Part 3 out of 7
slight resemblance in its round red cheeks and mild blue eyes to
Clytemnestra. It became evident before long that Mliss had also
noticed the same resemblance. Accordingly she hammered its waxen
head on the rocks when she was alone, and sometimes dragged it with
a string round its neck to and from school. At other times,
setting it up on her desk, she made a pincushion of its patient and
inoffensive body. Whether this was done in revenge of what she
considered a second figurative obtrusion of Clytie's excellences
upon her, or whether she had an intuitive appreciation of the rites
of certain other heathens, and, indulging in that "fetish"
ceremony, imagined that the original of her wax model would pine
away and finally die, is a metaphysical question I shall not now
In spite of these moral vagaries, the master could not help
noticing in her different tasks the working of a quick, restless,
and vigorous perception. She knew neither the hesitancy nor the
doubts of childhood. Her answers in class were always slightly
dashed with audacity. Of course she was not infallible. But her
courage and daring in passing beyond her own depth and that of the
floundering little swimmers around her, in their minds outweighed
all errors of judgment. Children are not better than grown people
in this respect, I fancy; and whenever the little red hand flashed
above her desk, there was a wondering silence, and even the master
was sometimes oppressed with a doubt of his own experience and
Nevertheless, certain attributes which at first amused and
entertained his fancy began to afflict him with grave doubts. He
could not but see that Mliss was revengeful, irreverent, and
willful. That there was but one better quality which pertained to
her semisavage disposition--the faculty of physical fortitude and
self-sacrifice, and another, though not always an attribute of the
noble savage--Truth. Mliss was both fearless and sincere; perhaps
in such a character the adjectives were synonymous.
The master had been doing some hard thinking on this subject, and
had arrived at that conclusion quite common to all who think
sincerely, that he was generally the slave of his own prejudices,
when he determined to call on the Rev. McSnagley for advice. This
decision was somewhat humiliating to his pride, as he and McSnagley
were not friends. But he thought of Mliss, and the evening of
their first meeting; and perhaps with a pardonable superstition
that it was not chance alone that had guided her willful feet to
the schoolhouse, and perhaps with a complacent consciousness of the
rare magnanimity of the act, he choked back his dislike and went to
The reverend gentleman was glad to see him. Moreover, he observed
that the master was looking "peartish," and hoped he had got over
the "neuralgy" and "rheumatiz." He himself had been troubled with
a dumb "ager" since last conference. But he had learned to "rastle
Pausing a moment to enable the master to write his certain method
of curing the dumb "ager" upon the book and volume of his brain,
Mr. McSnagley proceeded to inquire after Sister Morpher. "She is
an adornment to ChrisTEWanity, and has a likely growin' young
family," added Mr. McSnagley; "and there's that mannerly young gal-
-so well behaved--Miss Clytie." In fact, Clytie's perfections
seemed to affect him to such an extent that he dwelt for several
minutes upon them. The master was doubly embarrassed. In the
first place, there was an enforced contrast with poor Mliss in all
this praise of Clytie. Secondly, there was something unpleasantly
confidential in his tone of speaking of Mrs. Morpher's earliest
born. So that the master, after a few futile efforts to say
something natural, found it convenient to recall another
engagement, and left without asking the information required, but
in his after reflections somewhat unjustly giving the Rev. Mr.
McSnagley the full benefit of having refused it.
Perhaps this rebuff placed the master and pupil once more in the
close communion of old. The child seemed to notice the change in
the master's manner, which had of late been constrained, and in one
of their long postprandial walks she stopped suddenly, and mounting
a stump, looked full in his face with big, searching eyes. "You
ain't mad?" said she, with an interrogative shake of the black
braids. "No." "Nor bothered?" "No." "Nor hungry?" (Hunger was
to Mliss a sickness that might attack a person at any moment.)
"No." "Nor thinking of her?" "Of whom, Lissy?" "That white
girl." (This was the latest epithet invented by Mliss, who was a
very dark brunette, to express Clytemnestra.) "No." "Upon your
word?" (A substitute for "Hope you'll die!" proposed by the
master.) "Yes." "And sacred honor?" "Yes." Then Mliss gave him
a fierce little kiss, and, hopping down, fluttered off. For two or
three days after that she condescended to appear more like other
children, and be, as she expressed it, "good."
Two years had passed since the master's advent at Smith's Pocket,
and as his salary was not large, and the prospects of Smith's
Pocket eventually becoming the capital of the State not entirely
definite, he contemplated a change. He had informed the school
trustees privately of his intentions, but educated young men of
unblemished moral character being scarce at that time, he consented
to continue his school term through the winter to early spring.
None else knew of his intention except his one friend, a Dr.
Duchesne, a young Creole physician known to the people of Wingdam
as "Duchesny." He never mentioned it to Mrs. Morpher, Clytie, or
any of his scholars. His reticence was partly the result of a
constitutional indisposition to fuss, partly a desire to be spared
the questions and surmises of vulgar curiosity, and partly that he
never really believed he was going to do anything before it was
He did not like to think of Mliss. It was a selfish instinct,
perhaps, which made him try to fancy his feeling for the child was
foolish, romantic, and unpractical. He even tried to imagine that
she would do better under the control of an older and sterner
teacher. Then she was nearly eleven, and in a few years, by the
rules of Red Mountain, would be a woman. He had done his duty.
After Smith's death he addressed letters to Smith's relatives, and
received one answer from a sister of Melissa's mother. Thanking
the master, she stated her intention of leaving the Atlantic States
for California with her husband in a few months. This was a slight
superstructure for the airy castle which the master pictured for
Mliss's home, but it was easy to fancy that some loving,
sympathetic woman, with the claims of kindred, might better guide
her wayward nature. Yet, when the master had read the letter,
Mliss listened to it carelessly, received it submissively, and
afterward cut figures out of it with her scissors, supposed to
represent Clytemnestra, labeled "the white girl," to prevent
mistakes, and impaled them upon the outer walls of the schoolhouse.
When the summer was about spent, and the last harvest had been
gathered in the valleys, the master bethought him of gathering in a
few ripened shoots of the young idea, and of having his Harvest
Home, or Examination. So the savants and professionals of Smith's
Pocket were gathered to witness that time-honored custom of placing
timid children in a constrained positions and bullying them as in a
witness box. As usual in such cases, the most audacious and self-
possessed were the lucky recipients of the honors. The reader will
imagine that in the present instance Mliss and Clytie were
preeminent, and divided public attention; Mliss with her clearness
of material perception and self-reliance, Clytie with her placid
self-esteem and saintlike correctness of deportment. The other
little ones were timid and blundering. Mliss's readiness and
brilliancy, of course, captivated the greatest number and provoked
the greatest applause. Mliss's antecedents had unconsciously
awakened the strongest sympathies of a class whose athletic forms
were ranged against the walls, or whose handsome bearded faces
looked in at the windows. But Mliss's popularity was overthrown by
an unexpected circumstance.
McSnagley had invited himself, and had been going through the
pleasing entertainment of frightening the more timid pupils by the
vaguest and most ambiguous questions delivered in an impressive
funereal tone; and Mliss had soared into astronomy, and was
tracking the course of our spotted ball through space, and keeping
time with the music of the spheres, and defining the tethered
orbits of the planets, when McSnagley impressively arose.
"Meelissy! ye were speaking of the revolutions of this yere yearth
and the move-MENTS of the sun, and I think ye said it had been a
doing of it since the creashun, eh?" Mliss nodded a scornful
affirmative. "Well, war that the truth?" said McSnagley, folding
his arms. "Yes," said Mliss, shutting up her little red lips
tightly. The handsome outlines at the windows peered further in
the schoolroom, and a saintly Raphael face, with blond beard and
soft blue eyes, belonging to the biggest scamp in the diggings,
turned toward the child and whispered, "Stick to it, Mliss!" The
reverend gentleman heaved a deep sigh, and cast a compassionate
glance at the master, then at the children, and then rested his
look on Clytie. That young woman softly elevated her round, white
arm. Its seductive curves were enhanced by a gorgeous and massive
specimen bracelet, the gift of one of her humblest worshipers, worn
in honor of the occasion. There was a momentary silence. Clytie's
round cheeks were very pink and soft. Clytie's big eyes were very
bright and blue. Clytie's low-necked white book muslin rested
softly on Clytie's white, plump shoulders. Clytie looked at the
master, and the master nodded. Then Clytie spoke softly:
"Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and it obeyed him!"
There was a low hum of applause in the schoolroom, a triumphant
expression on McSnagley's face, a grave shadow on the master's, and
a comical look of disappointment reflected from the windows. Mliss
skimmed rapidly over her astronomy, and then shut the book with a
loud snap. A groan burst from McSnagley, an expression of
astonishment from the schoolroom, a yell from the windows, as Mliss
brought her red fist down on the desk, with the emphatic
"It's a damn lie. I don't believe it!"
The long wet season had drawn near its close. Signs of spring were
visible in the swelling buds and rushing torrents. The pine
forests exhaled the fresher spicery. The azaleas were already
budding, the ceanothus getting ready its lilac livery for spring.
On the green upland which climbed Red Mountain at its southern
aspect the long spike of the monkshood shot up from its broad-
leaved stool, and once more shook its dark-blue bells. Again the
billow above Smith's grave was soft and green, its crest just
tossed with the foam of daisies and buttercups. The little
graveyard had gathered a few new dwellers in the past year, and the
mounds were placed two by two by the little paling until they
reached Smith's grave, and there there was but one. General
superstition had shunned it, and the plot beside Smith was vacant.
There had been several placards posted about the town, intimating
that, at a certain period, a celebrated dramatic company would
perform, for a few days, a series of "side-splitting" and
"screaming farces"; that, alternating pleasantly with this, there
would be some melodrama and a grand divertisement which would
include singing, dancing, etc. These announcements occasioned a
great fluttering among the little folk, and were the theme of much
excitement and great speculation among the master's scholars. The
master had promised Mliss, to whom this sort of thing was sacred
and rare, that she should go, and on that momentous evening the
master and Mliss "assisted."
The performance was the prevalent style of heavy mediocrity; the
melodrama was not bad enough to laugh at nor good enough to excite.
But the master, turning wearily to the child, was astonished and
felt something like self-accusation in noticing the peculiar effect
upon her excitable nature. The red blood flushed in her cheeks at
each stroke of her panting little heart. Her small passionate lips
were slightly parted to give vent to her hurried breath. Her
widely opened lids threw up and arched her black eyebrows. She did
not laugh at the dismal comicalities of the funny man, for Mliss
seldom laughed. Nor was she discreetly affected to the delicate
extremes of the corner of a white handkerchief, as was the tender-
hearted "Clytie," who was talking with her "feller" and ogling the
master at the same moment. But when the performance was over, and
the green curtain fell on the little stage, Mliss drew a long deep
breath, and turned to the master's grave face with a half-
apologetic smile and wearied gesture. Then she said, "Now take me
home!" and dropped the lids of her black eyes, as if to dwell once
more in fancy on the mimic stage.
