Mr. Jack Hamlin's Mediation
Part 6 out of 7
"Tell me," he said suddenly, in a gentler voice, "what were you
laughing at just now?"
Her brown eyes wavered for a moment, and then brimmed with
merriment. She threw herself sideways, in a leaning posture,
supporting herself on one arm, while with her other hand she slowly
drew out her apron string, as she said, in a demure voice:--
"Well, I reckoned it was jest too killin' to think of you, who
didn't want to talk to me, and would hev given your hull pile to
hev skipped out o' this, jest stuck here alongside o' me, whether
you would or no, for Lord knows how long!"
"But that was last night," he said, in a tone of raillery. "I was
tired, and you said so yourself, you know. But I'm ready to talk
now. What shall I tell you?"
"Anything," said the girl, with a laugh.
"What I am thinking of?" he said, with frankly admiring eyes.
"Yes, everything." She stopped, and leaning forward, suddenly
caught the brim of his soft felt hat, and drawing it down smartly
over his audacious eyes, said, "Everything BUT THAT."
It was with some difficulty and some greater embarrassment that he
succeeded in getting his eyes free again. When he did so, she had
risen and entered the cabin. Disconcerted as he was, he was
relieved to see that her expression of amusement was unchanged.
Was her act a piece of rustic coquetry, or had she resented his
advances? Nor did her next words settle the question.
"Ye kin do yer nice talk and philanderin' after we've settled whar
we are, what we're goin', and what's goin' to happen. Jest now it
'pears to me that ez these yere logs are the only thing betwixt us
and 'kingdom come,' ye'd better be hustlin' round with a few spikes
to clinch 'em to the floor."
She handed him a hammer and a few spikes. He obediently set to
work, with little confidence, however, in the security of the
fastening. There was neither rope nor chain for lashing the logs
together; a stronger current and a collision with some submerged
stump or wreckage would loosen them and wreck the cabin. But he
said nothing. It was the girl who broke the silence.
"What's your front name?"
"MILES,--that's a funny name. I reckon that's why you war so FAR
OFF and DISTANT at first."
Mr. Hemmingway thought this very witty, and said so. "But," he
added, "when I was a little nearer a moment ago, you stopped me."
"But you was moving faster than the shanty was. I reckon you don't
take that gait with your lady friends at Sacramento! However, you
kin talk now."
"But you forget I don't know 'where we are,' nor 'what's going to
"But I do," she said quietly. "In a couple of hours we'll be
picked up, so you'll be free again."
Something in the confidence of her manner made him go to the door
again and look out. There was scarcely any current now, and the
cabin seemed motionless. Even the wind, which might have acted
upon it, was wanting. They were apparently in the same position as
before, but his sounding-line showed that the water was slightly
falling. He came back and imparted the fact with a certain
confidence born of her previous praise of his knowledge. To his
surprise she only laughed and said lazily, "We'll be all right, and
you'll be free, in about two hours."
"I see no sign of it," he said, looking through the door again.
"That's because you're looking in the water and the sky and the mud
for it," she said, with a laugh. "I reckon you've been trained to
watch them things a heap better than to study the folks about
"I daresay you're right," said Hemmingway cheerfully, "but I don't
clearly see what the folks about here have to do with our situation
"You'll see," she said, with a smile of mischievous mystery. "All
the same," she added, with a sudden and dangerous softness in her
eyes, "I ain't sayin' that YOU ain't kinder right neither."
An hour ago he would have laughed at the thought that a mere look
and sentence like this from the girl could have made his heart
beat. "Then I may go on and talk?"
She smiled, but her eyes said, "Yes," plainly.
He turned to take a chair near her. Suddenly the cabin trembled,
there was a sound of scraping, a bump, and then the whole structure
tilted to one side and they were both thrown violently towards the
corner, with a swift inrush of water. Hemmingway quickly caught
the girl by the waist; she clung to him instinctively, yet still
laughing, as with a desperate effort he succeeded in dragging her
to the upper side of the slanting cabin, and momentarily restoring
its equilibrium. They remained for an instant breathless. But in
that instant he had drawn her face to his and kissed her.
She disengaged herself gently with neither excitement nor emotion,
and pointing to the open door said, "Look there!"
Two of the logs which formed the foundation of their floor were
quietly floating in the water before the cabin! The submerged
obstacle or snag which had torn them from their fastening was still
holding the cabin fast. Hemmingway saw the danger. He ran along
the narrow ledge to the point of contact and unhesitatingly leaped
into the icy cold water. It reached his armpits before his feet
struck the obstacle,--evidently a stump with a projecting branch.
Bracing himself against it, he shoved off the cabin. But when he
struck out to follow it, he found that the log nearest him was
loose and his grasp might tear it away. At the same moment,
however, a pink calico arm fluttered above his head, and a strong
grasp seized his coat collar. The cabin half revolved as the girl
dragged him into the open door.
"You bantam!" she said, with a laugh, "why didn't you let ME do
that? I'm taller than you! But," she added, looking at his
dripping clothes and dragging out a blanket from the corner, "I
couldn't dry myself as quick as you kin!" To her surprise,
however, Hemmingway tossed the blanket aside, and pointing to the
floor, which was already filmed with water, ran to the still warm
stove, detached it from its pipe, and threw it overboard. The sack
of flour, bacon, molasses, and sugar, and all the heavier articles
followed it into the stream. Relieved of their weight the cabin
base rose an inch or two higher. Then he sat down and said,
"There! that may keep us afloat for that 'couple of hours' you
speak of. So I suppose I may talk now!"
"Ye haven't no time," she said, in a graver voice. "It won't be as
long as a couple of hours now. Look over thar!"
He looked where she pointed across the gray expanse of water. At
first he could see nothing. Presently he saw a mere dot on its
face which at times changed to a single black line.
"It's a log, like these," he said.
"It's no log. It's an Injun dug-out*--comin' for me."
* A canoe made from a hollowed log.
"Your father?" he said joyfully.
She smiled pityingly. "It's Tom Flynn. Father's got suthin' else
to look arter. Tom Flynn hasn't."
"And who's Tom Flynn?" he asked, with an odd sensation.
"The man I'm engaged to," she said gravely, with a slight color.
The rose that blossomed on her cheek faded in his. There was a
moment of silence. Then he said frankly, "I owe you some apology.
Forgive my folly and impertinence a moment ago. How could I have
"You took no more than you deserved, or that Tom would have
objected to," she said, with a little laugh. "You've been mighty
kind and handy."
She held out her hand; their fingers closed together in a frank
pressure. Then his mind went back to his work, which he had
forgotten,--to his first impressions of the camp and of her. They
both stood silent, watching the canoe, now quite visible, and the
man that was paddling it, with an intensity that both felt was
"I'm afraid," he said, with a forced laugh, "that I was a little
too hasty in disposing of your goods and possessions. We could
have kept afloat a little longer."
"It's all the same," she said, with a slight laugh; "it's jest as
well we didn't look too comf'ble--to HIM."
He did not reply; he did not dare to look at her. Yes! It was the
same coquette he had seen last night. His first impressions were
The canoe came on rapidly now, propelled by a powerful arm. In a
few moments it was alongside, and its owner leaped on the platform.
It was the gentleman with his trousers tucked in his boots, the
second voice in the gloomy discussion in the general store last
evening. He nodded simply to the girl, and shook Hemmingway's hand
Then he made a hurried apology for his delay: it was so difficult
to find "the lay" of the drifted cabin. He had struck out first
for the most dangerous spot,--the "old clearing," on the right
bank, with its stumps and new growths,--and it seemed he was right.
And all the rest were safe, and "nobody was hurt."
"All the same, Tom," she said, when they were seated and paddling
off again, "you don't know HOW NEAR YOU CAME TO LOSING ME." Then
she raised her beautiful eyes and looked significantly, not at HIM,
but at Hemmingway.
When the water was down at "Jules'" the next day, they found
certain curious changes and some gold, and the secretary was able
to make a favorable report. But he made none whatever of his
impressions "when the water was up at 'Jules','" though he often
wondered if they were strictly trustworthy.
THE BOOM IN THE "CALAVERAS CLARION"
The editorial sanctum of the "Calaveras Clarion" opened upon the
"composing-room" of that paper on the one side, and gave apparently
upon the rest of Calaveras County upon the other. For, situated on
the very outskirts of the settlement and the summit of a very steep
hill, the pines sloped away from the editorial windows to the long
valley of the South Fork and--infinity. The little wooden building
had invaded Nature without subduing it. It was filled night and
day with the murmur of pines and their fragrance. Squirrels
scampered over its roof when it was not preoccupied by woodpeckers,
and a printer's devil had once seen a nest-building blue jay enter
the composing window, flutter before one of the slanting type-cases
with an air of deliberate selection, and then fly off with a vowel
in its bill.
Amidst these sylvan surroundings the temporary editor of the
"Clarion" sat at his sanctum, reading the proofs of an editorial.
As he was occupying that position during a six weeks' absence of
the bona fide editor and proprietor, he was consequently reading
the proof with some anxiety and responsibility. It had been
suggested to him by certain citizens that the "Clarion" needed a
firmer and more aggressive policy towards the Bill before the
Legislature for the wagon road to the South Fork. Several Assembly
men had been "got at" by the rival settlement of Liberty Hill, and
a scathing exposure and denunciation of such methods was necessary.
The interests of their own township were also to be "whooped up."
All this had been vigorously explained to him, and he had grasped
the spirit, if not always the facts, of his informants. It is to
be feared, therefore, that he was perusing his article more with
reference to its vigor than his own convictions. And yet he was
not so greatly absorbed as to be unmindful of the murmur of the
pines without, his half-savage environment, and the lazy talk of
his sole companions,--the foreman and printer in the adjoining
"Bet your life! I've always said that a man INSIDE a newspaper
office could hold his own agin any outsider that wanted to play
rough or tried to raid the office! Thar's the press, and thar's
the printin' ink and roller! Folks talk a heap o' the power o' the
Press!--I tell ye, ye don't half know it. Why, when old Kernel
Fish was editin' the 'Sierra Banner,' one o' them bullies that he'd
lampooned in the 'Banner' fought his way past the Kernel in the
office, into the composin'-room, to wreck everythin' and 'pye' all
the types. Spoffrel--ye don't remember Spoffrel?--little red-
haired man?--was foreman. Spoffrel fended him off with the roller
and got one good dab inter his eyes that blinded him, and then
Spoffrel sorter skirmished him over to the press,--a plain lever
just like ours,--whar the locked-up form of the inside was still
a-lyin'! Then, quick as lightnin', Spoffrel tilts him over agin it,
and HE throws out his hand and ketches hold o' the form to steady
himself, when Spoffrel just runs the form and the hand under the
press and down with the lever! And that held the feller fast as
grim death! And when at last he begs off, and Spoff lets him
loose, the hull o' that 'ere lampooning article he objected to was
printed right onto the skin o' his hand! Fact, and it wouldn't
come off, either."
