Part 1 out of 4
This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, firstname.lastname@example.org
by Bret Harte
As the master of the Indian Spring school emerged from the pine
woods into the little clearing before the schoolhouse, he stopped
whistling, put his hat less jauntily on his head, threw away some
wild flowers he had gathered on his way, and otherwise assumed the
severe demeanor of his profession and his mature age--which was at
least twenty. Not that he usually felt this an assumption; it was
a firm conviction of his serious nature that he impressed others,
as he did himself, with the blended austerity and ennui of deep and
The building which was assigned to him and his flock by the Board
of Education of Tuolumne County, California, had been originally a
church. It still bore a faded odor of sanctity, mingled, however,
with a later and slightly alcoholic breath of political discussion,
the result of its weekly occupation under the authority of the
Board as a Tribune for the enunciation of party principles and
devotion to the Liberties of the People. There were a few dog-
eared hymn-books on the teacher's desk, and the blackboard but
imperfectly hid an impassioned appeal to the citizens of Indian
Spring to "Rally" for Stebbins as Supervisor. The master had been
struck with the size of the black type in which this placard was
printed, and with a shrewd perception of its value to the round
wandering eyes of his smaller pupils, allowed it to remain as a
pleasing example of orthography. Unfortunately, although
subdivided and spelt by them in its separate letters with painful
and perfect accuracy, it was collectively known as "Wally," and its
general import productive of vague hilarity.
Taking a large key from his pocket, the master unlocked the door
and threw it open, stepping back with a certain precaution begotten
of his experience in once finding a small but sociable rattlesnake
coiled up near the threshold. A slight disturbance which followed
his intrusion showed the value of that precaution, and the fact
that the room had been already used for various private and
peaceful gatherings of animated nature. An irregular attendance of
yellow-birds and squirrels dismissed themselves hurriedly through
the broken floor and windows, but a golden lizard, stiffened
suddenly into stony fright on the edge of an open arithmetic,
touched the heart of the master so strongly by its resemblance to
some kept-in and forgotten scholar who had succumbed over the task
he could not accomplish, that he was seized with compunction.
Recovering himself, and re-establishing, as it were, the decorous
discipline of the room by clapping his hands and saying "Sho!" he
passed up the narrow aisle of benches, replacing the forgotten
arithmetic, and picking up from the desks here and there certain
fragmentary pieces of plaster and crumbling wood that had fallen
from the ceiling, as if this grove of Academus had been shedding
its leaves overnight. When he reached his own desk he lifted the
lid and remained for some moments motionless, gazing into it. His
apparent meditation however was simply the combined reflection of
his own features in a small pocket-mirror in its recesses and a
perplexing doubt in his mind whether the sacrifice of his budding
moustache was not essential to the professional austerity of his
countenance. But he was presently aware of the sound of small
voices, light cries, and brief laughter scattered at vague and
remote distances from the schoolhouse--not unlike the birds and
squirrels he had just dispossessed. He recognized by these signs
that it was nine o'clock, and his scholars were assembling.
They came in their usual desultory fashion--the fashion of country
school-children the world over--irregularly, spasmodically, and
always as if accidentally; a few hand-in-hand, others driven ahead
of or dropped behind their elders; some in straggling groups more
or less coherent and at times only connected by far-off intermediate
voices scattered on a space of half a mile, but never quite alone;
always preoccupied by something else than the actual business on
hand; appearing suddenly from ditches, behind trunks, and between
fence-rails; cropping up in unexpected places along the road after
vague and purposeless detours--seemingly going anywhere and
everywhere but to school! So unlooked-for, in fact, was their final
arrival that the master, who had a few moments before failed to
descry a single torn straw hat or ruined sun-bonnet above his
visible horizon, was always startled to find them suddenly under his
windows, as if, like the birds, they had alighted from the trees.
Nor was their moral attitude towards their duty any the more varied;
they always arrived as if tired and reluctant, with a doubting
sulkiness that perhaps afterwards beamed into a charming hypocrisy,
but invariably temporizing with their instincts until the last
moment, and only relinquishing possible truancy on the very
threshold. Even after they were marshalled on their usual benches
they gazed at each other every morning with a perfectly fresh
astonishment and a daily recurring enjoyment of some hidden joke in
this tremendous rencontre.
It had been the habit of the master to utilize these preliminary
vagrancies of his little flock by inviting them on assembling to
recount any interesting incident of their journey hither; or
failing this, from their not infrequent shyness in expressing what
had secretly interested them, any event that had occurred within
their knowledge since they last met. He had done this, partly to
give them time to recover themselves in that more formal atmosphere,
and partly, I fear, because, notwithstanding his conscientious
gravity, it greatly amused him. It also diverted them from their
usual round-eyed, breathless contemplation of himself--a regular
morning inspection which generally embraced every detail of his
dress and appearance, and made every change or deviation the subject
of whispered comment or stony astonishment. He knew that they knew
him more thoroughly than he did himself, and shrank from the
intuitive vision of these small clairvoyants.
"Well?" said the master gravely.
There was the usual interval of bashful hesitation, verging on
nervous hilarity or hypocritical attention. For the last six
months this question by the master had been invariably received
each morning as a veiled pleasantry which might lead to baleful
information or conceal some query out of the dreadful books before
him. Yet this very element of danger had its fascinations. Johnny
Filgee, a small boy, blushed violently, and, without getting up,
began hurriedly in a high key, "Tige ith got," and then suddenly
subsided into a whisper.
"Speak up, Johnny," said the master encouragingly.
"Please, sir, it ain't anythin' he's seed--nor any real news," said
Rupert Filgee, his elder brother, rising with family concern and
frowning openly upon Johnny; "it's jest his foolishness; he oughter
be licked." Finding himself unexpectedly on his feet, and
apparently at the end of a long speech, he colored also, and then
said hurriedly, "Jimmy Snyder--HE seed suthin'. Ask HIM!" and sat
down--a recognized hero.
Every eye, including the master's, was turned on Jimmy Snyder. But
that youthful observer, instantly diving his head and shoulders
into his desk, remained there gurgling as if under water. Two or
three nearest him endeavored with some struggling to bring him to
an intelligible surface again. The master waited patiently.
Johnny Filgee took advantage of the diversion to begin again in a
high key, "Tige ith got thix," and subsided.
"Come, Jimmy," said the master, with a touch of peremptoriness.
Thus adjured, Jimmy Snyder came up glowingly, and bristling with
full stops and exclamation points. "Seed a black b'ar comin' outer
Daves' woods," he said excitedly. "Nigh to me ez you be. 'N big
ez a hoss; 'n snarlin'! 'n snappin'!--like gosh! Kem along--ker--
clump torords me. Reckoned he'd skeer me! Didn't skeer me worth a
cent. I heaved a rock at him--I did now!" (in defiance of murmurs
of derisive comment)--"'n he slid. Ef he'd kem up furder I'd hev
up with my slate and swotted him over the snoot--bet your boots!"
The master here thought fit to interfere, and gravely point out
that the habit of striking bears as large as a horse with a school-
slate was equally dangerous to the slate (which was also the
property of Tuolumne County) and to the striker; and that the verb
"to swot" and the noun substantive "snoot" were likewise
indefensible, and not to be tolerated. Thus admonished Jimmy
Snyder, albeit unshaken in his faith in his own courage, sat down.
A slight pause ensued. The youthful Filgee, taking advantage of
it, opened in a higher key, "Tige ith"--but the master's attention
was here diverted by the searching eyes of Octavia Dean, a girl of
eleven, who after the fashion of her sex preferred a personal
recognition of her presence before she spoke. Succeeding in
catching his eye, she threw back her long hair from her shoulders
with an easy habitual gesture, rose, and with a faint accession of
"Cressy McKinstry came home from Sacramento. Mrs. McKinstry told
mother she's comin' back here to school."
The master looked up with an alacrity perhaps inconsistent with his
cynical austerity. Seeing the young girl curiously watching him
with an expectant smile, he regretted it. Cressy McKinstry, who
was sixteen years old, had been one of the pupils he had found at
the school when he first came. But as he had also found that she
was there in the extraordinary attitude of being "engaged" to one
Seth Davis, a fellow-pupil of nineteen, and as most of the
courtship was carried on freely and unceremoniously during school-
hours with the full permission of the master's predecessor, the
master had been obliged to point out to the parents of the devoted
couple the embarrassing effects of this association on the
discipline of the school. The result had been the withdrawal of
the lovers, and possibly the good-will of the parents. The return
of the young lady was consequently a matter of some significance.
Had the master's protest been accepted, or had the engagement
itself been broken off?
Either was not improbable. His momentary loss of attention was
Johnny Filgee's great gain.
"Tige," said Johnny, with sudden and alarming distinctness, "ith
got thix pupths--mothly yaller."
In the laugh which followed this long withheld announcement of an
increase in the family of Johnny's yellow and disreputable setter
"Tiger," who usually accompanied him to school and howled outside,
the master joined with marked distinctness. Then he said, with
equally marked severity, "Books!" The little levee was ended, and
It continued for two hours with short sighs, corrugations of small
foreheads, the complaining cries and scratchings of slate pencils
over slates, and other signs of minor anguish among the more
youthful of the flock; and with more or less whisperings, movements
of the lips, and unconscious soliloquy among the older pupils. The
master moved slowly up and down the aisle with a word of
encouragement or explanation here and there, stopping with his
hands behind him to gaze abstractedly out of the windows to the
wondering envy of the little ones. A faint hum, as of invisible
insects, gradually pervaded the school; the more persistent droning
of a large bee had become dangerously soporific. The hot breath of
the pines without had invaded the doors and windows; the warped
shingles and weather-boarding at times creaked and snapped under
the rays of the vertical and unclouded sun. A gentle perspiration
broke out like a mild epidemic in the infant class; little curls
became damp, brief lashes limp, round eyes moist, and small eyelids
heavy. The master himself started, and awoke out of a perilous
dream of other eyes and hair to collect himself severely. For the
irresolute, half-embarrassed, half-lazy figure of a man had halted
doubtingly before the porch and open door. Luckily the children,
who were facing the master with their backs to the entrance, did
not see it.
Yet the figure was neither alarming nor unfamiliar. The master at
once recognized it as Ben Dabney, otherwise known as "Uncle Ben," a
good-humored but not over-bright miner, who occupied a small cabin
on an unambitious claim in the outskirts of Indian Spring. His
avuncular title was evidently only an ironical tribute to his
amiable incompetency and heavy good-nature, for he was still a
young man with no family ties, and by reason of his singular
shyness not even a visitor in the few families of the neighborhood.
