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Mr. Jack Hamlin's Mediation by Bret Harte

Part 5 out of 7

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"Because Marco was there," said the girl frankly.

"What had HE to do with it?" said Jarman abruptly.

"He wants to marry me."

"And do you want to marry HIM?" said Jarman quickly.

"No," said the girl passionately.

"Why don't you get rid of him, then?"

"I can't, he's hiding here,--he's father's friend."

"Hiding? What's he been doing?"

"Stealing. Stealing gold-dust from miners. I never cared for him
anyway. And I hate a thief!"

She looked up quickly. Jarman had risen to his feet, his face
turned to sea.

"What are you looking at?" she said wonderingly.

"A ship," said Jarman, in a strange, hoarse voice. "I must hurry
back and signal. I'm afraid I haven't even time to walk with you,--
I must run for it. Good-by!"

He turned without offering his hand and ran hurriedly in the
direction of the semaphore.

Cara, discomfited, turned her black eyes to the sea. But it seemed
empty as before, no sail, no ship on the horizon line, only a
little schooner slowly beating out of the Gate. Ah, well! It no
doubt was there,--that sail,--though she could not see it; how keen
and far-seeing his handsome, honest eyes were! She heaved a little
sigh, and, calling Lucy to her side, began to make her way homeward.
But she kept her eyes on the semaphore; it seemed to her the next
thing to seeing him,--this man she was beginning to love. She waited
for the gaunt arms to move with the signal of the vessel he had
seen. But, strange to say, it was motionless. He must have been
mistaken.

All this, however, was driven from her mind in the excitement that
she found on her return thrilling her own family. They had been
warned that a police boat with detectives on board had been
dispatched from San Francisco to the cove. Luckily, they had
managed to convey the fugitive Franti on board a coastwise
schooner,--Cara started as she remembered the one she had seen
beating out of the Gate,--and he was now safe from pursuit. Cara
felt relieved; at the same time she felt a strange joy at her
heart, which sent the conscious blood to her cheek. She was not
thinking of the escaped Marco, but of Jarman. Later, when the
police boat arrived,--whether the detectives had been forewarned of
Marco's escape or not,--they contented themselves with a formal
search of the little fishing-hut and departed. But their boat
remained lying off the shore.

That night Cara tossed sleeplessly on her bed; she was sorry she
had ever spoken of Marco to Jarman. It was unnecessary now;
perhaps he disbelieved her and thought she loved Marco; perhaps
that was the reason of his strange and abrupt leave-taking that
afternoon. She longed for the next day, she could tell him
everything now.

Towards morning she slept fitfully, but was awakened by the sound
of voices on the sands outside the hut. Its flimsy structure,
already warped by the fierce day-long sun, allowed her through
chinks and crevices not only to recognize the voices of the
detectives, but to hear distinctly what they said. Suddenly the
name of Jarman struck upon her ear. She sat upright in bed,
breathless.

"Are you sure it's the same man?" asked a second voice.

"Perfectly," answered the first. "He was tracked to 'Frisco, but
disappeared the day he landed. We knew from our agents that he
never left the bay. And when we found that somebody answering his
description got the post of telegraph operator out here, we knew
that we had spotted our man and the L250 sterling offered for his
capture."

"But that was five months ago. Why didn't you take him then?"

"Couldn't! For we couldn't hold him without the extradition papers
from Australia. We sent for 'em; they're due to-day or to-morrow
on the mail steamer."

"But he might have got away at any time?"

"He couldn't without our knowing it. Don't you see? Every time
the signals went up, we in San Francisco knew he was at his post.
We had him safe, out here on these sandhills, as if he'd been under
lock and key in 'Frisco. He was his own keeper, and reported to
us."

"But since you're here and expect the papers to-morrow, why don't
you 'cop' him now?"

"Because there isn't a judge in San Francisco that would hold him a
moment unless he had those extradition papers before him. He'd be
discharged, and escape."

"Then what are you going to do?"

"As soon as the steamer is signaled in 'Frisco, we'll board her in
the bay, get the papers, and drop down upon him."

"I see; and as HE'S the signal man, the darned fool"--

"Will give the signal himself."

The laugh that followed was so cruel that the young girl shuddered.
But the next moment she slipped from the bed, erect, pale, and
determined.

The voices seemed gradually to retreat. She dressed herself
hurriedly, and passed noiselessly through the room of her still
sleeping parent, and passed out. A gray fog was lifting slowly
over the sands and sea, and the police boat was gone. She no
longer hesitated, but ran quickly in the direction of Jarman's
cabin. As she ran, her mind seemed to be swept clear of all
illusion and fancy; she saw plainly everything that had happened;
she knew the mystery of Jarman's presence here,--the secret of his
life,--the dreadful cruelty of her remark to him,--the man that she
knew now she loved. The sun was painting the black arms of the
semaphore as she toiled over the last stretch of sand and knocked
loudly at the door. There was no reply. She knocked again; the
cabin was silent. Had he already fled?--and without seeing her and
knowing all! She tried the handle of the door; it yielded; she
stepped boldly into the room, with his name upon her lips. He was
lying fully dressed upon his couch. She ran eagerly to his side
and stopped. It needed only a single glance at his congested face,
his lips parted with his heavy breath, to see that the man was
hopelessly, helplessly drunk!

Yet even then, without knowing that it was her thoughtless speech
which had driven him to seek this foolish oblivion of remorse and
sorrow, she saw only his HELPLESSNESS. She tried in vain to rouse
him; he only muttered a few incoherent words and sank back again.
She looked despairingly around. Something must be done; the
steamer might be visible at any moment. Ah, yes,--the telescope!
She seized it and swept the horizon. There was a faint streak of
haze against the line of sea and sky, abreast the Golden Gate. He
had once told her what it meant. It WAS the steamer! A sudden
thought leaped into her clear and active brain. If the police boat
should chance to see that haze too, and saw no warning signal from
the semaphore, they would suspect something. That signal must be
made, BUT NOT THE RIGHT ONE! She remembered quickly how he had
explained to her the difference between the signals for a coasting
steamer and the one that brought the mails. At that distance the
police boat could not detect whether the semaphore's arms were
extended to perfect right angles for the mail steamer, or if the
left arm slightly deflected for a coasting steamer. She ran out to
the windlass and seized the crank. For a moment it defied her
strength; she redoubled her efforts: it began to creak and groan,
the great arms were slowly uplifted, and the signal made.

But the familiar sounds of the moving machinery had pierced through
Jarman's sluggish consciousness as no other sound in heaven or
earth could have done, and awakened him to the one dominant sense
he had left,--the habit of duty. She heard him roll from the bed
with an oath, stumble to the door, and saw him dash forward with an
affrighted face, and plunge his head into a bucket of water. He
emerged from it pale and dripping, but with the full light of
reason and consciousness in his eyes. He started when he saw her;
even then she would have fled, but he caught her firmly by the
wrist.

Then with a hurried, trembling voice she told him all and
everything. He listened in silence, and only at the end raised her
hand gravely to his lips.

"And now," she added tremulously, "you must fly--quick--at once; or
it will be too late!"

But Richard Jarman walked slowly to the door of his cabin, still
holding her hand, and said quietly, pointing to his only chair:--

"Sit down; we must talk first."

What they said was never known, but a few moments later they left
the cabin, Jarman carrying in a small bag all his possessions, and
Cara leaning on his arm. An hour later the priest of the Mission
Dolores was called upon to unite in matrimony a frank, honest-
looking sailor and an Italian gypsy-looking girl. There were many
hasty unions in those days, and the Holy Church was only too glad
to be able to give them its legal indorsement. But the good Padre
was a little sorry for the honest sailor, and gave the girl some
serious advice.

The San Francisco papers the next morning threw some dubious light
upon the matter in a paragraph headed, "Another Police Fiasco."

"We understand that the indefatigable police of San Francisco,
after ascertaining that Marco Franti, the noted gold-dust thief,
was hiding on the shore near the Presidio, proceeded there with
great solemnity, and arrived, as usual, a few hours after their man
had escaped. But the climax of incapacity was reached when, as it
is alleged, the sweetheart of the absconding Franti, and daughter
of a brother fisherman, eloped still later, and joined her lover
under the very noses of the police. The attempt of the detectives
to excuse themselves at headquarters by reporting that they were
also on the track of an alleged escaped Sydney Duck was received
with the derision and skepticism it deserved, as it seemed that
these worthies mistook the mail steamer, which they should have
boarded to get certain extradition papers, for a coasting steamer."

. . . . . .

It was not until four years later that Murano was delighted to
recognize in the husband of his long-lost daughter a very rich
cattle-owner in Southern California, called Jarman; but he never
knew that he had been an escaped convict from Sydney, who had
lately received a full pardon through the instrumentality of divers
distinguished people in Australia.

AN ESMERALDA OF ROCKY CANYON

It is to be feared that the hero of this chronicle began life as an
impostor. He was offered to the credulous and sympathetic family
of a San Francisco citizen as a lamb, who, unless bought as a
playmate for the children, would inevitably pass into the butcher's
hands. A combination of refined sensibility and urban ignorance of
nature prevented them from discerning certain glaring facts that
betrayed his caprid origin. So a ribbon was duly tied round his
neck, and in pleasing emulation of the legendary "Mary," he was
taken to school by the confiding children. Here, alas the fraud
was discovered, and history was reversed by his being turned out by
the teacher, because he was NOT "a lamb at school." Nevertheless,
the kind-hearted mother of the family persisted in retaining him,
on the plea that he might yet become "useful." To her husband's
feeble suggestion of "gloves," she returned a scornful negative,
and spoke of the weakly infant of a neighbor, who might later
receive nourishment from this providential animal. But even this
hope was destroyed by the eventual discovery of his sex. Nothing
remained now but to accept him as an ordinary kid, and to find
amusement in his accomplishments,--eating, climbing, and butting.
It must be confessed that these were of a superior quality; a
capacity to eat everything from a cambric handkerchief to an
election poster, an agility which brought him even to the roofs of
houses, and a power of overturning by a single push the chubbiest
child who opposed him, made him a fearful joy to the nursery. This
last quality was incautiously developed in him by a negro boy-
servant, who, later, was hurriedly propelled down a flight of
stairs by his too proficient scholar. Having once tasted victory,
"Billy" needed no further incitement to his performances. The
small wagon which he sometimes consented to draw for the benefit of
the children never hindered his attempts to butt the passer-by. On
the contrary, on well-known scientific principles he added the
impact of the bodies of the children projected over his head in his
charge, and the infelicitous pedestrian found himself not only
knocked off his legs by Billy, but bombarded by the whole nursery.

