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A Millionaire of Rough-and-Ready by Bret Harte

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expense, with a view to following the lead he had formerly found,
against the opinions of the best mining engineers, and struck the
artesian spring he did NOT find at that time, with a volume of
water that enabled him not only to work his own mine, but to
furnish supplies to his less fortunate neighbors at a vast profit.
A league of tangled forest and canyon behind Rough-and-Ready, for
which he had paid Don Ramon's heirs an extravagant price in the
presumption that it was auriferous, furnished the most accessible
timber to build the town, at prices which amply remunerated him.
The practical schemes of experienced men, the wildest visions of
daring dreams delayed or abortive for want of capital, eventually
fell into his hands. Men sneered at his methods, but bought his
shares. Some who affected to regard him simply as a man of money
were content to get only his name to any enterprise. Courted by
his superiors, quoted by his equals, and admired by his inferiors,
he bore his elevation equally without ostentation or dignity.
Bidden to banquets, and forced by his position as director or
president into the usual gastronomic feats of that civilization and
period, he partook of simple food, and continued his old habit of
taking a cup of coffee with milk and sugar at dinner. Without
professing temperance, he drank sparingly in a community where
alcoholic stimulation was a custom. With neither refinement nor an
extended vocabulary, he was seldom profane, and never indelicate.
With nothing of the Puritan in his manner or conversation, he
seemed to be as strange to the vices of civilization as he was to
its virtues. That such a man should offer little to and receive
little from the companionship of women of any kind was a foregone
conclusion. Without the dignity of solitude, he was pathetically
alone.

Meantime, the days passed; the first six months of his opulence
were drawing to a close, and in that interval he had more than
doubled the amount of his discovered fortune. The rainy season set
in early. Although it dissipated the clouds of dust under which
Nature and Art seemed to be slowly disappearing, it brought little
beauty to the landscape at first, and only appeared to lay bare the
crudenesses of civilization. The unpainted wooden buildings of
Rough-and-Ready, soaked and dripping with rain, took upon
themselves a sleek and shining ugliness, as of second-hand
garments; the absence of cornices or projections to break the
monotony of the long straight lines of downpour made the town
appear as if it had been recently submerged, every vestige of
ornamentation swept away, and only the bare outlines left. Mud was
everywhere; the outer soil seemed to have risen and invaded the
houses even to their most secret recesses, as if outraged Nature
was trying to revenge herself. Mud was brought into the saloons
and barrooms and express offices, on boots, on clothes, on baggage,
and sometimes appeared mysteriously in splashes of red color on the
walls, without visible conveyance. The dust of six months, closely
packed in cornice and carving, yielded under the steady rain a thin
yellow paint, that dropped on wayfarers or unexpectedly oozed out
of ceilings and walls on the wretched inhabitants within. The
outskirts of Rough-and-Ready and the dried hills round Los Gatos
did not appear to fare much better; the new vegetation had not yet
made much headway against the dead grasses of the summer; the pines
in the hollow wept lugubriously into a small rivulet that had
sprung suddenly into life near the old trail; everywhere was the
sound of dropping, splashing, gurgling, or rushing waters.

More hideous than ever, the new Mulrady house lifted itself against
the leaden sky, and stared with all its large-framed, shutterless
windows blankly on the prospect, until they seemed to the wayfarer
to become mere mirrors set in the walls, reflecting only the watery
landscape, and unable to give the least indication of light or heat
within. Nevertheless, there was a fire in Mulrady's private office
that December afternoon, of a smoky, intermittent variety, that
sufficed more to record the defects of hasty architecture than to
comfort the millionaire and his private secretary, who had lingered
after the early withdrawal of the clerks. For the next day was
Christmas, and, out of deference to the near approach of this
festivity, a half-holiday had been given to the employees.
"They'll want, some of them, to spend their money before to-morrow;
and others would like to be able to rise up comfortably drunk
Christmas morning," the superintendent had suggested. Mr. Mulrady
had just signed a number of checks indicating his largess to those
devoted adherents with the same unostentatious, undemonstrative,
matter-of-fact manner that distinguished his ordinary business.
The men had received it with something of the same manner. A half-
humorous "Thank you, sir"--as if to show that, with their patron,
they tolerated this deference to a popular custom, but were a
little ashamed of giving way to it--expressed their gratitude and
their independence.

"I reckon that the old lady and Mamie are having a high old time in
some of them gilded pallises in St. Petersburg or Berlin about this
time. Them diamonds that I ordered at Tiffany ought to have
reached 'em about now, so that Mamie could cut a swell at Christmas
with her war-paint. I suppose it's the style to give presents in
furrin' countries ez it is here, and I allowed to the old lady that
whatever she orders in that way she is to do in Californy style--no
dollar-jewelry and galvanized-watches business. If she wants to
make a present to any of them nobles ez has been purlite to her,
it's got to be something that Rough-and-Ready ain't ashamed of. I
showed you that pin Mamie bought me in Paris, didn't I? It's just
come for my Christmas present. No! I reckon I put it in the safe,
for them kind o' things don't suit my style: but s'pose I orter
sport it to-morrow. It was mighty thoughtful in Mamie, and it must
cost a lump; it's got no slouch of a pearl in it. I wonder what
Mamie gave for it?"

"You can easily tell; the bill is here. You paid it yesterday,"
said Slinn. There was no satire in the man's voice, nor was there
the least perception of irony in Mulrady's manner, as he returned
quietly,--

"That's so; it was suthin' like a thousand francs; but French
money, when you pan it out as dollars and cents, don't make so
much, after all." There was a few moments' silence, when he
continued, in the same tone of voice, "Talkin' o' them things,
Slinn, I've got suthin' for you." He stopped suddenly. Ever
watchful of any undue excitement in the invalid, he had noticed a
slight flush of disturbance pass over his face, and continued
carelessly, "But we'll talk it over to-morrow; a day or two don't
make much difference to you and me in such things, you know.
P'raps I'll drop in and see you. We'll be shut up here."

"Then you're going out somewhere?" asked Slinn, mechanically.

"No," said Mulrady, hesitatingly. It had suddenly occurred to him
that he had nowhere to go if he wanted to, and he continued, half
in explanation, "I ain't reckoned much on Christmas, myself.
Abner's at the Springs; it wouldn't pay him to come here for a day--
even if there was anybody here he cared to see. I reckon I'll
hang round the shanty, and look after things generally. I haven't
been over the house upstairs to put things to rights since the
folks left. But YOU needn't come here, you know."

