Part 2 out of 2
"Oh, I see--a gentleman of property."
Jeff hesitated, looked at Miss Mayfield hurriedly, colored, and did
"And lost his property, Mr. Briggs?" With one of those rare
impulses of an overtasked gentle nature, Jeff turned upon her
almost savagely. "My father was a gambler, and shot himself at a
Miss Mayfield rose hurriedly. "I--I beg your pardon, Mr. Jeff."
Jeff was silent.
"You know--you MUST know--I did not mean--"
Her little hand fluttered toward him, and lit upon his sleeve,
where it was suddenly captured and pressed passionately to his
"I did not mean to be thoughtless or unkind," said Miss Mayfield,
discreetly keeping to the point, and trying weakly to disengage her
hand. "You know I wouldn't hurt your feelings."
"I know, Miss Mayfield." (Another kiss.)
"I was ignorant of your history."
"Yes, miss." (A kiss.)
"And if I could do anything for you, Mr. Jeff--" She stopped.
It was a very trying position. Being small, she was drawn after
her hand quite up to Jeff's shoulder, while he, assenting in
monosyllables, was parting the fingers, and kissing them
separately. Reasonable discourse in this attitude was out of the
question. She had recourse to strategy.
"You hurt my hand."
Jeff dropped it instantly. Miss Mayfield put it in the pocket of
her sacque for security. Besides, it had been so bekissed that it
seemed unpleasantly conscious.
"I wish you would tell me all about yourself," she went on, with a
certain charming feminine submission of manner quite unlike her
ordinary speech; "I should like to help you. Perhaps I can. You
know I am quite independent; I mean--"
She paused, for Jeff's face betrayed no signs of sympathetic
"I mean I am what people call rich in my own right. I can do as I
please with my own. If any of your trouble, Mr. Jeff, arises from
want of money, or capital; if any consideration of that kind takes
you away from your home; if I could save you THAT TROUBLE, and find
for you--perhaps a little nearer--that which you are seeking, I
would be so glad to do it. You will find the world very wide, and
very cold, Mr. Jeff," she continued, with a certain air of
practical superiority quite natural to her, but explicable to her
friends and acquaintances only as the consciousness of pecuniary
independence; "and I wish you would be frank with me. Although I
am a woman, I know something of business."
"I will be frank with you, miss," said Jeff, turning a colorless
face upon her. "If you was ez rich as the Bank of California, and
could throw your money on any fancy or whim that struck you at the
moment; if you felt you could buy up any man and woman in
California that was willing to be bought up; and if me and my aunt
were starving in the road, we wouldn't touch the money that we
hadn't earned fairly, and didn't belong to us. No, miss, I ain't
that sort o' man!"
How much of this speech, in its brusqueness and slang, was an echo
of Yuba Bill's teaching, how much of it was a part of Jeff's inward
weakness, I cannot say. He saw Miss Mayfield recoil from him. It
added to his bitterness that his thought, for the first time
voiced, appeared to him by no means as effective or powerful as he
had imagined it would be, but he could not recede from it; and
there was the relief that the worst had come, and was over now.
Miss Mayfield took her hand out of her pocket. "I don't think you
quite understand me, Mr. Jeff," she said quietly; "and I HOPE I
don't understand you." She walked stiffly at his side for a few
moments, but finally took the other side of the road. They had
both turned, half unconsciously, back again to the "Half-way
Jeff felt, like all quarrel-seekers, righteous or unrighteous, the
full burden of the fight. If he could have relieved his mind, and
at the next moment leaped upon Yuba Bill's coach, and so passed
away--without a further word of explanation--all would have been
well. But to walk back with this girl, whom he had just shaken
off, and who must now thoroughly hate him, was something he had not
preconceived, in that delightful forecast of the imagination, when
we determine what WE shall say and do without the least consideration
of what may be said or done to us in return. No quarrel proceeds
exactly as we expect; people have such a way of behaving illogically!
And here was Miss Mayfield, who was clearly derelict, and who should
have acted under that conviction, walking along on the other side of
the road, trailing the splendor of her parasol in the dust like an
They had almost reached the house. "At what time do you go, Mr.
Briggs?" asked the young lady quietly.
"At eleven to-night, by the up stage."
"I expect some friends by that stage--coming with my father."
"My aunt will take good care of them," said Jeff, a little
"I have no doubt," responded Miss Mayfield gravely; "but I was not
thinking of that. I had hoped to introduce them to you to-morrow.
But I shall not be up so late to-night. And I had better say
good-by to you now."
She extended the unkissed hand. Jeff took it, but presently let
the limp fingers fall through his own.
"I wish you good fortune, Mr. Briggs."
She made a grave little bow, and vanished into the house. But
here, I regret to say, her lady-like calm also vanished. She
upbraided her mother peevishly for obliging her to seek the escort
of Mr. Briggs in her necessary exercise, and flung herself with an
injured air upon the sofa.
"But I thought you liked this Mr. Briggs. He seems an accommodating
sort of person."
"Very accommodating. Going away just as we are expecting company!"
"Going away?" said Mrs. Mayfield in alarm. "Surely he must be told
that we expect some preparation for our friends?"
"Oh," said Miss Mayfield quickly, "his aunt will arrange THAT."
Mrs. Mayfield, habitually mystified at her daughter's moods, said
no more. She, however, fulfilled her duty conscientiously by
rising, throwing a wrap over the young girl, tucking it in at her
feet, and having, as it were, drawn a charitable veil over her
peculiarities, left her alone.
At half past ten the coach dashed up to the "Half-way House," with
a flash of lights and a burst of cheery voices. Jeff, coming upon
the porch, was met by Mr. Mayfield, accompanying a lady and two
gentlemen,--evidently the guests alluded to by his daughter.
Accustomed as Jeff had become to Mr. Mayfield's patronizing
superiority, it seemed unbearable now, and the easy indifference of
the guests to his own presence touched him with a new bitterness.
