Mrs. Skaggs's Husbands
Part 2 out of 3
The Old Man unstrapped the pack and laid it before the exhausted
"Open it, quick!"
He did so with trembling fingers. It contained only a few poor
toys,--cheap and barbaric enough, goodness knows, but bright with
paint and tinsel. One of them was broken; another, I fear, was
irretrievably ruined by water; and on the third--ah me! there was a
"It don't look like much, that's a fact," said Dick, ruefully . . . .
"But it's the best we could do. . . . Take 'em, Old Man, and
put 'em in his stocking, and tell him--tell him, you know--hold me,
Old Man--" The Old Man caught at his sinking figure. "Tell him,"
said Dick, with a weak little laugh,--"tell him Sandy Claus has
And even so, bedraggled, ragged, unshaven and unshorn, with one arm
hanging helplessly at his side, Santa Claus came to Simpson's Bar
and fell fainting on the first threshold. The Christmas dawn came
slowly after, touching the remoter peaks with the rosy warmth of
ineffable love. And it looked so tenderly on Simpson's Bar that
the whole mountain as if caught in a generous action, blushed to
THE PRINCESS BOB AND HER FRIENDS.
She was a Klamath Indian. Her title was, I think, a compromise
between her claim as daughter of a chief, and gratitude to her
earliest white protector, whose name, after the Indian fashion, she
had adopted. "Bob" Walker had taken her from the breast of her
dead mother at a time when the sincere volunteer soldiery of the
California frontier were impressed with the belief that extermination
was the manifest destiny of the Indian race. He had with difficulty
restrained the noble zeal of his compatriots long enough to convince
them that the exemption of one Indian baby would not invalidate this
theory. And he took her to his home,--a pastoral clearing on the
banks of the Salmon River,--where she was cared for after a frontier
Before she was nine years old, she had exhausted the scant
kindliness of the thin, overworked Mrs. Walker. As a playfellow of
the young Walkers she was unreliable; as a nurse for the baby she
was inefficient. She lost the former in the trackless depths of a
redwood forest; she basely abandoned the latter in an extemporized
cradle, hanging like a chrysalis to a convenient bough. She lied
and she stole,--two unpardonable sins in a frontier community,
where truth was a necessity and provisions were the only property.
Worse than this, the outskirts of the clearing were sometimes
haunted by blanketed tatterdemalions with whom she had mysterious
confidences. Mr. Walker more than once regretted his indiscreet
humanity; but she presently relieved him of responsibility, and
possibly of bloodguiltiness, by disappearing entirely.
When she reappeared, it was at the adjacent village of Logport, in
the capacity of housemaid to a trader's wife, who, joining some
little culture to considerable conscientiousness, attempted to
instruct her charge. But the Princess proved an unsatisfactory
pupil to even so liberal a teacher. She accepted the alphabet with
great good-humor, but always as a pleasing and recurring novelty,
in which all interest expired at the completion of each lesson.
She found a thousand uses for her books and writing materials other
than those known to civilized children. She made a curious
necklace of bits of slate-pencil, she constructed a miniature canoe
from the pasteboard covers of her primer, she bent her pens into
fish-hooks, and tattooed the faces of her younger companions with
blue ink. Religious instruction she received as good-humoredly,
and learned to pronounce the name of the Deity with a cheerful
familiarity that shocked her preceptress. Nor could her reverence
be reached through analogy; she knew nothing of the Great Spirit,
and professed entire ignorance of the Happy Hunting-Grounds. Yet
she attended divine service regularly, and as regularly asked for a
hymn-book; and it was only through the discovery that she had
collected twenty-five of these volumes and had hidden them behind
the woodpile, that her connection with the First Baptist Church of
Logport ceased. She would occasionally abandon these civilized and
Christian privileges, and disappear from her home, returning after
several days of absence with an odor of bark and fish, and a peace-
offering to her mistress in the shape of venison or game.
To add to her troubles, she was now fourteen, and, according to the
laws of her race, a woman. I do not think the most romantic fancy
would have called her pretty. Her complexion defied most of those
ambiguous similes through which poets unconsciously apologize for
any deviation from the Caucasian standard. It was not wine nor
amber colored; if anything, it was smoky. Her face was tattooed
with red and white lines on one cheek, as if a duo-toothed comb had
been drawn from cheek-bone to jaw, and, but for the good-humor that
beamed from her small berry-like eyes and shone in her white teeth,
would have been repulsive. She was short and stout. In her scant
drapery and unrestrained freedom she was hardly statuesque, and her
more unstudied attitudes were marred by a simian habit of softly
scratching her left ankle with the toes of her right foot, in
moments of contemplation.
I think I have already shown enough to indicate the incongruity of
her existence with even the low standard of civilization that
obtained at Logport in the year 1860. It needed but one more fact
to prove the far-sighted poetical sagacity and prophetic ethics of
those sincere advocates of extermination, to whose virtues I have
done but scant justice in the beginning of this article. This fact
was presently furnished by the Princess. After one of her
periodical disappearances,--this time unusually prolonged,--she
astonished Logport by returning with a half-breed baby of a week
old in her arms. That night a meeting of the hard-featured serious
matrons of Logport was held at Mrs. Brown's. The immediate
banishment of the Princess was demanded. Soft-hearted Mrs. Brown
endeavored vainly to get a mitigation or suspension of the
sentence. But, as on a former occasion, the Princess took matters
into her own hands. A few mornings afterwards, a wicker cradle
containing an Indian baby was found hanging on the handle of the
door of the First Baptist Church. It was the Parthian arrow of the
flying Princess. From that day Logport knew her no more.
It had been a bright clear day on the upland, so clear that the
ramparts of Fort Jackson and the flagstaff were plainly visible
twelve miles away from the long curving peninsula that stretched a
bared white arm around the peaceful waters of Logport Bay. It had
been a clear day upon the sea-shore, albeit the air was filled with
the flying spume and shifting sand of a straggling beach whose low
dunes were dragged down by the long surges of the Pacific and
thrown up again by the tumultuous trade-winds. But the sun had
gone down in a bank of fleecy fog that was beginning to roll in
upon the beach. Gradually the headland at the entrance of the
harbor and the lighthouse disappeared, then the willow fringe that
marked the line of Salmon River vanished, and the ocean was gone.
A few sails still gleamed on the waters of the bay; but the
advancing fog wiped them out one by one, crept across the steel-
blue expanse, swallowed up the white mills and single spire of
Logport, and, joining with reinforcements from the marshes, moved
solemnly upon the hills. Ten minutes more and the landscape was
utterly blotted out; simultaneously the wind died away, and a
death-like silence stole over sea and shore. The faint clang, high
overhead, of unseen brent, the nearer call of invisible plover, the
lap and wash of undistinguishable waters, and the monotonous roll
of the vanished ocean, were the only sounds. As night deepened,
the far-off booming of the fog-bell on the headland at intervals
stirred the thick air.
Hard by the shore of the bay, and half hidden by a drifting sand-
hill, stood a low nondescript structure, to whose composition sea
and shore had equally contributed. It was built partly of logs and
partly of driftwood and tarred canvas. Joined to one end of the
main building--the ordinary log-cabin of the settler--was the half-
round pilot-house of some wrecked steamer, while the other gable
terminated in half of a broken whale-boat. Nailed against the boat
were the dried skins of wild animals, and scattered about lay the
flotsam and jetsam of many years' gathering,--bamboo crates, casks,
hatches, blocks, oars, boxes, part of a whale's vertebrae, and the
blades of sword-fish. Drawn up on the beach of a little cove
before the house lay a canoe. As the night thickened and the fog
grew more dense, these details grew imperceptible, and only the
windows of the pilot-house, lit up by a roaring fire within the
hut, gleamed redly through the mist.
By this fire, beneath a ship's lamp that swung from the roof, two
figures were seated, a man and a woman. The man, broad-shouldered
and heavily bearded, stretched his listless powerful length beyond
a broken bamboo chair, with his eyes fixed on the fire. The woman
crouched cross-legged upon the broad earthen hearth, with her eyes
blinkingly fixed on her companion. They were small, black, round,
berry-like eyes, and as the firelight shone upon her smoky face,
with its one striped cheek of gorgeous brilliancy, it was plainly
the Princess Bob and no other.
Not a word was spoken. They had been sitting thus for more than an
hour, and there was about their attitude a suggestion that silence
was habitual. Once or twice the man rose and walked up and down
the narrow room, or gazed absently from the windows of the pilot-
house, but never by look or sign betrayed the slightest
consciousness of his companion. At such times the Princess from
her nest by the fire followed him with eyes of canine expectancy
and wistfulness. But he would as inevitably return to his
contemplation of the fire, and the Princess to her blinking
watchfulness of his face.
They had sat there silent and undisturbed for many an evening in
fair weather and foul. They had spent many a day in sunshine and
storm, gathering the unclaimed spoil of sea and shore. They had
kept these mute relations, varied only by the incidents of the hunt
or meagre household duties, for three years, ever since the man,
wandering moodily over the lonely sands, had fallen upon the half-
starved woman lying in the little hollow where she had crawled to
die. It had seemed as if they would never be disturbed, until now,
when the Princess started, and, with the instinct of her race, bent
her ear to the ground.
The wind had risen and was rattling the tarred canvas. But in
another moment there plainly came from without the hut the sound of
voices. Then followed a rap at the door; then another rap; and
then, before they could rise to their feet, the door was flung
"I beg your pardon," said a pleasant but somewhat decided contralto
voice, "but I don't think you heard me knock. Ah, I see you did
not. May I come in?"
There was no reply. Had the battered figurehead of the Goddess of
Liberty, which lay deeply embedded in the sand on the beach,
suddenly appeared at the door demanding admittance, the occupants
of the cabin could not have been more speechlessly and hopelessly
astonished than at the form which stood in the open doorway.
It was that of a slim, shapely, elegantly dressed young woman. A
scarlet-lined silken hood was half thrown back from the shining
mass of the black hair that covered her small head; from her pretty
shoulders dropped a fur cloak, only restrained by a cord and tassel
in her small gloved hand. Around her full throat was a double
necklace of large white beads, that by some cunning feminine trick
relieved with its infantile suggestion the strong decision of her
"Did you say yes? Ah, thank you. We may come in, Barker." (Here
a shadow in a blue army overcoat followed her into the cabin,
touched its cap respectfully, and then stood silent and erect
against the wall.) "Don't disturb yourself in the least, I beg.
What a distressingly unpleasant night! Is this your usual
Half graciously, half absently overlooking the still embarrassed
silence of the group, she went on: "We started from the fort over
three hours ago,--three hours ago, wasn't it, Barker?" (the erect
Barker touched his cap,)--"to go to Captain Emmons's quarters on
Indian Island,--I think you call it Indian Island, don't you?" (she
was appealing to the awe-stricken Princess,)--"and we got into the
fog and lost our way; that is, Barker lost his way," (Barker
touched his cap deprecatingly,) "and goodness knows where we didn't
wander to until we mistook your light for the lighthouse and pulled
up here. No, no, pray keep your seat, do! Really I must insist."
Nothing could exceed the languid grace of the latter part of this
speech,--nothing except the easy unconsciousness with which she
glided by the offered chair of her stammering, embarrassed host and
stood beside the open hearth.