On their way to Mrs. Morpher's the master thought proper to
ridicule the whole performance. Now he shouldn't wonder if Mliss
thought that the young lady who acted so beautifully was really in
earnest, and in love with the gentleman who wore such fine clothes.
Well, if she were in love with him it was a very unfortunate thing!
"Why?" said Mliss, with an upward sweep of the drooping lid. "Oh!
well, he couldn't support his wife at his present salary, and pay
so much a week for his fine clothes, and then they wouldn't receive
as much wages if they were married as if they were merely lovers--
that is," added the master, "if they are not already married to
somebody else; but I think the husband of the pretty young countess
takes the tickets at the door, or pulls up the curtain, or snuffs
the candles, or does something equally refined and elegant. As to
the young man with nice clothes, which are really nice now, and
must cost at least two and a half or three dollars, not to speak of
that mantle of red drugget which I happen to know the price of, for
I bought some of it for my room once--as to this young man, Lissy,
he is a pretty good fellow, and if he does drink occasionally, I
don't think people ought to take advantage of it and give him black
eyes and throw him in the mud. Do you? I am sure he might owe me
two dollars and a half a long time, before I would throw it up in
his face, as the fellow did the other night at Wingdam."
Mliss had taken his hand in both of hers and was trying to look in
his eyes, which the young man kept as resolutely averted. Mliss
had a faint idea of irony, indulging herself sometimes in a species
of sardonic humor, which was equally visible in her actions and her
speech. But the young man continued in this strain until they had
reached Mrs. Morpher's, and he had deposited Mliss in her maternal
charge. Waiving the invitation of Mrs. Morpher to refreshment and
rest, and shading his eyes with his hand to keep out the blue-eyed
Clytemnestra's siren glances, he excused himself, and went home.
For two or three days after the advent of the dramatic company,
Mliss was late at school, and the master's usual Friday afternoon
ramble was for once omitted, owing to the absence of his
trustworthy guide. As he was putting away his books and preparing
to leave the schoolhouse, a small voice piped at his side, "Please,
sir?" The master turned and there stood Aristides Morpher.
"Well, my little man," said the master, impatiently, "what is it?
"Please, sir, me and 'Kerg' thinks that Mliss is going to run away
"What's that, sir?" said the master, with that unjust testiness
with which we always receive disagreeable news.
"Why, sir, she don't stay home any more, and 'Kerg' and me see her
talking with one of those actor fellers, and she's with him now;
and please, sir, yesterday she told 'Kerg' and me she could make a
speech as well as Miss Cellerstina Montmoressy, and she spouted
right off by heart," and the little fellow paused in a collapsed
"What actor?" asked the master.
"Him as wears the shiny hat. And hair. And gold pin. And gold
chain," said the just Aristides, putting periods for commas to eke
out his breath.
The master put on his gloves and hat, feeling an unpleasant
tightness in his chest and thorax, and walked out in the road.
Aristides trotted along by his side, endeavoring to keep pace with
his short legs to the master's strides, when the master stopped
suddenly, and Aristides bumped up against him. "Where were they
talking?" asked the master, as if continuing the conversation.
"At the Arcade," said Aristides.
When they reached the main street the master paused. "Run down
home," said he to the boy. "If Mliss is there, come to the Arcade
and tell me. If she isn't there, stay home; run!" And off trotted
the short-legged Aristides.
The Arcade was just across the way--a long, rambling building
containing a barroom, billiard room, and restaurant. As the young
man crossed the plaza he noticed that two or three of the passers-
by turned and looked after him. He looked at his clothes, took out
his handkerchief, and wiped his face before he entered the barroom.
It contained the usual number of loungers, who stared at him as he
entered. One of them looked at him so fixedly and with such a
strange expression that the master stopped and looked again, and
then saw it was only his own reflection in a large mirror. This
made the master think that perhaps he was a little excited, and so
he took up a copy of the RED MOUNTAIN BANNER from one of the
tables, and tried to recover his composure by reading the column of
He then walked through the barroom, through the restaurant, and
into the billiard room. The child was not there. In the latter
apartment a person was standing by one of the tables with a broad-
brimmed glazed hat on his head. The master recognized him as the
agent of the dramatic company; he had taken a dislike to him at
their first meeting, from the peculiar fashion of wearing his beard
and hair. Satisfied that the object of his search was not there,
he turned to the man with a glazed hat. He had noticed the master,
but tried that common trick of unconsciousness in which vulgar
natures always fail. Balancing a billiard cue in his hand, he
pretended to play with a ball in the center of the table. The
master stood opposite to him until he raised his eyes; when their
glances met, the master walked up to him.
He had intended to avoid a scene or quarrel, but when he began to
speak, something kept rising in his throat and retarded his
utterance, and his own voice frightened him, it sounded so distant,
low, and resonant. "I understand," he began, "that Melissa Smith,
an orphan, and one of my scholars, has talked with you about
adopting your profession. Is that so?"
The man with the glazed hat leaned over the table and made an
imaginary shot that sent the ball spinning round the cushions.
Then, walking round the table, he recovered the ball and placed it
upon the spot. This duty discharged, getting ready for another
shot, he said:
"S'pose she has?"
The master choked up again, but, squeezing the cushion of the table
in his gloved hand, he went on:
"If you are a gentleman, I have only to tell you that I am her
guardian, and responsible for her career. You know as well as I do
the kind of life you offer her. As you may learn of anyone here, I
have already brought her out of an existence worse than death--out
of the streets and the contamination of vice. I am trying to do so
again. Let us talk like men. She has neither father, mother,
sister, or brother. Are you seeking to give her an equivalent for
The man with the glazed hat examined the point of his cue, and then
looked around for somebody to enjoy the joke with him.
"I know that she is a strange, willful girl," continued the master,
"but she is better than she was. I believe that I have some
influence over her still. I beg and hope, therefore, that you will
take no further steps in this matter, but as a man, as a gentleman,
leave her to me. I am willing--" But here something rose again in
the master's throat, and the sentence remained unfinished.
The man with the glazed hat, mistaking the master's silence, raised
his head with a coarse, brutal laugh, and said in a loud voice:
"Want her yourself, do you? That cock won't fight here, young
The insult was more in the tone than in the words, more in the
glance than tone, and more in the man's instinctive nature than all
these. The best appreciable rhetoric to this kind of animal is a
blow. The master felt this, and, with his pent-up, nervous energy
finding expression in the one act, he struck the brute full in his
grinning face. The blow sent the glazed hat one way and the cue
another, and tore the glove and skin from the master's hand from
knuckle to joint. It opened up the corners of the fellow's mouth,
and spoilt the peculiar shape of his beard for some time to come.
There was a shout, an imprecation, a scuffle, and the trampling of
many feet. Then the crowd parted right and left, and two sharp
quick reports followed each other in rapid succession. Then they
closed again about his opponent, and the master was standing alone.
He remembered picking bits of burning wadding from his coat sleeve
with his left hand. Someone was holding his other hand. Looking
at it, he saw it was still bleeding from the blow, but his fingers
were clenched around the handle of a glittering knife. He could
not remember when or how he got it.
The man who was holding his hand was Mr. Morpher. He hurried the
master to the door, but the master held back, and tried to tell him
as well as he could with his parched throat about "Mliss." "It's
all right, my boy," said Mr. Morpher. "She's home!" And they
passed out into the street together. As they walked along Mr.
Morpher said that Mliss had come running into the house a few
moments before, and had dragged him out, saying that somebody was
trying to kill the master at the Arcade. Wishing to be alone, the
master promised Mr. Morpher that he would not seek the agent again
that night, and parted from him, taking the road toward the
schoolhouse. He was surprised in nearing it to find the door open-
-still more surprised to find Mliss sitting there.
The master's nature, as I have hinted before, had, like most
sensitive organizations, a selfish basis. The brutal taunt thrown
out by his late adversary still rankled in his heart. It was
possible, he thought, that such a construction might be put upon
his affection for the child, which at best was foolish and
Quixotic. Besides, had she not voluntarily abnegated his authority
and affection? And what had everybody else said about her? Why
should he alone combat the opinion of all, and be at last obliged
tacitly to confess the truth of all they predicted? And he had
been a participant in a low barroom fight with a common boor, and
risked his life, to prove what? What had he proved? Nothing?
What would the people say? What would his friends say? What would
In his self-accusation the last person he should have wished to
meet was Mliss. He entered the door, and going up to his desk,
told the child, in a few cold words, that he was busy, and wished
to be alone. As she rose he took her vacant seat, and, sitting
down, buried his head in his hands. When he looked up again she
was still standing there. She was looking at his face with an
"Did you kill him?" she asked.
"No!" said the master.
"That's what I gave you the knife for!" said the child, quickly.
"Gave me the knife?" repeated the master, in bewilderment.
"Yes, gave you the knife. I was there under the bar. Saw you hit
him. Saw you both fall. He dropped his old knife. I gave it to
you. Why didn't you stick him?" said Mliss rapidly, with an
expressive twinkle of the black eyes and a gesture of the little
The master could only look his astonishment.
"Yes," said Mliss. "If you'd asked me, I'd told you I was off with
the play-actors. Why was I off with the play-actors? Because you
wouldn't tell me you was going away. I knew it. I heard you tell
the Doctor so. I wasn't a goin' to stay here alone with those
Morphers. I'd rather die first."
With a dramatic gesture which was perfectly consistent with her
character, she drew from her bosom a few limp green leaves, and,
holding them out at arm's length, said in her quick vivid way, and
in the queer pronunciation of her old life, which she fell into
when unduly excited:
"That's the poison plant you said would kill me. I'll go with the
play-actors, or I'll eat this and die here. I don't care which. I
won't stay here, where they hate and despise me! Neither would you
let me, if you didn't hate and despise me too!"
The passionate little breast heaved, and two big tears peeped over
the edge of Mliss's eyelids, but she whisked them away with the
corner of her apron as if they had been wasps.
"If you lock me up in jail," said Mliss, fiercely, "to keep me from
the play-actors, I'll poison myself. Father killed himself--why
shouldn't I? You said a mouthful of that root would kill me, and I
always carry it here," and she struck her breast with her clenched
The master thought of the vacant plot beside Smith's grave, and of
the passionate little figure before him. Seizing her hands in his
and looking full into her truthful eyes, he said:
"Lissy, will you go with ME?"
The child put her arms around his neck, and said joyfully, "Yes."