Here were HER friends, who were to take his place. It was a relief
to grasp Yuba Bill's large hand and stand with him alone beside the
"I'm ready to go with you to-night, Bill," said Jeff, after a
Bill put down his glass--a sign of absorbing interest.
"And these yar strangers I fetched?"
"Aunty will take care of them. I've fixed everything."
Bill laid both his powerful hands on Jeff's shoulders, backed him
against the wall, and surveyed him with great gravity.
"Briggs's son clar through! A little off color, but the grit all
thar! Bully for you, Jeff." He wrung Jeff's hand between his own.
"Bill!" said Jeff hesitatingly.
"You wouldn't mind my getting up on the box NOW, before all the
folks get round?"
"I reckon not. Thar's the box-seat all ready for ye."
Climbing to his high perch, Jeff, indistinguishable in the
darkness, looked out upon the porch and the moving figures of the
passengers, on Bill growling out his orders to his active hostler,
and on the twinkling lights of the hotel windows. In the mystery
of the night and the bitterness of his heart, everything looked
strange. There was a light in Miss Mayfield's room, but the
curtains were drawn. Once he thought they moved, but then, fearful
of the fascination of watching them, he turned his face resolutely
Then, to his relief, the hour came; the passengers re-entered the
coach; Bill had mounted the box, and was slowly gathering his
reins, when a shrill voice rose from the porch.
Jeff leaned an anxious face out over the coach lamps.
It was Aunt Sally, breathless and on tiptoe, reaching with a
letter. "Suthin' you forgot!" Then, in a hoarse stage whisper,
perfectly audible to every one: "From HER!"
Jeff seized the letter with a burning face. The whip snapped, and
the stage plunged forward into the darkness. Presently Yuba Bill
reached down, coolly detached one of the coach lamps, and handed it
to Jeff without a word.
Jeff tore open the envelope. It contained Cyrus Parker's bill
receipted, and the writ. Another small inclosure contained ten
dollars, and a few lines written in pencil in a large masculine
business hand. By the light of the lamp Jeff read as follows:--
"I hope you will forgive me for having tried to help you even in
this accidental way, before I knew how strong were your objections
to help from me. Nobody knows this but myself. Even Mr. Dodd
thinks my father advanced the money. The ten dollars the rascal
would have kept, but I made him disgorge it. I did it all while
you were looking for the letter in the woods. Pray forget all
about it, and any pain you may have had from J. M."
Frank and practical as this letter appeared to be, and, doubtless,
as it was intended to be by its writer, the reader will not fail to
notice that Miss Mayfield said nothing of having overheard Jeff's
quarrel with the deputy, and left him to infer that that
functionary had betrayed him. It was simply one of those
unpleasant details not affecting the result, usually overlooked in
For a moment Jeff sat pale and dumb, crushed under the ruins of his
pride and self-love. For a moment he hated Miss Mayfield, small
and triumphant! How she must have inwardly laughed at his speech
that morning! With what refined cruelty she had saved this
evidence of his humiliation, to work her vengeance on him now. He
could not stand it! He could not live under it! He would go back
and sell the house--his clothes--everything--to pay this wicked,
heartless, cruel girl, that was killing--yes, killing--
A strong hand took the swinging-lantern from his unsteady fingers,
a strong hand possessed itself of the papers and Miss Mayfield's
note, a strong arm was drawn around him,--for his figure was
swaying to and fro, his head was giddy, and his hat had fallen
off,--and a strong voice, albeit a little husky, whispered in his
"Easy, boy! easy on the down grade. It'll be all one in a minit."
Jeff tried to comprehend him, but his brain was whirling.
"Pull yourself together, Jeff!" said Bill, after a pause. "Thar!
Look yar!" he said suddenly. "Do you think you can drive SIX?"
The words recalled Jeff to his senses. Bill laid the six reins in
his hands. A sense of life, of activity, of POWER, came back to
the young man, as his fingers closed deliciously on the far-
reaching, thrilling, living leathern sinews that controlled the six
horses, and seemed to be instinct and magnetic with their bounding
life. Jeff, leaning back against them, felt the strong youthful
tide rush back to his heart, and was himself again. Bill,
meantime, took the lamp, examined the papers, and read Miss
Mayfield's note. A grim smile stole over his face. After a pause,
he said again, "Give Blue Grass her head, Jeff. D--n it, she ain't
Jeff relaxed the muscles of his wrists, so as to throw the thumb
and forefingers a trifle forward. This simple action relieved Blue
Grass, alias Miss Mayfield, and made the coach steadier and less
jerky. Wonderful co-relation of forces.
"Thar!" said Yuba Bill, quietly putting the coach lamp back in its
place; "you're better already. Thar's nothing like six horses to
draw a woman out of a man. I've knowed a case where it took eight
mustangs, but it was a mulatter from New Orleans, and they are
pizen! Ye might hit up a little on the Pinto hoss--he ain't
harmin' ye. So! Now, Jeff, take your time, and take it easy,
and what's all this yer about?"
To control six fiery mustangs, and at the same time give picturesque
and affecting exposition of the subtle struggles of Love and Pride,
was a performance beyond Jeff's powers. He had recourse to an angry
staccato, which somehow seemed to him as ineffective as his previous
discourse to Miss Mayfield; he was a little incoherent, and perhaps
mixed his impressions with his facts, but he nevertheless managed to
convey to Bill some general idea of the events of the past three
"And she sent ye off after that letter, that wasn't thar, while she
fixed things up with Dodd?"
"Yes," said Jeff furiously.
"Ye needn't bully the Pinto colt, Jeff; he is doin' his level best.
And she snaked that ar ten dollars outer Dodd?"
"Yes; and sent it back to ME. To ME, Bill! At such a time as
this! As if I was dead broke!--a mere tramp. As if--"
"In course! in course!" said Bill soothingly, yet turning his head
aside to bestow a deceitful smile upon the trees that whirled
beside them. "And ye told her ye didn't want her money?"
"Yes, Bill--but it--it--it was AFTER she had done this!"
"Surely! I'll take the lines now, Jeff."
He took them. Jeff relapsed into gloomy silence. The starlight of
that dewless Sierran night was bright and cold and passionless.