As the master looked up, he had an irritating recollection that Ben
had been already haunting him for the last two days, alternately
appearing and disappearing in his path to and from school as a more
than usually reserved and bashful ghost. This, to the master's
cynical mind, clearly indicated that, like most ghosts, he had
something of essentially selfish import to communicate. Catching
the apparition's half-appealing eye, he proceeded to exorcise it
with a portentous frown and shake of the head, that caused it to
timidly wane and fall away from the porch, only however to reappear
and wax larger a few minutes later at one of the side windows. The
infant class hailing his appearance as a heaven-sent boon, the
master was obliged to walk to the door and command him sternly
away, when, retreating to the fence, he mounted the uppermost rail,
and drawing a knife from his pocket, cut a long splinter from the
rail, and began to whittle it in patient and meditative silence.
But when recess was declared, and the relieved feelings of the
little flock had vent in the clearing around the schoolhouse, the
few who rushed to the spot found that Uncle Ben had already
disappeared. Whether the appearance of the children was too
inconsistent with his ghostly mission, or whether his heart failed
him at the last moment, the master could not determine. Yet,
distasteful as the impending interview promised to be, the master
was vaguely and irritatingly disappointed.
A few hours later, when school was being dismissed, the master
found Octavia Dean lingering near his desk. Looking into the
girl's mischievous eyes, he good-humoredly answered their
expectation by referring to her morning's news. "I thought Miss
McKinstry had been married by this time," he said carelessly.
Octavia, swinging her satchel like a censer, as if she were
performing some act of thurification over her completed tasks,
replied demurely: "Oh no! dear no--not THAT."
"So it would seem," said the master.
"I reckon she never kalkilated to, either," continued Octavia,
slyly looking up from the corner of her lashes.
"No--she was just funning with Seth Davis--that's all."
"Funning with him?"
"Yes, sir. Kinder foolin' him, you know."
"Kinder foolin' him!"
For an instant the master felt it his professional duty to protest
against this most unmaidenly and frivolous treatment of the
matrimonial engagement, but a second glance at the significant face
of his youthful auditor made him conclude that her instinctive
knowledge of her own sex could be better trusted than his imperfect
theories. He turned towards his desk without speaking. Octavia
gave an extra swing to her satchel, tossing it over her shoulder
with a certain small coquettishness and moved towards the door. As
she did so the infant Filgee from the safe vantage of the porch
where he had lingered was suddenly impelled to a crowning audacity!
As if struck with an original idea, but apparently addressing
himself to space, he cried out, "Crethy M'Kinthry likth teacher,"
and instantly vanished.
Putting these incidents sternly aside, the master addressed himself
to the task of setting a few copies for the next day as the voices
of his departing flock faded from the porch. Presently a silence
fell upon the little school-house. Through the open door a cool,
restful breath stole gently as if nature were again stealthily
taking possession of her own. A squirrel boldly came across the
porch, a few twittering birds charging in stopped, beat the air
hesitatingly for a moment with their wings, and fell back with
bashfully protesting breasts aslant against the open door and the
unlooked-for spectacle of the silent occupant. Then there was
another movement of intrusion, but this time human, and the master
looked up angrily to behold Uncle Ben.
He entered with a slow exasperating step, lifting his large boots
very high and putting them down again softly as if he were afraid
of some insecurity in the floor, or figuratively recognized the
fact that the pathways of knowledge were thorny and difficult.
Reaching the master's desk and the ministering presence above it,
he stopped awkwardly, and with the rim of his soft felt hat
endeavored to wipe from his face the meek smile it had worn when he
entered. It chanced also that he had halted before the minute
stool of the infant Filgee, and his large figure instantly assumed
such Brobdingnagian proportions in contrast that he became more
embarrassed than ever. The master made no attempt to relieve him,
but regarded him with cold interrogation.
"I reckoned," he began, leaning one hand on the master's desk with
affected ease, as he dusted his leg with his hat with the other, "I
reckoned--that is--I allowed--I orter say--that I'd find ye alone
at this time. Ye gin'rally are, ye know. It's a nice, soothin',
restful, stoodious time, when a man kin, so to speak, run back on
his eddication and think of all he ever knowed. Ye're jist like
me, and ye see I sorter spotted your ways to onct."
"Then why did you come here this morning and disturb the school?"
demanded the master sharply.
"That's so, I sorter slipped up thar, didn't I?" said Uncle Ben
with a smile of rueful assent. "You see I didn't allow to COME IN
then, but on'y to hang round a leetle and kinder get used to it,
and it to me."
"Used to what?" said the master impatiently, albeit with a slight
softening at his intruder's penitent expression.
Uncle Ben did not reply immediately, but looked around as if for a
seat, tried one or two benches and a desk with his large hand as if
testing their security, and finally abandoning the idea as
dangerous, seated himself on the raised platform beside the
master's chair, having previously dusted it with the flap of his
hat. Finding, however, that the attitude was not conducive to
explanation, he presently rose again, and picking up one of the
school-books from the master's desk eyed it unskilfully upside
down, and then said hesitatingly,--
"I reckon ye ain't usin' Dobell's 'Rithmetic here?"
"No," said the master.
"That's bad. 'Pears to be played out--that Dobell feller. I was
brought up on Dobell. And Parsings' Grammar? Ye don't seem to be
a using Parsings' Grammar either?"
"No," said the master, relenting still more as he glanced at Uncle
Ben's perplexed face with a faint smile.
"And I reckon you'd be saying the same of Jones' 'Stronomy and
Algebry? Things hev changed. You've got all the new style here,"
he continued, with affected carelessness, but studiously avoiding
the master's eye. "For a man ez wos brought up on Parsings,
Dobell, and Jones, thar don't appear to be much show nowadays."
The master did not reply. Observing several shades of color chase
each other on Uncle Ben's face, he bent his own gravely over his
books. The act appeared to relieve his companion, who with his
eyes still turned towards the window went on:
"Ef you'd had them books--which you haven't--I had it in my mind to
ask you suthen'. I had an idea of--of--sort of reviewing my
eddication. Kinder going over the old books agin--jist to pass the
time. Sorter running in yer arter school hours and doin' a little
practisin', eh? You looking on me as an extry scholar--and I
payin' ye as sich--but keepin' it 'twixt ourselves, you know--just
for a pastime, eh?"
As the master smilingly raised his head, he became suddenly and
ostentatiously attracted to the window.
"Them jay birds out there is mighty peart, coming right up to the
school-house! I reckon they think it sort o' restful too."
"But if you really mean it, couldn't you use these books, Uncle
Ben?" said the master cheerfully. "I dare say there's little
difference--the principle is the same, you know."
Uncle Ben's face, which had suddenly brightened, as suddenly fell.
He took the book from the master's hand without meeting his eyes,
held it at arm's length, turned it over and then laid it softly
down upon the desk as if it were some excessively fragile article.
"Certingly," he murmured, with assumed reflective ease. "Certingly.
The principle's all there." Nevertheless he was quite breathless
and a few beads of perspiration stood out upon his smooth, blank
"And as to writing, for instance," continued the master with
increasing heartiness as he took notice of these phenomena, "you
know ANY copy-book will do."
He handed his pen carelessly to Uncle Ben. The large hand that
took it timidly not only trembled but grasped it with such fatal
and hopeless unfamiliarity that the master was fain to walk to the
window and observe the birds also.
"They're mighty bold--them jays," said Uncle Ben, laying down the
pen with scrupulous exactitude beside the book and gazing at his
fingers as if he had achieved a miracle of delicate manipulation.
"They don't seem to be afeared of nothing, do they?"
There was another pause. The master suddenly turned from the
window. "I tell you what, Uncle Ben," he said with prompt decision
and unshaken gravity, "the only thing for you to do is to just
throw over Dobell and Parsons and Jones and the old quill pen that
I see you're accustomed to, and start in fresh as if you'd never
known them. Forget 'em all, you know. It will be mighty hard of
course to do that," he continued, looking out of the window, "but
you must do it."
He turned back, the brightness that transfigured Uncle Ben's face
at that moment brought a slight moisture into his own eyes. The
humble seeker of knowledge said hurriedly that he would try.
"And begin again at the beginning," continued the master cheerfully.
"Exactly like one of those--in fact, as if you REALLY were a child
"That's so," said Uncle Ben, rubbing his hands delightedly, "that's
me! Why, that's jest what I was sayin' to Roop"--
"Then you've already been talking about it?" intercepted the master
in some surprise. "I thought you wanted it kept secret?"
"Well, yes," responded Uncle Ben dubiously. "But you see I sorter
agreed with Roop Filgee that if you took to my ideas and didn't
object, I'd give him two bits* every time he'd kem here and help me
of an arternoon when you was away and kinder stand guard around the
school-house, you know, so as to keep the fellows off. And Roop's
mighty sharp for a boy, ye know."
* Two bits, i. e., twenty-five cents.
The master reflected a moment and concluded that Uncle Ben was
probably right. Rupert Filgee, who was a handsome boy of fourteen,
was also a strongly original character whose youthful cynicism and
blunt, honest temper had always attracted him. He was a fair
scholar, with a possibility of being a better one, and the proposed
arrangement with Uncle Ben would not interfere with the discipline
of school hours and might help them both. Nevertheless he asked
good-humoredly, "But couldn't you do this more securely and easily
in your own house? I might lend you the books, you know, and come
to you twice a week."
Uncle Ben's radiant face suddenly clouded. "It wouldn't be exactly
the same kind o' game to me an' Roop," he said hesitatingly. "You
see thar's the idea o' the school-house, ye know, and the
restfulness and the quiet, and the gen'ral air o' study. And the
boys around town ez wouldn't think nothin' o' trapsen' into my
cabin if they spotted what I was up to thar, would never dream o'
hunting me here."
"Very well," said the master, "let it be here then." Observing
that his companion seemed to be struggling with an inarticulate
gratitude and an apparently inextricable buckskin purse in his
pocket, he added quietly, "I'll set you a few copies to commence
with," and began to lay out a few unfinished examples of Master
Johnny Filgee's scholastic achievements.
"After thanking YOU, Mr. Ford," said Uncle Ben, faintly, "ef you'll
jest kinder signify, you know, what you consider a fair"--
Mr. Ford turned quickly and dexterously offered his hand to his
companion in such a manner that he was obliged to withdraw his own
from his pocket to grasp it in return. "You're very welcome," said
the master, "and as I can only permit this sort of thing
gratuitously, you'd better NOT let me know that you propose giving
anything even to Rupert." He shook Uncle Ben's perplexed hand
again, briefly explained what he had to do, and saying that he
would now leave him alone a few minutes, he took his hat and walked
towards the door.
"Then you reckon," said Uncle Ben slowly, regarding the work before
him, "that I'd better jest chuck them Dobell fellers overboard?"
"I certainly should," responded the master with infinite gravity.
"And sorter waltz in fresh, like one them children?"
"Like a child," nodded the master as he left the porch.
A few moments later, as he was finishing his cigar in the clearing,
he paused to glance in at the school-room window. Uncle Ben,
stripped of his coat and waistcoat, with his shirt-sleeves rolled
up on his powerful arms, had evidently cast Dobell and all
misleading extraneous aid aside, and with the perspiration standing
out on his foolish forehead, and his perplexed face close to the
master's desk, was painfully groping along towards the light in the
tottering and devious tracks of Master Johnny Filgee, like a very
As the children were slowly straggling to their places the next
morning, the master waited for an opportunity to speak to Rupert.
