Part 4 out of 6
temper, 'didn't I have catastrophes enough? I know what you want. You
want to tell me that story again about Johnny Ammiger and the widow on
the train. You've told it nine times already this month.'
"'It must be the heat,' says Jones, stopping in at the door, amazed.
'Poor Billy. He's got bugs. Sitting on ice, and calling his best
friends pseudonyms. Hi!--/muchacho/!' Jones called my force of
employees, who was sitting in the sun, playing with his toes, and told
him to put on his trousers and run for the doctor.
"'Come back,' says I. 'Sit down, Maxy, and forget it. 'Tis not ice you
see, nor a lunatic upon it. 'Tis only an exile full of homesickness
sitting on a lump of glass that's just cost him a thousand dollars.
Now, what was it Johnny said to the widow first? I'd like to hear it
again, Maxy--honest. Don't mind what I said.'
"Maximilian Jones and I sat down and talked. He was about as sick of
the country as I was, for the grafters were squeezing him for half the
profits of his rosewood and rubber. Down in the bottom of a tank of
water I had a dozen bottles of sticky Frisco beer; and I fished these
up, and we fell to talking about home and the flag and Hail Columbia
and home-fried potatoes; and the drivel we contributed would have
sickened any man enjoying those blessings. But at that time we were
out of 'em. You can't appreciate home till you've left it, money till
it's spent, your wife till she's joined a woman's club, nor Old Glory
till you see it hanging on a broomstick on the shanty of a consul in a
"And sitting there me and Maximilian Jones, scratching at our prickly
heat and kicking at the lizards on the floor, became afflicted with a
dose of patriotism and affection for our country. There was me, Billy
Casparis, reduced from a capitalist to a pauper by over-addiction to
my glass (in the lump), declares my troubles off for the present and
myself to be an uncrowned sovereign of the greatest country on earth.
And Maximilian Jones pours out whole drug stores of his wrath on
oligarchies and potentates in red trousers and calico shoes. And we
issues a declaration of interference in which we guarantee that the
fourth day of July shall be celebrated in Salvador with all the kinds
of salutes, explosions, honours of war, oratory, and liquids known to
tradition. Yes, neither me nor Jones breathed with soul so dead. There
shall be rucuses in Salvador, we say, and the monkeys had better climb
the tallest cocoanut trees and the fire department get out its red
sashes and two tin buckets.
"About this time into the factory steps a native man incriminated by
the name of General Mary Esperanza Dingo. He was some pumpkin both in
politics and colour, and the friend of me and Jones. He was full of
politeness and a kind of intelligence, having picked up the latter and
managed to preserve the former during a two years' residence in
Philadelphia studying medicine. For a Salvadorian he was not such a
calamitous little man, though he always would play jack, queen, king,
ace, deuce for a straight.
"General Mary sits with us and has a bottle. While he was in the
States he had acquired a synopsis of the English language and the art
of admiring our institutions. By and by the General gets up and
tiptoes to the doors and windows and other stage entrances, remarking
'Hist!' at each one. They all do that in Salvador before they ask for
a drink of water or the time of day, being conspirators from the
cradle and matinee idols by proclamation.
"'Hist!' says General Dingo again, and then he lays his chest on the
table quite like Gaspard the Miser. 'Good friends, senores, to-morrow
will be the great day of Liberty and Independence. The hearts of
Americans and Salvadorians should beat together. Of your history and
your great Washington I know. Is it not so?'
"Now, me and Jones thought that nice of the General to remember when
the Fourth came. It made us feel good. He must have heard the news
going round in Philadelphia about that disturbance we had with
"'Yes,' says me and Maxy together, 'we knew it. We were talking about
it when you came in. And you can bet your bottom concession that
there'll be fuss and feathers in the air to-morrow. We are few in
numbers, but the welkin may as well reach out to push the button, for
it's got to ring.'
"'I, too, shall assist,' says the General, thumping his collar-bone.
'I, too, am on the side of Liberty. Noble Americans, we will make the
day one to be never forgotten.'
"'For us American whisky,' says Jones--'none of your Scotch smoke or
anisada or Three Star Hennessey to-morrow. We'll borrow the consul's
flag; old man Billfinger shall make orations, and we'll have a
barbecue on the plaza.'
"'Fireworks,' says I, 'will be scarce; but we'll have all the
cartridges in the shops for our guns. I've got two navy sixes I
brought from Denver.'
"'There is one cannon,' said the General; 'one big cannon that will go
"BOOM!" And three hundred men with rifles to shoot.'
"'Oh, say!' says Jones, 'Generalissimo, you're the real silk elastic.
We'll make it a joint international celebration. Please, General, get
a white horse and a blue sash and be grand marshal.'
"'With my sword,' says the General, rolling his eyes. 'I shall ride at
the head of the brave men who gather in the name of Liberty.'
"'And you might,' we suggest 'see the commandante and advise him that
we are going to prize things up a bit. We Americans, you know, are
accustomed to using municipal regulations for gun wadding when we line
up to help the eagle scream. He might suspend the rules for one day.
We don't want to get in the calaboose for spanking his soldiers if
they get in our way, do you see?'
"'Hist!' says General Mary. 'The commandant is with us, heart and
soul. He will aid us. He is one of us.'
"We made all the arrangements that afternoon. There was a buck coon
from Georgia in Salvador who had drifted down there from a busted-up
coloured colony that had been started on some possumless land in
Mexico. As soon as he heard us say 'barbecue' he wept for joy and
groveled on the ground. He dug his trench on the plaza, and got half a
beef on the coals for an all-night roast. Me and Maxy went to see the
rest of the Americans in the town and they all sizzled like a seidlitz
with joy at the idea of solemnizing an old-time Fourth.
"There were six of us all together--Martin Dillard, a coffee planter;
Henry Barnes, a railroad man; old man Billfinger, an educated tintype
taker; me and Jonesy, and Jerry, the boss of the barbecue. There was
also an Englishman in town named Sterrett, who was there to write a
book on Domestic Architecture of the Insect World. We felt some
bashfulness about inviting a Britisher to help crow over his own
country, but we decided to risk it, out of our personal regard for
"We found Sterrett in pajamas working at his manuscript with a bottle
of brandy for a paper weight.
"'Englishman,' says Jones, 'let us interrupt your disquisition on bug
houses for a moment. To-morrow is the Fourth of July. We don't want to
hurt your feelings, but we're going to commemorate the day when we
licked you by a little refined debauchery and nonsense--something that
can be heard above five miles off. If you are broad-gauged enough to
taste whisky at your own wake, we'd be pleased to have you join us.'
"'Do you know,' says Sterrett, setting his glasses on his nose, 'I
like your cheek in asking me if I'll join you; blast me if I don't.
You might have known I would, without asking. Not as a traitor to my
own country, but for the intrinsic joy of a blooming row.'
"On the morning of the Fourth I woke up in that old shanty of an ice
factory feeling sore. I looked around at the wreck of all I possessed,
and my heart was full of bile. From where I lay on my cot I could look
through the window and see the consul's old ragged Stars and Stripes
hanging over his shack. 'You're all kinds of a fool, Billy Casparis,'
I said to myself; 'and of all your crimes against sense it does look
like this idea of celebrating the Fourth should receive the award of
demerit. Your business is busted up, your thousand dollars is gone
into the kitty of this corrupt country on that last bluff you made,
you've got just fifteen Chili dollars left, worth forty-six cents each
at bedtime last night and steadily going down. To-day you'll blow in
your last cent hurrahing for that flag, and to-morrow you'll be living
on bananas from the stalk and screwing your drinks out of your
friends. What's the flag done for you? While you were under it you
worked for what you got. You wore your finger nails down skinning
suckers, and salting mines, and driving bears and alligators off your
town lot additions. How much does patriotism count for on deposit with
the little man with the green eye-shade in the savings-bank adds up
your book? Suppose you were to get pinched over here in this
irreligious country for some little crime or other, and appealed to
your country for protection--what would it do for you? Turn your
appeal over to a committee of one railroad man, an army officer, a
member of each labour union, and a coloured man to investigate whether
any of your ancestors were ever related to a cousin of Mark Hanna, and
then file the papers in the Smithsonian Institution until after the
next election. That's the kind of a sidetrack the Stars and Stripes
would switch you onto.'
"You can see that I was feeling like an indigo plant; but after I
washed my face in some cool water, and got out my navys and
ammunition, and started up to the Saloon of the Immaculate Saints
where we were to meet, I felt better. And when I saw those other
American boys come swaggering into the trysting place--cool, easy,
conspicuous fellows, ready to risk any kind of a one-card draw, or to
fight grizzlies, fire, or extradition, I began to feel glad I was one
of 'em. So, I says to myself again: 'Billy, you've got fifteen dollars
and a country left this morning--blow in the dollars and blow up the
town as an American gentleman should on Independence Day.'
"It is my recollection that we began the day along conventional lines.
The six of us--for Sterrett was along--made progress among the
cantinas, divesting the bars as we went of all strong drink bearing
American labels. We kept informing the atmosphere as to the glory and
preeminence of the United States and its ability to subdue, outjump,
and eradicate the other nations of the earth. And, as the findings of
American labels grew more plentiful, we became more contaminated with
patriotism. Maximilian Jones hopes that our late foe, Mr. Sterrett,
will not take offense at our enthusiasm. He sets down his bottle and
shakes Sterrett's hand. 'As white man to white man,' says he, 'denude
our uproar of the slightest taint of personality. Excuse us for Bunker
Hill, Patrick Henry, and Waldorf Astor, and such grievances as might
lie between us as nations.'
"'Fellow hoodlums,' says Sterrett, 'on behalf of the Queen I ask you
to cheese it. It is an honour to be a guest at disturbing the peace
under the American flag. Let us chant the passionate strains of
"Yankee Doodle" while the senor behind the bar mitigates the occasion
with another round of cochineal and aqua fortis.'
"Old Man Billfinger, being charged with a kind of rhetoric, makes
speeches every time we stop. We explained to such citizens as we
happened to step on that we were celebrating the dawn of our own
private brand of liberty, and to please enter such inhumanities as we
might commit on the list of unavoidable casualties.
"About eleven o'clock our bulletins read: 'A considerable rise in
temperature, accompanied by thirst and other alarming symptoms.' We
hooked arms and stretched our line across the narrow streets, all of
us armed with Winchesters and navys for purposes of noise and without
malice. We stopped on a street corner and fired a dozen or so rounds,
and began a serial assortment of United States whoops and yells,
probably the first ever heard in that town.
"When we made that noise things began to liven up. We heard a
pattering up a side street, and here came General Mary Esperanza Dingo
on a white horse with a couple of hundred brown boys following him in
red undershirts and bare feet, dragging guns ten feet long. Jones and
me had forgot all about General Mary and his promise to help us
celebrate. We fired another salute and gave another yell, while the
General shook hands with us and waved his sword.
"'Oh, General,' shouts Jones, 'this is great. This will be a real
pleasure to the eagle. Get down and have a drink.'
"'Drink?' says the general. 'No. There is no time to drink. /Vive la
"'Don't forget /E Pluribus Unum/!' says Henry Barnes.
