Part 1 out of 3
BY SHORE AND SEDGE
by BRET HARTE
BY SHORE AND SEDGE
AN APOSTLE OF THE TULES
A SHIP OF '49
BY SHORE AND SEDGE
AN APOSTLE OF THE TULES
On October 10, 1856, about four hundred people were camped in
Tasajara Valley, California. It could not have been for the
prospect, since a more barren, dreary, monotonous, and uninviting
landscape never stretched before human eye; it could not have been
for convenience or contiguity, as the nearest settlement was thirty
miles away; it could not have been for health or salubrity, as the
breath of the ague-haunted tules in the outlying Stockton marshes
swept through the valley; it could not have been for space or
comfort, for, encamped on an unlimited plain, men and women were
huddled together as closely as in an urban tenement-house, without
the freedom or decency of rural isolation; it could not have been
for pleasant companionship, as dejection, mental anxiety, tears,
and lamentation were the dominant expression; it was not a hurried
flight from present or impending calamity, for the camp had been
deliberately planned, and for a week pioneer wagons had been slowly
arriving; it was not an irrevocable exodus, for some had already
returned to their homes that others might take their places. It
was simply a religious revival of one or two denominational sects,
known as a "camp-meeting."
A large central tent served for the assembling of the principal
congregation; smaller tents served for prayer-meetings and class-
rooms, known to the few unbelievers as "side-shows"; while the
actual dwellings of the worshipers were rudely extemporized
shanties of boards and canvas, sometimes mere corrals or inclosures
open to the cloudless sky, or more often the unhitched covered
wagon which had brought them there. The singular resemblance to a
circus, already profanely suggested, was carried out by a
straggling fringe of boys and half-grown men on the outskirts of
the encampment, acrimonious with disappointed curiosity, lazy
without the careless ease of vagrancy, and vicious without the
excitement of dissipation. For the coarse poverty and brutal
economy of the larger arrangements, the dreary panorama of unlovely
and unwholesome domestic details always before the eyes, were
hardly exciting to the senses. The circus might have been more
dangerous, but scarcely more brutalizing. The actors themselves,
hard and aggressive through practical struggles, often warped and
twisted with chronic forms of smaller diseases, or malformed and
crippled through carelessness and neglect, and restless and uneasy
through some vague mental distress and inquietude that they had
added to their burdens, were scarcely amusing performers. The
rheumatic Parkinsons, from Green Springs; the ophthalmic Filgees,
from Alder Creek; the ague-stricken Harneys, from Martinez Bend;
and the feeble-limbed Steptons, from Sugar Mill, might, in their
combined families, have suggested a hospital, rather than any other
social assemblage. Even their companionship, which had little of
cheerful fellowship in it, would have been grotesque but for the
pathetic instinct of some mutual vague appeal from the hardness of
their lives and the helplessness of their conditions that had
brought them together. Nor was this appeal to a Higher Power any
the less pathetic that it bore no reference whatever to their
respective needs or deficiencies, but was always an invocation for
a light which, when they believed they had found it, to
unregenerate eyes scarcely seemed to illumine the rugged path in
which their feet were continually stumbling. One might have smiled
at the idea of the vendetta-following Ferguses praying for
"justification by Faith," but the actual spectacle of old Simon
Fergus, whose shot-gun was still in his wagon, offering up that
appeal with streaming eyes and agonized features was painful beyond
a doubt. To seek and obtain an exaltation of feeling vaguely known
as "It," or less vaguely veiling a sacred name, was the burden of
the general appeal.
The large tent had been filled, and between the exhortations a
certain gloomy enthusiasm had been kept up by singing, which had
the effect of continuing in an easy, rhythmical, impersonal, and
irresponsible way the sympathies of the meeting. This was
interrupted by a young man who rose suddenly, with that spontaneity
of impulse which characterized the speakers, but unlike his
predecessors, he remained for a moment mute, trembling and
irresolute. The fatal hesitation seemed to check the unreasoning,
monotonous flow of emotion, and to recall to some extent the reason
and even the criticism of the worshipers. He stammered a prayer
whose earnestness was undoubted, whose humility was but too
apparent, but his words fell on faculties already benumbed by
repetition and rhythm. A slight movement of curiosity in the rear
benches, and a whisper that it was the maiden effort of a new
preacher, helped to prolong the interruption. A heavy man of
strong physical expression sprang to the rescue with a hysterical
cry of "Glory!" and a tumultuous fluency of epithet and sacred
adjuration. Still the meeting wavered. With one final paroxysmal
cry, the powerful man threw his arms around his nearest neighbor
and burst into silent tears. An anxious hush followed; the speaker
still continued to sob on his neighbor's shoulder. Almost before
the fact could be commented upon, it was noticed that the entire
rank of worshipers on the bench beside him were crying also; the
second and third rows were speedily dissolved in tears, until even
the very youthful scoffers in the last benches suddenly found their
half-hysterical laughter turned to sobs. The danger was averted,
the reaction was complete; the singing commenced, and in a few
moments the hapless cause of the interruption and the man who had
retrieved the disaster stood together outside the tent. A horse
was picketed near them.
The victor was still panting from his late exertions, and was more
or less diluvial in eye and nostril, but neither eye nor nostril
bore the slightest tremor of other expression. His face was stolid
and perfectly in keeping with his physique,--heavy, animal, and
"Ye oughter trusted in the Lord," he said to the young preacher.
"But I did," responded the young man, earnestly.
"That's it. Justifyin' yourself by works instead o' leanin' onto
Him! Find Him, sez you! Git Him, sez you! Works is vain. Glory!
glory!" he continued, with fluent vacuity and wandering, dull,
"But if I had a little more practice in class, Brother Silas, more
"The letter killeth," interrupted Brother Silas. Here his
wandering eyes took dull cognizance of two female faces peering
through the opening of the tent. "No, yer mishun, Brother Gideon,
is to seek Him in the by-ways, in the wilderness,--where the foxes
hev holes and the ravens hev their young,--but not in the Temples
of the people. Wot sez Sister Parsons?"
One of the female faces detached itself from the tent flaps, which
it nearly resembled in color, and brought forward an angular figure
clothed in faded fustian that had taken the various shades and
odors of household service.
"Brother Silas speaks well," said Sister Parsons, with stridulous
fluency. "It's fore-ordained. Fore-ordinashun is better nor
ordinashun, saith the Lord. He shall go forth, turnin' neither to
the right hand nor the left hand, and seek Him among the lost
tribes and the ungodly. He shall put aside the temptashun of
Mammon and the flesh." Her eyes and those of Brother Silas here
both sought the other female face, which was that of a young girl
"Wot sez little Sister Meely,--wot sez Meely Parsons?" continued
Brother Silas, as if repeating an unctuous formula.
The young girl came hesitatingly forward, and with a nervous cry of
"Oh, Gideon!" threw herself on the breast of the young man.
For a moment they remained locked in each other's arms. In the
promiscuous and fraternal embracings which were a part of the
devotional exercises of the hour, the act passed without
significance. The young man gently raised her face. She was young
and comely, albeit marked with a half-frightened, half-vacant
sorrow. "Amen," said Brother Gideon, gravely.
He mounted his horse and turned to go. Brother Silas had clasped
his powerful arms around both women and was holding them in a
"Go forth, young man, into the wilderness."
The young man bowed his head, and urged his horse forward in the
bleak and barren plain. In half an hour every vestige of the camp
and its unwholesome surroundings was lost in the distance. It was
as if the strong desiccating wind, which seemed to spring up at his
horse's feet, had cleanly erased the flimsy structures from the
face of the plain, swept away the lighter breath of praise and
plaint, and dried up the easy-flowing tears. The air was harsh but
pure; the grim economy of form and shade and color in the level
plain was coarse but not vulgar; the sky above him was cold and
distant but not repellent; the moisture that had been denied his
eyes at the prayer-meeting overflowed them here; the words that had
choked his utterance an hour ago now rose to his lips. He threw
himself from his horse, and kneeling in the withered grass--a mere
atom in the boundless plain--lifted his pale face against the
irresponsive blue and prayed.
He prayed that the unselfish dream of his bitter boyhood, his
disappointed youth, might come to pass. He prayed that he might in
higher hands become the humble instrument of good to his fellow-
man. He prayed that the deficiencies of his scant education, his
self-taught learning, his helpless isolation, and his inexperience
might be overlooked or reinforced by grace. He prayed that the
Infinite Compassion might enlighten his ignorance and solitude with
a manifestation of the Spirit; in his very weakness he prayed for
some special revelation, some sign or token, some visitation or
gracious unbending from that coldly lifting sky. The low sun
burned the black edge of the distant tules with dull eating fires
as he prayed, lit the dwarfed hills with a brief but ineffectual
radiance, and then died out. The lingering trade winds fired a few
volleys over its grave and then lapsed into a chilly silence. The
young man staggered to his feet; it was quite dark now, but the
coming night had advanced a few starry vedettes so near the plain
they looked like human watch-fires. For an instant he could not
remember where he was. Then a light trembled far down at the
entrance of the valley. Brother Gideon recognized it. It was in
the lonely farmhouse of the widow of the last Circuit preacher.
The abode of the late Reverend Marvin Hiler remained in the
disorganized condition he had left it when removed from his sphere
of earthly uselessness and continuous accident. The straggling
fence that only half inclosed the house and barn had stopped at
that point where the two deacons who had each volunteered to do a
day's work on it had completed their allotted time. The building
of the barn had been arrested when the half load of timber
contributed by Sugar Mill brethren was exhausted, and three windows
given by "Christian Seekers" at Martinez painfully accented the
boarded spaces for the other three that "Unknown Friends" in
Tasajara had promised but not yet supplied. In the clearing some
trees that had been felled but not taken away added to the general
Something of this unfinished character clung to the Widow Hiler and
asserted itself in her three children, one of whom was consistently
posthumous. Prematurely old and prematurely disappointed, she had
all the inexperience of girlhood with the cares of maternity, and
kept in her family circle the freshness of an old maid's
misogynistic antipathies with a certain guilty and remorseful
consciousness of widowhood. She supported the meagre household to
which her husband had contributed only the extra mouths to feed
with reproachful astonishment and weary incapacity. She had long
since grown tired of trying to make both ends meet, of which she
declared "the Lord had taken one." During her two years' widowhood
she had waited on Providence, who by a pleasing local fiction had
been made responsible for the disused and cast-off furniture and
clothing which, accompanied with scriptural texts, found their way
mysteriously into her few habitable rooms. The providential manna
was not always fresh; the ravens who fed her and her little ones
with flour from the Sugar Mills did not always select the best
quality. Small wonder that, sitting by her lonely hearthstone,--a
borrowed stove that supplemented the unfinished fireplace,--
surrounded by her mismatched furniture and clad in misfitting
garments, she had contracted a habit of sniffling during her dreary
watches. In her weaker moments she attributed it to grief; in her
stronger intervals she knew that it sprang from damp and draught.
