Part 1 out of 4
DRIFT FROM TWO SHORES
by BRET HARTE
DRIFT FROM TWO SHORES
THE MAN ON THE BEACH
TWO SAINTS OF THE FOOT-HILLS
ROGER CATRON'S FRIEND
"WHO WAS MY QUIET FRIEND?"
A GHOST OF THE SIERRAS
THE HOODLUM BAND
THE MAN WHOSE YOKE WAS NOT EASY
MY FRIEND, THE TRAMP
THE MAN FROM SOLANO
THE OFFICE SEEKER
A SLEEPING-CAR EXPERIENCE
MORNING ON THE AVENUE
WITH THE ENTREES
DRIFT FROM TWO SHORES
THE MAN ON THE BEACH
He lived beside a river that emptied into a great ocean. The
narrow strip of land that lay between him and the estuary was
covered at high tide by a shining film of water, at low tide with
the cast-up offerings of sea and shore. Logs yet green, and
saplings washed away from inland banks, battered fragments of
wrecks and orange crates of bamboo, broken into tiny rafts yet
odorous with their lost freight, lay in long successive curves,--
the fringes and overlappings of the sea. At high noon the shadow
of a seagull's wing, or a sudden flurry and gray squall of sand-
pipers, themselves but shadows, was all that broke the monotonous
glare of the level sands.
He had lived there alone for a twelvemonth. Although but a few
miles from a thriving settlement, during that time his retirement
had never been intruded upon, his seclusion remained unbroken. In
any other community he might have been the subject of rumor or
criticism, but the miners at Camp Rogue and the traders at Trinidad
Head, themselves individual and eccentric, were profoundly
indifferent to all other forms of eccentricity or heterodoxy that
did not come in contact with their own. And certainly there was no
form of eccentricity less aggressive than that of a hermit, had
they chosen to give him that appellation. But they did not even do
that, probably from lack of interest or perception. To the various
traders who supplied his small wants he was known as "Kernel,"
"Judge," and "Boss." To the general public "The Man on the Beach"
was considered a sufficiently distinguishing title. His name, his
occupation, rank, or antecedents, nobody cared to inquire. Whether
this arose from a fear of reciprocal inquiry and interest, or from
the profound indifference before referred to, I cannot say.
He did not look like a hermit. A man yet young, erect, well-
dressed, clean-shaven, with a low voice, and a smile half
melancholy, half cynical, was scarcely the conventional idea of a
solitary. His dwelling, a rude improvement on a fisherman's cabin,
had all the severe exterior simplicity of frontier architecture,
but within it was comfortable and wholesome. Three rooms--a
kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom--were all it contained.
He had lived there long enough to see the dull monotony of one
season lapse into the dull monotony of the other. The bleak
northwest trade-winds had brought him mornings of staring sunlight
and nights of fog and silence. The warmer southwest trades had
brought him clouds, rain, and the transient glories of quick
grasses and odorous beach blossoms. But summer or winter, wet or
dry season, on one side rose always the sharply defined hills with
their changeless background of evergreens; on the other side
stretched always the illimitable ocean as sharply defined against
the horizon, and as unchanging in its hue. The onset of spring and
autumn tides, some changes among his feathered neighbors, the
footprints of certain wild animals along the river's bank, and the
hanging out of party-colored signals from the wooded hillside far
inland, helped him to record the slow months. On summer
afternoons, when the sun sank behind a bank of fog that, moving
solemnly shoreward, at last encompassed him and blotted out sea and
sky, his isolation was complete. The damp gray sea that flowed
above and around and about him always seemed to shut out an
intangible world beyond, and to be the only real presence. The
booming of breakers scarce a dozen rods from his dwelling was but a
vague and unintelligible sound, or the echo of something past
forever. Every morning when the sun tore away the misty curtain he
awoke, dazed and bewildered, as upon a new world. The first sense
of oppression over, he came to love at last this subtle spirit of
oblivion; and at night, when its cloudy wings were folded over his
cabin, he would sit alone with a sense of security he had never
felt before. On such occasions he was apt to leave his door open,
and listen as for footsteps; for what might not come to him out of
this vague, nebulous world beyond? Perhaps even SHE,--for this
strange solitary was not insane nor visionary. He was never in
spirit alone. For night and day, sleeping or waking, pacing the
beach or crouching over his driftwood fire, a woman's face was
always before him,--the face for whose sake and for cause of whom
he sat there alone. He saw it in the morning sunlight; it was her
white hands that were lifted from the crested breakers; it was the
rustling of her skirt when the sea wind swept through the beach
grasses; it was the loving whisper of her low voice when the long
waves sank and died among the sedge and rushes. She was as
omnipresent as sea and sky and level sand. Hence when the fog
wiped them away, she seemed to draw closer to him in the darkness.
On one or two more gracious nights in midsummer, when the influence
of the fervid noonday sun was still felt on the heated sands, the
warm breath of the fog touched his cheek as if it had been hers,
and the tears started to his eyes.
Before the fogs came--for he arrived there in winter--he had found
surcease and rest in the steady glow of a lighthouse upon the
little promontory a league below his habitation. Even on the
darkest nights, and in the tumults of storm, it spoke to him of a
patience that was enduring and a steadfastness that was immutable.
Later on he found a certain dumb companionship in an uprooted tree,
which, floating down the river, had stranded hopelessly upon his
beach, but in the evening had again drifted away. Rowing across
the estuary a day or two afterward, he recognized the tree again
from a "blaze" of the settler's axe still upon its trunk. He was
not surprised a week later to find the same tree in the sands
before his dwelling, or that the next morning it should be again
launched on its purposeless wanderings. And so, impelled by wind
or tide, but always haunting his seclusion, he would meet it
voyaging up the river at the flood, or see it tossing among the
breakers on the bar, but always with the confidence of its
returning sooner or later to an anchorage beside him. After the
third month of his self-imposed exile, he was forced into a more
human companionship, that was brief but regular. He was obliged to
have menial assistance. While he might have eaten his bread "in
sorrow" carelessly and mechanically, if it had been prepared for
him, the occupation of cooking his own food brought the vulgarity
and materialness of existence so near to his morbid sensitiveness
that he could not eat the meal he had himself prepared. He did not
yet wish to die, and when starvation or society seemed to be the
only alternative, he chose the latter. An Indian woman, so hideous
as to scarcely suggest humanity, at stated times performed for him
these offices. When she did not come, which was not infrequent, he
did not eat.
Such was the mental and physical condition of the Man on the Beach
on the 1st of January, 1869.
It was a still, bright day, following a week of rain and wind. Low
down the horizon still lingered a few white flecks--the flying
squadrons of the storm--as vague as distant sails. Southward the
harbor bar whitened occasionally but lazily; even the turbulent
Pacific swell stretched its length wearily upon the shore. And
toiling from the settlement over the low sand dunes, a carriage at
last halted half a mile from the solitary's dwelling.
"I reckon ye'll hev to git out here," said the driver, pulling up
to breathe his panting horses. "Ye can't git any nigher."
There was a groan of execration from the interior of the vehicle, a
hysterical little shriek, and one or two shrill expressions of
feminine disapprobation, but the driver moved not. At last a
masculine head expostulated from the window: "Look here; you agreed
to take us to the house. Why, it's a mile away at least!"
"Thar, or tharabouts, I reckon," said the driver, coolly crossing
his legs on the box.
"It's no use talking; I can never walk through this sand and horrid
glare," said a female voice quickly and imperatively. Then,
apprehensively, "Well, of all the places!"
"Well, I never!"
"This DOES exceed everything."
"It's really TOO idiotic for anything."
It was noticeable that while the voices betrayed the difference of
age and sex, they bore a singular resemblance to each other, and a
certain querulousness of pitch that was dominant.
"I reckon I've gone about as fur as I allow to go with them
hosses," continued the driver suggestively, "and as time's
vallyble, ye'd better unload."
"The wretch does not mean to leave us here alone?" said a female
voice in shrill indignation. "You'll wait for us, driver?" said a
masculine voice, confidently.
"How long?" asked the driver.
There was a hurried consultation within. The words "Might send us
packing!" "May take all night to get him to listen to reason,"
"Bother! whole thing over in ten minutes," came from the window.
The driver meanwhile had settled himself back in his seat, and
whistled in patient contempt of a fashionable fare that didn't know
its own mind nor destination. Finally, the masculine head was
thrust out, and, with a certain potential air of judicially ending
a difficulty, said:--
"You're to follow us slowly, and put up your horses in the stable
or barn until we want you."
An ironical laugh burst from the driver. "Oh, yes--in the stable
or barn--in course. But, my eyes sorter failin' me, mebbee, now,
some ev you younger folks will kindly pint out the stable or barn
of the Kernel's. Woa!--will ye?--woa! Give me a chance to pick
out that there barn or stable to put ye in!" This in arch
confidence to the horses, who had not moved.
Here the previous speaker, rotund, dignified, and elderly, alighted
indignantly, closely followed by the rest of the party, two ladies
and a gentleman. One of the ladies was past the age, but not the
fashion, of youth, and her Parisian dress clung over her wasted
figure and well-bred bones artistically if not gracefully; the
younger lady, evidently her daughter, was crisp and pretty, and
carried off the aquiline nose and aristocratic emaciation of her
mother with a certain piquancy and a dash that was charming. The
gentleman was young, thin, with the family characteristics, but
With one accord they all faced directly toward the spot indicated
by the driver's whip. Nothing but the bare, bleak, rectangular
outlines of the cabin of the Man on the Beach met their eyes. All
else was a desolate expanse, unrelieved by any structure higher
than the tussocks of scant beach grass that clothed it. They were
so utterly helpless that the driver's derisive laughter gave way at
last to good humor and suggestion. "Look yer," he said finally, "I
don't know ez it's your fault you don't know this kentry ez well ez
you do Yurup; so I'll drag this yer team over to Robinson's on the
river, give the horses a bite, and then meander down this yer
ridge, and wait for ye. Ye'll see me from the Kernel's." And
without waiting for a reply, he swung his horses' heads toward the
river, and rolled away.
The same querulous protest that had come from the windows arose
from the group, but vainly. Then followed accusations and
recrimination. "It's YOUR fault; you might have written, and had
him meet us at the settlement." "You wanted to take him by
surprise!" "I didn't. You know if I'd written that we were
coming, he'd have taken good care to run away from us." "Yes, to
some more inaccessible place." "There can be none worse than
this," etc., etc. But it was so clearly evident that nothing was
to be done but to go forward, that even in the midst of their
wrangling they straggled on in Indian file toward the distant
cabin, sinking ankle-deep in the yielding sand, punctuating their
verbal altercation with sighs, and only abating it at a scream from
the elder lady.