"Gosh, but I'd like to hev seen it," said the printer. "There
ain't any chance, I reckon, o' such a sight here. The boss don't
take no risks lampoonin', and he" (the editor knew he was being
indicated by some unseen gesture of the unseen workman) "ain't that
"Ye never kin tell," said the foreman didactically, "what might
happen! I've known editors to get into a fight jest for a little
innercent bedevilin' o' the opposite party. Sometimes for a
misprint. Old man Pritchard of the 'Argus' oncet had a hole blown
through his arm because his proofreader had called Colonel
Starbottle's speech an 'ignominious' defense, when the old man hed
written 'ingenuous' defense."
The editor paused in his proof-reading. He had just come upon the
sentence: "We cannot congratulate Liberty Hill--in its superior
elevation--upon the ignominious silence of the representative of
all Calaveras when this infamous Bill was introduced." He referred
to his copy. Yes! He had certainly written "ignominious,"--that
was what his informants had suggested. But was he sure they were
right? He had a vague recollection, also, that the representative
alluded to--Senator Bradley--had fought two duels, and was a "good"
though somewhat impulsive shot! He might alter the word to
"ingenuous" or "ingenious," either would be finely sarcastic, but
then--there was his foreman, who would detect it! He would wait
until he had finished the entire article. In that occupation he
became oblivious of the next room, of a silence, a whispered
conversation, which ended with a rapping at the door and the
appearance of the foreman in the doorway.
"There's a man in the office who wants to see the editor," he said.
"Show him in," replied the editor briefly. He was, however,
conscious that there was a singular significance in his foreman's
manner, and an eager apparition of the other printer over the
"He's carryin' a shot-gun, and is a man twice as big as you be,"
said the foreman gravely.
The editor quickly recalled his own brief and as yet blameless
record in the "Clarion." "Perhaps," he said tentatively, with a
gentle smile, "he's looking for Captain Brush" (the absent editor).
"I told him all that," said the foreman grimly, "and he said he
wanted to see the man in charge."
In proportion as the editor's heart sank his outward crest arose.
"Show him in," he said loftily.
"We KIN keep him out," suggested the foreman, lingering a moment;
"me and him," indicating the expectant printer behind him, "is
enough for that."
"Show him up," repeated the editor firmly.
The foreman withdrew; the editor seated himself and again took up
his proof. The doubtful word "ignominious" seemed to stand out of
the paragraph before him; it certainly WAS a strong expression! He
was about to run his pencil through it when he heard the heavy step
of his visitor approaching. A sudden instinct of belligerency took
possession of him, and he wrathfully threw the pencil down.
The burly form of the stranger blocked the doorway. He was dressed
like a miner, but his build and general physiognomy were quite
distinct from the local variety. His upper lip and chin were
clean-shaven, still showing the blue-black roots of the beard which
covered the rest of his face and depended in a thick fleece under
his throat. He carried a small bundle tied up in a silk
handkerchief in one hand, and a "shot-gun" in the other, perilously
at half-cock. Entering the sanctum, he put down his bundle and
quietly closed the door behind him. He then drew an empty chair
towards him and dropped heavily into it with his gun on his knees.
The editor's heart dropped almost as heavily, although he quite
composedly held out his hand.
"Shall I relieve you of your gun?"
"Thank ye, lad--noa. It's moor coomfortable wi' me, and it's main
dangersome to handle on the half-cock. That's why I didn't leave
'im on the horse outside!"
At the sound of his voice and occasional accent a flash of
intelligence relieved the editor's mind. He remembered that twenty
miles away, in the illimitable vista from his windows, lay a
settlement of English north-country miners, who, while faithfully
adopting the methods, customs, and even slang of the Californians,
retained many of their native peculiarities. The gun he carried on
his knee, however, was evidently part of the Californian imitation.
"Can I do anything for you?" said the editor blandly.
"Ay! I've coom here to bill ma woife."
"I--don't think I understand," hesitated the editor, with a smile.
"I've coom here to get ye to put into your paaper a warnin', a
notiss, that onless she returns to my house in four weeks, I'll
have nowt to do wi' her again."
"Oh!" said the editor, now perfectly reassured, "you want an
advertisement? That's the business of the foreman; I'll call him."
He was rising from his seat when the stranger laid a heavy hand on
his shoulder and gently forced him down again.
"Noa, lad! I don't want noa foreman nor understrappers to take
this job. I want to talk it over wi' you. Sabe? My woife she bin
up and awaa these six months. We had a bit of difference, that
ain't here nor there, but she skedaddled outer my house. I want to
give her fair warning, and let her know I ain't payin' any debts o'
hers arter this notiss, and I ain't takin' her back arter four
weeks from date."
"I see," said the editor glibly. "What's your wife's name?"
"Eliza Jane Dimmidge."
"Good," continued the editor, scribbling on the paper before him;
"something like this will do: 'Whereas my wife, Eliza Jane
Dimmidge, having left my bed and board without just cause or
provocation, this is to give notice that I shall not be responsible
for any debts of her contracting on or after this date.'"
"Ye must be a lawyer," said Mr. Dimmidge admiringly.
It was an old enough form of advertisement, and the remark showed
incontestably that Mr. Dimmidge was not a native; but the editor
smiled patronizingly and went on: "'And I further give notice that
if she does not return within the period of four weeks from this
date, I shall take such proceedings for relief as the law affords.'"
"Coom, lad, I didn't say THAT."
"But you said you wouldn't take her back."
"And you can't prevent her without legal proceedings. She's your
wife. But you needn't take proceedings, you know. It's only a
Mr. Dimmidge nodded approvingly. "That's so."
"You'll want it published for four weeks, until date?" asked the
"Mebbe longer, lad."
The editor wrote "till forbid" in the margin of the paper and
"How big will it be?" said Mr. Dimmidge.
The editor took up a copy of the "Clarion" and indicated about an
inch of space. Mr. Dimmidge's face fell.
"I want it bigger,--in large letters, like a play-card," he said.
"That's no good for a warning."
"You can have half a column or a whole column if you like," said
the editor airily.
"I'll take a whole one," said Mr. Dimmidge simply.
The editor laughed. "Why! it would cost you a hundred dollars."
"I'll take it," repeated Mr. Dimmidge.
"But," said the editor gravely, "the same notice in a small space
will serve your purpose and be quite legal."
"Never you mind that, lad! It's the looks of the thing I'm arter,
and not the expense. I'll take that column."
The editor called in the foreman and showed him the copy. "Can you
display that so as to fill a column?"
The foreman grasped the situation promptly. It would be big
business for the paper. "Yes," he said meditatively, "that bold-
faced election type will do it."
Mr. Dimmidge's face brightened. The expression "bold-faced"
pleased him. "That's it! I told you. I want to bill her in a
portion of the paper."
"I might put in a cut," said the foreman suggestively; "something
like this." He took a venerable woodcut from the case. I grieve
to say it was one which, until the middle of the present century,
was common enough in the newspaper offices in the Southwest. It
showed the running figure of a negro woman carrying her personal
property in a knotted handkerchief slung from a stick over her
shoulder, and was supposed to represent "a fugitive slave."
Mr. Dimmidge's eyes brightened. "I'll take that, too. It's a
little dark-complected for Mrs. P., but it will do. Now roon away,
lad," he said to the foreman, as he quietly pushed him into the
outer office again and closed the door. Then, facing the surprised
editor, he said, "Theer's another notiss I want ye to put in your
paper; but that's atween US. Not a word to THEM," he indicated the
banished foreman with a jerk of his thumb. "Sabe? I want you to
put this in another part o' your paper, quite innocent-like, ye
know." He drew from his pocket a gray wallet, and taking out a
slip of paper read from it gravely, "'If this should meet the eye
of R. B., look out for M. J. D. He is on your track. When this
you see write a line to E. J. D., Elktown Post Office.' I want
this to go in as 'Personal and Private'--sabe?--like them notisses
in the big 'Frisco papers."
"I see," said the editor, laying it aside. "It shall go in the
same issue in another column."
Apparently Mr. Dimmidge expected something more than this reply,
for after a moment's hesitation he said with an odd smile:
"Ye ain't seein' the meanin' o' that, lad?"
"No," said the editor lightly; "but I suppose R. B. does, and it
isn't intended that any one else should."
"Mebbe it is, and mebbe it isn't," said Mr. Dimmidge, with a self-
satisfied air. "I don't mind saying atween us that R. B. is the
man as I've suspicioned as havin' something to do with my wife
goin' away; and ye see, if he writes to E. J. D.--that's my wife's
initials--at Elktown, I'LL get that letter and so make sure."
"But suppose your wife goes there first, or sends?"
"Then I'll ketch her or her messenger. Ye see?"
The editor did not see fit to oppose any argument to this phenomenal
simplicity, and Mr. Dimmidge, after settling his bill with the
foreman, and enjoining the editor to the strictest secrecy regarding
the origin of the "personal notice," took up his gun and departed,
leaving the treasury of the "Clarion" unprecedentedly enriched, and
the editor to his proofs.
The paper duly appeared the next morning with the column
advertisement, the personal notice, and the weighty editorial on
the wagon road. There was a singular demand for the paper, the
edition was speedily exhausted, and the editor was proportionately
flattered, although he was surprised to receive neither praise nor
criticism from his subscribers. Before evening, however, he
learned to his astonishment that the excitement was caused by the
column advertisement. Nobody knew Mr. Dimmidge, nor his domestic
infelicities, and the editor and foreman, being equally in the
dark, took refuge in a mysterious and impressive evasion of all
inquiry. Never since the last San Francisco Vigilance Committee
had the office been so besieged. The editor, foreman, and even the
apprentice, were buttonholed and "treated" at the bar, but to no
effect. All that could be learned was that it was a bona fide
advertisement, for which one hundred dollars had been received!
