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Openings in the Old Trail by by Bret Harte

Part 4 out of 4

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she knew of natural history, in fact, quite startled her teachers),
and being also a teachable child, was allowed some latitude. As
for Peggy herself, she kept her own faith unshaken; her little
creed, whose shibboleth was not "to be afraid" of God's creatures,
but to "love 'em," sustained her through reprimand, torn clothing,
and, it is to be feared, occasional bites and scratches from the
loved ones themselves.

The unsuspected contiguity of the "menagerie" to the house had its
drawbacks, and once nearly exposed her. A mountain wolf cub,
brought especially for her from the higher northern Sierras with
great trouble and expense by Jack Ryder, of the Lone Star Lead,
unfortunately escaped from the menagerie just as the child seemed
to be in a fair way of taming it. Yet it had been already
familiarized enough with civilization to induce it to stop in its
flight and curiously examine the blacksmith's shop. A shout from
the blacksmith and a hurled hammer sent it flying again, with Mr.
Baker and his assistant in full pursuit. But it quickly distanced
them with its long, tireless gallop, and they were obliged to
return to the forge, lost in wonder and conjecture. For the
blacksmith had recognized it as a stranger to the locality, and as
a man of oracular pretension had a startling theory to account for
its presence. This he confided to the editor of the local paper,
and the next issue contained an editorial paragraph: "Our presage
of a severe winter in the higher Sierras, and consequent spring
floods in the valleys, has been startlingly confirmed! Mountain
wolves have been seen in Blue Cement Ridge, and our esteemed fellow
citizen, Mr. Ephraim Baker, yesterday encountered a half-starved
cub entering his premises in search of food. Mr. Baker is of the
opinion that the mother of the cub, driven down by stress of
weather, was in the immediate vicinity." Nothing but the distress
of the only responsible mother of the cub, Peggy, and loyalty to
her, kept Jack Ryder from exposing the absurdity publicly, but for
weeks the camp fires of Blue Cement Ridge shook with the suppressed
and unhallowed joy of the miners, who were in the guilty secret.

But, fortunately for Peggy, the most favored of her cherished
possessions was not obliged to be kept secret. That one exception
was an Indian dog! This was also a gift, and had been procured
with great "difficulty" by a "packer" from an Indian encampment on
the Oregon frontier. The "difficulty" was, in plain English, that
it had been stolen from the Indians at some peril to the stealer's
scalp. It was a mongrel to all appearances, of no recognized breed
or outward significance, yet of a quality distinctly its own. It
was absolutely and totally uncivilized. Whether this was a
hereditary trait, or the result of degeneracy, no one knew. It
refused to enter a house; it would not stay in a kennel. It would
not eat in public, but gorged ravenously and stealthily in the
shadows. It had the slink of a tramp, and in its patched and
mottled hide seemed to simulate the rags of a beggar. It had the
tirelessness without the affected limp of a coyote. Yet it had
none of the ferocity of barbarians. With teeth that could gnaw
through the stoutest rope and toughest lariat, it never bared them
in anger. It was cringing without being amiable or submissive; it
was gentle without being affectionate.

Yet almost insensibly it began to yield to Peggy's faith and
kindness. Gradually it seemed to single her out as the one being
in this vast white-faced and fully clothed community that it could
trust. It presently allowed her to half drag, half lead it to and
fro from school, although on the approach of a stranger it would
bite through the rope or frantically endeavor to efface itself in
Peggy's petticoats. It was trying, even to the child's sweet
gravity, to face the ridicule excited by its appearance on the
road; and its habit of carrying its tail between its legs--at such
an inflexible curve that, on the authority of Sam Bedell, a misstep
caused it to "turn a back somersault"--was painfully disconcerting.
But Peggy endured this, as she did the greater dangers of the High
Street in the settlement, where she had often, at her own risk,
absolutely to drag the dazed and bewildered creature from under the
wheels of carts and the heels of horses. But this shyness wore
off--or rather was eventually lost in the dog's complete and utter
absorption in Peggy. His limited intelligence and imperfect
perceptions were excited for her alone. His singularly keen scent
detected her wherever or how remote she might be. Her passage
along a "blind trail," her deviations from the school path, her
more distant excursions, were all mysteriously known to him. It
seemed as if his senses were concentrated in this one faculty. No
matter how unexpected or unfamiliar the itinerary, "Lo, the poor
Indian"--as the men had nicknamed him (in possible allusion to his
"untutored mind")--always arrived promptly and silently.

It was to this singular faculty that Peggy owed one of her
strangest experiences. One Saturday afternoon she was returning
from an errand to the village when she was startled by the
appearance of Lo in her path. For the reason already given, she no
longer took him with her to these active haunts of civilization,
but had taught him on such occasions to remain as a guard outside
the stockade which contained her treasures. After reading him a
severe lecture on this flagrant abandonment of his trust, enforced
with great seriousness and an admonitory forefinger, she was
concerned to see that the animal appeared less agitated by her
reproof than by some other disturbance. He ran ahead of her,
instead of at her heels, as was his usual custom, and barked--a
thing he rarely did. Presently she thought she discovered the
cause of this in the appearance from the wood of a dozen men armed
with guns. They seemed to be strangers, but among them she
recognized the deputy sheriff of the settlement. The leader
noticed her, and, after a word or two with the others, the deputy
approached her.