"Gone on ahead!" grunted the younger gentleman, in a bass voice, so
incongruously large for him that it seemed to have been a
ventriloquistic contribution by somebody else.
It was too true. Maria, after adding her pungency to the general
conversation, had darted on ahead. But alas! that swift Camilla,
after scouring the plain some two hundred feet with her demitrain,
came to grief on an unbending tussock and sat down, panting but
savage. As they plodded wearily toward her, she bit her red lips,
smacked them on her cruel little white teeth like a festive and
sprightly ghoul, and lisped:--
"You DO look so like guys! For all the world like those English
shopkeepers we met on the Righi, doing the three-guinea excursion
in their Sunday clothes!"
Certainly the spectacle of these exotically plumed bipeds, whose
fine feathers were already bedrabbled by sand and growing limp in
the sea breeze, was somewhat dissonant with the rudeness of sea and
sky and shore. A few gulls screamed at them; a loon, startled from
the lagoon, arose shrieking and protesting, with painfully extended
legs, in obvious burlesque of the younger gentleman. The elder
lady felt the justice of her gentle daughter's criticism, and
retaliated with simple directness:--
"Your skirt is ruined, your hair is coming down, your hat is half
off your head, and your shoes--in Heaven's name, Maria! what HAVE
you done with your shoes?"
Maria had exhibited a slim stockinged foot from under her skirt.
It was scarcely three fingers broad, with an arch as patrician as
her nose. "Somewhere between here and the carriage," she answered;
"Dick can run back and find it, while he is looking for your
brooch, mamma. Dick's so obliging."
The robust voice of Dick thundered, but the wasted figure of Dick
feebly ploughed its way back, and returned with the missing buskin.
"I may as well carry them in my hand like the market girls at
Saumur, for we have got to wade soon," said Miss Maria, sinking her
own terrors in the delightful contemplation of the horror in her
parent's face, as she pointed to a shining film of water slowly
deepening in a narrow swale in the sands between them and the
"It's the tide," said the elder gentleman. "If we intend to go on
we must hasten; permit me, my dear madam," and before she could
reply he had lifted the astounded matron in his arms, and made
gallantly for the ford. The gentle Maria cast an ominous eye on
her brother, who, with manifest reluctance, performed for her the
same office. But that acute young lady kept her eyes upon the
preceding figure of the elder gentleman, and seeing him suddenly
and mysteriously disappear to his armpits, unhesitatingly threw
herself from her brother's protecting arms,--an action which
instantly precipitated him into the water,--and paddled hastily to
the opposite bank, where she eventually assisted in pulling the
elderly gentleman out of the hollow into which he had fallen, and
in rescuing her mother, who floated helplessly on the surface,
upheld by her skirts, like a gigantic and variegated water-lily.
Dick followed with a single gaiter. In another minute they were
safe on the opposite bank.
The elder lady gave way to tears; Maria laughed hysterically; Dick
mingled a bass oath with the now audible surf; the elder gentleman,
whose florid face the salt water had bleached, and whose dignity
seemed to have been washed away, accounted for both by saying he
thought it was a quicksand.
"It might have been," said a quiet voice behind them; "you should
have followed the sand dunes half a mile further to the estuary."
They turned instantly at the voice. It was that of the Man on the
Beach. They all rose to their feet and uttered together, save one,
the single exclamation, "James!" The elder gentleman said "Mr.
North," and, with a slight resumption of his former dignity,
buttoned his coat over his damp shirt front.
There was a silence, in which the Man on the Beach looked gravely
down upon them. If they had intended to impress him by any
suggestion of a gay, brilliant, and sensuous world beyond in their
own persons, they had failed, and they knew it. Keenly alive as
they had always been to external prepossession, they felt that they
looked forlorn and ludicrous, and that the situation lay in his
hands. The elderly lady again burst into tears of genuine
distress, Maria colored over her cheek-bones, and Dick stared at
the ground in sullen disquiet.
"You had better get up," said the Man on the Beach, after a
moment's thought, "and come up to the cabin. I cannot offer you a
change of garments, but you can dry them by the fire."
They all rose together, and again said in chorus, "James!" but this
time with an evident effort to recall some speech or action
previously resolved upon and committed to memory. The elder lady
got so far as to clasp her hands and add, "You have not forgotten
us--James, oh, James!"; the younger gentleman to attempt a brusque
"Why, Jim, old boy," that ended in querulous incoherence; the young
lady to cast a half-searching, half-coquettish look at him; and the
old gentleman to begin, "Our desire, Mr. North"--but the effort was
futile. Mr. James North, standing before them with folded arms,
looked from the one to the other.
"I have not thought much of you for a twelvemonth," he said,
quietly, "but I have not forgotten you. Come!"
He led the way a few steps in advance, they following silently. In
this brief interview they felt he had resumed the old dominance and
independence, against which they had rebelled; more than that, in
this half failure of their first concerted action they had changed
their querulous bickerings to a sullen distrust of each other, and
walked moodily apart as they followed James North into his house.
A fire blazed brightly on the hearth; a few extra seats were
quickly extemporized from boxes and chests, and the elder lady,
with the skirt of her dress folded over her knees,--looking not
unlike an exceedingly overdressed jointed doll,--dried her flounces
and her tears together. Miss Maria took in the scant appointments
of the house in one single glance, and then fixed her eyes upon
James North, who, the least concerned of the party, stood before
them, grave and patiently expectant.
"Well," began the elder lady in a high key, "after all this worry
and trouble you have given us, James, haven't you anything to say?
Do you know--have you the least idea what you are doing? what
egregious folly you are committing? what everybody is saying? Eh?
Heavens and earth!--do you know who I am?"
"You are my father's brother's widow, Aunt Mary," returned James,
quietly. "If I am committing any folly it only concerns myself; if
I cared for what people said I should not be here; if I loved
society enough to appreciate its good report I should stay with
"But they say you have run away from society to pine alone for a
worthless creature--a woman who has used you, as she has used and
thrown away others--a--"
"A woman," chimed in Dick, who had thrown himself on James's bed
while his patent leathers were drying, "a woman that all the
fellers know never intended"--here, however, he met James North's
eye, and muttering something about "whole thing being too idiotic
to talk about," relapsed into silence.
"You know," continued Mrs. North, "that while we and all our set
shut our eyes to your very obvious relations with that woman, and
while I myself often spoke of it to others as a simple flirtation,
and averted a scandal for your sake, and when the climax was
reached, and she herself gave you an opportunity to sever your
relations, and nobody need have been wiser--and she'd have had all
the blame--and it's only what she's accustomed to--you--you! you,
James North!--you must nonsensically go, and, by this extravagant
piece of idiocy and sentimental tomfoolery, let everybody see how
serious the whole affair was, and how deep it hurt you! and here in
this awful place, alone--where you're half drowned to get to it and
are willing to be wholly drowned to get away! Oh, don't talk to
me! I won't hear it--it's just too idiotic for anything!"
The subject of this outburst neither spoke nor moved a single
"Your aunt, Mr. North, speaks excitedly," said the elder gentleman;
"yet I think she does not overestimate the unfortunate position in
which your odd fancy places you. I know nothing of the reasons
that have impelled you to this step; I only know that the popular
opinion is that the cause is utterly inadequate. You are still
young, with a future before you. I need not say how your present
conduct may imperil that. If you expected to achieve any good--
even to your own satisfaction--but this conduct--"
"Yes--if there was anything to be gained by it!" broke in Mrs.
"If you ever thought she'd come back!--but that kind of woman
don't. They must have change. Why"--began Dick suddenly, and as
suddenly lying down again.
"Is this all you have come to say?" asked James North, after a
moment's patient silence, looking from one to the other.
"All?" screamed Mrs. North; "is it not enough?"
"Not to change my mind nor my residence at present," replied North,
"Do you mean to continue this folly all your life?"
"And have a coroner's inquest, and advertisements and all the facts
in the papers?"
"And have HER read the melancholy details, and know that you were
faithful and she was not?"
This last shot was from the gentle Maria, who bit her lips as it
glanced from the immovable man.
"I believe there is nothing more to say," continued North, quietly.
"I am willing to believe your intentions are as worthy as your
zeal. Let us say no more," he added, with grave weariness; "the
tide is rising, and your coachman is signaling you from the bank."
There was no mistaking the unshaken positiveness of the man, which
was all the more noticeable from its gentle but utter indifference
to the wishes of the party. He turned his back upon them as they
gathered hurriedly around the elder gentleman, while the words, "He
cannot be in his right mind," "It's your duty to do it," "It's
sheer insanity," "Look at his eye!" all fell unconsciously upon his
"One word more, Mr. North," said the elder gentleman, a little
portentously, to conceal an evident embarrassment. "It may be that
your conduct might suggest to minds more practical than your own
the existence of some aberration of the intellect--some temporary
mania--that might force your best friends into a quasi-legal
"Declaring me insane," interrupted James North, with the slight
impatience of a man more anxious to end a prolix interview than to
combat an argument. "I think differently. As my aunt's lawyer,
you know that within the last year I have deeded most of my
property to her and her family. I cannot believe that so shrewd an
adviser as Mr. Edmund Carter would ever permit proceedings that
would invalidate that conveyance."
Maria burst into a laugh of such wicked gratification that James
North, for the first time, raised his eyes with something of
interest to her face. She colored under them, but returned his
glance with another like a bayonet flash. The party slowly moved
toward the door, James North following.
"Then this is your final answer?" asked Mrs. North, stopping
imperiously on the threshold.
"I beg your pardon?" queried North, half abstractedly.
"Your final answer?"
Mrs. North flounced away a dozen rods in rage. This was
unfortunate for North. It gave them the final attack in detail.
Dick began: "Come along! You know you can advertise for her with a
personal down there and the old woman wouldn't object as long as
you were careful and put in an appearance now and then!"
As Dick limped away, Mr. Carter thought, in confidence, that the
whole matter--even to suit Mr. North's sensitive nature--might be
settled there. "SHE evidently expects you to return. My opinion
is that she never left San Francisco. You can't tell anything
about these women."
With this last sentence on his indifferent ear, James North seemed
to be left free. Maria had rejoined her mother; but as they
crossed the ford, and an intervening sand-hill hid the others from
sight, that piquant young lady suddenly appeared on the hill and
stood before him.
"And you're not coming back?" she said directly.
"I cannot say."
"Tell me! what is there about some women to make men love them so?"
"Love," replied North, quietly.
"No, it cannot be--it is not THAT!"
North looked over the hill and round the hill, and looked bored.
"Oh, I'm going now. But one moment, Jem! I didn't want to come.
They dragged me here. Good-by."