Delightful as was this recreation to juvenile limbs, it was felt to
be dangerous to the adult public. Indignant protestations were
made, and as Billy could not be kept in the house, he may be said
to have at last butted himself out of that sympathetic family and
into a hard and unfeeling world. One morning he broke his tether
in the small back yard. For several days thereafter he displayed
himself in guilty freedom on the tops of adjacent walls and
outhouses. The San Francisco suburb where his credulous protectors
lived was still in a volcanic state of disruption, caused by the
grading of new streets through rocks and sandhills. In consequence
the roofs of some houses were on the level of the doorsteps of
others, and were especially adapted to Billy's performances. One
afternoon, to the admiring and perplexed eyes of the nursery, he
was discovered standing on the apex of a neighbor's new Elizabethan
chimney, on a space scarcely larger than the crown of a hat, calmly
surveying the world beneath him. High infantile voices appealed to
him in vain; baby arms were outstretched to him in hopeless
invitation; he remained exalted and obdurate, like Milton's hero,
probably by his own merit "raised to that bad eminence." Indeed,
there was already something Satanic in his budding horns and
pointed mask as the smoke curled softly around him. Then he
appropriately vanished, and San Francisco knew him no more. At the
same time, however, one Owen M'Ginnis, a neighboring sandhill
squatter, also disappeared, leaving San Francisco for the southern
mines, and he was said to have taken Billy with him,--for no
conceivable reason except for companionship. Howbeit, it was the
turning-point of Billy's career; such restraint as kindness,
civilization, or even policemen had exercised upon his nature was
gone. He retained, I fear, a certain wicked intelligence, picked
up in San Francisco with the newspapers and theatrical and election
posters he had consumed. He reappeared at Rocky Canyon among the
miners as an exceedingly agile chamois, with the low cunning of a
satyr. That was all that civilization had done for him!

If Mr. M'Ginnis had fondly conceived that he would make Billy
"useful," as well as companionable, he was singularly mistaken.
Horses and mules were scarce in Rocky Canyon, and he attempted to
utilize Billy by making him draw a small cart, laden with
auriferous earth, from his claim to the river. Billy, rapidly
gaining strength, was quite equal to the task, but alas! not his
inborn propensity. An incautious gesture from the first passing
miner Billy chose to construe into the usual challenge. Lowering
his head, from which his budding horns had been already pruned by
his master, he instantly went for his challenger, cart and all.
Again the scientific law already pointed out prevailed. With the
shock of the onset the entire contents of the cart arose and poured
over the astonished miner, burying him from sight. In any other
but a Californian mining-camp such a propensity in a draught animal
would have been condemned, on account of the damage and suffering
it entailed, but in Rocky Canyon it proved unprofitable to the
owner from the very amusement and interest it excited. Miners lay
in wait for Billy with a "greenhorn," or new-comer, whom they would
put up to challenge the animal by some indiscreet gesture. In this
way hardly a cartload of "pay-gravel" ever arrived safely at its
destination, and the unfortunate M'Ginnis was compelled to withdraw
Billy as a beast of burden. It was whispered that so great had his
propensity become, under repeated provocation, that M'Ginnis
himself was no longer safe. Going ahead of his cart one day to
remove a fallen bough from the trail, Billy construed the act of
stooping into a playful challenge from his master,--with the
inevitable result.

The next day M'Ginnis appeared with a wheelbarrow, but without
Billy. From that day he was relegated to the rocky crags above the
camp, from whence he was only lured occasionally by the mischievous
miners, who wished to exhibit his peculiar performances. For
although Billy had ample food and sustenance among the crags, he
had still a civilized longing for posters; and whenever a circus, a
concert, or a political meeting was "billed" in the settlement, he
was on hand while the paste was yet fresh and succulent. In this
way it was averred that he once removed a gigantic theatre bill
setting forth the charms of the "Sacramento Pet," and being caught
in the act by the advance agent, was pursued through the main
street, carrying the damp bill on his horns, eventually affixing
it, after his own peculiar fashion, on the back of Judge
Boompointer, who was standing in front of his own court-house.

In connection with the visits of this young lady another story
concerning Billy survives in the legends of Rocky Canyon. Colonel
Starbottle was at that time passing through the settlement on
election business, and it was part of his chivalrous admiration for
the sex to pay a visit to the pretty actress. The single waiting-
room of the little hotel gave upon the veranda, which was also
level with the street. After a brief yet gallant interview, in
which he oratorically expressed the gratitude of the settlement
with old-fashioned Southern courtesy, Colonel Starbottle lifted the
chubby little hand of the "Pet" to his lips, and, with a low bow,
backed out upon the veranda. But the Pet was astounded by his
instant reappearance, and by his apparently casting himself
passionately and hurriedly at her feet! It is needless to say that
he was followed closely by Billy, who from the street had casually
noticed him, and construed his novel exit into an ungentlemanly
challenge.

Billy's visits, however, became less frequent, and as Rocky Canyon
underwent the changes incidental to mining settlements, he was
presently forgotten in the invasion of a few Southwestern families,
and the adoption of amusements less practical and turbulent than he
had afforded. It was alleged that he was still seen in the more
secluded fastnesses of the mountains, having reverted to a wild
state, and it was suggested by one or two of the more adventurous
that he might yet become edible, and a fair object of chase. A
traveler through the Upper Pass of the canyon related how he had
seen a savage-looking, hairy animal like a small elk perched upon
inaccessible rocks, but always out of gunshot. But these and other
legends were set at naught and overthrown by an unexpected incident.

The Pioneer Coach was toiling up the long grade towards Skinners
Pass when Yuba Bill suddenly pulled up, with his feet on the brake.

"Jimminy!" he ejaculated, drawing a deep breath.

The startled passenger beside him on the box followed the direction
of his eyes. Through an opening in the wayside pines he could see,
a few hundred yards away, a cuplike hollow in the hillside of the
vividest green. In the centre a young girl of fifteen or sixteen
was dancing and keeping step to the castanet "click" of a pair of
"bones," such as negro minstrels use, held in her hands above her
head. But, more singular still, a few paces before her a large
goat, with its neck roughly wreathed with flowers and vines, was
taking ungainly bounds and leaps in imitation of its companion.
The wild background of the Sierras, the pastoral hollow, the
incongruousness of the figures, and the vivid color of the girl's
red flannel petticoat showing beneath her calico skirt, that had
been pinned around her waist, made a striking picture, which by
this time had attracted all eyes. Perhaps the dancing of the girl
suggested a negro "break-down" rather than any known sylvan
measure; but all this, and even the clatter of the bones, was made
gracious by the distance.

"Esmeralda! by the living Harry!" shouted the excited passenger on
the box.

Yuba Bill took his feet off the brake, and turned a look of deep
scorn upon his companion as he gathered the reins again.

"It's that blanked goat, outer Rocky Canyon beyond, and Polly
Harkness! How did she ever come to take up with HIM?"

Nevertheless, as soon as the coach reached Rocky Canyon, the story
was quickly told by the passengers, corroborated by Yuba Bill, and
highly colored by the observer on the box-seat. Harkness was known
to be a new-comer who lived with his wife and only daughter on the
other side of Skinners Pass. He was a "logger" and charcoal-
burner, who had eaten his way into the serried ranks of pines below
the pass, and established in these efforts an almost insurmountable
cordon of fallen trees, stripped bark, and charcoal pits around the
clearing where his rude log hut stood,--which kept his seclusion
unbroken. He was said to be a half-savage mountaineer from Georgia,
in whose rude fastnesses he had distilled unlawful whiskey, and that
his tastes and habits unfitted him for civilization. His wife
chewed and smoked; he was believed to make a fiery brew of his own
from acorns and pine nuts; he seldom came to Rocky Canyon except for
provisions; his logs were slipped down a "shoot" or slide to the
river, where they voyaged once a month to a distant mill, but HE did
not accompany them. The daughter, seldom seen at Rocky Canyon, was
a half-grown girl, brown as autumn fern, wild-eyed, disheveled, in a
homespun skirt, sunbonnet, and boy's brogans. Such were the plain
facts which skeptical Rocky Canyon opposed to the passengers'
legends. Nevertheless, some of the younger miners found it not out
of their way to go over Skinners Pass on the journey to the river,
but with what success was not told. It was said, however, that a
celebrated New York artist, making a tour of California, was on the
coach one day going through the pass, and preserved the memory of
what he saw there in a well-known picture entitled "Dancing Nymph
and Satyr," said by competent critics to be "replete with the study
of Greek life." This did not affect Rocky Canyon, where the study
of mythology was presumably displaced by an experience of more
wonderful flesh-and-blood people, but later it was remembered with
some significance.

Among the improvements already noted, a zinc and wooden chapel had
been erected in the main street, where a certain popular revivalist
preacher of a peculiar Southwestern sect regularly held exhortatory
services. His rude emotional power over his ignorant fellow-
sectarians was well known, while curiosity drew others. His effect
upon the females of his flock was hysterical and sensational.
Women prematurely aged by frontier drudgery and child-bearing,
girls who had known only the rigors and pains of a half-equipped,
ill-nourished youth in their battling with the hard realities of
nature around them, all found a strange fascination in the
extravagant glories and privileges of the unseen world he pictured
to them, which they might have found in the fairy tales and nursery
legends of civilized children, had they known them. Personally he
was not attractive; his thin pointed face, and bushy hair rising on
either side of his square forehead in two rounded knots, and his
long, straggling, wiry beard dropping from a strong neck and
shoulders, were indeed of a common Southwestern type; yet in him
they suggested something more. This was voiced by a miner who
attended his first service, and as the Reverend Mr. Withholder rose
in the pulpit, the former was heard to audibly ejaculate, "Dod
blasted!--if it ain't Billy!" But when on the following Sunday, to
everybody's astonishment, Polly Harkness, in a new white muslin
frock and broad-brimmed Leghorn hat, appeared before the church
door with the real Billy, and exchanged conversation with the
preacher, the likeness was appalling.

I grieve to say that the goat was at once christened by Rocky
Canyon as "The Reverend Billy," and the minister himself was
Billy's "brother." More than that, when an attempt was made by
outsiders, during the service, to inveigle the tethered goat into
his old butting performances, and he took not the least notice of
their insults and challenges, the epithet "blanked hypocrite" was
added to his title.

Had he really reformed? Had his pastoral life with his nymph-like
mistress completely cured him of his pugnacious propensity, or had
he simply found it was inconsistent with his dancing, and seriously
interfered with his "fancy steps"? Had he found tracts and hymn-
books were as edible as theatre posters? These were questions that
Rocky canyon discussed lightly, although there was always the more
serious mystery of the relations of the Reverend Mr. Withholder,
Polly Harkness, and the goat towards each other. The appearance of
Polly at church was no doubt due to the minister's active canvass
of the districts. But had he ever heard of Polly's dancing with
the goat? And where in this plain, angular, badly dressed Polly
was hidden that beautiful vision of the dancing nymph which had
enthralled so many? And when had Billy ever given any suggestion
of his Terpsichorean abilities--before or since? Were there any
"points" of the kind to be discerned in him now? None! Was it not
more probable that the Reverend Mr. Withholder had himself been
dancing with Polly, and been mistaken for the goat? Passengers who
could have been so deceived with regard to Polly's beauty might
have as easily mistaken the minister for Billy. About this time
another incident occurred which increased the mystery.