In her apathy the sound of horses' hoofs at her unprotected door
even at that hour neither surprised nor alarmed her. She lifted
her head as the door opened and the pale face of Gideon Deane
looked into the room. She moved aside the cradle she was rocking,
and, taking a saucepan and tea-cup from a chair beside her,
absently dusted it with her apron, and pointing to the vacant seat
said, "Take a chair," as quietly as if he had stepped from the next
room instead of the outer darkness.
"I'll put up my horse first," said Gideon gently.
"So do," responded the widow briefly.
Gideon led his horse across the inclosure, stumbling over the heaps
of rubbish, dried chips, and weather-beaten shavings with which it
was strewn, until he reached the unfinished barn, where he
temporarily bestowed his beast. Then taking a rusty axe, by the
faint light of the stars, he attacked one of the fallen trees with
such energy that at the end of ten minutes he reappeared at the
door with an armful of cut boughs and chips, which he quietly
deposited behind the stove. Observing that he was still standing
as if looking for something, the widow lifted her eyes and said,
"Ef it's the bucket, I reckon ye'll find it at the spring, where
one of them foolish Filgee boys left it. I've been that tuckered
out sens sundown, I ain't had the ambition to go and tote it back."
Without a word Gideon repaired to the spring, filled the missing
bucket, replaced the hoop on the loosened staves of another he
found lying useless beside it, and again returned to the house.
The widow once more pointed to the chair, and Gideon sat down.
"It's quite a spell sens you wos here," said the Widow Hiler,
returning her foot to the cradle-rocker; "not sens yer was
ordained. Be'n practicin', I reckon, at the meetin'."
A slight color came into his cheek. "My place is not there, Sister
Hiler," he said gently; "it's for those with the gift o' tongues.
I go forth only a common laborer in the vineyard." He stopped and
hesitated; he might have said more, but the widow, who was familiar
with that kind of humility as the ordinary perfunctory expression
of her class, suggested no sympathetic interest in his mission.
"Thar's a deal o' talk over there," she said dryly, "and thar's
folks ez thinks thar's a deal o' money spent in picnicking the
Gospel that might be given to them ez wish to spread it, or to
their widows and children. But that don't consarn you, Brother
Gideon. Sister Parsons hez money enough to settle her darter Meely
comfortably on her own land; and I've heard tell that you and Meely
was only waitin' till you was ordained to be jined together.
You'll hev an easier time of it, Brother Gideon, than poor Marvin
Hiler had," she continued, suppressing her tears with a certain
astringency that took the place of her lost pride; "but the Lord
wills that some should be tried and some not."
"But I am not going to marry Meely Parsons," said Gideon quietly.
The widow took her foot from the rocker. "Not marry Meely!" she
repeated vaguely. But relapsing into her despondent mood she
continued: "Then I reckon it's true what other folks sez of Brother
Silas Braggley makin' up to her and his powerful exhortin'
influence over her ma. Folks sez ez Sister Parsons hez just
resigned her soul inter his keepin'."
"Brother Silas hez a heavenly gift," said the young man, with
gentle enthusiasm; "and perhaps it may be so. If it is, it is the
Lord's will. But I do not marry Meely because my life and my ways
henceforth must lie far beyond her sphere of strength. I oughtn't
to drag a young inexperienced soul with me to battle and struggle
in the thorny paths that I must tread."
"I reckon you know your own mind," said Sister Hiler grimly. "But
thar's folks ez might allow that Meely Parsons ain't any better
than others, that she shouldn't have her share o' trials and keers
and crosses. Riches and bringin' up don't exempt folks from the
shadder. I married Marvin Hiler outer a house ez good ez Sister
Parsons', and at a time when old Cyrus Parsons hadn't a roof to his
head but the cover of the emigrant wagon he kem across the plains
in. I might say ez Marvin knowed pretty well wot it was to have a
helpmeet in his ministration, if it wasn't vanity of sperit to say
it now. But the flesh is weak, Brother Gideon." Her influenza
here resolved itself into unmistakable tears, which she wiped away
with the first article that was accessible in the work-bag before
her. As it chanced to be a black silk neckerchief of the deceased
Hiler, the result was funereal, suggestive, but practically
"You were a good wife to Brother Hiler," said the young man gently.
"Everybody knows that."
"It's suthin' to think of since he's gone," continued the widow,
bringing her work nearer to her eyes to adjust it to their tear-
dimmed focus. "It's suthin' to lay to heart in the lonely days and
nights when thar's no man round to fetch water and wood and lend a
hand to doin' chores; it's suthin' to remember, with his three
children to feed, and little Selby, the eldest, that vain and
useless that he can't even tote the baby round while I do the work
of a hired man."
"It's a hard trial, Sister Hiler," said Gideon, "but the Lord has
His appointed time."
Familiar as consolation by vague quotation was to Sister Hiler,
there was an occult sympathy in the tone in which this was offered
that lifted her for an instant out of her narrower self. She
raised her eyes to his. The personal abstraction of the devotee
had no place in the deep dark eyes that were lifted from the cradle
to hers with a sad, discriminating, and almost womanly sympathy.
Surprised out of her selfish preoccupation, she was reminded of her
apparent callousness to what might be his present disappointment.
Perhaps it seemed strange to her, too, that those tender eyes
should go a-begging.
"Yer takin' a Christian view of yer own disappointment, Brother
Gideon," she said, with less astringency of manner; "but every
heart knoweth its own sorrer. I'll be gettin' supper now that the
baby's sleepin' sound, and ye'll sit by and eat."
"If you let me help you, Sister Hiler," said the young man with a
cheerfulness that belied any overwhelming heart affection, and
awakened in the widow a feminine curiosity as to his real feelings
to Meely. But her further questioning was met with a frank,
amiable, and simple brevity that was as puzzling as the most artful
periphrase of tact. Accustomed as she was to the loquacity of
grief and the confiding prolixity of disappointed lovers, she could
not understand her guest's quiescent attitude. Her curiosity,
however, soon gave way to the habitual contemplation of her own
sorrows, and she could not forego the opportune presence of a
sympathizing auditor to whom she could relieve her feelings. The
preparations for the evening meal were therefore accompanied by a
dreary monotone of lamentation. She bewailed her lost youth, her
brief courtship, the struggles of her early married life, her
premature widowhood, her penurious and helpless existence, the
disruption of all her present ties, the hopelessness of the future.
She rehearsed the unending plaint of those long evenings, set to
the music of the restless wind around her bleak dwelling, with
something of its stridulous reiteration. The young man listened,
and replied with softly assenting eyes, but without pausing in the
material aid that he was quietly giving her. He had removed the
cradle of the sleeping child to the bedroom, quieted the sudden
wakefulness of "Pinkey," rearranged the straggling furniture of the
sitting-room with much order and tidiness, repaired the hinges of a
rebellious shutter and the lock of an unyielding door, and yet had
apparently retained an unabated interest in her spoken woes.
Surprised once more into recognizing this devotion, Sister Hiler
abruptly arrested her monologue.
"Well, if you ain't the handiest man I ever seed about a house!"
"Am I?" said Gideon, with suddenly sparkling eyes. "Do you really
"Then you don't know how glad I am." His frank face so
unmistakably showed his simple gratification that the widow, after
gazing at him for a moment, was suddenly seized with a bewildering
fancy. The first effect of it was the abrupt withdrawal of her
eyes, then a sudden effusion of blood to her forehead that finally
extended to her cheekbones, and then an interval of forgetfulness
where she remained with a plate held vaguely in her hand. When she
succeeded at last in putting it on the table instead of the young
man's lap, she said in a voice quite unlike her own,--
"I mean it," said Gideon, cheerfully. After a pause, in which he
unostentatiously rearranged the table which the widow was
abstractedly disorganizing, he said gently, "After tea, when you're
not so much flustered with work and worry, and more composed in
spirit, we'll have a little talk, Sister Hiler. I'm in no hurry
to-night, and if you don't mind I'll make myself comfortable in the
barn with my blanket until sun-up to-morrow. I can get up early
enough to do some odd chores round the lot before I go."
"You know best, Brother Gideon," said the widow, faintly, "and if
you think it's the Lord's will, and no speshal trouble to you, so
do. But sakes alive! it's time I tidied myself a little," she
continued, lifting one hand to her hair, while with the other she
endeavored to fasten a buttonless collar; "leavin' alone the
vanities o' dress, it's ez much as one can do to keep a clean rag
on with the children climbin' over ye. Sit by, and I'll be back in
a minit." She retired to the back room, and in a few moments
returned with smoothed hair and a palm-leaf broche shawl thrown
over her shoulders, which not only concealed the ravages made by
time and maternity on the gown beneath, but to some extent gave her
the suggestion of being a casual visitor in her own household. It
must be confessed that for the rest of the evening Sister Hiler
rather lent herself to this idea, possibly from the fact that it
temporarily obliterated the children, and quite removed her from
any responsibility in the unpicturesque household. This effect was
only marred by the absence of any impression upon Gideon, who
scarcely appeared to notice the change, and whose soft eyes seemed
rather to identify the miserable woman under her forced disguise.
He prefaced the meal with a fervent grace, to which the widow
listened with something of the conscious attitude she had adopted
at church during her late husband's ministration, and during the
meal she ate with a like consciousness of "company manners."
Later that evening Selby Hiler woke up in his little truckle bed,
listening to the rising midnight wind, which in his childish fancy
he confounded with the sound of voices that came through the open
door of the living-room. He recognized the deep voice of the young
minister, Gideon, and the occasional tearful responses of his
mother, and he was fancying himself again at church when he heard a
step, and the young preacher seemed to enter the room, and going to
the bed leaned over it and kissed him on the forehead, and then
bent over his little brother and sister and kissed them too. Then
he slowly re-entered the living-room. Lifting himself softly on
his elbow, Selby saw him go up towards his mother, who was crying,
with her head on the table, and kiss her also on the forehead.
Then he said "Good-night," and the front door closed, and Selby
heard his footsteps crossing the lot towards the barn. His mother
was still sitting with her face buried in her hands when he fell
She sat by the dying embers of the fire until the house was still
again; then she rose and wiped her eyes. "Et's a good thing," she
said, going to the bedroom door, and looking in upon her sleeping
children; "et's a mercy and a blessing for them and--for--me. But--
but--he might--hev--said--he--loved me!"
Although Gideon Deane contrived to find a nest for his blanket in
the mouldy straw of the unfinished barn loft, he could not sleep.
He restlessly watched the stars through the cracks of the boarded
roof, and listened to the wind that made the half-open structure as
vocal as a sea-shell, until past midnight. Once or twice he had
fancied he heard the tramp of horse-hoofs on the far-off trail, and
now it seemed to approach nearer, mingled with the sound of voices.
Gideon raised his head and looked through the doorway of the loft.
