Part 5 out of 7
host across the hall to the apartment known as "Miss Kitty's
parlor." He had often heard of it as a sanctum impervious to the
ordinary guest. Whatever functions the young girl assumed at the
hotel and among her father's boarders, it was vaguely understood
that she dropped them on crossing that sacred threshold, and became
"MISS Carter." The county judge had been entertained there, and
the wife of the bank manager. Barker's admission there was
consequently an unprecedented honor.
He cast his eyes timidly round the room, redolent and suggestive in
various charming little ways of the young girl's presence. There
was the cottage piano which had been brought up in sections on the
backs of mules from the foot of the mountain; there was a crayon
head of Minerva done by the fair occupant at the age of twelve;
there was a profile of herself done by a traveling artist; there
were pretty little china ornaments and many flowers, notably a
faded but still scented woodland shrub which Barker had presented
to her two weeks ago, and over which Miss Kitty had discreetly
thrown her white handkerchief as he entered. A wave of hope passed
over him at the act, but it was quickly spent as Mr. Carter's
roughly playful voice introduced him:
"Ye kin give Mr. Barker a tune or two to pass time afore lunch,
Kitty. You kin let him see what you're doing in that line. But
you'll have to sit up now, for this young man's come inter some
property, and will be sasheying round in 'Frisco afore long with a
biled shirt and a stovepipe, and be givin' the go-by to Boomville.
Well! you young folks will excuse me for a while, as I reckon I'll
just toddle over and get the recorder to put that bill o' sale on
record. Nothin' like squaring things to onct, Mr. Barker."
As he slipped away, Barker felt his heart sink. Carter had not
only bluntly forestalled him with the news and taken away his
excuse for a confidential interview, but had put an ostentatious
construction on his visit. What could she think of him now? He
stood ashamed and embarrassed before her.
But Miss Kitty, far from noticing his embarrassment in a sudden
concern regarding the "horrid" untidiness of the room, which made
her cheeks quite pink in one spot and obliged her to take up and
set down in exactly the same place several articles, was
exceedingly delighted. In fact, she did not remember ever having
been so pleased before in her life! These things were always so
unexpected! Just like the weather, for instance. It was quite
cool last night--and now it was just stifling. And so dusty! Had
Mr. Barker noticed the heat coming from the Gulch? Or perhaps,
being a rich man, he--with a dazzling smile--was above walking now.
It was so kind of him to come here first and tell her father.
"I really wanted to tell only--YOU, Miss Carter," stammered Barker.
"You see--" he hesitated. But Miss Kitty saw perfectly. He wanted
to tell HER, and, seeing her, he asked for HER FATHER! Not that it
made the slightest difference to her, for her father would have
been sure to have told her. It was also kind of her father to
invite him to luncheon. Otherwise she might not have seen him
before he left Boomville.
But this was more than Barker could stand. With the same desperate
directness and simplicity with which he had approached her father,
he now blurted out his whole heart to her. He told her how he had
loved her hopelessly from the first time that they had spoken
together at the church picnic. Did she remember it? How he had
sat and worshiped her, and nothing else, at church! How her voice
in the church choir had sounded like an angel's; how his poverty
and his uncertain future had kept him from seeing her often, lest
he should be tempted to betray his hopeless passion. How as soon
as he realized that he had a position, that his love for her need
not make her ridiculous to the world's eyes, he came to tell her
ALL. He did not even dare to hope! But she would HEAR him at
least, would she not?
Indeed, there was no getting away from his boyish, simple,
outspoken declaration. In vain Kitty smiled, frowned, glanced at
her pink cheeks in the glass, and stopped to look out of the
window. The room was filled with his love--it was encompassing
her--and, despite his shy attitude, seemed to be almost embracing
her. But she managed at last to turn upon him a face that was now
as white and grave as his own was eager and glowing.
"Sit down," she said gently.
He did so obediently, but wonderingly. She then opened the piano
and took a seat upon the music stool before it, placed some loose
sheets of music in the rack, and ran her fingers lightly over the
keys. Thus intrenched, she let her hands fall idly in her lap, and
for the first time raised her eyes to his.
"Now listen to me--be good and don't interrupt! There!--not so
near; you can hear what I have to say well enough where you are.
That will do."
