Part 2 out of 8
In the presence of this living energy Cass quite forgot the helpless
dead. "Have you been long in these parts, Miss?" he asked.
"About two weeks," she answered, shortly. "Good-by, just now. Look
around for the pistol or anything else you can find, although _I_ have
been over the whole ground twice already."
A little puff of dust as the horse sprang into the road, a muffled
shuffle, struggle, then the regular beat of hoofs, and she was gone.
After five minutes had passed, Cass regretted that he had not
accompanied her: waiting in such a spot was an irksome task. Not that
there was anything in the scene itself to awaken gloomy imaginings; the
bright, truthful Californian sunshine scoffed at any illusion of
creeping shadows or waving branches. Once, in the rising wind, the
empty hat rolled over--but only in a ludicrous, drunken way. A search
for any further sign or token had proved futile, and Cass grew
impatient. He began to hate himself for having stayed; he would have
fled but for shame. Nor was his good-humor restored when at the close
of a weary half hour two galloping figures emerged from the dusty
horizon--Hornsby and the young girl.
His vague annoyance increased as he fancied that both seemed to ignore
him, the coroner barely acknowledging his presence with a nod. Assisted
by the young girl, whose energy and enthusiasm evidently delighted him,
Hornsby raised the body for a more careful examination. The dead man's
pockets were carefully searched. A few coins, a silver pencil, knife,
and tobacco-box were all they found. It gave no clew to his identity.
Suddenly the young girl, who had, with unabashed curiosity, knelt
beside the exploring official hands of the Red Chief, uttered a cry of
"Here's something! It dropped from the bosom of his shirt on the
She was holding in the air, between her thumb and forefinger, a folded
bit of well-worn newspaper. Her eyes sparkled.
"Shall I open it?" she asked.
"It's a little ring," she said; "looks like an engagement ring.
Something is written on it. Look! 'May to Cass.'"
Cass darted forward. "It's mine," he stammered, "mine! I dropped it.
It's nothing--nothing," he went on, after a pause, embarrassed and
blushing, as the girl and her companion both stared at him--"a mere
trifle. I'll take it."
But the coroner opposed his outstretched hand. "Not much," he said,
"But it's _mine_," continued Cass, indignation taking the place of
shame at his discovered secret. "I found it six months ago in the road.
I--picked it up."
"With your name already written on it! How handy!" said the coroner,
"It's an old story," said Cass, blushing again under the half
mischievous, half searching eyes of the girl. "All Blazing Star knows I
"Then ye'll have no difficulty in provin' it," said Hornsby, coolly.
"Just now, however, _we_'ve found it, and we propose to keep it for the
Cass shrugged his shoulders. Further altercation would have only
heightened his ludicrous situation in the girl's eyes. He turned away,
leaving his treasure in the coroner's hands.
The inquest, a day or two later, was prompt and final. No clew to the
dead man's identity; no evidence sufficiently strong to prove murder or
suicide; no trace of any kind, inculpating any party, known or unknown,
were found. But much publicity and interest were given to the
proceedings by the presence of the principal witness, a handsome girl.
"To the pluck, persistency, and intellect of Miss Porter," said the
"Red Chief Recorder," "Tuolumne County owes the recovery of the body."
No one who was present at the inquest failed to be charmed with the
appearance and conduct of this beautiful young lady.
"Miss Porter has but lately arrived in this district, in which, it is
hoped, she will become an honored resident, and continue to set an
example to all lackadaisical and sentimental members of the so-called
'sterner sex.'" After this universally recognized allusion to Cass
Beard, the "Recorder" returned to its record: "Some interest was
excited by what appeared to be a clew to the mystery in the discovery
of a small gold engagement ring on the body. Evidence was afterward
offered to show it was the property of a Mr. Cass Beard of Blazing
Star, who appeared upon the scene _after_ the discovery of the corpse
by Miss Porter. He alleged he had dropped it in lifting the unfortunate
remains of the deceased. Much amusement was created in court by the
sentimental confusion of the claimant, and a certain partisan spirit
shown by his fellow-miners of Blazing Star. It appearing, however, by
the admission of this sighing Strephon of the Foot Hills, that he had
himself _found_ this pledge of affection lying in the highway six
months previous, the coroner wisely placed it in the safe-keeping of
the county court until the appearance of the rightful owner."
Thus on the 13th of September, 186-, the treasure found at Blazing Star
passed out of the hands of its finder.
* * * * *
Autumn brought an abrupt explanation of the mystery. Kanaka Joe had
been arrested for horse-stealing, but had with noble candor confessed
to the finer offense of manslaughter. That swift and sure justice which
overtook the horse-stealer in these altitudes was stayed a moment and
hesitated, for the victim was clearly the mysterious unknown. Curiosity
got the better of an extempore judge and jury.
"It was a fair fight," said the accused, not without some human vanity,
feeling that the camp hung upon his words, "and was settled by the man
az was peartest and liveliest with his weapon. We had a sort of
unpleasantness over at Lagrange the night afore, along of our both
hevin' a monotony of four aces. We had a clinch and a stamp around, and
when we was separated it was only a question of shootin' on sight. He
left Lagrange at sun up the next morning, and I struck across a bit o'
buckeye and underbrush and came upon him, accidental like, on the Red
Chief Road. I drawed when I sighted him, and called out. He slipped
from his mare and covered himself with her flanks, reaching for his
holster, but she rared and backed down on him across the road and into
the grass, where I got in another shot and fetched him."
"And you stole his mare?" suggested the Judge.
"I got away," said the gambler, simply.
Further questioning only elicited the fact that Joe did not know the
name or condition of his victim. He was a stranger in Lagrange.
It was a breezy afternoon, with some turbulency in the camp, and much
windy discussion over this unwonted delay of justice. The suggestion
that Joe should be first hanged for horse stealing and then tried for
murder was angrily discussed, but milder counsels were offered--that
the fact of the killing should be admitted only as proof of the theft.
A large party from Red Chief had come over to assist in judgment, among
them the coroner.
Cass Beard had avoided these proceedings, which only recalled an
unpleasant experience, and was wandering with pick, pan, and wallet far
from the camp. These accoutrements, as I have before intimated,
justified any form of aimless idleness under the equally aimless title
of "prospecting." He had at the end of three hours' relaxation reached
the highway to Red Chief, half hidden by blinding clouds of dust torn
from the crumbling red road at every gust which swept down the mountain
side. The spot had a familiar aspect to Cass, although some freshly-dug
holes near the wayside, with scattered earth beside them, showed the
presence of a recent prospector. He was struggling with his memory,
when the dust was suddenly dispersed and he found himself again at the
scene of the murder. He started: he had not put foot on the road since
the inquest. There lacked only the helpless dead man and the
contrasting figure of the alert young woman to restore the picture. The
body was gone, it was true, but as he turned he beheld Miss Porter, at
a few paces distant, sitting her horse as energetic and observant as on
the first morning they had met. A superstitious thrill passed over him
and awoke his old antagonism.
She nodded to him slightly. "I came here to refresh my memory," she
said, "as Mr. Hornsby thought I might be asked to give my evidence
again at Blazing Star."
Cass carelessly struck an aimless blow with his pick against the sod
and did not reply.
"And you?" she queried.
"_I_ stumbled upon the place just now while prospecting, or I shouldn't
"Then it was _you_ made these holes?"
"No," said Cass, with ill-concealed disgust. "Nobody but a stranger
would go foolin' round such a spot."
He stopped, as the rude significance of his speech struck him, and
added surlily, "I mean--no one would dig here."
The girl laughed and showed a set of very white teeth in her square
jaw. Cass averted his face.
"Do you mean to say that every miner doesn't know that it's lucky to
dig wherever human blood has been spilt?"
Cass felt a return of his superstition, but he did not look up. "I
never heard it before," he said, severely.
"And you call yourself a California miner?"
It was impossible for Miss Porter to misunderstand his curt speech and
unsocial manner. She stared at him and colored slightly. Lifting her
reins lightly, she said: "You certainly do not seem like most of the
miners I have met."
"Nor you like any girl from the East I ever met," he responded.
"What do you mean?" she asked, checking her horse.
"What I say," he answered, doggedly. Reasonable as this reply was, it
immediately struck him that it was scarcely dignified or manly. But
before he could explain himself Miss Porter was gone.
He met her again that very evening. The trial had been summarily
suspended by the appearance of the Sheriff of Calaveras and his
_posse_, who took Joe from that self-constituted tribunal of Blazing
Star and set his face southward and toward authoritative although more
cautious justice. But not before the evidence of the previous inquest
had been read, and the incident of the ring again delivered to the
public. It is said the prisoner burst into an incredulous laugh and
asked to see this mysterious waif. It was handed to him. Standing in
the very shadow of the gallows tree--which might have been one of the
pines that sheltered the billiard room in which the Vigilance Committee
held their conclave--the prisoner gave way to a burst of merriment, so
genuine and honest that the judge and jury joined in automatic
sympathy. When silence was restored an explanation was asked by the
Judge. But there was no response from the prisoner except a subdued
"Did this ring belong to you?" asked the Judge, severely, the jury and
spectators craning their ears forward with an expectant smile already
on their faces. But the prisoner's eyes only sparkled maliciously as he
looked around the court.
"Tell us, Joe," said a sympathetic and laughter-loving juror, under his
breath. "Let it out and we'll make it easy for you."
"Prisoner," said the Judge, with a return of official dignity,
"remember that your life is in peril. Do you refuse?"
Joe lazily laid his arm on the back of his chair with (to quote the
words of an animated observer) "the air of having a Christian hope and
a sequence flush in his hand," and said: "Well, as I reckon I'm not up
yer for stealin' a ring that another man lets on to have found, and as
fur as I kin see, hez nothin' to do with the case, I do!" And as it was
here that the Sheriff of Calaveras made a precipitate entry into the
room, the mystery remained unsolved.