The only male in the settlement who apparently dissented from the
popular opinion regarding Polly was a new-comer, Jack Filgee.
While discrediting her performance with the goat,--which he had
never seen,--he was evidently greatly prepossessed with the girl
herself. Unfortunately, he was equally addicted to drinking, and
as he was exceedingly shy and timid when sober, and quite
unpresentable at other times, his wooing, if it could be so called,
progressed but slowly. Yet when he found that Polly went to
church, he listened so far to the exhortations of the Reverend Mr.
Withholder as to promise to come to "Bible class" immediately after
the Sunday service. It was a hot afternoon, and Jack, who had kept
sober for two days, incautiously fortified himself for the ordeal
by taking a drink before arriving. He was nervously early, and
immediately took a seat in the empty church near the open door.
The quiet of the building, the drowsy buzzing of flies, and perhaps
the soporific effect of the liquor caused his eyes to close and his
head to fall forward on his breast repeatedly. He was recovering
himself for the fourth time when he suddenly received a violent
cuff on the ear, and was knocked backward off the bench on which he
was sitting. That was all he knew.

He picked himself up with a certain dignity, partly new to him, and
partly the result of his condition, and staggered, somewhat bruised
and disheveled, to the nearest saloon. Here a few frequenters who
had seen him pass, who knew his errand and the devotion to Polly
which had induced it, exhibited a natural concern.

"How's things down at the gospel shop?" said one. "Look as ef
you'd been wrastlin' with the Sperit, Jack!"

"Old man must hev exhorted pow'ful," said another, glancing at his
disordered Sunday attire.

"Ain't be'n hevin' a row with Polly? I'm told she slings an awful
left."

Jack, instead of replying, poured out a dram of whiskey, drank it,
and putting down his glass, leaned heavily against the counter as
he surveyed his questioners with a sorrow chastened by reproachful
dignity.

"I'm a stranger here, gentlemen," he said slowly "ye've known me
only a little; but ez ye've seen me both blind drunk and sober, I
reckon ye've caught on to my gin'ral gait! Now I wanter put it to
you, ez fair-minded men, ef you ever saw me strike a parson?"

"No," said a chorus of sympathetic voices. The barkeeper, however,
with a swift recollection of Polly and the Reverend Withholder, and
some possible contingent jealousy in Jack, added prudently, "Not
yet."

The chorus instantly added reflectively, "Well, no not yet."

"Did ye ever," continued Jack solemnly, "know me to cuss, sass,
bully-rag, or say anything agin parsons, or the church?"

"No," said the crowd, overthrowing prudence in curiosity, "ye never
did,--we swear it! And now, what's up?"

"I ain't what you call 'a member in good standin','" he went on,
artistically protracting his climax. "I ain't be'n convicted o'
sin; I ain't 'a meek an' lowly follower;' I ain't be'n exactly what
I orter be'n; I hevn't lived anywhere up to my lights; but is thet
a reason why a parson should strike me?"

"Why? What? When did he? Who did?" asked the eager crowd, with
one voice.

Jack then painfully related how he had been invited by the Reverend
Mr. Withholder to attend the Bible class. How he had arrived
early, and found the church empty. How he had taken a seat near
the door to be handy when the parson came. How he just felt
"kinder kam and good," listenin' to the flies buzzing, and must
have fallen asleep,--only he pulled himself up every time,--though,
after all, it warn't no crime to fall asleep in an empty church!
How "all of a suddent" the parson came in, "give him a clip side o'
the head," and knocked him off the bench, and left him there!

"But what did he SAY?" queried the crowd.

"Nuthin'. Afore I could get up, he got away."

"Are you sure it was him?" they asked. "You know you SAY you was
asleep."

"Am I sure?" repeated Jack scornfully. "Don't I know thet face and
beard? Didn't I feel it hangin' over me?"

"What are you going to do about it?" continued the crowd eagerly.

"Wait till he comes out--and you'll see," said Jack, with dignity.

This was enough for the crowd; they gathered excitedly at the door,
where Jack was already standing, looking towards the church. The
moments dragged slowly; it might be a long meeting. Suddenly the
church door opened and a figure appeared, looking up and down the
street. Jack colored--he recognized Polly--and stepped out into
the road. The crowd delicately, but somewhat disappointedly, drew
back in the saloon. They did not care to interfere in THAT sort of
thing.

Polly saw him, and came hurriedly towards him. She was holding
something in her hand.

"I picked this up on the church floor," she said shyly, "so I
reckoned you HAD be'n there,--though the parson said you hadn't,--
and I just excused myself and ran out to give it ye. It's yourn,
ain't it?" She held up a gold specimen pin, which he had put on in
honor of the occasion. "I had a harder time, though, to git this
yer,--it's yourn too,--for Billy was laying down in the yard, back
o' the church, and just comf'bly swallerin' it."

"Who?" said Jack quickly.

"Billy,--my goat."

Jack drew a long breath, and glanced back at the saloon. "Ye ain't
goin' back to class now, are ye?" he said hurriedly. "Ef you ain't,
I'll--I'll see ye home.

"I don't mind," said Polly demurely, "if it ain't takin' ye outer
y'ur way."

Jack offered his arm, and hurrying past the saloon, the happy pair
were soon on the road to Skinners Pass.

Jack did not, I regret to say, confess his blunder, but left the
Reverend Mr. Withholder to remain under suspicion of having
committed an unprovoked assault and battery. It was characteristic
of Rocky Canyon, however, that this suspicion, far from injuring
his clerical reputation, incited a respect that had been hitherto
denied him. A man who could hit out straight from the shoulder
had, in the language of the critics, "suthin' in him." Oddly
enough, the crowd that had at first sympathized with Jack now began
to admit provocations. His subsequent silence, a disposition when
questioned on the subject to smile inanely, and, later, when
insidiously asked if he had ever seen Polly dancing with the goat,
his bursting into uproarious laughter completely turned the current
of opinion against him. The public mind, however, soon became
engrossed by a more interesting incident.

The Reverend Mr. Withholder had organized a series of Biblical
tableaux at Skinnerstown for the benefit of his church.
Illustrations were to be given of "Rebecca at the Well," "The
Finding of Moses," "Joseph and his Brethren;" but Rocky Canyon was
more particularly excited by the announcement that Polly Harkness
would personate "Jephthah's Daughter." On the evening of the
performance, however, it was found that this tableau had been
withdrawn and another substituted, for reasons not given. Rocky
Canyon, naturally indignant at this omission to represent native
talent, indulged in a hundred wild surmises. But it was generally
believed that Jack Filgee's revengeful animosity to the Reverend
Mr. Withholder was at the bottom of it. Jack, as usual, smiled
inanely, but nothing was to be got from him. It was not until a
few days later, when another incident crowned the climax of these
mysteries, that a full disclosure came from his lips.

One morning a flaming poster was displayed at Rocky Canyon, with a
charming picture of the "Sacramento Pet" in the briefest of skirts,
disporting with a tambourine before a goat garlanded with flowers,
who bore, however, an undoubted likeness to Billy. The text in
enormous letters, and bristling with points of admiration, stated
that the "Pet" would appear as "Esmeralda," assisted by a performing
goat, especially trained by the gifted actress. The goat would
dance, play cards, and perform those tricks of magic familiar to the
readers of Victor Hugo's beautiful story of the "Hunchback of Notre
Dame," and finally knock down and overthrow the designing seducer,
Captain Phoebus. The marvelous spectacle would be produced under
the patronage of the Hon. Colonel Starbottle and the Mayor of
Skinnerstown.

As all Rocky Canyon gathered open-mouthed around the poster, Jack
demurely joined the group. Every eye was turned upon him.

"It don't look as if yer Polly was in THIS show, any more than she
was in the tablows," said one, trying to conceal his curiosity
under a slight sneer. "She don't seem to be doin' any dancin'!"

"She never DID any dancin'," said Jack, with a smile.

"Never DID! Then what was all these yarns about her dancin' up at
the pass?"

"It was the Sacramento Pet who did all the dancin'; Polly only LENT
the goat. Ye see, the Pet kinder took a shine to Billy arter he
bowled Starbottle over thet day at the hotel, and she thought she
might teach him tricks. So she DID, doing all her teachin' and
stage-rehearsin' up there at the pass, so's to be outer sight, and
keep this thing dark. She bribed Polly to lend her the goat and
keep her secret, and Polly never let on a word to anybody but me."

"Then it was the Pet that Yuba Bill saw dancin' from the coach?"

"Yes."

"And that yer artist from New York painted as an 'Imp and Satire'?"

"Yes."

"Then that's how Polly didn't show up in them tablows at
Skinnerstown? It was Withholder who kinder smelt a rat, eh? and
found out it was only a theayter gal all along that did the
dancin'?"

"Well, you see," said Jack, with affected hesitation, "thet's
another yarn. I don't know mebbe ez I oughter tell it. Et ain't
got anything to do with this advertisement o' the Pet, and might be
rough on old man Withholder! Ye mustn't ask me, boys."

But there was that in his eye, and above all in this lazy
procrastination of the true humorist when he is approaching his
climax, which rendered the crowd clamorous and unappeasable. They
WOULD have the story!

Seeing which, Jack leaned back against a rock with great gravity,
put his hands in his pockets, looked discontentedly at the ground,
and began: "You see, boys, old Parson Withholder had heard all
these yarns about Polly and thet trick-goat, and he kinder reckoned
that she might do for some one of his tablows. So he axed her if
she'd mind standin' with the goat and a tambourine for Jephthah's
Daughter, at about the time when old Jeph comes home, sailin' in
and vowin' he'll kill the first thing he sees,--jest as it is in
the Bible story. Well, Polly didn't like to say it wasn't HER that
performed with the goat, but the Pet, for thet would give the Pet
dead away; so Polly agrees to come thar with the goat and rehearse
the tablow. Well, Polly's thar, a little shy; and Billy,--you bet
HE'S all there, and ready for the fun; but the darned fool who
plays Jephthah ain't worth shucks, and when HE comes in he does
nothin' but grin at Polly and seem skeert at the goat. This makes
old Withholder jest wild, and at last he goes on the platform
hisself to show them how the thing oughter be done. So he comes
bustlin' and prancin' in, and ketches sight o' Polly dancin' in
with the goat to welcome him; and then he clasps his hands--so--and
drops on his knees, and hangs down his head--so--and sez, 'Me
chyld! me vow! Oh, heavens!' But jest then Billy--who's gettin'
rather tired o' all this foolishness--kinder slues round on his
hind legs, and ketches sight o' the parson!" Jack paused a moment,
and thrusting his hands still deeper in his pockets, said lazily,
"I don't know if you fellers have noticed how much old Withholder
looks like Billy?"

There was a rapid and impatient chorus of "Yes! yes!" and "Go on!"

"Well," continued Jack, "when Billy sees Withholder kneelin' thar
with his head down, he gives a kind o' joyous leap and claps his
hoofs together, ez much ez to say, 'I'm on in this scene,' drops
his own head, and jest lights out for the parson!"

"And butts him clean through the side scenes into the street,"
interrupted a delighted auditor.

But Jack's face never changed. "Ye think so?" he said gravely.
"But thet's jest whar ye slip up; and thet's jest whar Billy
slipped up!" he added slowly. "Mebbe ye've noticed, too, thet the
parson's built kinder solid about the head and shoulders. It
mought hev be'n thet, or thet Billy didn't get a fair start, but
thet goat went down on his fore legs like a shot, and the parson
gave one heave, and jest scooted him off the platform! Then the
parson reckoned thet this yer 'tablow' had better be left out, as
thar didn't seem to be any other man who could play Jephthah, and
it wasn't dignified for HIM to take the part. But the parson
allowed thet it might be a great moral lesson to Billy!"