He helped the old man to rise, assisted him in putting on his
overcoat, and than handed him the cane which had lately replaced
his crutches.

"Good-by, old man! You musn't trouble yourself to say 'Merry
Christmas' now, but wait until you see me again. Take care of
yourself."

He slapped him lightly on the shoulder, and went back into his
private office. He worked for some time at his desk, and then laid
his pen aside, put away his papers methodically, placing a large
envelope on his private secretary's vacant table. He then opened
the office door and ascended the staircase. He stopped on the
first landing to listen to the sound of rain on the glass skylight,
that seemed to echo through the empty hall like the gloomy roll of
a drum. It was evident that the searching water had found out the
secret sins of the house's construction, for there were great
fissures of discoloration in the white and gold paper in the
corners of the wall. There was a strange odor of the dank forest
in the mirrored drawing-room, as if the rain had brought out the
sap again from the unseasoned timbers; the blue and white satin
furniture looked cold, and the marble mantels and centre tables had
taken upon themselves the clamminess of tombstones. Mr. Mulrady,
who had always retained his old farmer-like habit of taking off his
coat with his hat on entering his own house, and appearing in his
shirt-sleeves, to indicate domestic ease and security, was obliged
to replace it, on account of the chill. He had never felt at home
in this room. Its strangeness had lately been heightened by Mrs.
Mulrady's purchase of a family portrait of some one she didn't
know, but who, she had alleged, resembled her "Uncle Bob," which
hung on the wall beside some paintings in massive frames. Mr.
Mulrady cast a hurried glance at the portrait that, on the strength
of a high coat-collar and high top curl--both rolled with equal
precision and singular sameness of color--had always glared at
Mulrady as if HE was the intruder; and, passing through his wife's
gorgeous bedroom, entered the little dressing-room, where he still
slept on the smallest of cots, with hastily improvised
surroundings, as if he was a bailiff in "possession." He didn't
linger here long, but, taking a key from a drawer, continued up the
staircase, to the ominous funeral marches of the beating rain on
the skylight, and paused on the landing to glance into his son's
and daughter's bedrooms, duplicates of the bizarre extravagance
below. If he were seeking some characteristic traces of his absent
family, they certainly were not here in the painted and still damp
blazoning of their later successes. He ascended another staircase,
and, passing to the wing of the house, paused before a small door,
which was locked. Already the ostentatious decorations of wall and
passages were left behind, and the plain lath-and-plaster partition
of the attic lay before him. He unlocked the door, and threw it
open.

CHAPTER V

The apartment he entered was really only a lumber-room or loft over
the wing of the house, which had been left bare and unfinished, and
which revealed in its meagre skeleton of beams and joints the
hollow sham of the whole structure. But in more violent contrast
to the fresher glories of the other part of the house were its
contents, which were the heterogeneous collection of old furniture,
old luggage, and cast-off clothing, left over from the past life in
the old cabin. It was a much plainer record of the simple
beginnings of the family than Mrs. Mulrady cared to have remain in
evidence, and for that reason it had been relegated to the hidden
recesses of the new house, in the hope that it might absorb or
digest it. There were old cribs, in which the infant limbs of
Mamie and Abner had been tucked up; old looking-glasses, that had
reflected their shining, soapy faces, and Mamie's best chip Sunday
hat; an old sewing-machine, that had been worn out in active
service; old patchwork quilts; an old accordion, to whose long
drawn inspirations Mamie had sung hymns; old pictures, books, and
old toys. There were one or two old chromos, and, stuck in an old
frame, a colored print from the "Illustrated London News" of a
Christmas gathering in an old English country house. He stopped
and picked up this print, which he had often seen before, gazing at
it with a new and singular interest. He wondered if Mamie had seen
anything of this kind in England, and why couldn't he have had
something like it here, in their own fine house, with themselves
and a few friends? He remembered a past Christmas, when he had
bought Mamie that now headless doll with the few coins that were
left him after buying their frugal Christmas dinner. There was an
old spotted hobby-horse that another Christmas had brought to
Abner--Abner, who would be driving a fast trotter to-morrow at the
Springs! How everything had changed! How they all had got up in
the world, and how far beyond this kind of thing--and yet--yet it
would have been rather comfortable to have all been together again
here. Would THEY have been more comfortable? No! Yet then he
might have had something to do, and been less lonely to-morrow.
What of that? He HAD something to do: to look after this immense
fortune. What more could a man want, or should he want? It was
rather mean in him, able to give his wife and children everything
they wanted, to be wanting anything more. He laid down the print
gently, after dusting its glass and frame with his silk
handkerchief, and slowly left the room.

The drum-beat of the rain followed him down the staircase, but he
shut it out with his other thoughts, when he again closed the door
of his office. He set diligently to work by the declining winter
light, until he was interrupted by the entrance of his Chinese
waiter to tell him that supper--which was the meal that Mulrady
religiously adhered to in place of the late dinner of civilization--
was ready in the dining-room. Mulrady mechanically obeyed the
summons; but on entering the room the oasis of a few plates in a
desert of white table-cloth which awaited him made him hesitate.
In its best aspect, the high dark Gothic mahogany ecclesiastical
sideboard and chairs of this room, which looked like the
appointments of a mortuary chapel, were not exhilarating; and to-
day, in the light of the rain-filmed windows and the feeble rays of
a lamp half-obscured by the dark shining walls, it was most
depressing.

"You kin take up supper into my office," said Mulrady, with a
sudden inspiration. "I'll eat it there."

He ate it there, with his usual healthy appetite, which did not
require even the stimulation of company. He had just finished,
when his Irish cook--the one female servant of the house--came to
ask permission to be absent that evening and the next day.

"I suppose the likes of your honor won't be at home on the
Christmas Day? And it's me cousins from the old counthry at Rough-
and-Ready that are invitin' me."

"Why don't you ask them over here?" said Mulrady, with another
vague inspiration. "I'll stand treat."

"Lord preserve you for a jinerous gintleman! But it's the likes of
them and myself that wouldn't be at home here on such a day."

