Part 1 out of 4
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OPENINGS IN THE OLD TRAIL
by Bret Harte
OPENINGS IN THE OLD TRAIL
I. A MERCURY OF THE FOOT-HILLS
II. COLONEL STARBOTTLE FOR THE PLAINTIFF
III. THE LANDLORD OF THE BIG FLUME HOTEL
IV. A BUCKEYE HOLLOW INHERITANCE
V. THE REINCARNATION OF SMITH
VI. LANTY FOSTER'S MISTAKE
VII. AN ALI BABA OF THE SIERRAS
VIII. MISS PEGGY'S PROTEGES
IX. THE GODDESS OF EXCELSIOR
OPENINGS IN THE OLD TRAIL
by Bret Harte
A MERCURY OF THE FOOT-HILLS
It was high hot noon on the Casket Ridge. Its very scant shade was
restricted to a few dwarf Scotch firs, and was so perpendicularly
cast that Leonidas Boone, seeking shelter from the heat, was
obliged to draw himself up under one of them, as if it were an
umbrella. Occasionally, with a boy's perversity, he permitted one
bared foot to protrude beyond the sharply marked shadow until the
burning sun forced him to draw it in again with a thrill of
satisfaction. There was no earthly reason why he had not sought
the larger shadows of the pine-trees which reared themselves
against the Ridge on the slope below him, except that he was a boy,
and perhaps even more superstitious and opinionated than most boys.
Having got under this tree with infinite care, he had made up his
mind that he would not move from it until its line of shade reached
and touched a certain stone on the trail near him! WHY he did this
he did not know, but he clung to his sublime purpose with the
courage and tenacity of a youthful Casabianca. He was cramped,
tickled by dust and fir sprays; he was supremely uncomfortable--but
he stayed! A woodpecker was monotonously tapping in an adjacent
pine, with measured intervals of silence, which he always firmly
believed was a certain telegraphy of the bird's own making; a
green-and-gold lizard flashed by his foot to stiffen itself
suddenly with a rigidity equal to his own. Still HE stirred not.
The shadow gradually crept nearer the mystic stone--and touched it.
He sprang up, shook himself, and prepared to go about his business.
This was simply an errand to the post-office at the cross-roads,
scarcely a mile from his father's house. He was already halfway
there. He had taken only the better part of one hour for this
However, he now proceeded on his way, diverging only to follow a
fresh rabbit-track a few hundred yards, to note that the animal had
doubled twice against the wind, and then, naturally, he was obliged
to look closely for other tracks to determine its pursuers. He
paused also, but only for a moment, to rap thrice on the trunk of
the pine where the woodpecker was at work, which he knew would make
it cease work for a time--as it did. Having thus renewed his
relations with nature, he discovered that one of the letters he was
taking to the post-office had slipped in some mysterious way from
the bosom of his shirt, where he carried them, past his waist-band
into his trouser-leg, and was about to make a casual delivery of
itself on the trail. This caused him to take out his letters and
count them, when he found one missing. He had been given four
letters to post--he had only three. There was a big one in his
father's handwriting, two indistinctive ones of his mother's, and a
smaller one of his sister's--THAT was gone! Not at all disconcerted,
he calmly retraced his steps, following his own tracks minutely,
with a grim face and a distinct delight in the process, while
looking--perfunctorily--for the letter. In the midst of this slow
progress a bright idea struck him. He walked back to the fir-tree
where he had rested, and found the lost missive. It had slipped out
of his shirt when he shook himself. He was not particularly pleased.
He knew that nobody would give him credit for his trouble in going
back for it, or his astuteness in guessing where it was. He heaved
the sigh of misunderstood genius, and again started for the
post-office. This time he carried the letters openly and
ostentatiously in his hand.
Presently he heard a voice say, "Hey!" It was a gentle, musical
voice,--a stranger's voice, for it evidently did not know how to
call him, and did not say, "Oh, Leonidas!" or "You--look here!" He
was abreast of a little clearing, guarded by a low stockade of bark
palings, and beyond it was a small white dwelling-house. Leonidas
knew the place perfectly well. It belonged to the superintendent
of a mining tunnel, who had lately rented it to some strangers from
San Francisco. Thus much he had heard from his family. He had a
mountain boy's contempt for city folks, and was not himself
interested in them. Yet as he heard the call, he was conscious of
a slightly guilty feeling. He might have been trespassing in
following the rabbit's track; he might have been seen by some one
when he lost the letter and had to go back for it--all grown-up
people had a way of offering themselves as witnesses against him!
He scowled a little as he glanced around him. Then his eye fell on
the caller on the other side of the stockade.
To his surprise it was a woman: a pretty, gentle, fragile creature,
all soft muslin and laces, with her fingers interlocked, and
leaning both elbows on the top of the stockade as she stood under
the checkered shadow of a buckeye.
"Come here--please--won't you?" she said pleasantly.
It would have been impossible to resist her voice if Leonidas had
wanted to, which he didn't. He walked confidently up to the fence.
She really was very pretty, with eyes like his setter's, and as
caressing. And there were little puckers and satiny creases around
her delicate nostrils and mouth when she spoke, which Leonidas knew
"I--I"--she began, with charming hesitation; then suddenly, "What's
"Leonidas! That's a pretty name!" He thought it DID sound pretty.
"Well, Leonidas, I want you to be a good boy and do a great favor
for me,--a very great favor."
Leonidas's face fell. This kind of prelude and formula was
familiar to him. It was usually followed by, "Promise me that you
will never swear again," or, "that you will go straight home and
wash your face," or some other irrelevant personality. But nobody
with that sort of eyes had ever said it. So he said, a little
shyly but sincerely, "Yes, ma'am."
"You are going to the post-office?"
This seemed a very foolish, womanish question, seeing that he was
holding letters in his hand; but he said, "Yes."
"I want you to put a letter of mine among yours and post them all
together," she said, putting one little hand to her bosom and
drawing out a letter. He noticed that she purposely held the
addressed side so that he could not see it, but he also noticed
that her hand was small, thin, and white, even to a faint tint of
blue in it, unlike his sister's, the baby's, or any other hand he
had ever seen. "Can you read?" she said suddenly, withdrawing the
The boy flushed slightly at the question. "Of course I can," he
"Of course, certainly," she repeated quickly; "but," she added,
with a mischievous smile, "you mustn't NOW! Promise me! Promise
me that you won't read this address, but just post the letter, like
one of your own, in the letter-box with the others."
Leonidas promised readily; it seemed to him a great fuss about
nothing; perhaps it was some kind of game or a bet. He opened his
sunburnt hand, holding his own letters, and she slipped hers, face
downward, between them. Her soft fingers touched his in the
operation, and seemed to leave a pleasant warmth behind them.
"Promise me another thing," she added; "promise me you won't say a
word of this to any one."
"Of course!" said Leonidas.
"That's a good boy, and I know you will keep your word." She
hesitated a moment, smilingly and tentatively, and then held out a
bright half-dollar. Leonidas backed from the fence. "I'd rather
not," he said shyly.
"But as a present from ME?"
Leonidas colored--he was really proud; and he was also bright
enough to understand that the possession of such unbounded wealth
would provoke dangerous inquiry at home. But he didn't like to say
it, and only replied, "I can't."
She looked at him curiously. "Then--thank you," she said, offering
her white hand, which felt like a bird in his. "Now run on, and
don't let me keep you any longer." She drew back from the fence as
she spoke, and waved him a pretty farewell. Leonidas, half sorry,
half relieved, darted away.
He ran to the post-office, which he never had done before. Loyally
he never looked at her letter, nor, indeed, at his own again,
swinging the hand that held them far from his side. He entered the
post-office directly, going at once to the letter-box and
depositing the precious missive with the others. The post-office
was also the "country store," and Leonidas was in the habit of
still further protracting his errands there by lingering in that
stimulating atmosphere of sugar, cheese, and coffee. But to-day
his stay was brief, so transitory that the postmaster himself
inferred audibly that "old man Boone must have been tanning Lee
with a hickory switch." But the simple reason was that Leonidas
wished to go back to the stockade fence and the fair stranger, if
haply she was still there. His heart sank as, breathless with
unwonted haste, he reached the clearing and the empty buckeye
shade. He walked slowly and with sad diffidence by the deserted
stockade fence. But presently his quick eye discerned a glint of
white among the laurels near the house. It was SHE, walking with
apparent indifference away from him towards the corner of the
clearing and the road. But this he knew would bring her to the end
of the stockade fence, where he must pass--and it did. She turned
to him with a bright smile of affected surprise. "Why, you're as
swift-footed as Mercury!"
Leonidas understood her perfectly. Mercury was the other name for
quicksilver--and that was lively, you bet! He had often spilt some
on the floor to see it move. She must be awfully cute to have
noticed it too--cuter than his sisters. He was quite breathless
"I put your letter in the box all right," he burst out at last.
"Without any one seeing it?" she asked.
"Sure pop! nary one! The postmaster stuck out his hand to grab it,
but I just let on that I didn't see him, and shoved it in myself."
"You're as sharp as you're good," she said smilingly. "Now,
there's just ONE thing more I want you to do. Forget all about
Her voice was very caressing. Perhaps that was why he said boldly:
"Yes, ma'am, all except YOU."
"Dear me, what a compliment! How old are you?"
"Goin' on fifteen," said Leonidas confidently.
"And going very fast," said the lady mischievously. "Well, then,
you needn't forget ME. On the contrary," she added, after looking
at him curiously, "I would rather you'd remember me. Good-by--or,
rather, good-afternoon--if I'm to be remembered, Leon."
She moved away, and presently disappeared among the laurels. But
her last words were ringing in his ears. "Leon"--everybody else
called him "Lee" for brevity; "Leon"--it was pretty as she said it.
He turned away. But it so chanced that their parting was not to
pass unnoticed, for, looking up the hill, Leonidas perceived his
elder sister and little brother coming down the road, and knew that
they must have seen him from the hilltop. It was like their
They ran to him eagerly.
"You were talking to the stranger," said his sister breathlessly.
"She spoke to me first," said Leonidas, on the defensive.
"What did she say?"
"Wanted to know the eleckshun news," said Leonidas with cool
mendacity, "and I told her."
This improbable fiction nevertheless satisfied them. "What was she
like? Oh, do tell us, Lee!" continued his sister.
Nothing would have delighted him more than to expatiate upon her
loveliness, the soft white beauty of her hands, the "cunning"
little puckers around her lips, her bright tender eyes, the angelic
texture of her robes, and the musical tinkle of her voice. But
Leonidas had no confidant, and what healthy boy ever trusted his
sister in such matter! "YOU saw what she was like," he said, with
But Lee was adamant. "Go and ask her," he said.