There were great discussions and conflicting theories as to whether
the value of the wife, or the husband's anxiety to get rid of her,
justified the enormous expense and ostentatious display. She was
supposed to be an exceedingly beautiful woman by some, by others a
perfect Sycorax; in one breath Mr. Dimmidge was a weak, uxorious
spouse, wasting his substance on a creature who did not care for
him, and in another a maddened, distracted, henpecked man, content
to purchase peace and rest at any price. Certainly, never was
advertisement more effective in its publicity, or cheaper in
proportion to the circulation it commanded. It was copied
throughout the whole Pacific slope; mighty San Francisco papers
described its size and setting under the attractive headline, "How
they Advertise a Wife in the Mountains!" It reappeared in the
Eastern journals, under the title of "Whimsicalities of the Western
Press." It was believed to have crossed to England as a specimen
of "Transatlantic Savagery." The real editor of the "Clarion"
awoke one morning, in San Francisco, to find his paper famous. Its
advertising columns were eagerly sought for; he at once advanced
the rates. People bought successive issues to gaze upon this
monumental record of extravagance. A singular idea, which,
however, brought further fortune to the paper, was advanced by an
astute critic at the Eureka Saloon. "My opinion, gentlemen, is
that the whole blamed thing is a bluff! There ain't no Mr.
Dimmidge; there ain't no Mrs. Dimmidge; there ain't no desertion!
The whole rotten thing is an ADVERTISEMENT o' suthin'! Ye'll find
afore ye get through with it that that there wife won't come back
until that blamed husband buys Somebody's Soap, or treats her to
Somebody's particular Starch or Patent Medicine! Ye jest watch and
see!" The idea was startling, and seized upon the mercantile mind.
The principal merchant of the town, and purveyor to the mining
settlements beyond, appeared the next morning at the office of the
"Clarion." "Ye wouldn't mind puttin' this 'ad' in a column
alongside o' the Dimmidge one, would ye?" The young editor glanced
at it, and then, with a serpent-like sagacity, veiled, however, by
the suavity of the dove, pointed out that the original advertiser
might think it called his bona fides into question and withdraw his
advertisement. "But if we secured you by an offer of double the
amount per column?" urged the merchant. "That," responded the
locum tenens, "was for the actual editor and proprietor in San
Francisco to determine. He would telegraph." He did so. The
response was, "Put it in." Whereupon in the next issue, side by
side with Mr. Dimmidge's protracted warning, appeared a column with
the announcement, in large letters, "WE HAVEN'T LOST ANY WIFE, but
WE are prepared to furnish the following goods at a lower rate than
any other advertiser in the county," followed by the usual price
list of the merchant's wares. There was an unprecedented demand
for that issue. The reputation of the "Clarion," both as a shrewd
advertising medium and a comic paper, was established at once. For
a few days the editor waited with some apprehension for a
remonstrance from the absent Dimmidge, but none came. Whether Mr.
Dimmidge recognized that this new advertisement gave extra
publicity to his own, or that he was already on the track of the
fugitive, the editor did not know. The few curious citizens who
had, early in the excitement, penetrated the settlement of the
English miners twenty miles away in search of information, found
that Mr. Dimmidge had gone away, and that Mrs. Dimmidge had NEVER
resided there with him!
Six weeks passed. The limit of Mr. Dimmidge's advertisement had
been reached, and, as it was not renewed, it had passed out of the
pages of the "Clarion," and with it the merchant's advertisement in
the next column. The excitement had subsided, although its
influence was still felt in the circulation of the paper and its
advertising popularity. The temporary editor was also nearing the
limit of his incumbency, but had so far participated in the good
fortune of the "Clarion" as to receive an offer from one of the San
It was a warm night, and he was alone in his sanctum. The rest of
the building was dark and deserted, and his solitary light,
flashing out through the open window, fell upon the nearer pines
and was lost in the dark, indefinable slope below. He had reached
the sanctum by the rear, and a door which he also left open to
enjoy the freshness of the aromatic air. Nor did it in the least
mar his privacy. Rather the solitude of the great woods without
seemed to enter through that door and encompassed him with its
protecting loneliness. There was occasionally a faint "peep" in
the scant eaves, or a "pat-pat," ending in a frightened scurry
across the roof, or the slow flap of a heavy wing in the darkness
below. These gentle disturbances did not, however, interrupt his
work on "The True Functions of the County Newspaper," the editorial
on which he was engaged.
Presently a more distinct rustling against the straggling blackberry
bushes beside the door attracted his attention. It was followed by
a light tapping against the side of the house. The editor started
and turned quickly towards the open door. Two outside steps led to
the ground. Standing upon the lower one was a woman. The upper
part of her figure, illuminated by the light from the door, was
thrown into greater relief by the dark background of the pines. Her
face was unknown to him, but it was a pleasant one, marked by a
certain good-humored determination.
"May I come in?" she said confidently.
"Certainly," said the editor. "I am working here alone because it
is so quiet." He thought he would precipitate some explanation
from her by excusing himself.
"That's the reason why I came," she said, with a quiet smile.
She came up the next step and entered the room. She was plainly
but neatly dressed, and now that her figure was revealed he saw
that she was wearing a linsey-woolsey riding-skirt, and carried a
serviceable rawhide whip in her cotton-gauntleted hand. She took
the chair he offered her and sat down sideways on it, her whip hand
now also holding up her skirt, and permitting a hem of clean white
petticoat and a smart, well-shaped boot to be seen.
"I don't remember to have had the pleasure of seeing you in
Calaveras before," said the editor tentatively.
"No. I never was here before," she said composedly, "but you've
heard enough of me, I reckon. I'm Mrs. Dimmidge." She threw one
hand over the back of the chair, and with the other tapped her
riding-whip on the floor.
The editor started. Mrs. Dimmidge! Then she was not a myth. An
absurd similarity between her attitude with the whip and her
husband's entrance with his gun six weeks before forced itself upon
him and made her an invincible presence.
"Then you have returned to your husband?" he said hesitatingly.
"Not much!" she returned, with a slight curl of her lip.
"But you read his advertisement?"
"I saw that column of fool nonsense he put in your paper--ef that's
what you mean," she said with decision, "but I didn't come here to
see HIM--but YOU."
The editor looked at her with a forced smile, but a vague misgiving.
He was alone at night in a deserted part of the settlement, with a
plump, self-possessed woman who had a contralto voice, a horsewhip,
and--he could not help feeling--an evident grievance.
"To see me?" he repeated, with a faint attempt at gallantry. "You
are paying me a great compliment, but really"--
"When I tell you I've come three thousand miles from Kansas straight
here without stopping, ye kin reckon it's so," she replied firmly.
"Three thousand miles!" echoed the editor wonderingly.
"Yes. Three thousand miles from my own folks' home in Kansas,
where six years ago I married Mr. Dimmidge,--a British furriner as
could scarcely make himself understood in any Christian language!
Well, he got round me and dad, allowin' he was a reg'lar out-and-
out profeshnal miner,--had lived in mines ever since he was a boy;
and so, not knowin' what kind o' mines, and dad just bilin' over
with the gold fever, we were married and kem across the plains to
Californy. He was a good enough man to look at, but it warn't
three months before I discovered that he allowed a wife was no
better nor a nigger slave, and he the master. That made me open my
eyes; but then, as he didn't drink, and didn't gamble, and didn't
swear, and was a good provider and laid by money, why I shifted
along with him as best I could. We drifted down the first year to
Sonora, at Red Dog, where there wasn't another woman. Well, I did
the nigger slave business,--never stirring out o' the settlement,
never seein' a town or a crowd o' decent people,--and he did the
lord and master! We played that game for two years, and I got
tired. But when at last he allowed he'd go up to Elktown Hill,
where there was a passel o' his countrymen at work, with never a
sign o' any other folks, and leave me alone at Red Dog until he
fixed up a place for me at Elktown Hill,--I kicked! I gave him
fair warning! I did as other nigger slaves did,--I ran away!"
A recollection of the wretched woodcut which Mr. Dimmidge had
selected to personify his wife flashed upon the editor with a new
meaning. Yet perhaps she had not seen it, and had only read a copy
of the advertisement. What could she want? The "Calaveras
Clarion," although a "Palladium" and a "Sentinel upon the Heights
of Freedom" in reference to wagon roads, was not a redresser of
domestic wrongs,--except through its advertising columns! Her next
words intensified that suggestion.
"I've come here to put an advertisement in your paper."
The editor heaved a sigh of relief, as once before. "Certainly,"
he said briskly. "But that's another department of the paper, and
the printers have gone home. Come to-morrow morning early."
"To-morrow morning I shall be miles away," she said decisively,
"and what I want done has got to be done NOW! I don't want to see
no printers; I don't want ANYBODY to know I've been here but you.
That's why I kem here at night, and rode all the way from Sawyer's
Station, and wouldn't take the stage-coach. And when we've settled
about the advertisement, I'm going to mount my horse, out thar in
the bushes, and scoot outer the settlement."
"Very good," said the editor resignedly. "Of course I can deliver
your instructions to the foreman. And now--let me see--I suppose
you wish to intimate in a personal notice to your husband that
"Nothin' o' the kind!" said Mrs. Dimmidge coolly. "I want to
placard him as he did me. I've got it all written out here.
She took from her pocket a folded paper, and spreading it out on
the editor's desk, with a certain pride of authorship read as
"Whereas my husband, Micah J. Dimmidge, having given out that I
have left his bed and board,--the same being a bunk in a log cabin
and pork and molasses three times a day,--and having advertised
that he'd pay no debts of MY contractin',--which, as thar ain't
any, might be easier collected than debts of his own contractin',--
this is to certify that unless he returns from Elktown Hill to his
only home in Sonora in one week from date, payin' the cost of this
advertisement, I'll know the reason why.--Eliza Jane Dimmidge."
"Thar," she added, drawing a long breath, "put that in a column of
the 'Clarion,' same size as the last, and let it work, and that's
all I want of you."
"A column?" repeated the editor. "Do you know the cost is very
expensive, and I COULD put it in a single paragraph?"
"I reckon I kin pay the same as Mr. Dimmidge did for HIS," said the
lady complacently. "I didn't see your paper myself, but the paper
as copied it--one of them big New York dailies--said that it took
up a whole column."
The editor breathed more freely; she had not seen the infamous
woodcut which her husband had selected. At the same moment he was
struck with a sense of retribution, justice, and compensation.
"Would you," he asked hesitatingly,--"would you like it illustrated--
by a cut?"
"Wait a moment; I'll show you."
He went into the dark composing-room, lit a candle, and rummaging
in a drawer sacred to weather-beaten, old-fashioned electrotyped
advertising symbols of various trades, finally selected one and
brought it to Mrs. Dimmidge. It represented a bare and exceedingly
stalwart arm wielding a large hammer.