"Barker will tell you," she continued, warming her feet by the
fire, "that I am Miss Portfire, daughter of Major Portfire,
commanding the post. Ah, excuse me, child!" (She had accidentally
trodden upon the bare yellow toes of the Princess.) "Really, I did
not know you were there. I am very near-sighted." (In confirmation
of her statement, she put to her eyes a dainty double eyeglass that
dangled from her neck.) "It's a shocking thing to be near-sighted,
If the shamefaced uneasy man to whom this remark was addressed
could have found words to utter the thought that even in his
confusion struggled uppermost in his mind, he would, looking at the
bold, dark eyes that questioned him, have denied the fact. But he
only stammered, "Yes." The next moment, however, Miss Portfire had
apparently forgotten him and was examining the Princess through her
"And what is your name, child?"
The Princess, beatified by the eyes and eyeglass, showed all her
white teeth at once, and softly scratched her leg.
"Bob? What a singular name!"
Miss Portfire's host here hastened to explain the origin of the
"Then YOU are Bob." (Eye-glass.)
"No, my name is Grey,--John Grey." And he actually achieved a bow
where awkwardness was rather the air of imperfectly recalling a
"Grey?--ah, let me see. Yes, certainly. You are Mr. Grey the
recluse, the hermit, the philosopher, and all that sort of thing.
Why, certainly; Dr. Jones, our surgeon, has told me all about you.
Dear me, how interesting a rencontre! Lived all alone here for
seven--was it seven years?--yes, I remember now. Existed quite au
naturel, one might say. How odd! Not that I know anything about
that sort of thing, you know. I've lived always among people, and
am really quite a stranger, I assure you. But honestly, Mr.--I beg
your pardon--Mr. Grey, how do you like it?"
She had quietly taken his chair and thrown her cloak and hood over
its back, and was now thoughtfully removing her gloves. Whatever
were the arguments,--and they were doubtless many and profound,--
whatever the experience,--and it was doubtless hard and satisfying
enough,--by which this unfortunate man had justified his life for
the last seven years, somehow they suddenly became trivial and
terribly ridiculous before this simple but practical question.
"Well, you shall tell me all about it after you have given me
something to eat. We will have time enough; Barker cannot find his
way back in this fog to-night. Now don't put yourselves to any
trouble on my account. Barker will assist?"
Barker came forward. Glad to escape the scrutiny of his guest, the
hermit gave a few rapid directions to the Princess in her native
tongue, and disappeared in the shed. Left a moment alone, Miss
Portfire took a quick, half-audible, feminine inventory of the
cabin. "Books, guns, skins, ONE chair, ONE bed, no pictures, and
no looking-glass!" She took a book from the swinging shelf and
resumed her seat by the fire as the Princess re-entered with fresh
fuel. But while kneeling on the hearth the Princess chanced to
look up and met Miss Portfire's dark eyes over the edge of her book.
The Princess showed her teeth.
"Listen. Would you like to have fine clothes, rings, and beads
like these, to have your hair nicely combed and put up so? Would
The Princess nodded violently.
"Would you like to live with me and have them? Answer quickly.
Don't look round for HIM. Speak for yourself. Would you? Hush;
never mind now."
The hermit re-entered, and the Princess, blinking, retreated into
the shadow of the whale-boat shed, from which she did not emerge
even when the homely repast of cold venison, ship biscuit, and tea
was served. Miss Portfire noticed her absence: "You really must
not let me interfere with your usual simple ways. Do you know this
is exceedingly interesting to me, so pastoral and patriarchal and
all that sort of thing. I must insist upon the Princess coming
back; really, I must."
But the Princess was not to be found in the shed, and Miss
Portfire, who the next minute seemed to have forgotten all about
her, took her place in the single chair before an extemporized
table. Barker stood behind her, and the hermit leaned against the
fireplace. Miss Portfire's appetite did not come up to her
protestations. For the first time in seven years it occurred to
the hermit that his ordinary victual might be improved. He
stammered out something to that effect.
"I have eaten better, and worse," said Miss Portfire, quietly.
"But I thought you--that is, you said--"
"I spent a year in the hospitals, when father was on the Potomac,"
returned Miss Portfire, composedly. After a pause she continued:
"You remember after the second Bull Run-- But, dear me! I beg
your pardon; of course, you know nothing about the war and all that
sort of thing, and don't care." (She put up her eye-glass and
quietly surveyed his broad muscular figure against the chimney.)
"Or, perhaps, your prejudices-- But then, as a hermit you know you
have no politics, of course. Please don't let me bore you."
To have been strictly consistent, the hermit should have exhibited
no interest in this topic. Perhaps it was owing to some quality in
the narrator, but he was constrained to beg her to continue in such
phrases as his unfamiliar lips could command. So that, little by
little, Miss Portfire yielded up incident and personal observation
of the contest then raging; with the same half-abstracted, half-
unconcerned air that seemed habitual to her, she told the stories
of privation, of suffering, of endurance, and of sacrifice. With
the same assumption of timid deference that concealed her great
self-control, she talked of principles and rights. Apparently
without enthusiasm and without effort, of which his morbid nature
would have been suspicious, she sang the great American Iliad in a
way that stirred the depths of her solitary auditor to its massive
foundations. Then she stopped and asked quietly, "Where is Bob?"
The hermit started. He would look for her. But Bob, for some
reason, was not forthcoming. Search was made within and without
the hut, but in vain. For the first time that evening Miss
Portfire showed some anxiety. "Go," she said to Barker, "and find
her. She MUST be found; stay, give me your overcoat, I'll go
myself." She threw the overcoat over her shoulders and stepped out
into the night. In the thick veil of fog that seemed suddenly to
inwrap her, she stood for a moment irresolute, and then walked
toward the beach, guided by the low wash of waters on the sand.
She had not taken many steps before she stumbled over some dark
crouching object. Reaching down her hand she felt the coarse wiry
mane of the Princess.
There was no reply.
"Bob. I've been looking for you, come."
"Nonsense, Bob. I want you to stay with me to-night, come."
"Injin squaw no good for waugee woman. Go 'way."
"Listen, Bob. You are daughter of a chief: so am I. Your father
had many warriors: so has mine. It is good that you stay with me.
The Princess chuckled and suffered herself to be lifted up. A few
moments later and they re-entered the hut, hand in hand.
With the first red streaks of dawn the next day the erect Barker
touched his cap at the door of the hut. Beside him stood the
hermit, also just risen from his blanketed nest in the sand. Forth
from the hut, fresh as the morning air, stepped Miss Portfire,
leading the Princess by the hand. Hand in hand also they walked to
the shore, and when the Princess had been safely bestowed in the
stern sheets, Miss Portfire turned and held out her own to her late
"I shall take the best of care of her, of course. You will come
and see her often. I should ask you to come and see me, but you
are a hermit, you know, and all that sort of thing. But if it's
the correct anchorite thing, and can be done, my father will be
glad to requite you for this night's hospitality. But don't do
anything on my account that interferes with your simple habits.
She handed him a card, which he took mechanically.
The sail was hoisted, and the boat shoved off. As the fresh
morning breeze caught the white canvas it seemed to bow a parting
salutation. There was a rosy flash of promise on the water, and as
the light craft darted forward toward the ascending sun, it seemed
for a moment uplifted in its glory.
Miss Portfire kept her word. If thoughtful care and intelligent
kindness could regenerate the Princess, her future was secure. And
it really seemed as if she were for the first time inclined to heed
the lessons of civilization and profit by her new condition. An
agreeable change was first noticed in her appearance. Her lawless
hair was caught in a net, and no longer strayed over her low
forehead. Her unstable bust was stayed and upheld by French
corsets; her plantigrade shuffle was limited by heeled boots. Her
dresses were neat and clean, and she wore a double necklace of
glass beads. With this physical improvement there also seemed some
moral awakening. She no longer stole nor lied. With the
possession of personal property came a respect for that of others.
With increased dependence on the word of those about her came a
thoughtful consideration of her own. Intellectually she was still
feeble, although she grappled sturdily with the simple lessons
which Miss Portfire set before her. But her zeal and simple vanity
outran her discretion, and she would often sit for hours with an
open book before her, which she could not read. She was a favorite
with the officers at the fort, from the Major, who shared his
daughter's prejudices and often yielded to her powerful self-will,
to the subalterns, who liked her none the less that their natural
enemies, the frontier volunteers, had declared war against her
helpless sisterhood. The only restraint put upon her was the
limitation of her liberty to the enclosure of the fort and parade;
and only once did she break this parole, and was stopped by the
sentry as she stepped into a boat at the landing.
The recluse did not avail himself of Miss Portfire's invitation.
But after the departure of the Princess he spent less of his time
in the hut, and was more frequently seen in the distant marshes of
Eel River and on the upland hills. A feverish restlessness, quite
opposed to his usual phlegm, led him into singular freaks strangely
inconsistent with his usual habits and reputation. The purser of
the occasional steamer which stopped at Logport with the mails
reported to have been boarded, just inside the bar, by a strange
bearded man, who asked for a newspaper containing the last war
telegrams. He tore his red shirt into narrow strips, and spent two
days with his needle over the pieces and the tattered remnant of
his only white garment; and a few days afterward the fishermen on
the bay were surprised to see what, on nearer approach, proved to
be a rude imitation of the national flag floating from a spar above
One evening, as the fog began to drift over the sand-hills, the
recluse sat alone in his hut. The fire was dying unheeded on the
hearth, for he had been sitting there for a long time, completely
absorbed in the blurred pages of an old newspaper. Presently he
arose, and, refolding it,--an operation of great care and delicacy
in its tattered condition,--placed it under the blankets of his
bed. He resumed his seat by the fire, but soon began drumming with
his fingers on the arm of his chair. Eventually this assumed the
time and accent of some air. Then he began to whistle softly and
hesitatingly, as if trying to recall a forgotten tune. Finally
this took shape in a rude resemblance, not unlike that which his
flag bore to the national standard, to Yankee Doodle. Suddenly he
There was an unmistakable rapping at the door. The blood which had
at first rushed to his face now forsook it and settled slowly
around his heart. He tried to rise, but could not. Then the door
was flung open, and a figure with a scarlet-lined hood and fur
mantle stood on the threshold. With a mighty effort he took one
stride to the door. The next moment he saw the wide mouth and
white teeth of the Princess, and was greeted by a kiss that felt
like a baptism.
To tear the hood and mantle from her figure in the sudden fury that
seized him, and to fiercely demand the reason of this masquerade,
was his only return to her greeting. "Why are you here? did you
steal these garments?" he again demanded in her guttural language,
as he shook her roughly by the arm. The Princess hung her head.
"Did you?" he screamed, as he reached wildly for his rifle.
His hold relaxed, and he staggered back against the wall. The
Princess began to whimper. Between her sobs, she was trying to
explain that the Major and his daughter were going away, and that
they wanted to send her to the Reservation; but he cut her short.
"Take off those things!" The Princess tremblingly obeyed. He
rolled them up, placed them in the canoe she had just left, and
then leaped into the frail craft. She would have followed, but
with a great oath he threw her from him, and with one stroke of his
paddle swept out into the fog, and was gone.