And it WAS, for from that moment Billy never attempted to butt
again. He performed with great docility later on in the Pet's
engagement at Skinnerstown; he played a distinguished role
throughout the provinces; he had had the advantages of Art from
"the Pet," and of Simplicity from Polly, but only Rocky Canyon knew
that his real education had come with his first rehearsal with the
Reverend Mr. Withholder.

DICK SPINDLER'S FAMILY CHRISTMAS

There was surprise and sometimes disappointment in Rough and Ready,
when it was known that Dick Spindler intended to give a "family"
Christmas party at his own house. That he should take an early
opportunity to celebrate his good fortune and show hospitality was
only expected from the man who had just made a handsome "strike" on
his claim; but that it should assume so conservative, old-
fashioned, and respectable a form was quite unlooked-for by Rough
and Ready, and was thought by some a trifle pretentious. There
were not half-a-dozen families in Rough and Ready; nobody ever knew
before that Spindler had any relations, and this "ringing in" of
strangers to the settlement seemed to indicate at least a lack of
public spirit. "He might," urged one of his critics, "hev given
the boys,--that had worked alongside o' him in the ditches by day,
and slung lies with him around the camp-fire by night,--he might
hev given them a square 'blow out,' and kep' the leavin's for his
old Spindler crew, just as other families do. Why, when old man
Scudder had his house-raisin' last year, his family lived for a
week on what was left over, arter the boys had waltzed through the
house that night,--and the Scudders warn't strangers, either." It
was also evident that there was an uneasy feeling that Spindler's
action indicated an unhallowed leaning towards the minority of
respectability and exclusiveness, and a desertion--without the
excuse of matrimony--of the convivial and independent bachelor
majority of Rough and Ready.

"Ef he was stuck after some gal and was kinder looking ahead, I'd
hev understood it," argued another critic.

"Don't ye be too sure he ain't," said Uncle Jim Starbuck gloomily.
"Ye'll find that some blamed woman is at the bottom of this yer
'family' gathering. That and trouble ez almost all they're made
for!"

There happened to be some truth in this dark prophecy, but none of
the kind that the misogynist supposed. In fact, Spindler had
called a few evenings before at the house of the Rev. Mr. Saltover,
and Mrs. Saltover, having one of her "Saleratus headaches," had
turned him over to her widow sister, Mrs. Huldy Price, who
obediently bestowed upon him that practical and critical attention
which she divided with the stocking she was darning. She was a
woman of thirty-five, of singular nerve and practical wisdom, who
had once smuggled her wounded husband home from a border affray,
calmly made coffee for his deceived pursuers while he lay hidden in
the loft, walked four miles for that medical assistance which
arrived too late to save him, buried him secretly in his own
"quarter section," with only one other witness and mourner, and so
saved her position and property in that wild community, who
believed he had fled. There was very little of this experience to
be traced in her round, fresh-colored brunette cheek, her calm
black eyes, set in a prickly hedge of stiff lashes, her plump
figure, or her frank, courageous laugh. The latter appeared as a
smile when she welcomed Mr. Spindler. "She hadn't seen him for a
coon's age," but "reckoned he was busy fixin' up his new house."

"Well, yes," said Spindler, with a slight hesitation, "ye see, I'm
reckonin' to hev a kinder Christmas gatherin' of my"--he was about
to say "folks," but dismissed it for "relations," and finally
settled upon "relatives" as being more correct in a preacher's
house.

Mrs. Price thought it a very good idea. Christmas was the natural
season for the family to gather to "see who's here and who's there,
who's gettin' on and who isn't, and who's dead and buried. It was
lucky for them who were so placed that they could do so and be
joyful." Her invincible philosophy probably carried her past any
dangerous recollections of the lonely grave in Kansas, and holding
up the stocking to the light, she glanced cheerfully along its
level to Mr. Spindler's embarrassed face by the fire.

"Well, I can't say much ez to that," responded Spindler, still
awkwardly, "for you see I don't know much about it anyway."

"How long since you've seen 'em?" asked Mrs. Price, apparently
addressing herself to the stocking.

Spindler gave a weak laugh. "Well, you see, ef it comes to that,
I've never seen 'em!"

Mrs. Price put the stocking in her lap and opened her direct eyes
on Spindler. "Never seen 'em?" she repeated. "Then, they're not
near relations?

"There are three cousins," said Spindler, checking them off on his
fingers, "a half-uncle, a kind of brother-in-law,--that is, the
brother of my sister-in-law's second husband,--and a niece. That's
six."

"But if you've not seen them, I suppose they've corresponded with
you?" said Mrs. Price.

"They've nearly all of 'em written to me for money, seeing my name
in the paper ez hevin' made a strike," returned Spindler simply;
"and hevin' sent it, I jest know their addresses."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Price, returning to the stocking.

Something in the tone of her ejaculation increased Spindler's
embarrassment, but it also made him desperate. "You see, Mrs.
Price," he blurted out, "I oughter tell ye that I reckon they are
the folks that 'hevn't got on,' don't you see, and so it seemed
only the square thing for me, ez had 'got on,' to give them a sort
o' Christmas festival. Suthin', don't ye know, like what your
brother-in-law was sayin' last Sunday in the pulpit about this yer
peace and goodwill 'twixt man and man."

Mrs. Price looked again at the man before her. His sallow,
perplexed face exhibited some doubt, yet a certain determination,
regarding the prospect the quotation had opened to him. "A very
good idea, Mr. Spindler, and one that does you great credit," she
said gravely.

"I'm mighty glad to hear you say so, Mrs. Price," he said, with an
accent of great relief, "for I reckoned to ask you a great favor!
You see," he fell into his former hesitation, "that is--the fact
is--that this sort o' thing is rather suddent to me,--a little
outer my line, don't you see, and I was goin' to ask ye ef you'd
mind takin' the hull thing in hand and runnin it for me."

"Running it for you," said Mrs. Price, with a quick eye-shot from
under the edge of her lashes. "Man alive! What are you thinking
of?"

"Bossin' the whole job for me," hurried on Spindler, with nervous
desperation. "Gettin' together all the things and makin' ready for
'em,--orderin' in everythin' that's wanted, and fixin' up the
rooms,--I kin step out while you're doin' it,--and then helpin' me
receivin' 'em, and sittin' at the head o' the table, you know,--
like ez ef you was the mistress."

"But," said Mrs. Price, with her frank laugh, "that's the duty of
one of your relations,--your niece, for instance,--or cousin, if
one of them is a woman."

"But," persisted Spindler, "you see, they're strangers to me; I
don't know 'em, and I do you. You'd make it easy for 'em,--and for
me,--don't you see? Kinder introduce 'em,--don't you know? A
woman of your gin'ral experience would smooth down all them little
difficulties," continued Spindler, with a vague recollection of the
Kansas story, "and put everybody on velvet. Don't say 'No,' Mrs.
Price! I'm just kalkilatin' on you."

Sincerity and persistency in a man goes a great way with even the
best of women. Mrs. Price, who had at first received Spindler's
request as an amusing originality, now began to incline secretly
towards it. And, of course, began to suggest objections.

"I'm afraid it won't do," she said thoughtfully, awakening to the
fact that it would do and could be done. "You see, I've promised
to spend Christmas at Sacramento with my nieces from Baltimore.
And then there's Mrs. Saltover and my sister to consult."

But here Spindler's simple face showed such signs of distress that
the widow declared she would "think it over,"--a process which the
sanguine Spindler seemed to consider so nearly akin to talking it
over that Mrs. Price began to believe it herself, as he hopefully
departed.

She "thought it over" sufficiently to go to Sacramento and excuse
herself to her nieces. But here she permitted herself to "talk it
over," to the infinite delight of those Baltimore girls, who
thought this extravaganza of Spindler's "so Californian and
eccentric!" So that it was not strange that presently the news
came back to Rough and Ready, and his old associates learned for
the first time that he had never seen his relatives, and that they
would be doubly strangers. This did not increase his popularity;
neither, I grieve to say, did the intelligence that his relatives
were probably poor, and that the Reverend Mr. Saltover had approved
of his course, and had likened it to the rich man's feast, to which
the halt and blind were invited. Indeed, the allusion was supposed
to add hypocrisy and a bid for popularity to Spindler's defection,
for it was argued that he might have feasted "Wall-eyed Joe" or
"Tangle-foot Billy,"--who had once been "chawed" by a bear while
prospecting,--if he had been sincere. Howbeit, Spindler's faith
was oblivious to these criticisms, in his joy at Mr. Saltover's
adhesion to his plans and the loan of Mrs. Price as a hostess. In
fact, he proposed to her that the invitation should also convey
that information in the expression, "by the kind permission of the
Rev. Mr. Saltover," as a guarantee of good faith, but the widow
would have none of it. The invitations were duly written and
dispatched.

"Suppose," suggested Spindler, with a sudden lugubrious
apprehension,--"suppose they shouldn't come?"

"Have no fear of that," said Mrs. Price, with a frank laugh.

"Or ef they was dead," continued Spindler.

"They couldn't all be dead," said the widow cheerfully.

"I've written to another cousin by marriage," said Spindler
dubiously, "in case of accident; I didn't think of him before,
because he was rich."

"And have you ever seen him either, Mr. Spindler?" asked the widow,
with a slight mischievousness.

"Lordy! No!" he responded, with unaffected concern.

Only one mistake was made by Mrs. Price in her arrangements for the
party. She had noticed what the simple-minded Spindler could never
have conceived,--the feeling towards him held by his old associates,
and had tactfully suggested that a general invitation should be
extended to them in the evening.

"You can have refreshments, you know, too, after the dinner, and
games and music."

"But," said the unsophisticated host, "won't the boys think I'm
playing it rather low down on them, so to speak, givin' 'em a kind
o' second table, as ef it was the tailings after a strike?"

"Nonsense," said Mrs. Price, with decision. "It's quite
fashionable in San Francisco, and just the thing to do."

To this decision Spindler, in his blind faith in the widow's
management, weakly yielded. An announcement in the "Weekly Banner"
that, "On Christmas evening Richard Spindler, Esq., proposed to
entertain his friends and fellow citizens at an 'at home,' in his
own residence," not only widened the breach between him and the
"boys," but awakened an active resentment that only waited for an
outlet. It was understood that they were all coming; but that they
should have "some fun out of it" which might not coincide with
Spindler's nor his relatives' sense of humor seemed a foregone
conclusion.

Unfortunately, too, subsequent events lent themselves to this irony
of the situation.

He was so obviously sincere in his intent, and, above all, seemed
to place such a pathetic reliance on her judgment, that she
hesitated to let him know the shock his revelation had given her.
And what might his other relations prove to be? Good Lord! Yet,
oddly enough, she was so prepossessed by him, and so fascinated by
his very Quixotism, that it was perhaps for these complex reasons
that she said a little stiffly:--

"One of these cousins, I see, is a lady, and then there is your
niece. Do you know anything about them, Mr. Spindler?"