"'/Viva/ it good and strong,' says I. 'Likewise, /viva/ George
Washington. God save the Union, and,' I says, bowing to Sterrett,
'don't discard the Queen.'
"'Thanks,' says Sterrett. 'The next round's mine. All in to the bar.
"But we were deprived of Sterrett's treat by a lot of gunshots several
square sway, which General Dingo seemed to think he ought to look
after. He spurred his old white plug up that way, and the soldiers
scuttled along after him.
"'Mary is a real tropical bird,' says Jones. 'He's turned out the
infantry to help us to honour to the Fourth. We'll get that cannon he
spoke of after a while and fire some window-breakers with it. But just
now I want some of that barbecued beef. Let us on to the plaza.'
"There we found the meat gloriously done, and Jerry waiting, anxious.
We sat around on the grass, and got hunks of it on our tin plates.
Maximilian Jones, always made tender-hearted by drink, cried some
because George Washington couldn't be there to enjoy the day. 'There
was a man I love, Billy,' he says, weeping on my shoulder. 'Poor
George! To think he's gone, and missed the fireworks. A little more
salt, please, Jerry.'
"From what we could hear, General Dingo seemed to be kindly
contributing some noise while we feasted. There were guns going off
around town, and pretty soon we heard that cannon go 'BOOM!' just as
he said it would. And then men began to skin along the edge of the
plaza, dodging in among the orange trees and houses. We certainly had
things stirred up in Salvador. We felt proud of the occasion and
grateful to General Dingo. Sterrett was about to take a bite off a
juicy piece of rib when a bullet took it away from his mouth.
"'Somebody's celebrating with ball cartridges,' says he, reaching for
another piece. 'Little over-zealous for a non-resident patriot, isn't
"'Don't mind it,' I says to him. ''Twas an accident. They happen, you
know, on the Fourth. After one reading of the Declaration of
Independence in New York I've known the S.R.O. sign to be hung out at
all the hospitals and police stations.'
"But then Jerry gives a howl and jumps up with one hand clapped to the
back of his leg where another bullet has acted over-zealous. And then
comes a quantity of yells, and round a corner and across the plaza
gallops General Mary Esperanza Dingo embracing the neck of his horse,
with his men running behind him, mostly dropping their guns by way of
discharging ballast. And chasing 'em all is a company of feverish
little warriors wearing blue trousers and caps.
"'Assistance, amigos,' the General shouts, trying to stop his horse.
'Assistance, in the name of Liberty!'
"'That's the Campania Azul, the President's bodyguard,' says Jones.
'What a shame! They've jumped on poor old Mary just because he was
helping us to celebrate. Come on, boys, it's our Fourth;--do we let
that little squad of A.D.T's break it up?'
"'I vote No,' says Martin Dillard, gathering his Winchester. 'It's the
privilege of an American citizen to drink, drill, dress up, and be
dreadful on the Fourth of July, no matter whose country he's in.'
"'Fellow citizens!' says old man Billfinger, 'In the darkest hour of
Freedom's birth, when our brave forefathers promulgated the principles
of undying liberty, they never expected that a bunch of blue jays like
that should be allowed to bust up an anniversary. Let us preserve and
protect the Constitution.'
"We made it unanimous, and then we gathered our guns and assaulted the
blue troops in force. We fired over their heads, and then charged 'em
with a yell, and they broke and ran. We were irritated at having our
barbecue disturbed, and we chased 'em a quarter of a mile. Some of 'em
we caught and kicked hard. The General rallied his troops and joined
in the chase. Finally they scattered in a thick banana grove, and we
couldn't flush a single one. So we sat down and rested.
"If I were to be put, severe, through the third degree, I wouldn't be
able to tell much about the rest of the day. I mind that we pervaded
the town considerable, calling upon the people to bring out more
armies for us to destroy. I remember seeing a crowd somewhere, and a
tall man that wasn't Billfinger making a Fourth of July speech from a
balcony. And that was about all.
"Somebody must have hauled the old ice factory up to where I was, and
put it around me, for there's where I was when I woke up the next
morning. As soon as I could recollect by name and address I got up and
held an inquest. My last cent was gone. I was all in.
"And then a neat black carriage drives to the door, and out steps
General Dingo and a bay man in a silk hat and tan shoes.
"'Yes,' says I to myself, 'I see it now. You're the Chief de Policeos
and High Lord Chamberlain of the Calaboosum; and you want Billy
Casparis for excess of patriotism and assault with intent. All right.
Might as well be in jail, anyhow.'
"But it seems that General Mary is smiling, and the bay man shakes my
hand, and speaks in the American dialect.
"'General Dingo has informed me, Senor Casparis, of your gallant
service in our cause. I desire to thank you with my person. The
bravery of you and the other senores Americanos turned the struggle
for liberty in our favour. Our party triumphed. The terrible battle
will live forever in history.
"'Battle?' says I; 'what battle?' and I ran my mind back along
history, trying to think.
"'Senor Casparis is modest,' says General Dingo. 'He led his brave
compadres into the thickest of the fearful conflict. Yes. Without
their aid the revolution would have failed.'
"'Why, now,' says I, 'don't tell me there was a revolution yesterday.
That was only a Fourth of--'
"But right there I abbreviated. It seemed to me it might be best.
"'After the terrible struggle,' says the bay man, 'President Bolano
was forced to fly. To-day Caballo is President by proclamation. Ah,
yes. Beneath the new administration I am the head of the Department of
Mercantile Concessions. On my file I find one report, Senor Casparis,
that you have not made ice in accord with your contract.' And here the
bay man smiles at me, 'cute.
"'Oh, well,' says I, 'I guess the report's straight. I know they
caught me. That's all there is to it.'
"'Do not say so,' says the bay man. He pulls off a glove and goes over
and lays his hand on that chunk of glass.
"'Ice,' says he, nodding his head, solemn.
"General Dingo also steps over and feels of it.
"'Ice,' says the General; 'I'll swear to it.'
"'If Senor Casparis,' says the bay man, 'will present himself to the
treasury on the sixth day of this month he will receive back the
thousand dollars he did deposit as a forfeit. Adios, senor.'
"The General and the bay man bowed themselves out, and I bowed as
often as they did.
"And when the carriage rolls away through the sand I bows once more,
deeper than ever, till my hat touches the ground. But this time 'twas
not intended for them. For, over their heads, I saw the old flag
fluttering in the breeze above the consul's roof; and 'twas to it I
made my profoundest salute."
THE EMANCIPATION OF BILLY
In the old, old, square-porticoed mansion, with the wry window-
shutters and the paint peeling off in discoloured flakes, lived one of
the last war governors.
The South has forgotten the enmity of the great conflict, but it
refuses to abandon its old traditions and idols. In "Governor"
Pemberton, as he was still fondly called, the inhabitants of Elmville
saw the relic of their state's ancient greatness and glory. In his day
he had been a man large in the eye of his country. His state had
pressed upon him every honour within its gift. And now when he was
old, and enjoying a richly merited repose outside the swift current of
public affairs, his townsmen loved to do him reverence for the sake of
The Governor's decaying "mansion" stood upon the main street of
Elmville within a few feet of its rickety paling-fence. Every morning
the Governor would descend the steps with extreme care and
deliberation--on account of his rheumatism--and then the click of his
gold-headed cane would be heard as he slowly proceeded up the rugged
brick sidewalk. He was now nearly seventy-eight, but he had grown old
gracefully and beautifully. His rather long, smooth hair and flowing,
parted whiskers were snow-white. His full-skirted frock-croak was
always buttoned snugly about his tall, spare figure. He wore a high,
well-kept silk hat--known as a "plug" in Elmville--and nearly always
gloves. His manners were punctilious, and somewhat overcharged with
The Governor's walks up Lee Avenue, the principal street, developed in
their course into a sort of memorial, triumphant procession. Everyone
he met saluted him with profound respect. Many would remove their
hats. Those who were honoured with his personal friendship would pause
to shake hands, and then you would see exemplified the genuine /beau
ideal/ Southern courtesy.
Upon reaching the corner of the second square from the mansion, the
Governor would pause. Another street crossed the venue there, and
traffic, to the extent of several farmers' wagons and a peddler's cart
or two, would rage about the junction. Then the falcon eye of General
Deffenbaugh would perceive the situation, and the General would
hasten, with ponderous solicitude, from his office in the First
National Bank building to the assistance of his old friend.
When the two exchanged greetings the decay of modern manners would
become accusingly apparent. The General's bulky and commanding figure
would bend lissomely at a point where you would have regarded its
ability to do so with incredulity. The Governor would take the
General's arm and be piloted safely between the hay-wagons and the
sprinkling-cart to the other side of the street. Proceeding to the
post-office in the care of his friend, the esteemed statesmen would
there hold an informal levee among the citizens who were come for
their morning mail. Here, gathering two or three prominent in law,
politics, or family, the pageant would make a stately progress along
the Avenue, stopping at the Palace Hotel, where, perhaps, would be
found upon the register the name of some guest deemed worthy of an
introduction to the state's venerable and illustrious son. If any such
were found, an hour or two would be spent in recalling the faded
glories of the Governor's long-vanished administration.
On the return march the General would invariably suggest that, His
Excellency being no doubt fatigued, it would be wise to recuperate for
a few minutes at the Drug Emporium of Mr. Appleby R. Fentress (an
elegant gentleman, sir--one of the Chatham County Fentresses--so many
of our best-blooded families have had to go into trade, sir, since the
Mr. Appleby R. Fentress was a /connoisseur/ in fatigue. Indeed, if he
had not been, his memory alone should have enabled him to prescribe,
for the majestic invasion of his pharmacy was a casual happening that
had surprised him almost daily for years. Mr. Fentress knew the
formula of, and possessed the skill to compound, a certain potion
antagonistic to fatigue, the salient ingredient of which he described
(no doubt in pharmaceutical terms) as "genuine old hand-made Clover
Leaf '59, Private Stock."
Nor did the ceremony of administering the potion ever vary. Mr.
Fentress would first compound two of the celebrated mixtures--one for
the Governor, and the other for the General to "sample." Then the
Governor would make this little speech in his high, piping, quavering
"No, sir--not one drop until you have prepared one for yourself and
join us, Mr. Fentress. Your father, sir, was one of my most valued
supporters and friends during My Administration, and any mark of
esteem I can confer upon his son is not only a pleasure but a duty,
Blushing with delight at the royal condescension, the druggist would
obey, and all would drink to the General's toast: "The prosperity of
our grand old state, gentlemen--the memory of her glorious past--the
health of her Favourite Son."
Some one of the Old Guard was always at hand to escort the Governor
home. Sometimes the General's business duties denied him the
privilege, and then Judge Broomfield or Colonel Titus, or one of the
Ashford County Slaughters would be on hand to perform the rite.
Such were the observances attendant upon the Governor's morning stroll
to the post-office. How much more magnificent, impressive, and
spectacular, then, was the scene at public functions when the General
would lead forth the silver-haired relic of former greatness, like
some rare and fragile waxwork figure, and trumpet his pristine
eminence to his fellow citizens!
