Part 1 out of 7
SELECTED STORIES OF BRET HARTE
THE LUCK OF ROARING CAMP
THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLAT
THE IDYL OF RED GULCH
BROWN OF CALAVERAS
A LONELY RIDE
THE MAN OF NO ACCOUNT
THE RIGHT EYE OF THE COMMANDER
NOTES BY FLOOD AND FIELD
AN EPISODE OF FIDDLETOWN
A YELLOW DOG
A MOTHER OF FIVE
IN THE TULES
A CONVERT OF THE MISSION
THE INDISCRETION OF ELSBETH
THE DEVOTION OF ENRIQUEZ
The life of Bret Harte divides itself, without adventitious
forcing, into four quite distinct parts. First, we have the
precocious boyhood, with its eager response to the intellectual
stimulation of cultured parents; young Bret Harte assimilated Greek
with amazing facility; devoured voraciously the works of
Shakespeare, Dickens, Irving, Froissart, Cervantes, Fielding; and,
with creditable success, attempted various forms of composition.
Then, compelled by economic necessity, he left school at thirteen,
and for three years worked first in a lawyer's office, and then in
a merchant's counting house.
The second period, that of his migration to California, includes
all that is permanently valuable of Harte's literary output.
Arriving in California in 1854, he was, successively, a school-
teacher, drug-store clerk, express messenger, typesetter, and
itinerant journalist. He worked for a while on the NORTHERN
CALIFORNIA (from which he was dismissed for objecting editorially
to the contemporary California sport of murdering Indians), then on
the GOLDEN ERA, 1857, where he achieved his first moderate acclaim.
In this latter year he married Anne Griswold of New York. In 1864
he was given the secretaryship of the California mint, a virtual
sinecure, and he was enabled do a great deal of writing. The first
volume of his poems, THE LOST GALLEON AND OTHER TALES, CONDENSED
NOVELS (much underrated parodies), and THE BOHEMIAN PAPERS were
published in 1867. One year later, THE OVERLAND MONTHLY, which had
aspirations of becoming "the ATLANTIC MONTHLY of the West," was
established, and Harte was appointed its first editor. For it, he
wrote most of what still remains valid as literature--THE LUCK OF
ROARING CAMP, THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLAT, PLAIN LANGUAGE FROM
TRUTHFUL JAMES, among others. The combination of Irvingesque
romantic glamor and Dickensian bitter-sweet humor, applied to
picturesquely novel material, with the addition of a trick ending,
was fantastically popular. Editors began to clamor for his
stories; the University of California appointed him Professor of
recent literature; and the ATLANTIC MONTHLY offered him the
practically unprecedented sum of $10,000 for exclusive rights to
one year's literary output. Harte's star was, briefly, in the
However, Harte had accumulated a number of debts, and his editorial
policies, excellent in themselves, but undiplomatically executed,
were the cause of a series of arguments with the publisher of the
OVERLAND MONTHLY. Fairly assured of profitable pickings in the
East, he left California (permanently, as it proved). The East,
however, was financially unappreciative. Harte wrote an
unsuccessful novel and collaborated with Mark Twain on an
unremunerative play. His attempts to increase his income by
lecturing were even less rewarding. From his departure from
California in 1872 to his death thirty years later, Harte's
struggles to regain financial stability were unremitting: and to
these efforts is due the relinquishment of his early ideal of "a
peculiarly characteristic Western American literature." Henceforth
Harte accepted, as Prof. Hicks remarks, "the role of entertainer,
and as an entertainer he survived for thirty years his death as an
The final period extends from 1878, when he managed to get himself
appointed consul to Crefeld in Germany, to 1902, when he died of a
throat cancer. He left for Crefeld without his wife or son--
perhaps intending, as his letters indicate, to call them to him
when circumstances allowed; but save for a few years prior to his
death, the separation, for whatever complex of reasons, remained
permanent. Harte, however, continued to provide for them as
liberally as he was able. In Crefeld Harte wrote A LEGEND OF
SAMMERSTANDT, VIEWS FROM A GERMAN SPION, and UNSER KARL. In 1880
he transferred to the more lucrative consulship of Glasgow, and
ROBIN GRAY, a tale of Scottish life, is the product of his stay
there. In 1885 he was dismissed from his consulship, probably for
political reasons, though neglect of duty was charged against him.
He removed to London where he remained, for most part, until his
Bret Harte never really knew the life of the mining camp. His
mining experiences were too fragmentary, and consequently his
portraits of mining life are wholly impressionistic. "No one,"
Mark Twain wrote, "can talk the quartz dialect correctly without
learning it with pick and shovel and drill and fuse." Yet, Twain
added elsewhere, "Bret Harte got his California and his
Californians by unconscious absorption, and put both of them into
his tales alive." That is, perhaps, the final comment. Much could
be urged against Harte's stories: the glamor they throw over the
life they depict is largely fictitious; their pathetic endings are
obviously stylized; their technique is overwhelmingly derivative.
Nevertheless, so excellent a critic as Chesterton maintained that
"There are more than nine hundred and ninety-nine excellent reasons
which we could all have for admiring the work of Bret Harte." The
figure is perhaps exaggerated, but there are many reasons for
admiration. First, Harte originated a new and incalculably
influential type of story: the romantically picturesque "human-
interest" story. "He created the local color story," Prof.
Blankenship remarks, "or at least popularized it, and he gave new
form and intent to the short story." Character motivating action
is central to this type of story, rather than mood dominating
incident. Again Harte's style is really an eminently skilful one,
admirably suited to his subjects. He can manage the humorous or
the pathetic excellently, and his restraint in each is more
remarkable than his excesses. His sentences have both force and
flow; his backgrounds are crisply but carefully sketched; his
characters and caricatures have their own logical consistency.
Finally, granted the desirability of the theatric finale, it is
necessary to admit that Harte always rings down his curtain
dramatically and effectively.
ARTHUR ZEIGER, M.A.
THE LUCK OF ROARING CAMP
There was commotion in Roaring Camp. It could not have been a
fight, for in 1850 that was not novel enough to have called
together the entire settlement. The ditches and claims were not
only deserted, but "Tuttle's grocery" had contributed its gamblers,
who, it will be remembered, calmly continued their game the day
that French Pete and Kanaka Joe shot each other to death over the
bar in the front room. The whole camp was collected before a rude
cabin on the outer edge of the clearing. Conversation was carried
on in a low tone, but the name of a woman was frequently repeated.
It was a name familiar enough in the camp,--"Cherokee Sal."
Perhaps the less said of her the better. She was a coarse and,
it is to be feared, a very sinful woman. But at that time she was
the only woman in Roaring Camp, and was just then lying in sore
extremity, when she most needed the ministration of her own sex.
Dissolute, abandoned, and irreclaimable, she was yet suffering a
martyrdom hard enough to bear even when veiled by sympathizing
womanhood, but now terrible in her loneliness. The primal curse
had come to her in that original isolation which must have made
the punishment of the first transgression so dreadful. It was,
perhaps, part of the expiation of her sin that, at a moment when
she most lacked her sex's intuitive tenderness and care, she met
only the half-contemptuous faces of her masculine associates.
Yet a few of the spectators were, I think, touched by her sufferings.
Sandy Tipton thought it was "rough on Sal," and, in the contemplation
of her condition, for a moment rose superior to the fact that he
had an ace and two bowers in his sleeve.
It will be seen also that the situation was novel. Deaths were by
no means uncommon in Roaring Camp, but a birth was a new thing.
People had been dismissed the camp effectively, finally, and with
no possibility of return; but this was the first time that anybody
had been introduced AB INITIO. Hence the excitement.
"You go in there, Stumpy," said a prominent citizen known as
"Kentuck," addressing one of the loungers. "Go in there, and see
what you kin do. You've had experience in them things."
Perhaps there was a fitness in the selection. Stumpy, in other
climes, had been the putative head of two families; in fact, it was
owing to some legal informality in these proceedings that Roaring
Camp--a city of refuge--was indebted to his company. The crowd
approved the choice, and Stumpy was wise enough to bow to the
majority. The door closed on the extempore surgeon and midwife,
and Roaring Camp sat down outside, smoked its pipe, and awaited the
The assemblage numbered about a hundred men. One or two of these
were actual fugitives from justice, some were criminal, and all
were reckless. Physically they exhibited no indication of their
past lives and character. The greatest scamp had a Raphael face,
with a profusion of blonde hair; Oakhurst, a gambler, had the
melancholy air and intellectual abstraction of a Hamlet; the
coolest and most courageous man was scarcely over five feet in
height, with a soft voice and an embarrassed, timid manner. The
term "roughs" applied to them was a distinction rather than a
definition. Perhaps in the minor details of fingers, toes, ears,
etc., the camp may have been deficient, but these slight omissions
did not detract from their aggregate force. The strongest man had
but three fingers on his right hand; the best shot had but one eye.
Such was the physical aspect of the men that were dispersed around
the cabin. The camp lay in a triangular valley between two hills
and a river. The only outlet was a steep trail over the summit of
a hill that faced the cabin, now illuminated by the rising moon.
The suffering woman might have seen it from the rude bunk whereon
she lay,--seen it winding like a silver thread until it was lost in
the stars above.
A fire of withered pine boughs added sociability to the gathering.
By degrees the natural levity of Roaring Camp returned. Bets were
freely offered and taken regarding the result. Three to five that
"Sal would get through with it;" even that the child would survive;
side bets as to the sex and complexion of the coming stranger. In
the midst of an excited discussion an exclamation came from those
nearest the door, and the camp stopped to listen. Above the
swaying and moaning of the pines, the swift rush of the river, and
the crackling of the fire rose a sharp, querulous cry,--a cry
unlike anything heard before in the camp. The pines stopped
moaning, the river ceased to rush, and the fire to crackle. It
seemed as if Nature had stopped to listen too.
The camp rose to its feet as one man! It was proposed to explode a
barrel of gunpowder; but in consideration of the situation of the
mother, better counsels prevailed, and only a few revolvers were
discharged; for whether owing to the rude surgery of the camp, or
some other reason, Cherokee Sal was sinking fast. Within an hour
she had climbed, as it were, that rugged road that led to the
stars, and so passed out of Roaring Camp, its sin and shame,
forever. I do not think that the announcement disturbed them much,
except in speculation as to the fate of the child. "Can he live
now?" was asked of Stumpy. The answer was doubtful. The only
other being of Cherokee Sal's sex and maternal condition in the
settlement was an ass. There was some conjecture as to fitness,
but the experiment was tried. It was less problematical than the
ancient treatment of Romulus and Remus, and apparently as
When these details were completed, which exhausted another hour,
the door was opened, and the anxious crowd of men, who had already
formed themselves into a queue, entered in single file. Beside the
low bunk or shelf, on which the figure of the mother was starkly
outlined below the blankets, stood a pine table. On this a candle-
box was placed, and within it, swathed in staring red flannel, lay
the last arrival at Roaring Camp. Beside the candle-box was placed
a hat. Its use was soon indicated. "Gentlemen," said Stumpy, with
a singular mixture of authority and EX OFFICIO complacency,--
"gentlemen will please pass in at the front door, round the table,
and out at the back door. Them as wishes to contribute anything
toward the orphan will find a hat handy." The first man entered
with his hat on; he uncovered, however, as he looked about him, and
so unconsciously set an example to the next. In such communities
good and bad actions are catching. As the procession filed in
comments were audible,--criticisms addressed perhaps rather to
Stumpy in the character of showman; "Is that him?" "Mighty small
specimen;" "Has n't more 'n got the color;" "Ain't bigger nor a
derringer." The contributions were as characteristic: A silver
tobacco box; a doubloon; a navy revolver, silver mounted; a gold
specimen; a very beautifully embroidered lady's handkerchief (from
Oakhurst the gambler); a diamond breastpin; a diamond ring
(suggested by the pin, with the remark from the giver that he "saw
that pin and went two diamonds better"); a slung-shot; a Bible
(contributor not detected); a golden spur; a silver teaspoon (the
initials, I regret to say, were not the giver's); a pair of
surgeon's shears; a lancet; a Bank of England note for 5 pounds;
and about $200 in loose gold and silver coin. During these
proceedings Stumpy maintained a silence as impassive as the dead on
his left, a gravity as inscrutable as that of the newly born on his
right. Only one incident occurred to break the monotony of the
curious procession. As Kentuck bent over the candle-box half
curiously, the child turned, and, in a spasm of pain, caught at his
groping finger, and held it fast for a moment. Kentuck looked
foolish and embarrassed. Something like a blush tried to assert
itself in his weather-beaten cheek. "The damned little cuss!" he
said, as he extricated his finger, with perhaps more tenderness and
care than he might have been deemed capable of showing. He held
that finger a little apart from its fellows as he went out, and
examined it curiously. The examination provoked the same original
remark in regard to the child. In fact, he seemed to enjoy
repeating it. "He rastled with my finger," he remarked to Tipton,
holding up the member, "the damned little cuss!"