He was not mistaken: two men had halted in the road before the
house, and were examining it as if uncertain if it were the
dwelling they were seeking, and were hesitating if they should
rouse the inmates. Thinking he might spare the widow this
disturbance to her slumbers, and possibly some alarm, he rose
quickly, and descending to the inclosure walked towards the house.
As he approached the men advanced to meet him, and by accident or
design ranged themselves on either side. A glance showed him they
were strangers to the locality.
"We're lookin' fer the preacher that lives here," said one, who
seemed to be the elder. "A man by the name o' Hiler, I reckon!"
"Brother Hiler has been dead two years," responded Gideon. "His
widow and children live here."
The two men looked at each other. The younger one laughed; the
elder mumbled something about its being "three years ago," and then
turning suddenly on Gideon, said:
"P'r'aps YOU'RE a preacher?"
"Can you come to a dying man?"
The two men again looked at each other. "But," continued Gideon,
softly, "you'll please keep quiet so as not to disturb the widow
and her children, while I get my horse." He turned away; the
younger man made a movement as if to stop him, but the elder
quickly restrained his hand. "He isn't goin' to run away," he
whispered. "Look," he added, as Gideon a moment later reappeared
mounted and equipped.
"Do you think we'll be in time?" asked the young preacher as they
rode quickly away in the direction of the tules.
The younger repressed a laugh; the other answered grimly, "I
"And is he conscious of his danger?"
Gideon did not speak again. But as the onus of that silence seemed
to rest upon the other two, the last speaker, after a few moments'
silent and rapid riding, continued abruptly, "You don't seem
"Of what?" said Gideon, lifting his soft eyes to the speaker. "You
tell me of a brother at the point of death, who seeks the Lord
through an humble vessel like myself. HE will tell me the rest."
A silence still more constrained on the part of the two strangers
followed, which they endeavored to escape from by furious riding;
so that in half an hour the party had reached a point where the
tules began to sap the arid plain, while beyond them broadened the
lagoons of the distant river. In the foreground, near a clump of
dwarfed willows, a camp-fire was burning, around which fifteen or
twenty armed men were collected, their horses picketed in an outer
circle guarded by two mounted sentries. A blasted cotton-wood with
a single black arm extended over the tules stood ominously against
the dark sky.
The circle opened to receive them and closed again. The elder man
dismounted and leading Gideon to the blasted cotton-wood, pointed
to a pinioned man seated at its foot with an armed guard over him.
He looked up at Gideon with an amused smile.
"You said it was a dying man," said Gideon, recoiling.
"He will be a dead man in half an hour," returned the stranger.
"We are the Vigilantes from Alamo. This man," pointing to the
prisoner, "is a gambler who killed a man yesterday. We hunted him
here, tried him an hour ago, and found him guilty. The last man we
hung here, three years ago, asked for a parson. We brought him the
man who used to live where we found you. So we thought we'd give
this man the same show, and brought you."
"And if I refuse?" said Gideon.
The leader shrugged his shoulders.
"That's HIS lookout, not ours. We've given him the chance. Drive
ahead, boys," he added, turning to the others; "the parson allows
he won't take a hand."
"One moment," said Gideon, in desperation, "one moment, for the
sake of that God you have brought me here to invoke in behalf of
this wretched man. One moment, for the sake of Him in whose
presence you must stand one day as he does now." With passionate
earnestness he pointed out the vindictive impulse they were
mistaking for Divine justice; with pathetic fervency he fell upon
his knees and implored their mercy for the culprit. But in vain.
As at the camp-meeting of the day before, he was chilled to find
his words seemed to fall on unheeding and unsympathetic ears. He
looked around on their abstracted faces; in their gloomy savage
enthusiasm for expiatory sacrifice, he was horrified to find the
same unreasoning exaltation that had checked his exhortations then.
Only one face looked upon his, half mischievously, half
compassionately. It was the prisoner's.
"Yer wastin' time on us," said the leader, dryly; "wastin' HIS
time. Hadn't you better talk to him?"
Gideon rose to his feet, pale and cold. "He may have something to
confess. May I speak with him alone?" he said gently.
The leader motioned to the sentry to fall back. Gideon placed
himself before the prisoner so that in the faint light of the camp-
fire the man's figure was partly hidden by his own. "You meant
well with your little bluff, pardner," said the prisoner, not
unkindly, "but they've got the cards to win."
"Kneel down with your back to me," said Gideon, in a low voice.
The prisoner fell on his knees. At the same time he felt Gideon's
hand and the gliding of steel behind his back, and the severed
cords hung loosely on his arms and legs.
"When I lift my voice to God, brother," said Gideon, softly, "drop
on your face and crawl as far as you can in a straight line in my
shadow, then break for the tules. I will stand between you and
their first fire."
"Are you mad?" said the prisoner. "Do you think they won't fire
lest they should hurt you? Man! they'll kill YOU, the first
"So be it--if your chance is better."
Still on his knees, the man grasped Gideon's two hands in his own
and devoured him with his eyes.
"You mean it?"
"Then," said the prisoner, quietly, "I reckon I'll stop and hear
what you've got to say about God until they're ready."
"You refuse to fly?"
"I reckon I was never better fitted to die than now," said the
prisoner, still grasping his hand. After a pause he added in a
lower tone, "I can't pray--but--I think," he hesitated, "I think I
could manage to ring in a hymn."
"Will you try, brother?"
With their hands tightly clasped together, Gideon lifted his gentle
voice. The air was a common one, familiar in the local religious
gatherings, and after the first verse one or two of the sullen
lookers-on joined unkindly in the refrain. But, as he went on, the
air and words seemed to offer a vague expression to the dull
lowering animal emotion of the savage concourse, and at the end of
the second verse the refrain, augmented in volume and swelled by
every voice in the camp, swept out over the hollow plain.
It was met in the distance by a far-off cry. With an oath taking
the place of his supplication, the leader sprang to his feet. But
too late! The cry was repeated as a nearer slogan of defiance--the
plain shook--there was the tempestuous onset of furious hoofs--a
dozen shots--the scattering of the embers of the camp-fire into a
thousand vanishing sparks even as the lurid gathering of savage
humanity was dispersed and dissipated over the plain, and Gideon
and the prisoner stood alone. But as the sheriff of Contra Costa
with his rescuing posse swept by, the man they had come to save
fell forward in Gideon's arms with a bullet in his breast--the
Parthian shot of the flying Vigilante leader.
The eager crowd that surged around him with outstretched helping
hands would have hustled Gideon aside. But the wounded man roused
himself, and throwing an arm around the young preacher's neck,
warned them back with the other. "Stand back!" he gasped. "He
risked his life for mine! Look at him, boys! Wanted ter stand up
'twixt them hounds and me and draw their fire on himself! Ain't he
just hell?" he stopped; an apologetic smile crossed his lips. "I
clean forgot, pardner; but it's all right. I said I was ready to
go; and I am." His arm slipped from Gideon's neck; he slid to the
ground; he had fainted.
A dark, military-looking man pushed his way through the crowd--the
surgeon, one of the posse, accompanied by a younger man
fastidiously dressed. The former bent over the unconscious
prisoner, and tore open his shirt; the latter followed his
movements with a flush of anxious inquiry in his handsome, careless
face. After a moment's pause the surgeon, without looking up,
answered the young man's mute questioning. "Better send the
sheriff here at once, Jack."
"He is here," responded the official, joining the group.
The surgeon looked up at him. "I am afraid they've put the case
out of your jurisdiction, Sheriff," he said grimly. "It's only a
matter of a day or two at best--perhaps only a few hours. But he
won't live to be taken back to jail."
"Will he live to go as far as Martinez?" asked the young man
addressed as Jack.
"With care, perhaps."
"Will you be responsible for him, Jack Hamlin?" said the sheriff,
"Then take him. Stay, he's coming to."
The wounded man slowly opened his eyes. They fell upon Jack Hamlin
with a pleased look of recognition, but almost instantly and
anxiously glanced around as if seeking another. Leaning over him,
Jack said gayly, "They've passed you over to me, old man; are you
The wounded man's eyes assented, but still moved restlessly from
side to side.
"Is there any one you want to go with you?"
"Yes," said the eyes.
"The doctor, of course?"
The eyes did not answer. Gideon dropped on his knees beside him.
A ray of light flashed in the helpless man's eyes and transfigured
his whole face.
"You want HIM?" said Jack incredulously.
"Yes," said the eyes.
The lips struggled to speak. Everybody bent down to hear his
"You bet," he said faintly.
It was early morning when the wagon containing the wounded man,
Gideon, Jack Hamlin, and the surgeon crept slowly through the
streets of Martinez and stopped before the door of the "Palmetto
Shades." The upper floor of this saloon and hostelry was occupied
by Mr. Hamlin as his private lodgings, and was fitted up with the
usual luxury and more than the usual fastidiousness of his
extravagant class. As the dusty and travel-worn party trod the
soft carpets and brushed aside their silken hangings in their slow
progress with their helpless burden to the lace-canopied and snowy
couch of the young gambler, it seemed almost a profanation of some
feminine seclusion. Gideon, to whom such luxury was unknown, was
profoundly troubled. The voluptuous ease and sensuousness, the
refinements of a life of irresponsible indulgence, affected him
with a physical terror to which in his late moment of real peril he
had been a stranger; the gilding and mirrors blinded his eyes; even
the faint perfume seemed to him an unhallowed incense, and turned
him sick and giddy. Accustomed as he had been to disease and
misery in its humblest places and meanest surroundings, the wounded
desperado lying in laces and fine linen seemed to him monstrous and
unnatural. It required all his self-abnegation, all his sense of
duty, all his deep pity, and all the instinctive tact which was
born of his gentle thoughtfulness for others, to repress a
shrinking. But when the miserable cause of all again opened his
eyes and sought Gideon's hand, he forgot it all. Happily, Hamlin,
who had been watching him with wondering but critical eyes, mistook
his concern. "Don't you worry about that gin-mill and hash-
gymnasium downstairs," he said. "I've given the proprietor a
thousand dollars to shut up shop as long as this thing lasts."
That this was done from some delicate sense of respect to the
preacher's domiciliary presence, and not entirely to secure
complete quiet and seclusion for the invalid, was evident from the
fact that Mr. Hamlin's drawing and dining rooms, and even the hall,
were filled with eager friends and inquirers. It was discomposing
to Gideon to find himself almost an equal subject of interest and
curiosity to the visitors. The story of his simple devotion had
lost nothing by report; hats were doffed in his presence that might
have grown to their wearers' heads; the boldest eyes dropped as he
passed by; he had only to put his pale face out of the bedroom door
and the loudest discussion, heated by drink or affection, fell to a
whisper. The surgeon, who had recognized the one dominant wish of
the hopelessly sinking man, gravely retired, leaving Gideon a few
simple instructions and directions for their use. "He'll last as
long as he has need of you," he said respectfully. "My art is only
second here. God help you both! When he wakes, make the most of
In a few moments he did waken, and as before turned his fading look
almost instinctively on the faithful, gentle eyes that were
watching him. How Gideon made the most of his time did not
transpire, but at the end of an hour, when the dying man had again
lapsed into unconsciousness, he softly opened the door of the
Hamlin started hastily to his feet. He had cleared the room of his
visitors, and was alone. He turned a moment towards the window
before he faced Gideon with inquiring but curiously-shining eyes.