"Your husband being a miner,--a quartz miner,--would that do?" he
asked. (It had been previously used to advertise a blacksmith, a
gold-beater, and a stone-mason.)
The lady examined it critically.
"It does look a little like Micah's arm," she said meditatively.
"Well--you kin put it in."
The editor was so well pleased with his success that he must needs
make another suggestion. "I suppose," he said ingenuously, "that
you don't want to answer the 'Personal'?"
'Personal'?" she repeated quickly, "what's that? I ain't seen no
'Personal.'" The editor saw his blunder. She, of course, had
never seen Mr. Dimmidge's artful "Personal;" THAT the big dailies
naturally had not noticed nor copied. But it was too late to
withdraw now. He brought out a file of the "Clarion," and snipping
out the paragraph with his scissors, laid it before the lady.
She stared at it with wrinkled brows and a darkening face.
"And THIS was in the same paper?--put in by Mr. Dimmidge?" she
The editor, somewhat alarmed, stammered "Yes." But the next moment
he was reassured. The wrinkles disappeared, a dozen dimples broke
out where they had been, and the determined, matter-of-fact Mrs.
Dimmidge burst into a fit of rosy merriment. Again and again she
laughed, shaking the building, startling the sedate, melancholy
woods beyond, until the editor himself laughed in sheer vacant
"Lordy!" she said at last, gasping, and wiping the laughter from
her wet eyes. "I never thought of THAT."
"No," explained the editor smilingly; "of course you didn't. Don't
you see, the papers that copied the big advertisement never saw
that little paragraph, or if they did, they never connected the two
"Oh, it ain't that," said Mrs. Dimmidge, trying to regain her
composure and holding her sides. "It's that blessed DEAR old
dunderhead of a Dimmidge I'm thinking of. That gets me. I see it
all now. Only, sakes alive! I never thought THAT of him. Oh,
it's just too much!" and she again relapsed behind her handkerchief.
"Then I suppose you don't want to reply to it," said the editor.
Her laughter instantly ceased. "Don't I?" she said, wiping her
face into its previous complacent determination. "Well, young man,
I reckon that's just what I WANT to do! Now, wait a moment; let's
see what he said," she went on, taking up and reperusing the
"Personal" paragraph. "Well, then," she went on, after a moment's
silent composition with moving lips, "you just put these lines in."
The editor took up his pencil.
"To Mr. J. D. Dimmidge.--Hope you're still on R. B.'s tracks. Keep
there!--E. J. D."
The editor wrote down the line, and then, remembering Mr. Dimmidge's
voluntary explanation of HIS "Personal," waited with some confidence
for a like frankness from Mrs. Dimmidge. But he was mistaken.
"You think that he--R. B.--or Mr. Dimmidge--will understand this?"
he at last asked tentatively. "Is it enough?"
"Quite enough," said Mrs. Dimmidge emphatically. She took a roll
of greenbacks from her pocket, selected a hundred-dollar bill and
then a five, and laid them before the editor. "Young man," she
said, with a certain demure gravity, "you've done me a heap o'
good. I never spent money with more satisfaction than this. I
never thought much o' the 'power o' the Press,' as you call it,
afore. But this has been a right comfortable visit, and I'm glad I
ketched you alone. But you understand one thing: this yer visit,
and WHO I am, is betwixt you and me only."
"Of course I must say that the advertisement was AUTHORIZED,"
returned the editor. "I'm only the temporary editor. The
proprietor is away."
"So much the better," said the lady complacently. "You just say
you found it on your desk with the money; but don't you give me
"I can promise you that the secret of your personal visit is safe
with me," said the young man, with a bow, as Mrs. Dimmidge rose.
"Let me see you to your horse," he added. "It's quite dark in the
"I can see well enough alone, and it's just as well you shouldn't
know HOW I kem or HOW I went away. Enough for you to know that
I'll be miles away before that paper comes out. So stay where you
She pressed his hand frankly and firmly, gathered up her riding-
skirt, slipped backwards to the door, and the next moment rustled
away into the darkness.
Early the next morning the editor handed Mrs. Dimmidge's
advertisement, and the woodcut he had selected, to his foreman. He
was purposely brief in his directions, so as to avoid inquiry, and
retired to his sanctum. In the space of a few moments the foreman
entered with a slight embarrassment of manner.
"You'll excuse my speaking to you, sir," he said, with a singular
mixture of humility and cunning. "It's no business of mine, I
know; but I thought I ought to tell you that this yer kind o' thing
won't pay any more,--it's about played out!"
"I don't think I understand you," said the editor loftily, but with
an inward misgiving. "You don't mean to say that a regular, actual
"Of course, I know all that," said the foreman, with a peculiar
smile; "and I'm ready to back you up in it, and so's the boy; but
it won't pay."
"It HAS paid a hundred and five dollars," said the editor, taking
the notes from his pocket; "so I'd advise you to simply attend to
your duty and set it up."
A look of surprise, followed, however, by a kind of pitying smile,
passed over the foreman's face. "Of course, sir, THAT'S all right,
and you know your own business; but if you think that the new
advertisement will pay this time as the other one did, and whoop up
another column from an advertiser, I'm afraid you'll slip up. It's
a little 'off color' now,--not 'up to date,'--if it ain't a regular
'back number,' as you'll see."
"Meantime I'll dispense with your advice," said the editor curtly,
"and I think you had better let our subscribers and advertisers do
the same, or the 'Clarion' might also be obliged to dispense with
"I ain't no blab," said the foreman, in an aggrieved manner, "and I
don't intend to give the show away even if it don't PAY. But I
thought I'd tell you, because I know the folks round here better
than you do."
He was right. No sooner had the advertisement appeared than the
editor found that everybody believed it to be a sheer invention of
his own to "once more boom" the "Clarion." If they had doubted
MR. Dimmidge, they utterly rejected MRS. Dimmidge as an advertiser!
It was a stale joke that nobody would follow up; and on the heels of
this came a letter from the editor-in-chief.
MY DEAR BOY,--You meant well, I know, but the second Dimmidge "ad"
was a mistake. Still, it was a big bluff of yours to show the
money, and I send you back your hundred dollars, hoping you won't
"do it again." Of course you'll have to keep the advertisement in
the paper for two issues, just as if it were a real thing, and it's
lucky that there's just now no pressure in our columns. You might
have told a better story than that hogwash about your finding the
"ad" and a hundred dollars lying loose on your desk one morning.
It was rather thin, and I don't wonder the foreman kicked.
The young editor was in despair. At first he thought of writing to
Mrs. Dimmidge at the Elktown Post-Office, asking her to relieve him
of his vow of secrecy; but his pride forbade. There was a humorous
concern, not without a touch of pity, in the faces of his
contributors as he passed; a few affected to believe in the new
advertisement, and asked him vague, perfunctory questions about it.
His position was trying, and he was not sorry when the term of his
engagement expired the next week, and he left Calaveras to take his
new position on the San Francisco paper.
He was standing in the saloon of the Sacramento boat when he felt a
sudden heavy pressure on his shoulder, and looking round sharply,
beheld not only the black-bearded face of Mr. Dimmidge, lit up by a
smile, but beside it the beaming, buxom face of Mrs. Dimmidge,
overflowing with good-humor. Still a little sore from his past
experience, he was about to address them abruptly, when he was
utterly vanquished by the hearty pressure of their hands and the
unmistakable look of gratitude in their eyes.
"I was just saying to 'Lizy Jane," began Mr. Dimmidge breathlessly,
"if I could only meet that young man o' the 'Clarion' what brought
us together again"--
"You'd be willin' to pay four times the amount we both paid him,"
interpolated the laughing Mrs. Dimmidge.
"But I didn't bring you together," burst out the dazed young man,
"and I'd like to know, in the name of Heaven, what brought you
"Don't you see, lad," said the imperturbable Mr. Dimmidge, "'Lizy
Jane and myself had qua'lled, and we just unpacked our fool
nonsense in your paper and let the hull world know it! And we both
felt kinder skeert and shamed like, and it looked such small
hogwash, and of so little account, for all the talk it made, that
we kinder felt lonely as two separated fools that really ought to
share their foolishness together."
"And that ain't all," said Mrs. Dimmidge, with a sly glance at her
spouse, "for I found out from that 'Personal' you showed me that
this particular old fool was actooally jealous!--JEALOUS!"
"And then?" said the editor impatiently.
"And then I KNEW he loved me all the time."
THE SECRET OF SOBRIENTE'S WELL
Even to the eye of the most inexperienced traveler there was no
doubt that Buena Vista was a "played-out" mining camp. There,
seamed and scarred by hydraulic engines, was the old hillside, over
whose denuded surface the grass had begun to spring again in fitful
patches; there were the abandoned heaps of tailings already
blackened by sun and rain, and worn into mounds like ruins of
masonry; there were the waterless ditches, like giant graves, and
the pools of slumgullion, now dried into shining, glazed cement.
There were two or three wooden "stores," from which the windows and
doors had been taken and conveyed to the newer settlement of
Wynyard's Gulch. Four or five buildings that still were inhabited--
the blacksmith's shop, the post-office, a pioneer's cabin, and the
old hotel and stage-office--only accented the general desolation.
The latter building had a remoteness of prosperity far beyond the
others, having been a wayside Spanish-American posada, with adobe
walls of two feet in thickness, that shamed the later shells of
half-inch plank, which were slowly warping and cracking like dried
pods in the oven-like heat.
The proprietor of this building, Colonel Swinger, had been looked
upon by the community as a person quite as remote, old-fashioned,
and inconsistent with present progress as the house itself. He was
an old Virginian, who had emigrated from his decaying plantation on
the James River only to find the slaves, which he had brought with
him, freed men when they touched Californian soil; to be driven by
Northern progress and "smartness" out of the larger cities into the
mountains, to fix himself at last, with the hopeless fatuity of his
race, upon an already impoverished settlement; to sink his scant
capital in hopeless shafts and ledges, and finally to take over the
decaying hostelry of Buena Vista, with its desultory custom and
few, lingering, impecunious guests. Here, too, his old Virginian
ideas of hospitality were against his financial success; he could
not dun nor turn from his door those unfortunate prospectors whom
the ebbing fortunes of Buena Vista had left stranded by his side.