The effect of this freshly-important ridicule on the sensitive mind of
Cass might have been foretold by Blazing Star had it ever taken that
sensitiveness into consideration. He had lost the good-humor and easy
pliability which had tempted him to frankness, and he had gradually
become bitter and hard. He had at first affected amusement over his own
vanished day dream--hiding his virgin disappointment in his own breast;
but when he began to turn upon his feelings he turned upon his comrades
also. Cass was for a while unpopular. There is no ingratitude so
revolting to the human mind as that of the butt who refuses to be one
any longer. The man who rejects that immunity which laughter generally
casts upon him and demands to be seriously considered deserves no
It was under these hard conditions that Cass Beard, convicted of overt
sentimentalism, aggravated by inconsistency, stepped into the Red Chief
coach that evening. It was his habit usually to ride with the driver,
but the presence of Hornsby and Miss Porter on the box seat changed his
intention. Yet he had the satisfaction of seeing that neither had
noticed him, and as there was no other passenger inside, he stretched
himself on the cushion of the back seat and gave way to moody
reflections. He quite determined to leave Blazing Star, to settle
himself seriously to the task of money-getting, and to return to his
comrades, some day, a sarcastic, cynical, successful man, and so
overwhelm them with confusion. For poor Cass had not yet reached that
superiority of knowing that success would depend upon his ability to
forego his past. Indeed, part of his boyhood had been cast among these
men, and he was not old enough to have learned that success was not to
be gauged by their standard. The moon lit up the dark interior of the
coach with a faint poetic light. The lazy swinging of the vehicle that
was bearing him away--albeit only for a night and a day--the solitude,
the glimpses from the window of great distances full of vague
possibilities, made the abused ring potent as that of Gyges. He dreamed
with his eyes open. From an Alnaschar vision he suddenly awoke. The
coach had stopped. The voices of men, one in entreaty, one in
expostulation, came from the box. Cass mechanically put his hand to his
"Thank you, but I _insist_ upon getting down."
It was Miss Porter's voice. This was followed by a rapid, half
restrained interchange of words between Hornsby and the driver. Then
the latter said gruffly:
"If the lady wants to ride inside, let her."
Miss Porter fluttered to the ground. She was followed by Hornsby. "Just
a minit, Miss," he expostulated, half shamedly, half brusquely, "ye
don't onderstand me. I only"--
But Miss Porter had jumped into the coach.
Hornsby placed his hand on the handle of the door. Miss Porter grasped
it firmly from the inside. There was a slight struggle.
All of which was part of a dream to the boyish Cass. But he awoke from
it--a man! "Do you," he asked, in a voice he scarcely recognized
himself,--"do you want this man inside?"
Cass caught at Hornsby's wrist like a young tiger. But alas! what
availed instinctive chivalry against main strength? He only succeeded
in forcing the door open in spite of Miss Porter's superior strategy,
and--I fear I must add, muscle also--and threw himself passionately at
Hornsby's throat, where he hung on and calmly awaited dissolution. But
he had, in the onset, driven Hornsby out into the road and the
"Here! somebody take my lines." The voice was "Mountain Charley's," the
driver. The figure that jumped from the box and separated the
struggling men belonged to this singularly direct person.
"You're riding inside?" said Charley, interrogatively, to Cass. Before
he could reply Miss Porter's voice came from the window:
Charley promptly bundled Cass into the coach.
"And _you_?" to Hornsby, "onless you're kalkilatin' to take a little
'pasear' you're booked _outside_. Get up."
It is probable that Charley assisted Mr. Hornsby as promptly to his
seat, for the next moment the coach was rolling on.
Meanwhile Cass, by reason of his forced entry, had been deposited in
Miss Porter's lap, whence, freeing himself, he had attempted to climb
over the middle seat, but in the starting of the coach was again thrown
heavily against her hat and shoulder; all of which was inconsistent
with the attitude of dignified reserve he had intended to display. Miss
Porter, meanwhile, recovered her good-humor.
"What a brute he was, ugh!" she said, re-tying the ribbons of her
bonnet under her square chin, and smoothing out her linen duster.
Cass tried to look as if he had forgotten the whole affair. "Who? Oh,
yes! I see!" he responded, absently.
"I suppose I ought to thank you," she went on with a smile, "but you
know, really, I could have kept him out if you hadn't pulled his wrist
from outside. I'll show you. Look! Put your hand on the handle there!
Now, I'll hold the lock inside firmly. You see, you can't turn the
She indeed held the lock fast. It was a firm hand, yet soft--their
fingers had touched over the handle--and looked white in the moonlight.
He made no reply, but sank back again in his seat with a singular
sensation in the fingers that had touched hers. He was in the shadow,
and, without being seen, could abandon his reserve and glance at her
face. It struck him that he had never really seen her before. She was
not so tall as she had appeared to be. Her eyes were not large, but her
pupils were black, moist, velvety, and so convex as to seem embossed on
the white. She had an indistinctive nose, a rather colorless
face--whiter at the angles of the mouth and nose through the relief of
tiny freckles like grains of pepper. Her mouth was straight, dark, red,
but moist as her eyes. She had drawn herself into the corner of the
back seat, her wrist put through and hanging over the swinging strap,
the easy lines of her plump figure swaying from side to side with the
motion of the coach. Finally, forgetful of any presence in the dark
corner opposite, she threw her head a little farther back, slipped a
trifle lower, and placing two well-booted feet upon the middle seat,
completed a charming and wholesome picture.
Five minutes elapsed. She was looking straight at the moon. Cass Beard
felt his dignified reserve becoming very much like awkwardness. He
ought to be coldly polite.
"I hope you're not flustered, Miss, by the--by the"--he began.
"I?" She straightened herself up in the seat, cast a curious glance
into the dark corner, and then, letting herself down again, said: "Oh
Another five minutes elapsed. She had evidently forgotten him. She
might, at least, have been civil. He took refuge again in his reserve.
But it was now mixed with a certain pique.
Yet how much softer her face looked in the moonlight! Even her square
jaw had lost that hard, matter-of-fact, practical indication which was
so distasteful to him, and always had suggested a harsh criticism of
his weakness. How moist her eyes were--actually shining in the light!
How that light seemed to concentrate in the corners of the lashes, and
then slipped--a flash--away! Was she? Yes, she was crying.
Cass melted. He moved. Miss Porter put her head out of the window and
drew it back in a moment dry-eyed.
"One meets all sorts of folks traveling," said Cass, with what he
wished to make appear a cheerful philosophy.
"I dare say. I don't know. I never before met any one who was rude to
me. I have traveled all over the country alone, and with all kinds of
people ever since I was so high. I have always gone my own way, without
hindrance or trouble. I always do. I don't see why I shouldn't. Perhaps
other people mayn't like it. I do. I like excitement. I like to see all
that there is to see. Because I'm a girl I don't see why I can't go out
without a keeper, and why I cannot do what any man can do that isn't
wrong; do you? Perhaps you do--perhaps you don't. Perhaps you like a
girl to be always in the house dawdling or thumping a piano or reading
novels. Perhaps you think I'm bold because I don't like it, and won't
lie and say I do."
She spoke sharply and aggressively, and so evidently in answer to
Cass's unspoken indictment against her, that he was not surprised when
she became more direct.
"You know you were shocked when I went to fetch that Hornsby, the
coroner, after we found the dead body."
"Hornsby wasn't shocked," said Cass, a little viciously.
"What do you mean?" she said, abruptly.
"You were good friends enough until"--
"Until he insulted me just now; is that it?"
"Until he thought," stammered Cass, "that because you were--you
know--not so--so--so careful as other girls, he could be a little
"And so, because I preferred to ride a mile with him to see something
real that had happened, and tried to be useful instead of looking in
shop-windows in Main Street or promenading before the hotel"--
"And being ornamental," interrupted Cass. But this feeble and
un-Cass-like attempt at playful gallantry met with a sudden check.
Miss Porter drew herself together, and looked out of the window. "Do
you wish me to walk the rest of the way home?"
"No," said Cass, hurriedly, with a crimson face and a sense of
"Then stop that kind of talk, right there!"
There was an awkward silence. "I wish I was a man," she said, half
bitterly, half earnestly. Cass Beard was not old and cynical enough to
observe that this devout aspiration is usually uttered by those who
have least reason to deplore their own femininity; and, but for the
rebuff he had just received, would have made the usual emphatic dissent
of our sex, when the wish is uttered by warm red lips and tender
voices--a dissent, it may be remarked, generally withheld, however,
when the masculine spinster dwells on the perfection of woman. I dare
say Miss Porter was sincere, for a moment later she continued,
"And yet I used to go to fires in Sacramento when I was only ten years
old. I saw the theatre burnt down. Nobody found fault with me then."
Something made Cass ask if her father and mother objected to her boyish
tastes. The reply was characteristic if not satisfactory:
"Object? I'd like to see them do it!"
The direction of the road had changed. The fickle moon now abandoned
Miss Porter and sought out Cass on the front seat. It caressed the
young fellow's silky moustache and long eyelashes, and took some of the
sunburn from his cheek.
"What's the matter with your neck?" said the girl, suddenly.
Cass looked down, blushing to find that the collar of his smart "duck"
sailor shirt was torn open. But something more than his white, soft,
girlish skin was exposed; the shirt front was dyed quite red with blood
from a slight cut on the shoulder. He remembered to have felt a scratch
while struggling with Hornsby.
The girl's soft eyes sparkled. "Let _me_," she said, vivaciously. "Do!
I'm good at wounds. Come over here. No--stay there. I'll come over to
She did, bestriding the back of the middle seat and dropping at his
side. The magnetic fingers again touched his; he felt her warm breath
on his neck as she bent toward him.
"It's nothing," he said, hastily, more agitated by the treatment than
"Give me your flask," she responded, without heeding. A stinging
sensation as she bathed the edges of the cut with the spirit brought
him back to common sense again. "There," she said, skillfully
extemporizing a bandage from her handkerchief and a compress from his
cravat. "Now, button your coat over your chest, so, and don't take
cold." She insisted upon buttoning it for him; greater even than the
feminine delight in a man's strength is the ministration to his
weakness. Yet, when this was finished, she drew a little away from him
in some embarrassment--an embarrassment she wondered at, as his skin
was finer, his touch gentler, his clothes cleaner, and--not to put too
fine a point upon it--he exhaled an atmosphere much sweeter than
belonged to most of the men her boyish habits had brought her in
contact with--not excepting her own father. Later she even exempted her
mother from the possession of this divine effluence. After a moment she
asked, suddenly, "What are you going to do with Hornsby?"
Cass had not thought of him. His short-lived rage was past with the
occasion that provoked it. Without any fear of his adversary, he would
have been content quite willing to meet him no more. He only said,
"That will depend upon him."