She raised a burning face and eyes to his. He leaned forward and
imprinted the perfunctory cousinly kiss of the period upon her
"Not that way," she said angrily, clutching his wrists with her
long, thin fingers; "you shan't kiss me in that way, James North."
With the faintest, ghost-like passing of a twinkle in the corners
of his sad eyes, he touched his lips to hers. With the contact,
she caught him round the neck, pressed her burning lips and face to
his forehead, his cheeks, the very curves of his chin and throat,
and--with a laugh was gone.
Had the kinsfolk of James North any hope that their visit might
revive some lingering desire he still combated to enter once more
the world they represented, that hope would have soon died.
Whatever effect this episode had upon the solitary,--and he had
become so self-indulgent of his sorrow, and so careless of all that
came between him and it, as to meet opposition with profound
indifference,--the only appreciable result was a greater attraction
for the solitude that protected him, and he grew even to love the
bleak shore and barren sands that had proved so inhospitable to
others. There was a new meaning to the roar of the surges, an
honest, loyal sturdiness in the unchanging persistency of the
uncouth and blustering trade-winds, and a mute fidelity in the
shining sands, treacherous to all but him. With such bandogs to
lie in wait for trespassers, should he not be grateful?
If no bitterness was awakened by the repeated avowal of the
unfaithfulness of the woman he loved, it was because he had always
made the observation and experience of others give way to the
dominance of his own insight. No array of contradictory facts ever
shook his belief or unbelief; like all egotists, he accepted them
as truths controlled by a larger truth of which he alone was
cognizant. His simplicity, which was but another form of his
egotism, was so complete as to baffle ordinary malicious cunning,
and so he was spared the experience and knowledge that come to a
lower nature, and help debase it.
Exercise and the stimulus of the few wants that sent him hunting or
fishing kept up his physical health. Never a lover of rude freedom
or outdoor life his sedentary predilections and nice tastes kept
him from lapsing into barbarian excess; never a sportsman he
followed the chase with no feverish exaltation. Even dumb
creatures found out his secret, and at times, stalking moodily over
the upland, the brown deer and elk would cross his path without
fear or molestation, or, idly lounging in his canoe within the
river bar, flocks of wild fowl would settle within stroke of his
listless oar. And so the second winter of his hermitage drew near
its close, and with it came a storm that passed into local history,
and is still remembered. It uprooted giant trees along the river,
and with them the tiny rootlets of the life he was idly fostering.
The morning had been fitfully turbulent, the wind veering several
points south and west, with suspicions lulls, unlike the steady
onset of the regular southwest trades. High overhead the long
manes of racing cirro stratus streamed with flying gulls and
hurrying water-fowl; plover piped incessantly, and a flock of
timorous sand-pipers sought the low ridge of his cabin, while a
wrecking crew of curlew hastily manned the uprooted tree that
tossed wearily beyond the bar. By noon the flying clouds huddled
together in masses, and then were suddenly exploded in one vast
opaque sheet over the heavens. The sea became gray, and suddenly
wrinkled and old. There was a dumb, half-articulate cry in the
air,--rather a confusion of many sounds, as of the booming of
distant guns, the clangor of a bell, the trampling of many waves,
the creaking of timbers and soughing of leaves, that sank and fell
ere you could yet distinguish them. And then it came on to blow.
For two hours it blew strongly. At the time the sun should have
set the wind had increased; in fifteen minutes darkness shut down,
even the white sands lost their outlines, and sea and shore and sky
lay in the grip of a relentless and aggressive power.
Within his cabin, by the leaping light of his gusty fire, North sat
alone. His first curiosity passed, the turmoil without no longer
carried his thought beyond its one converging centre. SHE had come
to him on the wings of the storm, even as she had been borne to him
on the summer fog-cloud. Now and then the wind shook the cabin,
but he heeded it not. He had no fears for its safety; it presented
its low gable to the full fury of the wind that year by year had
piled, and even now was piling, protecting buttresses of sand
against it. With each succeeding gust it seemed to nestle more
closely to its foundations, in the whirl of flying sand that
rattled against its roof and windows. It was nearly midnight when
a sudden thought brought him to his feet. What if SHE were exposed
to the fury of such a night as this? What could he do to help her?
Perhaps even now, as he sat there idle, she--Hark! was not that a
gun--No? Yes, surely!
He hurriedly unbolted the door, but the strength of the wind and
the impact of drifted sand resisted his efforts. With a new and
feverish strength possessing him he forced it open wide enough to
permit his egress when the wind caught him as a feather, rolled him
over and over, and then, grappling him again, held him down hard
and fast against the drift. Unharmed, but unable to move, he lay
there, hearing the multitudinous roar of the storm, but unable to
distinguish one familiar sound in the savage medley. At last he
managed to crawl flat on his face to the cabin, and refastening the
door, threw himself upon his bed.
He was awakened from a fitful dream of his Cousin Maria. She with
a supernatural strength seemed to be holding the door against some
unseen, unknown power that moaned and strove without, and threw
itself in despairing force against the cabin. He could see the
lithe undulations of her form as she alternately yielded to its
power, and again drew the door against it, coiling herself around
the log-hewn doorpost with a hideous, snake-like suggestion. And
then a struggle and a heavy blow, which shook the very foundations
of the structure, awoke him. He leaped to his feet, and into an
inch of water! By the flickering firelight he could see it oozing
and dripping from the crevices of the logs and broadening into a
pool by the chimney. A scrap of paper torn from an envelope was
floating idly on its current. Was it the overflow of the backed-up
waters of the river? He was not left long in doubt. Another blow
upon the gable of the house, and a torrent of spray leaped down the
chimney, scattered the embers far and wide, and left him in utter
darkness. Some of the spray clung to his lips. It was salt. The
great ocean had beaten down the river bar and was upon him!
Was there aught to fly to? No! The cabin stood upon the highest
point of the sand spit, and the low swale on one side crossed by
his late visitors was a seething mass of breakers, while the
estuary behind him was now the ocean itself. There was nothing to
do but to wait.
The very helplessness of his situation was, to a man of his
peculiar temperament, an element of patient strength. The instinct
of self-preservation was still strong in him, but he had no fear of
death, nor, indeed, any presentiment of it; yet if it came, it was
an easy solution of the problem that had been troubling him, and it
wiped off the slate! He thought of the sarcastic prediction of his
cousin, and death in the form that threatened him was the
obliteration of his home and even the ground upon which it stood.
There would be nothing to record, no stain could come upon the
living. The instinct that kept him true to HER would tell her how
he died; if it did not, it was equally well. And with this simple
fatalism his only belief, this strange man groped his way to his
bed, lay down, and in a few moments was asleep. The storm still
roared without. Once again the surges leaped against the cabin,
but it was evident that the wind was abating with the tide.
When he awoke it was high noon, and the sun was shining brightly.
For some time he lay in a delicious languor, doubting if he was
alive or dead, but feeling through every nerve and fibre an
exquisite sense of peace--a rest he had not known since his
boyhood--a relief he scarcely knew from what. He felt that he was
smiling, and yet his pillow was wet with the tears that glittered
still on his lashes. The sand blocking up his doorway, he leaped
lightly from his window. A few clouds were still sailing slowly in
the heavens, the trailing plumes of a great benediction that lay on
sea and shore. He scarcely recognized the familiar landscape; a
new bar had been formed in the river, and a narrow causeway of sand
that crossed the lagoon and marshes to the river bank and the
upland trail seemed to bring him nearer to humanity again. He was
conscious of a fresh, childlike delight in all this, and when, a
moment later, he saw the old uprooted tree, now apparently forever
moored and imbedded in the sand beside his cabin, he ran to it with
a sense of joy.
Its trailing roots were festooned with clinging sea-weed and the
long, snaky, undulating stems of the sea-turnip; and fixed between
two crossing roots was a bamboo orange crate, almost intact. As he
walked toward it he heard a strange cry, unlike anything the barren
sands had borne before. Thinking it might be some strange sea bird
caught in the meshes of the sea-weed, he ran to the crate and
looked within. It was half filled with sea-moss and feathery
algae. The cry was repeated. He brushed aside the weeds with his
hands. It was not a wounded sea bird, but a living human child!
As he lifted it from its damp enwrappings he saw that it was an
infant eight or nine months old. How and when it had been brought
there, or what force had guided that elfish cradle to his very
door, he could not determine; but it must have been left early, for
it was quite warm, and its clothing almost dried by the blazing
morning sun. To wrap his coat about it, to run to his cabin with
it, to start out again with the appalling conviction that nothing
could be done for it there, occupied some moments. His nearest
neighbor was Trinidad Joe, a "logger," three miles up the river.
He remembered to have heard vaguely that he was a man of family.
To half strangle the child with a few drops from his whisky flask,
to extricate his canoe from the marsh, and strike out into the
river with his waif, was at least to do something. In half an hour
he had reached the straggling cabin and sheds of Trinidad Joe, and
from the few scanty flowers that mingled with the brushwood fence,
and a surplus of linen fluttering on the line, he knew that his
surmise as to Trinidad Joe's domestic establishment was correct.
The door at which he knocked opened upon a neat, plainly-furnished
room, and the figure of a buxom woman of twenty-five. With an
awkwardness new to him, North stammered out the circumstances of
his finding the infant, and the object of his visit. Before he had
finished, the woman, by some feminine trick, had taken the child
from his hands ere he knew it; and when he paused, out of breath,
burst into a fit of laughter. North tried to laugh too, but
When the woman had wiped the tears from a pair of very frank blue
eyes, and hidden two rows of very strong white teeth again, she
"Look yar! You're that looney sort a' chap that lives alone over
on the spit yonder, ain't ye?"
North hastened to admit all that the statement might imply.
"And so ye've had a baby left ye to keep you company? Lordy!"
Here she looked as if dangerously near a relapse, and then added,
as if in explanation of her conduct,--
"When I saw ye paddlin' down here,--you thet ez shy as elk in
summer,--I sez, 'He's sick.' But a baby,--Oh, Lordy!"
For a moment North almost hated her. A woman who, in this
pathetic, perhaps almost tragic, picture saw only a ludicrous
image, and that image himself, was of another race than that he had
ever mingled with. Profoundly indifferent as he had always been to
the criticism of his equals in station, the mischievous laughter of
this illiterate woman jarred upon him worse than his cousin's
sarcasm. It was with a little dignity that he pointed out the fact
that at present the child needed nourishment. "It's very young,"
he added. "I'm afraid it wants its natural nourishment."
"Whar is it to get it?" asked the woman.
James North hesitated, and looked around. There should be a baby
somewhere! there MUST be a baby somewhere! "I thought that you,"
he stammered, conscious of an awkward coloring,--"I--that is--I--"
He stopped short, for she was already cramming her apron into her
mouth, too late, however, to stop the laugh that overflowed it.