That beautiful but scarcely amiable youth was, as usual, surrounded
and impeded by a group of his small female admirers, for whom, it
is but just to add, he had a supreme contempt. Possibly it was
this healthy quality that inclined the master towards him, and it
was consequently with some satisfaction that he overheard fragments
of his openly disparaging comments upon his worshippers.
"There!" to Clarinda Jones, "don't flop! And don't YOU," to
Octavia Dean, "go on breathing over my head like that. If there's
anything I hate it's having a girl breathing round me. Yes, you
were! I felt it in my hair. And YOU too--you're always snoopin'
and snoodgin'. Oh, yes, you want to know WHY I've got an extry
copy-book and another 'Rithmetic, Miss Curiosity. Well, what would
you give to know? Want to see if they're PRETTY" (with infinite
scorn at the adjective). "No, they ain't PRETTY. That's all you
girls think about--what's PRETTY and what's curious! Quit now!
Come! Don't ye see teacher lookin' at you? Ain't you ashamed?"
He caught the master's beckoning eye and came forward, slightly
abashed, with a flush of irritation still on his handsome face, and
his chestnut curls slightly rumpled. One, which Octavia had
covertly accented by twisting round her forefinger, stood up like a
crest on his head.
"I've told Uncle Ben that you might help him here after school
hours," said the master, taking him aside. "You may therefore omit
your writing exercise in the morning and do it in the afternoon."
The boy's dark eyes sparkled. "And if it would be all the same to
you, sir," he added earnestly, "you might sorter give out in school
that I was to be kept in."
"I'm afraid that would hardly do," said the master, much amused.
Rupert's color deepened. "So ez to keep them darned girls from
foolin' round me and followin' me back here."
"We will attend to that," said the master smiling; a moment after
he added more seriously, "I suppose your father knows that you are
to receive money for this? And he doesn't object?"
"He! Oh no!" returned Rupert with a slight look of astonishment,
and the same general suggestion of patronizing his progenitor that
he had previously shown to his younger brother. "You needn't mind
HIM." In reality Filgee pere, a widower of two years' standing,
had tacitly allowed the discipline of his family to devolve upon
Rupert. Remembering this, the master could only say, "Very well,"
and good-naturedly dismiss the pupil to his seat and the subject
from his mind. The last laggard had just slipped in, the master
had glanced over the occupied benches with his hand upon his
warning bell, when there was a quick step on the gravel, a flutter
of skirts like the sound of alighting birds, and a young woman
In the rounded, untouched, and untroubled freshness of her cheek
and chin, and the forward droop of her slender neck, she appeared a
girl of fifteen; in her developed figure and the maturer drapery of
her full skirts she seemed a woman; in her combination of naive
recklessness and perfect understanding of her person she was both.
In spite of a few school-books that jauntily swung from a strap in
her gloved hand, she bore no resemblance to a pupil; in her pretty
gown of dotted muslin with bows of blue ribbon on the skirt and
corsage, and a cluster of roses in her belt, she was as inconsistent
and incongruous to the others as a fashion-plate would have been in
the dry and dog-eared pages before them. Yet she carried it off
with a demure mingling of the naivete of youth and the aplomb of a
woman, and as she swept down the narrow aisle, burying a few small
wondering heads in the overflow of her flounces, there was no doubt
of her reception in the arch smile that dimpled her cheek. Dropping
a half curtsey to the master, the only suggestion of her equality
with the others, she took her place at one of the larger desks, and
resting her elbow on the lid began to quietly remove her gloves. It
was Cressy McKinstry.
Irritated and disturbed at the girl's unceremonious entrance, the
master for the moment recognized her salutation coldly, and
affected to ignore her elaborate appearance. The situation was
embarrassing. He could not decline to receive her as she was no
longer accompanied by her lover, nor could he plead entire
ignorance of her broken engagement; while to point out the glaring
inappropriateness of costume would be a fresh interference he knew
Indian Spring would scarcely tolerate. He could only accept such
explanation as she might choose to give. He rang his bell as much
to avert the directed eyes of the children as to bring the scene to
She had removed her gloves and was standing up.
"I reckon I can go on where I left off?" she said lazily, pointing
to the books she had brought with her.
"For the present," said the master dryly.
The first class was called. Later, when his duty brought him to
her side, he was surprised to find that she was evidently already
prepared with consecutive lessons, as if she were serenely
unconscious of any doubt of her return, and as coolly as if she had
only left school the day before. Her studies were still quite
elementary, for Cressy McKinstry had never been a brilliant
scholar, but he perceived, with a cynical doubt of its permanency,
that she had bestowed unusual care upon her present performance.
There was moreover a certain defiance in it, as if she had resolved
to stop any objection to her return on the score of deficiencies.
He was obliged in self-defence to take particular note of some
rings she wore, and a large bracelet that ostentatiously glittered
on her white arm--which had already attracted the attention of her
companions, and prompted the audible comment from Johnny Filgee
that it was "truly gold." Without meeting her eyes he contented
himself with severely restraining the glances of the children that
wandered in her direction. She had never been quite popular with
the school in her previous role of fiancee, and only Octavia Dean
and one or two older girls appreciated its mysterious fascination;
while the beautiful Rupert, secure in his avowed predilection for
the middle-aged wife of the proprietor of the Indian Spring hotel,
looked upon her as a precocious chit with more than the usual
propensity to objectionable "breathing." Nevertheless the master
was irritatingly conscious of her presence--a presence which now
had all the absurdity of her ridiculous love-experiences superadded
to it. He tried to reason with himself that it was only a phase of
frontier life, which ought to have amused him. But it did not.
The intrusion of this preposterous girl seemed to disarrange the
discipline of his life as well as of his school. The usual vague,
far-off dreams in which he was in the habit of indulging during
school-hours, dreams that were perhaps superinduced by the
remoteness of his retreat and a certain restful sympathy in his
little auditors, which had made him--the grown-up dreamer--
acceptable to them in his gentle understanding of their needs and
weaknesses, now seemed to have vanished forever.
At recess, Octavia Dean, who had drawn near Cressy and reached up
to place her arm round the older girl's waist, glanced at her with
a patronizing smile born of some rapid free-masonry, and laughingly
retired with the others. The master at his desk, and Cressy who
had halted in the aisle were left alone.
"I have had no intimation yet from your father or mother that you
were coming back to school again," he began. "But I suppose THEY
have decided upon your return?"
An uneasy suspicion of some arrangement with her former lover had
prompted the emphasis.
The young girl looked at him with languid astonishment. "I reckon
paw and maw ain't no objection," she said with the same easy
ignoring of parental authority that had characterized Rupert
Filgee, and which seemed to be a local peculiarity. "Maw DID offer
to come yer and see you, but I told her she needn't bother."
She rested her two hands behind her on the edge of a desk, and
leaned against it, looking down upon the toe of her smart little
shoe which was describing a small semicircle beyond the hem of her
gown. Her attitude, which was half-defiant, half-indolent, brought
out the pretty curves of her waist and shoulders. The master
noticed it and became a trifle more austere.
"Then I am to understand that this is a permanent thing?" he asked
"What's that?" said Cressy interrogatively.
"Am I to understand that you intend coming regularly to school?"
repeated the master curtly, "or is this merely an arrangement for a
"Oh," said Cressy comprehendingly, lifting her unabashed blue eyes
to his, "you mean THAT. Oh, THAT'S broke off. Yes," she added
contemptuously, making a larger semicircle with her foot, "that's
over--three weeks ago."
"And Seth Davis--does HE intend returning too?"
"He!" She broke into a light girlish laugh. "I reckon not much!
S'long's I'm here, at least." She had just lifted herself to a
sitting posture on the desk, so that her little feet swung clear of
the floor in their saucy dance. Suddenly she brought her heels
together and alighted. "So that's all?" she asked.
"Kin I go now?"
She laid her books one on the top of the other and lingered an
"Been quite well?" she asked with indolent politeness.
"You're lookin' right peart."
She walked with a Southern girl's undulating languor to the door,
opened it, then charged suddenly upon Octavia Dean, twirled her
round in a wild waltz and bore her away; appearing a moment after
on the playground demurely walking with her arm around her
companion's waist in an ostentatious confidence at once lofty,
exclusive, and exasperating to the smaller children.
When school was dismissed that afternoon and the master had
remained to show Rupert Filgee how to prepare Uncle Ben's tasks,
and had given his final instructions to his youthful vicegerent,
that irascible Adonis unburdened himself querulously:
"Is Cressy McKinstry comin' reg'lar, Mr. Ford?"
"She is," said the master dryly. After a pause he asked, "Why?"
Rupert's curls had descended on his eyebrows in heavy discontent.
"It's mighty rough, jest ez a feller reckons he's got quit of her
and her jackass bo', to hev her prancin' back inter school agin,
and rigged out like ez if she'd been to a fire in a milliner's
"You shouldn't allow your personal dislikes, Rupert, to provoke you
to speak of a fellow-scholar in that way--and a young lady, too,"
corrected the master dryly.
"The woods is full o' sich feller-scholars and sich young ladies,
if yer keer to go a gunning for 'em," said Rupert with dark and
slangy significance. "Ef I'd known she was comin' back I'd"--he
stopped and brought his sunburnt fist against the seam of his
trousers with a boyish gesture, "I'd hev jist"--
"What?" said the master sharply.
"I'd hev played hookey till she left school agin! It moutn't hev
bin so long, neither," he added with a mysterious chuckle.
"That will do," said the master peremptorily. "For the present
you'll attend to your duty and try to make Uncle Ben see you're
something more than a foolish, prejudiced school-boy, or," he added
significantly, "he and I may both repent our agreement. Let me
have a good account of you both when I return."
He took his hat from its peg on the wall, and in obedience to a
suddenly formed resolution left the school-room to call upon the
parents of Cressy McKinstry. He was not quite certain what he
should say, but, after his habit, would trust to the inspiration of
the moment. At the worst he could resign a situation that now
appeared to require more tact and delicacy than seemed consistent
with his position, and he was obliged to confess to himself that he
had lately suspected that his present occupation--the temporary
expedient of a poor but clever young man of twenty--was scarcely
bringing him nearer a realization of his daily dreams. For Mr.
Jack Ford was a youthful pilgrim who had sought his fortune in
California so lightly equipped that even in the matter of kin and
advisers he was deficient. That prospective fortune had already
eluded him in San Francisco, had apparently not waited for him in
Sacramento, and now seemed never to have been at Indian Spring.
Nevertheless, when he was once out of sight of the school-house he
lit a cigar, put his hands in his pockets, and strode on with the
cheerfulness of that youth to which all things are possible.
The children had already dispersed as mysteriously and completely
as they had arrived. Between him and the straggling hamlet of
Indian Spring the landscape seemed to be without sound or motion.