"Well?" he said, hesitatingly.
"Do you know Kate Somers?" asked Gideon.
Hamlin opened his brown eyes. "Yes."
"Can you send for her?"
"To marry him," said Gideon, gently. "There's no time to lose."
"To MARRY him?"
"He wishes it."
"But say--oh, come, now," said Hamlin confidentially, leaning back
with his hands on the top of a chair. "Ain't this playing it a
little--just a LITTLE--too low down? Of course you mean well, and
all that; but come, now, say--couldn't you just let up on him
there? Why, she"--Hamlin softly closed the door--"she's got no
"The more reason he should give her one."
A cynical knowledge of matrimony imparted to him by the wives of
others evidently colored Mr. Hamlin's views. "Well, perhaps it's
all the same if he's going to die. But isn't it rather rough on
HER? I don't know," he added, reflectively; "she was sniveling
round here a little while ago, until I sent her away."
"You sent her away!" echoed Gideon.
"Because YOU were here."
Nevertheless Mr. Hamlin departed, and in half an hour reappeared
with two brilliantly dressed women. One, hysterical, tearful,
frightened, and pallid, was the destined bride; the other, highly
colored, excited, and pleasedly observant, was her friend. Two men
hastily summoned from the anteroom as witnesses completed the group
that moved into the bedroom and gathered round the bed.
The ceremony was simple and brief. It was well, for of all who
took part in it none was more shaken by emotion than the
officiating priest. The brilliant dresses of the women, the
contrast of their painted faces with the waxen pallor of the dying
man; the terrible incongruity of their voices, inflections,
expressions, and familiarity; the mingled perfume of cosmetics and
the faint odor of wine; the eyes of the younger woman following his
movements with strange absorption, so affected him that he was glad
when he could fall on his knees at last and bury his face in the
pillow of the sufferer. The hand that had been placed in the
bride's cold fingers slipped from them and mechanically sought
Gideon's again. The significance of the unconscious act brought
the first spontaneous tears into the woman's eyes. It was his last
act, for when Gideon's voice was again lifted in prayer, the spirit
for whom it was offered had risen with it, as it were, still
lovingly hand in hand, from the earth forever.
The funeral was arranged for two days later, and Gideon found that
his services had been so seriously yet so humbly counted upon by
the friends of the dead man that he could scarce find it in his
heart to tell them that it was the function of the local preacher--
an older and more experienced man than himself. "If it is," said
Jack Hamlin, coolly, "I'm afraid he won't get a yaller dog to come
to his church; but if you say you'll preach at the grave, there
ain't a man, woman, or child that will be kept away. Don't you go
back on your luck, now; it's something awful and nigger-like.
You've got this crowd where the hair is short; excuse me, but it's
so. Talk of revivals! You could give that one-horse show in
Tasajara a hundred points, and skunk them easily." Indeed, had
Gideon been accessible to vanity, the spontaneous homage he met
with everywhere would have touched him more sympathetically and
kindly than it did; but in the utter unconsciousness of his own
power and the quality they worshiped in him, he felt alarmed and
impatient of what he believed to be their weak sympathy with his
own human weakness. In the depth of his unselfish heart, lit, it
must be confessed, only by the scant, inefficient lamp of his
youthful experience, he really believed he had failed in his
apostolic mission because he had been unable to touch the hearts of
the Vigilantes by oral appeal and argument. Feeling thus the
reverence of these irreligious people that surrounded him, the
facile yielding of their habits and prejudices to his half-uttered
wish, appeared to him only a temptation of the flesh. No one had
sought him after the manner of the camp-meeting; he had converted
the wounded man through a common weakness of their humanity. More
than that, he was conscious of a growing fascination for the
truthfulness and sincerity of that class; particularly of Mr. Jack
Hamlin, whose conversion he felt he could never attempt, yet whose
strange friendship alternately thrilled and frightened him.
It was the evening before the funeral. The coffin, half smothered
in wreaths and flowers, stood upon trestles in the anteroom; a
large silver plate bearing an inscription on which for the second
time Gideon read the name of the man he had converted. It was a
name associated on the frontier so often with reckless hardihood,
dissipation, and blood, that even now Gideon trembled at his
presumption, and was chilled by a momentary doubt of the efficiency
of his labor. Drawing unconsciously nearer to the mute subject of
his thoughts, he threw his arms across the coffin and buried his
face between them.
A stream of soft music, the echo of some forgotten song, seemed to
Gideon to suddenly fill and possess the darkened room, and then to
slowly die away, like the opening and shutting of a door upon a
flood of golden radiance. He listened with hushed breath and a
beating heart. He had never heard anything like it before. Again
the strain arose, the chords swelled round him, until from their
midst a tenor voice broke high and steadfast, like a star in
troubled skies. Gideon scarcely breathed. It was a hymn--but such
a hymn. He had never conceived there could be such beautiful
words, joined to such exquisite melody, and sung with a grace so
tender and true. What were all other hymns to this ineffable
yearning for light, for love, and for infinite rest? Thrilled and
exalted, Gideon felt his doubts pierced and scattered by that
illuminating cry. Suddenly he rose, and with a troubled thought
pushed open the door to the sitting-room. It was Mr. Jack Hamlin
sitting before a parlor organ. The music ceased.
"It was YOU," stammered Gideon.
Jack nodded, struck a few chords by way of finish, and then wheeled
round on the music-stool towards Gideon. His face was slightly
flushed. "Yes. I used to be the organist and tenor in our church
in the States. I used to snatch the sinners bald-headed with that.
Do you know I reckon I'll sing that to-morrow, if you like, and
maybe afterwards we'll--but"--he stopped--"we'll talk of that after
the funeral. It's business." Seeing Gideon still glancing with a
troubled air from the organ to himself, he said: "Would you like to
try that hymn with me? Come on!"
He again struck the chords. As the whole room seemed to throb with
the music, Gideon felt himself again carried away. Glancing over
Jack's shoulders, he could read the words but not the notes; yet,
having a quick ear for rhythm, he presently joined in with a deep
but uncultivated baritone. Together they forgot everything else,
and at the end of an hour were only recalled by the presence of a
silently admiring concourse of votive-offering friends who had
gathered round them.
The funeral took place the next day at the grave dug in the public
cemetery--a green area fenced in by the palisading tules. The
words of Gideon were brief but humble; the strongest partisan of
the dead man could find no fault in a confession of human frailty
in which the speaker humbly confessed his share; and when the hymn
was started by Hamlin and taken up by Gideon, the vast multitude,
drawn by interest and curiosity, joined as in a solemn Amen.
Later, when those two strangely-assorted friends had returned to
Mr. Hamlin's rooms previous to Gideon's departure, the former, in a
manner more serious than his habitual cynical good-humor, began: "I
said I had to talk business with you. The boys about here want to
build a church for you, and are ready to plank the money down if
you'll say it's a go. You understand they aren't asking you to run
in opposition to that Gospel sharp--excuse me--that's here now, nor
do they want you to run a side show in connection with it. They
want you to be independent. They don't pin you down to any kind of
religion, you know; whatever you care to give them--Methodist,
Roman Catholic, Presbyterian---is mighty good enough for them, if
you'll expound it. You might give a little of each, or one on one
day and one another--they'll never know the difference if you only
mix the drinks yourself. They'll give you a house and guarantee
you fifteen hundred dollars the first year."
He stopped and walked towards the window. The sunlight that fell
upon his handsome face seemed to call back the careless smile to
his lips and the reckless fire to his brown eyes. "I don't suppose
there's a man among them that wouldn't tell you all this in a great
deal better way than I do. But the darned fools--excuse me--would
have ME break it to you. Why, I don't know. I needn't tell you I
like you--not only for what you did for George--but I like you for
your style--for yourself. And I want you to accept. You could
keep these rooms till they got a house ready for you. Together--
you and me--we'd make that organ howl. But because I like it--
because it's everything to us--and nothing to you, it don't seem
square for me to ask it. Does it?"
Gideon replied by taking Hamlin's hand. His face was perfectly
pale, but his look collected. He had not expected this offer, and
yet when it was made he felt as if he had known it before--as if he
had been warned of it--as if it was the great temptation of his
life. Watching him with an earnestness only slightly overlaid by
his usual manner, Hamlin went on.
"I know it would be lonely here, and a man like you ought to have a
wife for--" he slightly lifted his eyebrows--"for example's sake.
I heard there was a young lady in the case over there in Tasajara--
but the old people didn't see it on account of your position.
They'd jump at it now. Eh? No? Well," continued Jack, with a
decent attempt to conceal his cynical relief, "perhaps those boys
have been so eager to find out all they could do for you that
they've been sold. Perhaps we're making equal fools of ourselves
now in asking you to stay. But don't say no just yet--take a day
or a week to think of it."
Gideon still pale but calm, cast his eyes around the elegant room,
at the magic organ, then upon the slight handsome figure before
him. "I WILL think of it," he said, in a low voice, as he pressed
Jack's hand. "And if I accept you will find me here to-morrow
afternoon at this time; if I do not you will know that I keep with
me wherever I go the kindness, the brotherly love, and the grace of
God that prompts your offer, even though He withholds from me His
blessed light, which alone can make me know His wish." He stopped
and hesitated. "If you love me, Jack, don't ask me to stay, but
pray for that light which alone can guide my feet back to you, or
take me hence for ever."
He once more tightly pressed the hand of the embarrassed man before
him and was gone.
Passers-by on the Martinez road that night remembered a mute and
ghostly rider who, heedless of hail or greeting, moved by them as
in a trance or vision. But the Widow Hiler the next morning,
coming from the spring, found no abstraction or preoccupation in
the soft eyes of Gideon Deane as he suddenly appeared before her,
and gently relieved her of the bucket she was carrying. A quick
flash of color over her brow and cheek-bone, as if a hot iron had
passed there, and a certain astringent coyness, would have
embarrassed any other man than him.
"Sho, it's YOU. I reck'ned I'd seen the last of you."
"You don't mean that, Sister Hiler?" said Gideon, with a gentle
"Well, what with the report of your goin's on at Martinez and
improvin' the occasion of that sinner's death, and leadin' a
revival, I reckoned you'ld hev forgotten low folks at Tasajara.
And if your goin' to be settled there in a new church, with new
hearers, I reckon you'll want new surroundings too. Things change
and young folks change with 'em."
They had reached the house. Her breath was quick and short as if
she and not Gideon had borne the burden. He placed the bucket in
its accustomed place, and then gently took her hand in his. The
act precipitated the last drop of feeble coquetry she had retained,
and the old tears took its place. Let us hope for the last time.