There was so much truth in this that Mulrady checked a sigh as he
gave the required permission, without saying that he had intended
to remain. He could cook his own breakfast: he had done it before;
and it would be something to occupy him. As to his dinner, perhaps
he could go to the hotel at Rough-and-Ready. He worked on until
the night had well advanced. Then, overcome with a certain
restlessness that disturbed him, he was forced to put his books and
papers away. It had begun to blow in fitful gusts, and
occasionally the rain was driven softly across the panes like the
passing of childish fingers. This disturbed him more than the
monotony of silence, for he was not a nervous man. He seldom read
a book, and the county paper furnished him only the financial and
mercantile news which was part of his business. He knew he could
not sleep if he went to bed. At last he rose, opened the window,
and looked out from pure idleness of occupation. A splash of
wheels in the distant muddy road and fragments of a drunken song
showed signs of an early wandering reveller. There were no lights
to be seen at the closed works; a profound darkness encompassed the
house, as if the distant pines in the hollow had moved up and round
it. The silence was broken now only by the occasional sighing of
wind and rain. It was not an inviting night for a perfunctory
walk; but an idea struck him--he would call upon the Slinns, and
anticipate his next day's visit! They would probably have company,
and be glad to see him: he could tell the girls of Mamie and her
success. That he had not thought of this before was a proof of his
usual self-contained isolation, that he thought of it now was an
equal proof that he was becoming at last accessible to loneliness.
He was angry with himself for what seemed to him a selfish
weakness.

He returned to his office, and, putting the envelope that had been
lying on Slinn's desk in his pocket, threw a serape over his
shoulders, and locked the front door of the house behind him. It
was well that the way was a familiar one to him, and that his feet
instinctively found the trail, for the night was very dark. At
times he was warned only by the gurgling of water of little
rivulets that descended the hill and crossed his path. Without the
slightest fear, and with neither imagination nor sensitiveness, he
recalled how, the winter before, one of Don Caesar's vaqueros,
crossing this hill at night, had fallen down the chasm of a
landslip caused by the rain, and was found the next morning with
his neck broken in the gully. Don Caesar had to take care of the
man's family. Suppose such an accident should happen to him?
Well, he had made his will. His wife and children would be
provided for, and the work of the mine would go on all the same; he
had arranged for that. Would anybody miss him? Would his wife, or
his son, or his daughter? No. He felt such a sudden and
overwhelming conviction of the truth of this that he stopped as
suddenly as if the chasm had opened before him. No! It was the
truth. If he were to disappear forever in the darkness of the
Christmas night there was none to feel his loss. His wife would
take care of Mamie; his son would take care of himself, as he had
before--relieved of even the scant paternal authority he rebelled
against. A more imaginative man than Mulrady would have combated
or have followed out this idea, and then dismissed it; to the
millionaire's matter-of-fact mind it was a deduction that, having
once presented itself to his perception, was already a recognized
fact. For the first time in his life he felt a sudden instinct of
something like aversion towards his family, a feeling that even his
son's dissipation and criminality had never provoked. He hurried
on angrily through the darkness.

It was very strange; the old house should be almost before him now,
across the hollow, yet there were no indications of light! It was
not until he actually reached the garden fence, and the black bulk
of shadow rose out against the sky, that he saw a faint ray of
light from one of the lean-to windows. He went to the front door
and knocked. After waiting in vain for a reply, he knocked again.
The second knock proving equally futile, he tried the door; it was
unlocked, and, pushing it open, he walked in. The narrow passage
was quite dark, but from his knowledge of the house he knew the
"lean-to" was next to the kitchen, and, passing through the dining-
room into it, he opened the door of the little room from which the
light proceeded. It came from a single candle on a small table,
and beside it, with his eyes moodily fixed on the dying embers of
the fire, sat old Slinn. There was no other light nor another
human being in the whole house.

For the instant Mulrady, forgetting his own feelings in the mute
picture of the utter desolation of the helpless man, remained
speechless on the threshold. Then, recalling himself, he stepped
forward and laid his hand gayly on the bowed shoulders.

"Rouse up out o' this, old man! Come! this won't do. Look! I've
run over here in the rain, jist to have a sociable time with you
all."

"I knew it," said the old man, without looking up; "I knew you'd
come."

"You knew I'd come?" echoed Mulrady, with an uneasy return of the
strange feeling of awe with which he regarded Slinn's abstraction.

"Yes; you were alone--like myself--all alone!"

"Then, why in thunder didn't you open the door or sing out just
now?" he said, with an affected brusquerie to cover his uneasiness.
"Where's your daughters?"

"Gone to Rough-and-Ready to a party."

"And your son?"

"He never comes here when he can amuse himself elsewhere."

"Your children might have stayed home on Christmas Eve."

"So might yours."

He didn't say this impatiently, but with a certain abstracted
conviction far beyond any suggestion of its being a retort.
Mulrady did not appear to notice it.

"Well, I don't see why us old folks can't enjoy ourselves without
them," said Mulrady, with affected cheerfulness. "Let's have a
good time, you and me. Let's see--you haven't any one you can send
to my house, hev you?"

"They took the servant with them," said Slinn, briefly. "There is
no one here."

"All right," said the millionaire, briskly. "I'll go myself. Do
you think you can manage to light up a little more, and build a
fire in the kitchen while I'm gone? It used to be mighty
comfortable in the old times."

He helped the old man to rise from his chair, and seemed to have
infused into him some of his own energy. He then added, "Now,
don't you get yourself down again into that chair until I come
back," and darted out into the night once more.

In a quarter of an hour he returned with a bag on his broad
shoulders, which one of his porters would have shrunk from lifting,
and laid it before the blazing hearth of the now lighted kitchen.
"It's something the old woman got for her party, that didn't come
off," he said, apologetically. "I reckon we can pick out enough
for a spread. That darned Chinaman wouldn't come with me," he
added, with a laugh, "because, he said, he'd knocked off work
'allee same, Mellican man!' Look here, Slinn," he said, with a
sudden decisiveness, "my pay-roll of the men around here don't run
short of a hundred and fifty dollars a day, and yet I couldn't get
a hand to help me bring this truck over for my Christmas dinner."

"Of course," said Slinn, gloomily.

"Of course; so it oughter be," returned Mulrady, shortly. "Why,
it's only their one day out of 364; and I can have 363 days off, as
I am their boss. I don't mind a man's being independent," he
continued, taking off his coat and beginning to unpack his sack--a
common "gunny bag"--used for potatoes. "We're independent
ourselves, ain't we, Slinn?"

