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A Protegee of Jack Hamlin's by Bret Harte

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A PROTEGEE OF JACK HAMLIN'S

by Bret Harte

CONTENTS.

A PROTEGEE OF JACK HAMLIN'S

AN INGENUE OF THE SIERRAS

THE REFORMATION OF JAMES REDDY

THE HEIR OF THE McHULISHES

AN EPISODE OF WEST WOODLANDS

THE HOME-COMING OF JIM WILKES

A PROTEGEE OF JACK HAMLIN'S.

I.

The steamer Silveropolis was sharply and steadily cleaving the
broad, placid shallows of the Sacramento River. A large wave like
an eagre, diverging from its bow, was extending to either bank,
swamping the tules and threatening to submerge the lower levees.
The great boat itself--a vast but delicate structure of airy
stories, hanging galleries, fragile colonnades, gilded cornices,
and resplendent frescoes--was throbbing throughout its whole
perilous length with the pulse of high pressure and the strong
monotonous beat of a powerful piston. Floods of foam pouring from
the high paddle-boxes on either side and reuniting in the wake of
the boat left behind a track of dazzling whiteness, over which
trailed two dense black banners flung from its lofty smokestacks.

Mr. Jack Hamlin had quietly emerged from his stateroom on deck and
was looking over the guards. His hands were resting lightly on his
hips over the delicate curves of his white waistcoat, and he was
whistling softly, possibly some air to which he had made certain
card-playing passengers dance the night before. He was in
comfortable case, and his soft brown eyes under their long lashes
were veiled with gentle tolerance of all things. He glanced lazily
along the empty hurricane deck forward; he glanced lazily down to
the saloon deck below him. Far out against the guards below him
leaned a young girl. Mr. Hamlin knitted his brows slightly.

He remembered her at once. She had come on board that morning with
one Ned Stratton, a brother gambler, but neither a favorite nor
intimate of Jack's. From certain indications in the pair, Jack had
inferred that she was some foolish or reckless creature whom "Ed"
had "got on a string," and was spiriting away from her friends and
family. With the abstract morality of this situation Jack was not
in the least concerned. For himself he did not indulge in that
sort of game; the inexperience and vacillations of innocence were
apt to be bothersome, and besides, a certain modest doubt of his
own competency to make an original selection had always made him
prefer to confine his gallantries to the wives of men of greater
judgment than himself who had. But it suddenly occurred to him
that he had seen Stratton quickly slip off the boat at the last
landing stage. Ah! that was it; he had cast away and deserted her.
It was an old story. Jack smiled. But he was not greatly amused
with Stratton.

She was very pale, and seemed to be clinging to the network
railing, as if to support herself, although she was gazing fixedly
at the yellow glancing current below, which seemed to be sucked
down and swallowed in the paddle-box as the boat swept on. It
certainly was a fascinating sight--this sloping rapid, hurrying on
to bury itself under the crushing wheels. For a brief moment Jack
saw how they would seize anything floating on that ghastly incline,
whirl it round in one awful revolution of the beating paddles, and
then bury it, broken and shattered out of all recognition, deep in
the muddy undercurrent of the stream behind them.

She moved away presently with an odd, stiff step, chafing her
gloved hands together as if they had become stiffened too in her
rigid grasp of the railing. Jack leisurely watched her as she
moved along the narrow strip of deck. She was not at all to his
taste,--a rather plump girl with a rustic manner and a great deal
of brown hair under her straw hat. She might have looked better
had she not been so haggard. When she reached the door of the
saloon she paused, and then, turning suddenly, began to walk
quickly back again. As she neared the spot where she had been
standing her pace slackened, and when she reached the railing she
seemed to relapse against it in her former helpless fashion. Jack
became lazily interested. Suddenly she lifted her head and cast a
quick glance around and above her. In that momentary lifting of
her face Jack saw her expression. Whatever it was, his own changed
instantly; the next moment there was a crash on the lower deck. It
was Jack who had swung himself over the rail and dropped ten feet,
to her side. But not before she had placed one foot in the meshes
of the netting and had gripped the railing for a spring.

The noise of Jack's fall might have seemed to her bewildered fancy
as a part of her frantic act, for she fell forward vacantly on the
railing. But by this time Jack had grasped her arm as if to help
himself to his feet.

"I might have killed myself by that foolin', mightn't I?" he said
cheerfully.

The sound of a voice so near her seemed to recall to her dazed
sense the uncompleted action his fall had arrested. She made a
convulsive bound towards the railing, but Jack held her fast.

"Don't," he said in a low voice, "don't, it won't pay. It's the
sickest game that ever was played by man or woman. Come here!"

He drew her towards an empty stateroom whose door was swinging on
its hinges a few feet from them. She was trembling violently; he
half led, half pushed her into the room, closed the door and stood
with his back against it as she dropped into a chair. She looked
at him vacantly; the agitation she was undergoing inwardly had left
her no sense of outward perception.

"You know Stratton would be awfully riled," continued Jack easily.
"He's just stepped out to see a friend and got left by the fool
boat. He'll be along by the next steamer, and you're bound to meet
him in Sacramento."

Her staring eyes seemed suddenly to grasp his meaning. But to his
surprise she burst out with a certain hysterical desperation, "No!
no! Never! NEVER again! Let me pass! I must go," and struggled
to regain the door. Jack, albeit singularly relieved to know that
she shared his private sentiments regarding Stratton, nevertheless
resisted her. Whereat she suddenly turned white, reeled back, and
sank in a dead faint in the chair.

The gambler turned, drew the key from the inside of the door,
passed out, locking it behind him, and walked leisurely into the
main saloon. "Mrs. Johnson," he said gravely, addressing the
stewardess, a tall mulatto, with his usual winsome supremacy over
dependents and children, "you'll oblige me if you'll corral a few
smelling salts, vinaigrettes, hairpins, and violet powder, and
unload them in deck stateroom No. 257. There's a lady"--

"A lady, Marse Hamlin?" interrupted the mulatto, with an archly
significant flash of her white teeth.

"A lady," continued Jack with unabashed gravity, "in a sort of
conniption fit. A relative of mine; in fact a niece, my only
sister's child. Hadn't seen each other for ten years, and it was
too much for her."

The woman glanced at him with a mingling of incredulous belief, but
delighted obedience, hurriedly gathered a few articles from her
cabin, and followed him to No. 257. The young girl was still
unconscious. The stewardess applied a few restoratives with the
skill of long experience, and the young girl opened her eyes. They
turned vacantly from the stewardess to Jack with a look of half
recognition and half frightened inquiry. "Yes," said Jack,
addressing the eyes, although ostentatiously speaking to Mrs.
Johnson, "she'd only just come by steamer to 'Frisco and wasn't
expecting to see me, and we dropped right into each other here on
the boat. And I haven't seen her since she was so high. Sister
Mary ought to have warned me by letter; but she was always a slouch
at letter writing. There, that'll do, Mrs. Johnson. She's coming
round; I reckon I can manage the rest. But you go now and tell the
purser I want one of those inside staterooms for my niece,--MY
NIECE, you hear,--so that you can be near her and look after her."

As the stewardess turned obediently away the young girl attempted
to rise, but Jack checked her. "No," he said, almost brusquely;
"you and I have some talking to do before she gets back, and we've
no time for foolin'. You heard what I told her just now! Well,
it's got to be as I said, you sabe. As long as you're on this boat
you're my niece, and my sister Mary's child. As I haven't got any
sister Mary, you don't run any risk of falling foul of her, and you
ain't taking any one's place. That settles that. Now, do you or
do you not want to see that man again? Say yes, and if he's
anywhere above ground I'll yank him over to you as soon as we touch
shore." He had no idea of interfering with his colleague's amours,
but he had determined to make Stratton pay for the bother their
slovenly sequence had caused him. Yet he was relieved and
astonished by her frantic gesture of indignation and abhorrence.
"No?" he repeated grimly. "Well, that settles that. Now, look
here; quick, before she comes--do you want to go back home to your
friends?"

But here occurred what he had dreaded most and probably thought he
had escaped. She had stared at him, at the stewardess, at the
walls, with abstracted, vacant, and bewildered, but always undimmed
and unmoistened eyes. A sudden convulsion shook her whole frame,
her blank expression broke like a shattered mirror, she threw her
hands over her eyes and fell forward with her face to the back of
her chair in an outburst of tears.

Alas for Jack! with the breaking up of those sealed fountains came
her speech also, at first disconnected and incoherent, and then
despairing and passionate. No! she had no longer friends or home!
She had lost and disgraced them! She had disgraced HERSELF! There
was no home for her but the grave. Why had Jack snatched her from
it? Then, bit by bit, she yielded up her story,--a story decidedly
commonplace to Jack, uninteresting, and even irritating to his
fastidiousness. She was a schoolgirl (not even a convent girl,
but the inmate of a Presbyterian female academy at Napa. Jack
shuddered as he remembered to have once seen certain of the pupils
walking with a teacher), and she lived with her married sister.
She had seen Stratton while going to and fro on the San Francisco
boat; she had exchanged notes with him, had met him secretly, and
finally consented to elope with him to Sacramento, only to discover
when the boat had left the wharf the real nature of his intentions.
Jack listened with infinite weariness and inward chafing. He had
read all this before in cheap novelettes, in the police reports, in
the Sunday papers; he had heard a street preacher declaim against
it, and warn young women of the serpent-like wiles of tempters of
the Stratton variety. But even now Jack failed to recognize
Stratton as a serpent, or indeed anything but a blundering cheat
and clown, who had left his dirty 'prentice work on his (Jack's)
hands. But the girl was helpless and, it seemed, homeless, all
through a certain desperation of feeling which, in spite of her
tears, he could not but respect. That momentary shadow of death
had exalted her. He stroked his mustache, pulled down his white
waistcoat and her cry, without saying anything. He did not know
that this most objectionable phase of her misery was her salvation
and his own.

But the stewardess would return in a moment. "You'd better tell me
what to call you," he said quietly. "I ought to know my niece's
first name."

The girl caught her breath, and, between two sobs, said,
"Sophonisba."

Jack winced. It seemed only to need this last sentimental touch to
complete the idiotic situation. "I'll call you Sophy," he said
hurriedly and with an effort.

"And now look here! You are going in that cabin with Mrs. Johnson
where she can look after you, but I can't. So I'll have to take
your word, for I'm not going to give you away before Mrs. Johnson,
that you won't try that foolishness--you know what I mean--before I
see you again. Can I trust you?"

With her head still bowed over the chair back, she murmured slowly
somewhere from under her disheveled hair:--

"Yes."

"Honest Injin?" adjured Jack gravely.

"Yes."