When she found her breath again, she said,--
"Look yar! I don't wonder they said you was looney! I'm Trinidad
Joe's onmarried darter, and the only woman in this house. Any fool
could have told you that. Now, ef you can rig us up a baby out o'
them facts, I'd like to see it done."
Inwardly furious but outwardly polite, James North begged her
pardon, deplored his ignorance, and, with a courtly bow, made a
movement to take the child. But the woman as quickly drew it away.
"Not much," she said, hastily. "What! trust that poor critter to
you? No, sir! Thar's more ways of feeding a baby, young man, than
you knows on, with all your 'nat'ral nourishment.' But it looks
kinder logy and stupid."
North freezingly admitted that he had given the infant whisky as a
"You did? Come, now, that ain't so looney after all. Well, I'll
take the baby, and when Dad comes home we'll see what can be done."
North hesitated. His dislike of the woman was intense, and yet he
knew no one else and the baby needed instant care. Besides, he
began to see the ludicrousness of his making a first call on his
neighbors with a foundling to dispose of. She saw his hesitation,
"Ye don't know me, in course. Well, I'm Bessy Robinson, Trinidad
Joe Robinson's daughter. I reckon Dad will give me a character if
you want references, or any of the boys on the river."
"I'm only thinking of the trouble I'm giving you, Miss Robinson, I
assure you. Any expense you may incur--"
"Young man," said Bessy Robinson, turning sharply on her heel, and
facing him with her black brows a little contracted, "if it comes
to expenses, I reckon I'll pay you for that baby, or not take it at
all. But I don't know you well enough to quarrel with you on
sight. So leave the child to me, and, if you choose, paddle down
here to-morrow, after sun up--the ride will do you good--and see
it, and Dad thrown in. Good by!" and with one powerful but well-
shaped arm thrown around the child, and the other crooked at the
dimpled elbow a little aggressively, she swept by James North and
entered a bedroom, closing the door behind her.
When Mr. James North reached his cabin it was dark. As he rebuilt
his fire, and tried to rearrange the scattered and disordered
furniture, and remove the debris of last night's storm, he was
conscious for the first time of feeling lonely. He did not miss
the child. Beyond the instincts of humanity and duty he had really
no interest in its welfare or future. He was rather glad to get
rid of it, he would have preferred to some one else, and yet SHE
looked as if she were competent. And then came the reflection that
since the morning he had not once thought of the woman he loved.
The like had never occurred in his twelvemonth solitude. So he set
to work, thinking of her and of his sorrows, until the word
"Looney," in connection with his suffering, flashed across his
memory. "Looney!" It was not a nice word. It suggested something
less than insanity; something that might happen to a common,
unintellectual sort of person. He remembered the loon, an ungainly
feathered neighbor, that was popularly supposed to have lent its
name to the adjective. Could it be possible that people looked
upon him as one too hopelessly and uninterestingly afflicted for
sympathy or companionship, too unimportant and common for even
ridicule; or was this but the coarse interpretation of that vulgar
Nevertheless, the next morning "after sun up" James North was at
Trinidad Joe's cabin. That worthy proprietor himself--a long, lank
man, with even more than the ordinary rural Western characteristics
of ill health, ill feeding, and melancholy--met him on the bank,
clothed in a manner and costume that was a singular combination of
the frontiersman and the sailor. When North had again related the
story of his finding the child, Trinidad Joe pondered.
"It mout hev been stowed away in one of them crates for safe-
keeping," he said, musingly, "and washed off the deck o' one o'
them Tahiti brigs goin' down fer oranges. Least-ways, it never got
thar from these parts."
"But it's a miracle its life was saved at all. It must have been
some hours in the water."
"Them brigs lays their course well inshore, and it was just mebbe a
toss up if the vessel clawed off the reef at all! And ez to the
child keepin' up, why, dog my skin! that's just the contrariness o'
things," continued Joe, in sententious cynicism. "Ef an able
seaman had fallen from the yard-arm that night he'd been sunk in
sight o' the ship, and thet baby ez can't swim a stroke sails
ashore, sound asleep, with the waves for a baby-jumper."
North, who was half relieved, yet half awkwardly disappointed at
not seeing Bessy, ventured to ask how the child was doing.
"She'll do all right now," said a frank voice above, and, looking
up, North discerned the round arms, blue eyes, and white teeth of
the daughter at the window. "She's all hunky, and has an appetite--
ef she hezn't got her 'nat'ral nourishment.' Come, Dad! heave
ahead, and tell the stranger what you and me allow we'll do, and
don't stand there swappin' lies with him."
"Weel," said Trinidad Joe, dejectedly, "Bess allows she can rar
that baby and do justice to it. And I don't say--though I'm her
father--that she can't. But when Bess wants anything she wants it
all, clean down; no half-ways nor leavin's for her."
"That's me! go on, Dad--you're chippin' in the same notch every
time," said Miss Robinson, with cheerful directness.
"Well, we agree to put the job up this way. We'll take the child
and you'll give us a paper or writin' makin' over all your right
and title. How's that?"
Without knowing exactly why he did, Mr. North objected decidedly.
"Do you think we won't take good care of it?" asked Miss Bessy,
"That is not the question," said North, a little hotly. "In the
first place, the child is not mine to give. It has fallen into my
hands as a trust,--the first hands that received it from its
parents. I do not think it right to allow any other hands to come
between theirs and mine."
Miss Bessy left the window. In another moment she appeared from
the house, and, walking directly towards North, held out a somewhat
substantial hand. "Good!" she said, as she gave his fingers an
honest squeeze. "You ain't so looney after all. Dad, he's right!
He shan't gin it up, but we'll go halves in it, he and me. He'll
be father and I'll be mother 'til death do us part, or the reg'lar
family turns up. Well--what do you say?"
More pleased than he dared confess to himself with the praise of
this common girl, Mr. James North assented. Then would he see the
baby? He would, and Trinidad Joe having already seen the baby, and
talked of the baby, and felt the baby, and indeed had the baby
offered to him in every way during the past night, concluded to
give some of his valuable time to logging, and left them together.
Mr. North was obliged to admit that the baby was thriving. He
moreover listened with polite interest to the statement that the
baby's eyes were hazel, like his own; that it had five teeth; that
she was, for a girl of that probable age, a robust child; and yet
Mr. North lingered. Finally, with his hand on the door-lock, he
turned to Bessy and said,--
"May I ask you an odd question, Miss Robinson?"
"Why did you think I was--'looney'?"
The frank Miss Robinson bent her head over the baby.
"Because you WERE looney."
"You'll get over it."
And under the shallow pretext of getting the baby's food, she
retired to the kitchen, where Mr. North had the supreme
satisfaction of seeing her, as he passed the window, sitting on a
chair with her apron over her head, shaking with laughter.
For the next two or three days he did not visit the Robinsons, but
gave himself up to past memories. On the third day he had--it must
be confessed not without some effort--brought himself into that
condition of patient sorrow which had been his habit. The episode
of the storm and the finding of the baby began to fade, as had
faded the visit of his relatives. It had been a dull, wet day and
he was sitting by his fire, when there came a tap at his door.
"Flora;" by which juvenescent name his aged Indian handmaid was
known, usually announced her presence with an imitation of a
curlew's cry: it could not be her. He fancied he heard the
trailing of a woman's dress against the boards, and started to his
feet, deathly pale, with a name upon his lips. But the door was
impatiently thrown open, and showed Bessy Robinson! And the baby!
With a feeling of relief he could not understand he offered her a
seat. She turned her frank eyes on him curiously.
"You look skeert!"
"I was startled. You know I see nobody here!"
"Thet's so. But look yar, do you ever use a doctor?"
Not clearly understanding her, he in turn asked, "Why?"
"Cause you must rise up and get one now--thet's why. This yer baby
of ours is sick. We don't use a doctor at our house, we don't
beleeve in 'em, hain't no call for 'em--but this yer baby's parents
mebbee did. So rise up out o' that cheer and get one."
James North looked at Miss Robinson and rose, albeit a little in
doubt, and hesitating.
Miss Robinson saw it. "I shouldn't hev troubled ye, nor ridden
three mile to do it, if ther hed been any one else to send. But
Dad's over at Eureka, buying logs, and I'm alone. Hello--wher yer
North had seized his hat and opened the door. "For a doctor," he
"Did ye kalkilate to walk six miles and back?"
"Certainly--I have no horse."
"But I have, and you'll find her tethered outside. She ain't much
to look at, but when you strike the trail she'll go."
"But YOU--how will YOU return?"
"Well," said Miss Robinson, drawing her chair to the fire, taking
off her hat and shawl, and warming her knees by the blaze, "I
didn't reckon to return. You'll find me here when you come back
with the doctor. Go! Skedaddle quick!"
She did not have to repeat the command. In another instant James
North was in Miss Bessy's seat--a man's dragoon saddle,--and
pounding away through the sand. Two facts were in his mind: one
was that he, the "looney," was about to open communication with the
wisdom and contemporary criticism of the settlement, by going for a
doctor to administer to a sick and anonymous infant in his
possession; the other was that his solitary house was in the hands
of a self-invited, large-limbed, illiterate, but rather comely
young woman. These facts he could not gallop away from, but to his
credit be it recorded that he fulfilled his mission zealously, if
not coherently, to the doctor, who during the rapid ride gathered
the idea that North had rescued a young married woman from
drowning, who had since given birth to a child.
The few words that set the doctor right when he arrived at the
cabin might in any other community have required further
explanation, but Dr. Duchesne, an old army surgeon, was prepared
for everything and indifferent to all. "The infant," he said, "was
threatened with inflammation of the lungs; at present there was no
danger, but the greatest care and caution must be exercised.
Particularly exposure should be avoided." "That settles the whole
matter, then," said Bessy potentially. Both gentlemen looked their
surprise. "It means," she condescended to further explain, "that
YOU must ride that filly home, wait for the old man to come to-
morrow, and then ride back here with some of my duds, for thar's no
'day-days' nor picknicking for that baby ontil she's better. And I
reckon to stay with her ontil she is."
"She certainly is unable to bear any exposure at present," said the
doctor, with an amused side glance at North's perplexed face.
"Miss Robinson is right. I'll ride with you over the sands as far
as the trail."
"I'm afraid," said North, feeling it incumbent upon him to say
something, "that you'll hardly find it as comfortable here as--"
"I reckon not," she said simply, "but I didn't expect much."
