Part 4 out of 7
cylindrical head, and features roughly indicated with charcoal. A
long shawl, evidently belonging to a grown person, dropped from her
shoulders and swept the floor.
The spectacle did not excite Mrs. Tretherick's delight. Perhaps
she had but a small sense of humor. Certainly, when the child,
still standing in the doorway, again asked, "Is it Mamma?" she
answered sharply, "No, it isn't," and turned a severe look upon the
The child retreated a step, and then, gaining courage with the
distance, said in deliciously imperfect speech:
"Dow 'way then! why don't you dow away?"
But Mrs. Tretherick was eying the shawl. Suddenly she whipped it
off the child's shoulders, and said angrily:
"How dared you take my things, you bad child?"
"Is it yours? Then you are my mamma; ain't you? You are Mamma!"
she continued gleefully; and before Mrs. Tretherick could avoid
her, she had dropped her doll, and, catching the woman's skirts
with both hands, was dancing up and down before her.
"What's your name, child?" said Mrs. Tretherick coldly, removing
the small and not very white hands from her garments.
"Yeth. Tarry. Tarowline."
"Yeth. Tarowline Tretherick."
"Whose child ARE you?" demanded Mrs. Tretherick still more coldly,
to keep down a rising fear.
"Why, yours," said the little creature with a laugh. "I'm your
little durl. You're my mamma, my new mamma. Don't you know my ol'
mamma's dorn away, never to turn back any more? I don't live wid
my ol' mamma now. I live wid you and Papa."
"How long have you been here?" asked Mrs. Tretherick snappishly.
"I fink it's free days," said Carry reflectively.
"You think! Don't you know?" sneered Mrs. Tretherick. "Then,
where did you come from?"
Carry's lip began to work under this sharp cross-examination. With
a great effort and a small gulp, she got the better of it, and
"Papa, Papa fetched me--from Miss Simmons--from Sacramento, last
"Last week! You said three days just now," returned Mrs.
Tretherick with severe deliberation.
"I mean a monf," said Carry, now utterly adrift in sheer
helplessness and confusion.
"Do you know what you are talking about?" demanded Mrs. Tretherick
shrilly, restraining an impulse to shake the little figure before
her and precipitate the truth by specific gravity.
But the flaming red head here suddenly disappeared in the folds of
Mrs. Tretherick's dress, as if it were trying to extinguish itself
"There now--stop that sniffling," said Mrs. Tretherick, extricating
her dress from the moist embraces of the child and feeling
exceedingly uncomfortable. "Wipe your face now, and run away, and
don't bother. Stop," she continued, as Carry moved away. "Where's
"He's dorn away too. He's sick. He's been dorn"--she hesitated--
"two, free, days."
"Who takes care of you, child?" said Mrs. Tretherick, eying her
"John, the Chinaman. I tresses myselth. John tooks and makes the
"Well, now, run away and behave yourself, and don't bother me any
more," said Mrs. Tretherick, remembering the object of her visit.
"Stop--where are you going?" she added as the child began to ascend
the stairs, dragging the long doll after her by one helpless leg.
"Doin' upstairs to play and be dood, and no bother Mamma."
"I ain't your mamma," shouted Mrs. Tretherick, and then she swiftly
re-entered her bedroom and slammed the door.
Once inside, she drew forth a large trunk from the closet and set
to work with querulous and fretful haste to pack her wardrobe. She
tore her best dress in taking it from the hook on which it hung:
she scratched her soft hands twice with an ambushed pin. All the
while, she kept up an indignant commentary on the events of the
past few moments. She said to herself she saw it all. Tretherick
had sent for this child of his first wife--this child of whose
existence he had never seemed to care--just to insult her, to fill
her place. Doubtless the first wife herself would follow soon, or
perhaps there would be a third. Red hair, not auburn, but RED--of
course the child, this Caroline, looked like its mother, and, if
so, she was anything but pretty. Or the whole thing had been
prepared: this red-haired child, the image of its mother, had been
kept at a convenient distance at Sacramento, ready to be sent for
when needed. She remembered his occasional visits there on--
business, as he said. Perhaps the mother already was there; but
no, she had gone East. Nevertheless, Mrs. Tretherick, in her then
state of mind, preferred to dwell upon the fact that she might be
there. She was dimly conscious, also, of a certain satisfaction in
exaggerating her feelings. Surely no woman had ever been so
shamefully abused. In fancy, she sketched a picture of herself
sitting alone and deserted, at sunset, among the fallen columns of
a ruined temple, in a melancholy yet graceful attitude, while her
husband drove rapidly away in a luxurious coach-and-four, with a
red-haired woman at his side. Sitting upon the trunk she had just
packed, she partly composed a lugubrious poem describing her
sufferings as, wandering alone and poorly clad, she came upon her
husband and "another" flaunting in silks and diamonds. She
pictured herself dying of consumption, brought on by sorrow--a
beautiful wreck, yet still fascinating, gazed upon adoringly by the
editor of the AVALANCHE and Colonel Starbottle. And where was
Colonel Starbottle all this while? Why didn't he come? He, at
least, understood her. He--she laughed the reckless, light laugh
of a few moments before; and then her face suddenly grew grave, as
it had not a few moments before.
What was that little red-haired imp doing all this time? Why was
she so quiet? She opened the door noiselessly, and listened. She
fancied that she heard, above the multitudinous small noises and
creakings and warpings of the vacant house, a smaller voice singing
on the floor above. This, as she remembered, was only an open
attic that had been used as a storeroom. With a half-guilty
consciousness, she crept softly upstairs and, pushing the door
partly open, looked within.
Athwart the long, low-studded attic, a slant sunbeam from a single
small window lay, filled with dancing motes, and only half
illuminating the barren, dreary apartment. In the ray of this
sunbeam she saw the child's glowing hair, as if crowned by a red
aureole, as she sat upon the floor with her exaggerated doll
between her knees. She appeared to be talking to it; and it was
not long before Mrs. Tretherick observed that she was rehearsing
the interview of a half-hour before. She catechized the doll
severely, cross-examining it in regard to the duration of its stay
there, and generally on the measure of time. The imitation of Mrs.
Tretherick's manner was exceedingly successful, and the
conversation almost a literal reproduction, with a single
exception. After she had informed the doll that she was not her
mother, at the close of the interview she added pathetically, "that
if she was dood, very dood, she might be her mamma, and love her
I have already hinted that Mrs. Tretherick was deficient in a sense
of humor. Perhaps it was for this reason that this whole scene
affected her most unpleasantly; and the conclusion sent the blood
tingling to her cheek. There was something, too, inconceivably
lonely in the situation. The unfurnished vacant room, the half-
lights, the monstrous doll, whose very size seemed to give a
pathetic significance to its speechlessness, the smallness of the
one animate, self-centered figure--all these touched more or less
deeply the half-poetic sensibilities of the woman. She could not
help utilizing the impression as she stood there, and thought what
a fine poem might be constructed from this material if the room
were a little darker, the child lonelier--say, sitting beside a
dead mother's bier, and the wind wailing in the turrets. And then
she suddenly heard footsteps at the door below, and recognized the
tread of the colonel's cane.
She flew swiftly down the stairs, and encountered the colonel in
the hall. Here she poured into his astonished ear a voluble and
exaggerated statement of her discovery, and indignant recital of
her wrongs. "Don't tell me the whole thing wasn't arranged
beforehand; for I know it was!" she almost screamed. "And think,"
she added, "of the heartlessness of the wretch, leaving his own
child alone here in that way."
"It's a blank shame!" stammered the colonel, without the least idea
of what he was talking about. In fact, utterly unable as he was to
comprehend a reason for the woman's excitement, with his estimate
of her character, I fear he showed it more plainly than he
intended. He stammered, expanded his chest, looked stern, gallant,
tender, but all unintelligently. Mrs. Tretherick, for an instant,
experienced a sickening doubt of the existence of natures in
"It's of no use," said Mrs. Tretherick with sudden vehemence, in
answer to some inaudible remark of the colonel's, and withdrawing
her hand from the fervent grasp of that ardent and sympathetic man.
"It's of no use: my mind is made up. You can send for my trunk as
soon as you like; but I shall stay here, and confront that man with
the proof of his vileness. I will put him face to face with his
I do not know whether Colonel Starbottle thoroughly appreciated the
convincing proof of Tretherick's unfaithfulness and malignity
afforded by the damning evidence of the existence of Tretherick's
own child in his own house. He was dimly aware, however, of some
unforeseen obstacle to the perfect expression of the infinite
longing of his own sentimental nature. But, before he could say
anything, Carry appeared on the landing above them, looking
timidly, and yet half-critically, at the pair.
"That's her," said Mrs. Tretherick excitedly. In her deepest
emotions, in either verse or prose, she rose above a consideration
of grammatical construction.
"Ah!" said the colonel, with a sudden assumption of parental
affection and jocularity that was glaringly unreal and affected.
"Ah! pretty little girl, pretty little girl! How do you do? How
are you? You find yourself pretty well, do you, pretty little
girl?" The colonel's impulse also was to expand his chest and
swing his cane, until it occurred to him that this action might be
ineffective with a child of six or seven. Carry, however, took no
immediate notice of this advance, but further discomposed the
chivalrous colonel by running quickly to Mrs. Tretherick and hiding
herself, as if for protection, in the folds of her gown.
Nevertheless, the colonel was not vanquished. Falling back into an
attitude of respectful admiration, he pointed out a marvelous
resemblance to the "Madonna and Child." Mrs. Tretherick simpered,
but did not dislodge Carry as before. There was an awkward pause
for a moment; and then Mrs. Tretherick, motioning significantly to
the child, said in a whisper: "Go now. Don't come here again, but
meet me tonight at the hotel." She extended her hand: the colonel
bent over it gallantly and, raising his hat, the next moment was
"Do you think," said Mrs. Tretherick with an embarrassed voice and
a prodigious blush, looking down, and addressing the fiery curls
just visible in the folds of her dress--"do you think you will be
'dood' if I let you stay in here and sit with me?"
"And let me tall you Mamma?" queried Carry, looking up.
"And let you call me Mamma!" assented Mrs. Tretherick with an
"Yeth," said Carry promptly.
They entered the bedroom together. Carry's eye instantly caught
sight of the trunk.
"Are you dowin' away adain, Mamma?" she said with a quick nervous
look, and a clutch at the woman's dress.
"No-o," said Mrs. Tretherick, looking out of the window.
"Only playing your dowin' away," suggested Carry with a laugh.
"Let me play too."
Mrs. Tretherick assented. Carry flew into the next room, and
presently reappeared dragging a small trunk, into which she gravely
proceeded to pack her clothes. Mrs. Tretherick noticed that they
were not many. A question or two regarding them brought out some
further replies from the child; and before many minutes had
elapsed, Mrs. Tretherick was in possession of all her earlier
history. But, to do this, Mrs. Tretherick had been obliged to take
Carry upon her lap, pending the most confidential disclosures.