The shuffling step of the stewardess was heard slowly approaching.
"Yes," continued Jack abruptly, lightly lifting his voice as Mrs.
Johnson opened the door,--"yes, if you'd only had some of those
spearmint drops of your aunt Rachel's that she always gave you
when these fits came on you'd have been all right inside of five
minutes. Aunty was no slouch of a doctor, was she? Dear me, it
only seems yesterday since I saw her. You were just playing round
her knee like a kitten on the back porch. How time does fly! But
here's Mrs. Johnson coming to take you in. Now rouse up, Sophy,
and just hook yourself on to Mrs. Johnson on that side, and we'll
toddle along."

The young girl put back her heavy hair, and with her face still
averted submitted to be helped to her feet by the kindly stewardess.
Perhaps something homely sympathetic and nurse-like in the touch of
the mulatto gave her assurance and confidence, for her head lapsed
quite naturally against the woman's shoulder, and her face was
partly hidden as she moved slowly along the deck. Jack accompanied
them to the saloon and the inner stateroom door. A few passengers
gathered curiously near, as much attracted by the unusual presence
of Jack Hamlin in such a procession as by the girl herself. "You'll
look after her specially, Mrs. Johnson," said Jack, in unusually
deliberate terms. "She's been a good deal petted at home, and my
sister perhaps has rather spoilt her. She's pretty much of a child
still, and you'll have to humor her. Sophy," he continued, with
ostentatious playfulness, directing his voice into the dim recesses
of the stateroom, "you'll just think Mrs. Johnson's your old nurse,
won't you? Think it's old Katy, hey?"

To his great consternation the girl approached tremblingly from the
inner shadow. The faintest and saddest of smiles for a moment
played around the corners of her drawn mouth and tear-dimmed eyes
as she held out her hand and said:--

"God bless you for being so kind."

Jack shuddered and glanced quickly round. But luckily no one heard
this crushing sentimentalism, and the next moment the door closed
upon her and Mrs. Johnson.

It was past midnight, and the moon was riding high over the
narrowing yellow river, when Jack again stepped out on deck. He
had just left the captain's cabin, and a small social game with the
officers, which had served to some extent to vaguely relieve his
irritation and their pockets. He had presumably quite forgotten
the incident of the afternoon, as he looked about him, and
complacently took in the quiet beauty of the night.

The low banks on either side offered no break to the uninterrupted
level of the landscape, through which the river seemed to wind only
as a race track for the rushing boat. Every fibre of her vast but
fragile bulk quivered under the goad of her powerful engines.
There was no other movement but hers, no other sound but this
monstrous beat and panting; the whole tranquil landscape seemed to
breathe and pulsate with her; dwellers in the tules, miles away,
heard and felt her as she passed, and it seemed to Jack, leaning
over the railing, as if the whole river swept like a sluice through
her paddle-boxes.

Jack had quite unconsciously lounged before that part of the
railing where the young girl had leaned a few hours ago. As he
looked down upon the streaming yellow mill-race below him, he
noticed--what neither he nor the girl had probably noticed before--
that a space of the top bar of the railing was hinged, and could be
lifted by withdrawing a small bolt, thus giving easy access to the
guards. He was still looking at it, whistling softly, when
footsteps approached.

"Jack," said a lazy voice, "how's sister Mary?"

"It's a long time since you've seen her only child, Jack, ain't
it?" said a second voice; "and yet it sort o' seems to me somehow
that I've seen her before."

Jack recognized the voice of two of his late companions at the
card-table. His whistling ceased; so also dropped every trace of
color and expression from his handsome face. But he did not turn,
and remained quietly gazing at the water.

"Aunt Rachel, too, must be getting on in years, Jack," continued
the first speaker, halting behind Jack.

"And Mrs. Johnson does not look so much like Sophy's old nurse as
she used to," remarked the second, following his example. Still
Jack remained unmoved.

"You don't seem to be interested, Jack," continued the first
speaker. "What are you looking at?"

Without turning his head the gambler replied, "Looking at the boat;
she's booming along, just chawing up and spitting out the river,
ain't she? Look at that sweep of water going under her paddle-
wheels," he continued, unbolting the rail and lifting it to allow
the two men to peer curiously over the guards as he pointed to the
murderous incline beneath them; "a man wouldn't stand much show who
got dropped into it. How these paddles would just snatch him bald-
headed, pick him up and slosh him round and round, and then sling
him out down there in such a shape that his own father wouldn't
know him."

"Yes," said the first speaker, with an ostentatious little laugh,
"but all that ain't telling us how sister Mary is."

"No," said the gambler slipping into the opening with a white and
rigid face in which nothing seemed living but the eyes, "no, but
it's telling you how two d----d fools who didn't know when to shut
their mouths might get them shut once and forever. It's telling
you what might happen to two men who tried to 'play' a man who
didn't care to be 'played,'--a man who didn't care much what he
did, when he did it, or how he did it, but would do what he'd set
out to do--even if in doing it he went to hell with the men he sent
there."

He had stepped out on the guards, beside the two men, closing the
rail behind him. He had placed his hands on their shoulders; they
had both gripped his arms; yet, viewed from the deck above, they
seemed at that moment an amicable, even fraternal group, albeit the
faces of the three were dead white in the moonlight.

"I don't think I'm so very much interested in sister Mary," said
the first speaker quietly, after a pause.

"And I don't seem to think so much of aunt Rachel as I did," said
his companion.

"I thought you wouldn't," said Jack, coolly reopening the rail and
stepping back again. "It all depends upon the way you look at
those things. Good-night."

"Good-night."

The three men paused, shook each other's hands silently, and
separated, Jack sauntering slowly back to his stateroom.

II.

The educational establishment of Mrs. Mix and Madame Bance,
situated in the best quarter of Sacramento and patronized by the
highest state officials and members of the clergy, was a pretty if
not an imposing edifice. Although surrounded by a high white
picket fence and entered through a heavily boarded gate, its
balconies festooned with jasmine and roses, and its spotlessly
draped windows as often graced with fresh, flower-like faces, were
still plainly and provokingly visible above the ostentatious spikes
of the pickets. Nevertheless, Mr. Jack Hamlin, who had six months
before placed his niece, Miss Sophonisba Brown, under its
protecting care, felt a degree of uneasiness, even bordering on
timidity, which was new to that usually self-confident man.
Remembering how his first appearance had fluttered this dovecote
and awakened a severe suspicion in the minds of the two principals,
he had discarded his usual fashionable attire and elegantly fitting
garments for a rough, homespun suit, supposed to represent a homely
agriculturist, but which had the effect of transforming him into
an adorable Strephon, infinitely more dangerous in his rustic
shepherd-like simplicity. He had also shaved off his silken
mustache for the same prudential reasons, but had only succeeded
in uncovering the delicate lines of his handsome mouth, and so
absurdly reducing his apparent years that his avuncular pretensions
seemed more preposterous than ever; and when he had rung the bell
and was admitted by a severe Irish waiting-maid, his momentary
hesitation and half humorous diffidence had such an unexpected
effect upon her, that it seemed doubtful if he would be allowed to
pass beyond the vestibule. "Shure, miss," she said in a whisper to
an under teacher, "there's wan at the dhure who calls himself,
'Mister' Hamlin, but av it is not a young lady maskeradin' in her
brother's clothes Oim very much mistaken; and av it's a boy, one of
the pupil's brothers, shure ye might put a dhress on him when you
take the others out for a walk, and he'd pass for the beauty of the
whole school."

Meantime, the unconscious subject of this criticism was pacing
somewhat uneasily up and down the formal reception room into which
he had been finally ushered. Its farther end was filled by an
enormous parlor organ, a number of music books, and a cheerfully
variegated globe. A large presentation Bible, an equally massive
illustrated volume on the Holy Land, a few landscapes in cold,
bluish milk and water colors, and rigid heads in crayons--the work
of pupils--were presumably ornamental. An imposing mahogany sofa
and what seemed to be a disproportionate excess of chairs somewhat
coldly furnished the room. Jack had reluctantly made up his mind
that, if Sophy was accompanied by any one, he would be obliged to
kiss her to keep up his assumed relationship. As she entered the
room with Miss Mix, Jack advanced and soberly saluted her on the
cheek. But so positive and apparent was the gallantry of his
presence, and perhaps so suggestive of some pastoral flirtation,
that Miss Mix, to Jack's surprise, winced perceptibly and became
stony. But he was still more surprised that the young lady herself
shrank half uneasily from his lips, and uttered a slight
exclamation. It was a new experience to Mr. Hamlin.

But this somewhat mollified Miss Mix, and she slightly relaxed her
austerity. She was glad to be able to give the best accounts of
Miss Brown, not only as regarded her studies, but as to her conduct
and deportment. Really, with the present freedom of manners and
laxity of home discipline in California, it was gratifying to meet
a young lady who seemed to value the importance of a proper decorum
and behavior, especially towards the opposite sex. Mr. Hamlin,
although her guardian, was perhaps too young to understand and
appreciate this. To this inexperience she must also attribute the
indiscretion of his calling during school hours and without
preliminary warning. She trusted, however, that this informality
could be overlooked after consultation with Madame Bance, but in
the mean time, perhaps for half an hour, she must withdraw Miss
Brown and return with her to the class. Mr. Hamlin could wait in
this public room, reserved especially for visitors, until they
returned. Or, if he cared to accompany one of the teachers in a
formal inspection of the school, she added, doubtfully, with a
glance at Jack's distracting attractions, she would submit this
also to Madame Bance.

"Thank you, thank you," returned Jack hurriedly, as a depressing
vision of the fifty or sixty scholars rose before his eyes, "but
I'd rather not. I mean, you know, I'd just as lief stay here
ALONE. I wouldn't have called anyway, don't you see, only I had
a day off,--and--and--I wanted to talk with my niece on family
matters." He did not say that he had received a somewhat
distressful letter from her asking him to come; a new instinct
made him cautious.

Considerably relieved by Jack's unexpected abstention, which seemed
to spare her pupils the distraction of his graces, Miss Mix smiled
more amicably and retired with her charge. In the single glance he
had exchanged with Sophy he saw that, although resigned and
apparently self-controlled, she still appeared thoughtful and
melancholy. She had improved in appearance and seemed more refined
and less rustic in her school dress, but he was conscious of the
same distinct separation of her personality (which was uninteresting
to him) from the sentiment that had impelled him to visit her. She
was possibly still hankering after that fellow Stratton, in spite of
her protestations to the contrary; perhaps she wanted to go back to
her sister, although she had declared she would die first, and had
always refused to disclose her real name or give any clue by which
he could have traced her relations. She would cry, of course; he
almost hoped that she would not return alone; he half regretted he
had come. She still held him only by a single quality of her
nature,--the desperation she had shown on the boat; that was
something he understood and respected.