"Oh, you won't hear from him again," said she, confidently; "but you
really ought to get up a little more muscle. You've no more than a
girl." She stopped, a little confused.
"What shall I do with your handkerchief?" asked the uneasy Cass,
anxious to change the subject.
"Oh, keep it, if you want to; only don't show it to everybody as you
did that ring you found." Seeing signs of distress in his face, she
added: "Of course that was all nonsense. If you had cared so much for
the ring you couldn't have talked about it, or shown it; could you?"
It relieved him to think that this might be true; he certainly had not
looked at it in that light before.
"But did you really find it?" she asked, with sudden gravity. "Really,
"And there was no real May in the case?"
"Not that I know of," laughed Cass, secretly pleased.
But Miss Porter, after eying him critically for a moment, jumped up and
climbed back again to her seat. "Perhaps you had better give me that
Cass began to unbutton his coat.
"No! no! Do you want to take your death of cold?" she screamed. And
Cass, to avoid this direful possibility, rebuttoned his coat again over
the handkerchief and a peculiarly pleasing sensation.
Very little now was said until the rattling, bounding descent of the
coach denoted the approach to Red Chief. The straggling main street
disclosed itself, light by light. In the flash of glittering windows
and the sound of eager voices Miss Porter descended, without waiting
for Cass's proffered assistance, and anticipated Mountain Charley's
descent from the box. A few undistinguishable words passed between
"You kin freeze to me, Miss," said Charley; and Miss Porter, turning
her frank laugh and frankly opened palm to Cass, half returned the
pressure of his hand and slipped away.
A few days after the stage-coach incident Mountain Charley drew up
beside Cass on the Blazing Star turnpike, and handed him a small
packet. "I was told to give ye that by Miss Porter. Hush--listen! It's
that rather old dog-goned ring o' yours that's bin in all the papers.
She's bamboozled that sap-headed county judge, Boompointer, into givin'
it to her. Take my advice and sling it away for some other feller to
pick up and get looney over. That's all!"
"Did she say anything?" asked Cass, anxiously, as he received his lost
treasure somewhat coldly.
"Well, yes! I reckon. She asked me to stand betwixt Hornsby and you. So
don't _you_ tackle him, and I'll see _he_ don't tackle you," and with a
portentous wink Mountain Charley whipped up his horses and was gone.
Cass opened the packet. It contained nothing but the ring. Unmitigated
by any word of greeting, remembrance, or even raillery, it seemed
almost an insult. Had she intended to flaunt his folly in his face, or
had she believed he still mourned for it and deemed its recovery a
sufficient reward for his slight service? For an instant he felt
tempted to follow Charley's advice, and cast this symbol of folly and
contempt in the dust of the mountain road. And had she not made his
humiliation complete by begging Charley's interference between him and
his enemy? He would go home and send her back the handkerchief she had
given him. But here the unromantic reflection that although he had
washed it that very afternoon in the solitude of his own cabin, he
could not possibly iron it, but must send it "rough dried," stayed his
Two or three days, a week, a fortnight even, of this hopeless
resentment filled Cass's breast. Then the news of Kanaka Joe's
acquittal in the state court momentarily revived the story of the ring,
and revamped a few stale jokes in the camp. But the interest soon
flagged; the fortunes of the little community of Blazing Star had been
for some months failing; and with early snows in the mountain and
wasted capital in fruitless schemes on the river, there was little room
for the indulgence of that lazy and original humor which belonged to
their lost youth and prosperity. Blazing Star truly, in the grim figure
of their slang, was "played out." Not dug out, worked out, or washed
out, but dissipated in a year of speculation and chance.
Against this tide of fortune Cass struggled manfully, and even evoked
the slow praise of his companions. Better still, he won a certain
praise for himself, in himself, in a consciousness of increased
strength, health, power, and self-reliance. He began to turn his quick
imagination and perception to some practical account, and made one or
two discoveries which quite startled his more experienced, but more
conservative companions. Nevertheless, Cass's discoveries and labors
were not of a kind that produced immediate pecuniary realization, and
Blazing Star, which consumed so many pounds of pork and flour daily,
did not unfortunately produce the daily equivalent in gold. Blazing
Star lost its credit. Blazing Star was hungry, dirty, and ragged.
Blazing Star was beginning to set.
Participating in the general ill-luck of the camp, Cass was not without
his own individual mischance. He had resolutely determined to forget
Miss Porter and all that tended to recall the unlucky ring, but,
cruelly enough, she was the only thing that refused to be
forgotten--whose undulating figure reclined opposite to him in the
weird moonlight of his ruined cabin, whose voice mingled with the song
of the river by whose banks he toiled, and whose eyes and touch
thrilled him in his dreams. Partly for this reason, and partly because
his clothes were beginning to be patched and torn, he avoided Red Chief
and any place where he would be likely to meet her. In spite of this
precaution he had once seen her driving in a pony carriage, but so
smartly and fashionably dressed that he drew back in the cover of a
wayside willow that she might pass without recognition. He looked down
upon his red-splashed clothes and grimy, soil-streaked hands, and for a
moment half hated her. His comrades seldom spoke of her--instinctively
fearing some temptation that might beset his Spartan resolutions, but
he heard from time to time that she had been seen at balls and parties,
apparently enjoying those very frivolities of her sex she affected to
condemn. It was a Sabbath morning in early spring that he was returning
from an ineffectual attempt to enlist a capitalist at the county town
to redeem the fortunes of Blazing Star. He was pondering over the
narrowness of that capitalist, who had evidently but illogically
connected Cass's present appearance with the future of that struggling
camp, when he became so footsore that he was obliged to accept a "lift"
from a wayfaring teamster. As the slowly lumbering vehicle passed the
new church on the outskirts of the town, the congregation were sallying
forth. It was too late to jump down and run away, and Cass dared not
ask his new-found friend to whip up his cattle. Conscious of his
unshorn beard and ragged garments, he kept his eyes fixed upon the
road. A voice that thrilled him called his name. It was Miss Porter, a
resplendent vision of silk, laces, and Easter flowers--yet actually
running, with something of her old dash and freedom, beside the wagon.
As the astonished teamster drew up before this elegant apparition, she
"Why did you make me run so far, and why didn't you look up?"
Cass, trying to hide the patches on his knees beneath a newspaper,
stammered that he had not seen her.
"And you did not hold down your head purposely?"
"No," said Cass.
"Why have you not been to Red Chief? Why didn't you answer my message
about the ring?" she asked, swiftly.
"You sent nothing but the ring," said Cass, coloring, as he glanced at
"Why, _that_ was a message, you born idiot."
Cass stared. The teamster smiled. Miss Porter gazed anxiously at the
wagon. "I think I'd like a ride in there; it looks awfully good." She
glanced mischievously around at the lingering and curious congregation.
But Cass deprecated that proceeding strongly. It was dirty; he was not
sure it was even _wholesome_; she would be _so_ uncomfortable; he
himself was only going a few rods farther, and in that time she might
ruin her dress--
"Oh, yes," she said, a little bitterly, "certainly, my dress must be
looked after. And--what else?"
"People might think it strange, and believe I had invited you,"
continued Cass, hesitatingly.
"When I had only invited myself? Thank you. Good-by."
She waved her hand and stepped back from the wagon. Cass would have
given worlds to recall her, but he sat still, and the vehicle moved on
in moody silence. At the first cross road he jumped down. "Thank you,"
he said to the teamster. "You're welcome," returned that gentleman,
regarding him curiously, "but the next time a gal like that asks to
ride in this yer wagon, I reckon I won't take the vote of any deadhead
passenger. _Adios_, young fellow. Don't stay out late; ye might be ran
off by some gal, and what would your mother say?" Of course the young
man could only look unutterable things and walk away, but even in that
dignified action he was conscious that its effect was somewhat
mitigated by a large patch from a material originally used as a
flour-sack, which had repaired his trousers, but still bore the
ironical legend, "Best Superfine."
The summer brought warmth and promise and some blossom, if not absolute
fruition to Blazing Star. The long days drew Nature into closer
communion with the men, and hopefulness followed the discontent of
their winter seclusion. It was easier, too, for Capital to be wooed and
won into making a picnic in these mountain solitudes than when high
water stayed the fords and drifting snow the Sierran trails. At the
close of one of these Arcadian days Cass was smoking before the door of
his lonely cabin when he was astounded by the onset of a dozen of his
companions. Peter Drummond, far in the van, was waving a newspaper like
a victorious banner. "All's right now, Cass, old man!" he panted as he
stopped before Cass and shoved back his eager followers.
"What's all right?" asked Cass, dubiously.
"_You_! You kin rake down the pile now. You're hunky! You're on velvet.
He opened the newspaper and read, with annoying deliberation, as
"LOST.--If the finder of a plain gold ring, bearing the engraved
inscription, 'May to Cass,' alleged to have been picked up on the high
road near Blazing Star on the 4th March, 186--, will apply to Bookham &
Sons, bankers, 1007 Y. Street, Sacramento, he will be suitably rewarded
either for the recovery of the ring, or for such facts as may identify
it, or the locality where it was found."
Cass rose and frowned savagely on his comrades. "No! no!" cried a dozen
voices assuringly. "It's all right! Honest Injun! True as gospel! No
"Here's the paper, Sacramento 'Union' of yesterday. Look for yourself,"
said Drummond, handing him the well-worn journal. "And you see," he
added, "how darned lucky you are. It ain't necessary for you to produce
the ring, so if that old biled owl of a Boompointer don't giv' it back
to ye, it's all the same."
"And they say nobody but the finder need apply," interrupted another.
"That shuts out Boompointer or Kanaka Joe for the matter o' that."
"It's clar that it _means_ you, Cass, ez much ez if they'd given your
name," added a third.
For Miss Porter's sake and his own Cass had never told them of the
restoration of the ring, and it was evident that Mountain Charley had
also kept silent. Cass could not speak now without violating a secret,
and he was pleased that the ring itself no longer played an important
part in the mystery. But what was that mystery, and why was the ring
secondary to himself? Why was so much stress laid upon his finding it?
"You see," said Drummond, as if answering his unspoken thought,
"that'ar gal--for it is a gal in course--hez read all about it in the
papers, and hez sort o' took a shine to ye. It don't make a bit o'
difference who in thunder Cass _is_ or _waz_, for I reckon she's kicked
him over by this time"--
"Sarved him right, too, for losing the girl's ring and then lying low
and keeping dark about it," interrupted a sympathizer.