"You and Lo had better be scooting home by the highroad, outer
this--or ye might get hurt," he said, half playfully, half

Peggy looked fearlessly at the men and their guns.

"Look ez ef you was huntin'?" she said curiously.

"We are!" said the leader.

"Wot you huntin'?"

The deputy glanced at the others. "B'ar!" he replied.

"Ba'r!" repeated the child with the quick resentment which a
palpable falsehood always provoked in her. "There ain't no b'ar in
ten miles! See yourself huntin' b'ar! Ho!"

The man laughed. "Never you mind, missy," said the deputy, "you
trot along!" He laid his hand very gently on her head, faced her
sunbonnet towards the near highway, gave the usual parting pull to
her brown pigtail, added, "Make a bee-line home," and turned away.

Lo uttered the first growl known in his history. Whereat Peggy
said, with lofty forbearance, "Serve you jest right ef I set my dog
on you."

But force is no argument, and Peggy felt this truth even of herself
and Lo. So she trotted away. Nevertheless, Lo showed signs of
hesitation. After a few moments Peggy herself hesitated and looked
back. The men had spread out under the trees, and were already
lost in the woods. But there was more than one trail through it,
and Peggy knew it.

And here an alarming occurrence startled her. A curiously striped
brown and white squirrel whisked past her and ran up a tree.
Peggy's round eyes became rounder. There was but one squirrel of
that kind in all the length and breadth of Blue Cement Ridge, and
that was in the menagerie! Even as she looked it vanished. Peggy
faced about and ran back to the road in the direction of the
stockade, Lo bounding before her. But another surprise awaited
her. There was the clutter of short wings under the branches, and
the sunlight flashed upon the iris throat of a wood-duck as it
swung out of sight past her. But in this single glance Peggy
recognized one of the latest and most precious of her acquisitions.
There was no mistake now! With a despairing little cry to Lo, "The
menagerie's broke loose!" she ran like the wind towards it. She
cared no longer for the mandate of the men; the trail she had taken
was out of their sight; they were proceeding so slowly and
cautiously that she and Lo quickly distanced them in the same
direction. She would have yet time to reach the stockade and
secure what was left of her treasures before they came up and drove
her away. Yet she had to make a long circuit to avoid the
blacksmith's shop and cabin, before she saw the stockade, lifting
its four-foot walls around an inclosure a dozen feet square, in the
midst of a manzanita thicket. But she could see also broken coops,
pens, cages, and boxes lying before it, and stopped once, even in
her grief and indignation, to pick up a ruby-throated lizard, one
of its late inmates that had stopped in the trail, stiffened to
stone at her approach. The next moment she was before the roofless
walls, and then stopped, stiffened like the lizard. For out of
that peaceful ruin which had once held the wild and untamed
vagabonds of earth and sky, arose a type of savagery and barbarism
the child had never before looked upon,--the head and shoulders of
a hunted, desperate man!

His head was bare, and his hair matted with sweat over his
forehead; his face was unshorn, and the black roots of his beard
showed against the deadly pallor of his skin, except where it was
scratched by thorns, or where the red spots over his cheek bones
made his cheeks look as if painted. His eyes were as insanely
bright, he panted as quickly, he showed his white teeth as
perpetually, his movements were as convulsive, as those captured
animals she had known. Yet he did not attempt to fly, and it was
only when, with a sudden effort and groan of pain, he half lifted
himself above the stockade, that she saw that his leg, bandaged
with his cravat and handkerchief, stained a dull red, dragged
helplessly beneath him. He stared at her vacantly for a moment,
and then looked hurriedly into the wood behind her.

The child was more interested than frightened, and more curious
than either. She had grasped the situation at a glance. It was
the hunted and the hunters. Suddenly he started and reached for
his rifle, which he had apparently set down outside when he climbed
into the stockade. He had just caught sight of a figure emerging
from the wood at a distance. But the weapon was out of his reach.

"Hand me that gun!" he said roughly.

But Peggy did not stir. The figure came more plainly and quite
unconsciously into full view, an easy shot at that distance.

The man uttered a horrible curse, and turned a threatening face on
the child. But Peggy had seen something like that in animals SHE
had captured. She only said gravely,--

"Ef you shoot that gun you'll bring 'em all down on you!"

"All?" he demanded.

"Yes! a dozen folks with guns like yours," said Peggy. "You jest
crouch down and lie low. Don't move! Watch me."

The man dropped below the stockade. Peggy ran swiftly towards the
unsuspecting figure, evidently the leader of the party, but
deviated slightly to snatch a tiny spray from a white-ash tree.
She never knew that in that brief interval the wounded man, after a
supreme effort, had possessed himself of his weapon, and for a
moment had covered HER with its deadly muzzle. She ran on
fearlessly until she saw that she had attracted the attention of
the leader, when she stopped and began to wave the white-ash wand
before her. The leader halted, conferred with some one behind him,
who proved to be the deputy sheriff. Stepping out he advanced
towards Peggy, and called sharply,

"I told you to get out of this! Come, be quick!"

"You'd better get out yourself," said Peggy, waving her ash spray,
"and quicker, too."

The deputy stopped, staring at the spray. "Wot's up?"



