Part 2 out of 4
warningly, when his eye caught the fact that the Colonel had again
winced at this mirth. He regarded him seriously. Mr. Hotchkiss's
counsel had joined in the laugh affectedly, but Hotchkiss himself
sat ashy pale. There was also a commotion in the jury-box, a
hurried turning over of leaves, and an excited discussion.
"The gentlemen of the jury," said the Judge, with official gravity,
"will please keep order and attend only to the speeches of counsel.
Any discussion HERE is irregular and premature, and must be
reserved for the jury-room after they have retired."
The foreman of the jury struggled to his feet. He was a powerful
man, with a good-humored face, and, in spite of his unfelicitous
nickname of "The Bone-Breaker," had a kindly, simple, but somewhat
emotional nature. Nevertheless, it appeared as if he were laboring
under some powerful indignation.
"Can we ask a question, Judge?" he said respectfully, although his
voice had the unmistakable Western American ring in it, as of one
who was unconscious that he could be addressing any but his peers.
"Yes," said the Judge good-humoredly.
"We're finding in this yere piece, out o' which the Kernel hes just
bin a-quotin', some language that me and my pardners allow hadn't
orter be read out afore a young lady in court, and we want to know
of you--ez a fa'r-minded and impartial man--ef this is the reg'lar
kind o' book given to gals and babies down at the meetin'-house."
"The jury will please follow the counsel's speech without comment,"
said the Judge briefly, fully aware that the defendant's counsel
would spring to his feet, as he did promptly.
"The Court will allow us to explain to the gentlemen that the
language they seem to object to has been accepted by the best
theologians for the last thousand years as being purely mystic. As
I will explain later, those are merely symbols of the Church"--
"Of wot?" interrupted the foreman, in deep scorn.
"Of the Church!"
"We ain't askin' any questions o' YOU, and we ain't takin' any
answers," said the foreman, sitting down abruptly.
"I must insist," said the Judge sternly, "that the plaintiff's
counsel be allowed to continue his opening without interruption.
You" (to defendant's counsel) "will have your opportunity to reply
The counsel sank down in his seat with the bitter conviction that
the jury was manifestly against him, and the case as good as lost.
But his face was scarcely as disturbed as his client's, who, in
great agitation, had begun to argue with him wildly, and was
apparently pressing some point against the lawyer's vehement
opposal. The Colonel's murky eyes brightened as he still stood
erect, with his hand thrust in his breast.
"It will be put to you, gentlemen, when the counsel on the other
side refrains from mere interruption and confines himself to reply,
that my unfortunate client has no action--no remedy at law--because
there were no spoken words of endearment. But, gentlemen, it will
depend upon YOU to say what are and what are not articulate
expressions of love. We all know that among the lower animals,
with whom you may possibly be called upon to classify the
defendant, there are certain signals more or less harmonious, as
the case may be. The ass brays, the horse neighs, the sheep
bleats--the feathered denizens of the grove call to their mates in
more musical roundelays. These are recognized facts, gentlemen,
which you yourselves, as dwellers among nature in this beautiful
land, are all cognizant of. They are facts that no one would deny--
and we should have a poor opinion of the ass who, at--er--such a
supreme moment, would attempt to suggest that his call was
unthinking and without significance. But, gentlemen, I shall prove
to you that such was the foolish, self-convicting custom of the
defendant. With the greatest reluctance, and the--er--greatest
pain, I succeeded in wresting from the maidenly modesty of my fair
client the innocent confession that the defendant had induced her
to correspond with him in these methods. Picture to yourself,
gentlemen, the lonely moonlight road beside the widow's humble
cottage. It is a beautiful night, sanctified to the affections,
and the innocent girl is leaning from her casement. Presently
there appears upon the road a slinking, stealthy figure, the
defendant on his way to church. True to the instruction she has
received from him, her lips part in the musical utterance" (the
Colonel lowered his voice in a faint falsetto, presumably in fond
imitation of his fair client), "'Keeree!' Instantly the night
becomes resonant with the impassioned reply" (the Colonel here
lifted his voice in stentorian tones), "'Kee-row.' Again, as he
passes, rises the soft 'Keeree;' again, as his form is lost in the
distance, comes back the deep 'Keerow.'"
A burst of laughter, long, loud, and irrepressible, struck the
whole court-room, and before the Judge could lift his half-composed
face and take his handkerchief from his mouth, a faint "Keeree"
from some unrecognized obscurity of the court-room was followed by
a loud "Keerow" from some opposite locality. "The Sheriff will
clear the court," said the Judge sternly; but, alas! as the
embarrassed and choking officials rushed hither and thither, a soft
"Keeree" from the spectators at the window, OUTSIDE the court-
house, was answered by a loud chorus of "Keerows" from the opposite
windows, filled with onlookers. Again the laughter arose
everywhere,--even the fair plaintiff herself sat convulsed behind
The figure of Colonel Starbottle alone remained erect--white and
rigid. And then the Judge, looking up, saw--what no one else in
the court had seen--that the Colonel was sincere and in earnest;
that what he had conceived to be the pleader's most perfect acting
and most elaborate irony were the deep, serious, mirthless
CONVICTIONS of a man without the least sense of humor. There was
the respect of this conviction in the Judge's voice as he said to
him gently, "You may proceed, Colonel Starbottle."
"I thank your Honor," said the Colonel slowly, "for recognizing and
doing all in your power to prevent an interruption that, during my
thirty years' experience at the bar, I have never been subjected to
without the privilege of holding the instigators thereof
responsible--PERSONALLY responsible. It is possibly my fault that
I have failed, oratorically, to convey to the gentlemen of the jury
the full force and significance of the defendant's signals. I am
aware that my voice is singularly deficient in producing either the
dulcet tones of my fair client or the impassioned vehemence of the
defendant's response. I will," continued the Colonel, with a
fatigued but blind fatuity that ignored the hurriedly knit brows
and warning eyes of the Judge, "try again. The note uttered by my
client" (lowering his voice to the faintest of falsettos) "was
'Keeree;' the response was 'Keerow-ow.'" And the Colonel's voice
fairly shook the dome above him.
Another uproar of laughter followed this apparently audacious
repetition, but was interrupted by an unlooked-for incident. The
defendant rose abruptly, and tearing himself away from the
withholding hand and pleading protestations of his counsel,
absolutely fled from the court-room, his appearance outside being
recognized by a prolonged "Keerow" from the bystanders, which again
and again followed him in the distance.
In the momentary silence which followed, the Colonel's voice was
heard saying, "We rest here, your Honor," and he sat down. No less
white, but more agitated, was the face of the defendant's counsel,
who instantly rose.
"For some unexplained reason, your Honor, my client desires to
suspend further proceedings, with a view to effect a peaceable
compromise with the plaintiff. As he is a man of wealth and
position, he is able and willing to pay liberally for that
privilege. While I, as his counsel, am still convinced of his
legal irresponsibility, as he has chosen publicly to abandon his
rights here, I can only ask your Honor's permission to suspend
further proceedings until I can confer with Colonel Starbottle."
"As far as I can follow the pleadings," said the Judge gravely,
"the case seems to be hardly one for litigation, and I approve of
the defendant's course, while I strongly urge the plaintiff to
Colonel Starbottle bent over his fair client. Presently he rose,
unchanged in look or demeanor. "I yield, your Honor, to the wishes
of my client, and--er--lady. We accept."
Before the court adjourned that day it was known throughout the
town that Adoniram K. Hotchkiss had compromised the suit for four
thousand dollars and costs.
Colonel Starbottle had so far recovered his equanimity as to strut
jauntily towards his office, where he was to meet his fair client.
He was surprised, however, to find her already there, and in
company with a somewhat sheepish-looking young man--a stranger. If
the Colonel had any disappointment in meeting a third party to the
interview, his old-fashioned courtesy did not permit him to show
it. He bowed graciously, and politely motioned them each to a seat.
"I reckoned I'd bring Hiram round with me," said the young lady,
lifting her searching eyes, after a pause, to the Colonel's,
"though he WAS awful shy, and allowed that you didn't know him from
Adam, or even suspect his existence. But I said, 'That's just
where you slip up, Hiram; a pow'ful man like the Colonel knows
everything--and I've seen it in his eye.' Lordy!" she continued,
with a laugh, leaning forward over her parasol, as her eyes again
sought the Colonel's, "don't you remember when you asked me if I
loved that old Hotchkiss, and I told you, 'That's tellin',' and you
looked at me--Lordy! I knew THEN you suspected there was a Hiram
SOMEWHERE, as good as if I'd told you. Now you jest get up, Hiram,
and give the Colonel a good hand-shake. For if it wasn't for HIM
and HIS searchin' ways, and HIS awful power of language, I wouldn't
hev got that four thousand dollars out o' that flirty fool
Hotchkiss--enough to buy a farm, so as you and me could get
married! That's what you owe to HIM. Don't stand there like a
stuck fool starin' at him. He won't eat you--though he's killed
many a better man. Come, have I got to do ALL the kissin'?"
It is of record that the Colonel bowed so courteously and so
profoundly that he managed not merely to evade the proffered hand
of the shy Hiram, but to only lightly touch the franker and more
impulsive finger-tips of the gentle Zaidee. "I--er--offer my
sincerest congratulations--though I think you--er--overestimate--
my--er--powers of penetration. Unfortunately, a pressing
engagement, which may oblige me also to leave town tonight, forbids
my saying more. I have--er--left the--er--business settlement of
this--er--case in the hands of the lawyers who do my office work,
and who will show you every attention. And now let me wish you a
very good afternoon."
Nevertheless, the Colonel returned to his private room, and it was
nearly twilight when the faithful Jim entered, to find him sitting
meditatively before his desk. "'Fo' God! Kernel, I hope dey ain't
nuffin de matter, but you's lookin' mighty solemn! I ain't seen
you look dat way, Kernel, since de day pooh Massa Stryker was
fetched home shot froo de head."
"Hand me down the whiskey, Jim," said the Colonel, rising slowly.
The negro flew to the closet joyfully, and brought out the bottle.
The Colonel poured out a glass of the spirit and drank it with his
"You're quite right, Jim," he said, putting down his glass, "but
I'm--er--getting old--and--somehow I am missing poor Stryker
THE LANDLORD OF THE BIG FLUME HOTEL
The Big Flume stage-coach had just drawn up at the Big Flume Hotel
simultaneously with the ringing of a large dinner bell in the two
hands of a negro waiter, who, by certain gyrations of the bell was
trying to impart to his performance that picturesque elegance and
harmony which the instrument and its purpose lacked. For the
refreshment thus proclaimed was only the ordinary station dinner,
protracted at Big Flume for three quarters of an hour, to allow for
the arrival of the connecting mail from Sacramento, although the
repast was of a nature that seldom prevailed upon the traveler to
linger the full period over its details. The ordinary cravings of
hunger were generally satisfied in half an hour, and the remaining
minutes were employed by the passengers in drowning the memory of
their meal in "drinks at the bar," in smoking, and even in a
hurried game of "old sledge," or dominoes. Yet to-day the deserted
table was still occupied by a belated traveler, and a lady--
separated by a wilderness of empty dishes--who had arrived after
the stage-coach. Observing which, the landlord, perhaps touched by
this unwonted appreciation of his fare, moved forward to give them
his personal attention.