His good spirits, which had been at first labored and affected, had
become natural. Slinn, looking at his brightened eye and fresher
color, could not help thinking he was more like his own real self
at this moment than in his counting-house and offices--with all his
simplicity as a capitalist. A less abstracted and more observant
critic than Slinn would have seen in this patient aptitude for real
work, and the recognition of the force of petty detail, the
dominance of the old market-gardener in his former humble, as well
as his later more ambitious, successes.

"Heaven keep us from being dependent upon our children!" said
Slinn, darkly.

"Let the young ones alone to-night; we can get along without them,
as they can without us," said Mulrady, with a slight twinge as he
thought of his reflections on the hillside. "But look here,
there's some champagne and them sweet cordials that women like;
there's jellies and such like stuff, about as good as they make
'em, I reckon; and preserves, and tongues, and spiced beef--take
your pick! Stop, let's spread them out." He dragged the table to
the middle of the floor, and piled the provisions upon it. They
certainly were not deficient in quality or quantity. "Now, Slinn,
wade in."

"I don't feel hungry," said the invalid, who had lapsed again into
a chair before the fire.

"No more do I," said Mulrady; "but I reckon it's the right thing to
do about this time. Some folks think they can't be happy without
they're getting outside o' suthin', and my directors down at
'Frisco can't do any business without a dinner. Take some
champagne, to begin with."

He opened a bottle, and filled two tumblers. "It's past twelve
o'clock, old man, so here's a merry Christmas to you, and both of
us ez is here. And here's another to our families--ez isn't."

They both drank their wine stolidly. The rain beat against the
windows sharply, but without the hollow echoes of the house on the
hill. "I must write to the old woman and Mamie, and say that you
and me had a high old time on Christmas Eve."

"By ourselves," added the invalid.

Mr. Mulrady coughed. "Nat'rally--by ourselves. And her
provisions," he added, with a laugh. "We're really beholden to HER
for 'em. If she hadn't thought of having them--"

"For somebody else, you wouldn't have had them--would you?" said
Slinn, slowly, gazing at the fire.

"No," said Mulrady, dubiously. After a pause he began more
vivaciously, and as if to shake off some disagreeable thought that
was impressing him, "But I mustn't forget to give you YOUR
Christmas, old man, and I've got it right here with me." He took
the folded envelope from his pocket, and, holding it in his hand
with his elbow on the table, continued, "I don't mind telling you
what idea I had in giving you what I'm goin' to give you now. I've
been thinking about it for a day or two. A man like you don't want
money--you wouldn't spend it. A man like you don't want stocks or
fancy investments, for you couldn't look after them. A man like
you don't want diamonds and jewellery, nor a gold-headed cane, when
it's got to be used as a crutch. No, sir. What you want is
suthin' that won't run away from you; that is always there before
you and won't wear out, and will last after you're gone. That's
land! And if it wasn't that I have sworn never to sell or give
away this house and that garden, if it wasn't that I've held out
agin the old woman and Mamie on that point, you should have THIS
house and THAT garden. But, mebbee, for the same reason that I've
told you, I want that land to keep for myself. But I've selected
four acres of the hill this side of my shaft, and here's the deed
of it. As soon as you're ready, I'll put you up a house as big as
this--that shall be yours, with the land, as long as you live, old
man; and after that your children's."

"No; not theirs!" broke in the old man, passionately. "Never!"

Mulrady recoiled for an instant in alarm at the sudden and
unexpected vehemence of his manner, "Go slow, old man; go slow," he
said, soothingly. "Of course, you'll do with your own as you
like." Then, as if changing the subject, he went on cheerfully:
"Perhaps you'll wonder why I picked out that spot on the hillside.
Well, first, because I reserved it after my strike in case the lead
should run that way, but it didn't. Next, because when you first
came here you seemed to like the prospect. You used to sit there
looking at it, as if it reminded you of something. You never said
it did. They say you was sitting on that boulder there when you
had that last attack, you know; but," he added, gently, "you've
forgotten all about it."

"I have forgotten nothing," said Slinn, rising, with a choking
voice. "I wish to God I had; I wish to God I could!"

He was on his feet now, supporting himself by the table. The
subtle generous liquor he had drunk had evidently shaken his self-
control, and burst those voluntary bonds he had put upon himself
for the last six months; the insidious stimulant had also put a
strange vigor into his blood and nerves. His face was flushed, but
not distorted; his eyes were brilliant, but not fixed; he looked as
he might have looked to Masters in his strength three years before
on that very hillside.

"Listen to me, Alvin Mulrady," he said, leaning over him with
burning eyes. "Listen, while I have brain to think and strength to
utter, why I have learnt to distrust, fear, and hate them! You
think you know my story. Well, hear the truth from ME to-night,
Alvin Mulrady, and do not wonder if I have cause."

He stopped, and, with pathetic inefficiency, passed the fingers and
inward-turned thumb of his paralyzed hand across his mouth, as if
to calm himself. "Three years ago I was a miner, but not a miner
like you! I had experience, I had scientific knowledge, I had a
theory, and the patience and energy to carry it out. I selected a
spot that had all the indications, made a tunnel, and, without aid,
counsel or assistance of any kind, worked it for six months,
without rest or cessation, and with scarcely food enough to sustain
my body. Well, I made a strike; not like you, Mulrady, not a
blunder of good luck, a fool's fortune--there, I don't blame you
for it--but in perfect demonstration of my theory, the reward of my
labor. It was no pocket, but a vein, a lead, that I had regularly
hunted down and found--a fortune!

"I never knew how hard I had worked until that morning; I never
knew what privations I had undergone until that moment of my
success, when I found I could scarcely think or move! I staggered
out into the open air. The only human soul near me was a
disappointed prospector, a man named Masters, who had a tunnel not
far away. I managed to conceal from him my good fortune and my
feeble state, for I was suspicious of him--of any one; and as he
was going away that day I thought I could keep my secret until he
was gone. I was dizzy and confused, but I remember that I managed
to write a letter to my wife, telling her of my good fortune, and
begging her to come to me; and I remember that I saw Masters go. I
don't remember anything else. They picked me up on the road, near
that boulder, as you know."