"Everywhere round ye--a reg'lar nest of 'em! That's your way
round!" She pointed to the right, and again began beating the
underbrush with her wand. The men had, meantime, huddled together
in consultation. It was evident that the story of Peggy and her
influence on rattlesnakes was well known, and, in all probability,
exaggerated. After a pause, the whole party filed off to the
right, making a long circuit of the unseen stockade, and were
presently lost in the distance. Peggy ran back to the fugitive.
The fire of savagery and desperation in his eyes had gone out, but
had been succeeded by a glazing film of faintness.

"Can you--get me--some water?" he whispered.

The stockade was near a spring,--a necessity for the menagerie.
Peggy brought him water in a dipper. She sighed a little; her
"butcher bird"--now lost forever--had been the last to drink from

The water seemed to revive him. "The rattlesnakes scared the
cowards," he said, with an attempt to smile. "Were there many

"There wasn't ANY," said Peggy, a little spitefully, "'cept YOU--a
two-legged rattler!"

The rascal grinned at the compliment.

"ONE-legged, you mean," he said, indicating his helpless limb.

Peggy's heart relented slightly. "Wot you goin' to do now?" she
said. "You can't stay on THERE, you know. It b'longs to ME!" She
was generous, but practical.

"Were those things I fired out yours?"


"Mighty rough of me."

Peggy was slightly softened. "Kin you walk?"


"Kin you crawl?"

"Not as far as a rattler."

"Ez far ez that clearin'?"


"There's a hoss tethered out in that clearin'. I kin shift him to
this end."

"You're white all through," said the man gravely.

Peggy ran off to the clearing. The horse belonged to Sam Bedell,
but he had given Peggy permission to ride it whenever she wished.
This was equivalent, in Peggy's mind, to a permission to PLACE him
where she wished. She consequently led him to a point nearest the
stockade, and, thoughtfully, close beside a stump. But this took
some time, and when she arrived she found the fugitive already
there, very thin and weak, but still smiling.

"Ye kin turn him loose when you get through with him; he'll find
his way back," said Peggy. "Now I must go."

Without again looking at the man, she ran back to the stockade.
Then she paused until she heard the sound of hoofs crossing the
highway in the opposite direction from which the pursuers had
crossed, and knew that the fugitive had got away. Then she took
the astonished and still motionless lizard from her pocket, and
proceeded to restore the broken coops and cages to the empty

But she never reconstructed her menagerie nor renewed her
collection. People said she had tired of her whim, and that really
she was getting too old for such things. Perhaps she was. But she
never got old enough to reveal her story of the last wild animal
she had tamed by kindness. Nor was she quite sure of it herself,
until a few years afterwards on Commencement Day at a boarding-
school at San Jose, when they pointed out to her one of the most
respectable trustees. But they said he was once a gambler, who had
shot a man with whom he had quarreled, and was nearly caught and
lynched by a Vigilance Committee.


When the two isolated mining companies encamped on Sycamore Creek
discovered on the same day the great "Excelsior Lead," they met
around a neutral camp fire with that grave and almost troubled
demeanor which distinguished the successful prospector in those
days. Perhaps the term "prospectors" could hardly be used for men
who had labored patiently and light-heartedly in the one spot for
over three years to gain a daily yield from the soil which gave
them barely the necessaries of life. Perhaps this was why, now
that their reward was beyond their most sanguine hopes, they
mingled with this characteristic gravity an ambition and resolve
peculiarly their own. Unlike most successful miners, they had no
idea of simply realizing their wealth and departing to invest or
spend it elsewhere, as was the common custom. On the contrary,
that night they formed a high resolve to stand or fall by their
claims, to develop the resources of the locality, to build up a
town, and to devote themselves to its growth and welfare. And to
this purpose they bound themselves that night by a solemn and legal

Many circumstances lent themselves to so original a determination.
The locality was healthful, picturesque, and fertile. Sycamore
Creek, a considerable tributary of the Sacramento, furnished them a
generous water supply at all seasons; its banks were well wooded
and interspersed with undulating meadow land. Its distance from
stage-coach communication--nine miles--could easily be abridged by
a wagon road over a practically level country. Indeed, all the
conditions for a thriving settlement were already there. It was
natural, therefore, that the most sanguine anticipations were
indulged by the more youthful of the twenty members of this sacred
compact. The sites of a hotel, a bank, the express company's
office, stage office, and court-house, with other necessary
buildings, were all mapped out and supplemented by a theatre, a
public park, and a terrace along the river bank! It was only when
Clinton Grey, an intelligent but youthful member, on offering a
plan of the town with five avenues eighty feet wide, radiating from
a central plaza and the court-house, explained that "it could be
commanded by artillery in case of an armed attack upon the
building," that it was felt that a line must be drawn in anticipatory
suggestion. Nevertheless, although their determination was
unabated, at the end of six months little had been done beyond the
building of a wagon road and the importation of new machinery for
the working of the lead. The peculiarity of their design debarred
any tentative or temporary efforts; they wished the whole settlement
to spring up in equal perfection, so that the first stage-coach over
the new road could arrive upon the completed town. "We don't want to
show up in a 'b'iled shirt' and a plug hat, and our trousers stuck
in our boots," said a figurative speaker. Nevertheless, practical
necessity compelled them to build the hotel first for their own
occupation, pending the erection of their private dwellings on
allotted sites. The hotel, a really elaborate structure for the
locality and period, was a marvel to the workmen and casual
teamsters. It was luxuriously fitted and furnished. Yet it was in
connection with this outlay that the event occurred which had a
singular effect upon the fancy of the members.