"Jessamy," said the Major, a few days after, as he sat at dinner
with his daughter, "I think I can tell you something to match the
mysterious disappearance and return of your wardrobe. Your crazy
friend, the recluse, has enlisted this morning in the Fourth
Artillery. He's a splendid-looking animal, and there's the right
stuff for a soldier in him, if I'm not mistaken. He's in earnest
too, for he enlists in the regiment ordered back to Washington.
Bless me, child, another goblet broken; you'll ruin the mess in
glassware, at this rate!"
"Have you heard anything more of the Princess, papa?"
"Nothing, but perhaps it's as well that she has gone. These cursed
settlers are at their old complaints again about what they call
'Indian depredations,' and I have just received orders from head-
quarters to keep the settlement clear of all vagabond aborigines.
I am afraid, my dear, that a strict construction of the term would
include your protegee."
The time for the departure of the Fourth Artillery had come. The
night before was thick and foggy. At one o'clock, a shot on the
ramparts called out the guard and roused the sleeping garrison.
The new sentry, Private Grey, had challenged a dusky figure
creeping on the glacis, and, receiving no answer, had fired. The
guard sent out presently returned, bearing a lifeless figure in
their arms. The new sentry's zeal, joined with an ex-frontiersman's
aim, was fatal.
They laid the helpless, ragged form before the guard-house door,
and then saw for the first time that it was the Princess.
Presently she opened her eyes. They fell upon the agonized face of
her innocent slayer, but haply without intelligence or reproach.
"Georgy!" she whispered.
"All's same now. Me get plenty well soon. Me make no more fuss.
Me go to Reservation."
Then she stopped, a tremor ran through her limbs, and she lay
still. She had gone to the Reservation. Not that devised by the
wisdom of man, but that one set apart from the foundation of the
world for the wisest as well as the meanest of His creatures.
THE ILIAD OF SANDY BAR.
Before nine o'clock it was pretty well known all along the river
that the two partners of the "Amity Claim" had quarrelled and
separated at daybreak. At that time the attention of their nearest
neighbor had been attracted by the sounds of altercations and two
consecutive pistol-shots. Running out, he had seen, dimly, in the
gray mist that rose from the river, the tall form of Scott, one of
the partners, descending the hill toward the canyon; a moment
later, York, the other partner, had appeared from the cabin, and
walked in an opposite direction toward the river, passing within a
few feet of the curious watcher. Later it was discovered that a
serious Chinaman, cutting wood before the cabin, had witnessed part
of the quarrel. But John was stolid, indifferent, and reticent.
"Me choppee wood, me no fightee," was his serene response to all
anxious queries. "But what did they SAY, John?" John did not
sabe. Colonel Starbottle deftly ran over the various popular
epithets which a generous public sentiment might accept as
reasonable provocation for an assault. But John did not recognize
them. "And this yer's the cattle," said the Colonel, with some
severity, "that some thinks oughter be allowed to testify ag'in' a
White Man! Git--you heathen!"
Still the quarrel remained inexplicable. That two men, whose
amiability and grave tact had earned for them the title of "The
Peacemakers," in a community not greatly given to the passive
virtues,--that these men, singularly devoted to each other, should
suddenly and violently quarrel, might well excite the curiosity of
the camp. A few of the more inquisitive visited the late scene of
conflict, now deserted by its former occupants. There was no trace
of disorder or confusion in the neat cabin. The rude table was
arranged as if for breakfast; the pan of yellow biscuit still sat
upon that hearth whose dead embers might have typified the evil
passions that had raged there but an hour before. But Colonel
Starbottle's eye--albeit somewhat bloodshot and rheumy--was more
intent on practical details. On examination, a bullet-hole was
found in the doorpost, and another, nearly opposite, in the casing
of the window. The Colonel called attention to the fact that the
one "agreed with" the bore of Scott's revolver, and the other with
that of York's derringer. "They must hev stood about yer," said
the Colonel, taking position; "not mor'n three feet apart, and--
missed!" There was a fine touch of pathos in the falling inflection
of the Colonel's voice, which was not without effect. A delicate
perception of wasted opportunity thrilled his auditors.
But the Bar was destined to experience a greater disappointment.
The two antagonists had not met since the quarrel, and it was
vaguely rumored that, on the occasion of a second meeting, each had
determined to kill the other "on sight." There was, consequently,
some excitement--and, it is to be feared, no little gratification--
when, at ten o'clock, York stepped from the Magnolia Saloon into
the one long straggling street of the camp, at the same moment that
Scott left the blacksmith's shop at the forks of the road. It was
evident, at a glance, that a meeting could only be avoided by the
actual retreat of one or the other.
In an instant the doors and windows of the adjacent saloons were
filled with faces. Heads unaccountably appeared above the river-
banks and from behind bowlders. An empty wagon at the cross-road
was suddenly crowded with people, who seemed to have sprung from
the earth. There was much running and confusion on the hillside.
On the mountain-road, Mr. Jack Hamlin had reined up his horse, and
was standing upright on the seat of his buggy. And the two objects
of this absorbing attention approached each other.
"York's got the sun," "Scott'll line him on that tree," "He's
waitin' to draw his fire," came from the cart; and then it was
silent. But above this human breathlessness the river rushed and
sang, and the wind rustled the tree-tops with an indifference that
seemed obtrusive. Colonel Starbottle felt it, and in a moment of
sublime preoccupation, without looking around, waved his cane
behind him, warningly to all nature, and said, "Shu!"
The men were now within a few feet of each other. A hen ran across
the road before one of them. A feathery seed-vessel, wafted from a
wayside tree, fell at the feet of the other. And, unheeding this
irony of nature, the two opponents came nearer, erect and rigid,
looked in each other's eyes, and--passed!
Colonel Starbottle had to be lifted from the cart. "This yer camp
is played out," he said, gloomily, as he affected to be supported
into the Magnolia. With what further expression he might have
indicated his feelings it was impossible to say, for at that moment
Scott joined the group. "Did you speak to me?" he asked of the
Colonel, dropping his hand, as if with accidental familiarity, on
that gentleman's shoulder. The Colonel, recognizing some occult
quality in the touch, and some unknown quantity in the glance of
his questioner, contented himself by replying, "No, sir," with
dignity. A few rods away, York's conduct was as characteristic and
peculiar. "You had a mighty fine chance; why didn't you plump
him?" said Jack Hamlin, as York drew near the buggy. "Because I
hate him," was the reply, heard only by Jack. Contrary to popular
belief, this reply was not hissed between the lips of the speaker,
but was said in an ordinary tone. But Jack Hamlin, who was an
observer of mankind, noticed that the speaker's hands were cold,
and his lips dry, as he helped him into the buggy, and accepted the
seeming paradox with a smile.
When Sandy Bar became convinced that the quarrel between York and
Scott could not be settled after the usual local methods, it gave
no further concern thereto. But presently it was rumored that the
"Amity Claim" was in litigation, and that its possession would be
expensively disputed by each of the partners. As it was well known
that the claim in question was "worked out" and worthless, and that
the partners, whom it had already enriched, had talked of abandoning
it but a day or two before the quarrel, this proceeding could only
be accounted for as gratuitous spite. Later, two San Francisco
lawyers made their appearance in this guileless Arcadia, and were
eventually taken into the saloons, and--what was pretty much the
same thing--the confidences of the inhabitants. The results of this
unhallowed intimacy were many subpoenas; and, indeed, when the
"Amity Claim" came to trial, all of Sandy Bar that was not in
compulsory attendance at the county seat came there from curiosity.
The gulches and ditches for miles around were deserted. I do not
propose to describe that already famous trial. Enough that, in the
language of the plaintiff's counsel, "it was one of no ordinary
significance, involving the inherent rights of that untiring
industry which had developed the Pactolian resources of this golden
land"; and, in the homelier phrase of Colonel Starbottle, "A fuss
that gentlemen might hev settled in ten minutes over a social glass,
ef they meant business; or in ten seconds with a revolver, ef they
meant fun." Scott got a verdict, from which York instantly
appealed. It was said that he had sworn to spend his last dollar in
In this way Sandy Bar began to accept the enmity of the former
partners as a lifelong feud, and the fact that they had ever been
friends was forgotten. The few who expected to learn from the
trial the origin of the quarrel were disappointed. Among the
various conjectures, that which ascribed some occult feminine
influence as the cause was naturally popular, in a camp given to
dubious compliment of the sex. "My word for it, gentlemen," said
Colonel Starbottle, who had been known in Sacramento as a Gentleman
of the Old School, "there's some lovely creature at the bottom of
this." The gallant Colonel then proceeded to illustrate his
theory, by divers sprightly stories, such as Gentlemen of the Old
School are in the habit of repeating, but which, from deference to
the prejudices of gentlemen of a more recent school, I refrain from
transcribing here. But it would appear that even the Colonel's
theory was fallacious. The only woman who personally might have
exercised any influence over the partners was the pretty daughter
of "old man Folinsbee," of Poverty Flat, at whose hospitable house--
which exhibited some comforts and refinements rare in that crude
civilization--both York and Scott were frequent visitors. Yet into
this charming retreat York strode one evening, a month after the
quarrel, and, beholding Scott sitting there, turned to the fair
hostess with the abrupt query, "Do you love this man?" The young
woman thus addressed returned that answer--at once spirited and
evasive--which would occur to most of my fair readers in such an
exigency. Without another word, York left the house. "Miss Jo"
heaved the least possible sigh as the door closed on York's curls
and square shoulders, and then, like a good girl, turned to her
insulted guest "But would you believe it, dear?" she afterward
related to an intimate friend, "the other creature, after glowering
at me for a moment, got upon its hind legs, took its hat, and left,
too; and that's the last I've seen of either."
The same hard disregard of all other interests or feelings in the
gratification of their blind rancor characterized all their
actions. When York purchased the land below Scott's new claim, and
obliged the latter, at a great expense, to make a long detour to
carry a "tail-race" around it, Scott retaliated by building a dam
that overflowed York's claim on the river. It was Scott, who, in
conjunction with Colonel Starbottle, first organized that active
opposition to the Chinamen, which resulted in the driving off of
York's Mongolian laborers; it was York who built the wagon-road and
established the express which rendered Scott's mules and pack-
trains obsolete; it was Scott who called into life the Vigilance
Committee which expatriated York's friend, Jack Hamlin; it was York
who created the "Sandy Bar Herald," which characterized the act as
"a lawless outrage," and Scott as a "Border Ruffian"; it was Scott,
at the head of twenty masked men, who, one moonlight night, threw
the offending "forms" into the yellow river, and scattered the
types in the dusty road. These proceedings were received in the
distant and more civilized outlying towns as vague indications of
progress and vitality. I have before me a copy of the "Poverty
Flat Pioneer," for the week ending August 12, 1856, in which the
editor, under the head of "County Improvements," says: "The new
Presbyterian Church on C Street, at Sandy Bar, is completed. It
stands upon the lot formerly occupied by the Magnolia Saloon, which
was so mysteriously burnt last month. The temple, which now rises
like a Phoenix from the ashes of the Magnolia, is virtually the
free gift of H. J. York, Esq., of Sandy Bar, who purchased the lot
and donated the lumber. Other buildings are going up in the
vicinity, but the most noticeable is the 'Sunny South Saloon,'
erected by Captain Mat. Scott, nearly opposite the church. Captain
Scott has spared no expense in the furnishing of this saloon, which
promises to be one of the most agreeable places of resort in old
Tuolumne. He has recently imported two new, first-class billiard-
tables, with cork cushions. Our old friend, 'Mountain Jimmy,' will
dispense liquors at the bar. We refer our readers to the
advertisement in another column. Visitors to Sandy Bar cannot do
better than give 'Jimmy' a call." Among the local items occurred
the following: "H. J. York, Esq., of Sandy Bar, has offered a
reward of $100 for the detection of the parties who hauled away the
steps of the new Presbyterian Church, C Street, Sandy Bar, during
divine service on Sabbath evening last. Captain Scott adds another
hundred for the capture of the miscreants who broke the magnificent
plate-glass windows of the new saloon on the following evening.
