JEFF BRIGGS'S LOVE STORY
by Bret Harte
JEFF BRIGGS'S LOVE STORY.
It was raining and blowing at Eldridge's Crossing. From the
stately pine-trees on the hill-tops, which were dignifiedly
protesting through their rigid spines upward, to the hysterical
willows in the hollow, that had whipped themselves into a maudlin
fury, there was a general tumult. When the wind lulled, the rain
kept up the distraction, firing long volleys across the road,
letting loose miniature cataracts from the hill-sides to brawl in
the ditches, and beating down the heavy heads of wild oats on the
levels; when the rain ceased for a moment the wind charged over the
already defeated field, ruffled the gullies, scattered the spray
from the roadside pines, and added insult to injury. But both wind
and rain concentrated their energies in a malevolent attempt to
utterly disperse and scatter the "Half-way House," which seemed to
have wholly lost its way, and strayed into the open, where, dazed
and bewildered, unprepared and unprotected, it was exposed to the
taunting fury of the blast. A loose, shambling, disjointed,
hastily built structure--representing the worst features of Pioneer
renaissance--it rattled its loose window-sashes like chattering
teeth, banged its ill-hung shutters, and admitted so much of the
invading storm, that it might have blown up or blown down with
Jefferson Briggs, proprietor and landlord of the "Half-way House,"
had just gone through the formality of closing his house for the
night, hanging dangerously out of the window in the vain attempt to
subdue a rebellious shutter that had evidently entered into
conspiracy with the invaders, and, shutting a door as against a
sheriff's posse, was going to bed--i. e., to read himself asleep,
as was his custom. As he entered his little bedroom in the attic
with a highly exciting novel in his pocket and a kerosene lamp in
his hand, the wind, lying in wait for him, instantly extinguished
his lamp and slammed the door behind him. Jefferson Briggs
relighted the lamp, as if confidentially, in a corner, and,
shielding it in the bosom of his red flannel shirt, which gave him
the appearance of an illuminated shrine, hung a heavy bear-skin
across the window, and then carefully deposited his lamp upon a
chair at his bedside. This done, he kicked off his boots, flung
them into a corner, and, rolling himself in a blanket, lay down
upon the bed. A habit of early rising, bringing with it,
presumably, the proverbial accompaniment of health, wisdom, and
pecuniary emoluments, had also brought with it certain ideas of the
effeminacy of separate toilettes and the virtue of readiness.
In a few moments he was deep in a chapter.
A vague pecking at his door--as of an unseasonable woodpecker,
finally asserted itself to his consciousness. "Come in," he said,
with his eye still on the page.
The door opened to a gaunt figure, partly composed of bed-quilt and
partly of plaid shawl. A predominance of the latter and a long
wisp of iron-gray hair determined her sex. She leaned against the
post with an air of fatigue, half moral and half physical.
"How ye kin lie thar, abed, Jeff, and read and smoke on sich a
night! The sperrit o' the Lord abroad over the yearth--and up
stage not gone by yet. Well, well! it's well thar ez SOME EZ CAN'T
"The up coach, like as not, is stopped by high water on the North
Fork, ten miles away, aunty," responded Jeff, keeping to the facts.
Possibly not recognizing the hand of the beneficent Creator in the
rebellious window shutter, he avoided theology.
"Well," responded the figure, with an air of delivering an unheeded
and thankless warning, "it is not for ME to say. P'raps it's all
His wisdom that some will keep to their own mind. It's well ez
some hezn't narves, and kin luxuriate in terbacker in the night
watches. But He says, 'I'll come like a thief in the night!'--like
a thief in the night, Jeff."
Totally unable to reconcile this illustration with the delayed
"Pioneer" coach and Yuba Bill, its driver, Jeff lay silent. In his
own way, perhaps, he was uneasy--not to say shocked--at his aunt's
habitual freedom of scriptural quotation, as that good lady herself
was with an occasional oath from his lips; a fact, by the way, not
generally understood by purveyors of Scripture, licensed and
"I'd take a pull at them bitters, aunty," said Jeff feebly, with
his wandering eye still recurring to his page. "They'll do ye a
power of good in the way o' calmin' yer narves."
"Ef I was like some folks I wouldn't want bitters--though made
outer the simplest yarbs of the yearth, with jest enough sperrit to
bring out the vartoos--ez Deacon Stoer's Balm 'er Gilead is--what
yer meaning? Ef I was like some folks I could lie thar and smoke
in the lap o' idleness--with fourteen beds in the house empty, and
nary lodger for one of 'em. Ef I was that indifferent to havin'
invested my fortin in the good will o' this house, and not ez much
ez a single transient lookin' in, I could lie down and take comfort
in profane literatoor. But it ain't in me to do it. And it wasn't
your father's way, Jeff, neither!"
As the elder Briggs's way had been to seek surcease from such
trouble at the gambling table, and eventually, in suicide, Jeff
could not deny it. But he did not say that a full realization of
his unhappy venture overcame him as he closed the blinds of the
hotel that night; and that the half desperate idea of abandoning it
then and there to the warring elements that had resented his
trespass on Nature seemed to him an act of simple reason and
justice. He did not say this, for easy-going natures are not apt
to explain the processes by which their content or resignation is
reached, and are therefore supposed to have none. Keeping to the
facts, he simply suggested the weather was unfavorable to
travelers, and again found his place on the page before him.
Fixing it with his thumb, he looked up resignedly. The figure
wearily detached itself from the door-post, and Jeff's eyes fell on
his book. "You won't stop, aunty?" he asked mechanically, as if
reading aloud from the page; but she was gone.
A little ashamed, although much relieved, Jeff fell back again to
literature, interrupted only by the charging of the wind and the
heavy volleys of rain. Presently he found himself wondering if a
certain banging were really a shutter, and then, having settled in
his mind that it WAS, he was startled by a shout. Another, and in
the road before the house!
Jeff put down the book, and marked the place by turning down the
leaf, being one of that large class of readers whose mental
faculties are butter-fingered, and easily slip their hold. Then he
resumed his boots and was duly caparisoned. He extinguished the
kerosene lamp, and braved the outer air, and strong currents of the
hall and stairway in the darkness. Lighting two candles in the
bar-room, he proceeded to unlock the hall door. At the same
instant a furious blast shook the house, the door yielded slightly
and impelled a thin, meek-looking stranger violently against Jeff,
who still struggled with it.
"An accident has occurred," began the stranger, "and"--but here the
wind charged again, blew open the door, pinned Jeff behind it back
against the wall, overturned the dripping stranger, dashed up the
staircase, and slammed every door in the house, ending triumphantly
with No. 14, and a crash of glass in the window.
"'Come, rouse up!" said Jeff, still struggling with the door,
"rouse up and lend a hand yer!"
Thus abjured, the stranger crept along the wall towards Jeff and
began again, "We have met with an accident." But here another and
mightier gust left him speechless, covered him with spray of a
wildly disorganized water-spout that, dangling from the roof,
seemed to be playing on the front door, drove him into black
obscurity and again sandwiched his host between the door and the
wall. Then there was a lull, and in the midst of it Yuba Bill,
driver of the "Pioneer" coach, quietly and coolly, impervious in
waterproof, walked into the hall, entered the bar-room, took a
candle, and, going behind the bar, selected a bottle, critically
examined it, and, returning, poured out a quantity of whiskey in a
glass and gulped it in a single draught.
All this while Jeff was closing the door, and the meek-looking man
was coming into the light again.
Yuba Bill squared his elbows behind him and rested them on the bar,
crossed his legs easily and awaited them. In reply to Jeff's
inquiring but respectful look, he said shortly--
"Oh, you're thar, are ye?"
"Well, this yer new-fangled road o' yours is ten feet deep in the
hollow with back water from the North Fork! I've taken that yar
coach inter fower feet of it, and then I reckoned I couldn't hev
any more. 'I'll stand on this yer hand,' sez I; I brought the
horses up yer and landed 'em in your barn to eat their blessed
heads off till the water goes down. That's wot's the matter, old
man, and jist about wot I kalkilated on from those durned old
improvements o' yours."
Coloring a little at this new count in the general indictment
against the uselessness of the "Half-way House," Jeff asked if
there were "any passengers?"
Yuba Bill indicated the meek stranger with a jerk of his thumb.
"And his wife and darter in the coach. They're all right and
tight, ez if they was in the Fifth Avenue Hotel. But I reckon he
allows to fetch 'em up yer," added Bill, as if he strongly doubted
the wisdom of the transfer.
The meek man, much meeker for the presence of Bill, here suggested
that such indeed was his wish, and further prayed that Jeff would
accompany him to the coach to assist in bringing them up. "It's
rather wet and dark," said the man apologetically; "my daughter is
not strong. Have you such a thing as a waterproof?"
Jeff had not; but would a bear-skin do?
Jeff ran, tore down his extempore window curtain, and returned with
it. Yuba Bill, who had quietly and disapprovingly surveyed the
proceeding, here disengaged himself from the bar with evident
"You'll want another man," he said to Jeff, "onless ye can carry
double. Ez HE," indicating the stranger, "ez no sort o' use, he'd
better stay here and 'tend bar,' while you and me fetch the wimmen
off. 'Specially ez I reckon we've got to do some tall wadin' by
this time to reach 'em."
The meek man sat down helplessly in a chair indicated by Bill, who
at once strode after Jeff. In another moment they were both
fighting their way, step by step, against the storm, in that
peculiar, drunken, spasmodic way so amusing to the spectator and so
exasperating to the performer. It was no time for conversation,
even interjectional profanity was dangerously exhaustive.
The coach was scarcely a thousand yards away, but its bright lights
were reflected in a sheet of dark silent water that stretched
between it and the two men. Wading and splashing, they soon
reached it, and a gully where the surplus water was pouring into
the valley below. "Fower feet o' water round her, but can't get
any higher. So ye see she's all right for a month o' sich
weather." Inwardly admiring the perspicacity of his companion,
Jeff was about to open the coach door when Bill interrupted.