He walked discontentedly to the window and looked out; he walked
discontentedly to the end of the room and stopped before the organ.
It was a fine instrument; he could see that with an admiring and
experienced eye. He was alone in the room; in fact, quite alone in
that part of the house which was separated from the class-rooms.
He would disturb no one by trying it. And if he did, what then?
He smiled a little recklessly, slowly pulled off his gloves, and
sat down before it.

He played cautiously at first, with the soft pedal down. The
instrument had never known a strong masculine hand before, having
been fumbled and friveled over by softly incompetent, feminine
fingers. But presently it began to thrill under the passionate
hand of its lover, and carried away by his one innocent weakness,
Jack was launched upon a sea of musical reminiscences. Scraps of
church music, Puritan psalms of his boyhood; dying strains from
sad, forgotten operas, fragments of oratorios and symphonies, but
chiefly phases from old masses heard at the missions of San Pedro
and Santa Isabel, swelled up from his loving and masterful fingers.
He had finished an Agnus Dei; the formal room was pulsating with
divine aspiration; the rascal's hands were resting listlessly on
the keys, his brown lashes lifted, in an effort of memory, tenderly
towards the ceiling.

Suddenly, a subdued murmur of applause and a slight rustle behind
him recalled him to himself again. He wheeled his chair quickly
round. The two principals of the school and half a dozen teachers
were standing gravely behind him, and at the open door a dozen
curled and frizzled youthful heads peered in eagerly, but half
restrained by their teachers. The relaxed features and apologetic
attitude of Madame Bance and Miss Mix showed that Mr. Hamlin had
unconsciously achieved a triumph.

He might not have been as pleased to know that his extraordinary
performance had solved a difficulty, effaced his other graces, and
enabled them to place him on the moral pedestal of a mere musician,
to whom these eccentricities were allowable and privileged. He
shared the admiration extended by the young ladies to their music
teacher, which was always understood to be a sexless enthusiasm and
a contagious juvenile disorder. It was also a fine advertisement
for the organ. Madame Bance smiled blandly, improved the occasion
by thanking Mr. Hamlin for having given the scholars a gratuitous
lesson on the capabilities of the instrument, and was glad to
be able to give Miss Brown a half-holiday to spend with her
accomplished relative. Miss Brown was even now upstairs, putting
on her hat and mantle. Jack was relieved. Sophy would not attempt
to cry on the street.

Nevertheless, when they reached it and the gate closed behind them,
he again became uneasy. The girl's clouded face and melancholy
manner were not promising. It also occurred to him that he might
meet some one who knew him and thus compromise her. This was to be
avoided at all hazards. He began with forced gayety:--

"Well, now, where shall we go?"

She slightly raised her tear-dimmed eyes. "Where you please--
I don't care."

"There isn't any show going on here, is there?" He had a vague
idea of a circus or menagerie--himself behind her in the shadow of
the box.

"I don't know of any."

"Or any restaurant--or cake shop?"

"There's a place where the girls go to get candy on Main Street.
Some of them are there now."

Jack shuddered; this was not to be thought of. "But where do you
walk?"

"Up and down Main Street."

"Where everybody can see you?" said Jack, scandalized.

The girl nodded.

They walked on in silence for a few moments. Then a bright idea
struck Mr. Hamlin. He suddenly remembered that in one of his many
fits of impulsive generosity and largesse he had given to an old
negro retainer--whose wife had nursed him through a dangerous
illness--a house and lot on the river bank. He had been told that
they had opened a small laundry or wash-house. It occurred to him
that a stroll there and a call upon "Uncle Hannibal and Aunt Chloe"
combined the propriety and respectability due to the young person
he was with, and the requisite secrecy and absence of publicity due
to himself. He at once suggested it.

"You see she was a mighty good woman and you ought to know her, for
she was my old nurse"--

The girl glanced at him with a sudden impatience.

"Honest Injin," said Jack solemnly; "she did nurse me through my
last cough. I ain't playing old family gags on you now."

"Oh, dear," burst out the girl impulsively, "I do wish you wouldn't
ever play them again. I wish you wouldn't pretend to be my uncle;
I wish you wouldn't make me pass for your niece. It isn't right.
It's all wrong. Oh, don't you know it's all wrong, and can't come
right any way? It's just killing me. I can't stand it. I'd
rather you'd say what I am and how I came to you and how you pitied
me."

They had luckily entered a narrow side street, and the sobs which
shook the young girl's frame were unnoticed. For a few moments
Jack felt a horrible conviction stealing over him, that in his
present attitude towards her he was not unlike that hound Stratton,
and that, however innocent his own intent, there was a sickening
resemblance to the situation on the boat in the base advantage he
had taken of her friendlessness. He had never told her that he was
a gambler like Stratton, and that his peculiarly infelix reputation
among women made it impossible for him to assist her, except by a
stealth or the deception he had practiced, without compromising
her. He who had for years faced the sneers and half-frightened
opposition of the world dared not tell the truth to this girl, from
whom he expected nothing and who did not interest him. He felt he
was almost slinking at her side. At last he said desperately:--

"But I snatched them bald-headed at the organ, Sophy, didn't I?"

"Oh yes," said the girl, "you played beautifully and grandly. It
was so good of you, too. For I think, somehow, Madame Bance had
been a little suspicious of you, but that settled it. Everybody
thought it was fine, and some thought it was your profession.
Perhaps," she added timidly, "it is?"

"I play a good deal, I reckon," said Jack, with a grim humor which
did not, however, amuse him.

"I wish I could, and make money by it," said the girl eagerly.
Jack winced, but she did not notice it as she went on hurriedly:
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I want to leave the
school and make my own living. Anywhere where people won't know me
and where I can be alone and work. I shall die here among these
girls--with all their talk of their friends and their--sisters,--
and their questions about you."

"Tell 'em to dry up," said Jack indignantly. "Take 'em to the cake
shop and load 'em up with candy and ice cream. That'll stop their
mouths. You've got money, you got my last remittance, didn't you?"
he repeated quickly. "If you didn't, here's"--his hand was already
in his pocket when she stopped him with a despairing gesture.

"Yes, yes, I got it all. I haven't touched it. I don't want it.
For I can't live on you. Don't you understand,--I want to work.
Listen,--I can draw and paint. Madame Bance says I do it well; my
drawing-master says I might in time take portraits and get paid for
it. And even now I can retouch photographs and make colored
miniatures from them. And," she stopped and glanced at Jack half-
timidly, "I've--done some already."

A glow of surprised relief suffused the gambler. Not so much at
this astonishing revelation as at the change it seemed to effect
in her. Her pale blue eyes, made paler by tears, cleared and
brightened under their swollen lids like wiped steel; the lines of
her depressed mouth straightened and became firm. Her voice had
lost its hopeless monotone.

"There's a shop in the next street,--a photographer's,--where they
have one of mine in their windows," she went on, reassured by
Jack's unaffected interest. "It's only round the corner, if you
care to see."

Jack assented; a few paces farther brought them to the corner
of a narrow street, where they presently turned into a broader
thoroughfare and stopped before the window of a photographer.
Sophy pointed to an oval frame, containing a portrait painted on
porcelain. Mr. Hamlin was startled. Inexperienced as he was, a
certain artistic inclination told him it was good, although it is
to be feared he would have been astonished even if it had been
worse. The mere fact that this headstrong country girl, who had
run away with a cur like Stratton, should be able to do anything
else took him by surprise.

"I got ten dollars for that," she said hesitatingly, "and I could
have got more for a larger one, but I had to do that in my room,
during recreation hours. If I had more time and a place where I
could work"--she stopped timidly and looked tentatively at Jack.
But he was already indulging in a characteristically reckless idea
of coming back after he had left Sophy, buying the miniature at an
extravagant price, and ordering half a dozen more at extraordinary
figures. Here, however, two passers-by, stopping ostensibly to
look in the window, but really attracted by the picturesque
spectacle of the handsome young rustic and his schoolgirl
companion, gave Jack such a fright that he hurried Sophy away again
into the side street. "There's nothing mean about that picture
business," he said cheerfully; "it looks like a square kind of
game," and relapsed into thoughtful silence.

At which, Sophy, the ice of restraint broken, again burst into
passionate appeal. If she could only go away somewhere--where she
saw no one but the people who would buy her work, who knew nothing
of her past nor cared to know who were her relations! She would
work hard; she knew she could support herself in time. She would
keep the name he had given her,--it was not distinctive enough to
challenge any inquiry,--but nothing more. She need not assume to
be his niece; he would always be her kind friend, to whom she owed
everything, even her miserable life. She trusted still to his
honor never to seek to know her real name, nor ever to speak to her
of that man if he ever met him. It would do no good to her or to
them; it might drive her, for she was not yet quite sure of
herself, to do that which she had promised him never to do again.

There was no threat, impatience, or acting in her voice, but he
recognized the same dull desperation he had once heard in it, and
her eyes, which a moment before were quick and mobile, had become
fixed and set. He had no idea of trying to penetrate the foolish
secret of her name and relations; he had never had the slightest
curiosity, but it struck him now that Stratton might at any time
force it upon him. The only way that he could prevent it was to
let it be known that, for unexpressed reasons, he would shoot
Stratton "on sight." This would naturally restrict any verbal
communication between them. Jack's ideas of morality were vague,
but his convictions on points of honor were singularly direct and
positive.

III.

Meantime Hamlin and Sophy were passing the outskirts of the town;
the open lots and cleared spaces were giving way to grassy
stretches, willow copses, and groups of cottonwood and sycamore;
and beyond the level of yellowing tules appeared the fringed and
raised banks of the river. Half tropical looking cottages with
deep verandas--the homes of early Southern pioneers--took the place
of incomplete blocks of modern houses, monotonously alike. In
these sylvan surroundings Mr. Hamlin's picturesque rusticity looked
less incongruous and more Arcadian; the young girl had lost some of
her restraint with her confidences, and lounging together side by
side, without the least consciousness of any sentiment in their
words or actions, they nevertheless contrived to impress the
spectator with the idea that they were a charming pair of pastoral
lovers. So strong was this impression that, as they approached
Aunt Chloe's laundry, a pretty rose-covered cottage with an
enormous whitewashed barn-like extension in the rear, the black
proprietress herself, standing at the door, called her husband
to come and look at them, and flashed her white teeth in such
unqualified commendation and patronage that Mr. Hamlin, withdrawing
himself from Sophy's side, instantly charged down upon them.

"If you don't slide the lid back over that grinning box of dominoes
of yours and take it inside, I'll just carry Hannibal off with me,"
he said in a quick whisper, with a half-wicked, half-mischievous
glitter in his brown eyes. "That young lady's--A LADY--do you
understand? No riffraff friend of mine, but a regular NUN--a
saint--do you hear? So you just stand back and let her take a good
look round, and rest herself, until she wants you." "Two black
idiots, Miss Brown," he continued cheerfully in a higher voice of
explanation, as Sophy approached, "who think because one of 'em
used to shave me and the other saved my life they've got a right to
stand at their humble cottage door and frighten horses!"