Washington Trigg, a Western member, who had brought up the
architect and builder from San Francisco, had returned in a state
of excitement. He had seen at an art exhibition in that city a
small replica of a famous statue of California, and, without
consulting his fellow members, had ordered a larger copy for the
new settlement. He, however, made up for his precipitancy by an
extravagant description of his purchase, which impressed even the
most cautious. "It's the figger of a mighty pretty girl, in them
spirit clothes they allus wear, holding a divinin' rod for findin'
gold afore her in one hand; all the while she's hidin' behind her,
in the other hand, a branch o' thorns out of sight. The idea
bein'--don't you see?--that blamed old 'forty-niners like us, or
ordinary greenhorns, ain't allowed to see the difficulties they've
got to go through before reaching a strike. Mighty cute, ain't it?
It's to be made life-size,--that is, about the size of a girl of
that kind, don't you see?" he explained somewhat vaguely, "and will
look powerful fetchin' standin' onto a pedestal in the hall of the
hotel." In reply to some further cautious inquiry as to the exact
details of the raiment and of any possible shock to the modesty of
lady guests at the hotel, he replied confidently, "Oh, THAT'S all
right! It's the regulation uniform of goddesses and angels,--
sorter as if they'd caught up a sheet or a cloud to fling round 'em
before coming into this world afore folks; and being an allegory,
so to speak, it ain't as if it was me or you prospectin' in high
water. And, being of bronze, it"--

"Looks like a squaw, eh?" interrupted a critic, "or a cursed

"And if it's of metal, it will weigh a ton! How are we going to
get it up here?" said another.

But here Mr. Trigg was on sure ground. "I've ordered it cast
holler, and, if necessary, in two sections," he returned
triumphantly. "A child could tote it round and set it up."

Its arrival was therefore looked forward to with great expectancy
when the hotel was finished and occupied by the combined Excelsior
companies. It was to come from New York via San Francisco, where,
however, there was some delay in its transshipment, and still
further delay at Sacramento. It finally reached the settlement
over the new wagon road, and was among the first freight carried
there by the new express company, and delivered into the new
express office. The box--a packing-case, nearly three feet square
by five feet long--bore superficial marks of travel and
misdirection, inasmuch as the original address was quite
obliterated and the outside lid covered with corrected labels. It
was carried to a private sitting-room in the hotel, where its
beauty was to be first disclosed to the president of the united
companies, three of the committee, and the excited and triumphant
purchaser. A less favored crowd of members and workmen gathered
curiously outside the room. Then the lid was carefully removed,
revealing a quantity of shavings and packing paper which still hid
the outlines of the goddess. When this was promptly lifted a stare
of blank astonishment fixed the faces of the party! It was
succeeded by a quick, hysteric laugh, and then a dead silence.

Before them lay a dressmaker's dummy, the wire and padded model on
which dresses are fitted and shown. With its armless and headless
bust, abruptly ending in a hooped wire skirt, it completely filled
the sides of the box.

"Shut the door," said the president promptly.

The order was obeyed. The single hysteric shriek of laughter had
been followed by a deadly, ironical silence. The president, with
supernatural gravity, lifted it out and set it up on its small,
round, disk-like pedestal.

"It's some cussed fool blunder of that confounded express company,"
burst out the unlucky purchaser. But there was no echo to his
outburst. He looked around with a timid, tentative smile. But no
other smile followed his.

"It looks," said the president, with portentous gravity, "like the
beginnings of a fine woman, that MIGHT show up, if you gave her
time, into a first-class goddess. Of course she ain't all here;
other boxes with sections of her, I reckon, are under way from her
factory, and will meander along in the course of the year.
Considerin' this as a sample--I think, gentlemen," he added, with
gloomy precision, "we are prepared to accept it, and signify we'll
take more."

"It ain't, perhaps, exactly the idee that we've been led to expect
from previous description," said Dick Flint, with deeper
seriousness; "for instance, this yer branch of thorns we heard of
ez bein' held behind her is wantin', as is the arms that held it;
but even if they had arrived, anybody could see the thorns through
them wires, and so give the hull show away."

"Jam it into its box again, and we'll send it back to the
confounded express company with a cussin' letter," again thundered
the wretched purchaser.

"No, sonny," said the president with gentle but gloomy determination,
"we'll fasten on to this little show jest as it is, and see what
follows. It ain't every day that a first-class sell like this is
worked off on us ACCIDENTALLY."

It was quite true! The settlement had long since exhausted every
possible form of practical joking, and languished for a new
sensation. And here it was! It was not a thing to be treated
angrily, nor lightly, nor dismissed with that single hysteric
laugh. It was capable of the greatest possibilities! Indeed, as
Washington Trigg looked around on the imperturbably ironical faces
of his companions, he knew that they felt more true joy over the
blunder than they would in the possession of the real statue. But
an exclamation from the fifth member, who was examining the box,
arrested their attention.

"There's suthin' else here!"

He had found under the heavier wrapping a layer of tissue-paper,
and under that a further envelope of linen, lightly stitched
together. A knife blade quickly separated the stitches, and the
linen was carefully unfolded. It displayed a beautifully trimmed
evening dress of pale blue satin, with a dressing-gown of some
exquisite white fabric armed with lace. The men gazed at it in
silence, and then the one single expression broke from their lips,--

"Her duds!"