It was four o'clock before the camp sought repose. A light burnt
in the cabin where the watchers sat, for Stumpy did not go to bed
that night. Nor did Kentuck. He drank quite freely, and related
with great gusto his experience, invariably ending with his
characteristic condemnation of the newcomer. It seemed to relieve
him of any unjust implication of sentiment, and Kentuck had the
weaknesses of the nobler sex. When everybody else had gone to bed,
he walked down to the river and whistled reflectingly. Then he
walked up the gulch past the cabin, still whistling with
demonstrative unconcern. At a large redwood-tree he paused and
retraced his steps, and again passed the cabin. Halfway down to
the river's bank he again paused, and then returned and knocked at
the door. It was opened by Stumpy. "How goes it?" said Kentuck,
looking past Stumpy toward the candle-box. "All serene!" replied
Stumpy. "Anything up?" "Nothing." There was a pause--an
embarrassing one--Stumpy still holding the door. Then Kentuck had
recourse to his finger, which he held up to Stumpy. "Rastled with
it,--the damned little cuss," he said, and retired.
The next day Cherokee Sal had such rude sepulture as Roaring Camp
afforded. After her body had been committed to the hillside, there
was a formal meeting of the camp to discuss what should be done
with her infant. A resolution to adopt it was unanimous and
enthusiastic. But an animated discussion in regard to the manner
and feasibility of providing for its wants at once sprang up. It
was remarkable that the argument partook of none of those fierce
personalities with which discussions were usually conducted at
Roaring Camp. Tipton proposed that they should send the child to
Red Dog,--a distance of forty miles,--where female attention could
be procured. But the unlucky suggestion met with fierce and
unanimous opposition. It was evident that no plan which entailed
parting from their new acquisition would for a moment be
entertained. "Besides," said Tom Ryder, "them fellows at Red Dog
would swap it, and ring in somebody else on us." A disbelief in
the honesty of other camps prevailed at Roaring Camp, as in other
The introduction of a female nurse in the camp also met with
objection. It was argued that no decent woman could be prevailed
to accept Roaring Camp as her home, and the speaker urged that
"they didn't want any more of the other kind." This unkind
allusion to the defunct mother, harsh as it may seem, was the first
spasm of propriety,--the first symptom of the camp's regeneration.
Stumpy advanced nothing. Perhaps he felt a certain delicacy in
interfering with the selection of a possible successor in office.
But when questioned, he averred stoutly that he and "Jinny"--the
mammal before alluded to--could manage to rear the child. There
was something original, independent, and heroic about the plan that
pleased the camp. Stumpy was retained. Certain articles were sent
for to Sacramento. "Mind," said the treasurer, as he pressed a bag
of gold-dust into the expressman's hand, "the best that can be
got,--lace, you know, and filigree-work and frills,--damn the
Strange to say, the child thrived. Perhaps the invigorating
climate of the mountain camp was compensation for material
deficiencies. Nature took the foundling to her broader breast. In
that rare atmosphere of the Sierra foothills,--that air pungent
with balsamic odor, that ethereal cordial at once bracing and
exhilarating,--he may have found food and nourishment, or a subtle
chemistry that transmuted ass's milk to lime and phosphorus.
Stumpy inclined to the belief that it was the latter and good
nursing. "Me and that ass," he would say, "has been father and
mother to him! Don't you," he would add, apostrophizing the
helpless bundle before him, "never go back on us."
By the time he was a month old the necessity of giving him a name
became apparent. He had generally been known as "The Kid,"
"Stumpy's Boy," "The Coyote" (an allusion to his vocal powers), and
even by Kentuck's endearing diminutive of "The damned little cuss."
But these were felt to be vague and unsatisfactory, and were at
last dismissed under another influence. Gamblers and adventurers
are generally superstitious, and Oakhurst one day declared that the
baby had brought "the luck" to Roaring Camp. It was certain that
of late they had been successful. "Luck" was the name agreed upon,
with the prefix of Tommy for greater convenience. No allusion was
made to the mother, and the father was unknown. "It's better,"
said the philosophical Oakhurst, "to take a fresh deal all round.
Call him Luck, and start him fair." A day was accordingly set
apart for the christening. What was meant by this ceremony the
reader may imagine who has already gathered some idea of the
reckless irreverence of Roaring Camp. The master of ceremonies was
one "Boston," a noted wag, and the occasion seemed to promise the
greatest facetiousness. This ingenious satirist had spent two days
in preparing a burlesque of the Church service, with pointed local
allusions. The choir was properly trained, and Sandy Tipton was to
stand godfather. But after the procession had marched to the grove
with music and banners, and the child had been deposited before a
mock altar, Stumpy stepped before the expectant crowd. "It ain't
my style to spoil fun, boys," said the little man, stoutly eyeing
the faces around him," but it strikes me that this thing ain't
exactly on the squar. It's playing it pretty low down on this yer
baby to ring in fun on him that he ain't goin' to understand. And
ef there's goin' to be any godfathers round, I'd like to see who's
got any better rights than me." A silence followed Stumpy's
speech. To the credit of all humorists be it said that the first
man to acknowledge its justice was the satirist thus stopped of his
fun. "But," said Stumpy, quickly following up his advantage,
"we're here for a christening, and we'll have it. I proclaim you
Thomas Luck, according to the laws of the United States and the
State of California, so help me God." It was the first time that
the name of the Deity had been otherwise uttered than profanely in
the camp. The form of christening was perhaps even more ludicrous
than the satirist had conceived; but strangely enough, nobody saw
it and nobody laughed. "Tommy" was christened as seriously as he
would have been under a Christian roof and cried and was comforted
in as orthodox fashion.
And so the work of regeneration began in Roaring Camp. Almost
imperceptibly a change came over the settlement. The cabin
assigned to "Tommy Luck"--or "The Luck," as he was more frequently
called--first showed signs of improvement. It was kept
scrupulously clean and whitewashed. Then it was boarded, clothed,
and papered. The rose wood cradle, packed eighty miles by mule,
had, in Stumpy's way of putting it, "sorter killed the rest of the
furniture." So the rehabilitation of the cabin became a necessity.
The men who were in the habit of lounging in at Stumpy's to see
"how 'The Luck' got on" seemed to appreciate the change, and in
self-defense the rival establishment of "Tuttle's grocery"
bestirred itself and imported a carpet and mirrors. The
reflections of the latter on the appearance of Roaring Camp tended
to produce stricter habits of personal cleanliness. Again Stumpy
imposed a kind of quarantine upon those who aspired to the honor
and privilege of holding The Luck. It was a cruel mortification to
Kentuck--who, in the carelessness of a large nature and the habits
of frontier life, had begun to regard all garments as a second
cuticle, which, like a snake's, only sloughed off through decay--to
be debarred this privilege from certain prudential reasons. Yet
such was the subtle influence of innovation that he thereafter
appeared regularly every afternoon in a clean shirt and face still
shining from his ablutions. Nor were moral and social sanitary
laws neglected. "Tommy," who was supposed to spend his whole
existence in a persistent attempt to repose, must not be disturbed
by noise. The shouting and yelling, which had gained the camp its
infelicitous title, were not permitted within hearing distance of
Stumpy's. The men conversed in whispers or smoked with Indian
gravity. Profanity was tacitly given up in these sacred precincts,
and throughout the camp a popular form of expletive, known as "D--n
the luck!" and "Curse the luck!" was abandoned, as having a new
personal bearing. Vocal music was not interdicted, being supposed
to have a soothing, tranquilizing quality; and one song, sung by
"Man-o'-War Jack," an English sailor from her Majesty's Australian
colonies, was quite popular as a lullaby. It was a lugubrious
recital of the exploits of "the Arethusa, Seventy-four," in a
muffled minor, ending with a prolonged dying fall at the burden of
each verse, "On b-oo-o-ard of the Arethusa." It was a fine sight
to see Jack holding The Luck, rocking from side to side as if with
the motion of a ship, and crooning forth this naval ditty. Either
through the peculiar rocking of Jack or the length of his song,--it
contained ninety stanzas, and was continued with conscientious
deliberation to the bitter end,--the lullaby generally had the
desired effect. At such times the men would lie at full length
under the trees in the soft summer twilight, smoking their pipes
and drinking in the melodious utterances. An indistinct idea that
this was pastoral happiness pervaded the camp. "This 'ere kind o'
think," said the Cockney Simmons, meditatively reclining on his
elbow, "is 'evingly." It reminded him of Greenwich.
On the long summer days The Luck was usually carried to the gulch
from whence the golden store of Roaring Camp was taken. There, on
a blanket spread over pine boughs, he would lie while the men were
working in the ditches below. Latterly there was a rude attempt to
decorate this bower with flowers and sweet-smelling shrubs, and
generally some one would bring him a cluster of wild honeysuckles,
azaleas, or the painted blossoms of Las Mariposas. The men had
suddenly awakened to the fact that there were beauty and
significance in these trifles, which they had so long trodden
carelessly beneath their feet. A flake of glittering mica, a
fragment of variegated quartz, a bright pebble from the bed of the
creek, became beautiful to eyes thus cleared and strengthened, and
were invariably pat aside for The Luck. It was wonderful how many
treasures the woods and hillsides yielded that "would do for
Tommy." Surrounded by playthings such as never child out of
fairyland had before, it is to he hoped that Tommy was content. He
appeared to be serenely happy, albeit there was an infantine
gravity about him, a contemplative light in his round gray eyes,
that sometimes worried Stumpy. He was always tractable and quiet,
and it is recorded that once, having crept beyond his "corral,"--a
hedge of tessellated pine boughs, which surrounded his bed,--he
dropped over the bank on his head in the soft earth, and remained
with his mottled legs in the air in that position for at least five
minutes with unflinching gravity. He was extricated without a
murmur. I hesitate to record the many other instances of his
sagacity, which rest, unfortunately, upon the statements of
prejudiced friends. Some of them were not without a tinge of
superstition. "I crep' up the bank just now," said Kentuck one
day, in a breathless state of excitement "and dern my skin if he
was a-talking to a jay bird as was a-sittin' on his lap. There
they was, just as free and sociable as anything you please, a-
jawin' at each other just like two cherrybums." Howbeit, whether
creeping over the pine boughs or lying lazily on his back blinking
at the leaves above him, to him the birds sang, the squirrels
chattered, and the flowers bloomed. Nature was his nurse and
playfellow. For him she would let slip between the leaves golden
shafts of sunlight that fell just within his grasp; she would send
wandering breezes to visit him with the balm of bay and resinous
gum; to him the tall redwoods nodded familiarly and sleepily, the
bumblebees buzzed, and the rooks cawed a slumbrous accompaniment.