So great was Mr. Hamlin's ascendency over his former servants that
even this ingenious pleasantry was received with every sign of
affection and appreciation of the humorist, and of the profound
respect for his companion. Aunt Chloe showed them effusively into
her parlor, a small but scrupulously neat and sweet-smelling
apartment, inordinately furnished with a huge mahogany centre-table
and chairs, and the most fragile and meretricious china and glass
ornaments on the mantel. But the three jasmine-edged lattice
windows opened upon a homely garden of old-fashioned herbs and
flowers, and their fragrance filled the room. The cleanest and
starchiest of curtains, the most dazzling and whitest of tidies and
chair-covers, bespoke the adjacent laundry; indeed, the whole
cottage seemed to exhale the odors of lavender soap and freshly
ironed linen. Yet the cottage was large for the couple and their
assistants. "Dar was two front rooms on de next flo' dat dey never
used," explained Aunt Chloe; "friends allowed dat dey could let 'em
to white folks, but dey had always been done kep' for Marse Hamlin,
ef he ever wanted to be wid his old niggers again." Jack looked up
quickly with a brightened face, made a sign to Hannibal, and the
two left the room together.

When he came through the passage a few moments later, there was a
sound of laughter in the parlor. He recognized the full, round
lazy chuckle of Aunt Chloe, but there was a higher girlish ripple
that he did not know. He had never heard Sophy laugh before. Nor,
when he entered, had he ever seen her so animated. She was helping
Chloe set the table, to that lady's intense delight at "Missy's"
girlish housewifery. She was picking the berries fresh from the
garden, buttering the Sally Lunn, making the tea, and arranging the
details of the repast with apparently no trace of her former
discontent and unhappiness in either face or manner. He dropped
quietly into a chair by the window, and, with the homely scents of
the garden mixing with the honest odors of Aunt Chloe's cookery,
watched her with an amusement that was as pleasant and grateful as
it was strange and unprecedented.

"Now den," said Aunt Chloe to her husband, as she put the finishing
touch to the repast in a plate of doughnuts as exquisitely brown
and shining as Jack's eyes were at that moment, "Hannibal, you just
come away, and let dem two white quality chillens have dey tea.
Dey's done starved, shuah." And with an approving nod to Jack, she
bundled her husband from the room.

The door closed; the young girl began to pour out the tea, but Jack
remained in his seat by the window. It was a singular sensation
which he did not care to disturb. It was no new thing for Mr.
Hamlin to find himself at a tete-a-tete repast with the admiring
and complaisant fair; there was a 'cabinet particulier' in a
certain San Francisco restaurant which had listened to their
various vanities and professions of undying faith; he might have
recalled certain festal rendezvous with a widow whose piety and
impeccable reputation made it a moral duty for her to come to him
only in disguise; it was but a few days ago that he had been let
privately into the palatial mansion of a high official for a
midnight supper with a foolish wife. It was not strange, therefore,
that he should be alone here, secretly, with a member of that
indiscreet, loving sex. But that he should be sitting there in a
cheap negro laundry with absolutely no sentiment of any kind towards
the heavy-haired, freckle-faced country schoolgirl opposite him,
from whom he sought and expected nothing, and ENJOYING it without
scorn of himself or his companion, to use his own expression, "got
him." Presently he rose and sauntered to the table with shining
eyes.

"Well, what do you think of Aunt Chloe's shebang?" he asked
smilingly.

"Oh, it's so sweet and clean and homelike," said the girl quickly.
At any other time he would have winced at the last adjective. It
struck him now as exactly the word.

"Would you like to live here, if you could?"

Her face brightened. She put the teapot down and gazed fixedly at
Jack.

"Because you can. Look here. I spoke to Hannibal about it. You
can have the two front rooms if you want to. One of 'em is big
enough and light enough for a studio to do your work in. You tell
that nigger what you want to put in 'em, and he's got my orders to
do it. I told him about your painting; said you were the daughter
of an old friend, you know. Hold on, Sophy; d--n it all, I've got
to do a little gilt-edged lying; but I let you out of the niece
business this time. Yes, from this moment I'm no longer your
uncle. I renounce the relationship. It's hard," continued the
rascal, "after all these years and considering sister Mary's
feelings; but, as you seem to wish it, it must be done."

Sophy's steel-blue eyes softened. She slid her long brown hand
across the table and grasped Jack's. He returned the pressure
quickly and fraternally, even to that half-shamed, half-hurried
evasion of emotion peculiar to all brothers. This was also a new
sensation; but he liked it.

"You are too--too good, Mr. Hamlin," she said quietly.

"Yes," said Jack cheerfully, "that's what's the matter with me. It
isn't natural, and if I keep it up too long it brings on my cough."

Nevertheless, they were happy in a boy and girl fashion, eating
heartily, and, I fear, not always decorously; scrambling somewhat
for the strawberries, and smacking their lips over the Sally Lunn.
Meantime, it was arranged that Mr. Hamlin should inform Miss Mix
that Sophy would leave school at the end of the term, only a few
days hence, and then transfer herself to lodgings with some old
family servants, where she could more easily pursue her studies in
her own profession. She need not make her place of abode a secret,
neither need she court publicity. She would write to Jack
regularly, informing him of her progress, and he would visit her
whenever he could. Jack assented gravely to the further
proposition that he was to keep a strict account of all the moneys
he advanced her, and that she was to repay him out of the proceeds
of her first pictures. He had promised also, with a slight mental
reservation, not to buy them all himself, but to trust to her
success with the public. They were never to talk of what had
happened before; she was to begin life anew. Of such were their
confidences, spoken often together at the same moment, and with
their mouths full. Only one thing troubled Jack; he had not yet
told her frankly who he was and what was his reputation; he had
hitherto carelessly supposed she would learn it, and in truth had
cared little if she did; but it was evident from her conversation
that day that by some miracle she was still in ignorance. Unable
now to tell her himself, he had charged Hannibal to break it to her
casually after he was gone. "You can let me down easy if you like,
but you'd better make a square deal of it while you're about it.
And," Jack had added cheerfully, "if she thinks after that she'd
better drop me entirely, you just say that if she wishes to STAY,
you'll see that I don't ever come here again. And you keep your
word about it too, you black nigger, or I'll be the first to thrash
you."

Nevertheless, when Hannibal and Aunt Chloe returned to clear away
the repast, they were a harmonious party; albeit, Mr. Hamlin seemed
more content to watch them silently from his chair by the window, a
cigar between his lips, and the pleasant distraction of the homely
scents and sounds of the garden in his senses. Allusion having
been made again to the morning performance of the organ, he was
implored by Hannibal to diversify his talent by exercising it on an
old guitar which had passed into that retainer's possession with
certain clothes of his master's when they separated. Mr. Hamlin
accepted it dubiously; it had twanged under his volatile fingers in
more pretentious but less innocent halls. But presently he raised
his tenor voice and soft brown lashes to the humble ceiling and
sang.

"Way down upon the Swanee River,"

Discoursed Jack plaintively,--

"Far, far away,
Thar's whar my heart is turning ever,
Thar's whar the old folks stay."

The two dusky scions of an emotional race, that had been wont to
sweeten its toil and condone its wrongs with music, sat wrapt and
silent, swaying with Jack's voice until they could burst in upon
the chorus. The jasmine vines trilled softly with the afternoon
breeze; a slender yellow-hammer, perhaps emulous of Jack, swung
himself from an outer spray and peered curiously into the room; and
a few neighbors, gathering at their doors and windows, remarked
that "after all, when it came to real singing, no one could beat
those d----d niggers."

The sun was slowly sinking in the rolling gold of the river when
Jack and Sophy started leisurely back through the broken shafts of
light, and across the far-stretching shadows of the cottonwoods.
In the midst of a lazy silence they were presently conscious of a
distant monotonous throb, the booming of the up boat on the river.
The sound came nearer--passed them, the boat itself hidden by the
trees; but a trailing cloud of smoke above cast a momentary shadow
upon their path. The girl looked up at Jack with a troubled face.
Mr. Hamlin smiled reassuringly; but in that instant he had made up
his mind that it was his moral duty to kill Mr. Edward Stratton.

IV.

For the next two months Mr. Hamlin was professionally engaged in
San Francisco and Marysville, and the transfer of Sophy from the
school to her new home was effected without his supervision. From
letters received by him during that interval, it seemed that the
young girl had entered energetically upon her new career, and that
her artistic efforts were crowned with success. There were a few
Indian-ink sketches, studies made at school and expanded in her own
"studio," which were eagerly bought as soon as exhibited in the
photographer's window,--notably by a florid and inartistic
bookkeeper, an old negro woman, a slangy stable boy, a gorgeously
dressed and painted female, and the bearded second officer of a
river steamboat, without hesitation and without comment. This, as
Mr. Hamlin intelligently pointed out in a letter to Sophy, showed a
general and diversified appreciation on the part of the public.
Indeed, it emboldened her, in the retouching of photographs, to
offer sittings to the subjects, and to undertake even large crayon
copies, which had resulted in her getting so many orders that she
was no longer obliged to sell her drawings, but restricted herself
solely to profitable portraiture. The studio became known; even
its quaint surroundings added to the popular interest, and the
originality and independence of the young painter helped her to a
genuine success. All this she wrote to Jack. Meantime Hannibal
had assured him that he had carried out his instructions by
informing "Missy" of his old master's real occupation and
reputation, but that the young lady hadn't "took no notice."
Certainly there was no allusion to it in her letters, nor any
indication in her manner. Mr. Hamlin was greatly, and it seemed to
him properly, relieved. And he looked forward with considerable
satisfaction to an early visit to old Hannibal's laundry.

It must be confessed, also, that another matter, a simple affair of
gallantry, was giving him an equally unusual, unexpected, and
absurd annoyance, which he had never before permitted to such
trivialities. In a recent visit to a fashionable watering-place,
he had attracted the attention of what appeared to be a
respectable, matter of fact woman, the wife of a recently elected
rural Senator. She was, however, singularly beautiful, and as
singularly cold. It was perhaps this quality, and her evident
annoyance at some unreasoning prepossession which Jack's
fascinations exercised upon her, that heightened that reckless
desire for risk and excitement which really made up the greater
part of his gallantry. Nevertheless, as was his habit, he had
treated her always with a charming unconsciousness of his own
attentions, and a frankness that seemed inconsistent with any
insidious approach. In fact, Mr. Hamlin seldom made love to
anybody, but permitted it to be made to him with good-humored
deprecation and cheerful skepticism. He had once, quite
accidentally, while riding, come upon her when she had strayed
from her own riding party, and had behaved with such unexpected
circumspection and propriety, not to mention a certain thoughtful
abstraction,--it was the day he had received Sophy's letter,--that
she was constrained to make the first advances. This led to a
later innocent rendezvous, in which Mrs. Camperly was impelled to
confide to Mr. Hamlin the fact that her husband had really never
understood her. Jack listened with an understanding and sympathy
quickened by long experience of such confessions. If anything had
ever kept him from marriage it was this evident incompatibility of
the conjugal relations with a just conception of the feminine soul
and its aspirations.