They sat thus a long time after Mrs. Tretherick had apparently
ceased to be interested in Carry's disclosures; and when lost in
thought, she allowed the child to rattle on unheeded, and ran her
fingers through the scarlet curls.
"You don't hold me right, Mamma," said Carry at last, after one or
two uneasy shiftings of position.
"How should I hold you?" asked Mrs. Tretherick with a half-amused,
"Dis way," said Carry, curling up into position, with one arm
around Mrs. Tretherick's neck and her cheek resting on her bosom--
"dis way--dere." After a little preparatory nestling, not unlike
some small animal, she closed her eyes, and went to sleep.
For a few moments the woman sat silent, scarcely daring to breathe
in that artificial attitude. And then, whether from some occult
sympathy in the touch, or God best knows what, a sudden fancy began
to thrill her. She began by remembering an old pain that she had
forgotten, an old horror that she had resolutely put away all these
years. She recalled days of sickness and distrust--days of an
overshadowing fear--days of preparation for something that was to
be prevented, that WAS prevented, with mortal agony and fear. She
thought of a life that might have been--she dared not say HAD been-
-and wondered. It was six years ago; if it had lived, it would
have been as old as Carry. The arms which were folded loosely
around the sleeping child began to tremble, and tighten their
clasp. And then the deep potential impulse came, and with a half-
sob, half-sigh, she threw her arms out and drew the body of the
sleeping child down, down, into her breast, down again and again as
if she would hide it in the grave dug there years before. And the
gust that shook her passed, and then, ah me! the rain.
A drop or two fell upon the curls of Carry, and she moved uneasily
in her sleep. But the woman soothed her again--it was SO easy to
do it now--and they sat there quiet and undisturbed, so quiet that
they might have seemed incorporate of the lonely silent house, the
slowly declining sunbeams, and the general air of desertion and
abandonment, yet a desertion that had in it nothing of age, decay,
Colonel Starbottle waited at the Fiddletown Hotel all that night in
vain. And the next morning, when Mr. Tretherick returned to his
husks, he found the house vacant and untenanted, except by motes
When it was fairly known that Mrs. Tretherick had run away, taking
Mr. Tretherick's own child with her, there was some excitement and
much diversity of opinion, in Fiddletown. THE DUTCH FLAT
INTELLIGENCER openly alluded to the "forcible abduction" of the
child with the same freedom, and it is to be feared the same
prejudice, with which it had criticized the abductor's poetry. All
of Mrs. Tretherick's own sex, and perhaps a few of the opposite
sex, whose distinctive quality was not, however, very strongly
indicated, fully coincided in the views of the INTELLIGENCER. The
majority, however, evaded the moral issue; that Mrs. Tretherick had
shaken the red dust of Fiddletown from her dainty slippers was
enough for them to know. They mourned the loss of the fair
abductor more than her offense. They promptly rejected Tretherick
as an injured husband and disconsolate father, and even went so far
as to openly cast discredit on the sincerity of his grief. They
reserved an ironical condolence for Colonel Starbottle, overbearing
that excellent man with untimely and demonstrative sympathy in
barrooms, saloons, and other localities not generally deemed
favorable to the display of sentiment. "She was alliz a skittish
thing, Kernel," said one sympathizer, with a fine affectation of
gloomy concern and great readiness of illustration; "and it's
kinder nat'ril thet she'd get away someday, and stampede that theer
colt: but thet she should shake YOU, Kernel, diet she should jist
shake you--is what gits me. And they do say thet you jist hung
around thet hotel all night, and payrolled them corriders, and
histed yourself up and down them stairs, and meandered in and out
o' thet piazzy, and all for nothing?" It was another generous and
tenderly commiserating spirit that poured additional oil and wine
on the colonel's wounds. "The boys yer let on thet Mrs. Tretherick
prevailed on ye to pack her trunk and a baby over from the house to
the stage offis, and that the chap ez did go off with her thanked
you, and offered you two short bits, and sed ez how he liked your
looks, and ud employ you agin--and now you say it ain't so? Well,
I'll tell the boys it ain't so, and I'm glad I met you, for stories
DO get round."
Happily for Mrs. Tretherick's reputation, however, the Chinaman in
Tretherick's employment, who was the only eyewitness of her flight,
stated that she was unaccompanied, except by the child. He further
deposed that, obeying her orders, he had stopped the Sacramento
coach, and secured a passage for herself and child to San
Francisco. It was true that Ah Fe's testimony was of no legal
value. But nobody doubted it. Even those who were skeptical of
the pagan's ability to recognize the sacredness of the truth
admitted his passionless, unprejudiced unconcern. But it would
appear, from a hitherto unrecorded passage of this veracious
chronicle, that herein they were mistaken.
It was about six months after the disappearance of Mrs. Tretherick
that Ah Fe, while working in Tretherick's lot, was hailed by two
passing Chinamen. They were the ordinary mining coolies, equipped
with long poles and baskets for their usual pilgrimages. An
animated conversation at once ensued between Ah Fe and his brother
Mongolians--a conversation characterized by that usual shrill
volubility and apparent animosity which was at once the delight and
scorn of the intelligent Caucasian who did not understand a word of
it. Such, at least, was the feeling with which Mr. Tretherick on
his veranda and Colonel Starbottle, who was passing, regarded their
heathenish jargon. The gallant colonel simply kicked them out of
his way; the irate Tretherick, with an oath, threw a stone at the
group, and dispersed them, but not before one or two slips of
yellow rice paper, marked with hieroglyphics, were exchanged, and a
small parcel put into Ah Fe's hands. When Ah Fe opened this in the
dim solitude of his kitchen, he found a little girl's apron,
freshly washed, ironed, and folded. On the corner of the hem were
the initials "C. T." Ah Fe tucked it away in a corner of his
blouse, and proceeded to wash his dishes in the sink with a smile
of guileless satisfaction.
Two days after this, Ah Fe confronted his master. "Me no likee
Fiddletown. Me belly sick. Me go now." Mr. Tretherick violently
suggested a profane locality. Ah Fe gazed at him placidly, and
Before leaving Fiddletown, however, he accidentally met Colonel
Starbottle, and dropped a few incoherent phrases which apparently
interested that gentleman. When he concluded, the colonel handed
him a letter and a twenty-dollar gold piece. "If you bring me an
answer, I'll double that--sabe, John?" Ah Fe nodded. An interview
equally accidental, with precisely the same result, took place
between Ah Fe and another gentleman, whom I suspect to have been
the youthful editor of the AVALANCHE. Yet I regret to state that,
after proceeding some distance on his journey, Ah Fe calmly broke
the seals of both letters, and after trying to read them upside
down and sideways, finally divided them into accurate squares, and
in this condition disposed of them to a brother Celestial whom he
met on the road, for a trifling gratuity. The agony of Colonel
Starbottle on finding his wash bill made out on the unwritten side
of one of these squares, and delivered to him with his weekly clean
clothes, and the subsequent discovery that the remaining portions
of his letter were circulated by the same method from the Chinese
laundry of one Fung Ti of Fiddletown, has been described to me as
peculiarly affecting. Yet I am satisfied that a higher nature,
rising above the levity induced by the mere contemplation of the
insignificant details of this breach of trust, would find ample
retributive justice in the difficulties that subsequently attended
Ah Fe's pilgrimage.
On the road to Sacramento he was twice playfully thrown from the
top of the stagecoach by an intelligent but deeply intoxicated
Caucasian, whose moral nature was shocked at riding with one
addicted to opium-smoking. At Hangtown he was beaten by a passing
stranger--purely an act of Christian supererogation. At Dutch Flat
he was robbed by well-known hands from unknown motives. At
Sacramento he was arrested on suspicion of being something or
other, and discharged with a severe reprimand--possibly for not
being it, and so delaying the course of justice. At San Francisco
he was freely stoned by children of the public schools; but, by
carefully avoiding these monuments of enlightened progress, he at
last reached, in comparative safety, the Chinese quarters, where
his abuse was confined to the police and limited by the strong arm
of the law.
The next day he entered the washhouse of Chy Fook as an assistant,
and on the following Friday was sent with a basket of clean clothes
to Chy Fook's several clients.
It was the usual foggy afternoon as he climbed the long windswept
hill of California Street--one of those bleak, gray intervals that
made the summer a misnomer to any but the liveliest San Franciscan
fancy. There was no warmth or color in earth or sky, no light nor
shade within or without, only one monotonous, universal neutral
tint over everything. There was a fierce unrest in the wind-
whipped streets: there was a dreary vacant quiet in the gray
houses. When Ah Fe reached the top of the hill, the Mission Ridge
was already hidden, and the chill sea breeze made him shiver. As
he put down his basket to rest himself, it is possible that, to his
defective intelligence and heathen experience, this "God's own
climate," as was called, seemed to possess but scant tenderness,
softness, or mercy. But it is possible that Ah Fe illogically
confounded this season with his old persecutors, the
schoolchildren, who, being released from studious confinement, at
this hour were generally most aggressive. So he hastened on, and
turning a corner, at last stopped before a small house.
It was the usual San Franciscan urban cottage. There was the
little strip of cold green shrubbery before it; the chilly, bare
veranda, and above this, again, the grim balcony, on which no one
sat. Ah Fe rang the bell. A servant appeared, glanced at his
basket, and reluctantly admitted him, as if he were some necessary
domestic animal. Ah Fe silently mounted the stairs, and entering
the open door of the front chamber, put down the basket and stood
passively on the threshold.
A woman, who was sitting in the cold gray light of the window, with
a child in her lap, rose listlessly, and came toward him. Ah Fe
instantly recognized Mrs. Tretherick; but not a muscle of his
immobile face changed, nor did his slant eyes lighten as he met her
own placidly. She evidently did not recognize him as she began to
count the clothes. But the child, curiously examining him,
suddenly uttered a short, glad cry.
"Why, it's John, Mamma! It's our old John what we had in
For an instant Ah Fe's eyes and teeth electrically lightened. The
child clapped her hands, and caught at his blouse. Then he said
shortly: "Me John--Ah Fe--allee same. Me know you. How do?"
Mrs. Tretherick dropped the clothes nervously, and looked hard at
Ah Fe. Wanting the quick-witted instinct of affection that
sharpened Carry's perception, she even then could not distinguish
him above his fellows. With a recollection of past pain, and an
obscure suspicion of impending danger, she asked him when he had
"Longee time. No likee Fiddletown, no likee Tlevelick. Likee San
Flisco. Likee washee. Likee Tally."
Ah Fe's laconics pleased Mrs. Tretherick. She did not stop to
consider how much an imperfect knowledge of English added to his
curt directness and sincerity. But she said, "Don't tell anybody
you have seen me," and took out her pocketbook.
Ah Fe, without looking at it, saw that it was nearly empty. Ah Fe,
without examining the apartment, saw that it was scantily
furnished. Ah Fe, without removing his eyes from blank vacancy,
saw that both Mrs. Tretherick and Carry were poorly dressed. Yet
it is my duty to state that Ah Fe's long fingers closed promptly
and firmly over the half-dollar which Mrs. Tretherick extended to
Then he began to fumble in his blouse with a series of
extraordinary contortions. After a few moments, he extracted from
apparently no particular place a child's apron, which he laid upon
the basket with the remark:
"One piecee washman flagittee."
