Mrs. Skaggs's Husbands
Part 1 out of 3
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MRS. SKAGGS'S HUSBANDS
by Bret Harte
MRS. SKAGGS'S HUSBANDS
HOW SANTA CLAUS CAME TO SIMPSON'S BAR
THE PRINCESS BOB AND HER FRIENDS
THE ILIAD OF SANDY BAR
MR. THOMPSON'S PRODIGAL
THE ROMANCE OR MADRONO HOLLOW
THE POET OF SIERRA FLAT
THE CHRISTMAS GIFT THAT CAME TO RUPERT
MRS. SKAGGS'S HUSBANDS.
The sun was rising in the foot-hills. But for an hour the black
mass of Sierra eastward of Angel's had been outlined with fire, and
the conventional morning had come two hours before with the down
coach from Placerville. The dry, cold, dewless California night
still lingered in the long canyons and folded skirts of Table
Mountain. Even on the mountain road the air was still sharp, and
that urgent necessity for something to keep out the chill, which
sent the barkeeper sleepily among his bottles and wineglasses at
the station, obtained all along the road.
Perhaps it might be said that the first stir of life was in the
bar-rooms. A few birds twittered in the sycamores at the roadside,
but long before that glasses had clicked and bottles gurgled in the
saloon of the Mansion House. This was still lit by a dissipated-
looking hanging-lamp, which was evidently the worse for having been
up all night, and bore a singular resemblance to a faded reveller
of Angel's, who even then sputtered and flickered in HIS socket in
an arm-chair below it,--a resemblance so plain that when the first
level sunbeam pierced the window-pane, the barkeeper, moved by a
sentiment of consistency and compassion, put them both out together.
Then the sun came up haughtily. When it had passed the eastern
ridge it began, after its habit, to lord it over Angel's, sending
the thermometer up twenty degrees in as many minutes, driving the
mules to the sparse shade of corrals and fences, making the red
dust incandescent, and renewing its old imperious aggression on the
spiked bosses of the convex shield of pines that defended Table
Mountain. Thither by nine o'clock all coolness had retreated, and
the "outsides" of the up stage plunged their hot faces in its
aromatic shadows as in water.
It was the custom of the driver of the Wingdam coach to whip up his
horses and enter Angel's at that remarkable pace which the woodcuts
in the hotel bar-room represented to credulous humanity as the
usual rate of speed of that conveyance. At such times the habitual
expression of disdainful reticence and lazy official severity which
he wore on the box became intensified as the loungers gathered
about the vehicle, and only the boldest ventured to address him.
It was the Hon. Judge Beeswinger, Member of Assembly, who to-day
presumed, perhaps rashly, on the strength of his official position.
"Any political news from below, Bill?" he asked, as the latter
slowly descended from his lofty perch, without, however, any
perceptible coming down of mien or manner.
"Not much," said Bill, with deliberate gravity. "The President o'
the United States hezn't bin hisself sens you refoosed that seat in
the Cabinet. The ginral feelin' in perlitical circles is one o'
Irony, even of this outrageous quality, was too common in Angel's
to excite either a smile or a frown. Bill slowly entered the bar-
room during a dry, dead silence, in which only a faint spirit of
"Ye didn't bring up that agint o' Rothschild's this trip?" asked
the barkeeper, slowly, by way of vague contribution to the
prevailing tone of conversation.
"No," responded Bill, with thoughtful exactitude. "He said he
couldn't look inter that claim o' Johnson's without first
consultin' the Bank o' England."
The Mr. Johnson here alluded to being present as the faded reveller
the barkeeper had lately put out, and as the alleged claim
notoriously possessed no attractions whatever to capitalists,
expectation naturally looked to him for some response to this
evident challenge. He did so by simply stating that he would "take
sugar" in his, and by walking unsteadily toward the bar, as if
accepting a festive invitation. To the credit of Bill be it
recorded that he did not attempt to correct the mistake, but
gravely touched glasses with him, and after saying "Here's another
nail in your coffin,"--a cheerful sentiment, to which "And the hair
all off your head," was playfully added by the others,--he threw
off his liquor with a single dexterous movement of head and elbow,
and stood refreshed.
"Hello, old major!" said Bill, suddenly setting down his glass.
"Are YOU there?"
It was a boy, who, becoming bashfully conscious that this epithet
was addressed to him, retreated sideways to the doorway, where he
stood beating his hat against the door-post with an assumption of
indifference that his downcast but mirthful dark eyes and reddening
cheek scarcely bore out. Perhaps it was owing to his size, perhaps
it was to a certain cherubic outline of face and figure, perhaps to
a peculiar trustfulness of expression, that he did not look half
his age, which was really fourteen.
Everybody in Angel's knew the boy. Either under the venerable
title bestowed by Bill, or as "Tom Islington," after his adopted
father, his was a familiar presence in the settlement, and the
theme of much local criticism and comment. His waywardness,
indolence, and unaccountable amiability--a quality at once
suspicious and gratuitous in a pioneer community like Angel's--had
often been the subject of fierce discussion. A large and reputable
majority believed him destined for the gallows; a minority not
quite so reputable enjoyed his presence without troubling
themselves much about his future; to one or two the evil
predictions of the majority possessed neither novelty nor terror.
"Anything for me, Bill?" asked the boy, half mechanically, with the
air of repeating some jocular formulary perfectly understood by
"Anythin' for you!" echoed Bill, with an overacted severity equally
well understood by Tommy,--"anythin' for you? No! And it's my
opinion there won't be anythin' for you ez long ez you hang around
bar-rooms and spend your valooable time with loafers and bummers.
The reproof was accompanied by a suitable exaggeration of gesture
(Bill had seized a decanter) before which the boy retreated still
good-humoredly. Bill followed him to the door. "Dern my skin, if
he hezn't gone off with that bummer Johnson," he added, as he
looked down the road.
"What's he expectin', Bill?" asked the barkeeper.
"A letter from his aunt. Reckon he'll hev to take it out in
expectin'. Likely they're glad to get shut o' him."
"He's leadin' a shiftless, idle life here," interposed the Member
"Well," said Bill, who never allowed any one but himself to abuse
his protege, "seein' he ain't expectin' no offis from the hands of
an enlightened constitooency, it IS rayther a shiftless life."
After delivering this Parthian arrow with a gratuitous twanging of
the bow to indicate its offensive personality, Bill winked at the
barkeeper, slowly resumed a pair of immense, bulgy buckskin gloves,
which gave his fingers the appearance of being painfully sore and
bandaged, strode to the door without looking at anybody, called
out, "All aboard," with a perfunctory air of supreme indifference
whether the invitation was heeded, remounted his box, and drove
Perhaps it was well that he did so, for the conversation at once
assumed a disrespectful attitude toward Tom and his relatives. It
was more than intimated that Tom's alleged aunt was none other than
Tom's real mother, while it was also asserted that Tom's alleged
uncle did not himself participate in this intimate relationship to
the boy to an extent which the fastidious taste of Angel's deemed
moral and necessary. Popular opinion also believed that Islington,
the adopted father, who received a certain stipend ostensibly for
the boy's support, retained it as a reward for his reticence
regarding these facts. "He ain't ruinin' hisself by wastin' it on
Tom," said the barkeeper, who possibly possessed positive knowledge
of much of Islington's disbursements. But at this point exhausted
nature languished among some of the debaters, and he turned from
the frivolity of conversation to his severer professional duties.
It was also well that Bill's momentary attitude of didactic
propriety was not further excited by the subsequent conduct of his
protege. For by this time Tom, half supporting the unstable
Johnson, who developed a tendency to occasionally dash across the
glaring road, but checked himself mid way each time, reached the
corral which adjoined the Mansion House. At its farther extremity
was a pump and horse-trough. Here, without a word being spoken,
but evidently in obedience to some habitual custom, Tom led his
companion. With the boy's assistance, Johnson removed his coat and
neckcloth, turned back the collar of his shirt, and gravely placed
his head beneath the pump-spout. With equal gravity and
deliberation, Tom took his place at the handle. For a few moments
only the splashing of water and regular strokes of the pump broke
the solemnly ludicrous silence. Then there was a pause in which
Johnson put his hands to his dripping head, felt of it critically
as if it belonged to somebody else, and raised his eyes to his
companion. "That ought to fetch IT," said Tom, in answer to the
look. "Ef it don't," replied Johnson, doggedly, with an air of
relieving himself of all further responsibility in the matter,
"it's got to, thet's all!"
If "it" referred to some change in the physiognomy of Johnson, "it"
had probably been "fetched" by the process just indicated. The
head that went under the pump was large, and clothed with bushy,
uncertain-colored hair; the face was flushed, puffy, and
expressionless, the eyes injected and full. The head that came out
from under the pump was of smaller size and different shape, the
hair straight, dark, and sleek, the face pale and hollow-cheeked,
the eyes bright and restless. In the haggard, nervous ascetic that
rose from the horse-trough there was very little trace of the
Bacchus that had bowed there a moment before. Familiar as Tom must
have been with the spectacle, he could not help looking inquiringly
at the trough, as if expecting to see some traces of the previous
Johnson in its shallow depths.
A narrow strip of willow, alder, and buckeye--a mere dusty,
ravelled fringe of the green mantle that swept the high shoulders
of Table Mountain--lapped the edge of the corral. The silent pair
were quick to avail themselves of even its scant shelter from the
overpowering sun. They had not proceeded far, before Johnson, who
was walking quite rapidly in advance, suddenly brought himself up,
and turned to his companion with an interrogative "Eh?"
"I didn't speak," said Tommy, quietly.
"Who said you spoke?" said Johnson, with a quick look of cunning.
"In course you didn't speak, and I didn't speak, neither. Nobody
spoke. Wot makes you think you spoke?" he continued, peering
curiously into Tommy's eyes.
The smile which habitually shone there quickly vanished as the boy
stepped quietly to his companion's side, and took his arm without a
"In course you didn't speak, Tommy," said Johnson, deprecatingly.
"You ain't a boy to go for to play an ole soaker like me. That's
wot I like you for. Thet's wot I seed in you from the first. I
sez, 'Thet 'ere boy ain't goin' to play you, Johnson! You can go
your whole pile on him, when you can't trust even a bar-keep.'
Thet's wot I said. Eh?"
This time Tommy prudently took no notice of the interrogation, and
Johnson went on: "Ef I was to ask you another question, you
wouldn't go to play me neither,--would you, Tommy?"
"No," said the boy.
"Ef I was to ask you," continued Johnson, without heeding the
reply, but with a growing anxiety of eye and a nervous twitching of
his lips,--"ef I was to ask you, fur instance, ef that was a
jackass rabbit thet jest passed,--eh?--you'd say it was or was not,
ez the case may be. You wouldn't play the ole man on thet?"
"No," said Tommy, quietly, "it WAS a jackass rabbit."
"Ef I was to ask you," continued Johnson, "ef it wore, say, fur
instance, a green hat with yaller ribbons, you wouldn't play me,
and say it did, onless,"--he added, with intensified cunning,--
"onless it DID?"