"I'll pack the old woman, if you'll look arter the darter and enny
A female face, anxious and elderly, here appeared at the window.
"Thet's my little game," said Bill, sotto voce.
"Is there any danger? where is my husband?" asked the woman
"Ez to the danger, ma'am,--thar ain't any. Yer ez safe HERE ez
ye'd be in a Sacramento steamer; ez to your husband, he allowed I
was to come yer and fetch yer up to the hotel. That's his look-
out!" With this cheering speech, Bill proceeded to make two or
three ineffectual scoops into the dark interior, manifestly with
the idea of scooping out the lady in question. In another instant
he had caught her, lifted her gently but firmly in his arms, and
was turning away.
"But my child!--my daughter! she's asleep!"--expostulated the
woman; but Bill was already swiftly splashing through the darkness.
Jeff, left to himself, hastily examined the coach: on the back seat
a slight small figure, enveloped in a shawl, lay motionless. Jeff
threw the bear-skin over it gently, lifted it on one arm, and
gathering a few travelling bags and baskets with the other,
prepared to follow his quickly disappearing leader. A few feet
from the coach the water appeared to deepen, and the bear-skin to
draggle. Jeff drew the figure up higher, in vain.
"Sis," he said softly.
"Sis," shaking her gently.
There was a slight movement within the wrappings.
"Couldn't ye climb up on my shoulder, honey? that's a good child!"
There were one or two spasmodic jerks of the bear-skin, and, aided
by Jeff, the bundle was presently seated on his shoulder.
"Are you all right now, Sis?"
Something like a laugh came from the bear-skin. Then a childish
voice said, "Thank you, I think I am!"
"Ain't you afraid you'll fall off?"
Jeff hesitated. It was beginning to blow again.
"You couldn't reach down and put your arm round my neck, could ye,
"I am afraid not!"--although there WAS a slight attempt to do so.
"Well, then, take a good holt, a firm strong holt, o' my hair!
Don't be afraid!"
A small hand timidly began to rummage in Jeff's thick curls.
"Take a firm holt; thar, just back o' my neck! That's right."
The little hand closed over half a dozen curls. The little figure
shook, and giggled.
"Now don't you see, honey, if I'm keerless with you, and don't keep
you plump level up thar, you jist give me a pull and fetch me up
"Of course you do! That's because you're a little lady!"
Jeff strode on. It was pleasant to feel the soft warm fingers in
his hair, pleasant to hear the faint childish voice, pleasant to
draw the feet of the enwrapped figure against his broad breast.
Altogether he was sorry when they reached the dry land and the lee
of the "Half-way House," where a slight movement of the figure
expressed a wish to dismount.
"Not yet, missy," said Jeff; "not yet! You'll get blown away,
sure! And then what'll they say? No, honey! I'll take you right
in to your papa, just as ye are!"
A few steps more and Jeff strode into the hall, made his way to the
sitting-room, walked to the sofa, and deposited his burden. The
bear-skin fell back, the shawl fell back, and Jeff--fell back too!
For before him lay a small, slight, but beautiful and perfectly
He had time to see that the meek man, no longer meek, but
apparently a stern uncompromising parent, was standing at the head
of the sofa; that the elderly and nervous female was hovering at
the foot, that his aunt, with every symptom of religious and moral
disapproval of his conduct, sat rigidly in one of the rigid chairs--
he had time to see all this before the quick, hot blood, flying to
his face, sent the water into his eyes, and he could see nothing!
The cause of all this smiled--a dazzling smile though a faint one--
that momentarily lit up the austere gloom of the room and its
occupants. "You must thank this gentleman, papa," said she,
languidly turning to her father, "for his kindness and his trouble.
He has carried me here as gently and as carefully as if I were a
child." Seeing symptoms of a return of Jeff's distress in his
coloring face, she added softly, as if to herself, "It's a great
thing to be strong--a greater thing to be strong AND gentle."
The voice thrilled through Jeff. But into this dangerous human
voice twanged the accents of special spiritual revelation, and
called him to himself again, "Be ye wise as sarpints, but harmless
as duvs," said Jeff's aunt, generally, "and let 'em be thankful ez
doesn't aboos the stren'th the Lord gives 'em, but be allers ready
to answer for it at the bar o' their Maker." Possibly some
suggestion in her figure of speech reminded her of Jeff's forgotten
duties, so she added in the same breath and tone, "especially when
transient customers is waiting for their licker, and Yuba Bill
hammerin' on the counter with his glass; and yer ye stand, Jeff,
never even takin' up that wet bar-skin--enuff to give that young
woman her death."
Stammering out an incoherent apology, addressed vaguely to the
occupants of the room, but looking toward the languid goddess on
the sofa, Jeff seized the bear-skin and backed out the door. Then
he flew to his room with it, and then returned to the bar-room; but
the impatient William of Yuba had characteristically helped himself
and gone off to the stable. Then Jeff stole into the hall and
halted before the closed door of the sitting-room. A bold idea of
going in again, as became a landlord of the "Half-way House," with
an inquiry if they wished anything further, had seized him, but the
remembrance that he had always meekly allowed that duty to devolve
upon his aunt, and that she would probably resent it with
scriptural authority and bring him to shame again, stayed his timid
knuckles at the door. In this hesitation he stumbled upon his aunt
coming down the stairs with an armful of blankets and pillows,
attended by their small Indian servant, staggering under a mattress.
"Is everything all right, aunty?"
"Ye kin be thankful to the Lord, Jeff Briggs, that this didn't
happen last week when I was down on my back with rheumatiz. But
ye're never grateful."
"The young lady--is SHE comfortable?" said Jeff, accepting his
aunt's previous remark as confirmatory.
"Ez well ez enny critter marked by the finger of the Lord with
gallopin' consumption kin be, I reckon. And she, ez oughter be
putting off airthly vanities, askin' for a lookin'-glass! And you!
trapesin' through the hall with her on yer shoulder, and dancin'
and jouncin' her up and down ez if it was a ball-room!" A guilty
recollection that he had skipped with her through the passage
struck him with remorse as his aunt went on: "It's a mercy that
betwixt you and the wet bar-skin she ain't got her deth!"
"Don't ye think, aunty," stammered Jeff, "that--that--my bein' the
landlord, yer know, it would be the square thing--just out o'
respect, ye know--for me to drop in thar and ask 'em if thar's
anythin' they wanted?"
His aunt stopped, and resignedly put down the pillows. "Sarah,"
she said meekly to the handmaiden, "ye kin leave go that mattress.
Yer's Mr. Jefferson thinks we ain't good enough to make the beds
for them two city women folks, and he allows he'll do it himself!"
"No, no! aunty!" began the horrified Jeff; but failing to placate
his injured relative, took safety in flight.
Once safe in his own room his eye fell on the bear-skin. It
certainly WAS wet. Perhaps he had been careless--perhaps he had
imperiled her life! His cheeks flushed as he threw it hastily in
the corner. Something fell from it to the floor. Jeff picked it
up and held it to the light. It was a small, a very small, lady's
slipper. Holding it within the palm of his hand as if it had been
some delicate flower which the pressure of a finger might crush, he
strode to the door, but stopped. Should he give it to his aunt?
Even if she overlooked this evident proof of HIS carelessness, what
would she think of the young lady's? Ought he--seductive thought!--
go downstairs again, knock at the door, and give it to its fair
owner, with the apology he was longing to make? Then he remembered
that he had but a few moments before been dismissed from the room
very much as if he were the original proprietor of the skin he had
taken. Perhaps they were right; perhaps he WAS only a foolish
clumsy animal! Yet SHE had thanked him--and had said in her sweet
childlike voice, "It is a great thing to be strong; a greater thing
to be strong and gentle." He was strong; strong men had said so.
He did not know if he was gentle too. Had she meant THAT, when she
turned her strangely soft dark eyes upon him? For some moments he
held the slipper hesitatingly in his hand, then he opened his
trunk, and disposing various articles around it as if it were some
fragile, perishable object, laid it carefully therein.
This done, he drew off his boots, and rolling himself in his
blanket, lay down upon the bed. He did not open his novel--he did
not follow up the exciting love episode of his favorite hero--so
ungrateful is humanity to us poor romancers, in the first stages of
their real passion. Ah, me! 'tis the jongleurs and troubadours
they want then, not us! When Master Slender, sick for sweet Anne
Page, would "rather than forty shillings" he had his "book of songs
and sonnets" there, what availed it that the Italian Boccaccio had
contemporaneously discoursed wisely and sweetly of love in prose?
I doubt not that Master Jeff would have mumbled some verse to
himself had he known any: knowing none, he lay there and listened
to the wind.
Did she hear it; did it keep her awake? He had an uneasy suspicion
that the shutter that was banging so outrageously was the shutter
of her room. Filled with this miserable thought, he arose softly,
stole down the staircase, and listened. The sound was repeated.
It was truly the refractory shutter of No. 7--the best bedroom
adjoining the sitting-room. The next room, No. 8, was vacant.
Jeff entered it softly, as softly opened the window, and leaning
far out in the tempest, essayed to secure the nocturnal disturber.
But in vain. Cord or rope he had none, nor could he procure either
without alarming his aunt--an extremity not to be considered. Jeff
was a man of clumsy but forceful expedients. He hung far out of
the window, and with one powerful hand lifted the shutter off its
hinges and dragged it softly into No. 8. Then as softly he crept
upstairs to bed. The wind howled and tore round the house; the
crazy water-pipe below Jeff's window creaked, the chimneys
whistled, but the shutter banged no more. Jeff began to doze.
"It's a great thing to be strong," the wind seemed to say as it
charged upon the defenseless house, and then another voice seemed
to reply, "A greater thing to be strong and gentle;" and hearing
this he fell asleep.