There was no moon to lead the fancy astray with its faint mysteries
and suggestions; nothing but a clear, grayish-blue twilight, with
sharply silhouetted shadows, pointed here and there with bright
large-spaced constant stars. The deep breath of the pine-woods,
the faint, cool resinous spices of bay and laurel, at last brought
surcease to his wounded spirit. The blessed weariness of exhausted
youth stole tenderly on him. His head nodded, dropped. Yuba Bill,
with a grim smile, drew him to his side, enveloped him in his
blanket, and felt his head at last sink upon his own broad
A few minutes later the coach drew up at the "Summit House." Yuba
Bill did not dismount, an unusual and disturbing circumstance that
brought the bar-keeper to the veranda.
"What's up, old man?"
"Sworn off your reg'lar pizen?"
"My physician," said Bill gravely, "hez ordered me dry champagne
every three hours."
Nevertheless, the bar-keeper lingered.
"Who's that you're dry-nussin' up there?"
I regret that I may not give Yuba Bill's literal reply. It
suggested a form of inquiry at once distant, indirect, outrageous,
The bar-keeper flashed a lantern upon Jeff's curls and his drooping
eyelashes and mustaches.
"It's that son o' Briggs o' Tuolumne--pooty boy, ain't he?"
Bill disdained a reply.
"Played himself out down there, I reckon. Left his rifle here in
"Young man," said Bill gravely.
"Ef you're looking for a safe investment ez will pay ye better than
forty-rod whiskey at two bits a glass, jist you hang onter that ar
rifle. It may make your fortin yet, or save ye from a drunkard's
grave." With this ungracious pleasantry he hurried his dilatory
passengers back into the coach, cracked his whip, and was again
upon the road. The lights of the "Summit House" presently dropped
here and there into the wasting shadows of the trees. Another
stretch through the close-set ranks of pines, another dash through
the opening, another whirl and rattle by overhanging rocks, and the
vehicle was swiftly descending. Bill put his foot on the brake,
threw his reins loosely on the necks of his cattle, and looked
leisurely back. The great mountain was slowly and steadily rising
between them and the valley they quitted.
And at that same moment Miss Mayfield had crept from her bed, and,
with a shawl around her pretty little figure, was pressing her eyes
against a blank window of the "Half-way House," and wondering where
HE was now.
The "opening" suggested by Bill was not a fortunate one. Possibly
views of business openings in the public-house line taken from the
tops of stage-coaches are not as judicious as those taken from less
exalted levels. Certain it is that the "goodwill" of the "Lone
Star House" promised little more pecuniary value than a conventional
blessing. It was in an older and more thickly settled locality than
the "Half-way House;" indeed, it was but half a mile away from
Campville, famous in '49--a place with a history and a disaster.
But young communities are impatient of settlements that through any
accident fail to fulfil the extravagant promise of their youth, and
the wounded hamlet of Campville had crept into the woods and died.
The "Lone Star House" was an attempt to woo the passing travelers
from another point; but its road led to Campville, and was already
touched by its dry-rot. Bill, who honestly conceived that the
infusion of fresh young blood like Jeff's into the stagnant current
would quicken it, had to confess his disappointment. "I thought ye
could put some go into the shanty, Jeff," said Bill, "and make it
lively and invitin'!" But the lack of vitality was not in the
landlord, but in the guests. The regular customers were disappointed,
vacant, hopeless men, who gathered listlessly on the veranda, and
talked vaguely of the past. Their hollow-eyed, feeble impotency
affected the stranger, even as it checked all ambition among
themselves. Do what Jeff might, the habits of the locality were
stronger than his individuality; the dead ghosts of the past
Campville held their property by invisible mortmain.
In the midst of this struggle the "Half-way House" was sold. Spite
of Bill's prediction, the proceeds barely paid Jeff's debts. Aunt
Sally prevented any troublesome consideration of HER future, by
applying a small surplus of profit to the expenses of a journey
back to her relatives in Kentucky. She wrote Jeff a letter of
cheerless instruction, reminded him of the fulfillment of her worst
prophecies regarding him, but begged him, in her absence, to rely
solely upon the "Word." "For the sperrit killeth," she added
vaguely. Whether this referred figuratively to Jeff's business, he
did not stop to consider. He was more interested in the
information that the Mayfields had removed to the "Summit Hotel"
two days after he had left. "She allowed it was for her health's
sake," continued Aunt Sally, "but I reckon it's another name for
one of them city fellers who j'ined their party and is keepin'
company with her now. They talk o' property and stocks and sich
worldly trifles all the time, and it's easy to see their idees is
set together. It's allowed at the Forks that Mr. Mayfield paid
Parker's bill for you. I said it wasn't so, fur ye'd hev told me;
but if it is so, Jeff, and ye didn't tell me, it was for only one
puppos, and that wos that Mayfield bribed ye to break off with his
darter! That was WHY you went off so suddent, 'like a thief in the
night,' and why Miss Mayfield never let on a word about you after
you left--not even your name!"
Jeff crushed the letter between his fingers, and, going behind the
bar, poured out half a glass of stimulant and drank it. It was not
the first time since he came to the "Lone Star House" that he had
found this easy relief from his present thought; it was not the
first time that he had found this dangerous ally of sure and swift
service in bringing him up or down to that level of his dreary,
sodden guests, so necessary to his trade. Jeff had not the excuse
of the inborn drunkard's taste. He was impulsive and extreme. At
the end of the four weeks he came out on the porch one night as
Bill drew up. "You must take me from this place to-night," he
said, in a broken voice scarce like his own. "When we're on the
road we can arrange matters, but I must go to-night."
"But where?" asked Bill.
"Anywhere! Only I must go from here. I shall go if I have to
Bill looked hard at the young man. His face was flushed, his eyes
blood-shot, and his hands trembled, not with excitement, but with a
vacant, purposeless impotence. Bill looked a little relieved.