The wooded upland or ridge on which the schoolhouse stood, half a
mile further on, began to slope gradually towards the river, on
whose banks, seen from that distance, the town appeared to have
been scattered irregularly or thrown together hastily, as if cast
ashore by some overflow--the Cosmopolitan Hotel drifting into the
Baptist church, and dragging in its tail of wreckage two saloons
and a blacksmith's shop; while the County Court-house was stranded
in solitary grandeur in a waste of gravel half a mile away. The
intervening flat was still gashed and furrowed by the remorseless
engines of earlier gold-seekers.
Mr. Ford was in little sympathy with this unsuccessful record of
frontier endeavor--the fortune HE had sought did not seem to lie in
that direction--and his eye glanced quickly beyond it to the pine-
crested hills across the river, whose primeval security was so near
and yet so inviolable, or back again to the trail he was pursuing
along the ridge. The latter prospect still retained its semi-
savage character in spite of the occasional suburban cottages of
residents, and the few outlying farms or ranches of the locality.
The grounds of the cottages were yet uncleared of underbrush; bear
and catamount still prowled around the rude fences of the ranches;
the late alleged experience of the infant Snyder was by no means
improbable or unprecedented.
A light breeze was seeking the heated flat and river, and thrilling
the leaves around him with the strong vitality of the forest. The
vibrating cross-lights and tremulous chequers of shade cast by the
stirred foliage seemed to weave a fantastic net around him as he
walked. The quaint odors of certain woodland herbs known to his
scholars, and religiously kept in their desks, or left like votive
offerings on the threshold of the school-house, recalled all the
primitive simplicity and delicious wildness of the little temple he
had left. Even in the mischievous glances of evasive squirrels and
the moist eyes of the contemplative rabbits there were faint
suggestions of some of his own truants. The woods were trembling
with gentle memories of the independence he had always known here--
of that sweet and grave retreat now so ridiculously invaded.
He began to hesitate, with one of those revulsions of sentiment
characteristic of his nature: Why should he bother himself about
this girl after all? Why not make up his mind to accept her as his
predecessor had done? Why was it necessary for him to find her
inconsistent with his ideas of duty to his little flock and his
mission to them? Was he not assuming a sense of decorum that was
open to misconception? The absurdity of her school costume, and
any responsibility it incurred, rested not with him but with her
parents. What right had he to point it out to them, and above all
how was he to do it? He halted irresolutely at what he believed
was his sober second thought, but which, like most reflections that
take that flattering title, was only a reaction as impulsive and
illogical as the emotion that preceded it.
Mr. McKinstry's "snake rail" fence was already discernible in the
lighter opening of the woods, not far from where he had halted. As
he stood there in hesitation, the pretty figure and bright gown of
Cressy McKinstry suddenly emerged from a more secluded trail that
intersected his own at an acute angle a few rods ahead of him. She
was not alone, but was accompanied by a male figure whose arm she
had evidently just dislodged from her waist. He was still trying
to resume his lost vantage; she was as resolutely evading him with
a certain nymph-like agility, while the sound of her half-laughing,
half-irate protest could be faintly heard. Without being able to
identify the face or figure of her companion at that distance, he
could see that it was NOT her former betrothed, Seth Davis.
A superior smile crossed his face; he no longer hesitated, but at
once resumed his former path. For some time Cressy and her
companion moved on quietly before him. Then on reaching the rail-
fence they turned abruptly to the right, were lost for an instant
in the intervening thicket, and the next moment Cressy appeared
alone, crossing the meadow in a shorter cut towards the house,
having either scaled the fence or slipped through some familiar
gap. Her companion had disappeared. Whether they had noticed that
they were observed he could not determine. He kept steadily along
the trail that followed the line of fence to the lane that led
directly to the farm-building, and pushed open the front gate as
Cressy's light dress vanished round an angle at the rear of the
The house of the McKinstrys rose, or rather stretched, itself
before him, in all the lazy ungainliness of Southwestern
architecture. A collection of temporary make-shifts of boards, of
logs, of canvas, prematurely decayed, and in some instances
abandoned for a newer erection, or degraded to mere outhouses--it
presented with singular frankness the nomadic and tentative
disposition of its founder. It had been repaired without being
improved; its additions had seemed only to extend its primitive
ugliness over a larger space. Its roofs were roughly shingled or
rudely boarded and battened, and the rafters of some of its "lean-
to's" were simply covered with tarred canvas. As if to settle any
doubt of the impossibility of this heterogeneous mass ever taking
upon itself any picturesque combination, a small building of
corrugated iron, transported in sections from some remoter
locality, had been set up in its centre. The McKinstry ranch had
long been an eyesore to the master: even that morning he had been
mutely wondering from what convolution of that hideous chrysalis
the bright butterfly Cressy had emerged. It was with a renewal of
this curiosity that he had just seen her flutter back to it again.
A yellow dog who had observed him hesitating in doubt where he
should enter, here yawned, rose from the sunlight where he had been
blinking, approached the master with languid politeness, and then
turned towards the iron building as if showing him the way. Mr.
Ford followed him cautiously, painfully conscious that his
hypocritical canine introducer was only availing himself of an
opportunity to gain ingress into the house, and was leading him as
a responsible accomplice to probable exposure and disgrace. His
expectation was quickly realized: a lazily querulous, feminine
outcry, with the words, "Yer's that darned hound agin!" came from
an adjacent room, and his exposed and abashed companion swiftly
retreated past him into the road again. Mr. Ford found himself
alone in a plainly-furnished sitting-room confronting the open door
leading to another apartment at which the figure of a woman,
preceded hastily by a thrown dishcloth, had just appeared. It was
Mrs. McKinstry; her sleeves were rolled up over her red but still
shapely arms, and as she stood there wiping them on her apron, with
her elbows advanced, and her closed hands raised alternately in the
air, there was an odd pugilistic suggestion in her attitude. It
was not lessened on her sudden discovery of the master by her
retreating backwards with her hands up and her elbows still well
forward as if warily retiring to an imaginary "corner."
Mr. Ford at once tactfully stepped back from the doorway. "I beg
your pardon," he said, delicately addressing the opposite wall,
"but I found the door open and I followed the dog."
"That's just one of his pizenous tricks," responded Mrs. McKinstry
dolefully from within. "On'y last week he let in a Chinaman, and
in the nat'ral hustlin' that follered he managed to help himself
outer the pork bar'l. There ain't no shade o' cussedness that
or'nary hound ain't up to." Yet notwithstanding this ominous
comparison she presently made her appearance with her sleeves
turned down, her black woollen dress "tidied," and a smile of
fatigued but not unkindly welcome and protection on her face.
Dusting a chair with her apron and placing it before the master,
she continued maternally, "Now that you're here, set ye right down
and make yourself to home. My men folks are all out o' door, but
some of 'em's sure to happen in soon for suthin'; that day ain't
yet created that they don't come huntin' up Mammy McKinstry every
five minutes for this thing or that."
The glow of a certain hard pride burned through the careworn
languor of her brown cheek. What she had said was strangely true.
This raw-boned woman before him, although scarcely middle-aged, had
for years occupied a self-imposed maternal and protecting relation,
not only to her husband and brothers, but to the three or four men,
who as partners, or hired hands, lived at the ranch. An inherited
and trained sympathy with what she called her "boys's" and her "men
folk," and their needs had partly unsexed her. She was a fair type
of a class not uncommon on the Southwestern frontier; women who
were ruder helpmeets of their rude husbands and brothers, who had
shared their privations and sufferings with surly, masculine
endurance, rather than feminine patience; women who had sent their
loved ones to hopeless adventure or terrible vendetta as a matter
of course, or with partisan fury; who had devotedly nursed the
wounded to keep alive the feud, or had received back their dead
dry-eyed and revengeful. Small wonder that Cressy McKinstry had
developed strangely under this sexless relationship. Looking at
the mother, albeit not without a certain respect, Mr. Ford found
himself contrasting her with the daughter's graceful femininity,
and wondering where in Cressy's youthful contour the possibility of
the grim figure before him was even now hidden.
"Hiram allowed to go over to the schoolhouse and see you this
mornin'," said Mrs. McKinstry, after a pause; "but I reckon ez how
he had to look up stock on the river. The cattle are that wild
this time o' year, huntin' water, and hangin' round the tules, that
my men are nigh worrited out o' their butes with 'em. Hank and Jim
ain't been off their mustangs since sun up, and Hiram, what with
partrollen' the West Boundary all night, watchin' stakes whar them
low down Harrisons hev been trespassin'--hasn't put his feet to the
ground in fourteen hours. Mebbee you noticed Hiram ez you kem
along? Ef so, ye didn't remember what kind o' shootin' irons he
had with him? I see his rifle over yon. Like ez not he'z only got
his six-shooter, and them Harrisons are mean enough to lay for him
at long range. But," she added, returning to the less important
topic, "I s'pose Cressy came all right."
"Yes," said the master hopelessly.
"I reckon she looked so," continued Mrs. McKinstry, with tolerant
abstraction. "She allowed to do herself credit in one of them new
store gownds that she got at Sacramento. At least that's what some
of our men said. Late years, I ain't kept tech with the fashions
myself." She passed her fingers explanatorily down the folds of
her own coarse gown, but without regret or apology.
"She seemed well prepared in her lessons," said the master,
abandoning for the moment that criticism of his pupil's dress,
which he saw was utterly futile, "but am I to understand that she
is coming regularly to school--that she is now perfectly free to
give her entire attention to her studies--that--that--her--
engagement is broken off?"
"Why, didn't she tell ye?" echoed Mrs. McKinstry in languid
"SHE certainly did," said the master with slight embarrassment,
"Ef SHE said so," interrupted Mrs. McKinstry abstractedly, "she
oughter know, and you kin tie to what she says."
"But as I'm responsible to PARENTS and not to scholars for the
discipline of my school," returned the young man a little stiffly,
"I thought it my duty to hear it from YOU."
"That's so," said Mrs. McKinstry meditatively; "then I reckon you'd
better see Hiram. That ar' Seth Davis engagement was a matter of
hern and her father's, and not in MY line. I 'spose that Hiram
nat'rally allows to set the thing square to you and inquirin'
"I hope you understand," said the master, slightly resenting the
classification, "that my reason for inquiring about the permanency
of your daughter's attendance was simply because it might be
necessary to arrange her studies in a way more suitable to her
years; perhaps even to suggest to you that a young ladies' seminary
might be more satisfactory"--
"Sartain, sartain," interrupted Mrs. McKinstry hurriedly, but
whether from evasion of annoying suggestion or weariness of the
topic, the master could not determine. "You'd better speak to
Hiram about it. On'y," she hesitated slightly, "ez he's got now
sorter set and pinted towards your school, and is a trifle worrited
with stock and them Harrisons, ye might tech it lightly. He
oughter be along yer now. I can't think what keeps him." Her eye
wandered again with troubled preoccupation to the corner where her
husband's Sharps' rifle stood. Suddenly she raised her voice as if
forgetful of Mr. Ford's presence.