For as Gideon stooped and lifted her ailing babe in his strong
arms, he said softly, "Whatever God has wrought for me since we
parted, I know now He has called me to but one work."
"And that work?" she asked, tremulously.
"To watch over the widow and fatherless. And with God's blessing,
sister, and His holy ordinance, I am here to stay."
It was very hot. Not a breath of air was stirring throughout the
western wing of the Greyport Hotel, and the usual feverish life of
its four hundred inmates had succumbed to the weather. The great
veranda was deserted; the corridors were desolated; no footfall
echoed in the passages; the lazy rustle of a wandering skirt, or a
passing sigh that was half a pant, seemed to intensify the heated
silence. An intoxicated bee, disgracefully unsteady in wing and
leg, who had been holding an inebriated conversation with himself
in the corner of my window pane, had gone to sleep at last and was
snoring. The errant prince might have entered the slumberous halls
unchallenged, and walked into any of the darkened rooms whose open
doors gaped for more air, without awakening the veriest Greyport
flirt with his salutation. At times a drowsy voice, a lazily
interjected sentence, an incoherent protest, a long-drawn phrase of
saccharine tenuity suddenly broke off with a gasp, came vaguely to
the ear, as if indicating a half-suspended, half-articulated
existence somewhere, but not definite enough to indicate
conversation. In the midst of this, there was the sudden crying of
I looked up from my work. Through the camera of my jealously
guarded window I could catch a glimpse of the vivid, quivering blue
of the sky, the glittering intensity of the ocean, the long
motionless leaves of the horse-chestnut in the road,--all utterly
inconsistent with anything as active as this lamentation. I
stepped to the open door and into the silent hall.
Apparently the noise had attracted the equal attention of my
neighbors. A vague chorus of "Sarah Walker," in querulous
recognition, of "O Lord! that child again!" in hopeless protest,
rose faintly from the different rooms. As the lamentations seemed
to approach nearer, the visitors' doors were successively shut,
swift footsteps hurried along the hall; past my open door came a
momentary vision of a heated nursemaid carrying a tumultuous chaos
of frilled skirts, flying sash, rebellious slippers, and tossing
curls; there was a moment's rallying struggle before the room
nearly opposite mine, and then a door opened and shut upon the
vision. It was Sarah Walker!
Everybody knew her; few had ever seen more of her than this passing
vision. In the great hall, in the dining-room, in the vast
parlors, in the garden, in the avenue, on the beach, a sound of
lamentation had always been followed by this same brief apparition.
Was there a sudden pause among the dancers and a subjugation of the
loudest bassoons in the early evening "hop," the explanation was
given in the words "Sarah Walker." Was there a wild confusion
among the morning bathers on the sands, people whispered "Sarah
Walker." A panic among the waiters at dinner, an interruption in
the Sunday sacred concert, a disorganization of the after-dinner
promenade on the veranda, was instantly referred to Sarah Walker.
Nor were her efforts confined entirely to public life. In cozy
corners and darkened recesses, bearded lips withheld the amorous
declaration to mutter "Sarah Walker" between their clenched teeth;
coy and bashful tongues found speech at last in the rapid
formulation of "Sarah Walker." Nobody ever thought of abbreviating
her full name. The two people in the hotel, otherwise
individualized, but known only as "Sarah Walker's father" and
"Sarah Walker's mother," and never as Mr. and Mrs. Walker,
addressed her only as "Sarah Walker"; two animals that were
occasionally a part of this passing pageant were known as "Sarah
Walker's dog" and "Sarah Walker's cat," and later it was my proud
privilege to sink my own individuality under the title of "that
friend of Sarah Walker's."
It must not be supposed that she had attained this baleful eminence
without some active criticism. Every parent in the Greyport Hotel
had held his or her theory of the particular defects of Sarah
Walker's education; every virgin and bachelor had openly expressed
views of the peculiar discipline that was necessary to her
subjugation. It may be roughly estimated that she would have spent
the entire nine years of her active life in a dark cupboard on an
exclusive diet of bread and water, had this discipline obtained;
while, on the other hand, had the educational theories of the
parental assembly prevailed, she would have ere this shone an
etherealized essence in the angelic host. In either event she
would have "ceased from troubling," which was the general Greyport
idea of higher education. A paper read before our Literary Society
on "Sarah Walker and other infantile diseases," was referred to in
the catalogue as "Walker, Sarah, Prevention and Cure," while the
usual burlesque legislation of our summer season culminated in the
Act entitled "An Act to amend an Act entitled an Act for the
abatement of Sarah Walker." As she was hereafter exclusively to be
fed "on the PROVISIONS of this Act," some idea of its general tone
may be gathered. It was a singular fact in this point of her
history that her natural progenitors not only offered no resistance
to the doubtful celebrity of their offspring, but, by hopelessly
accepting the situation, to some extent POSED as Sarah Walker's
victims. Mr. and Mrs. Walker were known to be rich, respectable,
and indulgent to their only child. They themselves had been
evolved from a previous generation of promiscuously acquired wealth
into the repose of inherited property, but it was currently
accepted that Sarah had "cast back" and reincarnated some waif on
the deck of an emigrant ship at the beginning of the century.
Such was the child separated from me by this portentous history, a
narrow passage, and a closed nursery door. Presently, however, the
door was partly opened again as if to admit the air. The crying
had ceased, but in its place the monotonous Voice of Conscience,
for the moment personated by Sarah Walker's nursemaid, kept alive a
drowsy recollection of Sarah Walker's transgressions.
"You see," said the Voice, "what a dreadful thing it is for a
little girl to go on as you do. I am astonished at you, Sarah
Walker. So is everybody; so is the good ladies next door; so is
the kind gentleman opposite; so is all! Where you expect to go to,
'Evin only knows! How you expect to be forgiven, saints alone can
tell! But so it is always, and yet you keep it up. And wouldn't
you like it different, Sarah Walker? Wouldn't you like to have
everybody love you? Wouldn't you like them good ladies next door,
and that nice gentleman opposite, all to kinder rise up and say,
'Oh, what a dear good little girl Sarah Walker is?'" The
interpolation of a smacking sound of lips, as if in unctuous
anticipation of Sarah Walker's virtue, here ensued--"Oh, what a
dear, good, sw-e-et, lovely little girl Sarah Walker is!"
There was a dead silence. It may have been fancy, but I thought
that some of the doors in the passage creaked softly as if in
listening expectation. Then the silence was broken by a sigh. Had
Sarah Walker ingloriously succumbed? Rash and impotent conclusion!
"I don't," said Sarah Walker's voice, slowly rising until it broke
on the crest of a mountainous sob, "I--don't--want--'em--to--love
me. I--don't want--'em--to say--what a--dear--good--little girl--
Sarah Walker is!" She caught her breath. "I--want--'em--to say--
what a naughty--bad--dirty--horrid--filthy--little girl Sarah
Walker is--so I do. There!"
The doors slammed all along the passages. The dreadful issue was
joined. I softly crossed the hall and looked into Sarah Walker's
The light from a half-opened shutter fell full upon her rebellious
little figure. She had stiffened herself in a large easy-chair
into the attitude in which she had been evidently deposited there
by the nurse whose torn-off apron she still held rigidly in one
hand. Her shapely legs stood out before her, jointless and
inflexible to the point of her tiny shoes--a POSE copied with
pathetic fidelity by the French doll at her feet. The attitude
must have been dreadfully uncomfortable, and maintained only as
being replete with some vague insults to the person who had put her
down, as exhibiting a wild indecorum of silken stocking. A
mystified kitten--Sarah Walker's inseparable--was held as rigidly
under one arm with equal dumb aggressiveness. Following the stiff
line of her half-recumbent figure, her head suddenly appeared
perpendicularly erect--yet the only mobile part of her body. A
dazzling sunburst of silky hair, the color of burnished copper,
partly hid her neck and shoulders and the back of the chair. Her
eyes were a darker shade of the same color--the orbits appearing
deeper and larger from the rubbing in of habitual tears from long
wet lashes. Nothing so far seemed inconsistent with her infelix
reputation, but, strange to say, her other features were marked by
delicacy and refinement, and her mouth--that sorely exercised and
justly dreaded member--was small and pretty, albeit slightly
dropped at the corners.
The immediate effect of my intrusion was limited solely to the
nursemaid. Swooping suddenly upon Sarah Walker's too evident
deshabille, she made two or three attempts to pluck her into
propriety; but the child, recognizing the cause as well as the
effect, looked askance at me and only stiffened herself the more.
"Sarah Walker, I'm shocked."
"It ain't HIS room anyway," said Sarah, eying me malevolently.
"What's he doing here?"
There was so much truth in this that I involuntarily drew back
abashed. The nurse-maid ejaculated "Sarah!" and lifted her eyes in
"And he needn't come seeing YOU," continued Sarah, lazily rubbing
the back of her head against the chair; "my papa don't allow it.
He warned you 'bout the other gentleman, you know."
I felt it was necessary to say something. "Don't you want to come
with me and look at the sea?" I said with utter feebleness of
invention. To my surprise, instead of actively assaulting me Sarah
Walker got up, shook her hair over her shoulders, and took my hand.
"With your hair in that state?" almost screamed the domestic. But
Sarah Walker had already pulled me into the hall. What
particularly offensive form of opposition to authority was implied
in this prompt assent to my proposal I could only darkly guess.
For myself I knew I must appear to her a weak impostor. What would
there possibly be in the sea to interest Sarah Walker? For the
moment I prayed for a water-spout, a shipwreck, a whale, or any
marine miracle to astound her and redeem my character. I walked
guiltily down the hall, holding her hand bashfully in mine. I
noticed that her breast began to heave convulsively; if she cried I
knew I should mingle my tears with hers. We reached the veranda in
gloomy silence. As I expected, the sea lay before us glittering in
the sun--vacant, staring, flat, and hopelessly and unquestionably
"I knew it all along," said Sarah Walker, turning down the corners
of her mouth; "there never was anything to see. I know why you got
me to come here. You want to tell me if I'm a good girl you'll
take me to sail some day. You want to say if I'm bad the sea will
swallow me up. That's all you want, you horrid thing, you!"
"Hush!" I said, pointing to the corner of the veranda.
A desperate idea of escape had just seized me. Bolt upright in the
recess of a window sat a nursemaid who had succumbed to sleep
equally with her helpless charge in the perambulator beside her. I
instantly recognized the infant--a popular organism known as "Baby
Buckly"--the prodigy of the Greyport Hotel, the pet of its
enthusiastic womanhood. Fat and featureless, pink and pincushiony,
it was borrowed by gushing maidenhood, exchanged by idiotic
maternity, and had grown unctuous and tumefacient under the kisses
and embraces of half the hotel. Even in its present repose it
looked moist and shiny from indiscriminate and promiscuous
"Let's borrow Baby Buckly," I said recklessly.