It was not yet daylight when he awoke with an idea that brought him
hurriedly to his feet. Quickly dressing himself, he began to count
the money in his pocket. Apparently the total was not satisfactory,
as he endeavored to augment it by loose coins fished from the
pockets of his other garments, and from the corner of his washstand
drawer. Then he cautiously crept downstairs, seized his gun, and
stole out of the still sleeping house. The wind had gone down, the
rain had ceased, a few stars shone steadily in the north, and the
shapeless bulk of the coach, its lamps extinguished, loomed high and
dry above the lessening water, in the twilight. With a swinging
tread Jeff strode up the hill and was soon upon the highway and
stage road. A half-hour's brisk walk brought him to the summit, and
the first rosy flashes of morning light. This enabled him to knock
over half-a-dozen early quail, lured by the proverb, who were
seeking their breakfast in the chaparral, and gave him courage to
continue on his mission, which his perplexed face and irresolute
manner had for the last few moments shown to be an embarrassing one.
At last the white fences and imposing outbuildings of the "Summit
Hotel" rose before him, and he uttered a deep sigh. There, basking
in the first rays of the morning sun, stood his successful rival!
Jeff looked at the well-built, comfortable structure, the commanding
site, and the air of serene independence that seemed to possess it,
and no longer wondered that the great world passed him by to linger
and refresh itself there.
He was relieved to find the landlord was not present in person, and
so confided his business to the bar-keeper. At first it appeared
that that functionary declined interference, and with many head-
shakings and audible misgivings was inclined to await the coming of
his principal, but a nearer view of Jeff's perplexed face, and an
examination of Jeff's gun, and the few coins spread before him,
finally induced him to produce certain articles, which he packed in
a basket and handed to Jeff, taking the gun and coins in exchange.
Thus relieved, Jeff set his face homewards, and ran a race with the
morning into the valley, reaching the "Half-way House" as the sun
laid waste its bare, bleak outlines, and relentlessly pointed out
its defects one by one. It was cruel to Jeff at that moment, but
he hugged his basket close and slipped to the back door and the
kitchen, where his aunt was already at work.
"I didn't know ye were up yet, aunty," said Jeff submissively. "It
isn't more than six o'clock."
"Thar's four more to feed at breakfast," said his aunt severely,
"and yer's the top blown off the kitchen chimbly, and the fire only
just got to go."
Jeff saw that he was in time. The ordinary breakfast of the "Half-
way House," not yet prepared, consisted of codfish, ham, yellow-
ochre biscuit, made after a peculiar receipt of his aunt's, and
"I got a few fancy fixin's up at the Summit this morning, aunty,"
he began apologetically, "seein' we had sick folks, you know--you
and the young lady--and thinkin' it might save you trouble. I've
got 'em here," and he shyly produced the basket.
"If ye kin afford it, Jeff," responded his aunt resignedly, "I'm
The reply was so unexpectedly mild for Aunt Sally, that Jeff put
his arms around her and kissed her hard cheek. "And I've got some
quail, aunty, knowin' you liked em."
"I reckoned you was up to some such foolishness," said Aunt Sally,
wiping her cheek with her apron," when I missed yer gun from the
hall." But the allusion was a dangerous one, and Jeff slipped away.
He breakfasted early with Yuba Bill that morning; the latter
gentleman's taciturnity being intensified at such moments through a
long habit of confining himself strictly to eating in the limited
time allowed his daily repasts, and it was not until they had taken
the horses from the stable and were harnessing them to the coach that
Jeff extracted from his companion some facts about his guests. They
were Mr. and Mrs. Mayfield, Eastern tourists, who had been to the
Sandwich Islands for the benefit of their daughter's health, and
before returning to New York, intended, under the advice of their
physician, to further try the effects of mountain air at the "Summit
Hotel," on the invalid. They were apparently rich people, the coach
had been engaged for them solely--even the mail and express had been
sent on by a separate conveyance, so that they might be more
independent. It is hardly necessary to say that this fact was by no
means palatable to Bill--debarring him not only the social contact
and attentions of the "Express Agent," but the selection of a box-
seated passenger who always "acted like a man."
"Ye kin kalkilate what kind of a pardner that 'ar yaller-livered
Mayfield would make up on that box, partik'ly ez I heard before we
started that he'd requested the kimpany's agent in Sacramento to
select a driver ez didn't cuss, smoke, or drink. He did, sir, by
"I reckon you were very careful, then, Bill," said Jeff.
"In course," returned Bill, with a perfectly diabolical wink. "In
course! You know that 'Blue Grass,'" pointing out a spirited leader;
"she's a fair horse ez horses go, but she's apt to feel her oats on a
down grade, and takes a pow'ful deal o' soothin' and explanation
afore she buckles down to her reg'lar work. Well, sir, I exhorted
and labored in a Christian-like way with that mare to that extent
that I'm cussed if that chap didn't want to get down afore we got to
"And the ladies?" asked Jeff, whose laugh--possibly from his
morning's experience--was not as ready as formerly.
"The ladies! Ef you mean that 'ar livin' skellington I packed up to
yer house," said Bill promptly, "it's a pair of them in size and
color, and ready for any first-class undertaker's team in the kintry.
Why, you remember that curve on Break Neck hill, where the leaders
allus look as if they was alongside o' the coach and faced the other
way? Well, that woman sticks her skull outer the window, and sez
she, confidential-like to old yaller-belly, sez she, 'William Henry,'
sez she, 'tell that man his horses are running away!'"
"You didn't get to see the--the--daughter, Bill, did you?" asked
Jeff, whose laugh had become quite uneasy.
"No, I didn't," said Bill, with sudden and inexplicable vehemence,
"and the less you see of her, Jefferson Briggs, the better for you."
Too confounded and confused by Bill's manner to question further,
Jeff remained silent until they drew up at the door of the "Half-way
House." But here another surprise awaited him. Mr. Mayfield, erect
and dignified, stood upon the front porch as the coach drove up.
"Driver!" began Mr. Mayfield.
There was no reply.
"Driver," said Mr. Mayfield, slightly weakening under Bill's eye, "I
shall want you no longer. I have"--
"Is he speaking to me?" said Bill audibly to Jeff, "'cause they call
me 'Yuba Bill' yer abouts."
"He is," said Jeff hastily.
"Mebbee he's drunk," said Bill audibly; "a drop or two afore
breakfast sometimes upsets his kind."
"I was saying, Bill," said Mr. Mayfield, becoming utterly limp and
weak again under Bill's cold gray eyes, "that I've changed my mind,
and shall stop here awhile. My daughter seems already benefited by
the change. You can take my traps from the boot and leave them
Bill laid down his lines resignedly, coolly surveyed Mr. Mayfield,
the house, and the half-pleased, half-frightened Jeff, and then
proceeded to remove the luggage from the boot, all the while
whistling loud and offensive incredulity. Then he climbed back to
his box. Mr. Mayfield, completely demoralized under this treatment,
as a last resort essayed patronage.
"You can say to the Sacramento agents, Bill, that I am entirely
"Ye needn't fear but I'll give ye a good character," interrupted Bill
coolly, gathering up his lines. The whip snapped, the six horses
dashed forward as one, the coach plunged down the road and was gone.
With its disappearance, Mr. Mayfield stiffened slightly again. "I
have just told your aunt, Mr. Briggs," he said, turning upon Jeff,
"that my daughter has expressed a desire to remain here a few days;
she has slept well, seems to be invigorated by the air, and although
we expected to go on to the 'Summit,' Mrs. Mayfield and myself are
willing to accede to her wishes. Your house seems to be new and
clean. Your table--judging from the breakfast this morning--is quite
Jeff, in the first flush of delight at this news, forgot what that
breakfast had cost him--forgot all his morning's experience, and, I
fear, when he did remember it, was too full of a vague, hopeful
courage to appreciate it. Conscious of showing too much pleasure, he
affected the necessity of an immediate interview with his aunt, in
the kitchen. But his short cut round the house was arrested by a
voice and figure. It was Miss Mayfield, wrapped in a shawl and
seated in a chair, basking in the sunlight at one of the bleakest and
barest angles of the house. Jeff stopped in a delicious tremor.
As we are dealing with facts, however, it would be well to look at
the cause of this tremor with our own eyes and not Jeff's. To be
plain, my dear madam, as she basked in that remorseless, matter-of-
fact California sunshine, she looked her full age-twenty-five, if a
day! There were wrinkles in the corners of her dark eyes, contracted
and frowning in that strong, merciless light; there was a nervous
pallor in her complexion; but being one of those "fast colored"
brunettes, whose dyes are a part of their temperament, no sickness
nor wear could bleach it out. The red of her small mouth was darker
than yours, I wot, and there were certain faint lines from the
corners of her delicate nostrils indicating alternate repression and
excitement under certain experiences, which are not found in the
classic ideals. Now Jeff knew nothing of the classic ideal--did not
know that a thousand years ago certain sensual idiots had, with brush
and chisel, inflicted upon the world the personification of the
strongest and most delicate, most controlling and most subtle passion
that humanity is capable of, in the likeness of a thick-waisted,
idealess, expressionless, perfectly contented female animal; and that
thousands of idiots had since then insisted upon perpetuating this
model for the benefit of a world that had gone on sighing for, pining
for, fighting for, and occasionally blowing its brains out over types
far removed from that idiotic standard.
Consequently Jeff saw only a face full of possibilities and
probabilities, framed in a small delicate oval, saw a slight woman's
form--more than usually small--and heard a low voice, to him full of
gentle pride, passion, pathos, and human weakness, and was helpless.
"I only said 'Good-morning,'" said Miss Mayfield, with that slight,
arch satisfaction in the observation of masculine bashfulness, which
the best of her sex cannot forego.
"Thank you, miss; good-morning. I've been wanting to say to you that
I hope you wasn't mad, you know," stammered Jeff, desperately intent
upon getting off his apology.
"It is so lovely this morning--such a change!" continued Miss
"Yes, miss! You know I reckoned--at least what your father said, made
me kalkilate that you"--
Miss Mayfield, still smiling, knitted her brows and went on: "I slept
so well last night," she said gratefully, "and feel so much better
this morning, that I ventured out. I seem to be drinking in health
in this clear sunlight."