His face grew serious. "No more than I know of the others," he
said apologetically. After a moment's hesitation he went on: "Now
you speak of it, it seems to me I've heard that my niece was
di-vorced. But," he added, brightening up, "I've heard that she
was popular."

Mrs. Price gave a short laugh, and was silent for a few minutes.
Then this sublime little woman looked up at him. What he might
have seen in her eyes was more than he expected, or, I fear,
deserved. "Cheer up, Mr. Spindler," she said manfully. "I'll see
you through this thing, don't you mind! But don't you say anything
about--about--this Vigilance Committee business to anybody. Nor
about your niece--it was your niece, wasn't it?--being divorced.
Charley (the late Mr. Price) had a queer sort of sister, who--but
that's neither here nor there! And your niece mayn't come, you
know; or if she does, you ain't bound to bring her out to the
general company."

At parting, Spindler, in sheer gratefulness, pressed her hand, and
lingered so long over it that a little color sprang into the
widow's brown cheek. Perhaps a fresh courage sprang into her
heart, too, for she went to Sacramento the next day, previously
enjoining Spindler on no account to show any answers he might
receive. At Sacramento her nieces flew to her with confidences.

"We so wanted to see you, Aunt Huldy, for we've heard something so
delightful about your funny Christmas Party!" Mrs. Price's heart
sank, but her eyes snapped. "Only think of it! One of Mr.
Spindler's long-lost relatives--a Mr. Wragg--lives in this hotel,
and papa knows him. He's a sort of half-uncle, I believe, and he's
just furious that Spindler should have invited him. He showed papa
the letter; said it was the greatest piece of insolence in the
world; that Spindler was an ostentatious fool, who had made a
little money and wanted to use him to get into society; and the fun
of the whole thing was that this half-uncle and whole brute is
himself a parvenu,--a vulgar, ostentatious creature, who was only
a"--

"Never mind what he was, Kate," interrupted Mrs. Price hastily. "I
call his conduct a shame."

"So do we," said both girls eagerly. After a pause Kate clasped
her knees with her locked fingers, and rocking backwards and
forwards, said, "Milly and I have got an idea, and don't you say
'No' to it. We've had it ever since that brute talked in that way.
Now, through him, we know more about this Mr. Spindler's family
connections than you do; and we know all the trouble you and he'll
have in getting up this party. You understand? Now, we first want
to know what Spindler's like. Is he a savage, bearded creature,
like the miners we saw on the boat?"

Mrs. Price said that, on the contrary, he was very gentle, soft-
spoken, and rather good-looking.

"Young or old?"

"Young,--in fact, a mere boy, as you may judge from his actions,"
returned Mrs. Price, with a suggestive matronly air.

Kate here put up a long-handled eyeglass to her fine gray eyes,
fitted it ostentatiously over her aquiline nose, and then said, in
a voice of simulated horror, "Aunt Huldy,--this revelation is
shocking!"

Mrs. Price laughed her usual frank laugh, albeit her brown cheek
took upon it a faint tint of Indian red. "If that's the wonderful
idea you girls have got, I don't see how it's going to help
matters," she said dryly.

"No, that's not it? We really have an idea. Now look here."

Mrs. Price "looked here." This process seemed to the superficial
observer to be merely submitting her waist and shoulders to the
arms of her nieces, and her ears to their confidential and coaxing
voices.

Twice she said "it couldn't be thought of," and "it was
impossible;" once addressed Kate as "You limb!" and finally said
that she "wouldn't promise, but might write!"

. . . . . .

It was two days before Christmas. There was nothing in the air,
sky, or landscape of that Sierran slope to suggest the season to
the Eastern stranger. A soft rain had been dropping for a week on
laurel, pine, and buckeye, and the blades of springing grasses and
shyly opening flowers. Sedate and silent hillsides that had grown
dumb and parched towards the end of the dry season became gently
articulate again; there were murmurs in hushed and forgotten
canyons, the leap and laugh of water among the dry bones of dusty
creeks, and the full song of the larger forks and rivers.
Southwest winds brought the warm odor of the pine sap swelling in
the forest, or the faint, far-off spice of wild mustard springing
in the lower valleys. But, as if by some irony of Nature, this
gentle invasion of spring in the wild wood brought only disturbance
and discomfort to the haunts and works of man. The ditches were
overflowed, the fords of the Fork impassable, the sluicing adrift,
and the trails and wagon roads to Rough and Ready knee-deep in mud.
The stage-coach from Sacramento, entering the settlement by the
mountain highway, its wheels and panels clogged and crusted with an
unctuous pigment like mud and blood, passed out of it through the
overflowed and dangerous ford, and emerged in spotless purity,
leaving its stains behind with Rough and Ready. A week of enforced
idleness on the river "Bar" had driven the miners to the more
comfortable recreation of the saloon bar, its mirrors, its florid
paintings, its armchairs, and its stove. The steam of their wet
boots and the smoke of their pipes hung over the latter like the
sacrificial incense from an altar. But the attitude of the men was
more critical and censorious than contented, and showed little of
the gentleness of the weather or season.

"Did you hear if the stage brought down any more relations of
Spindler's?"

The barkeeper, to whom this question was addressed, shifted his
lounging position against the bar and said, "I reckon not, ez far
ez I know."

"And that old bloat of a second cousin--that crimson beak--what kem
down yesterday,--he ain't bin hangin' round here today for his
reg'lar pizon?"

"No," said the barkeeper thoughtfully, "I reckon Spindler's got him
locked up, and is settin' on him to keep him sober till after
Christmas, and prevent you boys gettin' at him."

"He'll have the jimjams before that," returned the first speaker;
"and how about that dead beat of a half-nephew who borrowed twenty
dollars of Yuba Bill on the way down, and then wanted to get off at
Shootersvilie, but Bill wouldn't let him, and scooted him down to
Spindler's and collected the money from Spindler himself afore he'd
give him up?"

"He's up thar with the rest of the menagerie," said the barkeeper,
"but I reckon that Mrs. Price hez bin feedin' him up. And ye know
the old woman--that fifty-fifth cousin by marriage--whom Joe
Chandler swears he remembers ez an old cook for a Chinese
restaurant in Stockton,--darn my skin ef that Mrs. Price hasn't
rigged her out in some fancy duds of her own, and made her look
quite decent."

A deep groan here broke from Uncle Jim Starbuck.

"Didn't I tell ye?" he said, turning appealingly to the others.
"It's that darned widow that's at the bottom of it all! She first
put Spindler up to givin' the party, and now, darn my skin, ef she
ain't goin to fix up these ragamuffins and drill 'em so we can't
get any fun outer 'em after all! And it's bein' a woman that's
bossin' the job, and not Spindler, we've got to draw things mighty
fine and not cut up too rough, or some of the boys will kick."

"You bet," said a surly but decided voice in the crowd.

"And," said another voice, "Mrs. Price didn't live in 'Bleeding
Kansas' for nothing."

"Wot's the programme you've settled on, Uncle Jim?" said the
barkeeper lightly, to check what seemed to promise a dangerous
discussion.

"Well," said Starbuck, "we kalkilate to gather early Christmas
night in Hooper's Hollow and rig ourselves up Injun fashion, and
then start for Spindler's with pitch-pine torches, and have a
'torchlight dance' around the house; them who does the dancin' and
yellin' outside takin' their turn at goin' in and hevin' refreshment.
Jake Cooledge, of Boston, sez if anybody objects to it, we've only
got to say we're 'Mummers of the Olden Times,' sabe? Then, later,
we'll have 'Them Sabbath Evening Bells' performed on prospectin'
pans by the band. Then, at the finish, Jake Cooledge is goin' to
give one of his surkastic speeches,--kinder welcomin' Spindler's
family to the Free Openin' o' Spindler's Almshouse and Reformatory."
He paused, possibly for that approbation which, however, did not
seem to come spontaneously. "It ain't much," he added apologetically,
"for we're hampered by women; but we'll add to the programme ez we
see how things pan out. Ye see, from what we can hear, all of
Spindler's relations ain't on hand yet! We've got to wait, like in
elckshun times, for 'returns from the back counties.' Hello! What's
that?"

It was the swish and splutter of hoofs on the road before the door.
The Sacramento coach! In an instant every man was expectant, and
Starbuck darted outside on the platform. Then there was the usual
greeting and bustle, the hurried ingress of thirsty passengers into
the saloon, and a pause. Uncle Jim returned, excitedly and
pantingly. "Look yer, boys! Ef this ain't the richest thing out!
They say there's two more relations o' Spindler's on the coach,
come down as express freight, consigned,--d'ye hear?--consigned to
Spindler!"

"Stiffs, in coffins?" suggested an eager voice.

"I didn't get to hear more. But here they are."

There was the sudden irruption of a laughing, curious crowd into
the bar-room, led by Yuba Bill, the driver. Then the crowd parted,
and out of their midst stepped two children, a boy and a girl, the
oldest apparently of not more than six years, holding each other's
hands. They were coarsely yet cleanly dressed, and with a certain
uniform precision that suggested formal charity. But more
remarkable than all, around the neck of each was a little steel
chain, from which depended the regular check and label of the
powerful Express Company, Wells; Fargo & Co., and the words: "To
Richard Spindler." "Fragile." "With great care." "Collect on
delivery." Occasionally their little hands went up automatically
and touched their labels, as if to show them. They surveyed the
crowd, the floor, the gilded bar, and Yuba Bill without fear and
without wonder. There was a pathetic suggestion that they were
accustomed to this observation.

"Now, Bobby," said Yuba Bill, leaning back against the bar, with an
air half-paternal, half-managerial, "tell these gents how you came
here."

"By Wellth, Fargoth Expreth," lisped Bobby.

"Whar from?"

"Wed Hill, Owegon."

"Red Hill, Oregon? Why, it's a thousand miles from here," said a
bystander.

"I reckon," said Yuba Bill coolly, "they kem by stage to Portland,
by steamer to 'Frisco, steamer again to Stockton, and then by stage
over the whole line. Allers by Wells, Fargo & Co.'s Express, from
agent to agent, and from messenger to messenger. Fact! They ain't
bin tetched or handled by any one but the Kempany's agents; they
ain't had a line or direction except them checks around their necks!
And they've wanted for nothin' else. Why, I've carried heaps o'
treasure before, gentlemen, and once a hundred thousand dollars in
greenbacks, but I never carried anythin' that was watched and
guarded as them kids! Why, the division inspector at Stockton
wanted to go with 'em over the line; but Jim Bracy, the messenger,
said he'd call it a reflection on himself and resign, ef they
didn't give 'em to him with the other packages! Ye had a pretty
good time, Bobby, didn't ye? Plenty to eat and drink, eh?"

The two children laughed a little weak laugh, turned each other
bashfully around, and then looked up shyly at Yuba Bill and said,
"Yeth."

"Do you know where you are goin'?" asked Starbuck, in a constrained
voice.

It was the little girl who answered quickly and eagerly:--

"Yes, to Krissmass and Sandy Claus."

"To what?" asked Starbuck.

Here the boy interposed with a superior air:--

"Thee meanth Couthin Dick. He'th got Krithmath."

"Where's your mother?"