"Like as not you were sassy to her, and she shut you up," said his
sister artfully. But even this cruel suggestion, which he could
have so easily flouted, did not draw him, and his ingenious
relations flounced disgustedly away.
But Leonidas was not spared any further allusion to the fair
stranger; for the fact of her having spoken to him was duly
reported at home, and at dinner his reticence was again sorely
attacked. "Just like her, in spite of all her airs and graces, to
hang out along the fence like any ordinary hired girl, jabberin'
with anybody that went along the road," said his mother incisively.
He knew that she didn't like her new neighbors, so this did not
surprise nor greatly pain him. Neither did the prosaic facts that
were now first made plain to him. His divinity was a Mrs.
Burroughs, whose husband was conducting a series of mining
operations, and prospecting with a gang of men on the Casket Ridge.
As his duty required his continual presence there, Mrs. Burroughs
was forced to forego the civilized pleasures of San Francisco for a
frontier life, for which she was ill fitted, and in which she had
no interest. All this was a vague irrelevance to Leonidas, who
knew her only as a goddess in white who had been familiar to him,
and kind, and to whom he was tied by the delicious joy of having a
secret in common, and having done her a special favor. Healthy
youth clings to its own impressions, let reason, experience, and
even facts argue ever to the contrary.
So he kept her secret and his intact, and was rewarded a few days
afterwards by a distant view of her walking in the garden, with a
man whom he recognized as her husband. It is needless to say that,
without any extraneous thought, the man suffered in Leonidas's
estimation by his propinquity to the goddess, and that he deemed
him vastly inferior.
It was a still greater reward to his fidelity that she seized an
opportunity when her husband's head was turned to wave her hand to
him. Leonidas did not approach the fence, partly through shyness
and partly through a more subtle instinct that this man was not in
the secret. He was right, for only the next day, as he passed to
the post-office, she called him to the fence.
"Did you see me wave my hand to you yesterday?" she asked
"Yes, ma'am; but"--he hesitated--"I didn't come up, for I didn't
think you wanted me when any one else was there."
She laughed merrily, and lifting his straw hat from his head, ran
the fingers of the other hand through his damp curls. "You're the
brightest, dearest boy I ever knew, Leon," she said, dropping her
pretty face to the level of his own, "and I ought to have
remembered it. But I don't mind telling you I was dreadfully
frightened lest you might misunderstand me and come and ask for
another letter--before HIM." As she emphasized the personal
pronoun, her whole face seemed to change: the light of her blue
eyes became mere glittering points, her nostrils grew white and
contracted, and her pretty little mouth seemed to narrow into a
straight cruel line, like a cat's. "Not a word ever to HIM, of all
men! Do you hear?" she said almost brusquely. Then, seeing the
concern in the boy's face, she laughed, and added explanatorily:
"He's a bad, bad man, Leon, remember that."
The fact that she was speaking of her husband did not shock the
boy's moral sense in the least. The sacredness of those relations,
and even of blood kinship, is, I fear, not always so clear to the
youthful mind as we fondly imagine. That Mr. Burroughs was a bad
man to have excited this change in this lovely woman was Leonidas's
only conclusion. He remembered how his sister's soft, pretty
little kitten, purring on her lap, used to get its back up and spit
at the postmaster's yellow hound.
"I never wished to come unless you called me first," he said
"What?" she said, in her half playful, half reproachful, but wholly
caressing way. "You mean to say you would never come to see me
unless I sent for you? Oh, Leon! and you'd abandon me in that
But Leonidas was set in his own boyish superstition. "I'd just
delight in being sent for by you any time, Mrs. Burroughs, and you
kin always find me," he said shyly, but doggedly; "but"-- He
"What an opinionated young gentleman! Well, I see I must do all
the courting. So consider that I sent for you this morning. I've
got another letter for you to mail." She put her hand to her
breast, and out of the pretty frillings of her frock produced, as
before, with the same faint perfume of violets, a letter like the
first. But it was unsealed. "Now, listen, Leon; we are going to
be great friends--you and I." Leonidas felt his cheeks glowing.
"You are going to do me another great favor, and we are going to
have a little fun and a great secret all by our own selves. Now,
first, have you any correspondent--you know--any one who writes to
you--any boy or girl--from San Francisco?"
Leonidas's cheeks grew redder--alas! from a less happy consciousness.
He never received any letters; nobody ever wrote to him. He was
obliged to make this shameful admission.
Mrs. Burroughs looked thoughtful. "But you have some friend in San
Francisco--some one who MIGHT write to you?" she suggested
"I knew a boy once who went to San Francisco," said Leonidas
doubtfully. "At least, he allowed he was goin' there."
"That will do," said Mrs. Burroughs. "I suppose your parents know
him or of him?"
"Why," said Leonidas, "he used to live here."
"Better still. For, you see, it wouldn't be strange if he DID
write. What was the gentleman's name?"
"Jim Belcher," returned Leonidas hesitatingly, by no means sure
that the absent Belcher knew how to write. Mrs. Burroughs took a
tiny pencil from her belt, opened the letter she was holding in her
hand, and apparently wrote the name in it. Then she folded it and
sealed it, smiling charmingly at Leonidas's puzzled face.
"Now, Leon, listen; for here is the favor I am asking. Mr. Jim
Belcher"--she pronounced the name with great gravity--"will write
to you in a few days. But inside of YOUR letter will be a little
note to me, which you will bring me. You can show your letter to
your family, if they want to know who it is from; but no one must
see MINE. Can you manage that?"
"Yes," said Leonidas. Then, as the whole idea flashed upon his
quick intelligence, he smiled until he showed his dimples. Mrs.
Burroughs leaned forward over the fence, lifted his torn straw hat,
and dropped a fluttering little kiss on his forehead. It seemed to
the boy, flushed and rosy as a maid, as if she had left a shining
star there for every one to see.
"Don't smile like that, Leon, you're positively irresistible! It
will be a nice little game, won't it? Nobody in it but you and me--
and Belcher! We'll outwit them yet. And, you see, you'll be
obliged to come to me, after all, without my asking."
They both laughed; indeed, quite a dimpled, bright-eyed, rosy,
innocent pair, though I think Leonidas was the more maidenly.
"And," added Leonidas, with breathless eagerness, "I can sometimes
write to--to--Jim, and inclose your letter."
"Angel of wisdom! certainly. Well, now, let's see--have you got
any letters for the post to-day?" He colored again, for in
anticipation of meeting her he had hurried up the family post that
morning. He held out his letters: she thrust her own among them.
"Now," she said, laying her cool, soft hand against his hot cheek,
"run along, dear; you must not be seen loitering here."
Leonidas ran off, buoyed up on ambient air. It seemed just like a
fairy-book. Here he was, the confidant of the most beautiful
creature he had seen, and there was a mysterious letter coming to
him--Leonidas--and no one to know why. And now he had a "call" to
see her often; she would not forget him--he needn't loiter by the
fencepost to see if she wanted him--and his boyish pride and
shyness were appeased. There was no question of moral ethics
raised in Leonidas's mind; he knew that it would not be the real
Jim Belcher who would write to him, but that made the prospect the
more attractive. Nor did another circumstance trouble his
conscience. When he reached the post-office, he was surprised to
see the man whom he knew to be Mr. Burroughs talking with the
postmaster. Leonidas brushed by him and deposited his letters in
the box in discreet triumph. The postmaster was evidently
officially resenting some imputation on his carelessness, and,
concluding his defense, "No, sir," he said, "you kin bet your boots
that ef any letter hez gone astray for you or your wife-- Ye said
your wife, didn't ye?"
"Yes," said Burroughs hastily, with a glance around the shop.
"Well, for you or anybody at your house--it ain't here that's the
fault. You hear me! I know every letter that comes in and goes
outer this office, I reckon, and handle 'em all,"--Leonidas pricked
up his ears,--"and if anybody oughter know, it's me. Ye kin paste
that in your hat, Mr. Burroughs." Burroughs, apparently
disconcerted by the intrusion of a third party--Leonidas--upon what
was evidently a private inquiry, murmured something surlily, and
Leonidas was puzzled. That big man seemed to be "snoopin'" around
for something! He knew that he dared not touch the letter-bag,--
Leonidas had heard somewhere that it was a deadly crime to touch
any letters after the Government had got hold of them once, and he
had no fears for the safety of hers. But ought he not go back at
once and tell her about her husband's visit, and the alarming fact
that the postmaster was personally acquainted with all the letters?
He instantly saw, too, the wisdom of her inclosing her letter
hereafter in another address. Yet he finally resolved not to tell
her to-day,--it would look like "hanging round" again; and--another
secret reason--he was afraid that any allusion to her husband's
interference would bring back that change in her beautiful face
which he did not like. The better to resist temptation, he went
back another way.
It must not be supposed that, while Leonidas indulged in this
secret passion for the beautiful stranger, it was to the exclusion
of his boyish habits. It merely took the place of his intellectual
visions and his romantic reading. He no longer carried books in
his pocket on his lazy rambles. What were mediaeval legends of
high-born ladies and their pages to this real romance of himself
and Mrs. Burroughs? What were the exploits of boy captains and
juvenile trappers and the Indian maidens and Spanish senoritas to
what was now possible to himself and his divinity here--upon Casket
Ridge! The very ground around her was now consecrated to romance
and adventure. Consequently, he visited a few traps on his way
back which he had set for "jackass-rabbits" and wildcats,--the
latter a vindictive reprisal for aggression upon an orphan brood of
mountain quail which he had taken under his protection. For, while
he nourished a keen love of sport, it was controlled by a boy's
larger understanding of nature: a pantheistic sympathy with man and
beast and plant, which made him keenly alive to the strange
cruelties of creation, revealed to him some queer animal feuds, and
made him a chivalrous partisan of the weaker. He had even gone out
of his way to defend, by ingenious contrivances of his own, the
hoard of a golden squirrel and the treasures of some wild bees from
a predatory bear, although it did not prevent him later from
capturing the squirrel by an equally ingenious contrivance, and
from eventually eating some of the honey.
He was late home that evening. But this was "vacation,"--the
district school was closed, and but for the household "chores,"
which occupied his early mornings, each long summer day was a
holiday. So two or three passed; and then one morning, on his
going to the post-office, the postmaster threw down upon the
counter a real and rather bulky letter, duly stamped, and addressed
to Mr. Leonidas Boone! Leonidas was too discreet to open it before
witnesses, but in the solitude of the trail home broke the seal.