He was a man, however, who seemed to be singularly deficient in
those supreme qualities which in the West have exalted the ability
to "keep a hotel" into a proverbial synonym for superexcellence.
He had little or no innovating genius, no trade devices, no
assumption, no faculty for advertisement, no progressiveness, and
no "racket." He had the tolerant good-humor of the Southwestern
pioneer, to whom cyclones, famine, drought, floods, pestilence, and
savages were things to be accepted, and whom disaster, if it did
not stimulate, certainly did not appall. He received the insults,
complaints, and criticisms of hurried and hungry passengers, the
comments and threats of the Stage Company as he had submitted to
the aggressions of a stupid, unjust, but overruling Nature--with
unshaken calm. Perhaps herein lay his strength. People were
obliged to submit to him and his hotel as part of the unfinished
civilization, and they even saw something humorous in his
impassiveness. Those who preferred to remonstrate with him emerged
from the discussion with the general feeling of having been played
with by a large-hearted and paternally disposed bear. Tall and
long-limbed, with much strength in his lazy muscles, there was also
a prevailing impression that this feeling might be intensified if
the discussion were ever carried to physical contention. Of his
personal history it was known only that he had emigrated from
Wisconsin in 1852, that he had calmly unyoked his ox teams at Big
Flume, then a trackless wilderness, and on the opening of a wagon
road to the new mines had built a wayside station which eventually
developed into the present hotel. He had been divorced in a
Western State by his wife "Rosalie," locally known as "The Prairie
Flower of Elkham Creek," for incompatibility of temper! Her temper
was not stated.
Such was Abner Langworthy, the proprietor, as he moved leisurely
down towards the lady guest, who was nearest, and who was sitting
with her back to the passage between the tables. Stopping,
occasionally, to professionally adjust the tablecloths and glasses,
he at last reached her side.
"Ef there's anythin' more ye want that ye ain't seein', ma'am," he
began--and stopped suddenly. For the lady had looked up at the
sound of his voice. It was his divorced wife, whom he had not seen
since their separation. The recognition was instantaneous, mutual,
and characterized by perfect equanimity on both sides.
"Well! I wanter know!" said the lady, although the exclamation
point was purely conventional. "Abner Langworthy! though perhaps
I've no call to say 'Abner.'"
"Same to you, Rosalie--though I say it too," returned the landlord.
"But hol' on just a minit." He moved forward to the other guest,
put the same perfunctory question regarding his needs, received a
negative answer, and then returned to the lady and dropped into a
chair opposite to her.
"You're looking peart and--fleshy," he said resignedly, as if he
were tolerating his own conventional politeness with his other
difficulties; "unless," he added cautiously, "you're takin' on some
"No! I'm fairly comf'ble," responded the lady calmly, "and you're
gettin' on in the vale, ez is natural--though you still kind o' run
to bone, as you used."
There was not a trace of malevolence in either of their comments,
only a resigned recognition of certain unpleasant truths which
seemed to have been habitual to both of them. Mr. Langworthy
paused to flick away some flies from the butter with his
professional napkin, and resumed,--
"It must be a matter o' five years sens I last saw ye, isn't it?--
in court arter you got the decree--you remember?"
"Yes--the 28th o' July, '51. I paid Lawyer Hoskins's bill that
very day--that's how I remember," returned the lady. "You've got a
big business here," she continued, glancing round the room; "I
reckon you're makin' it pay. Don't seem to be in your line,
though; but then, thar wasn't many things that was."
"No--that's so," responded Mr. Langworthy, nodding his head, as
assenting to an undeniable proposition, "and you--I suppose you're
gettin' on too. I reckon you're--er--married--eh?"--with a slight
suggestion of putting the question delicately.
The lady nodded, ignoring the hesitation. "Yes, let me see, it's
just three years and three days. Constantine Byers--I don't reckon
you know him--from Milwaukee. Timber merchant. Standin' timber's
"And I reckon he's--satisfactory?"
"Yes! Mr. Byers is a good provider--and handy. And you? I should
say you'd want a wife in this business?"
Mr. Langworthy's serious half-perfunctory manner here took on an
appearance of interest. "Yes--I've bin thinkin' that way. Thar's
a young woman helpin' in the kitchen ez might do, though I'm not
certain, and I ain't lettin' on anything as yet. You might take a
look at her, Rosalie,--I orter say Mrs. Byers ez is,--and kinder
size her up, and gimme the result. It's still wantin' seven
minutes o' schedule time afore the stage goes, and--if you ain't
wantin' more food"--delicately, as became a landord--"and ain't got
anythin' else to do, it might pass the time."
Strange as it may seem, Mrs. Byers here displayed an equal animation
in her fresh face as she rose promptly to her feet and began to
rearrange her dust cloak around her buxom figure. "I don't mind,
Abner," she said, "and I don't think that Mr. Byers would mind
either;" then seeing Langworthy hesitating at the latter unexpected
suggestion, she added confidently, "and I wouldn't mind even if he
did, for I'm sure if I don't know the kind o' woman you'd be likely
to need, I don't know who would. Only last week I was sayin' like
that to Mr. Byers"--
"To Mr. Byers?" said Abner, with some surprise.
"Yes--to him. I said, 'We've been married three years, Constantine,
and ef I don't know by this time what kind o' woman you need
now--and might need in future--why, thar ain't much use in
"You was always wise, Rosalie," said Abner, with reminiscent
"I was always there, Abner," returned Mrs. Byers, with a complacent
show of dimples, which she, however, chastened into that
resignation which seemed characteristic of the pair. "Let's see
your 'intended'--as might be."
Thus supported, Mr. Langworthy led Mrs. Byers into the hall through
a crowd of loungers, into a smaller hall, and there opened the door
of the kitchen. It was a large room, whose windows were half
darkened by the encompassing pines which still pressed around the
house on the scantily cleared site. A number of men and women,
among them a Chinaman and a negro, were engaged in washing dishes
and other culinary duties; and beside the window stood a young
blonde girl, who was wiping a tin pan which she was also using to
hide a burst of laughter evidently caused by the abrupt entrance of
her employer. A quantity of fluffy hair and part of a white, bared
arm were nevertheless visible outside the disk, and Mrs. Byers
gathered from the direction of Mr. Langworthy's eyes, assisted by a
slight nudge from his elbow, that this was the selected fair one.
His feeble explanatory introduction, addressed to the occupants
generally, "Just showing the house to Mrs.--er--Dusenberry,"
convinced her that the circumstances of his having been divorced he
had not yet confided to the young woman. As he turned almost
immediately away, Mrs. Byers in following him managed to get a
better look at the girl, as she was exchanging some facetious
remark to a neighbor. Mr. Langworthy did not speak until they had
reached the deserted dining-room again.
"Well?" he said briefly, glancing at the clock, "what did ye think
o' Mary Ellen?"
To any ordinary observer the girl in question would have seemed the
least fitted in age, sobriety of deportment, and administrative
capacity to fill the situation thus proposed for her, but Mrs.
Byers was not an ordinary observer, and her auditor was not an
"She's older than she gives herself out to be," said Mrs. Byers
tentatively, "and them kitten ways don't amount to much."
Mr. Langworthy nodded. Had Mrs. Byers discovered a homicidal
tendency in Mary Ellen he would have been equally unmoved.
"She don't handsome much," continued Mrs. Byers musingly, "but"--
"I never was keen on good looks in a woman, Rosalie. You know
that!" Mrs. Byers received the equivocal remark unemotionally, and
returned to the subject.
"Well!" she said contemplatively, "I should think you could make
Mr. Langworthy nodded with resigned toleration of all that might
have influenced her judgment and his own. "I was wantin' a fa'r-
minded opinion, Rosalie, and you happened along jest in time. Kin
I put up anythin' in the way of food for ye?" he added, as a stir
outside and the words "All aboard!" proclaimed the departing of the
stage-coach,--"an orange or a hunk o' gingerbread, freshly baked?"
"Thank ye kindly, Abner, but I sha'n't be usin' anythin' afore
supper," responded Mrs. Byers, as they passed out into the veranda
beside the waiting coach.
Mr. Langworthy helped her to her seat. "Ef you're passin' this way
ag'in"--he hesitated delicately.
"I'll drop in, or I reckon Mr. Byers might, he havin' business
along the road," returned Mrs. Byers with a cheerful nod, as the
coach rolled away and the landlord of the Big Flume Hotel reentered
For the next three weeks, however, it did not appear that Mr.
Langworthy was in any hurry to act upon the advice of his former
wife. His relations to Mary Ellen Budd were characterized by his
usual tolerance to his employees' failings,--which in Mary Ellen's
case included many "breakages,"--but were not marked by the
invasion of any warmer feeling, or a desire for confidences. The
only perceptible divergence from his regular habits was a
disposition to be on the veranda at the arrival of the stage-coach,
and when his duties permitted this, a cautious survey of his female
guests at the beginning of dinner. This probably led to his more
or less ignoring any peculiarities in his masculine patrons or
their claims to his personal attention. Particularly so, in the
case of a red-bearded man, in a long linen duster, both heavily
freighted with the red dust of the stage road, which seemed to have
invaded his very eyes as he watched the landlord closely. Towards
the close of the dinner, when Abner, accompanied by a negro waiter
after his usual custom, passed down each side of the long table,
collecting payment for the meal, the stranger looked up. "You air
the landlord of this hotel, I reckon?"
"I am," said Abner tolerantly.
"I'd like a word or two with ye."
But Abner had been obliged to have a formula for such occasions.
"Ye'll pay for yer dinner first," he said submissively, but firmly,
"and make yer remarks agin the food arter."
The stranger flushed quickly, and his eye took an additional shade
of red, but meeting Abner's serious gray ones, he contented himself
with ostentatiously taking out a handful of gold and silver and
paying his bill. Abner passed on, but after dinner was over he
found the stranger in the hall.
"Ye pulled me up rather short in thar," said the man gloomily, "but
it's just as well, as the talk I was wantin' with ye was kinder
betwixt and between ourselves, and not hotel business. My name's
Byers, and my wife let on she met ye down here."
For the first time it struck Abner as incongruous that another man
should call Rosalie "his wife," although the fact of her remarriage
had been made sufficiently plain to him. He accepted it as he
would an earthquake, or any other dislocation, with his usual
tolerant smile, and held out his hand.