"Dead."

"And your father?"

"In orthpittal."

There was a laugh somewhere on the outskirts of the crowd. Every
one faced angrily in that direction, but the laugher had disappeared.
Yuba Bill, however, sent his voice after him. "Yes, in hospital!
Funny, ain't it?--amoosin' place! Try it. Step over here, and in
five minutes, by the living Hoky, I'll qualify you for admission,
and not charge you a cent!" He stopped, gave a sweeping glance of
dissatisfaction around him, and then, leaning back against the bar,
beckoned to some one near the door, and said in a disgusted tone,
"You tell these galoots how it happened, Bracy. They make me sick!"

Thus appealed to, Bracy, the express messenger, stepped forward in
Yuba Bill's place.

"It's nothing particular, gentlemen," he said, with a laugh, "only
it seems that some man called Spindler, who lives about here, sent
an invitation to the father of these children to bring his family
to a Christmas party. It wasn't a bad sort of thing for Spindler
to do, considering that they were his poor relations, though they
didn't know him from Adam,--was it?" He paused; several of the
bystanders cleared their throats, but said nothing. "At least,"
resumed Bracy, "that's what the boys up at Red Hill, Oregon,
thought, when they heard of it. Well, as the father was in
hospital with a broken leg, and the mother only a few weeks dead,
the boys thought it mighty rough on these poor kids if they were
done out of their fun because they had no one to bring them. The
boys couldn't afford to go themselves, but they got a little money
together, and then got the idea of sendin' 'em by express. Our
agent at Red Hill tumbled to the idea at once; but he wouldn't take
any money in advance, and said he would send 'em 'C. O. D.' like
any other package. And he did, and here they are! That's all!
And now, gentlemen, as I've got to deliver them personally to this
Spindler, and get his receipt and take off their checks, I reckon
we must toddle. Come, Bill, help take 'em up!"

"Hold on!" said a dozen voices. A dozen hands were thrust into a
dozen pockets; I grieve to say some were regretfully withdrawn
empty, for it was a hard season in Rough and Ready. But the
expressman stepped before them, with warning, uplifted hand.

"Not a cent, boys,--not a cent! Wells, Fargo's Express Company
don't undertake to carry bullion with those kids, at least on the
same contract!" He laughed, and then looking around him, said
confidentially in a lower voice, which, however, was quite audible
to the children, "There's as much as three bags of silver in
quarter and half dollars in my treasure box in the coach that has
been poured, yes, just showered upon them, ever since they started,
and have been passed over from agent to agent and messenger to
messenger,--enough to pay their passage from here to China! It's
time to say quits now. But bet your life, they are not going to
that Christmas party poor!"

He caught up the boy, as Yuba Bill lifted the little girl to his
shoulder, and both passed out. Then one by one the loungers in the
bar-room silently and awkwardly followed, and when the barkeeper
turned back from putting away his decanters and glasses, to his
astonishment the room was empty.

. . . . . .

Spindler's house, or "Spindler's Splurge," as Rough and Ready chose
to call it, stood above the settlement, on a deforested hillside,
which, however, revenged itself by producing not enough vegetation
to cover even the few stumps that were ineradicable. A large
wooden structure in the pseudo-classic style affected by Westerners,
with an incongruous cupola, it was oddly enough relieved by a still
more incongruous veranda extending around its four sides, upheld by
wooden Doric columns, which were already picturesquely covered with
flowering vines and sun-loving roses. Mr. Spindler had trusted the
furnishing of its interior to the same contractor who had
upholstered the gilded bar-room of the Eureka Saloon, and who had
apparently bestowed the same design and material, impartially, on
each. There were gilded mirrors all over the house and chilly
marble-topped tables, gilt plaster Cupids in the corners, and
stuccoed lions "in the way" everywhere. The tactful hands of Mrs.
Price had screened some of these with seasonable laurels, fir
boughs, and berries, and had imparted a slight Christmas flavor to
the house. But the greater part of her time had been employed in
trying to subdue the eccentricities of Spindler's amazing relations;
in tranquilizing Mrs. "Aunt" Martha Spindler,--the elderly cook
before alluded to,--who was inclined to regard the gilded splendors
of the house as indicative of dangerous immorality; in restraining
"Cousin" Morley Hewlett from considering the dining-room buffet as a
bar for "intermittent refreshment;" and in keeping the weak-minded
nephew, Phinney Spindler, from shooting at bottles from the veranda,
wearing his uncle's clothes, or running up an account in his uncle's
name for various articles at the general stores. Yet the
unlooked-for arrival of the two children had been the one great
compensation and diversion for her. She wrote at once to her nieces
a brief account of her miraculous deliverance. "I think these poor
children dropped from the skies here to make our Christmas party
possible, to say nothing of the sympathy they have created in Rough
and Ready for Spindler. He is going to keep them as long as he can,
and is writing to the father. Think of the poor little tots
traveling a thousand miles to 'Krissmass,' as they call it!--though
they were so well cared for by the messengers that their little
bodies were positively stuffed like quails. So, you see, dear, we
will be able to get along without airing your famous idea. I'm
sorry, for I know you're just dying to see it all."

Whatever Kate's "idea" might have been, there certainly seemed now
no need of any extraneous aid to Mrs. Price's management.
Christmas came at last, and the dinner passed off without serious
disaster. But the ordeal of the reception of Rough and Ready was
still to come. For Mrs. Price well knew that although "the boys"
were more subdued, and, indeed, inclined to sympathize with their
host's uncouth endeavor, there was still much in the aspect of
Spindler's relations to excite their sense of the ludicrous.

But here Fortune again favored the house of Spindler with a
dramatic surprise, even greater than the advent of the children had
been. In the change that had come over Rough and Ready, "the boys"
had decided, out of deference to the women and children, to omit
the first part of their programme, and had approached and entered
the house as soberly and quietly as ordinary guests. But before
they had shaken hands with the host and hostess, and seen the
relations, the clatter of wheels was heard before the open door,
and its lights flashed upon a carriage and pair,--an actual private
carriage,--the like of which had not been seen since the governor
of the State had come down to open the new ditch! Then there was a
pause, the flash of the carriage lamps upon white silk, the light
tread of a satin foot on the veranda and in the hall, and the
entrance of a vision of loveliness! Middle-aged men and old
dwellers of cities remembered their youth; younger men bethought
themselves of Cinderella and the Prince! There was a thrill and a
hush as this last guest--a beautiful girl, radiant with youth and
adornment--put a dainty glass to her sparkling eye and advanced
familiarly, with outstretched hand, to Dick Spindler. Mrs. Price
gave a single gasp, and drew back speechless.

"Uncle Dick," said a laughing contralto voice, which, indeed,
somewhat recalled Mrs. Price's own, in its courageous frankness, "I
am so delighted to come, even if a little late, and so sorry that
Mr. M'Kenna could not come on account of business."

Everybody listened eagerly, but none more eagerly and surprisingly
than the host himself. M'Kenna! The rich cousin who had never
answered the invitation! And Uncle Dick! This, then, was his
divorced niece! Yet even in his astonishment he remembered that of
course no one but himself and Mrs. Price knew it,--and that lady
had glanced discreetly away.

"Yes," continued the half-niece brightly. "I came from Sacramento
with some friends to Shootersville, and from thence I drove here;
and though I must return to-night, I could not forego the pleasure
of coming, if it was only for an hour or two, to answer the
invitation of the uncle I have not seen for years." She paused,
and, raising her glasses, turned a politely questioning eye towards
Mrs. Price. "One of our relations?" she said smilingly to Spindler.

"No," said Spindler, with some embarrassment, "a--a friend!"

The half-niece extended her hand. Mrs. Price took it.

But the fair stranger,--what she did and said were the only things
remembered in Rough and Ready on that festive occasion; no one
thought of the other relations; no one recalled them nor their
eccentricities; Spindler himself was forgotten. People only
recollected how Spindler's lovely niece lavished her smiles and
courtesies on every one, and brought to her feet particularly the
misogynist Starbuck and the sarcastic Cooledge, oblivious of his
previous speech; how she sat at the piano and sang like an angel,
hushing the most hilarious and excited into sentimental and even
maudlin silence; how, graceful as a nymph, she led with "Uncle
Dick" a Virginia reel until the whole assembly joined, eager for a
passing touch of her dainty hand in its changes; how, when two
hours had passed,--all too swiftly for the guests,--they stood with
bared heads and glistening eyes on the veranda to see the fairy
coach whirl the fairy princess away! How--but this incident was
never known to Rough and Ready.

It happened in the sacred dressing-room, where Mrs. Price was
cloaking with her own hands the departing half-niece of Mr.
Spindler. Taking that opportunity to seize the lovely relative by
the shoulders and shake her violently, she said: "Oh, yes, and it's
all very well for you, Kate, you limb! For you're going away, and
will never see Rough and Ready and poor Spindler again. But what
am I to do, miss? How am I to face it out? For you know I've got
to tell him at least that you're no half-niece of his!"

"Have you?" said the young lady.

"Have I?" repeated the widow impatiently. "Have I? Of course I
have! What are you thinking of?"

"I was thinking, aunty," said the girl audaciously, "that from what
I've seen and heard to-night, if I'm not his half-niece now, it's
only a question of time! So you'd better wait. Good-night, dear."

And, really,--it turned out that she was right!

WHEN THE WATERS WERE UP AT "JULES'"

When the waters were up at "Jules'" there was little else up on
that monotonous level. For the few inhabitants who calmly and
methodically moved to higher ground, camping out in tents until the
flood had subsided, left no distracting wreckage behind them. A
dozen half-submerged log cabins dotted the tranquil surface of the
waters, without ripple or disturbance, looking in the moonlight
more like the ruins of centuries than of a few days. There was no
current to sap their slight foundations or sweep them away; nothing
stirred that silent lake but the occasional shot-like indentations
of a passing raindrop, or, still more rarely, a raft, made of a
single log, propelled by some citizen on a tour of inspection of
his cabin roof-tree, where some of his goods were still stored.
There was no sense of terror in this bland obliteration of the
little settlement; the ruins of a single burnt-up cabin would have
been more impressive than this stupid and even grotesquely placid
effect of the rival destroying element. People took it naturally;
the water went as it had come,--slowly, impassively, noiselessly; a
few days of fervid Californian sunshine dried the cabins, and in a
week or two the red dust lay again as thickly before their doors as
the winter mud had lain. The waters of Rattlesnake Creek dropped
below its banks, the stage-coach from Marysville no longer made a
detour of the settlement. There was even a singular compensation
to this amicable invasion; the inhabitants sometimes found gold in
those breaches in the banks made by the overflow. To wait for the
"old Rattlesnake sluicing" was a vernal hope of the trusting miner.