And, hand in hand, they passed into the road--the narrow road that
had once brought her weary feet to the master's door, and which it
seemed she should not tread again alone. The stars glittered
brightly above them. For good or ill the lesson had been learned,
and behind them the school of Red Mountain closed upon them
THE RIGHT EYE OF THE COMMANDER
The year of grace 1797 passed away on the coast of California in a
southwesterly gale. The little bay of San Carlos, albeit sheltered
by the headlands of the blessed Trinity, was rough and turbulent;
its foam clung quivering to the seaward wall of the Mission garden;
the air was filled with flying sand and spume, and as the Senor
Commandante, Hermenegildo Salvatierra, looked from the deep
embrasured window of the Presidio guardroom, he felt the salt
breath of the distant sea buffet a color into his smoke-dried
The Commander, I have said, was gazing thoughtfully from the window
of the guardroom. He may have been reviewing the events of the
year now about to pass away. But, like the garrison at the
Presidio, there was little to review; the year, like its
predecessors, had been uneventful--the days had slipped by in a
delicious monotony of simple duties, unbroken by incident or
interruption. The regularly recurring feasts and saints' days, the
half-yearly courier from San Diego, the rare transport ship and
rarer foreign vessel, were the mere details of his patriarchal
life. If there was no achievement, there was certainly no failure.
Abundant harvests and patient industry amply supplied the wants of
Presidio and Mission. Isolated from the family of nations, the
wars which shook the world concerned them not so much as the last
earthquake; the struggle that emancipated their sister colonies on
the other side of the continent to them had no suggestiveness. In
short, it was that glorious Indian summer of California history
around which so much poetical haze still lingers--that bland,
indolent autumn of Spanish rule, so soon to be followed by the
wintry storms of Mexican independence and the reviving spring of
The Commander turned from the window and walked toward the fire
that burned brightly on the deep ovenlike hearth. A pile of
copybooks, the work of the Presidio school, lay on the table. As
he turned over the leaves with a paternal interest, and surveyed
the fair round Scripture text--the first pious pothooks of the
pupils of San Carlos--an audible commentary fell from his lips:
"'Abimelech took her from Abraham'--ah, little one, excellent!--
'Jacob sent to see his brother'--body of Christ! that upstroke of
thine, Paquita, is marvelous; the Governor shall see it!" A film
of honest pride dimmed the Commander's left eye--the right, alas!
twenty years before had been sealed by an Indian arrow. He rubbed
it softly with the sleeve of his leather jacket, and continued:
"'The Ishmaelites having arrived--'"
He stopped, for there was a step in the courtyard, a foot upon the
threshold, and a stranger entered. With the instinct of an old
soldier, the Commander, after one glance at the intruder, turned
quickly toward the wall, where his trusty Toledo hung, or should
have been hanging. But it was not there, and as he recalled that
the last time he had seen that weapon it was being ridden up and
down the gallery by Pepito, the infant son of Bautista, the
tortilla-maker, he blushed and then contented himself with frowning
upon the intruder.
But the stranger's air, though irreverent, was decidedly peaceful.
He was unarmed, and wore the ordinary cape of tarpaulin and sea
boots of a mariner. Except a villainous smell of codfish, there
was little about him that was peculiar.
His name, as he informed the Commander, in Spanish that was more
fluent than elegant or precise--his name was Peleg Scudder. He was
master of the schooner GENERAL COURT, of the port of Salem in
Massachusetts, on a trading voyage to the South Seas, but now
driven by stress of weather into the bay of San Carlos. He begged
permission to ride out the gale under the headlands of the blessed
Trinity, and no more. Water he did not need, having taken in a
supply at Bodega. He knew the strict surveillance of the Spanish
port regulations in regard to foreign vessels, and would do nothing
against the severe discipline and good order of the settlement.
There was a slight tinge of sarcasm in his tone as he glanced
toward the desolate parade ground of the Presidio and the open
unguarded gate. The fact was that the sentry, Felipe Gomez, had
discreetly retired to shelter at the beginning of the storm, and
was then sound asleep in the corridor.
The Commander hesitated. The port regulations were severe, but he
was accustomed to exercise individual authority, and beyond an old
order issued ten years before, regarding the American ship
COLUMBIA, there was no precedent to guide him. The storm was
severe, and a sentiment of humanity urged him to grant the
stranger's request. It is but just to the Commander to say that
his inability to enforce a refusal did not weigh with his decision.
He would have denied with equal disregard of consequences that
right to a seventy-four-gun ship which he now yielded so gracefully
to this Yankee trading schooner. He stipulated only that there
should be no communication between the ship and shore. "For
yourself, Senor Captain," he continued, "accept my hospitality.
The fort is yours as long as you shall grace it with your
distinguished presence"; and with old-fashioned courtesy, he made
the semblance of withdrawing from the guardroom.
Master Peleg Scudder smiled as he thought of the half-dismantled
fort, the two moldy brass cannon, cast in Manila a century
previous. and the shiftless garrison. A wild thought of accepting
the Commander's offer literally, conceived in the reckless spirit
of a man who never let slip an offer for trade, for a moment filled
his brain, but a timely reflection of the commercial unimportance
of the transaction checked him. He only took a capacious quid of
tobacco as the Commander gravely drew a settle before the fire, and
in honor of his guest untied the black-silk handkerchief that bound
his grizzled brows.
What passed between Salvatierra and his guest that night it becomes
me not, as a grave chronicler of the salient points of history, to
relate. I have said that Master Peleg Scudder was a fluent talker,
and under the influence of divers strong waters, furnished by his
host, he became still more loquacious. And think of a man with a
twenty years' budget of gossip! The Commander learned, for the
first time, how Great Britain lost her colonies; of the French
Revolution; of the great Napoleon, whose achievements, perhaps,
Peleg colored more highly than the Commander's superiors would have
liked. And when Peleg turned questioner, the Commander was at his
mercy. He gradually made himself master of the gossip of the
Mission and Presidio, the "small-beer" chronicles of that pastoral
age, the conversion of the heathen, the Presidio schools, and even
asked the Commander how he had lost his eye! It is said that at
this point of the conversation Master Peleg produced from about his
person divers small trinkets, kickshaws, and newfangled trifles,
and even forced some of them upon his host. It is further alleged
that under the malign influence of Peleg and several glasses of
aguardiente, the Commander lost somewhat of his decorum, and
behaved in a manner unseemly for one in his position, reciting
high-flown Spanish poetry, and even piping in a thin, high voice
divers madrigals and heathen canzonets of an amorous complexion;
chiefly in regard to a "little one" who was his, the Commander's,
"soul"! These allegations, perhaps unworthy the notice of a
serious chronicler, should be received with great caution, and are
introduced here as simple hearsay. That the Commander, however,
took a handkerchief and attempted to show his guest the mysteries
of the SEMICUACUA, capering in an agile but indecorous manner about
the apartment, has been denied. Enough for the purposes of this
narrative that at midnight Peleg assisted his host to bed with many
protestations of undying friendship, and then, as the gale had
abated, took his leave of the Presidio and hurried aboard the
GENERAL COURT. When the day broke the ship was gone.
I know not if Peleg kept his word with his host. It is said that
the holy fathers at the Mission that night heard a loud chanting in
the plaza, as of the heathens singing psalms through their noses;
that for many days after an odor of salt codfish prevailed in the
settlement; that a dozen hard nutmegs, which were unfit for spice
or seed, were found in the possession of the wife of the baker, and
that several bushels of shoe pegs, which bore a pleasing
resemblance to oats, but were quite inadequate to the purposes of
provender, were discovered in the stable of the blacksmith. But
when the reader reflects upon the sacredness of a Yankee trader's
word, the stringent discipline of the Spanish port regulations, and
the proverbial indisposition of my countrymen to impose upon the
confidence of a simple people, he will at once reject this part of
A roll of drums, ushering in the year 1798, awoke the Commander.
The sun was shining brightly, and the storm had ceased. He sat up
in bed, and through the force of habit rubbed his left eye. As the
remembrance of the previous night came back to him, he jumped from
his couch and ran to the window. There was no ship in the bay. A
sudden thought seemed to strike him, and he rubbed both of his
eyes. Not content with this, he consulted the metallic mirror
which hung beside his crucifix. There was no mistake; the
Commander had a visible second eye--a right one--as good, save for
the purposes of vision, as the left.
Whatever might have been the true secret of this transformation,
but one opinion prevailed at San Carlos. It was one of those rare
miracles vouchsafed a pious Catholic community as an evidence to
the heathen, through the intercession of the blessed San Carlos
himself. That their beloved Commander, the temporal defender of
the Faith, should be the recipient of this miraculous manifestation
was most fit and seemly. The Commander himself was reticent; he
could not tell a falsehood--he dared not tell the truth. After
all, if the good folk of San Carlos believed that the powers of his
right eye were actually restored, was it wise and discreet for him
to undeceive them? For the first time in his life the Commander
thought of policy--for the first time he quoted that text which has
been the lure of so many well-meaning but easy Christians, of being
"all things to all men." Infeliz Hermenegildo Salvatierra!
For by degrees an ominous whisper crept though the little
settlement. The Right Eye of the Commander, although miraculous,
seemed to exercise a baleful effect upon the beholder. No one
could look at it without winking. It was cold, hard, relentless,
and unflinching. More than that, it seemed to be endowed with a
dreadful prescience--a faculty of seeing through and into the
inarticulate thoughts of those it looked upon. The soldiers of the
garrison obeyed the eye rather than the voice of their commander,
and answered his glance rather than his lips in questioning. The
servants could not evade the ever watchful but cold attention that
seemed to pursue them. The children of the Presidio school
smirched their copybooks under the awful supervision, and poor
Paquita, the prize pupil, failed utterly in that marvelous upstroke
when her patron stood beside her. Gradually distrust, suspicion,
self-accusation, and timidity took the place of trust, confidence,
and security throughout San Carlos. Whenever the Right Eye of the
Commander fell, a shadow fell with it.
Nor was Salvatierra entirely free from the baleful influence of his
miraculous acquisition. Unconscious of its effect upon others, he
only saw in their actions evidence of certain things that the
crafty Peleg had hinted on that eventful New Year's eve. His most
trusty retainers stammered, blushed, and faltered before him.
Self-accusations, confessions of minor faults and delinquencies, or
extravagant excuses and apologies met his mildest inquiries. The
very children that he loved--his pet pupil, Paquita--seemed to be
conscious of some hidden sin. The result of this constant
irritation showed itself more plainly. For the first half-year the
Commander's voice and eye were at variance. He was still kind,
tender, and thoughtful in speech. Gradually, however, his voice
took upon itself the hardness of his glance and its skeptical,
impassive quality, and as the year again neared its close it was
plain that the Commander had fitted himself to the eye, and not the
eye to the Commander.
It may be surmised that these changes did not escape the watchful
solicitude of the Fathers. Indeed, the few who were first to
ascribe the right eye of Salvatierra to miraculous origin and the
special grace of the blessed San Carlos, now talked openly of
witchcraft and the agency of Luzbel, the evil one. It would have
fared ill with Hermenegildo Salvatierra had he been aught but
Commander or amenable to local authority. But the reverend father,
Friar Manuel de Cortes, had no power over the political executive,
and all attempts at spiritual advice failed signally. He retired
baffled and confused from his first interview with the Commander,
who seemed now to take a grim satisfaction in the fateful power of
his glance. The holy Father contradicted himself, exposed the
fallacies of his own arguments, and even, it is asserted, committed
himself to several undoubted heresies. When the Commander stood up
at mass, if the officiating priest caught that skeptical and
searching eye, the service was inevitably ruined. Even the power
of the Holy Church seemed to be lost, and the last hold upon the
affections of the people and the good order of the settlement
departed from San Carlos.