"I know," said Mulrady, with a swift recollection of the stage-
driver's account of his discovery.

"They say," continued Slinn, tremblingly, "that I never recovered
my senses or consciousness for nearly three years; they say I lost
my memory completely during my illness, and that by God's mercy,
while I lay in that hospital, I knew no more than a babe; they say,
because I could not speak or move, and only had my food as nature
required it, that I was an imbecile, and that I never really came
to my senses until after my son found me in the hospital. They SAY
that--but I tell you to-night, Alvin Mulrady," he said, raising his
voice to a hoarse outcry, "I tell you that it is a lie! I came to
my senses a week after I lay on that hospital cot; I kept my senses
and memory ever after during the three years that I was there,
until Harry brought his cold, hypocritical face to my bedside and
recognized me. Do you understand? I, the possessor of millions,
lay there a pauper. Deserted by wife and children--a spectacle for
the curious, a sport for the doctors--AND I KNEW IT! I heard them
speculate on the cause of my helplessness. I heard them talk of
excesses and indulgences--I, that never knew wine or woman! I
heard a preacher speak of the finger of God, and point to me. May
God curse him!"

"Go slow, old man; go slow," said Mulrady, gently.

"I heard them speak of me as a friendless man, an outcast, a
criminal--a being whom no one would claim. They were right; no one
claimed me. The friends of others visited them; relations came and
took away their kindred; a few lucky ones got well; a few, equally
lucky, died! I alone lived on, uncared for, deserted.

"The first year," he went on more rapidly, "I prayed for their
coming. I looked for them every day. I never lost hope. I said
to myself, 'She has not got my letter; but when the time passes she
will be alarmed by my silence, and then she will come or send some
one to seek me.' A young student got interested in my case, and,
by studying my eyes, thought that I was not entirely imbecile and
unconscious. With the aid of an alphabet, he got me to spell my
name and town in Illinois, and promised by signs to write to my
family. But in an evil moment I told him of my cursed fortune, and
in that moment I saw that he thought me a fool and an idiot. He
went away, and I saw him no more. Yet I still hoped. I dreamed of
their joy at finding me, and the reward that my wealth would give
them. Perhaps I was a little weak still, perhaps a little flighty,
too, at times; but I was quite happy that year, even in my
disappointment, for I had still hope!"

He paused, and again composed his face with his paralyzed hand; but
his manner had become less excited, and his voice was stronger.

"A change must have come over me the second year, for I only
dreaded their coming now and finding me so altered. A horrible
idea that they might, like the student, believe me crazy if I spoke
of my fortune made me pray to God that they might not reach me
until after I had regained my health and strength--and found my
fortune. When the third year found me still there--I no longer
prayed for them--I cursed them! I swore to myself that they should
never enjoy my wealth; but I wanted to live, and let them know I
had it. I found myself getting stronger; but as I had no money, no
friends, and nowhere to go, I concealed my real condition from the
doctors, except to give them my name, and to try to get some little
work to do to enable me to leave the hospital and seek my lost
treasure. One day I found out by accident that it had been
discovered! You understand--my treasure!--that had cost me years
of labor and my reason; had left me a helpless, forgotten pauper.
That gold I had never enjoyed had been found and taken possession
of by another!"

He checked an exclamation from Mulrady with his hand. "They say
they picked me up senseless from the floor, where I must have
fallen when I heard the news--I don't remember--I recall nothing
until I was confronted, nearly three weeks after, by my son, who
had called at the hospital, as a reporter for a paper, and had
accidentally discovered me through my name and appearance. He
thought me crazy, or a fool. I didn't undeceive him. I did not
tell him the story of the mine to excite his doubts and derision,
or, worse (if I could bring proof to claim it), have it perhaps
pass into his ungrateful hands. No; I said nothing. I let him
bring me here. He could do no less, and common decency obliged him
to do that."

"And what proof could you show of your claim?" asked Mulrady,
gravely.

"If I had that letter--if I could find Masters," began Slinn,
vaguely.

"Have you any idea where the letter is, or what has become of
Masters?" continued Mulrady, with a matter-of-fact gravity, that
seemed to increase Slinn's vagueness and excite his irritability.

"I don't know--I sometimes think--" He stopped, sat down again,
and passed his hands across his forehead. "I have seen the letter
somewhere since. Yes," he went on, with sudden vehemence, "I know
it, I have seen it! I--" His brows knitted, his features began to
work convulsively; he suddenly brought his paralyzed hand down,
partly opened, upon the table. "I WILL remember where."

"Go slow, old man; go slow."

"You asked me once about my visions. Well, that is one of them. I
remember a man somewhere showing me that letter. I have taken it
from his hands and opened it, and knew it was mine by the specimens
of gold that were in it. But where--or when--or what became of it,
I cannot tell. It will come to me--it MUST come to me soon."

He turned his eyes upon Mulrady, who was regarding him with an
expression of grave curiosity, and said bitterly, "You think me
crazy. I know it. It needed only this."

"Where is this mine," asked Mulrady, without heeding him.

The old man's eyes swiftly sought the ground.

"It is a secret, then?"

"No."

"You have spoken of it to any one?"

"No."

"Not to the man who possesses it?"

"No."

"Why?"

"Because I wouldn't take it from him."

"Why wouldn't you?"

"Because that man is yourself!"

In the instant of complete silence that followed they could hear
that the monotonous patter of rain on the roof had ceased.

"Then all this was in MY shaft, and the vein I thought I struck
there was YOUR lead, found three years ago in YOUR tunnel. Is that
your idea?"

"Yes."

"Then I don't sabe why you don't want to claim it."

"I have told you why I don't want it for my children. I go
further, now, and I tell you, Alvin Mulrady, that I was willing
that your children should squander it, as they were doing. It has
only been a curse to me; it could only be a curse to them; but I
thought you were happy in seeing it feed selfishness and vanity.
You think me bitter and hard. Well, I should have left you in your
fool's paradise, but that I saw to-night, when you came here, that
your eyes had been opened like mine. You, the possessor of my
wealth, my treasure, could not buy your children's loving care and
company with your millions, any more than I could keep mine in my
poverty. You were to-night lonely and forsaken, as I was. We were
equal, for the first time in our lives. If that cursed gold had
dropped down the shaft between us into the hell from which it
sprang, we might have clasped hands like brothers across the
chasm."