"Certainly miss. As I was sayin', your father says his daughter is
in the coach; and Bill says, says he to me, 'I'll pack--I'll carry
the old--I'll bring up Mrs. Mayfield, if you'll bring up the
daughter;' and when we come to the coach I saw you asleep--like in
the corner, and bein' small, why miss, you know how nat'ral it is,
"Oh, Mr. Jeff! Mr. Briggs!" said Miss Mayfield plaintively, "don't,
please--don't spoil the best compliment I've had in many a year. You
thought I was a child, I know, and--well, you find," she said
audaciously, suddenly bringing her black eyes to bear on him like a
rifle, "you find--well?"
What Jeff thought was inaudible but not invisible. Miss Mayfield saw
enough of it in his eye to protest with a faint color in her cheek.
Thus does Nature betray itself to Nature the world over.
The color faded. "It's a dreadful thing to be so weak and helpless,
and to put everybody to such trouble, isn't it, Mr. Jeff? I beg
your pardon--your aunt calls you Jeff."
"Please call me Jeff," said Jeff, to his own surprise rapidly gaining
courage. "Everybody calls me that."
Miss Mayfield smiled. "I suppose I must do what everybody does. So
it seems that we are to give you the trouble of keeping us here until
I get better or worse?"
"Therefore I won't detain you now. I only wanted to thank you for
your gentleness last night, and to assure you that the bear-skin did
not give me my death."
She smiled and nodded her small head, and wrapped her shawl again
closely around her shoulders, and turned her eyes upon the mountains,
gestures which the now quick-minded Jeff interpreted as a gentle
dismissal, and flew to seek his aunt.
Here he grew practical. Ready money was needed; for the "Half-way
House" was such a public monument of ill-luck, that Jeff had no
credit. He must keep up the table to the level of that fortunate
breakfast--to do which he had $1.50 in the till, left by Bill, and
$2.50 produced by his Aunt Sally from her work-basket.
"Why not ask Mr. Mayfield to advance ye suthin?" said Aunt Sally.
The blood flew to Jeff's face. "Never! Don't say that again, aunty."
The tone and manner were so unlike Jeff that the old lady sat down
half frightened, and taking the corners of her apron in her hands
began to whimper.
"Thar now, aunty! I didn't mean nothin',--only if you care to have
me about the place any longer, and I reckon it's little good I am any
way," he added, with a new-found bitterness in his tone, "ye'll not
ask me to do that."
"What's gone o' ye, Jeff?" said his aunt lugubriously; "ye ain't
Jeff laughed. "See here, aunty; I'm goin' to take your advice. You
"Yes; I'm going to sell her. The blacksmith offered me a hundred
dollars for her last week."
"Ef ye'd done that a month ago, Jeff, ez I wanted ye to, instead o'
keeping the brute to eat ye out o' house and home, ye'd be better
off." Aunt Sally never let slip an opportunity to "improve the
occasion," but preferred to exhort over the prostrate body of the
"improved." "Well, I hope he mayn't change his mind."
Jeff smiled at such suggestion regarding the best horse within fifty
miles of the "Half-way House." Nevertheless he went briskly to the
stable, led out and saddled a handsome grey mare, petting her the
while, and keeping up a running commentary of caressing epithets to
which Rabbit responded with a whinny and playful reaches after Jeff's
red flannel sleeve. Whereat Jeff, having loved the horse until it
was displaced by another mistress, grew grave and suddenly threw his
arms around Rabbit's neck, and then taking Rabbit's nose, thrust it
in the bosom of his shirt and held it there silently for a moment.
Rabbit becoming uneasy, Jeff's mood changed too, and having
caparisoned himself and charger in true vaquero style, not without a
little Mexican dandyism as to the set of his doeskin trousers, and
the tie of his red sash, put a sombrero rakishly on his curls and
leaped into the saddle.
Jeff was a fair rider in a country where riding was understood as a
natural instinct, and not as a purely artificial habit of horse and
rider, consequently he was not perched up, jockey fashion, with a
knee-grip for his body, and a rein-rest for his arms on the beast's
mouth, but rode with long, loose stirrups, his legs clasping the
barrel of his horse, his single rein lying loose upon her neck,
leaving her head free as the wind. After this fashion he had often
emerged from a cloud of dust on the red mountain road, striking
admiration into the hearts of the wayfarers and coach-passengers, and
leaving a trail of pleasant incense in the dust behind him. It was
therefore with considerable confidence in himself, and a little human
vanity, that he dashed round the house, and threw his mare skilfully
on her haunches exactly a foot before Miss Mayfield--himself a
resplendent vision of flying riata, crimson scarf, fawn-colored
trousers, and jingling silver spurs.
"Kin I do anythin' for ye, miss, at the Forks?"
Miss Mayfield looked up quietly. "I think not," she said
indifferently, as if the flaming-Jeff was a very common occurrence.
Jeff here permitted the mare to bolt fifty yards, caught her up
sharply, swung her round on her off hind heel, permitted her to paw
the air once or twice with her white-stockinged fore-feet, and then,
with another dash forward, pulled her up again just before she
apparently took Miss Mayfield and her chair in a running leap.
"Are you sure, miss?" asked Jeff, with a flushed face and a rather
"Quite so, thank you," she said coldly, looking past this centaur to
the wooded mountain beyond.
Jeff, thoroughly crushed, was pacing meekly away when a childlike
voice stopped him.
"If you are going near a carpenter's shop you might get a new shutter
for my window; it blew away last night."
"It did, miss?"
"Yes," said the shrill voice of Aunt Sally, from the doorway,
"in course it did! Ye must be crazy, Jeff, for thar it stands in
No. 8, whar ye must have put it after ye picked it up outside."
Jeff, conscious that Miss Mayfield's eyes were on his suffused face,
stammered "that he would attend to it," and put spurs to the mare,
eager only to escape.
It was not his only discomfiture; for the blacksmith, seeing Jeff's
nervousness and anxiety, was suspicious of something wrong, as the
world is apt to be, and appeased his conscience after the worldly
fashion, by driving a hard bargain with the doubtful brother in
affliction--the morality of a horse trade residing always with the
seller. Whereby Master Jeff received only eighty dollars for horse
and outfit--worth at least two hundred--and was also mulcted of forty
dollars, principal and interest for past service of the blacksmith.
Jeff walked home with forty dollars in his pocket--capital to
prosecute his honest calling of innkeeper; the blacksmith retired to
an adjoining tavern to discuss Jeff's affairs, and further reduce his
credit. Yet I doubt which was the happier--the blacksmith estimating
his possible gains, and doubtful of some uncertain sequence in his
luck, or Jeff, temporarily relieved, boundlessly hopeful, and filled
with the vague delights of a first passion. The only discontented
brute in the whole transaction was poor Rabbit, who, missing certain
attentions, became indignant, after the manner of her sex, bit a
piece out of her crib, kicked a hole in her box, and receiving a bad
character from the blacksmith, gave a worse one to her late master.
Jeff's purchases were of a temporary and ornamental quality, but not
always judicious as a permanent investment. Overhearing some remark
from Miss Mayfield concerning the dangerous character of the two-
tined steel fork, which was part of the table equipage of the "Half-
way House," he purchased half a dozen of what his aunt was pleased to
specify as "split spoons," and thereby lost his late good standing
with her. He not only repaired the window-shutter, but tempered the
glaring window itself with a bit of curtain; he half carpeted Miss
Mayfield's bed-room with wild-cat skins and the now historical bear-
skin, and felt himself overpaid when that young lady, passing the
soft tabbyskins across her cheek, declared they were "lovely." For
Miss Mayfield, deprecating slaughter in the abstract, accepted its
results gratefully, like the rest of her sex, and while willing to
"let the hart ungalled play," nevertheless was able to console
herself with its venison. The woods, besides yielding aid and
comfort of this kind to the distressed damsel, were flamboyant with
vivid spring blossoms, and Jeff lit up the cold, white walls of her
virgin cell with demonstrative color, and made--what his aunt, a
cleanly soul, whose ideas of that quality were based upon the absence
of any color whatever, called--"a litter."
The result of which was to make Miss Mayfield, otherwise lanquid and
ennuye, welcome Jeff's presence with a smile; to make Jeff, otherwise
anxious, eager, and keenly attentive, mute and silent in her
presence. Two symptoms bad for Jeff.
Meantime Mr. Mayfield's small conventional spirit pined for
fellowship, only to be found in larger civilizations, and sought,
under plea of business, a visit to Sacramento, where a few of the
Mayfield type, still surviving, were to be found.
This was a relief to Jeff, who only through his regard for the
daughter, was kept from open quarrel with the father. He fancied
Miss Mayfield felt relieved too, although Jeff had noticed that
Mayfield had deferred to his daughter more often than his wife--over
whom your conventional small autocrat is always victorious. It takes
the legal matrimonial contract to properly develop the first-class
tyrant, male or female.
On one of these days Jeff was returning through the woods from
marketing at the Forks, which, since the sale of Rabbit, had became a
foot-sore and tedious business. He had reached the edge of the
forest, and through the wider-spaced trees, the bleak sunlit plateau
of his house was beginning to open out, when he stopped instantly.
I know not what Jeff had been thinking of, as he trudged along, but
here, all at once, he was thrilled and possessed with the odor of
some faint, foreign perfume. He flushed a little at first, and then
turned pale. Now the woods were as full of as delicate, as subtle,
as grateful, and, I wot, far healthier and purer odors than this; but
this represented to Jeff the physical contiguity of Miss Mayfield,
who had the knack--peculiar to some of her sex--of selecting a
perfume that ideally identified her. Jeff looked around cautiously;
at the foot of a tree hard by lay one of her wraps, still redolent of
her. Jeff put down the bag which, in lieu of a market basket, he was
carrying on his shoulder, and with a blushing face hid it behind a
tree. It contained her dinner!