There is some talk of reorganizing the old Vigilance Committee at
When, for many months of cloudless weather, the hard, unwinking sun
of Sandy Bar had regularly gone down on the unpacified wrath of
these men, there was some talk of mediation. In particular, the
pastor of the church to which I have just referred--a sincere,
fearless, but perhaps not fully enlightened man--seized gladly upon
the occasion of York's liberality to attempt to reunite the former
partners. He preached an earnest sermon on the abstract sinfulness
of discord and rancor. But the excellent sermons of the Rev. Mr.
Daws were directed to an ideal congregation that did not exist at
Sandy Bar,--a congregation of beings of unmixed vices and virtues,
of single impulses, and perfectly logical motives, of preternatural
simplicity, of childlike faith, and grown-up responsibilities. As,
unfortunately, the people who actually attended Mr. Daws's church
were mainly very human, somewhat artful, more self-excusing than
self-accusing, rather good-natured, and decidedly weak, they
quietly shed that portion of the sermon which referred to
themselves, and, accepting York and Scott--who were both in defiant
attendance--as curious examples of those ideal beings above
referred to, felt a certain satisfaction--which, I fear, was not
altogether Christian-like--in their "raking-down." If Mr. Daws
expected York and Scott to shake hands after the sermon, he was
disappointed. But he did not relax his purpose. With that quiet
fearlessness and determination which had won for him the respect of
men who were too apt to regard piety as synonymous with effeminacy,
he attacked Scott in his own house. What he said has not been
recorded, but it is to be feared that it was part of his sermon.
When he had concluded, Scott looked at him, not unkindly, over the
glasses of his bar, and said, less irreverently than the words
might convey, "Young man, I rather like your style; but when you
know York and me as well as you do God Almighty, it'll be time to
And so the feud progressed; and so, as in more illustrious
examples, the private and personal enmity of two representative men
led gradually to the evolution of some crude, half-expressed
principle or belief. It was not long before it was made evident
that those beliefs were identical with certain broad principles
laid down by the founders of the American Constitution, as
expounded by the statesmanlike A; or were the fatal quicksands, on
which the ship of state might be wrecked, warningly pointed out by
the eloquent B. The practical result of all which was the
nomination of York and Scott to represent the opposite factions of
Sandy Bar in legislative councils.
For some weeks past, the voters of Sandy Bar and the adjacent camps
had been called upon, in large type, to "RALLY!" In vain the great
pines at the cross-roads--whose trunks were compelled to bear this
and other legends--moaned and protested from their windy watch-
towers. But one day, with fife and drum, and flaming transparency,
a procession filed into the triangular grove at the head of the
gulch. The meeting was called to order by Colonel Starbottle, who,
having once enjoyed legislative functions, and being vaguely known
as a "war-horse," was considered to be a valuable partisan of York.
He concluded an appeal for his friend, with an enunciation of
principles, interspersed with one or two anecdotes so gratuitously
coarse that the very pines might have been moved to pelt him with
their cast-off cones, as he stood there. But he created a laugh,
on which his candidate rode into popular notice; and when York rose
to speak, he was greeted with cheers. But, to the general
astonishment, the new speaker at once launched into bitter
denunciation of his rival. He not only dwelt upon Scott's deeds
and example, as known to Sandy Bar, but spoke of facts connected
with his previous career, hitherto unknown to his auditors. To
great precision of epithet and directness of statement, the speaker
added the fascination of revelation and exposure. The crowd
cheered, yelled, and were delighted, but when this astounding
philippic was concluded, there was a unanimous call for "Scott!"
Colonel Starbottle would have resisted this manifest impropriety,
but in vain. Partly from a crude sense of justice, partly from a
meaner craving for excitement, the assemblage was inflexible; and
Scott was dragged, pushed, and pulled upon the platform.
As his frowsy head and unkempt beard appeared above the railing, it
was evident that he was drunk. But it was also evident, before he
opened his lips, that the orator of Sandy Bar--the one man who
could touch their vagabond sympathies (perhaps because he was not
above appealing to them)--stood before them. A consciousness of
this power lent a certain dignity to his figure, and I am not sure
but that his very physical condition impressed them as a kind of
regal unbending and large condescension. Howbeit, when this
unexpected Hector arose from the ditch, York's myrmidons trembled.
"There's naught, gentlemen," said Scott, leaning forward on the
railing,--"there's naught as that man hez said as isn't true. I
was run outer Cairo; I did belong to the Regulators; I did desert
from the army; I did leave a wife in Kansas. But thar's one thing
he didn't charge me with, and, maybe, he's forgotten. For three
years, gentlemen, I was that man's pardner!--" Whether he intended
to say more, I cannot tell; a burst of applause artistically
rounded and enforced the climax, and virtually elected the speaker.
That fall he went to Sacramento, York went abroad; and for the
first time in many years, distance and a new atmosphere isolated
the old antagonists.
With little of change in the green wood, gray rock, and yellow
river, but with much shifting of human landmarks, and new faces in
its habitations, three years passed over Sandy Bar. The two men,
once so identified with its character, seemed to have been quite
forgotten. "You will never return to Sandy Bar," said Miss
Folinsbee, the "Lily of Poverty Flat," on meeting York in Paris,
"for Sandy Bar is no more. They call it Riverside now; and the new
town is built higher up on the river-bank. By the by, 'Jo' says
that Scott has won his suit about the 'Amity Claim,' and that he
lives in the old cabin, and is drunk half his time. O, I beg your
pardon," added the lively lady, as a flush crossed York's sallow
cheek; "but, bless me, I really thought that old grudge was made
up. I'm sure it ought to be."
It was three months after this conversation, and a pleasant summer
evening, that the Poverty Flat coach drew up before the veranda of
the Union Hotel at Sandy Bar. Among its passengers was one,
apparently a stranger, in the local distinction of well-fitting
clothes and closely shaven face, who demanded a private room and
retired early to rest. But before sunrise next morning he arose,
and, drawing some clothes from his carpet-bag, proceeded to array
himself in a pair of white duck trousers, a white duck overshirt,
and straw hat. When his toilet was completed, he tied a red
bandanna handkerchief in a loop and threw it loosely over his
shoulders. The transformation was complete. As he crept softly
down the stairs and stepped into the road, no one would have
detected in him the elegant stranger of the previous night, and but
few have recognized the face and figure of Henry York of Sandy Bar.
In the uncertain light of that early hour, and in the change that
had come over the settlement, he had to pause for a moment to
recall where he stood. The Sandy Bar of his recollection lay below
him, nearer the river; the buildings around him were of later date
and newer fashion. As he strode toward the river, he noticed here
a schoolhouse and there a church. A little farther on, "The Sunny
South" came in view, transformed into a restaurant, its gilding
faded and its paint rubbed off. He now knew where he was; and,
running briskly down a declivity, crossed a ditch, and stood upon
the lower boundary of the Amity Claim.
The gray mist was rising slowly from the river, clinging to the
tree-tops and drifting up the mountain-side, until it was caught
among those rocky altars, and held a sacrifice to the ascending
sun. At his feet the earth, cruelly gashed and scarred by his
forgotten engines, had, since the old days, put on a show of
greenness here and there, and now smiled forgivingly up at him, as
if things were not so bad after all. A few birds were bathing in
the ditch with a pleasant suggestion of its being a new and special
provision of nature, and a hare ran into an inverted sluice-box, as
he approached, as if it were put there for that purpose.
He had not yet dared to look in a certain direction. But the sun
was now high enough to paint the little eminence on which the cabin
stood. In spite of his self-control, his heart beat faster as he
raised his eyes toward it. Its window and door were closed, no
smoke came from its adobe chimney, but it was else unchanged. When
within a few yards of it, he picked up a broken shovel, and,
shouldering it with a smile, strode toward the door and knocked.
There was no sound from within. The smile died upon his lips as he
nervously pushed the door open.
A figure started up angrily and came toward him,--a figure whose
bloodshot eyes suddenly fixed into a vacant stare, whose arms were
at first outstretched and then thrown up in warning gesticulation,--
a figure that suddenly gasped, choked, and then fell forward in a
But before he touched the ground, York had him out into the open
air and sunshine. In the struggle, both fell and rolled over on
the ground. But the next moment York was sitting up, holding the
convulsed frame of his former partner on his knee, and wiping the
foam from his inarticulate lips. Gradually the tremor became less
frequent, and then ceased; and the strong man lay unconscious in
For some moments York held him quietly thus, looking in his face.
Afar, the stroke of a wood-man's axe--a mere phantom of sound--was
all that broke the stillness. High up the mountain, a wheeling
hawk hung breathlessly above them. And then came voices, and two
men joined them.
"A fight?" No, a fit; and would they help him bring the sick man
to the hotel?
And there, for a week, the stricken partner lay, unconscious of
aught but the visions wrought by disease and fear. On the eighth
day, at sunrise, he rallied, and, opening his eyes, looked upon
York, and pressed his hand; then he spoke:--
"And it's you. I thought it was only whiskey."
York replied by taking both of his hands, boyishly working them
backward and forward, as his elbow rested on the bed, with a
"And you've been abroad. How did you like Paris?"
"So, so. How did YOU like Sacramento?"
And that was all they could think to say. Presently Scott opened
his eyes again.
"I'm mighty weak."
"You'll get better soon."
A long silence followed, in which they could hear the sounds of
wood-chopping, and that Sandy Bar was already astir for the coming
day. Then Scott slowly and with difficulty turned his face to
York, and said,--
"I might hev killed you once."
"I wish you had."
They pressed each other's hands again, but Scott's grasp was
evidently failing. He seemed to summon his energies for a special
York bent his head toward the slowly fading face.
"Do ye mind that morning?"
A gleam of fun slid into the corner of Scott's blue eye, as he
"Old man, thar WAS too much saleratus in that bread."
It is said that these were his last words. For when the sun, which
had so often gone down upon the idle wrath of these foolish men,
looked again upon them reunited, it saw the hand of Scott fall cold
and irresponsive from the yearning clasp of his former partner, and
it knew that the feud of Sandy Bar was at an end.
MR THOMPSON'S PRODIGAL
We all knew that Mr. Thompson was looking for his son, and a pretty
bad one at that. That he was coming to California for this sole
object was no secret to his fellow-passengers; and the physical
peculiarities, as well as the moral weaknesses, of the missing
prodigal were made equally plain to us through the frank volubility
of the parent. "You was speaking of a young man which was hung at
Red Dog for sluice-robbing," said Mr. Thompson to a steerage
passenger, one day; "be you aware of the color of his eyes?"