Then he began anew his fumblings and contortions. At last his
efforts were rewarded by his producing, apparently from his right
ear, a many-folded piece of tissue paper. Unwrapping this
carefully, he at last disclosed two twenty-dollar gold pieces,
which he handed to Mrs. Tretherick.
"You leavee money topside of blulow, Fiddletown. Me findee money.
Me fetchee money to you. All lightee."
"But I left no money on the top of the bureau, John," said Mrs.
Tretherick earnestly. "There must be some mistake. It belongs to
some other person. Take it back, John."
Ah Fe's brow darkened. He drew away from Mrs. Tretherick's
extended hand, and began hastily to gather up his basket.
"Me no takee it back. No, no! Bimeby pleesman he catchee me. He
say, 'God damn thief!--catchee flowty dollar: come to jailee.' Me
no takee back. You leavee money topside blulow, Fiddletown. Me
fetchee money you. Me no takee back."
Mrs. Tretherick hesitated. In the confusion of her flight, she
MIGHT have left the money in the manner he had said. In any event,
she had no right to jeopardize this honest Chinaman's safety by
refusing it. So she said: "Very well, John, I will keep it. But
you must come again and see me--" here Mrs. Tretherick hesitated
with a new and sudden revelation of the fact that any man could
wish to see any other than herself--"and, and--Carry."
Ah Fe's face lightened. He even uttered a short ventriloquistic
laugh without moving his mouth. Then, shouldering his basket, he
shut the door carefully and slid quietly down stairs. In the lower
hall he, however, found an unexpected difficulty in opening the
front door, and, after fumbling vainly at the lock for a moment,
looked around for some help or instruction. But the Irish handmaid
who had let him in was contemptuously oblivious of his needs, and
did not appear.
There occurred a mysterious and painful incident, which I shall
simply record without attempting to explain. On the hall table a
scarf, evidently the property of the servant before alluded to, was
lying. As Ah Fe tried the lock with one hand, the other rested
lightly on the table. Suddenly, and apparently of its own
volition, the scarf began to creep slowly toward Ah Fe's hand; from
Ah Fe's hand it began to creep up his sleeve slowly, and with an
insinuating, snakelike motion; and then disappeared somewhere in
the recesses of his blouse. Without betraying the least interest
or concern in this phenomenon, Ah Fe still repeated his experiments
upon the lock. A moment later the tablecloth of red damask, moved
by apparently the same mysterious impulse, slowly gathered itself
under Ah Fe's fingers, and sinuously disappeared by the same hidden
channel. What further mystery might have followed, I cannot say;
for at this moment Ah Fe discovered the secret of the lock, and was
enabled to open the door coincident with the sound of footsteps
upon the kitchen stairs. Ah Fe did not hasten his movements, but
patiently shouldering his basket, closed the door carefully behind
him again, and stepped forth into the thick encompassing fog that
now shrouded earth and sky.
From her high casement window, Mrs. Tretherick watched Ah Fe's
figure until it disappeared in the gray cloud. In her present
loneliness, she felt a keen sense of gratitude toward him, and may
have ascribed to the higher emotions and the consciousness of a
good deed that certain expansiveness of the chest, and swelling of
the bosom, that was really due to the hidden presence of the scarf
and tablecloth under his blouse. For Mrs. Tretherick was still
poetically sensitive. As the gray fog deepened into night, she
drew Carry closer toward her, and, above the prattle of the child,
pursued a vein of sentimental and egotistic recollection at once
bitter and dangerous. The sudden apparition of Ah Fe linked her
again with her past life at Fiddletown. Over the dreary interval
between, she was now wandering--a journey so piteous, willful,
thorny, and useless that it was no wonder that at last Carry
stopped suddenly in the midst of her voluble confidences to throw
her small arms around the woman's neck, and bid her not to cry.
Heaven forefend that I should use a pen that should be ever
dedicated to an exposition of unalterable moral principle to
transcribe Mrs. Tretherick's own theory of this interval and
episode, with its feeble palliations, its illogical deductions, its
fond excuses, and weak apologies. It would seem, however, that her
experience had been hard. Her slender stock of money was soon
exhausted. At Sacramento she found that the composition of verse,
although appealing to the highest emotions of the human heart, and
compelling the editorial breast to the noblest commendation in the
editorial pages, was singularly inadequate to defray the expenses
of herself and Carry. Then she tried the stage, but failed
signally. Possibly her conception of the passions was different
from that which obtained with a Sacramento audience; but it was
certain that her charming presence, so effective at short range,
was not sufficiently pronounced for the footlights. She had
admirers enough in the greenroom, but awakened no abiding affection
among the audience. In this strait, it occurred to her that she
had a voice--a contralto of no very great compass or cultivation,
but singularly sweet and touching; and she finally obtained
position in a church choir. She held it for three months, greatly
to her pecuniary advantage, and, it is said, much to the
satisfaction of the gentlemen in the back pews, who faced toward
her during the singing of the last hymn.
I remember her quite distinctly at this time. The light that
slanted through the oriel of St. Dives's choir was wont to fall
very tenderly on her beautiful head with its stacked masses of
deerskin-colored hair, on the low black arches of her brows, and to
deepen the pretty fringes that shaded her eyes of Genoa velvet.
Very pleasant it was to watch the opening and shutting of that
small straight mouth, with its quick revelation of little white
teeth, and to see the foolish blood faintly deepen her satin cheek
as you watched. For Mrs. Tretherick was very sweetly conscious of
admiration and, like most pretty women, gathered herself under your
eye like a racer under the spur.
And then, of course, there came trouble. I have it from the
soprano--a little lady who possessed even more than the usual
unprejudiced judgment of her sex--that Mrs. Tretherick's conduct
was simply shameful; that her conceit was unbearable; that, if she
considered the rest of the choir as slaves, she (the soprano) would
like to know it; that her conduct on Easter Sunday with the basso
had attracted the attention of the whole congregation; and that she
herself had noticed Dr. Cope twice look up during the service; that
her (the soprano's) friends had objected to her singing in the
choir with a person who had been on the stage, but she had waived
this. Yet she had it from the best authority that Mrs. Tretherick
had run away from her husband, and that this red-haired child who
sometimes came in the choir was not her own. The tenor confided to
me behind the organ that Mrs. Tretherick had a way of sustaining a
note at the end of a line in order that her voice might linger
longer with the congregation--an act that could be attributed only
to a defective moral nature; that as a man (he was a very popular
dry goods clerk on weekdays, and sang a good deal from apparently
behind his eyebrows on the Sabbath)--that as a man, sir, he would
put up with it no longer. The basso alone--a short German with a
heavy voice, for which he seemed reluctantly responsible, and
rather grieved at its possession--stood up for Mrs. Tretherick, and
averred that they were jealous of her because she was "bretty."
The climax was at last reached in an open quarrel, wherein Mrs.
Tretherick used her tongue with such precision of statement and
epithet that the soprano burst into hysterical tears, and had to be
supported from the choir by her husband and the tenor. This act
was marked intentionally to the congregation by the omission of the
usual soprano solo. Mrs. Tretherick went home flushed with
triumph, but on reaching her room frantically told Carry that they
were beggars henceforward; that she--her mother--had just taken the
very bread out of her darling's mouth, and ended by bursting into a
flood of penitent tears. They did not come so quickly as in her
old poetical days; but when they came they stung deeply. She was
roused by a formal visit from a vestryman--one of the music
committee. Mrs. Tretherick dried her long lashes, put on a new
neck ribbon, and went down to the parlor. She staid there two
hours--a fact that might have occasioned some remark but that the
vestryman was married, and had a family of grownup daughters. When
Mrs. Tretherick returned to her room, she sang to herself in the
glass and scolded Carry--but she retained her place in the choir.
It was not long, however. In due course of time, her enemies
received a powerful addition to their forces in the committeeman's
wife. That lady called upon several of the church members and on
Dr. Cope's family. The result was that, at a later meeting of the
music committee, Mrs. Tretherick's voice was declared inadequate to
the size of the building and she was invited to resign. She did
so. She had been out of a situation for two months, and her scant
means were almost exhausted, when Ah Fe's unexpected treasure was
tossed into her lap.
The gray fog deepened into night, and the street lamps started into
shivering life as, absorbed in these unprofitable memories, Mrs.
Tretherick still sat drearily at her window. Even Carry had
slipped away unnoticed; and her abrupt entrance with the damp
evening paper in her hand roused Mrs. Tretherick, and brought her
back to an active realization of the present. For Mrs. Tretherick
was wont to scan the advertisements in the faint hope of finding
some avenue of employment--she knew not what--open to her needs;
and Carry had noted this habit.
Mrs. Tretherick mechanically closed the shutters, lit the lights,
and opened the paper. Her eye fell instinctively on the following
paragraph in the telegraphic column:
FIDDLETOWN, 7th.--Mr. James Tretherick, an old resident of this
place, died last night of delirium tremens. Mr. Tretherick was
addicted to intemperate habits, said to have been induced by
Mrs. Tretherick did not start. She quietly turned over another
page of the paper, and glanced at Carry. The child was absorbed in
a book. Mrs. Tretherick uttered no word, but during the remainder
of the evening was unusually silent and cold. When Carry was
undressed and in bed, Mrs. Tretherick suddenly dropped on her knees
beside the bed, and, taking Carry's flaming head between her hands,
"Should you like to have another papa, Carry, darling?"
"No," said Carry, after a moment's thought.
"But a papa to help Mamma take care of you, to love you, to give
you nice clothes, to make a lady of you when you grow up?"
Carry turned her sleepy eyes toward the questioner. "Should YOU,
Mrs. Tretherick suddenly flushed to the roots of her hair. "Go to
sleep," she said sharply, and turned away.
But at midnight the child felt two white arms close tightly around
her, and was drawn down into a bosom that heaved, fluttered, and at
last was broken up by sobs.
"Don't ky, Mamma," whispered Carry, with a vague retrospect of
their recent conversation. "Don't ky. I fink I SHOULD like a new
papa, if he loved you very much--very, very much!"
A month afterward, to everybody's astonishment, Mrs. Tretherick was
married. The happy bridegroom was one Colonel Starbottle, recently
elected to represent Calaveras County in the legislative councils
of the State. As I cannot record the event in finer language than
that used by the correspondent of THE SACRAMENTO GLOBE, I venture
to quote some of his graceful periods. "The relentless shafts of
the sly god have been lately busy among our gallant Solons. We
quote 'one more unfortunate.' The latest victim is the Hon. C.
Starbottle of Calaveras. The fair enchantress in the case is a
beautiful widow, a former votary of Thespis, and lately a
fascinating St. Cecilia of one of the most fashionable churches of
San Francisco, where she commanded a high salary."