He took a few steps forwards with an assumption of ease and
unconsciousness. Then he stopped, for not a hundred yards distant
sat--Miss Mayfield on a mossy boulder, her cloak hanging from her
shoulders, her hands clasped round her crossed knees, and one little
foot out--an exasperating combination of Evangeline and little Red
Riding Hood in everything, I fear, but credulousness and self-
devotion. She looked up as he walked towards her (non constat that
the little witch had not already seen him half a mile away!) and
smiled sweetly as she looked at him. So sweetly, indeed, that poor
Jeff felt like the hulking wolf of the old world fable, and
hesitated--as that wolf did not. The California faunae have
"Come here!" she cried, in a small head voice, not unlike a bird's
Jeff lumbered on clumsily. His high boots had become suddenly very
"I'm so glad to see you. I've just tired poor mother out--I'm always
tiring people out--and she's gone back to the house to write letters.
Sit down, Mr. Jeff, do, please!"
Jeff, feeling uncomfortably large in Miss Mayfield's presence,
painfully seated himself on the edge of a very low stone, which had
the effect of bringing his knees up on a level with his chin, and
affected an ease glaringly simulated.
"Or lie down, there, Mr. Jeff--it is so comfortable."
Jeff, with a dreadful conviction that he was crashing down like a
falling pine-tree, managed at last to acquire a recumbent position at
a respectful distance from the little figure.
"There, isn't it nice?"
"Yes, Miss Mayfield."
"But, perhaps," said Miss Mayfield, now that she had him down,
"perhaps you too have got something to do. Dear me! I'm like that
naughty boy in the story-book, who went round to all the animals, in
turn, asking them to play with him. He could only find the butterfly
who had nothing to do. I don't wonder he was disgusted. I hate
Love clarifies the intellect! Jeff, astonished at himself, burst
out, "Why, look yer, Miss Mayfield, the butterfly only hez a day or
two to--to--to live and--be happy!"
Miss Mayfield crossed her knees again, and instantly, after the
sublime fashion of her sex, scattered his intellect by a swift
transition from the abstract to the concrete. "But you're not a
butterfly, Mr. Jeff. You're always doing something. You've been
"No-o!" said Jeff, scarlet, as he thought of his gun in pawn at the
"But you do hunt; I know it."
"You shot those quail for me the morning after I came. I heard you
go out--early--very early."
"Why, you allowed you slept so well that night, Miss Mayfield."
"Yes; but there's a kind of delicious half-sleep that sick people
have sometimes, when they know and are gratefully conscious that
other people are doing things for them, and it makes them rest all
There was a dead silence. Jeff, thrilling all over, dared not say
anything to dispel his delicious dream. Miss Mayfield, alarmed at
his readiness with the butterfly illustration, stopped short. They
both looked at the prospect, at the distant "Summit Hotel"--a mere
snow-drift on the mountain--at the clear sunlight on the barren
plateau, at the bleak, uncompromising "Half-way House," and said
"I ought to be very grateful," at last began Miss Mayfield, in quite
another voice, and a suggestion that she was now approaching real and
profitable conversation, "that I'm so much better. This mountain air
has been like balm to me. I feel I am growing stronger day by day.
I do not wonder that you are so healthy and so strong as you are,
Jeff, who really did not know before that he was so healthy,
apologetically admitted the fact. At the same time, he was miserably
conscious that Miss Mayfield's condition, despite her ill health, was
very superior to his own.
"A month ago," she continued reflectively, "my mother would never
have thought it possible to leave me here alone. Perhaps she may be
getting worried now."
Miss Mayfield had calculated over much on Jeff's recumbent position.
To her surprise and slight mortification, he rose instantly to his
feet, and said anxiously
"Ef you think so, miss, p'raps I'm keeping you here."
"Not at all, Mr. Jeff. Your being here is a sufficient excuse for my
staying," she replied, with the large dignity of a small body.
Jeff, mentally and physically crushed again, came down a little
heavier than before, and reclined humbly at her feet. Second knock-
down blow for Miss Mayfield.
"Come, Mr. Jeff," said the triumphant goddess, in her first voice,
"tell me something about yourself. How do you live here--I mean;
what do you do? You ride, of course--and very well too, I can tell
you! But you know that. And of course that scarf and the silver
spurs and the whole dashing equipage are not intended entirely for
yourself. No! Some young woman is made happy by that exhibition, of
course. Well, then, there's the riding down to see her, and perhaps
the riding out with her, and--what else?"
"Miss Mayfield," said Jeff, suddenly rising above his elbow and his
grammar, "thar isn't no young woman! Thar isn't another soul except
yourself that I've laid eyes on, or cared to see since I've been yer.
Ef my aunt hez been telling ye that--she's--she--she--she--she--
Absolute, undiluted truth, even of a complimentary nature, is
confounding to most women. Miss Mayfield was no exception to her
sex. She first laughed, as she felt she ought to, and properly might
with any other man than Jeff; then she got frightened, and said
hurriedly, "No, no! you misunderstand me. Your aunt has said
nothing." And then she stopped with a pink spot on her cheek-bones.
First blood for Jeff!
Now this would never do; it was worse than the butterflies! She rose
to her full height--four feet eleven and a half--and drew her cloak
over her shoulders. "I think I will return to the house," she said
quietly; "I suppose I ought not to overtask my strength."
"You'd better let me go with you, miss," said Jeff submissively.
"I will, on one condition," she said, recovering her archness, with a
little venom in it, I fear. "You were going home, too, when I called
to you. Now, I do not intend to let you leave that bag behind that
tree, and then have to come back for it, just because you feel
obliged to go with me. Bring it with you on one arm, and I'll take
the other, or else--I'll go alone. Don't be alarmed," she added
softly; "I'm stronger than I was the first night I came, when you
carried me and all my worldly goods besides."
She turned upon him her subtle magnetic eyes, and looked at him as
she had the first night they met. Jeff turned away bewildered, but
presently appeared again with the bag on his shoulder, and her wrap
on his arm. As she slipped her little hand over his sleeve, he
began, apologetically and nervously
"When I said that about Aunt Sally, miss, I"--
The hand immediately became limp, the grasp conventional.
"I was mad, miss," Jeff blundered on, "and I don't see how you
believed it--knowing everything ez you do."
"How knowing everything as I do?" asked Miss Mayfield coldly.
"Why, about the quail, and about the bag!"
"Oh," said Miss Mayfield.
Five minutes later, Yuba Bill nearly ditched his coach in his utter
amazement at an apparently simple spectacle--a tall, good-looking
young fellow, in a red shirt and high boots, carrying a bag on his
back, and beside him, hanging confidentially on his arm, a small,
slight, pretty girl in a red cloak. "Nothing mean about her, eh,
Bill?" said as admiring box-passenger. "Young couple, I reckon, just
out from the States."
"No!" roared Bill.
"Oh, well, his sweetheart, I reckon?" suggested the box-passenger.
"Nary time!" growled Bill. "Look yer! I know 'em both, and they
knows me. Did ye notiss she never drops his arm when she sees the
stage comin', but kinder trapes along jist the same? Had they been
courtin', she'd hev dropped his arm like pizen, and walked on t'other
side the road."
Nevertheless, for some occult reason, Bill was evidently out of
humor; and for the next few miles exhorted the impenitent Blue Grass
horse with considerable fervor.
Meanwhile this pair, outwardly the picture of pastoral conjugality,
slowly descended the hill. In that brief time, failing to get at any
further facts regarding Jeff's life, or perhaps reading the story
quite plainly, Miss Mayfield had twittered prettily about herself.
She painted her tropic life in the Sandwich Islands--her delicious
"laziness," as she called it; "for, you know," she added, "although
I had the excuse of being an invalid, and of living in the laziest
climate in the world, and of having money, I think, Mr. Jeff, that
I'm naturally lazy. Perhaps if I lived here long enough, and got
well again, I might do something, but I don't think I could ever be
like your aunt. And there she is now, Mr. Jeff, making signs for
you to hasten. No, don't mind me, but run on ahead; else I shall
have her blaming me for demoralizing you too. Go; I insist upon it!
I can walk the rest of the way alone. Will you go? You won't? Then
I shall stop here and not stir another step forward until you do."
She stopped, half jestingly, half earnestly, in the middle of the
road, and emphasized her determination with a nod of her head--an
action that, however, shook her hat first rakishly over one eye, and
then on the ground. At which Jeff laughed, picked it up, presented
it to her, and then ran off to the house.
His aunt met him angrily on the porch. "Thar ye are at last, and
yer's a stranger waitin to see you. He's been axin all sorts
o' questions, about the house and the business, and kinder snoopin'
round permiskiss. I don't like his looks, Jeff, but thet's no reason
why ye should be gallivantin' round in business hours."
A large, thick-set man, with a mechanical smile that was an overt
act of false pretense, was lounging in the bar-room. Jeff dimly
remembered to have seen him at the last county election, distributing
tickets at the polls. This gave Jeff a slight prejudice against him,
but a greater presentiment of some vague evil in the air caused him
to motion the stranger to an empty room in the angle of the house
behind the barroom, which was too near the hall through which Miss
Mayfield must presently pass.
It was an infelicitous act of precaution, for at that very moment
Miss Mayfield slowly passed beneath its open window, and seeing her
chair in the sunny angle, dropped into it for rest and possibly
meditation. Consequently she overheard every word of the following
The Stranger's voice: "Well, now, seein' ez I've been waitin' for ye
over an hour, off and on, and ez my bizness with ye is two words, it
strikes me yer puttin' on a little too much style in this yer
interview, Mr. Jefferson Briggs."
Jeff's voice (a little husky with restraint): "What is yer business?"
The stranger's voice (lazily): "It's an at-tachment on this yer
property for principal, interest, and costs--one hundred and twelve
dollars and' seventy-five cents, at the suit of Cyrus Parker."
Jeff's voice (in quick surprise): "Parker? Why, I saw him only
yesterday, and he agreed to wait a spell longer."