Such was the golden summer of Roaring Camp. They were "flush
times," and the luck was with them. The claims had yielded
enormously. The camp was jealous of its privileges and looked
suspiciously on strangers. No encouragement was given to
immigration, and, to make their seclusion more perfect, the land on
either side of the mountain wall that surrounded the camp they duly
preempted. This, and a reputation for singular proficiency with
the revolver, kept the reserve of Roaring Camp inviolate. The
expressman--their only connecting link with the surrounding world--
sometimes told wonderful stories of the camp. He would say,
"They've a street up there in 'Roaring' that would lay over any
street in Red Dog. They've got vines and flowers round their
houses, and they wash themselves twice a day. But they're mighty
rough on strangers, and they worship an Ingin baby."
With the prosperity of the camp came a desire for further
improvement. It was proposed to build a hotel in the following
spring, and to invite one or two decent families to reside there
for the sake of The Luck, who might perhaps profit by female
companionship. The sacrifice that this concession to the sex cost
these men, who were fiercely skeptical in regard to its general
virtue and usefulness, can only be accounted for by their affection
for Tommy. A few still held out. But the resolve could not be
carried into effect for three months, and the minority meekly
yielded in the hope that something might turn up to prevent it.
And it did.
The winter of 1851 will long be remembered in the foothills. The
snow lay deep on the Sierras, and every mountain creek became a
river, and every river a lake. Each gorge and gulch was
transformed into a tumultuous watercourse that descended the
hillsides, tearing down giant trees and scattering its drift and
debris along the plain. Red Dog had been twice under water, and
Roaring Camp had been forewarned. "Water put the gold into them
gulches," said Stumpy. "It been here once and will be here again!"
And that night the North Fork suddenly leaped over its banks and
swept up the triangular valley of Roaring Camp.
In the confusion of rushing water, crashing trees, and crackling
timber, and the darkness which seemed to flow with the water and
blot out the fair valley, but little could be done to collect the
scattered camp. When the morning broke, the cabin of Stumpy,
nearest the river-bank, was gone. Higher up the gulch they found
the body of its unlucky owner; but the pride, the hope, the joy,
The Luck, of Roaring Camp had disappeared. They were returning
with sad hearts when a shout from the bank recalled them.
It was a relief-boat from down the river. They had picked up, they
said, a man and an infant, nearly exhausted, about two miles below.
Did anybody know them, and did they belong here?
It needed but a glance to show them Kentuck lying there, cruelly
crushed and bruised, but still holding The Luck of Roaring Camp in
his arms. As they bent over the strangely assorted pair, they saw
that the child was cold and pulseless. "He is dead," said one.
Kentuck opened his eyes. "Dead?" he repeated feebly. "Yes, my
man, and you are dying too." A smile lit the eyes of the expiring
Kentuck. "Dying!" he repeated; "he's a-taking me with him. Tell
the boys I've got The Luck with me now;" and the strong man,
clinging to the frail babe as a drowning man is said to cling to a
straw, drifted away into the shadowy river that flows forever to
the unknown sea.
THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLAT
As Mr. John Oakhurst, gambler, stepped into the main street of
Poker Flat on the morning of the twenty-third of November, 1850, he
was conscious of a change in its moral atmosphere since the
preceding night. Two or three men, conversing earnestly together,
ceased as he approached, and exchanged significant glances. There
was a Sabbath lull in the air which, in a settlement unused to
Sabbath influences, looked ominous.
Mr. Oakhurst's calm, handsome face betrayed small concern in these
indications. Whether he was conscious of any predisposing cause
was another question. "I reckon they're after somebody," he
reflected; "likely it's me." He returned to his pocket the
handkerchief with which he had been whipping away the red dust of
Poker Flat from his neat boots, and quietly discharged his mind of
any further conjecture.
In point of fact, Poker Flat was "after somebody." It had lately
suffered the loss of several thousand dollars, two valuable horses,
and a prominent citizen. It was experiencing a spasm of virtuous
reaction, quite as lawless and ungovernable as any of the acts that
had provoked it. A secret committee had determined to rid the town
of all improper persons. This was done permanently in regard of
two men who were then hanging from the boughs of a sycamore in the
gulch, and temporarily in the banishment of certain other
objectionable characters. I regret to say that some of these were
ladies. It is but due to the sex, however, to state that their
impropriety was professional, and it was only in such easily
established standards of evil that Poker Flat ventured to sit in
Mr. Oakhurst was right in supposing that he was included in this
category. A few of the committee had urged hanging him as a
possible example, and a sure method of reimbursing themselves from
his pockets of the sums he had won from them. "It's agin justice,"
said Jim Wheeler, "to let this yer young man from Roaring Camp--an
entire stranger--carry away our money." But a crude sentiment of
equity residing in the breasts of those who had been fortunate
enough to win from Mr. Oakhurst overruled this narrower local
Mr. Oakhurst received his sentence with philosophic calmness, none
the less coolly that he was aware of the hesitation of his judges.
He was too much of a gambler not to accept Fate. With him life was
at best an uncertain game, and he recognized the usual percentage
in favor of the dealer.
A body of armed men accompanied the deported wickedness of Poker
Flat to the outskirts of the settlement. Besides Mr. Oakhurst, who
was known to be a coolly desperate man, and for whose intimidation
the armed escort was intended, the expatriated party consisted of a
young woman familiarly known as the "Duchess"; another, who had won
the title of "Mother Shipton"; and "Uncle Billy," a suspected
sluice-robber and confirmed drunkard. The cavalcade provoked no
comments from the spectators, nor was any word uttered by the
escort. Only, when the gulch which marked the uttermost limit of
Poker Flat was reached, the leader spoke briefly and to the point.
The exiles were forbidden to return at the peril of their lives.
As the escort disappeared, their pent-up feelings found vent in a
few hysterical tears from the Duchess, some bad language from
Mother Shipton, and a Parthian volley of expletives from Uncle
Billy. The philosophic Oakhurst alone remained silent. He
listened calmly to Mother Shipton's desire to cut somebody's heart
out, to the repeated statements of the Duchess that she would die
in the road, and to the alarming oaths that seemed to be bumped out
of Uncle Billy as he rode forward. With the easy good humor
characteristic of his class, he insisted upon exchanging his own
riding horse, "Five Spot," for the sorry mule which the Duchess
rode. But even this act did not draw the party into any closer
sympathy. The young woman readjusted her somewhat draggled plumes
with a feeble, faded coquetry; Mother Shipton eyed the possessor of
"Five Spot" with malevolence, and Uncle Billy included the whole
party in one sweeping anathema.
The road to Sandy Bar--a camp that, not having as yet experienced
the regenerating influences of Poker Flat, consequently seemed to
offer some invitation to the emigrants--lay over a steep mountain
range. It was distant a day's severe travel. In that advanced
season, the party soon passed out of the moist, temperate regions
of the foothills into the dry, cold, bracing air of the Sierras.
The trail was narrow and difficult. At noon the Duchess, rolling
out of her saddle upon the ground, declared her intention of going
no farther, and the party halted.
The spot was singularly wild and impressive. A wooded
amphitheater, surrounded on three sides by precipitous cliffs of
naked granite, sloped gently toward the crest of another precipice
that overlooked the valley. It was, undoubtedly, the most suitable
spot for a camp, had camping been advisable. But Mr. Oakhurst knew
that scarcely half the journey to Sandy Bar was accomplished, and
the party were not equipped or provisioned for delay. This fact he
pointed out to his companions curtly, with a philosophic commentary
on the folly of "throwing up their hand before the game was played
out." But they were furnished with liquor, which in this emergency
stood them in place of food, fuel, rest, and prescience. In spite
of his remonstrances, it was not long before they were more or less
under its influence. Uncle Billy passed rapidly from a bellicose
state into one of stupor, the Duchess became maudlin, and Mother
Shipton snored. Mr. Oakhurst alone remained erect, leaning against
a rock, calmly surveying them.
Mr. Oakhurst did not drink. It interfered with a profession which
required coolness, impassiveness, and presence of mind, and, in his
own language, he "couldn't afford it." As he gazed at his
recumbent fellow exiles, the loneliness begotten of his pariah
trade, his habits of life, his very vices, for the first time
seriously oppressed him. He bestirred himself in dusting his black
clothes, washing his hands and face, and other acts characteristic
of his studiously neat habits, and for a moment forgot his
annoyance. The thought of deserting his weaker and more pitiable
companions never perhaps occurred to him. Yet he could not help
feeling the want of that excitement which, singularly enough, was
most conducive to that calm equanimity for which he was notorious.
He looked at the gloomy walls that rose a thousand feet sheer above
the circling pines around him; at the sky, ominously clouded; at
the valley below, already deepening into shadow. And, doing so,
suddenly he heard his own name called.
A horseman slowly ascended the trail. In the fresh, open face of
the newcomer Mr. Oakhurst recognized Tom Simson, otherwise known as
the "Innocent" of Sandy Bar. He had met him some months before
over a "little game," and had, with perfect equanimity, won the
entire fortune--amounting to some forty dollars--of that guileless
youth. After the game was finished, Mr. Oakhurst drew the youthful
speculator behind the door and thus addressed him: "Tommy, you're a
good little man, but you can't gamble worth a cent. Don't try it
over again." He then handed him his money back, pushed him gently
from the room, and so made a devoted slave of Tom Simson.
There was a remembrance of this in his boyish and enthusiastic
greeting of Mr. Oakhurst. He had started, he said, to go to Poker
Flat to seek his fortune. "Alone?" No, not exactly alone; in fact
(a giggle), he had run away with Piney Woods. Didn't Mr. Oakhurst
remember Piney? She that used to wait on the table at the
Temperance House? They had been engaged a long time, but old Jake
Woods had objected, and so they had run away, and were going to
Poker Flat to be married, and here they were. And they were tired
out, and how lucky it was they had found a place to camp and
company. All this the Innocent delivered rapidly, while Piney, a
stout, comely damsel of fifteen, emerged from behind the pine tree,
where she had been blushing unseen, and rode to the side of her
Mr. Oakhurst seldom troubled himself with sentiment, still less
with propriety; but he had a vague idea that the situation was not
fortunate. He retained, however, his presence of mind sufficiently
to kick Uncle Billy, who was about to say something, and Uncle
Billy was sober enough to recognize in Mr. Oakhurst's kick a
superior power that would not bear trifling. He then endeavored to
dissuade Tom Simson from delaying further, but in vain. He even
pointed out the fact that there was no provision, nor means of
making a camp. But, unluckily, the Innocent met this objection by
assuring the party that he was provided with an extra mule loaded
with provisions and by the discovery of a rude attempt at a log
house near the trail. "Piney can stay with Mrs. Oakhurst," said
the Innocent, pointing to the Duchess, "and I can shift for
Nothing but Mr. Oakhurst's admonishing foot saved Uncle Billy from
bursting into a roar of laughter. As it was, he felt compelled to
retire up the canyon until he could recover his gravity. There he
confided the joke to the tall pine trees, with many slaps of his
leg, contortions of his face, and the usual profanity. But when he
returned to the party, he found them seated by a fire--for the air
had grown strangely chill and the sky overcast--in apparently
amicable conversation. Piney was actually talking in an impulsive,
girlish fashion to the Duchess, who was listening with an interest
and animation she had not shown for many days. The Innocent was
holding forth, apparently with equal effect, to Mr. Oakhurst and
Mother Shipton, who was actually relaxing into amiability. "Is
this yer a damned picnic?" said Uncle Billy with inward scorn as he
surveyed the sylvan group, the glancing firelight, and the tethered
animals in the foreground. Suddenly an idea mingled with the
alcoholic fumes that disturbed his brain. It was apparently of a
jocular nature, for he felt impelled to slap his leg again and cram
his fist into his mouth.