General Deffenbaugh was the Voice of Elmville. Some said he was
Elmville. At any rate, he had no competitor as the Mouthpiece. He
owned enough stock in the /Daily Banner/ to dictate its utterance,
enough shares in the First National Bank to be the referee of its
loans, and a war record that left him without a rival for first place
at barbecues, school commencements, and Decoration Days. Besides these
acquirements he was possessed with endowments. His personality was
inspiring and triumphant. Undisputed sway had moulded him to the
likeness of a fatted Roman emperor. The tones of his voice were not
otherwise than clarion. To say that the General was public-spirited
would fall short of doing him justice. He had spirit enough for a
dozen publics. And as a sure foundation for it all, he had a heart
that was big and stanch. Yes; General Deffenbaugh was Elmville.
One little incident that usually occurred during the Governor's
morning walk has had its chronicling delayed by more important
matters. The procession was accustomed to halt before a small brick
office on the Avenue, fronted by a short flight of steep wooden steps.
A modest tin sign over the door bore the words: "Wm. B. Pemberton:
Looking inside, the General would roar: "Hello, Billy, my boy." The
less distinguished members of the escort would call: "Morning, Billy."
The Governor would pipe: "Good morning, William."
Then a patient-looking little man with hair turning gray along the
temples would come down the steps and shake hands with each one of the
party. All Elmville shook hands when it met.
The formalities concluded, the little man would go back to his table,
heaped with law books and papers, while the procession would proceed.
Billy Pemberton was, as his sign declared, a lawyer by profession. By
occupation and common consent he was the Son of his Father. This was
the shadow in which Billy lived, the pit out of which he had
unsuccessfully striven for years to climb and, he had come to believe,
the grave in which his ambitions were destined to be buried. Filial
respect and duty he paid beyond the habit of most sons, but he aspired
to be known and appraised by his own deeds and worth.
After many years of tireless labour he had become known in certain
quarters far from Elmville as a master of the principles of the law.
Twice he had gone to Washington and argued cases before the highest
tribunal with such acute logic and learning that the silken gowns on
the bench had rustled from the force of it. His income from his
practice had grown until he was able to support his father, in the old
family mansion (which neither of them would have thought of
abandoning, rickety as it was) in the comfort and almost the luxury of
the old extravagant days. Yet, he remained to Elmville as only "Billy"
Pemberton, the son of our distinguished and honoured fellow-townsman,
"ex-Governor Pemberton." Thus was he introduced at public gatherings
where he sometimes spoke, haltingly and prosily, for his talents were
too serious and deep for extempore brilliancy; thus was he presented
to strangers and to the lawyers who made the circuit of the courts;
and so the /Daily Banner/ referred to him in print. To be "the son of"
was his doom. What ever he should accomplish would have to be
sacrificed upon the altar of this magnificent but fatal parental
The peculiarity and the saddest thing about Billy's ambition was that
the only world he thirsted to conquer was Elmville. His nature was
diffident and unassuming. National or State honours might have
oppressed him. But, above all things, he hungered for the appreciation
of the friends among whom he had been born and raised. He would not
have plucked one leaf from the garlands that were so lavishly bestowed
upon his father, he merely rebelled against having his own wreathes
woven from those dried and self-same branches. But Elmville "Billied"
and "sonned" him to his concealed but lasting chagrin, until at length
he grew more reserved and formal and studious than ever.
There came a morning when Billy found among his mail a letter from a
very high source, tendering him the appointment to an important
judicial position in the new island possessions of our country. The
honour was a distinguished one, for the entire nation had discussed
the probable recipients of these positions, and had agreed that the
situation demanded only men of the highest character, ripe learning,
and evenly balanced mind.
Billy could not subdue a certain exultation at this token of the
success of his long and arduous labours, but, at the same time, a
whimsical smile lingered around his mouth, for he foresaw in which
column Elmville would place the credit. "We congratulate Governor
Pemberton upon the mark of appreciation conferred upon his son"--
"Elmville rejoices with our honoured citizen, Governor Pemberton, at
his son's success"--"Put her there, Billy!"--"Judge Billy Pemberton,
sir; son of our State's war hero and the people's pride!"--these were
the phrases, printed and oral, conjured up by Billy's prophetic fancy.
Grandson of his State, and stepchild to Elmville--thus had fate fixed
his kinship to the body politic.
Billy lived with his father in the old mansion. The two and an elderly
lady--a distant relative--comprised the family. Perhaps, though, old
Jeff, the Governor's ancient coloured body-servant, should be
included. Without doubt, he could have claimed the honour. There were
other servants, but Thomas Jefferson Pemberton, sah, was a member of
Jeff was the one Elmvillian who gave to Billy the gold of approval
unmixed with the alloy of paternalism. To him "Mars William" was the
greatest man in Talbot County. Beaten upon though he was by the
shining light that emanates from an ex-war governor, and loyal as he
remained to the old /regime/, his faith and admiration were Billy's.
As valet to a hero, and a member of the family, he may have had
superior opportunities for judging.
Jeff was the first one to whom Bill revealed the news. When he reached
home for supper Jeff took his "plug" hat and smoothed it before
hanging it upon the hall-rack.
"Dar now!" said the old man: "I knowed it was er comin'. I knowed it
was gwine ter happen. Er Judge, you says, Mars William? Dem Yankees
done made you er judge? It's high time, sah, dey was doin' somep'n to
make up for dey rascality endurin' de war. I boun' dey holds a confab
and says: 'Le's make Mars William Pemberton er judge, and dat'll
settle it.' Does you have to go way down to dem Fillypines, Mars
William, or kin you judge 'em from here?"
"I'd have to live there most of the time, of course," said Billy.
"I wonder what de Gubnor gwine say 'bout dat," speculated Jeff.
Billy wondered too.
After supper, when the two sat in the library, according to their
habit, the Governor smoking his clay pipe and Billy his cigar, the son
dutifully confessed to having been tendered the appointment.
For a long time the Governor sat, smoking, without making any comment.
Billy reclined in his favourite rocker, waiting, perhaps still flushed
with satisfaction over the tender that had come to him, unsolicited,
in his dingy little office, above the heads of the intriguing, time-
serving, clamorous multitude.
At last the Governor spoke; and, though his words were seemingly
irrelevant, they were to the point. His voice had a note of martyrdom
running through its senile quaver.
"My rheumatism has been growing steadily worse these past months,
"I am sorry, father," said Billy, gently.
"And I am nearly seventy-eight. I am getting to be an old man. I can
recall the names of but two or three who were in public life during My
Administration. What did you say is the nature of this position that
is offered you, William?"
"A Federal Judgeship, father. I believe it is considered to be a
somewhat flattering tender. It is outside of politics and wire-
pulling, you know."
"No doubt, no doubt. Few of the Pembertons have engaged in
professional life for nearly a century. None of them have ever held
Federal positions. They have been land-holders, slave-owners, and
planters on a large scale. One of two of the Derwents--your mother's
family--were in the law. Have you decided to accept this appointment,
"I am thinking it over," said Billy, slowly, regarding the ash of his
"You have been a good son to me," continued the Governor, stirring his
pipe with the handle of a penholder.
"I've been your son all my life," said Billy, darkly.
"I am often gratified," piped the Governor, betraying a touch of
complacency, "by being congratulated upon having a son with such sound
and sterling qualities. Especially in this, our native town, is your
name linked with mine in the talk of our citizens."
"I never knew anyone to forget the vindculum," murmured Billy,
"Whatever prestige," pursued the parent, "I may be possessed of, by
virtue of my name and services to the state, has been yours to draw
upon freely. I have not hesitated to exert it in your behalf whenever
opportunity offered. And you have deserved it, William. You've been
the best of sons. And now this appointment comes to take you away from
me. I have but a few years left to live. I am almost dependent upon
others now, even in walking and dressing. What would I do without you,
The Governor's pipe dropped to the floor. A tear trickled from his
eye. His voice had risen, and crumbled to a weakling falsetto, and
ceased. He was an old, old man about to be bereft of a son that
Billy rose, and laid his hand upon the Governor's shoulder.
"Don't worry, father," he said, cheerfully. "I'm not going to accept.
Elmville is good enough for me. I'll write to-night and decline it."
At the next interchange of devoirs between the Governor and General
Deffenbaugh on Lee Avenue, His Excellency, with a comfortable air of
self-satisfaction, spoke of the appointment that had been tendered to
The General whistled.
"That's a plum for Billy," he shouted. "Who'd have thought that Billy
--but, confound it, it's been in him all the time. It's a boost for
Elmville. It'll send real estate up. It's an honour to our state. It's
a compliment to the South. We've all been blind about Billy. When does
he leave? We must have a reception. Great Gatlings! that job's eight
thousand a year! There's been a car-load of lead-pencils worn to stubs
figuring on those appointments. Think of it! Our little, wood-sawing,
mealy-mouthed Billy! Angel unawares doesn't begin to express it.
Elmville is disgraced forever until she lines up in a hurry for
ratification and apology."
The venerable Moloch smiled fatuously. He carried the fire with which
to consume all these tributes to Billy, the smoke of which would
ascend as an incense to himself.
"William," said the Governor, with modest pride, "has declined the
appointment. He refuses to leave me in my old age. He is a good son."
The General swung round, and laid a large forefinger upon the bosom of
his friend. Much of the General's success had been due to his
dexterity in establishing swift lines of communication between cause
"Governor," he said, with a keen look in his big, ox-like eyes,
"you've been complaining to Billy about your rheumatism."
"My dear General," replied the Governor, stiffly, "my son is forty-
two. He is quite capable of deciding such questions for himself. And
I, as his parent, feel it my duty to state that your remark about--er
--rheumatism is a mighty poor shot from a very small bore, sir, aimed
at a purely personal and private affliction."
"If you will allow me," retorted the General, "you've afflicted the
public with it for some time; and 'twas no small bore, at that."
This first tiff between the two old comrades might have grown into
something more serious, but for the fortunate interruption caused by
the ostentatious approach of Colonel Titus and another one of the
court retinue from the right county, to whom the General confided the
coddled statesman and went his way.
After Billy had so effectually entombed his ambitions, and taken the
veil, so to speak, in a sonnery, he was surprised to discover how much
lighter of heart and happier he felt. He realized what a long,
restless struggle he had maintained, and how much he had lost by
failing to cull the simple but wholesome pleasures by the way. His
heart warmed now to Elmville and the friends who had refused to set
him upon a pedestal. It was better, he began to think, to be "Billy"
and his father's son, and to be hailed familiarly by cheery neighbours
and grown-up playmates, than to be "Your Honour," and sit among
strangers, hearing, maybe, through the arguments of learned counsel,
that old man's feeble voice crying: "What would I do without you, my
Billy began to surprise his acquaintances by whistling as he walked up
the street; others he astounded by slapping them disrespectfully upon
their backs and raking up old anecdotes he had not had the time to
recollect for years. Though he hammered away at his law cases as
thoroughly as ever, he found more time for relaxation and the company
of his friends. Some of the younger set were actually after him to
join the golf club. A striking proof of his abandonment to obscurity
was his adoption of a most undignified, rakish, little soft hat,
reserving the "plug" for Sundays and state occasions. Billy was
beginning to enjoy Elmville, though that irreverent burgh had
neglected to crown him with bay and myrtle.