"You've been drinking too hard. Jeff, I thought better of ye than
"I think better of MYSELF than that," said Jeff, with a certain
wild, half-hysterical laugh, "and that is why I want to go. Don't
be alarmed, Bill," he added; "I have strength enough to save
myself, and I shall! But it isn't worth the struggle HERE."
He left the "Lone Star House" that night. He would, he said to
Bill, go on to Sacramento, and try to get a situation as clerk or
porter there; he was too old to learn a trade. He said little
more. When, after forty-eight hours' inability to eat, drink, or
sleep, Bill, looking at his haggard face and staring eyes, pressed
him to partake, medicinally, from a certain black bottle, Jeff
gently put it aside, and saying, with a sad smile, "I can get along
without it; I've gone through more than this," left his mentor in a
state of mingled admiration and perplexity.
At Sacramento he found a commercial "opening." But certain habits
of personal independence, combined with a direct truthfulness and
simplicity, were not conducive to business advancement. He was
frank, and in his habits impulsive and selfishly outspoken. His
employer, a good-natured man, successful in his way, anxious to
serve his own interest and Jeff's equally, strove and labored with
him, but in vain. His employer's wife, a still more good-natured
woman, successful in her way, and equally anxious to serve Jeff's
interests and her own, also strove with him as unsuccessfully. At
the end of a month he discharged his employer, after a simple,
boyish, utterly unbusiness-like interview, and secretly tore up his
wife's letter. "I don't know what to make of that chap," said the
husband to his wife; "he's about as civilized as an Injun." "And
as conceited," added the lady.
Howbeit he took his conceit, his sorrows, his curls, mustaches,
broad shoulders, and fifty dollars into humble lodgings in a back
street. The days succeeding this were the most restful he had
passed since he left the "Half-way House." To wander through the
town, half conscious of its strangeness and novel bustling life,
and to dream of a higher and nobler future with Miss Mayfield--to
feel no responsibility but that of waiting--was, I regret to say, a
pleasure to him. He made no acquaintances except among the poorer
people and the children. He was sometimes hungry, he was always
poorly clad, but these facts carried no degradation with them now.
He read much, and in his way--Jeff's way--tried to improve his
mind; his recent commercial experience had shown him various
infelicities in his speech and accent. He learned to correct
certain provincialisms. He was conscious that Miss Mayfield must
have noticed them, yet his odd irrational pride kept him from ever
regretting them, if they had offered a possible excuse for her
treatment of him.
On one of these nights his steps chanced to lead him into a
gambling-saloon. The place had offered no temptation to him; his
dealings with the goddess Chance had been of less active nature.
Nevertheless he placed his last five dollars on the turn of a card.
He won. He won repeatedly; his gains had reached a considerable
sum when, flushed, excited, and absorbed, he was suddenly conscious
that he had become the centre of observation at the table. Looking
up, he saw that the dealer had paused, and, with the cards in his
motionless fingers, was gazing at him with fixed eyes and a white
Jeff rose and passed hurriedly to his side. "What's the matter?"
The gambler shrunk slightly as he approached. "What's your name?"
"God! I knew it! How much have you got there?" he continued, in a
quick whisper, pointing to Jeff's winnings.
"Five hundred dollars."
"I'll give you double if you'll get up and quit the board!"
"Why?" asked Jeff haughtily.
"Why?" repeated the man fiercely; "why? Well, your father shot
himself thar, where you're sittin', at this table;" and he added,
with a half-forced, half-hysterical laugh, "HE'S PLAYIN' AT ME OVER
Jeff lifted a face as colorless as the gambler's own, went back
to his seat, and placed his entire gains on a single card. The
gambler looked at him nervously, but dealt. There was a pause, a
slight movement where Jeff stood, and then a simultaneous cry from
the players as they turned towards him. But his seat was vacant.
"Run after him! Call him back! HE'S WON AGAIN!" But he had
HOW he left, or what indeed followed, he never clearly remembered.
His movements must have been automatic, for when, two hours later,
he found himself at the "Pioneer" coach office, with his carpet-bag
and blankets by his side, he could not recall how or why he had
come! He had a dumb impression that he had barely escaped some
dire calamity,--rather that he had only temporarily averted it,--
and that he was still in the shadow of some impending catastrophe
of destiny. He must go somewhere, he must do something to be
saved! He had no money, he had no friends; even Yuba Bill had been
transferred to another route, miles away. Yet, in the midst of
this stupefaction, it was a part of his strange mental condition
that trivial details of Miss Mayfield's face and figure, and
even apparel, were constantly before him, to the exclusion of
consecutive thought. A collar she used to wear, a ribbon she had
once tied around her waist, a blue vein in her dropped eyelid, a
curve in her soft, full, bird-like throat, the arch of her in-step
in her small boots--all these were plainer to him than the future,
or even the present. But a voice in his ear, a figure before his
abstracted eyes, at last broke upon his reverie.
Jeff mechanically took the outstretched hand of a young clerk of
the Pioneer Coach Company, who had once accompanied Yuba Bill and
stopped at the "Half-way House." He endeavored to collect his
thoughts; here seemed to be an opportunity to go somewhere!
"What are you doing now?" said the young man briskly.
"Nothing," said Jeff simply.
"Oh, I see--going home!"
Home! the word stung sharply through Jeff's benumbed consciousness.
"No," he stammered, "that is--"
"Look here, Jeff," broke in the young man, "I've got a chance for
you that don't fall in a man's way every day. Wells, Fargo & Co.'s
treasure messenger from Robinson's Ferry to Mempheys has slipped
out. The place is vacant. I reckon I can get it for you."
In ten minutes they were in the company's office, where its manager,
a man famous in those days for his boldness and shrewdness, still
lingered in the dispatch of business.
The young clerk briefly but deferentially stated certain facts.
A few questions and answers followed, of which Jeff heard only the
words "Tuolumne" and "Yuba Bill."
"Sit down, Mr. Briggs. Good-night, Roberts."
The young clerk, with an encouraging smile at Jeff, bowed himself
out as the manager seated himself at his desk and began to write.