The response came from the inner room. The next moment Cressy
appeared at the door with an odd half-lazy defiance in her manner,
which the master could not understand except upon the hypothesis
that she had been listening. She had already changed her elaborate
toilet for a long clinging, coarse blue gown, that accented the
graceful curves of her slight, petticoat-less figure. Nodding her
head towards the master, she said, "Howdy?" and turned to her
mother, who practically ignored their personal acquaintance.
"Cressy," she said, "Dad's gone and left his Sharps' yer, d'ye mind
takin' it along to meet him, afore he passes the Boundary corner.
Ye might tell him the teacher's yer, wantin' to see him."
"One moment," said the master, as the young girl carelessly stepped
to the corner and lifted the weapon. "Let ME take it. It's all on
my way back to school and I'll meet him."
Mrs. McKinstry looked perturbed. Cressy opened her clear eyes on
the master with evident surprise. "No, Mr. Ford," said Mrs.
McKinstry, with her former maternal manner. "Ye'd better not mix
yourself up with these yer doin's. Ye've no call to do it, and
Cressy has; it's all in the family. But it's outer YOUR line, and
them Harrison whelps go to your school. Fancy the teacher takin'
weppins betwixt and between!"
"It's fitter work for the teacher than for one of his scholars, and
a young lady at that," said Mr. Ford gravely, as he took the rifle
from the hands of the half-amused, half-reluctant girl. "It's
quite safe with me, and I promise I shall deliver it into Mr.
McKinstry's hands and none other."
"Perhaps it wouldn't be ez likely to be gin'rally noticed ez it
would if one of US carried it," murmured Mrs. McKinstry in
confidential abstraction, gazing at her daughter sublimely
unconscious of the presence of a third party.
"You're quite right," said the master composedly, throwing the
rifle over his shoulder and turning towards the door. "So I'll say
good-afternoon, and try and find your husband."
Mrs. McKinstry constrainedly plucked at the folds of her coarse
gown. "Ye'll like a drink afore ye go," she said, in an ill-
concealed tone of relief. "I clean forgot my manners. Cressy,
fetch out that demijohn."
"Not for me, thank you," returned Mr. Ford smiling.
"Oh, I see--you're temperance, nat'rally," said Mrs. McKinstry with
a tolerant sigh.
"Hardly that," returned the master, "I follow no rule, I drink
sometimes--but not to-day."
Mrs. McKinstry's dark face contracted. "Don't you see, Maw,"
struck in Cressy quickly. "Teacher drinks sometimes, but he don't
USE whiskey. That's all."
Her mother's face relaxed. Cressy slipped out of the door before
the master, and preceded him to the gate. When she had reached it
she turned and looked into his face.
"What did Maw say to yer about seein' me just now?"
"I don't understand you."
"To your seein' me and Joe Masters on the trail?"
"She said nothing."
"Humph," said Cressy meditatively. "What was it you told her about
"Then you DIDN'T see us?"
"I saw you with some one--I don't know whom."
"And you didn't tell Maw?"
"I did not. It was none of my business."
He instantly saw the utter inconsistency of this speech in
connection with the reason he believed he had in coming. But it
was too late to recall it, and she was looking at him with a bright
but singular expression.
"That Joe Masters is the conceitedest fellow goin'. I told him you
could see his foolishness."
Mr. Ford pushed open the gate. As the girl still lingered he was
obliged to hold it a moment before passing through.
"Maw couldn't quite hitch on to your not drinkin'. She reckons
you're like everybody else about yer. That's where she slips up on
you. And everybody else, I kalkilate."
"I suppose she's somewhat anxious about your father, and I dare say
is expecting me to hurry," returned the master pointedly.
"Oh, dad's all right," said Cressy mischievously. "You'll come
across him over yon, in the clearing. But you're looking right
purty with that gun. It kinder sets you off. You oughter wear
The master smiled slightly, said "Good-by," and took leave of the
girl, but not of her eyes, which were still following him. Even
when he had reached the end of the lane and glanced back at the
rambling dwelling, she was still leaning on the gate with one foot
on the lower rail and her chin cupped in the hollow of her hand.
She made a slight gesture, not clearly intelligible at that
distance; it might have been a mischievous imitation of the way he
had thrown the gun over his shoulder, it might have been a wafted
The master however continued his way in no very self-satisfied
mood. Although he did not regret having taken the place of Cressy
as the purveyor of lethal weapons between the belligerent parties,
he knew he was tacitly mingling in the feud between people for whom
he cared little or nothing. It was true that the Harrisons sent
their children to his school, and that in the fierce partisanship
of the locality this simple courtesy was open to misconstruction.
But he was more uneasily conscious that this mission, so far as
Mrs. McKinstry was concerned, was a miserable failure. The strange
relations of the mother and daughter perhaps explained much of the
girl's conduct, but it offered no hope of future amelioration.
Would the father, "worrited by stock" and boundary quarrels--a man
in the habit of cutting Gordian knots with a bowie knife--prove
more reasonable? Was there any nearer sympathy between father and
daughter? But she had said he would meet McKinstry in the
clearing: she was right, for here he was coming forward at a
When within a dozen paces of the master, McKinstry, scarcely
checking his mustang, threw himself from the saddle, and with a
sharp cut of his riata on the animal's haunches sent him still
galloping towards the distant house. Then, with both hands deeply
thrust in the side pockets of his long, loose linen coat, he slowly
lounged with clanking spurs towards the young man. He was thick-
set, of medium height, densely and reddishly bearded, with heavy-
lidded pale blue eyes that wore a look of drowsy pain, and after
their first wearied glance at the master, seemed to rest anywhere
but on him.
"Your wife was sending you your rifle by Cressy," said the master,
"but I offered to bring it myself, as I thought it scarcely a
proper errand for a young lady. Here it is. I hope you didn't
miss it before and don't require it now," he added quietly.
Mr. McKinstry took it in one hand with an air of slightly
embarrassed surprise, rested it against his shoulder, and then with
the same hand and without removing the other from his pocket, took
off his soft felt hat, showed a bullet-hole in its rim, and
returned lazily, "It's about half an hour late, but them Harrisons
reckoned I was fixed for 'em and war too narvous to draw a clear
bead on me."
The moment was evidently not a felicitous one for the master's
purpose, but he was determined to go on. He hesitated an instant,
when his companion, who seemed to be equally but more sluggishly
embarrassed, in a moment of preoccupied perplexity withdrew from
his pocket his right hand swathed in a blood-stained bandage, and
following some instinctive habit, attempted, as if reflectively, to
scratch his head with two stiffened fingers.
"You are hurt," said the master, genuinely shocked, "and here I am
"I had my hand up--so," explained McKinstry, with heavy deliberation,
"and the ball raked off my little finger after it went through my
hat. But that ain't what I wanted to say when I stopped ye. I
ain't just kam enough yet," he apologized in the calmest manner,
"and I clean forgit myself," he added with perfect self-possession.
"But I was kalkilatin' to ask you"--he laid his bandaged hand
familiarly on the master's shoulder--"if Cressy kem all right?"
"Perfectly," said the master. "But shan't I walk on home with you,
and we can talk together after your wound is attended to?"
"And she looked purty?" continued McKinstry without moving.
"And you thought them new store gownds of hers right peart?"
"Yes," said the master. "Perhaps a little too fine for the school,
you know," he added insinuatingly, "and"--
"Not for her--not for her," interrupted McKinstry. "I reckon
thar's more whar that cam from! Ye needn't fear but that she kin
keep up that gait ez long ez Hiram McKinstry hez the runnin' of
Mr. Ford gazed hopelessly at the hideous ranch in the distance, at
the sky, and the trail before him; then his glance fell upon the
hand still upon his shoulder, and he struggled with a final effort.
"At another time I'd like to have a long talk with you about your
daughter, Mr. McKinstry."
"Talk on," said McKinstry, putting his wounded hand through the
master's arm. "I admire to hear you. You're that kam, it does me
Nevertheless the master was conscious that his own arm was scarcely
as firm as his companion's. It was however useless to draw back
now, and with as much tact as he could command he relieved his mind
of its purpose. Addressing the obtruding bandage before him, he
dwelt upon Cressy's previous attitude in the school, the danger of
any relapse, the necessity of her having a more clearly defined
position as a scholar, and even the advisability of her being
transferred to a more advanced school with a more mature teacher of
her own sex. "This is what I wished to say to Mrs. McKinstry to-
day," he concluded, "but she referred me to you."
"In course, in course," said McKinstry, nodding complacently.
"She's a good woman in and around the ranch, and in any doin's o'
this kind," he lightly waved his wounded arm in the air, "there
ain't a better, tho' I say it. She was Blair Rawlins' darter; she
and her brother Clay bein' the only ones that kem out safe arter
their twenty years' fight with the McEntees in West Kaintuck. But
she don't understand gals ez you and me do. Not that I'm much, ez
I orter be more kam. And the old woman jest sized the hull thing
when she said SHE hadn't any hand in Cressy's engagement. No more
she had! And ez far ez that goes, no more did me, nor Seth Davis,
nor Cressy." He paused, and lifting his heavy-lidded eyes to the
master for the second time, said reflectively, "Ye mustn't mind my
tellin' ye--ez betwixt man and man--that THE one ez is most
responsible for the makin' and breakin' o' that engagement is YOU!"
"Me!" said the master in utter bewilderment.
"You!" repeated McKinstry quietly, reinstalling the hand Ford had
attempted to withdraw. "I ain't sayin' ye either know'd it or
kalkilated on it. But it war so. Ef ye'd hark to me, and meander
on a little, I'll tell ye HOW it war. I don't mind walkin' a piece
YOUR way, for if we go towards the ranch, and the hounds see me,
they'll set up a racket and bring out the old woman, and then good-
by to any confidential talk betwixt you and me. And I'm, somehow,
kammer out yer."
He moved slowly down the trail, still holding Ford's arm
confidentially, although, owing to his large protecting manner, he
seemed to offer a ridiculous suggestion of supporting HIM with his
"When you first kem to Injin Spring," he began, "Seth and Cressy
was goin' to school, boy and girl like, and nothin' more. They'd
known each other from babies--the Davises bein' our neighbors in
Kaintuck, and emigraten' with us from St. Joe. Seth mout hev
cottoned to Cress, and Cress to him, in course o' time, and there
wasn't anythin' betwixt the families to hev kept 'em from marryin'
when they wanted. But there never war any words passed, and no
"But," interrupted Ford hastily, "my predecessor, Mr. Martin,
distinctly told me that there was, and that it was with YOUR
"That's only because you noticed suthin' the first day you looked
over the school with Martin. 'Dad,' sez Cress to me, 'that new
teacher's very peart; and he's that keen about noticin' me and Seth
that I reckon you'd better giv out that we're engaged.' 'But are
you?' sez I. 'It'll come to that in the end,' sez Cress, 'and if
that yer teacher hez come here with Northern ideas o' society, it's
just ez well to let him see Injin Spring ain't entirely in the
woods about them things either.' So I agreed, and Martin told you
it was all right; Cress and Seth was an engaged couple, and you was
to take no notice. And then YOU ups and objects to the hull thing,
and allows that courtin' in school, even among engaged pupils,
The master turned his eyes with some uneasiness to the face of
Cressy's father. It was heavy but impassive.