Mulrady, who in a friendly show of being at his ease had not yet
resumed his coat, rose in his shirt-sleeves, and, standing before
the hearth, straightened his square figure by drawing down his
waistcoat on each side with two powerful thumbs. After a moment's
contemplative survey of the floor between him and the speaker, he
raised his eyes to Slinn. They were small and colorless; the
forehead above them was low, and crowned with a shock of tawny
reddish hair; even the rude strength of his lower features was
enfeebled by a long, straggling, goat-like beard; but for the first
time in his life the whole face was impressed and transformed with
a strong and simple dignity.

"Ez far ez I kin see, Slinn," he said, gravely, "the pint between
you and me ain't to be settled by our children, or wot we allow is
doo and right from them to us. Afore we preach at them for playing
in the slumgullion, and gettin' themselves splashed, perhaps we
mout ez well remember that that thar slumgullion comes from our own
sluice-boxes, where we wash our gold. So we'll just put THEM
behind us, so," he continued, with a backward sweep of his powerful
hand towards the chimney, "and goes on. The next thing that crops
up ahead of us is your three years in the hospital, and wot you
went through at that time. I ain't sayin' it wasn't rough on you,
and that you didn't have it about as big as it's made; but ez
you'll allow that you'd hev had that for three years, whether I'd
found your mine or whether I hadn't, I think we can put THAT behind
us, too. There's nothin' now left to prospect but your story of
your strike. Well, take your own proofs. Masters is not here; and
if he was, accordin' to your own story, he knows nothin' of your
strike that day, and could only prove you were a disappointed
prospector in a tunnel; your letter--that the person you wrote to
never got--YOU can't produce; and if you did, would be only your
own story without proof! There is not a business man ez would look
at your claim; there isn't a friend of yours that wouldn't believe
you were crazy, and dreamed it all; there isn't a rival of yours ez
wouldn't say ez you'd invented it. Slinn, I'm a business man--I am
your friend--I am your rival--but I don't think you're lyin'--I
don't think you're crazy--and I'm not sure your claim ain't a good
one!

"Ef you reckon from that that I'm goin' to hand you over the mine
to-morrow," he went on, after a pause, raising his hand with a
deprecating gesture, "you're mistaken. For your own sake, and the
sake of my wife and children, you've got to prove it more clearly
than you hev; but I promise you that from this night forward I will
spare neither time nor money to help you to do it. I have more
than doubled the amount that you would have had, had you taken the
mine the day you came from the hospital. When you prove to me that
your story is true--and we will find some way to prove it, if it IS
true--that amount will be yours at once, without the need of a word
from law or lawyers. If you want my name to that in black and
white, come to the office to-morrow, and you shall have it."

"And you think I'll take it now?" said the old man passionately.
"Do you think that your charity will bring back my dead wife, the
three years of my lost life, the love and respect of my children?
Or do you think that your own wife and children, who deserted you
in your wealth, will come back to you in your poverty? No! Let
the mine stay, with its curse, where it is--I'll have none of it!"

"Go slow, old man; go slow," said Mulrady, quietly, putting on his
coat. "You will take the mine if it is yours; if it isn't, I'll
keep it. If it is yours, you will give your children a chance to
sho what they can do for you in your sudden prosperity, as I shall
give mine a chance to show how they can stand reverse and
disappointment. If my head is level--and I reckon it is--they'll
both pan out all right."

He turned and opened the door. With a quick revulsion of feeling,
Slinn suddenly seized Mulrady's hand between both of his own, and
raised it to his lips. Mulrady smiled, disengaged his hand gently,
and saying soothingly, "Go slow, old man; go slow," closed the door
behind him, and passed out into the clear Christmas dawn.

For the stars, with the exception of one that seemed to sparkle
brightly over the shaft of his former fortunes, were slowly paling.
A burden seemed to have fallen from his square shoulders as he
stepped out sturdily into the morning air. He had already
forgotten the lonely man behind him, for he was thinking only of
his wife and daughter. And at the same moment they were thinking
of him; and in their elaborate villa overlooking the blue
Mediterranean at Cannes were discussing, in the event of Mamie's
marriage with Prince Rosso e Negro, the possibility of Mr.
Mulrady's paying two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, the
gambling debts of that unfortunate but deeply conscientious
nobleman.

CHAPTER VI

When Alvin Mulrady reentered his own house, he no longer noticed
its loneliness. Whether the events of the last few hours had
driven it from his mind, or whether his late reflections had
repeopled it with his family under pleasanter auspices, it would be
difficult to determine. Destitute as he was of imagination, and
matter-of-fact in his judgments, he realized his new situation as
calmly as he would have considered any business proposition. While
he was decided to act upon his moral convictions purely, he was
prepared to submit the facts of Slinn's claim to the usual patient
and laborious investigation of his practical mind. It was the
least he could do to justify the ready and almost superstitious
assent he had given to Slinn's story.

When he had made a few memoranda at his desk by the growing light,
he again took the key of the attic, and ascended to the loft that
held the tangible memories of his past life. If he was still under
the influence of his reflections, it was with very different
sensations that he now regarded them. Was it possible that these
ashes might be warmed again, and these scattered embers rekindled?
His practical sense said No! whatever his wish might have been. A
sudden chill came over him; he began to realize the terrible change
that was probable, more by the impossibility of his accepting the
old order of things than by his voluntarily abandoning the new.
His wife and children would never submit. They would go away from
this place, far away, where no reminiscence of either former wealth
or former poverty could obtrude itself upon them. Mamie--his
Mamie--should never go back to the cabin, since desecrated by
Slinn's daughters, and take their places. No! Why should she?--
because of the half-sick, half-crazy dreams of an old vindictive
man?

He stopped suddenly. In moodily turning over a heap of mining
clothing, blankets, and india-rubber boots, he had come upon an old
pickaxe--the one he had found in the shaft; the one he had
carefully preserved for a year, and then forgotten! Why had he not
remembered it before? He was frightened, not only at this sudden
resurrection of the proof he was seeking, but at his own fateful
forgetfulness. Why had he never thought of this when Slinn was
speaking? A sense of shame, as if he had voluntarily withheld it
from the wronged man, swept over him. He was turning away, when he
was again startled.