As the shadows crept slowly up the mountain, a slight breeze rocked
the tops of the pine trees, and moaned through their long and
gloomy aisles. The ruined cabin, patched and covered with pine
boughs, was set apart for the ladies. As the lovers parted, they
unaffectedly exchanged a kiss, so honest and sincere that it might
have been heard above the swaying pines. The frail Duchess and the
malevolent Mother Shipton were probably too stunned to remark upon
this last evidence of simplicity, and so turned without a word to
the hut. The fire was replenished, the men lay down before the
door, and in a few minutes were asleep.
Mr. Oakhurst was a light sleeper. Toward morning he awoke benumbed
and cold. As he stirred the dying fire, the wind, which was now
blowing strongly, brought to his cheek that which caused the blood
to leave it--snow!
He started to his feet with the intention of awakening the
sleepers, for there was no time to lose. But turning to where
Uncle Billy had been lying, he found him gone. A suspicion leaped
to his brain and a curse to his lips. He ran to the spot where the
mules had been tethered; they were no longer there. The tracks
were already rapidly disappearing in the snow.
The momentary excitement brought Mr. Oakhurst back to the fire with
his usual calm. He did not waken the sleepers. The Innocent
slumbered peacefully, with a smile on his good-humored, freckled
face; the virgin Piney slept beside her frailer sisters as sweetly
as though attended by celestial guardians; and Mr. Oakhurst,
drawing his blanket over his shoulders, stroked his mustaches and
waited for the dawn. It came slowly in a whirling mist of
snowflakes that dazzled and confused the eye. What could be seen
of the landscape appeared magically changed. He looked over the
valley, and summed up the present and future in two words--"snowed
A careful inventory of the provisions, which, fortunately for the
party, had been stored within the hut and so escaped the felonious
fingers of Uncle Billy, disclosed the fact that with care and
prudence they might last ten days longer. "That is," said Mr.
Oakhurst, sotto voce to the Innocent, "if you're willing to board
us. If you ain't--and perhaps you'd better not--you can wait till
Uncle Billy gets back with provisions." For some occult reason,
Mr. Oakhurst could not bring himself to disclose Uncle Billy's
rascality, and so offered the hypothesis that he had wandered from
the camp and had accidentally stampeded the animals. He dropped a
warning to the Duchess and Mother Shipton, who of course knew the
facts of their associate's defection. "They'll find out the truth
about us all when they find out anything," he added, significantly,
"and there's no good frightening them now."
Tom Simson not only put all his worldly store at the disposal of
Mr. Oakhurst, but seemed to enjoy the prospect of their enforced
seclusion. "We'll have a good camp for a week, and then the
snow'll melt, and we'll all go back together." The cheerful gaiety
of the young man, and Mr. Oakhurst's calm, infected the others.
The Innocent with the aid of pine boughs extemporized a thatch for
the roofless cabin, and the Duchess directed Piney in the
rearrangement of the interior with a taste and tact that opened the
blue eyes of that provincial maiden to their fullest extent. "I
reckon now you're used to fine things at Poker Flat," said Piney.
The Duchess turned away sharply to conceal something that reddened
her cheeks through its professional tint, and Mother Shipton
requested Piney not to "chatter." But when Mr. Oakhurst returned
from a weary search for the trail, he heard the sound of happy
laughter echoed from the rocks. He stopped in some alarm, and his
thoughts first naturally reverted to the whisky, which he had
prudently cached. "And yet it don't somehow sound like whisky,"
said the gambler. It was not until he caught sight of the blazing
fire through the still-blinding storm and the group around it that
he settled to the conviction that it was "square fun."
Whether Mr. Oakhurst had cached his cards with the whisky as
something debarred the free access of the community, I cannot say.
It was certain that, in Mother Shipton's words, he "didn't say
cards once" during that evening. Haply the time was beguiled by an
accordion, produced somewhat ostentatiously by Tom Simson from his
pack. Notwithstanding some difficulties attending the manipulation
of this instrument, Piney Woods managed to pluck several reluctant
melodies from its keys, to an accompaniment by the Innocent on a
pair of bone castanets. But the crowning festivity of the evening
was reached in a rude camp-meeting hymn, which the lovers, joining
hands, sang with great earnestness and vociferation. I fear that a
certain defiant tone and Covenanter's swing to its chorus, rather
than any devotional quality, caused it speedily to infect the
others, who at last joined in the refrain:
"I'm proud to live in the service of the Lord,
And I'm bound to die in His army."
The pines rocked, the storm eddied and whirled above the miserable
group, and the flames of their altar leaped heavenward as if in
token of the vow.
At midnight the storm abated, the rolling clouds parted, and the
stars glittered keenly above the sleeping camp. Mr. Oakhurst,
whose professional habits had enabled him to live on the smallest
possible amount of sleep, in dividing the watch with Tom Simson
somehow managed to take upon himself the greater part of that duty.
He excused himself to the Innocent by saying that he had "often
been a week without sleep." "Doing what?" asked Tom. "Poker!"
replied Oakhurst, sententiously; "when a man gets a streak of
luck,--nigger luck--he don't get tired. The luck gives in first.
Luck," continued the gambler, reflectively, "is a mighty queer
thing. All you know about it for certain is that it's bound to
change. And it's finding out when it's going to change that makes
you. We've had a streak of bad luck since we left Poker Flat--you
come along, and slap you get into it, too. If you can hold your
cards right along you're all right. For," added the gambler, with
"'I'm proud to live in the service of the Lord,
And I'm bound to die in His army.'"
The third day came, and the sun, looking through the white-
curtained valley, saw the outcasts divide their slowly decreasing
store of provisions for the morning meal. It was one of the
peculiarities of that mountain climate that its rays diffused a
kindly warmth over the wintry landscape, as if in regretful
commiseration of the past. But it revealed drift on drift of snow
piled high around the hut--a hopeless, uncharted, trackless sea of
white lying below the rocky shores to which the castaways still
clung. Through the marvelously clear air the smoke of the pastoral
village of Poker Flat rose miles away. Mother Shipton saw it, and
from a remote pinnacle of her rocky fastness hurled in that
direction a final malediction. It was her last vituperative
attempt, and perhaps for that reason was invested with a certain
degree of sublimity. It did her good, she privately informed the
Duchess. "Just you go out there and cuss, and see." She then set
herself to the task of amusing "the child," as she and the Duchess
were pleased to call Piney. Piney was no chicken, but it was a
soothing and original theory of the pair thus to account for the
fact that she didn't swear and wasn't improper.
When night crept up again through the gorges, the reedy notes of
the accordion rose and fell in fitful spasms and long-drawn gasps
by the flickering campfire. But music failed to fill entirely the
aching void left by insufficient food, and a new diversion was
proposed by Piney--storytelling. Neither Mr. Oakhurst nor his
female companions caring to relate their personal experiences, this
plan would have failed too but for the Innocent. Some months
before he had chanced upon a stray copy of Mr. Pope's ingenious
translation of the ILIAD. He now proposed to narrate the principal
incidents of that poem--having thoroughly mastered the argument and
fairly forgotten the words--in the current vernacular of Sandy Bar.
And so for the rest of that night the Homeric demigods again walked
the earth. Trojan bully and wily Greek wrestled in the winds, and
the great pines in the canyon seemed to bow to the wrath of the son
of Peleus. Mr. Oakhurst listened with quiet satisfaction. Most
especially was he interested in the fate of "Ash-heels," as the
Innocent persisted in denominating the "swift-footed Achilles."
So with small food and much of Homer and the accordion, a week
passed over the heads of the outcasts. The sun again forsook them,
and again from leaden skies the snowflakes were sifted over the
land. Day by day closer around them drew the snowy circle, until
at last they looked from their prison over drifted walls of
dazzling white that towered twenty feet above their heads. It
became more and more difficult to replenish their fires, even from
the fallen trees beside them, now half-hidden in the drifts. And
yet no one complained. The lovers turned from the dreary prospect
and looked into each other's eyes, and were happy. Mr. Oakhurst
settled himself coolly to the losing game before him. The Duchess,
more cheerful than she had been, assumed the care of Piney. Only
Mother Shipton--once the strongest of the party--seemed to sicken
and fade. At midnight on the tenth day she called Oakhurst to her
side. "I'm going," she said, in a voice of querulous weakness,
"but don't say anything about it. Don't waken the kids. Take the
bundle from under my head and open it." Mr. Oakhurst did so. It
contained Mother Shipton's rations for the last week, untouched.
"Give 'em to the child," she said, pointing to the sleeping Piney.
"You've starved yourself," said the gambler. "That's what they
call it," said the woman, querulously, as she lay down again and,
turning her face to the wall, passed quietly away.
The accordion and the bones were put aside that day, and Homer was
forgotten. When the body of Mother Shipton had been committed to
the snow, Mr. Oakhurst took the Innocent aside, and showed him a
pair of snowshoes, which he had fashioned from the old pack saddle.
"There's one chance in a hundred to save her yet," he said,
pointing to Piney; "but it's there," he added, pointing toward
Poker Flat. "If you can reach there in two days she's safe." "And
you?" asked Tom Simson. "I'll stay here," was the curt reply.
The lovers parted with a long embrace. "You are not going, too?"
said the Duchess as she saw Mr. Oakhurst apparently waiting to
accompany him. "As far as the canyon," he replied. He turned
suddenly, and kissed the Duchess, leaving her pallid face aflame
and her trembling limbs rigid with amazement.
Night came, but not Mr. Oakhurst. It brought the storm again and
the whirling snow. Then the Duchess, feeding the fire, found that
someone had quietly piled beside the hut enough fuel to last a few
days longer. The tears rose to her eyes, but she hid them from
The women slept but little. In the morning, looking into each
other's faces, they read their fate. Neither spoke; but Piney,
accepting the position of the stronger, drew near and placed her
arm around the Duchess's waist. They kept this attitude for the
rest of the day. That night the storm reached its greatest fury,
and, rending asunder the protecting pines, invaded the very hut.
Toward morning they found themselves unable to feed the fire, which
gradually died away. As the embers slowly blackened, the Duchess
crept closer to Piney, and broke the silence of many hours: "Piney,
can you pray?" "No, dear," said Piney, simply. The Duchess,
without knowing exactly why, felt relieved, and, putting her head
upon Piney's shoulder, spoke no more. And so reclining, the
younger and purer pillowing the head of her soiled sister upon her
virgin breast, they fell asleep.
The wind lulled as if it feared to waken them. Feathery drifts of
snow, shaken from the long pine boughs, flew like white-winged
birds, and settled about them as they slept. The moon through the
rifted clouds looked down upon what had been the camp. But all
human stain, all trace of earthly travail, was hidden beneath the
spotless mantle mercifully flung from above.