Mr. Byers took it, seemingly mollified, and yet inwardly disturbed,--
more even than was customary in Abner's guests after dinner.
"Have a drink with me," he suggested, although it had struck him
that Mr. Byers had been drinking before dinner.
"I'm agreeable," responded Byers promptly; "but," with a glance at
the crowded bar-room, "couldn't we go somewhere, jest you and me,
and have a quiet confab?"
"I reckon. But ye must wait till we get her off."
Mr. Byers started slightly, but it appeared that the impedimental
sex in this case was the coach, which, after a slight feminine
hesitation, was at last started. Whereupon Mr. Langworthy,
followed by a negro with a tray bearing a decanter and glasses,
grasped Mr. Byers's arm, and walked along a small side veranda the
depth of the house, stepped off, and apparently plunged with his
guest into the primeval wilderness.
It has already been indicated that the site of the Big Flume Hotel
had been scantily cleared; but Mr. Byers, backwoodsman though he
was, was quite unprepared for so abrupt a change. The hotel, with
its noisy crowd and garish newness, although scarcely a dozen yards
away, seemed lost completely to sight and sound. A slight fringe
of old tin cans, broken china, shavings, and even of the long-dried
chips of the felled trees, once crossed, the two men were alone!
From the tray, deposited at the foot of an enormous pine, they took
the decanter, filled their glasses, and then disposed of themselves
comfortably against a spreading root. The curling tail of a
squirrel disappeared behind them; the far-off tap of a woodpecker
accented the loneliness. And then, almost magically as it seemed,
the thin veneering of civilization on the two men seemed to be cast
off like the bark of the trees around them, and they lounged before
each other in aboriginal freedom. Mr. Byers removed his restraining
duster and undercoat. Mr. Langworthy resigned his dirty white
jacket, his collar, and unloosed a suspender, with which he played.
"Would it be a fair question between two fa'r-minded men, ez hez
lived alone," said Mr. Byers, with a gravity so supernatural that
it could be referred only to liquor, "to ask ye in what sort o' way
did Mrs. Byers show her temper?"
"Show her temper?" echoed Abner vacantly.
"Yes--in course, I mean when you and Mrs. Byers was--was--one? You
know the di-vorce was for in-com-pat-ibility of temper."
"But she got the divorce from me, so I reckon I had the temper,"
said Langworthy, with great simplicity.
"Wha-at?" said Mr. Byers, putting down his glass and gazing with
drunken gravity at the sad-eyed yet good-humoredly tolerant man
before him. "You?--you had the temper?"
"I reckon that's what the court allowed," said Abner simply.
Mr. Byers stared. Then after a moment's pause he nodded with a
significant yet relieved face. "Yes, I see, in course. Times when
you'd h'isted too much o' this corn juice," lifting up his glass,
"inside ye--ye sorter bu'st out ravin'?"
But Abner shook his head. "I wuz a total abstainer in them days,"
he said quietly.
Mr. Byers got unsteadily on his legs and looked around him. "Wot
might hev bin the general gait o' your temper, pardner?" he said in
a hoarse whisper.
"Don't know. I reckon that's jest whar the incompatibility kem
"And when she hove plates at your head, wot did you do?"
"She didn't hove no plates," said Abner gravely; "did she say she
"No, no!" returned Byers hastily, in crimson confusion. "I kinder
got it mixed with suthin' else." He waved his hand in a lordly
way, as if dismissing the subject. "Howsumever, you and her is
'off' anyway," he added with badly concealed anxiety.
"I reckon: there's the decree," returned Abner, with his usual
resigned acceptance of the fact.
"Mrs. Byers wuz allowin' ye wuz thinkin' of a second. How's that
"Jest whar it was," returned Abner. "I ain't doin' anything yet.
Ye see I've got to tell the gal, naterally, that I'm di-vorced.
And as that isn't known hereabouts, I don't keer to do so till I'm
pretty certain. And then, in course, I've got to."
"Why hev ye 'got to'?" asked Byers abruptly.
"Because it wouldn't be on the square with the girl," said Abner.
"How would you like it if Mrs. Byers had never told you she'd been
married to me? And s'pose you'd happen to hev bin a di-vorced man
and hadn't told her, eh? Well," he continued, sinking back
resignedly against the tree, "I ain't sayin' anythin' but she'd hev
got another di-vorce, and FROM you on the spot--you bet!"
"Well! all I kin say is," said Mr. Byers, lifting his voice
excitedly, "that"--but he stopped short, and was about to fill his
glass again from the decanter when the hand of Abner stopped him.
"Ye've got ez much ez ye kin carry now, Byers," he said slowly,
"and that's about ez much ez I allow a man to take in at the Big
Flume Hotel. Treatin' is treatin', hospitality is hospitality; ef
you and me was squattin' out on the prairie I'd let you fill your
skin with that pizen and wrap ye up in yer blankets afterwards.
But here at Big Flume, the Stage Kempenny and the wimen and
children passengers hez their rights." He paused a moment, and
added, "And so I reckon hez Mrs. Byers, and I ain't goin' to send
you home to her outer my house blind drunk. It's mighty rough on
you and me, I know, but there's a lot o' roughness in this world ez
hez to be got over, and life, ez far ez I kin see, ain't all a
Perhaps it was his good-humored yet firm determination, perhaps it
was his resigned philosophy, but something in the speaker's manner
affected Mr. Byers's alcoholic susceptibility, and hastened his
descent from the passionate heights of intoxication to the maudlin
stage whither he was drifting. The fire of his red eyes became
filmed and dim, an equal moisture gathered in his throat as he
pressed Abner's hand with drunken fervor. "Thash so! your thinking
o' me an' Mish Byersh is like troo fr'en'," he said thickly. "I
wosh only goin' to shay that wotever Mish Byersh wosh--even if she
wosh wife o' yours--she wosh--noble woman! Such a woman," continued
Mr. Byers, dreamily regarding space, "can't have too many husbands."
"You jest sit back here a minit, and have a quiet smoke till I come
back," said Abner, handing him his tobacco plug. "I've got to give
the butcher his order--but I won't be a minit." He secured the
decanter as he spoke, and evading an apparent disposition of his
companion to fall upon his neck, made his way with long strides to
the hotel, as Mr. Byers, sinking back against the trees, began
certain futile efforts to light his unfilled pipe.
Whether Abner's attendance on the butcher was merely an excuse to
withdraw with the decanter, I cannot say. He, however, dispatched
his business quickly, and returned to the tree. But to his
surprise Mr. Byers was no longer there. He explored the adjacent
woodland with non-success, and no reply to his shouting. Annoyed
but not alarmed, as it seemed probable that the missing man had
fallen in a drunken sleep in some hidden shadows, he returned to
the house, when it occurred to him that Byers might have sought the
bar-room for some liquor. But he was still more surprised when the
barkeeper volunteered the information that he had seen Mr. Byers
hurriedly pass down the side veranda into the highroad. An hour
later this was corroborated by an arriving teamster, who had passed
a man answering to the description of Byers, "mor' 'n half full,"
staggeringly but hurriedly walking along the road "two miles back."
There seemed to be no doubt that the missing man had taken himself
off in a fit of indignation or of extreme thirst. Either hypothesis
was disagreeable to Abner, in his queer sense of responsibility to
Mrs. Byers, but he accepted it with his usual good-humored
Yet it was difficult to conceive what connection this episode had
in his mind with his suspended attention to Mary Ellen, or why it
should determine his purpose. But he had a logic of his own, and
it seemed to have demonstrated to him that he must propose to the
girl at once. This was no easy matter, however; he had never shown
her any previous attention, and her particular functions in the
hotel,--the charge of the few bedrooms for transient guests--seldom
brought him in contact with her. His interview would have to
appear to be a business one--which, however, he wished to avoid
from a delicate consciousness of its truth. While making up his
mind, for a few days he contented himself with gravely regarding
her in his usual resigned, tolerant way, whenever he passed her.
Unfortunately the first effect of this was an audible giggle from
Mary Ellen, later some confusion and anxiety in her manner, and
finally a demeanor of resentment and defiance.
This was so different from what he had expected that he was obliged
to precipitate matters. The next day was Sunday,--a day on which
his employees, in turns, were allowed the recreation of being
driven to Big Flume City, eight miles distant, to church, or for
the day's holiday. In the morning Mary Ellen was astonished by
Abner informing her that he designed giving her a separate holiday
with himself. It must be admitted that the girl, who was already
"prinked up" for the enthrallment of the youth of Big Flume City,
did not appear as delighted with the change of plan as a more
exacting lover would have liked. Howbeit, as soon as the wagon had
left with its occupants, Abner, in the unwonted disguise of a full
suit of black clothes, turned to the girl, and offering her his
arm, gravely proceeded along the side veranda across the mound of
debris already described, to the adjacent wilderness and the very
trees under which he and Byers had sat.
"It's about ez good a place for a little talk, Miss Budd," he said,
pointing to a tree root, "ez ef we went a spell further, and it's
handy to the house. And ef you'll jest say what you'd like outer
the cupboard or the bar--no matter which--I'll fetch it to you."
But Mary Ellen Budd seated herself sideways on the root, with her
furled white parasol in her lap, her skirts fastidiously tucked
about her feet, and glancing at the fatuous Abner from under her
stack of fluffy hair and light eyelashes, simply shook her head and
said that "she reckoned she wasn't hankering much for anything"
I've been calkilatin' to myself, Miss Budd," said Abner resignedly,
"that when two folks--like ez you and me--meet together to kinder
discuss things that might go so far ez to keep them together, if
they hez had anything of that sort in their lives afore, they ought
to speak of it confidentially like together."
"Ef any one o' them sneakin', soulless critters in the kitchen hez
bin slingin' lies to ye about me--or carryin' tales," broke in Mary
Ellen Budd, setting every one of her thirty-two strong, white teeth
together with a snap, "well--ye might hev told me so to oncet
without spilin' my Sunday! But ez fer yer keepin' me a minit
longer, ye've only got to pay me my salary to-day and"--but here
she stopped, for the astonishment in Abner's face was too plain to
"Nobody's been slinging any lies about ye, Miss Budd," he said
slowly, recovering himself resignedly from this last back-handed
stroke of fate; "I warn't talkin' o' you, but myself. I was only
allowin' to say that I was a di-vorced man."
As a sudden flush came over Mary Ellen's brownish-white face while
she stared at him, Abner hastened to delicately explain. "It
wasn't no onfaithfulness, Miss Budd--no philanderin' o' mine, but
only 'incompatibility o' temper.'"
"Temper--your temper!" gasped Mary Ellen.
"Yes," said Abner.