As the long dry summer passed, the low hills that surrounded the
white walls of the Presidio grew more and more to resemble in hue
the leathern jacket of the Commander, and Nature herself seemed to
have borrowed his dry, hard glare. The earth was cracked and
seamed with drought; a blight had fallen upon the orchards and
vineyards, and the rain, long-delayed and ardently prayed for, came
not. The sky was as tearless as the right eye of the Commander.
Murmurs of discontent, insubordination, and plotting among the
Indians reached his ears; he only set his teeth the more firmly,
tightened the knot of his black-silk handkerchief, and looked up
The last day of the year 1798 found the Commander sitting, at the
hour of evening prayers, alone in the guardroom. He no longer
attended the services of the Holy Church, but crept away at such
times to some solitary spot, where he spent the interval in silent
meditation. The firelight played upon the low beams and rafters,
but left the bowed figure of Salvatierra in darkness. Sitting
thus, he felt a small hand touch his arm, and looking down, saw the
figure of Paquita, his little Indian pupil, at his knee. "Ah,
littlest of all," said the Commander, with something of his old
tenderness, lingering over the endearing diminutives of his native
speech--"sweet one, what doest thou here? Art thou not afraid of
him whom everyone shuns and fears?"
"No," said the little Indian, readily, "not in the dark. I hear
your voice--the old voice; I feel your touch--the old touch; but I
see not your eye, Senor Commandante. That only I fear--and that, O
senor, O my father," said the child, lifting her little arms
towards his--"that I know is not thine own!"
The Commander shuddered and turned away. Then, recovering himself,
he kissed Paquita gravely on the forehead and bade her retire. A
few hours later, when silence had fallen upon the Presidio, he
sought his own couch and slept peacefully.
At about the middle watch of the night a dusky figure crept through
the low embrasure of the Commander's apartment. Other figures were
flitting through the parade ground, which the Commander might have
seen had he not slept so quietly. The intruder stepped noiselessly
to the couch and listened to the sleeper's deep-drawn inspiration.
Something glittered in the firelight as the savage lifted his arm;
another moment and the sore perplexities of Hermenegildo
Salvatierra would have been over, when suddenly the savage started
and fell back in a paroxysm of terror. The Commander slept
peacefully, but his right eye, widely opened, fixed and unaltered,
glared coldly on the would-be assassin. The man fell to the earth
in a fit, and the noise awoke the sleeper.
To rise to his feet, grasp his sword, and deal blows thick and fast
upon the mutinous savages who now thronged the room was the work of
a moment. Help opportunely arrived, and the undisciplined Indians
were speedily driven beyond the walls, but in the scuffle the
Commander received a blow upon his right eye, and, lifting his hand
to that mysterious organ, it was gone. Never again was it found,
and never again, for bale or bliss, did it adorn the right orbit of
With it passed away the spell that had fallen upon San Carlos. The
rain returned to invigorate the languid soil, harmony was restored
between priest and soldier, the green grass presently waved over
the sere hillsides, the children flocked again to the side of their
martial preceptor, a TE DEUM was sung in the Mission Church, and
pastoral content once more smiled upon the gentle valleys of San
Carlos. And far southward crept the GENERAL COURT with its master,
Peleg Scudder, trafficking in beads and peltries with the Indians,
and offering glass eyes, wooden legs, and other Boston notions to
NOTES BY FLOOD AND FIELD
PART I--IN THE FIELD
It was near the close of an October day that I began to be
disagreeably conscious of the Sacramento Valley. I had been riding
since sunrise, and my course through the depressing monotony of the
long level landscape affected me more like a dull dyspeptic dream
than a business journey, performed under that sincerest of natural
phenomena--a California sky. The recurring stretches of brown and
baked fields, the gaping fissures in the dusty trail, the hard
outline of the distant hills, and the herds of slowly moving
cattle, seemed like features of some glittering stereoscopic
picture that never changed. Active exercise might have removed
this feeling, but my horse by some subtle instinct had long since
given up all ambitious effort, and had lapsed into a dogged trot.
It was autumn, but not the season suggested to the Atlantic reader
under that title. The sharply defined boundaries of the wet and
dry seasons were prefigured in the clear outlines of the distant
hills. In the dry atmosphere the decay of vegetation was too rapid
for the slow hectic which overtakes an Eastern landscape, or else
Nature was too practical for such thin disguises. She merely
turned the Hippocratic face to the spectator, with the old
diagnosis of Death in her sharp, contracted features.
In the contemplation of such a prospect there was little to excite
any but a morbid fancy. There were no clouds in the flinty blue
heavens, and the setting of the sun was accompanied with as little
ostentation as was consistent with the dryly practical atmosphere.
Darkness soon followed, with a rising wind, which increased as the
shadows deepened on the plain. The fringe of alder by the
watercourse began to loom up as I urged my horse forward. A half-
hour's active spurring brought me to a corral, and a little beyond
a house, so low and broad it seemed at first sight to be half-
buried in the earth.
My second impression was that it had grown out of the soil, like
some monstrous vegetable, its dreary proportions were so in keeping
with the vast prospect. There were no recesses along its roughly
boarded walls for vagrant and unprofitable shadows to lurk in the
daily sunshine. No projection for the wind by night to grow
musical over, to wail, whistle, or whisper to; only a long wooden
shelf containing a chilly-looking tin basin and a bar of soap. Its
uncurtained windows were red with the sinking sun, as though
bloodshot and inflamed from a too-long unlidded existence. The
tracks of cattle led to its front door, firmly closed against the
To avoid being confounded with this familiar element, I walked to
the rear of the house, which was connected with a smaller building
by a slight platform. A grizzled, hard-faced old man was standing
there, and met my salutation with a look of inquiry, and, without
speaking, led the way to the principal room. As I entered, four
young men who were reclining by the fire slightly altered their
attitudes of perfect repose, but beyond that betrayed neither
curiosity nor interest. A hound started from a dark corner with a
growl, but was immediately kicked by the old man into obscurity,
and silenced again. I can't tell why, but I instantly received the
impression that for a long time the group by the fire had not
uttered a word or moved a muscle. Taking a seat, I briefly stated
Was a United States surveyor. Had come on account of the Espiritu
Santo Rancho. Wanted to correct the exterior boundaries of
township lines, so as to connect with the near exteriors of private
grants. There had been some intervention to the old survey by a
Mr. Tryan who had preempted adjacent--"settled land warrants,"
interrupted the old man. "Ah, yes! Land warrants--and then this
was Mr. Tryan?"
I had spoken mechanically, for I was preoccupied in connecting
other public lines with private surveys as I looked in his face.
It was certainly a hard face, and reminded me of the singular
effect of that mining operation known as "ground sluicing"; the
harder lines of underlying character were exposed, and what were
once plastic curves and soft outlines were obliterated by some
There was a dryness in his voice not unlike the prevailing
atmosphere of the valley, as he launched into an EX PARTE statement
of the contest, with a fluency, which, like the wind without,
showed frequent and unrestrained expression. He told me--what I
had already learned--that the boundary line of the old Spanish
grant was a creek, described in the loose phraseology of the DESENO
as beginning in the VALDA or skirt of the hill, its precise
location long the subject of litigation. I listened and answered
with little interest, for my mind was still distracted by the wind
which swept violently by the house, as well as by his odd face,
which was again reflected in the resemblance that the silent group
by the fire bore toward him. He was still talking, and the wind
was yet blowing, when my confused attention was aroused by a remark
addressed to the recumbent figures.
"Now, then, which on ye'll see the stranger up the creek to
There was a general movement of opposition in the group, but no
"Kin you go, Kerg?"
"Who's to look up stock in Strarberry perar-ie?"
This seemed to imply a negative, and the old man turned to another
hopeful, who was pulling the fur from a mangy bearskin on which he
was lying, with an expression as though it were somebody's hair.
"Well, Tom, wot's to hinder you from goin'?"
"Mam's goin' to Brown's store at sunup, and I s'pose I've got to
pack her and the baby agin."
I think the expression of scorn this unfortunate youth exhibited
for the filial duty into which he had been evidently beguiled was
one of the finest things I had ever seen.
Wise deigned no verbal reply, but figuratively thrust a worn and
patched boot into the discourse. The old man flushed quickly.
"I told ye to get Brown to give you a pair the last time you war
down the river."
"Said he wouldn't without'en order. Said it was like pulling gum
teeth to get the money from you even then."
There was a grim smile at this local hit at the old man's
parsimony, and Wise, who was clearly the privileged wit of the
family, sank back in honorable retirement.
"Well, Joe, ef your boots are new, and you aren't pestered with
wimmin and children, p'r'aps you'll go," said Tryan, with a nervous
twitching, intended for a smile, about a mouth not remarkably
Tom lifted a pair of bushy eyebrows, and said shortly:
"Got no saddle."
"Wot's gone of your saddle?"
"Kerg, there"--indicating his brother with a look such as Cain
might have worn at the sacrifice.
"You lie!" returned Kerg, cheerfully.
Tryan sprang to his feet, seizing the chair, flourishing it around
his head and gazing furiously in the hard young faces which
fearlessly met his own. But it was only for a moment; his arm soon
dropped by his side, and a look of hopeless fatality crossed his
face. He allowed me to take the chair from his hand, and I was
trying to pacify him by the assurance that I required no guide when
the irrepressible Wise again lifted his voice:
"Theer's George comin'! why don't ye ask him? He'll go and
introduce you to Don Fernandy's darter, too, ef you ain't
The laugh which followed this joke, which evidently had some
domestic allusion (the general tendency of rural pleasantry), was
followed by a light step on the platform, and the young man
entered. Seeing a stranger present, he stopped and colored, made a
shy salute and colored again, and then, drawing a box from the
corner, sat down, his hands clasped lightly together and his very
handsome bright blue eyes turned frankly on mine.
Perhaps I was in a condition to receive the romantic impression he
made upon me, and I took it upon myself to ask his company as
guide, and he cheerfully assented. But some domestic duty called
him presently away.
The fire gleamed brightly on the hearth, and, no longer resisting
the prevailing influence, I silently watched the spurting flame,
listening to the wind which continually shook the tenement.