They slept all that day and the next, nor did they waken when
voices and footsteps broke the silence of the camp. And when
pitying fingers brushed the snow from their wan faces, you could
scarcely have told from the equal peace that dwelt upon them which
was she that had sinned. Even the law of Poker Flat recognized
this, and turned away, leaving them still locked in each other's
But at the head of the gulch, on one of the largest pine trees,
they found the deuce of clubs pinned to the bark with a bowie
knife. It bore the following, written in pencil, in a firm hand:
BENEATH THIS TREE
LIES THE BODY
WHO STRUCK A STREAK OF BAD LUCK
ON THE 23D OF NOVEMBER, 1850,
HANDED IN HIS CHECKS
ON THE 7TH DECEMBER, 1850.
And pulseless and cold, with a Derringer by his side and a bullet
in his heart, though still calm as in life, beneath the snow lay he
who was at once the strongest and yet the weakest of the outcasts
of Poker Flat.
We were eight, including the driver. We had not spoken during the
passage of the last six miles, since the jolting of the heavy
vehicle over the roughening road had spoiled the Judge's last
poetical quotation. The tall man beside the Judge was asleep, his
arm passed through the swaying strap and his head resting upon it--
altogether a limp, helpless-looking object, as if he had hanged
himself and been cut down too late. The French lady on the back
seat was asleep, too, yet in a half-conscious propriety of
attitude, shown even in the disposition of the handkerchief which
she held to her forehead and which partially veiled her face. The
lady from Virginia City, traveling with her husband, had long since
lost all individuality in a wild confusion of ribbons, veils, furs,
and shawls. There was no sound but the rattling of wheels and the
dash of rain upon the roof. Suddenly the stage stopped and we
became dimly aware of voices. The driver was evidently in the
midst of an exciting colloquy with someone in the road--a colloquy
of which such fragments as "bridge gone," "twenty feet of water,"
"can't pass," were occasionally distinguishable above the storm.
Then came a lull, and a mysterious voice from the road shouted the
We caught a glimpse of our leaders as the vehicle slowly turned, of
a horseman vanishing through the rain, and we were evidently on our
way to Miggles's.
Who and where was Miggles? The Judge, our authority, did not
remember the name, and he knew the country thoroughly. The Washoe
traveler thought Miggles must keep a hotel. We only knew that we
were stopped by high water in front and rear, and that Miggles was
our rock of refuge. A ten minutes splashing through a tangled by-
road, scarcely wide enough for the stage, and we drew up before a
barred and boarded gate in a wide stone wall or fence about eight
feet high. Evidently Miggles's, and evidently Miggles did not keep
The driver got down and tried the gate. It was securely locked.
Miggles! O Miggles!"
"Migg-ells! You Miggles!" continued the driver, with rising wrath.
"Migglesy!" joined the expressman, persuasively. "O Miggy! Mig!"
But no reply came from the apparently insensate Miggles. The
Judge, who had finally got the window down, put his head out and
propounded a series of questions, which if answered categorically
would have undoubtedly elucidated the whole mystery, but which the
driver evaded by replying that "if we didn't want to sit in the
coach all night, we had better rise up and sing out for Miggles."
So we rose up and called on Miggles in chorus; then separately.
And when we had finished, a Hibernian fellow-passenger from the
roof called for "Maygells!" whereat we all laughed. While we were
laughing, the driver cried "Shoo!"
We listened. To our infinite amazement the chorus of "Miggles" was
repeated from the other side of the wall, even to the final and
"Extraordinary echo," said the Judge.
"Extraordinary damned skunk!" roared the driver, contemptuously.
"Come out of that, Miggles, and show yourself! Be a man, Miggles!
Don't hide in the dark; I wouldn't if I were you, Miggles,"
continued Yuba Bill, now dancing about in an excess of fury.
"Miggles!" continued the voice. "O Miggles!"
"My good man! Mr. Myghail!" said the Judge, softening the
asperities of the name as much as possible. "Consider the
inhospitality of refusing shelter from the inclemency of the
weather to helpless females. Really, my dear sir--" But a
succession of "Miggles," ending in a burst of laughter, drowned his
Yuba Bill hesitated no longer. Taking a heavy stone from the road,
he battered down the gate, and with the expressman entered the
enclosure. We followed. Nobody was to be seen. In the gathering
darkness all that we could distinguish was that we were in a
garden--from the rosebushes that scattered over us a minute spray
from their dripping leaves--and before a long, rambling wooden
"Do you know this Miggles?" asked the Judge of Yuba Bill.
"No, nor, don't want to," said Bill, shortly, who felt the Pioneer
Stage Company insulted in his person by the contumacious Miggles.
"But, my dear sir," expostulated the Judge as he thought of the
"Lookee here," said Yuba Bill, with fine irony, "hadn't you better
go back and sit in the coach till yer introduced? I'm going in,"
and he pushed open the door of the building.
A long room lighted only by the embers of a fire that was dying on
the large hearth at its farther extremity; the walls curiously
papered, and the flickering firelight bringing out its grotesque
pattern; somebody sitting in a large armchair by the fireplace.
All this we saw as we crowded together into the room, after the
driver and expressman.
"Hello, be you Miggles?" said Yuba Bill to the solitary occupant.
The figure neither spoke nor stirred. Yuba Bill walked wrathfully
toward it, and turned the eye of his coach lantern upon its face.
It was a man's face, prematurely old and wrinkled, with very large
eyes, in which there was that expression of perfectly gratuitous
solemnity which I had sometimes seen in an owl's. The large eyes
wandered from Bill's face to the lantern, and finally fixed their
gaze on that luminous object, without further recognition.
Bill restrained himself with an effort.
"Miggles! Be you deaf? You ain't dumb anyhow, you know"; and Yuba
Bill shook the insensate figure by the shoulder.
To our great dismay, as Bill removed his hand, the venerable
stranger apparently collapsed--sinking into half his size and an
undistinguishable heap of clothing.
"Well, dern my skin," said Bill, looking appealingly at us, and
hopelessly retiring from the contest.
The Judge now stepped forward, and we lifted the mysterious
invertebrate back into his original position. Bill was dismissed
with the lantern to reconnoiter outside, for it was evident that
from the helplessness of this solitary man there must be attendants
near at hand, and we all drew around the fire. The Judge, who had
regained his authority, and had never lost his conversational
amiability--standing before us with his back to the hearth--charged
us, as an imaginary jury, as follows:
"It is evident that either our distinguished friend here has
reached that condition described by Shakespeare as 'the sere and
yellow leaf,' or has suffered some premature abatement of his
mental and physical faculties. Whether he is really the Miggles--"
Here he was interrupted by "Miggles! O Miggles! Migglesy! Mig!"
and, in fact, the whole chorus of Miggles in very much the same key
as it had once before been delivered unto us.
We gazed at each other for a moment in some alarm. The Judge, in
particular, vacated his position quickly, as the voice seemed to
come directly over his shoulder. The cause, however, was soon
discovered in a large magpie who was perched upon a shelf over the
fireplace, and who immediately relapsed into a sepulchral silence
which contrasted singularly with his previous volubility. It was,
undoubtedly, his voice which we had heard in the road, and our
friend in the chair was not responsible for the discourtesy. Yuba
Bill, who re-entered the room after an unsuccessful search, was
loath to accept the explanation, and still eyed the helpless sitter
with suspicion. He had found a shed in which he had put up his
horses, but he came back dripping and skeptical. "Thar ain't
nobody but him within ten mile of the shanty, and that 'ar damned
old skeesicks knows it.
But the faith of the majority proved to be securely based. Bill
had scarcely ceased growling before we heard a quick step upon the
porch, the trailing of a wet skirt, the door was flung open, and
with flash of white teeth, a sparkle of dark eyes, and an utter
absence of ceremony or diffidence, a young woman entered, shut the
door, and, panting, leaned back against it.
"Oh, if you please, I'm Miggles!"
And this was Miggles! this bright-eyed, full-throated young woman,
whose wet gown of coarse blue stuff could not hide the beauty of
the feminine curves to which it clung; from the chestnut crown of
whose head, topped by a man's oilskin sou'wester, to the little
feet and ankles, hidden somewhere in the recesses of her boy's
brogans, all was grace--this was Miggles, laughing at us, too, in
the most airy, frank, offhand manner imaginable.
"You see, boys," said she, quite out of breath, and holding one
little hand against her side, quite unheeding the speechless
discomfiture of our party, or the complete demoralization of Yuba
Bill, whose features had relaxed into an expression of gratuitous
and imbecile cheerfulness--"you see, boys, I was mor'n two miles
away when you passed down the road. I thought you might pull up
here, and so I ran the whole way, knowing nobody was home but Jim,--
and--and--I'm out of breath--and--that lets me out."
And here Miggles caught her dripping oilskin hat from her head,
with a mischievous swirl that scattered a shower of raindrops over
us; attempted to put back her hair; dropped two hairpins in the
attempt; laughed and sat down beside Yuba Bill, with her hands
crossed lightly on her lap.
The Judge recovered himself first, and essayed an extravagant
"I'll trouble you for that thar harpin," said Miggles, gravely.
Half a dozen hands were eagerly stretched forward; the missing
hairpin was restored to its fair owner; and Miggles, crossing the
room, looked keenly in the face of the invalid. The solemn eyes
looked back at hers with an expression we had never seen before.
Life and intelligence seemed to struggle back into the rugged face.
Miggles laughed again--it was a singularly eloquent laugh--and
turned her black eyes and white teeth once more toward us.
"This afflicted person is--" hesitated the Judge.
"Jim," said Miggles.
Miggles darted a quick, half-defiant glance at the two lady
passengers who I had noticed did not participate in the general
masculine admiration of Miggles, and said gravely, "No; it's Jim."
There was an awkward pause. The lady passengers moved closer to
each other; the Washoe husband looked abstractedly at the fire; and
the tall man apparently turned his eyes inward for self-support at
this emergency. But Miggles's laugh, which was very infectious,
broke the silence. "Come," she said briskly, "you must be hungry.
Who'll bear a hand to help me get tea?"
She had no lack of volunteers. In a few moments Yuba Bill was
engaged like Caliban in bearing logs for this Miranda; the
expressman was grinding coffee on the veranda; to myself the
arduous duty of slicing bacon was assigned; and the Judge lent each
man his good-humored and voluble counsel. And when Miggles,
assisted by the Judge and our Hibernian "deck passenger," set the
table with all the available crockery, we had become quite joyous,
in spite of the rain that beat against windows, the wind that
whirled down the chimney, the two ladies who whispered together in
the corner, or the magpie who uttered a satirical and croaking
commentary on their conversation from his perch above. In the now
bright, blazing fire we could see that the walls were papered with
illustrated journals, arranged with feminine taste and
discrimination. The furniture was extemporized, and adapted from
candle boxes and packing-cases, and covered with gay calico, or the
skin of some animal. The armchair of the helpless Jim was an
ingenious variation of a flour barrel. There was neatness, and
even a taste for the picturesque, to be seen in the few details of
the long low room.
The meal was a culinary success. But more, it was a social
triumph--chiefly, I think, owing to the rare tact of Miggles in
guiding the conversation, asking all the questions herself, yet
bearing throughout a frankness that rejected the idea of any
concealment on her own part, so that we talked of ourselves, of our
prospects, of the journey, of the weather, of each other--of
everything but our host and hostess. It must be confessed that
Miggles's conversation was never elegant, rarely grammatical, and
that at times she employed expletives the use of which had
generally been yielded to our sex. But they were delivered with
such a lighting-up of teeth and eyes, and were usually followed by
a laugh--a laugh peculiar to Miggles--so frank and honest that it
seemed to clear the moral atmosphere.
