliberation, "ef
anything at any time should be thrown up at ye for marryin' a niece
o' Snapshot Harry's, ye might mention, keerless like, that Snapshot
Harry, under the name o' Henry J. Dimwood, has held shares in their
old bank for years!"
A TREASURE OF THE REDWOODS
Mr. Jack Fleming stopped suddenly before a lifeless and decaying
redwood-tree with an expression of disgust and impatience. It was
the very tree he had passed only an hour before, and he now knew he
had been describing that mysterious and hopeless circle familiar
enough to those lost in the woods.
There was no mistaking the tree, with its one broken branch which
depended at an angle like the arm of a semaphore; nor did it
relieve his mind to reflect that his mishap was partly due to his
own foolish abstraction. He was returning to camp from a
neighboring mining town, and while indulging in the usual day-
dreams of a youthful prospector, had deviated from his path in
attempting to make a short cut through the forest. He had lost the
sun, his only guide, in the thickly interlaced boughs above him,
which suffused though the long columnar vault only a vague,
melancholy twilight. He had evidently penetrated some unknown
seclusion, absolutely primeval and untrodden. The thick layers of
decaying bark and the desiccated dust of ages deadened his footfall
and invested the gloom with a profound silence.
As he stood for a moment or two, irresolute, his ear, by this time
attuned to the stillness, caught the faint but distinct lap and
trickle of water. He was hot and thirsty, and turned instinctively
in that direction. A very few paces brought him to a fallen tree;
at the foot of its upturned roots gurgled the spring whose
upwelling stream had slowly but persistently loosened their hold on
the soil, and worked their ruin. A pool of cool and clear water,
formed by the disruption of the soil, overflowed, and after a few
yards sank again in the sodden floor.
As he drank and bathed his head and hands in this sylvan basin, he
noticed the white glitter of a quartz ledge in its depths, and was
considerably surprised and relieved to find, hard by, an actual
outcrop of that rock through the thick carpet of bark and dust.
This betokened that he was near the edge of the forest or some
rocky opening. He fancied that the light grew clearer beyond, and
the presence of a few fronds of ferns confirmed him in the belief
that he was approaching a different belt of vegetation. Presently
he saw the vertical beams of the sun again piercing the opening in
the distance. With this prospect of speedy deliverance from the
forest at last secure, he did not hurry forward, but on the
contrary coolly retraced his footsteps to the spring again. The
fact was that the instincts and hopes of the prospector were
strongly dominant in him, and having noticed the quartz ledge and
the contiguous outcrop, he determined to examine them more closely.
He had still time to find his way home, and it might not be so easy
to penetrate the wilderness again. Unfortunately, he had neither
pick, pan, nor shovel with him, but a very cursory displacement of
the soil around the spring and at the outcrop with his hands showed
him the usual red soil and decomposed quartz which constituted an
"indication." Yet none knew better than himself how disappointing
and illusive its results often were, and he regretted that he had
not a pan to enable him to test the soil by washing it at the
spring. If there were only a miner's cabin handy, he could easily
borrow what he wanted. It was just the usual luck,--"the things a
man sees when he hasn't his gun with him!"
He turned impatiently away again in the direction of the opening.
When he reached it, he found himself on a rocky hillside sloping
toward a small green valley. A light smoke curled above a clump of
willows; it was from the chimney of a low dwelling, but a second
glance told him that it was no miner's cabin. There was a larger
clearing around the house, and some rude attempt at cultivation in
a roughly fenced area. Nevertheless, he determined to try his luck
in borrowing a pick and pan there; at the worst he could inquire
his way to the main road again.
A hurried scramble down the hill brought him to the dwelling,--a
rambling addition of sheds to the usual log cabin. But he was
surprised to find that its exterior, and indeed the palings of the
fence around it, were covered with the stretched and drying skins
of animals. The pelts of bear, panther, wolf, and fox were
intermingled with squirrel and wildcat skins, and the displayed
wings of eagle, hawk, and kingfisher. There was no trail leading
to or from the cabin; it seemed to have been lost in this opening
of the encompassing woods and left alone and solitary.
The barking of a couple of tethered hounds at last brought a figure
to the door of the nearest lean-to shed. It seemed to be that of a
young girl, but it was clad in garments so ridiculously large and
disproportionate that it was difficult to tell her precise age. A
calico dress was pinned up at the skirt, and tightly girt at the
waist by an apron--so long that one corner had to be tucked in at
the apron string diagonally, to keep the wearer from treading on
it. An enormous sunbonnet of yellow nankeen completely concealed
her head and face, but allowed two knotted and twisted brown tails
of hair to escape under its frilled cape behind. She was evidently
engaged in some culinary work, and still held a large tin basin or
pan she had been cleaning clasped to her breast.
Fleming's eye glanced at it covetously, ignoring the figure behind
it. But he was diplomatic.
"I have lost my way in the woods. Can you tell me in what direction
the main road lies?"
She pointed a small red hand apparently in the direction he had
come. "Straight over thar--across the hill."
Fleming sighed. He had been making a circuit of the forest instead
of going through it--and this open space containing the cabin was
on a remote outskirt!
"How far is it to the road?" he asked.
"Jest a spell arter ye rise the hill, ef ye keep 'longside the
woods. But it's a right smart chance beyond, ef ye go through it."
This was quite plain to him. In the local dialect a "spell" was
under a mile; "a right smart chance" might be three or four miles
farther. Luckily the spring and outcrop were near the outskirts;
he would pass near them again on his way. He looked longingly at
the pan which she still held in her hands. "Would you mind lending
me that pan for a little while?" he said half laughingly.
"Wot for?" demanded the girl quickly. Yet her tone was one of
childish curiosity rather than suspicion. Fleming would have liked
to avoid the question and the consequent exposure of his discovery
which a direct answer implied. But he saw it was too late now.
"I want to wash a little dirt," he said bluntly.
The girl turned her deep sunbonnet toward him. Somewhere in its
depths he saw the flash of white teeth. "Go along with ye--ye're
funnin'!" she said.
"I want to wash out some dirt in that pan--I'm prospecting for
gold," he said; "don't you understand?"
"Are ye a miner?"
"Well, yes--a sort of one," he returned, with a laugh.
"Then ye'd better be scootin' out o' this mighty quick afore dad
comes. He don't cotton to miners, and won't have 'em around.
That's why he lives out here."
"Well, I don't live out here," responded the young man lightly. "I
shouldn't be here if I hadn't lost my way, and in half an hour I'll
be off again. So I'm not likely to bother him. But," he added, as
the girl still hesitated, "I'll leave a deposit for the pan, if you
"Leave a which?"
"The money that the pan's worth," said Fleming impatiently.
The huge sunbonnet stiffly swung around like the wind-sail of a
ship and stared at the horizon. "I don't want no money. Ye kin
git," said the voice in its depths.
"Look here," he said desperately, "I only wanted to prove to you
that I'll bring your pan back safe. Now look! If you don't like
to take money, I'll leave this ring with you until I come back.
There!" He slipped a small specimen ring, made out of his first
gold findings, from his little finger.
The sunbonnet slowly swung around again and stared at the ring.
Then the little red right hand reached forward, took the ring,
placed it on the forefinger of the left hand, with all the other
fingers widely extended for the sunbonnet to view, and all the
while the pan was still held against her side by the other hand.
Fleming noticed that the hands, though tawny and not over clean,
were almost childlike in size, and that the forefinger was much too
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