Colonel Swinger was sitting in a wicker-work rocking-chair on the
veranda of his hotel--sipping a mint julep which he held in his
hand, while he gazed into the dusty distance. Nothing could have
convinced him that he was not performing a serious part of his duty
as hotel-keeper in this attitude, even though there were no
travelers expected, and the road at this hour of the day was
deserted. On a bench at his side Larry Hawkins stretched his lazy
length,--one foot dropped on the veranda, and one arm occasionally
groping under the bench for his own tumbler of refreshment. Apart
from this community of occupation, there was apparently no
interchange of sentiment between the pair. The silence had
continued for some moments, when the colonel put down his glass and
gazed earnestly into the distance.
"Seein' anything?" remarked the man on the bench, who had sleepily
"No," said the colonel, "that is--it's only Dick Ruggles crossin'
"Thought you looked a little startled, ez if you'd seen that ar
"When I see that wandering stranger, sah," said the colonel
decisively, "I won't be sittin' long in this yer chyar. I'll let
him know in about ten seconds that I don't harbor any vagrants
prowlin' about like poor whites or free niggers on my propahty,
"All the same, I kinder wish ye did see him, for you'd be settled
in YOUR mind and I'd be easier in MINE, ef you found out what he
was doin' round yer, or ye had to admit that it wasn't no LIVIN'
"What do you mean?" said the colonel, testily facing around in his
His companion also altered his attitude by dropping his other foot
to the floor, sitting up, and leaning lazily forward with his hands
"Look yer, colonel. When you took this place, I felt I didn't have
no call to tell ye all I know about it, nor to pizen yer mind by
any darned fool yarns I mout hev heard. Ye know it was one o' them
old Spanish haciendas?"
"I know," said the colonel loftily, "that it was held by a grant
from Charles the Fifth of Spain, just as my propahty on the James
River was given to my people by King James of England, sah!"
"That ez as may be," returned his companion, in lazy indifference;
"though I reckon that Charles the Fifth of Spain and King James of
England ain't got much to do with what I'm goin' to tell ye. Ye
see, I was here long afore YOUR time, or any of the boys that hev
now cleared out; and at that time the hacienda belonged to a man
named Juan Sobriente. He was that kind o' fool that he took no
stock in mining. When the boys were whoopin' up the place and
finding the color everywhere, and there was a hundred men working
down there in the gulch, he was either ridin' round lookin' up the
wild horses he owned, or sittin' with two or three lazy peons and
Injins that was fed and looked arter by the priests. Gosh! now I
think of it, it was mighty like YOU when you first kem here with
your niggers. That's curious, too, ain't it?"
He had stopped, gazing with an odd, superstitious wonderment at the
colonel, as if overcome by this not very remarkable coincidence.
The colonel, overlooking or totally oblivious to its somewhat
uncomplimentary significance, simply said, "Go on. What about
"Well, ez I was sayin', he warn't in it nohow, but kept on his
reg'lar way when the boom was the biggest. Some of the boys
allowed it was mighty oncivil for him to stand off like that, and
others--when he refused a big pile for his hacienda and the garden,
that ran right into the gold-bearing ledge--war for lynching him
and driving him outer the settlement. But as he had a pretty
darter or niece livin' with him, and, except for his partickler
cussedness towards mining, was kinder peaceable and perlite, they
thought better of it. Things went along like this, until one day
the boys noticed--particklerly the boys that had slipped up on
their luck--that old man Sobriente was gettin' rich,--had stocked a
ranch over on the Divide, and had given some gold candlesticks to
the mission church. That would have been only human nature and
business, ef he'd had any during them flush times; but he hadn't.
This kinder puzzled them. They tackled the peons,--his niggers,--
but it was all 'No sabe.' They tackled another man,--a kind of
half-breed Kanaka, who, except the priest, was the only man who
came to see him, and was supposed to be mighty sweet on the darter
or niece,--but they didn't even get the color outer HIM. Then the
first thing we knowed was that old Sobriente was found dead in the
"In the well, sah!" said the colonel, starting up. "The well on my
"No," said his companion. "The old well that was afterwards shut
up. Yours was dug by the last tenant, Jack Raintree, who allowed
that he didn't want to 'take any Sobriente in his reg'lar whiskey
and water.' Well, the half-breed Kanaka cleared out after the old
man's death, and so did that darter or niece; and the church, to
whom old Sobriente had left this house, let it to Raintree for next
"I don't see what all that has got to do with that wandering
tramp," said the colonel, who was by no means pleased with this
history of his property.
"I'll tell ye. A few days after Raintree took it over, he was
lookin' round the garden, which old Sobriente had always kept shut
up agin strangers, and he finds a lot of dried-up 'slumgullion'*
scattered all about the borders and beds, just as if the old man
had been using it for fertilizing. Well, Raintree ain't no fool;
he allowed the old man wasn't one, either; and he knew that
slumgullion wasn't worth no more than mud for any good it would do
the garden. So he put this yer together with Sobriente's good
luck, and allowed to himself that the old coyote had been secretly
gold-washin' all the while he seemed to be standin' off agin it!
But where was the mine? Whar did he get the gold? That's what got
Raintree. He hunted all over the garden, prospected every part of
it,--ye kin see the holes yet,--but he never even got the color!"
* That is, a viscid cement-like refuse of gold-washing.
He paused, and then, as the colonel made an impatient gesture, he
"Well, one night just afore you took the place, and when Raintree
was gettin' just sick of it, he happened to be walkin' in the
garden. He was puzzlin' his brain agin to know how old Sobriente
made his pile, when all of a suddenst he saw suthin' a-movin' in
the brush beside the house. He calls out, thinkin' it was one of
the boys, but got no answer. Then he goes to the bushes, and a
tall figger, all in black, starts out afore him. He couldn't see
any face, for its head was covered with a hood, but he saw that it
held suthin' like a big cross clasped agin its breast. This made
him think it was one them priests, until he looks agin and sees
that it wasn't no cross it was carryin,' but a PICKAXE! He makes a
jump towards it, but it vanished! He traipsed over the hull
garden,--went though ev'ry bush,--but it was clean gone. Then the
hull thing flashed upon him with a cold shiver. The old man bein'
found dead in the well! the goin' away of the half-breed and the
girl! the findin' o' that slumgullion! The old man HAD made a
strike in that garden, the half-breed had discovered his secret and
murdered him, throwin' him down the well! It war no LIVIN' man
that he had seen, but the ghost of old Sobriente!"
The colonel emptied the remaining contents of his glass at a single
gulp, and sat up. "It's my opinion, sah, that Raintree had that
night more than his usual allowance of corn-juice on board; and
it's only a wonder, sah, that he didn't see a few pink alligators
and sky-blue snakes at the same time. But what's this got to do
with that wanderin' tramp?"
"They're all the same thing, colonel, and in my opinion that there
tramp ain't no more alive than that figger was."
"But YOU were the one that saw this tramp with your own eyes,"
retorted the colonel quickly, "and you never before allowed it was
"Exactly! I saw it whar a minit afore nothin' had been standin',
and a minit after nothin' stood," said Larry Hawkins, with a
certain serious emphasis; "but I warn't goin' to say it to ANYBODY,
and I warn't goin' to give you and the hacienda away. And ez
nobody knew Raintree's story, I jest shut up my head. But you kin
bet your life that the man I saw warn't no livin' man!"
"We'll see, sah!" said the colonel, rising from his chair with his
fingers in the armholes of his nankeen waistcoat, "ef he ever
intrudes on my property again. But look yar! don't ye go sayin'
anything of this to Polly,--you know what women are!"
A faint color came into Larry's face; an animation quite different
to the lazy deliberation of his previous monologue shone in his
eyes, as he said, with a certain rough respect he had not shown
before to his companion, "That's why I'm tellin' ye, so that ef SHE
happened to see anything and got skeert, ye'd know how to reason
her out of it."
"'Sh!" said the colonel, with a warning gesture.
A young girl had just appeared in the doorway, and now stood
leaning against the central pillar that supported it, with one hand
above her head, in a lazy attitude strongly suggestive of the
colonel's Southern indolence, yet with a grace entirely her own.
Indeed, it overcame the negligence of her creased and faded yellow
cotton frock and unbuttoned collar, and suggested--at least to the
eyes of ONE man--the curving and clinging of the jasmine vine
against the outer column of the veranda. Larry Hawkins rose
awkwardly to his feet.
"Now what are you two men mumblin' and confidin' to each other?
You look for all the world like two old women gossips," she said,
with languid impertinence.
It was easy to see that a privileged and recognized autocrat spoke.
No one had ever questioned Polly Swinger's right to interrupting,
interfering, and saucy criticisms. Secure in the hopeless or
chivalrous admiration of the men around her, she had repaid it with
a frankness that scorned any coquetry; with an indifference to the
ordinary feminine effect or provocation in dress or bearing that
was as natural as it was invincible. No one had ever known Polly
to "fix up" for anybody, yet no one ever doubted the effect, if she
had. No one had ever rebuked her charming petulance, or wished to.
Larry gave a weak, vague laugh. Colonel Swinger as ineffectively
assumed a mock parental severity. "When you see two gentlemen,
miss, discussin' politics together, it ain't behavin' like a lady
to interrupt. Better run away and tidy yourself before the stage
The young lady replied to the last innuendo by taking two spirals
of soft hair, like "corn silk," from her oval cheek, wetting them
with her lips, and tucking them behind her ears. Her father's
ungentlemanly suggestion being thus disposed of, she returned to
her first charge.
"It ain't no politics; you ain't been swearing enough for THAT!
Come, now! It's the mysterious stranger ye've been talking about!"
Both men stared at her with unaffected concern.
"What do YOU know about any mysterious stranger?" demanded her
"Do you suppose you men kin keep a secret," scoffed Polly. "Why,
Dick Ruggles told me how skeert ye all were over an entire
stranger, and he advised me not to wander down the road after dark.
I asked him if he thought I was a pickaninny to be frightened by
bogies, and that if he hadn't a better excuse for wantin' 'to see
me home' from the Injin spring, he might slide."
Larry laughed again, albeit a little bitterly, for it seemed to him
that the excuse was fully justified; but the colonel said promptly,
"Dick's a fool, and you might have told him there were worse things
to be met on the road than bogies. Run away now, and see that the
niggers are on hand when the stage comes."