THE DUTCH FLAT INTELLIGENCER saw fit, however, to comment upon the
fact with that humorous freedom characteristic of an unfettered
press. "The new Democratic war horse from Calaveras has lately
advented in the legislature with a little bill to change the name
of Tretherick to Starbottle. They call it a marriage certificate
down there. Mr. Tretherick has been dead just one month; but we
presume the gallant colonel is not afraid of ghosts." It is but
just to Mrs. Tretherick to state that the colonel's victory was by
no means an easy one. To a natural degree of coyness on the part
of the lady was added the impediment of a rival--a prosperous
undertaker from Sacramento, who had first seen and loved Mrs.
Tretherick at the theater and church, his professional habits
debarring him from ordinary social intercourse, and indeed any
other than the most formal public contact with the sex. As this
gentleman had made a snug fortune during the felicitous prevalence
of a severe epidemic, the colonel regarded him as a dangerous
rival. Fortunately, however, the undertaker was called in
professionally to lay out a brother senator, who had unhappily
fallen by the colonel's pistol in an affair of honor; and either
deterred by physical consideration from rivalry, or wisely
concluding that the colonel was professionally valuable, he
withdrew from the field.
The honeymoon was brief, and brought to a close by an untoward
incident. During their bridal trip, Carry had been placed in the
charge of Colonel Starbottle's sister. On their return to the
city, immediately on reaching their lodgings, Mrs. Starbottle
announced her intention of at once proceeding to Mrs. Culpepper's
to bring the child home. Colonel Starbottle, who had been
exhibiting for some time a certain uneasiness which he had
endeavored to overcome by repeated stimulation, finally buttoned
his coat tightly across his breast, and after walking unsteadily
once or twice up and down the room, suddenly faced his wife with
his most imposing manner.
"I have deferred," said the colonel with an exaggeration of port
that increased with his inward fear, and a growing thickness of
speech--"I have deferr--I may say poshponed statement o' fack thash
my duty ter dishclose ter ye. I did no wish to mar sushine mushal
happ'ness, to bligh bud o' promise, to darken conjuglar sky by
unpleasht revelashun. Musht be done--by God, m'm, musht do it now.
The chile is gone!"
"Gone!" echoed Mrs. Starbottle.
There was something in the tone of her voice, in the sudden
drawing-together of the pupils of her eyes, that for a moment
nearly sobered the colonel, and partly collapsed his chest.
"I'll splain all in a minit," he said with a deprecating wave of
the hand. "Everything shall be splained. The-the-the-melencholly
event wish preshipitate our happ'ness--the myster'us prov'nice wish
releash you--releash chile! hunerstan?--releash chile. The mom't
Tretherick die--all claim you have in chile through him--die too.
Thash law. Who's chile b'long to? Tretherick? Tretherick dead.
Chile can't b'long dead man. Damn nonshense b'long dead man. I'sh
your chile? no! whose chile then? Chile b'long to 'ts mother.
"Where is she?" said Mrs. Starbottle, with a very white face and a
very low voice.
"I'll splain all. Chile b'long to 'ts mother. Thash law. I'm
lawyer, leshlator, and American sis'n. Ish my duty as lawyer, as
leshlator, and 'merikan sis'n to reshtore chile to suff'rin mother
at any coss--any coss."
"Where is she?" repeated Mrs. Starbottle, with her eyes still fixed
on the colonel's face.
"Gone to 'ts m'o'r. Gone East on shteamer, yesserday. Waffed by
fav'rin gales to suff'rin p'rent. Thash so!"
Mrs. Starbottle did not move. The colonel felt his chest slowly
collapsing, but steadied himself against a chair, and endeavored to
beam with chivalrous gallantry not unmixed with magisterial
firmness upon her as she sat.
"Your feelin's, m'm, do honor to yer sex, but conshider situashun.
Conshider m'or's feelings--conshider MY feelin's." The colonel
paused, and flourishing a white handkerchief, placed it negligently
in his breast, and then smiled tenderly above it, as over laces and
ruffles, on the woman before him. "Why should dark shed-der cass
bligh on two sholes with single beat? Chile's fine chile, good
chile, but summonelse chile! Chile's gone, Clar'; but all ish'n't
gone, Clar'. Conshider dearesht, you all's have me!"
Mrs. Starbottle started to her feet. "YOU!" she cried, bringing
out a chest note that made the chandeliers ring--"You that I
married to give my darling food and clothes--YOU! a dog that I
whistled to my side to keep the men off me--YOU!"
She choked up, and then dashed past him into the inner room, which
had been Carry's; then she swept by him again into her own bedroom,
and then suddenly reappeared before him, erect, menacing, with a
burning fire over her cheekbones, a quick straightening of her
arched brows and mouth, a squaring of jaw, and ophidian flattening
of the head.
"Listen!" she said in a hoarse, half-grown boy's voice. "Hear me!
If you ever expect to set eyes on me again, you must find the
child. If you ever expect to speak to me again, to touch me, you
must bring her back. For where she goes, I go; you hear me! Where
she has gone, look for me."
She struck out past him again with a quick feminine throwing-out of
her arms from the elbows down, as if freeing herself from some
imaginary bonds, and dashing into her chamber, slammed and locked
the door. Colonel Starbottle, although no coward, stood in
superstitious fear of an angry woman, and, recoiling as she swept
by, lost his unsteady foothold and rolled helplessly on the sofa.
Here, after one or two unsuccessful attempts to regain his
foothold, he remained, uttering from time to time profane but not
entirely coherent or intelligible protests, until at last he
succumbed to the exhausting quality of his emotions, and the
narcotic quantity of his potations.
Meantime, within, Mrs. Starbottle was excitedly gathering her
valuables and packing her trunk, even as she had done once before
in the course of this remarkable history. Perhaps some
recollection of this was in her mind; for she stopped to lean her
burning cheeks upon her hand, as if she saw again the figure of the
child standing in the doorway, and heard once more a childish voice
asking, "Is it Mamma?" But the epithet now stung her to the quick,
and with a quick, passionate gesture she dashed it away with a tear
that had gathered in her eye. And then it chanced that, in turning
over some clothes, she came upon the child's slipper with a broken
sandal string. She uttered a great cry here--the first she had
uttered--and caught it to her breast, kissing it passionately again
and again, and rocking from side to side with a motion peculiar to
her sex. And then she took it to the window, the better to see it
through her now streaming eyes. Here she was taken with a sudden
fit of coughing that she could not stifle with the handkerchief she
put to her feverish lips. And then she suddenly grew very faint.
The window seemed to recede before her, the floor to sink beneath
her feet; and staggering to the bed, she fell prone upon it with
the sandal and handkerchief pressed to her breast. Her face was
quite pale, the orbit of her eyes dark; and there was a spot upon
her lip, another on her handkerchief, and still another on the
white counterpane of the bed.
The wind had risen, rattling the window sashes and swaying the
white curtains in a ghostly way. Later, a gray fog stole softly
over the roofs, soothing the wind-roughened surfaces, and in-
wrapping all things in an uncertain light and a measureless peace.
She lay there very quiet--for all her troubles, still a very pretty
bride. And on the other side of the bolted door the gallant
bridegroom, from his temporary couch, snored peacefully.
A week before Christmas Day, 1870, the little town of Genoa, in the
State of New York, exhibited, perhaps more strongly than at any
other time, the bitter irony of its founders and sponsors. A
driving snowstorm that had whitened every windward hedge, bush,
wall, and telegraph pole, played around this soft Italian Capital,
whirled in and out of the great staring wooden Doric columns of its
post office and hotel, beat upon the cold green shutters of its
best houses, and powdered the angular, stiff, dark figures in its
streets. From the level of the street, the four principal churches
of the town stood out starkly, even while their misshapen spires
were kindly hidden in the low, driving storm. Near the railroad
station, the new Methodist chapel, whose resemblance to an enormous
locomotive was further heightened by the addition of a pyramidal
row of front steps, like a cowcatcher, stood as if waiting for a
few more houses to be hitched on to proceed to a pleasanter
location. But the pride of Genoa--the great Crammer Institute for
Young Ladies--stretched its bare brick length and reared its cupola
plainly from the bleak Parnassian hill above the principal avenue.
There was no evasion in the Crammer Institute of the fact that it
was a public institution. A visitor upon its doorsteps, a pretty
face at its window, were clearly visible all over the township.
The shriek of the engine of the four-o'clock Northern express
brought but few of the usual loungers to the depot. Only a single
passenger alighted, and was driven away in the solitary waiting
sleigh toward the Genoa Hotel. And then the train sped away again,
with that passionless indifference to human sympathies or curiosity
peculiar to express trains; the one baggage truck was wheeled into
the station again; the station door was locked; and the
stationmaster went home.
The locomotive whistle, however, awakened the guilty consciousness
of three young ladies of the Crammer Institute, who were even then
surreptitiously regaling themselves in the bakeshop and
confectionery saloon of Mistress Phillips in a by-lane. For even
the admirable regulations of the Institute failed to entirely
develop the physical and moral natures of its pupils. They
conformed to the excellent dietary rules in public, and in private
drew upon the luxurious rations of their village caterer. They
attended church with exemplary formality, and flirted informally
during service with the village beaux. They received the best and
most judicious instruction during school hours, and devoured the
trashiest novels during recess. The result of which was an
aggregation of quite healthy, quite human, and very charming young
creatures that reflected infinite credit on the Institute. Even
Mistress Phillips, to whom they owed vast sums, exhilarated by the
exuberant spirits and youthful freshness of her guests, declared
that the sight of "them young things" did her good, and had even
been known to shield them by shameless equivocation.
"Four o'clock, girls! and, if we're not back to prayers by five,
we'll be missed," said the tallest of these foolish virgins, with
an aquiline nose, and certain quiet elan that bespoke the leader,
as she rose from her seat. "Have you got the books, Addy?" Addy
displayed three dissipated-looking novels under her waterproof.
"And the provisions, Carry?" Carry showed a suspicious parcel
filling the pocket of her sack. "All right, then. Come, girls,
trudge--Charge it," she added, nodding to her host as they passed
toward the door. "I'll pay you when my quarter's allowance comes."
"No, Kate," interposed Carry, producing her purse, "let me pay;
it's my turn."
"Never!" said Kate, arching her black brows loftily, "even if you
do have rich relatives, and regular remittances from California.
Never! Come, girls, forward, march!"
As they opened the door, a gust of wind nearly took them off their
feet. Kindhearted Mrs. Phillips was alarmed. "Sakes alive, galls!
ye mussn't go out in sich weather. Better let me send word to the
Institoot, and make ye up a nice bed tonight in my parlor." But
the last sentence was lost in a chorus of half-suppressed shrieks
as the girls, hand in hand, ran down the steps into the storm, and
were at once whirled away.
The short December day, unlit by any sunset glow, was failing fast.
It was quite dark already, and the air was thick with driving snow.
For some distance their high spirits, youth, and even inexperience
kept them bravely up; but, in ambitiously attempting a short cut
from the highroad across an open field, their strength gave out,
the laugh grew less frequent, and tears began to stand in Carry's
brown eyes. When they reached the road again, they were utterly
exhausted. "Let us go back," said Carry.
"We'd never get across that field again," said Addy.