"Black," responded the passenger. "Ah," said Mr. Thompson,
referring to some mental memoranda, "Char-les's eyes was blue." He
then walked away. Perhaps it was from this unsympathetic mode of
inquiry, perhaps it was from that Western predilection to take a
humorous view of any principle or sentiment persistently brought
before them, that Mr. Thompson's quest was the subject of some
satire among the passengers. A gratuitous advertisement of the
missing Charles, addressed to "Jailers and Guardians," circulated
privately among them; everybody remembered to have met Charles under
distressing circumstances. Yet it is but due to my countrymen to
state that when it was known that Thompson had embarked some wealth
in this visionary project, but little of this satire found its way
to his ears, and nothing was uttered in his hearing that might bring
a pang to a father's heart, or imperil a possible pecuniary
advantage of the satirist. Indeed, Mr. Bracy Tibbets's jocular
proposition to form a joint-stock company to "prospect" for the
missing youth received at one time quite serious entertainment.
Perhaps to superficial criticism Mr. Thompson's nature was not
picturesque nor lovable. His history, as imparted at dinner, one
day, by himself, was practical even in its singularity. After a
hard and wilful youth and maturity,--in which he had buried a
broken-spirited wife, and driven his son to sea,--he suddenly
experienced religion. "I got it in New Orleans in '59," said Mr.
Thompson, with the general suggestion of referring to an epidemic.
"Enter ye the narrer gate. Parse me the beans." Perhaps this
practical quality upheld him in his apparently hopeless search. He
had no clew to the whereabouts of his runaway son; indeed, scarcely
a proof of his present existence. From his indifferent recollection
of the boy of twelve, he now expected to identify the man of
It would seem that he was successful. How he succeeded was one of
the few things he did not tell. There are, I believe, two versions
of the story. One, that Mr. Thompson, visiting a hospital,
discovered his son by reason of a peculiar hymn, chanted by the
sufferer, in a delirious dream of his boyhood. This version,
giving as it did wide range to the finer feelings of the heart, was
quite popular; and as told by the Rev. Mr. Gushington, on his
return from his California tour, never failed to satisfy an
audience. The other was less simple, and, as I shall adopt it
here, deserves more elaboration.
It was after Mr. Thompson had given up searching for his son among
the living, and had taken to the examination of cemeteries, and a
careful inspection of the "cold hic jacets of the dead." At this
time he was a frequent visitor of "Lone Mountain,"--a dreary hill-
top, bleak enough in its original isolation, and bleaker for the
white-faced marbles by which San Francisco anchored her departed
citizens, and kept them down in a shifting sand that refused to
cover them, and against a fierce and persistent wind that strove to
blow them utterly away. Against this wind the old man opposed a
will quite as persistent,--a grizzled, hard face, and a tall,
crape-bound hat drawn tightly over his eyes,--and so spent days in
reading the mortuary inscriptions audibly to himself. The
frequency of Scriptural quotation pleased him, and he was fond of
corroborating them by a pocket Bible. "That's from Psalms," he
said, one day, to an adjacent grave-digger. The man made no reply.
Not at all rebuffed, Mr. Thompson at once slid down into the open
grave, with a more practical inquiry, "Did you ever, in your
profession, come across Char-les Thompson?" "Thompson be d----d!"
said the grave-digger, with great directness. "Which, if he hadn't
religion, I think he is," responded the old man, as he clambered
out of the grave.
It was, perhaps, on this occasion that Mr. Thompson stayed later
than usual. As he turned his face toward the city, lights were
beginning to twinkle ahead, and a fierce wind, made visible by fog,
drove him forward, or, lying in wait, charged him angrily from the
corners of deserted suburban streets. It was on one of these
corners that something else, quite as indistinct and malevolent,
leaped upon him with an oath, a presented pistol, and a demand for
money. But it was met by a will of iron and a grip of steel. The
assailant and assailed rolled together on the ground. But the next
moment the old man was erect; one hand grasping the captured
pistol, the other clutching at arm's length the throat of a figure,
surly, youthful, and savage.
"Young man," said Mr. Thompson, setting his thin lips together,
"what might be your name?"
The old man's hand slid from the throat to the arm of his prisoner,
without relaxing its firmness.
"Char-les Thompson, come with me," he said, presently, and marched
his captive to the hotel. What took place there has not transpired,
but it was known the next morning that Mr. Thompson had found his
It is proper to add to the above improbable story, that there was
nothing in the young man's appearance or manners to justify it.
Grave, reticent, and handsome, devoted to his newly found parent,
he assumed the emoluments and responsibilities of his new condition
with a certain serious ease that more nearly approached that which
San Francisco society lacked, and--rejected. Some chose to despise
this quality as a tendency to "psalm-singing"; others saw in it the
inherited qualities of the parent, and were ready to prophesy for
the son the same hard old age. But all agreed that it was not
inconsistent with the habits of money-getting, for which father and
son were respected.
And yet, the old man did not seem to be happy. Perhaps it was that
the consummation of his wishes left him without a practical
mission; perhaps--and it is the more probable--he had little love
for the son he had regained. The obedience he exacted was freely
given, the reform he had set his heart upon was complete; and yet,
somehow, it did not seem to please him. In reclaiming his son, he
had fulfilled all the requirements that his religious duty required
of him, and yet the act seemed to lack sanctification. In this
perplexity, he read again the parable of the Prodigal Son,--which
he had long ago adopted for his guidance,--and found that he had
omitted the final feast of reconciliation. This seemed to offer
the proper quality of ceremoniousness in the sacrament between
himself and his son; and so, a year after the appearance of
Charles, he set about giving him a party. "Invite everybody,
Char-les," he said, dryly; "everybody who knows that I brought
you out of the wine-husks of iniquity, and the company of harlots;
and bid them eat, drink, and be merry."
Perhaps the old man had another reason, not yet clearly analyzed.
The fine house he had built on the sand-hills sometimes seemed
lonely and bare. He often found himself trying to reconstruct,
from the grave features of Charles, the little boy whom he but
dimly remembered in the past, and of whom lately he had been
thinking a great deal. He believed this to be a sign of impending
old age and childishness; but coming, one day, in his formal
drawing-room, upon a child of one of the servants, who had strayed
therein, he would have taken him in his arms, but the child fled
from before his grizzled face. So that it seemed eminently proper
to invite a number of people to his house, and, from the array of
San Francisco maidenhood, to select a daughter-in-law. And then
there would be a child--a boy, whom he could "rare up" from the
beginning, and--love--as he did not love Charles.
We were all at the party. The Smiths, Joneses, Browns, and
Robinsons also came, in that fine flow of animal spirits, unchecked
by any respect for the entertainer, which most of us are apt to
find so fascinating. The proceedings would have been somewhat
riotous, but for the social position of the actors. In fact, Mr.
Bracy Tibbets, having naturally a fine appreciation of a humorous
situation, but further impelled by the bright eyes of the Jones
girls, conducted himself so remarkably as to attract the serious
regard of Mr. Charles Thompson, who approached him, saying quietly:
"You look ill, Mr. Tibbets; let me conduct you to your carriage.
Resist, you hound, and I'll throw you through that window. This
way, please; the room is close and distressing." It is hardly
necessary to say that but a part of this speech was audible to the
company, and that the rest was not divulged by Mr. Tibbets, who
afterward regretted the sudden illness which kept him from
witnessing a certain amusing incident, which the fastest Miss Jones
characterized as the "richest part of the blow-out," and which I
hasten to record.
It was at supper. It was evident that Mr. Thompson had overlooked
much lawlessness in the conduct of the younger people, in his
abstract contemplation of some impending event. When the cloth was
removed, he rose to his feet, and grimly tapped upon the table. A
titter, that broke out among the Jones girls, became epidemic on
one side of the board. Charles Thompson, from the foot of the
table, looked up in tender perplexity. "He's going to sing a
Doxology," "He's going to pray," "Silence for a speech," ran round
"It's one year to-day, Christian brothers and sisters," said Mr.
Thompson, with grim deliberation,--"one year to-day since my son
came home from eating of wine-husks and spending of his substance
on harlots." (The tittering suddenly ceased.) "Look at him now.
Char-les Thompson, stand up." (Charles Thompson stood up.) "One
year ago to-day,--and look at him now."
He was certainly a handsome prodigal, standing there in his
cheerful evening-dress,--a repentant prodigal, with sad, obedient
eyes turned upon the harsh and unsympathetic glance of his father.
The youngest Miss Smith, from the pure depths of her foolish little
heart, moved unconsciously toward him.
"It's fifteen years ago since he left my house," said Mr. Thompson,
"a rovier and a prodigal. I was myself a man of sin, O Christian
friends,--a man of wrath and bitterness" ("Amen," from the eldest
Miss Smith),--"but praise be God, I've fled the wrath to come.
It's five years ago since I got the peace that passeth
understanding. Have you got it, friends?" (A general sub-chorus
of "No, no," from the girls, and, "Pass the word for it," from
Midshipman Coxe, of the U. S. sloop Wethersfield.) "Knock, and it
shall be opened to you.
"And when I found the error of my ways, and the preciousness of
grace," continued Mr. Thompson, "I came to give it to my son. By
sea and land I sought him far, and fainted not. I did not wait for
him to come to me, which the same I might have done, and justified
myself by the Book of books, but I sought him out among his husks,
and--" (the rest of the sentence was lost in the rustling
withdrawal of the ladies). "Works, Christian friends, is my motto.
By their works shall ye know them, and there is mine."
The particular and accepted work to which Mr. Thompson was alluding
had turned quite pale, and was looking fixedly toward an open door
leading to the veranda, lately filled by gaping servants, and now
the scene of some vague tumult. As the noise continued, a man,
shabbily dressed, and evidently in liquor, broke through the
opposing guardians, and staggered into the room. The transition
from the fog and darkness without to the glare and heat within
evidently dazzled and stupefied him. He removed his battered hat,
and passed it once or twice before his eyes, as he steadied
himself, but unsuccessfully, by the back of a chair. Suddenly, his
wandering glance fell upon the pale face of Charles Thompson; and
with a gleam of childlike recognition, and a weak, falsetto laugh,
he darted forward, caught at the table, upset the glasses, and
literally fell upon the prodigal's breast.
"Sha'ly! yo' d----d ol' scoun'rel, hoo rar ye!"
"Hush--sit down!--hush!" said Charles Thompson, hurriedly
endeavoring to extricate himself from the embrace of his unexpected
"Look at 'm!" continued the stranger, unheeding the admonition, but
suddenly holding the unfortunate Charles at arm's length, in loving
and undisguised admiration of his festive appearance. "Look at 'm!
Ain't he nasty? Sha'ls, I'm prow of yer!"
"Leave the house!" said Mr. Thompson, rising, with a dangerous look
in his cold, gray eye. "Char-les, how dare you?"
"Simmer down, ole man! Sha'ls, who's th' ol' bloat? Eh?"