"No," said Tommy, "of course I wouldn't; but then, you see, IT
"It did!" repeated Tommy, stoutly; "a green hat with yellow
ribbons--and--and--a red rosette."
"I didn't get to see the ros-ette," said Johnson, with slow and
conscientious deliberation, yet with an evident sense of relief;
"but that ain't sayin' it warn't there, you know. Eh?"
Tommy glanced quietly at his companion. There were great beads of
perspiration on his ashen-gray forehead and on the ends of his lank
hair; the hand which twitched spasmodically in his was cold and
clammy, the other, which was free, had a vague, purposeless, jerky
activity, as if attached to some deranged mechanism. Without any
apparent concern in these phenomena, Tommy halted, and, seating
himself on a log, motioned his companion to a place beside him.
Johnson obeyed without a word. Slight as was the act, perhaps no
other incident of their singular companionship indicated as
completely the dominance of this careless, half-effeminate, but
self-possessed boy over this doggedly self-willed, abnormally
"It ain't the square thing," said Johnson, after a pause, with a
laugh that was neither mirthful nor musical, and frightened away a
lizard that had been regarding the pair with breathless suspense,--
"it ain't the square thing for jackass rabbits to wear hats,
Tommy,--is it, eh?"
"Well," said Tommy, with unmoved composure, "sometimes they do and
sometimes they don't. Animals are mighty queer." And here Tommy
went off in an animated, but, I regret to say, utterly untruthful
and untrustworthy account of the habits of California fauna, until
he was interrupted by Johnson.
"And snakes, eh, Tommy?" said the man, with an abstracted air,
gazing intently on the ground before him.
"And snakes," said Tommy; "but they don't bite, at least not that
kind you see. There!--don't move, Uncle Ben, don't move; they're
gone now. And it's about time you took your dose."
Johnson had hurriedly risen as if to leap upon the log, but Tommy
had as quickly caught his arm with one hand while he drew a bottle
from his pocket with the other. Johnson paused, and eyed the
bottle. "Ef you say so, my boy," he faltered, as his fingers
closed nervously around it; say 'when,' then." He raised the
bottle to his lips and took a long draught, the boy regarding him
critically. "When," said Tommy, suddenly. Johnson started,
flushed, and returned the bottle quickly. But the color that had
risen to his cheek stayed there, his eye grew less restless, and as
they moved away again, the hand that rested on Tommy's shoulder was
Their way lay along the flank of Table Mountain,--a wandering trail
through a tangled solitude that might have seemed virgin and
unbroken but for a few oyster-cans, yeast-powder tins, and empty
bottles that had been apparently stranded by the "first low wash"
of pioneer waves. On the ragged trunk of an enormous pine hung a
few tufts of gray hair caught from a passing grizzly, but in
strange juxtaposition at its foot lay an empty bottle of
incomparable bitters,--the chef-d'oeuvre of a hygienic
civilization, and blazoned with the arms of an all-healing
republic. The head of a rattlesnake peered from a case that had
contained tobacco, which was still brightly placarded with the
high-colored effigy of a popular danseuse. And a little beyond
this the soil was broken and fissured, there was a confused mass of
roughly hewn timber, a straggling line of sluicing, a heap of
gravel and dirt, a rude cabin, and the claim of Johnson.
Except for the rudest purposes of shelter from rain and cold, the
cabin possessed but little advantage over the simple savagery of
surrounding nature. It had all the practical directness of the
habitation of some animal, without its comfort or picturesque
quality; the very birds that haunted it for food must have felt
their own superiority as architects. It was inconceivably dirty,
even with its scant capacity for accretion; it was singularly
stale, even in its newness and freshness of material. Unspeakably
dreary as it was in shadow, the sunlight visited it in a blind,
aching, purposeless way, as if despairing of mellowing its outlines
or of even tanning it into color.
The claim worked by Johnson in his intervals of sobriety was
represented by half a dozen rude openings in the mountain-side,
with the heaped-up debris of rock and gravel before the mouth of
each. They gave very little evidence of engineering skill or
constructive purpose, or indeed showed anything but the vague,
successively abandoned essays of their projector. To-day they
served another purpose, for as the sun had heated the little cabin
almost to the point of combustion, curling up the long dry
shingles, and starting aromatic tears from the green pine beams,
Tommy led Johnson into one of the larger openings, and with a sense
of satisfaction threw himself panting upon its rocky floor. Here
and there the grateful dampness was condensed in quiet pools of
water, or in a monotonous and soothing drip from the rocks above.
Without lay the staring sunlight,--colorless, clarified, intense.
For a few moments they lay resting on their elbows in blissful
contemplation of the heat they had escaped. "Wot do you say," said
Johnson, slowly, without looking at his companion, but abstractly
addressing himself to the landscape beyond,--"wot do you say to two
straight games fur one thousand dollars?"
"Make it five thousand," replied Tommy, reflectively, also to the
landscape, "and I'm in."
"Wot do I owe you now?" said Johnson, after a lengthened silence.
"One hundred and seventy-five thousand two hundred and fifty
dollars," replied Tommy, with business-like gravity.
"Well," said Johnson, after a deliberation commensurate with the
magnitude of the transaction, "ef you win, call it a hundred and
eighty thousand, round. War's the keerds?"
They were in an old tin box in a crevice of a rock above his head.
They were greasy and worn with service. Johnson dealt, albeit his
right hand was still uncertain,--hovering, after dropping the
cards, aimlessly about Tommy, and being only recalled by a strong
nervous effort. Yet, notwithstanding this incapacity for even
honest manipulation, Mr. Johnson covertly turned a knave from the
bottom of the pack with such shameless inefficiency and gratuitous
unskilfulness, that even Tommy was obliged to cough and look
elsewhere to hide his embarrassment. Possibly for this reason the
young gentleman was himself constrained, by way of correction, to
add a valuable card to his own hand, over and above the number he
Nevertheless, the game was unexciting, and dragged listlessly.
Johnson won. He recorded the fact and the amount with a stub of
pencil and shaking fingers in wandering hieroglyphics all over a
pocket diary. Then there was a long pause, when Johnson slowly
drew something from his pocket, and held it up before his
companion. It was apparently a dull red stone.
"Ef," said Johnson, slowly, with his old look of simple cunning,--
"ef you happened to pick up sich a rock ez that, Tommy, what might
you say it was?"
"Don't know," said Tommy.
"Mightn't you say," continued Johnson, cautiously, "that it was
gold, or silver?"
"Neither," said Tommy, promptly.
"Mightn't you say it was quicksilver? Mightn't you say that ef
thar was a friend o' yourn ez knew war to go and turn out ten ton
of it a day, and every ton worth two thousand dollars, that he had
a soft thing, a very soft thing,--allowin', Tommy, that you used
sich language, which you don't?"
"But," said the boy, coming to the point with great directness, "DO
you know where to get it? have you struck it, Uncle Ben?"
Johnson looked carefully around. "I hev, Tommy. Listen. I know
whar thar's cartloads of it. But thar's only one other specimen--
the mate to this yer--thet's above ground, and thet's in 'Frisco.
Thar's an agint comin' up in a day or two to look into it. I sent
for him. Eh?"
His bright, restless eyes were concentrated on Tommy's face now,
but the boy showed neither surprise nor interest. Least of all did
he betray any recollection of Bill's ironical and gratuitous
corroboration of this part of the story.
"Nobody knows it," continued Johnson, in a nervous whisper,--
"nobody knows it but you and the agint in 'Frisco. The boys
workin' round yar passes by and sees the old man grubbin' away, and
no signs o' color, not even rotten quartz; the boys loafin' round
the Mansion House sees the old man lyin' round free in bar-rooms,
and they laughs and sez, 'Played out,' and spects nothin'. Maybe
ye think they spects suthin now, eh?" queried Johnson, suddenly,
with a sharp look of suspicion.
Tommy looked up, shook his head, threw a stone at a passing rabbit,
but did not reply.
"When I fust set eyes on you, Tommy," continued Johnson, apparently
reassured, "the fust day you kem and pumped for me, an entire
stranger, and hevin no call to do it, I sez, 'Johnson, Johnson,'
sez I,' yer's a boy you kin trust. Yer's a boy that won't play
you; yer's a chap that's white and square,'--white and square,
Tommy: them's the very words I used."
He paused for a moment, and then went on in a confidential whisper,
"'You want capital, Johnson,' sez I, 'to develop your resources,
and you want a pardner. Capital you can send for, but your
pardner, Johnson,--your pardner is right yer. And his name, it is
Tommy Islington.' Them's the very words I used."
He stopped and chafed his clammy hands upon his knees. "It's six
months ago sens I made you my pardner. Thar ain't a lick I've
struck sens then, Tommy, thar ain't a han'ful o' yearth I've
washed, thar ain't a shovelful o' rock I've turned over, but I
tho't o' you. 'Share, and share alike,' sez I. When I wrote to my
agint, I wrote ekal for my pardner, Tommy Islington, he hevin no
call to know ef the same was man or boy."
He had moved nearer the boy, and would perhaps have laid his hand
caressingly upon him, but even in his manifest affection there was
a singular element of awed restraint and even fear,--a suggestion
of something withheld even his fullest confidences, a hopeless
perception of some vague barrier that never could be surmounted.
He may have been at times dimly conscious that, in the eyes which
Tommy raised to his, there was thorough intellectual appreciation,
critical good-humor, even feminine softness, but nothing more. His
nervousness somewhat heightened by his embarrassment, he went on
with an attempt at calmness which his twitching white lips and
unsteady fingers made pathetically grotesque. "Thar's a bill o'
sale in my bunk, made out accordin' to law, of an ekal ondivided
half of the claim, and the consideration is two hundred and fifty
thousand dollars,--gambling debts,--gambling debts from me to you,
Tommy,--you understand?"--nothing could exceed the intense cunning
of his eye at this moment,--"and then thar's a will."
"A will?" said Tommy, in amused surprise.
Johnson looked frightened.
"Eh?" he said, hurriedly, "wot will? Who said anythin' 'bout a
"Nobody," replied Tommy, with unblushing calm.
Johnson passed his hand over his cold forehead, wrung the damp ends
of his hair with his fingers, and went on: "Times when I'm took bad
ez I was to-day, the boys about yer sez--you sez, maybe, Tommy--
it's whiskey. It ain't, Tommy. It's pizen,--quicksilver pizen.
That's what's the matter with me. I'm salviated! Salviated with
"I've heerd o' it before," continued Johnson, appealing to the boy,
"and ez a boy o' permiskus reading, I reckon you hev too. Them men
as works in cinnabar sooner or later gets salviated. It's bound to
fetch 'em some time. Salviated by merkery."
"What are you goin' to do for it?" asked Tommy.
"When the agint comes up, and I begins to realize on this yer
mine," said Johnson, contemplatively, "I goes to New York. I sez
to the barkeep' o' the hotel, 'Show me the biggest doctor here.'