"Let's stop at the first house, then," said Carry.
"The first house," said Addy, peering through the gathering
darkness, "is Squire Robinson's." She darted a mischievous glance
at Carry that, even in her discomfort and fear, brought the quick
blood to her cheek.
"Oh, yes!" said Kate with gloomy irony, "certainly; stop at the
squire's by all means, and be invited to tea, and be driven home
after by your dear friend Mr. Harry, with a formal apology from
Mrs. Robinson, and hopes that the young ladies may be excused this
time. No!" continued Kate with sudden energy. "That may suit YOU;
but I'm going back as I came--by the window, or not at all" Then
she pounced suddenly, like a hawk, on Carry, who was betraying a
tendency to sit down on a snowbank and whimper, and shook her
briskly. "You'll be going to sleep next. Stay, hold your tongues,
all of you--what's that?"
It was the sound of sleigh bells. Coming down toward them out of
the darkness was a sleigh with a single occupant. "Hold down your
heads, girls: if it's anybody that knows us, we're lost." But it
was not, for a voice strange to their ears, but withal very kindly
and pleasant, asked if its owner could be of any help to them. As
they turned toward him, they saw it was a man wrapped in a handsome
sealskin cloak, wearing a sealskin cap; his face, half-concealed by
a muffler of the same material, disclosing only a pair of long
mustaches, and two keen dark eyes. "It's a son of old Santa
Claus!" whispered Addy. The girls tittered audibly as they tumbled
into the sleigh; they had regained their former spirits. "Where
shall I take you?" said the stranger quietly. There was a hurried
whispering; and then Kate said boldly, "To the Institute." They
drove silently up the hill, until the long, ascetic building loomed
up before them. The stranger reined up suddenly. "You know the
way better than I," he said. "Where do you go in?" "Through the
back window," said Kate with sudden and appalling frankness. "I
see!" responded their strange driver quietly and, alighting
quickly, removed the bells from the horses. "We can drive as near
as you please now," he added by way of explanation. "He certainly
is a son of Santa Claus," whispered Addy. "Hadn't we better ask
after his father?" "Hush!" said Kate decidedly. "He is an angel,
I dare say." She added with a delicious irrelevance, which was,
however, perfectly understood by her feminine auditors, "We are
looking like three frights."
Cautiously skirting the fences, they at last pulled up a few feet
from a dark wall. The stranger proceeded to assist them to alight.
There was still some light from the reflected snow; and as he
handed his fair companions to the ground, each was conscious of
undergoing an intense though respectful scrutiny. He assisted them
gravely to open the window, and then discreetly retired to the
sleigh until the difficult and somewhat discomposing ingress was
made. He then walked to the window. "Thank you and good night!"
whispered three voices. A single figure still lingered. The
stranger leaned over the window sill. "Will you permit me to light
my cigar here? It might attract attention if I struck a match
outside." By the upspringing light he saw the figure of Kate very
charmingly framed in by the window. The match burnt slowly out in
his fingers. Kate smiled mischievously. The astute young woman
had detected the pitiable subterfuge. For what else did she stand
at the head of her class, and had doting parents paid three years'
The storm had passed, and the sun was shining quite cheerily in the
eastern recitation room the next morning when Miss Kate, whose seat
was nearest the window, placing her hand pathetically upon her
heart, affected to fall in bashful and extreme agitation upon the
shoulder of Carry, her neighbor. "HE has come," she gasped in a
thrilling whisper. "Who?" asked Carry sympathetically, who never
clearly understood when Kate was in earnest. "Who?--Why, the man
who rescued us last night! I saw him drive to the door this
moment. Don't speak; I shall be better in a moment--there!" she
said, and the shameless hypocrite passed her hand pathetically
across her forehead with a tragic air.
"What can he want?" asked Carry, whose curiosity was excited. "I
don't know," said Kate, suddenly relapsing into gloomy cynicism.
"Possibly to put his five daughters to school; perhaps to finish
his young wife, and warn her against us."
"He didn't look old, and he didn't seem like a married man,"
rejoined Addy thoughtfully.
"That was his art, you poor creature!" returned Kate scornfully.
"You can never tell anything of these men, they are so deceitful.
Besides, it's just my fate!"
"Why, Kate," began Carry, in serious concern.
"Hush! Miss Walker is saying something," said Kate, laughing.
"The young ladies will please give attention," said a slow,
perfunctory voice. "Miss Carry Tretherick is wanted in the
Meantime Mr. Jack Prince, the name given on the card, and various
letters and credentials submitted to the Rev. Mr. Crammer, paced
the somewhat severe apartment known publicly as the "reception
parlor" and privately to the pupils as "purgatory." His keen eyes
had taken in the various rigid details, from the flat steam
"radiator," like an enormous japanned soda cracker, that heated one
end of the room to the monumental bust of Dr. Crammer that
hopelessly chilled the other; from the Lord's Prayer, executed by a
former writing master in such gratuitous variety of elegant
calligraphic trifling as to abate considerably the serious value of
the composition, to three views of Genoa from the Institute, which
nobody ever recognized, taken on the spot by the drawing teacher;
from two illuminated texts of Scripture in an English letter, so
gratuitously and hideously remote as to chill all human interest,
to a large photograph of the senior class, in which the prettiest
girls were Ethiopian in complexion, and sat, apparently, on each
other's heads and shoulders. His fingers had turned listlessly the
leaves of school-catalogues, the SERMONS of Dr. Crammer, the POEMS
of Henry Kirke White, the LAYS OF THE SANCTUARY and LIVES OF
CELEBRATED WOMEN. His fancy, and it was a nervously active one,
had gone over the partings and greetings that must have taken place
here, and wondered why the apartment had yet caught so little of
the flavor of humanity; indeed, I am afraid he had almost forgotten
the object of his visit when the door opened, and Carry Tretherick
stood before him.
It was one of those faces he had seen the night before, prettier
even than it had seemed then; and yet I think he was conscious of
some disappointment, without knowing exactly why. Her abundant
waving hair was of a guinea-golden tint, her complexion of a
peculiar flowerlike delicacy, her brown eyes of the color of
seaweed in deep water. It certainly was not her beauty that
Without possessing his sensitiveness to impression, Carry was, on
her part, quite as vaguely ill at ease. She saw before her one of
those men whom the sex would vaguely generalize as "nice," that is
to say, correct in all the superficial appointments of style,
dress, manners, and feature. Yet there was a decidedly
unconventional quality about him: he was totally unlike anything or
anybody that she could remember; and as the attributes of
originality are often as apt to alarm as to attract people, she was
not entirely prepossessed in his favor.
"I can hardly hope," he began pleasantly, "that you remember me.
It is eleven years ago, and you were a very little girl. I am
afraid I cannot even claim to have enjoyed that familiarity that
might exist between a child of six and a young man of twenty-one.
I don't think I was fond of children. But I knew your mother very
well. I was editor of the AVALANCHE in Fiddletown when she took
you to San Francisco."
"You mean my stepmother; she wasn't my mother, you know,"
interposed Carry hastily.
Mr. Prince looked at her curiously. "I mean your stepmother," he
said gravely. "I never had the pleasure of meeting your mother."
"No; MOTHER hasn't been in California these twelve years."
There was an intentional emphasizing of the title and of its
distinction that began to interest coldly Prince after his first
astonishment was past.
"As I come from your stepmother now," he went on with a slight
laugh, "I must ask you to go back for a few moments to that point.
After your father's death, your mother--I mean your stepmother--
recognized the fact that your mother, the first Mrs. Tretherick,
was legally and morally your guardian and, although much against
her inclination and affections, placed you again in her charge."
"My stepmother married again within a month after father died, and
sent me home," said Carry with great directness, and the faintest
toss of her head.
Mr. Prince smiled so sweetly, and apparently so sympathetically,
that Carry began to like him. With no other notice of the
interruption he went on, "After your stepmother had performed this
act of simple justice, she entered into an agreement with your
mother to defray the expenses of your education until your
eighteenth year, when you were to elect and choose which of the two
should thereafter be your guardian, and with whom you would make
your home. This agreement, I think, you are already aware of, and,
I believe, knew at the time."
"I was a mere child then," said Carry.
"Certainly," said Mr. Prince, with the same smile. "Still the
conditions, I think, have never been oppressive to you nor your
mother; and the only time they are likely to give you the least
uneasiness will be when you come to make up your mind in the choice
of your guardian. That will be on your eighteenth birthday--the
twentieth, I think, of the present month."
Carry was silent.
"Pray do not think that I am here to receive your decision, even if
it be already made. I only came to inform you that your
stepmother, Mrs. Starbottle, will be in town tomorrow, and will
pass a few days at the hotel. If it is your wish to see her before
you make up your mind, she will be glad to meet you. She does not,
however, wish to do anything to influence your judgment.
"Does Mother know she is coming?" said Carry hastily.
"I do not know," said Prince gravely. "I only know that if you
conclude to see Mrs. Starbottle, it will be with your mother's
permission. Mrs. Starbottle will keep sacredly this part of the
agreement, made ten years ago. But her health is very poor; and
the change and country quiet of a few days may benefit her." Mr.
Prince bent his keen, bright eyes upon the young girl, and almost
held his breath until she spoke again.
"Mother's coming up today or tomorrow," she said, looking up.
"Ah!" said Mr. Prince with a sweet and languid smile.
"Is Colonel Starbottle here too?" asked Carry, after a pause.
"Colonel Starbottle is dead. Your stepmother is again a widow."
"Dead!" repeated Carry.
"Yes," replied Mr. Prince. "Your stepmother has been singularly
unfortunate in surviving her affections."
Carry did not know what he meant, and looked so. Mr. Prince smiled
Presently Carry began to whimper.
Mr. Prince softly stepped beside her chair.
"I am afraid," he said with a very peculiar light in his eye, and a
singular dropping of the corners of his mustache--"I am afraid you
are taking this too deeply. It will be some days before you are
called upon to make a decision. Let us talk of something else. I
hope you caught no cold last evening."
Carry's face shone out again in dimples.
"You must have thought us so queer! It was too bad to give you so
"None whatever, I assure you. My sense of propriety," he added
demurely, "which might have been outraged had I been called upon to
help three young ladies out of a schoolroom window at night. was
deeply gratified at being able to assist them in again." The
doorbell rang loudly, and Mr. Prince rose. "Take your own time,
and think well before you make your decision." But Carry's ear and
attention were given to the sound of voices in the hall. At the
same moment, the door was thrown open, and a servant announced,
"Mrs. Tretherick and Mr. Robinson."
The afternoon train had just shrieked out its usual indignant
protest at stopping at Genoa at all as Mr. Jack Prince entered the
outskirts of the town, and drove toward his hotel. He was wearied
and cynical. A drive of a dozen miles through unpicturesque
outlying villages, past small economic farmhouses, and hideous
villas that violated his fastidious taste, had, I fear, left that
gentleman in a captious state of mind. He would have even avoided
his taciturn landlord as he drove up to the door; but that
functionary waylaid him on the steps. "There's a lady in the
sittin'-room, waitin' for ye." Mr. Prince hurried upstairs, and
entered the room as Mrs. Starbottle flew toward him.