Two hours later the stage came with a clatter of hoofs and a cloud
of red dust, which precipitated itself and a dozen thirsty
travelers upon the veranda before the hotel bar-room; it brought
also the usual "express" newspapers and much talk to Colonel
Swinger, who always received his guests in a lofty personal fashion
at the door, as he might have done in his old Virginian home; but
it brought likewise--marvelous to relate--an ACTUAL GUEST, who had
two trunks and asked for a room! He was evidently a stranger to
the ways of Buena Vista, and particularly to those of Colonel
Swinger, and at first seemed inclined to resent the social attitude
of his host, and his frank and free curiosity. When he, however,
found that Colonel Swinger was even better satisfied to give an
account of HIS OWN affairs, his family, pedigree, and his present
residence, he began to betray some interest. The colonel told him
all the news, and would no doubt have even expatiated on his
ghostly visitant, had he not prudently concluded that his guest
might decline to remain in a haunted inn. The stranger had spoken
of staying a week; he had some private mining speculations to watch
at Wynyard's Gulch,--the next settlement, but he did not care to
appear openly at the "Gulch Hotel." He was a man of thirty, with
soft, pleasing features and a singular litheness of movement,
which, combined with a nut-brown, gypsy complexion, at first
suggested a foreigner. But his dialect, to the colonel's ears, was
distinctly that of New England, and to this was added a puritanical
and sanctimonious drawl. "He looked," said the colonel in after
years, "like a blank light mulatter, but talked like a blank Yankee
parson." For all that, he was acceptable to his host, who may have
felt that his reminiscences of his plantation on the James River
were palling on Buena Vista ears, and was glad of his new auditor.
It was an advertisement, too, of the hotel, and a promise of its
future fortunes. "Gentlemen having propahty interests at the
Gulch, sah, prefer to stay at Buena Vista with another man of
propahty, than to trust to those new-fangled papah-collared,
gingerbread booths for traders that they call 'hotels' there," he
had remarked to some of "the boys." In his preoccupation with the
new guest, he also became a little neglectful of his old chum and
dependent, Larry Hawkins. Nor was this the only circumstance that
filled the head of that shiftless loyal retainer of the colonel
with bitterness and foreboding. Polly Swinger--the scornfully
indifferent, the contemptuously inaccessible, the coldly capricious
and petulant--was inclined to be polite to the stranger!
The fact was that Polly, after the fashion of her sex, took it into
her pretty head, against all consistency and logic, suddenly to
make an exception to her general attitude towards mankind in favor
of one individual. The reason-seeking masculine reader will rashly
conclude that this individual was the CAUSE as well as the object;
but I am satisfied that every fair reader of these pages will
instinctively know better. Miss Polly had simply selected the new
guest, Mr. Starbuck, to show OTHERS, particularly Larry Hawkins,
what she COULD do if she were inclined to be civil. For two days
she "fixed up" her distracting hair at him so that its silken floss
encircled her head like a nimbus; she tucked her oval chin into a
white fichu instead of a buttonless collar; she appeared at dinner
in a newly starched yellow frock! She talked to him with "company
manners;" said she would "admire to go to San Francisco," and asked
if he knew her old friends the Fauquier girls from "Faginia." The
colonel was somewhat disturbed; he was glad that his daughter had
become less negligent of her personal appearance; he could not but
see, with the others, how it enhanced her graces; but he was, with
the others, not entirely satisfied with her reasons. And he could
not help observing--what was more or less patent to ALL--that
Starbuck was far from being equally responsive to her attentions,
and at times was indifferent and almost uncivil. Nobody seemed to
be satisfied with Polly's transformation but herself.
But eventually she was obliged to assert herself. The third
evening after Starbuck's arrival she was going over to the cabin of
Aunt Chloe, who not only did the washing for Buena Vista, but
assisted Polly in dressmaking. It was not far, and the night was
moonlit. As she crossed the garden she saw Starbuck moving in the
manzanita bushes beyond; a mischievous light came into her eyes;
she had not EXPECTED to meet him, but she had seen him go out, and
there were always POSSIBILITIES. To her surprise, however, he
merely lifted his hat as she passed, and turned abruptly in another
direction. This was more than the little heart-breaker of Buena
Vista was accustomed to!
"Oh, Mr. Starbuck!" she called, in her laziest voice.
He turned almost impatiently.
"Since you're so civil and pressing, I thought I'd tell you I was
just runnin' over to Aunt Chloe's," she said dryly.
"I should think it was hardly the proper thing for a young lady to
do at this time of night," he said superciliously. "But you know
best,--you know the people here."
Polly's cheeks and eyes flamed. "Yes, I reckon I do," she said
crisply; "it's only a STRANGER here would think of being rude.
Good-night, Mr. Starbuck!"
She tripped away after this Parthian shot, yet feeling, even in her
triumph, that the conceited fool seemed actually relieved at her
departure! And for the first time she now thought that she had
seen something in his face that she did not like! But her lazy
independence reasserted itself soon, and half an hour later, when
she had left Aunt Chloe's cabin, she had regained her self-esteem.
Yet, to avoid meeting him again, she took a longer route home,
across the dried ditch and over the bluff, scarred by hydraulics,
and so fell, presently, upon the old garden at the point where it
adjoined the abandoned diggings. She was quite sure she had
escaped a meeting with Starbuck, and was gliding along under the
shadow of the pear-trees, when she suddenly stopped. An
indescribable terror overcame her as she stared at a spot in the
garden, perfectly illuminated by the moonlight not fifty yards from
where she stood. For she saw on its surface a human head--a man's
head!--seemingly on the level of the ground, staring in her
direction. A hysterical laugh sprang from her lips, and she caught
at the branches above her or she would have fallen! Yet in that
moment the head had vanished! The moonlight revealed the empty
garden,--the ground she had gazed at,--but nothing more!
She had never been superstitious. As a child she had heard the
negroes talk of "the hants,"--that is, "the HAUNTS" or spirits,--
but had believed it a part of their ignorance, and unworthy a white
child,--the daughter of their master! She had laughed with Dick
Ruggles over the illusions of Larry, and had shared her father's
contemptuous disbelief of the wandering visitant being anything but
a living man; yet she would have screamed for assistance now, only
for the greater fear of making her weakness known to Mr. Starbuck,
and being dependent upon him for help. And with it came the sudden
conviction that HE had seen this awful vision, too. This would
account for his impatience of her presence and his rudeness. She
felt faint and giddy. Yet after the first shock had passed, her
old independence and pride came to her relief. She would go to the
spot and examine it. If it were some trick or illusion, she would
show her superiority and have the laugh on Starbuck. She set her
white teeth, clenched her little hands, and started out into the
moonlight. But alas! for women's weakness. The next moment she
uttered a scream and almost fell into the arms of Mr. Starbuck, who
had stepped out of the shadows beside her.
"So you see you HAVE been frightened," he said, with a strange,
forced laugh; "but I warned you about going out alone!"
Even in her fright she could not help seeing that he, too, seemed
pale and agitated, at which she recovered her tongue and her self-
"Anybody would be frightened by being dogged about under the trees,"
she said pertly.
"But you called out before you saw me," he said bluntly, "as if
something had frightened you. That was WHY I came towards you."
She knew it was the truth; but as she would not confess to her
vision, she fibbed outrageously.
"Frightened," she said, with pale but lofty indignation. "What was
there to frighten me? I'm not a baby, to think I see a bogie in
the dark!" This was said in the faint hope that HE had seen
something too. If it had been Larry or her father who had met her,
she would have confessed everything.
"You had better go in," he said curtly. "I will see you safe
inside the house."
She demurred at this, but as she could not persist in her first
bold intention of examining the locality of the vision without
admitting its existence, she permitted him to walk with her to the
house, and then at once fled to her own room. Larry and her father
noticed their entrance together and their agitated manner, and were
uneasy. Yet the colonel's paternal pride and Larry's lover's
respect kept the two men from communicating their thoughts to each
"The confounded pup has been tryin' to be familiar, and Polly's set
him down," thought Larry, with glowing satisfaction.
"He's been trying some of his sanctimonious Yankee abolition talk
on Polly, and she shocked him!" thought the colonel exultingly.
But poor Polly had other things to think of in the silence of her
room. Another woman would have unburdened herself to a confidante;
but Polly was too loyal to her father to shatter his beliefs, and
too high-spirited to take another and a lesser person into her
confidence. She was certain that Aunt Chloe would be full of
sympathetic belief and speculations, but she would not trust a
nigger with what she couldn't tell her own father. For Polly
really and truly believed that she had seen a ghost, no doubt the
ghost of the murdered Sobriente, according to Larry's story. WHY
he should appear with only his head above ground puzzled her,
although it suggested the Catholic idea of purgatory, and he was a
Catholic! Perhaps he would have risen entirely but for that stupid
Starbuck's presence; perhaps he had a message for HER alone. The
idea pleased Polly, albeit it was a "fearful joy" and attended with
some cold shivering. Naturally, as a gentleman, he would appear to
HER--the daughter of a gentleman--the successor to his house--
rather than to a Yankee stranger. What was she to do? For once
her calm nerves were strangely thrilled; she could not think of
undressing and going to bed, and two o'clock surprised her, still
meditating, and occasionally peeping from her window upon the
moonlit but vacant garden. If she saw him again, would she dare to
go down alone? Suddenly she started to her feet with a beating
heart! There was the unmistakable sound of a stealthy footstep in
the passage, coming towards her room. Was it he? In spite of her
high resolves she felt that if the door opened she should scream!
She held her breath--the footsteps came nearer--were before her
Then it was that the blood rushed back to her cheek with a flush of
indignation. Her room was at the end of the passage; there was
nothing beyond but a private staircase, long disused, except by
herself, as a short cut through the old patio to the garden. No
one else knew of it, and no one else had the right of access to it!
This insolent human intrusion--as she was satisfied it was now--
overcame her fear, and she glided to the door. Opening it softly,
she could hear the stealthy footsteps descending. She darted back,
threw a shawl over her head and shoulders, and taking the small
Derringer pistol which it had always been part of her ostentatious
independence to place at her bed-head, she as stealthily followed
the intruder. But the footsteps had died away before she reached
the patio, and she saw only the small deserted, grass-grown
courtyard, half hidden in shadows, in whose centre stood the
fateful and long sealed-up well! A shudder came over her at again
being brought into contact with the cause of her frightful vision,
but as her eyes became accustomed to the darkness, she saw
something more real and appalling! The well was no longer sealed!
Fragments of bricks and boards lay around it! One end of a rope,
coiled around it like a huge snake, descended its foul depths; and
as she gazed with staring eyes, the head and shoulders of a man
emerged slowly from it! But it was NOT the ghostly apparition of
last evening, and her terror changed to scorn and indignation as
she recognized the face of Starbuck!
Their eyes met; an oath broke from his lips. He made a movement to
spring from the well, but as the girl started back, the pistol held
in her hand was discharged aimlessly in the air, and the report
echoed throughout the courtyard. With a curse Starbuck drew back,
instantly disappeared in the well, and Polly fell fainting on the
steps. When she came to, her father and Larry were at her side.