The Stranger's voice: "Mebbee he did! Mebbee he heard afterwards
suthin' about the goin's on up yar. Mebbee he heard suthin' o'
property bein' converted into ready cash--sich property ez horses,
guns, and sich! Mebbee he heard o' gay and festive doin's--chickin
every day, fresh eggs, butcher's meat, port wine, and sich! Mebbee
he allowed that his chances o' gettin' his own honest grub outer his
debt was lookin' mighty slim! Mebbee" (louder) "he thought he'd ask
the man who bought yer horse, and the man you pawned your gun to,
what was goin' on! Mebbee he thought he'd like to get a holt a
suthin' himself, even if it was only some of that yar chickin and
Jeff's voice (earnestly and hastily): "They're not for me. I have a
family boarding here, with a sick daughter. You don't think--"
The Stranger's voice (lazily): "I reckon! I seed you and her pre-
ambulating down the hill, lockin' arms. A good deal o' style,
Jeff--fancy! expensive! How does Aunt Sally take it?"
A slight shaking of the floor and window--a dead silence.
The Stranger's voice (very faintly): "For God's sake, let me up!"
Jeff's voice (very distinctly): "Another word! raise your voice above
a whisper, and by the living G--"
The Stranger's voice (gasping): "I--I--promise!"
Jeff's voice (low and desperate): "Get up out of that! Sit down
thar! Now hear me! I'm not resisting your process. If you had all
h-ll as witnesses you daren't say that. I've shut up your foul jaw,
and kept it from poisoning the air, and thar's no law in Californy
agin it! Now listen. What! You will, will you?"
Everything quiet; a bird twittering on the window ledge, nothing
The Stranger's voice (very huskily): "I cave! Gimme some whiskey."
Jeff's voice: "When we're through. Now listen! You can take
possession of the house; you can stand behind the bar and take every
cent that comes in; you can prevent anything going out; but as long
as Mr. Mayfield and his family stay here, by the living God--law or
no law--I'll be boss here, and they shall never know it!"
The Stranger's voice (weakly and submissively): "That sounds square.
Anythin' not agin the law and in reason, Jeff!"
Jeff's voice: "I mean to be square. Here is all the money I have,
ten dollars. Take it for any extra trouble you may have to satisfy
A pause--the clinking of coin.
The Stranger's voice (deprecatingly): "Well! I reckon that would be
about fair. Consider the trouble" (a weak laugh here) "just now.
'Tain't every man ez hez your grip. He! he! Ef ye hadn't took me
so suddent like--he! he!--well!--how about that ar whiskey?"
Jeff's voice (coolly): "I'll bring it."
Steps, silence, coughing, spitting, and throat-clearing from the
Steps again, and the click of glass.
The Stranger's voice (submissively): "In course I must go back to the
Forks and fetch up my duds. Ye know what I mean! Thar now--don't,
Jeff's voice (sternly): "If I find you go back on me--"
The Stranger's voice (hurriedly): "Thar's my hand on it. Ye can
count on Jim Dodd."
Steps again. Silence. A bird lights on the window ledge, and peers
into the room. All is at rest.
Jeff and the deputy-sheriff walked through the bar-room and out on
the porch. Miss Mayfield in an arm-chair looked up from her book.
"I've written a letter to my father that I'd like to have mailed at
the Forks this afternoon," she said, looking from Jeff to the
stranger; "perhaps this gentleman will oblige me by taking it, if
he's going that way."
"I'll take it, miss," said Jeff hurriedly.
"No," said Miss Mayfield archly, "I've taken up too much of your
"I'm at your service, miss," said the stranger, considerably affected
by the spectacle of this pretty girl, who certainly at that moment,
in her bright eyes and slightly pink cheeks, belied the suggestion of
"Thank you. Dear me!" She was rummaging in a reticule and in her
pocket, etc. "Oh, Mr. Jeff!"
"I'm so frightened!"
"I have--yes!--I have left that letter on the stump in the woods,
where I was sitting when you came. Would you--"
Jeff darted into the house, seized his hat, and stopped. He was
thinking of the stranger.
"Could you be so kind?"
Jeff looked in her agitated face, cast a meaning glance at the
stranger, and was off like a shot.
The fire dropped out of Miss Mayfield's eyes and cheeks. She
turned toward the stranger.
"Please step this way."
She always hated her own childish treble. But just at that moment
she thought she had put force and dignity into it, and was
correspondingly satisfied. The deputy sheriff was equally pleased,
and came towards the upright little figure with open admiration.
"Your name is Dodd--James Dodd?"
"You are the deputy sheriff of the county? Don't look round--there
is no one here!"
"Well, miss--if you say so--yes!"
"My father--Mr. Mayfield--understood so. I regret he is not here.
I regret still more I could not have seen you before you saw Mr.
Briggs, as he wished me to."
"My father is a friend of Mr. Briggs, and knows something of his
affairs. There was a debt to a Mr. Parker" (here Miss Mayfield
apparently consulted an entry in her tablets) "of one hundred and
twelve dollars and seventy-five cents--am I right?"
The deputy, with great respect: "That is the figgers."
"Which he wished to pay without the knowledge of Mr. Briggs, who
would not have consented to it."
The official opened his eyes. "Yes, miss."
"Well, as Mr. Mayfield is NOT here, I am here to pay it for him.
You can take a check on Wells, Fargo & Co., I suppose?"
She took a check-book and pen and ink from her reticule, and filled
up a check. She handed it to him, and the pen and ink. "You are
to give me a receipt."
The deputy looked at the matter-of-fact little figure, and signed
and handed over the receipted bill.
"My father said Mr. Briggs was not to know this."
"Certainly not, miss."
"It was Mr. Briggs's intention to let the judgment take its course,
and give up the house. You are a man of business, Mr. Dodd, and
know that this is ridiculous!"
The deputy laughed. "In course, miss."
"And whatever Mr. Briggs may have proposed to you to do, when you
go back to the Forks, you are to write him a letter, and say that
you will simply hold the judgment without levy."
"All right, miss," said the deputy, not ill-pleased to hold himself
in this superior attitude to Jeff.
She looked steadily at him. "Mr. Briggs told my father that he
would pay you ten dollars for the privilege of staying here."
"And, of course, THAT'S not necessary now."
A very small white hand--a mere child's hand--was here extended,
The official, demoralized completely, looked at it a moment, then
went into his pockets and counted out into the palm the coins given
by Jeff; they completely filled the tiny receptacle.
Miss Mayfield counted the money gravely, and placed it in her
portemonnaie with a snap.
Certain qualities affect certain natures. This practical business
act of the diminutive beauty before him--albeit he was just ten
dollars out of pocket by it--struck the official into helpless
admiration. He hesitated.
"That's all," said Miss Mayfield coolly; "you need not wait. The
letter was only an excuse to get Mr. Briggs out of the way."
"I understand ye, miss." He hesitated still. "Do you reckon to
stop in these parts long?"
"I don't know."
"'Cause ye ought to come down some day to the Forks."
"Good morning, miss."
Yet at the corner of the house the rascal turned and looked back at
the little figure in the sunlight. He had just been physically
overcome by a younger man--he had lost ten dollars--he had a wife
and three children. He forgot all this. He had been captivated by
That practical heroine sat there five minutes. At the end of that
time Jeff came bounding down the hill, his curls damp with
perspiration; his fresh, honest face the picture of woe, HER woe,
for the letter could not be found!
"Never mind, Mr. Jeff. I wrote another and gave it to him."
Two tears were standing on her cheeks. Jeff turned white.
"Good God, miss!"
"It's nothing. You were right, Mr. Jeff! I ought not to have
walked down here alone. I'm very, very tired, and--so--so
What woman could withstand the anguish of that honest boyish face?
I fear Miss Mayfield could, for she looked at him over her
handkerchief, and said: "Perhaps you had something to say to your
friend, and I've sent him off."
"Nothing," said Jeff hurriedly; and she saw that all his other
troubles had vanished at the sight of her weakness. She rose
tremblingly from her seat. "I think I will go in now, but I think--
I think--I must ask you to--to--carry me!"
Oh, lame and impotent conclusion!
The next moment, Jeff, pale, strong, passionate, but tender as a
mother, lifted her in his arms and brought her into the sitting-
room. A simultaneous ejaculation broke from Aunt Sally and Mrs.
Mayfield--the possible comment of posterity on the whole episode.
"Well, Jeff, I reckoned you'd be up to suthin' like that!"
"Well, Jessie! I knew you couldn't be trusted."
Mr. James Dodd did not return from the Forks that afternoon, to
Jeff's vague uneasiness. Towards evening a messenger brought a
note from him, written on the back of a printed legal form, to this
DEAR SIR--Seeing as you Intend to act on the Square in regard to
that little Mater I have aranged Things so that I ant got to stop
with you but I'll drop in onct in a wile to keep up a show for a
Drink--respy yours, J. DODD.
In this latter suggestion our legal Cerberus exhibited all three of
his heads at once. One could keep faith with Miss Mayfield, one
could see her "onct in a wile," and one could drink at Jeff's
expense. Innocent Jeff saw only generosity and kindness in the man
he had half-choked, and a sense of remorse and shame almost
outweighed the relief of his absence. "He might hev been ugly,"
said Jeff. He did not know how, in this selfish world, there is
very little room for gratuitous, active ugliness.
Miss Mayfield did not leave her room that afternoon. The wind was
getting up, and it was growing dark when Jeff, idly sitting on his
porch, hoping for her appearance, was quite astounded at the
apparition of Yuba Bill as a pedestrian, dusty and thirsty, making
for his usual refreshment. Jeff brought out the bottle, but
could not refrain from mixing his verbal astonishment with the
conventional cocktail. Bill, partaking of his liquor and becoming
once more a speaking animal, slowly drew off his heavy, baggy
driving gloves. No one had ever seen Bill without them--he was
currently believed to sleep in them--and when he laid them on the
counter they still retained the grip of his hand, which gave them
an entertaining likeness to two plethoric and overfed spiders.
"Ef I concluded to pass over my lines to a friend and take a pasear
up yer this evening," said Bill, eying Jeff sharply, "I don't know
ez thar's any law agin it! Onless yer keepin' a private branch o'
the Occidental Ho-tel, and on'y take in fash'n'ble fammerlies!"
Jeff, with a rising color, protested against such a supposition.