It contained another letter with no address--clearly the one SHE
expected--and, more marvelous still, a sheaf of trout-hooks, with
delicate gut-snells such as Leonidas had only dared to dream of.
The letter to himself was written in a clear, distinct hand, and
ran as follows:--
DEAR LEE,--How are you getting on on old Casket Ridge? It seems a
coon's age since you and me was together, and times I get to think
I must just run up and see you! We're having bully times in
'Frisco, you bet! though there ain't anything wild worth shucks to
go to see--'cept the sea lions at the Cliff House. They're just
stunning--big as a grizzly, and bigger--climbing over a big rock or
swimming in the sea like an otter or muskrat. I'm sending you some
snells and hooks, such as you can't get at Casket. Use the fine
ones for pot-holes and the bigger ones for running water or falls.
Let me know when you've got 'em. Write to Lock Box No. 1290.
That's where dad's letters come. So no more at present.
From yours truly,
Not only did Leonidas know that this was not from the real Jim, but
he felt the vague contact of a new, charming, and original
personality that fascinated him. Of course, it was only natural
that one of HER friends--as he must be--should be equally
delightful. There was no jealousy in Leonidas's devotion; he knew
only a joy in this fellowship of admiration for her which he was
satisfied that the other boy must feel. And only the right kind of
boy could know the importance of his ravishing gift, and this Jim
was evidently "no slouch"! Yet, in Leonidas's new joy he did not
forget HER! He ran back to the stockade fence and lounged upon the
road in view of the house, but she did not appear.
Leonidas lingered on the top of the hill, ostentatiously examining
a young hickory for a green switch, but to no effect. Then it
suddenly occurred to him that she might be staying in purposely,
and, perhaps a little piqued by her indifference, he ran off.
There was a mountain stream hard by, now dwindled in the summer
drouth to a mere trickling thread among the boulders, and there was
a certain "pot-hole" that he had long known. It was the lurking-
place of a phenomenal trout,--an almost historic fish in the
district, which had long resisted the attempt of such rude
sportsmen as miners, or even experts like himself. Few had seen
it, except as a vague, shadowy bulk in the four feet of depth and
gloom in which it hid; only once had Leonidas's quick eye feasted
on its fair proportions. On that memorable occasion Leonidas,
having exhausted every kind of lure of painted fly and living bait,
was rising from his knees behind the bank, when a pink five-cent
stamp dislodged from his pocket fluttered in the air, and descended
slowly upon the still pool. Horrified at his loss, Leonidas leaned
over to recover it, when there was a flash like lightning in the
black depths, a dozen changes of light and shadow on the surface, a
little whirling wave splashing against the side of the rock, and
the postage stamp was gone. More than that--for one instant the
trout remained visible, stationary and expectant! Whether it was
the instinct of sport, or whether the fish had detected a new,
subtle, and original flavor in the gum and paper, Leonidas never
knew. Alas! he had not another stamp; he was obliged to leave the
fish, but carried a brilliant idea away with him. Ever since then
he had cherished it--and another extra stamp in his pocket. And
now, with this strong but gossamer-like snell, this new hook, and
this freshly cut hickory rod, he would make the trial!
But fate was against him! He had scarcely descended the narrow
trail to the pine-fringed margin of the stream before his quick ear
detected an unusual rustling through the adjacent underbrush, and
then a voice that startled him! It was HERS! In an instant all
thought of sport had fled. With a beating heart, half opened lips,
and uplifted lashes, Leonidas awaited the coming of his divinity
like a timorous virgin at her first tryst.
But Mrs. Burroughs was clearly not in an equally responsive mood.
With her fair face reddened by the sun, the damp tendrils of her
unwound hair clinging to her forehead, and her smart little
slippers red with dust, there was also a querulous light in her
eyes, and a still more querulous pinch in her nostrils, as she
stood panting before him.
"You tiresome boy!" she gasped, holding one little hand to her side
as she gripped her brambled skirt around her ankles with the other.
"Why didn't you wait? Why did you make me run all this distance
Leonidas timidly and poignantly protested. He had waited before
the house and on the hill; he thought she didn't want him.
"Couldn't you see that THAT MAN kept me in?" she went on peevishiy.
"Haven't you sense enough to know that he suspects something, and
follows me everywhere, dogging my footsteps every time the post
comes in, and even going to the post-office himself, to make sure
that he sees all my letters? Well," she added impatiently, "have
you anything for me? Why don't you speak?"
Crushed and remorseful, Leonidas produced her letter. She almost
snatched it from his hand, opened it, read a few lines, and her
face changed. A smile strayed from her eyes to her lips, and back
again. Leonidas's heart was lifted; she was so forgiving and so
"Is he a boy, Mrs. Burroughs?" asked Leonidas shyly.
"Well--not exactly," she said, her charming face all radiant again.
"He's older than you. What has he written to you?"
Leonidas put his letter in her hand for reply.
"I wish I could see him, you know," he said shyly. "That letter's
bully--it's just rats! I like him pow'ful."
Mrs. Burroughs had skimmed through the letter, but not interestedly.
"You mustn't like him more than you like me," she said laughingly,
caressing him with her voice and eyes, and even her straying hand.
"I couldn't do that! I never could like anybody as I like you,"
said. Leonidas gravely. There was such appalling truthfulness in
the boy's voice and frankly opened eyes that the woman could not
evade it, and was slightly disconcerted. But she presently started
up with a vexatious cry. "There's that wretch following me again,
I do believe," she said, staring at the hilltop. "Yes! Look,
Leon, he's turning to come down this trail. What's to be done? He
mustn't see me here!"
Leonidas looked. It was indeed Mr. Burroughs; but he was evidently
only taking a short cut towards the Ridge, where his men were
working. Leonidas had seen him take it before. But it was the
principal trail on the steep hillside, and they must eventually
meet. A man might evade it by scrambling through the brush to a
lower and rougher trail; but a woman, never! But an idea had
seized Leonidas. "I can stop him," he said confidently to her.
"You just lie low here behind that rock till I come back. He
hasn't seen you yet."
She had barely time to draw back before Leonidas darted down the
trail towards her husband. Yet, in her intense curiosity, she
leaned out the next moment to watch him. He paused at last, not
far from the approaching figure, and seemed to kneel down on the
trail. What was he doing? Her husband was still slowly advancing.
Suddenly he stopped. At the same moment she heard their two voices
in excited parley, and then, to her amazement, she saw her husband
scramble hurriedly down the trail to the lower level, and with an
occasional backward glance, hasten away until he had passed beyond
She could scarcely realize her narrow escape when Leonidas stood by
her side. "How did you do it?" she said eagerly.
"With a rattler!" said the boy gravely.
"With a what?"
"A rattlesnake--pizen snake, you know."
"A rattlesnake?" she said, staring at Leonidas with a quick
snatching away of her skirts.
The boy, who seemed to have forgotten her in his other abstraction
of adventure, now turned quickly, with devoted eyes and a
"Yes; but I wouldn't let him hurt you," he said gently.
"But what did you DO?"
He looked at her curiously. "You won't be frightened if I show
you?" he said doubtfully. "There's nothin' to be afeerd of s'long
as you're with me," he added proudly.
"Yes--that is"--she stammered, and then, her curiosity getting the
better of her fear, she added in a whisper: "Show me quick!"
He led the way up the narrow trail until he stopped where he had
knelt before. It was a narrow, sunny ledge of rock, scarcely wide
enough for a single person to pass. He silently pointed to a cleft
in the rock, and kneeling down again, began to whistle in a soft,
fluttering way. There was a moment of suspense, and then she was
conscious of an awful gliding something,--a movement so measured
yet so exquisitely graceful that she stood enthralled. A narrow,
flattened, expressionless head was followed by a footlong strip of
yellow-barred scales; then there was a pause, and the head turned,
in a beautifully symmetrical half-circle, towards the whistler.
The whistling ceased; the snake, with half its body out of the
cleft, remained poised in air as if stiffened to stone.
"There," said Leonidas quietly, "that's what Mr. Burroughs saw, and
that's WHY he scooted off the trail. I just called out William
Henry,--I call him William Henry, and he knows his name,--and then
I sang out to Mr. Burroughs what was up; and it was lucky I did,
for the next moment he'd have been on top of him and have been
struck, for rattlers don't give way to any one."
"Oh, why didn't you let"-- She stopped herself quickly, but could
not stop the fierce glint in her eye nor the sharp curve in her
nostril. Luckily, Leonidas did not see this, being preoccupied
with his other graceful charmer, William Henry.
"But how did you know it was here?" said Mrs. Burroughs, recovering
"Fetched him here," said Leonidas briefly.
"What in your hands?" she said, drawing back.
"No! made him follow! I HAVE handled him, but it was after I'd
first made him strike his pizen out upon a stick. Ye know, after
he strikes four times he ain't got any pizen left. Then ye kin do
anythin' with him, and he knows it. He knows me, you bet! I've
bin three months trainin' him. Look! Don't be frightened," he
said, as Mrs. Burroughs drew hurriedly back; "see him mind me. Now
scoot home, William Henry."
He accompanied the command with a slow, dominant movement of the
hickory rod he was carrying. The snake dropped its head, and slid
noiselessly out of the cleft across the trail and down the hill.
"Thinks my rod is witch-hazel, which rattlers can't abide,"
continued Leonidas, dropping into a boy's breathless abbreviated
speech. "Lives down your way--just back of your farm. Show ye
some day. Suns himself on a flat stone every day--always cold--
never can get warm. Eh?"
She had not spoken, but was gazing into space with a breathless
rigidity of attitude and a fixed look in her eye, not unlike the
motionless orbs of the reptile that had glided away.
"Does anybody else know you keep him?" she asked.
"Nary one. I never showed him to anybody but you," replied the
"Don't! You must show me where he hides to-morrow," she said, in
her old laughing way. "And now, Leon, I must go back to the
"May I write to him--to Jim Belcher, Mrs. Burroughs?" said the boy
"Certainly. And come to me to-morrow with your letter--I will have
mine ready. Good-by." She stopped and glanced at the trail. "And
you say that if that man had kept on, the snake would have bitten
"Sure pop!--if he'd trod on him--as he was sure to. The snake
wouldn't have known he didn't mean it. It's only natural,"
continued Leonidas, with glowing partisanship for the gentle and
absent William Henry. "YOU wouldn't like to be trodden upon, Mrs.
"No! I'd strike out!" she said quickly. She made a rapid motion
forward with her low forehead and level head, leaving it rigid the
next moment, so that it reminded him of the snake, and he laughed.
At which she laughed too, and tripped away.
Leonidas went back and caught his trout. But even this triumph did
not remove a vague sense of disappointment which had come over him.