They had been alarmed at the report, and had rushed quickly to the
patio, but not in time to prevent the escape of Starbuck and his
accomplice. By the time she had recovered her consciousness, they
had learned the full extent of that extraordinary revelation which
she had so innocently precipitated. Sobriente's well had really
concealed a rich gold ledge,--actually tunneled and galleried by
him secretly in the past,--and its only other outlet was an opening
in the garden hidden by a stone which turned on a swivel. Its
existence had been unknown to Sobriente's successor, but was known
to the Kanaka who had worked with Sobriente, who fled with his
daughter after the murder, but who no doubt was afraid to return
and work the mine. He had imparted the secret to Starbuck, another
half-breed, son of a Yankee missionary and Hawaiian wife, who had
evidently conceived this plan of seeking Buena Vista with an
accomplice, and secretly removing such gold as was still
accessible. The accomplice, afterwards identified by Larry as the
wandering tramp, failed to discover the secret entrance FROM the
garden, and Starbuck was consequently obliged to attempt it from
the hotel--for which purpose he had introduced himself as a
boarder--by opening the disused well secretly at night. These
facts were obtained from papers found in the otherwise valueless
trunks, weighted with stones for ballast, which Starbuck had
brought to the hotel to take away his stolen treasure in, but which
he was obliged to leave in his hurried flight. The attempt would
have doubtless succeeded but for Polly's courageous and timely
And now that they had told her ALL, they only wanted to know what
had first excited HER suspicions, and driven her to seek the well
as the object of Starbuck's machinations? THEY had noticed her
manner when she entered the house that night, and Starbuck's
evident annoyance. Had she taxed him with her suspicions, and so
discovered a clue?
It was a terrible temptation to Polly to pose as a more perfect
heroine, and one may not blame her if she did not rise entirely
superior to it. Her previous belief, that the head of the
accomplice at the opening of the garden was that of a GHOST, she
now felt was certainly in the way, as was also her conduct to
Starbuck, whom she believed to be equally frightened, and whom she
never once suspected! So she said, with a certain lofty
simplicity, that there were SOME THINGS which she really did not
care to talk about, and Larry and her father left her that night
with the firm conviction that the rascal Starbuck had tried to
tempt her to fly with him and his riches, and had been crushingly
foiled. Polly never denied this, and once, in later days, when
admiringly taxed with it by Larry, she admitted with dove-like
simplicity that she MAY have been too foolishly polite to her
father's guest for the sake of her father's hotel.
However, all this was of small account to the thrilling news of a
new discovery and working of the "old gold ledge" at Buena Vista!
As the three kept their secret from the world, the discovery was
accepted in the neighborhood as the result of careful examination
and prospecting on the part of Colonel Swinger and his partner
Larry Hawkins. And when the latter gentleman afterwards boldly
proposed to Polly Swinger, she mischievously declared that she
accepted him only that the secret might not go "out of the family."
LIBERTY JONES'S DISCOVERY
It was at best merely a rocky trail winding along a shelf of the
eastern slope of the Santa Cruz range, yet the only road between
the sea and the inland valley. The hoof-prints of a whole century
of zigzagging mules were impressed on the soil, regularly soaked by
winter rains and dried by summer suns during that period; the
occasional ruts of heavy, rude, wooden wheels--long obsolete--were
still preserved and visible. Weather-worn boulders and ledges,
lying in the unclouded glare of an August sky, radiated a quivering
heat that was intolerable, even while above them the masts of
gigantic pines rocked their tops in the cold southwestern trades
from the unseen ocean beyond. A red, burning dust lay everywhere,
as if the heat were slowly and visibly precipitating itself.
The creaking of wheels and axles, the muffled plunge of hoofs, and
the cough of a horse in the dust thus stirred presently broke the
profound woodland silence. Then a dirty white canvas-covered
emigrant wagon slowly arose with the dust along the ascent. It was
travel-stained and worn, and with its rawboned horses seemed to
have reached the last stage of its journey and fitness. The only
occupants, a man and a girl, appeared to be equally jaded and
exhausted, with the added querulousness of discontent in their
sallow and badly nourished faces. Their voices, too, were not
unlike the creaking they had been pitched to overcome, and there
was an absence of reserve and consciousness in their speech, which
told pathetically of an equal absence of society.
"It's no user talkin'! I tell ye, ye hain't got no more sense than
a coyote! I'm sick and tired of it, doggoned if I ain't! Ye ain't
no more use nor a hossfly,--and jest ez hinderin'! It was along o'
you that we lost the stock at Laramie, and ef ye'd bin at all
decent and takin', we'd hev had kempany that helped, instead of
laggin' on yere alone!"
"What did ye bring me for?" retorted the girl shrilly. "I might
hev stayed with Aunt Marty. I wasn't hankerin' to come."
"Bring ye for?" repeated her father contemptuously; "I reckoned ye
might he o' some account here, whar wimmin folks is skeerce, in the
way o' helpin',--and mebbe gettin' yer married to some likely
feller. Mighty much chance o' that, with yer yaller face and skin
"Ye can't blame me for takin' arter you, dad," she said, with a
shrill laugh, but no other resentment of his brutality.
"Ye want somebody to take arter you--with a club," he retorted
angrily. "Ye hear! Wot's that ye're doin' now?"
She had risen and walked to the tail of the wagon. "Goin' to get
out and walk. I'm tired o' bein' jawed at."
She jumped into the road. The act was neither indignant nor
vengeful; the frequency of such scenes had blunted their sting.
She was probably "tired" of the quarrel, and ended it rudely. Her
father, however, let fly a Parthian arrow.
"Ye needn't think I'm goin' to wait for ye, ez I hev! Ye've got to
keep tetch with the team, or get left. And a good riddance of bad
In reply the girl dived into the underwood beside the trail, picked
a wild berry or two, stripped a wand of young hazel she had broken
off, and switching it at her side, skipped along on the outskirts
of the wood and ambled after the wagon. Seen in the full,
merciless glare of a Californian sky, she justified her father's
description; thin and bony, her lank frame outstripped the body of
her ragged calico dress, which was only kept on her shoulders by
straps,--possibly her father's cast-off braces. A boy's soft felt
hat covered her head, and shadowed her only notable feature, a pair
of large dark eyes, looking larger for the hollow temples which
narrowed the frame in which they were set.
So long as the wagon crawled up the ascent the girl knew she could
easily keep up with it, or even distance the tired horses. She
made one or two incursions into the wood, returning like an animal
from quest of food, with something in her mouth, which she was
tentatively chewing, and once only with some inedible mandrono
berries, plucked solely for their brilliant coloring. It was very
hot and singularly close; the higher current of air had subsided,
and, looking up, a singular haze seemed to have taken its place
between the treetops. Suddenly she heard a strange, rumbling
sound; an odd giddiness overtook her, and she was obliged to clutch
at a sapling to support herself; she laughed vacantly, though a
little frightened, and looked vaguely towards the summit of the
road; but the wagon had already disappeared. A strange feeling of
nausea then overcame her; she spat out the leaves she had been
chewing, disgustedly. But the sensation as quickly passed, and she
once more sought the trail and began slowly to follow the tracks of
the wagon. The air blew freshly, the treetops began again to rock
over her head, and the incident was forgotten.
Presently she paused; she must have missed the trail, for the wagon
tracks had ended abruptly before a large boulder that lay across
the mountain trail. She dipped into the woods again; here there
were other wagon tracks that confused her. It was like her dogged,
stupid father to miss the trail; she felt a gleam of malicious
satisfaction at his discomfiture. Sooner or later, he would have
to retrace his steps and virtually come back for her! She took up
a position where two rough wheel ruts and tracks intersected each
other, one of which must be the missing trail. She noticed, too,
the broader hoof-prints of cattle without the following wheel ruts,
and instead of traces, the long smooth trails made by the dragging
of logs, and knew by these tokens that she must be near the highway
or some woodman's hut or ranch. She began to be thirsty, and was
glad, presently, when her quick, rustic ear caught the tinkling of
water. Yet it was not so easy to discover, and she was getting
footsore and tired again before she found it, some distance away,
in a gully coming from a fissure in a dislocated piece of outcrop.
It was beautifully clear, cold, and sparkling, with a slightly
sweetish taste, yet unlike the brackish "alkali" of the plains. It
refreshed and soothed her greatly, so much that, reclining against
a tree, but where she would be quite visible from the trail, her
eyes closed dreamily, and presently she slept.
When she awoke, the shafts of sunlight were striking almost level
into her eyes. She must have slept two hours. Her father had not
returned; she knew the passage of the wagon would have awakened
her. She began to feel strange, but not yet alarmed; it was only
the uncertainty that made her uneasy. Had her father really gone
on by some other trail? Or had he really hurried on and left her,
as he said he would? The thought brought an odd excitement to her
rather than any fear. A sudden sense of freedom, as if some
galling chain had dropped from her, sent a singular thrill through
her frame. Yet she felt confused with her independence, not
knowing what to do with it, and momentarily dazzled with the
At this moment she heard voices, and the figures of two men
appeared on the trail.
They were talking earnestly, and walking as if familiar with the
spot, yet gazing around them as if at some novelty of the aspect.
"And look there," said one; "there has been some serious disturbance
of that outcrop," pointing in the direction of the spring; "the
lower part has distinctly subsided." He spoke with a certain
authority, and dominance of position, and was evidently the
superior, as he was the elder of the two, although both were roughly
"Yes, it does kinder look as if it had lost its holt, like the
"And you see I am right; the movement was from east to west,"
continued the elder man.
The girl could not comprehend what they said, and even thought them
a little silly. But she advanced towards them; at which they
stopped short, staring at her. With feminine instinct she
addressed the more important one:--
"Ye ain't passed no wagon nor team goin' on, hev ye?"
"What sort of wagon?" said the man.
"Em'grant wagon, two yaller hosses. Old man--my dad--drivin'."
She added the latter kinship as a protecting influence against
strangers, in spite of her previous independence.
The men glanced at each other.
"How long ago?"
The girl suddenly remembered that she had slept two hours.
"Sens noon," she said hesitatingly.
"Since the earthquake?"
The man came impatiently towards her. "How did you come here?"
"Got outer the wagon to walk. I reckon dad missed the trail, and
hez got off somewhere where I can't find him."
"What trail was he on,--where was he going?"
"Sank Hozay,* I reckon. He was goin' up the grade--side o' the
hill; he must hev turned off where there's a big rock hangin'
* San Jose.