"Stop, boys," said "Clint" Grey, as a movement was made to lift the
dress towards the model, "leave that to a man who knows. What's
the use of my having left five grown-up sisters in the States if I
haven't brought a little experience away with me? This sort of
thing ain't to be 'pulled on' like trousers. No, sir!--THIS is the
way she's worked."

With considerable dexterity, unexpected gentleness, and some taste,
he shook out the folds of the skirt delicately and lifted it over
the dummy, settling it skillfully upon the wire hoops, and drawing
the bodice over the padded shoulders. This he then proceeded to
fasten with hooks and eyes,--a work of some patience. Forty eager
fingers stretched out to assist him, but were waved aside, with a
look of pained decorum as he gravely completed his task. Then
falling back, he bade the others do the same, and they formed a
contemplative semicircle before the figure.

Up to that moment a delighted but unsmiling consciousness of their
own absurdities, a keen sense of the humorous possibilities of the
original blunder, and a mischievous recognition of the
mortification of Trigg--whose only safety now lay in accepting the
mistake in the same spirit--had determined these grown-up
schoolboys to artfully protract a joke that seemed to be
providentially delivered into their hands. But NOW an odd change
crept on them. The light from the open window that gave upon the
enormous pines and the rolling prospect up to the dim heights of
the Sierras fell upon this strange, incongruous, yet perfectly
artistic figure. For the dress was the skillful creation of a
great Parisian artist, and in its exquisite harmony of color,
shape, and material it not only hid the absurd model, but clothed
it with an alarming grace and refinement! A queer feeling of awe,
of shame, and of unwilling admiration took possession of them.
Some of them--from remote Western towns--had never seen the like
before; those who HAD had forgotten it in those five years of self-
exile, of healthy independence, and of contiguity to Nature in her
unaffected simplicity. All had been familiar with the garish,
extravagant, and dazzling femininity of the Californian towns and
cities, but never had they known anything approaching the ideal
grace of this type of exalted, even if artificial, womanhood. And
although in the fierce freedom of their little republic they had
laughed to scorn such artificiality, a few yards of satin and lace
cunningly fashioned, and thrown over a frame of wood and wire,
touched them now with a strange sense of its superiority. The
better to show its attractions, Clinton Grey had placed the figure
near a full-length, gold-framed mirror, beside a marble-topped
table. Yet how cheap and tawdry these splendors showed beside this
work of art! How cruel was the contrast of their own rough working
clothes to this miracle of adornment which that same mirror
reflected! And even when Clinton Grey, the enthusiast, looked
towards his beloved woods for relief, he could not help thinking of
them as a more fitting frame for this strange goddess than this new
house into which she had strayed. Their gravity became real; their
gibes in some strange way had vanished.

"Must have cost a pile of money," said one, merely to break an
embarrassing silence.

"My sister had a friend who brought over a dress from Paris, not as
high-toned as that, that cost five hundred dollars," said Clinton

"How much did you say that spirit-clad old hag of yours cost--
thorns and all?" said the president, turning sharply on Trigg.

Trigg swallowed this depreciation of his own purchase meekly.
"Seven hundred and fifty dollars, without the express charges."

"That's only two-fifty more," said the president thoughtfully, "if
we call it quits."

"But," said Trigg in alarm, "we must send it back."

"Not much, sonny," said the president promptly. "We'll hang on to
this until we hear where that thorny old chump of yours has fetched
up and is actin' her conundrums, and mebbe we can swap even."

"But how will we explain it to the boys?" queried Trigg. "They're
waitin' outside to see it."

"There WON'T be any explanation," said the president, in the same
tone of voice in which he had ordered the door shut. "We'll just
say that the statue hasn't come, which is the frozen truth; and
this box only contained some silk curtain decorations we'd ordered,
which is only half a lie. And," still more firmly, "THIS SECRET
DOESN'T GO OUT OF THIS ROOM, GENTLEMEN--or I ain't your president!
I'm not going to let you give yourselves away to that crowd
outside--you hear me? Have you ever allowed your unfettered
intellect to consider what they'd say about this,--what a godsend
it would be to every man we'd ever had a 'pull' on in this camp?
Why, it would last 'em a whole year; we'd never hear the end of it!
No, gentlemen! I prefer to live here without shootin' my fellow
man, but I can't promise it if they once start this joke agin us!"

There was a swift approval of this sentiment, and the five members
shook hands solemnly.

"Now," said the president, "we'll just fold up that dress again,
and put it with the figure in this closet"--he opened a large
dressing-chest in the suite of rooms in which they stood--"and
we'll each keep a key. We'll retain this room for committee
purposes, so that no one need see the closet. See? Now take off
the dress! Be careful there! You're not handlin' pay dirt, though
it's about as expensive! Steady!"

Yet it was wonderful to see the solicitude and care with which the
dress was re-covered and folded in its linen wrapper.

"Hold on," exclaimed Trigg,--as the dummy was lifted into the
chest,--"we haven't tried on the other dress!"

"Yes! yes!" repeated the others eagerly; "there's another!"

"We'll keep that for next committee meeting, gentlemen," said the
president decisively. "Lock her up, Trigg."