"You know the country pretty well between the Fork and the Summit,
Mr. Briggs?" he said, without looking up.
"I lived there," said Jeff.
"That was some months ago, wasn't it?"
"Six months," said Jeff, with a sigh.
"It's changed for the worse since your house was shut up. There's
a long stretch of unsettled country infested by bad characters."
Jeff sat silent. "Briggs."
"The last man but one who preceded you was shot by road agents."*
* Highway robbers.
"We lost sixty thousand dollars up there."
"Your father was Briggs of Tuolumne?"
"Yes, sir." Jeff's head dropped, but, glancing shyly up, he saw a
pleasant smile on his questioner's face. He was still writing
rapidly, but was apparently enjoying at the same time some pleasant
"Your father and I lost nearly sixty thousand dollars together one
night, ten years ago, when we were both younger."
"Yes, sir," said Jeff dubiously.
"But it was OUR OWN MONEY, Jeff."
"Here's your appointment," he said briefly, throwing away his pen,
folding what he had written, and handing it to Jeff. It was the
first time that he had looked at him since he entered. He now held
out his hand, grasped Jeff's, and said, "Good-night!"
It was late the next evening when Jeff drew up at the coach office
at Robinson's Ferry, where he was to await the coming of the Summit
coach. His mind, lifted only temporarily out of its denumbed
condition during his interview with the manager, again fell back
into its dull abstraction. Fully embarked upon his dangerous
journey, accepting all the meaning of the trust imposed upon him,
he was yet vaguely conscious that he did not realize its full
importance. He had neither the dread nor the stimulation of coming
danger. He had faced death before in the boyish confidence of
animal spirits; his pulse now was scarcely stirred with anticipation.
Once or twice before, in the extravagance of his passion, he had
imagined himself rescuing Miss Mayfield from danger, or even dying
for her. During his journey his mind had dwelt fully and minutely
on every detail of their brief acquaintance; she was continually
before him, the tones of her voice were in his ears, the suggestive
touch of her fingers, the thrill that his lips had felt when he
kissed them--all were with him now, but only as a memory. In his
coming fate, in his future life, he saw her not. He believed it was
a premonition of coming death.
He made a few preparations. The company's agent had told him that
the treasure, letters, and dispatches, which had accumulated to a
considerable amount, would be handed to him on the box; and that
the arms and ammunition were in the boot. A less courageous and
determined man might have been affected by the cold, practical
brutality of certain advice and instructions offered him by the
agent, but Jeff recognized this compliment to his determination,
even before the agent concluded his speech by saying, "But I reckon
they knew what they were about in the lower office when they sent
YOU up. I dare say you kin give me p'ints, ef ye cared to, for all
ye're soft spoken. There are only four passengers booked through;
we hev to be a little partikler, suspectin' spies! Two of the four
ye kin depend upon to get the top o' their d----d heads blowed off
the first fire," he added grimly.
At ten o'clock the Summit coach flashed, rattled, glittered, and
snapped, like a disorganized firework, up to the door of the
company's office. A familiar figure, but more than usually
truculent and aggressive, slowly descended with violent oaths from
the box. Without seeing Jeff, it strode into the office.
"Now then," said Yuba Bill, addressing the agent, "whar's that God-
forsaken fool that Wells, Fargo & Co. hev sent up yar to take
charge o' their treasure? Because I'd like to introduce him to the
champion idgit of Calaveras County, that's been selected to go to
h-ll with him; and that's me, Yuba Bill! P'int him out. Don't
keep me waitin'!"
The agent grinned and pointed to Jeff.
Both men recoiled in astonishment. Yuba Bill was the first to
recover his speech.
"It's a lie!" he roared; "or somebody has been putting up a job on
ye, Jeff! Because I've been twenty years in the service, and am
such a nat'ral born mule that when the company strokes my back and
sez, 'You're the on'y mule we kin trust, Bill,' I starts up and
goes out as a blasted wooden figgerhead for road agents to lay fur
and practice on, it don't follow that YOU'VE any call to go."
"It was my own seeking, Bill," said Jeff, with one of his old,
sweet, boyish smiles. "I didn't know YOU were to drive. But
you're not going back on me now, Bill, are you? you're not going to
send me off with another volunteer?"
"That be d----d!" growled Bill. Nevertheless, for ten minutes he
reviled the Pioneer Coach Company with picturesque imprecation,
tendered his resignation repeatedly to the agent, and at the end of
that time, as everybody expected, mounted the box, and with a final
malediction, involving the whole settlement, was off.
On the road, Jeff, in a few hurried sentences, told his story.
Bill scarcely seemed to listen. "Look yar, Jeff," he said
"If the worst happens, and ye go under, you'll tell your father, IF
I DON'T HAPPEN TO SEE HIM FIRST, it wasn't no job of mine, and I
did my best to get ye out of it."
"Yes," said Jeff, in a faint voice.
"It mayn't be so bad," said Bill, softening; "they KNOW, d--n 'em,
we've got a pile aboard, ez well as if they seed that agent gin it
ye, but they also know we've pre-pared!"
"I wasn't thinking of that, Bill; I was thinking of my father."
And he told Bill of the gambling episode at Sacramento.
"D'ye mean to say ye left them hounds with a thousand dollars of
"Gambling gains, Bill," interrupted Jeff quietly.
"Exactly! Well!" Bill subsided into an incoherent growl. After a
few moments' pause, he began again. "Yer ready as ye used to be
with a six-shooter, Jeff, time's when ye was a boy, and I uster
chuck half-dollars in the air fur ye to make warts on?"
"I reckon," said Jeff, with a faint smile.
"Thar's two p'ints on the road to be looked to: the woods beyond
the blacksmith's shop that uster be; the fringe of alder and
buckeye by the crossing below your house--p'ints where they kin
fetch you without a show. Thar's two ways o' meetin' them thar.
One way ez to pull up and trust to luck and brag. The other way is
to whip up and yell, and send the whole six kiting by like h-ll!"
"Yes," said Jeff.
"The only drawback to that plan is this: the road lies along the
edge of a precipice, straight down a thousand feet into the river.