This time it was by a voice from below--a voice calling him--
Slinn's voice. How had the crippled man got here so soon, and what
did he want? He hurriedly laid aside the pick, which, in his first
impulse, he had taken to the door of the loft with him, and
descended the stairs. The old man was standing at the door of his
office awaiting him.

As Mulrady approached, he trembled violently, and clung to the
doorpost for support.

"I had to come over, Mulrady," he said, in a choked voice; "I could
stand it there no longer. I've come to beg you to forget all that
I have said; to drive all thought of what passed between us last
night out of your head and mine forever! I've come to ask you to
swear with me that neither of us will ever speak of this again
forever. It is not worth the happiness I have had in your
friendship for the last half-year; it is not worth the agony I have
suffered in its loss in the last half-hour."

Mulrady grasped his outstretched hand. "P'raps," he said, gravely,
"there mayn't be any use for another word, if you can answer one
now. Come with me. No matter," he added, as Slinn moved with
difficulty; "I will help you."

He half supported, half lifted the paralyzed man up the three
flights of stairs, and opened the door of the loft. The pick was
leaning against the wall, where he had left it. "Look around, and
see if you recognize anything."

The old man's eyes fell upon the implement in a half-frightened
way, and then lifted themselves interrogatively to Mulrady's face.

"Do you know that pick?"

Slinn raised it in his trembling hands. "I think I do; and yet--"

"Slinn! is it yours?"

"No," he said hurriedly.

"Then what makes you think you know it?"

"It has a short handle like one I've seen."

"And is isn't yours?"

"No. The handle of mine was broken and spliced. I was too poor to
buy a new one."

"Then you say that this pick which I found in my shaft is not
yours?"

"Yes."

"Slinn!"

The old man passed his hand across his forehead, looked at Mulrady,
and dropped his eyes. "It is not mine," he said simply.

"That will do," said Mulrady, gravely.

"And you will not speak of this again?" said the old man, timidly.

"I promise you--not until I have some more evidence."

He kept his word, but not before he had extorted from Slinn as full
a description of Masters as his imperfect memory and still more
imperfect knowledge of his former neighbor could furnish. He
placed this, with a large sum of money and the promise of a still
larger reward, in the hands of a trustworthy agent. When this was
done he resumed his old relations with Slinn, with the exception
that the domestic letters of Mrs. Mulrady and Mamie were no longer
a subject of comment, and their bills no longer passed through his
private secretary's hands.

Three months passed; the rainy season had ceased, the hillsides
around Mulrady's shaft were bridal-like with flowers; indeed, there
were rumors of an approaching fashionable marriage in the air, and
vague hints in the "Record" that the presence of a distinguished
capitalist might soon be required abroad. The face of that
distinguished man did not, however, reflect the gayety of nature
nor the anticipation of happiness; on the contrary, for the past
few weeks, he had appeared disturbed and anxious, and that rude
tranquillity which had characterized him was wanting. People shook
their heads; a few suggested speculations; all agreed on
extravagance.

One morning, after office hours, Slinn, who had been watching the
careworn face of his employer, suddenly rose and limped to his
side.

"We promised each other," he said, in a voice trembling with
emotion; "never to allude to our talk of Christmas Eve again unless
we had other proofs of what I told you then. We have none; I don't
believe we'll ever have any more. I don't care if we ever do, and
I break that promise now because I cannot bear to see you unhappy
and know that this is the cause."

Mulrady made a motion of deprecation, but the old man continued--

"You are unhappy, Alvin Mulrady. You are unhappy because you want
to give your daughter a dowry of two hundred and fifty thousand
dollars, and you will not use the fortune that you think may be
mine."

"Who's been talking about a dowry?" asked Mulrady, with an angry
flush.

"Don Caesar Alvarado told my daughter."

"Then that is why he has thrown off on me since he returned," said
Mulrady, with sudden small malevolence, "just that he might unload
his gossip because Mamie wouldn't have him. The old woman was
right in warnin' me agin him."

The outburst was so unlike him, and so dwarfed his large though
common nature with its littleness, that it was easy to detect its
feminine origin, although it filled Slinn with vague alarm.

"Never mind him," said the old man, hastily; "what I wanted to say
now is that I abandon everything to you and yours. There are no
proofs; there never will be any more than what we know, than what
we have tested and found wanting. I swear to you that, except to
show you that I have not lied and am not crazy, I would destroy
them on their way to your hands. Keep the money, and spend it as
you will. Make your daughter happy, and, through her, yourself.
You have made me happy through your liberality; don't make me
suffer through your privation."

"I tell you what, old man," said Mulrady, rising to his feet, with
an awkward mingling of frankness and shame in his manner and
accent, "I should like to pay that money for Mamie, and let her be
a princess, if it would make her happy. I should like to shut the
lantern jaws of that Don Caesar, who'd be too glad if anything
happened to break off Mamie's match. But I shouldn't touch that
capital--unless you'd lend it to me. If you'll take a note from
me, payable if the property ever becomes yours, I'd thank you. A
mortgage on the old house and garden, and the lands I bought of Don
Caesar, outside the mine, will screen you."

"If that pleases you," said the old man, with a smile, "have your
way; and if I tear up the note, it does not concern you."

It did please the distinguished capitalist of Rough-and-Ready; for
the next few days his face wore a brightened expression, and he
seemed to have recovered his old tranquillity. There was, in fact,
a slight touch of consequence in his manner, the first ostentation
he had ever indulged in, when he was informed one morning at his
private office that Don Caesar Alvarado was in the counting-house,
desiring a few moments' conference. "Tell him to come in," said
Mulrady, shortly. The door opened upon Don Caesar--erect, sallow,
and grave. Mulrady had not seen him since his return from Europe,
and even his inexperienced eyes were struck with the undeniable
ease and grace with which the young Spanish-American had
assimilated the style and fashion of an older civilization. It
seemed rather as if he had returned to a familiar condition than
adopted a new one.

"Take a cheer," said Mulrady.

The young man looked at Slinn with quietly persistent significance.

"You can talk all the same," said Mulrady, accepting the
significance. "He's my private secretary."

"It seems that for that reason we might choose another moment for
our conversation," returned Don Caesar, haughtily. "Do I
understand you cannot see me now?"

Mulrady hesitated, he had always revered and recognized a certain
social superiority in Don Ramon Alvarado; somehow his son--a young
man of half his age, and once a possible son-in-law--appeared to
claim that recognition also. He rose, without a word, and preceded
Don Caesar up-stairs into the drawing-room. The alien portrait on
the wall seemed to evidently take sides with Don Caesar, as against
the common intruder, Mulrady.