And here a sudden change came over Mary Ellen's face, and she burst
into a shriek of laughter. She laughed with her hands slapping the
sides of her skirt, she laughed with her hands clasping her narrow,
hollow waist, laughed with her head down on her knees and her
fluffy hair tumbling over it. Abner was relieved, and yet it
seemed strange to him that this revelation of his temper should
provoke such manifest incredulity in both Byers and Mary Ellen.
But perhaps these things would be made plain to him hereafter; at
present they must be accepted "in the day's work" and tolerated.
"Your temper," gurgled Mary Ellen. "Saints alive! What kind o'
"Well, I reckon," returned Abner submissively, and selecting a word
to give his meaning more comprehension,--"I reckon it was kinder--
Mary Ellen sniffed the air for a moment in speechless incredulity,
and then, locking her hands around her knees and bending forward,
said, "Look here! Ef that old woman o' yours ever knew what temper
was in a man; ef she's ever bin tied to a brute that treated her
like a nigger till she daren't say her soul was her own; who struck
her with his eyes and tongue when he hadn't anythin' else handy;
who made her life miserable when he was sober, and a terror when he
was drunk; who at last drove her away, and then divorced her for
desertion--then--then she might talk. But 'incompatibility o'
temper' with you! Oh, go away--it makes me sick!"
How far Abner was impressed with the truth of this, how far it
prompted his next question, nobody but Abner knew. For he said
deliberately, "I was only goin' to ask ye, if, knowin' I was a
di-vorced man, ye would mind marryin' me!"
Mary Ellen's face changed; the evasive instincts of her sex rose
up. "Didn't I hear ye sayin' suthin' about refreshments," she said
archly. "Mebbe you wouldn't mind gettin' me a bottle o' lemming
sody outer the bar!"
Abner got up at once, perhaps not dismayed by this diversion, and
departed for the refreshment. As he passed along the side veranda
the recollection of Mr. Byers and his mysterious flight occurred to
him. For a wild moment he thought of imitating him. But it was
too late now--he had spoken. Besides, he had no wife to fly to,
and the thirsty or indignant Byers had--his wife! Fate was indeed
hard. He returned with the bottle of lemon soda on a tray and a
resigned spirit equal to her decrees. Mary Ellen, remarking that
he had brought nothing for himself, archly insisted upon his
sharing with her the bottle of soda, and even coquettishly touched
his lips with her glass. Abner smiled patiently.
But here, as if playfully exhilarated by the naughty foaming soda,
she regarded him with her head--and a good deal of her blonde hair--
very much on one side, as she said, "Do you know that all along o'
you bein' so free with me in tellin' your affairs I kinder feel
like just telling you mine?"
"Don't," said Abner promptly.
"Don't?" echoed Miss Budd.
"Don't," repeated Abner. "It's nothing to me. What I said about
myself is different, for it might make some difference to you. But
nothing you could say of yourself would make any change in me. I
stick to what I said just now."
"But," said Miss Budd,--in half real, half simulated threatening,--
"what if it had suthin' to do with my answer to what you said just
"It couldn't. So, if it's all the same to you, Miss Budd, I'd
rather ye wouldn't."
"That," said the lady still more archly, lifting a playful finger,
"is your temper."
"Mebbe it is," said Abner suddenly, with a wondering sense of
It was, however, settled that Miss Budd should go to Sacramento to
visit her friends, that Abner would join her later, when their
engagement would be announced, and that she should not return to
the hotel until they were married. The compact was sealed by the
interchange of a friendly kiss from Miss Budd with a patient,
tolerating one from Abner, and then it suddenly occurred to them
both that they might as well return to their duties in the hotel,
which they did. Miss Budd's entire outing that Sunday lasted only
half an hour.
A week elapsed. Miss Budd was in Sacramento, and the landlord of
the Big Flume Hotel was standing at his usual post in the doorway
during dinner, when a waiter handed him a note. It contained a
single line scrawled in pencil:--
"Come out and see me behind the house as before. I dussent come in
on account of her. C. BYERS."
"On account of 'her'!" Abner cast a hurried glance around the
tables. Certainly Mrs. Byers was not there! He walked in the hall
and the veranda--she was not there. He hastened to the rendezvous
evidently meant by the writer, the wilderness behind the house.
Sure enough, Byers, drunk and maudlin, supporting himself by the
tree root, staggered forward, clasped him in his arms, and murmured
"Gone?" echoed Abner, with a whitening face. "Mrs. Byers? Where?"
"Run away! Never come back no more! Gone!"
A vague idea that had been in Abner's mind since Byers's last visit
now took awful shape. Before the unfortunate Byers could collect
his senses he felt himself seized in a giant's grasp and forced
against the tree.
"You coward!" said all that was left of the tolerant Abner--his
even voice--"you hound! Did you dare to abuse her? to lay your
vile hands on her--to strike her? Answer me."
The shock--the grasp--perhaps Abner's words, momentarily silenced
Byers. "Did I strike her?" he said dazedly; "did I abuse her? Oh,
yes!" with deep irony. "Certainly! In course! Look yer,
pardner!"--he suddenly dragged up his sleeve from his red, hairy
arm, exposing a blue cicatrix in its centre--"that's a jab from her
scissors about three months ago; look yer!"--he bent his head and
showed a scar along the scalp--"that's her playfulness with a fire
shovel! Look yer!"--he quickly opened his collar, where his neck
and cheek were striped and crossed with adhesive plaster--"that's
all that was left o' a glass jar o' preserves--the preserves got
away, but some of the glass got stuck! That's when she heard I was
a di-vorced man and hadn't told her."
"Were you a di-vorced man?" gasped Abner.
"You know that; in course I was," said Byers scornfully; "d'ye
meanter say she didn't tell ye?"
"She?" echoed Abner vaguely. "Your wife--you said just now she
didn't know it before."
"My wife ez oncet was, I mean! Mary Ellen--your wife ez is to be,"
said Byers, with deep irony. "Oh, come now. Pretend ye don't
know! Hi there! Hands off! Don't strike a man when he's down,
like I am."
But Abner's clutch of Byers's shoulder relaxed, and he sank down to
a sitting posture on the root. In the meantime Byers, overcome by
a sense of this new misery added to his manifold grievances, gave
way to maudlin silent tears.
"Mary Ellen--your first wife?" repeated Abner vacantly.
"Yesh!" said Byers thickly, "my first wife--shelected and picked
out fer your shecond wife--by your first--like d----d conundrum.
How wash I t'know?" he said, with a sudden shriek of public
expostulation--"thash what I wanter know. Here I come to talk with
fr'en', like man to man, unshuspecting, innoshent as chile, about
my shecond wife! Fr'en' drops out, carryin' off the whiskey. Then
I hear all o' suddent voice o' Mary Ellen talkin' in kitchen; then
I come round softly and see Mary Ellen--my wife as useter be--
standin' at fr'en's kitchen winder. Then I lights out quicker 'n
lightnin' and scoots! And when I gets back home, I ups and tells
my wife. And whosh fault ish't! Who shaid a man oughter tell hish
wife? You! Who keepsh other mensh' first wivesh at kishen winder
to frighten 'em to tell? You!"
But a change had already come over the face of Abner Langworthy.
The anger, anxiety, astonishment, and vacuity that was there had
vanished, and he looked up with his usual resigned acceptance of
the inevitable as he said, "I reckon that's so! And seein' it's
so," with good-natured tolerance, he added, "I reckon I'll break
rules for oncet and stand ye another drink."
He stood another drink and yet another, and eventually put the
doubly widowed Byers to bed in his own room. These were but
details of a larger tribulation,--and yet he knew instinctively
that his cup was not yet full. The further drop of bitterness came
a few days later in a line from Mary Ellen: "I needn't tell you
that all betwixt you and me is off, and you kin tell your old woman
that her selection for a second wife for you wuz about as bad as
your own first selection. Ye kin tell Mr. Byers--yer great friend
whom ye never let on ye knew--that when I want another husband I
shan't take the trouble to ask him to fish one out for me. It
would be kind--but confusin'."
He never heard from her again. Mr. Byers was duly notified that
Mrs. Byers had commenced action for divorce in another state in
which concealment of a previous divorce invalidated the marriage,
but he did not respond. The two men became great friends--and
assured celibates. Yet they always spoke reverently of their
"wife," with the touching prefix of "our."
"She was a good woman, pardner," said Byers.
"And she understood us," said Abner resignedly.
Perhaps she had.
A BUCKEYE HOLLOW INHERITANCE
The four men on the "Zip Coon" Ledge had not got fairly settled to
their morning's work. There was the usual lingering hesitation
which is apt to attend the taking-up of any regular or monotonous
performance, shown in this instance in the prolonged scrutiny of a
pick's point, the solemn selection of a shovel, or the "hefting" or
weighing of a tapping-iron or drill. One member, becoming
interested in a funny paragraph he found in the scrap of newspaper
wrapped around his noonday cheese, shamelessly sat down to finish
it, regardless of the prospecting pan thrown at him by another.
They had taken up their daily routine of mining life like schoolboys
at their tasks.
"Hello!" said Ned Wyngate, joyously recognizing a possible further
interruption. "Blamed if the Express rider ain't comin' here!"
He was shading his eyes with his hand as he gazed over the broad
sun-baked expanse of broken "flat" between them and the highroad.
They all looked up, and saw the figure of a mounted man, with a
courier's bag thrown over his shoulder, galloping towards them. It
was really an event, as their letters were usually left at the
grocery at the crossroads.
"I knew something was goin' to happen," said Wyngate. "I didn't
feel a bit like work this morning."
Here one of their number ran off to meet the advancing horseman.
They watched him until they saw the latter rein up, and hand a
brown envelope to their messenger, who ran breathlessly back with
it to the Ledge as the horseman galloped away again.
"A telegraph for Jackson Wells," he said, handing it to the young
man who had been reading the scrap of paper.
There was a dead silence. Telegrams were expensive rarities in
those days, especially with the youthful Bohemian miners of the Zip
Coon Ledge. They were burning with curiosity, yet a singular thing
happened. Accustomed as they had been to a life of brotherly
familiarity and unceremoniousness, this portentous message from the
outside world of civilization recalled their old formal politeness.
They looked steadily away from the receiver of the telegram, and he
on his part stammered an apologetic "Excuse me, boys," as he broke
There was another pause, which seemed to be interminable to the
waiting partners. Then the voice of Wells, in quite natural tones,
said, "By gum! that's funny! Read that, Dexter,--read it out loud."
Dexter Rice, the foreman, took the proffered telegram from Wells's
hand, and read as follows:--
Your uncle, Quincy Wells, died yesterday, leaving you sole heir.
Will attend you to-morrow for instructions.
BAKER AND TWIGGS,
The three miners' faces lightened and turned joyously to Wells; but
HIS face looked puzzled.