And so eventually this yearning for sympathy dragged Mrs.
Camperly's clean skirts and rustic purity after Jack's heels into
various places and various situations not so clean, rural, or
innocent; made her miserably unhappy in his absence, and still more
miserably happy in his presence; impelled her to lie, cheat, and
bear false witness; forced her to listen with mingled shame and
admiration to narrow criticism of his faults, from natures so
palpably inferior to his own that her moral sense was confused and
shaken; gave her two distinct lives, but so unreal and feverish
that, with a recklessness equal to his own, she was at last ready
to merge them both into his. For the first time in his life Mr.
Hamlin found himself bored at the beginning of an affair, actually
hesitated, and suddenly disappeared from San Francisco.

He turned up a few days later at Aunt Chloe's door, with various
packages of presents and quite the air of a returning father of a
family, to the intense delight of that lady and to Sophy's proud
gratification. For he was lost in a profuse, boyish admiration of
her pretty studio, and in wholesome reverence for her art and her
astounding progress. They were also amused at his awe and evident
alarm at the portraits of two ladies, her latest sitters, that were
still on the easels, and, in consideration of his half-assumed,
half-real bashfulness, they turned their faces to the wall. Then
his quick, observant eye detected a photograph of himself on the
mantel.

"What's that?" he asked suddenly.

Sophy and Aunt Chloe exchanged meaning glances. Sophy had, as a
surprise to Jack, just completed a handsome crayon portrait of
himself from an old photograph furnished by Hannibal, and the
picture was at that moment in the window of her former patron,--
the photographer.

"Oh, dat! Miss Sophy jus' put it dar fo' de lady sitters to look
at to gib 'em a pleasant 'spresshion," said Aunt Chloe, chuckling.

Mr. Hamlin did not laugh, but quietly slipped the photograph into
his pocket. Yet, perhaps, it had not been recognized.

Then Sophy proposed to have luncheon in the studio; it was quite
"Bohemian" and fashionable, and many artists did it. But to her
great surprise Jack gravely objected, preferring the little parlor
of Aunt Chloe, the vine-fringed windows, and the heavy respectable
furniture. He thought it was profaning the studio, and then--
anybody might come in. This unusual circumspection amused them,
and was believed to be part of the boyish awe with which Jack
regarded the models, the draperies, and the studies on the walls.
Certain it was that he was much more at his ease in the parlor, and
when he and Sophy were once more alone at their meal, although he
ate nothing, he had regained all his old naivete. Presently he
leaned forward and placed his hand fraternally on her arm. Sophy
looked up with an equally frank smile.

"You know I promised to let bygones be bygones, eh? Well, I
intended it, and more,--I intended to make 'em so. I told you I'd
never speak to you again of that man who tried to run you off, and
I intended that no one else should. Well, as he was the only one
who could talk--that meant him. But the cards are out of my hands;
the game's been played without me. For he's dead!"

The girl started. Mr. Hamlin's hand passed caressingly twice or
thrice along her sleeve with a peculiar gentleness that seemed to
magnetize her.

"Dead," he repeated slowly. "Shot in San Diego by another man, but
not by me. I had him tracked as far as that, and had my eyes on
him, but it wasn't my deal. But there," he added, giving her
magnetized arm a gentle and final tap as if to awaken it, "he's
dead, and so is the whole story. And now we'll drop it forever."

The girl's downcast eyes were fixed on the table. "But there's my
sister," she murmured.

"Did she know you went with him?" asked Jack.

"No; but she knows I ran away."

"Well, you ran away from home to study how to be an artist, don't
you see? Some day she'll find out you ARE ONE; that settles the
whole thing."

They were both quite cheerful again when Aunt Chloe returned to
clear the table, especially Jack, who was in the best spirits,
with preternaturally bright eyes and a somewhat rare color on his
cheeks. Aunt Chloe, who had noticed that his breathing was hurried
at times, watched him narrowly, and when later he slipped from the
room, followed him into the passage. He was leaning against the
wall. In an instant the negress was at his side.

"De Lawdy Gawd, Marse Jack, not AGIN?"

He took his handkerchief, slightly streaked with blood, from his
lips and said faintly, "Yes, it came on--on the boat; but I thought
the d----d thing was over. Get me out of this, quick, to some
hotel, before she knows it. You can tell her I was called away.
Say that"--but his breath failed him, and when Aunt Chloe caught
him like a child in her strong arms he could make no resistance.

In another hour he was unconscious, with two doctors at his
bedside, in the little room that had been occupied by Sophy. It
was a sharp attack, but prompt attendance and skillful nursing
availed; he rallied the next day, but it would be weeks, the
doctors said, before he could be removed in safety. Sophy was
transferred to the parlor, but spent most of her time at Jack's
bedside with Aunt Chloe, or in the studio with the door open
between it and the bedroom. In spite of his enforced idleness and
weakness, it was again a singularly pleasant experience to Jack; it
amused him to sometimes see Sophy at her work through the open
door, and when sitters came,--for he had insisted on her continuing
her duties as before, keeping his invalid presence in the house a
secret,--he had all the satisfaction of a mischievous boy in
rehearsing to Sophy such of the conversation as could be overheard
through the closed door, and speculating on the possible wonder and
chagrin of the sitters had they discovered him. Even when he was
convalescent and strong enough to be helped into the parlor and
garden, he preferred to remain propped up in Sophy's little
bedroom. It was evident, however, that this predilection was
connected with no suggestion nor reminiscence of Sophy herself. It
was true that he had once asked her if it didn't make her "feel
like home." The decided negative from Sophy seemed to mildly
surprise him. "That's odd," he said; "now all these fixings and
things," pointing to the flowers in a vase, the little hanging
shelf of books, the knickknacks on the mantel-shelf, and the few
feminine ornaments that still remained, "look rather like home to
me."

So the days slipped by, and although Mr. Hamlin was soon able to
walk short distances, leaning on Sophy's arm, in the evening
twilight, along the river bank, he was still missed from the haunts
of dissipated men. A good many people wondered, and others,
chiefly of the more irrepressible sex, were singularly concerned.
Apparently one of these, one sultry afternoon, stopped before the
shadowed window of a photographer's; she was a handsome, well-
dressed woman, yet bearing a certain countrylike simplicity that
was unlike the restless smartness of the more urban promenaders
who passed her. Nevertheless she had halted before Mr. Hamlin's
picture, which Sophy had not yet dared to bring home and present
to him, and was gazing at it with rapt and breathless attention.
Suddenly she shook down her veil and entered the shop. Could the
proprietor kindly tell her if that portrait was the work of a local
artist?

The proprietor was both proud and pleased to say that IT WAS! It
was the work of a Miss Brown, a young girl student; in fact, a mere
schoolgirl one might say. He could show her others of her
pictures.

Thanks. But could he tell her if this portrait was from life?

No doubt; the young lady had a studio, and he himself had sent her
sitters.

And perhaps this was the portrait of one that he had sent her?

No; but she was very popular and becoming quite the fashion. Very
probably this gentleman, who, he understood, was quite a public
character, had heard of her, and selected her on that account.

The lady's face flushed slightly. The photographer continued. The
picture was not for sale; it was only there on exhibition; in fact
it was to be returned to-morrow.

To the sitter?

He couldn't say. It was to go back to the studio. Perhaps the
sitter would be there.

And this studio? Could she have its address?

The man wrote a few lines on his card. Perhaps the lady would be
kind enough to say that he had sent her. The lady, thanking him,
partly lifted her veil to show a charming smile, and gracefully
withdrew. The photographer was pleased. Miss Brown had evidently
got another sitter, and, from that momentary glimpse of her face,
it would be a picture as beautiful and attractive as the man's.
But what was the odd idea that struck him? She certainly reminded
him of some one! There was the same heavy hair, only this lady's
was golden, and she was older and more mature. And he remained for
a moment with knitted brows musing over his counter.

Meantime the fair stranger was making her way towards the river
suburb. When she reached Aunt Chloe's cottage, she paused, with
the unfamiliar curiosity of a newcomer, over its quaint and
incongruous exterior. She hesitated a moment also when Aunt Chloe
appeared in the doorway, and, with a puzzled survey of her
features, went upstairs to announce a visitor. There was the sound
of hurried shutting of doors, of the moving of furniture, quick
footsteps across the floor, and then a girlish laugh that startled
her. She ascended the stairs breathlessly to Aunt Chloe's summons,
found the negress on the landing, and knocked at a door which bore
a card marked "Studio." The door opened; she entered; there were
two sudden outcries that might have come from one voice.

"Sophonisba!"

"Marianne!"

"Hush."

The woman had seized Sophy by the wrist and dragged her to the
window. There was a haggard look of desperation in her face akin
to that which Hamlin had once seen in her sister's eyes on the
boat, as she said huskily: "I did not know YOU were here. I came
to see the woman who had painted Mr. Hamlin's portrait. I did not
know it was YOU. Listen! Quick! answer me one question. Tell me--
I implore you--for the sake of the mother who bore us both!--tell
me--is this the man for whom you left home?"

"No! No! A hundred times no!"

Then there was a silence. Mr. Hamlin from the bedroom heard no
more.

An hour later, when the two women opened the studio door, pale but
composed, they were met by the anxious and tearful face of Aunt
Chloe.

"Lawdy Gawd, Missy,--but dey done gone!--bofe of 'em!"

"Who is gone?" demanded Sophy, as the woman beside her trembled and
grew paler still.

"Marse Jack and dat fool nigger, Hannibal."

"Mr. Hamlin gone?" repeated Sophy incredulously. "When? Where?"

"Jess now--on de down boat. Sudden business. Didn't like to
disturb yo' and yo' friend. Said he'd write."

"But he was ill--almost helpless," gasped Sophy.

"Dat's why he took dat old nigger. Lawdy, Missy, bress yo' heart.
Dey both knows aich udder, shuah! It's all right. Dar now, dar
dey are; listen."

She held up her hand. A slow pulsation, that might have been the
dull, labored beating of their own hearts, was making itself felt
throughout the little cottage. It came nearer,--a deep regular
inspiration that seemed slowly to fill and possess the whole
tranquil summer twilight. It was nearer still--was abreast of the
house--passed--grew fainter and at last died away like a deep-drawn
sigh. It was the down boat, that was now separating Mr. Hamlin and
his protegee, even as it had once brought them together.