North turned a little wearily away. "Good night," she said
suddenly, extending her hand, with a gentler smile of lip and eye
than he had ever before noticed, "good night--take good care of
The doctor and North rode together some moments in silence. North
had another fact presented to him, i. e. that he was going a-
visiting, and that he had virtually abandoned his former life; also
that it would be profanation to think of his sacred woe in the
house of a stranger.
"I dare say," said the doctor, suddenly, "you are not familiar with
the type of woman Miss Bessy presents so perfectly. Your life has
been spent among the conventional class."
North froze instantly at what seemed to be a probing of his secret.
Disregarding the last suggestion, he made answer simply and
truthfully that he had never met any Western girl like Bessy.
"That's your bad luck," said the doctor. "You think her coarse and
Mr. North had been so much struck with her kindness that really he
had not thought of it.
"That's not so," said the doctor, curtly; "although even if you
told her so she would not think any the less of you--nor of
herself. If she spoke rustic Greek instead of bad English, and
wore a cestus in place of an ill-fitting corset, you'd swear she
was a goddess. There's your trail. Good night."
James North did not sleep well that night. He had taken Miss
Bessy's bedroom, at her suggestion, there being but two, and "Dad
never using sheets and not bein' keerful in his habits." It was
neat, but that was all. The scant ornamentation was atrocious; two
or three highly colored prints, a shell work-box, a ghastly winter
bouquet of skeleton leaves and mosses, a star-fish, and two china
vases hideous enough to have been worshiped as Buddhist idols,
exhibited the gentle recreation of the fair occupant, and the
possible future education of the child. In the morning he was met
by Joe, who received the message of his daughter with his usual
dejection, and suggested that North stay with him until the child
was better. That event was still remote; North found, on his
return to his cabin, that the child had been worse; but he did not
know, until Miss Bessy dropped a casual remark, that she had not
closed her own eyes that night. It was a week before he regained
his own quarters, but an active week--indeed, on the whole, a
rather pleasant week. For there was a delicate flattery in being
domineered by a wholesome and handsome woman, and Mr. James North
had by this time made up his mind that she was both. Once or twice
he found himself contemplating her splendid figure with a
recollection of the doctor's compliment, and later, emulating her
own frankness, told her of it.
"And what did YOU say?" she asked.
"Oh, I laughed and said--nothing."
And so did she.
A month after this interchange of frankness, she asked him if he
could spend the next evening at her house. "You see," she said,
"there's to be a dance down at the hall at Eureka, and I haven't
kicked a fut since last spring. Hank Fisher's comin' up to take me
over, and I'm goin' to let the shanty slide for the night."
"But what's to become of the baby?" asked North, a little testily.
"Well," said Miss Robinson, facing him somewhat aggressively, "I
reckon it won't hurt ye to take care of it for a night. Dad can't--
and if he could, he don't know how. Liked to have pizened me
after mar died. No, young man, I don't propose to ask Hank Fisher
to tote thet child over to Eureka and back, and spile his fun."
"Then I suppose I must make way for Mr. Hank--Hank--Fisher?" said
North, with the least tinge of sarcasm in his speech.
"Of course. You've got nothing else to do, you know."
North would have given worlds to have pleaded a previous engagement
on business of importance, but he knew that Bessy spoke truly. He
had nothing to do. "And Fisher has, I suppose?" he asked.
"Of course--to look after ME!"
A more unpleasant evening James North had not spent since the first
day of his solitude. He almost began to hate the unconscious cause
of his absurd position, as he paced up and down the floor with it.
"Was there ever such egregious folly?" he began, but remembering he
was quoting Maria North's favorite resume of his own conduct, he
stopped. The child cried, missing, no doubt, the full rounded
curves and plump arm of its nurse. North danced it violently, with
an inward accompaniment that was not musical, and thought of the
other dancers. "Doubtless," he mused, "she has told this beau of
hers that she has left the baby with the 'looney' Man on the Beach.
Perhaps I may be offered a permanent engagement as a harmless
simpleton accustomed to the care of children. Mothers may cry for
me. The doctor is at Eureka. Of course, he will be there to see
his untranslated goddess, and condole with her over the imbecility
of the Man on the Beach." Once he carelessly asked Joe who the
"Well," said Joe, mournfully, "thar's Widder Higsby and darter; the
four Stubbs gals; in course Polly Doble will be on hand with that
feller that's clerking over at the Head for Jones, and Jones's
wife. Then thar's French Pete, and Whisky Ben, and that chap that
shot Archer,--I disremember his name,--and the barber--what's that
little mulatto's name--that 'ar Kanaka? I swow!" continued Joe,
drearily, "I'll be forgettin' my own next--and--"
"That will do," interrupted North, only half concealing his disgust
as he rose and carried the baby to the other room, beyond the reach
of names that might shock its ladylike ears. The next morning he
met the from-dance-returning Bessy abstractedly, and soon took his
leave, full of a disloyal plan, conceived in the sleeplessness of
her own bedchamber. He was satisfied that he owed a duty to its
unknown parents to remove the child from the degrading influences
of the barber Kanaka, and Hank Fisher especially, and he resolved
to write to his relatives, stating the case, asking a home for the
waif and assistance to find its parents. He addressed this letter
to his cousin Maria, partly in consideration of the dramatic
farewell of that young lady, and its possible influence in turning
her susceptible heart towards his protege. He then quietly settled
back to his old solitary habits, and for a week left the Robinsons
unvisited. The result was a morning call by Trinidad Joe on the
hermit. "It's a whim of my gal's, Mr. North," he said, dejectedly,
"and ez I told you before and warned ye, when that gal hez an idee,
fower yoke of oxen and seving men can't drag it outer her. She's
got a idee o' larnin'--never hevin' hed much schoolin', and we ony
takin' the papers, permiskiss like--and she says YOU can teach her--
not hevin' anythin' else to do. Do ye folly me?"
"Yes," said North, "certainly."
"Well, she allows ez mebbee you're proud, and didn't like her
takin' care of the baby for nowt; and she reckons that ef you'll
gin her some book larnin', and get her to sling some fancy talk in
fash'n'ble style--why, she'll call it squar."
"You can tell her," said North, very honestly, "that I shall be
only too glad to help her in any way, without ever hoping to cancel
my debt of obligation to her."
"Then it's a go?" said the mystified Joe, with a desperate attempt
to convey the foregoing statement to his own intellect in three
"It's a go," replied North, cheerfully.
And he felt relieved. For he was not quite satisfied with his own
want of frankness to her. But here was a way to pay off the debt
he owed her, and yet retain his own dignity. And now he could tell
her what he had done, and he trusted to the ambitious instinct that
prompted her to seek a better education to explain his reasons for
He saw her that evening and confessed all to her frankly. She kept
her head averted, but when she turned her blue eyes to him they
were wet with honest tears. North had a man's horror of a ready
feminine lachrymal gland; but it was not like Bessy to cry, and it
meant something; and then she did it in a large, goddess-like way,
without sniffling, or chocking, or getting her nose red, but rather
with a gentle deliquescence, a harmonious melting, so that he was
fain to comfort her with nearer contact, gentleness in his own sad
eyes, and a pressure of her large hand.
"It's all right, I s'pose," she said, sadly; "but I didn't reckon
on yer havin' any relations, but thought you was alone, like me."
James North, thinking of Hank Fisher and the "mullater," could not
help intimating that his relations were very wealthy and
fashionable people, and had visited him last summer. A
recollection of the manner in which they had so visited him and his
own reception of them prevented his saying more. But Miss Bessy
could not forego a certain feminine curiosity, and asked,--
"Did they come with Sam Baker's team?"
"And Sam drove the horses here for a bite?"
"I believe so."
"And them's your relations?"
Miss Robinson reached over the cradle and enfolded the sleeping
infant in her powerful arms. Then she lifted her eyes, wrathful
through her still glittering tears, and said, slowly, "They don't--
"Oh, why? I saw them! That's why, and enough! You can't play any
such gay and festive skeletons on this poor baby for flesh and
blood parents. No, sir!"
"I think you judge them hastily, Miss Bessy," said North, secretly
amused; "my aunt may not, at first, favorably impress strangers,
yet she has many friends. But surely you do not object to my
cousin Maria, the young lady?"
"What! that dried cuttle-fish, with nothing livin' about her but
her eyes? James North, ye may be a fool like the old woman,--
perhaps it's in the family,--but ye ain't a devil, like that gal!
That ends it."
And it did. North dispatched a second letter to Maria saying that
he had already made other arrangements for the baby. Pleased with
her easy victory, Miss Bessy became more than usually gracious, and
the next day bowed her shapely neck meekly to the yoke of her
teacher, and became a docile pupil. James North could not have
helped noticing her ready intelligence, even had he been less
prejudiced in her favor than he was fast becoming now. If he had
found it pleasant before to be admonished by her there was still
more delicious flattery in her perfect trust in his omniscient
skill as a pilot over this unknown sea. There was a certain
enjoyment in guiding her hand over the writing-book, that I fear he
could not have obtained from an intellect less graciously sustained
by its physical nature. The weeks flew quickly by on gossamer
wings, and when she placed a bunch of larkspurs and poppies in his
hand one morning, he remembered for the first that it was spring.
I cannot say that there was more to record of Miss Bessy's
education than this. Once North, half jestingly, remarked that he
had never yet seen her admirer, Mr. Hank Fisher. Miss Bessy
(coloring but cool)--"You never will!" North (white but hot)--
"Why?" Miss Bessy (faintly)--"I'd rather not." North
(resolutely)--"I insist." Bessy (yielding)--"As my teacher?"
North (hesitatingly, at the limitation of the epithet)--"Y-e-e-s!"
Bessy--"And you'll promise never to speak of it again?" North--
"Never." Bessy (slowly--"Well, he said I did an awful thing to go
over to your cabin and stay." North (in the genuine simplicity of
a refined nature)--"But how?" Miss Bessy (half piqued, but
absolutely admiring that nature)--"Quit! and keep your promise!"
They were so happy in these new relations that it occurred to Miss
Bessy one day to take James North to task for obliging her to ask
to be his pupil. "You knew how ignorant I was," she added; and Mr.
North retorted by relating to her the doctor's criticism on her
independence. "To tell you the truth," he added, "I was afraid you
would not take it as kindly as he thought."
"That is, you thought me as vain as yourself. It seems to me you
and the doctor had a great deal to say to each other."
"On the contrary," laughed North, "that was all we said."
"And you didn't make fun of me?"
Perhaps it was not necessary for North to take her hand to
emphasize his denial, but he did.
Miss Bessy, being still reminiscent, perhaps, did not notice it.
"If it hadn't been for that ar--I mean that thar--no, that baby--I
wouldn't have known you!" she said dreamily.
"No," returned North, mischievously, "but you still would have
known Hank Fisher."