Barker had halted with the chair he was dragging toward her and sat
"Now," said Miss Kitty, withdrawing her eyes and looking straight
before her, "I believe everything you say; perhaps I oughtn't to--
or at least SAY it--but I do. There! But because I do believe
you--it seems to me all wrong! For the very reasons that you give
for not having spoken to me BEFORE, if you really felt as you say
you did, are the same reasons why you should not speak to me now.
You see, all this time you have let nobody but yourself know how
you felt toward me. In everybody's eyes YOU and your partners have
been only the three stuck-up, exclusive, college-bred men who mined
a poor claim in the Gulch, and occasionally came here to this hotel
as customers. In everybody's eyes I have been only the rich hotel-
keeper's popular daughter who sometimes waited upon you--but
nothing more. But at least we were then pretty much alike, and as
good as each other. And now, as soon as you have become suddenly
rich, and, of course, the SUPERIOR, you rush down here to ask me to
acknowledge it by accepting you!"
"You know I never meant that, Miss Kitty," burst out Barker
vehemently, but his protest was drowned in a rapid roulade from the
young lady's fingers on the keys. He sank back in his chair.
"Of course you never MEANT it," she said with an odd laugh; "but
everybody will take it in that way, and you cannot go round to
everybody in Boomville and make the pretty declaration you have
just made to me. Everybody will say I accepted you for your money;
everybody will say it was a put-up job of my father's. Everybody
will say that you threw yourself away on me. And I don't know but
that they would be right. Sit down, please! or I shall play again.
"You see," she went on, without looking at him, "just now you like
to remember that you fell in love with me first as a pretty waiter
girl, but if I became your wife it's just what you would like to
FORGET. And I shouldn't, for I should always like to think of the
time when you came here, whenever you could afford it and sometimes
when you couldn't, just to see me; and how we used to make excuses
to speak with each other over the dishes. You don't know what
these things mean to a woman who"--she hesitated a moment, and then
added abruptly, "but what does that matter? You would not care to
be reminded of it. So," she said, rising up with a grave smile and
grasping her hands tightly behind her, "it's a good deal better
that you should begin to forget it now. Be a good boy and take my
advice. Go to San Francisco. You will meet some girl there in a
way you will not afterward regret. You are young, and your riches,
to say nothing," she added in a faltering voice that was somewhat
inconsistent with the mischievous smile that played upon her lips,
"of your kind and simple heart, will secure that which the world
would call unselfish affection from one more equal to you, but
would always believe was only BOUGHT if it came from me."
"I suppose you are right," he said simply.
She glanced quickly at him, and her eyebrows straightened. He had
risen, his face white and his gray eyes widely opened. "I suppose
you are right," he went on, "because you are saying to me what my
partners said to me this morning, when I offered to share my wealth
with them, God knows as honestly as I offered to share my heart
with you. I suppose that you are both right; that there must be
some curse of pride or selfishness upon the money that I have got;
but I have not felt it yet, and the fault does not lie with me."
She gave her shoulders a slight shrug, and turned impatiently
toward the window. When she turned back again he was gone. The
room around her was empty; this room, which a moment before had
seemed to be pulsating with his boyish passion, was now empty, and
empty of HIM. She bit her lips, rose, and ran eagerly to the
window. She saw his straw hat and brown curls as he crossed the
road. She drew her handkerchief sharply away from the withered
shrub over which she had thrown it, and cast the once treasured
remains in the hearth. Then, possibly because she had it ready in
her hand, she clapped the handkerchief to her eyes, and sinking
sideways upon the chair he had risen from, put her elbows on its
back, and buried her face in her hands.
It is the characteristic and perhaps cruelty of a simple nature to
make no allowance for complex motives, or to even understand them!
So it seemed to Barker that his simplicity had been met with equal
directness. It was the possession of this wealth that had in some
way hopelessly changed his relations with the world. He did not
love Kitty any the less; he did not even think she had wronged him;
they, his partners and his sweetheart, were cleverer than he; there
must be some occult quality in this wealth that he would understand
when he possessed it, and perhaps it might even make him ashamed of
his generosity; not in the way they had said, but in his tempting
them so audaciously to assume a wrong position. It behoved him to
take possession of it at once, and to take also upon himself alone
the knowledge, the trials, and responsibilities it would incur.
His cheeks flushed again as he thought he had tried to tempt an
innocent girl with it, and he was keenly hurt that he had not seen
in Kitty's eyes the tenderness that had softened his partners'
refusal. He resolved to wait no longer, but sell his dreadful
stock at once. He walked directly to the bank.