The three following months wrought a wonderful change in
Excelsior,--wonderful even in that land of rapid growth and
progress. Their organized and matured plans, executed by a full
force of workmen from the county town, completed the twenty
cottages for the members, the bank, and the town hall. Visitors
and intending settlers flocked over the new wagon road to see this
new Utopia, whose founders, holding the land and its improvements
as a corporate company, exercised the right of dictating the terms
on which settlers were admitted. The feminine invasion was not yet
potent enough to affect their consideration, either through any
refinement or attractiveness, being composed chiefly of the
industrious wives and daughters of small traders or temporary
artisans. Yet it was found necessary to confide the hotel to the
management of Mr. Dexter Marsh, his wife, and one intelligent but
somewhat plain daughter, who looked after the accounts. There were
occasional lady visitors at the hotel, attracted from the
neighboring towns and settlements by its picturesqueness and a
vague suggestiveness of its being a watering-place--and there was
the occasional flash in the decorous street of a Sacramento or San
Francisco gown. It is needless to say that to the five men who
held the guilty secret of Committee Room No. 4 it only strengthened
their belief in the super-elegance of their hidden treasure. At
their last meeting they had fitted the second dress--which turned
out to be a vapory summer house-frock or morning wrapper--over the
dummy, and opinions were divided as to its equality with the first.
However, the same subtle harmony of detail and grace of proportion
characterized it.

"And you see," said Clint Grey, "it's jest the sort o' rig in which
a man would be most likely to know her--and not in her war-paint,
which would be only now and then."

Already "SHE" had become an individuality!

"Hush!" said the president. He had turned towards the door, at
which some one was knocking lightly.

"Come in."

The door opened upon Miss Marsh, secretary and hotel assistant.
She had a business aspect, and an open letter in her hand, but
hesitated at the evident confusion she had occasioned. Two of the
gentlemen had absolutely blushed, and the others regarded her with
inane smiles or affected seriousness. They all coughed slightly.

"I beg your pardon," she said, not ungracefully, a slight color
coming into her sallow cheek, which, in conjunction with the gold
eye-glasses, gave her, at least in the eyes of the impressible
Clint, a certain piquancy. "But my father said you were here in
committee and I might consult you. I can come again, if you are

She had addressed the president, partly from his office, his
comparatively extreme age--he must have been at least thirty!--and
possibly for his extremer good looks. He said hurriedly, "It's
just an informal meeting;" and then, more politely, "What can we do
for you?"

"We have an application for a suite of rooms next week," she said,
referring to the letter, "and as we shall be rather full, father
thought you gentlemen might be willing to take another larger room
for your meetings, and give up these, which are part of a suite--
and perhaps not exactly suitable"--

"Quite impossible!" "Quite so!" "Really out of the question,"
said the members, in a rapid chorus.

The young girl was evidently taken aback at this unanimity of
opposition. She stared at them curiously, and then glanced around
the room. "We're quite comfortable here," said the president
explanatorily, "and--in fact--it's just what we want."

"We could give you a closet like that which you could lock up, and
a mirror," she suggested, with the faintest trace of a smile.

"Tell your father, Miss Marsh," said the president, with dignified
politeness, "that while we cannot submit to any change, we fully
appreciate his business foresight, and are quite prepared to see
that the hotel is properly compensated for our retaining these
rooms." As the young girl withdrew with a puzzled curtsy he closed
the door, placed his back against it, and said,--

"What the deuce did she mean by speaking of that closet?"

"Reckon she allowed we kept some fancy drinks in there," said
Trigg; "and calkilated that we wanted the marble stand and mirror
to put our glasses on and make it look like a swell private bar,
that's all!"

"Humph," said the president.

Their next meeting, however, was a hurried one, and as the
president arrived late, when the door closed smartly behind him he
was met by the worried faces of his colleagues.

"Here's a go!" said Trigg excitedly, producing a folded paper.
"The game's up, the hull show is busted; that cussed old statue--
the reg'lar old hag herself--is on her way here! There's a bill o'
lading and the express company's letter, and she'll be trundled
down here by express at any moment."

"Well?" said the president quietly.

"Well!" replied the members aghast. "Do you know what that means?"

"That we must rig her up in the hall on a pedestal, as we reckoned
to do," returned the president coolly.

"But you don't sabe," said Clinton Grey; "that's all very well as
to the hag, but now we must give HER up," with an adoring glance
towards the closet.

"Does the letter say so?"

"No," said Trigg hesitatingly, "no! But I reckon we can't keep

"Why not?" said the president imperturbably, "if we paid for 'em?"

As the men only stared in reply he condescended to explain.

"Look here! I calculated all these risks after our last meeting.
While you boys were just fussin' round, doin' nothing, I wrote to
the express company that a box of women's damaged duds had arrived
here, while we were looking for our statue; that you chaps were so
riled at bein' sold by them that you dumped the whole blamed thing
in the creek. But I added, if they'd let me know what the damage
was, I'd send 'em a draft to cover it. After a spell of waitin'
they said they'd call it square for two hundred dollars,
considering our disappointment. And I sent the draft. That's
spurred them up to get over our statue, I reckon. And, now that
it's coming, it will set us right with the boys."

"And SHE," said Clinton Grey again, pointing to the locked chest,
"belongs to us?"

"Until we can find some lady guest that will take her with the
rooms," returned the president, a little cynically.