No woman is perfect. Miss Bessy looked at him with a sudden--her
first and last--flash of coquetry. Then stooped and kissed--the
James North was a simple gentleman, but not altogether a fool. He
returned the kiss, but not vicariously.
There was a footstep on the porch. These two turned the hues of a
dying dolphin, and then laughed. It was Joe. He held a newspaper
in his hand. "I reckon ye woz right, Mr. North, about my takin'
these yar papers reg'lar. For I allow here's suthin' that may clar
up the mystery o' that baby's parents." With the hesitation of a
slowly grappling intellect, Joe sat down on the table and read from
the San Francisco "Herald" as follows: "'It is now ascertained
beyond doubt that the wreck reported by the Aeolus was the American
brig Pomare bound hence to Tahiti. The worst surmises are found
correct. The body of the woman has been since identified as that
of the beau-ti-ful daughter of--of--of--Terp--Terp--Terpish'--Well!
I swow that name just tackles me."
"Gin it to me, Dad," said Bessy pertly. "You never had any
education, any way. Hear your accomplished daughter." With a mock
bow to the new schoolmaster, and a capital burlesque of a confident
school girl, she strode to the middle of the room the paper held
and folded book-wise in her hands. "Ahem! Where did you leave
off? Oh, 'the beautiful daughter of Terpsichore--whose name was
prom-i-nently connected with a mysterious social scandal of last
year--the gifted but unfortunate Grace Chatterton'--No--don't stop
me--there's some more! 'The body of her child, a lovely infant of
six months, has not been recovered, and it is supposed was washed
overboard.' There! may be that's the child, Mr. North. Why, Dad!
Look, O my God! He's falling. Catch him, Dad! Quick!"
But her strong arm had anticipated her father's. She caught him,
lifted him to the bed, on which he lay henceforth for many days
unconscious. Then fever supervened, and delirium, and Dr. Duchesne
telegraphed for his friends; but at the end of a week and the
opening of a summer day the storm passed, as the other storm had
passed, and he awoke, enfeebled, but at peace. Bessy was at his
side--he was glad to see--alone.
"Bessy, dear," he said hesitatingly, "when I am stronger I have
something to tell you."
"I know it all, Jem," she said with a trembling lip; "I heard it
all--no, not from THEM, but from your own lips in your delirium.
I'm glad it came from YOU--even then."
"Do you forgive me, Bessy?"
She pressed her lips to his forehead and said hastily, and then
falteringly, as if afraid of her impulse:--
"And you will still be mother to the child?"
"No dear, not hers, but MINE!"
She started, cried a little, and then putting her arms around him,
And as there was but one way of fulfilling that sacred promise,
they were married in the autumn.
TWO SAINTS OF THE FOOT-HILLS
It never was clearly ascertained how long they had been there. The
first settler of Rough-and-Ready--one Low, playfully known to his
familiars as "The Poor Indian"--declared that the Saints were afore
his time, and occupied a cabin in the brush when he "blazed" his
way to the North Fork. It is certain that the two were present
when the water was first turned on the Union Ditch and then and
there received the designation of Daddy Downey and Mammy Downey,
which they kept to the last. As they tottered toward the
refreshment tent, they were welcomed with the greatest enthusiasm
by the boys; or, to borrow the more refined language of the "Union
Recorder,"--"Their gray hairs and bent figures, recalling as they
did the happy paternal eastern homes of the spectators, and the
blessings that fell from venerable lips when they left those homes
to journey in quest of the Golden Fleece on Occidental Slopes,
caused many to burst into tears." The nearer facts, that many of
these spectators were orphans, that a few were unable to establish
any legal parentage whatever, that others had enjoyed a State's
guardianship and discipline, and that a majority had left their
paternal roofs without any embarrassing preliminary formula, were
mere passing clouds that did not dim the golden imagery of the
writer. From that day the Saints were adopted as historical lay
figures, and entered at once into possession of uninterrupted
gratuities and endowment.
It was not strange that, in a country largely made up of ambitious
and reckless youth, these two--types of conservative and settled
forms--should be thus celebrated. Apart from any sentiment or
veneration, they were admirable foils to the community's youthful
progress and energy. They were put forward at every social
gathering, occupied prominent seats on the platform at every public
meeting, walked first in every procession, were conspicuous at the
frequent funeral and rarer wedding, and were godfather and
godmother to the first baby born in Rough-and-Ready. At the first
poll opened in that precinct, Daddy Downey cast the first vote,
and, as was his custom on all momentous occasions, became volubly
reminiscent. "The first vote I ever cast," said Daddy, "was for
Andrew Jackson; the father o' some on your peart young chaps wasn't
born then; he! he! that was 'way long in '33, wasn't it? I
disremember now, but if Mammy was here, she bein' a school-gal at
the time, she could say. But my memory's failin' me. I'm an old
man, boys; yet I likes to see the young ones go ahead. I recklect
that thar vote from a suckumstance. Squire Adams was present, and
seein' it was my first vote, he put a goold piece into my hand,
and, sez he, sez Squire Adams, 'Let that always be a reminder of
the exercise of a glorious freeman's privilege!' He did; he! he!
Lord, boys! I feel so proud of ye, that I wish I had a hundred
votes to cast for ye all."
It was hardly necessary to say that the memorial tribute of Squire
Adams was increased tenfold by the judges, inspectors, and clerks,
and that the old man tottered back to Mammy, considerably heavier
than he came. As both of the rival candidates were equally sure of
his vote, and each had called upon him and offered a conveyance, it
is but fair to presume they were equally beneficent. But Daddy
insisted upon walking to the polls,--a distance of two miles,--as a
moral example, and a text for the California paragraphers, who
hastened to record that such was the influence of the foot-hill
climate, that "a citizen of Rough-and-Ready, aged eighty-four, rose
at six o'clock, and, after milking two cows, walked a distance of
twelve miles to the polls, and returned in time to chop a cord of
wood before dinner."
Slightly exaggerated as this statement may have been, the fact that
Daddy was always found by the visitor to be engaged at his wood-
pile, which seemed neither to increase nor diminish under his axe,
a fact, doubtless, owing to the activity of Mammy, who was always
at the same time making pies, seemed to give some credence to the
story. Indeed, the wood-pile of Daddy Downey was a standing
reproof to the indolent and sluggish miner.
"Ole Daddy must use up a pow'ful sight of wood; every time I've
passed by his shanty he's been makin' the chips fly. But what gets
me is, that the pile don't seem to come down," said Whisky Dick to
"Well, you derned fool!" growled his neighbor, "spose some chap
happens to pass by thar, and sees the old man doin' a man's work at
eighty, and slouches like you and me lying round drunk, and that
chap, feelin' kinder humped, goes up some dark night and heaves a
load of cut pine over his fence, who's got anything to say about
it? Say?" Certainly not the speaker, who had done the act
suggested, nor the penitent and remorseful hearer, who repeated it
The pies and cakes made by the old woman were, I think, remarkable
rather for their inducing the same loyal and generous spirit than
for their intrinsic excellence, and it may be said appealed more
strongly to the nobler aspirations of humanity than its vulgar
appetite. Howbeit, everybody ate Mammy Downey's pies, and thought
of his childhood. "Take 'em, dear boys," the old lady would say;
"it does me good to see you eat 'em; reminds me kinder of my poor
Sammy, that, ef he'd lived, would hev been ez strong and beg ez you
be, but was taken down with lung fever, at Sweetwater. I kin see
him yet; that's forty year ago, dear! comin' out o' the lot to the
bake-house, and smilin' such a beautiful smile, like yours, dear
boy, as I handed him a mince or a lemming turnover. Dear, dear,
how I do run on! and those days is past! but I seems to live in you
again!" The wife of the hotel-keeper, actuated by a low jealousy,
had suggested that she "seemed to live OFF them;" but as that
person tried to demonstrate the truth of her statement by reference
to the cost of the raw material used by the old lady, it was
considered by the camp as too practical and economical for
consideration. "Besides," added Cy Perkins, "ef old Mammy wants to
turn an honest penny in her old age, let her do it. How would you
like your old mother to make pies on grub wages? eh?" A suggestion
that so affected his hearer (who had no mother) that he bought
three on the spot. The quality of these pies had never been
discussed but once. It is related that a young lawyer from San
Francisco, dining at the Palmetto restaurant, pushed away one of
Mammy Downey's pies with every expression of disgust and
dissatisfaction. At this juncture, Whisky Dick, considerably
affected by his favorite stimulant, approached the stranger's
table, and, drawing up a chair, sat uninvited before him.
"Mebbee, young man," he began gravely, "ye don't like Mammy
The stranger replied curtly, and in some astonishment, that he did
not, as a rule, "eat pie."
"Young man," continued Dick, with drunken gravity, "mebbee you're
accustomed to Charlotte rusks and blue mange; mebbee ye can't eat
unless your grub is got up by one o' them French cooks'? Yet WE--
us boys yar in this camp--calls that pie--a good--a com-pe-tent
The stranger again disclaimed anything but a general dislike of
that form of pastry.
"Young man," continued Dick, utterly unheeding the explanation,--
"young man, mebbee you onst had an ole--a very ole mother, who,
tottering down the vale o' years, made pies. Mebbee, and it's like
your blank epicurean soul, ye turned up your nose on the ole woman,
and went back on the pies, and on her! She that dandled ye when ye
woz a baby,--a little baby! Mebbee ye went back on her, and shook
her, and played off on her, and gave her away--dead away! And now,
mebbee, young man--I wouldn't hurt ye for the world, but mebbee,
afore ye leave this yar table, YE'LL EAT THAT PIE!"
The stranger rose to his feet, but the muzzle of a dragoon revolver
in the unsteady hands of Whisky Dick, caused him to sit down again.