He had often pictured to himself a Heaven-sent meeting with her in
the woods, a walk with her, alone, where he could pick her the
rarest flowers and herbs and show her his woodland friends; and it
had only ended in this, and an exhibition of William Henry! He
ought to have saved HER from something, and not her husband. Yet
he had no ill-feeling for Burroughs, only a desire to circumvent
him, on behalf of the unprotected, as he would have baffled a hawk
or a wildcat. He went home in dismal spirits, but later that
evening constructed a boyish letter of thanks to the apocryphal
Belcher and told him all about--the trout!
He brought her his letter the next day, and received hers to
inclose. She was pleasant, her own charming self again, but she
seemed more interested in other things than himself, as, for
instance, the docile William Henry, whose hiding-place he showed,
and whose few tricks she made him exhibit to her, and which the
gratified Leonidas accepted as a delicate form of flattery to
himself. But his yearning, innocent spirit detected a something
lacking, which he was too proud to admit even to himself. It was
his own fault; he ought to have waited for her, and not gone for
So a fortnight passed with an interchange of the vicarious letters,
and brief, hopeful, and disappointing meetings to Leonidas. To add
to his unhappiness, he was obliged to listen to sneering
disparagement of his goddess from his family, and criticisms which,
happily, his innocence did not comprehend. It was his own mother
who accused her of shamefully "making up" to the good-looking
expressman at church last Sunday, and declared that Burroughs ought
to "look after that wife of his,"--two statements which the simple
Leonidas could not reconcile. He had seen the incident, and only
thought her more lovely than ever. Why should not the expressman
think so too? And yet the boy was not happy; something intruded
upon his sports, upon his books, making them dull and vapid, and
yet that something was she! He grew pale and preoccupied. If he
had only some one in whom to confide--some one who could explain
his hopes and fears. That one was nearer than he thought!
It was quite three weeks since the rattlesnake incident, and he was
wandering moodily over Casket Ridge. He was near the Casket, that
abrupt upheaval of quartz and gneiss, shaped like a coffer, from
which the mountain took its name. It was a favorite haunt of
Leonidas, one of whose boyish superstitions was that it contained a
treasure of gold, and one of whose brightest dreams had been that
he should yet discover it. This he did not do to-day, but looking
up from the rocks that he was listlessly examining, he made the
almost as thrilling discovery that near him on the trail was a
He was bestriding a shapely mustang, which well became his handsome
face and slight, elegant figure, and he was looking at Leonidas
with an amused curiosity and a certain easy assurance that were
difficult to withstand. It was with the same fascinating self-
confidence of smile, voice, and manner that he rode up to the boy,
and leaning lightly over his saddle, said with exaggerated
politeness: "I believe I have the pleasure of addressing Mr.
The rising color in Leonidas's face was apparently a sufficient
answer to the stranger, for he continued smilingly, "Then permit me
to introduce myself as Mr. James Belcher. As you perceive, I have
grown considerably since you last saw me. In fact, I've done
nothing else. It's surprising what a fellow can do when he sets
his mind on one thing. And then, you know, they're always telling
you that San Francisco is a 'growing place.' That accounts for
Leonidas, dazed, dazzled, but delighted, showed all his white teeth
in a shy laugh. At which the enchanting stranger leaped from his
horse like a very boy, drew his arm through the rein, and going up
to Leonidas, lifted the boy's straw hat from his head and ran his
fingers through his curls. There was nothing original in that--
everybody did that to him as a preliminary to conversation. But
when this ingenuous fine gentleman put his own Panama hat on
Leonidas's head, and clapped Leonidas's torn straw on his own, and,
passing his arm through the boy's, began to walk on with him,
Leonidas's simple heart went out to him at once.
"And now, Leon," said the delightful stranger, "let's you and me
have a talk. There's a nice cool spot under these laurels; I'll
stake out Pepita, and we'll just lie off there and gab, and not
care if school keeps or not."
"But you know you ain't really Jim Belcher," said the boy shyly.
"I'm as good a man as he is any day, whoever I am," said the
stranger, with humorous defiance, "and can lick him out of his
boots, whoever HE is. That ought to satisfy you. But if you want
my certificate, here's your own letter, old man," he said,
producing Leonidas's last scrawl from his pocket.
"And HERS?" said the boy cautiously.
The stranger's face changed a little. "And HERS," he repeated
gravely, showing a little pink note which Leonidas recognized as
one of Mrs. Burroughs's inclosures. The boy was silent until they
reached the laurels, where the stranger tethered his horse and then
threw himself in an easy attitude beneath the tree, with the back
of his head upon his clasped hands. Leonidas could see his curved
brown mustaches and silky lashes that were almost as long, and
thought him the handsomest man he had ever beheld.
"Well, Leon," said the stranger, stretching himself out comfortably
and pulling the boy down beside him, "how are things going on the
Casket? All serene, eh?"
The inquiry so dismally recalled Leonidas's late feelings that his
face clouded, and he involuntarily sighed. The stranger instantly
shifted his head and gazed curiously at him. Then he took the
boy's sunburnt hand in his own, and held it a moment. "Well, go
on," he said.
"Well, Mr.--Mr.--I can't go on--I won't!" said Leonidas, with a
sudden fit of obstinacy. "I don't know what to call you."
"Call me 'Jack'--'Jack Hamlin' when you're not in a hurry. Ever
heard of me before?" he added, suddenly turning his head towards
The boy shook his head. "No."
Mr. Jack Hamlin lifted his lashes in affected expostulation to the
skies. "And this is Fame!" he murmured audibly.
But this Leonidas did not comprehend. Nor could he understand why
the stranger, who clearly must have come to see HER, should not ask
about her, should not rush to seek her, but should lie back there
all the while so contentedly on the grass. HE wouldn't. He half
resented it, and then it occurred to him that this fine gentleman
was like himself--shy. Who could help being so before such an
angel? HE would help him on.
And so, shyly at first, but bit by bit emboldened by a word or two
from Jack, he began to talk of her--of her beauty--of her kindness--
of his own unworthiness--of what she had said and done--until,
finding in this gracious stranger the vent his pent-up feelings so
long had sought, he sang then and there the little idyl of his
boyish life. He told of his decline in her affections after his
unpardonable sin in keeping her waiting while he went for the
trout, and added the miserable mistake of the rattlesnake episode.
"For it was a mistake, Mr. Hamlin. I oughtn't to have let a lady
like that know anything about snakes--just because I happen to know
"It WAS an awful slump, Lee," said Hamlin gravely. "Get a woman
and a snake together--and where are you? Think of Adam and Eve and
the serpent, you know."
"But it wasn't that way," said the boy earnestly. "And I want to
tell you something else that's just makin' me sick, Mr. Hamlin.
You know I told you William Henry lives down at the bottom of
Burroughs's garden, and how I showed Mrs. Burroughs his tricks!
Well, only two days ago I was down there looking for him, and
couldn't find him anywhere. There's a sort of narrow trail from
the garden to the hill, a short cut up to the Ridge, instead o'
going by their gate. It's just the trail any one would take in a
hurry, or if they didn't want to be seen from the road. Well! I
was looking this way and that for William Henry, and whistlin' for
him, when I slipped on to the trail. There, in the middle of it,
was an old bucket turned upside down--just the thing a man would
kick away or a woman lift up. Well, Mr. Hamlin, I kicked it away,
and"--the boy stopped, with rounded eyes and bated breath, and
added--"I just had time to give one jump and save myself! For
under that pail, cramped down so he couldn't get out, and just
bilin' over with rage, and chockful of pizen, was William Henry!
If it had been anybody else less spry, they'd have got bitten,--and
that's just what the sneak who put it there knew."
Mr. Hamlin uttered an exclamation under his breath, and rose to his
"What did you say?" asked the boy quickly.
"Nothing," said Mr. Hamlin.
But it had sounded to Leonidas like an oath.
Mr. Hamlin walked a few steps, as if stretching his limbs, and then
said: "And you think Burroughs would have been bitten?"
"Why, no!" said Leonidas in astonished indignation; "of course not--
not BURROUGHS. It would have been poor MRS. Burroughs. For, of
course, HE set that trap for her--don't you see? Who else would do
"Of course, of course! Certainly," said Mr. Hamlin coolly. "Of
course, as you say, HE set the trap--yes--you just hang on to that
But something in Mr. Hamlin's manner, and a peculiar look in his
eye, did not satisfy Leonidas. "Are you going to see her now?" he
said eagerly. "I can show you the house, and then run in and tell
her you're outside in the laurels."
"Not just yet," said Mr. Hamlin, laying his hand on the boy's head
after having restored his own hat. "You see, I thought of giving
her a surprise. A big surprise!" he added slowly. After a pause,
he went on: "Did you tell her what you had seen?"
"Of course I did," said Leonidas reproachfully. "Did you think I
was going to let her get bit? It might have killed her."
"And it might not have been an unmixed pleasure for William Henry.
I mean," said Mr. Hamlin gravely, correcting himself, "YOU would
never have forgiven him. But what did she say?"
The boy's face clouded. "She thanked me and said it was very
thoughtful--and kind--though it might have been only an accident"--
he stammered--"and then she said perhaps I was hanging round and
coming there a little too much lately, and that as Burroughs was
very watchful, I'd better quit for two or three days." The tears
were rising to his eyes, but by putting his two clenched fists into
his pockets, he managed to hold them down. Perhaps Mr. Hamlin's
soft hand on his head assisted him. Mr. Hamlin took from his
pocket a notebook, and tearing out a leaf, sat down again and began
to write on his knee. After a pause, Leonidas said,--
"Was you ever in love, Mr. Hamlin?"
"Never," said Mr. Hamlin, quietly continuing to write. "But, now
you speak of it, it's a long-felt want in my nature that I intend
to supply some day. But not until I've made my pile. And don't
YOU either." He continued writing, for it was this gentleman's
peculiarity to talk without apparently the slightest concern
whether anybody else spoke, whether he was listened to, or whether
his remarks were at all relevant to the case. Yet he was always
listened to for that reason. When he had finished writing, he
folded up the paper, put it in an envelope, and addressed it.
"Shall I take it to her?" said Leonidas eagerly.
"It's not for HER; it's for him--Mr. Burroughs," said Mr. Hamlin
The boy drew back. "To get him out of the way," added Hamlin
explanatorily. "When he gets it, lightning wouldn't keep him here.
Now, how to send it," he said thoughtfully.
"You might leave it at the post-office," said Leonidas timidly.
"He always goes there to watch his wife's letters."