He shows me. I sez to him, 'Salviated by merkery,--a year's
standin',--how much?' He sez, 'Five thousand dollars, and take two
o' these pills at bedtime, and an ekil number o' powders at meals,
and come back in a week.' And I goes back in a week, cured, and
signs a certifikit to that effect."
Encouraged by a look of interest in Tommy's eye, he went on.
"So I gets cured. I goes to the barkeep', and I sez, 'Show me the
biggest, fashionblest house thet's for sale yer.' And he sez, 'The
biggest, nat'rally b'longs to John Jacob Astor.' And I sez, 'Show
him,' and he shows him. And I sez, 'Wot might you ask for this yer
house?' And he looks at me scornful, and sez, 'Go 'way, old man;
you must be sick.' And I fetches him one over the left eye, and he
apologizes, and I gives him his own price for the house. I stocks
that house with mohogany furniture and pervisions, and thar we
lives, you and me, Tommy, you and me!"
The sun no longer shone upon the hillside. The shadows of the
pines were beginning to creep over Johnson's claim, and the air
within the cavern was growing chill. In the gathering darkness his
eyes shone brightly as he went on: "Then thar comes a day when we
gives a big spread. We invites govners, members o' Congress,
gentlemen o' fashion, and the like. And among 'em I invites a Man
as holds his head very high, a Man I once knew; but he doesn't know
I knows him, and he doesn't remember me. And he comes and he sits
opposite me, and I watches him. And he's very airy, this Man, and
very chipper, and he wipes his mouth with a white hankercher, and
he smiles, and he ketches my eye. And he sez, 'A glass o' wine
with you, Mr. Johnson'; and he fills his glass and I fills mine,
and we rises. And I heaves that wine, glass and all, right into
his damned grinnin' face. And he jumps for me,--for he is very
game, this Man, very game,--but some on 'em grabs him, and he sez,
'Who be you?' And I sez, 'Skaggs! damn you, Skaggs! Look at me!
Gimme back my wife and child, gimme back the money you stole, gimme
back the good name you took away, gimme back the health you ruined,
gimme back the last twelve years! Give 'em to me, damn you, quick,
before I cuts your heart out!' And naterally, Tommy, he can't do
it. And so I cuts his heart out, my boy; I cuts his heart out."
The purely animal fury of his eye suddenly changed again to
cunning. "You think they hangs me for it, Tommy, but they don't.
Not much, Tommy. I goes to the biggest lawyer there, and I says to
him, 'Salviated by merkery,--you hear me,--salviated by merkery.'
And he winks at me, and he goes to the judge, and he sez, 'This yer
unfortnet man isn't responsible,--he's been salviated by merkery.'
And he brings witnesses; you comes, Tommy, and you sez ez how
you've seen me took bad afore; and the doctor, he comes, and he sez
as how he's seen me frightful; and the jury, without leavin' their
seats, brings in a verdict o' justifiable insanity,--salviated by
In the excitement of his climax he had risen to his feet, but would
have fallen had not Tommy caught him and led him into the open air.
In this sharper light there was an odd change visible in his
yellow-white face,--a change which caused Tommy to hurriedly
support him, half leading, half dragging him toward the little
cabin. When they had reached it, Tommy placed him on a rude
"bunk," or shelf, and stood for a moment in anxious contemplation
of the tremor-stricken man before him. Then he said rapidly:
"Listen, Uncle Ben. I'm goin' to town--to town, you understand--
for the doctor. You're not to get up or move on any account until
I return. Do you hear?" Johnson nodded violently. "I'll be back
in two hours." In another moment he was gone.
For an hour Johnson kept his word. Then he suddenly sat up, and
began to gaze fixedly at a corner of the cabin. From gazing at it
he began to smile, from smiling at it he began to talk, from
talking at it he began to scream, from screaming he passed to
cursing and sobbing wildly. Then he lay quiet again.
He was so still that to merely human eyes he might have seemed
asleep or dead. But a squirrel, that, emboldened by the stillness,
had entered from the roof, stopped short upon a beam above the
bunk, for he saw that the man's foot was slowly and cautiously
moving toward the floor, and that the man's eyes were as intent and
watchful as his own. Presently, still without a sound, both feet
were upon the floor. And then the bunk creaked, and the squirrel
whisked into the eaves of the roof. When he peered forth again,
everything was quiet, and the man was gone.
An hour later two muleteers on the Placerville Road passed a man
with dishevelled hair, glaring, bloodshot eyes, and clothes torn
with bramble and stained with the red dust of the mountain. They
pursued him, when he turned fiercely on the foremost, wrested a
pistol from his grasp, and broke away. Later still, when the sun
had dropped behind Payne's Ridge, the underbrush on Deadwood Slope
crackled with a stealthy but continuous tread. It must have been
an animal whose dimly outlined bulk, in the gathering darkness,
showed here and there in vague but incessant motion; it could be
nothing but an animal whose utterance was at once so incoherent,
monotonous, and unremitting. Yet, when the sound came nearer, and
the chaparral was parted, it seemed to be a man, and that man
Above the baying of phantasmal hounds that pressed him hard and
drove him on, with never rest or mercy; above the lashing of a
spectral whip that curled about his limbs, sang in his ears, and
continually stung him forward; above the outcries of the unclean
shapes that thronged about him,--he could still distinguish one
real sound,--the rush and sweep of hurrying waters. The Stanislaus
River! A thousand feet below him drove its yellowing current.
Through all the vacillations of his unseated mind he had clung to
one idea,--to reach the river, to lave in it, to swim it if need
be, but to put it forever between him and the harrying shapes, to
drown forever in its turbid depths the thronging spectres, to wash
away in its yellow flood all stains and color of the past. And now
he was leaping from boulder to boulder, from blackened stump to
stump, from gnarled bush to bush, caught for a moment and withheld
by clinging vines, or plunging downward into dusty hollows, until,
rolling, dropping, sliding, and stumbling, he reached the river-
bank, whereon he fell, rose, staggered forward, and fell again with
outstretched arms upon a rock that breasted the swift current. And
there he lay as dead.
A few stars came out hesitatingly above Deadwood Slope. A cold
wind that had sprung up with the going down of the sun fanned them
into momentary brightness, swept the heated flanks of the mountain,
and ruffled the river. Where the fallen man lay there was a sharp
curve in the stream, so that in the gathering shadows the rushing
water seemed to leap out of the darkness and to vanish again.
Decayed drift-wood, trunks of trees, fragments of broken sluicing,--
the wash and waste of many a mile,--swept into sight a moment, and
were gone. All of decay, wreck, and foulness gathered in the long
circuit of mining-camp and settlement, all the dregs and refuse of
a crude and wanton civilization, reappeared for an instant, and
then were hurried away in the darkness and lost. No wonder that as
the wind ruffled the yellow waters the waves seemed to lift their
unclean hands toward the rock whereon the fallen man lay, as if
eager to snatch him from it, too, and hurry him toward the sea.
It was very still. In the clear air a horn blown a mile away was
heard distinctly. The jingling of a spur and a laugh on the
highway over Payne's Ridge sounded clearly across the river. The
rattling of harness and hoofs foretold for many minutes the
approach of the Wingdam coach, that at last, with flashing lights,
passed within a few feet of the rock. Then for an hour all again
was quiet. Presently the moon, round and full, lifted herself
above the serried ridge and looked down upon the river. At first
the bared peak of Deadwood Hill gleamed white and skull-like. Then
the shadows of Payne's Ridge cast on the slope slowly sank away,
leaving the unshapely stumps, the dusty fissures, and clinging
outcrop of Deadwood Slope to stand out in black and silver. Still
stealing softly downward, the moonlight touched the bank and the
rock, and then glittered brightly on the river. The rock was bare
and the man was gone, but the river still hurried swiftly to the
"Is there anything for me?" asked Tommy Islington, as, a week
after, the stage drew up at the Mansion House, and Bill slowly
entered the bar-room. Bill did not reply, but, turning to a
stranger who had entered with him, indicated with a jerk of his
finger the boy. The stranger turned with an air half of business,
half of curiosity, and looked critically at Tommy. "Is there
anything for me?" repeated Tommy, a little confused at the silence
and scrutiny. Bill walked deliberately to the bar, and, placing
his back against it, faced Tommy with a look of demure enjoyment.
"Ef," he remarked slowly,--"ef a hundred thousand dollars down and
half a million in perspektive is ennything, Major, THERE IS!"
MRS. SKAGGS'S HUSBANDS.
It was characteristic of Angel's that the disappearance of Johnson,
and the fact that he had left his entire property to Tommy, thrilled
the community but slightly in comparison with the astounding
discovery that he had anything to leave. The finding of a cinnabar
lode at Angel's absorbed all collateral facts or subsequent details.
Prospectors from adjoining camps thronged the settlement; the
hillside for a mile on either side of Johnson's claim was staked out
and pre-empted; trade received a sudden stimulus; and, in the
excited rhetoric of the "Weekly Record," "a new era had broken upon
Angel's." "On Thursday last," added that paper, "over five hundred
dollars was taken in over the bar of the Mansion House."
Of the fate of Johnson there was little doubt. He had been last
seen lying on a boulder on the river-bank by outside passengers of
the Wingdam night coach, and when Finn of Robinson's Ferry admitted
to have fired three shots from a revolver at a dark object
struggling in the water near the ferry, which he "suspicioned" to be
a bear, the question seemed to be settled. Whatever might have been
the fallibility of his judgment, of the accuracy of his aim there
could be no doubt. The general belief that Johnson, after
possessing himself of the muleteer's pistol, could have run amuck,
gave a certain retributive justice to this story, which rendered it
acceptable to the camp.
It was also characteristic of Angel's that no feeling of envy or
opposition to the good fortune of Tommy Islington prevailed there.
That he was thoroughly cognizant, from the first, of Johnson's
discovery, that his attentions to him were interested, calculating,
and speculative was, however, the general belief of the majority,--
a belief that, singularly enough, awakened the first feelings of
genuine respect for Tommy ever shown by the camp. "He ain't no
fool; Yuba Bill seed thet from the first," said the barkeeper. It
was Yuba Bill who applied for the guardianship of Tommy after his
accession to Johnson's claim, and on whose bonds the richest men of
Calaveras were represented. It was Yuba Bill, also, when Tommy was
sent East to finish his education, accompanied him to San Francisco,
and, before parting with his charge on the steamer's deck, drew him
aside, and said, "Ef at enny time you want enny money, Tommy, over
and 'bove your 'lowance, you kin write; but ef you'll take my
advice," he added, with a sudden huskiness mitigating the severity
of his voice, "you'll forget every derned ole spavined, string-halted
bummer as you ever met or knew at Angel's,--ev'ry one, Tommy,--ev'ry
one! And so--boy--take care of yourself--and--and God bless ye, and
pertikerly d--n me for a first-class A 1 fool." It was Yuba Bill,
also, after this speech, glared savagely around, walked down the
crowded gang-plank with a rigid and aggressive shoulder, picked a
quarrel with his cabman, and, after bundling that functionary into
his own vehicle, took the reins himself, and drove furiously to his
hotel. "It cost me," said Bill, recounting the occurrence somewhat
later at Angel's,--"it cost me a matter o' twenty dollars afore the
jedge the next mornin'; but you kin bet high thet I taught them
'Frisco chaps suthin new about drivin'. I didn't make it lively in
Montgomery Street for about ten minutes,--O no!"