All the while uneventful peace pervaded Elmville. The Governor
continued to make his triumphal parades to the post-office with the
General as chief marshal, for the slight squall that had rippled their
friendship had, to all indications, been forgotten by both.
But one day Elmville woke to sudden excitement. The news had come that
a touring presidential party would honour Elmville by a twenty-minute
stop. The Executive had promised a five-minute address from the
balcony of the Palace Hotel.
Elmville rose as one man--that man being, of course, General
Deffenbaugh--to receive becomingly the chieftain of all the clans. The
train with the tiny Stars and Stripes fluttering from the engine pilot
arrived. Elmville had done her best. There were bands, flowers,
carriages, uniforms, banners, and committees without end. High-school
girls in white frocks impeded the steps of the party with roses strewn
nervously in bunches. The chieftain had seen it all before--scores of
times. He could have pictured it exactly in advance, from the Blue-
and-Gray speech down to the smallest rosebud. Yet his kindly smile of
interest greeted Elmville's display as if it had been the only and
In the upper rotunda of the Palace Hotel the town's most illustrious
were assembled for the honour of being presented to the distinguished
guests previous to the expected address. Outside, Elmville's
inglorious but patriotic masses filled the streets.
Here, in the hotel General Deffenbaugh was holding in reserve
Elmville's trump card. Elmville knew; for the trump was a fixed one,
and its lead consecrated by archaic custom.
At the proper moment Governor Pemberton, beautifully venerable,
magnificently antique, tall, paramount, stepped forward upon the arm
of the General.
Elmville watched and harked with bated breath. Never until now--when a
Northern President of the United States should clasp hands with ex-
war-Governor Pemberton would the breach be entirely closed--would the
country be made one and indivisible--no North, not much South, very
little East, and no West to speak of. So Elmville excitedly scraped
kalsomine from the walls of the Palace Hotel with its Sunday best, and
waited for the Voice to speak.
And Billy! We had nearly forgotten Billy. He was cast for Son, and he
waited patiently for his cue. He carried his "plug" in his hand, and
felt serene. He admired his father's striking air and pose. After all,
it was a great deal to be a son of a man who could so gallantly hold
the position of a cynosure for three generations.
General Deffenbaugh cleared his throat. Elmville opened its mouth, and
squirmed. The chieftain with the kindly, fateful face was holding out
his hand, smiling. Ex-war-Governor Pemberton extended his own across
the chasm. But what was this the General was saying?
"Mr. President, allow me to present to you one who has the honour to
be the father of our foremost, distinguished citizen, learned and
honoured jurist, beloved townsman, and model Southern gentleman--the
Honourable William B. Pemberton."
THE ENCHANTED KISS
But a clerk in the Cut-rate Drug Store was Samuel Tansey, yet his
slender frame was a pad that enfolded the passion of Romeo, the gloom
of Laura, the romance of D'Artagnan, and the desperate inspiration of
Melnotte. Pity, then, that he had been denied expression, that he was
doomed to the burden of utter timidity and diffidence, that Fate had
set him tongue-tied and scarlet before the muslin-clad angels whom he
adored and vainly longed to rescue, clasp, comfort, and subdue.
The clock's hands were pointing close upon the hour of ten while
Tansey was playing billiards with a number of his friends. On
alternate evenings he was released from duty at the store after seven
o'clock. Even among his fellow-men Tansey was timorous and
constrained. In his imagination he had done valiant deeds and
performed acts of distinguished gallantry; but in fact he was a sallow
youth of twenty-three, with an over-modest demeanour and scant
When the clock struck ten, Tansey hastily laid down his cue and struck
sharply upon the show-case with a coin for the attendant to come and
receive the pay for his score.
"What's your hurry, Tansey?" called one. "Got another engagement?"
"Tansey got an engagement!" echoed another. "Not on your life.
Tansey's got to get home at Motten by her Peek's orders."
"It's no such thing," chimed in a pale youth, taking a large cigar
from his mouth; "Tansey's afraid to be late because Miss Katie might
come down stairs to unlock the door, and kiss him in the hall."
This last delicate piece of raillery sent a fiery tingle into Tansey's
blood, for the indictment was true--barring the kiss. That was a thing
to dream of; to wildly hope for; but too remote and sacred a thing to
think of lightly.
Casting a cold and contemptuous look at the speaker--a punishment
commensurate with his own diffident spirit--Tansey left the room,
descending the stairs into the street.
For two years he had silently adored Miss Peek, worshipping her from a
spiritual distance through which her attractions took on stellar
brightness and mystery. Mrs. Peek kept a few choice boarders, among
whom was Tansey. The other young men romped with Katie, chased her
with crickets in their fingers, and "jollied" her with an irreverent
freedom that turned Tansey's heart into cold lead in his bosom. The
signs of his adoration were few--a tremulous "Good morning," stealthy
glances at her during meals, and occasionally (Oh, rapture!) a
blushing, delirious game of cribbage with her in the parlour on some
rare evening when a miraculous lack of engagement kept her at home.
Kiss him in the hall! Aye, he feared it, but it was an ecstatic fear
such as Elijah must have felt when the chariot lifted him into the
But to-night the gibes of his associates had stung him to a feeling of
forward, lawless mutiny; a defiant, challenging, atavistic
recklessness. Spirit of corsair, adventurer, lover, poet, bohemian,
possessed him. The stars he saw above him seemed no more unattainable,
no less high, than the favour of Miss Peek or the fearsome sweetness
of her delectable lips. His fate seemed to him strangely dramatic and
pathetic, and to call for a solace consonant with its extremity. A
saloon was near by, and to this he flitted, calling for absinthe--
beyond doubt the drink most adequate to his mood--the tipple of the
roue, the abandoned, the vainly sighing lover.
Once he drank of it, and again, and then again until he felt a
strange, exalted sense of non-participation in worldly affairs pervade
him. Tansey was no drinker; his consumption of three absinthe
anisettes within almost as few minutes proclaimed his unproficiency in
the art; Tansey was merely flooding with unproven liquor his sorrows;
which record and tradition alleged to be drownable.
Coming out upon the sidewalk, he snapped his fingers defiantly in the
direction of the Peek homestead, turned the other way, and voyaged,
Columbus-like into the wilds of an enchanted street. Nor is the figure
exorbitant, for, beyond his store the foot of Tansey had scarcely been
set for years--store and boarding-house; between these ports he was
charted to run, and contrary currents had rarely deflected his prow.
Tansey aimlessly protracted his walk, and, whether it was his
unfamiliarity with the district, his recent accession of audacious
errantry, or the sophistical whisper of a certain green-eyed fairy, he
came at last to tread a shuttered, blank, and echoing thoroughfare,
dark and unpeopled. And, suddenly, this way came to an end (as many
streets do in the Spanish-built, archaic town of San Antone), butting
its head against an imminent, high, brick wall. No--the street still
lived! To the right and to the left it breathed through slender tubes
of exit--narrow, somnolent ravines, cobble paved and unlighted.
Accommodating a rise in the street to the right was reared a phantom
flight of five luminous steps of limestone, flanked by a wall of the
same height and of the same material.
Upon one of these steps Tansey seated himself and bethought him of his
love, and how she might never know she was his love. And of Mother
Peek, fat, vigilant and kind; not unpleased, Tansey thought, that he
and Katie should play cribbage in the parlour together. For the Cut-
rate had not cut his salary, which, sordidly speaking, ranked him star
boarder at the Peek's. And he thought of Captain Peek, Katie's father,
a man he dreaded and abhorred; a genteel loafer and spendthrift,
battening upon the labour of his women-folk; a very queer fish, and,
according to repute, not of the freshest.
The night had turned chill and foggy. The heart of the town, with its
noises, was left behind. Reflected from the high vapours, its distant
lights were manifest in quivering, cone-shaped streamers, in
questionable blushes of unnamed colours, in unstable, ghostly waves of
far, electric flashes. Now that the darkness was become more friendly,
the wall against which the street splintered developed a stone coping
topped with an armature of spikes. Beyond it loomed what appeared to
be the acute angles of mountain peaks, pierced here and there by
little lambent parallelograms. Considering this vista, Tansey at
length persuaded himself that the seeming mountains were, in fact, the
convent of Santa Mercedes, with which ancient and bulky pile he was
better familiar from different coigns of view. A pleasant note of
singing in his ears reinforced his opinion. High, sweet, holy
carolling, far and harmonious and uprising, as of sanctified nuns at
their responses. At what hour did the Sisters sing? He tried to think
--was it six, eight, twelve? Tansey leaned his back against the
limestone wall and wondered. Strange things followed. The air was full
of white, fluttering pigeons that circled about, and settled upon the
convent wall. The wall blossomed with a quantity of shining green eyes
that blinked and peered at him from the solid masonry. A pink, classic
nymph came from an excavation in the cavernous road and danced,
barefoot and airy, upon the ragged flints. The sky was traversed by a
company of beribboned cats, marching in stupendous, aerial procession.
The noise of singing grew louder; an illumination of unseasonable
fireflies danced past, and strange whispers came out of the dark
without meaning or excuse.
Without amazement Tansey took note of these phenomena. He was on some
new plane of understanding, though his mind seemed to him clear and,
indeed, happily tranquil.
A desire for movement and exploration seized him: he rose and turned
into the black gash of street to his right. For a time the high wall
formed one of its boundaries; but further on, two rows of black-
windowed houses closed it in.
Here was the city's quarter once given over to the Spaniard. Here were
still his forbidding abodes of concrete and adobe, standing cold and
indomitable against the century. From the murky fissure, the eye saw,
flung against the sky, the tangled filigree of his Moorish balconies.
Through stone archways breaths of dead, vault-chilled air coughed upon
him; his feet struck jingling iron rings in staples stone-buried for
half a cycle. Along these paltry avenues had swaggered the arrogant
Don, had caracoled and serenaded and blustered while the tomahawk and
the pioneer's rifle were already uplifted to expel him from a
continent. And Tansey, stumbling through this old-world dust, looked
up, dark as it was, and saw Andalusian beauties glimmering on the
balconies. Some of them were laughing and listening to the goblin
music that still followed; others harked fearfully through the night,
trying to catch the hoof beats of caballeros whose last echoes from
those stones had died away a century ago. Those women were silent, but
Tansey heard the jangle of horseless bridle-bits, the whirr of
riderless rowels, and, now and then, a muttered malediction in a
foreign tongue. But he was not frightened. Shadows, nor shadows of
sounds could daunt him. Afraid? No. Afraid of Mother Peek? Afraid to
face the girl of his heart? Afraid of tipsy Captain Peek? Nay! nor of
these apparitions, nor of that spectral singing that always pursued
him. Singing! He would show them! He lifted up a strong and untuneful
"When you hear them bells go tingalingling,"
serving notice upon those mysterious agencies that if it should come
to a face-to-face encounter
"There'll be a hot time
In the old town
How long Tansey consumed in treading this haunted byway was not clear
to him, but in time he emerged into a more commodious avenue. When
within a few yards of the corner he perceived, through a window, that
a small confectionary of mean appearance was set in the angle. His
same glance that estimated its meagre equipment, its cheap soda-water
fountain and stock of tobacco and sweets, took cognizance of Captain
Peek within lighting a cigar at a swinging gaslight.