She had changed sadly in the last ten years. Her figure was wasted
to half its size. The beautiful curves of her bust and shoulders
were broken or inverted. The once full, rounded arm was shrunken
in its sleeve; and the golden hoops that encircled her wan wrists
almost slipped from her hands as her long, scant fingers closed
convulsively around Jack's. Her cheekbones were painted that
afternoon with the hectic of fever: somewhere in the hollows of
those cheeks were buried the dimples of long ago, but their graves
were forgotten. Her lustrous eyes were still beautiful, though the
orbits were deeper than before. Her mouth was still sweet,
although the lips parted more easily over the little teeth, even in
breathing, and showed more of them than she was wont to do before.
The glory of her blond hair was still left: it was finer, more
silken and ethereal, yet it failed even in its plenitude to cover
the hollows of the blue-veined temples.
"Clara!" said Jack reproachfully.
"Oh, forgive me, Jack!" she said, falling into a chair, but still
clinging to his hand--"forgive me, dear; but I could not wait
longer. I should have died, Jack--died before another night. Bear
with me a little longer (it will not be long), but let me stay. I
may not see her, I know; I shall not speak to her: but it's so
sweet to feel that I am at last near her, that I breathe the same
air with my darling. I am better already, Jack, I am indeed. And
you have seen her today? How did she look? What did she say?
Tell me all, everything, Jack. Was she beautiful? They say she
is. Has she grown? Would you have known her again? Will she
come, Jack? Perhaps she has been here already; perhaps"--she had
risen with tremulous excitement, and was glancing at the door--
"perhaps she is here now. Why don't you speak, Jack? Tell me
The keen eyes that looked down into hers were glistening with an
infinite tenderness that none, perhaps, but she would have deemed
them capable of. "Clara," he said gently and cheerily, "try and
compose yourself. You are trembling now with the fatigue and
excitement of your journey. I have seen Carry; she is well and
beautiful. Let that suffice you now."
His gentle firmness composed and calmed her now, as it had often
done before. Stroking her thin hand, he said, after a pause, "Did
Carry ever write to you?"
"Twice, thanking me for some presents. They were only schoolgirl
letters," she added, nervously answering the interrogation of his
"Did she ever know of your own troubles? of your poverty, of the
sacrifices you made to pay her bills, of your pawning your clothes
and jewels, of your--"
"No, no!" interrupted the woman quickly: "no! How could she? I
have no enemy cruel enough to tell her that."
"But if she--or if Mrs. Tretherick--had heard of it? If Carry
thought you were poor, and unable to support her properly, it might
influence her decision. Young girls are fond of the position that
wealth can give. She may have rich friends, maybe a lover."
Mrs. Starbottle winced at the last sentence. "But," she said
eagerly, grasping Jack's hand, "when you found me sick and helpless
at Sacramento, when you--God bless you for it, Jack!--offered to
help me to the East, you said you knew of something, you had some
plan, that would make me and Carry independent."
"Yes," said Jack hastily; "but I want you to get strong and well
first. And, now that you are calmer, you shall listen to my visit
to the school."
It was then that Mr. Jack Prince proceeded to describe the
interview already recorded, with a singular felicity and discretion
that shames my own account of that proceeding. Without suppressing
a single fact, without omitting a word or detail, he yet managed to
throw a poetic veil over that prosaic episode, to invest the
heroine with a romantic roseate atmosphere, which, though not
perhaps entirely imaginary, still, I fear, exhibited that genius
which ten years ago had made the columns of THE FIDDLETOWN
AVALANCHE at once fascinating and instructive. It was not until he
saw the heightening color, and heard the quick breathing, of his
eager listener, that he felt a pang of self-reproach. "God help
her and forgive me!" he muttered between his clinched teeth; "but
how can I tell her ALL now!"
That night, when Mrs. Starbottle laid her weary head upon her
pillow, she tried to picture to herself Carry at the same moment
sleeping peacefully in the great schoolhouse on the hill; and it
was a rare comfort to this yearning, foolish woman to know that she
was so near. But at this moment Carry was sitting on the edge of
her bed, half-undressed, pouting her pretty lips and twisting her
long, leonine locks between her fingers as Miss Kate Van Corlear--
dramatically wrapped in a long white counterpane, her black eyes
sparkling, and her thoroughbred nose thrown high in air--stood over
her like a wrathful and indignant ghost; for Carry had that evening
imparted her woes and her history to Miss Kate, and that young lady
had "proved herself no friend" by falling into a state of fiery
indignation over Carry's "ingratitude," and openly and shamelessly
espousing the claims of Mrs. Starbottle. "Why, if the half you
tell me is true, your mother and those Robinsons are making of you
not only a little coward, but a little snob, miss. Respectability,
forsooth! Look you, my family are centuries before the
Trethericks; but if my family had ever treated me in this way, and
then asked me to turn my back on my best friend, I'd whistle them
down the wind;" and here Kate snapped her fingers, bent her black
brows, and glared around the room as if in search of a recreant Van
"You just talk this way because you have taken a fancy to that Mr.
Prince," said Carry.
In the debasing slang of the period, that had even found its way
into the virgin cloisters of the Crammer Institute, Miss Kate, as
she afterward expressed it, instantly "went for her."
First, with a shake of her head, she threw her long black hair over
one shoulder, then, dropping one end of the counterpane from the
other like a vestal tunic, she stepped before Carry with a
purposely exaggerated classic stride. "And what if I have, miss!
What if I happen to know a gentleman when I see him! What if I
happen to know that among a thousand such traditional,
conventional, feeble editions of their grandfathers as Mr. Harry
Robinson, you cannot find one original, independent, individualized
gentleman like your Prince! Go to bed, miss, and pray to Heaven
that he may be YOUR Prince indeed. Ask to have a contrite and
grateful heart, and thank the Lord in particular for having sent
you such a friend as Kate Van Corlear." Yet, after an imposing
dramatic exit, she reappeared the next moment as a straight white
flash, kissed Carry between the brows, and was gone.
The next day was a weary one to Jack Prince. He was convinced in
his mind that Carry would not come; yet to keep this consciousness
from Mrs. Starbottle, to meet her simple hopefulness with an equal
degree of apparent faith, was a hard and difficult task. He would
have tried to divert her mind by taking her on a long drive; but
she was fearful that Carry might come during her absence; and her
strength, he was obliged to admit, had failed greatly. As he
looked into her large and awe-inspiring clear eyes, a something he
tried to keep from his mind--to put off day by day from
contemplation--kept asserting itself directly to his inner
consciousness. He began to doubt the expediency and wisdom of his
management. He recalled every incident of his interview with
Carry, and half-believed that its failure was due to himself. Yet
Mrs. Starbottle was very patient and confident; her very confidence
shook his faith in his own judgment. When her strength was equal
to the exertion, she was propped up in her chair by the window,
where she could see the school and the entrance to the hotel. In
the intervals she would elaborate pleasant plans for the future,
and would sketch a country home. She had taken a strange fancy, as
it seemed to Prince, to the present location; but it was notable
that the future, always thus outlined, was one of quiet and repose.
She believed she would get well soon; in fact, she thought she was
now much better than she had been, but it might be long before she
should be quite strong again. She would whisper on in this way
until Jack would dash madly down into the barroom, order liquors
that he did not drink, light cigars that he did not smoke, talk
with men that he did not listen to, and behave generally as our
stronger sex is apt to do in periods of delicate trials and
The day closed with a clouded sky and a bitter, searching wind.
With the night fell a few wandering flakes of snow. She was still
content and hopeful; and, as Jack wheeled her from the window to
the fire, she explained to him how that, as the school term was
drawing near its close, Carry was probably kept closely at her
lessons during the day, and could only leave the school at night.
So she sat up the greater part of the evening, and combed her
silken hair, and as far as her strength would allow, made an
undress toilet to receive her guest. "We must not frighten the
child, Jack," she said apologetically, and with something of her
It was with a feeling of relief that, at ten o'clock, Jack received
a message from the landlord, saying that the doctor would like to
see him for a moment downstairs. As Jack entered the grim, dimly
lighted parlor, he observed the hooded figure of a woman near the
fire. He was about to withdraw again when a voice that he
remembered very pleasantly said:
"Oh, it's all right! I'm the doctor."
The hood was thrown back, and Prince saw the shining black hair and
black, audacious eyes of Kate Van Corlear.
"Don't ask any questions. I'm the doctor, and there's my
prescription," and she pointed to the half-frightened, half-sobbing
Carry in the corner--"to be taken at once."
"Then Mrs. Tretherick has given her permission?"
"Not much, if I know the sentiments of that lady," replied Kate
"Then how did you get away?" asked Prince gravely.
"BY THE WINDOW."
When Mr. Prince had left Carry in the arms of her stepmother, he
returned to the parlor.
"Well?" demanded Kate.
"She will stay--YOU will, I hope, also--tonight."
"As I shall not be eighteen, and my own mistress on the twentieth,
and as I haven't a sick stepmother, I won't."
"Then you will give me the pleasure of seeing you safely through
the window again?"
When Mr. Prince returned an hour later, he found Carry sitting on a
low stool at Mrs. Starbottle's feet. Her head was in her
stepmother's lap, and she had sobbed herself to sleep. Mrs.
Starbottle put her finger to her lip. "I told you she would come.
God bless you, Jack! and good night."
The next morning Mrs. Tretherick, indignant, the Rev. Asa Crammer,
principal, injured, and Mr. Joel Robinson, Sr., complacently
respectable, called upon Mr. Prince. There was a stormy meeting,
ending in a demand for Carry. "We certainly cannot admit of this
interference," said Mrs. Tretherick, a fashionably dressed,
indistinctive-looking woman. "It is several days before the
expiration of our agreement; and we do not feel, under the
circumstances, justified in releasing Mrs. Starbottle from its
conditions." "Until the expiration of the school term, we must
consider Miss Tretherick as complying entirely with its rules and
discipline," imposed Dr. Crammer. "The whole proceeding is
calculated to injure the prospects, and compromise the position, of
Miss Tretherick in society," suggested Mr. Robinson.
In vain Mr. Prince urged the failing condition of Mrs. Starbottle,
her absolute freedom from complicity with Carry's flight, the
pardonable and natural instincts of the girl, and his own assurance
that they were willing to abide by her decision. And then, with a
rising color in his cheek, a dangerous look in his eye, but a
singular calmness in his speech, he added:
"One word more. It becomes my duty to inform you of a circumstance
which would certainly justify me, as an executor of the late Mr.
Tretherick, in fully resisting your demands. A few months after
Mr. Tretherick's death, through the agency of a Chinaman in his
employment, it was discovered that he had made a will, which was
subsequently found among his papers. The insignificant value of
his bequest--mostly land, then quite valueless--prevented his
executors from carrying out his wishes, or from even proving the
will, or making it otherwise publicly known, until within the last
two or three years, when the property had enormously increased in
value. The provisions of that bequest are simple, but
unmistakable. The property is divided between Carry and her
stepmother, with the explicit condition that Mrs. Starbottle shall
become her legal guardian, provide for her education, and in all
details stand to her IN LOCO PARENTIS."