"Because ef ye ARE," said Bill, lifting his voice, and crushing one
of the overgrown spiders with his fist, "I've got a word or two to
say to the son of Joe Briggs of Tuolumne. Yes, sir! Joe Briggs--
yer father--ez blew his brains out for want of a man ez could stand
up and say a word to him at the right time."
"Bill," said Jeff, in a low, resolute tone--that tone yielded up
only from the smitten chords of despair and desperation--"thar's a
sick woman in the house. I'll listen to anything you've got to say
if you'll say it quietly. But you must and SHALL speak low."
Real men quickly recognize real men the world over; it is only your
shams who fence and spar. Bill, taking in the voice of the speaker
more than his words, dropped his own.
"I said I had a kepple of words to say to ye. Thar isn't any time
in the last fower months--ever since ye took stock in this old
shanty, for the matter o' that--that I couldn't hev said them to
ye. I've knowed all your doin's. I've knowed all your debts,
'spesh'ly that ye owe that sneakin' hound Parker; and thar isn't a
time that I couldn't and wouldn't hev chipped in and paid 'em for
ye--for your father's sake--ef I'd allowed it to be the square
thing for ye. But I know ye, Jeff. I know what's in your BLOOD.
I knew your father--allus dreamin', hopin,' waitin'; I know YOU,
Jeff, dreamin', hopin', waitin' till the end. And I stood by,
givin' you a free rein, and let it come!"
Jeff buried his face in his hands.
"It ain't your blame--it's blood! It ain't a week ago ez the
kimpany passes me over a hoss. 'Three-quarters Morgan,' sez they.
Sez I: 'Wot's the other quarter?' Sez they: 'A Mexican half-
breed.' Well, she was a fair sort of hoss. Comin' down Heavytree
Hill last trip, we meets a drove o' Spanish steers. In course she
goes wild directly. Blood!"
Bill raised his glass, softly swirled its contents round and round,
tasted it, and set it down.
"The kepple o' words I had to say to ye was this: Git up and git!"
Something like this had passed through Jeff's mind the day before
the Mayfields came. Something like it had haunted him once or
twice since. He turned quickly upon the speaker.
"Ez how? you sez," said Bill, catching at the hook. "I drives up
yer some night, and you sez to me, 'Bill, hev you got two seats
over to the Divide for me and aunty--out on a pasear.' And I sez,
'I happen to hev one inside and one on the box with me.' And you
hands out yer traps and any vallybles ye don't want ter leave, and
you puts your aunt inside, and gets up on the box with me. And you
sez to me, ez man to man, 'Bill,' sez you, 'might you hev a kepple
o' hundred dollars about ye that ye could lend a man ez was leaving
the county, dead broke?' and I sez, 'I've got it, and I know of an
op'nin' for such a man in the next county.' And you steps into
THAT op'nin', and your creditors--'spesh'ly Parker--slips into
THIS, and in a week they offers to settle with ye ten cents on the
Jeff started, flushed, trembled, recovered himself, and after a
moment said, doggedly: "I can't do it, Bill; I couldn't."
"In course," said Bill, putting his hands slowly into his pockets,
and stretching his legs out--"in course ye can't because of a
Jeff turned upon him like a hunted bear. Both men rose, but Bill
already had his hand on Jeff's shoulder.
"I reckoned a minute ago there was a sick gal in the house! Who's
going to make a row now! Who's going to stamp and tear round, eh?"
Jeff sank back on his chair.
"I said thar was a woman," continued Bill; "thar allus is one! Let
a man be hell-bent or heaven-bent, somewhere in his track is a
woman's feet. I don't say anythin' agin this gal, ez a gal. The
best of 'em, Jeff, is only guide-posts to p'int a fellow on his
right road, and only a fool or a drunken man holds on to 'em or
leans agin em. Allowin' this gal is all you think she is, how far
is your guide-post goin' with ye, eh? Is she goin' to leave her
father and mother for ye? Is she goin' to give up herself and her
easy ways and her sicknesses for ye? Is she willin' to take ye for
a perpetooal landlord the rest of her life? And if she is, Jeff,
are ye the man to let her? Are ye willin' to run on her errants,
to fetch her dinners ez ye do? Thar ez men ez does it; not yer in
Californy, but over in the States thar's fellows is willing to take
that situation. I've heard," continued Bill, in a low, mysterious
voice, as of one describing the habits of the Anthropophagi--"I've
heard o' fellows ez call themselves men, sellin' of themselves to
rich women in that way. I've heard o' rich gals buyin' of men for
their shape; sometimes--but thet's in furrin' kintries--for their
pedigree! I've heard o' fellows bein' in that business, and
callin' themselves men instead o' hosses! Ye ain't that kind o'
man, Jeff. 'Tain't in yer blood. Yer father was a fool about
women, and in course they ruined him, as they allus do the best
men. It's on'y the fools and sneaks ez a woman ever makes anythin'
out of. When ye hear of a man a woman hez made, ye hears of a
nincompoop. And when they does produce 'em in the way o' nater,
they ain't responsible for 'em, and sez they're the image o' their
fathers! Ye ain't a man ez is goin' to trust yer fate to a woman!"
"No," said Jeff darkly.
"I reckoned not," said Bill, putting his hands in his pockets
again. "Ye might if ye was one o' them kind o' fellows as kem up
from 'Frisco with her to Sacramento. One o' them kind o' fellows
ez could sling poetry and French and Latin to her--one of HER kind--
but ye ain't! No, sir!"
Unwise William of Yuba! In any other breast but Jeff's that random
shot would have awakened the irregular auxiliary of love--jealousy!
But Jeff, being at once proud and humble, had neither vanity nor
conceit, without which jealousy is impossible. Yet he winced a
little, for he had feeling, and then said earnestly:
"Do you think that opening you spoke of would hold for a day or two
"Well, then, I think I can settle up matters here my own way, and
go with you, Bill."
He had risen, and yet hesitatingly kept his hand on the back of his
"I want to ask you a question; speak up, and don't mind me, but say
Our crafty Ulysses, believing that he was about to be entrapped,
ensconced himself in his pockets, cocked one eye, and said: "Go on,
"Was my father VERY bad?"
Bill took his hands from his pockets. "Thar isn't a man ez crawls
above his grave ez is worthy to lie in the same ground with him!"
"Thank you, Bill. Good night; I'm going to turn in!"
"Look yar, boy! G-d d--n it all, Jeff! what do ye mean?"
There were two tears--twin sisters of those in his sweetheart's
eyes that afternoon--now standing in Jeff's!
Bill caught both his hands in his own. Had they been of the Latin
race they would have, right honestly, taken each other in their
arms, and perhaps kissed! Being Anglo-Saxons, they gripped each
other's hands hard, and one, as above stated, swore!
When Jeff ascended to his room that night he went directly to his
trunk and took out Miss Mayfield's slipper. Alack! during the day
Aunt Sally had "put things to rights" in his room, and the trunk
had been moved. This had somewhat disordered its contents, and
Miss Mayfield's slipper contained a dozen shot from a broken Eley's
cartridge, a few quinine pills, four postage stamps, part of a
coral earring which Jeff--on the most apocryphal authority--fondly
believed belonged to his mother, whom he had never seen, and a
small silver school medal which Jeff had once received for "good
conduct," much to his own surprise, but which he still religiously
kept as evidence of former conventional character. He colored a
little, rubbed the medal and earring ruefully on his sleeve,
replaced them in his trunk, and then hastily emptied the rest of
the slipper's contents on the floor. This done, he drew off his
boots, and, gliding noiselessly down the stair, hung the slipper on
the knob of Miss Mayfield's door, and glided back again without
Rolling himself in his blankets, he lay down on his bed. But not
to sleep! Staringly wide awake, he at last felt the lulling of the
wind that nightly shook his casement, and listened while the great,
rambling, creaking, disjointed "Half-way House" slowly settled
itself to repose. He thought of many things; of himself, of his
past, of his future, but chiefly, I fear, of the pale proud face
now sleeping contentedly in the chamber below him. He tossed with
many plans and projects, more or less impracticable, and then began
to doze. Whereat the moon, creeping in the window, laid a cold
white arm across him, and eventually dried a few foolish tears upon
his sleeping lashes.
Aunt Sally was making pies in the kitchen the next morning when
Jeff hesitatingly stole upon her. The moment was not a felicitous
one. Pie-making was usually an aggressive pursuit with Aunt Sally,
entered into severely, and prosecuted unto the bitter end. After
watching her a few moments Jeff came up and placed his arms
tenderly around her. People very much in love find relief, I am
told, in this vicarious expression.
"Well, Jeff! Thar, now--yer gittin' all dough!" Nevertheless, the
hard face relaxed a little. Something of a smile stole round her
mouth, showing what she might have been before theology and bitters
had supplied the natural feminine longings.
It WAS a boy's face--albeit bearded like the pard, with an extra
fierceness in the mustaches--that looked upon hers. She could not
help bestowing a grim floury kiss upon it.
"Well, what is it now?"
"I'm thinking, aunty, it's high time you and me packed up our traps
and 'shook' this yar shanty, and located somewhere else." Jeff's
voice was ostentatiously cheerful, but his eyes were a little
"What for NOW?"
Jeff hastily recounted his ill luck, and the various reasons--
excepting of course the dominant one--for his resolution.
"And when do you kalkilate to go?"
"If you'll look arter things here," hesitated Jeff, "I reckon I'll
go up along with Bill to-morrow, and look round a bit."
"And how long do you reckon that gal would stay here after yar
This was a new and startling idea to Jeff. But in his humility he
saw nothing in it to flatter his conceit. Rather the reverse. He
colored, and then said apologetically,--
"I thought that you and Jinny could get along without me. The
butcher will pack the provisions over from the Fork."
Laying down her rolling-pin, Aunt Sally turned upon Jeff with
ostentatious deliberation. "Ye ain't," she began slowly, "ez
taking a man with wimmen ez your father was--that's a fact, Jeff
Briggs! They used to say that no woman as he went for could get
away from him. But ye don't mean to say yer think yer not good
enough--such as ye are--for this snip of an old maid, ez big as a
gold dollar, and as yaller?"