He ate the pie, and lost his case likewise, before a Rough-and-
Indeed, far from exhibiting the cynical doubts and distrusts of
age, Daddy Downey received always with childlike delight the
progress of modern improvement and energy. "In my day, long back
in the twenties, it took us nigh a week--a week, boys--to get up a
barn, and all the young ones--I was one then--for miles 'round at
the raisin'; and yer's you boys--rascals ye are, too--runs up this
yer shanty for Mammy and me 'twixt sun-up and dark! Eh, eh, you're
teachin' the old folks new tricks, are ye? Ah, get along, you!"
and in playful simulation of anger he would shake his white hair
and his hickory staff at the "rascals." The only indication of the
conservative tendencies of age was visible in his continual protest
against the extravagance of the boys. "Why," he would say, "a
family, a hull family,--leavin' alone me and the old woman,--might
be supported on what you young rascals throw away in a single
spree. Ah, you young dogs, didn't I hear about your scattering
half-dollars on the stage the other night when that Eyetalian
Papist was singin'? And that money goes out of Ameriky--ivry
There was little doubt that the old couple were saving, if not
avaricious. But when it was known, through the indiscreet
volubility of Mammy Downey, that Daddy Downey sent the bulk of
their savings, gratuities, and gifts to a dissipated and prodigal
son in the East,--whose photograph the old man always carried with
him,--it rather elevated him in their regard. "When ye write to
that gay and festive son o' yourn, Daddy," said Joe Robinson, "send
him this yer specimen. Give him my compliments, and tell him, ef
he kin spend money faster than I can, I call him! Tell him, ef he
wants a first-class jamboree, to kem out here, and me and the boys
will show him what a square drunk is!" In vain would the old man
continue to protest against the spirit of the gift; the miner
generally returned with his pockets that much the lighter, and it
is not improbable a little less intoxicated than he otherwise might
have been. It may be premised that Daddy Downey was strictly
temperate. The only way he managed to avoid hurting the feelings
of the camp was by accepting the frequent donations of whisky to be
used for the purposes of liniment.
"Next to snake-oil, my son," he would say, "and dilberry-juice,--
and ye don't seem to pro-duce 'em hereabouts,--whisky is good for
rubbin' onto old bones to make 'em limber. But pure cold water,
'sparklin' and bright in its liquid light,' and, so to speak,
reflectin' of God's own linyments on its surfiss, is the best,
onless, like poor ol' Mammy and me, ye gets the dumb-agur from
The fame of the Downey couple was not confined to the foot-hills.
The Rev. Henry Gushington, D.D., of Boston, making a bronchial tour
of California, wrote to the "Christian Pathfinder" an affecting
account of his visit to them, placed Daddy Downey's age at 102, and
attributed the recent conversions in Rough-and-Ready to their
influence. That gifted literary Hessian, Bill Smith, traveling in
the interests of various capitalists, and the trustworthy
correspondent of four "only independent American journals," quoted
him as an evidence of the longevity superinduced by the climate,
offered him as an example of the security of helpless life and
property in the mountains, used him as an advertisement of the
Union Ditch, and it is said in some vague way cited him as proving
the collateral facts of a timber and ore-producing region existing
in the foot-hills worthy the attention of Eastern capitalists.
Praised thus by the lips of distinguished report, fostered by the
care and sustained by the pecuniary offerings of their fellow-
citizens, the Saints led for two years a peaceful life of gentle
absorption. To relieve them from the embarrassing appearance of
eleemosynary receipts,--an embarrassment felt more by the givers
than the recipients,--the postmastership of Rough-and-Ready was
procured for Daddy, and the duty of receiving and delivering the
United States mails performed by him, with the advice and
assistance of the boys. If a few letters went astray at this time,
it was easily attributed to this undisciplined aid, and the boys
themselves were always ready to make up the value of a missing
money-letter and "keep the old man's accounts square." To these
functions presently were added the treasurerships of the Masons'
and Odd Fellows' charitable funds,--the old man being far advanced
in their respective degrees,--and even the position of almoner of
their bounties was super-added. Here, unfortunately, Daddy's
habits of economy and avaricious propensity came near making him
unpopular, and very often needy brothers were forced to object to
the quantity and quality of the help extended. They always met
with more generous relief from the private hands of the brothers
themselves, and the remark, "that the ol' man was trying to set an
example,--that he meant well,"--and that they would yet be thankful
for his zealous care and economy. A few, I think, suffered in
noble silence, rather than bring the old man's infirmity to the
And so with this honor of Daddy and Mammy, the days of the miners
were long and profitable in the land of the foot-hills. The mines
yielded their abundance, the winters were singularly open and yet
there was no drouth nor lack of water, and peace and plenty smiled
on the Sierrean foothills, from their highest sunny upland to the
trailing falda of wild oats and poppies. If a certain superstition
got abroad among the other camps, connecting the fortunes of Rough-
and-Ready with Daddy and Mammy, it was a gentle, harmless fancy,
and was not, I think, altogether rejected by the old people. A
certain large, patriarchal, bountiful manner, of late visible in
Daddy, and the increase of much white hair and beard, kept up the
poetic illusion, while Mammy, day by day, grew more and more like
somebody's fairy godmother. An attempt was made by a rival camp to
emulate these paying virtues of reverence, and an aged mariner was
procured from the Sailor's Snug Harbor in San Francisco, on trial.
But the unfortunate seaman was more or less diseased, was not
always presentable, through a weakness for ardent spirits, and
finally, to use the powerful idiom of one of his disappointed
foster-children, "up and died in a week, without slinging ary
But vicissitude reaches young and old alike. Youthful Rough-and-
Ready and the Saints had climbed to their meridian together, and it
seemed fit that they should together decline. The first shadow
fell with the immigration to Rough-and-Ready of a second aged pair.
The landlady of the Independence Hotel had not abated her
malevolence towards the Saints, and had imported at considerable
expense her grand-aunt and grand-uncle, who had been enjoying for
some years a sequestered retirement in the poorhouse at East
Machias. They were indeed very old. By what miracle, even as
anatomical specimens, they had been preserved during their long
journey was a mystery to the camp. In some respects they had
superior memories and reminiscences. The old man--Abner Trix--had
shouldered a musket in the war of 1812; his wife, Abigail, had seen
Lady Washington. She could sing hymns; he knew every text between
"the leds" of a Bible. There is little doubt but that in many
respects, to the superficial and giddy crowd of youthful
spectators, they were the more interesting spectacle.
Whether it was jealousy, distrust, or timidity that overcame the
Saints, was never known, but they studiously declined to meet the
strangers. When directly approached upon the subject, Daddy Downey
pleaded illness, kept himself in close seclusion, and the Sunday
that the Trixes attended church in the school-house on the hill,
the triumph of the Trix party was mitigated by the fact that the
Downeys were not in their accustomed pew. "You bet that Daddy and
Mammy is lying low jest to ketch them old mummies yet," explained a
Downeyite. For by this time schism and division had crept into the
camp; the younger and later members of the settlement adhering to
the Trixes, while the older pioneers stood not only loyal to their
own favorites, but even, in the true spirit of partisanship, began
to seek for a principle underlying their personal feelings. "I
tell ye what, boys," observed Sweetwater Joe, "if this yer camp is
goin' to be run by greenhorns, and old pioneers, like Daddy and the
rest of us, must take back seats, it's time we emigrated and shoved
out, and tuk Daddy with us. Why, they're talkin' of rotation in
offiss, and of putting that skeleton that Ma'am Decker sets up at
the table, to take her boarders' appetites away, into the post-
office in place o' Daddy." And, indeed, there were some fears of
such a conclusion; the newer men of Rough-and-Ready were in the
majority, and wielded a more than equal influence of wealth and
outside enterprise. "Frisco," as a Downeyite bitterly remarked,
"already owned half the town." The old friends that rallied around
Daddy and Mammy were, like most loyal friends in adversity, in bad
case themselves, and were beginning to look and act, it was
observed, not unlike their old favorites.
At this juncture Mammy died.
The sudden blow for a few days seemed to reunite dissevered Rough-
and-Ready. Both factions hastened to the bereaved Daddy with
condolements, and offers of aid and assistance. But the old man
received them sternly. A change had come over the weak and
yielding octogenarian. Those who expected to find him maudlin,
helpless, disconsolate, shrank from the cold, hard eyes and
truculent voice that bade them "begone," and "leave him with his
dead." Even his own friends failed to make him respond to their
sympathy, and were fain to content themselves with his cold
intimation that both the wishes of his dead wife and his own
instincts were against any display, or the reception of any favor
from the camp that might tend to keep up the divisions they had
innocently created. The refusal of Daddy to accept any service
offered was so unlike him as to have but one dreadful meaning! The
sudden shock had turned his brain! Yet so impressed were they with
his resolution that they permitted him to perform the last sad
offices himself, and only a select few of his nearer neighbors
assisted him in carrying the plain deal coffin from his lonely
cabin in the woods to the still lonelier cemetery on the hill-top.
When the shallow grave was filled, he dismissed even these curtly,
shut himself up in his cabin, and for days remained unseen. It was
evident that he was no longer in his right mind.
His harmless aberration was accepted and treated with a degree of
intelligent delicacy hardly to be believed of so rough a community.
During his wife's sudden and severe illness, the safe containing
the funds intrusted to his care by the various benevolent
associations was broken into and robbed, and although the act was
clearly attributable to his carelessness and preoccupation, all
allusion to the fact was withheld from him in his severe
affliction. When he appeared again before the camp, and the
circumstances were considerately explained to him, with the remark
that "the boys had made it all right," the vacant, hopeless,
unintelligent eye that he turned upon the speaker showed too
plainly that he had forgotten all about it. "Don't trouble the old
man," said Whisky Dick, with a burst of honest poetry. "Don't ye
see his memory's dead, and lying there in the coffin with Mammy?"
Perhaps the speaker was nearer right than he imagined.
Failing in religious consolation, they took various means of
diverting his mind with worldly amusements, and one was a visit to
a traveling variety troupe, then performing in the town. The
result of the visit was briefly told by Whisky Dick. "Well, sir,
we went in, and I sot the old man down in a front seat, and kinder
propped him up with some other of the fellers round him, and there
he sot as silent and awful ez the grave. And then that fancy
dancer, Miss Grace Somerset, comes in, and dern my skin, ef the old
man didn't get to trembling and fidgeting all over, as she cut them
pidgin wings. I tell ye what, boys, men is men, way down to their
boots,--whether they're crazy or not! Well, he took on so, that
I'm blamed if at last that gal HERSELF didn't notice him! and she
ups, suddenly, and blows him a kiss--so! with her fingers!"
Whether this narration were exaggerated or not, it is certain that
the old man Downey every succeeding night of the performance was a
spectator. That he may have aspired to more than that was
suggested a day or two later in the following incident: A number
of the boys were sitting around the stove in the Magnolia saloon,
listening to the onset of a winter storm against the windows, when
Whisky Dick, tremulous, excited, and bristling with rain-drops and
information, broke in upon them.
"Well, boys, I've got just the biggest thing out. Ef I hadn't seed
it myself, I wouldn't hev believed it!"
"It ain't thet ghost ag'in?" growled Robinson, from the depths of
his arm-chair; "thet ghost's about played."
"Wot ghost?" asked a new-comer.
"Why, ole Mammy's ghost, that every feller about yer sees when he's
half full and out late o' nights."
"Where? Why, where should a ghost be? Meanderin' round her grave
on the hill, yander, in course."
"It's suthin bigger nor thet, pard," said Dick confidently; "no
ghost kin rake down the pot ag'in the keerds I've got here. This
ain't no bluff!"