Besides the one chair which had acquired a new importance in my
eyes, I presently discovered a crazy table in one corner, with an
ink bottle and pen; the latter in that greasy state of
decomposition peculiar to country taverns and farmhouses. A goodly
array of rifles and double-barreled guns stocked the corner; half a
dozen saddles and blankets lay near, with a mild flavor of the
horse about them. Some deer and bear skins completed the
inventory. As I sat there, with the silent group around me, the
shadowy gloom within and the dominant wind without, I found it
difficult to believe I had ever known a different existence. My
profession had often led me to wilder scenes, but rarely among
those whose unrestrained habits and easy unconsciousness made me
feel so lonely and uncomfortable I shrank closer to myself, not
without grave doubts--which I think occur naturally to people in
like situations--that this was the general rule of humanity and I
was a solitary and somewhat gratuitous exception. It was a relief
when a laconic announcement of supper by a weak-eyed girl caused a
general movement in the family. We walked across the dark
platform, which led to another low-ceiled room. Its entire length
was occupied by a table, at the farther end of which a weak-eyed
woman was already taking her repast as she at the same time gave
nourishment to a weak-eyed baby. As the formalities of
introduction had been dispensed with, and as she took no notice of
me, I was enabled to slip into a seat without discomposing or
interrupting her. Tryan extemporized a grace, and the attention of
the family became absorbed in bacon, potatoes, and dried apples.
The meal was a sincere one. Gentle gurglings at the upper end of
the table often betrayed the presence of the "wellspring of
pleasure." The conversation generally referred to the labors of
the day, and comparing notes as to the whereabouts of missing
stock. Yet the supper was such a vast improvement upon the
previous intellectual feast that when a chance allusion of mine to
the business of my visit brought out the elder Tryan, the interest
grew quite exciting. I remember he inveighed bitterly against the
system of ranch-holding by the "greasers," as he was pleased to
term the native Californians. As the same ideas have been
sometimes advanced under more pretentious circumstances they may be
worthy of record.
"Look at 'em holdin' the finest grazin' land that ever lay outer
doors. Whar's the papers for it? Was it grants? Mighty fine
grants--most of 'em made arter the 'Merrikans got possession. More
fools the 'Merrikans for lettin' 'em hold 'em. Wat paid for 'em?
'Merrikan and blood money.
"Didn't they oughter have suthin' out of their native country? Wot
for? Did they ever improve? Got a lot of yaller-skinned diggers,
not so sensible as niggers to look arter stock, and they a sittin'
home and smokin'. With their gold and silver candlesticks, and
missions, and crucifixens, priests and graven idols, and sich?
Them sort things wurent allowed in Mizzoori."
At the mention of improvements, I involuntarily lifted my eyes, and
met the half laughing, half embarrassed look of George. The act
did not escape detection, and I had at once the satisfaction of
seeing that the rest of the family had formed an offensive alliance
"It was agin Nater, and agin God," added Tryan. "God never
intended gold in the rocks to be made into heathen candlesticks and
crucifixens. That's why he sent 'Merrikans here. Nater never
intended such a climate for lazy lopers. She never gin six months'
sunshine to be slept and smoked away."
How long he continued and with what further illustration I could
not say, for I took an early opportunity to escape to the sitting-
room. I was soon followed by George, who called me to an open door
leading to a smaller room, and pointed to a bed.
"You'd better sleep there tonight," he said; "you'll be more
comfortable, and I'll call you early."
I thanked him, and would have asked him several questions which
were then troubling me, but he shyly slipped to the door and
A shadow seemed to fall on the room when he had gone. The "boys"
returned, one by one, and shuffled to their old places. A larger
log was thrown on the fire, and the huge chimney glowed like a
furnace, but it did not seem to melt or subdue a single line of the
hard faces that it lit. In half an hour later, the furs which had
served as chairs by day undertook the nightly office of mattresses,
and each received its owner's full-length figure. Mr. Tryan had
not returned, and I missed George. I sat there until, wakeful and
nervous, I saw the fire fall and shadows mount the wall. There was
no sound but the rushing of the wind and the snoring of the
sleepers. At last, feeling the place insupportable, I seized my
hat and opening the door, ran out briskly into the night.
The acceleration of my torpid pulse in the keen fight with the
wind, whose violence was almost equal to that of a tornado, and the
familiar faces of the bright stars above me, I felt as a blessed
relief. I ran not knowing whither, and when I halted, the square
outline of the house was lost in the alder bushes. An
uninterrupted plain stretched before me, like a vast sea beaten
flat by the force of the gale. As I kept on I noticed a slight
elevation toward the horizon, and presently my progress was impeded
by the ascent of an Indian mound. It struck me forcibly as
resembling an island in the sea. Its height gave me a better view
of the expanding plain. But even here I found no rest. The
ridiculous interpretation Tryan had given the climate was somehow
sung in my ears, and echoed in my throbbing pulse as, guided by the
star, I sought the house again.
But I felt fresher and more natural as I stepped upon the platform.
The door of the lower building was open, and the old man was
sitting beside the table, thumbing the leaves of a Bible with a
look in his face as though he were hunting up prophecies against
the "Greaser." I turned to enter, but my attention was attracted
by a blanketed figure lying beside the house, on the platform. The
broad chest heaving with healthy slumber, and the open, honest face
were familiar. It was George, who had given up his bed to the
stranger among his people. I was about to wake him, but he lay so
peaceful and quiet, I felt awed and hushed. And I went to bed with
a pleasant impression of his handsome face and tranquil figure
soothing me to sleep.
I was awakened the next morning from a sense of lulled repose and
grateful silence by the cheery voice of George, who stood beside my
bed, ostentatiously twirling a riata, as if to recall the duties of
the day to my sleep-bewildered eyes. I looked around me. The wind
had been magically laid, and the sun shone warmly through the
windows. A dash of cold water, with an extra chill on from the tin
basin, helped to brighten me. It was still early, but the family
had already breakfasted and dispersed, and a wagon winding far in
the distance showed that the unfortunate Tom had already "packed"
his relatives away. I felt more cheerful--there are few troubles
Youth cannot distance with the start of a good night's rest. After
a substantial breakfast, prepared by George, in a few moments we
were mounted and dashing down the plain.
We followed the line of alder that defined the creek, now dry and
baked with summer's heat, but which in winter, George told me,
overflowed its banks. I still retain a vivid impression of that
morning's ride, the far-off mountains, like silhouettes, against
the steel-blue sky, the crisp dry air, and the expanding track
before me, animated often by the well-knit figure of George Tryan,
musical with jingling spurs and picturesque with flying riata. He
rode powerful native roan, wild-eyed, untiring in stride and
unbroken in nature. Alas! the curves of beauty were concealed by
the cumbrous MACHILLAS of the Spanish saddle, which levels all
equine distinctions. The single rein lay loosely on the cruel bit
that can gripe, and if need be, crush the jaw it controls.
Again the illimitable freedom of the valley rises before me, as we
again bear down into sunlit space. Can this be "Chu Chu," staid
and respectable filly of American pedigree--Chu Chu, forgetful of
plank roads and cobblestones, wild with excitement, twinkling her
small white feet beneath me? George laughs out of a cloud of dust.
"Give her her head; don't you see she likes it?" and Chu Chu seems
to like it, and whether bitten by native tarantula into native
barbarism or emulous of the roan, "blood" asserts itself, and in a
moment the peaceful servitude of years is beaten out in the music
of her clattering hoofs. The creek widens to a deep gully. We
dive into it and up on the opposite side, carrying a moving cloud
of impalpable powder with us. Cattle are scattered over the plain,
grazing quietly or banded together in vast restless herds. George
makes a wide, indefinite sweep with the riata, as if to include
them all in his vaquero's loop, and says, "Ours!"
"About how many, George?"
"'Well, p'r'aps three thousand head," says George, reflecting. "We
don't know, takes five men to look 'em up and keep run."
"What are they worth?"
"About thirty dollars a head."
I make a rapid calculation, and look my astonishment at the
laughing George. Perhaps a recollection of the domestic economy of
the Tryan household is expressed in that look, for George averts
his eye and says, apologetically:
"I've tried to get the old man to sell and build, but you know he
says it ain't no use to settle down, just yet. We must keep
movin'. In fact, he built the shanty for that purpose, lest titles
should fall through, and we'd have to get up and move stakes
Suddenly his quick eye detects some unusual sight in a herd we are
passing, and with an exclamation he puts his roan into the center
of the mass. I follow, or rather Chu Chu darts after the roan, and
in a few moments we are in the midst of apparently inextricable
horns and hoofs. "TORO!" shouts George, with vaquero enthusiasm,
and the band opens a way for the swinging riata. I can feel their
steaming breaths, and their spume is cast on Chu Chu's quivering
Wild, devilish-looking beasts are they; not such shapes as Jove
might have chosen to woo a goddess, nor such as peacefully range
the downs of Devon, but lean and hungry Cassius-like bovines,
economically got up to meet the exigencies of a six months'
rainless climate, and accustomed to wrestle with the distracting
wind and the blinding dust.
"That's not our brand," says George; "they're strange stock," and
he points to what my scientific eye recognizes as the astrological
sign of Venus deeply seared in the brown flanks of the bull he is
chasing. But the herd are closing round us with low mutterings,
and George has again recourse to the authoritative "TORO," and with
swinging riata divides the "bossy bucklers" on either side. When
we are free, and breathing somewhat more easily, I venture to ask
George if they ever attack anyone.
"Never horsemen--sometimes footmen. Not through rage, you know,
but curiosity. They think a man and his horse are one, and if they
meet a chap afoot, they run him down and trample him under hoof, in
the pursuit of knowledge. But," adds George, "here's the lower
bench of the foothills, and here's Altascar's corral, and that
White building you see yonder is the casa."
A whitewashed wall enclosed a court containing another adobe
building, baked with the solar beams of many summers. Leaving our
horses in the charge of a few peons in the courtyard, who were
basking lazily in the sun, we entered a low doorway, where a deep
shadow and an agreeable coolness fell upon us, as sudden and
grateful as a plunge in cool water, from its contrast with the
external glare and heat. In the center of a low-ceiled apartment
sat an old man with a black-silk handkerchief tied about his head,
the few gray hairs that escaped from its folds relieving his
gamboge-colored face. The odor of CIGARRITOS was as incense added
to the cathedral gloom of the building.
As Senor Altascar rose with well-bred gravity to receive us, George
advanced with such a heightened color, and such a blending of
tenderness and respect in his manner, that I was touched to the
heart by so much devotion in the careless youth. In fact, my eyes
were still dazzled by the effect of the outer sunshine, and at
first I did not see the white teeth and black eyes of Pepita, who
slipped into the corridor as we entered.
It was no pleasant matter to disclose particulars of business which
would deprive the old senor of the greater part of that land we had
just ridden over, and I did it with great embarrassment. But he
listened calmly--not a muscle of his dark face stirring--and the
smoke curling placidly from his lips showed his regular
respiration. When I had finished, he offered quietly to accompany
us to the line of demarcation. George had meanwhile disappeared,
but a suspicious conversation in broken Spanish and English, in the
corridor, betrayed his vicinity. When he returned again, a little
absent-minded, the old man, by far the coolest and most self-
possessed of the party, extinguished his black-silk cap beneath
that stiff, uncomely sombrero which all native Californians affect.
A serape thrown over his shoulders hinted that he was waiting.