Once during the meal we heard a noise like the rubbing of a heavy
body against the outer walls of the house. This was shortly
followed by a scratching and sniffling at the door. "That's
Joaquin," said Miggles, in reply to our questioning glances; "would
you like to see him?" Before we could answer she had opened the
door, and disclosed a half-grown grizzly, who instantly raised
himself on his haunches, with his forepaws hanging down in the
popular attitude of mendicancy, and looked admiringly at Miggles,
with a very singular resemblance in his manner to Yuba Bill.
"That's my watch dog," said Miggles, in explanation. "Oh, he don't
bite," she added, as the two lady passengers fluttered into a
corner. "Does he, old Toppy?" (the latter remark being addressed
directly to the sagacious Joaquin). "I tell you what, boys,"
continued Miggles after she had fed and closed the door on URSA
MINOR, "you were in big luck that Joaquin wasn't hanging round when
you dropped in tonight." "Where was he?" asked the Judge. "With
me," said Miggles. "Lord love you; he trots round with me nights
like as if he was a man."
We were silent for a few moments, and listened to the wind.
Perhaps we all had the same picture before us--of Miggles walking
through the rainy woods, with her savage guardian at her side. The
Judge, I remember, said something about Una and her lion; but
Miggles received it as she did other compliments, with quiet
gravity. Whether she was altogether unconscious of the admiration
she excited--she could hardly have been oblivious of Yuba Bill's
adoration--I know not; but her very frankness suggested a perfect
sexual equality that was cruelly humiliating to the younger members
of our party.
The incident of the bear did not add anything in Miggles's favor to
the opinions of those of her own sex who were present. In fact,
the repast over, a chillness radiated from the two lady passengers
that no pine boughs brought in by Yuba Bill and cast as a sacrifice
upon the hearth could wholly overcome. Miggles felt it; and,
suddenly declaring that it was time to "turn in," offered to show
the ladies to their bed in an adjoining room. "You boys will have
to camp out here by the fire as well as you can," she added, "for
thar ain't but the one room."
Our sex--by which, my dear sir, I allude of course to the stronger
portion of humanity--has been generally relieved from the
imputation of curiosity, or a fondness for gossip. Yet I am
constrained to say that hardly had the door closed on Miggles than
we crowded together, whispering, snickering, smiling, and
exchanging suspicions, surmises, and a thousand speculations in
regard to our pretty hostess and her singular companion. I fear
that we even hustled that imbecile paralytic, who sat like a
voiceless Memnon in our midst, gazing with the serene indifference
of the Past in his passionate eyes upon our wordy counsels. In the
midst of an exciting discussion the door opened again, and Miggles
But not, apparently, the same Miggles who a few hours before had
flashed upon us. Her eyes were downcast, and as she hesitated for
a moment on the threshold, with a blanket on her arm, she seemed to
have left behind her the frank fearlessness which had charmed us a
moment before. Coming into the room, she drew a low stool beside
the paralytic's chair, sat down, drew the blanket over her
shoulders, and saying, "If it's all the same to you, boys, as we're
rather crowded, I'll stop here tonight," took the invalid's
withered hand in her own, and turned her eyes upon the dying fire.
An instinctive feeling that this was only premonitory to more
confidential relations, and perhaps some shame at our previous
curiosity, kept us silent. The rain still beat upon the roof,
wandering gusts of wind stirred the embers into momentary
brightness, until, in a lull of the elements, Miggles suddenly
lifted up her head, and, throwing her hair over her shoulder,
turned her face upon the group and asked:
"Is there any of you that knows me?"
There was no reply.
"Think again! I lived at Marysville in '53. Everybody knew me
there, and everybody had the right to know me. I kept the Polka
saloon until I came to live with Jim. That's six years ago.
Perhaps I've changed some."
The absence of recognition may have disconcerted her. She turned
her head to the fire again, and it was some seconds before she
again spoke, and then more rapidly:
"Well, you see I thought some of you must have known me. There's
no great harm done, anyway. What I was going to say was this: Jim
here"--she took his hand in both of hers as she spoke--"used to
know me, if you didn't, and spent a heap of money upon me. I
reckon he spent all he had. And one day--it's six years ago this
winter--Jim came into my back room, sat down on my sofy, like as
you see him in that chair, and never moved again without help. He
was struck all of a heap, and never seemed to know what ailed him.
The doctors came and said as how it was caused all along of his way
of life--for Jim was mighty free and wild-like--and that he would
never get better, and couldn't last long anyway. They advised me
to send him to Frisco to the hospital, for he was no good to anyone
and would be a baby all his life. Perhaps it was something in
Jim's eye, perhaps it was that I never had a baby, but I said 'No.'
I was rich then, for I was popular with everybody--gentlemen like
yourself, sir, came to see me--and I sold out my business and
bought this yer place, because it was sort of out of the way of
travel, you see, and I brought my baby here."
With a woman's intuitive tact and poetry, she had, as she spoke,
slowly shifted her position so as to bring the mute figure of the
ruined man between her and her audience, hiding in the shadow
behind it, as if she offered it as a tacit apology for her actions.
Silent and expressionless, it yet spoke for her; helpless, crushed,
and smitten with the Divine thunderbolt, it still stretched an
invisible arm around her.
Hidden in the darkness, but still holding his hand, she went on:
"It was a long time before I could get the hang of things about
yer, for I was used to company and excitement. I couldn't get any
woman to help me, and a man I dursen't trust; but what with the
Indians hereabout, who'd do odd jobs for me, and having everything
sent from the North Fork, Jim and I managed to worry through. The
Doctor would run up from Sacramento once in a while. He'd ask to
see 'Miggles's baby,' as he called Jim, and when he'd go away, he'd
say, 'Miggles; you're a trump--God bless you'; and it didn't seem
so lonely after that. But the last time he was here he said, as he
opened the door to go, 'Do you know, Miggles, your baby will grow
up to be a man yet and an honor to his mother; but not here,
Miggles, not here!' And I thought he went away sad--and--and--"
and here Miggles's voice and head were somehow both lost completely
in the shadow.
"The folks about here are very kind," said Miggles, after a pause,
coming a little into the light again. "The men from the fork used
to hang around here, until they found they wasn't wanted, and the
women are kind--and don't call. I was pretty lonely until I picked
up Joaquin in the woods yonder one day, when he wasn't so high, and
taught him to beg for his dinner; and then thar's Polly--that's the
magpie--she knows no end of tricks, and makes it quite sociable of
evenings with her talk, and so I don't feel like as I was the only
living being about the ranch. And Jim here," said Miggles, with
her old laugh again, and coming out quite into the firelight, "Jim-
-why, boys, you would admire to see how much he knows for a man
like him. Sometimes I bring him flowers, and he looks at 'em just
as natural as if he knew 'em; and times, when we're sitting alone,
I read him those things on the wall. Why, Lord!" said Miggles,
with her frank laugh, "I've read him that whole side of the house
this winter. There never was such a man for reading as Jim."
"Why," asked the Judge, "do you not marry this man to whom you have
devoted your youthful life?"
"Well, you see," said Miggles, "it would be playing it rather low
down on Jim, to take advantage of his being so helpless. And then,
too, if we were man and wife, now, we'd both know that I was bound
to do what I do now of my own accord."
"But you are young yet and attractive--"
"It's getting late," said Miggles, gravely, "and you'd better all
turn in. Good night, boys"; and, throwing the blanket over her
head, Miggles laid herself down beside Jim's chair, her head
pillowed on the low stool that held his feet, and spoke no more.
The fire slowly faded from the hearth; we each sought our blankets
in silence; and presently there was no sound in the long room but
the pattering of the rain upon the roof and the heavy breathing of
It was nearly morning when I awoke from a troubled dream. The
storm had passed, the stars were shining, and through the
shutterless window the full moon, lifting itself over the solemn
pines without, looked into the room. It touched the lonely figure
in the chair with an infinite compassion, and seemed to baptize
with a shining flood the lowly head of the woman whose hair, as in
the sweet old story, bathed the feet of him she loved. It even
lent a kindly poetry to the rugged outline of Yuba Bill, half-
reclining on his elbow between them and his passengers, with
savagely patient eyes keeping watch and ward. And then I fell
asleep and only woke at broad day, with Yuba Bill standing over me,
and "All aboard" ringing in my ears.
Coffee was waiting for us on the table, but Miggles was gone. We
wandered about the house and lingered long after the horses were
harnessed, but she did not return. It was evident that she wished
to avoid a formal leave-taking, and had so left us to depart as we
had come. After we had helped the ladies into the coach, we
returned to the house and solemnly shook hands with the paralytic
Jim, as solemnly settling him back into position after each
handshake. Then we looked for the last time around the long low
room, at the stool where Miggles had sat, and slowly took our seats
in the waiting coach. The whip cracked, and we were off!
But as we reached the highroad, Bill's dexterous hand laid the six
horses back on their haunches, and the stage stopped with a jerk.
For there, on a little eminence beside the road, stood Miggles, her
hair flying, her eyes sparkling, her white handkerchief waving, and
her white teeth flashing a last "good-by." We waved our hats in
return. And then Yuba Bill, as if fearful of further fascination,
madly lashed his horses forward, and we sank back in our seats. We
exchanged not a word until we reached the North Fork, and the stage
drew up at the Independence House. Then, the Judge leading, we
walked into the barroom and took our places gravely at the bar.
"Are your glasses charged, gentlemen?" said the Judge, solemnly
taking off his white hat.
"Well, then, here's to MIGGLES. GOD BLESS HER!"
Perhaps He had. Who knows?
I do not think that we ever knew his real name. Our ignorance of
it certainly never gave us any social inconvenience, for at Sandy
Bar in 1854 most men were christened anew. Sometimes these
appellatives were derived from some distinctiveness of dress, as in
the case of "Dungaree Jack"; or from some peculiarity of habit, as
shown in "Saleratus Bill," so called from an undue proportion of
that chemical in his daily bread; or for some unlucky slip, as
exhibited in "The Iron Pirate," a mild, inoffensive man, who earned
that baleful title by his unfortunate mispronunciation of the term
"iron pyrites." Perhaps this may have been the beginning of a rude
heraldry; but I am constrained to think that it was because a man's
real name in that day rested solely upon his own unsupported
statement. "Call yourself Clifford, do you?" said Boston,
addressing a timid newcomer with infinite scorn; "hell is full of
such Cliffords!" He then introduced the unfortunate man, whose
name happened to be really Clifford, as "Jay-bird Charley"--an
unhallowed inspiration of the moment that clung to him ever after.
But to return to Tennessee's Partner, whom we never knew by any
other than this relative title; that he had ever existed as a
separate and distinct individuality we only learned later. It
seems that in 1853 he left Poker Flat to go to San Francisco,
ostensibly to procure a wife. He never got any farther than
Stockton. At that place he was attracted by a young person who
waited upon the table at the hotel where he took his meals. One
morning he said something to her which caused her to smile not
unkindly, to somewhat coquettishly break a plate of toast over his
upturned, serious, simple face, and to retreat to the kitchen. He
followed her, and emerged a few moments later, covered with more
toast and victory. That day week they were married by a justice of
the peace, and returned to Poker Flat. I am aware that something
more might be made of this episode, but I prefer to tell it as it
was current at Sandy Bar--in the gulches and barrooms--where all
sentiment was modified by a strong sense of humor.