"May we congratulate you, Mr. Wells?" said Wyngate, with affected
politeness; "or possibly your uncle may have been English, and a
title goes with the 'prop,' and you may be Lord Wells, or Very
But here Jackson Wells's youthful face lost its perplexity, and he
began to laugh long and silently to himself. This was protracted
to such an extent that Dexter asserted himself,--as foreman and
"Look here, Jack! don't sit there cackling like a chuckle-headed
magpie, if you ARE the heir."
"I--can't--help it," gasped Jackson. "I am the heir--but you see,
boys, there AIN'T ANY PROPERTY."
"What do you mean? Is all that a sell?" demanded Rice.
"Not much! Telegraph's too expensive for that sort o' feelin'.
You see, boys, I've got an Uncle Quincy, though I don't know him
much, and he MAY be dead. But his whole fixin's consisted of a
claim the size of ours, and played out long ago: a ramshackle lot
o' sheds called a cottage, and a kind of market garden of about
three acres, where he reared and sold vegetables. He was always
poor, and as for calling it 'property,' and ME the 'heir'--good
"A miser, as sure as you're born!" said Wyngate, with optimistic
decision. "That's always the way. You'll find every crack of that
blessed old shed stuck full of greenbacks and certificates of
deposit, and lots of gold dust and coin buried all over that cow
patch! And of course no one suspected it! And of course he lived
alone, and never let any one get into his house--and nearly starved
himself! Lord love you! There's hundreds of such cases. The
world is full of 'em!"
"That's so," chimed in Pulaski Briggs, the fourth partner, "and I
tell you what, Jacksey, we'll come over with you the day you take
possession, and just 'prospect' the whole blamed shanty, pigsties,
and potato patch, for fun--and won't charge you anything."
For a moment Jackson's face had really brightened under the
infection of enthusiasm, but it presently settled into perplexity
"No! You bet the boys around Buckeye Hollow would have spotted
anything like that long ago."
"Buckeye Hollow!" repeated Rice and his partners.
"Yes! Buckeye Hollow, that's the place; not twenty miles from
here, and a God-forsaken hole, as you know."
A cloud had settled on Zip Coon Ledge. They knew of Buckeye
Hollow, and it was evident that no good had ever yet come out of
"There's no use of talking now," said Rice conclusively. "You'll
draw it all from that lawyer shark who's coming here tomorrow, and
you can bet your life he wouldn't have taken this trouble if there
wasn't suthin' in it. Anyhow, we'll knock off work now and call it
half a day, in honor of our distinguished young friend's accession
to his baronial estates of Buckeye Hollow. We'll just toddle down
to Tomlinson's at the cross-roads, and have a nip and a quiet game
of old sledge at Jacksey's expense. I reckon the estate's good for
THAT," he added, with severe gravity. "And, speaking as a fa'r-
minded man and the president of this yer Company, if Jackson would
occasionally take out and air that telegraphic dispatch of his
while we're at Tomlinson's, it might do something for that Company's
credit--with Tomlinson! We're wantin' some new blastin' plant bad!"
Oddly enough the telegram--accidentally shown at Tomlinson's--
produced a gratifying effect, and the Zip Coon Ledge materially
advanced in public estimation. With this possible infusion of new
capital into its resources, the Company was beset by offers of
machinery and goods; and it was deemed expedient by the sapient
Rice, that to prevent the dissemination of any more accurate
information regarding Jackson's property the next day, the lawyer
should be met at the stage office by one of the members, and
conveyed secretly past Tomlinson's to the Ledge.
"I'd let you go," he said to Jackson, "only it won't do for that
d----d skunk of a lawyer to think you're too anxious--sabe? We want
to rub into him that we are in the habit out yer of havin' things
left to us, and a fortin' more or less, falling into us now and
then, ain't nothin' alongside of the Zip Coon claim. It won't hurt
ye to keep up a big bluff on that hand of yours. Nobody would dare
to 'call' you."
Indeed this idea was carried out with such elaboration the next day
that Mr. Twiggs, the attorney, was considerably impressed both by
the conduct of his guide, who (although burning with curiosity)
expressed absolute indifference regarding Jackson Wells's
inheritance, and the calmness of Jackson himself, who had to be
ostentatiously called from his work on the Ledge to meet him, and
who even gave him an audience in the hearing of his partners.
Forced into an apologetic attitude, he expressed his regret at
being obliged to bother Mr. Wells with an affair of such secondary
importance, but he was obliged to carry out the formalities of the
"What do you suppose the estate is worth?" asked Wells carelessly.
"I should not think that the house, the claim, and the land would
bring more than fifteen hundred dollars," replied Twiggs
To the impecunious owners of Zip Coon Ledge it seemed a large sum,
but they did not show it.
"You see," continued Mr. Twiggs, "it's really a case of 'willing
away' property from its obvious or direct inheritors, instead of a
beneficial grant. I take it that you and your uncle were not
particularly intimate,--at least, so I gathered when I made the
will,--and his simple object was to disinherit his only daughter,
with whom he had had some quarrel, and who had left him to live
with his late wife's brother, Mr. Morley Brown, who is quite
wealthy and residing in the same township. Perhaps you remember
the young lady?"
Jackson Wells had a dim recollection of this cousin, a hateful,
red-haired schoolgirl, and an equally unpleasant memory of this
other uncle, who was purse-proud and had never taken any notice of
him. He answered affirmatively.
"There may be some attempt to contest the will," continued Mr.
Twiggs, "as the disinheriting of an only child and a daughter
offends the sentiment of the people and of judges and jury, and the
law makes such a will invalid, unless a reason is given.
Fortunately your uncle has placed his reasons on record. I have a
copy of the will here, and can show you the clause." He took it
from his pocket, and read as follows: "'I exclude my daughter,
Jocelinda Wells, from any benefit or provision of this my will and
testament, for the reason that she has voluntarily abandoned her
father's roof for the house of her mother's brother, Morley Brown;
has preferred the fleshpots of Egypt to the virtuous frugalities of
her own home, and has discarded the humble friends of her youth,
and the associates of her father, for the meretricious and slavish
sympathy of wealth and position. In lieu thereof, and as
compensation therefor, I do hereby give and bequeath to her my full
and free permission to gratify her frequently expressed wish for
another guardian in place of myself, and to become the adopted
daughter of the said Morley Brown, with the privilege of assuming
the name of Brown as aforesaid.' You see," he continued, "as the
young lady's present position is a better one than it would be if
she were in her father's house, and was evidently a compromise, the
sentimental consideration of her being left homeless and penniless
falls to the ground. However, as the inheritance is small, and
might be of little account to you, if you choose to waive it, I
dare say we may make some arrangement."
This was an utterly unexpected idea to the Zip Coon Company, and
Jackson Wells was for a moment silent. But Dexter Rice was equal
to the emergency, and turned to the astonished lawyer with severe
"You'll excuse me for interferin', but, as the senior partner of
this yer Ledge, and Jackson Wells yer bein' a most important
member, what affects his usefulness on this claim affects us. And
we propose to carry out this yer will, with all its dips and spurs
As the surprised Twiggs turned from one to the other, Rice
continued, "Ez far as we kin understand this little game, it's the
just punishment of a high-flying girl as breaks her pore old
father's heart, and the re-ward of a young feller ez has bin to our
knowledge ez devoted a nephew as they make 'em. Time and time
again, sittin' around our camp fire at night, we've heard Jacksey
say,--kinder to himself, and kinder to us, 'Now I wonder what's
gone o' old uncle Quincy;' and he never sat down to a square meal,
or ever rose from a square game, but what he allus said, 'If old
uncle Quince was only here now, boys, I'd die happy.' I leave it
to you, gentlemen, if that wasn't Jackson Wells's gait all the
There was a prolonged murmur of assent, and an affecting
corroboration from Ned Wyngate of "That was him; that was Jacksey
all the time!"
"Indeed, indeed," said the lawyer nervously. "I had quite the idea
that there was very little fondness"--
"Not on your side--not on your side," said Rice quickly. "Uncle
Quincy may not have anted up in this matter o' feelin', nor seen
his nephew's rise. You know how it is yourself in these things--
being a lawyer and a fa'r-minded man--it's all on one side,
ginerally! There's always one who loves and sacrifices, and all
that, and there's always one who rakes in the pot! That's the way
o' the world; and that's why," continued Rice, abandoning his
slightly philosophical attitude, and laying his hand tenderly, and
yet with a singularly significant grip, on Wells's arm, "we say to
him, 'Hang on to that will, and uncle Quincy's memory.' And we hev
to say it. For he's that tender-hearted and keerless of money--
having his own share in this Ledge--that ef that girl came
whimperin' to him he'd let her take the 'prop' and let the hull
thing slide! And then he'd remember that he had rewarded that gal
that broke the old man's heart, and that would upset him again in
his work. And there, you see, is just where WE come in! And we
say, 'Hang on to that will like grim death!'"
The lawyer looked curiously at Rice and his companions, and then
turned to Wells: "Nevertheless, I must look to you for instructions,"
he said dryly.
But by this time Jackson Wells, although really dubious about
supplanting the orphan, had gathered the sense of his partners, and
said with a frank show of decision, "I think I must stand by the
"Then I'll have it proved," said Twiggs, rising. "In the meantime,
if there is any talk of contesting"--
"If there is, you might say," suggested Wyngate, who felt he had
not had a fair show in the little comedy,--"ye might say to that
old skeesicks of a wife's brother, if he wants to nipple in, that
there are four men on the Ledge--and four revolvers! We are
gin'rally fa'r-minded, peaceful men, but when an old man's heart is
broken, and his gray hairs brought down in sorrow to the grave, so
to speak, we're bound to attend the funeral--sabe?"
When Mr. Twiggs had departed again, accompanied by a partner to
guide him past the dangerous shoals of Tomlinson's grocery, Rice
clapped his hand on Wells's shoulder. "If it hadn't been for me,
sonny, that shark would have landed you into some compromise with
that red-haired gal! I saw you weakenin', and then I chipped in.
I may have piled up the agony a little on your love for old Quince,
but if you aren't an ungrateful cub, that's how you ought to hev
been feein', anyhow!"
Nevertheless, the youthful Wells, although touched by his elder
partner's loyalty, and convinced of his own disinterestedness, felt
a painful sense of lost chivalrous opportunity.
. . . . . .
On mature consideration it was finally settled that Jackson Wells
should make his preliminary examination of his inheritance alone,
as it might seem inconsistent with the previous indifferent
attitude of his partners if they accompanied him. But he was
implored to yield to no blandishments of the enemy, and to even
make his visit a secret.