"Did you SEE him turn off?"
The second man, who was in hearing distance, had turned away, and
was ostentatiously examining the sky and the treetops; the man who
had spoken to her joined him, and they said something in a low
voice. They turned again and came slowly towards her. She, from
some obscure sense of imitation, stared at the treetops and the sky
as the second man had done. But the first man now laid his hand
kindly on her shoulder and said, "Sit down."
Then they told her there had been an earthquake so strong that it
had thrown down a part of the hillside, including the wagon trail.
That a wagon team and driver, such as she had described, had been
carried down with it, crushed to fragments, and buried under a
hundred feet of rock in the gulch below. A party had gone down to
examine, but it would be weeks perhaps before they found it, and
she must be prepared for the worst. She looked at them vaguely and
with tearless eyes.
"Then ye reckon dad's dead?"
"We fear it."
"Then wot's a-goin' to become o' me?" she said simply.
They glanced again at each other. "Have you no friends in
California?" said the elder man.
"What was your father going to do?"
"Dunno. I reckon HE didn't either."
"You may stay here for the present," said the elder man meditatively.
"Can you milk?"
The girl nodded. "And I suppose you know something about looking
after stock?" he continued.
The girl remembered that her father thought she didn't, but this
was no time for criticism, and she again nodded.
"Come with me," said the older man, rising. "I suppose," he added,
glancing at her ragged frock, "everything you have is in the
She nodded, adding with the same cold naivete, "It ain't much!"
They walked on, the girl following; at times straying furtively on
either side, as if meditating an escape in the woods,--which indeed
had once or twice been vaguely in her thoughts,--but chiefly to
avoid further questioning and not to hear what the men said to each
other. For they were evidently speaking of her, and she could not
help hearing the younger repeat her words, "Wot's agoin' to become
o' me?" with considerable amusement, and the addition: "She'll take
care of herself, you bet! I call that remark o' hers the richest
"And I call the state of things that provoked it--monstrous!" said
the elder man grimly. "You don't know the lives of these people."
Presently they came to an open clearing in the forest, yet so
incomplete that many of the felled trees, partly lopped of their
boughs, still lay where they had fallen. There was a cabin or
dwelling of unplaned, unpainted boards; very simple in structure,
yet made in a workmanlike fashion, quite unlike the usual log cabin
she had seen. This made her think that the elder man was a
"towny," and not a frontiersman like the other.
As they approached the cabin the elder man stopped, and turning to
"Do you know Indians?"
The girl started, and then recovering herself with a quick laugh:
"G'lang!--there ain't any Injins here!"
"Not the kind YOU mean; these are very peaceful. There's a squaw
here whom you will"--he stopped, hesitated as he looked critically
at the girl, and then corrected himself--"who will help you."
He pushed open the cabin door and showed an interior, equally
simple but well joined and fitted,--a marvel of neatness and finish
to the frontier girl's eye. There were shelves and cupboards and
other conveniences, yet with no ostentation of refinement to
frighten her rustic sensibilities.
Then he pushed open another door leading into a shed and called
"Waya." A stout, undersized Indian woman, fitted with a coarse
cotton gown, but cleaner and more presentable than the girl's one
frock, appeared in the doorway. "This is Waya, who attends to the
cooking and cleaning," he said; "and by the way, what is your
He took a small memorandum book and a "stub" of pencil from his
pocket. "Elizabeth Jones," he said, writing it down. The girl
interposed a long red hand.
"No," she interrupted sharply, "not Elizabeth, but Libby, short for
"Liberty Jones, then. Well, Waya, this is Miss Jones, who will
look after the cows and calves--and the dairy." Then glancing at
her torn dress, he added: "You'll find some clean things in there,
until I can send up something from San Jose. Waya will show you."
Without further speech he turned away with the other man. When
they were some distance from the cabin, the younger remarked:--
"More like a boy than a girl, ain't she?"
"So much the better for her work," returned the elder grimly.
"I reckon! I was only thinkin' she didn't han'some much either as
a boy or girl, eh, doctor?" he pursued.
"Well! as THAT won't make much difference to the cows, calves, or
the dairy, it needn't trouble US," returned the doctor dryly. But
here a sudden outburst of laughter from the cabin made them both
turn in that direction. They were in time to see Liberty Jones
dancing out of the cabin door in a large cotton pinafore, evidently
belonging to the squaw, who was following her with half-laughing,
half-frightened expostulations. The two men stopped and gazed at
"Don't seem to be takin' the old man's death very pow'fully," said
the younger, with a laugh.
"Quite as much as he deserved, I daresay," said the doctor curtly.
"If the accident had happened to HER, he would have whined and
whimpered to us for the sake of getting something, but have been as
much relieved, you may be certain. SHE'S too young and too natural
to be a hypocrite yet."
Suddenly the laughter ceased and Liberty Jones's voice arose,
shrill but masterful: "Thar, that'll do! Quit now! You jest get
back to your scrubbin'--d'ye hear? I'm boss o' this shanty, you
The doctor turned with a grim smile to his companion. "That's the
only thing that bothered me, and I've been waiting for. She's
settled it. She'll do. Come."
They turned away briskly through the wood. At the end of half an
hour's walk they found the team that had brought them there in
waiting, and drove towards San Jose. It was nearly ten miles
before they passed another habitation or trace of clearing. And by
this time night had fallen upon the cabin they had left, and upon
the newly made orphan and her Indian companion, alone and contented
in that trackless solitude.
. . . . . .
Liberty Jones had been a year at the cabin. In that time she had
learned that her employer's name was Doctor Ruysdael, that he had a
lucrative practice in San Jose, but had also "taken up" a league or
two of wild forest land in the Santa Cruz range, which he preserved
and held after a fashion of his own, which gave him the reputation
of being a "crank" among the very few neighbors his vast possessions
permitted, and the equally few friends his singular tastes allowed
him. It was believed that a man owning such an enormous quantity of
timber land, who should refuse to set up a sawmill and absolutely
forbid the felling of trees; who should decline to connect it with
the highway to Santa Cruz, and close it against improvement and
speculation, had given sufficient evidence of his insanity; but when
to this was added the rumor that he himself was not only devoid of
the human instinct of hunting the wild animals with which his domain
abounded, but that he held it so sacred to their use as to forbid
the firing of a gun within his limits, and that these restrictions
were further preserved and "policed" by the scattered remnants of a
band of aborigines,--known as "digger Injins,"--it was seriously
hinted that his eccentricity had acquired a political and moral
significance, and demanded legislative interference. But the doctor
was a rich man, a necessity to his patients, a good marksman, and,
it was rumored, did not include his fellow men among the animals he
had a distaste for killing.
Of all this, however, Liberty knew little and cared less. The
solitude appealed to her sense of freedom; she did not "hanker"
after a society she had never known. At the end of the first week,
when the doctor communicated to her briefly, by letter, the
convincing proofs of the death of her father and his entombment
beneath the sunken cliff, she accepted the fact without comment or
apparent emotion. Two months later, when her only surviving
relative, "Aunt Marty," of Missouri, acknowledged the news--
communicated by Doctor Ruysdael--with Scriptural quotations and the
cheerful hope that it "would be a lesson to her" and she would
"profit in her new place," she left her aunt's letter unanswered.
She looked after the cows and calves with an interest that was
almost possessory, patronized and played with the squaw,--yet made
her feel her inferiority,--and moved among the peaceful aborigines
with the domination of a white woman and a superior. She tolerated
the half-monthly visits of "Jim Hoskins," the young companion of
the doctor, who she learned was the doctor's factor and overseer of
the property, who lived seven miles away on an agricultural
clearing, and whose control of her actions was evidently limited by
the doctor,--for the doctor's sake alone. Nor was Mr. Hoskins
inclined to exceed those limits. He looked upon her as something
abnormal,--a "crank" as remarkable in her way as her patron was in
his, neuter of sex and vague of race, and he simply restricted his
supervision to the bringing and taking of messages. She remained
sole queen of the domain. A rare straggler from the main road,
penetrating this seclusion, might have scarcely distinguished her
from Waya, in her coarse cotton gown and slouched hat, except for
the free stride which contrasted with her companion's waddle.
Once, in following an estrayed calf, she had crossed the highway
and been saluted by a passing teamster in the digger dialect; yet
the mistake left no sting in her memory. And, like the digger, she
shrank from that civilization which had only proved a hard
The sole touch of human interest she had in her surroundings was in
the rare visits of the doctor and his brief but sincere commendation
of her rude and rustic work. It is possible that the strange,
middle-aged, gray-haired, intellectual man, whose very language was
at times mysterious and unintelligible to her, and whose suggestion
of power awed her, might have touched some untried filial chord in
her being. Although she felt that, save for absolute freedom, she
was little more to him than she had been to her father, yet he had
never told her she had "no sense," that she was "a hindrance," and
he had even praised her performance of her duties. Eagerly as she
looked for his coming, in his actual presence she felt a singular
uneasiness of which she was not entirely ashamed, and if she was
relieved at his departure, it none the less left her to a delightful
memory of him, a warm sense of his approval, and a fierce ambition
to be worthy of it, for which she would have sacrificed herself or
the other miserable retainers about her, as a matter of course. She
had driven Waya and the other squaws far along the sparse tableland
pasture in search of missing stock; she herself had lain out all
night on the rocks beside an ailing heifer. Yet, while satisfied to
earn his praise for the performance of her duty, for some feminine
reason she thought more frequently of a casual remark he had made on
his last visit: "You are stronger and more healthy in this air," he
had said, looking critically into her face. "We have got that
abominable alkali out of your system, and wholesome food will do the
rest." She was not sure she had quite understood him, but she
remembered that she had felt her face grow hot when he spoke,--
perhaps because she had not understood him.
His next visit was a day or two delayed, and in her anxiety she had
ventured as far as the highway to earnestly watch for his coming.
From her hiding-place in the underwood she could see the team and
Jim Hoskins already waiting for him. Presently she saw him drive
up to the trail in a carryall with a party of ladies and gentlemen.
He alighted, bade "Good-by" to the party, and the team turned to
retrace its course. But in that single moment she had been struck
and bewildered by what seemed to her the dazzlingly beautiful
apparel of the women, and their prettiness. She felt a sudden
consciousness of her own coarse, shapeless calico gown, her
straggling hair, and her felt hat, and a revulsion of feeling
seized her. She crept like a wounded animal out of the underwood,
and then ran swiftly and almost fiercely back towards the cabin.
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