"Aunty," said Jeff, dropping his boyish manner, and his color as
suddenly, "I'd rather ye wouldn't talk that way of Miss Mayfield.
Ye don't know her; and there's times," he added, with a sigh, "ez I
reckon ye don't quite know ME either. That young lady, bein' sick,
likes to be looked after. Any one can do that for her. She don't
mind who it is. She don't care for me except for that, and," added
Jeff humbly, "it's quite natural."
"I didn't say she did," returned Aunt Sally viciously; "but seeing
ez you've got an empty house yer on yer hands, and me a-slavin'
here on jist nothin', if this gal, for the sake o' gallivantin'
with ye for a spell, chooses to stay here and keep her family here,
and pay high for it, I don't see why it ain't yer duty to
Providence and me to take advantage of it."
Jeff raised his eyes to his aunt's face. For the first time it
struck him that she might be his father's sister and yet have no
blood in her veins that answered to his. There are few shocks more
startling and overpowering to original natures than this sudden
sense of loneliness. Jeff could not speak, but remained looking
fiercely at her.
Aunt Sally misinterpreted his silence, and returned to her work on
the pies. "The gal ain't no fool," she continued, rolling out the
crust as if she were laying down broad propositions. "SHE reckons
on it too, ez if it was charged in the bill with the board and
lodging. Why, didn't she say to me, last night, that she
kalkilated afore she went away to bring up some friends from
'Frisco for a few days' visit? and didn't she say, in that pipin',
affected voice o' hers, 'I oughter make some return for yer
kindness and yer nephew's kindness, Aunt Sally, by showing people
that can help you, and keep your house full, how pleasant it is up
here.' She ain't no fool, with all her faintin's and dyin's away!
No, Jeff Briggs. And if she wants to show ye off agin them city
fellows ez she knows, and ye ain't got spunk enough to stand up and
show off with her--why"--she turned her head impatiently, but he
If Jeff had ever wavered in his resolution he would have been
steady enough NOW. But he had never wavered; the convictions and
resolutions of suddenly awakened character are seldom moved by
expediency. He was eager to taste the bitter dregs of his cup at
once. He began to pack his trunk, and make his preparations for
departure. Without avoiding Miss Mayfield in this new excitement,
he no longer felt the need of her presence. He had satisfied his
feverish anxieties by placing his trunk in the hall beside his open
door, and was sitting on his bed, wrestling with a faded and
overtasked carpet-bag that would not close and accept his hard
conditions, when a small voice from the staircase thrilled him. He
walked to the corridor, and, looking down, beheld Miss Mayfield
midway on the steps of the staircase.
She had never looked so beautiful before! Jeff had only seen her
in those soft enwrappings and half-deshabille that belong to
invalid femininity. Always refined and modest thus, in her present
walking-costume there was added a slight touch of coquettish
adornment. There was a brightness of color in her cheek and eye,
partly the result of climbing the staircase, partly the result of
that audacious impulse that had led her--a modest virgin--to seek a
gentleman in this personal fashion. Modesty in a young girl has a
comfortable satisfying charm, recognized easily by all humanity;
but he must be a sorry knave or a worse prig who is not deliciously
thrilled when Modesty puts her charming little foot just over the
threshold of Propriety.
"The mountain would not come to Mohammed, so Mohammed must come to
the mountain," said Miss Mayfield. "Mother is asleep, Aunt Sally
is at work in the kitchen, and here am I, already dressed for a
ramble in this bright afternoon sunshine, and no one to go with me.
But, perhaps, you, too, are busy?"
"No, miss. I will be with you in a moment."
I wish I could say that he went back to calm his pulses, which the
dangerous music of Miss Mayfield's voice had set to throbbing, by
a few moments' calm and dispassionate reflection. But he only
returned to brush his curls out of his eyes and ears, and to button
over his blue flannel shirt a white linen collar, which he thought
might better harmonize with Miss Mayfield's attire.
She was sitting on the staircase, poking her parasol through the
balusters. "You need not have taken that trouble, Mr. Jeff," she
said pleasantly. "YOU are a part of this mountain picture at all
times; but I am obliged to think of dress."
"It was no trouble, miss."
Something in the tone of his voice made her look in his face as she
rose. It was a trifle paler, and a little older. The result,
doubtless, thought Miss Mayfield, of his yesterday's experience
with the deputy-sheriff.
Such was her rapid deduction. Nevertheless, after the fashion of
her sex, she immediately began to argue from quite another
"You are angry with me, Mr. Jeff."
"What, I--Miss Mayfield?"
"Oh yes, you are. Don't deny it?"
"Upon my soul--"
"Yes! You give me punishments and--penances!"
Jeff opened his blue eyes on his tormentor. Could Aunt Sally have
been saying anything?
"If anybody, Miss Mayfield--" he began.
"Nobody but you. Look here!"
She extended her little hand with a smile. In the centre of her
palm lay four shining double B SHOT.
"There! I found those in my slipper this morning!" Jeff was
"Of course YOU did it! Of course it was YOU who found my slipper!"
said Miss Mayfield, laughing. "But why did you put shot in it, Mr.
Jeff? In some Catholic countries, when people have done wrong, the
priests make them do penance by walking with peas in their shoes!
What have I ever done to you? And why SHOT? They're ever so much
harder than peas."
Seeing only the mischievous, laughing face before him, and the
open palm containing the damning evidence of the broken Eley's
cartridge, Jeff stammered out the truth.
"I found the slipper in the bear-skin, Miss Mayfield. I put it in
my trunk to keep, thinking yer wouldn't miss it, and it's being a
kind of remembrance after you're gone away--of--of the night you
came here. Somebody moved the trunk in my room," and he hung his
head here. "The things inside all got mixed up."
"And that made you change your mind about keeping it?" said Miss
Mayfield, still smiling.
"What was it, then?"
"I gave it back to you, Miss Mayfield, because I was going away."
"I'm going to find another location. Maybe you've noticed," he
continued, falling back into his old apologetic manner in spite of
his pride of resolution--"maybe you've noticed that this place here
has no advantages for a hotel."
"I had not, indeed. I have been very comfortable."
"Thank you, miss."
"When do you go?"
For all his pride and fixed purpose he could not help looking
eagerly in her face. Miss Mayfield's eyes met his pleasantly and
"I'm sorry to part with you so soon," she said, as she stepped back
a pace or two with folded hands. "Of course every moment of your
time now is occupied. You must not think of wasting it on me."
But Jeff had recovered his sad composure. "I'd like to go with
you, Miss Mayfield. It's the last time, you know," he added
Miss Mayfield did not reply. It was a tacit assent, however,
although she moved somewhat stiffly at his side as they walked
towards the door. Quite convinced that Jeff's resolution came from
his pecuniary troubles, Miss Mayfield was wondering if she had not
better assure him of his security from further annoyance from Dodd.
Wonderful complexity of female intellect! she was a little hurt at
his ingratitude to her for a kindness he could not possibly have
known. Miss Mayfield felt that in some way she was unjustly
treated. How many of our miserable sex, incapable of divination,
have been crushed under that unreasonable feminine reproof, "You
ought to have known!"
The afternoon sun was indeed shining brightly as they stepped out
before the bleak angle of the "Half-way House"; but it failed to
mitigate the habitually practical austerity of the mountain breeze--
a fact which Miss Mayfield had never before noticed. The house
was certainly bleak and exposed; the site by no means a poetical
one. She wondered if she had not put a romance into it, and
perhaps even into the man beside her, which did not belong to
either. It was a moment of dangerous doubt.
"I don't know but that you're right, Mr. Jeff," she said finally,
as they faced the hill, and began the ascent together. "This place
is a little queer, and bleak, and--unattractive."
"Yes, miss," said Jeff, with direct simplicity, "I've always
wondered what you saw in it to make you content to stay, when it
would be so much prettier, and more suitable for you at the
Miss Mayfield bit her lip, and was silent. After a few moments'
climbing she said, almost pettishly, "Where is this famous
Jeff stopped. They had reached the top of the hill. He pointed
across an olive-green chasm to a higher level, where, basking in
the declining sun, clustered the long rambling outbuildings around
the white blinking facade of the "Summit House." Framed in pines
and hemlocks, tender with soft gray shadows, and nestling beyond a
foreground of cultivated slope, it was a charming rustic picture.
Miss Mayfield's quick eye took in its details. Her quick intellect
took in something else. She had seated herself on the road-bank,
and, clasping her knees between her locked fingers, she suddenly
looked up at Jeff. "What possessed you to come half-way up a
mountain, instead of going on to the top?"
Miss Mayfield flushed a little at this practical direct answer to
her half-figurative question. However, she began to think that
moral Alpine-climbing youth might have pecuniary restrictions in
their high ambitions, and that the hero of "Excelsior" might have
succumbed to more powerful opposition than the wisdom of Age or the
blandishments of Beauty.
"You mean that poverty up there is more expensive?"
"But you would like to live there?"
They were both silent. Miss Mayfield glanced at Jeff under the
corners of her lashes. He was leaning against a tree, absorbed in
thought. Accustomed to look upon him as a pleasing picturesque
object, quite fresh, original, and characteristic, she was somewhat
disturbed to find that to-day he presented certain other qualities
which clearly did not agree with her preconceived ideas of his
condition. He had abandoned his usual large top-boots for low
shoes, and she could not help noticing that his feet were small and
slender as were his hands, albeit browned by exposure. His ruddy
color was gone too, and his face, pale with sorrow and experience,
had a new expression. His buttoned-up coat and white collar, so
unlike his usual self, also had its suggestions--which Miss
Mayfield was at first inclined to resent. Women are quick to
notice and augur more or less wisely from these small details.
Nevertheless, she began in quite another tone.
"Do you remember your mother--MR.--MR.--BRIGGS?"
Jeff noticed the new epithet. "No, miss; she died when I was quite
"Your father, then?"
Jeff's eye kindled a little, aggressively. "I remember HIM."
"What was he?"
"What was his business or profession?"