AN INGENUE OF THE SIERRAS.

I.

We all held our breath as the coach rushed through the semi-
darkness of Galloper's Ridge. The vehicle itself was only a huge
lumbering shadow; its side-lights were carefully extinguished, and
Yuba Bill had just politely removed from the lips of an outside
passenger even the cigar with which he had been ostentatiously
exhibiting his coolness. For it had been rumored that the Ramon
Martinez gang of "road agents" were "laying" for us on the second
grade, and would time the passage of our lights across Galloper's
in order to intercept us in the "brush" beyond. If we could cross
the ridge without being seen, and so get through the brush before
they reached it, we were safe. If they followed, it would only be
a stern chase with the odds in our favor.

The huge vehicle swayed from side to side, rolled, dipped, and
plunged, but Bill kept the track, as if, in the whispered words of
the Expressman, he could "feel and smell" the road he could no
longer see. We knew that at times we hung perilously over the edge
of slopes that eventually dropped a thousand feet sheer to the tops
of the sugar-pines below, but we knew that Bill knew it also. The
half visible heads of the horses, drawn wedge-wise together by the
tightened reins, appeared to cleave the darkness like a ploughshare,
held between his rigid hands. Even the hoof-beats of the six horses
had fallen into a vague, monotonous, distant roll. Then the ridge
was crossed, and we plunged into the still blacker obscurity of the
brush. Rather we no longer seemed to move--it was only the phantom
night that rushed by us. The horses might have been submerged in
some swift Lethean stream; nothing but the top of the coach and the
rigid bulk of Yuba Bill arose above them. Yet even in that awful
moment our speed was unslackened; it was as if Bill cared no longer
to GUIDE but only to drive, or as if the direction of his huge
machine was determined by other hands than his. An incautious
whisperer hazarded the paralyzing suggestion of our "meeting another
team." To our great astonishment Bill overheard it; to our greater
astonishment he replied. "It 'ud be only a neck and neck race which
would get to h-ll first," he said quietly. But we were relieved--
for he had SPOKEN! Almost simultaneously the wider turnpike began
to glimmer faintly as a visible track before us; the wayside trees
fell out of line, opened up, and dropped off one after another; we
were on the broader table-land, out of danger, and apparently
unperceived and unpursued.

Nevertheless in the conversation that broke out again with the
relighting of the lamps, and the comments, congratulations, and
reminiscences that were freely exchanged, Yuba Bill preserved a
dissatisfied and even resentful silence. The most generous praise
of his skill and courage awoke no response. "I reckon the old man
waz just spilin' for a fight, and is feelin' disappointed," said a
passenger. But those who knew that Bill had the true fighter's
scorn for any purely purposeless conflict were more or less
concerned and watchful of him. He would drive steadily for four or
five minutes with thoughtfully knitted brows, but eyes still keenly
observant under his slouched hat, and then, relaxing his strained
attitude, would give way to a movement of impatience. "You ain't
uneasy about anything, Bill, are you?" asked the Expressman
confidentially. Bill lifted his eyes with a slightly contemptuous
surprise. "Not about anything ter COME. It's what HEZ happened
that I don't exackly sabe. I don't see no signs of Ramon's gang
ever havin' been out at all, and ef they were out I don't see why
they didn't go for us."

"The simple fact is that our ruse was successful," said an outside
passenger. "They waited to see our lights on the ridge, and, not
seeing them, missed us until we had passed. That's my opinion."

"You ain't puttin' any price on that opinion, air ye?" inquired
Bill politely.

"No."

"'Cos thar's a comic paper in 'Frisco pays for them things, and
I've seen worse things in it."

"Come off, Bill," retorted the passenger, slightly nettled by the
tittering of his companions. "Then what did you put out the lights
for?"

"Well," returned Bill grimly, "it mout have been because I didn't
keer to hev you chaps blazin' away at the first bush you THOUGHT
you saw move in your skeer, and bringin' down their fire on us."

The explanation, though unsatisfactory, was by no means an
improbable one, and we thought it better to accept it with a laugh.
Bill, however, resumed his abstracted manner.

"Who got in at the Summit?" he at last asked abruptly of the
Expressman.

"Derrick and Simpson of Cold Spring, and one of the 'Excelsior'
boys," responded the Expressman.

"And that Pike County girl from Dow's Flat, with her bundles.
Don't forget her," added the outside passenger ironically.

"Does anybody here know her?" continued Bill, ignoring the irony.

"You'd better ask Judge Thompson; he was mighty attentive to her;
gettin' her a seat by the off window, and lookin' after her bundles
and things."

"Gettin' her a seat by the WINDOW?" repeated Bill.

"Yes, she wanted to see everything, and wasn't afraid of the
shooting."

"Yes," broke in a third passenger, "and he was so d----d civil that
when she dropped her ring in the straw, he struck a match agin all
your rules, you know, and held it for her to find it. And it was
just as we were crossin' through the brush, too. I saw the hull
thing through the window, for I was hanging over the wheels with my
gun ready for action. And it wasn't no fault of Judge Thompson's
if his d----d foolishness hadn't shown us up, and got us a shot
from the gang."

Bill gave a short grunt, but drove steadily on without further
comment or even turning his eyes to the speaker.

We were now not more than a mile from the station at the crossroads
where we were to change horses. The lights already glimmered in
the distance, and there was a faint suggestion of the coming dawn
on the summits of the ridge to the west. We had plunged into a
belt of timber, when suddenly a horseman emerged at a sharp canter
from a trail that seemed to be parallel with our own. We were all
slightly startled; Yuba Bill alone preserving his moody calm.

"Hullo!" he said.

The stranger wheeled to our side as Bill slackened his speed. He
seemed to be a "packer" or freight muleteer.

"Ye didn't get 'held up' on the Divide?" continued Bill cheerfully.

"No," returned the packer, with a laugh; "I don't carry treasure.
But I see you're all right, too. I saw you crossin' over
Galloper's."

"SAW us?" said Bill sharply. "We had our lights out."

"Yes, but there was suthin' white--a handkerchief or woman's veil,
I reckon--hangin' from the window. It was only a movin' spot agin
the hillside, but ez I was lookin' out for ye I knew it was you by
that. Good-night!"

He cantered away. We tried to look at each other's faces, and at
Bill's expression in the darkness, but he neither spoke nor stirred
until he threw down the reins when we stopped before the station.
The passengers quickly descended from the roof; the Expressman was
about to follow, but Bill plucked his sleeve.

"I'm goin' to take a look over this yer stage and these yer
passengers with ye, afore we start."

"Why, what's up?"

"Well," said Bill, slowly disengaging himself from one of his
enormous gloves, "when we waltzed down into the brush up there I
saw a man, ez plain ez I see you, rise up from it. I thought our
time had come and the band was goin' to play, when he sorter drew
back, made a sign, and we just scooted past him."

"Well?"

"Well," said Bill, "it means that this yer coach was PASSED THROUGH
FREE to-night."

"You don't object to THAT--surely? I think we were deucedly
lucky."

Bill slowly drew off his other glove. "I've been riskin' my
everlastin' life on this d----d line three times a week," he said
with mock humility, "and I'm allus thankful for small mercies.
BUT," he added grimly, "when it comes down to being passed free by
some pal of a hoss thief, and thet called a speshal Providence, I
AIN'T IN IT! No, sir, I ain't in it!"

II.

It was with mixed emotions that the passengers heard that a delay
of fifteen minutes to tighten certain screw-bolts had been ordered
by the autocratic Bill. Some were anxious to get their breakfast
at Sugar Pine, but others were not averse to linger for the
daylight that promised greater safety on the road. The Expressman,
knowing the real cause of Bill's delay, was nevertheless at a loss
to understand the object of it. The passengers were all well
known; any idea of complicity with the road agents was wild and
impossible, and, even if there was a confederate of the gang among
them, he would have been more likely to precipitate a robbery than
to check it. Again, the discovery of such a confederate--to whom
they clearly owed their safety--and his arrest would have been
quite against the Californian sense of justice, if not actually
illegal. It seemed evident that Bill's quixotic sense of honor was
leading him astray.

The station consisted of a stable, a wagon shed, and a building
containing three rooms. The first was fitted up with "bunks" or
sleeping berths for the employees; the second was the kitchen; and
the third and larger apartment was dining-room or sitting-room, and
was used as general waiting-room for the passengers. It was not a
refreshment station, and there was no "bar." But a mysterious
command from the omnipotent Bill produced a demijohn of whiskey,
with which he hospitably treated the company. The seductive
influence of the liquor loosened the tongue of the gallant Judge
Thompson. He admitted to having struck a match to enable the fair
Pike Countian to find her ring, which, however, proved to have
fallen in her lap. She was "a fine, healthy young woman--a type of
the Far West, sir; in fact, quite a prairie blossom! yet simple and
guileless as a child." She was on her way to Marysville, he
believed, "although she expected to meet friends--a friend, in
fact--later on." It was her first visit to a large town--in fact,
any civilized centre--since she crossed the plains three years ago.
Her girlish curiosity was quite touching, and her innocence
irresistible. In fact, in a country whose tendency was to produce
"frivolity and forwardness in young girls, he found her a most
interesting young person." She was even then out in the stable-
yard watching the horses being harnessed, "preferring to indulge a
pardonable healthy young curiosity than to listen to the empty
compliments of the younger passengers."

The figure which Bill saw thus engaged, without being otherwise
distinguished, certainly seemed to justify the Judge's opinion.
She appeared to be a well-matured country girl, whose frank gray
eyes and large laughing mouth expressed a wholesome and abiding
gratification in her life and surroundings. She was watching the
replacing of luggage in the boot. A little feminine start, as one
of her own parcels was thrown somewhat roughly on the roof, gave
Bill his opportunity. "Now there," he growled to the helper, "ye
ain't carting stone! Look out, will yer! Some of your things,
miss?" he added, with gruff courtesy, turning to her. "These yer
trunks, for instance?"

She smiled a pleasant assent, and Bill, pushing aside the helper,
seized a large square trunk in his arms. But from excess of zeal,
or some other mischance, his foot slipped, and he came down
heavily, striking the corner of the trunk on the ground and
loosening its hinges and fastenings. It was a cheap, common-
looking affair, but the accident discovered in its yawning lid a
quantity of white, lace-edged feminine apparel of an apparently
superior quality. The young lady uttered another cry and came
quickly forward, but Bill was profuse in his apologies, himself
girded the broken box with a strap, and declared his intention of
having the company "make it good" to her with a new one. Then he
casually accompanied her to the door of the waiting-room, entered,
made a place for her before the fire by simply lifting the nearest
and most youthful passenger by the coat collar from the stool that
he was occupying, and, having installed the lady in it, displaced
another man who was standing before the chimney, and, drawing
himself up to his full six feet of height in front of her, glanced
down upon his fair passenger as he took his waybill from his
pocket.