"I hoped the Senora Mulrady might have saved me this interview,"
said the young man, stiffly; "or at least have given you some
intimation of the reason why I seek it. As you just now proposed
my talking to you in the presence of the unfortunate Senor Esslinn
himself, it appears she has not."

"I don't know what you're driving at, or what Mrs. Mulrady's got to
do with Slinn or you," said Mulrady, in angry uneasiness.

"Do I understand," said Don Caesar, sternly, "that Senora Mulrady
has not told you that I entrusted to her an important letter,
belonging to Senor Esslinn, which I had the honor to discover in
the wood six months ago, and which she said she would refer to
you?"

"Letter?" echoed Mulrady, slowly; "my wife had a letter of
Slinn's?"

Don Caesar regarded the millionaire attentively. "It is as I
feared," he said, gravely. "You do not know or you would not have
remained silent." He then briefly recounted the story of his
finding Slinn's letter, his exhibition of it to the invalid, its
disastrous effect upon him, and his innocent discovery of the
contents. "I believed myself at that time on the eve of being
allied with your family, Senor Mulrady," he said, haughtily; "and
when I found myself in the possession of a secret which affected
its integrity and good name, I did not choose to leave it in the
helpless hands of its imbecile owner, or his sillier children, but
proposed to trust it to the care of the Senora, that she and you
might deal with it as became your honor and mine. I followed her
to Paris, and gave her the letter there. She affected to laugh at
any pretension of the writer, or any claim he might have on your
bounty; but she kept the letter, and, I fear, destroyed it. You
will understand, Senor Mulrady, that when I found that my
attentions were no longer agreeable to your daughter, I had no
longer the right to speak to you on the subject, nor could I,
without misapprehension, force her to return it. I should have
still kept the secret to myself, if I had not since my return here
made the nearer acquaintance of Senor Esslinn's daughters. I
cannot present myself at his house, as a suitor for the hand of the
Senorita Vashti, until I have asked his absolution for my
complicity in the wrong that has been done to him. I cannot, as a
caballero, do that without your permission. It is for that purpose
I am here."

It needed only this last blow to complete the humiliation that
whitened Mulrady's face. But his eye was none the less clear and
his voice none the less steady as he turned to Don Caesar.

"You know perfectly the contents of that letter?"

"I have kept a copy of it."

"Come with me."

He preceded his visitor down the staircase and back into his
private office. Slinn looked up at his employer's face in
unrestrained anxiety. Mulrady sat down at his desk, wrote a few
hurried lines, and rang a bell. A manager appeared from the
counting-room.

"Send that to the bank."

He wiped his pen as methodically as if he had not at that moment
countermanded the order to pay his daughter's dowry, and turned
quietly to Slinn.

"Don Caesar Alvarado has found the letter you wrote your wife on
the day you made your strike in the tunnel that is now my shaft.
He gave the letter to Mrs. Mulrady; but he has kept a copy."

Unheeding the frightened gesture of entreaty from Slinn, equally
with the unfeigned astonishment of Don Caesar, who was entirely
unprepared for this revelation of Mulrady's and Slinn's
confidences, he continued, "He has brought the copy with him. I
reckon it would be only square for you to compare it with what you
remember of the original."

In obedience to a gesture from Mulrady, Don Caesar mechanically
took from his pocket a folded paper, and handed it to the
paralytic. But Slinn's trembling fingers could scarcely unfold the
paper; and as his eyes fell upon its contents, his convulsive lips
could not articulate a word.

"P'raps I'd better read it for you," said Mulrady, gently. "You
kin follow me and stop me when I go wrong."

He took the paper, and, in dead silence, read as follows:--

"DEAR WIFE,--I've just struck gold in my tunnel, and you must get
ready to come here with the children, at once. It was after six
months' hard work; and I'm so weak I . . . It's a fortune for us
all. We should be rich even if it were only a branch vein dipping
west towards the next tunnel, instead of dipping east, according to
my theory--"

"Stop!" said Slinn, in a voice that shook the room.

Mulrady looked up.

"It's wrong, ain't it?" he asked, anxiously; "it should be EAST
towards the next tunnel."

"No! IT'S RIGHT! I am wrong! We're all wrong!"

Slinn had risen to his feet, erect and inspired. "Don't you see,"
he almost screamed, with passionate vehemence, "it's MASTERS'
ABANDONED TUNNEL your shaft has struck? Not mine! It was Masters'
pick you found! I know it now!"

"And your own tunnel?" said Mulrady, springing to his feet in
excitement. "And YOUR strike?"

"Is still there!"

The next instant, and before another question could be asked, Slinn
had darted from the room. In the exaltation of that supreme
discovery he regained the full control of his mind and body.
Mulrady and Don Caesar, no less excited, followed him precipitately,
and with difficulty kept up with his feverish speed. Their way lay
along the base of the hill below Mulrady's shaft, and on a line with
Masters' abandoned tunnel. Only once he stopped to snatch a pick
from the hand of an astonished Chinaman at work in a ditch, as he
still kept on his way, a quarter of a mile beyond the shaft. Here
he stopped before a jagged hole in the hillside. Bared to the sky
and air, the very openness of its abandonment, its unpropitious
position, and distance from the strike in Mulrady's shaft had no
doubt preserved its integrity from wayfarer or prospector.

"You can't go in there alone, and without a light," said Mulrady,
laying his hand on the arm of the excited man. "Let me get more
help and proper tools."

"I know every step in the dark as in the daylight," returned Slinn,
struggling. "Let me go, while I have yet strength and reason!
Stand aside!"

He broke from them, and the next moment was swallowed up in the
yawning blackness. They waited with bated breath until, after a
seeming eternity of night and silence, they heard his returning
footsteps, and ran forward to meet him. As he was carrying
something clasped to his breast, they supported him to the opening.
But at the same moment the object of his search and his burden, a
misshapen wedge of gold and quartz, dropped with him, and both fell
together with equal immobility to the ground. He had still
strength to turn his fading eyes to the other millionaire of Rough-
and-Ready, who leaned over him.

"You--see," he gasped, brokenly, "I was not--crazy!"

No. He was dead!

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