"I don't mind tellin' you, now that it's over, what happened. The
trouble with me, Mr. Ford, is--I ain't kam! and YOU air, and that's
what got me. For when I heard what you'd said, I got on that
mustang and started for the school-house to clean you out and giv'
you five minutes to leave Injin Spring. I don't know ez you
remember that day. I'd kalkilated my time so ez to ketch ye comin'
out o' school, but I was too airly. I hung around out o' sight,
and then hitched my hoss to a buckeye and peeped inter the winder
to hev a good look at ye. It was very quiet and kam. There was
squirrels over the roof, yellow-jackets and bees dronin' away, and
kinder sleeping-like all around in the air, and jay-birds
twitterin' in the shingles, and they never minded me. You were
movin' up and down among them little gals and boys, liftin' up
their heads and talkin' to 'em softly and quiet like, ez if you was
one of them yourself. And they looked contented and kam. And
onct--I don't know if YOU remember it--you kem close up to the
winder with your hands behind you, and looked out so kam and quiet
and so far off, ez if everybody else outside the school was miles
away from you. It kem to me then that I'd given a heap to hev had
the old woman see you thar. It kem to me, Mr. Ford, that there
wasn't any place for ME thar; and it kem to me, too--and a little
rough like--that mebbee there wasn't any place there for MY Cress
either! So I rode away without disturbin' you nor the birds nor
the squirrels. Talkin' with Cress that night, she said ez how it
was a fair sample of what happened every day, and that you'd always
treated her fair like the others. So she allowed that she'd go
down to Sacramento, and get some things agin her and Seth bein'
married next month, and she reckoned she wouldn't trouble you nor
the school agin. Hark till I've done, Mr. Ford," he continued, as
the young man made a slight movement of deprecation. "Well, I
agreed. But arter she got to Sacramento and bought some fancy
fixin's, she wrote to me and sez ez how she'd been thinkin' the
hull thing over, and she reckoned that she and Seth were too young
to marry, and the engagement had better be broke. And I broke it
"But how?" asked the bewildered master.
"Gin'rally with this gun," returned McKinstry with slow gravity,
indicating the rifle he was carrying, "for I ain't kam. I let on
to Seth's father that if I ever found Seth and Cressy together
again, I'd shoot him. It made a sort o' coolness betwixt the
families, and hez given some comfort to them low-down Harrisons;
but even the law, I reckon, recognizes a father's rights. And ez
Cress sez, now ez Seth's out o' the way, thar ain't no reason why
she can't go back to school and finish her eddication. And I
reckoned she was right. And we both agreed that ez she'd left
school to git them store clothes, it was only fair that she'd give
the school the benefit of 'em."
The case seemed more hopeless than ever. The master knew that the
man beside him might hardly prove as lenient to a second objection
at his hand. But that very reason, perhaps, impelled him, now that
he knew his danger, to consider it more strongly as a duty, and his
pride revolted from a possible threat underlying McKinstry's
confidences. Nevertheless he began gently:
"But you are quite sure you won't regret that you didn't avail
yourself of this broken engagement, and your daughter's outfit--to
send her to some larger boarding-school in Sacramento or San
Francisco? Don't you think she may find it dull, and soon tire of
the company of mere children when she has already known the
excitement of"--he was about to say "a lover," but checked himself,
and added, "a young girl's freedom?"
"Mr. Ford," returned McKinstry, with the slow and fatuous
misconception of a one-ideaed man, "when I said just now that,
lookin' inter that kam, peaceful school of yours, I didn't find a
place for Cress, it warn't because I didn't think she OUGHTER hev a
place thar. Thar was that thar wot she never had ez a little girl
with me and the old woman, and that she couldn't find ez a grownd
up girl in any boarding-school--the home of a child; that kind o'
innocent foolishness that I sometimes reckon must hev slipped outer
our emigrant wagon comin' across the plains, or got left behind at
St. Joe. She was a grownd girl fit to marry afore she was a child.
She had young fellers a-sparkin' her afore she ever played with 'em
ez boy and girl. I don't mind tellin' you that it wern't in the
natur of Blair Rawlins' darter to teach her own darter any better,
for all she's been a mighty help to me. So if it's all the same to
you, Mr. Ford, we won't talk about a grownd up school; I'd rather
Cress be a little girl again among them other children. I should
be a powerful sight more kam if I knowed that when I was away
huntin' stock or fightin' stakes with them Harrisons, that she was
a settin' there with them and the birds and the bees, and listenin'
to them and to you. Mebbee there's been a little too many
scrimmages goin' on round the ranch sence she's been a child;
mebbee she orter know suthin' more of a man than a feller who
sparks her and fights for her."
The master was silent. Had this dull, narrow-minded partisan
stumbled upon a truth that had never dawned upon his own broader
comprehension? Had this selfish savage and literally red-handed
frontier brawler been moved by some dumb instinct of the power of
gentleness to understand his daughter's needs better than he? For
a moment he was staggered. Then he thought of Cressy's later
flirtations with Joe Masters, and her concealment of their meeting
from her mother. Had she deceived her father also? Or was not the
father deceiving him with this alternate suggestion of threat and
of kindliness--of power and weakness. He had heard of this cruel
phase of Southwestern cunning before. With the feeble sophistry of
the cynic he mistrusted the good his scepticism could not
understand. Howbeit, glancing sideways at the slumbering savagery
of the man beside him, and his wounded hand, he did not care to
show his lack of confidence. He contented himself with that
equally feeble resource of weak humanity in such cases--good-
natured indifference. "All right," he said carelessly; "I'll see
what can be done. But are you quite sure you are fit to go home
alone? Shall I accompany you?" As McKinstry waived the suggestion
with a gesture, he added lightly, as if to conclude the interview,
"I'll report progress to you from time to time, if you like."
"To ME," emphasized McKinstry; "not over THAR," indicating the
ranch. "But p'rhaps you wouldn't mind my ridin' by and lookin' in
at the school-room winder onct in a while? Ah--you WOULD," he
added, with the first deepening of color he had shown. "Well,
"You see it might distract the children from their lessons,"
explained the master gently, who had however contemplated with some
concern the infinite delight which a glimpse of McKinstry's fiery
and fatuous face at the window would awaken in Johnny Filgee's
"Well, no matter!" returned McKinstry slowly. "Ye don't keer, I
s'pose, to come over to the hotel and take suthin'? A julep or a
"I shouldn't think of keeping you a moment longer from Mrs.
McKinstry," said the master, looking at his companion's wounded
hand. "Thank you all the same. Good-by."
They shook hands, McKinstry transferring his rifle to the hollow of
his elbow to offer his unwounded left. The master watched him
slowly resume his way towards the ranch. Then with a half uneasy
and half pleasurable sense that he had taken some step whose
consequences were more important than he would at present
understand, he turned in the opposite direction to the school-
house. He was so preoccupied that it was not until he had nearly
reached it that he remembered Uncle Ben. With an odd recollection
of McKinstry's previous performance, he approached the school from
the thicket in the rear and slipped noiselessly to the open window
with the intention of looking in. But the school-house, far from
exhibiting that "kam" and studious abstraction which had so touched
the savage breast of McKinstry, was filled with the accents of
youthful and unrestrained vituperation. The voice of Rupert Filgee
came sharply to the master's astonished ears.
"You needn't try to play off Dobell or Mitchell on ME--you hear!
Much YOU know of either, don't you? Look at that copy. If Johnny
couldn't do better than that, I'd lick him. Of course it's the
pen--it ain't your stodgy fingers--oh, no! P'r'aps you'd like to
hev a few more boxes o' quills and gold pens and Gillott's best
thrown in, for two bits a lesson? I tell you what! I'll throw up
the contract in another minit! There goes another quill busted!
Look here, what YOU want ain't a pen, but a clothes-pin and a split
nail! That'll about jibe with your dilikit gait."
The master at once stepped to the window and, unobserved, took a
quick survey of the interior. Following some ingenious idea of his
own regarding fitness, the beautiful Filgee had induced Uncle Ben
to seat himself on the floor before one of the smallest desks,
presumably his brother's, in an attitude which, while it certainly
gave him considerable elbow-room for those contortions common to
immature penmanship, offered his youthful instructor a superior
eminence, from which he hovered, occasionally swooping down upon
his grown-up pupil like a mischievous but graceful jay. But Mr.
Ford's most distinct impression was that, far from resenting the
derogatory position and the abuse that accompanied it, Uncle Ben
not only beamed upon his persecutor with unquenchable good humor,
but with undisguised admiration, and showed not the slightest
inclination to accept his proposed resignation.
"Go slow, Roop," he said cheerfully. "You was onct a boy yourself.
Nat'rally I kalkilate to stand all the damages. You've got ter
waste some powder over a blast like this yer, way down to the bed
rock. Next time I'll bring my own pens."
"Do. Some from the Dobell school you uster go to," suggested the
darkly ironical Rupert. "They was iron-clad injin-rubber, warn't
"Never you mind wot they were," said Uncle Ben good-humoredly.
"Look at that string of 'C's' in that line. There's nothing mean
He put his pen between his teeth, raised himself slowly on his
legs, and shading his eyes with his hand from the severe
perspective of six feet, gazed admiringly down upon his work.
Rupert, with his hands in his pockets and his back to the window,
cynically assisted at the inspection.
"Wot's that sick worm at the bottom of the page?" he asked.
"Wot might you think it wos?" said Uncle Ben beamingly.
"Looks like one o' them snake roots you dig up with a little mud
stuck to it," returned Rupert critically.
"That's my name."
They both stood looking at it with their heads very much on one
side. "It ain't so bad as the rest you've done. It MIGHT be your
name. That ez, it don't look like anythin' else," suggested
Rupert, struck with a new idea that it was perhaps more professional
occasionally to encourage his pupil. "You might get on in course o'
time. But what are you doin' all this for?" he asked suddenly.
"This yer comin' to school when you ain't sent, and you ain't got
no call to go--you, a grown-up man!"
The color deepened in Uncle Ben's face to the back of his ears. "Wot
would you giv' to know, Roop? S'pose I reckoned some day to make a
strike and sorter drop inter saciety easy--eh? S'pose I wanted to
be ready to keep up my end with the other fellers, when the time
kem? To be able to sling po'try and read novels and sich--eh?"
An expression of infinite and unutterable scorn dawned in the eyes
of Rupert. "You do? Well," he repeated with slow and cutting
deliberation, "I'll tell you what you're comin' here for, and the
only thing that makes you come."
Uncle Ben broke into a boisterous laugh that made the roof shake,
stamping about and slapping his legs till the crazy floor trembled.