"Hush, man; here, take this!" With nervous hands, Charles Thompson
filled a glass with liquor. "Drink it and go--until to-morrow--any
time, but--leave us!--go now!" But even then, ere the miserable
wretch could drink, the old man, pale with passion, was upon him.
Half carrying him in his powerful arms, half dragging him through
the circling crowd of frightened guests, he had reached the door,
swung open by the waiting servants, when Charles Thompson started
from a seeming stupor, crying,--
The old man stopped. Through the open door the fog and wind drove
chilly. "What does this mean?" he asked, turning a baleful face on
"Nothing--but stop--for God's sake. Wait till to-morrow, but not
to-night. Do not--I implore you--do this thing."
There was something in the tone of the young man's voice, something,
perhaps, in the contact of the struggling wretch he held in his
powerful arms; but a dim, indefinite fear took possession of the old
man's heart. "Who," he whispered, hoarsely, "is this man?"
Charles did not answer.
"Stand back, there, all of you," thundered Mr. Thompson, to the
crowding guests around him. "Char-les--come here! I command you--
I--I--I--beg you--tell me WHO is this man?"
Only two persons heard the answer that came faintly from the lips
of Charles Thompson,--
When day broke over the bleak sand-hills, the guests had departed
from Mr. Thompson's banquet-halls. The lights still burned dimly
and coldly in the deserted rooms,--deserted by all but three
figures, that huddled together in the chill drawing-room, as if for
warmth. One lay in drunken slumber on a couch; at his feet sat he
who had been known as Charles Thompson; and beside them, haggard
and shrunken to half his size, bowed the figure of Mr. Thompson,
his gray eye fixed, his elbows upon his knees, and his hands
clasped over his ears, as if to shut out the sad, entreating voice
that seemed to fill the room.
"God knows I did not set about to wilfully deceive. The name I
gave that night was the first that came into my thought,--the name
of one whom I thought dead,--the dissolute companion of my shame.
And when you questioned further, I used the knowledge that I gained
from him to touch your heart to set me free; only, I swear, for
that! But when you told me who you were, and I first saw the
opening of another life before me--then--then-- O, sir, if I was
hungry, homeless, and reckless, when I would have robbed you of
your gold, I was heart-sick, helpless, and desperate, when I would
have robbed you of your love!"
The old man stirred not. From his luxurious couch the newly found
prodigal snored peacefully.
"I had no father I could claim. I never knew a home but this. I
was tempted. I have been happy,--very happy."
He rose and stood before the old man. "Do not fear that I shall
come between your son and his inheritance. To-day I leave this
place, never to return. The world is large, sir, and, thanks to
your kindness, I now see the way by which an honest livelihood is
gained. Good by. You will not take my hand? Well, well. Good
He turned to go. But when he had reached the door he suddenly came
back, and, raising with both hands the grizzled head, he kissed it
once and twice.
There was no reply.
The old man rose with a frightened air, and tottered feebly to the
door. It was open. There came to him the awakened tumult of a
great city, in which the prodigal's footsteps were lost forever.
THE ROMANCE OF MADRONO HOLLOW.
The latch on the garden gate of the Folinsbee Ranch clicked twice.
The gate itself was so much in shadow that lovely night, that "old
man Folinsbee," sitting on his porch, could distinguish nothing but
a tall white hat and beside it a few fluttering ribbons, under the
pines that marked the entrance. Whether because of this fact, or
that he considered a sufficient time had elapsed since the clicking
of the latch for more positive disclosure, I do not know; but after
a few moments' hesitation he quietly laid aside his pipe and walked
slowly down the winding path toward the gate. At the Ceanothus
hedge he stopped and listened.
There was not much to hear. The hat was saying to the ribbons that
it was a fine night, and remarking generally upon the clear outline
of the Sierras against the blue-black sky. The ribbons, it so
appeared, had admired this all the way home, and asked the hat if
it had ever seen anything half so lovely as the moonlight on the
summit. The hat never had; it recalled some lovely nights in the
South in Alabama ("in the South in Ahlabahm" was the way the old
man heard it), but then there were other things that made this
night seem so pleasant. The ribbons could not possibly conceive
what the hat could be thinking about. At this point there was a
pause, of which Mr. Folinsbee availed himself to walk very grimly
and craunchingly down the gravel-walk toward the gate. Then the
hat was lifted, and disappeared in the shadow, and Mr. Folinsbee
confronted only the half-foolish, half-mischievous, but wholly
pretty face of his daughter.
It was afterward known to Madrono Hollow that sharp words passed
between "Miss Jo" and the old man, and that the latter coupled the
names of one Culpepper Starbottle and his uncle, Colonel Starbottle,
with certain uncomplimentary epithets, and that Miss Jo retaliated
sharply. "Her father's blood before her father's face boiled up and
proved her truly of his race," quoted the blacksmith, who leaned
toward the noble verse of Byron. "She saw the old man's bluff and
raised him," was the directer comment of the college-bred Masters.
Meanwhile the subject of these animadversions proceeded slowly
along the road to a point where the Folinsbee mansion came in
view,--a long, narrow, white building, unpretentious, yet superior
to its neighbors, and bearing some evidences of taste and
refinement in the vines that clambered over its porch, in its
French windows, and the white muslin curtains that kept out the
fierce California sun by day, and were now touched with silver in
the gracious moonlight. Culpepper leaned against the low fence,
and gazed long and earnestly at the building. Then the moonlight
vanished ghostlike from one of the windows, a material glow took
its place, and a girlish figure, holding a candle, drew the white
curtains together. To Culpepper it was a vestal virgin standing
before a hallowed shrine; to the prosaic observer I fear it was
only a fair-haired young woman, whose wicked black eyes still shone
with unfilial warmth. Howbeit, when the figure had disappeared he
stepped out briskly into the moonlight of the high-road. Here he
took off his distinguishing hat to wipe his forehead, and the moon
shone full upon his face.
It was not an unprepossessing one, albeit a trifle too thin and
lank and bilious to be altogether pleasant. The cheek-bones were
prominent, and the black eyes sunken in their orbits. Straight
black hair fell slantwise off a high but narrow forehead, and swept
part of a hollow cheek. A long black mustache followed the
perpendicular curves of his mouth. It was on the whole a serious,
even Quixotic face, but at times it was relieved by a rare smile of
such tender and even pathetic sweetness, that Miss Jo is reported
to have said that, if it would only last through the ceremony, she
would have married its possessor on the spot. "I once told him
so," added that shameless young woman; "but the man instantly fell
into a settled melancholy, and hasn't smiled since."
A half-mile below the Folinsbee Ranch the white road dipped and was
crossed by a trail that ran through Madrono hollow. Perhaps
because it was a near cut-off to the settlement, perhaps from some
less practical reason, Culpepper took this trail, and in a few
moments stood among the rarely beautiful trees that gave their name
to the valley. Even in that uncertain light the weird beauty of
these harlequin masqueraders was apparent; their red trunks--a
blush in the moonlight, a deep blood-stain in the shadow--stood out
against the silvery green foliage. It was as if Nature in some
gracious moment had here caught and crystallized the gypsy memories
of the transplanted Spaniard, to cheer him in his lonely exile.
As Culpepper entered the grove he heard loud voices. As he turned
toward a clump of trees, a figure so bizarre and characteristic
that it might have been a resident Daphne--a figure over-dressed in
crimson silk and lace, with bare brown arms and shoulders, and a
wreath of honeysuckle--stepped out of the shadow. It was followed
by a man. Culpepper started. To come to the point briefly, he
recognized in the man the features of his respected uncle, Colonel
Starbottle; in the female, a lady who may be briefly described as
one possessing absolutely no claim to an introduction to the polite
reader. To hurry over equally unpleasant details, both were
evidently under the influence of liquor.
From the excited conversation that ensued, Culpepper gathered that
some insult had been put upon the lady at a public ball which she
had attended that evening; that the Colonel, her escort, had failed
to resent it with the sanguinary completeness that she desired. I
regret that, even in a liberal age, I may not record the exact and
even picturesque language in which this was conveyed to her
hearers. Enough that at the close of a fiery peroration, with
feminine inconsistency she flew at the gallant Colonel, and would
have visited her delayed vengeance upon his luckless head, but for
the prompt interference of Culpepper. Thwarted in this, she threw
herself upon the ground, and then into unpicturesque hysterics.
There was a fine moral lesson, not only in this grotesque performance
of a sex which cannot afford to be grotesque, but in the ludicrous
concern with which it inspired the two men. Culpepper, to whom woman
was more or less angelic, was pained and sympathetic; the Colonel,
to whom she was more or less improper, was exceedingly terrified and
embarrassed. Howbeit the storm was soon over, and after Mistress
Dolores had returned a little dagger to its sheath (her garter), she
quietly took herself out of Madrono Hollow, and happily out of these
pages forever. The two men, left to themselves, conversed in low
tones. Dawn stole upon them before they separated: the Colonel
quite sobered and in full possession of his usual jaunty
self-assertion; Culpepper with a baleful glow in his hollow cheek,
and in his dark eyes a rising fire.
The next morning the general ear of Madrono Hollow was filled with
rumors of the Colonel's mishap. It was asserted that he had been
invited to withdraw his female companion from the floor of the
Assembly Ball at the Independence Hotel, and that, failing to do
this, both were expelled. It is to be regretted that in 1854
public opinion was divided in regard to the propriety of this step,
and that there was some discussion as to the comparative virtue of
the ladies who were not expelled; but it was generally conceded
that the real casus belli was political. "Is this a dashed Puritan
meeting?" had asked the Colonel, savagely. "It's no Pike County
shindig," had responded the floor-manager, cheerfully. "You're a
Yank!" had screamed the Colonel, profanely qualifying the noun.
"Get! you border ruffian," was the reply. Such at least was the
substance of the reports. As, at that sincere epoch, expressions
like the above were usually followed by prompt action, a fracas was
confidently looked for.
Nothing, however, occurred. Colonel Starbottle made his appearance
next day upon the streets with somewhat of his usual pomposity, a
little restrained by the presence of his nephew, who accompanied
him, and who, as a universal favorite, also exercised some
restraint upon the curious and impertinent. But Culpepper's face
wore a look of anxiety quite at variance with his usual grave
repose. "The Don don't seem to take the old man's set-back
kindly," observed the sympathizing blacksmith. "P'r'aps he was
sweet on Dolores himself," suggested the sceptical expressman.
It was a bright morning, a week after this occurrence, that Miss Jo
Folinsbee stepped from her garden into the road. This time the
latch did not click as she cautiously closed the gate behind her.
After a moment's irresolution, which would have been awkward but
that it was charmingly employed, after the manner of her sex, in
adjusting a bow under a dimpled but rather prominent chin, and in
pulling down the fingers of a neatly fitting glove, she tripped
toward the settlement. Small wonder that a passing teamster drove
his six mules into the wayside ditch and imperilled his load, to
keep the dust from her spotless garments; small wonder that the
"Lightning Express" withheld its speed and flash to let her pass,
and that the expressman, who had never been known to exchange more
than rapid monosyllables with his fellow-man, gazed after her with
breathless admiration. For she was certainly attractive. In a
country where the ornamental sex followed the example of youthful
Nature, and were prone to overdress and glaring efflorescence, Miss
Jo's simple and tasteful raiment added much to the physical charm
of, if it did not actually suggest a sentiment to, her presence.