He went. The familiar flower-spiked trees which had given their
name to Buckeye Hollow had never yielded entirely to improvements
and the incursions of mining enterprise, and many of them had even
survived the disused ditches, the scarred flats, the discarded
levels, ruined flumes, and roofless cabins of the earlier
occupation, so that when Jackson Wells entered the wide, straggling
street of Buckeye, that summer morning was filled with the radiance
of its blossoms and fragrant with their incense. His first visit
there, ten years ago, had been a purely perfunctory and hasty one,
yet he remembered the ostentatious hotel, built in the "flush time"
of its prosperity, and already in a green premature decay; he
recalled the Express Office and Town Hall, also passing away in a
kind of similar green deliquescence; the little zinc church, now
overgrown with fern and brambles, and the two or three fine
substantial houses in the outskirts, which seemed to have sucked
the vitality of the little settlement. One of these--he had been
told--was the property of his rich and wicked maternal uncle, the
hated appropriator of his red-headed cousin's affections. He
recalled his brief visit to the departed testator's claim and
market garden, and his by no means favorable impression of the
lonely, crabbed old man, as well as his relief that his
objectionable cousin, whom he had not seen since he was a boy, was
then absent at the rival uncle's. He made his way across the road
to a sunny slope where the market garden of three acres seemed to
roll like a river of green rapids to a little "run" or brook,
which, even in the dry season, showed a trickling rill. But here
he was struck by a singular circumstance. The garden rested in a
rich, alluvial soil, and under the quickening Californian sky had
developed far beyond the ability of its late cultivator to restrain
or keep it in order. Everything had grown luxuriantly, and in
monstrous size and profusion. The garden had even trespassed its
bounds, and impinged upon the open road, the deserted claims, and
the ruins of the past. Stimulated by the little cultivation Quincy
Wells had found time to give it, it had leaped its three acres and
rioted through the Hollow. There were scarlet runners crossing the
abandoned sluices, peas climbing the court-house wall, strawberries
matting the trail, while the seeds and pollen of its few homely
Eastern flowers had been blown far and wide through the woods. By
a grim satire, Nature seemed to have been the only thing that still
prospered in that settlement of man.
The cabin itself, built of unpainted boards, consisted of a
sitting-room, dining-room, kitchen, and two bedrooms, all plainly
furnished, although one of the bedrooms was better ordered, and
displayed certain signs of feminine decoration, which made Jackson
believe it had been his cousin's room. Luckily, the slight,
temporary structure bore no deep traces of its previous occupancy
to disturb him with its memories, and for the same reason it gained
in cleanliness and freshness. The dry, desiccating summer wind
that blew through it had carried away both the odors and the sense
of domesticity; even the adobe hearth had no fireside tales to
tell,--its very ashes had been scattered by the winds; and the
gravestone of its dead owner on the hill was no more flavorless of
his personality than was this plain house in which he had lived and
died. The excessive vegetation produced by the stirred-up soil had
covered and hidden the empty tin cans, broken boxes, and fragments
of clothing which usually heaped and littered the tent-pegs of the
pioneer. Nature's own profusion had thrust them into obscurity.
Jackson Wells smiled as he recalled his sanguine partner's idea of
a treasure-trove concealed and stuffed in the crevices of this
tenement, already so palpably picked clean by those wholesome
scavengers of California, the dry air and burning sun. Yet he was
not displeased at this obliteration of a previous tenancy; there
was the better chance for him to originate something. He whistled
hopefully as he lounged, with his hands in his pockets, towards the
only fence and gate that gave upon the road. Something stuck up on
the gate-post attracted his attention. It was a sheet of paper
bearing the inscription in a large hand: "Notice to trespassers.
Look out for the Orphan Robber!" A plain signboard in faded black
letters on the gate, which had borne the legend: "Quincy Wells,
Dealer in Fruit and Vegetables," had been rudely altered in chalk
to read: "Jackson Wells, Double Dealer in Wills and Codicils," and
the intimation "Bouquets sold here" had been changed to "Bequests
stole here." For an instant the simple-minded Jackson failed to
discover any significance of this outrage, which seemed to him to
be merely the wanton mischief of a schoolboy. But a sudden
recollection of the lawyer's caution sent the blood to his cheeks
and kindled his indignation. He tore down the paper and rubbed out
the chalk interpolation--and then laughed at his own anger.
Nevertheless, he would not have liked his belligerent partners to
A little curious to know the extent of this feeling, he entered one
of the shops, and by one or two questions which judiciously
betrayed his ownership of the property, he elicited only a
tradesman's interest in a possible future customer, and the
ordinary curiosity about a stranger. The barkeeper of the hotel
was civil, but brief and gloomy. He had heard the property was
"willed away on account of some family quarrel which "warn't none
of his." Mr. Wells would find Buckeye Hollow a mighty dull place
after the mines. It was played out, sucked dry by two or three big
mine owners who were trying to "freeze out" the other settlers, so
as they might get the place to themselves and "boom it." Brown,
who had the big house over the hill, was the head devil of the
gang! Wells felt his indignation kindle anew. And this girl that
he had ousted was Brown's friend. Was it possible that she was a
party to Brown's designs to get this three acres with the other
lands? If so, his long-suffering uncle was only just in his
He put all this diffidently before his partners on his return, and
was a little startled at their adopting it with sanguine ferocity.
They hoped that he would put an end to his thoughts of backing out
of it. Such a course now would be dishonorable to his uncle's
memory. It was clearly his duty to resist these blasted satraps of
capitalists; he was providentially selected for the purpose--a
village Hampden to withstand the tyrant. "And I reckon that shark
of a lawyer knew all about it when he was gettin' off that 'purp
stuff' about people's sympathies with the girl," said Rice
belligerently. "Contest the will, would he? Why, if we caught
that Brown with a finger in the pie we'd just whip up the boys on
this Ledge and lynch him. You hang on to that three acres and the
garden patch of your forefathers, sonny, and we'll see you through!"
Nevertheless, it was with some misgivings that Wells consented that
his three partners should actually accompany him and see him put in
peaceable possession of his inheritance. His instinct told him
that there would be no contest of the will, and still less any
opposition on the part of the objectionable relative, Brown. When
the wagon which contained his personal effects and the few articles
of furniture necessary for his occupancy of the cabin arrived, the
exaggerated swagger which his companions had put on in their
passage through the settlement gave way to a pastoral indolence,
equally half real, half affected. Lying on their backs under a
buckeye, they permitted Rice to voice the general sentiment.
"There's a suthin' soothin' and dreamy in this kind o' life,
Jacksey, and we'll make a point of comin' here for a couple of days
every two weeks to lend you a hand; it will be a mighty good change
from our nigger work on the claim."
In spite of this assurance, and the fact that they had voluntarily
come to help him put the place in order, they did very little
beyond lending a cheering expression of unqualified praise and
unstinted advice. At the end of four hours' weeding and trimming
the boundaries of the garden, they unanimously gave their opinion
that it would be more systematic for him to employ Chinese labor at
"You see," said Ned Wyngate, "the Chinese naturally take to this
kind o' business. Why, you can't take up a china plate or saucer
but you see 'em pictured there working at jobs like this, and they
kin live on green things and rice that cost nothin', and chickens.
You'll keep chickens, of course."
Jackson thought that his hands would be full enough with the
garden, but he meekly assented.
"I'll get a pair--you only want two to begin with," continued
Wyngate cheerfully, "and in a month or two you've got all you want,
and eggs enough for market. On second thoughts, I don't know
whether you hadn't better begin with eggs first. That is, you
borry some eggs from one man and a hen from another. Then you set
'em, and when the chickens are hatched out you just return the hen
to the second man, and the eggs, when your chickens begin to lay,
to the first man, and you've got your chickens for nothing--and
there you are."
This ingenious proposition, which was delivered on the last slope
of the domain, where the partners were lying exhausted from their
work, was broken in upon by the appearance of a small boy,
barefooted, sunburnt, and tow-headed, who, after a moment's hurried
scrutiny of the group, threw a letter with unerring precision into
the lap of Jackson Wells, and then fled precipitately. Jackson
instinctively suspected he was connected with the outrage on his
fence and gate-post, but as he had avoided telling his partners of
the incident, fearing to increase their belligerent attitude, he
felt now an awkward consciousness mingled with his indignation as
he broke the seal and read as follows:--
SIR,--This is to inform you that although you have got hold of the
property by underhanded and sneaking ways, you ain't no right to
touch or lay your vile hands on the Cherokee Rose alongside the
house, nor on the Giant of Battles, nor on the Maiden's Pride by
the gate--the same being the property of Miss Jocelinda Wells, and
planted by her, under the penalty of the Law. And if you, or any
of your gang of ruffians, touches it or them, or any thereof, or
don't deliver it up when called for in good order, you will be
persecuted by them.
It is to be feared that Jackson would have suppressed this also,
but the keen eyes of his partners, excited by the abruptness of the
messenger, were upon him. He smiled feebly, and laid the letter
before them. But he was unprepared for their exaggerated
indignation, and with difficulty restrained them from dashing off
in the direction of the vanished herald. "And what could you do?"
he said. "The boy's only a messenger."
"I'll get at that d----d skunk Brown, who's back of him," said
"And what then?" persisted Jackson, with a certain show of
independence. "If this stuff belongs to the girl, I'm not certain
I shan't give them up without any fuss. Lord! I want nothing but
what the old man left me--and certainly nothing of HERS."
Here Ned Wyngate was heard to murmur that Jackson was one of those
men who would lie down and let coyotes crawl over him if they first
presented a girl's visiting card, but he was stopped by Rice
demanding paper and pencil. The former being torn from a
memorandum book, and a stub of the latter produced from another
pocket, he wrote as follows:--
SIR,--In reply to the hogwash you have kindly exuded in your letter
of to-day, I have to inform you that you can have what you ask for
Miss Wells, and perhaps a trifle on your own account, by calling
this afternoon on--Yours truly--
"Now, sign it," continued Rice, handing him the pencil.
"But this will look as if we were angry and wanted to keep the
plants," protested Wells.
"Never you mind, sonny, but sign! Leave the rest to your partners,
and when you lay your head on your pillow to-night return thanks to
an overruling Providence for providing you with the right gang of
ruffians to look after you!"
Wells signed reluctantly, and Wyngate offered to find a Chinaman in
the gulch who would take the missive. "And being a Chinaman, Brown
can do any cussin' or buck talk THROUGH him!" he added.
The afternoon wore on; the tall Douglas pines near the water pools
wheeled their long shadows round and halfway up the slope, and the
sun began to peer into the faces of the reclining men. Subtle
odors of mint and southern-wood, stragglers from the garden,
bruised by their limbs, replaced the fumes of their smoked-out
pipes, and the hammers of the woodpeckers were busy in the grove as
they lay lazily nibbling the fragrant leaves like peaceful
ruminants. Then came the sound of approaching wheels along the
invisible highway beyond the buckeyes, and then a halt and silence.
Rice rose slowly, bright pin points in the pupils of his gray eyes.