But at that moment the master stepped to the perch and made a quiet
but discomposing entrance.
The return of Miss Cressida McKinstry to Indian Spring and her
interrupted studies was an event whose effects were not entirely
confined to the school. The broken engagement itself seemed of
little moment in the general estimation compared to her resumption
of her old footing as a scholar. A few ill-natured elders of her
own sex, and naturally exempt from the discriminating retort of Mr.
McKinstry's "shot-gun," alleged that the Seminary at Sacramento had
declined to receive her, but the majority accepted her return with
local pride as a practical compliment to the educational facilities
of Indian Spring. The Tuolumne "Star," with a breadth and eloquence
touchingly disproportionate to its actual size and quality of type
and paper, referred to the possible "growth of a grove of Academus
at Indian Spring, under whose cloistered boughs future sages and
statesmen were now meditating," in a way that made the master feel
exceedingly uncomfortable. For some days the trail between the
McKinstrys' ranch and the school-house was lightly patrolled by
reliefs of susceptible young men, to whom the enfranchised Cressida,
relieved from the dangerous supervision of the Davis-McKinstry
clique, was an object of ambitious admiration. The young girl
herself, who, in spite of the master's annoyance, seemed to be
following some conscientious duty in consecutively arraying herself
in the different dresses she had bought, however she may have
tantalized her admirers by this revelation of bridal finery, did not
venture to bring them near the limits of the play-ground. It
struck the master with some surprise that Indian Spring did not seem
to trouble itself in regard to his own privileged relations with its
rustic enchantress; the young men clearly were not jealous of him;
no matron had suggested any indecorum in a young girl of Cressy's
years and antecedents being intrusted to the teachings of a young
man scarcely her senior. Notwithstanding the attitude which Mr.
Ford had been pleased to assume towards her, this implied compliment
to his supposed monastic vocations affected him almost as
uncomfortably as the "Star's" extravagant eulogium. He was obliged
to recall certain foolish experiences of his own to enable him to
rise superior to this presumption of his asceticism.
In pursuance of his promise to McKinstry, he had procured a few
elementary books of study suitable to Cressy's new position,
without, however, taking her out of the smaller classes or the
discipline of the school. In a few weeks he was enabled to further
improve her attitude by making her a "monitor" over the smaller
girls, thereby dividing certain functions with Rupert Filgee, whose
ministrations to the deceitful and "silly" sex had been characterized
by perhaps more vigilant scorn and disparagement than was necessary.
Cressy had accepted it as she had accepted her new studies, with an
indolent good-humor, and at times a frankly supreme ignorance of
their abstract or moral purpose that was discouraging. "What's the
good of that?" she would ask, lifting her eyes abruptly to the
master. Mr. Ford, somewhat embarrassed by her look, which always,
sooner or later, frankly confessed itself an excuse for a perfectly
irrelevant examination of his features in detail, would end in
giving her some severely practical answer. Yet, if the subject
appealed to any particular idiosyncrasy of her own, she would
speedily master the study. A passing predilection for botany was
provoked by a single incident. The master deeming this study a
harmless young-lady-like occupation, had one day introduced the
topic at recess, and was met by the usual answer. "But suppose," he
continued artfully, "somebody sent you anonymously some flowers."
"Her ho!" suggested Johnny Filgee hoarsely, with bold bad
recklessness. Ignoring the remark and the kick with which Rupert
had resented it on the person of his brother, the master continued:
"And if you couldn't find out who sent them, you would want at
least to know what they were and where they grew."
"Ef they grew anywhere 'bout yer we could tell her that," said a
chorus of small voices.
The master hesitated. He was conscious of being on delicate
ground. He was surrounded by a dozen pairs of little keen eyes
from whom Nature had never yet succeeded in hiding her secrets--
eyes that had waited for and knew the coming up of the earliest
flowers; little fingers that had never turned the pages of a text-
book, but knew where to scrape away the dead leaves above the first
anemone, or had groped painfully among the lifeless branches in
forgotten hollows for the shy dog-rose; unguided little feet that
had instinctively made their way to remote southern slopes for the
first mariposas, or had unerringly threaded the tule-hidden banks
of the river for flower-de-luce. Convinced that he could not hold
his own on their level, he shamelessly struck at once above it.
"Suppose that one of those flowers," he continued, "was not like
the rest; that its stalks and leaves, instead of being green and
soft, were white and stringy like flannel as if to protect it from
cold, wouldn't it be nice to be able to say at once that it had
lived only in the snow, and that some one must have gone all that
way up there above the snow line to pick it?" The children, taken
aback by this unfair introduction of a floral stranger, were
silent. Cressy thoughtfully accepted botany on those possibilities.
A week later she laid on the master's desk a limp-looking plant
with a stalk like heavy frayed worsted yarn. "It ain't much to look
at after all, is it?" she said. "I reckon I could cut a better one
with scissors outer an old cloth jacket of mine."
"And you found it here?" asked the master in surprise.
"I got Masters to look for it when he was on the Summit. I described
it to him. I didn't allow he had the gumption to get it. But
Although botany languished slightly after this vicarious effort, it
kept Cressy in fresh bouquets, and extending its gentle influence
to her friends and acquaintances became slightly confounded with
horticulture, led to the planting of one or two gardens, and was
accepted in school as an implied concession to berries, apples, and
nuts. In reading and writing Cressy greatly improved, with a
marked decrease in grammatical solecisms, although she still
retained certain characteristic words, and always her own slow
Southwestern, half musical intonation. This languid deliberation
was particularly noticeable in her reading aloud, and gave the
studied and measured rhetoric a charm of which her careless
colloquial speech was incapable. Even the "Fifth Reader," with its
imposing passages from the English classics carefully selected with
a view of paralyzing small, hesitating, or hurried voices, in
Cressy's hands became no longer an unintelligible incantation. She
had quietly mastered the difficulties of pronunciation by some
instinctive sense of euphony if not of comprehension. The master
with his eyes closed hardly recognized his pupil. Whether or not
she understood what she read he hesitated to inquire; no doubt, as
with her other studies, she knew what attracted her. Rupert
Filgee, a sympathetic if not always a correct reader, who boldly
took four and five syllabled fences flying only to come to grief
perhaps in the ditch of some rhetorical pause beyond, alone
expressed his scorn of her performance. Octavia Dean, torn between
her hopeless affection for this beautiful but inaccessible boy, and
her soul-friendship for this bigger but many-frocked girl, studied
the master's face with watchful anxiety.
It is needless to say that Hiram McKinstry was, in the intervals of
stake-driving and stock-hunting, heavily contented with this latest
evidence of his daughter's progress. He even intimated to the
master that her reading being an accomplishment that could be
exercised at home was conducive to that "kam" in which he was so
deficient. It was also rumored that Cressy's oral rendering of
Addison's "Reflections in Westminster Abbey" and Burke's
"Indictment of Warren Hastings," had beguiled him one evening from
improving an opportunity to "plug" one of Harrison's boundary
The master shared in Cressy's glory in the public eye. But
although Mrs. McKinstry did not materially change her attitude of
tolerant good-nature towards him, he was painfully conscious that
she looked upon her daughter's studies and her husband's interests
in them as a weakness that might in course of time produce
infirmity of homicidal purpose and become enervating of eye and
trigger-finger. And when Mr. McKinstry got himself appointed as
school-trustee, and was thereby obliged to mingle with certain
Eastern settlers,--colleagues on the Board,--this possible
weakening of the old sharply drawn sectional line between "Yanks"
and themselves gave her grave doubts of Hiram's physical stamina.
"The old man's worrits hev sorter shook out a little of his sand,"
she had explained. On those evenings when he attended the Board,
she sought higher consolation in prayer meeting at the Southern
Baptist Church, in whose exercises her Northern and Eastern
neighbors, thinly disguised as "Baal" and "Astaroth," were
generally overthrown and their temples made desolate.
If Uncle Ben's progress was slower, it was no less satisfactory.
Without imagination and even without enthusiasm, he kept on with a
dull laborious persistency. When the irascible impatience of
Rupert Filgee at last succumbed to the obdurate slowness of his
pupil, the master himself, touched by Uncle Ben's perspiring
forehead and perplexed eyebrows, often devoted the rest of the
afternoon to a gentle elucidation of the mysteries before him,
setting copies for his heavy hand, or even guiding it with his own,
like a child's, across the paper. At times the appalling
uselessness of Uncle Ben's endeavors reminded him of Rupert's
taunting charge. Was he really doing this from a genuine thirst
for knowledge? It was inconsistent with all that Indian Spring
knew of his antecedents and his present ambitions; he was a simple
miner without scientific or technical knowledge; his already slight
acquaintance with arithmetic and the scrawl that served for his
signature were more than sufficient for his needs. Yet it was with
this latter sign-manual that he seemed to take infinite pains. The
master, one afternoon, thought fit to correct the apparent vanity
of this performance.
"If you took as much care in trying to form your letters according
to copy, you'd do better. Your signature is fair enough as it is."
"But it don't look right, Mr. Ford," said Uncle Ben, eying it
distrustfully; "somehow it ain't all there."
"Why, certainly it is. Look, D A B N E Y--not very plain, it's
true, but there are all the letters."
"That's just it, Mr. Ford; them AIN'T all the letters that ORTER be
there. I've allowed to write it D A B N E Y to save time and ink,
but it orter read DAUBIGNY," said Uncle Ben, with painful
"But that spells d'Aubigny!"
"Is that your name?"
The master looked at Uncle Ben doubtfully. Was this only another
form of the Dobell illusion? "Was your father a Frenchman?" he
Uncle Ben paused as if to recall the trifling circumstances of his
father's nationality. "No."
"I reckon not. At least ye couldn't prove it by me."
"Was your father or grandfather a voyageur or trapper, or
"They were from Pike County, Mizzoori."
The master regarded Uncle Ben still dubiously. "But you call
yourself Dabney. What makes you think your real name is d'Aubigny?"
"That's the way it uster be writ in letters to me in the States.
Hold on. I'll show ye." He deliberately began to feel in his
pockets, finally extracting his old purse from which he produced a
crumpled envelope, and carefully smoothing it out, compared it with
"Thar, you see. It's the same--d'Aubigny."
The master hesitated. After all, it was not impossible. He
recalled other instances of the singular transformation of names in
the Californian emigration. Yet he could not help saying, "Then
you concluded d'Aubigny was a better name than Dabney?"
"Do YOU think it's better?"
"Women might. I dare say your wife would prefer to be called Mrs.
d'Aubigny rather than Dabney."
The chance shot told. Uncle Ben suddenly flushed to his ears.
"I didn't think o' that," he said hurriedly. "I had another idee.
I reckoned that on the matter o' holdin' property and passin' in
money it would be better to hev your name put on the square, and to
sorter go down to bed rock for it, eh? If I wanted to take a hand
in them lots or Ditch shares, for instance--it would be only law to
hev it made out in the name o' d'Aubigny."