It is said that Euchre-deck Billy, working in the gulch at the
crossing, never saw Miss Folinsbee pass but that he always remarked
apologetically to his partner, that "he believed he MUST write a
letter home." Even Bill Masters, who saw her in Paris presented to
the favorable criticism of that most fastidious man, the late
Emperor, said that she was stunning, but a big discount on what she
was at Madrono Hollow.
It was still early morning, but the sun, with California
extravagance, had already begun to beat hotly on the little chip
hat and blue ribbons, and Miss Jo was obliged to seek the shade of
a bypath. Here she received the timid advances of a vagabond
yellow dog graciously, until, emboldened by his success, he
insisted upon accompanying her, and, becoming slobberingly
demonstrative, threatened her spotless skirt with his dusty paws,
when she drove him from her with some slight acerbity, and a stone
which haply fell within fifty feet of its destined mark. Having
thus proved her ability to defend herself, with characteristic
inconsistency she took a small panic, and, gathering her white
skirts in one hand, and holding the brim of her hat over her eyes
with the other, she ran swiftly at least a hundred yards before she
stopped. Then she began picking some ferns and a few wild-flowers
still spared to the withered fields, and then a sudden distrust of
her small ankles seized her, and she inspected them narrowly for
those burrs and bugs and snakes which are supposed to lie in wait
for helpless womanhood. Then she plucked some golden heads of wild
oats, and with a sudden inspiration placed them in her black hair,
and then came quite unconsciously upon the trail leading to Madrono
Here she hesitated. Before her ran the little trail, vanishing at
last into the bosky depths below. The sun was very hot. She must
be very far from home. Why should she not rest awhile under the
shade of a madrono?
She answered these questions by going there at once. After
thoroughly exploring the grove, and satisfying herself that it
contained no other living human creature, she sat down under one of
the largest trees, with a satisfactory little sigh. Miss Jo loved
the madrono. It was a cleanly tree; no dust ever lay upon its
varnished leaves; its immaculate shade never was known to harbor
grub or insect.
She looked up at the rosy arms interlocked and arched above her
head. She looked down at the delicate ferns and cryptogams at her
feet. Something glittered at the root of the tree. She picked it
up; it was a bracelet. She examined it carefully for cipher or
inscription; there was none. She could not resist a natural desire
to clasp it on her arm, and to survey it from that advantageous
view-point. This absorbed her attention for some moments; and when
she looked up again she beheld at a little distance Culpepper
He was standing where he had halted, with instinctive delicacy, on
first discovering her. Indeed, he had even deliberated whether he
ought not to go away without disturbing her. But some fascination
held him to the spot. Wonderful power of humanity! Far beyond
jutted an outlying spur of the Sierra, vast, compact, and silent.
Scarcely a hundred yards away, a league-long chasm dropped its
sheer walls of granite a thousand feet. On every side rose up the
serried ranks of pine-trees, in whose close-set files centuries of
storm and change had wrought no breach. Yet all this seemed to
Culpepper to have been planned by an all-wise Providence as the
natural background to the figure of a pretty girl in a yellow
Although Miss Jo had confidently expected to meet Culpepper
somewhere in her ramble, now that he came upon her suddenly, she
felt disappointed and embarrassed. His manner, too, was more than
usually grave and serious; and more than ever seemed to jar upon
that audacious levity which was this giddy girl's power and
security in a society where all feeling was dangerous. As he
approached her she rose to her feet, but almost before she knew it
he had taken her hand and drawn her to a seat beside him. This was
not what Miss Jo had expected, but nothing is so difficult to
predicate as the exact preliminaries of a declaration of love.
What did Culpepper say? Nothing, I fear, that will add anything to
the wisdom of the reader; nothing, I fear, that Miss Jo had not
heard substantially from other lips before. But there was a
certain conviction, fire-speed, and fury in the manner that was
deliciously novel to the young lady. It was certainly something to
be courted in the nineteenth century with all the passion and
extravagance of the sixteenth; it was something to hear, amid the
slang of a frontier society, the language of knight-errantry poured
into her ear by this lantern-jawed, dark-browed descendant of the
I do not know that there was anything more in it. The facts,
however, go to show that at a certain point Miss Jo dropped her
glove, and that in recovering it Culpepper possessed himself first
of her hand and then her lips. When they stood up to go Culpepper
had his arm around her waist, and her black hair, with its sheaf of
golden oats, rested against the breast pocket of his coat. But
even then I do not think her fancy was entirely captive. She took
a certain satisfaction in this demonstration of Culpepper's
splendid height, and mentally compared it with a former flame, one
lieutenant McMirk, an active, but under-sized Hector, who
subsequently fell a victim to the incautiously composed and
monotonous beverages of a frontier garrison. Nor was she so much
preoccupied but that her quick eyes, even while absorbing
Culpepper's glances, were yet able to detect, at a distance, the
figure of a man approaching. In an instant she slipped out of
Culpepper's arm, and, whipping her hands behind her, said, "There's
that horrid man!"
Culpepper looked up and beheld his respected uncle panting and
blowing over the hill. His brow contracted as he turned to Miss
Jo: "You don't like my uncle!"
"I hate him!" Miss Jo was recovering her ready tongue.
Culpepper blushed. He would have liked to enter upon some details
of the Colonel's pedigree and exploits, but there was not time. He
only smiled sadly. The smile melted Miss Jo. She held out her
hand quickly, and said with even more than her usual effrontery,
"Don't let that man get you into any trouble. Take care of
yourself, dear, and don't let anything happen to you."
Miss Jo intended this speech to be pathetic; the tenure of life
among her lovers had hitherto been very uncertain. Culpepper
turned toward her, but she had already vanished in the thicket.
The Colonel came up panting. "I've looked all over town for you,
and be dashed to you, sir. Who was that with you?"
"A lady." (Culpepper never lied, but he was discreet.)
"D--m 'em all! Look yar, Culp, I've spotted the man who gave the
order to put me off the floor" ("flo" was what the Colonel said)
"the other night!"
"Who was it?" asked Culpepper, listlessly.
"Why, the son of that dashed nigger-worshipping psalm-singing
Puritan Yankee. What's the matter, now? Look yar, Culp, you ain't
goin' back on your blood, ar' ye? You ain't goin' back on your
word? Ye ain't going down at the feet of this trash, like a
Culpepper was silent. He was very white. Presently he looked up
and said quietly. "No."
Culpepper Starbottle had challenged Jack Folinsbee, and the
challenge was accepted. The cause alleged was the expelling of
Culpepper's uncle from the floor of the Assembly Ball by the order
of Folinsbee. This much Madrono Hollow knew and could swear to;
but there were other strange rumors afloat, of which the blacksmith
was an able expounder. "You see, gentlemen," he said to the crowd
gathered around his anvil, "I ain't got no theory of this affair, I
only give a few facts as have come to my knowledge. Culpepper and
Jack meets quite accidental like in Bob's saloon. Jack goes up to
Culpepper and says, 'A word with you.' Culpepper bows and steps
aside in this way, Jack standing about HERE." (The blacksmith
demonstrates the position of the parties with two old horseshoes on
the anvil.) "Jack pulls a bracelet from his pocket and says, 'Do
you know that bracelet?' Culpepper says, 'I do not,' quite cool-
like and easy. Jack says, 'You gave it to my sister.' Culpepper
says, still cool as you please, 'I did not.' Jack says, 'You lie,
G-d d-mn you,' and draws his derringer. Culpepper jumps forward
about here" (reference is made to the diagram) "and Jack fires.
Nobody hit. It's a mighty cur'o's thing, gentlemen," continued the
blacksmith, dropping suddenly into the abstract, and leaning
meditatively on his anvil,--"it's a mighty cur'o's thing that
nobody gets hit so often. You and me empties our revolvers
sociably at each other over a little game, and the room full and
nobody gets hit! That's what gets me."
"Never mind, Thompson," chimed in Bill Masters, "there's another
and a better world where we shall know all that and--become better
shots. Go on with your story."
"Well, some grabs Culpepper and some grabs Jack, and so separates
them. Then Jack tells 'em as how he had seen his sister wear a
bracelet which he knew was one that had been given to Dolores by
Colonel Starbottle. That Miss Jo wouldn't say where she got it,
but owned up to having seen Culpepper that day. Then the most
cur'o's thing of it yet, what does Culpepper do but rise up and
takes all back that he said, and allows that he DID give her the
bracelet. Now my opinion, gentlemen, is that he lied; it ain't
like that man to give a gal that he respects anything off of that
piece, Dolores. But it's all the same now, and there's but one
thing to be done."
The way this one thing was done belongs to the record of Madrono
Hollow. The morning was bright and clear; the air was slightly
chill, but that was from the mist which arose along the banks of
the river. As early as six o'clock the designated ground--a little
opening in the madrono grove--was occupied by Culpepper Starbottle,
Colonel Starbottle, his second, and the surgeon. The Colonel was
exalted and excited, albeit in a rather imposing, dignified way,
and pointed out to the surgeon the excellence of the ground, which
at that hour was wholly shaded from the sun, whose steady stare is
more or less discomposing to your duellist. The surgeon threw
himself on the grass and smoked his cigar. Culpepper, quiet and
thoughtful, leaned against a tree and gazed up the river. There
was a strange suggestion of a picnic about the group, which was
heightened when the Colonel drew a bottle from his coat-tails, and,
taking a preliminary draught, offered it to the others. "Cocktails,
sir," he explained with dignified precision. "A gentleman, sir,
should never go out without 'em. Keeps off the morning chill. I
remember going out in '53 with Hank Boompirater. Good ged, sir, the
man had to put on his overcoat, and was shot in it. Fact."
But the noise of wheels drowned the Colonel's reminiscences, and a
rapidly driven buggy, containing Jack Folinsbee, Calhoun
Bungstarter, his second, and Bill Masters, drew up on the ground.
Jack Folinsbee leaped out gayly. "I had the jolliest work to get
away without the governor's hearing," he began, addressing the
group before him with the greatest volubility. Calhoun Bungstarter
touched his arm, and the young man blushed. It was his first duel.
"If you are ready, gentlemen," said Mr. Bungstarter, "we had better
proceed to business. I believe it is understood that no apology
will be offered or accepted. We may as well settle preliminaries
at once, or I fear we shall be interrupted. There is a rumor in
town that the Vigilance Committee are seeking our friends the
Starbottles, and I believe, as their fellow-countryman, I have the
honor to be included in their warrant."
At this probability of interruption, that gravity which had
hitherto been wanting fell upon the group. The preliminaries were
soon arranged and the principals placed in position. Then there
was a silence.
To a spectator from the hill, impressed with the picnic suggestion,
what might have been the popping of two champagne corks broke the
Culpepper had fired in the air. Colonel Starbottle uttered a low
curse. Jack Folinsbee sulkily demanded another shot.
Again the parties stood opposed to each other. Again the word was
given, and what seemed to be the simultaneous report of both
pistols rose upon the air. But after an interval of a few seconds
all were surprised to see Culpepper slowly raise his unexploded
weapon and fire it harmlessly above his head. Then, throwing the
pistol upon the ground, he walked to a tree and leaned silently
Jack Folinsbee flew into a paroxysm of fury. Colonel Starbottle
raved and swore. Mr. Bungstarter was properly shocked at their
conduct. "Really, gentlemen, if Mr. Culpepper Starbottle declines
another shot, I do not see how we can proceed."