Of their married felicity but little is known, perhaps for the
reason that Tennessee, then living with his Partner, one day took
occasion to say something to the bride on his own account, at
which, it is said, she smiled not unkindly and chastely retreated--
this time as far as Marysville, where Tennessee followed her, and
where they went to housekeeping without the aid of a justice of the
peace. Tennessee's Partner took the loss of his wife simply and
seriously, as was his fashion. But to everybody's surprise, when
Tennessee one day returned from Marysville, without his Partner's
wife--she having smiled and retreated with somebody else--
Tennessee's Partner was the first man to shake his hand and greet
him with affection. The boys who had gathered in the canyon to see
the shooting were naturally indignant. Their indignation might
have found vent in sarcasm but for a certain look in Tennessee's
Partner's eye that indicated a lack of humorous appreciation. In
fact, he was a grave man, with a steady application to practical
detail which was unpleasant in a difficulty.
Meanwhile a popular feeling against Tennessee had grown up on the
Bar. He was known to be a gambler; he was suspected to be a thief.
In these suspicions Tennessee's Partner was equally compromised;
his continued intimacy with Tennessee after the affair above quoted
could only be accounted for on the hypothesis of a copartnership of
crime. At last Tennessee's guilt became flagrant. One day he
overtook a stranger on his way to Red Dog. The stranger afterward
related that Tennessee beguiled the time with interesting anecdote
and reminiscence, but illogically concluded the interview in the
following words: "And now, young man, I'll trouble you for your
knife, your pistols, and your money. You see your weppings might
get you into trouble at Red Dog, and your money's a temptation to
the evilly disposed. I think you said your address was San
Francisco. I shall endeavor to call." It may be stated here that
Tennessee had a fine flow of humor, which no business preoccupation
could wholly subdue.
This exploit was his last. Red Dog and Sandy Bar made common cause
against the highwayman. Tennessee was hunted in very much the same
fashion as his prototype, the grizzly. As the toils closed around
him, he made a desperate dash through the Bar, emptying his
revolver at the crowd before the Arcade Saloon, and so on up
Grizzly Canyon; but at its farther extremity he was stopped by a
small man on a gray horse. The men looked at each other a moment
in silence. Both were fearless, both self-possessed and
independent; and both types of a civilization that in the
seventeenth century would have been called heroic, but, in the
nineteenth, simply "reckless." "What have you got there?--I call,"
said Tennessee, quietly. "Two bowers and an ace," said the
stranger, as quietly, showing two revolvers and a bowie knife.
"That takes me," returned Tennessee; and with this gamblers'
epigram, he threw away his useless pistol, and rode back with his
It was a warm night. The cool breeze which usually sprang up with
the going down of the sun behind the chaparral-crested mountain was
that evening withheld from Sandy Bar. The little canyon was
stifling with heated resinous odors, and the decaying driftwood on
the Bar sent forth faint, sickening exhalations. The feverishness
of day, and its fierce passions, still filled the camp. Lights
moved restlessly along the bank of the river, striking no answering
reflection from its tawny current. Against the blackness of the
pines the windows of the old loft above the express office stood
out staringly bright; and through their curtainless panes the
loungers below could see the forms of those who were even then
deciding the fate of Tennessee. And above all this, etched on the
dark firmament, rose the Sierra, remote and passionless, crowned
with remoter passionless stars.
The trial of Tennessee was conducted as fairly as was consistent
with a judge and jury who felt themselves to some extent obliged to
justify, in their verdict, the previous irregularities of arrest
and indictment. The law of Sandy Bar was implacable, but not
vengeful. The excitement and personal feeling of the chase were
over; with Tennessee safe in their hands they were ready to listen
patiently to any defense, which they were already satisfied was
insufficient. There being no doubt in their own minds, they were
willing to give the prisoner the benefit of any that might exist.
Secure in the hypothesis that he ought to be hanged, on general
principles, they indulged him with more latitude of defense than
his reckless hardihood seemed to ask. The Judge appeared to be
more anxious than the prisoner, who, otherwise unconcerned,
evidently took a grim pleasure in the responsibility he had
created. "I don't take any hand in this yer game," had been his
invariable but good-humored reply to all questions. The Judge--who
was also his captor--for a moment vaguely regretted that he had not
shot him "on sight" that morning, but presently dismissed this
human weakness as unworthy of the judicial mind. Nevertheless,
when there was a tap at the door, and it was said that Tennessee's
Partner was there on behalf of the prisoner, he was admitted at
once without question. Perhaps the younger members of the jury, to
whom the proceedings were becoming irksomely thoughtful, hailed him
as a relief.
For he was not, certainly, an imposing figure. Short and stout,
with a square face sunburned into a preternatural redness, clad in
a loose duck "jumper" and trousers streaked and splashed with red
soil, his aspect under any circumstances would have been quaint,
and was now even ridiculous. As he stooped to deposit at his feet
a heavy carpetbag he was carrying, it became obvious, from
partially developed legends and inscriptions, that the material
with which his trousers had been patched had been originally
intended for a less ambitious covering. Yet he advanced with great
gravity, and after having shaken the hand of each person in the
room with labored cordiality, he wiped his serious, perplexed face
on a red bandanna handkerchief, a shade lighter than his
complexion, laid his powerful hand upon the table to steady
himself, and thus addressed the Judge:
"I was passin' by," he began, by way of apology, "and I thought I'd
just step in and see how things was gittin' on with Tennessee thar--
my pardner. It's a hot night. I disremember any sich weather
before on the Bar."
He paused a moment, but nobody volunteering any other
meteorological recollection, he again had recourse to his pocket
handkerchief, and for some moments mopped his face diligently.
"Have you anything to say in behalf of the prisoner?" said the
"Thet's it," said Tennessee's Partner, in a tone of relief. "I
come yar as Tennessee's pardner--knowing him nigh on four year, off
and on, wet and dry, in luck and out o' luck. His ways ain't
allers my ways, but thar ain't any p'ints in that young man, thar
ain't any liveliness as he's been up to, as I don't know. And you
sez to me, sez you--confidential-like, and between man and man--sez
you, 'Do you know anything in his behalf?' and I sez to you, sez I--
confidential-like, as between man and man--'What should a man
know of his pardner?'"
"Is this all you have to say?" asked the Judge impatiently,
feeling, perhaps, that a dangerous sympathy of humor was beginning
to humanize the Court.
"Thet's so," continued Tennessee's Partner. "It ain't for me to
say anything agin' him. And now, what's the case? Here's
Tennessee wants money, wants it bad, and doesn't like to ask it of
his old pardner. Well, what does Tennessee do? He lays for a
stranger, and he fetches that stranger. And you lays for HIM, and
you fetches HIM; and the honors is easy. And I put it to you,
bein' a far-minded man, and to you, gentlemen, all, as far-minded
men, ef this isn't so."
"Prisoner," said the Judge, interrupting, "have you any questions
to ask this man?"
"No! no!" continued Tennessee's Partner, hastily. "I play this yer
hand alone. To come down to the bedrock, it's just this:
Tennessee, thar, has played it pretty rough and expensive-like on a
stranger, and on this yer camp. And now, what's the fair thing?
Some would say more; some would say less. Here's seventeen hundred
dollars in coarse gold and a watch--it's about all my pile--and
call it square!" And before a hand could be raised to prevent him,
he had emptied the contents of the carpetbag upon the table.
For a moment his life was in jeopardy. One or two men sprang to
their feet, several hands groped for hidden weapons, and a
suggestion to "throw him from the window" was only overridden by a
gesture from the Judge. Tennessee laughed. And apparently
oblivious of the excitement, Tennessee's Partner improved the
opportunity to mop his face again with his handkerchief.
When order was restored, and the man was made to understand, by the
use of forcible figures and rhetoric, that Tennessee's offense
could not be condoned by money, his face took a more serious and
sanguinary hue, and those who were nearest to him noticed that his
rough hand trembled slightly on the table. He hesitated a moment
as he slowly returned the gold to the carpetbag, as if he had not
yet entirely caught the elevated sense of justice which swayed the
tribunal, and was perplexed with the belief that he had not offered
enough. Then he turned to the Judge, and saying, "This yer is a
lone hand, played alone, and without my pardner," he bowed to the
jury and was about to withdraw when the Judge called him back. "If
you have anything to say to Tennessee, you had better say it now."
For the first time that evening the eyes of the prisoner and his
strange advocate met. Tennessee smiled, showed his white teeth,
and, saying, "Euchred, old man!" held out his hand. Tennessee's
Partner took it in his own, and saying, "I just dropped in as I was
passin' to see how things was gettin' on," let the hand passively
fall, and adding that it was a warm night, again mopped his face
with his handkerchief, and without another word withdrew.
The two men never again met each other alive. For the unparalleled
insult of a bribe offered to Judge Lynch--who, whether bigoted,
weak, or narrow, was at least incorruptible--firmly fixed in the
mind of that mythical personage any wavering determination of
Tennessee's fate; and at the break of day he was marched, closely
guarded, to meet it at the top of Marley's Hill.
How he met it, how cool he was, how he refused to say anything, how
perfect were the arrangements of the committee, were all duly
reported, with the addition of a warning moral and example to all
future evildoers, in the RED DOG CLARION, by its editor, who was
present, and to whose vigorous English I cheerfully refer the
reader. But the beauty of that midsummer morning, the blessed
amity of earth and air and sky, the awakened life of the free woods
and hills, the joyous renewal and promise of Nature, and above all,
the infinite Serenity that thrilled through each, was not reported,
as not being a part of the social lesson. And yet, when the weak
and foolish deed was done, and a life, with its possibilities and
responsibilities, had passed out of the misshapen thing that
dangled between earth and sky, the birds sang, the flowers bloomed,
the sun shone, as cheerily as before; and possibly the RED DOG
CLARION was right.
Tennessee's Partner was not in the group that surrounded the
ominous tree. But as they turned to disperse attention was drawn
to the singular appearance of a motionless donkey cart halted at
the side of the road. As they approached, they at once recognized
the venerable "Jenny" and the two-wheeled cart as the property of
Tennessee's Partner--used by him in carrying dirt from his claim;
and a few paces distant the owner of the equipage himself, sitting
under a buckeye tree, wiping the perspiration from his glowing
face. In answer to an inquiry, he said he had come for the body of
the "diseased," "if it was all the same to the committee." He
didn't wish to "hurry anything"; he could "wait." He was not
working that day; and when the gentlemen were done with the
"diseased," he would take him. "Ef thar is any present," he added,
in his simple, serious way, "as would care to jine in the fun'l,
they kin come." Perhaps it was from a sense of humor, which I have
already intimated was a feature of Sandy Bar--perhaps it was from
something even better than that; but two-thirds of the loungers
accepted the invitation at once.
It was noon when the body of Tennessee was delivered into the hands
of his Partner. As the cart drew up to the fatal tree, we noticed
that it contained a rough, oblong box--apparently made from a
section of sluicing and half-filled with bark and the tassels of
pine. The cart was further decorated with slips of willow, and
made fragrant with buckeye blossoms. When the body was deposited
in the box, Tennessee's Partner drew over it a piece of tarred
canvas, and gravely mounting the narrow seat in front, with his
feet upon the shafts, urged the little donkey forward. The
equipage moved slowly on, at that decorous pace which was habitual
with "Jenny" even under less solemn circumstances. The men--half
curiously, half jestingly, but all good-humoredly--strolled along
beside the cart; some in advance, some a little in the rear of the
homely catafalque. But, whether from the narrowing of the road or
some present sense of decorum, as the cart passed on, the company
fell to the rear in couples, keeping step, and otherwise assuming
the external show of a formal procession. Jack Folinsbee, who had
at the outset played a funeral march in dumb show upon an imaginary
trombone, desisted, from a lack of sympathy and appreciation--not
having, perhaps, your true humorist's capacity to be content with
the enjoyment of his own fun.