Horses are always ready saddled in Spanish ranchos, and in half an
hour from the time of our arrival we were again "loping" in the
But not as cheerfully as before. George and myself were weighed
down by restraint, and Altascar was gravely quiet. To break the
silence, and by way of a consolatory essay, I hinted to him that
there might be further intervention or appeal, but the proffered
oil and wine were returned with a careless shrug of the shoulders
and a sententious "QUE BUENO?--Your courts are always just."
The Indian mound of the previous night's discovery was a bearing
monument of the new line, and there we halted. We were surprised
to find the old man Tryan waiting us. For the first time during
our interview the old Spaniard seemed moved, and the blood rose in
his yellow cheek. I was anxious to close the scene, and pointed
out the corner boundaries as clearly as my recollection served.
"The deputies will be here tomorrow to run the lines from this
initial point, and there will be no further trouble, I believe,
Senor Altascar had dismounted and was gathering a few tufts of
dried grass in his hands. George and I exchanged glances. He
presently arose from his stooping posture, and advancing to within
a few paces of Joseph Tryan, said, in a voice broken with passion:
"And I, Fernando Jesus Maria Altascar, put you in possession of my
land in the fashion of my country."
He threw a sod to each of the cardinal points.
"I don't know your courts, your judges, or your CORREGIDORES. Take
the LLANO!--and take this with it. May the drought seize your
cattle till their tongues hang down as long as those of your lying
lawyers! May it be the curse and torment of your old age, as you
and yours have made it of mine!"
We stepped between the principal actors in this scene, which only
the passion of Altascar made tragical, but Tryan, with a humility
but ill concealing his triumph, interrupted:
"Let him curse on. He'll find 'em coming home to him sooner than
the cattle he has lost through his sloth and pride. The Lord is on
the side of the just, as well as agin all slanderers and revilers."
Altascar but half guessed the meaning of the Missourian, yet
sufficiently to drive from his mind all but the extravagant power
of his native invective.
"Stealer of the Sacrament! Open not!--open not, I say, your lying,
Judas lips to me! Ah! half-breed, with the soul of a coyote!--car-
With his passion reverberating among the consonants like distant
thunder, he laid his hand upon the mane of his horse as though it
had been the gray locks of his adversary, swung himself into the
saddle and galloped away.
George turned to me:
"Will you go back with us tonight?"
I thought of the cheerless walls, the silent figures by the fire,
and the roaring wind, and hesitated.
"Well then, goodby."
Another wring of the hands, and we parted. I had not ridden far
when I turned and looked back. The wind had risen early that
afternoon, and was already sweeping across the plain. A cloud of
dust traveled before it, and a picturesque figure occasionally
emerging therefrom was my last indistinct impression of George
PART II--IN THE FLOOD
Three months after the survey of the Espiritu Santo Rancho, I was
again in the valley of the Sacramento. But a general and terrible
visitation had erased the memory of that event as completely as I
supposed it had obliterated the boundary monuments I had planted.
The great flood of 1861-62 was at its height when, obeying some
indefinite yearning, I took my carpetbag and embarked for the
There was nothing to be seen from the bright cabin windows of the
GOLDEN CITY but night deepening over the water. The only sound was
the pattering rain, and that had grown monotonous for the past two
weeks, and did not disturb the national gravity of my countrymen as
they silently sat around the cabin stove. Some on errands of
relief to friends and relatives wore anxious faces, and conversed
soberly on the one absorbing topic. Others, like myself, attracted
by curiosity listened eagerly to newer details. But with that
human disposition to seize upon any circumstance that might give
chance event the exaggerated importance of instinct, I was half-
conscious of something more than curiosity as an impelling motive.
The dripping of rain, the low gurgle of water, and a leaden sky
greeted us the next morning as we lay beside the half-submerged
levee of Sacramento. Here, however, the novelty of boats to convey
us to the hotels was an appeal that was irresistible. I resigned
myself to a dripping rubber-cased mariner called "Joe," and,
wrapping myself in a shining cloak of the like material, about as
suggestive of warmth as court plaster might have been, took my seat
in the stern sheets of his boat. It was no slight inward struggle
to part from the steamer that to most of the passengers was the
only visible connecting link between us and the dry and habitable
earth, but we pulled away and entered the city, stemming a rapid
current as we shot the levee.
We glided up the long level of K Street--once a cheerful, busy
thoroughfare, now distressing in its silent desolation. The turbid
water which seemed to meet the horizon edge before us flowed at
right angles in sluggish rivers through the streets. Nature had
revenged herself on the local taste by disarraying the regular
rectangles by huddling houses on street corners, where they
presented abrupt gables to the current, or by capsizing them in
compact ruin. Crafts of all kinds were gliding in and out of low-
arched doorways. The water was over the top of the fences
surrounding well-kept gardens, in the first stories of hotels and
private dwellings, trailing its slime on velvet carpets as well as
roughly boarded floors. And a silence quite as suggestive as the
visible desolation was in the voiceless streets that no longer
echoed to carriage wheel or footfall. The low ripple of water, the
occasional splash of oars, or the warning cry of boatmen were the
few signs of life and habitation.
With such scenes before my eyes and such sounds in my ears, as I
lie lazily in the boat, is mingled the song of my gondolier who
sings to the music of his oars. It is not quite as romantic as his
brother of the Lido might improvise, but my Yankee "Giuseppe" has
the advantage of earnestness and energy, and gives a graphic
description of the terrors of the past week and of noble deeds of
self-sacrifice and devotion, occasionally pointing out a balcony
from which some California Bianca or Laura had been snatched, half-
clothed and famished. Giuseppe is otherwise peculiar, and refuses
the proffered fare, for--am I not a citizen of San Francisco, which
was first to respond to the suffering cry of Sacramento? and is not
he, Giuseppe, a member of the Howard Society? No! Giuseppe is
poor, but cannot take my money. Still, if I must spend it, there
is the Howard Society, and the women and children without food and
clothes at the Agricultural Hall.
I thank the generous gondolier, and we go to the Hall--a dismal,
bleak place, ghastly with the memories of last year's opulence and
plenty, and here Giuseppe's fare is swelled by the stranger's mite.
But here Giuseppe tells me of the "Relief Boat" which leaves for
the flooded district in the interior, and here, profiting by the
lesson he has taught me, I make the resolve to turn my curiosity to
the account of others, and am accepted of those who go forth to
succor and help the afflicted. Giuseppe takes charge of my
carpetbag, and does not part from me until I stand on the slippery
deck of "Relief Boat No. 3."
An hour later I am in the pilothouse, looking down upon what was
once the channel of a peaceful river. But its banks are only
defined by tossing tufts of willow washed by the long swell that
breaks over a vast inland sea. Stretches of "tule" land fertilized
by its once regular channel and dotted by flourishing ranchos are
now cleanly erased. The cultivated profile of the old landscape
had faded. Dotted lines in symmetrical perspective mark orchards
that are buried and chilled in the turbid flood. The roofs of a
few farmhouses are visible, and here and there the smoke curling
from chimneys of half-submerged tenements shows an undaunted life
within. Cattle and sheep are gathered on Indian mounds waiting the
fate of their companions whose carcasses drift by us, or swing in
eddies with the wrecks of barns and outhouses. Wagons are stranded
everywhere where the tide could carry them. As I wipe the
moistened glass, I see nothing but water, pattering on the deck
from the lowering clouds, dashing against the window, dripping from
the willows, hissing by the wheels, everywhere washing, coiling,
sapping, hurrying in rapids, or swelling at last into deeper and
vaster lakes, awful in their suggestive quiet and concealment.
As day fades into night the monotony of this strange prospect grows
oppressive. I seek the engine room, and in the company of some of
the few half-drowned sufferers we have already picked up from
temporary rafts, I forget the general aspect of desolation in their
individual misery. Later we meet the San Francisco packet, and
transfer a number of our passengers. From them we learn how
inward-bound vessels report to have struck the well-defined channel
of the Sacramento, fifty miles beyond the bar. There is a
voluntary contribution taken among the generous travelers for the
use of our afflicted, and we part company with a hearty "Godspeed"
on either side. But our signal lights are not far distant before a
familiar sound comes back to us--an indomitable Yankee cheer--which
scatters the gloom.
Our course is altered, and we are steaming over the obliterated
banks far in the interior. Once or twice black objects loom up
near us--the wrecks of houses floating by. There is a slight rift
in the sky toward the north, and a few bearing stars to guide us
over the waste. As we penetrate into shallower water, it is deemed
advisable to divide our party into smaller boats, and diverge over
the submerged prairie. I borrow a peacoat of one of the crew, and
in that practical disguise am doubtfully permitted to pass into one
of the boats. We give way northerly. It is quite dark yet,
although the rift of cloud has widened.
It must have been about three o'clock, and we were lying upon our
oars in an eddy formed by a clump of cottonwood, and the light of
the steamer is a solitary, bright star in the distance, when the
silence is broken by the "bow oar":
All eyes are turned in that direction. In a few seconds a
twinkling light appears, shines steadily, and again disappears as
if by the shifting position of some black object apparently
drifting close upon us.
"Stern, all; a steamer!"
"Hold hard there! Steamer be damned!" is the reply of the
coxswain. "It's a house, and a big one too."
It is a big one, looming in the starlight like a huge fragment of
the darkness. The light comes from a single candle, which shines
through a window as the great shape swings by. Some recollection
is drifting back to me with it as I listen with beating heart.
"There's someone in it, by heavens! Give way, boys--lay her
alongside. Handsomely, now! The door's fastened; try the window;
no! here's another!"
In another moment we are trampling in the water which washes the
floor to the depth of several inches. It is a large room, at the
farther end of which an old man is sitting wrapped in a blanket,
holding a candle in one hand, and apparently absorbed in the book
he holds with the other. I spring toward him with an exclamation:
He does not move. We gather closer to him, and I lay my hand
gently on his shoulder, and say:
"Look up, old man, look up! Your wife and children, where are
they? The boys--George! Are they here? are they safe?"
He raises his head slowly, and turns his eyes to mine, and we
involuntarily recoil before his look. It is a calm and quiet
glance, free from fear, anger, or pain; but it somehow sends the
blood curdling through our veins. He bowed his head over his book
again, taking no further notice of us. The men look at me
compassionately, and hold their peace. I make one more effort:
"Joseph Tryan, don't you know me? the surveyor who surveyed your
ranch--the Espiritu Santo? Look up, old man!"
He shuddered and wrapped himself closer in his blanket. Presently
he repeated to himself "The surveyor who surveyed your ranch--
Espiritu Santo" over and over again, as though it were a lesson he
was trying to fix in his memory.
I was turning sadly to the boatmen when he suddenly caught me
fearfully by the hand and said:
We were silent.
"Listen!" He puts his arm around my neck and whispers in my ear,
"I'm a MOVING OFF!"
"Hush! Don't speak so loud. Moving off. Ah! wot's that? Don't
you hear?--there! listen!"
We listen, and hear the water gurgle and click beneath the floor.