Sarah Walker at once stopped crying. I don't know how she did it,
but the cessation was instantaneous, as if she had turned off a tap
"And put it in Mr. Peters' bed!" I continued.
Peters being notoriously a grim bachelor, the bare suggestion
bristled with outrage. Sarah Walker's eyes sparkled.
"You don't mean it!--go 'way!"--she said with affected coyness.
"But I do! Come."
We extracted it noiselessly together--that is, Sarah Walker did,
with deft womanliness--carried it darkly along the hall to No. 27,
and deposited it in Peters' bed, where it lay like a freshly opened
oyster. We then returned hand in hand to my room, where we looked
out of the window on the sea. It was observable that there was no
lack of interest in Sarah Walker now.
Before five minutes had elapsed some one breathlessly passed the
open door while we were still engaged in marine observation. This
was followed by return footsteps and a succession of swiftly
rustling garments, until the majority of the women in our wing had
apparently passed our room, and we saw an irregular stream of
nursemaids and mothers converging towards the hotel out of the
grateful shadow of arbors, trees, and marquees. In fact we were
still engaged in observation when Sarah Walker's nurse came to
fetch her away, and to inform her that "by rights" Baby Buckly's
nurse and Mr. Peters should both be made to leave the hotel that
very night. Sarah Walker permitted herself to be led off with dry
but expressive eyes. That evening she did not cry, but, on being
taken into the usual custody for disturbance, was found to be
purple with suppressed laughter.
This was the beginning of my intimacy with Sarah Walker. But while
it was evident that whatever influence I obtained over her was due
to my being particeps criminis, I think it was accepted that a
regular abduction of infants might become in time monotonous if not
dangerous. So she was satisfied with the knowledge that I could
not now, without the most glaring hypocrisy, obtrude a moral
superiority upon her. I do not think she would have turned state
evidence and accused me, but I was by no means assured of her
disinterested regard. She contented herself, for a few days
afterwards, with meeting me privately and mysteriously
communicating unctuous reminiscences of our joint crime, without
suggesting a repetition. Her intimacy with me did not seem to
interfere with her general relations to her own species in the
other children in the hotel. Perhaps I should have said before
that her popularity with them was by no means prejudiced by her
infelix reputation. But while she was secretly admired by all, she
had few professed followers and no regular associates. Whether the
few whom she selected for that baleful preeminence were either torn
from her by horrified guardians, or came to grief through her
dangerous counsels, or whether she really did not care for them, I
could not say. Their elevation was brief, their retirement
unregretted. It was however permitted me, through felicitous
circumstances, to become acquainted with the probable explanation
of her unsociability.
The very hot weather culminated one afternoon in a dead faint of
earth and sea and sky. An Alpine cloudland of snow that had mocked
the upturned eyes of Greyport for hours, began to darken under the
folding shadow of a black and velvety wing. The atmosphere seemed
to thicken as the gloom increased; the lazy dust, thrown up by
hurrying feet that sought a refuge, hung almost motionless in the
air. Suddenly it was blown to the four quarters in one fierce gust
that as quickly dispersed the loungers drooping in shade and cover.
For a few seconds the long avenue was lost in flying clouds of
dust, and then was left bare of life or motion. Raindrops in huge
stars and rosettes appeared noiselessly and magically upon the
sidewalks--gouts of moisture apparently dropped from mid-air. And
then the ominous hush returned.
A mile away along the rocks, I turned for shelter into a cavernous
passage of the overhanging cliff, where I could still watch the
coming storm upon the sea. A murmur of voices presently attracted
my attention. I then observed that the passage ended in a kind of
open grotto, where I could dimly discern the little figures of
several children, who, separated from their nurses in the sudden
onset of the storm, had taken refuge there. As the gloom deepened
they became silent again, until the stillness was broken by a
familiar voice. There was no mistaking it.--It was Sarah Walker's.
But it was not lifted in lamentation, it was raised only as if
resuming a suspended narrative.
"Her name," said Sarah Walker gloomily, "was Kribbles. She was the
only child--of--of orphaned parentage, and fair to see, but she was
bad, and God did not love her. And one day she was separated from
her nurse on a desert island like to this. And then came a
hidgeous thunderstorm. And a great big thunderbolt came galumping
after her. And it ketehed her and rolled all over her--so! and
then it came back and ketched her and rolled her over--so! And
when they came to pick her up there was not so much as THAT left of
her. All burnt up!"
"Wasn't there just a little bit of her shoe?" suggested a cautious
"Not a bit," said Sarah Walker firmly. All the other children
echoed "Not a bit," indignantly, in evident gratification at the
completeness of Kribbles' catastrophe. At this moment the
surrounding darkness was suddenly filled with a burst of blue
celestial fire; the heavy inky sea beyond, the black-edged mourning
horizon, the gleaming sands, each nook and corner of the dripping
cave, with the frightened faces of the huddled group of children,
started into vivid life for an instant, and then fell back with a
deafening crash into the darkness.
There was a slight sound of whimpering. Sarah Walker apparently
pounced upon the culprit, for it ceased.
"Sniffling 'tracts 'lectricity," she said sententiously.
"But you thaid it wath Dod!" lisped a casuist of seven.
"It's all the same," said Sarah sharply, "and so's asking
This obscure statement was however apparently understood, for the
casuist lapsed into silent security. "Lots of things 'tracts it,"
continued Sarah Walker. "Gold and silver, and metals and knives
"And pennies most of all! Kribbles was that vain, she used to wear
jewelry and fly in the face of Providence."
"But you thaid--"
"Will you?--There! you hear that?" There was another blinding
flash and bounding roll of thunder along the shore. "I wonder you
didn't ketch it. You would--only I'm here."
All was quiet again, but from certain indications it was evident
that a collection of those dangerous articles that had proved fatal
to the unhappy Kribbles was being taken up. I could hear the clink
of coins and jingle of ornaments. That Sarah herself was the
custodian was presently shown. "But won't the lightning come to
you now?" asked a timid voice.
"No," said Sarah, promptly, "'cause I ain't afraid! Look!"
A frightened protest from the children here ensued, but the next
instant she appeared at the entrance of the grotto and ran down the
rocks towards the sea. Skipping from bowlder to bowlder she
reached the furthest projection of the ledge, now partly submerged
by the rising surf, and then turned half triumphantly, half
defiantly, towards the grotto. The weird phosphorescence of the
storm lit up the resolute little figure standing there, gorgeously
bedecked with the chains, rings, and shiny trinkets of her
companions. With a tiny hand raised in mock defiance of the
elements, she seemed to lean confidingly against the panting breast
of the gale, with fluttering skirt and flying tresses. Then the
vault behind her cracked with three jagged burning fissures, a
weird flame leaped upon the sand, there was a cry of terror from
the grotto, echoed by a scream of nurses on the cliff, a deluge of
rain, a terrific onset from the gale--and--Sarah Walker was gone?
Nothing of the kind! When I reached the ledge, after a severe
struggle with the storm, I found Sarah on the leeward side,
drenched but delighted. I held her tightly, while we waited for a
lull to regain the cliff, and took advantage of the sympathetic
"But you know you WERE frightened, Sarah," I whispered; "you
thought of what happened to poor Kribbles."
"Do you know who Kribbles was?" she asked confidentially.
"Well," she whispered, "I made Kribbles up. And the hidgeous storm
and thunderbolt--and the burning! All out of my own head."
The only immediate effect of this escapade was apparently to
precipitate and bring into notoriety the growing affection of an
obscure lover of Sarah Walker's, hitherto unsuspected. He was a
mild inoffensive boy of twelve, known as "Warts," solely from an
inordinate exhibition of these youthful excrescences. On the day
of Sarah Walker's adventure his passion culminated in a sudden and
illogical attack upon Sarah's nurse and parents while they were
bewailing her conduct, and in assaulting them with his feet and
hands. Whether he associated them in some vague way with the cause
of her momentary peril, or whether he only wished to impress her
with the touching flattery of a general imitation of her style, I
cannot say. For his lovemaking was peculiar. A day or two
afterwards he came to my open door and remained for some moments
bashfully looking at me. The next day I found him standing by my
chair in the piazza with an embarrassed air and in utter inability
to explain his conduct. At the end of a rapid walk on the sand one
morning, I was startled by the sound of hurried breath, and looking
around, discovered the staggering Warts quite exhausted by
endeavoring to keep up with me on his short legs. At last the
daily recurrence of his haunting presence forced a dreadful
suspicion upon me. Warts was courting ME for Sarah Walker! Yet it
was impossible to actually connect her with these mute attentions.
"You want me to give them to Sarah Walker," I said cheerfully one
afternoon, as he laid upon my desk some peculiarly uninviting
crustacea which looked not unlike a few detached excrescences from
his own hands. He shook his head decidedly. "I understand," I
continued, confidently; "you want me to keep them for her." "No,"
said Warts, doggedly. "Then you only want me to tell her how nice
they are?" The idea was apparently so shamelessly true that he
blushed himself hastily into the passage, and ceased any future
contribution. Naturally still more ineffective was the slightest
attempt to bring his devotion into the physical presence of Sarah
Walker. The most ingenious schemes to lure him into my room while
she was there failed utterly. Yet he must have at one time basked
in her baleful presence. "Do you like Warts?" I asked her one day
bluntly. "Yes," said Sarah Walker with cheerful directness; "ain't
HE got a lot of 'em?--though he used to have more. But," she added
reflectively, "do you know the little Ilsey boy?" I was compelled
to admit my ignorance. "Well!" she said with a reminiscent sigh of
satisfaction, "HE'S got only two toes on his left foot--showed 'em
to me. And he was born so." Need it be said that in these few
words I read the dismal sequel of Warts' unfortunate attachment?
His accidental eccentricity was no longer attractive. What were
his evanescent accretions, subject to improvement or removal,
beside the hereditary and settled malformations of his rival?
Once only, in this brief summer episode, did Sarah Walker attract
the impulsive and general sympathy of Greyport. It is only just to
her consistency to say it was through no fault of hers, unless a
characteristic exposure which brought on a chill and diphtheria
could be called her own act. Howbeit, towards the close of the
season, when a sudden suggestion of the coming autumn had crept,
one knew not how, into the heart of a perfect day; when even a
return of the summer warmth had a suspicion of hectic,--on one of
these days Sarah Walker was missed with the bees and the
butterflies. For two days her voice had not been heard in hall or
corridor, nor had the sunshine of her French marigold head lit up
her familiar places. The two days were days of relief, yet
mitigated with a certain uneasy apprehension of the return of Sarah
Walker, or--more alarming thought!--the Sarah Walker element in a
more appalling form. So strong was this impression that an unhappy
infant who unwittingly broke this interval with his maiden outcry
was nearly lynched. "We're not going to stand that from YOU, you
know," was the crystallized sentiment of a brutal bachelor. In
fact, it began to be admitted that Greyport had been accustomed to
Sarah Walker's ways. In the midst of this, it was suddenly
whispered that Sarah Walker was lying dangerously ill, and was not
expected to live.