"Your name is down here as Miss Mullins?" he said.

She looked up, became suddenly aware that she and her questioner
were the centre of interest to the whole circle of passengers, and,
with a slight rise of color, returned, "Yes."

"Well, Miss Mullins, I've got a question or two to ask ye. I ask
it straight out afore this crowd. It's in my rights to take ye
aside and ask it---but that ain't my style; I'm no detective. I
needn't ask it at all, but act as ef I knowed the answer, or I
might leave it to be asked by others. Ye needn't answer it ef ye
don't like; ye've got a friend over ther--Judge Thompson--who is a
friend to ye, right or wrong, jest as any other man here is--as
though ye'd packed your own jury. Well, the simple question I've
got to ask ye is THIS: Did you signal to anybody from the coach
when we passed Galloper's an hour ago?"

We all thought that Bill's courage and audacity had reached its
climax here. To openly and publicly accuse a "lady" before a group
of chivalrous Californians, and that lady possessing the further
attractions of youth, good looks, and innocence, was little short
of desperation. There was an evident movement of adhesion towards
the fair stranger, a slight muttering broke out on the right, but
the very boldness of the act held them in stupefied surprise.
Judge Thompson, with a bland propitiatory smile began: "Really,
Bill, I must protest on behalf of this young lady"--when the fair
accused, raising her eyes to her accuser, to the consternation of
everybody answered with the slight but convincing hesitation of
conscientious truthfulness:--

"I DID."

"Ahem!" interposed the Judge hastily, "er--that is--er--you allowed
your handkerchief to flutter from the window,--I noticed it
myself,--casually--one might say even playfully--but without any
particular significance."

The girl, regarding her apologist with a singular mingling of pride
and impatience, returned briefly:--

"I signaled."

"Who did you signal to?" asked Bill gravely.

"The young gentleman I'm going to marry."

A start, followed by a slight titter from the younger passengers,
was instantly suppressed by a savage glance from Bill.

"What did you signal to him for?" he continued.

"To tell him I was here, and that it was all right," returned the
young girl, with a steadily rising pride and color.

"Wot was all right?" demanded Bill.

"That I wasn't followed, and that he could meet me on the road
beyond Cass's Ridge Station." She hesitated a moment, and then,
with a still greater pride, in which a youthful defiance was still
mingled, said:

"I've run away from home to marry him. And I mean to! No one can
stop me. Dad didn't like him just because he was poor, and dad's
got money. Dad wanted me to marry a man I hate, and got a lot of
dresses and things to bribe me."

"And you're taking them in your trunk to the other feller?" said
Bill grimly.

"Yes, he's poor," returned the girl defiantly.

"Then your father's name is Mullins?" asked Bill.

"It's not Mullins. I--I--took that name," she hesitated, with her
first exhibition of self-consciousness.

"Wot IS his name?"

"Eli Hemmings."

A smile of relief and significance went round the circle. The fame
of Eli or "Skinner" Hemmings, as a notorious miser and usurer, had
passed even beyond Galloper's Ridge.

"The step that you're taking, Miss Mullins, I need not tell you, is
one of great gravity," said Judge Thompson, with a certain paternal
seriousness of manner, in which, however, we were glad to detect a
glaring affectation; "and I trust that you and your affianced have
fully weighed it. Far be it from me to interfere with or question
the natural affections of two young people, but may I ask you what
you know of the--er--young gentleman for whom you are sacrificing
so much, and, perhaps, imperiling your whole future? For instance,
have you known him long?"

The slightly troubled air of trying to understand,--not unlike the
vague wonderment of childhood,--with which Miss Mullins had
received the beginning of this exordium, changed to a relieved
smile of comprehension as she said quickly, "Oh yes, nearly a whole
year."

"And," said the Judge, smiling, "has he a vocation--is he in
business?"

"Oh yes," she returned; "he's a collector."

"A collector?"

"Yes; he collects bills, you know,--money," she went on, with
childish eagerness, "not for himself,--HE never has any money, poor
Charley,--but for his firm. It's dreadful hard work, too; keeps
him out for days and nights, over bad roads and baddest weather.
Sometimes, when he's stole over to the ranch just to see me, he's
been so bad he could scarcely keep his seat in the saddle, much
less stand. And he's got to take mighty big risks, too. Times the
folks are cross with him and won't pay; once they shot him in the
arm, and he came to me, and I helped do it up for him. But he
don't mind. He's real brave,--jest as brave as he's good." There
was such a wholesome ring of truth in this pretty praise that we
were touched in sympathy with the speaker.

"What firm does he collect for?" asked the Judge gently.

"I don't know exactly--he won't tell me; but I think it's a Spanish
firm. You see"--she took us all into her confidence with a
sweeping smile of innocent yet half-mischievous artfulness--"I only
know because I peeped over a letter he once got from his firm,
telling him he must hustle up and be ready for the road the next
day; but I think the name was Martinez--yes, Ramon Martinez."

In the dead silence that ensued--a silence so profound that we
could hear the horses in the distant stable-yard rattling their
harness--one of the younger "Excelsior" boys burst into a hysteric
laugh, but the fierce eye of Yuba Bill was down upon him, and
seemed to instantly stiffen him into a silent, grinning mask. The
young girl, however, took no note of it. Following out, with
lover-like diffusiveness, the reminiscences thus awakened, she went
on:--

"Yes, it's mighty hard work, but he says it's all for me, and as
soon as we're married he'll quit it. He might have quit it before,
but he won't take no money of me, nor what I told him I could get
out of dad! That ain't his style. He's mighty proud--if he is
poor--is Charley. Why thar's all ma's money which she left me in
the Savin's Bank that I wanted to draw out--for I had the right--
and give it to him, but he wouldn't hear of it! Why, he wouldn't
take one of the things I've got with me, if he knew it. And so he
goes on ridin' and ridin', here and there and everywhere, and
gettin' more and more played out and sad, and thin and pale as a
spirit, and always so uneasy about his business, and startin' up at
times when we're meetin' out in the South Woods or in the far
clearin', and sayin': 'I must be goin' now, Polly,' and yet always
tryin' to be chiffle and chipper afore me. Why he must have rid
miles and miles to have watched for me thar in the brush at the
foot of Galloper's to-night, jest to see if all was safe; and
Lordy! I'd have given him the signal and showed a light if I'd died
for it the next minit. There! That's what I know of Charley--
that's what I'm running away from home for--that's what I'm running
to him for, and I don't care who knows it! And I only wish I'd
done it afore--and I would--if--if--if--he'd only ASKED ME! There
now!" She stopped, panted, and choked. Then one of the sudden
transitions of youthful emotion overtook the eager, laughing face;
it clouded up with the swift change of childhood, a lightning
quiver of expression broke over it, and--then came the rain!

I think this simple act completed our utter demoralization! We
smiled feebly at each other with that assumption of masculine
superiority which is miserably conscious of its own helplessness at
such moments. We looked out of the window, blew our noses, said:
"Eh--what?" and "I say," vaguely to each other, and were greatly
relieved, and yet apparently astonished, when Yuba Bill, who had
turned his back upon the fair speaker, and was kicking the logs in
the fireplace, suddenly swept down upon us and bundled us all into
the road, leaving Miss Mullins alone. Then he walked aside with
Judge Thompson for a few moments; returned to us, autocratically
demanded of the party a complete reticence towards Miss Mullins
on the subject-matter under discussion, re-entered the station,
reappeared with the young lady, suppressed a faint idiotic cheer
which broke from us at the spectacle of her innocent face once more
cleared and rosy, climbed the box, and in another moment we were
under way.

"Then she don't know what her lover is yet?" asked the Expressman
eagerly.

"No."

"Are YOU certain it's one of the gang?"

"Can't say FOR SURE. It mout be a young chap from Yolo who bucked
agin the tiger* at Sacramento, got regularly cleaned out and
busted, and joined the gang for a flier. They say thar was a new
hand in that job over at Keeley's,--and a mighty game one, too; and
ez there was some buckshot onloaded that trip, he might hev got his
share, and that would tally with what the girl said about his arm.
See! Ef that's the man, I've heered he was the son of some big
preacher in the States, and a college sharp to boot, who ran wild
in 'Frisco, and played himself for all he was worth. They're the
wust kind to kick when they once get a foot over the traces. For
stiddy, comf'ble kempany," added Bill reflectively, "give ME the
son of a man that was HANGED!"

* Gambled at faro.

"But what are you going to do about this?"

"That depends upon the feller who comes to meet her."

"But you ain't going to try to take him? That would be playing it
pretty low down on them both."

"Keep your hair on, Jimmy! The Judge and me are only going to
rastle with the sperrit of that gay young galoot, when he drops
down for his girl--and exhort him pow'ful! Ef he allows he's
convicted of sin and will find the Lord, we'll marry him and the
gal offhand at the next station, and the Judge will officiate
himself for nothin'. We're goin' to have this yer elopement done
on the square--and our waybill clean--you bet!"

"But you don't suppose he'll trust himself in your hands?"

"Polly will signal to him that it's all square."

"Ah!" said the Expressman. Nevertheless in those few moments the
men seemed to have exchanged dispositions. The Expressman looked
doubtfully, critically, and even cynically before him. Bill's face
had relaxed, and something like a bland smile beamed across it, as
he drove confidently and unhesitatingly forward.

Day, meantime, although full blown and radiant on the mountain
summits around us, was yet nebulous and uncertain in the valleys
into which we were plunging. Lights still glimmered in the cabins
and few ranch buildings which began to indicate the thicker
settlements. And the shadows were heaviest in a little copse,
where a note from Judge Thompson in the coach was handed up to Yuba
Bill, who at once slowly began to draw up his horses. The coach
stopped finally near the junction of a small crossroad. At the
same moment Miss Mullins slipped down from the vehicle, and, with a
parting wave of her hand to the Judge, who had assisted her from
the steps, tripped down the crossroad, and disappeared in its semi-
obscurity. To our surprise the stage waited, Bill holding the
reins listlessly in his hands. Five minutes passed--an eternity
of expectation, and, as there was that in Yuba Bill's face which
forbade idle questioning, an aching void of silence also! This
was at last broken by a strange voice from the road:--

"Go on we'll follow."

The coach started forward. Presently we heard the sound of other
wheels behind us. We all craned our necks backward to get a view
of the unknown, but by the growing light we could only see that we
were followed at a distance by a buggy with two figures in it.
Evidently Polly Mullins and her lover! We hoped that they would
pass us. But the vehicle, although drawn by a fast horse,
preserved its distance always, and it was plain that its driver had
no desire to satisfy our curiosity. The Expressman had recourse to
Bill.