And so by degrees the two original locaters of the great Cinnabar
lode faded from the memory of Angel's, and Calaveras knew them no
more. In five years their very names had been forgotten; in seven
the name of the town was changed; in ten the town itself was
transported bodily to the hillside, and the chimney of the Union
Smelting Works by night flickered like a corpse-light over the site
of Johnson's cabin, and by day poisoned the pure spices of the
pines. Even the Mansion House was dismantled, and the Wingdam
stage deserted the highway for a shorter cut by Quicksilver City.
Only the bared crest of Deadwood Hill, as of old, sharply cut the
clear blue sky, and at its base, as of old, the Stanislaus River,
unwearied and unresting, babbled, whispered, and hurried away to
A midsummer's day was breaking lazily on the Atlantic. There was
not wind enough to move the vapors in the foggy offing, but where
the vague distance heaved against a violet sky there were dull red
streaks that, growing brighter, presently painted out the stars.
Soon the brown rocks of Greyport appeared faintly suffused, and
then the whole ashen line of dead coast was kindled, and the
lighthouse beacons went out one by one. And then a hundred sail,
before invisible, started out of the vapory horizon, and pressed
toward the shore. It was morning, indeed, and some of the best
society in Greyport, having been up all night, were thinking it was
time to go to bed.
For as the sky flashed brighter it fired the clustering red roofs
of a picturesque house by the sands that had all that night, from
open lattice and illuminated balcony, given light and music to the
shore. It glittered on the broad crystal spaces of a great
conservatory that looked upon an exquisite lawn, where all night
long the blended odors of sea and shore had swooned under the
summer moon. But it wrought confusion among the colored lamps on
the long veranda, and startled a group of ladies and gentlemen who
had stepped from the drawing-room window to gaze upon it. It was
so searching and sincere in its way, that, as the carriage of the
fairest Miss Gillyflower rolled away, that peerless young woman,
catching sight of her face in the oval mirror, instantly pulled
down the blinds, and, nestling the whitest shoulders in Greyport
against the crimson cushions, went to sleep.
"How haggard everybody is! Rose, dear, you look almost
intellectual," said Blanche Masterman.
"I hope not," said Rose, simply. "Sunrises are very trying. Look
how that pink regularly puts out Mrs. Brown-Robinson, hair and all!"
"The angels," said the Count de Nugat, with a polite gesture toward
the sky, "must have find these celestial combinations very bad for
"They're safe in white,--except when they sit for their pictures in
Venice," said Blanche. "How fresh Mr. Islington looks! It's
really uncomplimentary to us."
"I suppose the sun recognizes in me no rival," said the young man,
demurely. "But," he added, "I have lived much in the open air, and
require very little sleep."
"How delightful!" said Mrs. Brown-Robinson, in a low, enthusiastic
voice and a manner that held the glowing sentiment of sixteen and
the practical experiences of thirty-two in dangerous combination;--
"how perfectly delightful! What sunrises you must have seen, and
in such wild, romantic places! How I envy you! My nephew was a
classmate of yours, and has often repeated to me those charming
stories you tell of your adventures. Won't you tell some now? Do!
How you must tire of us and this artificial life here, so
frightfully artificial, you know" (in a confidential whisper); "and
then to think of the days when you roamed the great West with the
Indians, and the bisons, and the grizzly bears! Of course, you
have seen grizzly bears and bisons?"
"Of course he has, dear," said Blanche, a little pettishly,
throwing a cloak over her shoulders, and seizing her chaperon by
the arm; "his earliest infancy was soothed by bisons, and he
proudly points to the grizzly bear as the playmate of his youth.
Come with me, and I'll tell you all about it. How good it is of
you," she added, sotto voce, to Islington, as he stood by the
carriage,--"how perfectly good it is of you to be like those
animals you tell us of, and not know your full power. Think, with
your experiences and our credulity, what stories you MIGHT tell!
And you are going to walk? Good night, then." A slim, gloved hand
was frankly extended from the window, and the next moment the
carriage rolled away.
"Isn't Islington throwing away a chance there?" said Captain
Merwin, on the veranda.
"Perhaps he couldn't stand my lovely aunt's superadded presence.
But then, he's the guest of Blanche's father, and I dare say they
see enough of each other as it is."
"But isn't it a rather dangerous situation?"
"For him, perhaps; although he's awfully old, and very queer. For
her, with an experience that takes in all the available men in both
hemispheres, ending with Nugat over there, I should say a man more
or less wouldn't affect her much, anyway. Of course," he laughed,
"these are the accents of bitterness. But that was last year."
Perhaps Islington did not overhear the speaker; perhaps, if he did,
the criticism was not new. He turned carelessly away, and
sauntered out on the road to the sea. Thence he strolled along the
sands toward the cliffs, where, meeting an impediment in the shape
of a garden wall, he leaped it with a certain agile, boyish ease
and experience, and struck across an open lawn toward the rocks
again. The best society of Greyport were not early risers, and the
spectacle of a trespasser in an evening dress excited only the
criticism of grooms hanging about the stables, or cleanly housemaids
on the broad verandas that in Greyport architecture dutifully gave
upon the sea. Only once, as he entered the boundaries of Cliffwood
Lodge, the famous seat of Renwyck Masterman, was he aware of
suspicious scrutiny; but a slouching figure that vanished quickly in
the lodge offered no opposition to his progress. Avoiding the
pathway to the lodge, Islington kept along the rocks until, reaching
a little promontory and rustic pavilion, he sat down and gazed upon
And presently an infinite peace stole upon him. Except where the
waves lapped lazily the crags below, the vast expanse beyond seemed
unbroken by ripple, heaving only in broad ponderable sheets, and
rhythmically, as if still in sleep. The air was filled with a
luminous haze that caught and held the direct sunbeams. In the
deep calm that lay upon the sea, it seemed to Islington that all
the tenderness of culture, magic of wealth, and spell of refinement
that for years had wrought upon that favored shore had extended its
gracious influence even here. What a pampered and caressed old
ocean it was; cajoled, flattered, and feted where it lay! An odd
recollection of the turbid Stanislaus hurrying by the ascetic
pines, of the grim outlines of Deadwood Hill, swam before his eyes,
and made the yellow green of the velvet lawn and graceful foliage
seem almost tropical by contrast. And, looking up, a few yards
distant he beheld a tall slip of a girl gazing upon the sea,--
She had plucked somewhere a large fan-shaped leaf, which she held
parasol-wise, shading the blond masses of her hair, and hiding her
gray eyes. She had changed her festal dress, with its amplitude of
flounce and train, for a closely fitting half-antique habit whose
scant outlines would have been trying to limbs less shapely, but
which prettily accented the graceful curves and sweeping lines of
this Greyport goddess. As Islington rose, she came toward him with
a frankly outstretched hand and unconstrained manner. Had she
observed him first? I don't know.
They sat down together on a rustic seat, Miss Blanche facing the
sea, and shading her eyes with the leaf.
"I don't really know how long I have been sitting here," said
Islington, "or whether I have not been actually asleep and
dreaming. It seemed too lovely a morning to go to bed. But you?"
From behind the leaf, it appeared that Miss Blanche, on retiring,
had been pursued by a hideous winged bug which defied the efforts
of herself and maid to dislodge. Odin, the Spitz dog, had insisted
upon scratching at the door. And it made her eyes red to sleep in
the morning. And she had an early call to make. And the sea
"I'm glad to find you here, whatever be the cause," said Islington,
with his old directness. "To-day, as you know, is my last day in
Greyport, and it is much pleasanter to say good by under this blue
sky than even beneath your father's wonderful frescos yonder. I
want to remember you, too, as part of this pleasant prospect which
belongs to us all, rather than recall you in anybody's particular
"I know," said Blanche, with equal directness, "that houses are one
of the defects of our civilization; but I don't think I ever heard
the idea as elegantly expressed before. Where do you go?"
"I don't know yet. I have several plans. I may go to South
America and become president of one of the republics,--I am not
particular which. I am rich, but in that part of America which
lies outside of Greyport it is necessary for every man to have some
work. My friends think I should have some great aim in life, with
a capital A. But I was born a vagabond, and a vagabond I shall
"I don't know anybody in South America," said Blanche, languidly.
"There were two girls here last season, but they didn't wear stays
in the house, and their white frocks never were properly done up.
If you go to South America, you must write to me."
"I will. Can you tell me the name of this flower which I found in
your greenhouse. It looks much like a California blossom."
"Perhaps it is. Father bought it of a half-crazy old man who came
here one day. Do you know him?"
Islington laughed. "I am afraid not. But let me present this in a
less business-like fashion."
"Thank you. Remind me to give you one in return before you go,--or
will you choose yourself?"
They had both risen as by a common instinct.
The cool flower-like hand lay in his for an instant.
"Will you oblige me by putting aside that leaf a moment before I
"But my eyes are red, and I look like a perfect fright."
Yet, after a long pause, the leaf fluttered down, and a pair of
very beautiful but withal very clear and critical eyes met his.
Islington was constrained to look away. When he turned again, she
It was Chalker, the English groom, out of breath with running.
"Seein' you alone, sir,--beg your pardon, sir,--but there's a
"A person! what the devil do you mean? Speak English--no, damn it,
I mean don't," said Islington, snappishly.
"I sed a person, sir. Beg pardon--no offence--but not a gent, sir.
In the lib'ry."
A little amused even through the utter dissatisfaction with himself
and vague loneliness that had suddenly come upon him, Islington, as
he walked toward the lodge, asked, "Why isn't he a gent?
"No gent--beggin' your pardin, sir--'ud guy a man in sarvis, sir.
Takes me 'ands so, sir, as I sits in the rumble at the gate, and
puts 'em downd so, sir, and sez, 'Put 'em in your pocket, young
man,--or is it a road agint you expects to see, that you 'olds hup
your 'ands, hand crosses 'em like to that,' sez he. ''Old 'ard,'
sez he, 'on the short curves, or you'll bust your precious crust,'
sez he. And hasks for you, sir. This way, sir."
They entered the lodge. Islington hurried down the long Gothic
hall, and opened the library door.
In an arm-chair, in the centre of the room, a man sat apparently
contemplating a large, stiff, yellow hat with an enormous brim,
that was placed on the floor before him. His hands rested lightly
between his knees, but one foot was drawn up at the side of his
chair in a peculiar manner. In the first glance that Islington
gave, the attitude in some odd, irreconcilable way suggested a
brake. In another moment he dashed across the room, and, holding
out both hands, cried, "Yuba Bill!"