For the first time in their interview Mr. Hamlin distinctly
"Your head is level, Leo, and I'll do it. Now the best thing you
can do is to follow Mrs. Burroughs's advice. Quit going to the
house for a day or two." He walked towards his horse. The boy's
face sank, but he kept up bravely. "And will I see you again?" he
Mr. Hamlin lowered his face so near the boy's that Leonidas could
see himself in the brown depths of Mr. Hamlin's eyes. "I hope you
will," he said gravely. He mounted, shook the boy's hand, and rode
away in the lengthening shadows. Then Leonidas walked sadly home.
There was no need for him to keep his promise; for the next morning
the family were stirred by the announcement that Mr. and Mrs.
Burroughs had left Casket Ridge that night by the down stage for
Sacramento, and that the house was closed. There were various
rumors concerning the reason of this sudden departure, but only one
was persistent, and borne out by the postmaster. It was that Mr.
Burroughs had received that afternoon an anonymous note that his
wife was about to elope with the notorious San Francisco gambler,
But Leonidas Boone, albeit half understanding, kept his miserable
secret with a still hopeful and trustful heart. It grieved him a
little that William Henry was found a few days later dead, with his
head crushed. Yet it was not until years later, when he had made a
successful "prospect" on Casket Ridge, that he met Mr. Hamlin in
San Francisco, and knew how he had played the part of Mercury upon
that "heaven-kissing hill."
COLONEL STARBOTTLE FOR THE PLAINTIFF
It had been a day of triumph for Colonel Starbottle. First, for
his personality, as it would have been difficult to separate the
Colonel's achievements from his individuality; second, for his
oratorical abilities as a sympathetic pleader; and third, for his
functions as the leading legal counsel for the Eureka Ditch Company
versus the State of California. On his strictly legal performances
in this issue I prefer not to speak; there were those who denied
them, although the jury had accepted them in the face of the ruling
of the half amused, half cynical Judge himself. For an hour they
had laughed with the Colonel, wept with him, been stirred to
personal indignation or patriotic exaltation by his passionate and
lofty periods,--what else could they do than give him their
verdict? If it was alleged by some that the American eagle, Thomas
Jefferson, and the Resolutions of '98 had nothing whatever to do
with the contest of a ditch company over a doubtfully worded
legislative document; that wholesale abuse of the State Attorney
and his political motives had not the slightest connection with the
legal question raised--it was, nevertheless, generally accepted
that the losing party would have been only too glad to have the
Colonel on their side. And Colonel Starbottle knew this, as,
perspiring, florid, and panting, he rebuttoned the lower buttons of
his blue frock-coat, which had become loosed in an oratorical
spasm, and readjusted his old-fashioned, spotless shirt frill above
it as he strutted from the court-room amidst the handshakings and
acclamations of his friends.
And here an unprecedented thing occurred. The Colonel absolutely
declined spirituous refreshment at the neighboring Palmetto Saloon,
and declared his intention of proceeding directly to his office in
the adjoining square. Nevertheless, the Colonel quitted the
building alone, and apparently unarmed, except for his faithful
gold-headed stick, which hung as usual from his forearm. The crowd
gazed after him with undisguised admiration of this new evidence of
his pluck. It was remembered also that a mysterious note had been
handed to him at the conclusion of his speech,--evidently a
challenge from the State Attorney. It was quite plain that the
Colonel--a practiced duelist--was hastening home to answer it.
But herein they were wrong. The note was in a female hand, and
simply requested the Colonel to accord an interview with the writer
at the Colonel's office as soon as he left the court. But it was
an engagement that the Colonel--as devoted to the fair sex as he
was to the "code"--was no less prompt in accepting. He flicked
away the dust from his spotless white trousers and varnished boots
with his handkerchief, and settled his black cravat under his Byron
collar as he neared his office. He was surprised, however, on
opening the door of his private office, to find his visitor already
there; he was still more startled to find her somewhat past middle
age and plainly attired. But the Colonel was brought up in a
school of Southern politeness, already antique in the republic, and
his bow of courtesy belonged to the epoch of his shirt frill and
strapped trousers. No one could have detected his disappointment
in his manner, albeit his sentences were short and incomplete. But
the Colonel's colloquial speech was apt to be fragmentary
incoherencies of his larger oratorical utterances.
"A thousand pardons--for--er--having kept a lady waiting--er!
But--er--congratulations of friends--and--er--courtesy due to
them--er--interfered with--though perhaps only heightened--by
procrastination--the pleasure of--ha!" And the Colonel completed
his sentence with a gallant wave of his fat but white and well-kept
"Yes! I came to see you along o' that speech of yours. I was in
court. When I heard you gettin' it off on that jury, I says to
myself, 'That's the kind o' lawyer I want. A man that's flowery
and convincin'! Just the man to take up our case."
"Ah! It's a matter of business, I see," said the Colonel, inwardly
relieved, but externally careless. "And--er--may I ask the nature
of the case?"
"Well! it's a breach-o'-promise suit," said the visitor calmly.
If the Colonel had been surprised before, he was now really
startled, and with an added horror that required all his politeness
to conceal. Breach-of-promise cases were his peculiar aversion.
He had always held them to be a kind of litigation which could have
been obviated by the prompt killing of the masculine offender--in
which case he would have gladly defended the killer. But a suit
for damages,--DAMAGES!--with the reading of love-letters before a
hilarious jury and court, was against all his instincts. His
chivalry was outraged; his sense of humor was small, and in the
course of his career he had lost one or two important cases through
an unexpected development of this quality in a jury.
The woman had evidently noticed his hesitation, but mistook its
cause. "It ain't me--but my darter."
The Colonel recovered his politeness. "Ah! I am relieved, my dear
madam! I could hardly conceive a man ignorant enough to--er--er--
throw away such evident good fortune--or base enough to deceive the
trustfulness of womanhood--matured and experienced only in the
chivalry of our sex, ha!"
The woman smiled grimly. "Yes!--it's my darter, Zaidee Hooker--so
ye might spare some of them pretty speeches for HER--before the
The Colonel winced slightly before this doubtful prospect, but
smiled. "Ha! Yes!--certainly--the jury. But--er--my dear lady,
need we go as far as that? Can not this affair be settled--er--out
of court? Could not this--er--individual--be admonished--told that
he must give satisfaction--personal satisfaction--for his dastardly
conduct--to--er--near relative--or even valued personal friend?
The--er--arrangements necessary for that purpose I myself would
He was quite sincere; indeed, his small black eyes shone with that
fire which a pretty woman or an "affair of honor" could alone
kindle. The visitor stared vacantly at him, and said slowly, "And
what good is that goin' to do US?"
"Compel him to--er--perform his promise," said the Colonel, leaning
back in his chair.
"Ketch him doin' it!" she exclaimed scornfully. "No--that ain't
wot we're after. We must make him PAY! Damages--and nothin' short
The Colonel bit his lip. "I suppose," he said gloomily, "you have
documentary evidence--written promises and protestations--er--er--
love-letters, in fact?"
"No--nary a letter! Ye see, that's jest it--and that's where YOU
come in. You've got to convince that jury yourself. You've got to
show what it is--tell the whole story your own way. Lord! to a man
like you that's nothin'."
Startling as this admission might have been to any other lawyer,
Starbottle was absolutely relieved by it. The absence of any
mirth-provoking correspondence, and the appeal solely to his own
powers of persuasion, actually struck his fancy. He lightly put
aside the compliment with a wave of his white hand.
"Of course," he said confidently, "there is strongly presumptive
and corroborative evidence? Perhaps you can give me--er--a brief
outline of the affair?"
"Zaidee kin do that straight enough, I reckon," said the woman;
"what I want to know first is, kin you take the case?"
The Colonel did not hesitate; his curiosity was piqued. "I
certainly can. I have no doubt your daughter will put me in
possession of sufficient facts and details--to constitute what we
"She kin be brief enough--or long enough--for the matter of that,"
said the woman, rising. The Colonel accepted this implied
witticism with a smile.
"And when may I have the pleasure of seeing her?" he asked
"Well, I reckon as soon as I can trot out and call her. She's just
outside, meanderin' in the road--kinder shy, ye know, at first."
She walked to the door. The astounded Colonel nevertheless
gallantly accompanied her as she stepped out into the street and
called shrilly, "You Zaidee!"
A young girl here apparently detached herself from a tree and the
ostentatious perusal of an old election poster, and sauntered down
towards the office door. Like her mother, she was plainly dressed;
unlike her, she had a pale, rather refined face, with a demure
mouth and downcast eyes. This was all the Colonel saw as he bowed
profoundly and led the way into his office, for she accepted his
salutations without lifting her head. He helped her gallantly to a
chair, on which she seated herself sideways, somewhat ceremoniously,
with her eyes following the point of her parasol as she traced a
pattern on the carpet. A second chair offered to the mother that
lady, however, declined. "I reckon to leave you and Zaidee together
to talk it out," she said; turning to her daughter, she added, "Jest
you tell him all, Zaidee," and before the Colonel could rise again,
disappeared from the room. In spite of his professional experience,
Starbottle was for a moment embarrassed. The young girl, however,
broke the silence without looking up.
"Adoniram K. Hotchkiss," she began, in a monotonous voice, as if it
were a recitation addressed to the public, "first began to take
notice of me a year ago. Arter that--off and on"--
"One moment," interrupted the astounded Colonel; "do you mean
Hotchkiss the President of the Ditch Company?" He had recognized
the name of a prominent citizen--a rigid, ascetic, taciturn,
middle-aged man--a deacon--and more than that, the head of the
company he had just defended. It seemed inconceivable.
"That's him," she continued, with eyes still fixed on the parasol
and without changing her monotonous tone--"off and on ever since.
Most of the time at the Free-Will Baptist Church--at morning
service, prayer-meetings, and such. And at home--outside--er--in
"Is it this gentleman--Mr. Adoniram K. Hotchkiss--who--er--promised
marriage?" stammered the Colonel.
The Colonel shifted uneasily in his chair. "Most extraordinary!
for--you see--my dear young lady--this becomes--a--er--most
"That's what maw said," returned the young woman simply, yet with
the faintest smile playing around her demure lips and downcast
"I mean," said the Colonel, with a pained yet courteous smile,
"that this--er--gentleman--is in fact--er--one of my clients."
"That's what maw said too, and of course your knowing him will make
it all the easier for you."
A slight flush crossed the Colonel's cheek as he returned quickly
and a little stiffly, "On the contrary--er--it may make it
impossible for me to--er--act in this matter."