"Is it the man you thought of?" he asked eagerly.

"I reckon," said Bill briefly.

"But," continued the Expressman, returning to his former
skepticism, "what's to keep them both from levanting together now?"

Bill jerked his hand towards the boot with a grim smile.

"Their baggage."

"Oh!" said the Expressman.

"Yes," continued Bill. "We'll hang on to that gal's little frills
and fixin's until this yer job's settled, and the ceremony's over,
jest as ef we waz her own father. And, what's more, young man," he
added, suddenly turning to the Expressman, "YOU'LL express them
trunks of hers THROUGH TO SACRAMENTO with your kempany's labels,
and hand her the receipts and checks for them, so she CAN GET 'EM
THERE. That'll keep HIM outer temptation and the reach o' the
gang, until they get away among white men and civilization again.
When your hoary-headed ole grandfather, or, to speak plainer, that
partikler old whiskey-soaker known as Yuba Bill, wot sits on this
box," he continued, with a diabolical wink at the Expressman,
"waltzes in to pervide for a young couple jest startin' in life,
thar's nothin' mean about his style, you bet. He fills the bill
every time! Speshul Providences take a back seat when he's
around."

When the station hotel and straggling settlement of Sugar Pine, now
distinct and clear in the growing light, at last rose within
rifleshot on the plateau, the buggy suddenly darted swiftly by us,
so swiftly that the faces of the two occupants were barely
distinguishable as they passed, and keeping the lead by a dozen
lengths, reached the door of the hotel. The young girl and her
companion leaped down and vanished within as we drew up. They had
evidently determined to elude our curiosity, and were successful.

But the material appetites of the passengers, sharpened by the keen
mountain air, were more potent than their curiosity, and, as the
breakfast-bell rang out at the moment the stage stopped, a majority
of them rushed into the dining-room and scrambled for places
without giving much heed to the vanished couple or to the Judge and
Yuba Bill, who had disappeared also. The through coach to
Marysville and Sacramento was likewise waiting, for Sugar Pine was
the limit of Bill's ministration, and the coach which we had just
left went no farther. In the course of twenty minutes, however,
there was a slight and somewhat ceremonious bustling in the hall
and on the veranda, and Yuba Bill and the Judge reappeared. The
latter was leading, with some elaboration of manner and detail, the
shapely figure of Miss Mullins, and Yuba Bill was accompanying her
companion to the buggy. We all rushed to the windows to get a good
view of the mysterious stranger and probable ex-brigand whose life
was now linked with our fair fellow-passenger. I am afraid,
however, that we all participated in a certain impression of
disappointment and doubt. Handsome and even cultivated-looking, he
assuredly was--young and vigorous in appearance. But there was a
certain half-shamed, half-defiant suggestion in his expression, yet
coupled with a watchful lurking uneasiness which was not pleasant
and hardly becoming in a bridegroom--and the possessor of such a
bride. But the frank, joyous, innocent face of Polly Mullins,
resplendent with a simple, happy confidence, melted our hearts
again, and condoned the fellow's shortcomings. We waved our hands;
I think we would have given three rousing cheers as they drove away
if the omnipotent eye of Yuba Bill had not been upon us. It was
well, for the next moment we were summoned to the presence of that
soft-hearted autocrat.

We found him alone with the Judge in a private sitting-room,
standing before a table on which there was a decanter and glasses.
As we filed expectantly into the room and the door closed behind
us, he cast a glance of hesitating tolerance over the group.

"Gentlemen," he said slowly, "you was all present at the beginnin'
of a little game this mornin', and the Judge thar thinks that you
oughter be let in at the finish. I don't see that it's any of YOUR
d----d business--so to speak; but ez the Judge here allows you're
all in the secret, I've called you in to take a partin' drink to
the health of Mr. and Mrs. Charley Byng--ez is now comf'ably off on
their bridal tower. What YOU know or what YOU suspects of the
young galoot that's married the gal ain't worth shucks to anybody,
and I wouldn't give it to a yaller pup to play with, but the Judge
thinks you ought all to promise right here that you'll keep it
dark. That's his opinion. Ez far as my opinion goes, gen'l'men,"
continued Bill, with greater blandness and apparent cordiality, "I
wanter simply remark, in a keerless, offhand gin'ral way, that ef I
ketch any God-forsaken, lop-eared, chuckle-headed blatherin' idjet
airin' HIS opinion"--

"One moment, Bill," interposed Judge Thompson with a grave smile;
"let me explain. You understand, gentlemen," he said, turning to
us, "the singular, and I may say affecting, situation which our
good-hearted friend here has done so much to bring to what we
hope will be a happy termination. I want to give here, as my
professional opinion, that there is nothing in his request which,
in your capacity as good citizens and law-abiding men, you may not
grant. I want to tell you, also, that you are condoning no offense
against the statutes; that there is not a particle of legal
evidence before us of the criminal antecedents of Mr. Charles Byng,
except that which has been told you by the innocent lips of his
betrothed, which the law of the land has now sealed forever in the
mouth of his wife, and that our own actual experience of his acts
have been in the main exculpatory of any previous irregularity--if
not incompatible with it. Briefly, no judge would charge, no jury
convict, on such evidence. When I add that the young girl is of
legal age, that there is no evidence of any previous undue
influence, but rather of the reverse, on the part of the
bridegroom, and that I was content, as a magistrate, to perform
the ceremony, I think you will be satisfied to give your promise,
for the sake of the bride, and drink a happy life to them both."

I need not say that we did this cheerfully, and even extorted from
Bill a grunt of satisfaction. The majority of the company,
however, who were going with the through coach to Sacramento, then
took their leave, and, as we accompanied them to the veranda, we
could see that Miss Polly Mullins's trunks were already transferred
to the other vehicle under the protecting seals and labels of the
all-potent Express Company. Then the whip cracked, the coach
rolled away, and the last traces of the adventurous young couple
disappeared in the hanging red dust of its wheels.

But Yuba Bill's grim satisfaction at the happy issue of the episode
seemed to suffer no abatement. He even exceeded his usual
deliberately regulated potations, and, standing comfortably with
his back to the centre of the now deserted barroom, was more than
usually loquacious with the Expressman. "You see," he said, in
bland reminiscence, "when your old Uncle Bill takes hold of a job
like this, he puts it straight through without changin' hosses.
Yet thar was a moment, young feller, when I thought I was stompt!
It was when we'd made up our mind to make that chap tell the gal
fust all what he was! Ef she'd rared or kicked in the traces, or
hung back only ez much ez that, we'd hev given him jest five
minits' law to get up and get and leave her, and we'd hev toted
that gal and her fixin's back to her dad again! But she jest gave
a little scream and start, and then went off inter hysterics, right
on his buzzum, laughing and cryin' and sayin' that nothin' should
part 'em. Gosh! if I didn't think HE woz more cut up than she
about it; a minit it looked as ef HE didn't allow to marry her
arter all, but that passed, and they was married hard and fast--you
bet! I reckon he's had enough of stayin' out o' nights to last
him, and ef the valley settlements hevn't got hold of a very
shining member, at least the foothills hev got shut of one more
of the Ramon Martinez gang."

"What's that about the Ramon Martinez gang?" said a quiet potential
voice.

Bill turned quickly. It was the voice of the Divisional
Superintendent of the Express Company,--a man of eccentric
determination of character, and one of the few whom the autocratic
Bill recognized as an equal,--who had just entered the barroom.
His dusty pongee cloak and soft hat indicated that he had that
morning arrived on a round of inspection.

"Don't care if I do, Bill," he continued, in response to Bill's
invitatory gesture, walking to the bar. "It's a little raw out on
the road. Well, what were you saying about Ramon Martinez gang?
You haven't come across one of 'em, have you?"

"No," said Bill, with a slight blinking of his eye, as he
ostentatiously lifted his glass to the light.

"And you WON'T," added the Superintendent, leisurely sipping his
liquor. "For the fact is, the gang is about played out. Not from
want of a job now and then, but from the difficulty of disposing of
the results of their work. Since the new instructions to the
agents to identify and trace all dust and bullion offered to them
went into force, you see, they can't get rid of their swag. All
the gang are spotted at the offices, and it costs too much for them
to pay a fence or a middleman of any standing. Why, all that flaky
river gold they took from the Excelsior Company can be identified
as easy as if it was stamped with the company's mark. They can't
melt it down themselves; they can't get others to do it for them;
they can't ship it to the Mint or Assay Offices in Marysville and
'Frisco, for they won't take it without our certificate and seals;
and WE don't take any undeclared freight WITHIN the lines that
we've drawn around their beat, except from people and agents known.
Why, YOU know that well enough, Jim," he said, suddenly appealing
to the Expressman, "don't you?"

Possibly the suddenness of the appeal caused the Expressman to
swallow his liquor the wrong way, for he was overtaken with a fit
of coughing, and stammered hastily as he laid down his glass,
"Yes--of course--certainly."

"No, sir," resumed the Superintendent cheerfully, "they're pretty
well played out. And the best proof of it is that they've lately
been robbing ordinary passengers' trunks. There was a freight
wagon 'held up' near Dow's Flat the other day, and a lot of baggage
gone through. I had to go down there to look into it. Darned if
they hadn't lifted a lot o' woman's wedding things from that rich
couple who got married the other day out at Marysville. Looks as
if they were playing it rather low down, don't it? Coming down to
hardpan and the bed rock--eh?"

The Expressman's face was turned anxiously towards Bill, who, after
a hurried gulp of his remaining liquor, still stood staring at the
window. Then he slowly drew on one of his large gloves. "Ye
didn't," he said, with a slow, drawling, but perfectly distinct,
articulation, "happen to know old 'Skinner' Hemmings when you were
over there?"

"Yes."

"And his daughter?"

"He hasn't got any."

"A sort o' mild, innocent, guileless child of nature?" persisted
Bill, with a yellow face, a deadly calm and Satanic deliberation.

"No. I tell you he HASN'T any daughter. Old man Hemmings is a
confirmed old bachelor. He's too mean to support more than one."

"And you didn't happen to know any o' that gang, did ye?" continued
Bill, with infinite protraction.

"Yes. Knew 'em all. There was French Pete, Cherokee Bob, Kanaka
Joe, One-eyed Stillson, Softy Brown, Spanish Jack, and two or three
Greasers."

"And ye didn't know a man by the name of Charley Byng?"

"No," returned the Superintendent, with a slight suggestion of
weariness and a distraught glance towards the door.

"A dark, stylish chap, with shifty black eyes and a curled-up
merstache?" continued Bill, with dry, colorless persistence.

"No. Look here, Bill, I'm in a little bit of a hurry--but I
suppose you must have your little joke before we part. Now, what
is your little game?"

"Wot you mean?" demanded Bill, with sudden brusqueness.

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