"What is the value of this bequest?" asked Mr. Robinson. "I cannot
tell exactly, but not far from half a million, I should say,"
returned Prince. "Certainly, with this knowledge, as a friend of
Miss Tretherick I must say that her conduct is as judicious as it
is honorable to her," responded Mr. Robinson. "I shall not presume
to question the wishes, or throw any obstacles in the way of
carrying out the intentions, of my dead husband," added Mrs.
Tretherick; and the interview was closed.
When its result was made known to Mrs. Starbottle, she raised
Jack's hand to her feverish lips. "It cannot add to MY happiness
now, Jack; but tell me, why did you keep it from her?" Jack
smiled, but did not reply.
Within the next week the necessary legal formalities were
concluded, and Carry was restored to her stepmother. At Mrs.
Starbottle's request, a small house in the outskirts of the town
was procured; and thither they removed to wait the spring, and Mrs.
Starbottle's convalescence. Both came tardily that year.
Yet she was happy and patient. She was fond of watching the
budding of the trees beyond her window--a novel sight to her
Californian experience--and of asking Carry their names and
seasons. Even at this time she projected for that summer, which
seemed to her so mysteriously withheld, long walks with Carry
through the leafy woods, whose gray, misty ranks she could see
along the hilltop. She even thought she could write poetry about
them, and recalled the fact as evidence of her gaining strength;
and there is, I believe, still treasured by one of the members of
this little household a little carol so joyous, so simple, and so
innocent that it might have been an echo of the robin that called
to her from the window, as perhaps it was.
And then, without warning, there dropped from Heaven a day so
tender, so mystically soft, so dreamily beautiful, so throbbing and
alive with the fluttering of invisible wings, so replete and
bounteously overflowing with an awakening and joyous resurrection
not taught by man or limited by creed, that they thought it fit to
bring her out and lay her in that glorious sunshine that sprinkled
like the droppings of a bridal torch the happy lintels and doors.
And there she lay beatified and calm.
Wearied by watching, Carry had fallen asleep by her side; and Mrs.
Starbottle's thin fingers lay like a benediction on her head.
Presently she called Jack to her side.
"Who was that," she whispered, "who just came in?"
"Miss Van Corlear," said Jack, answering the look in her great
"Jack," she said, after a moment's silence, "sit by me a moment;
dear Jack: I've something I must say. If I ever seemed hard, or
cold, or coquettish to you in the old days, it was because I loved
you, Jack, too well to mar your future by linking it with my own.
I always loved you, dear Jack, even when I seemed least worthy of
you. That is gone now. But I had a dream lately, Jack, a foolish
woman's dream--that you might find what I lacked in HER," and she
glanced lovingly at the sleeping girl at her side; "that you might
love her as you have loved me. But even that is not to be, Jack,
is it?" and she glanced wistfully in his face. Jack pressed her
hand, but did not speak. After a few moments' silence, she again
said: "Perhaps you are right in your choice. She is a goodhearted
girl, Jack--but a little bold."
And with this last flicker of foolish, weak humanity in her
struggling spirit, she spoke no more. When they came to her a
moment later, a tiny bird that had lit upon her breast flew away;
and the hand that they lifted from Carry's head fell lifeless at
A bird twittered! The morning sun shining through the open window
was apparently more potent than the cool mountain air, which had
only caused the sleeper to curl a little more tightly in his
blankets. Barker's eyes opened instantly upon the light and the
bird on the window ledge. Like all healthy young animals he would
have tried to sleep again, but with his momentary consciousness
came the recollection that it was his turn to cook the breakfast
that morning, and he regretfully rolled out of his bunk to the
floor. Without stopping to dress, he opened the door and stepped
outside, secure in the knowledge that he was overlooked only by the
Sierras, and plunged his head and shoulders in the bucket of cold
water that stood by the door. Then he began to clothe himself,
partly in the cabin and partly in the open air, with a lapse
between the putting on of his trousers and coat which he employed
in bringing in wood. Raking together the few embers on the adobe
hearth, not without a prudent regard to the rattlesnake which had
once been detected in haunting the warm ashes, he began to prepare
breakfast. By this time the other sleepers, his partners Stacy and
Demorest, young men of about his own age, were awake, alert, and
lazily critical of his progress.
"I don't care about my quail on toast being underdone for
breakfast," said Stacy, with a yawn; "and you needn't serve with
red wine. I'm not feeling very peckish this morning."
"And I reckon you can knock off the fried oysters after the Spanish
mackerel for ME," said Demorest gravely. "The fact is, that last
bottle of Veuve Clicquot we had for supper wasn't as dry as I am
Accustomed to these regular Barmecide suggestions, Barker made no
direct reply. Presently, looking up from the fire, he said,
"There's no more saleratus, so you mustn't blame me if the biscuit
is extra heavy. I told you we had none when you went to the
"And I told you we hadn't a red cent to buy any with," said Stacy,
who was also treasurer. "Put these two negatives together and you
make the affirmative--saleratus. Mix freely and bake in a hot
Nevertheless, after a toilet as primitive as Barker's they sat down
to what he had prepared with the keen appetite begotten of the
mountain air and the regretful fastidiousness born of the
recollection of better things. Jerked beef, frizzled with salt
pork in a frying-pan, boiled potatoes, biscuit, and coffee composed
the repast. The biscuits, however, proving remarkably heavy after
the first mouthful, were used as missiles, thrown through the open
door at an empty bottle which had previously served as a mark for
revolver practice, and a few moments later pipes were lit to
counteract the effects of the meal and take the taste out of their
mouths. Suddenly they heard the sound of horses' hoofs, saw the
quick passage of a rider in the open space before the cabin, and
felt the smart impact upon the table of some small object thrown by
him. It was the regular morning delivery of the county newspaper!
"He's getting to be a mighty sure shot," said Demorest approvingly,
looking at his upset can of coffee as he picked up the paper,
rolled into a cylindrical wad as tightly as a cartridge, and began
to straighten it out. This was no easy matter, as the sheet had
evidently been rolled while yet damp from the press; but Demorest
eventually opened it and ensconced himself behind it.
"Nary news?" asked Stacy.
"No. There never is any," said Demorest scornfully. "We ought to
stop the paper."
"You mean the paper man ought to. WE don't pay him," said Barker
"Well, that's the same thing, smarty. No news, no pay. Hallo!" he
continued, his eyes suddenly riveted on the paper. Then, after the
fashion of ordinary humanity, he stopped short and read the
interesting item to himself. When he had finished he brought his
fist and the paper, together, violently down upon the table. "Now
look at this! Talk of luck, will you? Just think of it. Here are
WE--hard-working men with lots of sabe, too--grubbin' away on this
hillside like niggers, glad to get enough at the end of the day to
pay for our soggy biscuits and horse-bean coffee, and just look
what falls into the lap of some lazy sneakin' greenhorn who never
did a stoke of work in his life! Here are WE, with no foolishness,
no airs nor graces, and yet men who would do credit to twice that
amount of luck--and seem born to it, too--and we're set aside for
some long, lank, pen-wiping scrub who just knows enough to sit down
on his office stool and hold on to a bit of paper."
"What's up now?" asked Stacy, with the carelessness begotten of
familiarity with his partner's extravagance.
"Listen," said Demorest, reading. "Another unprecedented rise has
taken place in the shares of the 'Yellow Hammer First Extension
Mine' since the sinking of the new shaft. It was quoted yesterday
at ten thousand dollars a foot. When it is remembered that
scarcely two years ago the original shares, issued at fifty dollars
per share, had dropped to only fifty cents a share, it will be seen
that those who were able to hold on have got a good thing."
"What mine did you say?" asked Barker. looking up meditatively
from the dishes he was already washing.
"The Yellow Hammer First Extension," returned Demorest shortly.
"I used to have some shares in that, and I think I have them
still," said Barker musingly.
"Yes," said Demorest promptly; "the paper speaks of it here. 'We
understand,'" he continued, reading aloud, "'that our eminent
fellow citizen, George Barker, otherwise known as "Get Left Barker"
and "Chucklehead," is one of these fortunate individuals.'"
"No," said Barker, with a slight flush of innocent pleasure, "it
can't say that. How could it know?"
Stacy laughed, but Demorest coolly continued: "You didn't hear all.
Listen! 'We say WAS one of them; but having already sold his
apparently useless certificates to our popular druggist, Jones, for
corn plasters, at a reduced rate, he is unable to realize.'"
"You may laugh, boys," said Barker, with simple seriousness; "but I
really believe I have got 'em yet. Just wait. I'll see!" He rose
and began to drag out a well-worn valise from under his bunk. "You
see," he continued, "they were given to me by an old chap in
"For saving his life by delaying the Stockton boat that afterward
blew up," returned Demorest briefly. "We know it all! His hair
was white, and his hand trembled slightly as he laid these shares
in yours, saying, and you never forgot the words, 'Take 'em, young
"For lending him two thousand dollars, then," continued Barker with
a simple ignoring of the interruption, as he quietly brought out
"TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS!" repeated Stacy. "When did YOU have two
"When I first left Sacramento--three years ago," said Barker,
unstrapping the valise.
"How long did you have it?" said Demorest incredulously.
"At least two days, I think," returned Barker quietly. "Then I met
that man. He was hard-up, and I lent him my pile and took those
shares. He died afterward."
"Of course he did," said Demorest severely. "They always do.
Nothing kills a man more quickly than an action of that kind."
Nevertheless the two partners regarded Barker rummaging among some
loose clothes and papers with a kind of paternal toleration. "If
you can't find them, bring out your government bonds," suggested
Stacy. But the next moment, flushed and triumphant, Barker rose
from his knees, and came toward them carrying some papers in his
hands. Demorest seized them from him, opened them, spread them on
the table, examined hurriedly the date, signatures, and transfers,
glanced again quickly at the newspaper paragraph, looked wildly at
Stacy and then at Barker, and gasped:
"By the living hookey! it is SO!"
"B'gosh! he HAS got 'em!" echoed Stacy.
"Twenty shares," continued Demorest breathlessly, "at ten thousand
dollars a share--even if it's only a foot--is two hundred thousand
"Tell me, fair sir," said Stacy, with sparkling eyes, "hast still
left in yonder casket any rare jewels, rubies, sarcenet, or links
of fine gold? Peradventure a pearl or two may have been
"No--that's all," returned Barker simply.
"You hear him! Rothschild says 'that's all.' Prince Esterhazy
says he hasn't another red cent--only two hundred thousand
"What ought I to do, boys?" asked Barker, timidly glancing from one
to the other. Yet he remembered with delight all that day, and for
many a year afterward, that he saw in their faces only unselfish
joy and affection at that supreme moment.
"Do?" said Demorest promptly. "Stand on your head and yell! No!
stop! Come here!" He seized both Barker and Stacy by the hand,
and ran out into the open air. Here they danced violently with
clasped hands around a small buckeye, in perfect silence, and then
returned to the cabin, grave but perspiring.