"And she's just weakened over the romantic, high-toned way you stuck to
it," continued Drummond, forgetting the sarcasms he had previously
hurled at this romance. Indeed the whole camp, by this time, had become
convinced that it had fostered and developed a chivalrous devotion
which was now on the point of pecuniary realization. It was generally
accepted that "she" was the daughter of this banker, and also felt that
in the circumstances the happy father could not do less than develop
the resources of Blazing Star at once. Even if there were no
relationship, what opportunity could be more fit for presenting to
capital a locality that even produced engagement rings, and, as Jim
Fauquier put it, "the men ez knew how to keep 'em." It was this
sympathetic Virginian who took Cass aside with the following generous
suggestion: "If you find that you and the old gal couldn't hitch
hosses, owin' to your not likin' red hair or a game leg" (it may be
here recorded that Blazing Star had, for no reason whatever, attributed
these unprepossessing qualities to the mysterious advertiser), "you
might let _me_ in. You might say ez how I used to jest worship that
ring with you, and allers wanted to borrow it on Sundays. If anything
comes of it--why--_we're pardners_!"
A serious question was the outfitting of Cass for what now was felt to
be a diplomatic representation of the community. His garments, it
hardly need be said, were inappropriate to any wooing except that of
the "maiden all forlorn," which the advertiser clearly was not. "He
might," suggested Fauquier, "drop in jest as he is--kinder as if he'd
got keerless of the world, being lovesick." But Cass objected strongly,
and was borne out in his objection by his younger comrades. At last a
pair of white duck trousers, a red shirt, a flowing black silk scarf,
and a Panama hat were procured at Red Chief, on credit, after a
judicious exhibition of the advertisement. A heavy wedding-ring, the
property of Drummond (who was not married), was also lent as a graceful
suggestion, and at the last moment Fauquier affixed to Cass's scarf an
enormous specimen pin of gold and quartz. "It sorter indicates the
auriferous wealth o' this yer region, and the old man (the senior
member of Bookham & Sons) needn't know I won it at draw-poker in
Frisco," said Fauqier. "Ef you 'pass' on the gal, you kin hand it back
to me and _I'll_ try it on."
Forty dollars for expenses was put into Cass's hands, and the entire
community accompanied him to the cross roads where he was to meet the
Sacramento coach, which eventually carried him away, followed by a
benediction of waving hats and exploding revolvers.
That Cass did not participate in the extravagant hopes of his comrades,
and that he rejected utterly their matrimonial speculations in his
behalf, need not be said.
Outwardly, he kept his own counsel with good-humored assent. But there
was something fascinating in the situation, and while he felt he had
forever abandoned his romantic dream, he was not displeased to know
that it might have proved a reality. Nor was it distasteful to him to
think that Miss Porter would hear of it and regret her late inability
to appreciate his sentiment. If he really were the object of some
opulent maiden's passion, he would show Miss Porter how he could
sacrifice the most brilliant prospects for her sake. Alone, on the top
of the coach, he projected one of those satisfying conversations in
which imaginative people delight, but which unfortunately never come
quite up to rehearsal. "Dear Miss Porter," he would say, addressing the
back of the driver, "if I could remain faithful to a dream of my youth,
however illusive and unreal, can you believe that for the sake of lucre
I could be false to the one real passion that alone supplanted it?" In
the composition and delivery of this eloquent statement an hour was
happily forgotten: the only drawback to its complete effect was that a
misplacing of epithets in rapid repetition did not seem to make the
slightest difference, and Cass found himself saying "Dear Miss Porter,
if I could be false to a dream of my youth, etc., etc., can you believe
I could be _faithful_ to the one real passion, etc., etc.," with equal
and perfect satisfaction. As Miss Porter was reputed to be well off, if
the unknown were poor, that might be another drawback.
The banking house of Bookham & Sons did not present an illusive nor
mysterious appearance. It was eminently practical and matter of fact;
it was obtrusively open and glassy; nobody would have thought of
leaving a secret there that would have been inevitably circulated over
the counter. Cass felt an uncomfortable sense of incongruity in
himself, in his story, in his treasure, to this temple of disenchanting
realism. With the awkwardness of an embarrassed man he was holding
prominently in his hand an envelope containing the ring and
advertisement as a voucher for his intrusion, when the nearest clerk
took the envelope from his hand, opened it, took out the ring, returned
it, said briskly, "T' other shop, next door, young man," and turned to
Cass stepped to the door, saw that "T'other shop" was a pawnbroker's,
and returned again with a flashing eye and heightened color. "It's an
advertisement I have come to answer," he began again.
The clerk cast a glance at Cass's scarf and pin. "Place taken
yesterday--no room for any more," he said, abruptly.
Cass grew quite white. But his old experience in Blazing Star repartee
stood him in good stead. "If it's _your_ place you mean," he said
coolly, "I reckon you might put a dozen men in the hole you're rattlin'
round in--but it's this advertisement I'm after. If Bookham isn't in,
maybe you'll send me one of the grown-up sons." The production of the
advertisement and some laughter from the bystanders had its effect. The
pert young clerk retired, and returned to lead the way to the bank
parlor. Cass's heart sank again as he was confronted by a dark,
iron-gray man--in dress, features, speech, and action--uncompromisingly
opposed to Cass--his ring and his romance. When the young man had told
his story and produced his treasure he paused. The banker scarcely
glanced at it, but said, impatiently:
"Well, your papers?"
"Yes. Proof of your identity. You say your name is Cass Beard. Good!
What have you got to prove it? How can I tell who you are?"
To a sensitive man there is no form of suspicion that is as bewildering
and demoralizing at the moment as the question of his identity. Cass
felt the insult in the doubt of his word, and the palpable sense of his
present inability to prove it. The banker watched him keenly but not
"Come," he said at length, "this is not my affair; if you can legally
satisfy the lady for whom I am only agent, well and good. I believe you
can; I only warn you that you must. And my present inquiry was to keep
her from losing her time with impostors, a class I don't think you
belong to. There's her card. Good day."
It was _not_ the banker's daughter. The first illusion of Blazing Star
was rudely dispelled. But the care taken by the capitalist to shield
her from imposture indicated a person of wealth. Of her youth and
beauty Cass no longer thought.
The address given was not distant. With a beating heart he rung the
bell of a respectable-looking house, and was ushered into a private
drawing-room. Instinctively he felt that the room was only temporarily
inhabited; an air peculiar to the best lodgings, and when the door
opened upon a tall lady in deep mourning, he was still more convinced
of an incongruity between the occupant and her surroundings. With a
smile that vacillated between a habit of familiarity and ease, and a
recent restraint, she motioned him to a chair.
"Miss Mortimer" was still young, still handsome, still fashionably
dressed, and still attractive. From her first greeting to the end of
the interview Cass felt that she knew all about him. This relieved him
from the onus of proving his identity, but seemed to put him vaguely at
a disadvantage. It increased his sense of inexperience and
"I hope you will believe," she began, "that the few questions I have to
ask you are to satisfy my own heart, and for no other purpose." She
smiled sadly as she went on. "Had it been otherwise, I should have
instituted a legal inquiry, and left this interview to some one cooler,
calmer, and less interested than myself. But I think, I _know_ I can
trust you. Perhaps we women are weak and foolish to talk of an
_instinct_, and when you know my story you may have reason to believe
that but little dependence can be placed on _that_; but I am not wrong
in saying,--am I?" (with a sad smile) "that _you_ are not above that
weakness?" She paused, closed her lips tightly, and grasped her hands
before her. "You say you found that ring in the road some three months
before--the--the--you know what I mean--the body--was discovered?"
"You thought it might have been dropped by some one in passing?"
"I thought so, yes--it belonged to no one in the camp."
"Before your cabin or on the highway?"
"Before my cabin."
"You are _sure_?" There was something so very sweet and sad in her
smile that it oddly made Cass color.
"But my cabin is near the road," he suggested.
"I see! And there was nothing else; no paper nor envelope?"
"And you kept it because of the odd resemblance one of the names bore
"For no other reason?"
"None." Yet Cass felt he was blushing.
"You'll forgive my repeating a question you have already answered, but
I am _so_ anxious. There was some attempt to prove at the inquest that
the ring had been found on the body of--the unfortunate man. But you
tell me it was not so?"
"I can swear it."
"Good God--the traitor!" She took a hurried step forward, turned to the
window, and then came back to Cass with a voice broken with emotion. "I
have told you I could trust you. That ring was mine!"
She stopped, and then went on hurriedly. "Years ago I gave it to a man
who deceived and wronged me; a man whose life since then has been a
shame and disgrace to all who knew him; a man who, once a gentleman,
sank so low as to become the associate of thieves and ruffians; sank so
low, that when he died, by violence--a traitor even to them--his own
confederates shrunk from him, and left him to fill a nameless grave.
That man's body you found!"
Cass started. "And his name was----?"
"Part of your surname. Cass--Henry Cass."
"You see why Providence seems to have brought that ring to you," she
went on. "But you ask me why, knowing this, I am so eager to know if
the ring was found by you in the road, or if it were found on his body.
Listen! It is part of my mortification that the story goes that this
man once showed this ring, boasted of it, staked, and lost it at a
gambling table to one of his vile comrades."
"Kanaka Joe," said Cass, overcome by a vivid recollection of Joe's
merriment at the trial.
"The same. Don't you see," she said, hurriedly, "if the ring had been
found on him I could believe that somewhere in his heart he still kept
respect for the woman he had wronged. I am a woman--a foolish woman, I
know--but you have crushed that hope forever."
"But why have you sent for me?" asked Cass, touched by her emotion.
"To know it for certain," she said, almost fiercely. "Can you not
understand that a woman like me must know a thing once and forever? But
you _can_ help me. I did not send for you only to pour my wrongs in
your ears. You must take me with you to this place--to the spot where
you found the ring--to the spot where you found the body--to the spot
where--where _he_ lies. You must do it secretly, that none shall know
Cass hesitated. He was thinking of his companions and the collapse of
their painted bubble. How could he keep the secret from them?
"If it is money, you need, let not that stop you. I have no right to
your time without recompense. Do not misunderstand me. There has been a
thousand dollars awaiting my order at Bookham's when the ring should be
delivered. It shall be doubled if you help me in this last moment."