The girl lifted her eyes. The Colonel held his breath as the long
lashes were raised to his level. Even to an ordinary observer that
sudden revelation of her eyes seemed to transform her face with
subtle witchery. They were large, brown, and soft, yet filled with
an extraordinary penetration and prescience. They were the eyes of
an experienced woman of thirty fixed in the face of a child. What
else the Colonel saw there Heaven only knows! He felt his inmost
secrets plucked from him--his whole soul laid bare--his vanity,
belligerency, gallantry--even his mediaeval chivalry, penetrated,
and yet illuminated, in that single glance. And when the eyelids
fell again, he felt that a greater part of himself had been
swallowed up in them.
"I beg your pardon," he said hurriedly. "I mean--this matter may
be arranged--er--amicably. My interest with--and as you wisely
say--my--er--knowledge of my client--er--Mr. Hotchkiss--may effect--
"And DAMAGES," said the young girl, readdressing her parasol, as if
she had never looked up.
The Colonel winced. "And--er--undoubtedly COMPENSATION--if you do
not press a fulfillment of the promise. Unless," he said, with an
attempted return to his former easy gallantry, which, however, the
recollection of her eyes made difficult, "it is a question of--er--
"Which?" asked his fair client softly.
"If you still love him?" explained the Colonel, actually blushing.
Zaidee again looked up; again taking the Colonel's breath away with
eyes that expressed not only the fullest perception of what he had
SAID, but of what he thought and had not said, and with an added
subtle suggestion of what he might have thought. "That's tellin',"
she said, dropping her long lashes again.
The Colonel laughed vacantly. Then feeling himself growing
imbecile, he forced an equally weak gravity. "Pardon me--I
understand there are no letters; may I know the way in which he
formulated his declaration and promises?"
"I beg your pardon," said the mystified lawyer.
"Hymn-books--marked words in them with pencil--and passed 'em on to
me," repeated Zaidee. "Like 'love,' 'dear,' 'precious,' 'sweet,'
and 'blessed,'" she added, accenting each word with a push of her
parasol on the carpet. "Sometimes a whole line outer Tate and
Brady--and Solomon's Song, you know, and sich."
"I believe," said the Colonel loftily, "that the--er--phrases of
sacred psalmody lend themselves to the language of the affections.
But in regard to the distinct promise of marriage--was there--er--
no OTHER expression?"
"Marriage Service in the prayer-book--lines and words outer that--
all marked," Zaidee replied.
The Colonel nodded naturally and approvingly. "Very good. Were
others cognizant of this? Were there any witnesses?"
"Of course not," said the girl. "Only me and him. It was
generally at church-time--or prayer-meeting. Once, in passing the
plate, he slipped one o' them peppermint lozenges with the letters
stamped on it 'I love you' for me to take."
The Colonel coughed slightly. "And you have the lozenge?"
"I ate it."
"Ah," said the Colonel. After a pause he added delicately, "But
were these attentions--er--confined to--er--sacred precincts? Did
he meet you elsewhere?"
"Useter pass our house on the road," returned the girl, dropping
into her monotonous recital, "and useter signal."
"Ah, signal?" repeated the Colonel approvingly.
"Yes! He'd say 'Keerow,' and I'd say 'Keeree.' Suthing like a
bird, you know."
Indeed, as she lifted her voice in imitation of the call, the
Colonel thought it certainly very sweet and birdlike. At least as
SHE gave it. With his remembrance of the grim deacon he had doubts
as to the melodiousness of HIS utterance. He gravely made her
"And after that signal?" he added suggestively.
"He'd pass on."
The Colonel again coughed slightly, and tapped his desk with his
"Were there any endearments--er--caresses--er--such as taking your
hand--er--clasping your waist?" he suggested, with a gallant yet
respectful sweep of his white hand and bowing of his head; "er--
slight pressure of your fingers in the changes of a dance--I mean,"
he corrected himself, with an apologetic cough--"in the passing of
"No; he was not what you'd call 'fond,'" returned the girl.
"Ah! Adoniram K. Hotchkiss was not 'fond' in the ordinary
acceptance of the word," noted the Colonel, with professional
She lifted her disturbing eyes, and again absorbed his in her own.
She also said "Yes," although her eyes in their mysterious
prescience of all he was thinking disclaimed the necessity of any
answer at all. He smiled vacantly. There was a long pause. On
which she slowly disengaged her parasol from the carpet pattern,
and stood up.
"I reckon that's about all," she said.
"Er--yes--but one moment," began the Colonel vaguely. He would
have liked to keep her longer, but with her strange premonition of
him he felt powerless to detain her, or explain his reason for
doing so. He instinctively knew she had told him all; his
professional judgment told him that a more hopeless case had never
come to his knowledge. Yet he was not daunted, only embarrassed.
"No matter," he said. "Of course I shall have to consult with you
Her eyes again answered that she expected he would, and she added
"In the course of a day or two;" he replied quickly. "I will send
She turned to go. In his eagerness to open the door for her, he
upset his chair, and with some confusion, that was actually
youthful, he almost impeded her movements in the hall, and knocked
his broad-brimmed Panama hat from his bowing hand in a final
gallant sweep. Yet as her small, trim, youthful figure, with its
simple Leghorn straw hat confined by a blue bow under her round
chin, passed away before him, she looked more like a child than
The Colonel spent that afternoon in making diplomatic inquiries.
He found his youthful client was the daughter of a widow who had a
small ranch on the cross-roads, near the new Free-Will Baptist
Church--the evident theatre of this pastoral. They led a secluded
life, the girl being little known in the town, and her beauty and
fascination apparently not yet being a recognized fact. The Colonel
felt a pleasurable relief at this, and a general satisfaction he
could not account for. His few inquiries concerning Mr. Hotchkiss
only confirmed his own impressions of the alleged lover,--a
serious-minded, practically abstracted man, abstentive of youthful
society, and the last man apparently capable of levity of the
affections or serious flirtation. The Colonel was mystified, but
determined of purpose, whatever that purpose might have been.
The next day he was at his office at the same hour. He was alone--
as usual--the Colonel's office being really his private lodgings,
disposed in connecting rooms, a single apartment reserved for
consultation. He had no clerk, his papers and briefs being taken
by his faithful body-servant and ex-slave "Jim" to another firm who
did his office work since the death of Major Stryker, the Colonel's
only law partner, who fell in a duel some years previous. With a
fine constancy the Colonel still retained his partner's name on his
doorplate, and, it was alleged by the superstitious, kept a certain
invincibility also through the 'manes' of that lamented and
somewhat feared man.
The Colonel consulted his watch, whose heavy gold case still showed
the marks of a providential interference with a bullet destined for
its owner, and replaced it with some difficulty and shortness of
breath in his fob. At the same moment he heard a step in the
passage, and the door opened to Adoniram K. Hotchkiss. The Colonel
was impressed; he had a duelist's respect for punctuality.
The man entered with a nod and the expectant inquiring look of a
busy man. As his feet crossed that sacred threshold the Colonel
became all courtesy; he placed a chair for his visitor, and took
his hat from his half reluctant hand. He then opened a cupboard
and brought out a bottle of whiskey and two glasses.
"A--er--slight refreshment, Mr. Hotchkiss," he suggested politely.
"I never drink," replied Hotchkiss, with the severe attitude of a
"Ah--er--not the finest Bourbon whiskey, selected by a Kentucky
friend? No? Pardon me! A cigar, then--the mildest Havana."
"I do not use tobacco nor alcohol in any form," repeated Hotchkiss
ascetically. "I have no foolish weaknesses."
The Colonel's moist, beady eyes swept silently over his client's
sallow face. He leaned back comfortably in his chair, and half
closing his eyes as in dreamy reminiscence, said slowly: "Your
reply, Mr. Hotchkiss, reminds me of--er--sing'lar circumstance
that--er--occurred, in point of fact--at the St. Charles Hotel, New
Orleans. Pinkey Hornblower--personal friend--invited Senator
Doolittle to join him in social glass. Received, sing'larly
enough, reply similar to yours. 'Don't drink nor smoke?' said
Pinkey. 'Gad, sir, you must be mighty sweet on the ladies.' Ha!"
The Colonel paused long enough to allow the faint flush to pass
from Hotchkiss's cheek, and went on, half closing his eyes: "'I
allow no man, sir, to discuss my personal habits,' declared
Doolittle, over his shirt collar. 'Then I reckon shootin' must he
one of those habits,' said Pinkey coolly. Both men drove out on
the Shell Road back of cemetery next morning. Pinkey put bullet at
twelve paces through Doolittle's temple. Poor Doo never spoke
again. Left three wives and seven children, they say--two of 'em
"I got a note from you this morning," said Hotchkiss, with badly
concealed impatience. "I suppose in reference to our case. You
have taken judgment, I believe."
The Colonel, without replying, slowly filled a glass of whiskey and
water. For a moment he held it dreamily before him, as if still
engaged in gentle reminiscences called up by the act. Then tossing
it off, he wiped his lips with a large white handkerchief, and
leaning back comfortably in his chair, said, with a wave of his
hand, "The interview I requested, Mr. Hotchkiss, concerns a
subject--which I may say is--er--er--at present NOT of a public or
business nature--although LATER it might become--er--er--both. It
is an affair of some--er--delicacy."
The Colonel paused, and Mr. Hotchkiss regarded him with increased
impatience. The Colonel, however, continued, with unchanged
deliberation: "It concerns--er--er--a young lady--a beautiful,
high-souled creature, sir, who, apart from her personal loveliness--
er--er--I may say is of one of the first families of Missouri,
and--er--not remotely connected by marriage with one of--er--er--my
boyhood's dearest friends." The latter, I grieve to say, was a
pure invention of the Colonel's--an oratorical addition to the
scanty information he had obtained the previous day. "The young
lady," he continued blandly, "enjoys the further distinction of
being the object of such attention from you as would make this
interview--really--a confidential matter--er--er among friends and--
er--er--relations in present and future. I need not say that the
lady I refer to is Miss Zaidee Juno Hooker, only daughter of Almira
Ann Hooker, relict of Jefferson Brown Hooker, formerly of Boone
County, Kentucky, and latterly of--er--Pike County, Missouri."
The sallow, ascetic hue of Mr. Hotchkiss's face had passed through
a livid and then a greenish shade, and finally settled into a
sullen red. "What's all this about?" he demanded roughly.
The least touch of belligerent fire came into Starbottle's eye, but
his bland courtesy did not change. "I believe," he said politely,
"I have made myself clear as between--er--gentlemen, though perhaps
not as clear as I should to--er--er--jury."
Mr. Hotchkiss was apparently struck with some significance in the
lawyer's reply. "I don't know," he said, in a lower and more
cautious voice, "what you mean by what you call 'my attentions'
to--any one--or how it concerns you. I have not exchanged half a
dozen words with--the person you name--have never written her a
line--nor even called at her house."