"It's them wot he sent!--Old Altascar sent. They've been here all
night. I heard 'em first in the creek, when they came to tell the
old man to move farther off. They came nearer and nearer. They
whispered under the door, and I saw their eyes on the step--their
cruel, hard eyes. Ah, why don't they quit?"
I tell the men to search the room and see if they can find any
further traces of the family, while Tryan resumes his old attitude.
It is so much like the figure I remember on the breezy night that a
superstitious feeling is fast overcoming me. When they have
returned, I tell them briefly what I know of him, and the old man
"Why don't they quit, then? They have the stock--all gone--gone,
gone for the hides and hoofs," and he groans bitterly.
"There are other boats below us. The shanty cannot have drifted
far, and perhaps the family are safe by this time," says the
We lift the old man up, for he is quite helpless, and carry him to
the boat. He is still grasping the Bible in his right hand, though
its strengthening grace is blank to his vacant eye, and he cowers
in the stern as we pull slowly to the steamer while a pale gleam in
the sky shows the coming day.
I was weary with excitement, and when we reached the steamer, and I
had seen Joseph Tryan comfortably bestowed, I wrapped myself in a
blanket near the boiler and presently fell asleep. But even then
the figure of the old man often started before me, and a sense of
uneasiness about George made a strong undercurrent to my drifting
dreams. I was awakened at about eight o'clock in the morning by
the engineer, who told me one of the old man's sons had been picked
up and was now on board.
"Is it George Tryan?" I ask quickly.
"Don't know; but he's a sweet one, whoever he is," adds the
engineer, with a smile at some luscious remembrance. "You'll find
I hurry to the bow of the boat, and find, not George, but the
irrepressible Wise, sitting on a coil of rope, a little dirtier and
rather more dilapidated than I can remember having seen him.
He is examining, with apparent admiration, some rough, dry clothes
that have been put out for his disposal. I cannot help thinking
that circumstances have somewhat exalted his usual cheerfulness.
He puts me at my ease by at once addressing me:
"These are high old times, ain't they? I say, what do you reckon's
become o' them thar bound'ry moniments you stuck? Ah!"
The pause which succeeds this outburst is the effect of a spasm of
admiration at a pair of high boots, which, by great exertion, he
has at last pulled on his feet.
"So you've picked up the ole man in the shanty, clean crazy? He
must have been soft to have stuck there instead o' leavin' with the
old woman. Didn't know me from Adam; took me for George!"
At this affecting instance of paternal forgetfulness, Wise was
evidently divided between amusement and chagrin. I took advantage
of the contending emotions to ask about George.
"Don't know whar he is! If he'd tended stock instead of running
about the prairie, packin' off wimmin and children, he might have
saved suthin. He lost every hoof and hide, I'll bet a cooky! Say
you," to a passing boatman, "when are you goin' to give us some
grub? I'm hungry 'nough to skin and eat a hoss. Reckon I'll turn
butcher when things is dried up, and save hides, horns, and
I could not but admire this indomitable energy, which under softer
climatic influences might have borne such goodly fruit.
"Have you any idea what you'll do, Wise?" I ask.
"Thar ain't much to do now," says the practical young man. "I'll
have to lay over a spell, I reckon, till things comes straight.
The land ain't worth much now, and won't be, I dessay, for some
time. Wonder whar the ole man'll drive stakes next."
"I meant as to your father and George, Wise."
"Oh, the old man and I'll go on to 'Miles's,' whar Tom packed the
old woman and babies last week. George'll turn up somewhar atween
this and Altascar's ef he ain't thar now."
I ask how the Altascars have suffered.
"Well, I reckon he ain't lost much in stock. I shouldn't wonder if
George helped him drive 'em up the foothills. And his casa's built
too high. Oh, thar ain't any water thar, you bet. Ah," says Wise,
with reflective admiration, "those greasers ain't the darned fools
people thinks 'em. I'll bet thar ain't one swamped out in all 'er
Californy." But the appearance of "grub" cut this rhapsody short.
"I shall keep on a little farther," I say, "and try to find
Wise stared a moment at this eccentricity until a new light dawned
"I don't think you'll save much. What's the percentage--workin' on
I answer that I am only curious, which I feel lessens his opinion
of me, and with a sadder feeling than his assurance of George's
safety might warrant, I walked away.
From others whom we picked up from time to time we heard of
George's self-sacrificing devotion, with the praises of the many he
had helped and rescued. But I did not feel disposed to return
until I had seen him, and soon prepared myself to take a boat to
the lower VALDA of the foothills, and visit Altascar. I soon
perfected my arrangements, bade farewell to Wise, and took a last
look at the old man, who was sitting by the furnace fires quite
passive and composed. Then our boat head swung round, pulled by
sturdy and willing hands.
It was again raining, and a disagreeable wind had risen. Our
course lay nearly west, and we soon knew by the strong current that
we were in the creek of the Espiritu Santo. From time to time the
wrecks of barns were seen, and we passed many half-submerged
willows hung with farming implements.
We emerge at last into a broad silent sea. It is the "LLANO DE
ESPIRITU SANTO." As the wind whistles by me, piling the shallower
fresh water into mimic waves, I go back, in fancy, to the long ride
of October over that boundless plain, and recall the sharp outlines
of the distant hills, which are now lost in the lowering clouds.
The men are rowing silently, and I find my mind, released from its
tension, growing benumbed and depressed as then. The water, too,
is getting more shallow as we leave the banks of the creek, and
with my hand dipped listlessly over the thwarts, I detect the tops
of chimisal, which shows the tide to have somewhat fallen. There
is a black mound, bearing to the north of the line of alder, making
an adverse current, which, as we sweep to the right to avoid, I
recognize. We pull close alongside and I call to the men to stop.
There was a stake driven near its summit with the initials, "L. E.
S. I." Tied halfway down was a curiously worked riata. It was
George's. It had been cut with some sharp instrument, and the
loose gravelly soil of the mound was deeply dented with horses'
hoofs. The stake was covered with horsehairs. It was a record,
but no clue.
The wind had grown more violent as we still fought our way forward,
resting and rowing by turns, and oftener "poling" the shallower
surface, but the old VALDA, or bench, is still distant. My
recollection of the old survey enables me to guess the relative
position of the meanderings of the creek, and an occasional simple
professional experiment to determine the distance gives my crew the
fullest faith in my ability. Night overtakes us in our impeded
progress. Our condition looks more dangerous than it really is,
but I urge the men, many of whom are still new in this mode of
navigation, to greater exertion by assurance of perfect safety and
speedy relief ahead. We go on in this way until about eight
o'clock, and ground by the willows. We have a muddy walk for a few
hundred yards before we strike a dry trail, and simultaneously the
white walls of Altascar's appear like a snowbank before us. Lights
are moving in the courtyard; but otherwise the old tomblike repose
characterizes the building.
One of the peons recognized me as I entered the court, and Altascar
met me on the corridor.
I was too weak to do more than beg his hospitality for the men who
had dragged wearily with me. He looked at my hand, which still
unconsciously held the broken riata. I began, wearily, to tell him
about George and my fears, but with a gentler courtesy than was
even his wont, he gravely laid his hand on my shoulder.
"POCO A POCO, senor--not now. You are tired, you have hunger, you
have cold. Necessary it is you should have peace."
He took us into a small room and poured out some French cognac,
which he gave to the men that had accompanied me. They drank and
threw themselves before the fire in the larger room. The repose of
the building was intensified that night, and I even fancied that
the footsteps on the corridor were lighter and softer. The old
Spaniard's habitual gravity was deeper; we might have been shut out
from the world as well as the whistling storm, behind those ancient
walls with their time-worn inheritor.
Before I could repeat my inquiry he retired. In a few minutes two
smoking dishes of CHUPA with coffee were placed before us, and my
men ate ravenously. I drank the coffee, but my excitement and
weariness kept down the instincts of hunger.
I was sitting sadly by the fire when he reentered.
"You have eat?"
I said, "Yes," to please him.
"BUENO, eat when you can--food and appetite are not always."
He said this with that Sancho-like simplicity with which most of
his countrymen utter a proverb, as though it were an experience
rather than a legend, and, taking the riata from the floor, held it
almost tenderly before him.
"It was made by me, senor."
"I kept it as a clue to him, Don Altascar," I said. "If I could
"He is here."
"Here! and"--but I could not say "well!" I understood the gravity
of the old man's face, the hushed footfalls, the tomblike repose of
the building, in an electric flash of consciousness; I held the
clue to the broken riata at last. Altascar took my hand, and we
crossed the corridor to a somber apartment. A few tall candles
were burning in sconces before the window.
In an alcove there was a deep bed with its counterpane, pillows,
and sheets heavily edged with lace, in all that splendid luxury
which the humblest of these strange people lavish upon this single
item of their household. I stepped beside it and saw George lying,
as I had seen him once before, peacefully at rest. But a greater
sacrifice than that he had known was here, and his generous heart
was stilled forever.
"He was honest and brave," said the old man, and turned away.
There was another figure in the room; a heavy shawl drawn over her
graceful outline, and her long black hair hiding the hands that
buried her downcast face. I did not seem to notice her, and,
retiring presently, left the loving and loved together.
When we were again beside the crackling fire, in the shifting
shadows of the great chamber, Altascar told me how he had that
morning met the horse of George Tryan swimming on the prairie; how
that, farther on, he found him lying, quite cold and dead, with no
marks or bruises on his person; that he had probably become
exhausted in fording the creek, and that he had as probably reached
the mound only to die for want of that help he had so freely given
to others; that, as a last act, he had freed his horse. These
incidents were corroborated by many who collected in the great
chamber that evening--women and children--most of them succored
through the devoted energies of him who lay cold and lifeless
He was buried in the Indian mound--the single spot of strange
perennial greenness which the poor aborigines had raised above the
dusty plain. A little slab of sandstone with the initials "G. T."
is his monument, and one of the bearings of the initial corner of
the new survey of the "Espiritu Santo Rancho."
AN EPISODE OF FIDDLETOWN
In 1858 Fiddletown considered her a very pretty woman. She had a
quantity of light chestnut hair, a good figure, a dazzling
complexion, and a certain languid grace which passed easily for
gentle-womanliness. She always dressed becomingly, and in what
Fiddletown accepted as the latest fashion. She had only two
blemishes: one of her velvety eyes, when examined closely, had a
slight cast; and her left cheek bore a small scar left by a single
drop of vitriol-- happily the only drop of an entire phial--thrown
upon her by one of her own jealous sex, that reached the pretty
face it was intended to mar. But when the observer had studied the
eyes sufficiently to notice this defect, he was generally
incapacitated for criticism; and even the scar on her cheek was
thought by some to add piquancy to her smile. The youthful editor
of THE FIDDLETOWN AVALANCHE had said privately that it was "an
exaggerated dimple." Colonel Starbottle was instantly "reminded of
the beautifying patches of the days of Queen Anne, but more
particularly, sir, of the blankest beautiful women that, blank you,
you ever laid your two blank eyes upon--a Creole woman, sir, in New
Orleans. And this woman had a scar--a line extending, blank me,
from her eye to her blank chin. And this woman, sir, thrilled you,
sir; maddened you, sir; absolutely sent your blank soul to
perdition with her blank fascination! And one day I said to her,
'Celeste, how in blank did you come by that beautiful scar, blank
you?' And she said to me, 'Star, there isn't another white man
that I'd confide in but you; but I made that scar myself,
purposely, I did, blank me.' These were her very words, sir, and
perhaps you think it a blank lie, sir; but I'll put up any blank
sum you can name and prove it, blank me."