Then occurred one of those strange revulsions of human sentiment
which at first seem to point the dawning of a millennium of poetic
justice, but which, in this case, ended in merely stirring the
languid pulses of society into a hectic fever, and in making
sympathy for Sarah Walker an insincere and exaggerated fashion.
Morning and afternoon visits to her apartment, with extravagant
offerings, were de rigueur; bulletins were issued three times a
day; an allusion to her condition was the recognized preliminary to
all conversation; advice, suggestions, and petitions to restore the
baleful existence, flowed readily from the same facile invention
that had once proposed its banishment; until one afternoon the
shadow had drawn so close that even Folly withheld its careless
feet before it, and laid down its feeble tinkling bells and gaudy
cap tremblingly on the threshold. But the sequel must be told in
more vivid words than mine.
"Whin I saw that angel lyin' there," said Sarah Walker's nurse, "as
white, if ye plaze, as if the whole blessed blood of her body had
gone to make up the beautiful glory of her hair; speechless as she
was, I thought I saw a sort of longin' in her eyes.
"'Is it anythin' you'll be wantin', Sarah darlint', sez her mother
with a thremblin' voice, 'afore it's lavin' us ye are? Is it the
ministher yer askin' for, love?' sez she.
"And Sarah looked at me, and if it was the last words I spake, her
lips moved and she whispered 'Scotty.'
"'Wirra! wirra!' sez the mother, 'it's wanderin' she is, the
darlin';' for Scotty, don't ye see, was the grand barkeeper of the
"'Savin' yer presence, ma'am,' sez I, 'and the child's here, ez is
half a saint already, it's thruth she's spakin'--it's Scotty she
wants.' And with that my angel blinks wid her black eyes 'yes.'
"'Bring him,' says the docthor, 'at once.'
"And they bring him in wid all the mustachios and moighty fine
curls of him, and his diamonds, rings, and pins all a-glistening
just like his eyes when he set 'em on that suffering saint.
"'Is it anythin' you're wantin,' Sarah dear?' sez he, thryin' to
spake firm. And Sarah looks at him, and then looks at a tumbler on
"'Is it a bit of a cocktail, the likes of the one I made for ye
last Sunday unbeknownst?' sez he, looking round mortal afraid of
the parents. And Sarah Walker's eyes said, 'It is.' Then the
ministher groaned, but the docthor jumps to his feet.
"'Bring it,' sez he, 'and howld your jaw, an ye's a Christian
sowl.' And he brought it. An' afther the first sip, the child
lifts herself up on one arm, and sez, with a swate smile and a toss
of the glass:
"'I looks towards you, Scotty,' sez she.
"'I observes you and bows, miss,' sez he, makin' as if he was
dhrinkin' wid her.
"'Here's another nail in yer coffin, old man,' sez she winkin'.
"'And here's the hair all off your head, miss,' sez he quite
aisily, tossin' back the joke betwixt 'em.
"And with that she dhrinks it off, and lies down and goes to sleep
like a lamb, and wakes up wid de rosy dawn in her cheeks, and the
morthal seekness gone forever."
. . . . . . . . .
Thus Sarah Walker recovered. Whether the fact were essential to
the moral conveyed in these pages, I leave the reader to judge.
I was leaning on the terrace of the Kronprinzen-Hof at Rolandseck
one hot summer afternoon, lazily watching the groups of tourists
strolling along the road that ran between the Hof and the Rhine.
There was certainly little in the place or its atmosphere to recall
the Greyport episode of twenty years before, when I was suddenly
startled by hearing the name of "Sarah Walker."
In the road below me were three figures,--a lady, a gentleman, and
a little girl. As the latter turned towards the lady who addressed
her, I recognized the unmistakable copper-colored tresses, trim
figure, delicate complexion, and refined features of the friend of
my youth! I seized my hat, but by the time I had reached the road,
they had disappeared.
The utter impossibility of its being Sarah Walker herself, and the
glaring fact that the very coincidence of name would be
inconsistent with any conventional descent from the original Sarah,
I admit confused me. But I examined the book of the Kronprinzen-
Hof and the other hotels, and questioned my portier. There was no
"Mees" nor "Madame Walkiere" extant in Rolandseck. Yet might not
Monsieur have heard incorrectly? The Czara Walka was evidently
Russian, and Rolandseck was a resort for Russian princes. But
pardon! Did Monsieur really mean the young demoiselle now
approaching? Ah! that was a different affair. She was the
daughter of the Italian Prince and Princess Monte Castello staying
here. The lady with her was not the Princess, but a foreign
friend. The gentleman was the Prince. Would he present Monsieur's
They were entering the hotel. The Prince was a little,
inoffensive-looking man, the lady an evident countrywoman of my
own, and the child--was, yet was NOT, Sarah! There was the face,
the outline, the figure--but the life, the verve, the audacity, was
wanting! I could contain myself no longer.
"Pardon an inquisitive compatriot, madam," I said; "but I heard you
a few moments ago address this young lady by the name of a very
dear young friend, whom I knew twenty years ago--Sarah Walker. Am
The Prince stopped and gazed at us both with evident affright; then
suddenly recognizing in my freedom some wild American indecorum,
doubtless provoked by the presence of another of my species, which
he really was not expected to countenance, retreated behind the
portier. The circumstance by no means increased the good-will of
the lady, as she replied somewhat haughtily:--
"The Principessina is named Sarah Walker, after her mother's maiden
"Then this IS Sarah Walker's daughter!" I said joyfully.
"She is the daughter of the Prince and Princess of Monte Castello,"
corrected the lady frigidly.
"I had the pleasure of knowing her mother very well." I stopped
and blushed. Did I really know Sarah Walker very well? And would
Sarah Walker know me now? Or would it not be very like her to go
back on me? There was certainly anything but promise in the
feeble-minded, vacuous copy of Sarah before me. I was yet
hesitating, when the Prince, who had possibly received some
quieting assurance from the portier, himself stepped forward,
stammered that the Princess would, without doubt, be charmed to
receive me later, and skipped upstairs, leaving the impression on
my mind that he contemplated ordering his bill at once. There was
no excuse for further prolonging the interview. "Say good-by to
the strange gentleman, Sarah," suggested Sarah's companion stiffly.
I looked at the child in the wild hope of recognizing some prompt
resistance to the suggestion that would have identified her with
the lost Sarah of my youth--but in vain. "Good-by, sir, said the
affected little creature, dropping a mechanical curtsey. "Thank
you very much for remembering my mother." "Good-by, Sarah!" It
was indeed good-by forever.
For on my way to my room I came suddenly upon the Prince, in a
recess of the upper hall, addressing somebody through an open door
with a querulous protest, whose wild extravagance of statement was
grotesquely balanced by its utter feeble timidity of manner. "It
is," said the Prince, "indeed a grave affair. We have here
hundreds of socialists, emissaries from lawless countries and
impossible places, who travel thousands of miles to fall upon our
hearts and embrace us. They establish an espionage over us; they
haunt our walks in incredible numbers; they hang in droves upon our
footsteps; Heaven alone saves us from a public osculation at any
moment! They openly allege that they have dandled us on their
knees at recent periods; washed and dressed us, and would do so
still. Our happiness, our security--"
"Don't be a fool, Prince. Do shut up!"
The Prince collapsed and shrank away, and I hurried past the open
door. A tall, magnificent-looking woman was standing before a
glass, arranging her heavy red hair. The face, which had been
impatiently turned towards the door, had changed again to profile,
with a frown still visible on the bent brow. Our eyes met as I
passed. The next moment the door slammed, and I had seen the last
of Sarah Walker.
A SHIP OF '49
It had rained so persistently in San Francisco during the first
week of January, 1854, that a certain quagmire in the roadway of
Long Wharf had become impassable, and a plank was thrown over its
dangerous depth. Indeed, so treacherous was the spot that it was
alleged, on good authority, that a hastily embarking traveler had
once hopelessly lost his portmanteau, and was fain to dispose of
his entire interest in it for the sum of two dollars and fifty
cents to a speculative stranger on the wharf. As the stranger's
search was rewarded afterwards only by the discovery of the body of
a casual Chinaman, who had evidently endeavored wickedly to
anticipate him, a feeling of commercial insecurity was added to the
other eccentricities of the locality.
The plank led to the door of a building that was a marvel even in
the chaotic frontier architecture of the street. The houses on
either side--irregular frames of wood or corrugated iron--bore
evidence of having been quickly thrown together, to meet the
requirements of the goods and passengers who were once disembarked
on what was the muddy beach of the infant city. But the building
in question exhibited a certain elaboration of form and design
utterly inconsistent with this idea. The structure obtruded a
bowed front to the street, with a curving line of small windows,
surmounted by elaborate carvings and scroll work of vines and
leaves, while below, in faded gilt letters, appeared the legend
"Pontiac--Marseilles." The effect of this incongruity was
startling. It is related that an inebriated miner, impeded by mud
and drink before its door, was found gazing at its remarkable
facade with an expression of the deepest despondency. "I hev lived
a free life, pardner," he explained thickly to the Samaritan who
succored him, "and every time since I've been on this six weeks'
jamboree might have kalkilated it would come to this. Snakes I've
seen afore now, and rats I'm not unfamiliar with, but when it comes
to the starn of a ship risin' up out of the street, I reckon it's
time to pass in my checks." "It IS a ship, you blasted old
soaker," said the Samaritan curtly.
It was indeed a ship. A ship run ashore and abandoned on the beach
years before by her gold-seeking crew, with the debris of her
scattered stores and cargo, overtaken by the wild growth of the
strange city and the reclamation of the muddy flat, wherein she lay
hopelessly imbedded; her retreat cut off by wharves and quays and
breakwater, jostled at first by sheds, and then impacted in a block
of solid warehouses and dwellings, her rudder, port, and counter
boarded in, and now gazing hopelessly through her cabin windows
upon the busy street before her. But still a ship despite her
transformation. The faintest line of contour yet left visible
spoke of the buoyancy of another element; the balustrade of her
roof was unmistakably a taffrail. The rain slipped from her
swelling sides with a certain lingering touch of the sea; the soil
around her was still treacherous with its suggestions, and even the
wind whistled nautically over her chimney. If, in the fury of some
southwesterly gale, she had one night slipped her strange moorings
and left a shining track through the lower town to the distant sea,
no one would have been surprised.
Least of all, perhaps, her present owner and possessor, Mr. Abner
Nott. For by the irony of circumstances, Mr. Nott was a Far
Western farmer who had never seen a ship before, nor a larger
stream of water than a tributary of the Missouri River. In a
spirit, half of fascination, half of speculation, he had bought her
at the time of her abandonment, and had since mortgaged his ranch
at Petaluma with his live stock, to defray the expenses of filling
in the land where she stood, and the improvements of the vicinity.