The man rose, caught Islington by the shoulders, wheeled him round,
hugged him, felt of his ribs like a good-natured ogre, shook his
hands violently, laughed, and then said, somewhat ruefully, "And
how ever did you know me?"
Seeing that Yuba Bill evidently regarded himself as in some
elaborate disguise, Islington laughed, and suggested that it must
have been instinct.
"And you?" said Bill, holding him at arm's length, and surveying
him critically,--"you!--toe think--toe think--a little cuss no
higher nor a trace, a boy as I've flicked outer the road with a
whip time in agin, a boy ez never hed much clothes to speak of,
turned into a sport!"
Islington remembered, with a thrill of ludicrous terror, that he
still wore his evening dress.
"Turned," continued Yuba Bill, severely,--"turned into a restyourant
waiter,--a garsong! Eh, Alfonse, bring me a patty de foy grass
and an omelette, demme!"
"Dear old chap!" said Islington, laughing, and trying to put his
hand over Bill's bearded mouth, "but you--YOU don't look exactly
like yourself! You're not well, Bill." And indeed, as he turned
toward the light, Bill's eyes appeared cavernous, and his hair and
beard thickly streaked with gray.
"Maybe it's this yer harness," said Bill, a little anxiously.
"When I hitches on this yer curb" (he indicated a massive gold
watch-chain with enormous links), "and mounts this 'morning star,'"
(he pointed to a very large solitaire pin which had the appearance
of blistering his whole shirt-front), "it kinder weighs heavy on
me, Tommy. Otherwise I'm all right, my boy,--all right." But he
evaded Islington's keen eye, and turned from the light.
"You have something to tell me, Bill," said Islington, suddenly,
and with almost brusque directness; "out with it."
Bill did not speak, but moved uneasily toward his hat,
"You didn't come three thousand miles, without a word of warning,
to talk to me of old times," said Islington, more kindly, "glad as
I would have been to see you. It isn't your way, Bill, and you
know it. We shall not be disturbed here," he added, in reply to an
inquiring glance that Bill directed to the door, "and I am ready to
"Firstly, then," said Bill, drawing his chair nearer Islington,
"answer me one question, Tommy, fair and square, and up and down."
"Go on," said Islington, with a slight smile.
"Ef I should say to you, Tommy,--say to you to-day, right here, you
must come with me,--you must leave this place for a month, a year,
two years maybe, perhaps forever,--is there anything that 'ud keep
you,--anything, my boy, ez you couldn't leave?"
"No," said Tommy, quietly; "I am only visiting here. I thought of
leaving Greyport to-day."
"But if I should say to you, Tommy, come with me on a pasear to
Chiny, to Japan, to South Ameriky, p'r'aps, could you go?"
"Yes," said Islington, after a slight pause.
"Thar isn't ennything," said Bill, drawing a little closer, and
lowering his voice confidentially,--"ennything in the way of a
young woman--you understand, Tommy--ez would keep you? They're
mighty sweet about here; and whether a man is young or old, Tommy,
there's always some woman as is brake or whip to him!"
In a certain excited bitterness that characterized the delivery of
this abstract truth, Bill did not see that the young man's face
flushed slightly as he answered "No."
"Then listen. It's seven years ago, Tommy, thet I was working one
o' the Pioneer coaches over from Gold Hill. Ez I stood in front o'
the stage-office, the sheriff o' the county comes to me, and he
sez, 'Bill,' sez he, 'I've got a looney chap, as I'm in charge of,
taking 'im down to the 'sylum in Stockton. He'z quiet and
peaceable, but the insides don't like to ride with him. Hev you
enny objection to give him a lift on the box beside you?' I sez,
'No; put him up.' When I came to go and get up on that box beside
him, that man, Tommy,--that man sittin' there, quiet and peaceable,
"He didn't know me, my boy," Yuba Bill continued, rising and
putting his hands on Tommy's shoulders,--"he didn't know me. He
didn't know nothing about you, nor Angel's, nor the quicksilver
lode, nor even his own name. He said his name was Skaggs, but I
knowd it was Johnson. Thar was times, Tommy, you might have
knocked me off that box with a feather; thar was times when if the
twenty-seven passengers o' that stage hed found theirselves
swimming in the American River five hundred feet below the road, I
never could have explained it satisfactorily to the company,--
"The sheriff said," Bill continued hastily, as if to preclude any
interruption from the young man,--"the sheriff said he had been
brought into Murphy's Camp three years before, dripping with water,
and sufferin' from perkussion of the brain, and had been cared for
generally by the boys 'round. When I told the sheriff I knowed
'im, I got him to leave him in my care; and I took him to 'Frisco,
Tommy, to 'Frisco, and I put him in charge o' the best doctors
there, and paid his board myself. There was nothin' he didn't have
ez he wanted. Don't look that way, my dear boy, for God's sake,
"O Bill," said Islington, rising and staggering to the window, "why
did you keep this from me?"
"Why?" said Bill, turning on him savagely,--"why? because I warn't
a fool. Thar was you, winnin' your way in college; thar was YOU,
risin' in the world, and of some account to it; yer was an old
bummer, ez good ez dead to it,--a man ez oughter been dead afore! a
man ez never denied it! But you allus liked him better nor me,"
said Bill, bitterly.
"Forgive me, Bill," said the young man, seizing both his hands. "I
know you did it for the best; but go on."
"Thar ain't much more to tell, nor much use to tell it, as I can
see," said Bill, moodily. "He never could be cured, the doctors
said, for he had what they called monomania,--was always talking
about his wife and darter that somebody had stole away years ago,
and plannin' revenge on that somebody. And six months ago he was
missed. I tracked him to Carson, to Salt Lake City, to Omaha, to
Chicago, to New York,--and here!"
"Here!" echoed Islington.
"Here! And that's what brings me here to-day. Whethers he's crazy
or well, whethers he's huntin' you or lookin' up that other man,
you must get away from here. You mustn't see him. You and me,
Tommy, will go away on a cruise. In three or four years he'll be
dead or missing, and then we'll come back. Come." And he rose to
"Bill," said Islington, rising also, and taking the hand of his
friend, with the same quiet obstinacy that in the old days had
endeared him to Bill, "wherever he is, here or elsewhere, sane or
crazy, I shall seek and find him. Every dollar that I have shall
be his, every dollar that I have spent shall be returned to him. I
am young yet, thank God, and can work; and if there is a way out of
this miserable business, I shall find it."
"I knew," said Bill, with a surliness that ill concealed his
evident admiration of the calm figure before him--"I knew the
partikler style of d--n fool that you was, and expected no better.
Good by, then-- God Almighty! who's that?"
He was on his way to the open French window, but had started back,
his face quite white and bloodless, and his eyes staring.
Islington ran to the window, and looked out. A white skirt
vanished around the corner of the veranda. When he returned, Bill
had dropped into a chair.
"It must have been Miss Masterman, I think; but what's the matter?"
"Nothing," said Bill, faintly; "have you got any whiskey handy?"
Islington brought a decanter, and, pouring out some spirits, handed
the glass to Bill. Bill drained it, and then said, "Who is Miss
"Mr. Masterman's daughter; that is, an adopted daughter, I believe."
"I really don't know," said Islington, pettishly, more vexed than
he cared to own at this questioning.
Yuba Bill rose and walked to the window, closed it, walked back
again to the door, glanced at Islington, hesitated, and then
returned to his chair.
"I didn't tell you I was married.,--did I?" he said suddenly,
looking up in Islington's face with an unsuccessful attempt at a
"No," said Islington, more pained at the manner than the words.
"Fact," said Yuba Bill. "Three years ago it was, Tommy,--three
He looked so hard at Islington, that, feeling he was expected to
say something, he asked vaguely, "Who did you marry?"
"Thet's it!" said Yuba Bill; "I can't ezactly say; partikly,
though, a she devil! generally, the wife of half a dozen other
Accustomed, apparently, to have his conjugal infelicities a theme
of mirth among men, and seeing no trace of amusement on Islington's
grave face, his dogged, reckless manner softened, and, drawing his
chair closer to Islington, he went on: "It all began outer this: we
was coming down Watson's grade one night pretty free, when the
expressman turns to me and sez, 'There's a row inside, and you'd
better pull up!' I pulls up, and out hops, first a woman, and then
two or three chaps swearing and cursin', and tryin' to drag some
one arter them. Then it 'pear'd, Tommy, thet it was this woman's
drunken husband they was going to put out for abusin' her, and
strikin' her in the coach; and if it hadn't been for me, my boy,
they'd hev left that chap thar in the road. But I fixes matters up
by putting her alongside o' me on the box, and we drove on. She
was very white, Tommy,--for the matter o' that, she was always one
o' these very white women, that never got red in the face,--but she
never cried a whimper. Most wimin would have cried. It was queer,
but she never cried. I thought so at the time.
"She was very tall, with a lot o' light hair meandering down the
back of her head, as long as a deer-skin whip-lash, and about the
color. She hed eyes thet'd bore you through at fifty yards, and
pooty hands and feet. And when she kinder got out o' that stiff,
narvous state she was in, and warmed up a little, and got chipper,
by G-d, sir, she was handsome,--she was that!"
A little flushed and embarrassed at his own enthusiasm, he stopped,
and then said, carelessly, "They got off at Murphy's."
"Well," said Islington.
"Well, I used to see her often arter thet, and when she was alone
she allus took the box-seat. She kinder confided her troubles to
me, how her husband got drunk and abused her; and I didn't see much
o' him, for he was away in 'Frisco arter thet. But it was all
square, Tommy,--all square 'twixt me and her.
"I got a going there a good deal, and then one day I sez to myself,
'Bill, this won't do,' and I got changed to another route. Did you
ever know Jackson Filltree, Tommy?" said Bill, breaking off
"Might have heerd of him, p'r'aps?"
"No," said Islington, impatiently.
"Jackson Filltree ran the express from White's out to Summit,
'cross the North Fork of the Yuba. One day he sez to me, 'Bill,
that's a mighty bad ford at the North Fork.' I sez, 'I believe
you, Jackson.' 'It'll git me some day, Bill, sure,' sez he. I
sez, 'Why don't you take the lower ford?' 'I don't know,' sez he,
'but I can't.' So ever after, when I met him, he sez, 'That North
Fork ain't got me yet.' One day I was in Sacramento, and up comes
Filltree. He sez, 'I've sold out the express business on account
of the North Fork, but it's bound to get me yet, Bill, sure'; and
he laughs. Two weeks after they finds his body below the ford,
whar he tried to cross, comin' down from the Summit way. Folks
said it was foolishness: Tommy, I sez it was Fate! The second day
arter I was changed to the Placerville route, thet woman comes
outer the hotel above the stage-office. Her husband, she said, was
lying sick in Placerville; that's what she said; but it was Fate,
Tommy, Fate. Three months afterward, her husband takes an overdose
of morphine for delirium tremems, and dies. There's folks ez sez
she gave it to him, but it's Fate. A year after that I married
her,--Fate, Tommy, Fate!