He rose with an assumption of ease, pulled down his waistcoat,
buttoned his coat, and took up his hat. The Colonel did not move.
"I believe I have already indicated my meaning in what I have
called 'your attentions,'" said the Colonel blandly, "and given you
my 'concern' for speaking as--er--er--mutual friend. As to YOUR
statement of your relations with Miss Hooker, I may state that it
is fully corroborated by the statement of the young lady herself in
this very office yesterday."
"Then what does this impertinent nonsense mean? Why am I summoned
here?" demanded Hotchkiss furiously.
"Because," said the Colonel deliberately, "that statement is
infamously--yes, damnably to your discredit, sir!"
Mr. Hotchkiss was here seized by one of those impotent and
inconsistent rages which occasionally betray the habitually
cautious and timid man. He caught up the Colonel's stick, which
was lying on the table. At the same moment the Colonel, without
any apparent effort, grasped it by the handle. To Mr. Hotchkiss's
astonishment, the stick separated in two pieces, leaving the handle
and about two feet of narrow glittering steel in the Colonel's
hand. The man recoiled, dropping the useless fragment. The
Colonel picked it up, fitted the shining blade in it, clicked the
spring, and then rising with a face of courtesy yet of unmistakably
genuine pain, and with even a slight tremor in his voice, said
"Mr. Hotchkiss, I owe you a thousand apologies, sir, that--er--a
weapon should be drawn by me--even through your own inadvertence--
under the sacred protection of my roof, and upon an unarmed man. I
beg your pardon, sir, and I even withdraw the expressions which
provoked that inadvertence. Nor does this apology prevent you from
holding me responsible--personally responsible--ELSEWHERE for an
indiscretion committed in behalf of a lady--my--er--client."
"Your client? Do you mean you have taken her case? You, the
counsel for the Ditch Company?" asked Mr. Hotchkiss, in trembling
"Having won YOUR case, sir," replied the Colonel coolly, "the--er--
usages of advocacy do not prevent me from espousing the cause of
the weak and unprotected."
"We shall see, sir," said Hotchkiss, grasping the handle of the
door and backing into the passage. "There are other lawyers who"--
"Permit me to see you out," interrupted the Colonel, rising
--"will be ready to resist the attacks of blackmail," continued
Hotchkiss, retreating along the passage.
"And then you will be able to repeat your remarks to me IN THE
STREET," continued the Colonel, bowing, as he persisted in
following his visitor to the door.
But here Mr. Hotchkiss quickly slammed it behind him, and hurried
away. The Colonel returned to his office, and sitting down, took a
sheet of letter-paper bearing the inscription "Starbottle and
Stryker, Attorneys and Counselors," and wrote the following lines:--
HOOKER versus HOTCHKISS.
DEAR MADAM,--Having had a visit from the defendant in above, we
should be pleased to have an interview with you at two P. M.
Your obedient servants,
STARBOTTLE AND STRYKER.
This he sealed and dispatched by his trusted servant Jim, and then
devoted a few moments to reflection. It was the custom of the
Colonel to act first, and justify the action by reason afterwards.
He knew that Hotchkiss would at once lay the matter before rival
counsel. He knew that they would advise him that Miss Hooker had
"no case"--that she would be nonsuited on her own evidence, and he
ought not to compromise, but be ready to stand trial. He believed,
however, that Hotchkiss feared such exposure, and although his own
instincts had been at first against this remedy, he was now
instinctively in favor of it. He remembered his own power with a
jury; his vanity and his chivalry alike approved of this heroic
method; he was bound by no prosaic facts--he had his own theory of
the case, which no mere evidence could gainsay. In fact, Mrs.
Hooker's admission that he was to "tell the story in his own way"
actually appeared to him an inspiration and a prophecy.
Perhaps there was something else, due possibly to the lady's
wonderful eyes, of which he had thought much. Yet it was not her
simplicity that affected him solely; on the contrary, it was her
apparent intelligent reading of the character of her recreant
lover--and of his own! Of all the Colonel's previous "light" or
"serious" loves, none had ever before flattered him in that way.
And it was this, combined with the respect which he had held for
their professional relations, that precluded his having a more
familiar knowledge of his client, through serious questioning or
playful gallantry. I am not sure it was not part of the charm to
have a rustic femme incomprise as a client.
Nothing could exceed the respect with which he greeted her as she
entered his office the next day. He even affected not to notice
that she had put on her best clothes, and he made no doubt appeared
as when she had first attracted the mature yet faithless attentions
of Deacon Hotchkiss at church. A white virginal muslin was belted
around her slim figure by a blue ribbon, and her Leghorn hat was
drawn around her oval cheek by a bow of the same color. She had a
Southern girl's narrow feet, encased in white stockings and kid
slippers, which were crossed primly before her as she sat in a
chair, supporting her arm by her faithful parasol planted firmly on
the floor. A faint odor of southernwood exhaled from her, and,
oddly enough, stirred the Colonel with a far-off recollection of a
pine-shaded Sunday-school on a Georgia hillside, and of his first
love, aged ten, in a short starched frock. Possibly it was the
same recollection that revived something of the awkwardness he had
He, however, smiled vaguely, and sitting down, coughed slightly,
and placed his finger-tips together. "I have had an--er--interview
with Mr. Hotchkiss, but--I--er--regret to say there seems to be no
He paused, and to his surprise her listless "company" face lit up
with an adorable smile. "Of course!--ketch him!" she said. "Was
he mad when you told him?" She put her knees comfortably together
and leaned forward for a reply.
For all that, wild horses could not have torn from the Colonel a
word about Hotchkiss's anger. "He expressed his intention of
employing counsel--and defending a suit," returned the Colonel,
affably basking in her smile.
She dragged her chair nearer his desk. "Then you'll fight him
tooth and nail?" she asked eagerly; "you'll show him up? You'll
tell the whole story your own way? You'll give him fits?--and
you'll make him pay? Sure?" she went on breathlessly.
"I--er--will," said the Colonel, almost as breathlessly.
She caught his fat white hand, which was lying on the table,
between her own and lifted it to her lips. He felt her soft young
fingers even through the lisle-thread gloves that encased them, and
the warm moisture of her lips upon his skin. He felt himself
flushing--but was unable to break the silence or change his
position. The next moment she had scuttled back with her chair to
her old position.
"I--er--certainly shall do my best," stammered the Colonel, in an
attempt to recover his dignity and composure.
"That's enough! You'll do it," said she enthusiastically. "Lordy!
Just you talk for ME as ye did for HIS old Ditch Company, and
you'll fetch it--every time! Why, when you made that jury sit up
the other day--when you got that off about the Merrikan flag waving
equally over the rights of honest citizens banded together in
peaceful commercial pursuits, as well as over the fortress of
"Oligarchy," murmured the Colonel courteously.
--"oligarchy," repeated the girl quickly, "my breath was just took
away. I said to maw, 'Ain't he too sweet for anything!' I did,
honest Injin! And when you rolled it all off at the end--never
missing a word (you didn't need to mark 'em in a lesson-book, but
had 'em all ready on your tongue)--and walked out-- Well! I
didn't know you nor the Ditch Company from Adam, but I could have
just run over and kissed you there before the whole court!"
She laughed, with her face glowing, although her strange eyes were
cast down. Alack! the Colonel's face was equally flushed, and his
own beady eyes were on his desk. To any other woman he would have
voiced the banal gallantry that he should now, himself, look
forward to that reward, but the words never reached his lips. He
laughed, coughed slightly, and when he looked up again she had
fallen into the same attitude as on her first visit, with her
parasol point on the floor.
"I must ask you to--er--direct your memory to--er--another point:
the breaking off of the--er--er--er--engagement. Did he--er--give
any reason for it? Or show any cause?"
"No; he never said anything," returned the girl.
"Not in his usual way?--er--no reproaches out of the hymn-book?--or
the sacred writings?"
"No; he just QUIT."
"Er--ceased his attentions," said the Colonel gravely. "And
naturally you--er--were not conscious of any cause for his doing
The girl raised her wonderful eyes so suddenly and so penetratingly
without replying in any other way that the Colonel could only
hurriedly say: "I see! None, of course!"
At which she rose, the Colonel rising also. "We--shall begin
proceedings at once. I must, however, caution you to answer no
questions, nor say anything about this case to any one until you
are in court."
She answered his request with another intelligent look and a nod.
He accompanied her to the door. As he took her proffered hand, he
raised the lisle-thread fingers to his lips with old-fashioned
gallantry. As if that act had condoned for his first omissions and
awkwardness, he became his old-fashioned self again, buttoned his
coat, pulled out his shirt frill, and strutted back to his desk.
A day or two later it was known throughout the town that Zaidee
Hooker had sued Adoniram Hotchkiss for breach of promise, and that
the damages were laid at five thousand dollars. As in those
bucolic days the Western press was under the secure censorship of a
revolver, a cautious tone of criticism prevailed, and any gossip
was confined to personal expression, and even then at the risk of
the gossiper. Nevertheless, the situation provoked the intensest
curiosity. The Colonel was approached--until his statement that he
should consider any attempt to overcome his professional secrecy a
personal reflection withheld further advances. The community were
left to the more ostentatious information of the defendant's
counsel, Messrs. Kitcham and Bilser, that the case was "ridiculous"
and "rotten," that the plaintiff would be nonsuited, and the fire-
eating Starbottle would be taught a lesson that he could not
"bully" the law, and there were some dark hints of a conspiracy.
It was even hinted that the "case" was the revengeful and
preposterous outcome of the refusal of Hotchkiss to pay Starbottle
an extravagant fee for his late services to the Ditch Company. It
is unnecessary to say that these words were not reported to the
Colonel. It was, however, an unfortunate circumstance for the
calmer, ethical consideration of the subject that the Church sided
with Hotchkiss, as this provoked an equal adherence to the
plaintiff and Starbottle on the part of the larger body of non-
churchgoers, who were delighted at a possible exposure of the
weakness of religious rectitude. "I've allus had my suspicions o'
them early candle-light meetings down at that gospel shop," said
one critic, "and I reckon Deacon Hotchkiss didn't rope in the gals
to attend jest for psalm-singing." "Then for him to get up and
leave the board afore the game's finished and try to sneak out of
it," said an other,--"I suppose that's what they call RELIGIOUS."