As Tansey rounded the corner Captain Peek came out, and they met /vis-
a-vis/. An exultant joy filled Tansey when he found himself sustaining
the encounter with implicit courage. Peek, indeed! He raised his hand,
and snapped his fingers loudly.
It was Peek himself who quailed guiltily before the valiant mien of
the drug clerk. Sharp surprise and a palpable fear bourgeoned upon the
Captain's face. And, verily, that face was one to rather call up such
expressions on the faces of others. The face of a libidinous heathen
idol, small eyed, with carven folds in the heavy jowls, and a
consuming, pagan license in its expression. In the gutter just beyond
the store Tansey saw a closed carriage standing with its back toward
him and a motionless driver perched in his place.
"Why, it's Tansey!" exclaimed Captain Peek. "How are you, Tansey? H-
have a cigar, Tansey?"
"Why, it's Peek!" cried Tansey, jubilant at his own temerity. "What
deviltry are you up to now, Peek? Back streets and a closed carriage!
"There's no one in the carriage," said the Captain, smoothly.
"Everybody out of it is in luck," continued Tansey, aggressively. "I'd
love for you to know, Peek, that I'm not stuck on you. You're a
"Why, the little rat's drunk!" cried the Captain, joyfully; "only
drunk, and I thought he was on! Go home, Tansey, and quit bothering
grown persons on the street."
But just then a white-clad figure sprang out of the carriage, and a
shrill voice--Katie's voice--sliced the air: "Sam! Sam!--help me,
Tansey sprung toward her, but Captain Peek interposed his bulky form.
Wonder of wonders! the whilom spiritless youth struck out with his
right, and the hulking Captain went over in a swearing heap. Tansey
flew to Katie, and took her in his arms like a conquering knight. She
raised her face, and he kissed her--violets! electricity! caramels!
champagne! Here was the attainment of a dream that brought no
"Oh, Sam," cried Katie, when she could, "I knew you would come to
rescue me. What do you suppose the mean things were going to do with
"Have your picture taken," said Tansey, wondering at the foolishness
of his remark.
"No, they were going to eat me. I heard them talking about it."
"Eat you!" said Tansey, after pondering a moment. "That can't be;
there's no plates."
But a sudden noise warned him to turn. Down upon him were bearing the
Captain and a monstrous long-bearded dwarf in a spangled cloak and red
trunk-hose. The dwarf leaped twenty feet and clutched them. The
Captain seized Katie and hurled her, shrieking, back into the
carriage, himself followed, and the vehicle dashed away. The dwarf
lifted Tansey high above his head and ran with him into the store.
Holding him with one hand, he raised the lid of an enormous chest half
filled with cakes of ice, flung Tansey inside, and closed down the
The force of the fall must have been great, for Tansey lost
consciousness. When his faculties revived his first sensation was one
of severe cold along his back and limbs. Opening his eyes, he found
himself to be seated upon the limestone steps still facing the wall
and convent of Santa Mercedes. His first thought was of the ecstatic
kiss from Katie. The outrageous villainy of Captain Peek, the
unnatural mystery of the situation, his preposterous conflict with the
improbable dwarf--these things roused and angered him, but left no
impression of the unreal.
"I'll go back there to-morrow," he grumbled aloud, "and knock the head
off that comic-opera squab. Running out and picking up perfect
strangers, and shoving them into cold storage!"
But the kiss remained uppermost in his mind. "I might have done that
long ago," he mused. "She liked it, too. She called me 'Sam' four
times. I'll not go up that street again. Too much scrapping. Guess
I'll move down the other way. Wonder what she meant by saying they
were going to eat her!"
Tansey began to feel sleepy, but after a while he decided to move
along again. This time he ventured into the street to his left. It ran
level for a distance, and then dipped gently downward, opening into a
vast, dim, barren space--the old Military Plaza. To his left, some
hundred yards distant, he saw a cluster of flickering lights along the
Plaza's border. He knew the locality at once.
Huddled within narrow confines were the remnants of the once-famous
purveyors of the celebrated Mexican national cookery. A few years
before, their nightly encampments upon the historic Alamo Plaza, in
the heart of the city, had been a carnival, a saturnalia that was
renowned throughout the land. Then the caterers numbered hundreds; the
patrons thousands. Drawn by the coquettish /senoritas/, the music of
the weird Spanish minstrels, and the strange piquant Mexican dishes
served at a hundred competing tables, crowds thronged the Alamo Plaza
all night. Travellers, rancheros, family parties, gay gasconading
rounders, sightseers and prowlers of polyglot, owlish San Antone
mingled there at the centre of the city's fun and frolic. The popping
of corks, pistols, and questions; the glitter of eyes, jewels and
daggers; the ring of laughter and coin--these were the order of the
But now no longer. To some half-dozen tents, fires, and tables had
dwindled the picturesque festival, and these had been relegated to an
ancient disused plaza.
Often had Tansey strolled down to these stands at night to partake of
the delectable /chili-con-carne/, a dish evolved by the genius of
Mexico, composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the
poignant /chili colorado/--a compound full of singular flavour and a
fiery zest delightful to the Southron's palate.
The titillating odour of this concoction came now, on the breeze, to
the nostrils of Tansey, awakening in him hunger for it. As he turned
in that direction he saw a carriage dash up to the Mexicans' tents out
of the gloom of the Plaza. Some figures moved back and forward in the
uncertain light of the lanterns, and then the carriage was driven
Tansey approached, and sat at one of the tables covered with gaudy
oil-cloth. Traffic was dull at the moment. A few half-grown boys
noisily fared at another table; the Mexicans hung listless and
phlegmatic about their wares. And it was still. The night hum of the
city crowded to the wall of dark buildings surrounding the Plaza, and
subsided to an indefinite buzz through which sharply perforated the
crackle of the languid fires and the rattle of fork and spoon. A
sedative wind blew from the southeast. The starless firmament pressed
down upon the earth like a leaden cover.
In all that quiet Tansey turned his head suddenly, and saw, without
disquietude, a troop of spectral horsemen deploy into the Plaza and
charge a luminous line of infantry that advanced to sustain the shock.
He saw the fierce flame of cannon and small arms, but heard no sound.
The careless victuallers lounged vacantly, not deigning to view the
conflict. Tansey mildly wondered to what nations these mute combatants
might belong; turned his back to them and ordered his chili and coffee
from the Mexican woman who advanced to serve him. This woman was old
and careworn; her face was lined like the rind of a cantaloupe. She
fetched the viands from a vessel set by the smouldering fire, and then
retired to a tent, dark within, that stood near by.
Presently Tansey heard a turmoil in the tent; a wailing, broken-
hearted pleading in the harmonious Spanish tongue, and then two
figures tumbled out into the light of the lanterns. One was the old
woman; the other was a man clothed with a sumptuous and flashing
splendour. The woman seemed to clutch and beseech from him something
against his will. The man broke from her and struck her brutally back
into the tent, where she lay, whimpering and invisible. Observing
Tansey, he walked rapidly to the table where he sat. Tansey recognized
him to be Ramon Torres, a Mexican, the proprietor of the stand he was
Torres was a handsome, nearly full-blooded descendant of the Spanish,
seemingly about thirty years of age, and of a haughty, but extremely
courteous demeanour. To-night he was dressed with signal magnificence.
His costume was that of a triumphant /matador/, made of purple velvet
almost hidden by jeweled embroidery. Diamonds of enormous size flashed
upon his garb and his hands. He reached for a chair, and, seating
himself at the opposite side of the table, began to roll a finical
"Ah, Meester Tanse," he said, with a sultry fire in his silky, black
eyes, "I give myself pleasure to see you this evening. Meester Tansee,
you have many times come to eat at my table. I theenk you a safe man--
a verree good friend. How much would it please you to leeve forever?"
"Not come back any more?" inquired Tansey.
"No; not leave--/leeve/; the not-to-die."
"I would call that," said Tansey, "a snap."
Torres leaned his elbows upon the table, swallowed a mouthful of
smoke, and spake--each word being projected in a little puff of gray.
"How old do you theenk I am, Meester Tansee?"
"Oh, twenty-eight or thirty."
"Thees day," said the Mexican, "ees my birthday. I am four hundred and
three years of old to-day."
"Another proof," said Tansey, airily, "of the healthfulness of our
"Eet is not the air. I am to relate to you a secret of verree fine
value. Listen me, Meester Tansee. At the age of twenty-three I arrive
in Mexico from Spain. When? In the year fifteen hundred nineteen, with
the /soldados/ of Hernando Cortez. I come to thees country seventeen
fifteen. I saw your Alamo reduced. It was like yesterday to me. Three
hundred ninety-six year ago I learn the secret always to leeve. Look
at these clothes I war--at these /diamantes/. Do you theenk I buy them
with the money I make with selling the /chili-con-carne/, Meester
"I should think not," said Tansey, promptly. Torres laughed loudly.
"/Valgame Dios/! but I do. But it not the kind you eating now. I make
a deeferent kind, the eating of which makes men to always leeve. What
do you think! One thousand people I supply--/diez pesos/ each one pays
me the month. You see! ten thousand /pesos/ everee month! /Que
diable/! how not I wear the fine /ropa/! You see that old woman try to
hold me back a little while ago? That ees my wife. When I marry her
she is young--seventeen year--/bonita/. Like the rest she ees become
old and--what you say!--tough? I am the same--young all the time.
To-night I resolve to dress myself and find another wife befitting my
age. This old woman try to scr-r-ratch my face. Ha! ha! Meester Tansee
--same way they do /entre los Americanos/."
"And this health-food you spoke of?" said Tansey.
"Hear me," said Torres, leaning over the table until he lay flat upon
it; "eet is the /chili-con-carne/ made not from the beef or the
chicken, but from the flesh of the /senorita/--young and tender. That
ees the secret. Everee month you must eat of it, having care to do so
before the moon is full, and you will not die any times. See how I
trust you, friend Tansee! To-night I have bought one young ladee--
verree pretty--so /fina, gorda, blandita/! To-morrow the /chili/ will
be ready. /Ahora si/! One thousand dollars I pay for thees young
ladee. From an /Americano/ I have bought--a verree tip-top man--/el
Capitan Peek/--/que es, Senor/?"
For Tansey had sprung to his feet, upsetting the chair. The words of
Katie reverberated in his ears: "They're going to eat me, Sam." This,
then, was the monstrous fate to which she had been delivered by her
unnatural parent. The carriage he had seen drive up from the Plaza was
Captain Peek's. Where was Katie? Perhaps already--
Before he could decide what to do a loud scream came from the tent.
The old Mexican woman ran out, a flashing knife in her hand. "I have
released her," she cried. "You shall kill no more. They will hang you
Torres, with a hissing exclamation, sprang at her.