The history of "Jules'," however, was once destined to offer a
singular interruption of this peaceful and methodical process. The
winter of 1859-60 was an exceptional one. But little rain had
fallen in the valleys, although the snow lay deep in the high
Sierras. Passes were choked, ravines filled, and glaciers found on
their slopes. And when the tardy rains came with the withheld
southwesterly "trades," the regular phenomenon recurred; Jules'
Flat silently, noiselessly, and peacefully went under water; the
inhabitants moved to the higher ground, perhaps a little more
expeditiously from an impatience born of the delay. The stagecoach
from Marysville made its usual detour and stopped before the
temporary hotel, express offices, and general store of "Jules',"
under canvas, bark, and the limp leaves of a spreading alder. It
deposited a single passenger,--Miles Hemmingway, of San Francisco,
but originally of Boston,--the young secretary of a mining company,
dispatched to report upon the alleged auriferous value of "Jules'."
Of this he had been by no means impressed as he looked down upon
the submerged cabins from the box-seat of the coach and listened to
the driver's lazy recital of the flood, and of the singularly
patient acceptance of it by the inhabitants.

It was the old story of the southwestern miner's indolence and
incompetency,--utterly distasteful to his northern habits of
thought and education. Here was their old fatuous endurance of
Nature's wild caprices, without that struggle against them which
brought others strength and success; here was the old philosophy
which accepted the prairie fire and cyclone, and survived them
without advancement, yet without repining. Perhaps in different
places and surroundings a submission so stoic might have impressed
him; in gentlemen who tucked their dirty trousers in their muddy
boots and lived only for the gold they dug, it did not seem to him
heroic. Nor was he mollified as he stood beside the rude
refreshment bar--a few planks laid on trestles--and drank his
coffee beneath the dripping canvas roof, with an odd recollection
of his boyhood and an inclement Sunday-school picnic. Yet these
men had been living in this shiftless fashion for three weeks! It
exasperated him still more to think that he might have to wait
there a few days longer for the water to subside sufficiently for
him to make his examination and report. As he took a proffered
seat on a candle-box, which tilted under him, and another survey of
the feeble makeshifts around him, his irascibility found vent.

"Why, in the name of God, didn't you, after you had been flooded
out ONCE, build your cabins PERMANENTLY on higher ground?"

Although the tone of his voice was more disturbing than his
question, it pleased one of the loungers to affect to take it
literally.

"Well, ez you've put it that way,--'in the name of God!'"--returned
the man lazily, "it mout hev struck us that ez HE was bossin' the
job, so to speak, and handlin' things round here generally, we
might leave it to Him. It wasn't OUR flood to monkey with."

"And as He didn't coven-ant, so to speak, to look arter this higher
ground 'speshally, and make an Ararat of it for us, ez far ez we
could see, we didn't see any reason for SETTLIN' yer," put in a
second speaker, with equal laziness.

The secretary saw his mistake instantly, and had experience enough
of Western humor not to prolong the disadvantage of his unfortunate
adjuration. He colored slightly and said, with a smile, "You know
what I mean; you could have protected yourselves better. A levee
on the bank would have kept you clear of the highest watermark."

"Hey you ever heard WHAT the highest watermark was?" said the first
speaker, turning to another of the loungers without looking at the
secretary.

"Never heard it,--didn't know there was a limit before," responded
the man.

The first speaker turned back to the secretary. "Did you ever know
what happened at 'Bulger's,' on the North Fork? They had one o'
them levees."

"No. What happened?" asked the secretary impatiently.

"They was fixed suthin' like us," returned the first speaker.
"THEY allowed they'd build a levee above THEIR highest watermark,
and did. It worked like a charm at first; but the water hed to go
somewhere, and it kinder collected at the first bend. Then it
sorter raised itself on its elbows one day, and looked over the
levee down upon whar some of the boys was washin' quite comf'ble.
Then it paid no sorter attention to the limit o' that high
watermark, but went six inches better! Not slow and quiet like ez
it useter to, ez it does HERE, kinder fillin' up from below, but
went over with a rush and a current, hevin' of course the whole
height of the levee to fall on t'other side where the boys were
sluicing." He paused, and amidst a profound silence added, "They
say that 'Bulger's' was scattered promiscuous-like all along the
fort for five miles. I only know that one of his mules and a
section of sluicing was picked up at Red Flat, eight miles away!"

Mr. Hemmingway felt that there WAS an answer to this, but, being
wise, also felt that it would be unavailing. He smiled politely
and said nothing, at which the first speaker turned to him:--

"Thar ain't anything to see to-day, but to-morrow, ez things go,
the water oughter be droppin'. Mebbe you'd like to wash up now and
clean yourself," he added, with a glance at Hemmingway's small
portmanteau. "Ez we thought you'd likely be crowded here, we've
rigged up a corner for you at Stanton's shanty with the women."

The young man's cheek flushed slightly at some possible irony in
this, and he protested with considerable stress that he was quite
ready "to rough it" where he was.

"I reckon it's already fixed," returned the man decisively, "so
you'd better come and I'll show you the way."

"One moment," said Hemmingway, with a smile; "my credentials are
addressed to the manager of the Boone Ditch Company at 'Jules'.'
Perhaps I ought to see him first."

"All right; he's Stanton."

"And"--hesitated the secretary, "YOU, who appear to understand the
locality so well,--I trust I may have the pleasure"--

"Oh, I'm Jules."

The secretary was a little startled and amused. So "Jules" was a
person, and not a place!

"Then you're a pioneer?" asked Hemmingway, a little less
dictatorially, as they passed out under the dripping trees.

"I struck this creek in the fall of '49, comin' over Livermore's
Pass with Stanton," returned Jules, with great brevity of speech
and deliberate tardiness of delivery. "Sent for my wife and two
children the next year; wife died same winter, change bein' too
sudden for her, and contractin' chills and fever at Sweetwater.
When I kem here first thar wasn't six inches o' water in the creek;
out there was a heap of it over there where you see them yallowish-
green patches and strips o' brush and grass; all that war water
then, and all that growth hez sprung up since."

Hemmingway looked around him. The "higher ground" where they stood
was in reality only a mound-like elevation above the dead level of
the flat, and the few trees were merely recent young willows and
alders. The area of actual depression was much greater than he had
imagined, and its resemblance to the bed of some prehistoric inland
sea struck him forcibly. A previous larger inundation than Jules'
brief experience had ever known had been by no means improbable.
His cheek reddened at his previous hasty indictment of the
settlers' ignorance and shiftlessness, and the thought that he had
probably committed his employers to his own rash confidence and
superiority of judgment. However, there was no evidence that this
diluvial record was not of the remote past. He smiled again with
greater security as he thought of the geological changes that had
since tempered these cataclysms, and the amelioration brought by
settlement and cultivation. Nevertheless, he would make a thorough
examination to-morrow.

Stanton's cabin was the furthest of these temporary habitations,
and was partly on the declivity which began to slope to the river's
bank. It was, like the others, a rough shanty of unplaned boards,
but, unlike the others, it had a base of logs laid lengthwise on
the ground and parallel with each other, on which the flooring and
structure were securely fastened. This gave it the appearance of a
box slid on runners, or a Noah's Ark whose bulk had been reduced.
Jules explained that the logs, laid in that manner, kept the shanty
warmer and free from damp. In reply to Hemmingway's suggestion
that it was a great waste of material, Jules simply replied that
the logs were the "flotsam and jetsam" of the creek from the
overflowed mills below.

Hemmingway again smiled. It was again the old story of Western
waste and prodigality. Accompanied by Jules, however, he climbed
up the huge, slippery logs which made a platform before the door,
and entered.

The single room was unequally divided; the larger part containing
three beds, by day rolled in a single pile in one corner to make
room for a table and chairs. A few dresses hanging from nails on
the wall showed that it was the women's room. The smaller
compartment was again subdivided by a hanging blanket, behind which
was a rude bunk or berth against the wall, a table made of a
packing-box, containing a tin basin and a can of water. This was
his apartment.

"The women-folks are down the creek, bakin', to-day," said Jules
explanatorily; "but I reckon that one of 'em will be up here in a
jiffy to make supper, so you just take it easy till they come.
I've got to meander over to the claim afore I turn in, but you just
lie by to-night and take a rest."

He turned away, leaving Hemmingway standing in the doorway still
distraught and hesitating. Nor did the young man recognize the
delicacy of Jules' leave-taking until he had unstrapped his
portmanteau and found himself alone, free to make his toilet,
unembarrassed by company. But even then he would have preferred
the rough companionship of the miners in the common dormitory of
the general store to this intrusion upon the half-civilization of
the women, their pitiable little comforts and secret makeshifts.
His disgust of his own indecision which brought him there naturally
recoiled in the direction of his host and hostesses, and after a
hurried ablution, a change of linen, and an attempt to remove the
stains of travel from his clothes, he strode out impatiently into
the open air again.

It was singularly mild even for the season. The southwest trades
blew softly, and whispered to him of San Francisco and the distant
Pacific, with its long, steady swell. He turned again to the
overflowed Flat beneath him, and the sluggish yellow water that
scarcely broke a ripple against the walls of the half-submerged
cabins. And this was the water for whose going down they were
waiting with an immobility as tranquil as the waters themselves!
What marvelous incompetency,--or what infinite patience! He knew,
of course, their expected compensation in this "ground sluicing" at
Nature's own hand; the long rifts in the banks of the creek which
so often showed "the color" in the sparkling scales of river gold
disclosed by the action of the water; the heaps of reddish mud left
after its subsidence around the walls of the cabins,--a deposit
that often contained a treasure a dozen times more valuable than
the cabin itself! And then he heard behind him a laugh, a short
and panting breath, and turning, beheld a young woman running
towards him.

In his first astounded sight of her, in her limp nankeen sunbonnet,
thrown back from her head by the impetus of her flight, he saw only
too much hair, two much white teeth, too much eye-flash, and, above
all,--as it appeared to him,--too much confidence in the power of
these qualities. Even as she ran, it seemed to him that she was
pulling down ostentatiously the rolled-up sleeves of her pink
calico gown over her shapely arms. I am inclined to think that the
young gentleman's temper was at fault, and his conclusion hasty; a
calmer observer would have detected nothing of this in her frankly
cheerful voice. Nevertheless, her evident pleasure in the meeting
seemed to him only obtrusive coquetry.

"Lordy! I reckoned to git here afore you'd get through fixin' up,
and in time to do a little prinkin' myself, and here you're out
already." She laughed, glancing at his clean shirt and damp hair.
"But all the same, we kin have a talk, and you kin tell me all the
news afore the other wimmen get up here. It's a coon's age since I
was at Sacramento and saw anybody or anything." She stopped and,
instinctively detecting some vague reticence in the man before her,
said, still laughing, "You're Mr. Hemmingway, ain't you?"

Hemmingway took off his hat quickly, with a slight start at his
forgetfulness. "I beg your pardon; yes, certainly."

"Aunty Stanton thought it was 'Hummingbird,'" said the girl, with a
laugh, "but I reckoned not. I'm Jinney Jules, you know; folks call
me 'J. J.' It wouldn't do for a Hummingbird and a Jay Jay to be in
the same camp, would it? It would be just TOO funny!"

Hemmingway did not find the humor of this so singularly exhaustive,
but he was already beginning to be ashamed of his attitude towards
her. "I'm very sorry to be giving you all this trouble by my
intrusion, for I was quite willing to stay at the store yonder.
Indeed," he added, with a burst of frankness quite as sincere as
her own, "if you think your father will not be offended, I would
gladly go there now."