Ef these devils get a shot into any one o' the six and it DROPS,
the coach turns sharp off, and down we go, the whole kerboodle of
us, plump into the Stanislaus!"
"AND THEY DON'T GET THE MONEY," said Jeff quietly.
"Well, no!" replied Yuba Bill, staring at Jeff, whose face was set
as a flint against the darkness. "I should reckon not." He then
drew a long breath, glanced at Jeff again, and said between his
teeth, "Well, I'm d----d!"
At the next station they changed horses, Bill personally supervising,
especially as regarded the welfare and proper condition of Blue
Grass, who here was brought out as a leader. Formerly there was no
change of horses at this station, and this novelty excited Jeff's
remark. "These yar chaps say thar's no station at the Summit now,"
growled Bill, in explanation; "the hotel is closed, and it's all
private property, bought by some chap from 'Frisco. Thar ought to
be a law agin such doin's!"
This suggested obliteration of the last traces of Miss Mayfield
seemed to Jeff as only a corroboration of his premonition. He
should never hear from her again! Yet to have stood under the roof
that last sheltered her; to, perchance, have met some one who had
seen her later--this was a fancy that had haunted him on his
journey. It was all over now. Perhaps it was for the best.
With the sinking behind of the lights of the station, the occupants
of the coach knew that the dangerous part of the journey had begun.
The two guards in the coach had already made obtrusive and warlike
preparations, to the ill-concealed disgust of Yuba Bill. "I'd hev
been willin' to get through this yar job without the burnin' of
powder, but ef any of them devils ez is waitin' for us would be
content with a shot at them fancy policemen inside, I'd pull up and
give 'em a show!" Having relieved his mind, Bill said no more, and
the two men relapsed into silence. The moon shone brightly and
peacefully, a fact pointed out by Bill as unfavorably deepening the
shadows of the woods, and bringing the coach and the road into
An hour passed. What were Yuba Bill's thoughts are not a part of
this history; that they were turbulent and aggressive might be
inferred from the occasional growls and interjected oaths that
broke from his lips. But Jeff, strange anomaly, due perhaps to
youth and moonlight, was wrapped in a sensuous dream of Miss
Mayfield, of the scent of her dark hair as he had drawn her to his
side, of the outlines of her sweet form, that had for a moment
lightly touched his own--of anything, I fear, but the death he
believed he was hastening to. But--
"Jeff," said Bill, in an unmistakable tone.
"Yes," said Jeff.
"THAT AR CLUMP O' BUCKEYE ON THE RIDGE! Ready there!" (Leaning
over the box, to the guards within.) A responsive rustle in the
coach, which now bounded forward as if instinct with life and
"Jeff," said Bill, in an odd, altered voice, "take the lines a
minit." Jeff took them. Bill stooped towards the boot. A
peaceful moment! A peaceful outlook from the coach; the white
moonlit road stretching to the ridge, no noise but the steady
gallop of the horses!
Then a yellow flash, breaking from the darkness of the buckeye; a
crack like the snap of a whip; Yuba Bill steadying himself for a
moment, and then dropping at Jeff's feet!
"They got me, Jeff! But--I DRAWED THEIR FIRE! Don't drop the
lines! Don't speak! For--they--think I'm YOU and you ME!"
The flash had illuminated Jeff as to the danger, as to Bill's
sacrifice, but above all, and overwhelming all, to a thrilling
sense of his own power and ability.
Yet he sat like a statue. Six masked figures had appeared from
the very ground, clinging to the bits of the horses. The coach
stopped. Two wild purposeless shots--the first and last fired by
the guards--were answered by the muzzle of six rifles pointed into
the windows, and the passengers foolishly and impotently filed out
into the road.
"Now, Bill," said a voice, which Jeff instantly recognized as the
blacksmith's, "we won't keep ye long. So hand down the treasure."
The man's foot was on the wheel; in another instant he would be
beside Jeff, and discovery was certain. Jeff leaned over and
unhooked the coach lamp, as if to assist him with its light. As if
in turning, he STUMBLED, broke the lamp, ignited the kerosene, and
scattered the wick and blazing fluid over the haunches of the
wheelers! The maddened animals gave one wild plunge forwards, the
coach followed twice its length, throwing the blacksmith under its
wheels, and driving the other horses towards the bank. But as the
lamp broke in Jeff's right hand, his practiced left hand discharged
its hidden Derringer at the head of the robber who had held the bit
of Blue Grass, and, throwing the useless weapon away, he laid the
whip smartly on her back. She leaped forward madly, dragging the
other leaders with her, and in the next moment they were free and
wildly careering down the grade.
A dozen shots followed them. The men were protected by the coach,
but Yuba Bill groaned.
"Are you hit again?" asked Jeff hastily. He had forgotten his
"No; but the horses are! I felt 'em! Look at 'em, Jeff."
Jeff had gathered up the almost useless reins. The horses were
running away; but Blue Grass was limping.
"For God's sake," said Bill, desperately dragging his wounded
figure above the dash-board, "keep her up! LIFT HER UP, Jeff,
till we pass the curve. Don't let her drop, or we're--"
"Can you hold the reins?" said Jeff quickly.
"Give 'em here!"
Jeff passed them to the wounded man. Then, with his bowie-knife
between his teeth, he leaped over the dash-board on the backs of
the wheelers. He extinguished the blazing drops that the wind had
not blown out of their smarting haunches, and with the skill and
instinct of a Mexican vaquero, made his way over their turbulent
tossing backs to Blue Grass, cut her traces and reins, and as the
vehicle neared the curve, with a sharp lash, drove her to the bank,
where she sank even as the coach darted by. Bill uttered a feeble
"Hurrah!" but at the same moment the reins dropped from his
fingers, and he sank at the bottom of the boot.
Riding postilion-wise, Jeff could control the horses. The
dangerous curve was passed, but not the possibility of pursuit.