It was possible. He could convey her safely there, invent some story of
a reward delayed for want of proofs, and afterward share that reward
with his friends. He answered promptly, "I will take you there."
She took his hands in both of hers, raised them to her lips, and
smiled. The shadow of grief and restraint seemed to have fallen from
her face, and a half mischievous, half coquettish gleam in her dark
eyes touched the susceptible Cass in so subtle a fashion that he
regained the street in some confusion. He wondered what Miss Porter
would have thought. But was he not returning to her, a fortunate man,
with one thousand dollars in his pocket! Why should he remember he was
handicapped by a pretty woman and a pathetic episode? It did not make
the proximity less pleasant as he helped her into the coach that
evening, nor did the recollection of another ride with another woman
obtrude itself upon those consolations which he felt it his duty, from
time to time, to offer. It was arranged that he should leave her at the
"Red Chief" Hotel, while he continued on to Blazing Star, returning at
noon to bring her with him when he could do it without exposing her to
recognition. The gray dawn came soon enough, and the coach drew up at
"Red Chief" while the lights in the bar-room and dining-room of the
hotel were still struggling with the far flushing east. Cass alighted,
placed Miss Mortimer in the hands of the landlady, and returned to the
vehicle. It was still musty, close, and frowzy, with half awakened
passengers. There was a vacated seat on the top, which Cass climbed up
to, and abstractedly threw himself beside a figure muffled in shawls
and rugs. There was a slight movement among the multitudinous
enwrappings, and then the figure turned to him and said dryly, "Good
morning!" It was Miss Porter!
"Have you been long here?" he stammered.
He would have given worlds to leave her at that moment. He would have
jumped from the starting coach to save himself any explanation of the
embarrassment he was furiously conscious of showing, without, as he
believed, any adequate cause. And yet, like all inexperienced,
sensitive men, he dashed blindly into that explanation; worse, he even
told his secret at once, then and there, and then sat abashed and
conscience-stricken, with an added sense of its utter futility.
"And this," summed up the young girl, with a slight shrug of her pretty
shoulders, "is _your May_?"
Cass would have recommenced his story.
"No, don't, pray! It isn't interesting, nor original. Do _you_ believe
"I do," said Cass, indignantly.
"How lucky! Then let me go to sleep."
Cass, still furious, but uneasy, did not again address her. When the
coach stopped at Blazing Star she asked him, indifferently: "When does
this sentimental pilgrimage begin?"
"I return for her at one o'clock," replied Cass, stiffly. He kept his
word. He appeased his eager companions with a promise of future
fortune, and exhibited the present and tangible reward. By a circuitous
route known only to himself, he led Miss Mortimer to the road before
the cabin. There was a pink flush of excitement on her somewhat faded
"And it was here?" she asked, eagerly.
"I found it here."
"And the body?"
"That was afterward. Over in that direction, beyond the clump of
buckeyes, on the Red Chief turnpike."
"And any one coming from the road we left just now and going
to--to--that place, would have to cross just here? Tell me," she said,
with a strange laugh, laying her cold nervous hand on his, "wouldn't
"Let us go to that place."
Cass stepped out briskly to avoid observation and gain the woods beyond
the highway. "You have crossed here before," she said. "There seems to
be a trail."
"I may have made it: it's a short cut to the buckeyes."
"You never found anything else on the trail?"
"You remember, I told you before, the ring was all I found."
"Ah, true!" she smiled sweetly; "it was _that_ which made it seem so
odd to you. I forgot."
In half an hour they reached the buckeyes. During the walk she had
taken rapid recognizance of everything in her path. When they crossed
the road and Cass had pointed out the scene of the murder, she looked
anxiously around. "You are sure we are not seen?"
"You will not think me foolish if I ask you to wait here while I go in
there"--she pointed to the ominous thicket near them--"alone?" She was
Cass's heart, which had grown somewhat cold since his interview with
Miss Porter, melted at once.
"Go; I will stay here."
He waited five minutes. She did not return. What if the poor creature
had determined upon suicide on the spot where her faithless lover had
fallen? He was reassured in another moment by the rustle of skirts in
"I was becoming quite alarmed," he said, aloud.
"You have reason to be," returned a hurried voice. He started. It was
Miss Porter, who stepped swiftly out of the cover. "Look," she said,
"look at that man down the road. He has been tracking you two ever
since you left the cabin. Do you know who he is?"
"Then listen. It is three-fingered Dick, one of the escaped road
agents. I know him!"
"Let us go and warn her," said Cass, eagerly.
Miss Porter laid her hand upon his shoulder.
"I don't think she'll thank you," she said, dryly. "Perhaps you'd
better see what she's doing, first."
Utterly bewildered, yet with a strong sense of the masterfulness of his
companion, he followed her. She crept like a cat through the thicket.
Suddenly she paused. "Look!" she whispered, viciously, "look at the
tender vigils of your heart-broken May!"
Cass saw the woman who had left him a moment before on her knees on the
grass, with long thin fingers digging like a ghoul in the earth. He had
scarce time to notice her eager face and eyes, cast now and then back
toward the spot where she had left him, before there was a crash in the
bushes, and a man,--the stranger of the road,--leaped to her side.
"Run," he said; "run for it now. You're watched!"
"Oh! that man, Beard!" she said, contemptuously.
"No, another in a wagon. Quick. Fool, you know the place now,--you can
come later; run!" And half-dragging, half-lifting her, he bore her
through the bushes. Scarcely had they closed behind the pair when Miss
Porter ran to the spot vacated by the woman. "Look!" she cried,
Cass looked, and sank on his knees beside her.
"It _was_ worth a thousand dollars, wasn't it?" she repeated,
maliciously, "wasn't it? But you ought to return it! _Really_ you
Cass could scarcely articulate. "But how did _you_ know it?" he finally
"Oh, I suspected something; there was a woman, and you know you're
_such_ a fool!"
Cass rose, stiffly.
"Don't be a greater fool now, but go and bring my horse and wagon from
the hill, and don't say anything to the driver."
"Then you did not come alone?"
"No; it would have been bold and improper."
"And to think it _was_ the ring, after all, that pointed to this," she
"The ring that _you_ returned to me."
"What did you say?"
"Don't, please, the wagon is coming."
* * * * *
In the next morning's edition of the "Red Chief Chronicle" appeared the
following startling intelligence:
FINDING OF THE STOLEN TREASURE OF WELLS, FARGO & CO. OVER $300,000
Our readers will remember the notorious robbery of Wells, Fargo & Co.'s
treasure from the Sacramento and Red Chief Pioneer Coach on the night
of September 1. Although most of the gang were arrested, it is known
that two escaped, who, it was presumed, _cached_ the treasure,
amounting to nearly $500,000 in gold, drafts, and jewelry, as no trace
of the property was found. Yesterday our esteemed fellow citizen, Mr.
Cass Beard, long and favorably known in this county, succeeded in
exhuming the treasure in a copse of hazel near the Red Chief
turnpike,--adjacent to the spot where an unknown body was lately
discovered. This body is now strongly suspected to be that of one Henry
Cass, a disreputable character, who has since been ascertained to have
been one of the road agents who escaped. The matter is now under legal
investigation. The successful result of the search is due to a
systematic plan evolved from the genius of Mr. Beard, who has devoted
over a year to this labor. It was first suggested to him by the finding
of a ring, now definitely identified as part of the treasure which was
supposed to have been dropped from Wells, Fargo & Co.'s boxes by the
robbers in their midnight flight through Blazing Star.
In the same journal appeared the no less important intelligence, which
explains, while it completes this veracious chronicle:--
"It is rumored that a marriage is shortly to take place between the
hero of the late treasure discovery and a young lady of Red Chief,
whose devoted aid and assistance to this important work is well known
to this community."
IN THE CARQUINEZ WOODS.
The sun was going down on the Carquinez Woods. The few shafts of
sunlight that had pierced their pillared gloom were lost in
unfathomable depths, or splintered their ineffectual lances on the
enormous trunks of the redwoods. For a time the dull red of their vast
columns, and the dull red of their cast-off bark which matted the
echoless aisles, still seemed to hold a faint glow of the dying day.
But even this soon passed. Light and color fled upwards. The dark,
interlaced tree-tops, that had all day made an impenetrable shade,
broke into fire here and there; their lost spires glittered, faded, and
went utterly out. A weird twilight that did not come from an outer
world, but seemed born of the wood itself, slowly filled and possessed
the aisles. The straight, tall, colossal trunks rose dimly like columns
of upward smoke. The few fallen trees stretched their huge length into
obscurity, and seemed to lie on shadowy trestles. The strange breath
that filled these mysterious vaults had neither coldness nor moisture;
a dry, fragrant dust arose from the noiseless foot that trod their
bark-strewn floor; the aisles might have been tombs, the fallen trees,
enormous mummies; the silence, the solitude of the forgotten past.
And yet this silence was presently broken by a recurring sound like
breathing, interrupted occasionally by inarticulate and stertorous
gasps. It was not the quick, panting, listening breath of some stealthy
feline or canine animal, but indicated a larger, slower, and more
powerful organization, whose progress was less watchful and guarded, or
as if a fragment of one of the fallen monsters had become animate. At
times this life seemed to take visible form, but as vaguely, as
misshapenly, as the phantom of a nightmare. Now it was a square object
moving sideways, endways, with neither head nor tail and scarcely
visible feet; then an arched bulk rolling against the trunks of the
trees and recoiling again, or an upright cylindrical mass, but always
oscillating and unsteady, and striking the trees on either hand. The
frequent occurrence of the movement suggested the figures of some weird
rhythmic dance to music heard by the shape alone. Suddenly it either
became motionless or faded away.
There was the frightened neighing of a horse, the sudden jingling of
spurs, a shout and outcry, and the swift apparition of three dancing
torches in one of the dark aisles; but so intense was the obscurity
that they shed no light on surrounding objects, and seemed to advance
at their own volition without human guidance, until they disappeared
suddenly behind the interposing bulk of one of the largest trees.
Beyond its eighty feet of circumference the light could not reach, and
the gloom remained inscrutable. But the voices and jingling spurs were
"Blast the mare! She's shied off that cursed trail again."
"Ye ain't lost it agin, hev ye?" growled a second voice.