He had transferred his household goods and his only daughter to her
cabin, and had divided the space "between decks" and her hold into
lodging-rooms, and lofts for the storage of goods. It could hardly
be said that the investment had been profitable. His tenants
vaguely recognized that his occupancy was a sentimental rather than
a commercial speculation, and often generously lent themselves to
the illusion by not paying their rent. Others treated their own
tenancy as a joke,--a quaint recreation born of the childlike
familiarity of frontier intercourse. A few had left carelessly
abandoning their unsalable goods to their landlord, with great
cheerfulness and a sense of favor. Occasionally Mr. Abner Nott, in
a practical relapse, raged against the derelicts, and talked of
dispossessing them, or even dismantling his tenement, but he was
easily placated by a compliment to the "dear old ship," or an
effort made by some tenant to idealize his apartment. A
photographer who had ingeniously utilized the forecastle for a
gallery (accessible from the bows in the next street), paid no
further tribute than a portrait of the pretty face of Rosey Nott.
The superstitious reverence in which Abner Nott held his monstrous
fancy was naturally enhanced by his purely bucolic exaggeration of
its real functions and its native element. "This yer keel has
sailed, and sailed, and sailed," he would explain with some
incongruity of illustration, "in a bee line, makin' tracks for days
runnin'. I reckon more storms and blizzards hez tackled her then
you ken shake a stick at. She's stampeded whales afore now, and
sloshed round with pirates and freebooters in and outer the Spanish
Main, and across lots from Marcelleys where she was rared. And yer
she sits peaceful-like just ez if she'd never been outer a pertater
patch, and hadn't ploughed the sea with fo'sails and studdin' sails
and them things cavortin' round her masts."
Abner Nott's enthusiasm was shared by his daughter, but with more
imagination, and an intelligence stimulated by the scant literature
of her father's emigrant wagon and the few books found on the cabin
shelves. But to her the strange shell she inhabited suggested more
of the great world than the rude, chaotic civilization she saw from
the cabin windows or met in the persons of her father's lodgers.
Shut up for days in this quaint tenement, she had seen it change
from the enchanted playground of her childish fancy to the theatre
of her active maidenhood, but without losing her ideal romance in
it. She had translated its history in her own way, read its quaint
nautical hieroglyphics after her own fashion, and possessed herself
of its secrets. She had in fancy made voyages in it to foreign
lands; had heard the accents of a softer tongue on its decks, and
on summer nights, from the roof of the quarter-deck, had seen
mellower constellations take the place of the hard metallic glitter
of the Californian skies. Sometimes, in her isolation, the long,
cylindrical vault she inhabited seemed, like some vast sea-shell,
to become musical with the murmurings of the distant sea. So
completely had it taken the place of the usual instincts of
feminine youth that she had forgotten she was pretty, or that her
dresses were old in fashion and scant in quantity. After the first
surprise of admiration her father's lodgers ceased to follow the
abstracted nymph except with their eyes,--partly respecting her
spiritual shyness, partly respecting the jealous supervision of the
paternal Nott. She seldom penetrated the crowded centre of the
growing city; her rare excursions were confined to the old ranch at
Petaluma, whence she brought flowers and plants, and even
extemporized a hanging-garden on the quarter-deck.
It was still raining, and the wind, which had increased to a gale,
was dashing the drops against the slanting cabin windows with a
sound like spray when Mr. Abner Nott sat before a table seriously
engaged with his accounts. For it was "steamer night,"--as that
momentous day of reckoning before the sailing of the regular mail
steamer was briefly known to commercial San Francisco,--and Mr.
Nott was subject at such times to severely practical relapses. A
swinging light seemed to bring into greater relief that peculiar
encased casket-like security of the low-timbered, tightly-fitting
apartment, with its toy-like utilities of space, and made the
pretty oval face of Rosey Nott appear a characteristic ornament.
The sliding door of the cabin communicated with the main deck, now
roofed in and partitioned off so as to form a small passage that
led to the open starboard gangway, where a narrow, inclosed
staircase built on the ship's side took the place of the ship's
ladder under her counter, and opened in the street.
A dash of rain against the window caused Rosey to lift her eyes
from her book.
"It's much nicer here than at the ranch, father," she said
coaxingly, "even leaving alone its being a beautiful ship instead
of a shanty; the wind don't whistle through the cracks and blow out
the candle when you're reading, nor the rain spoil your things hung
up against the wall. And you look more like a gentleman sitting in
his own--ship--you know, looking over his bills and getting ready
to give his orders."
Vague and general as Miss Rosey's compliment was, it had its full
effect upon her father, who was at times dimly conscious of his
hopeless rusticity and its incongruity with his surroundings.
"Yes," he said awkwardly, with a slight relaxation of his
aggressive attitude; "yes, in course it's more bang-up style, but
it don't pay--Rosey--it don't pay. Yer's the Pontiac that oughter
be bringin' in, ez rents go, at least three hundred a month, don't
make her taxes. I bin thinkin' seriously of sellin' her."
As Rosey knew her father had experienced this serious contemplation
on the first of every month for the last two years, and cheerfully
ignored it the next day, she only said, "I'm sure the vacant rooms
and lofts are all rented, father."
"That's it," returned Mr. Nott thoughtfully, plucking at his bushy
whiskers with his fingers and thumb as if he were removing dead and
sapless incumbranees in their growth, "that's just what it is--
them's ez in it themselves don't pay, and them ez haz left their
goods--the goods don't pay. The feller ez stored them iron sugar
kettles in the forehold, after trying to get me to make another
advance on 'em, sez he believes he'll have to sacrifice 'em to me
after all, and only begs I'd give him a chance of buying back the
half of 'em ten years from now, at double what I advanced him. The
chap that left them five hundred cases of hair dye 'tween decks and
then skipped out to Sacramento, met me the other day in the street
and advised me to use a bottle ez an advertisement, or try it on
the starn of the Pontiac for fire-proof paint. That foolishness ez
all he's good for. And yet thar might be suthin' in the paint, if
a feller had nigger luck. Ther's that New York chap ez bought up
them damaged boxes of plug terbaker for fifty dollars a thousand,
and sold 'em for foundations for that new building in Sansome
Street at a thousand clear profit. It's all luck, Rosey."
The girl's eyes had wandered again to the pages of her book.
Perhaps she was already familiar with the text of her father's
monologue. But recognizing an additional querulousness in his
voice, she laid the book aside and patiently folded her hands in
"That's right--for I've suthin' to tell ye. The fact is Sleight
wants to buy the Pontiac out and out just ez she stands with the
two fifty vara lots she stands on."
"Sleight wants to buy her? Sleight?" echoed Rosey incredulously.
"You bet! Sleight--the big financier, the smartest man in
"What does he want to buy her for?" asked Rosey, knitting her
The apparently simple question suddenly puzzled Mr. Nott. He
glanced feebly at his daughter's face, and frowned in vacant
irritation. "That's so," he said, drawing a long breath; "there's
suthin' in that."
"What did he SAY?" continued the young girl, impatiently.
"Not much. 'You've got the Pontiac, Nott,' sez he. 'You bet!' sez
I. 'What'll you take for her and the lot she stands on?' sez he,
short and sharp. Some fellers, Rosey," said Nott, with a cunning
smile, "would hev blurted out a big figger and been cotched. That
ain't my style. I just looked at him. 'I'll wait fur your figgers
until next steamer day,' sez he, and off he goes like a shot. He's
awfully sharp, Rosey."
"But if he is sharp, father, and he really wants to buy the ship,"
returned Rosey, thoughfully, "it's only because he knows it's
valuable property, and not because he likes it as we do. He can't
take that value away even if we don't sell it to him, and all the
while we have the comfort of the dear old Pontiac, don't you see?"
This exhaustive commercial reasoning was so sympathetic to Mr.
Nott's instincts that he accepted it as conclusive. He, however,
deemed it wise to still preserve his practical attitude. "But that
don't make it pay by the month, Rosey. Suthin' must be done. I'm
thinking I'll clean out that photographer."
"Not just after he's taken such a pretty view of the cabin front of
the Pontiac from the street, father! No! he's going to give us a
copy, and put the other in a shop window in Montgomery Street."
"That's so," said Mr. Nott, musingly; "it's no slouch of an
advertisement. 'The Pontiac,' the property of A. Nott, Esq., of
St. Jo, Missouri. Send it on to your Aunt Phoebe; sorter make the
old folks open their eyes--oh? Well, seein' he's been to some
expense fittin' up an entrance from the other street, we'll let him
slide. But as to that d----d old Frenchman Ferrers, in the next
loft, with his stuck-up airs and high-falutin style, we must get
quit of him; he's regularly gouged me in that ere horsehair
"How can you say that, father!" said Rosey, with a slight increase
of color. "It was your own offer. You know those bales of curled
horsehair were left behind by the late tenant to pay his rent.
When Mr. de Ferrieres rented the room afterwards, you told him
you'd throw them in in the place of repairs and furniture. It was
your own offer."
"Yes, but I didn't reckon ther'd ever be a big price per pound paid
for the darned stuff for sofys and cushions and sich."
"How do you know HE knew it, father?" responded Rosey.
"Then why did he look so silly at first, and then put on airs when
I joked him about it, eh?"
"Perhaps he didn't understand your joking, father. He's a
foreigner, and shy and proud, and--not like the others. I don't
think he knew what you meant then, any more than he believed he was
making a bargain before. He may be poor, but I think he's been--a--
The young girl's animation penetrated even Mr. Nott's slow
comprehension. Her novel opposition, and even the prettiness it
enhanced, gave him a dull premonition of pain. His small round
eyes became abstracted, his mouth remained partly open, even his
fresh color slightly paled.
"You seem to have been takin' stock of this yer man, Rosey," he
said, with a faint attempt at archness; "if he warn't ez old ez a
crow, for all his young feathers, I'd think he was makin' up to
But the passing glow had faded from her young cheeks, and her eyes
wandered again to her book. "He pays his rent regularly every
steamer night," she said, quietly, as if dismissing an exhausted
subject, "and he'll be here in a moment, I dare say." She took up
her book, and leaning her head on her hand, once more became
absorbed in its pages.
An uneasy silence followed. The rain beat against the windows, the
ticking of a clock became audible, but still Mr. Nott sat with
vacant eyes fixed on his daughter's face, and the constrained smile
on his lips. He was conscious that he had never seen her look so
pretty before, yet he could not tell why this was no longer an
unalloyed satisfaction. Not but that he had always accepted the
admiration of others for her as a matter of course, but for the
first time he became conscious that she not only had an interest in
others, but apparently a superior knowledge of them. How did she
know these things about this man, and why had she only now
accidentally spoken of them? HE would have done so. All this
passed so vaguely through his unreflective mind, that he was unable
to retain any decided impression, but the far-reaching one that his
lodger had obtained some occult influence over her through the
exhibition of his baleful skill in the horsehair speculation.
"Them tricks is likely to take a young girl's fancy. I must look