"I lived with her jest three months," he went on, after a long
breath,--"three months! It ain't much time for a happy man. I've
seen a good deal o' hard life in my day, but there was days in that
three months longer than any day in my life,--days, Tommy, when it
was a toss-up whether I should kill her or she me. But thar, I'm
done. You are a young man, Tommy, and I ain't goin' to tell things
thet, old as I am, three years ago I couldn't have believed."
When at last, with his grim face turned toward the window, he sat
silently with his clinched hands on his knees before him, Islington
asked where his wife was now.
"Ask me no more, my boy,--no more. I've said my say." With a
gesture as of throwing down a pair of reins before him, he rose,
and walked to the window.
"You kin understand, Tommy, why a little trip around the world 'ud
do me good. Ef you can't go with me, well and good. But go I
"Not before luncheon, I hope," said a very sweet voice, as Blanche
Masterman suddenly stood before them. "Father would never forgive
me if in his absence I permitted one of Mr. Islington's friends to
go in this way. You will stay, won't you? Do! And you will give
me your arm now; and when Mr. Islington has done staring, he will
follow us into the dining-room and introduce you."
"I have quite fallen in love with your friend," said Miss Blanche,
as they stood in the drawing-room looking at the figure of Bill,
strolling, with his short pipe in his mouth, through the distant
shrubbery. "He asks very queer questions, though. He wanted to
know my mother's maiden name."
"He is an honest fellow," said Islington, gravely.
"You are very much subdued. You don't thank me, I dare say, for
keeping you and your friend here; but you couldn't go, you know,
until father returned."
Islington smiled, but not very gayly.
"And then I think it much better for us to part here under these
frescos, don't you? Good by."
She extended her long, slim hand.
"Out in the sunlight there, when my eyes were red, you were very
anxious to look at me," she added, in a dangerous voice.
Islington raised his sad eyes to hers. Something glittering upon
her own sweet lashes trembled and fell.
She was rosy enough now, and would have withdrawn her hand, but
Islington detained it. She was not quite certain but that her
waist was also in jeopardy. Yet she could not help saying, "Are
you sure that there isn't anything in the way of a young woman that
would keep you?"
"Blanche!" said Islington in reproachful horror.
"If gentlemen will roar out their secrets before an open window,
with a young woman lying on a sofa on the veranda, reading a stupid
French novel, they must not be surprised if she gives more
attention to them than her book."
"Then you know all, Blanche?"
"I know," said Blanche, "let's see--I know the partiklar style of--
ahem!--fool you was, and expected no better. Good by." And,
gliding like a lovely and innocent milk snake out of his grasp, she
To the pleasant ripple of waves, the sound of music and light
voices, the yellow midsummer moon again rose over Greyport. It
looked upon formless masses of rock and shrubbery, wide spaces of
lawn and beach, and a shimmering expanse of water. It singled out
particular objects,--a white sail in shore, a crystal globe upon
the lawn, and flashed upon something held between the teeth of a
crouching figure scaling the low wall of Cliffwood Lodge. Then, as
a man and woman passed out from under the shadows of the foliage
into the open moonlight of the garden path, the figure leaped from
the wall, and stood erect and waiting in the shadow.
It was the figure of an old man, with rolling eyes, his trembling
hand grasping a long, keen knife,--a figure more pitiable than
pitiless, more pathetic than terrible. But the next moment the
knife was stricken from his hand, and he struggled in the firm
grasp of another figure that apparently sprang from the wall beside
"D--n you, Masterman!" cried the old man, hoarsely; "give me fair
play, and I'll kill you yet!"
"Which my name is Yuba Bill," said Bill, quietly, "and it's time
this d--n fooling was stopped."
The old man glared in Bill's face savagely. "I know you. You're
one of Masterman's friends,--d--n you,--let me go till I cut his
heart out,--let me go! Where is my Mary?--where is my wife?--there
she is! there!--there!--there! Mary!" He would have screamed, but
Bill placed his powerful hand upon his mouth, as he turned in the
direction of the old man's glance. Distinct in the moonlight the
figures of Islington and Blanche, arm in arm, stood out upon the
"Give me my wife!" muttered the old man hoarsely, between Bill's
fingers. "Where is she?"
A sudden fury passed over Yuba Bill's face. "Where is your wife?"
he echoed, pressing the old man back against the garden wall, and
holding him there as in a vice. "Where is your wife?" he repeated,
thrusting his grim sardonic jaw and savage eyes into the old man's
frightened face. "Where is Jack Adam's wife? Where is MY wife?
Where is the she-devil that drove one man mad, that sent another to
hell by his own hand, that eternally broke and ruined me? Where!
Where! Do you ask where? In jail in Sacramento,--in jail, do you
hear?--in jail for murder, Johnson,--murder!"
The old man gasped, stiffened, and then, relaxing, suddenly
slipped, a mere inanimate mass, at Yuba Bill's feet. With a sudden
revulsion of feeling, Yuba Bill dropped at his side, and, lifting
him tenderly in his arms, whispered, "Look up, old man, Johnson!
look up, for God's sake!--it's me,--Yuba Bill! and yonder is your
daughter, and--Tommy!--don't you know--Tommy, little Tommy
Johnson's eyes slowly opened. He whispered, "Tommy! yes, Tommy!
Sit by me, Tommy. But don't sit so near the bank. Don't you see
how the river is rising and beckoning to me,--hissing, and boilin'
over the rocks? It's gittin higher!--hold me, Tommy,--hold me, and
don't let me go yet. We'll live to cut his heart out, Tommy,--
we'll live--we'll--" His head sank, and the rushing river,
invisible to all eyes save his, leaped toward him out of the
darkness, and bore him away, no longer to the darkness, but through
it to the distant, peaceful shining sea.
HOW SANTA CLAUS CAME TO SIMPSON'S BAR.
It had been raining in the valley of the Sacramento. The North
Fork had overflowed its banks and Rattlesnake Creek was impassable.
The few boulders that had marked the summer ford at Simpson's
Crossing were obliterated by a vast sheet of water stretching to
the foothills. The up stage was stopped at Grangers; the last mail
had been abandoned in the tules, the rider swimming for his life.
"An area," remarked the "Sierra Avalanche," with pensive local
pride, "as large as the State of Massachusetts is now under water."
Nor was the weather any better in the foothills. The mud lay deep
on the mountain road; wagons that neither physical force nor moral
objurgation could move from the evil ways into which they had
fallen, encumbered the track, and the way to Simpson's Bar was
indicated by broken-down teams and hard swearing. And farther on,
cut off and inaccessible, rained upon and bedraggled, smitten by
high winds and threatened by high water, Simpson's Bar, on the eve
of Christmas day, 1862, clung like a swallow's nest to the rocky
entablature and splintered capitals of Table Mountain, and shook in
As night shut down on the settlement, a few lights gleamed through
the mist from the windows of cabins on either side of the highway
now crossed and gullied by lawless streams and swept by marauding
winds. Happily most of the population were gathered at Thompson's
store, clustered around a red-hot stove, at which they silently
spat in some accepted sense of social communion that perhaps
rendered conversation unnecessary. Indeed, most methods of
diversion had long since been exhausted on Simpson's Bar; high
water had suspended the regular occupations on gulch and on river,
and a consequent lack of money and whiskey had taken the zest from
most illegitimate recreation. Even Mr. Hamlin was fain to leave
the Bar with fifty dollars in his pocket,--the only amount actually
realized of the large sums won by him in the successful exercise of
his arduous profession. "Ef I was asked," he remarked somewhat
later,--"ef I was asked to pint out a purty little village where a
retired sport as didn't care for money could exercise hisself,
frequent and lively, I'd say Simpson's Bar; but for a young man
with a large family depending on his exertions, it don't pay." As
Mr. Hamlin's family consisted mainly of female adults, this remark
is quoted rather to show the breadth of his humor than the exact
extent of his responsibilities.
Howbeit, the unconscious objects of this satire sat that evening in
the listless apathy begotten of idleness and lack of excitement.
Even the sudden splashing of hoofs before the door did not arouse
them. Dick Bullen alone paused in the act of scraping out his
pipe, and lifted his head, but no other one of the group indicated
any interest in, or recognition of, the man who entered.
It was a figure familiar enough to the company, and known in
Simpson's Bar as "The Old Man." A man of perhaps fifty years;
grizzled and scant of hair, but still fresh and youthful of
complexion. A face full of ready, but not very powerful sympathy,
with a chameleon-like aptitude for taking on the shade and color of
contiguous moods and feelings. He had evidently just left some
hilarious companions, and did not at first notice the gravity of
the group, but clapped the shoulder of the nearest man jocularly,
and threw himself into a vacant chair.
"Jest heard the best thing out, boys! Ye know Smiley, over yar,--
Jim Smiley,--funniest man in the Bar? Well, Jim was jest telling
the richest yarn about--"
"Smiley's a ---- fool," interrupted a gloomy voice.
"A particular ---- skunk," added another in sepulchral accents.
A silence followed these positive statements. The Old Man glanced
quickly around the group. Then his face slowly changed. "That's
so," he said reflectively, after a pause, "certingly a sort of a
skunk and suthin of a fool. In course." He was silent for a
moment as in painful contemplation of the unsavoriness and folly of
the unpopular Smiley. "Dismal weather, ain't it?" he added, now
fully embarked on the current of prevailing sentiment. "Mighty
rough papers on the boys, and no show for money this season. And
There was a movement among the men at this announcement, but
whether of satisfaction or disgust was not plain. "Yes," continued
the Old Man in the lugubrious tone he had, within the last few
moments, unconsciously adopted,--"yes, Christmas, and to-night's
Christmas eve. Ye see, boys, I kinder thought--that is, I sorter
had an idee, jest passin' like, you know--that may be ye'd all like
to come over to my house to-night and have a sort of tear round.
But I suppose, now, you wouldn't? Don't feel like it, may be?" he
added with anxious sympathy, peering into the faces of his
"Well, I don't know," responded Tom Flynn with some cheerfulness.
"P'r'aps we may. But how about your wife, Old Man? What does SHE
say to it?"
The Old Man hesitated. His conjugal experience had not been a
happy one, and the fact was known to Simpson's Bar. His first
wife, a delicate, pretty little woman, had suffered keenly and
secretly from the jealous suspicions of her husband, until one day
he invited the whole Bar to his house to expose her infidelity. On
arriving, the party found the shy, petite creature quietly engaged
in her household duties, and retired abashed and discomfited. But
the sensitive woman did not easily recover from the shock of this
extraordinary outrage. It was with difficulty she regained her
equanimity sufficiently to release her lover from the closet in
which he was concealed and escape with him. She left a boy of
three years to comfort her bereaved husband. The Old Man's present
wife had been his cook. She was large, loyal, and aggressive.