Mr. Ford listened with certain impatient contempt. It was bad
enough for Uncle Ben to have exposed his weakness in inventing
fictions about his early education, but to invest himself now with
a contingency of capital for the sake of another childish vanity,
was pitiable as it was preposterous. There was no doubt that he
had lied about his school experiences; it was barely probable that
his name was really d'Aubigny, and it was quite consistent with all
this--even setting apart the fact that he was perfectly well known
to be only a poor miner--that he should lie again. Like most
logical reasoners Mr. Ford forgot that humanity might be illogical
and inconsistent without being insincere. He turned away without
speaking as if indicating a wish to hear no more.
"Some o' these days," said Uncle Ben, with dull persistency, "I'll
tell ye suthen'."
"I'd advise you just now to drop it and stick to your lessons,"
said the master sharply.
"That's so," said Uncle Ben hurriedly, hiding himself as it were in
an all-encompassing blush. "In course lessons first, boys, that's
the motto." He again took up his pen and assumed his old laborious
attitude. But after a few moments it became evident that either
the master's curt dismissal of his subject or his own preoccupation
with it, had somewhat unsettled him. He cleaned his pen
obtrusively, going to the window for a better light, and whistling
from time to time with a demonstrative carelessness and a
depressing gayety. He once broke into a murmuring, meditative
chant evidently referring to the previous conversation, in its--
"That's so--Yer we go--Lessons the first, boys, Yo, heave O." The
rollicking marine character of this refrain, despite its utter
incongruousness, apparently struck him favorably, for he repeated
it softly, occasionally glancing behind him at the master who was
coldly absorbed at his desk. Presently he arose, carefully put his
books away, symmetrically piling them in a pyramid beside Mr.
Ford's motionless elbow, and then lifting his feet with high but
gentle steps went to the peg where his coat and hat were hanging.
As he was about to put them on he appeared suddenly struck with a
sense of indecorousness in dressing himself in the school, and
taking them on his arm to the porch resumed them outside. Then
saying, "I clean disremembered I'd got to see a man. So long, till
to-morrow," he disappeared whistling softly.
The old woodland hush fell back upon the school. It seemed very
quiet and empty. A faint sense of remorse stole over the master.
Yet he remembered that Uncle Ben had accepted without reproach and
as a good joke much more direct accusations from Rupert Filgee, and
that he himself had acted from a conscientious sense of duty
towards the man. But a conscientious sense of duty to inflict pain
upon a fellow-mortal for his own good does not always bring perfect
serenity to the inflicter--possibly because, in the defective
machinery of human compensation, pain is the only quality that is
apt to appear in the illustration. Mr. Ford felt uncomfortable,
and being so, was naturally vexed at the innocent cause. Why
should Uncle Ben be offended because he had simply declined to
follow his weak fabrications any further? This was his return for
having tolerated it at first! It would be a lesson to him
henceforth. Nevertheless he got up and went to the door. The
figure of Uncle Ben was already indistinct among the leaves, but
from the motion of his shoulders he seemed to be still stepping
high and softly as if not yet clear of insecure and engulfing
The silence still continuing, the master began mechanically to look
over the desks for forgotten or mislaid articles, and to rearrange
the pupils' books and copies. A few heartsease gathered by the
devoted Octavia Dean, neatly tied with a black thread and regularly
left in the inkstand cavity of Rupert's desk, were still lying on
the floor where they had been always hurled with equal regularity
by that disdainful Adonis. Picking up a slate from under a bench,
his attention was attracted by a forgotten cartoon on the reverse
side. Mr. Ford at once recognized it as the work of that youthful
but eminent caricaturist, Johnny Filgee. Broad in treatment,
comprehensive in subject, liberal in detail and slate-pencil--it
represented Uncle Ben lying on the floor with a book in his hand,
tyrannized over by Rupert Filgee and regarded in a striking profile
of two features by Cressy McKinstry. The daring realism of
introducing the names of each character on their legs--perhaps
ideally enlarged for that purpose--left no doubt of their identity.
Equally daring but no less effective was the rendering of a limited
but dramatic conversation between the parties by the aid of
emotional balloons attached to their mouths like a visible gulp
bearing the respective legends: "I luv you," "O my," and "You git!"
The master was for a moment startled at this unlooked-for but
graphic testimony to the fact that Uncle Ben's visits to the school
were not only known but commented upon. The small eyes of those
youthful observers had been keener than his own. He had again been
stupidly deceived, in spite of his efforts. Love, albeit deficient
in features and wearing an improperly short bell-shaped frock, had
boldly re-entered the peaceful school, and disturbing complications
on abnormal legs were following at its heels.
While this simple pastoral life was centred around the school-house
in the clearing, broken only by an occasional warning pistol-shot
in the direction of the Harrison-McKinstry boundaries, the more
business part of Indian Spring was overtaken by one of those spasms
of enterprise peculiar to all Californian mining settlements. The
opening of the Eureka Ditch and the extension of stagecoach
communication from Big Bluff were events of no small importance,
and were celebrated on the same day. The double occasion
overtaxing even the fluent rhetoric of the editor of the "Star"
left him struggling in the metaphorical difficulties of a Pactolian
Spring, which he had rashly turned into the Ditch, and obliged him
to transfer the onerous duty of writing the editorial on the Big
Bluff Extension to the hands of the Honorable Abner Dean,
Assemblyman from Angel's. The loss of the Honorable Mr. Dean's
right eye in an early pioneer fracas did not prevent him from
looking into the dim vista of the future and discovering with that
single unaided optic enough to fill three columns of the "Star."
"It is not too extravagant to say," he remarked with charming
deprecation, "that Indian Spring, through its own perfectly
organized system of inland transportation, the confluence of its
North Fork with the Sacramento River, and their combined effluence
into the illimitable Pacific, is thus put not only into direct
communication with far Cathay but even remoter Antipodean markets.
The citizen of Indian Spring taking the 9 A. M. Pioneer Coach and
arriving at Big Bluff at 2.40 is enabled to connect with the
through express to Sacramento the same evening, reaching San
Francisco per the Steam Navigation Company's palatial steamers in
time to take the Pacific Mail Steamer to Yokohama on the following
day at 8.30 P. M." Although no citizen of Indian Spring appeared
to avail himself of this admirable opportunity, nor did it appear
at all likely that any would, everybody vaguely felt that an
inestimable boon lay in the suggestion, and even the master
professionally intrusting the reading aloud of the editorial to
Rupert Filgee with ulterior designs of practice in the pronunciation
of five-syllable words, was somewhat affected by it. Johnny Filgee
and Jimmy Snyder accepting it as a mysterious something that made
Desert Islands accessible at a moment's notice and a trifling
outlay, were round-eyed and attentive. And the culminating
information from the master that this event would be commemorated by
a half-holiday, combined to make the occasion as exciting to the
simple school-house in the clearing as it was to the gilded saloon
in the main street.
And so the momentous day arrived, with its two new coaches from Big
Bluff containing the specially invited speakers--always specially
invited to those occasions, and yet strangely enough never before
feeling the extreme "importance and privilege" of it as they did
then. Then there were the firing of two anvils, the strains of a
brass band, the hoisting of a new flag on the liberty-pole, and
later the ceremony of the Ditch opening, when a distinguished
speaker in a most unworkman-like tall hat, black frock coat, and
white cravat, which gave him the general air of a festive grave-
digger, took a spade from the hands of an apparently hilarious
chief mourner and threw out the first sods. There were anvils,
brass bands, and a "collation" at the hotel. But everywhere--
overriding the most extravagant expectation and even the laughter
it provoked--the spirit of indomitable youth and resistless
enterprise intoxicated the air. It was the spirit that had made
California possible; that had sown a thousand such ventures
broadcast through its wilderness; that had enabled the sower to
stand half-humorously among his scant or ruined harvests without
fear and without repining, and turn his undaunted and ever hopeful
face to further fields. What mattered it that Indian Spring had
always before its eyes the abandoned trenches and ruined outworks
of its earlier pioneers? What mattered it that the eloquent
eulogist of the Eureka Ditch had but a few years before as
prodigally scattered his adjectives and his fortune on the useless
tunnel that confronted him on the opposite side of the river? The
sublime forgetfulness of youth ignored its warning or recognized it
as a joke. The master, fresh from his little flock and prematurely
aged by their contact, felt a stirring of something like envy as he
wandered among these scarcely older enthusiasts.
Especially memorable was the exciting day to Johnny Filgee, not
only for the delightfully bewildering clamor of the brass band, in
which, between the trombone and the bass drum, he had got
inextricably mixed; not only for the half-frightening explosions of
the anvils and the maddening smell of the gunpowder which had
exalted his infant soul to sudden and irrelevant whoopings, but for
a singular occurrence that whetted his always keen perceptions.
Having been shamelessly abandoned on the veranda of the Eureka
Hotel while his brother Rupert paid bashful court to the pretty
proprietress by assisting her in her duties, Johnny gave himself up
to unlimited observation. The rosettes of the six horses, the new
harness, the length of the driver's whiplash, his enormous buckskin
gloves and the way he held his reins; the fascinating odor of
shining varnish on the coach, the gold-headed cane of the Honorable
Abner Dean: all these were stored away in the secret recesses of
Johnny's memory, even as the unconsidered trifles he had picked up
en route were distending his capacious pockets. But when a young
man had alighted from the second or "Truly" coach among the REAL
passengers, and strolled carelessly and easily in the veranda as if
the novelty and the occasion were nothing to him, Johnny, with a
gulp of satisfaction, knew that he had seen a prince! Beautifully
dressed in a white duck suit, with a diamond ring on his finger, a
gold chain swinging from his fob, and a Panama hat with a broad
black ribbon jauntily resting on his curled and scented hair,
Johnny's eyes had never rested on a more resplendent vision. He
was more romantic than Yuba Bill, more imposing and less impossible
than the Honorable Abner Dean, more eloquent than the master--far
more beautiful than any colored print that he had ever seen. Had
he brushed him in passing Johnny would have felt a thrill; had he
spoken to him he knew he would have been speechless to reply.
Judge then of his utter stupefaction when he saw Uncle Ben--
actually Uncle Ben!--approach this paragon of perfection, albeit
with some embarrassment, and after a word or two of unintelligible
conversation walk away with him! Need it be wondered that Johnny,
forgetful at once of his brother, the horses, and even the
collation with its possible "goodies," instantly followed.
The two men turned into the side street, which, after a few hundred
yards, opened upon the deserted mining flat, crossed and broken by
the burrows and mounds made by the forgotten engines of the early
gold-seekers. Johnny, at times hidden by these irregularities,
kept closely in their rear, sauntering whenever he came within the
range of their eyes in that sidelong, spasmodic and generally
diagonal fashion peculiar to small boys, but ready at any moment to
assume utter unconsciousness and the appearance of going somewhere
else or of searching for something on the ground. In this way
appearing, if noticed at all, each time in some different position
to the right or left of them, Johnny followed them to the fringe of
woodland which enabled him to draw closer to their heels.