But the arrival of the real statue and its erection in the hotel
vestibule created a new sensation. The members of the Excelsior
Company were loud in its praises except the executive committee,
whose coolness was looked upon by the others as an affectation of
superiority. It awakened the criticism and jealousy of the nearest

"We hear," said the "Red Dog Advertiser," "that the long-promised
statue has been put up in that high-toned Hash Dispensary they call
a hotel at Excelsior. It represents an emaciated squaw in a scanty
blanket gathering roots, and carrying a bit of thorn-bush kindlings
behind her. The high-toned, close corporation of Excelsior may
consider this a fair allegory of California; WE should say it looks
mighty like a prophetic forecast of a hard winter on Sycamore Creek
and scarcity of provisions. However, it isn't our funeral, though
it's rather depressing to the casual visitor on his way to dinner.
For a long time this work of art was missing and supposed to be
lost, but by being sternly and persistently rejected at every
express office on the route, it was at last taken in at Excelsior."

There was some criticism nearer home.

"What do you think of it, Miss Marsh?" said the president politely
to that active young secretary, as he stood before it in the hall.
The young woman adjusted her eye-glasses over her aquiline nose.

"As an idea or a woman, sir?"

"As a woman, madam," said the president, letting his brown eyes
slip for a moment from Miss Marsh's corn-colored crest over her
straight but scant figure down to her smart slippers.

"Well, sir, she could wear YOUR boots, and there isn't a corset in
Sacramento would go round her."

"Thank you!" he returned gravely, and moved away. For a moment a
wild idea of securing possession of the figure some dark night,
and, in company with his fellow-conspirators, of trying those
beautiful clothes upon her, passed through his mind, but he
dismissed it. And then occurred a strange incident, which startled
even his cool, American sanity.

It was a beautiful moonlight night, and he was returning to a
bedroom at the hotel which he temporarily occupied during the
painting of his house. It was quite late, he having spent the
evening with a San Francisco friend after a business conference
which assured him of the remarkable prosperity of Excelsior. It
was therefore with some human exaltation that he looked around the
sleeping settlement which had sprung up under the magic wand of
their good fortune. The full moon had idealized their youthful
designs with something of their own youthful coloring, graciously
softening the garish freshness of paint and plaster, hiding with
discreet obscurity the disrupted banks and broken woods at the
beginning and end of their broad avenues, paving the rough river
terrace with tessellated shadows, and even touching the rapid
stream which was the source of their wealth with a Pactolean

The windows of the hotel before him, darkened within, flashed in
the moonbeams like the casements of Aladdin's palace. Mingled with
his ambition, to-night, were some softer fancies, rarely indulged
by him in his forecast of the future of Excelsior--a dream of some
fair partner in his life, after this task was accomplished, yet
always of some one moving in a larger world than his youth had
known. Rousing the half sleeping porter, he found, however, only
the spectral gold-seeker in the vestibule,--the rays of his
solitary candle falling upon her divining-rod with a quaint
persistency that seemed to point to the stairs he was ascending.
When he reached the first landing the rising wind through an open
window put out his light, but, although the staircase was in
darkness, he could see the long corridor above illuminated by the
moonlight throughout its whole length. He had nearly reached it
when the slow but unmistakable rustle of a dress in the distance
caught his ear. He paused, not only in the interest of delicacy,
but with a sudden nervous thrill he could not account for. The
rustle came nearer--he could hear the distinct frou-frou of satin;
and then, to his bewildered eyes, what seemed to be the figure of
the dummy, arrayed in the pale blue evening dress he knew so well,
passed gracefully and majestically down the corridor. He could see
the shapely folds of the skirt, the symmetry of the bodice, even
the harmony of the trimmings. He raised his eyes, half affrightedly,
prepared to see the headless shoulders, but they--and what seemed to
be a head--were concealed in a floating "cloud" or nubia of some
fleecy tissue, as if for protection from the evening air. He
remained for an instant motionless, dazed by this apparent motion of
an inanimate figure; but as the absurdity of the idea struck him he
hurriedly but stealthily ascended the remaining stairs, resolved to
follow it. But he was only in time to see it turn into the angle of
another corridor, which, when he had reached it, was empty. The
figure had vanished!

His first thought was to go to the committee room and examine the
locked closet. But the key was in his desk at home, he had no
light, and the room was on the other side of the house. Besides,
he reflected that even the detection of the figure would involve
the exposure of the very secret they had kept intact so long. He
sought his bedroom, and went quietly to bed. But not to sleep; a
curiosity more potent than any sense of the trespass done him kept
him tossing half the night. Who was this woman whom the clothes
fitted so well? He reviewed in his mind the guests in the house,
but he knew none who could have carried off this masquerade so

In the morning early he made his way to the committee room, but as
he approached was startled to observe two pairs of boots, a man's
and a woman's, conjugally placed before its door. Now thoroughly
indignant, he hurried to the office, and was confronted by the face
of the fair secretary. She colored quickly on seeing him--but the
reason was obvious.

"You are coming to scold me, sir! But it is not my fault. We were
full yesterday afternoon when your friend from San Francisco came
here with his wife. We told him those were YOUR rooms, but he said
he would make it right with you--and my father thought you would
not be displeased for once. Everything of yours was put into
another room, and the closet remains locked as you left it."