"Well, go on!" said a dozen excited voices.
Dick paused a moment, diffidently, with the hesitation of an
"Well," he said, with affected deliberation, "let's see! It's nigh
onto an hour ago ez I was down thar at the variety show. When the
curtain was down betwixt the ax, I looks round fer Daddy. No Daddy
thar! I goes out and asks some o' the boys. 'Daddy WAS there a
minnit ago,' they say; 'must hev gone home.' Bein' kinder
responsible for the old man, I hangs around, and goes out in the
hall and sees a passage leadin' behind the scenes. Now the queer
thing about this, boys, ez that suthin in my bones tells me the old
man is THAR. I pushes in, and, sure as a gun, I hears his voice.
Kinder pathetic, kinder pleadin', kinder--"
"Love-makin'!" broke in the impatient Robinson.
"You've hit it, pard,--you've rung the bell every time! But she
says, 'wants thet money down, or I'll--' and here I couldn't get to
hear the rest. And then he kinder coaxes, and she says, sorter
sassy, but listenin' all the time,--woman like, ye know, Eve and
the sarpint!--and she says, 'I,ll see to-morrow.' And he says,
'You won't blow on me?' and I gets excited and peeps in, and may I
be teetotally durned ef I didn't see--"
"What?" yelled the crowd.
"Why, DADDY ON HIS KNEES TO THAT THERE FANCY DANCER, Grace
Somerset! Now, if Mammy's ghost is meanderin' round, why, et's
about time she left the cemetery and put in an appearance in
Jackson's Hall. Thet's all!"
"Look yar, boys," said Robinson, rising, "I don't know ez it's the
square thing to spile Daddy's fun. I don't object to it, provided
she ain't takin' in the old man, and givin' him dead away. But ez
we're his guardeens, I propose that we go down thar and see the
lady, and find out ef her intentions is honorable. If she means
marry, and the old man persists, why, I reckon we kin give the
young couple a send-off thet won't disgrace this yer camp! Hey,
It is unnecessary to say that the proposition was received with
acclamation, and that the crowd at once departed on their discreet
mission. But the result was never known, for the next morning
brought a shock to Rough-and-Ready before which all other interest
paled to nothingness.
The grave of Mammy Downey was found violated and despoiled; the
coffin opened, and half filled with the papers and accounts of the
robbed benevolent associations; but the body of Mammy was gone!
Nor, on examination, did it appear that the sacred and ancient form
of that female had ever reposed in its recesses!
Daddy Downey was not to be found, nor is it necessary to say that
the ingenuous Grace Somerset was also missing.
For three days the reason of Rough-and-Ready trembled in the
balance. No work was done in the ditches, in the flume, nor in the
mills. Groups of men stood by the grave of the lamented relict of
Daddy Downey, as open-mouthed and vacant as that sepulchre. Never
since the great earthquake of '52 had Rough-and-Ready been so
stirred to its deepest foundations.
On the third day the sheriff of Calaveras--a quiet, gentle,
thoughtful man--arrived in town, and passed from one to the other
of excited groups, dropping here and there detached but concise and
"Yes, gentlemen, you are right, Mrs. Downey is not dead, because
there wasn't any Mrs. Downey! Her part was played by George F.
Fenwick, of Sydney,--a 'ticket-of-leave-man,' who was, they say, a
good actor. Downey? Oh, yes Downey was Jem Flanigan, who, in '52,
used to run the variety troupe in Australia, where Miss Somerset
made her debut. Stand back a little, boys. Steady! 'The money?'
Oh, yes, they've got away with that, sure! How are ye, Joe? Why,
you're looking well and hearty! I rather expected ye court week.
How's things your way?"
"Then they were only play-actors, Joe Hall?" broke in a dozen
"I reckon!" returned the sheriff, coolly.
"And for a matter o' five blank years," said Whisky Dick, sadly,
"they played this camp!"
I think that the few who were permitted to know and love the object
of this sketch spent the rest of their days not only in an attitude
of apology for having at first failed to recognize her higher
nature, but of remorse that they should have ever lent a credulous
ear to a priori tradition concerning her family characteristics.
She had not escaped that calumny which she shared with the rest of
her sex for those youthful follies, levities, and indiscretions
which belong to immaturity. It is very probable that the firmness
that distinguished her maturer will in youth might have been taken
for obstinacy, that her nice discrimination might at the same
period have been taken for adolescent caprice, and that the
positive expression of her quick intellect might have been thought
youthful impertinence before her years had won respect for her
She was foaled at Indian Creek, and one month later, when she was
brought over to Sawyer's Bar, was considered the smallest donkey
ever seen in the foot-hills. The legend that she was brought over
in one of "Dan the Quartz Crusher's" boots required corroboration
from that gentleman; but his denial being evidently based upon a
masculine vanity regarding the size of his foot rather than a
desire to be historically accurate, it went for nothing. It is
certain that for the next two months she occupied the cabin of Dan,
until, perhaps incensed at this and other scandals, she one night
made her way out. "I hadn't the least idee wot woz comin'," said
Dan, "but about midnight I seemed to hear hail onto the roof, and a
shower of rocks and stones like to a blast started in the canyon.
When I got up and struck a light, thar was suthin' like onto a cord
o' kindlin' wood and splinters whar she'd stood asleep, and a hole
in the side o' the shanty, and--no Jinny! Lookin' at them hoofs o'
hern--and mighty porty they is to look at, too--you would allow she
could do it!" I fear that this performance laid the foundation of
her later infelicitous reputation, and perhaps awakened in her
youthful breast a misplaced ambition, and an emulation which might
at that time have been diverted into a nobler channel. For the
fame of this juvenile performance--and its possible promise in the
future--brought at once upon her the dangerous flattery and
attention of the whole camp. Under intelligently directed
provocation she would repeat her misguided exercise, until most of
the scanty furniture of the cabin was reduced to a hopeless wreck,
and sprains and callosities were developed upon the limbs of her
admirers. Yet even at this early stage of her history, that
penetrating intellect which was in after years her dominant quality
was evident to all. She could not be made to kick at quartz
tailings, at a barrel of Boston crackers, or at the head or shin of
"Nigger Pete." An artistic discrimination economized her surplus
energy. "Ef you'll notiss," said Dan, with a large parental
softness, "she never lets herself out to onst like them mules or
any jackass ez I've heerd of, but kinder holds herself in, and, so
to speak, takes her bearings--sorter feels round gently with that
off foot, takes her distance and her rest, and then with that ar'
foot hoverin' round in the air softly, like an angel's wing, and a
gentle, dreamy kind o' look in them eyes, she lites out! Don't ye,
Jinny? Thar! jist ez I told ye," continued Dan, with an artist's
noble forgetfulness of self, as he slowly crawled from the
splintered ruin of the barrel on which he had been sitting. "Thur!
did ye ever see the like! Did ye dream that all the while I was
talkin' she was a meditatin' that?"
The same artistic perception and noble reticence distinguished her
bray. It was one of which a less sagacious animal would have been
foolishly vain or ostentatiously prodigal. It was a contralto of
great compass and profundity--reaching from low G to high C--
perhaps a trifle stronger in the lower register, and not altogether
free from a nasal falsetto in the upper. Daring and brilliant as
it was in the middle notes, it was perhaps more musically
remarkable for its great sustaining power. The element of surprise
always entered into the hearer's enjoyment; long after any ordinary
strain of human origin would have ceased, faint echoes of Jinny's
last note were perpetually recurring. But it was as an
intellectual and moral expression that her bray was perfect. As
far beyond her size as were her aspirations, it was a free and
running commentary of scorn at all created things extant, with
ironical and sardonic additions that were terrible. It reviled all
human endeavor, it quenched all sentiment, it suspended frivolity,
it scattered reverie, it paralyzed action. It was omnipotent.
More wonderful and characteristic than all, the very existence of
this tremendous organ was unknown to the camp for six months after
the arrival of its modest owner, and only revealed to them under
circumstances that seemed to point more conclusively than ever to
her rare discretion.
It was the beginning of a warm night and the middle of a heated
political discussion. Sawyer's Bar had gathered in force at the
Crossing, and by the light of flaring pine torches, cheered and
applauded the rival speakers who from a rude platform addressed the
excited multitude. Partisan spirit at that time ran high in the
foot-hills; crimination and recrimination, challenge, reply,
accusation, and retort had already inflamed the meeting, and
Colonel Bungstarter, after a withering review of his opponent's
policy, culminated with a personal attack upon the career and
private character of the eloquent and chivalrous Colonel Culpepper
Starbottle of Siskiyou. That eloquent and chivalrous gentleman was
known to be present; it was rumored that the attack was expected to
provoke a challenge from Colonel Starbottle which would give
Bungstarter the choice of weapons, and deprive Starbottle of his
advantage as a dead shot. It was whispered also that the sagacious
Starbottle, aware of this fact, would retaliate in kind so
outrageously as to leave Bungstarter no recourse but to demand
satisfaction on the spot. As Colonel Starbottle rose, the eager
crowd drew together, elbowing each other in rapt and ecstatic
expectancy. "He can't get even on Bungstarter, onless he allows
his sister ran off with a nigger, or that he put up his grandmother
at draw poker and lost her," whispered the Quartz Crusher; "kin
he?" All ears were alert, particularly the very long and hairy
ones just rising above the railing of the speaker's platform; for
Jinny, having a feminine distrust of solitude and a fondness for
show, had followed her master to the meeting and had insinuated
herself upon the platform, where way was made for her with that
frontier courtesy always extended to her age and sex.
Colonel Starbottle, stertorous and purple, advanced to the railing.
There he unbuttoned his collar and laid his neckcloth aside, then
with his eye fixed on his antagonist he drew off his blue frock
coat, and thrusting one hand into his ruffled shirt front, and
raising the other to the dark canopy above him, he opened his
vindictive lips. The action, the attitude, were Starbottle's. But
the voice was not. For at that supreme moment, a bray--so
profound, so appalling, so utterly soul-subduing, so paralyzing
that everything else sank to mere insignificance beside it--filled
woods, and sky, and air. For a moment only the multitude gasped in
speechless astonishment--it was a moment only--and then the welkin
roared with their shouts. In vain silence was commanded, in vain
Colonel Starbottle, with a ghastly smile, remarked that he
recognized in the interruption the voice and the intellect of the
opposition; the laugh continued, the more as it was discovered that
Jinny had not yet finished, and was still recurring to her original
theme. "Gentlemen," gasped Starbottle, "any attempt by [Hee-haw!
from Jinny] brutal buffoonery to restrict the right of free speech
to all [a prolonged assent from Jinny] is worthy only the