The way led through Grizzly Canyon--by this time clothed in
funereal drapery and shadows. The redwoods, burying their
moccasined feet in the red soil, stood in Indian file along the
track, trailing an uncouth benediction from their bending boughs
upon the passing bier. A hare, surprised into helpless inactivity,
sat upright and pulsating in the ferns by the roadside as the
cortege went by. Squirrels hastened to gain a secure outlook from
higher boughs; and the bluejays, spreading their wings, fluttered
before them like outriders, until the outskirts of Sandy Bar were
reached, and the solitary cabin of Tennessee's Partner.
Viewed under more favorable circumstances, it would not have been a
cheerful place. The unpicturesque site, the rude and unlovely
outlines, the unsavory details, which distinguish the nest-building
of the California miner, were all here, with the dreariness of
decay superadded. A few paces from the cabin there was a rough
enclosure, which in the brief days of Tennessee's Partner's
matrimonial felicity had been used as a garden, but was now
overgrown with fern. As we approached it we were surprised to find
that what we had taken for a recent attempt at cultivation was the
broken soil about an open grave.
The cart was halted before the enclosure; and rejecting the offers
of assistance with the same air of simple self-reliance he had
displayed throughout, Tennessee's Partner lifted the rough coffin
on his back and deposited it, unaided, within the shallow grave.
He then nailed down the board which served as a lid; and mounting
the little mound of earth beside it, took off his hat, and slowly
mopped his face with his handkerchief. This the crowd felt was a
preliminary to speech; and they disposed themselves variously on
stumps and boulders, and sat expectant.
"When a man," began Tennessee's Partner, slowly, "has been running
free all day, what's the natural thing for him to do? Why, to come
home. And if he ain't in a condition to go home, what can his best
friend do? Why, bring him home! And here's Tennessee has been
running free, and we brings him home from his wandering." He
paused, and picked up a fragment of quartz, rubbed it thoughtfully
on his sleeve, and went on: "It ain't the first time that I've
packed him on my back, as you see'd me now. It ain't the first
time that I brought him to this yer cabin when he couldn't help
himself; it ain't the first time that I and 'Jinny' have waited for
him on yon hill, and picked him up and so fetched him home, when he
couldn't speak, and didn't know me. And now that it's the last
time, why"--he paused and rubbed the quartz gently on his sleeve--
"you see it's sort of rough on his pardner. And now, gentlemen,"
he added, abruptly, picking up his long-handled shovel, "the
fun'l's over; and my thanks, and Tennessee's thanks, to you for
Resisting any proffers of assistance, he began to fill in the
grave, turning his back upon the crowd that after a few moments'
hesitation gradually withdrew. As they crossed the little ridge
that hid Sandy Bar from view, some, looking back, thought they
could see Tennessee's Partner, his work done, sitting upon the
grave, his shovel between his knees, and his face buried in his red
bandanna handkerchief. But it was argued by others that you
couldn't tell his face from his handkerchief at that distance; and
this point remained undecided.
In the reaction that followed the feverish excitement of that day,
Tennessee's Partner was not forgotten. A secret investigation had
cleared him of any complicity in Tennessee's guilt, and left only a
suspicion of his general sanity. Sandy Bar made a point of calling
on him, and proffering various uncouth, but well-meant kindnesses.
But from that day his rude health and great strength seemed visibly
to decline; and when the rainy season fairly set in, and the tiny
grass-blades were beginning to peep from the rocky mound above
Tennessee's grave, he took to his bed. One night, when the pines
beside the cabin were swaying in the storm, and trailing their
slender fingers over the roof, and the roar and rush of the swollen
river were heard below, Tennessee's Partner lifted his head from
the pillow, saying, "It is time to go for Tennessee; I must put
'Jinny' in the cart"; and would have risen from his bed but for the
restraint of his attendant. Struggling, he still pursued his
singular fancy: "There, now, steady, 'Jinny'--steady, old girl.
How dark it is! Look out for the ruts--and look out for him, too,
old gal. Sometimes, you know, when he's blind-drunk, he drops down
right in the trail. Keep on straight up to the pine on the top of
the hill. Thar--I told you so!--thar he is--coming this way, too--
all by himself, sober, and his face a-shining. Tennessee!
And so they met.
THE IDYL OF RED GULCH
Sandy was very drunk. He was lying under an azalea bush, in pretty
much the same attitude in which he had fallen some hours before.
How long he had been lying there he could not tell, and didn't
care; how long he should lie there was a matter equally indefinite
and unconsidered. A tranquil philosophy, born of his physical
condition, suffused and saturated his moral being.
The spectacle of a drunken man, and of this drunken man in
particular, was not, I grieve to say, of sufficient novelty in Red
Gulch to attract attention. Earlier in the day some local satirist
had erected a temporary tombstone at Sandy's head, bearing the
inscription, "Effects of McCorkle's whisky--kills at forty rods,"
with a hand pointing to McCorkle's saloon. But this, I imagine,
was, like most local satire, personal; and was a reflection upon
the unfairness of the process rather than a commentary upon the
impropriety of the result. With this facetious exception, Sandy
had been undisturbed. A wandering mule, released from his pack,
had cropped the scant herbage beside him, and sniffed curiously at
the prostrate man; a vagabond dog, with that deep sympathy which
the species have for drunken men, had licked his dusty boots, and
curled himself up at his feet, and lay there, blinking one eye in
the sunlight, with a simulation of dissipation that was ingenious
and doglike in its implied flattery of the unconscious man beside
Meanwhile the shadows of the pine trees had slowly swung around
until they crossed the road, and their trunks barred the open
meadow with gigantic parallels of black and yellow. Little puffs
of red dust, lifted by the plunging hoofs of passing teams,
dispersed in a grimy shower upon the recumbent man. The sun sank
lower and lower; and still Sandy stirred not. And then the repose
of this philosopher was disturbed, as other philosophers have been,
by the intrusion of an unphilosophical sex.
"Miss Mary," as she was known to the little flock that she had just
dismissed from the log schoolhouse beyond the pines, was taking her
afternoon walk. Observing an unusually fine cluster of blossoms on
the azalea bush opposite, she crossed the road to pluck it--picking
her way through the red dust, not without certain fierce little
shivers of disgust and some feline circumlocution. And then she
came suddenly upon Sandy!
Of course she uttered the little staccato cry of her sex. But when
she had paid that tribute to her physical weakness she became
overbold, and halted for a moment--at least six feet from this
prostrate monster--with her white skirts gathered in her hand,
ready for flight. But neither sound nor motion came from the bush.
With one little foot she then overturned the satirical headboard,
and muttered "Beasts!"--an epithet which probably, at that moment,
conveniently classified in her mind the entire male population of
Red Gulch. For Miss Mary, being possessed of certain rigid notions
of her own, had not, perhaps, properly appreciated the
demonstrative gallantry for which the Californian has been so
justly celebrated by his brother Californians, and had, as a
newcomer, perhaps fairly earned the reputation of being "stuck-up."
As she stood there she noticed, also, that the slant sunbeams were
heating Sandy's head to what she judged to be an unhealthy
temperature, and that his hat was lying uselessly at his side. To
pick it up and to place it over his face was a work requiring some
courage, particularly as his eyes were open. Yet she did it, and
made good her retreat. But she was somewhat concerned, on looking
back, to see that the hat was removed, and that Sandy was sitting
up and saying something.
The truth was, that in the calm depths of Sandy's mind he was
satisfied that the rays of the sun were beneficial and healthful;
that from childhood he had objected to lying down in a hat; that no
people but condemned fools, past redemption, ever wore hats; and
that his right to dispense with them when he pleased was
inalienable. This was the statement of his inner consciousness.
Unfortunately, its outward expression was vague, being limited to a
repetition of the following formula--"Su'shine all ri'! Wasser
maar, eh? Wass up, su'shine?"
Miss Mary stopped, and, taking fresh courage from her vantage of
distance, asked him if there was anything that he wanted.
"Wass up? Wasser maar?" continued Sandy, in a very high key.
"Get up, you horrid man!" said Miss Mary, now thoroughly incensed;
"get up, and go home."
Sandy staggered to his feet. He was six feet high, and Miss Mary
trembled. He started forward a few paces and then stopped.
"Wass I go home for?" he suddenly asked, with great gravity.
"Go and take a bath," replied Miss Mary, eying his grimy person
with great disfavor.
To her infinite dismay, Sandy suddenly pulled off his coat and
vest, threw them on the ground, kicked off his boots, and, plunging
wildly forward, darted headlong over the hill, in the direction of
"Goodness heavens!--the man will be drowned!" said Miss Mary; and
then, with feminine inconsistency, she ran back to the schoolhouse
and locked herself in.
That night, while seated at supper with her hostess, the
blacksmith's wife, it came to Miss Mary to ask, demurely, if her
husband ever got drunk. "Abner," responded Mrs. Stidger,
reflectively, "let's see: Abner hasn't been tight since last
'lection." Miss Mary would have liked to ask if he preferred lying
in the sun on these occasions, and if a cold bath would have hurt
him; but this would have involved an explanation, which she did not
then care to give. So she contented herself with opening her gray
eyes widely at the red-cheeked Mrs. Stidger--a fine specimen of
Southwestern efflorescence--and then dismissed the subject
altogether. The next day she wrote to her dearest friend, in
Boston: "I think I find the intoxicated portion of this community
the least objectionable. I refer, my dear, to the men, of course.
I do not know anything that could make the women tolerable."
In less than a week Miss Mary had forgotten this episode, except
that her afternoon walks took thereafter, almost unconsciously,
another direction. She noticed, however, that every morning a
fresh cluster of azalea blossoms appeared among the flowers on her
desk. This was not strange, as her little flock were aware of her
fondness for flowers, and invariably kept her desk bright with
anemones, syringas, and lupines; but, on questioning them, they one
and all professed ignorance of the azaleas. A few days later,
Master Johnny Stidger, whose desk was nearest to the window, was
suddenly taken with spasms of apparently gratuitous laughter that
threatened the discipline of the school. All that Miss Mary could
get from him was, that someone had been "looking in the winder."
Irate and indignant, she sallied from her hive to do battle with
the intruder. As she turned the corner of the schoolhouse she came
plump upon the quondam drunkard--now perfectly sober, and
inexpressibly sheepish and guilty-looking.
These facts Miss Mary was not slow to take a feminine advantage of,
in her present humor. But it was somewhat confusing to observe,
also, that the beast, despite some faint signs of past dissipation,
was amiable-looking--in fact, a kind of blond Samson whose corn-
colored, silken beard apparently had never yet known the touch of
barber's razor or Delilah's shears. So that the cutting speech
which quivered on her ready tongue died upon her lips, and she
contented herself with receiving his stammering apology with
supercilious eyelids and the gathered skirts of uncontamination.
When she re-entered the schoolroom, her eyes fell upon the azaleas
with a new sense of revelation. And then she laughed, and the
little people all laughed, and they were all unconsciously very
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