But the Colonel's blood was up, and Jack Folinsbee was equally
implacable. A hurried consultation ensued, which ended by Colonel
Starbottle taking his nephew's place as principal, Bill Masters
acting as second, vice Mr. Bungstarter, who declined all further
connection with the affair.
Two distinct reports rang through the Hollow. Jack Folinsbee
dropped his smoking pistol, took a step forward, and then dropped
heavily upon his face.
In a moment the surgeon was at his side. The confusion was
heightened by the trampling of hoofs, and the voice of the
blacksmith bidding them flee for their lives before the coming
storm. A moment more and the ground was cleared, and the surgeon,
looking up, beheld only the white face of Culpepper bending over
"Can you save him?"
"I cannot say. Hold up his head a moment, while I run to the
Culpepper passed his arm tenderly around the neck of the insensible
man. Presently the surgeon returned with some stimulants.
"There, that will do, Mr. Starbottle, thank you. Now my advice is
to get away from here while you can. I'll look after Folinsbee.
Do you hear?"
Culpepper's arm was still round the neck of his late foe, but his
head had drooped and fallen on the wounded man's shoulder. The
surgeon looked down, and, catching sight of his face, stooped and
lifted him gently in his arms. He opened his coat and waistcoat.
There was blood upon his shirt, and a bullet-hole in his breast.
He had been shot unto death at the first fire.
THE POET OF SIERRA FLAT.
As the enterprising editor of the "Sierra Flat Record" stood at his
case setting type for his next week's paper, he could not help
hearing the woodpeckers who were busy on the roof above his head.
It occurred to him that possibly the birds had not yet learned to
recognize in the rude structure any improvement on nature, and this
idea pleased him so much that he incorporated it in the editorial
article which he was then doubly composing. For the editor was
also printer of the "Record"; and although that remarkable journal
was reputed to exert a power felt through all Calaveras and a
greater part of Tuolumne County, strict economy was one of the
conditions of its beneficent existence.
Thus preoccupied, he was startled by the sudden irruption of a
small roll of manuscript, which was thrown through the open door
and fell at his feet. He walked quickly to the threshold and
looked down the tangled trail which led to the high-road. But
there was nothing to suggest the presence of his mysterious
contributor. A hare limped slowly away, a green-and-gold lizard
paused upon a pine stump, the woodpeckers ceased their work. So
complete had been his sylvan seclusion, that he found it difficult
to connect any human agency with the act; rather the hare seemed to
have an inexpressibly guilty look, the woodpeckers to maintain a
significant silence, and the lizard to be conscience-stricken into
An examination of the manuscript, however, corrected this injustice
to defenceless nature. It was evidently of human origin,--being
verse, and of exceeding bad quality. The editor laid it aside. As
he did so he thought he saw a face at the window. Sallying out in
some indignation, he penetrated the surrounding thicket in every
direction, but his search was as fruitless as before. The poet, if
it were he, was gone.
A few days after this the editorial seclusion was invaded by voices
of alternate expostulation and entreaty. Stepping to the door, the
editor was amazed at beholding Mr. Morgan McCorkle, a well-known
citizen of Angelo, and a subscriber to the "Record," in the act of
urging, partly by force and partly by argument, an awkward young
man toward the building. When he had finally effected his object,
and, as it were, safely landed his prize in a chair, Mr. McCorkle
took off his hat, carefully wiped the narrow isthmus of forehead
which divided his black brows from his stubby hair, and with an
explanatory wave of his hand toward his reluctant companion, said,
"A borned poet, and the cussedest fool you ever seed!"
Accepting the editor's smile as a recognition of the introduction,
Mr. McCorkle panted and went on: "Didn't want to come! 'Mister
Editor don't went to see me, Morg,' sez he. 'Milt,' sez I, 'he do;
a borned poet like you and a gifted genius like he oughter come
together sociable!' And I fetched him. Ah, will yer?" The born
poet had, after exhibiting signs of great distress, started to run.
But Mr. McCorkle was down upon him instantly, seizing him by his
long linen coat, and settled him back in his chair. "Tain't no use
stampeding. Yer ye are and yer ye stays. For yer a borned poet,--
ef ye are as shy as a jackass rabbit. Look at 'im now!"
He certainly was not an attractive picture. There was hardly a
notable feature in his weak face, except his eyes, which were moist
and shy and not unlike the animal to which Mr. McCorkle had
compared him. It was the face that the editor had seen at the
"Knowed him for fower year,--since he war a boy," continued Mr.
McCorkle in a loud whisper. "Allers the same, bless you! Can jerk
a rhyme as easy as turnin' jack. Never had any eddication; lived
out in Missooray all his life. But he's chock full o' poetry.
On'y this mornin' sez I to him,--he camps along o' me,--'Milt!' sez
I, 'are breakfast ready?' and he up and answers back quite peert
and chipper, 'The breakfast it is ready, and the birds is singing
free, and it's risin' in the dawnin' light is happiness to me!'
When a man," said Mr. McCorkle, dropping his voice with deep
solemnity, "gets off things like them, without any call to do it,
and handlin' flapjacks over a cookstove at the same time,--that
man's a borned poet."
There was an awkward pause. Mr. McCorkle beamed patronizingly on
his protege. The born poet looked as if he were meditating another
flight,--not a metaphorical one. The editor asked if he could do
anything for them.
"In course you can," responded Mr. McCorkle, "that's jest it.
Milt, where's that poetry!"
The editor's countenance fell as the poet produced from his pocket
a roll of manuscript. He, however, took it mechanically and
glanced over it. It was evidently a duplicate of the former
The editor then spoke briefly but earnestly. I regret that I cannot
recall his exact words, but it appeared that never before, in the
history of the "Record," had the pressure been so great upon its
columns. Matters of paramount importance, deeply affecting the
material progress of Sierra, questions touching the absolute
integrity of Calaveras and Tuolumne as social communities, were even
now waiting expression. Weeks, nay, months, must elapse before that
pressure would be removed, and the "Record" could grapple with any
but the sternest of topics. Again, the editor had noticed with pain
the absolute decline of poetry in the foot-hills of the Sierras.
Even the works of Byron and Moore attracted no attention in Dutch
Flat, and a prejudice seemed to exist against Tennyson in Grass
Valley. But the editor was not without hope for the future. In the
course of four or five years, when the country was settled,--
"What would be the cost to print this yer?" interrupted Mr.
"About fifty dollars, as an advertisement," responded the editor
with cheerful alacrity.
Mr. McCorkle placed the sum in the editor's hand. "Yer see thet's
what I sez to Milt, 'Milt,' sez I, 'pay as you go, for you are a
borned poet. Hevin no call to write, but doin' it free and
spontaneous like, in course you pays. Thet's why Mr. Editor never
printed your poetry.'"
"What name shall I put to it?" asked the editor.
It was the first word that the born poet had spoken during the
interview, and his voice was so very sweet and musical that the
editor looked at him curiously, and wondered if he had a sister.
"Milton; is that all?"
"Thet's his furst name," exclaimed Mr. McCorkle.
The editor here suggested that as there had been another poet of
"Milt might be took for him! Thet's bad," reflected Mr. McCorkle
with simple gravity. "Well, put down his hull name,--Milton
The editor made a note of the fact. "I'll set it up now," he said.
This was also a hint that the interview was ended. The poet and
patron, arm in arm, drew towards the door. "In next week's paper,"
said the editor, smilingly, in answer to the childlike look of
inquiry in the eyes of the poet, and in another moment they were
The editor was as good as his word. He straight-way betook himself
to his case, and, unrolling the manuscript, began his task. The
woodpeckers on the roof recommenced theirs, and in a few moments
the former sylvan seclusion was restored. There was no sound in
the barren, barn-like room but the birds above, and below the click
of the composing-rule as the editor marshalled the types into lines
in his stick, and arrayed them in solid column on the galley.
Whatever might have been his opinion of the copy before him, there
was no indication of it in his face, which wore the stolid
indifference of his craft. Perhaps this was unfortunate, for as
the day wore on and the level rays of the sun began to pierce the
adjacent thicket, they sought out and discovered an anxious
ambushed figure drawn up beside the editor's window,--a figure that
had sat there motionless for hours. Within, the editor worked on
as steadily and impassively as Fate. And without, the born poet of
Sierra Flat sat and watched him as waiting its decree.
The effect of the poem on Sierra Flat was remarkable and
unprecedented. The absolute vileness of its doggerel, the
gratuitous imbecility of its thought, and above all the crowning
audacity of the fact that it was the work of a citizen and published
in the county paper, brought it instantly into popularity. For many
months Calaveras had languished for a sensation; since the last
vigilance committee nothing had transpired to dispel the listless
ennui begotten of stagnant business and growing civilization. In
more prosperous moments the office of the "Record" would have been
simply gutted and the editor deported; at present the paper was in
such demand that the edition was speedily exhausted. In brief, the
poem of Mr. Milton Chubbuck came like a special providence to Sierra
Flat. It was read by camp-fires, in lonely cabins, in flaring
bar-rooms and noisy saloons, and declaimed from the boxes of
stagecoaches. It was sung in Poker Flat with the addition of a
local chorus, and danced as an unhallowed rhythmic dance by the
Pyrrhic phalanx of One Horse Gulch, known as "The Festive Stags of
Calaveras." Some unhappy ambiguities of expression gave rise to
many new readings, notes, and commentaries, which, I regret to
state, were more often marked by ingenuity than delicacy of thought
Never before did poet acquire such sudden local reputation. From
the seclusion of McCorkle's cabin and the obscurity of culinary
labors, he was haled forth into the glowing sunshine of Fame. The
name of Chubbuck was written in letters of chalk on unpainted
walls, and carved with a pick on the sides of tunnels. A drink
known variously as "The Chubbuck Tranquillizer," or "The Chubbuck
Exalter," was dispensed at the bars. For some weeks a rude design
for a Chubbuck statue, made up of illustrations from circus and
melodeon posters, representing the genius of Calaveras in brief
skirts on a flying steed in the act of crowning the poet Chubbuck,
was visible at Keeler's Ferry. The poet himself was overborne with
invitations to drink and extravagant congratulations. The meeting
between Colonel Starbottle of Siskyion and Chubbuck, as previously
arranged by our "Boston," late of Roaring Camp, is said to have
been indescribably affecting. The Colonel embraced him unsteadily.
"I could not return to my constituents at Siskyion, sir, if this
hand, which has grasped that of the gifted Prentice and the
lamented Poe, should not have been honored by the touch of the
godlike Chubbuck. Gentlemen, American literature is looking up.
Thank you, I will take sugar in mine." It was "Boston" who indited
letters of congratulations from H. W. Longfellow, Tennyson, and
Browning, to Mr. Chubbuck, deposited them in the Sierra Flat post-
office, and obligingly consented to dictate the replies.
The simple faith and unaffected delight with which these
manifestations were received by the poet and his patron might have
touched the hearts of these grim masters of irony, but for the
sudden and equal development in both of the variety of weak
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