"Bringin' a wagon with him to tote the hull shanty away," suggested
"Or fetched his own ambulance," said Briggs.
Nevertheless, after a pause, the wheels presently rolled away again.
"We'd better go and meet him at the gate," said Rice, hitching his
revolver holster nearer his hip. "That wagon stopped long enough
to put down three or four men."
They walked leisurely but silently to the gate. It is probable
that none of them believed in a serious collision, but now the
prospect had enough possibility in it to quicken their pulses.
They reached the gate. But it was still closed; the road beyond it
"Mebbe they've sneaked round to the cabin," said Briggs, "and are
holdin' it inside."
They were turning quickly in that direction, when Wyngate said,
"Hush!--some one's there in the brush under the buckeyes."
They listened; there was a faint rustling in the shadows.
"Come out o' that, Brown--into the open. Don't be shy," called out
Rice in cheerful irony. "We're waitin' for ye."
But Briggs, who was nearest the wood, here suddenly uttered an
exclamation,--"B'gosh!" and fell back, open-mouthed, upon his
companions. They too, in another moment, broke into a feeble
laugh, and lapsed against each other in sheepish silence. For a
very pretty girl, handsomely dressed, swept out of the wood and
advanced towards them.
Even at any time she would have been an enchanting vision to these
men, but in the glow of exercise and sparkle of anger she was
bewildering. Her wonderful hair, the color of freshly hewn
redwood, had escaped from her hat in her passage through the
underbrush, and even as she swept down upon them in her majesty she
was jabbing a hairpin into it with a dexterous feminine hand.
The three partners turned quite the color of her hair; Jackson
Wells alone remained white and rigid. She came on, her very short
upper lip showing her white teeth with her panting breath.
Rice was first to speak. "I beg--your pardon, Miss--I thought it
was Brown--you know," he stammered.
But she only turned a blighting brown eye on the culprit, curled
her short lip till it almost vanished in her scornful nostrils,
drew her skirt aside with a jerk, and continued her way straight to
Jackson Wells, where she halted.
"We did not know you were--here alone," he said apologetically.
"Thought I was afraid to come alone, didn't you? Well, you see,
I'm not. There!" She made another dive at her hat and hair, and
brought the hat down wickedly over her eyebrows. "Gimme my plants."
Jackson had been astonished. He would have scarcely recognized in
this willful beauty the red-haired girl whom he had boyishly hated,
and with whom he had often quarreled. But there was a recollection--
and with that recollection came an instinct of habit. He looked
her squarely in the face, and, to the horror of his partners, said,
They had expected to see him fall, smitten with the hairpin! But
she only stopped, and then in bitter irony said, "Please, Mr.
"I haven't dug them up yet--and it would serve you just right if I
made you get them for yourself. But perhaps my friends here might
help you--if you were civil."
The three partners seized spades and hoes and rushed forward
eagerly. "Only show us what you want," they said in one voice.
The young girl stared at them, and at Jackson. Then with swift
determination she turned her back scornfully upon him, and with a
dazzling smile which reduced the three men to absolute idiocy, said
to the others, "I'll show YOU," and marched away to the cabin.
"Ye mustn't mind Jacksey," said Rice, sycophantically edging to her
side, "he's so cut up with losin' your father that he loved like a
son, he isn't himself, and don't seem to know whether to ante up or
pass out. And as for yourself, Miss--why-- What was it he was
sayin' only just as the young lady came?" he added, turning
abruptly to Wyngate.
"Everything that cousin Josey planted with her own hands must be
took up carefully and sent back--even though it's killin' me to
part with it," quoted Wyngate unblushingly, as he slouched along on
the other side.
Miss Wells's eyes glared at them, though her mouth still smiled
ravishingly. "I'm sure I'm troubling you."
In a few moments the plants were dug up and carefully laid
together; indeed, the servile Briggs had added a few that she had
"Would you mind bringing them as far as the buggy that's coming
down the hill?" she said, pointing to a buggy driven by a small boy
which was slowly approaching the gate. The men tenderly lifted the
uprooted plants, and proceeded solemnly, Miss Wells bringing up the
rear, towards the gate, where Jackson Wells was still surlily
They passed out first. Miss Wells lingered for an instant, and
then advancing her beautiful but audacious face within an inch of
Jackson's, hissed out, "Make-believe! and hypocrite!"
"Cross-patch and sauce-box!" returned Jackson readily, still under
the malign influence of his boyish past, as she flounced away.
Presently he heard the buggy rattle away with his persecutor. But
his partners still lingered on the road in earnest conversation,
and when they did return it was with a singular awkwardness and
embarrassment, which he naturally put down to a guilty consciousness
of their foolish weakness in succumbing to the girl's demands.
But he was a little surprised when Dexter Rice approached him
gloomily. "Of course," he began, "it ain't no call of ours to
interfere in family affairs, and you've a right to keep 'em to
yourself, but if you'd been fair and square and above board in what
you got off on us about this per--"
"What do you mean?" demanded the astonished Wells.
"Well--callin' her a 'red-haired gal.'"
"Well--she is a red-haired girl!" said Wells impatiently.
"A man," continued Rice pityingly, "that is so prejudiced as to
apply such language to a beautiful orphan--torn with grief at the
loss of a beloved but d----d misconstruing parent--merely because
she begs a few vegetables out of his potato patch, ain't to be
reasoned with. But when you come to look at this thing by and
large, and as a fa'r-minded man, sonny, you'll agree with us that
the sooner you make terms with her the better. Considerin' your
interest, Jacksey,--let alone the claims of humanity,--we've
concluded to withdraw from here until this thing is settled. She's
sort o' mixed us up with your feelings agin her, and naturally
supposed we object to the color of her hair! and bein' a penniless
orphan, rejected by her relations"--
"What stuff are you talking?" burst in Jackson. "Why, YOU saw she
treated you better than she did me."
"Steady! There you go with that temper of yours that frightened
the girl! Of course she could see that WE were fa'r-minded men,
accustomed to the ways of society, and not upset by the visit of a
lady, or the givin' up of a few green sticks! But let that slide!
We're goin' back home to-night, sonny, and when you've thought this
thing over and are straightened up and get your right bearin's,
we'll stand by you as before. We'll put a man on to do your work
on the Ledge, so ye needn't worry about that."
They were quite firm in this decision,--however absurd or obscure
their conclusions,--and Jackson, after his first flash of
indignation, felt a certain relief in their departure. But
strangely enough, while he had hesitated about keeping the property
when they were violently in favor of it, he now felt he was right in
retaining it against their advice to compromise. The sentimental
idea had vanished with his recognition of his hateful cousin in the
role of the injured orphan. And for the same odd reason her
prettiness only increased his resentment. He was not deceived,--it
was the same capricious, willful, red-haired girl.
The next day he set himself to work with that dogged steadiness
that belonged to his simple nature, and which had endeared him to
his partners. He set half a dozen Chinamen to work, and followed,
although apparently directing, their methods. The great difficulty
was to restrain and control the excessive vegetation, and he
matched the small economies of the Chinese against the opulence of
the Californian soil. The "garden patch" prospered; the neighbors
spoke well of it and of him. But Jackson knew that this fierce
harvest of early spring was to be followed by the sterility of the
dry season, and that irrigation could alone make his work
profitable in the end. He brought a pump to force the water from
the little stream at the foot of the slope to the top, and allowed
it to flow back through parallel trenches. Again Buckeye
applauded! Only the gloomy barkeeper shook his head. "The moment
you get that thing to pay, Mr. Wells, you'll find the hand of
Brown, somewhere, getting ready to squeeze it dry!"
But Jackson Wells did not trouble himself about Brown, whom he
scarcely knew. Once indeed, while trenching the slope, he was
conscious that he was watched by two men from the opposite bank;
but they were apparently satisfied by their scrutiny, and turned
away. Still less did he concern himself with the movements of his
cousin, who once or twice passed him superciliously in her buggy on
the road. Again, she met him as one of a cavalcade of riders,
mounted on a handsome but ill-tempered mustang, which she was
managing with an ill-temper and grace equal to the brute's, to the
alternate delight and terror of her cavalier. He could see that
she had been petted and spoiled by her new guardian and his friends
far beyond his conception. But why she should grudge him the
little garden and the pastoral life for which she was so unsuited,
puzzled him greatly.
One afternoon he was working near the road, when he was startled by
an outcry from his Chinese laborers, their rapid dispersal from the
strawberry beds where they were working, the splintering crash of
his fence rails, and a commotion among the buckeyes. Furious at
what seemed to him one of the usual wanton attacks upon coolie
labor, he seized his pick and ran to their assistance. But he was
surprised to find Jocelinda's mustang caught by the saddle and
struggling between two trees, and its unfortunate mistress lying
upon the strawberry bed. Shocked but cool-headed, Jackson released
the horse first, who was lashing out and destroying everything
within his reach, and then turned to his cousin. But she had
already lifted herself to her elbow, and with a trickle of blood
and mud on one fair cheek was surveying him scornfully under her
tumbled hair and hanging hat.
"You don't suppose I was trespassing on your wretched patch again,
do you?" she said in a voice she was trying to keep from breaking.
"It was that brute--who bolted."
"I don't suppose you were bullying ME this time," he said, "but you
were YOUR HORSE--or it wouldn't have happened. Are you hurt?"
She tried to move; he offered her his hand, but she shied from it
and struggled to her feet. She took a step forward--but limped.
"If you don't want my arm, let me call a Chinaman," he suggested.
She glared at him. "If you do I'll scream!" she said in a low
voice, and he knew she would. But at the same moment her face
whitened, at which he slipped his arm under hers in a dexterous,
business-like way, so as to support her weight. Then her hat got
askew, and down came a long braid over his shoulder. He remembered
it of old, only it was darker than then and two or three feet
"If you could manage to limp as far as the gate and sit down on the
bank, I'd get your horse for you," he said. "I hitched it to a
"I saw you did--before you even offered to help me," she said
"The horse would have got away--YOU couldn't."
"If you only knew how I hated you," she said, with a white face,
but a trembling lip.
"I don't see how that would make things any better," he said.
"Better wipe your face; it's scratched and muddy, and you've been
rubbing your nose in my strawberry bed."
She snatched his proffered handkerchief suddenly, applied it to her
face, and said: "I suppose it looks dreadful."
"Like a pig's," he returned cheerfully.
She walked a little more firmly after this, until they reached the
gate. He seated her on the bank, and went back for the mustang.
That beautiful brute, astounded and sore from its contact with the
top rail and brambles, was cowed and subdued as he led it back.
She had finished wiping her face, and was hurriedly disentangling
two stinging tears from her long lashes, before she threw back his
handkerchief. Her sprained ankle obliged him to lift her into the
saddle and adjust her little shoe in the stirrup. He remembered
when it was still smaller. "You used to ride astride," he said, a
flood of recollection coming over him, "and it's much safer with
your temper and that brute."