"That's jist what I hev. And these blasted pine-knots don't give light
an inch beyond 'em. D----d if I don't think they make this cursed hole
There was a laugh--a woman's laugh--hysterical, bitter, sarcastic,
exasperating. The second speaker, without heeding it, went on:
"What in thunder skeert the hosses? Did you see or hear anything?"
"Nothin'. The wood is like a graveyard."
The woman's voice again broke into a hoarse, contemptuous laugh. The
man resumed angrily:
"If you know anything, why in h--ll don't you say so, instead of
cackling like a d----d squaw there? P'raps you reckon you ken find the
"Take this rope off my wrist," said the woman's voice, "untie my hands,
let me down, and I'll find it." She spoke quickly and with a Spanish
It was the men's turn to laugh. "And give you a show to snatch that
six-shooter and blow a hole through me, as you did to the Sheriff of
Calaveras, eh? Not if this court understands itself," said the first
"Go to the devil, then," she said curtly.
"Not before a lady," responded the other. There was another laugh from
the men, the spurs jingled again, the three torches reappeared from
behind the tree, and then passed away in the darkness.
For a time silence and immutability possessed the woods; the great
trunks loomed upwards, their fallen brothers stretched their slow
length into obscurity. The sound of breathing again became audible; the
shape reappeared in the aisle, and recommenced its mystic dance.
Presently it was lost in the shadow of the largest tree, and to the
sound of breathing succeeded a grating and scratching of bark.
Suddenly, as if riven by lightning, a flash broke from the centre of
the tree-trunk, lit up the woods, and a sharp report rang through it.
After a pause the jingling of spurs and the dancing of torches were
revived from the distance.
"Who fired that shot?"
But there was no reply. A slight veil of smoke passed away to the
right, there was the spice of gunpowder in the air, but nothing more.
The torches came forward again, but this time it could be seen they
were held in the hands of two men and a woman. The woman's hands were
tied at the wrist to the horse-hair reins of her mule, while a _riata_,
passed around her waist and under the mule's girth, was held by one of
the men, who were both armed with rifles and revolvers. Their
frightened horses curveted, and it was with difficulty they could be
made to advance.
"Ho! stranger, what are you shooting at?"
The woman laughed and shrugged her shoulders. "Look yonder at the roots
of the tree. You're a d----d smart man for a sheriff, ain't you?"
The man uttered an exclamation and spurred his horse forward, but the
animal reared in terror. He then sprang to the ground and approached
the tree. The shape lay there, a scarcely distinguishable bulk.
"A grizzly, by the living Jingo! Shot through the heart."
It was true. The strange shape lit up by the flaring torches seemed
more vague, unearthly, and awkward in its dying throes, yet the small
shut eyes, the feeble nose, the ponderous shoulders, and half-human
foot armed with powerful claws were unmistakable. The men turned by a
common impulse and peered into the remote recesses of the wood again.
"Hi, Mister! come and pick up your game. Hallo there!"
The challenge fell unheeded on the empty woods.
"And yet," said he whom the woman had called the sheriff, "he can't be
far off. It was a close shot, and the bear hez dropped in his tracks.
Why, wot's this sticking in his claws?"
The two men bent over the animal. "Why, it's sugar, brown sugar--look!"
There was no mistake. The huge beast's fore paws and muzzle were
streaked with the unromantic household provision, and heightened the
absurd contrast of its incongruous members. The woman, apparently
indifferent, had taken that opportunity to partly free one of her
"If we hadn't been cavorting round this yer spot for the last half
hour, I'd swear there was a shanty not a hundred yards away," said the
The other man, without replying, remounted his horse instantly.
"If there is, and it's inhabited by a gentleman that kin make centre
shots like that in the dark, and don't care to explain how, I reckon I
won't disturb him."
The sheriff was apparently of the same opinion, for he followed his
companion's example, and once more led the way. The spurs tinkled, the
torches danced, and the cavalcade slowly reentered the gloom. In
another moment it had disappeared.
The wood sank again into repose, this time disturbed by neither shape
nor sound. What lower forms of life might have crept close to its roots
were hidden in the ferns, or passed with deadened tread over the
bark-strewn floor. Towards morning a coolness like dew fell from above,
with here and there a dropping twig or nut, or the crepitant awakening
and stretching-out of cramped and weary branches. Later a dull, lurid
dawn, not unlike the last evening's sunset, filled the aisles. This
faded again, and a clear gray light, in which every object stood out in
sharp distinctness, took its place. Morning was waiting outside in all
its brilliant, youthful coloring, but only entered as the matured and
Seen in that stronger light, the monstrous tree near which the dead
bear lay revealed its age in its denuded and scarred trunk, and showed
in its base a deep cavity, a foot or two from the ground, partly hidden
by hanging strips of bark which had fallen across it. Suddenly one of
these strips was pushed aside, and a young man leaped lightly down.
But for the rifle he carried and some modern peculiarities of dress, he
was of a grace so unusual and unconventional that he might have passed
for a faun who was quitting his ancestral home. He stepped to the side
of the bear with a light elastic movement that was as unlike customary
progression as his face and figure were unlike the ordinary types of
humanity. Even as he leaned upon his rifle, looking down at the
prostrate animal, he unconsciously fell into an attitude that in any
other mortal would have been a pose, but with him was the picturesque
and unstudied relaxation of perfect symmetry.
He raised his head so carelessly and listlessly that he did not
otherwise change his attitude. Stepping from behind the tree, the woman
of the preceding night stood before him. Her hands were free except for
a thong of the _riata_, which was still knotted around one wrist, the
end of the thong having been torn or burnt away. Her eyes were
bloodshot, and her hair hung over her shoulders in one long black
"I reckoned all along it was _you_ who shot the bear," she said; "at
least some one hidin' yer," and she indicated the hollow tree with her
hand. "It wasn't no chance shot." Observing that the young man, either
from misconception or indifference, did not seem to comprehend her, she
added, "We came by here, last night, a minute after you fired."
"Oh, that was _you_ kicked up such a row, was it?" said the young man,
with a shade of interest.
"I reckon," said the woman, nodding her head, "and them that was with
"And who are they?"
"Sheriff Dunn, of Yolo, and his deputy."
"And where are they now?"
"The deputy--in h--ll, I reckon. I don't know about the sheriff."
"I see," said the young man quietly; "and you?"
"I--got away," she said savagely. But she was taken with a sudden
nervous shiver, which she at once repressed by tightly dragging her
shawl over her shoulders and elbows, and folding her arms defiantly.
"And you're going?"
"To follow the deputy, may be," she said gloomily. "But come, I say,
ain't you going to treat? It's cursed cold here."
"Wait a moment." The young man was looking at her, with his arched
brows slightly knit and a half smile of curiosity. "Ain't you Teresa?"
She was prepared for the question, but evidently was not certain
whether she would reply defiantly or confidently. After an exhaustive
scrutiny of his face she chose the latter, and said, "You can bet your
life on it, Johnny."
"I don't bet, and my name isn't Johnny. Then you're the woman who
stabbed Dick Curson over at Lagrange's?"
She became defiant again. "That's me, all the time. What are you going
to do about it?"
"Nothing. And you used to dance at the Alhambra?"
She whisked the shawl from her shoulders, held it up like a scarf, and
made one or two steps of the _sembicuacua_. There was not the least
gayety, recklessness, or spontaneity in the action; it was simply
mechanical bravado. It was so ineffective, even upon her own feelings,
that her arms presently dropped to her side, and she coughed
embarrassedly. "Where's that whiskey, pardner?" she asked.
The young man turned toward the tree he had just quitted, and without
further words assisted her to mount to the cavity. It was an
irregular-shaped vaulted chamber, pierced fifty feet above by a shaft
or cylindrical opening in the decayed trunk, which was blackened by
smoke as if it had served the purpose of a chimney. In one corner lay a
bearskin and blanket; at the side were two alcoves or indentations, one
of which was evidently used as a table, and the other as a cupboard. In
another hollow, near the entrance, lay a few small sacks of flour,
coffee, and sugar, the sticky contents of the latter still strewing the
floor. From this storehouse the young man drew a wicker flask of
whiskey, and handed it, with a tin cup of water, to the woman. She
waved the cup aside, placed the flask to her lips, and drank the
undiluted spirit. Yet even this was evidently bravado, for the water
started to her eyes, and she could not restrain the paroxysm of
coughing that followed.
"I reckon that's the kind that kills at forty rods," she said, with a
hysterical laugh. "But I say, pardner, you look as if you were fixed
here to stay," and she stared ostentatiously around the chamber. But
she had already taken in its minutest details, even to observing that
the hanging strips of bark could be disposed so as to completely hide
"Well, yes," he replied; "it wouldn't be very easy to pull up the
stakes and move the shanty further on."
Seeing that either from indifference or caution he had not accepted her
meaning, she looked at him fixedly, and said,--
"What is your little game?"
"What are you hiding for--here in this tree?"
"But I'm not hiding."
"Then why didn't you come out when they hailed you last night?"
"Because I didn't care to."
Teresa whistled incredulously. "All right--then if you're not hiding,
I'm going to." As he did not reply, she went on: "If I can keep out of
sight for a couple of weeks, this thing will blow over here, and I can
get across into Yolo. I could get a fair show there, where the boys
know me. Just now the trails are all watched, but no one would think of
"Then how did you come to think of it?" he asked carelessly.
"Because I knew that bear hadn't gone far for that sugar; because I
knew he hadn't stole it from a _cache_--it was too fresh, and we'd have
seen the torn-up earth; because we had passed no camp; and because I
knew there was no shanty here. And, besides," she added in a low voice,
"may be I was huntin' a hole myself to die in--and spotted it by
There was something in this suggestion of a hunted animal that, unlike
anything she had previously said or suggested, was not exaggerated, and
caused the young man to look at her again. She was standing under the
chimney-like opening, and the light from above illuminated her head and
shoulders. The pupils of her eyes had lost their feverish prominence,
and were slightly suffused and softened as she gazed abstractedly
before her. The only vestige of her previous excitement was in her
left-hand fingers, which were incessantly twisting and turning a
diamond ring upon her right hand, but without imparting the least
animation to her rigid attitude. Suddenly, as if conscious of his
scrutiny, she stepped aside out of the revealing light, and by a swift
feminine instinct raised her hand to her head as if to adjust her
straggling hair. It was only for a moment, however, for, as if aware of
the weakness, she struggled to resume her aggressive pose.