"Ramoncito!" she shrieked; "once you loved me."
The Mexican's arm raised and descended. "You are old," he cried; and
she fell and lay motionless.
Another scream; the flaps of the tent were flung aside, and there
stood Katie, white with fear, her wrists still bound with a cruel
"Sam!" she cried, "save me again!"
Tansey rounded the table, and flung himself, with superb nerve, upon
the Mexican. Just then a clangour began; the clocks of the city were
tolling the midnight hour. Tansey clutched at Torres, and, for a
moment, felt in his grasp the crunch of velvet and the cold facets of
the glittering gems. The next instant, the bedecked caballero turned
in his hands to a shrunken, leather-visaged, white-bearded, old, old,
screaming mummy, sandalled, ragged, and four hundred and three. The
Mexican woman was crawling to her feet, and laughing. She shook her
brown hand in the face of the whining /viejo/.
"Go, now," she cried, "and seek your senorita. It was I, Ramoncito,
who brought you to this. Within each moon you eat of the life-giving
/chili/. It was I that kept the wrong time for you. You should have
eaten /yesterday/ instead of /to-morrow/. It is too late. Off with
you, /hombre/! You are too old for me!"
"This," decided Tansey, releasing his hold of the gray-beard, "is a
private family matter concerning age, and no business of mine."
With one of the table knives he hastened to saw asunder the fetters of
the fair captive; and then, for the second time that night he kissed
Katie Peek--tasted again the sweetness, the wonder, the thrill of it,
attained once more the maximum of his incessant dreams.
The next instant an icy blade was driven deep between his shoulders;
he felt his blood slowly congeal; heard the senile cackle of the
perennial Spaniard; saw the Plaza rise and reel till the zenith
crashed into the horizon--and knew no more.
When Tansey opened his eyes again he was sitting upon those self-same
steps gazing upon the dark bulk of the sleeping convent. In the middle
of his back was still the acute, chilling pain. How had he been
conveyed back there again? He got stiffly to his feet and stretched
his cramped limbs. Supporting himself against the stonework he
revolved in his mind the extravagant adventures that had befallen him
each time he had strayed from the steps that night. In reviewing them
certain features strained his credulity. Had he really met Captain
Peek or Katie or the unparalleled Mexican in his wanders--had he
really encountered them under commonplace conditions and his over-
stimulated brain had supplied the incongruities? However that might
be, a sudden, elating thought caused him an intense joy. Nearly all of
us have, at some point in our lives--either to excuse our own
stupidity or to placate our consciences--promulgated some theory of
fatalism. We have set up an intelligent Fate that works by codes and
signals. Tansey had done likewise; and now he read, through the
night's incidents, the finger-prints of destiny. Each excursion that
he had made had led to the one paramount finale--to Katie and that
kiss, which survived and grew strong and intoxicating in his memory.
Clearly, Fate was holding up to him the mirror that night, calling him
to observe what awaited him at the end of whichever road he might
take. He immediately turned, and hurried homeward.
* * * * *
Clothed in an elaborate, pale blue wrapper, cut to fit, Miss Katie
Peek reclined in an armchair before a waning fire in her room. Her
little, bare feet were thrust into house-shoes rimmed with swan's
down. By the light of a small lamp she was attacking the society news
of the latest Sunday paper. Some happy substance, seemingly
indestructible, was being rhythmically crushed between her small white
teeth. Miss Katie read of functions and furbelows, but she kept a
vigilant ear for outside sounds and a frequent eye upon the clock over
the mantel. At every footstep upon the asphalt sidewalk her smooth,
round chin would cease for a moment its regular rise and fall, and a
frown of listening would pucker her pretty brows.
At last she heard the latch of the iron gate click. She sprang up,
tripped softly to the mirror, where she made a few of those feminine,
flickering passes at her front hair and throat which are warranted to
hypnotize the approaching guest.
The door-bell rang. Miss Katie, in her haste, turned the blaze of the
lamp lower instead of higher, and hastened noiselessly down stairs
into the hall. She turned the key, the door opened, and Mr. Tansey
"Why, the i-de-a!" exclaimed Miss Katie, "is this you, Mr. Tansey?
It's after midnight. Aren't you ashamed to wake me up at such an hour
to let you in? You're just /awful/!"
"I was late," said Tansey, brilliantly.
"I should think you were! Ma was awfully worried about you. When you
weren't in by ten, that hateful Tom McGill said you were out calling
on another--said you were out calling on some young lady. I just
despise Mr. McGill. Well, I'm not going to scold you any more, Mr.
Tansey, if it /is/ a little late--Oh! I turned it the wrong way!"
Miss Katie gave a little scream. Absent-mindedly she had turned the
blaze of the lamp entirely out instead of higher. It was very dark.
Tansey heard a musical, soft giggle, and breathed an entrancing odour
of heliotrope. A groping light hand touched his arm."
"How awkward I was! Can you find your way--Sam?"
"I--I think I have a match, Miss K-Katie."
A scratching sound; a flame; a glow of light held at arm's length by
the recreant follower of Destiny illuminating a tableau which shall
end the ignominious chronicle--a maid with unkissed, curling,
contemptuous lips slowly lifting the lamp chimney and allowing the
wick to ignite; then waving a scornful and abjuring hand toward the
staircase--the unhappy Tansey, erstwhile champion in the prophetic
lists of fortune, ingloriously ascending to his just and certain doom,
while (let us imagine) half within the wings stands the imminent
figure of Fate jerking wildly at the wrong strings, and mixing things
up in her usual able manner.
A DEPARTMENTAL CASE
In Texas you may travel a thousand miles in a straight line. If your
course is a crooked one, it is likely that both the distance and your
rate of speed may be vastly increased. Clouds there sail serenely
against the wind. The whip-poor-will delivers its disconsolate cry
with the notes exactly reversed from those of his Northern brother.
Given a drought and a subsequently lively rain, and lo! from a glazed
and stony soil will spring in a single night blossomed lilies,
miraculously fair. Tom Green County was once the standard of
measurement. I have forgotten how many New Jerseys and Rhode Islands
it was that could have been stowed away and lost in its chaparral. But
the legislative axe has slashed Tom Green into a handful of counties
hardly larger than European kingdoms. The legislature convenes at
Austin, near the centre of the state; and, while the representative
from the Rio Grande country is gathering his palm-leaf fan and his
linen duster to set out for the capital, the Pan-handle solon winds
his muffler above his well-buttoned overcoat and kicks the snow from
his well-greased boots ready for the same journey. All this merely to
hint that the big ex-republic of the Southwest forms a sizable star on
the flag, and to prepare for the corollary that things sometimes
happen there uncut to pattern and unfettered by metes and bounds.
The Commissioner of Insurance, Statistics, and History of the State of
Texas was an official of no very great or very small importance. The
past tense is used, for now he is Commissioner of Insurance alone.
Statistic and history are no longer proper nouns in the government
In the year 188-, the governor appointed Luke Coonrod Standifer to be
the head of this department. Standifer was then fifty-five years of
age, and a Texan to the core. His father had been one of the state's
earliest settlers and pioneers. Standifer himself had served the
commonwealth as Indian fighter, soldier, ranger, and legislator. Much
learning he did not claim, but he had drank pretty deep of the spring
If other grounds were less abundant, Texas should be well up in the
lists of glory as the grateful republic. For both as republic and
state, it has busily heaped honours and solid rewards upon its sons
who rescued it from the wilderness.
Wherefore and therefore, Luke Coonrod Standifer, son of Ezra
Standifer, ex-Terry ranger, simon-pure democrat, and lucky dweller in
an unrepresented portion of the politico-geographical map, was
appointed Commissioner of Insurance, Statistics, and History.
Standifer accepted the honour with some doubt as to the nature of the
office he was to fill and his capacity for filling it--but he
accepted, and by wire. He immediately set out from the little country
town where he maintained (and was scarcely maintained by) a somnolent
and unfruitful office of surveying and map-drawing. Before departing,
he had looked up under the I's, S's and H's in the "Encyclopaedia
Britannica" what information and preparation toward his official
duties that those weighty volumes afforded.
A few weeks of incumbency diminished the new commissioner's awe of the
great and important office he had been called upon to conduct. An
increasing familiarity with its workings soon restored him to his
accustomed placid course of life. In his office was an old, spectacled
clerk--a consecrated, informed, able machine, who held his desk
regardless of changes of administrative heads. Old Kauffman instructed
his new chief gradually in the knowledge of the department without
seeming to do so, and kept the wheels revolving without the slip of a
Indeed, the Department of Insurance, Statistics, and History carried
no great heft of the burden of state. Its main work was the regulating
of the business done in the state by foreign insurance companies, and
the letter of the law was its guide. As for statistics--well, you
wrote letters to county officers, and scissored other people's
reports, and each year you got out a report of your own about the corn
crop and the cotton crop and pecans and pigs and black and white
population, and a great many columns of figures headed "bushels" and
"acres" and "square miles," etc.--and there you were. History? The
branch was purely a receptive one. Old ladies interested in the
science bothered you some with long reports of proceedings of their
historical societies. Some twenty or thirty people would write you
each year that they had secured Sam Houston's pocket-knife or Santa
Ana's whisky-flask or Davy Crockett's rifle--all absolutely
authenticated--and demanded legislative appropriation to purchase.
Most of the work in the history branch went into pigeon-holes.
One sizzling August afternoon the commissioner reclined in his office-
chair, with his feet upon the long, official table covered with green
billiard cloth. The commissioner was smoking a cigar, and dreamily
regarding the quivering landscape framed by the window that looked
upon the treeless capitol grounds. Perhaps he was thinking of the
rough and ready life he had led, of the old days of breathless
adventure and movement, of the comrades who now trod other paths or
had ceased to tread any, of the changes civilization and peace had
brought, and, maybe, complacently, of the snug and comfortable camp
pitched for him under the dome of the capitol of the state that had
not forgotten his services.
The business of the department was lax. Insurance was easy. Statistics
were not in demand. History was dead. Old Kauffman, the efficient and
perpetual clerk, had requested an infrequent half-holiday, incited to
the unusual dissipation by the joy of having successfully twisted the
tail of a Connecticut insurance company that was trying to do business
contrary to the edicts of the great Lone Star State.
The office was very still. A few subdued noises trickled in through
the open door from the other departments--a dull tinkling crash from
the treasurer's office adjoining, as a clerk tossed a bag of silver to
the floor of the vault--the vague, intermittent clatter of a dilatory
typewriter--a dull tapping from the state geologist's quarters as if
some woodpecker had flown in to bore for his prey in the cool of the
massive building--and then a faint rustle and the light shuffling of
the well-worn shoes along the hall, the sounds ceasing at the door
toward which the commissioner's lethargic back was presented.
Following this, the sound of a gentle voice speaking words
unintelligible to the commissioner's somewhat dormant comprehension,
but giving evidence of bewilderment and hesitation.
The voice was feminine; the commissioner was of the race of cavaliers
who make salaam before the trail of a skirt without considering the
quality of its cloth.