Indeed, most of the male population of Fiddletown were or had been
in love with her. Of this number, about one-half believed that
their love was returned, with the exception, possibly, of her own
husband. He alone had been known to express skepticism.
The name of the gentleman who enjoyed this infelicitous distinction
was Tretherick. He had been divorced from an excellent wife to
marry this Fiddletown enchantress. She, also, had been divorced;
but it was hinted that some previous experiences of hers in that
legal formality had made it perhaps less novel, and probably less
sacrificial. I would not have it inferred from this that she was
deficient in sentiment, or devoid of its highest moral expression.
Her intimate friend had written (on the occasion of her second
divorce), "The cold world does not understand Clara yet"; and
Colonel Starbottle had remarked blankly that with the exception of
a single woman in Opelousas Parish, La., she had more soul than the
whole caboodle of them put together. Few indeed could read those
lines entitled "Infelissimus," commencing "Why waves no cypress
o'er this brow?" originally published in the AVALANCHE, over the
signature of "The Lady Clare," without feeling the tear of
sensibility tremble on his eyelids, or the glow of virtuous
indignation mantle his cheek, at the low brutality and pitiable
jocularity of THE DUTCH FLAT INTELLIGENCER, which the next week had
suggested the exotic character of the cypress, and its entire
absence from Fiddletown, as a reasonable answer to the query.
Indeed, it was this tendency to elaborate her feelings in a
metrical manner, and deliver them to the cold world through the
medium of the newspapers, that first attracted the attention of
Tretherick. Several poems descriptive of the effects of California
scenery upon a too-sensitive soul, and of the vague yearnings for
the infinite which an enforced study of the heartlessness of
California society produced in the poetic breast, impressed Mr.
Tretherick, who was then driving a six-mule freight wagon between
Knight's Ferry and Stockton, to seek out the unknown poetess. Mr.
Tretherick was himself dimly conscious of a certain hidden
sentiment in his own nature; and it is possible that some
reflections on the vanity of his pursuit--he supplied several
mining camps with whisky and tobacco--in conjunction with the
dreariness of the dusty plain on which he habitually drove, may
have touched some chord in sympathy with this sensitive woman.
Howbeit, after a brief courtship--as brief as was consistent with
some previous legal formalities--they were married; and Mr.
Tretherick brought his blushing bride to Fiddletown, or
"Fideletown," as Mrs. Tretherick preferred to call it in her poems.
The union was not a felicitous one. It was not long before Mr.
Tretherick discovered that the sentiment he had fostered while
freighting between Stockton and Knight's Ferry was different from
that which his wife had evolved from the contemplation of
California scenery and her own soul. Being a man of imperfect
logic, this caused him to beat her; and she, being equally faulty
in deduction, was impelled to a certain degree of unfaithfulness on
the same premise. Then Mr. Tretherick began to drink, and Mrs.
Tretherick to contribute regularly to the columns of the AVALANCHE.
It was at this time that Colonel Starbottle discovered a similarity
in Mrs. Tretherick's verse to the genius of Sappho, and pointed it
out to the citizens of Fiddletown in a two-columned criticism,
signed "A. S.," also published in the AVALANCHE, and supported by
extensive quotation. As the AVALANCHE did not possess a font of
Greek type, the editor was obliged to reproduce the Leucadian
numbers in the ordinary Roman letter, to the intense disgust of
Colonel Starbottle, and the vast delight of Fiddletown, who saw fit
to accept the text as an excellent imitation of Choctaw--a language
with which the colonel, as a whilom resident of the Indian
Territories, was supposed to be familiar. Indeed, the next week's
INTELLIGENCER contained some vile doggerel supposed to be an answer
to Mrs. Tretherick's poem, ostensibly written by the wife of a
Digger Indian chief, accompanied by a glowing eulogium signed "A.
The result of this jocularity was briefly given in a later copy of
the AVALANCHE. "An unfortunate rencounter took place on Monday
last, between the Hon. Jackson Flash of THE DUTCH FLAT
INTELLIGENCER and the well-known Col. Starbottle of this place, in
front of the Eureka Saloon. Two shots were fired by the parties
without injury to either, although it is said that a passing
Chinaman received fifteen buckshot in the calves of his legs from
the colonel's double-barreled shotgun, which were not intended for
him. John will learn to keep out of the way of Melican man's
firearms hereafter. The cause of the affray is not known, although
it is hinted that there is a lady in the case. The rumor that
points to a well-known and beautiful poetess whose lucubrations
have often graced our columns seems to gain credence from those
that are posted."
Meanwhile the passiveness displayed by Tretherick under these
trying circumstances was fully appreciated in the gulches. "The
old man's head is level," said one long-booted philosopher. "Ef
the colonel kills Flash, Mrs. Tretherick is avenged: if Flash drops
the colonel, Tretherick is all right. Either way, he's got a sure
thing." During this delicate condition of affairs, Mrs. Tretherick
one day left her husband's home and took refuge at the Fiddletown
Hotel, with only the clothes she had on her back. Here she staid
for several weeks, during which period it is only justice to say
that she bore herself with the strictest propriety.
It was a clear morning in early spring that Mrs. Tretherick,
unattended, left the hotel, and walked down the narrow street
toward the fringe of dark pines which indicated the extreme limits
of Fiddletown. The few loungers at that early hour were
preoccupied with the departure of the Wingdown coach at the other
extremity of the street; and Mrs. Tretherick reached the suburbs of
the settlement without discomposing observation. Here she took a
cross street or road, running at right angles with the main
thoroughfare of Fiddletown and passing through a belt of woodland.
It was evidently the exclusive and aristocratic avenue of the town.
The dwellings were few, ambitious, and uninterrupted by shops. And
here she was joined by Colonel Starbottle.
The gallant colonel, notwithstanding that he bore the swelling port
which usually distinguished him, that his coat was tightly buttoned
and his boots tightly fitting, and that his cane, hooked over his
arm, swung jauntily, was not entirely at his ease. Mrs.
Tretherick, however, vouchsafed him a gracious smile and a glance
of her dangerous eyes; and the colonel, with an embarrassed cough
and a slight strut, took his place at her side.
"The coast is clear," said the colonel, "and Tretherick is over at
Dutch Flat on a spree. There is no one in the house but a
Chinaman; and you need fear no trouble from him. I," he continued,
with a slight inflation of the chest that imperiled the security of
his button, "I will see that you are protected in the removal of
"I'm sure it's very kind of you, and so disinterested!" simpered
the lady as they walked along. "It's so pleasant to meet someone
who has soul--someone to sympathize with in a community so hardened
and heartless as this." And Mrs. Tretherick cast down her eyes,
but not until they wrought their perfect and accepted work upon her
"Yes, certainly, of course," said the colonel, glancing nervously
up and down the street--"yes, certainly." Perceiving, however,
that there was no one in sight or hearing, he proceeded at once to
inform Mrs. Tretherick that the great trouble of his life, in fact,
had been the possession of too much soul. That many women--as a
gentleman she would excuse him, of course, from mentioning names--
but many beautiful women had often sought his society, but being
deficient, madam, absolutely deficient, in this quality, he could
not reciprocate. But when two natures thoroughly in sympathy,
despising alike the sordid trammels of a low and vulgar community
and the conventional restraints of a hypocritical society--when two
souls in perfect accord met and mingled in poetical union, then--
but here the colonel's speech, which had been remarkable for a
certain whisky-and-watery fluency, grew husky, almost inaudible,
and decidedly incoherent. Possibly Mrs. Tretherick may have heard
something like it before, and was enabled to fill the hiatus.
Nevertheless, the cheek that was on the side of the colonel was
quite virginal and bashfully conscious until they reached their
It was a pretty little cottage, quite fresh and warm with paint,
very pleasantly relieved against a platoon of pines, some of whose
foremost files had been displaced to give freedom to the fenced
enclosure in which it sat. In the vivid sunlight and perfect
silence, it had a new, uninhabited look, as if the carpenters and
painters had just left it. At the farther end of the lot, a
Chinaman was stolidly digging; but there was no other sign of
occupancy. "The coast," as the colonel had said, was indeed
"clear." Mrs. Tretherick paused at the gate. The colonel would
have entered with her, but was stopped by a gesture. "Come for me
in a couple of hours, and I shall have everything packed," she
said, as she smiled, and extended her hand. The colonel seized and
pressed it with great fervor. Perhaps the pressure was slightly
returned; for the gallant colonel was impelled to inflate his
chest, and trip away as smartly as his stubby-toed, high-heeled
boots would permit. When he had gone, Mrs. Tretherick opened the
door, listened a moment in the deserted hall, and then ran quickly
upstairs to what had been her bedroom.
Everything there was unchanged as on the night she left it. On the
dressing-table stood her bandbox, as she remembered to have left it
when she took out her bonnet. On the mantle lay the other glove
she had forgotten in her flight. The two lower drawers of the
bureau were half-open (she had forgotten to shut them); and on its
marble top lay her shawl pin and a soiled cuff. What other
recollections came upon her I know not; but she suddenly grew quite
white, shivered, and listened with a beating heart, and her hand
upon the door. Then she stepped to the mirror, and half-fearfully,
half-curiously, parted with her fingers the braids of her blond
hair above her little pink ear, until she came upon an ugly, half-
healed scar. She gazed at this, moving her pretty head up and down
to get a better light upon it, until the slight cast in her velvety
eyes became very strongly marked indeed. Then she turned away with
a light, reckless, foolish laugh, and ran to the closet where hung
her precious dresses. These she inspected nervously, and missing
suddenly a favorite black silk from its accustomed peg, for a
moment, thought she should have fainted. But discovering it the
next instant lying upon a trunk where she had thrown it, a feeling
of thankfulness to a superior Being who protects the friendless for
the first time sincerely thrilled her. Then, albeit she was
hurried for time, she could not resist trying the effect of a
certain lavender neck ribbon upon the dress she was then wearing,
before the mirror. And then suddenly she became aware of a child's
voice close beside her, and she stopped. And then the child's
voice repeated, "Is it Mamma?"
Mrs. Tretherick faced quickly about. Standing in the doorway was a
little girl of six or seven. Her dress had been originally fine,
but was torn and dirty; and her hair, which was a very violent red,
was tumbled seriocomically about her forehead. For all this, she
was a picturesque little thing, even through whose childish
timidity there was a certain self-sustained air which is apt to
come upon children who are left much to themselves. She was
holding under her arm a rag doll, apparently of her own
workmanship, and nearly as large as herself--a doll with a
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