"Well," she said. "Speak up. Am I goin' to stop here, or have I got to
get up and get?"
"You can stay," said the young man quietly; "but as I've got my
provisions and ammunition here, and haven't any other place to go to
just now, I suppose we'll have to share it together."
She glanced at him under her eyelids, and a half-bitter,
half-contemptuous smile passed across her face. "All right, old man,"
she said, holding out her hand, "it's a go. We'll start in housekeeping
at once, if you like."
"I'll have to come here once or twice a day," he said, quite
composedly, "to look after my things, and get something to eat; but
I'll be away most of the time, and what with camping out under the
trees every night I reckon my share won't incommode you."
She opened her black eyes upon him, at this original proposition. Then
she looked down at her torn dress. "I suppose this style of thing ain't
very fancy, is it?" she said, with a forced laugh.
"I think I know where to beg or borrow a change for you, if you can't
get any," he replied simply.
She stared at him again. "Are you a family man?"
She was silent for a moment. "Well," she said, "you can tell your girl
I'm not particular about its being in the latest fashion."
There was a slight flush on his forehead as he turned toward the little
cupboard, but no tremor in his voice as he went on: "You'll find tea
and coffee here, and, if you're bored, there's a book or two. You read,
don't you--I mean English?"
She nodded, but cast a look of undisguised contempt upon the two worn,
coverless novels he held out to her. "You haven't got last week's
'Sacramento Union,' have you? I hear they have my case all in; only
them lying reporters made it out against me all the time."
"I don't see the papers," he replied curtly.
"They say there's a picture of me in the 'Police Gazette,' taken in the
act," and she laughed.
He looked a little abstracted, and turned as if to go. "I think you'll
do well to rest a while just now, and keep as close hid as possible
until afternoon. The trail is a mile away at the nearest point, but
some one might miss it and stray over here. You're quite safe if you're
careful, and stand by the tree. You can build a fire here," he stepped
under the chimney-like opening, "without its being noticed. Even the
smoke is lost and cannot be seen so high."
The light from above was falling on his head and shoulders, as it had
on hers. She looked at him intently.
"You travel a good deal on your figure, pardner, don't you?" she said,
with a certain admiration that was quite sexless in its quality; "but I
don't see how you pick up a living by it in the Carquinez Woods. So
you're going, are you? You might be more sociable. Good-by."
"Good-by!" He leaped from the opening.
"I say, pardner!"
He turned a little impatiently. She had knelt down at the entrance, so
as to be nearer his level, and was holding out her hand. But he did not
notice it, and she quietly withdrew it.
"If anybody dropped in and asked for you, what name will they say?"
He smiled. "Don't wait to hear."
"But suppose _I_ wanted to sing out for you, what will I call you?"
He hesitated. "Call me--Lo."
"Lo, the poor Indian?" [The first word of Pope's familiar apostrophe is
humorously used in the far West as a distinguishing title for the
It suddenly occurred to the woman, Teresa, that in the young man's
height, supple, yet erect carriage, color, and singular gravity of
demeanor there was a refined, aboriginal suggestion. He did not look
like any Indian she had ever seen, but rather as a youthful chief might
have looked. There was a further suggestion in his fringed buckskin
shirt and moccasins; but before she could utter the half-sarcastic
comment that rose to her lips he had glided noiselessly away, even as
an Indian might have done.
She readjusted the slips of hanging bark with feminine ingenuity,
dispersing them so as to completely hide the entrance. Yet this did not
darken the chamber, which seemed to draw a purer and more vigorous
light through the soaring shaft that pierced the room than that which
came from the dim woodland aisles below. Nevertheless, she shivered,
and drawing her shawl closely around her began to collect some
half-burnt fragments of wood in the chimney to make a fire. But the
preoccupation of her thoughts rendered this a tedious process, as she
would from time to time stop in the middle of an action and fall into
an attitude of rapt abstraction, with far-off eyes and rigid mouth.
When she had at last succeeded in kindling a fire and raising a film of
pale blue smoke, that seemed to fade and dissipate entirely before it
reached the top of the chimney shaft, she crouched beside it, fixed her
eyes on the darkest corner of the cavern, and became motionless.
What did she see through that shadow?
Nothing at first but a confused medley of figures and incidents of the
preceding night; things to be put away and forgotten; things that would
not have happened but for another thing--the thing before which
everything faded! A ball-room; the sounds of music; the one man she had
cared for insulting her with the flaunting ostentation of his
unfaithfulness; herself despised, put aside, laughed at, or worse,
jilted. And then the moment of delirium, when the light danced; the one
wild act that lifted her, the despised one, above them all--made her
the supreme figure, to be glanced at by frightened women, stared at by
half-startled, half-admiring men! "Yes," she laughed; but struck by the
sound of her own voice, moved twice round the cavern nervously, and
then dropped again into her old position.
As they carried him away he had laughed at her--like a hound that he
was; he who had praised her for her spirit, and incited her revenge
against others; he who had taught her to strike when she was insulted;
and it was only fit he should reap what he had sown. She was what he,
what other men, had made her. And what was she now? What had she been
She tried to recall her childhood: the man and woman who might have
been her father and mother; who fought and wrangled over her precocious
little life; abused or caressed her as she sided with either; and then
left her with a circus troupe, where she first tasted the power of her
courage, her beauty, and her recklessness. She remembered those flashes
of triumph that left a fever in her veins--a fever that when it failed
must be stimulated by dissipation, by anything, by everything that
would keep her name a wonder in men's mouths, an envious fear to women.
She recalled her transfer to the strolling players; her cheap
pleasures, and cheaper rivalries and hatred--but always Teresa! the
daring Teresa! the reckless Teresa! audacious as a woman, invincible as
a boy; dancing, flirting, fencing, shooting, swearing, drinking,
smoking, fighting Teresa! "Oh, yes; she had been loved, perhaps--who
knows?--but always feared. Why should she change now? Ha, he should
She had lashed herself in a frenzy, as was her wont, with gestures,
ejaculations, oaths, adjurations, and passionate apostrophes, but with
this strange and unexpected result. Heretofore she had always been
sustained and kept up by an audience of some kind or quality, if only
perhaps a humble companion; there had always been some one she could
fascinate or horrify, and she could read her power mirrored in their
eyes. Even the half-abstracted indifference of her strange host had
been something. But she was alone now. Her words fell on apathetic
solitude; she was acting to viewless space. She rushed to the opening,
dashed the hanging bark aside and leaped to the ground.
She ran forward wildly a few steps, and stopped.
"Hallo!" she cried. "Look, 'tis I, Teresa!"
The profound silence remained unbroken. Her shrillest tones were lost
in an echoless space, even as the smoke of her fire had faded into pure
ether. She stretched out her clenched fists as if to defy the pillared
austerities of the vaults around her.
"Come and take me if you dare!"
The challenge was unheeded. If she had thrown herself violently against
the nearest tree-trunk, she could not have been stricken more
breathless than she was by the compact, embattled solitude that
encompassed her. The hopelessness of impressing these cold and passive
vaults with her selfish passion filled her with a vague fear. In her
rage of the previous night she had not seen the wood in its profound
immobility. Left alone with the majesty of those enormous columns, she
trembled and turned faint. The silence of the hollow tree she had just
quitted seemed to her less awful than the crushing presence of these
mute and monstrous witnesses of her weakness. Like a wounded quail with
lowered crest and trailing wing, she crept back to her hiding-place.
Even then the influence of the wood was still upon her. She picked up
the novel she had contemptuously thrown aside only to let it fall again
in utter weariness. For a moment her feminine curiosity was excited by
the discovery of an old book, in whose blank leaves were pressed a
variety of flowers and woodland grasses. As she could not conceive that
these had been kept for any but a sentimental purpose, she was
disappointed to find that underneath each was a sentence in an unknown
tongue, that even to her untutored eye did not appear to be the
language of passion. Finally she rearranged the couch of skins and
blankets, and, imparting to it in three clever shakes an entirely
different character, lay down to pursue her reveries. But nature
asserted herself, and ere she knew it she was fast asleep.
So intense and prolonged had been her previous excitement that, the
tension once relieved, she passed into a slumber of exhaustion so deep
that she seemed scarce to breathe. High noon succeeded morning, the
central shaft received a single ray of upper sunlight, the afternoon
came and went, the shadows gathered below, the sunset fires began to
eat their way through the groined roof, and she still slept. She slept
even when the bark hangings of the chamber were put aside, and the
young man reentered.
He laid down a bundle he was carrying, and softly approached the
sleeper. For a moment he was startled from his indifference; she lay so
still and motionless. But this was not all that struck him; the face
before him was no longer the passionate, haggard visage that confronted
him that morning; the feverish air, the burning color, the strained
muscles of mouth and brow, and the staring eyes were gone; wiped away,
perhaps, by the tears that still left their traces on cheek and dark
eyelash. It was a face of a handsome woman of thirty, with even a
suggestion of softness in the contour of the cheek and arching of her
upper lip, no longer rigidly drawn down in anger, but relaxed by sleep
on her white teeth.
With the lithe, soft tread that was habitual to him, the young man
moved about, examining the condition of the little chamber and its
stock of provisions and necessaries, and withdrew presently, to
reappear as noiselessly with a tin bucket of water. This done he
replenished the little pile of fuel with an armful of bark and pine
cones, cast an approving glance about him, which included the sleeper,
and silently departed.
It was night when she awoke. She was surrounded by a profound darkness,
except where the shaft-like opening made a nebulous mist in the corner
in her wooden cavern. Providentially she struggled back to
consciousness slowly, so that the solitude and silence came upon her
gradually, with a growing realization of the events of the past
twenty-four hours, but without a shock. She was alone here, but safe
still, and every hour added to her chances of ultimate escape. She
remembered to have seen a candle among the articles on the shelf, and
she began to grope her way toward the matches. Suddenly she stopped.
What was that panting?