There stood in the door a faded woman, one of the numerous sisterhood
of the unhappy. She was dressed all in black--poverty's perpetual
mourning for lost joys. Her face had the contours of twenty and the
lines of forty. She may have lived that intervening score of years in
a twelve-month. There was about her yet an aurum of indignant,
unappeased, protesting youth that shone faintly through the premature
veil of unearned decline.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am," said the commissioner, gaining his feet to
the accompaniment of a great creaking and sliding of his chair.
"Are you the governor, sir?" asked the vision of melancholy.
The commissioner hesitated at the end of his best bow, with his hand
in the bosom of his double-breasted "frock." Truth at last conquered.
"Well, no, ma'am. I am not the governor. I have the honour to be
Commissioner of Insurance, Statistics, and History. Is there anything,
ma'am, I can do for you? Won't you have a chair, ma'am?"
The lady subsided into the chair handed her, probably from purely
physical reasons. She wielded a cheap fan--last token of gentility to
be abandoned. Her clothing seemed to indicate a reduction almost to
extreme poverty. She looked at the man who was not the governor, and
saw kindliness and simplicity and a rugged, unadorned courtliness
emanating from a countenance tanned and toughened by forty years of
outdoor life. Also, she saw that his eyes were clear and strong and
blue. Just so they had been when he used them to skim the horizon for
raiding Kiowas and Sioux. His mouth was as set and firm as it had been
on that day when he bearded the old Lion Sam Houston himself, and
defied him during that season when secession was the theme. Now, in
bearing and dress, Luke Coonrod Sandifer endeavoured to do credit to
the important arts and sciences of Insurance, Statistics, and History.
He had abandoned the careless dress of his country home. Now, his
broad-brimmed black slouch hat, and his long-tailed "frock" made him
not the least imposing of the official family, even if his office was
reckoned to stand at the tail of the list.
"You wanted to see the governor, ma'am?" asked the commissioner, with
a deferential manner he always used toward the fair sex.
"I hardly know," said the lady, hesitatingly. "I suppose so." And
then, suddenly drawn by the sympathetic look of the other, she poured
forth the story of her need.
It was a story so common that the public has come to look at its
monotony instead of its pity. The old tale of an unhappy married life
--made so by a brutal, conscienceless husband, a robber, a
spendthrift, a moral coward and a bully, who failed to provide even
the means of the barest existence. Yes, he had come down in the scale
so low as to strike her. It happened only the day before--there was
the bruise on one temple--she had offended his highness by asking for
a little money to live on. And yet she must needs, woman-like, append
a plea for her tyrant--he was drinking; he had rarely abused her thus
"I thought," mourned this pale sister of sorrow, "that maybe the state
might be willing to give me some relief. I've heard of such things
being done for the families of old settlers. I've heard tell that the
state used to give land to the men who fought for it against Mexico,
and settled up the country, and helped drive out the Indians. My
father did all of that, and he never received anything. He never would
take it. I thought the governor would be the one to see, and that's
why I came. If father was entitled to anything, they might let it come
"It's possible, ma'am," said Standifer, "that such might be the case.
But 'most all the veterans and settlers got their land certificates
issued, and located long ago. Still, we can look that up in the land
office, and be sure. Your father's name, now, was--"
"Amos Colvin, sir."
"Good Lord!" exclaimed Standifer, rising and unbuttoning his tight
coat, excitedly. "Are you Amos Colvin's daughter? Why, ma'am, Amos
Colvin and me were thicker than two hoss thieves for more than ten
years! We fought Kiowas, drove cattle, and rangered side by side
nearly all over Texas. I remember seeing you once before, now. You
were a kid, about seven, a-riding a little yellow pony up and down.
Amos and me stopped at your home for a little grub when we were
trailing that band of Mexican cattle thieves down through Karnes and
Bee. Great tarantulas! and you're Amos Colvin's little girl! Did you
ever hear your father mention Luke Standifer--just kind of casually--
as if he'd met me once or twice?"
A little pale smile flitted across the lady's white face.
"It seems to me," she said, "that I don't remember hearing him talk
about much else. Every day there was some story he had to tell about
what he and you had done. Mighty near the last thing I heard him tell
was about the time when the Indians wounded him, and you crawled out
to him through the grass, with a canteen of water, while they--"
"Yes, yes--well--oh, that wasn't anything," said Standifer, "hemming"
loudly and buttoning his coat again, briskly. "And now, ma'am, who was
the infernal skunk--I beg your pardon, ma'am--who was the gentleman
The commissioner plumped down again into his chair, with a groan. This
gentle, sad little woman, in the rusty black gown, the daughter of his
oldest friend, the wife of Benton Sharp! Benton Sharp, one of the most
noted "bad" men in that part of the state--a man who had been a cattle
thief, an outlaw, a desperado, and was now a gambler, a swaggering
bully, who plied his trade in the larger frontier towns, relying upon
his record and the quickness of his gun play to maintain his
supremacy. Seldom did any one take the risk of going "up against"
Benton Sharp. Even the law officers were content to let him make his
own terms of peace. Sharp was a ready and an accurate shot, and as
lucky as a brand-new penny at coming clear from his scrapes. Standifer
wondered how this pillaging eagle ever came to be mated with Amos
Colvin's little dove, and expressed his wonder.
Mrs. Sharp sighed.
"You see, Mr. Standifer, we didn't know anything about him, and he can
be very pleasant and kind when he wants to. We lived down in the
little town of Goliad. Benton came riding down that way, and stopped
there a while. I reckon I was some better looking then than I am now.
He was good to me for a whole year after we were married. He insured
his life for me for five thousand dollars. But for the last six months
he has done everything but kill me. I often wish he had done that,
too. He got out of money for a while, and abused me shamefully for not
having anything he could spend. Then father died, and left me the
little home in Goliad. My husband made me sell that, and turned me out
into the world. I've barely been able to live, for I'm not strong
enough to work. Lately, I heard he was making money in San Antonio, so
I went there, and found him, and asked for a little help. This,"
touching the livid bruise on her temple, "is what he gave me. So I
came on to Austin to see the governor. I once heard father say that
there was some land, or a pension, coming to him from the state that
he never would ask for."
Luke Standifer rose to his feet, and pushed his chair back. He looked
rather perplexedly around the big office, with its handsome furniture.
"It's a long trail to follow," he said, slowly, "trying to get back
dues from the government. There's red tape and lawyers and rulings and
evidence and courts to keep you waiting. I'm not certain," continued
the commissioner, with a profoundly meditative frown, "whether this
department that I'm the boss of has any jurisdiction or not. It's only
Insurance, Statistics, and History, ma'am, and it don't sound as if it
would cover the case. But sometimes a saddle blanket can be made to
stretch. You keep your seat, just for a few minutes, ma'am, till I
step into the next room and see about it."
The state treasurer was seated within his massive, complicated
railings, reading a newspaper. Business for the day was about over.
The clerks lolled at their desks, awaiting the closing hour. The
Commissioner of Insurance, Statistics, and History entered, and leaned
in at the window.
The treasurer, a little, brisk old man, with snow-white moustache and
beard, jumped up youthfully and came forward to greet Standifer. They
were friends of old.
"Uncle Frank," said the commissioner, using the familiar name by which
the historic treasurer was addressed by every Texan, "how much money
have you got on hand?"
The treasurer named the sum of the last balance down to the odd cents
--something more than a million dollars.
The commissioner whistled lowly, and his eyes grew hopefully bright.
"You know, or else you've heard of, Amos Colvin, Uncle Frank?"
"Knew him well," said the treasurer, promptly. "A good man. A valuable
citizen. One of the first settlers in the Southwest."
"His daughter," said Standifer, "is sitting in my office. She's
penniless. She's married to Benton Sharp, a coyote and a murderer.
He's reduced her to want, and broken her heart. Her father helped
build up this state, and it's the state's turn to help his child. A
couple of thousand dollars will buy back her home and let her live in
peace. The State of Texas can't afford to refuse it. Give me the
money, Uncle Frank, and I'll give it to her right away. We'll fix up
the red-tape business afterward."
The treasurer looked a little bewildered.
"Why, Standifer," he said, "you know I can't pay a cent out of the
treasury without a warrant from the comptroller. I can't disburse a
dollar without a voucher to show for it."
The commissioner betrayed a slight impatience.
"I'll give you a voucher," he declared. "What's this job they've given
me for? Am I just a knot on a mesquite stump? Can't my office stand
for it? Charge it up to Insurance and the other two sideshows. Don't
Statistics show that Amos Colvin came to this state when it was in the
hands of Greasers and rattlesnakes and Comanches, and fought day and
night to make a white man's country of it? Don't they show that Amos
Colvin's daughter is brought to ruin by a villain who's trying to pull
down what you and I and old Texans shed our blood to build up? Don't
History show that the Lone Star State never yet failed to grant relief
to the suffering and oppressed children of the men who made her the
grandest commonwealth in the Union? If Statistics and History don't
bear out the claim of Amos Colvin's child I'll ask the next
legislature to abolish my office. Come, now, Uncle Frank, let her have
the money. I'll sign the papers officially, if you say so; and then if
the governor or the comptroller or the janitor or anybody else makes a
kick, by the Lord I'll refer the matter to the people, and see if they
won't endorse the act."
The treasurer looked sympathetic but shocked. The commissioner's voice
had grown louder as he rounded off the sentences that, however
praiseworthy they might be in sentiment, reflected somewhat upon the
capacity of the head of a more or less important department of state.
The clerks were beginning to listen.
"Now, Standifer," said the treasurer, soothingly, "you know I'd like
to help in this matter, but stop and think a moment, please. Every
cent in the treasury is expended only by appropriation made by the
legislature, and drawn out by checks issued by the comptroller. I
can't control the use of a cent of it. Neither can you. Your
department isn't disbursive--it isn't even administrative--it's purely
clerical. The only way for the lady to obtain relief is to petition
the legislature, and--"
"To the devil with the legislature," said Standifer, turning away.
The treasurer called him back.
"I'd be glad, Standifer, to contribute a hundred dollars personally
toward the immediate expenses of Colvin's daughter." He reached for
"Never mind, Uncle Frank," said the commissioner, in a softer tone.
"There's no need of that. She hasn't asked for anything of that sort
yet. Besides, her case is in my hands. I see now what a little, rag-
tag, bob-tail, gotch-eared department I've been put in charge of. It
seems to be about as important as an almanac or a hotel register. But
while I'm running it, it won't turn away any daughters of Amos Colvin
without stretching its jurisdiction to cover, if possible. You want to
keep your eye on the Department of Insurance, Statistics, and
The commissioner returned to his office, looking thoughtful. He opened
and closed an inkstand on his desk many times with extreme and undue
attention. "Why don't you get a divorce?" he asked, suddenly.
"I haven't the money to pay for it," answered the lady.
"Just at present," announced the commissioner, in a formal tone, "the
powers of my department appear to be considerably string-halted.
Statistics seem to be overdrawn at the bank, and History isn't good
for a square meal. But you've come to the right place, ma'am. The
department will see you through. Where did you say your husband is,
"He was in San Antonio yesterday. He is living there now."