Before he could reply, Joe Dimmick suggested with great directness
that it was the "Old Man's house," and that, invoking the Divine
Power, if the case were his own, he would invite whom he pleased,
even if in so doing he imperilled his salvation. The Powers of
Evil, he further remarked, should contend against him vainly. All
this delivered with a terseness and vigor lost in this necessary
"In course. Certainly. Thet's it," said the Old Man with a
sympathetic frown. "Thar's no trouble about THET. It's my own
house, built every stick on it myself. Don't you be afeard o' her,
boys. She MAY cut up a trifle rough,--ez wimmin do,--but she'll
come round." Secretly the Old Man trusted to the exaltation of
liquor and the power of courageous example to sustain him in such
As yet, Dick Bullen, the oracle and leader of Simpson's Bar, had
not spoken. He now took his pipe from his lips. "Old Man, how's
that yer Johnny gettin' on? Seems to me he didn't look so peart
last time I seed him on the bluff heavin' rocks at Chinamen.
Didn't seem to take much interest in it. Thar was a gang of 'em by
yar yesterday,--drownded out up the river,--and I kinder thought o'
Johnny, and how he'd miss 'em! May be now, we'd be in the way ef
he wus sick?"
The father, evidently touched not only by this pathetic picture of
Johnny's deprivation, but by the considerate delicacy of the
speaker, hastened to assure him that Johnny was better and that a
"little fun might 'liven him up." Whereupon Dick arose, shook
himself, and saying, "I'm ready. Lead the way, Old Man: here
goes," himself led the way with a leap, a characteristic howl, and
darted out into the night. As he passed through the outer room he
caught up a blazing brand from the hearth. The action was repeated
by the rest of the party, closely following and elbowing each
other, and before the astonished proprietor of Thompson's grocery
was aware of the intention of his guests, the room was deserted.
The night was pitchy dark. In the first gust of wind their
temporary torches were extinguished, and only the red brands
dancing and flitting in the gloom like drunken will-o'-the-wisps
indicated their whereabouts. Their way led up Pine-Tree Canyon, at
the head of which a broad, low, bark-thatched cabin burrowed in the
mountain-side. It was the home of the Old Man, and the entrance to
the tunnel in which he worked when he worked at all. Here the
crowd paused for a moment, out of delicate deference to their host,
who came up panting in the rear.
"P'r'aps ye'd better hold on a second out yer, whilst I go in and
see thet things is all right," said the Old Man, with an
indifference he was far from feeling. The suggestion was
graciously accepted, the door opened and closed on the host, and
the crowd, leaning their backs against the wall and cowering under
the eaves, waited and listened.
For a few moments there was no sound but the dripping of water from
the eaves, and the stir and rustle of wrestling boughs above them.
Then the men became uneasy, and whispered suggestion and suspicion
passed from the one to the other. "Reckon she's caved in his head
the first lick!" "Decoyed him inter the tunnel and barred him up,
likely." "Got him down and sittin' on him." "Prob'ly bilin suthin
to heave on us: stand clear the door, boys!" For just then the
latch clicked, the door slowly opened, and a voice said, "Come in
out o' the wet."
The voice was neither that of the Old Man nor of his wife. It was
the voice of a small boy, its weak treble broken by that
preternatural hoarseness which only vagabondage and the habit of
premature self-assertion can give. It was the face of a small boy
that looked up at theirs,--a face that might have been pretty and
even refined but that it was darkened by evil knowledge from
within, and dirt and hard experience from without. He had a
blanket around his shoulders and had evidently just risen from his
bed. "Come in," he repeated," and don't make no noise. The Old
Man's in there talking to mar," he continued, pointing to an
adjacent room which seemed to be a kitchen, from which the Old
Man's voice came in deprecating accents. "Let me be," he added,
querulously, to Dick Bullen, who had caught him up, blanket and
all, and was affecting to toss him into the fire, "let go o' me,
you d----d old fool, d'ye hear?"
Thus adjured, Dick Bullen lowered Johnny to the ground with a
smothered laugh, while the men, entering quietly, ranged themselves
around a long table of rough boards which occupied the centre of
the room. Johnny then gravely proceeded to a cupboard and brought
out several articles which he deposited on the table. "Thar's
whiskey. And crackers. And red herons. And cheese." He took a
bite of the latter on his way to the table. "And sugar." He
scooped up a mouthful en route with a small and very dirty hand.
"And terbacker. Thar's dried appils too on the shelf, but I don't
admire 'em. Appils is swellin'. Thar," he concluded, "now wade
in, and don't be afeard. I don't mind the old woman. She don't
b'long to ME. S'long."
He had stepped to the threshold of a small room, scarcely larger
than a closet, partitioned off from the main apartment, and holding
in its dim recess a small bed. He stood there a moment looking at
the company, his bare feet peeping from the blanket, and nodded.
"Hello, Johnny! You ain't goin' to turn in agin, are ye?" said
"Yes, I are," responded Johnny, decidedly.
"Why, wot's up, old fellow?"
"I've got a fevier. And childblains. And roomatiz," returned
Johnny, and vanished within. After a moment's pause, he added in
the dark, apparently from under the bedclothes,--"And biles!"
There was an embarrassing silence. The men looked at each other,
and at the fire. Even with the appetizing banquet before them, it
seemed as if they might again fall into the despondency of
Thompson's grocery, when the voice of the Old Man, incautiously
lifted, came deprecatingly from the kitchen.
"Certainly! Thet's so. In course they is. A gang o' lazy drunken
loafers, and that ar Dick Bullen's the ornariest of all. Didn't
hev no more sabe than to come round yar with sickness in the house
and no provision. Thet's what I said: 'Bullen,' sez I, 'it's crazy
drunk you are, or a fool,' sez I, 'to think o' such a thing.'
'Staples,' I sez, 'be you a man, Staples, and 'spect to raise h-ll
under my roof and invalids lyin' round?' But they would come,--
they would. Thet's wot you must 'spect o' such trash as lays round
A burst of laughter from the men followed this unfortunate
exposure. Whether it was overheard in the kitchen, or whether the
Old Man's irate companion had just then exhausted all other modes
of expressing her contemptuous indignation, I cannot say, but a
back door was suddenly slammed with great violence. A moment later
and the Old Man reappeared, haply unconscious of the cause of the
late hilarious outburst, and smiled blandly.
"The old woman thought she'd jest run over to Mrs. McFadden's for a
sociable call," he explained, with jaunty indifference, as he took
a seat at the board.
Oddly enough it needed this untoward incident to relieve the
embarrassment that was beginning to be felt by the party, and their
natural audacity returned with their host. I do not propose to
record the convivialities of that evening. The inquisitive reader
will accept the statement that the conversation was characterized
by the same intellectual exaltation, the same cautious reverence,
the same fastidious delicacy, the same rhetorical precision, and
the same logical and coherent discourse somewhat later in the
evening, which distinguish similar gatherings of the masculine sex
in more civilized localities and under more favorable auspices. No
glasses were broken in the absence of any; no liquor was uselessly
spilt on floor or table in the scarcity of that article.
It was nearly midnight when the festivities were interrupted.
"Hush," said Dick Bullen, holding up his hand. It was the
querulous voice of Johnny from his adjacent closet: "O dad!"
The Old Man arose hurriedly and disappeared in the closet.
Presently he reappeared. "His rheumatiz is coming on agin bad," he
explained, "and he wants rubbin'." He lifted the demijohn of
whiskey from the table and shook it. It was empty. Dick Bullen
put down his tin cup with an embarrassed laugh. So did the others.
The Old Man examined their contents and said hopefully, "I reckon
that's enough; he don't need much. You hold on all o' you for a
spell, and I'll be back"; and vanished in the closet with an old
flannel shirt and the whiskey. The door closed but imperfectly,
and the following dialogue was distinctly audible:--
"Now, Sonny, whar does she ache worst?"
"Sometimes over yar and sometimes under yer; but it's most powerful
from yer to yer. Rub yer, dad."
A silence seemed to indicate a brisk rubbing. Then Johnny:
"Hevin' a good time out yer, dad?"
"To-morrer's Chrismiss, ain't it?"
"Yes, Sonny. How does she feel now?"
"Better rub a little furder down. Wot's Chrismiss, anyway? Wot's
it all about?"
"O, it's a day."
This exhaustive definition was apparently satisfactory, for there
was a silent interval of rubbing. Presently Johnny again:
"Mar sez that everywhere else but yer everybody gives things to
everybody Chrismiss, and then she jist waded inter you. She sez
thar's a man they call Sandy Claws, not a white man, you know, but a
kind o' Chinemin, comes down the chimbley night afore Chrismiss and
gives things to chillern,--boys like me. Puts 'em in their butes!
Thet's what she tried to play upon me. Easy now, pop, whar are you
rubbin' to,--thet's a mile from the place. She jest made that up,
didn't she, jest to aggrewate me and you? Don't rub thar. . . .
In the great quiet that seemed to have fallen upon the house the
sigh of the near pines and the drip of leaves without was very
distinct. Johnny's voice, too, was lowered as he went on, "Don't
you take on now, fur I'm gettin' all right fast. Wot's the boys
doin' out thar?"
The Old Man partly opened the door and peered through. His guests
were sitting there sociably enough, and there were a few silver
coins and a lean buckskin purse on the table. "Bettin' on suthin,--
some little game or 'nother. They're all right," he replied to
Johnny, and recommenced his rubbing.
"I'd like to take a hand and win some money," said Johnny,
reflectively, after a pause.
The Old Man glibly repeated what was evidently a familiar formula,
that if Johnny would wait until he struck it rich in the tunnel
he'd have lots of money, etc., etc.
"Yes," said Johnny, "but you don't. And whether you strike it or I
win it, it's about the same. It's all luck. But it's mighty
cur'o's about Chrismiss,--ain't it? Why do they call it
Perhaps from some instinctive deference to the overhearing of his
guests, or from some vague sense of incongruity, the Old Man's
reply was so low as to be inaudible beyond the room.
"Yes," said Johnny, with some slight abatement of interest, "I've
heerd o' HIM before. Thar, that'll do, dad. I don't ache near so
bad as I did. Now wrap me tight in this yer blanket. So. Now,"
he added in a muffled whisper, "sit down yer by me till I go
asleep." To assure himself of obedience, he disengaged one hand
from the blanket and, grasping his father's sleeve, again composed
himself to rest.
For some moments the Old Man waited patiently. Then the unwonted
stillness of the house excited his curiosity, and without moving
from the bed, he cautiously opened the door with his disengaged
hand, and looked into the main room. To his infinite surprise it
was dark and deserted. But even then a smouldering log on the
hearth broke, and by the upspringing blaze he saw the figure of
Dick Bullen sitting by the dying embers.
Dick started, rose, and came somewhat unsteadily toward him.
"Whar's the boys?" said the Old Man.
"Gone up the canyon on a little pasear. They're coming back for me
in a minit. I'm waitin' round for 'em. What are you starin' at,
Old Man?" he added with a forced laugh; "do you think I'm drunk?"