If he still believed in her coquetry and vanity, he would have been
undeceived and crushed by the equal and sincere frankness with
which she met this ungallant speech.

"No! I reckon he wouldn't care, if you'd be as comf'ble and fit
for to-morrow. But ye WOULDN'T," she said reflectively. "The boys
thar sit up late over euchre, and swear a heap, and Simpson, who'd
sleep alongside of ye, snores pow'ful, I've heard. Aunty Stanton
kin do her level at that, too, and they say"--with a laugh--"that I
kin, too, but you're away off in that corner, and it won't reach
you. So, takin' it all, by the large, you'd better stay whar ye
are. We wimmen, that is, the most of us, will be off and away down
to Rattlesnake Bar shoppin' afore sun up, so ye'll sleep ez long ez
ye want to, and find yer breakfast ready when ye wake. So I'll
jest set to and get ye some supper, and ye kin tell me all the
doin's in Sacramento and 'Frisco while I'm workin'."

In spite of her unconscious rebuff to his own vanity, Hemmingway
felt a sense of relief and less constraint in his relations to this
decidedly provincial hostess.

"Can I help you in any way?" he asked eagerly.

"Well, ye MIGHT bring me an armful o' wood from the pile under the
alders, ef ye ain't afraid o' dirtyin' your coat," she said
tentatively.

Mr. Hemmingway was not afraid; he declared himself delighted. He
brought a generous armful of small cut willow boughs, and deposited
them before a small stove, which seemed a temporary substitute for
the usual large adobe chimney that generally occupied the entire
gable of a miner's cabin. An elbow and short length of stovepipe
carried the smoke through the cabin side. But he also noticed that
his fair companion had used the interval to put on a pair of white
cuffs and a collar. However, she brushed the green moss from his
sleeve with some toweling, and although this operation brought her
so near to him that her breath--as soft and warm as the southwest
trades--stirred his hair, it was evident that this contiguity was
only frontier familiarity, as far removed from conscious coquetry
as it was, perhaps, from educated delicacy.

"The boys gin'rally kem to take up enough wood for me to begin
with," she said, "but I reckon they didn't know I was comin' up so
soon."

Hemmingway's distrust returned a little at this obvious suggestion
that he was only a substitute for their general gallantry, but he
smiled and said somewhat bluntly, "I don't suppose you lack for
admirers here."

The girl, however, took him literally. "Lordy, no! Me and Mamie
Robinson are the only girls for fifteen miles along the creek.
ADMIRIN'! I call it jest PESTERIN' sometimes! I reckon I'll hev
to keep a dog!"

Hemmingway shivered. Yes, she was not only conscious, but spoilt
already. He pictured to himself the uncouth gallantries of the
settlement, the provincial badinage, the feeble rivalries of the
young men whom he had seen at the general store. Undoubtedly this
was what she was expecting in HIM!

"Well," she said, turning from the fire she had kindled, "while I'm
settin' the table, tell me what's a-doin' in Sacramento! I reckon
you've got heaps of lady friends thar,--I'm told there's lots of
fashions just from the States."

"I'm afraid I don't know enough of them to interest you," he said
dryly.

"Go on and talk," she replied. "Why, when Tom Flynn kem back from
Sacramento, and he warn't thar more nor a week, he jest slung yarns
about his doin's thar to last the hull rainy season."

Half amused and half annoyed, Hemmingway seated himself on the
little platform beside the open door, and began a conscientious
description of the progress of Sacramento, its new buildings,
hotels, and theatres, as it had struck him on his last visit. For
a while he was somewhat entertained by the girl's vivacity and
eager questioning, but presently it began to pall. He continued,
however, with a grim sense of duty, and partly as a reason for
watching her in her household duties. Certainly she was graceful!
Her tall, lithe, but beautifully moulded figure, even in its
characteristic southwestern indolence, fell into poses as
picturesque as they were unconscious. She lifted the big molasses-
can from its shelf on the rafters with the attitude of a Greek
water-bearer. She upheaved the heavy flour-sack to the same secure
shelf with the upraised palms of an Egyptian caryatid. Suddenly
she interrupted Hemmingway's perfunctory talk with a hearty laugh.
He started, looked up from his seat on the platform, and saw that
she was standing over him and regarding him with a kind of
mischievous pity.

"Look here," she said, "I reckon that'll do! You kin pull up
short! I kin see what's the matter with you; you're jest plumb
tired, tuckered out, and want to turn in! So jest you sit that
quiet until I get supper ready and never mind me." In vain
Hemmingway protested, with a rising color. The girl only shook her
head. "Don't tell me! You ain't keering to talk, and you're only
playin' Sacramento statistics on me," she retorted, with unfeigned
cheerfulness. "Anyhow, here's the wimmen comin', and supper is
ready."

There was a sound of weary, resigned ejaculations and pantings, and
three gaunt women in lustreless alpaca gowns appeared before the
cabin. They seemed prematurely aged and worn with labor, anxiety,
and ill nourishment. Doubtless somewhere in these ruins a flower
like Jay Jules had once flourished; doubtless somewhere in that
graceful nymph herself the germ of this dreary maturity was hidden.
Hemmingway welcomed them with a seriousness equal to their own.
The supper was partaken with the kind of joyless formality which in
the southwest is supposed to indicate deep respect, even the
cheerful Jay falling under the influence, and it was with a feeling
of relief that at last the young man retired to his fenced-off
corner for solitude and repose. He gathered, however, that before
"sun up" the next morning the elder women were going to Rattlesnake
Bar for the weekly shopping, leaving Jay as before to prepare his
breakfast and then join them later. It was already a change in his
sentiments to find himself looking forward to that tete-a-tete with
the young girl, as a chance of redeeming his character in her eyes.
He was beginning to feel he had been stupid, unready, and withal
prejudiced. He undressed himself in his seclusion, broken only by
the monotonous voices in the adjoining apartment. From time to
time he heard fragments and scraps of their conversation, always in
reference to affairs of the household and settlement, but never of
himself,--not even the suggestion of a prudent lowering of their
voices,--and fell asleep. He woke up twice in the night with a
sensation of cold so marked and distinct from his experience of the
early evening, that he was fain to pile his clothes over his
blankets to keep warm. He fell asleep again, coming once more to
consciousness with a sense of a slight jar, but relapsing again
into slumber for he knew not how long. Then he was fully awakened
by a voice calling him, and, opening his eyes, beheld the blanket
partition put aside, and the face of Jay thrust forward. To his
surprise it wore a look of excited astonishment dominated by
irrepressible laughter.

"Get up quick as you kin," she said gaspingly; "this is about the
killingest thing that ever happened!"

She disappeared, but he could still hear her laughing, and to his
utter astonishment with her disappearance the floor seemed to
change its level. A giddy feeling seized him; he put his feet to
the floor; it was unmistakably wet and oozing. He hurriedly
clothed himself, still accompanied by the strange feeling of
oscillation and giddiness, and passed though the opening into the
next room. Again his step produced the same effect upon the floor,
and he actually stumbled against her shaking figure, as she wiped
the tears of uncontrollable mirth from her eyes with her apron.
The contact seemed to upset her remaining gravity. She dropped
into a chair, and, pointing to the open door, gasped, "Look thar!
Lordy! How's that for high?" threw her apron over her head, and
gave way to an uproarious fit of laughter.

Hemmingway turned to the open door. A lake was before him on the
level of the cabin. He stepped forward on the platform; the water
was right and left, all around him. The platform dipped slightly
to his step. The cabin was afloat,--afloat upon its base of logs
like a raft, the whole structure upheld by the floor on which the
logs were securely fastened. The high ground had disappeared--the
river--its banks the green area beyond. They, and THEY alone, were
afloat upon an inland sea.

He turned an astounded and serious face upon her mirth. "When did
it happen?" he demanded. She checked her laugh, more from a sense
of polite deference to his mood than any fear, and said quietly,
"That gets me. Everything was all right two hours ago when the
wimmen left. It was too early to get your breakfast and rouse ye
out, and I felt asleep, I reckon, until I felt a kind o' slump and
a jar." Hemmingway remembered his own half-conscious sensation.
"Then I got up and saw we was adrift. I didn't waken ye, for I
thought it was only a sort of wave that would pass. It wasn't
until I saw we were movin' and the hull rising ground gettin' away,
that I thought o' callin' ye."

He thought of the vanished general store, of her father, the
workers on the bank, the helpless women on their way to the Bar,
and turned almost savagely on her.

"But the others,--where are they?" he said indignantly. "Do you
call that a laughing matter?"

She stopped at the sound of his voice as at a blow. Her face
hardened into immobility, yet when she replied it was with the
deliberate indolence of her father. "The wimmen are up on the
hills by this time. The boys hev bin drowned out many times afore
this and got clear off, on sluice boxes and timber, without
squealing. Tom Flynn went down ten miles to Sayer's once on two
bar'ls, and I never heard that HE was cryin' when they picked him
up."

A flush came to Hemmingway's cheek, but with it a gleam of
intelligence. Of course the inundation was known to them FIRST,
and there was the wreckage to support them. They had clearly saved
themselves. If they had abandoned the cabin, it was because they
knew its security, perhaps had even seen it safely adrift.

"Has this ever happened to the cabin before?" he asked, as he
thought of its peculiar base.

"No."

He looked at the water again. There was a decided current. The
overflow was evidently no part of the original inundation. He put
his hand in the water. It was icy cold. Yes, he understood it
now. It was the sudden melting of snow in the Sierras which had
brought this volume down the canyon. But was there more still to
come?

"Have you anything like a long pole or stick in the cabin?"

"Nary," said the girl, opening her big eyes and shaking her head
with a simulation of despair, which was, however, flatly contradicted
by her laughing mouth.

"Nor any cord or twine?" he continued.

She handed him a ball of coarse twine.

"May I take a couple of these hooks?" he asked, pointing to some
rough iron hooks in the rafters, on which bacon and jerked beef
were hanging.

She nodded. He dislodged the hooks, greased them with the bacon
rind, and affixed them to the twine.

"Fishin'?" she asked demurely.

"Exactly," he replied gravely.

He threw the line in the water. It slackened at about six feet,
straightened, and became taut at an angle, and then dragged. After
one or two sharp jerks he pulled it up. A few leaves and grasses
were caught in the hooks. He examined them attentively.

"We're not in the creek," he said, "nor in the old overflow.
There's no mud or gravel on the hooks, and these grasses don't grow
near water."

"Now, that's mighty cute of you," she said admiringly, as she knelt
beside him on the platform. "Let's see what you've caught. Look
yer!" she added, suddenly lifting a limp stalk, "that's 'old man,'
and thar ain't a scrap of it grows nearer than Springer's Rise,--
four miles from home."

"Are you sure?" he asked quickly.

"Sure as pop! I used to go huntin' it for smellidge."

"For what?" he said, with a bewildered smile.

"For this,"--she thrust the leaves to his nose and then to her own
pink nostrils; "for--for"--she hesitated, and then with a
mischievous simulation of correctness added, "for the perfume."

He looked at her admiringly. For all her five feet ten inches,
what a mere child she was, after all! What a fool he was to have
taken a resentful attitude towards her! How charming and graceful
she looked, kneeling there beside him!

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