It was therefore not remarkable that the court-house three weeks
later was crowded with an excited multitude of the curious and
sympathizing. The fair plaintiff, with her mother, was early in
attendance, and under the Colonel's advice appeared in the same
modest garb in which she had first visited his office. This and
her downcast, modest demeanor were perhaps at first disappointing
to the crowd, who had evidently expected a paragon of loveliness in
this Circe of that grim, ascetic defendant, who sat beside his
counsel. But presently all eyes were fixed on the Colonel, who
certainly made up in his appearance any deficiency of his fair
client. His portly figure was clothed in a blue dress coat with
brass buttons, a buff waistcoat which permitted his frilled shirt-
front to become erectile above it, a black satin stock which
confined a boyish turned-down collar around his full neck, and
immaculate drill trousers, strapped over varnished boots. A murmur
ran round the court. "Old 'Personally Responsible' has got his
war-paint on;" "The Old War-Horse is smelling powder," were
whispered comments. Yet for all that, the most irreverent among
them recognized vaguely, in this bizarre figure, something of an
honored past in their country's history, and possibly felt the
spell of old deeds and old names that had once thrilled their
boyish pulses. The new District Judge returned Colonel Starbottle's
profoundly punctilious bow. The Colonel was followed by his negro
servant, carrying a parcel of hymn-books and Bibles, who, with a
courtesy evidently imitated from his master, placed one before the
opposite counsel. This, after a first curious glance, the lawyer
somewhat superciliously tossed aside. But when Jim, proceeding to
the jury-box, placed with equal politeness the remaining copies
before the jury, the opposite counsel sprang to his feet.
"I want to direct the attention of the Court to this unprecedented
tampering with the jury, by this gratuitous exhibition of matter
impertinent and irrelevant to the issue."
The Judge cast an inquiring look at Colonel Starbottle.
"May it please the Court," returned Colonel Starbottle with dignity,
ignoring the counsel, "the defendant's counsel will observe that he
is already furnished with the matter--which I regret to say he has
treated--in the presence of the Court--and of his client, a deacon
of the church--with--er--great superciliousness. When I state to
your Honor that the books in question are hymn-books and copies of
the Holy Scriptures, and that they are for the instruction of the
jury, to whom I shall have to refer them in the course of my
opening, I believe I am within my rights."
"The act is certainly unprecedented," said the Judge dryly, "but
unless the counsel for the plaintiff expects the jury to SING from
these hymn-books, their introduction is not improper, and I cannot
admit the objection. As defendant's counsel are furnished with
copies also, they cannot plead 'surprise,' as in the introduction
of new matter, and as plaintiff's counsel relies evidently upon the
jury's attention to his opening, he would not be the first person
to distract it." After a pause he added, addressing the Colonel,
who remained standing, "The Court is with you, sir; proceed."
But the Colonel remained motionless and statuesque, with folded
"I have overruled the objection," repeated the Judge; "you may go
"I am waiting, your Honor, for the--er--withdrawal by the
defendant's counsel of the word 'tampering,' as refers to myself,
and of 'impertinent,' as refers to the sacred volumes."
"The request is a proper one, and I have no doubt will be acceded
to," returned the Judge quietly. The defendant's counsel rose and
mumbled a few words of apology, and the incident closed. There
was, however, a general feeling that the Colonel had in some way
"scored," and if his object had been to excite the greatest
curiosity about the books, he had made his point.
But impassive of his victory, he inflated his chest, with his right
hand in the breast of his buttoned coat, and began. His usual high
color had paled slightly, but the small pupils of his prominent
eyes glittered like steel. The young girl leaned forward in her
chair with an attention so breathless, a sympathy so quick, and an
admiration so artless and unconscious that in an instant she
divided with the speaker the attention of the whole assemblage. It
was very hot; the court was crowded to suffocation; even the open
windows revealed a crowd of faces outside the building, eagerly
following the Colonel's words.
He would remind the jury that only a few weeks ago he stood there
as the advocate of a powerful Company, then represented by the
present defendant. He spoke then as the champion of strict justice
against legal oppression; no less should he to-day champion the
cause of the unprotected and the comparatively defenseless--save
for that paramount power which surrounds beauty and innocence--even
though the plaintiff of yesterday was the defendant of to-day. As
he approached the court a moment ago he had raised his eyes and
beheld the starry flag flying from its dome, and he knew that
glorious banner was a symbol of the perfect equality, under the
Constitution, of the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak--an
equality which made the simple citizen taken from the plough in the
field, the pick in the gulch, or from behind the counter in the
mining town, who served on that jury, the equal arbiters of justice
with that highest legal luminary whom they were proud to welcome on
the bench to-day. The Colonel paused, with a stately bow to the
impassive Judge. It was this, he continued, which lifted his heart
as he approached the building. And yet--he had entered it with an
uncertain--he might almost say--a timid step. And why? He knew,
gentlemen, he was about to confront a profound--aye! a sacred
responsibility! Those hymn-books and holy writings handed to the
jury were NOT, as his Honor had surmised, for the purpose of
enabling the jury to indulge in--er--preliminary choral exercise!
He might, indeed, say, "Alas, not!" They were the damning,
incontrovertible proofs of the perfidy of the defendant. And they
would prove as terrible a warning to him as the fatal characters
upon Belshazzar's wall. There was a strong sensation. Hotchkiss
turned a sallow green. His lawyers assumed a careless smile.
It was his duty to tell them that this was not one of those
ordinary "breach-of-promise" cases which were too often the
occasion of ruthless mirth and indecent levity in the court-room.
The jury would find nothing of that here. There were no love-
letters with the epithets of endearment, nor those mystic crosses
and ciphers which, he had been credibly informed, chastely hid the
exchange of those mutual caresses known as "kisses." There was no
cruel tearing of the veil from those sacred privacies of the human
affection; there was no forensic shouting out of those fond
confidences meant only for ONE. But there was, he was shocked to
say, a new sacrilegious intrusion. The weak pipings of Cupid were
mingled with the chorus of the saints,--the sanctity of the temple
known as the "meeting--house" was desecrated by proceedings more in
keeping with the shrine of Venus; and the inspired writings
themselves were used as the medium of amatory and wanton flirtation
by the defendant in his sacred capacity as deacon.
The Colonel artistically paused after this thunderous denunciation.
The jury turned eagerly to the leaves of the hymn-books, but the
larger gaze of the audience remained fixed upon the speaker and the
girl, who sat in rapt admiration of his periods. After the hush,
the Colonel continued in a lower and sadder voice: "There are,
perhaps, few of us here, gentlemen,--with the exception of the
defendant,--who can arrogate to themselves the title of regular
church-goers, or to whom these humbler functions of the prayer-
meeting, the Sunday-school, and the Bible-class are habitually
familiar. Yet"--more solemnly--"down in our hearts is the deep
conviction of our shortcomings and failings, and a laudable desire
that others, at least, should profit by the teachings we neglect.
Perhaps," he continued, closing his eyes dreamily, "there is not a
man here who does not recall the happy days of his boyhood, the
rustic village spire, the lessons shared with some artless village
maiden, with whom he later sauntered, hand in hand, through the
woods, as the simple rhyme rose upon their lips,--
'Always make it a point to have it a rule,
Never to be late at the Sabbath-school.'
He would recall the strawberry feasts, the welcome annual picnic,
redolent with hunks of gingerbread and sarsaparilla. How would
they feel to know that these sacred recollections were now forever
profaned in their memory by the knowledge that the defendant was
capable of using such occasions to make love to the larger girls
and teachers, whilst his artless companions were innocently--the
Court will pardon me for introducing what I am credibly informed is
the local expression--'doing gooseberry'?" The tremulous flicker
of a smile passed over the faces of the listening crowd, and the
Colonel slightly winced. But he recovered himself instantly, and
"My client, the only daughter of a widowed mother--who has for
years stemmed the varying tides of adversity, in the western
precincts of this town--stands before you to-day invested only in
her own innocence. She wears no--er--rich gifts of her faithless
admirer--is panoplied in no jewels, rings, nor mementos of
affection such as lovers delight to hang upon the shrine of their
affections; hers is not the glory with which Solomon decorated the
Queen of Sheba, though the defendant, as I shall show later,
clothed her in the less expensive flowers of the king's poetry.
No, gentlemen! The defendant exhibited in this affair a certain
frugality of--er--pecuniary investment, which I am willing to admit
may be commendable in his class. His only gift was characteristic
alike of his methods and his economy. There is, I understand, a
certain not unimportant feature of religious exercise known as
'taking a collection.' The defendant, on this occasion, by the
mute presentation of a tin plate covered with baize, solicited the
pecuniary contributions of the faithful. On approaching the
plaintiff, however, he himself slipped a love-token upon the plate
and pushed it towards her. That love-token was a lozenge--a small
disk, I have reason to believe, concocted of peppermint and sugar,
bearing upon its reverse surface the simple words, 'I love you!' I
have since ascertained that these disks may be bought for five
cents a dozen--or at considerably less than one half cent for the
single lozenge. Yes, gentlemen, the words 'I love you!'--the
oldest legend of all; the refrain 'when the morning stars sang
together'--were presented to the plaintiff by a medium so
insignificant that there is, happily, no coin in the republic low
enough to represent its value.
"I shall prove to you, gentlemen of the jury," said the Colonel
solemnly, drawing a Bible from his coat-tail pocket, "that the
defendant for the last twelve months conducted an amatory
correspondence with the plaintiff by means of underlined words of
Sacred Writ and church psalmody, such as 'beloved,' 'precious,' and
'dearest,' occasionally appropriating whole passages which seemed
apposite to his tender passion. I shall call your attention to one
of them. The defendant, while professing to be a total abstainer,--
a man who, in my own knowledge, has refused spirituous refreshment
as an inordinate weakness of the flesh,--with shameless hypocrisy
underscores with his pencil the following passage, and presents it
to the plaintiff. The gentlemen of the jury will find it in the
Song of Solomon, page 548, chapter ii. verse 5." After a pause, in
which the rapid rustling of leaves was heard in the jury-box,
Colonel Starbottle declaimed in a pleading, stentorian voice,
"'Stay me with--er--FLAGONS, comfort me with--er--apples--for I am--
er--sick of love.' Yes, gentlemen!--yes, you may well turn from
those accusing pages and look at the double-faced defendant. He
desires--to--er--be--'stayed with flagons'! I am not aware at
present what kind of liquor is habitually dispensed at these
meetings, and for which the defendant so urgently clamored; but it
will be my duty, before this trial is over, to discover it, if I
have to summon every barkeeper in this district. For the moment I
will simply call your attention to the QUANTITY. It is not a
single drink that the defendant asks for--not a glass of light and
generous wine, to be shared with his inamorata, but a number of
flagons or vessels, each possibly holding a pint measure--FOR
The smile of the audience had become a laugh. The Judge looked up