The Old Man might have been pardoned the supposition, for Dick's
eyes were humid and his face flushed. He loitered and lounged back
to the chimney, yawned, shook himself, buttoned up his coat and
laughed. "Liquor ain't so plenty as that, Old Man. Now don't you
git up," he continued, as the Old Man made a movement to release
his sleeve from Johnny's hand. "Don't you mind manners. Sit jest
whar you be; I'm goin' in a jiffy. Thar, that's them now."
There was a low tap at the door. Dick Bullen opened it quickly,
nodded "Good night" to his host, and disappeared. The Old Man
would have followed him but for the hand that still unconsciously
grasped his sleeve. He could have easily disengaged it: it was
small, weak, and emaciated. But perhaps because it WAS small,
weak, and emaciated, he changed his mind, and, drawing his chair
closer to the bed, rested his head upon it. In this defenceless
attitude the potency of his earlier potations surprised him. The
room flickered and faded before his eyes, reappeared, faded again,
went out, and left him--asleep.
Meantime Dick Bullen, closing the door, confronted his companions.
"Are you ready?" said Staples. "Ready," said Dick; "what's the
time?" "Past twelve," was the reply; "can you make it?--it's nigh
on fifty miles, the round trip hither and yon." "I reckon,"
returned Dick, shortly. "Whar's the mare?" "Bill and Jack's
holdin' her at the crossin'." "Let 'em hold on a minit longer,"
He turned and re-entered the house softly. By the light of the
guttering candle and dying fire he saw that the door of the little
room was open. He stepped toward it on tiptoe and looked in. The
Old Man had fallen back in his chair, snoring, his helpless feet
thrust out in a line with his collapsed shoulders, and his hat
pulled over his eyes. Beside him, on a narrow wooden bedstead, lay
Johnny, muffled tightly in a blanket that hid all save a strip of
forehead and a few curls damp with perspiration. Dick Bullen made
a step forward, hesitated, and glanced over his shoulder into the
deserted room. Everything was quiet. With a sudden resolution he
parted his huge mustaches with both hands and stooped over the
sleeping boy. But even as he did so a mischievous blast, lying in
wait, swooped down the chimney, rekindled the hearth, and lit up
the room with a shameless glow from which Dick fled in bashful
His companions were already waiting for him at the crossing. Two
of them were struggling in the darkness with some strange misshapen
bulk, which as Dick came nearer took the semblance of a great
It was the mare. She was not a pretty picture. From her Roman
nose to her rising haunches, from her arched spine hidden by the
stiff machillas of a Mexican saddle, to her thick, straight, bony
legs, there was not a line of equine grace. In her half-blind but
wholly vicious white eyes, in her protruding under lip, in her
monstrous color, there was nothing but ugliness and vice.
"Now then," said Staples, "stand cl'ar of her heels, boys, and up
with you. Don't miss your first holt of her mane, and mind ye get
your off stirrup QUICK. Ready!"
There was a leap, a scrambling struggle, a bound, a wild retreat of
the crowd, a circle of flying hoofs, two springless leaps that
jarred the earth, a rapid play and jingle of spurs, a plunge, and
then the voice of Dick somewhere in the darkness, "All right!"
"Don't take the lower road back onless you're hard pushed for time!
Don't hold her in down hill! We'll be at the ford at five.
G'lang! Hoopa! Mula! GO!"
A splash, a spark struck from the ledge in the road, a clatter in
the rocky cut beyond, and Dick was gone.
. . . . . .
Sing, O Muse, the ride of Richard Bullen! Sing, O Muse of
chivalrous men! the sacred quest, the doughty deeds, the battery of
low churls, the fearsome ride and grewsome perils of the Flower of
Simpson's Bar! Alack! she is dainty, this Muse! She will have
none of this bucking brute and swaggering, ragged rider, and I must
fain follow him in prose, afoot!
It was one o'clock, and yet he had only gained Rattlesnake Hill.
For in that time Jovita had rehearsed to him all her imperfections
and practised all her vices. Thrice had she stumbled. Twice had
she thrown up her Roman nose in a straight line with the reins,
and, resisting bit and spur, struck out madly across country.
Twice had she reared, and, rearing, fallen backward; and twice had
the agile Dick, unharmed, regained his seat before she found her
vicious legs again. And a mile beyond them, at the foot of a long
hill, was Rattlesnake Creek. Dick knew that here was the crucial
test of his ability to perform his enterprise, set his teeth
grimly, put his knees well into her flanks, and changed his
defensive tactics to brisk aggression. Bullied and maddened,
Jovita began the descent of the hill. Here the artful Richard
pretended to hold her in with ostentatious objurgation and well-
feigned cries of alarm. It is unnecessary to add that Jovita
instantly ran away. Nor need I state the time made in the descent;
it is written in the chronicles of Simpson's Bar. Enough that in
another moment, as it seemed to Dick, she was splashing on the
overflowed banks of Rattlesnake Creek. As Dick expected, the
momentum she had acquired carried her beyond the point of balking,
and, holding her well together for a mighty leap, they dashed into
the middle of the swiftly flowing current. A few moments of
kicking, wading, and swimming, and Dick drew a long breath on the
The road from Rattlesnake Creek to Red Mountain was tolerably
level. Either the plunge in Rattlesnake Creek had dampened her
baleful fire, or the art which led to it had shown her the superior
wickedness of her rider, for Jovita no longer wasted her surplus
energy in wanton conceits. Once she bucked, but it was from force
of habit; once she shied, but it was from a new freshly painted
meeting-house at the crossing of the county road. Hollows,
ditches, gravelly deposits, patches of freshly springing grasses,
flew from beneath her rattling hoofs. She began to smell
unpleasantly, once or twice she coughed slightly, but there was no
abatement of her strength or speed. By two o'clock he had passed
Red Mountain and begun the descent to the plain. Ten minutes later
the driver of the fast Pioneer coach was overtaken and passed by a
"man on a Pinto hoss,"--an event sufficiently notable for remark.
At half past two Dick rose in his stirrups with a great shout.
Stars were glittering through the rifted clouds, and beyond him,
out of the plain, rose two spires, a flagstaff, and a straggling
line of black objects. Dick jingled his spurs and swung his riata,
Jovita bounded forward, and in another moment they swept into
Tuttleville and drew up before the wooden piazza of "The Hotel of
What transpired that night at Tuttleville is not strictly a part of
this record. Briefly I may state, however, that after Jovita had
been handed over to a sleepy ostler, whom she at once kicked into
unpleasant consciousness, Dick sallied out with the bar-keeper for
a tour of the sleeping town. Lights still gleamed from a few
saloons and gambling-houses; but, avoiding these, they stopped
before several closed shops, and by persistent tapping and
judicious outcry roused the proprietors from their beds, and made
them unbar the doors of their magazines and expose their wares.
Sometimes they were met by curses, but oftener by interest and some
concern in their needs, and the interview was invariably concluded
by a drink. It was three o'clock before this pleasantry was given
over, and with a small waterproof bag of india-rubber strapped on
his shoulders Dick returned to the hotel. But here he was waylaid
by Beauty,--Beauty opulent in charms, affluent in dress, persuasive
in speech, and Spanish in accent! In vain she repeated the
invitation in "Excelsior," happily scorned by all Alpine-climbing
youth, and rejected by this child of the Sierras,--a rejection
softened in this instance by a laugh and his last gold coin. And
then he sprang to the saddle and dashed down the lonely street and
out into the lonelier plain, where presently the lights, the black
line of houses, the spires, and the flagstaff sank into the earth
behind him again and were lost in the distance.
The storm had cleared away, the air was brisk and cold, the
outlines of adjacent landmarks were distinct, but it was half past
four before Dick reached the meeting-house and the crossing of the
county road. To avoid the rising grade he had taken a longer and
more circuitous road, in whose viscid mud Jovita sank fetlock deep
at every bound. It was a poor preparation for a steady ascent of
five miles more; but Jovita, gathering her legs under her, took it
with her usual blind, unreasoning fury, and a half-hour later
reached the long level that led to Rattlesnake Creek. Another
half-hour would bring him to the creek. He threw the reins lightly
upon the neck of the mare, chirruped to her, and began to sing.
Suddenly Jovita shied with a bound that would have unseated a less
practised rider. Hanging to her rein was a figure that had leaped
from the bank, and at the same time from the road before her arose
a shadowy horse and rider. "Throw up your hands," commanded this
second apparition, with an oath.
Dick felt the mare tremble, quiver, and apparently sink under him.
He knew what it meant and was prepared.
"Stand aside, Jack Simpson, I know you, you d----d thief. Let me
He did not finish the sentence. Jovita rose straight in the air
with a terrific bound, throwing the figure from her bit with a
single shake of her vicious head, and charged with deadly
malevolence down on the impediment before her. An oath, a pistol-
shot, horse and highwayman rolled over in the road, and the next
moment Jovita was a hundred yards away. But the good right arm of
her rider, shattered by a bullet, dropped helplessly at his side.
Without slacking his speed he shifted the reins to his left hand.
But a few moments later he was obliged to halt and tighten the
saddle-girths that had slipped in the onset. This in his crippled
condition took some time. He had no fear of pursuit, but looking
up he saw that the eastern stars were already paling, and that the
distant peaks had lost their ghostly whiteness, and now stood out
blackly against a lighter sky. Day was upon him. Then completely
absorbed in a single idea, he forgot the pain of his wound, and
mounting again dashed on toward Rattlesnake Creek. But now
Jovita's breath came broken by gasps, Dick reeled in his saddle,
and brighter and brighter grew the sky.
Ride, Richard; run, Jovita; linger, O day!
For the last few rods there was a roaring in his ears. Was it
exhaustion from loss of blood, or what? He was dazed and giddy as
he swept down the hill, and did not recognize his surroundings.
Had he taken the wrong road, or was this Rattlesnake Creek?
It was. But the brawling creek he had swam a few hours before had
risen, more than doubled its volume, and now rolled a swift and
resistless river between him and Rattlesnake Hill. For the first
time that night Richard's heart sank within him. The river, the
mountain, the quickening east, swam before his eyes. He shut them
to recover his self-control. In that brief interval, by some
fantastic mental process, the little room at Simpson's Bar and the
figures of the sleeping father and son rose upon him. He opened
his eyes wildly, cast off his coat, pistol, boots, and saddle,
bound his precious pack tightly to his shoulders, grasped the bare
flanks of Jovita with his bared knees, and with a shout dashed into
the yellow water. A cry rose from the opposite bank as the head of
a man and horse struggled for a few moments against the battling
current, and then were swept away amidst uprooted trees and
. . . . . .
The Old Man started and woke. The fire on the hearth was dead, the
candle in the outer room flickering in its socket, and somebody was
rapping at the door. He opened it, but fell back with a cry before
the dripping half-naked figure that reeled against the doorpost.
"Hush! Is he awake yet?"
"Dry up, you old fool! Get me some whiskey QUICK!" The Old Man
flew and returned with--an empty bottle! Dick would have sworn,
but his strength was not equal to the occasion. He staggered,
caught at the handle of the door, and motioned to the Old Man.
"Thar's suthin' in my pack yer for Johnny. Take it off. I can't."
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