"And you," she said in a lower voice, "used to be"-- But the rest
of her sentence was lost in the switch of the whip and the jump of
her horse, but he thought the word was "kinder."
Perhaps this was why, after he watched her canter away, he went
back to the garden, and from the bruised and trampled strawberry
bed gathered a small basket of the finest fruit, covered them with
leaves, added a paper with the highly ingenious witticism, "Picked
up with you," and sent them to her by one of the Chinamen. Her
forcible entry moved Li Sing, his foreman, also chief laundryman to
the settlement, to reminiscences:
"Me heap knew Missy Wells and ole man, who go dead. Ole man allee
time make chin music to Missy. Allee time jaw jaw--allee time make
lows--allee time cuttee up Missy! Plenty time lockee up Missy
topside house; no can walkee--no can talkee--no hab got--how can
get?--must washee washee allee same Chinaman. Ole man go dead--
Missy all lightee now. Plenty fun. Plenty stay in Blown's big
house, top-side hill; Blown first-chop man."
Had he inquired he might have found this pagan testimony, for once,
corroborated by the Christian neighbors.
But another incident drove all this from his mind. The little
stream--the life blood of his garden--ran dry! Inquiry showed that
it had been diverted two miles away into Brown's ditch! Wells's
indignant protest elicited a formal reply from Brown, stating that
he owned the adjacent mining claims, and reminding him that mining
rights to water took precedence of the agricultural claim, but
offering, by way of compensation, to purchase the land thus made
useless and sterile. Jackson suddenly recalled the prophecy of the
gloomy barkeeper. The end, had come! But what could the scheming
capitalist want with the land, equally useless--as his uncle had
proved--for mining purposes? Could it be sheer malignity, incited
by his vengeful cousin? But here he paused, rejecting the idea as
quickly as it came. No! his partners were right! He was a
trespasser on his cousin's heritage--there was no luck in it--he
was wrong, and this was his punishment! Instead of yielding
gracefully as he might, he must back down now, and she would never
know his first real feelings. Even now he would make over the
property to her as a free gift. But his partners had advanced him
money from their scanty means to plant and work it. He believed
that an appeal to their feelings would persuade them to forego even
that, but he shrank even more from confessing his defeat to THEM
than to her.
He had little heart in his labors that day, and dismissed the
Chinamen early. He again examined his uncle's old mining claim on
the top of the slope, but was satisfied that it had been a hopeless
enterprise and wisely abandoned. It was sunset when he stood under
the buckeyes, gloomily looking at the glow fade out of the west, as
it had out of his boyish hopes. He had grown to like the place.
It was the hour, too, when the few flowers he had cultivated gave
back their pleasant odors, as if grateful for his care. And then
he heard his name called.
It was his cousin, standing a few yards from him in evident
hesitation. She was quite pale, and for a moment he thought she
was still suffering from her fall, until he saw in her nervous,
half-embarrassed manner that it had no physical cause. Her old
audacity and anger seemed gone, yet there was a queer determination
in her pretty brows.
"Good-evening," he said.
She did not return his greeting, but pulling uneasily at her glove,
said hesitatingly: "Uncle has asked you to sell him this land?"
"Well--don't!" she burst out abruptly.
He stared at her.
"Oh, I'm not trying to keep you here," she went on, flashing back
into her old temper; "so you needn't stare like that. I say,
'Don't,' because it ain't right, it ain't fair."
"Why, he's left me no alternative," he said.
"That's just it--that's why it's mean and low. I don't care if he
is our uncle."
Jackson was bewildered and shocked.
"I know it's horrid to say it," she said, with a white face; "but
it's horrider to keep it in! Oh, Jack! when we were little, and
used to fight and quarrel, I never was mean--was I? I never was
underhanded--was I? I never lied--did I? And I can't lie now.
Jack," she looked hurriedly around her, "HE wants to get hold of
the land--HE thinks there's gold in the slope and bank by the
stream. He says dad was a fool to have located his claim so high
up. Jack! did you ever prospect the bank?"
A dawning of intelligence came upon Jackson. "No," he said; "but,"
he added bitterly, "what's the use? He owns the water now,--I
couldn't work it."
"But, Jack, IF you found the color, this would be a MINING claim!
You could claim the water right; and, as it's your land, your claim
would be first!"
Jackson was startled. "Yes, IF I found the color."
"You WOULD find it."
"Yes! I DID--on the sly! Yesterday morning on your slope by the
stream, when no one was up! I washed a panful and got that." She
took a piece of tissue paper from her pocket, opened it, and shook
into her little palm three tiny pin points of gold.
"And that was your own idea, Jossy?"
"Your very own?"
"Wish you may die?"
"True, O King!"
He opened his arms, and they mutually embraced. Then they
separated, taking hold of each other's hands solemnly, and falling
back until they were at arm's length. Then they slowly extended
their arms sideways at full length, until this action naturally
brought their faces and lips together. They did this with the
utmost gravity three times, and then embraced again, rocking on
pivoted feet like a metronome. Alas! it was no momentary
inspiration. The most casual and indifferent observer could see
that it was the result of long previous practice and shameless
experience. And as such--it was a revelation and an explanation.
. . . . . .
"I always suspected that Jackson was playin' us about that red-
haired cousin," said Rice two weeks later; "but I can't swallow
that purp stuff about her puttin' him up to that dodge about a new
gold discovery on a fresh claim, just to knock out Brown. No, sir.
He found that gold in openin' these irrigatin' trenches,--the usual
nigger luck, findin' what you're not lookin' arter."
"Well, we can't complain, for he's offered to work it on shares
with us," said Briggs.
"Yes--until he's ready to take in another partner."
"Not--Brown?" said his horrified companions.
"No!--but Brown's adopted daughter--that red-haired cousin!"
THE REINCARNATION OF SMITH
The extravagant supper party by which Mr. James Farendell celebrated
the last day of his bachelorhood was protracted so far into the
night, that the last guest who parted from him at the door of the
principal Sacramento restaurant was for a moment impressed with the
belief that a certain ruddy glow in the sky was already the dawn.
But Mr. Farendell had kept his head clear enough to recognize it as
the light of some burning building in a remote business district, a
not infrequent occurrence in the dry season. When he had dismissed
his guest he turned away in that direction for further information.
His own counting-house was not in that immediate neighborhood, but
Sacramento had been once before visited by a rapid and far-sweeping
conflagration, and it behooved him to be on the alert even on this
night of festivity.
Perhaps also a certain anxiety arose out of the occasion. He was to
be married to-morrow to the widow of his late partner, and the
marriage, besides being an attractive one, would settle many
business difficulties. He had been a fortunate man, but, like many
more fortunate men, was not blind to the possibilities of a change
of luck. The death of his partner in a successful business had at
first seemed to betoken that change, but his successful, though
hasty, courtship of the inexperienced widow had restored his chances
without greatly shocking the decorum of a pioneer community.
Nevertheless, he was not a contented man, and hardly a determined--
although an energetic one.
A walk of a few moments brought him to the levee of the river,--a
favored district, where his counting-house, with many others, was
conveniently situated. In these early days only a few of these
buildings could be said to be permanent,--fire and flood perpetually
threatened them. They were merely temporary structures of wood, or
in the case of Mr. Farendell's office, a shell of corrugated iron,
sheathing a one-storied wooden frame, more or less elaborate in its
interior decorations. By the time he had reached it, the distant
fire had increased. On his way he had met and recognized many of
his business acquaintances hurrying thither,--some to save their
own property, or to assist the imperfectly equipped volunteer fire
department in their unselfish labors. It was probably Mr.
Farendell's peculiar preoccupation on that particular night which
had prevented his joining in their brotherly zeal.
He unlocked the iron door, and lit the hanging lamp that was used
in all-night sittings on steamer days. It revealed a smartly
furnished office, with a high desk for his clerks, and a smaller
one for himself in one corner. In the centre of the wall stood a
large safe. This he also unlocked and took out a few important
books, as well as a small drawer containing gold coin and dust to
the amount of about five hundred dollars, the large balance having
been deposited in bank on the previous day. The act was only
precautionary, as he did not exhibit any haste in removing them to
a place of safety, and remained meditatively absorbed in looking
over a packet of papers taken from the same drawer. The closely
shuttered building, almost hermetically sealed against light, and
perhaps sound, prevented his observing the steadily increasing
light of the conflagration, or hearing the nearer tumult of the
firemen, and the invasion of his quiet district by other equally
solicitous tenants. The papers seemed also to possess some
importance, for, the stillness being suddenly broken by the turning
of the handle of the heavy door he had just closed, and its opening
with difficulty, his first act was to hurriedly conceal them,
without apparently paying a thought to the exposed gold before him.
And his expression and attitude in facing round towards the door
was quite as much of nervous secretiveness as of indignation at the
Yet the intruder appeared, though singular, by no means formidable.
He was a man slightly past the middle age, with a thin face,
hollowed at the cheeks and temples as if by illness or asceticism,
and a grayish beard that encircled his throat like a soiled worsted
"comforter" below his clean-shaven chin and mouth. His manner was
slow and methodical, and even when he shot the bolt of the door
behind him, the act did not seem aggressive. Nevertheless Mr.
Farendell half rose with his hand on his pistol-pocket, but the
stranger merely lifted his own hand with a gesture of indifferent
warning, and, drawing a chair towards him, dropped into it
Mr. Farendell's angry stare changed suddenly to one of surprised
recognition. "Josh Scranton," he said hesitatingly.
"I reckon," responded the stranger slowly. "That's the name I
allus bore, and YOU called yourself Farendell. Well, we ain't seen
each other sens the spring o' '50, when ye left me lying nigh
petered out with chills and fever on the Stanislaus River, and sold
the claim that me and Duffy worked under our very feet, and
skedaddled for 'Frisco!"
"I only exercised my right as principal owner, and to secure my
advances," began the late Mr. Farendell sharply.
But again the thin hand was raised, this time with a slow, scornful
waiving of any explanations. "It ain't that in partickler that
I've kem to see ye for to-night," said the stranger slowly, "nor it
ain't about your takin' the name o' 'Farendell,' that friend o'
yours who died on the passage here with ye, and whose papers ye
borrowed! Nor it ain't on account o' that wife of yours ye left
behind in Missouri, and whose letters you never answered. It's
them things all together--and suthin' else!"
"What the d---l do you want, then?" said Farendell, with a
desperate directness that was, however, a tacit confession of the
truth of these accusations.
"Yer allowin' that ye'll get married tomorrow?" said Scranton
"Yes, and be d----d to you," said Farendell fiercely.
"Yer NOT," returned Scranton. "Not if I knows it. Yer goin' to
climb down. Yer goin' to get up and get! Yer goin' to step down