"Of course," said Barker, wiping his forehead, "we'll just get some
money on these certificates and buy up that next claim which
belongs to old Carter--where you know we thought we saw the
"We'll do nothing of the kind," said Demorest decidedly. "WE ain't
in it. That money is yours, old chap--every cent of it--property
acquired before marriage, you know; and the only thing we'll do is
to be damned before we'll see you drop a dime of it into this
Godforsaken hole. No!"
"But we're partners," gasped Barker.
"Not in THIS! The utmost we can do for you, opulent sir--though it
ill becomes us horny-handed sons of toil to rub shoulders with
Dives--is perchance to dine with you, to take a pasty and a glass
of Malvoisie, at some restaurant in Sacramento--when you've got
things fixed, in honor of your return to affluence. But more would
ill become us!"
"But what are YOU going to do?" said Barker, with a half-hysteric,
"We have not yet looked through our luggage," said Demorest with
invincible gravity, "and there's a secret recess--a double FOND--to
my portmanteau, known only to a trusty page, which has not been
disturbed since I left my ancestral home in Faginia. There may be
a few First Debentures of Erie or what not still there."
"I felt some strange, disklike protuberances in my dress suit the
other day, but belike they are but poker chips," said Stacy
An uneasy feeling crept over Barker. The color which had left his
fresh cheek returned to it quickly, and he turned his eyes away.
Yet he had seen nothing in his companions' eyes but affection--with
even a certain kind of tender commiseration that deepened his
uneasiness. "I suppose," he said desperately, after a pause, "I
ought to go over to Boomville and make some inquiries."
"At the bank, old chap; at the bank!" said Demorest emphatically.
"Take my advice and don't go ANYWHERE ELSE. Don't breathe a word
of your luck to anybody. And don't, whatever you do, be tempted to
sell just now; you don't know how high that stock's going to jump
"I thought," stammered Barker, "that you boys might like to go over
"We can't afford to take another holiday on grub wages, and we're
only two to work today," said Demorest, with a slight increase of
color and the faintest tremor in his voice. "And it won't do, old
chap, for us to be seen bumming round with you on the heels of your
good fortune. For everybody knows we're poor, and sooner or later
everybody'll know you WERE rich even when you first came to us."
"Nonsense!" said Barker indignantly.
"Gospel, my boy!" said Demorest shortly.
"The frozen truth, old man!" said Stacy.
Barker took up his hat with some stiffness and moved toward the
door. Here he stopped irresolutely, an irresolution that seemed to
communicate itself to his partners. There was a moment's awkward
silence. Then Demorest suddenly seized him by the shoulders with a
grip that was half a caress, and walked him rapidly to the door.
"And now don't stand foolin' with us, Barker boy; but just trot off
like a little man, and get your grip on that fortune; and when
you've got your hooks in it hang on like grim death. You'll"--he
hesitated for an instant only, possibly to find the laugh that
should have accompanied his speech--"you're sure to find US here
when you get back."
Hurt to the quick, but restraining his feelings, Barker clapped his
hat on his head and walked quickly away. The two partners stood
watching him in silence until his figure was lost in the
underbrush. Then they spoke.
"Like him--wasn't it?" said Demorest.
"Just him all over," said Stacy.
"Think of him having that stock stowed away all these years and
never even bothering his dear old head about it!"
'And think of his wanting to put the whole thing into this rotten
hillside with us!"
"And he'd have done it, by gosh! and never thought of it again.
"Dear old man!"
"Good old chap!"
"I've been wondering if one of us oughtn't to have gone with him?
He's just as likely to pour his money into the first lap that opens
for it," said Stacy.
"The more reason why we shouldn't prevent him, or seem to prevent
him," said Demorest almost fiercely. "There will be knaves and
fools enough who will try and put the idea of our using him into
his simple heart without that. No! Let him do as he likes with
it--but let him be himself. I'd rather have him come back to us
even after he's lost the money--his old self and empty-handed--than
try to change the stuff God put into him and make him more like
The tone and manner were so different from Demorest's usual levity
that Stacy was silent. After a pause he said: "Well! we shall miss
him on the hillside--won't we?"
Demorest did not reply. Reaching out his hand abstractedly, he
wrenched off a small slip from a sapling near him, and began slowly
to pull the leaves off, one by one, until they were all gone. Then
he switched it in the air, struck his bootleg smartly with it, said
roughly: "Come, let's get to work!" and strode away.
Meantime Barker on his way to Boomville was no less singular in his
manner. He kept up his slightly affected attitude until he had
lost sight of the cabin. But, being of a simple nature, his
emotions were less complex. If he had not seen the undoubted look
of affection in the eyes of his partners he would have imagined
that they were jealous of his good fortune. Yet why had they
refused his offer to share it with him? Why had they so strangely
assumed that their partnership with him had closed? Why had they
declined to go with him? Why had this money--of which he had
thought so little, and for which he had cared so little--changed
them toward him? It had not changed HIM--HE was the same! He
remembered how they had often talked and laughed over a prospective
"strike" in mining and speculated what THEY would do together with
the money! And now that "luck" had occurred to one of them,
individually, the effect was only to alienate them! He could not
make it out. He was hurt, wounded--yet oddly enough he was
conscious now of a certain power within him to hurt and wound in
retribution. He was rich: he would let them see HE could do
without them. He was quite free now to think only of himself and
For it must be recorded that with all this young gentleman's
simplicity and unselfishness, with all his loyal attitude to his
partners, his FIRST thought at the moment he grasped the fact of
his wealth was of a young lady. It was Kitty Carter, the daughter
of the hotelkeeper at Boomville, who owned the claim that the
partners had mutually coveted. That a pretty girl's face should
flash upon him with his conviction that he was now a rich man meant
perhaps no disloyalty to his partners, whom he would still have
helped. But it occurred to him now, in his half-hurt, half-
vengeful state, that they had often joked him about Kitty, and
perhaps further confidence with them was debarred. And it was only
due to his dignity that he should now see Kitty at once.
This was easy enough, for in the naive simplicity of Boomville and
the economic arrangements of her father, she occasionally waited
upon the hotel table. Half the town was always actively in love
with her; the other half HAD BEEN, and was silent, cynical, but
hopeless in defeat. For Kitty was one of those singularly pretty
girls occasionally met with in Southwestern frontier civilization
whose distinct and original refinement of face and figure were so
remarkable and original as to cast a doubt on the sagacity and
prescience of one parent and the morality of the other, yet no
doubt with equal injustice. But the fact remained that she was
slight, graceful, and self-contained, and moved beside her stumpy,
commonplace father, and her faded, commonplace mother in the
dining-room of the Boomville Hotel like some distinguished alien.
The three partners, by virtue, perhaps, of their college education
and refined manners, had been exceptionally noticed by Kitty. And
for some occult reason--the more serious, perhaps, because it had
no obvious or logical presumption to the world generally--Barker
was particularly favored.
He quickened his pace, and as the flagstaff of the Boomville Hotel
rose before him in the little hollow, he seriously debated whether
he had not better go to the bank first, deposit his shares, and get
a small advance on them to buy a new necktie or a "boiled shirt" in
which to present himself to Miss Kitty; but, remembering that he
had partly given his word to Demorest that he would keep his shares
intact for the present, he abandoned this project, probably from
the fact that his projected confidence with Kitty was already a
violation of Demorest's injunctions of secrecy, and his conscience
was sufficiently burdened with that breach of faith.
But when he reached the hotel, a strange trepidation overcame him.
The dining-room was at its slack water, between the ebb of
breakfast and before the flow of the preparation for the midday
meal. He could not have his interview with Kitty in that dreary
waste of reversed chairs and bare trestlelike tables, and she was
possibly engaged in her household duties. But Miss Kitty had
already seen him cross the road, and had lounged into the dining-
room with an artfully simulated air of casually examining it. At
the unexpected vision of his hopes, arrayed in the sweetest and
freshest of rosebud-sprigged print, his heart faltered. Then,
partly with the desperation of a timid man, and partly through the
working of a half-formed resolution, he met her bright smile with a
simple inquiry for her father. Miss Kitty bit her pretty lip,
smiled slightly, and preceded him with great formality to the
office. Opening the door, without raising her lashes to either her
father or the visitor, she said, with a mischievous accenting of
the professional manner, "Mr. Barker to see you on business," and
tripped sweetly away.
And this slight incident precipitated the crisis. For Barker
instantly made up his mind that he must purchase the next claim for
his partners of this man Carter, and that he would be obliged to
confide to him the details of his good fortune, and as a proof of
his sincerity and his ability to pay for it, he did so bluntly.
Carter was a shrewd business man, and the well-known simplicity of
Barker was a proof of his truthfulness, to say nothing of the
shares that were shown to him. His selling price for his claim had
been two hundred dollars, but here was a rich customer who, from a
mere foolish sentiment, would be no doubt willing to pay more. He
hesitated with a bland but superior smile. "Ah, that was my price
at my last offer, Mr. Barker," he said suavely; "but, you see,
things are going up since then."
The keenest duplicity is apt to fail before absolute simplicity.
Barker, thoroughly believing him, and already a little frightened
at his own presumption--not for the amount of the money involved,
but from the possibility of his partners refusing his gift utterly--
quickly took advantage of this LOCUS PENITENTIAE. "No matter,
then," he said hurriedly; "perhaps I had better consult my partners
first; in fact," he added, with a gratuitous truthfulness all his
own, "I hardly know whether they will take it of me, so I think
Carter was staggered; this would clearly not do! He recovered
himself with an insinuating smile. "You pulled me up too short,
Mr. Barker; I'm a business man, but hang it all! what's that among
friends? If you reckoned I GAVE MY WORD at two hundred--why, I'm
there! Say no more about it--the claim's yours. I'll make you out
a bill of sale at once."
"But," hesitated Barker, "you see I haven't got the money yet, and--"
"Money!" echoed Carter bluntly, "what's that among friends? Gimme
your note at thirty days--that's good enough for ME. An' we'll
settle the whole thing now--nothing like finishing a job while
you're about it." And before the bewildered and doubtful visitor
could protest, he had filled up a promissory note for Barker's
signature and himself signed a bill of sale for the property. "And
I reckon, Mr. Barker, you'd like to take your partners by surprise
about this little gift of yours," he added smilingly. "Well, my
messenger is starting for the Gulch in five minutes; he's going by
your cabin, and he can just drop this bill o' sale, as a kind o'
settled fact, on 'em afore they can say anything, see! There's
nothing like actin' on the spot in these sort of things. And don't
you hurry 'bout them either! You see, you sorter owe us a friendly
call--havin' always dropped inter the hotel only as a customer--so
ye'll stop here over luncheon, and I reckon, as the old woman is
busy, why Kitty will try to make the time pass till then by playin'
for you on her new pianner."
Delighted, yet bewildered by the unexpected invitation and
opportunity, Barker mechanically signed the promissory note, and as
mechanically addressed the envelope of the bill of sale to
Demorest, which Carter gave to the messenger. Then he followed his
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