Suddenly the commissioner abandoned his official air. He took the
faded little woman's hands in his, and spoke in the old voice he used
on the trail and around campfires.
"Your name's Amanda, isn't it?"
"I thought so. I've heard your dad say it often enough. Well, Amanda,
here's your father's best friend, the head of a big office in the
state government, that's going to help you out of your troubles. And
here's the old bushwhacker and cowpuncher that your father has helped
out of scrapes time and time again wants to ask you a question.
Amanda, have you got money enough to run you for the next two or three
Mrs. Sharp's white face flushed the least bit.
"Plenty, sir--for a few days."
"All right, then, ma'am. Now you go back where you are stopping here,
and you come to the office again the day after to-morrow at four
o'clock in the afternoon. Very likely by that time there will be
something definite to report to you." The commissioner hesitated, and
looked a trifle embarrassed. "You said your husband had insured his
life for $5,000. Do you know whether the premiums have been kept paid
upon it or not?"
"He paid for a whole year in advance about five months ago," said Mrs.
Sharp. "I have the policy and receipts in my trunk."
"Oh, that's all right, then," said Standifer. "It's best to look after
things of that sort. Some day they may come in handy."
Mrs. Sharp departed, and soon afterward Luke Standifer went down to
the little hotel where he boarded and looked up the railroad time-
table in the daily paper. Half an hour later he removed his coat and
vest, and strapped a peculiarly constructed pistol holster across his
shoulders, leaving the receptacle close under his left armpit. Into
the holster he shoved a short-barrelled .44 calibre revolver. Putting
on his clothes again, he strolled to the station and caught the five-
twenty afternoon train for San Antonio.
The San Antonio /Express/ of the following morning contained this
sensational piece of news:
BENTON SHARP MEETS HIS MATCH
The Most Noted Desperado in Southwest Texas Shot to Death in the
Gold Front Restaurant--Prominent State Official Successfully
Defends Himself Against the Noted Bully--Magnificent Exhibition of
Quick Gun Play.
Last night about eleven o'clock Benton Sharp, with two other men,
entered the Gold Front Restaurant and seated themselves at a
table. Sharp had been drinking, and was loud and boisterous, as he
always was when under the influence of liquor. Five minutes after
the party was seated a tall, well-dressed, elderly gentleman
entered the restaurant. Few present recognized the Honourable Luke
Standifer, the recently appointed Commissioner of Insurance,
Statistics, and History.
Going over to the same side where Sharp was, Mr. Standifer
prepared to take a seat at the next table. In hanging his hat upon
one of the hooks along the wall he let it fall upon Sharp's head.
Sharp turned, being in an especially ugly humour, and cursed the
other roundly. Mr. Standifer apologized calmly for the accident,
but Sharp continued his vituperations. Mr. Standifer was observed
to draw near and speak a few sentences to the desperado in so low
a tone that no one else caught the words. Sharp sprang up, wild
with rage. In the meantime Standifer had stepped some yards away,
and was standing quietly with his arms folded across the breast of
his loosely hanging coat.
With that impetuous and deadly rapidity that made Sharp so
dreaded, he reached for the gun he always carried in his hip
pocket--a movement that has preceded the death of at least a dozen
men at his hands. Quick as the motion was, the bystanders assert
that it was met by the most beautiful exhibition of lightning gun-
pulling ever witnessed in the Southwest. As Sharp's pistol was
being raised--and the act was really quicker than the eye could
follow--a glittering .44 appeared as if by some conjuring trick in
the right hand of Mr. Standifer, who, without a perceptible
movement of his arm, shot Benton Sharp through the heart. It seems
that the new Commissioner of Insurance, Statistics, and History
has been an old-time Indian fighter and ranger for many years,
which accounts for the happy knack he has of handling a .44.
It is not believed that Mr. Standifer will be put to any
inconvenience beyond a necessary formal hearing to-day, as all the
witnesses who were present unite in declaring that the deed was
done in self-defence.
When Mrs. Sharp appeared at the office of the commissioner, according
to appointment, she found that gentleman calmly eating a golden russet
apple. He greeted her without embarrassment and without hesitation at
approaching the subject that was the topic of the day.
"I had to do it, ma'am," he said, simply, "or get it myself. Mr.
Kauffman," he added, turning to the old clerk, "please look up the
records of the Security Life Insurance Company and see if they are all
"No need to look," grunted Kauffman, who had everything in his head.
"It's all O.K. They pay all losses within ten days."
Mrs. Sharp soon rose to depart. She had arranged to remain in town
until the policy was paid. The commissioner did not detain her. She
was a woman, and he did not know just what to say to her at present.
Rest and time would bring her what she needed.
But, as she was leaving, Luke Standifer indulged himself in an
"The Department of Insurance, Statistics, and History, ma'am, has done
the best it could with your case. 'Twas a case hard to cover according
to red tape. Statistics failed, and History missed fire, but, if I may
be permitted to say it, we came out particularly strong on Insurance."
THE RENAISSANCE AT CHARLEROI
Grandemont Charles was a little Creole gentleman, aged thirty-four,
with a bald spot on the top of his head and the manners of a prince.
By day he was a clerk in a cotton broker's office in one of those
cold, rancid mountains of oozy brick, down near the levee in New
Orleans. By night, in his three-story-high /chambre garnier/ in the
old French Quarter he was again the last male descendant of the
Charles family, that noble house that had lorded it in France, and had
pushed its way smiling, rapiered, and courtly into Louisiana's early
and brilliant days. Of late years the Charleses had subsided into the
more republican but scarcely less royally carried magnificence and
ease of plantation life along the Mississippi. Perhaps Grandemont was
even Marquis de Brasse. There was that title in the family. But a
Marquis on seventy-five dollars per month! /Vraiment/! Still, it has
been done on less.
Grandemont had saved out of his salary the sum of six hundred dollars.
Enough, you would say, for any man to marry on. So, after a silence of
two years on that subject, he reopened that most hazardous question to
Mlle. Adele Fauquier, riding down to Meade d'Or, her father's
plantation. Her answer was the same that it had been any time during
the last ten years: "First find my brother, Monsieur Charles."
This time he had stood before her, perhaps discouraged by a love so
long and hopeless, being dependent upon a contingency so unreasonable,
and demanded to be told in simple words whether she loved him or no.
Adele looked at him steadily out of her gray eyes that betrayed no
secrets and answered, a little more softly:
"Grandemont, you have no right to ask that question unless you can do
what I ask of you. Either bring back brother Victor to us or the proof
that he died."
Somehow, though five times thus rejected, his heart was not so heavy
when he left. She had not denied that she loved. Upon what shallow
waters can the bark of passion remain afloat! Or, shall we play the
doctrinaire, and hint that at thirty-four the tides of life are calmer
and cognizant of many sources instead of but one--as at four-and-
Victor Fauquier would never be found. In those early days of his
disappearance there was money to the Charles name, and Grandemont had
spent the dollars as if they were picayunes in trying to find the lost
youth. Even then he had had small hope of success, for the Mississippi
gives up a victim from its oily tangles only at the whim of its malign
A thousand times had Grandemont conned in his mind the scene of
Victor's disappearance. And, at each time that Adele had set her
stubborn but pitiful alternative against his suit, still clearer it
repeated itself in his brain.
The boy had been the family favourite; daring, winning, reckless. His
unwise fancy had been captured by a girl on the plantation--the
daughter of an overseer. Victor's family was in ignorance of the
intrigue, as far as it had gone. To save them the inevitable pain that
his course promised, Grandemont strove to prevent it. Omnipotent money
smoothed the way. The overseer and his daughter left, between a sunset
and dawn, for an undesignated bourne. Grandemont was confident that
this stroke would bring the boy to reason. He rode over to Meade d'Or
to talk with him. The two strolled out of the house and grounds,
crossed the road, and, mounting the levee, walked its broad path while
they conversed. A thunder-cloud was hanging, imminent, above, but, as
yet, no rain fell. At Grandemont's disclosure of his interference in
the clandestine romance, Victor attacked him, in a wild and sudden
fury. Grandemont, though of slight frame, possessed muscles of iron.
He caught the wrists amid a shower of blows descending upon him, bent
the lad backward and stretched him upon the levee path. In a little
while the gust of passion was spent, and he was allowed to rise. Calm
now, but a powder mine where he had been but a whiff of the tantrums,
Victor extended his hand toward the dwelling house of Meade d'Or.
"You and they," he cried, "have conspired to destroy my happiness.
None of you shall ever look upon my face again."
Turning, he ran swiftly down the levee, disappearing in the darkness.
Grandemont followed as well as he could, calling to him, but in vain.
For longer than an hour he pursued the search. Descending the side of
the levee, he penetrated the rank density of weeds and willows that
undergrew the trees until the river's edge, shouting Victor's name.
There was never an answer, though once he thought he heard a bubbling
scream from the dun waters sliding past. Then the storm broke, and he
returned to the house drenched and dejected.
There he explained the boy's absence sufficiently, he thought, not
speaking of the tangle that had led to it, for he hoped that Victor
would return as soon as his anger had cooled. Afterward, when the
threat was made good and they saw his face no more, he found it
difficult to alter his explanations of that night, and there clung a
certain mystery to the boy's reasons for vanishing as well as to the
manner of it.
It was on that night that Grandemont first perceived a new and
singular expression in Adele's eyes whenever she looked at him. And
through the years following that expression was always there. He could
not read it, for it was born of a thought she would never otherwise
Perhaps, if he had known that Adele had stood at the gate on that
unlucky night, where she had followed, lingering, to await the return
of her brother and lover, wondering why they had chosen so tempestuous
an hour and so black a spot to hold converse--if he had known that a
sudden flash of lightning had revealed to her sight that short, sharp
struggle as Victor was sinking under his hands, he might have
explained everything, and she--
I know what she would have done. But one thing is clear--there was
something besides her brother's disappearance between Grandemont's
pleadings for her hand and Adele's "yes." Ten years had passed, and
what she had seen during the space of that lightning flash remained an
indelible picture. She had loved her brother, but was she holding out
for the solution of that mystery or for the "Truth"? Women have been
known to reverence it, even as an abstract principle. It is said there
have been a few who, in the matter of their affections, have
considered a life to be a small thing as compared with a lie. That I
do not know. But, I wonder, had Grandemont cast himself at her feet
crying that his hand had sent Victor to the bottom of that inscrutable
river, and that he could no longer sully his love with a lie, I wonder
if--I wonder what she would have done!
But, Grandemont Charles, Arcadian little gentleman, never guessed the
meaning of that look in Adele's eyes; and from this last bootless
payment of his devoirs he rode away as rich as ever in honour and
love, but poor in hope.
That was in September. It was during the first winter month that
Grandemont conceived his idea of the /renaissance/. Since Adele would
never be his, and wealth without her were useless trumpery, why need
he add to that hoard of slowly harvested dollars? Why should he even
retain that hoard?
Hundreds were the cigarettes he consumed over his claret, sitting at
the little polished tables in the Royal street cafes while thinking
over his plan. By and by he had it perfect. It would cost, beyond