The single leader he was bestriding was panting--more than that,
he was SWEATING, and from the evidence of Jeff's hands, sweating
BLOOD! Back of his shoulder was a jagged hole, from which his
life-blood was welling. The off-wheel horse was limping too. That
last volley was no foolish outburst of useless rage, but was
deliberate and premeditated skill. Jeff drew the reins, and as the
coach stopped, the horse he was riding fell dead. Into the silence
that followed broke the measured beat of horses' hoofs on the road
above. He was pursued!
To select the best horse of the remaining unscathed three, to break
open the boot and place the treasure on his back, and to abandon
and leave the senseless Bill lying there, was the unhesitating work
of a moment. Great heroes and great lovers are invariably one-
ideaed men, and Jeff was at that moment both.
Eighty thousand dollars in gold-dust and Jeff's weight was a
handicap. Nevertheless he flew forward like the wind. Presently
he fell to listening. A certain hoof-beat in the rear was growing
more distinct. A bitter thought flashed through his mind. He
looked back. Over the hill appeared the foremost of his pursuers.
It was the blacksmith, mounted on the fleetest horse in the county--
Jeff's OWN horse--Rabbit!
But there are compensations in all new trials. As Jeff faced round
again, he saw he had reached the open table-land, and the bleak
walls and ghastly, untenanted windows of the "Half-way House" rose
before him in the distance. Jeff was master of the ground here!
He was entering the shadow of the woods--Miss Mayfield's woods! and
there was a cut off from the road, and a bridle-path, known only to
himself, hard by. To find it, leap the roadside ditch, dash
through the thicket, and rein up by the road again, was swiftly
Take a gentle woman, betray her trust, outrage her best feelings,
drive her into a corner, and you have a fury! Take a gentle,
trustful man, abuse him, show him the folly of this gentleness and
kindness, prove to him that it is weakness, drive him into a
corner, and you have a savage! And it was this savage, with an
Indian's memory, and an Indian's eye and ear, that suddenly
confronted the blacksmith.
What more! A single shot from a trained hand and one-ideaed
intellect settled the blacksmith's business, and temporarily ended
this Iliad! I say temporarily, for Mr. Dodd, formerly deputy-
sheriff, prudently pulled up at the top of the hill, and observing
his principal bend his head forwards and act like a drunken man,
until he reeled, limp and sideways, from the saddle, and noticing
further that Jeff took his place with a well-filled saddle-bag,
concluded to follow cautiously and unobtrusively in the rear.
But Jeff saw him not. With mind and will bent on one object--to
reach the first habitation, the "Summit," and send back help and
assistance to his wounded comrade--he urged Rabbit forward. The
mare knew her rider, but he had no time for caresses. Through the
smarting of his hands he had only just noticed that they were badly
burned, and the skin was peeling from them; he had confounded the
blood that was flowing from a cut on his scalp, with that from the
wounded horse. It was one hour yet to the "Summit," but the road
was good, the moon was bright, he knew what Rabbit could do, and it
was not yet ten o'clock.
As the white outbuildings and irregular outlines of the "Summit
House" began to be visible, Jeff felt a singular return of his
former dreamy abstraction. The hour of peril, anger, and
excitement he had just passed through seemed something of years
ago, or rather to be obliterated with all else that had passed
since he had looked upon that scene. Yet it was all changed--
strangely changed! What Jeff had taken for the white, wooden barns
and outhouses were greenhouses and conservatories. The "Summit
Hotel" was a picturesque villa, nestling in the self-same trees,
but approached through cultivated fields, dwellings of laborers,
parklike gates and walls, and all the bountiful appointments of
wealth and security. Jeff thought of Yuba Bill's malediction, and
understood it as he gazed.
The barking of dogs announced his near approach to the principal
entrance. Lights were still burning in the upper windows of the
house and its offices. He was at once surrounded by the strange
medley of a Californian ranchero's service, peons, Chinese, and
vaqueros. Jeff briefly stated his business. "Ah, Carrajo!" This
was a matter for the major-domo, or, better, the padrone--Wilson!
But the padrone, Wilson, called out by the tumult, appeared in
person--a handsome, resolute, middle-aged man, who, in a twinkling,
dispersed the group to barn and stable with a dozen orders of
preparation, and then turned to Jeff.
"You are hurt; come in."
Jeff followed him dazedly into the house. The same sense of remote
abstraction, of vague dreaminess, was overcoming him. He resented
it, and fought against it, but in vain; he was only half conscious
that his host had bathed his head and given him some slight
restorative, had said something to him soothingly, and had left
him. Jeff wondered if he had fainted, or was about to faint,--he
had a nervous dread of that womanish weakness,--or if he were
really hurt worse than he believed. He tried to master himself and
grasp the situation by minutely examining the room. It was
luxuriously furnished; Jeff had but once before sat in such an arm-
chair as the one that half embraced him, and as a boy he had dim
recollections of a life like this, of which his father was part.
To poor Jeff, with his throbbing head, his smarting hands, and his
lapsing moments of half forgetfulness, this seemed to be a return
of his old premonition. There was a vague perfume in the room,
like that which he remembered when he was in the woods with Miss
Mayfield. He believed he was growing faint again, and was about to
rise, when the door opened behind him.
"Is there anything we can do for you? Mr. Wilson has gone to seek
your friend, and has sent Manuel for a doctor."
HER voice! He rose hurriedly, turned; SHE was standing in the
She uttered a slight cry, turned very pale, advanced towards him,
stopped and leaned against the chimney-piece.
"I didn't know it was YOU."
With her actual presence Jeff's dream and weakness fled. He rose
up before her, his old bashful, stammering, awkward self.
"I didn't know YOU lived here, Miss Mayfield."
"If you had sent word you were coming," said Miss Mayfield,
recovering her color brightly in one cheek.
The possibility of having sent a messenger in advance to advise
Miss Mayfield of his projected visit did not strike Jeff as
ridiculous. Your true lover is far beyond such trivialities.
He accepted the rebuke meekly. He said he was sorry.
"You might have known it."
"What, Miss Mayfield?"
"That I was here, if you WISHED to know."