Was it her own breathing, quickened with a sudden nameless terror? or
was there something outside? Her heart seemed to stop beating while she
listened. Yes! it was a panting outside--a panting now increased,
multiplied, redoubled, mixed with the sounds of rustling, tearing,
craunching, and occasionally a quick, impatient snarl. She crept on her
hands and knees to the opening and looked out. At first the ground
seemed to be undulating between her and the opposite tree. But a second
glance showed her the black and gray, bristling, tossing backs of
tumbling beasts of prey, charging the carcass of the bear that lay at
its roots, or contesting for the prize with gluttonous choked breath,
sidelong snarls, arched spines, and recurved tails. One of the boldest
had leaped upon a buttressing root of her tree within a foot of the
The excitement, awe, and terror she had undergone culminated in one
wild, maddened scream, that seemed to pierce even the cold depths of
the forest, as she dropped on her face, with her hands clasped over her
eyes in an agony of fear.
Her scream was answered, after a pause, by a sudden volley of
firebrands and sparks into the midst of the panting, crowding pack; a
few smothered howls and snaps, and a sudden dispersion of the
concourse. In another moment the young man, with a blazing brand in
either hand, leaped upon the body of the bear.
Teresa raised her head, uttered a hysterical cry, slid down the tree,
flew wildly to his side, caught convulsively at his sleeve, and fell on
her knees beside him.
"Save me! save me!" she gasped, in a voice broken by terror. "Save me
from those hideous creatures. No, no!" she implored, as he endeavored
to lift her to her feet. "No--let me stay here close beside you. So,"
clutching the fringe of his leather hunting-shirt, and dragging herself
on her knees nearer him--"so--don't leave me, for God's sake!"
"They are gone," he replied, gazing down curiously at her, as she wound
the fringe around her hand to strengthen her hold; "they're only a lot
of cowardly coyotes and wolves, that dare not attack anything that
lives and can move."
The young woman responded with a nervous shudder. "Yes, that's it," she
whispered, in a broken voice; "it's only the dead they want. Promise
me--swear to me, if I'm caught, or hung, or shot, you won't let me be
left here to be torn and--ah! my God! what's that?"
She had thrown her arms around his knees, completely pinioning him to
her frantic breast. Something like a smile of disdain passed across his
face as he answered, "It's nothing. They will not return. Get up!"
Even in her terror she saw the change in his face. "I know, I know!"
she cried. "I'm frightened--but I cannot bear it any longer. Hear me!
Listen! Listen--but don't move! I didn't mean to kill Curson--no! I
swear to God, no! I didn't mean to kill the sheriff--and I didn't. I
was only bragging--do you hear? I lied! I lied--don't move, I swear to
God I lied. I've made myself out worse than I was. I have. Only don't
leave me now--and if I die--and it's not far off, may be--get me away
from here--and from _them_. Swear it!"
"All right," said the young man, with a scarcely concealed movement of
irritation. "But get up now, and go back to the cabin."
"No; not _there_ alone." Nevertheless, he quietly but firmly released
"I will stay here," he replied. "I would have been nearer to you, but I
thought it better for your safety that my camp-fire should be further
off. But I can build it here, and that will keep the coyotes off."
"Let me stay with you--beside you," she said imploringly.
She looked so broken, crushed, and spiritless, so unlike the woman of
the morning that, albeit with an ill grace, he tacitly consented, and
turned away to bring his blankets. But in the next moment she was at
his side, following him like a dog, silent and wistful, and even
offering to carry his burden. When he had built the fire, for which she
had collected the pine--cones and broken branches near them, he sat
down, folded his arms, and leaned back against the tree in reserved and
deliberate silence. Humble and submissive, she did not attempt to break
in upon a reverie she could not help but feel had little kindliness to
herself. As the fire snapped and sparkled, she pillowed her head upon a
root, and lay still to watch it.
It rose and fell, and dying away at times to a mere lurid glow, and
again, agitated by some breath scarcely perceptible to them, quickening
into a roaring flame. When only the embers remained, a dead silence
filled the wood. Then the first breath of morning moved the tangled
canopy above, and a dozen tiny sprays and needles detached from the
interlocked boughs winged their soft way noiselessly to the earth. A
few fell upon the prostrate woman like a gentle benediction, and she
slept. But even then, the young man, looking down, saw that the slender
fingers were still aimlessly but rigidly twisted in the leather fringe
of his hunting-shirt.
It was a peculiarity of the Carquinez Wood that it stood apart and
distinct in its gigantic individuality. Even where the integrity of its
own singular species was not entirely preserved, it admitted no
inferior trees. Nor was there any diminishing fringe on its outskirts;
the sentinels that guarded the few gateways of the dim trails were as
monstrous as the serried ranks drawn up in the heart of the forest.
Consequently, the red highway that skirted the eastern angle was bare
and shadeless, until it slipped a league off into a watered valley and
refreshed itself under lesser sycamores and willows. It was here the
newly-born city of Excelsior, still in its cradle, had, like an infant
Hercules, strangled the serpentine North Fork of the American river,
and turned its life-current into the ditches and flumes of the
Newest of the new houses that seemed to have accidentally formed its
single, straggling street was the residence of the Rev. Winslow Wynn,
not unfrequently known as "Father Wynn," pastor of the first Baptist
church. The "pastorage," as it was cheerfully called, had the glaring
distinction of being built of brick, and was, as had been wickedly
pointed out by idle scoffers, the only "fireproof" structure in town.
This sarcasm was not, however, supposed to be particularly distasteful
to "Father Wynn," who enjoyed the reputation of being "hail fellow,
well met" with the rough mining element, who called them by their
Christian names, had been known to drink at the bar of the Polka Saloon
while engaged in the conversion of a prominent citizen, and was
popularly said to have no "gospel starch" about him. Certain conscious
outcasts and transgressors were touched at this apparent unbending of
the spiritual authority. The rigid tenets of Father Wynn's faith were
lost in the supposed catholicity of his humanity. "A preacher that can
jine a man when he's histin' liquor into him, without jawin' about it,
ought to be allowed to wrestle with sinners and splash about in as much
cold water as he likes," was the criticism of one of his converts.
Nevertheless, it was true that Father Wynn was somewhat loud and
intolerant in his tolerance. It was true that he was a little more
rough, a little more frank, a little more hearty, a little more
impulsive, than his disciples. It was true that often the proclamation
of his extreme liberality and brotherly equality partook somewhat of an
apology. It is true that a few who might have been most benefited by
this kind of gospel regarded him with a singular disdain. It is true
that his liberality was of an ornamental, insinuating quality,
accompanied with but little sacrifice; his acceptance of a collection
taken up in a gambling-saloon for the rebuilding of his church,
destroyed by fire, gave him a popularity large enough, it must be
confessed, to cover the sins of the gamblers themselves, but it was not
proven that _he_ had ever organized any form of relief. But it was true
that local history somehow accepted him as an exponent of mining
Christianity, without the least reference to the opinions of the
Christian miners themselves.
The Rev. Mr. Wynn's liberal habits and opinions were not, however,
shared by his only daughter, a motherless young lady of eighteen.
Nellie Wynn was in the eye of Excelsior an unapproachable divinity, as
inaccessible and cold as her father was impulsive and familiar. An
atmosphere of chaste and proud virginity made itself felt even in the
starched integrity of her spotless skirts, in her neatly-gloved
finger-tips, in her clear amber eyes, in her imperious red lips, in her
sensitive nostrils. Need it be said that the youth and middle age of
Excelsior were madly, because apparently hopelessly, in love with her?
For the rest, she had been expensively educated, was profoundly
ignorant in two languages, with a trained misunderstanding of music and
painting, and a natural and faultless taste in dress.
The Rev. Mr. Wynn was engaged in a characteristic hearty parting with
one of his latest converts upon his own doorstep, with admirable _al
fresco_ effect. He had just clapped him on the shoulder. "Good-by,
good-by, Charley, my boy, and keep in the right path; not up, or down,
or round the gulch, you know--ha, ha!--but straight across lots to the
shining gate." He had raised his voice under the stimulus of a few
admiring spectators, and backed his convert playfully against the wall.
"You see! we're goin' in to win, you bet. Good-by! I'd ask you to step
in and have a chat, but I've got my work to do, and so have you. The
gospel mustn't keep us from that, must it, Charley? Ha, ha!"
The convert (who elsewhere was a profane expressman, and had become
quite imbecile under Mr. Wynn's active heartiness and brotherly
horse-play before spectators) managed, however, to feebly stammer with
a blush something about "Miss Nellie."
"Ah, Nellie. She, too, is at her tasks--trimming her lamp--you know,
the parable of the wise virgins," continued Father Wynn hastily,
fearing that the convert might take the illustration literally. "There,
there--good-by. Keep in the right path." And with a parting shove he
dismissed Charley and entered his own house.
That "wise virgin," Nellie, had evidently finished with the lamp, and
was now going out to meet the bridegroom, as she was fully dressed and
gloved, and had a pink parasol in her hand, as her father entered the
His bluff heartiness seemed to fade away as he removed his soft,
broad-brimmed hat and glanced across the too fresh-looking apartment.
There was a smell of mortar still in the air, and a faint suggestion
that at any moment green grass might appear between the interstices of
the red-brick hearth. The room, yielding a little in the point of
coldness, seemed to share Miss Nellie's fresh virginity, and, barring
the pink parasol, set her off as in a vestal's cell.
"I supposed you wouldn't care to see Brace, the expressman, so I got
rid of him at the door," said her father, drawing one of the new chairs
towards him slowly, and sitting down carefully, as if it were a
hitherto untried experiment.
Miss Nellie's face took a tint of interest. "Then he doesn't go with
the coach to Indian Spring to-day?"
"I thought of going over myself to get the Burnham girls to come to
choir-meeting," replied Miss Nellie carelessly, "and he might have been
"He'd go now if he knew you were going," said her father; "but it's
just as well he shouldn't be needlessly encouraged. I rather think that
Sheriff Dunn is a little jealous of him. By the way, the sheriff is
much better. I called to cheer him up to-day" (Mr. Wynn had in fact
tumultuously accelerated the sick man's pulse), "and he talked of you,
as usual. In fact, he said he had only two things to get well for. One
was to catch and hang that woman Teresa, who shot him; the other--can't
you guess the other?" he added archly, with a faint suggestion of his
Miss Nellie coldly could not.
The Rev. Mr. Wynn's archness vanished. "Don't be a fool," he said
dryly. "He wants to marry you, and you know it."
"Most of the men here do," responded Miss Nellie, without the least
trace of coquetry. "Is the wedding or the hanging to take place first,
or together, so he can officiate at both?"