Amazed and bewildered, the president could only mutter a vague
apology and turn away. Had his friend's wife opened the door with
another key in some fit of curiosity and disported herself in those
clothes? If so, she DARE not speak of her discovery.

An introduction to the lady at breakfast dispelled this faint hope.
She was a plump woman, whose generous proportions could hardly have
been confined in that pale blue bodice; she was frank and
communicative, with no suggestion of mischievous concealment.

Nevertheless, he made a firm resolution. As soon as his friends
left he called a meeting of the committee. He briefly informed
them of the accidental occupation of the room, but for certain
reasons of his own said nothing of his ghostly experience. But he
put it to them plainly that no more risks must be run, and that he
should remove the dresses and dummy to his own house. To his
considerable surprise this suggestion was received with grave
approval and a certain strange relief.

"We kinder thought of suggesting it to you before," said Mr. Trigg
slowly, "and that mebbe we've played this little game long enough--
for suthin's happened that's makin' it anything but funny. We'd
have told you before, but we dassent! Speak out, Clint, and tell
the president what we saw the other night, and don't mince matters."

The president glanced quickly and warningly around him. "I
thought," he said sternly, "that we'd dropped all fooling. It's no
time for practical joking now!"

"Honest Injun--it's gospel truth! Speak up, Clint!"

The president looked on the serious faces around him, and was
himself slightly awed.

"It's a matter of two or three nights ago," said Grey slowly, "that
Trigg and I were passing through Sycamore Woods, just below the
hotel. It was after twelve--bright moonlight, so that we could see
everything as plain as day, and we were dead sober. Just as we
passed under the sycamores Trigg grabs my arm, and says, 'Hi!' I
looked up, and there, not ten yards away, standing dead in the
moonlight, was that dummy! She was all in white--that dress with
the fairy frills, you know--and had, what's more, A HEAD! At
least, something white all wrapped around it, and over her
shoulders. At first we thought you or some of the boys had dressed
her up and lifted her out there for a joke, and left her to
frighten us! So we started forward, and then--it's the gospel
truth!--she MOVED AWAY, gliding like the moonbeams, and vanished
among the trees!"

"Did you see her face?" asked the president.

"No; you bet! I didn't try to--it would have haunted me forever."

"What do you mean?"

"This--I mean it was that GIRL THE BOX BELONGED TO! She's dead
somewhere--as you'll find out sooner or later--AND HAS COME BACK
FOR HER CLOTHES! I've often heard of such things before."

Despite his coolness, at this corroboration of his own experience,
and impressed by Grey's unmistakable awe, a thrill went through the
president. For an instant he was silent.

"That will do, boys," he said finally. "It's a queer story; but
remember, it's all the more reason now for our keeping our secret.
As for those things, I'll remove them quietly and at once."

But he did not.

On the contrary, prolonging his stay at the hotel with plausible
reasons, he managed to frequently visit the committee room or its
vicinity, at different and unsuspected hours of the day and night.
More than that, he found opportunities to visit the office, and
under pretexts of business connected with the economy of the hotel
management, informed himself through Miss Marsh on many points. A
few of these details naturally happened to refer to herself, her
prospects, her tastes, and education. He learned incidentally,
what he had partly known, that her father had been in better
circumstances, and that she had been gently nurtured--though of
this she made little account in her pride in her own independence
and devotion to her duties. But in his own persistent way he also
made private notes of the breadth of her shoulders, the size of her
waist, her height, length of her skirt, her movements in walking,
and other apparently extraneous circumstances. It was natural that
he acquired some supplemental facts,--that her eyes, under her eye-
glasses, were a tender gray, and touched with the melancholy beauty
of near-sightedness; that her face had a sensitive mobility beyond
the mere charm of color, and like most people lacking this
primitive and striking element of beauty, what was really fine
about her escaped the first sight. As, for instance, it was only
by bending over to examine her accounts that he found that her
indistinctive hair was as delicate as floss silk and as electrical.
It was only by finding her romping with the children of a guest one
evening that he was startled by the appalling fact of her youth!
But about this time he left the hotel and returned to his house.

On the first yearly anniversary of the great strike at Excelsior
there were some changes in the settlement, notably the promotion of
Mr. Marsh to a more important position in the company, and the
installation of Miss Cassie Marsh as manageress of the hotel. As
Miss Marsh read the official letter, signed by the president,
conveying in complimentary but formal terms this testimony of their
approval and confidence, her lip trembled slightly, and a tear
trickling from her light lashes dimmed her eye-glasses, so that she
was fain to go up to her room to recover herself alone. When she
did so she was startled to find a wire dummy standing near the
door, and neatly folded upon the bed two elegant dresses. A note
in the president's own hand lay beside them. A swift blush stung
her cheek as she read,--

DEAR MISS MARSH,--Will you make me happy by keeping the secret that
no other woman but yourself knows, and by accepting the clothes
that no other woman but yourself can wear?

The next moment, with the dresses over her arm and the ridiculous
dummy swinging by its wires from her other hand, she was flying
down the staircase to Committee Room No. 4. The door opened upon
its sole occupant, the president.

"Oh, sir, how cruel of you!" she gasped. "It was only a joke of
mine. . . . I always intended to tell you. . . . It was very
foolish, but it seemed so funny. . . . You see, I thought it
was . . . the dress you had bought for your future intended--some
young lady you were going to marry!"

"It is!" said the president quietly, and he closed the door behind

And it was.

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