Jeff did not reply. He bowed his head and clasped his burned hands
together. Miss Mayfield saw their raw surfaces, saw the ugly cut
on his head, pitied him, but went on hastily, with both cheeks
burning, to say, womanlike, what was then deepest in her heart:
"My brother-in-law told me your adventure; but I did not know until
I entered this room that the gentleman I wished to help was one who
had once rejected my assistance, who had misunderstood me, and
cruelly insulted me! Oh, forgive me, Mr. Briggs" (Jeff had
risen). "I did not mean THAT. But, Mr. Jeff--Jeff--oh!" (She had
caught his tortured hand and had wrung a movement of pain from
him.) "Oh, dear! what did I do now? But Mr. Jeff, after what has
passed, after what you said to me when you went away, when you were
at that dreadful place, Campville, when you were two months in
Sacramento, you might--YOU OUGHT TO HAVE LET ME KNOW IT!"
Jeff turned. Her face, more beautiful than he had ever seen it,
alive and eloquent with every thought that her woman's speech but
half expressed, was very near his--so near, that under her honest
eyes the wretched scales fell from his own, his self-wrought
shackles crumbled away, and he dropped upon his knees at her feet
as she sank into the chair he had quitted. Both his hands were
grasped in her own.
"YOU went away, and I STAYED," she said reflectively.
"I had no home, Miss Mayfield."
"Nor had I. I had to buy this," she said, with a delicious
simplicity; "and bring a family here too," she added, "in case
YOU"--she stopped, with a slight color.
"Forgive me," said Jeff, burying his face in her hands.
"Don't you think you were a LITTLE--just a little--mean?"
Miss Mayfield uttered a faint sigh. He looked into her anxious
cheeks and eyes, his arm stole round her; their lips met for the
first time in one long lingering kiss. Then, I fear, for the
"Jeff," said Miss Mayfield, suddenly becoming practical and sweetly
possessory, "you must have your hands bound up in cotton."
"Yes," said Jeff cheerfully.
"And you must go instantly to bed."
"Because my sister will think it very late for me to be sitting up
with a gentleman."
The idea that Miss Mayfield was responsible to anybody was something
new to Jeff. But he said hastily, "I must stay and wait for Bill.
He risked his life for me."
"Oh, yes! You must tell me all about it. I may wait for THAT!"
Jeff possessed himself of the chair; in some way he also possessed
himself of Miss Mayfield without entirely dispossessing her. Then
he told his story. He hesitated over the episode of the blacksmith.
"I'm afraid I killed him, Jessie."
Miss Mayfield betrayed little concern at this possible extreme
measure with a dangerous neighbor. "He cut your head, Jeff," she
said, passing her little hand through his curls.
"No," said Jeff hastily, "that must have been done BEFORE."
"Well," said Miss Mayfield conclusively, "he would if he'd dared.
And you brought off that wretched money in spite of him. Poor dear
"Yes," said Jeff, kissing her.
"Where is it?" asked Jessie, looking round the room.
"Oh, just out there!"
"On my horse, you know, outside the door," continued Jeff, a little
uneasily, as he rose. "I'll go and--"
"You careless boy," said Miss Mayfield, jumping up, "I'll go with
They passed out on the porch together, holding each other's hands,
like children. The forgotten Rabbit was not there. Miss Mayfield
called a vaquero.
"Ah, yes!--the caballero's horse. Of a certainty the other
caballero had taken it!"
"The other caballero!" gasped Jeff.
"Si, senor. The one who arrived with you, or a moment, the very
next moment, after you. 'Your friend,' he said."
Jeff staggered against the porch, and cast one despairing
reproachful look at Miss Mayfield.
"Oh, Jeff! Jeff! don't look so. I know I ought not to have kept
you! It's a mistake, Jeff, believe me."
"It's no mistake," said Jeff hoarsely. "Go!" he said, turning to
the vaquero, "go!--bring--" But his speech failed. He attempted
to gesticulate with his hands, ran forward a few steps, staggered,
and fell fainting on the ground.
"Help me with the caballero into the blue room," said Miss
Mayfield, white as Jeff. "And hark ye, Manuel! You know every
ruffian, man or woman, on this road. That horse and those saddle-
bags must be here to-morrow, if you have to pay DOUBLE WHAT THEY'RE
Jeff went off into fever, into delirium, into helpless stupor.
From time to time he moaned "Bill" and "the treasure." On the
third day, in a lucid interval, as he lay staring at the wall, Miss
Mayfield put in his hand a letter from the company, acknowledging
the receipt of the treasure, thanking him for his zeal, and
inclosing a handsome check.
Jeff sat up, and put his hands to his head.
"I told you it was taken by mistake, and was easily found," said
Miss Mayfield, "didn't I?"
"You know he is so much better that he expects to leave us next
"There--go to sleep!"
At the end of a week she introduced Jeff to her sister-in-law,
having previously run her fingers through his hair to insure that
becomingness to his curls which would better indicate his moral
character; and spoke of him as one of her oldest Californian
At the end of two weeks she again presented him as her affianced
husband--a long engagement of a year being just passed. Mr.
Wilson, who was bored by the mountain life, undertaken to please
his rich wife and richer sister, saw a chance of escape here, and
bore willing testimony to the distant Mr. and Mrs. Mayfield of the
excellence of Miss Jessie's choice. And Yuba Bill was Jeff's best
The name of Briggs remained a power in Tuolumne and Calaveras
County. Mr. and Mrs. Briggs never had but one word of disagreement
or discussion. One day, Jeff, looking over some old accounts of
his wife's, found an unreceipted, unvouched for expenditure of
twenty thousand dollars. "What is this for, Jessie?" he asked.
"Oh, it's all right, Jeff!"
But here the now business-like and practical Mr. Briggs, father of
a family, felt called upon to make some general remarks regarding
the necessity of exactitude in accounts, etc.
"But I'd rather not tell you, Jeff."
"But you ought to, Jessie."
"Well then, dear, it was to get those saddle-bags of yours from
that rascal, Dodd," said little Mrs. Briggs meekly.