The manager, a shrewd but kindly man, to whom Barker was known
already, received him graciously in recognition of his well-known
simple honesty, and respectfully as a representative of the equally
well-known poor but "superior" partnership of the Gulch. He
listened with marked attention to Barker's hesitating but brief
story, only remarking at its close:
"You mean, of course, the 'SECOND Extension' when you say 'First'?"
"No," said Barker; "I mean the 'First'--and it said First in the
"Yes, yes!--I saw it--it was a printer's error. The stock of the
'First' was called in two years ago. No! You mean the 'Second,'
for, of course, you've followed the quotations, and are likely to
know what stock you're holding shares of. When you go back, take a
look at them, and you'll see I am right."
"But I brought them with me," said Barker, with a slight flushing
as he felt in his pocket, "and I am quite sure they are the
'First.' He brought them out and laid them on the desk before the
The words "First Extension" were plainly visible. The manager
glanced curiously at Barker, and his brow darkened.
"Did anybody put this up on you?" he said sternly. "Did your
partners send you here with this stuff?"
"No! no!" said Barker eagerly. "No one! It's all MY mistake. I
see it now. I trusted to the newspaper."
"And you mean to say you never examined the stock or the
quotations, nor followed it in any way, since you had it?"
"Never!" said Barker. "Never thought about IT AT ALL till I saw
the newspaper. So it's not worth anything?" And, to the infinite
surprise of the manager, there was a slight smile on his boyish
"I am afraid it is not worth the paper it's written on," said the
The smile on Barker's face increased to a little laugh, in which
his wondering companion could not help joining. "Thank you," said
Barker suddenly, and rushed away.
"He beats everything!" said the manager, gazing after him. "Damned
if he didn't seem even PLEASED."
He WAS pleased. The burden of wealth had fallen from his
shoulders; the dreadful incubus that had weighed him down and
parted his friends from him was gone! And he had not got rid of it
by spending it foolishly. It had not ruined anybody yet; it had
not altered anybody in HIS eyes. It was gone; and he was a free
and happy man once more. He would go directly back to his
partners; they would laugh at him, of course, but they could not
look at him now with the same sad, commiserating eyes. Perhaps
even Kitty--but here a sudden chill struck him. He had forgotten
the bill of sale! He had forgotten the dreadful promissory note
given to her father in the rash presumption of his wealth! How
could it ever be paid? And more than that, it had been given in a
fraud. He had no money when he gave it, and no prospect of any but
what he was to get from those worthless shares. Would anybody
believe him that it was only a stupid blunder of his own? Yes, his
partners might believe him; but, horrible thought, he had already
implicated THEM in his fraud! Even now, while he was standing
there hesitatingly in the road, they were entering upon the new
claim he had NOT PAID FOR--COULD NOT PAY FOR--and in the guise of a
benefactor he was dishonoring them. Yet it was Carter he must meet
first; he must confess all to him. He must go back to the hotel--
that hotel where he had indignantly left her, and tell the father
he was a fraud. It was terrible to think of; perhaps it was part
of that money curse that he could not get rid of, and was now
realizing; but it MUST be done. He was simple, but his very
simplicity had that unhesitating directness of conclusion which is
the main factor of what men call "pluck."
He turned back to the hotel and entered the office. But Mr. Carter
had not yet returned. What was to be done? He could not wait
there; there was no time to be lost; there was only one other
person who knew his expectations, and to whom he could confide his
failure--it was Kitty. It was to taste the dregs of his
humiliation, but it must be done. He ran up the staircase and
knocked timidly at the sitting-room door. There was a momentary
pause, and a weak voice said "Come in." Barker opened the door;
saw the vision of a handkerchief thrown away, of a pair of tearful
eyes that suddenly changed to stony indifference, and a graceful
but stiffening figure. But he was past all insult now.
"I would not intrude," he said simply, "but I came only to see your
father. I have made an awful blunder--more than a blunder, I
think--a FRAUD. Believing that I was rich, I purchased your
father's claim for my partners, and gave him my promissory note. I
came here to give him back his claim--for that note can NEVER be
paid! I have just been to the bank; I find I have made a stupid
mistake in the name of the shares upon which I based my belief in
my wealth. The ones I own are worthless--am as poor as ever--I am
even poorer, for I owe your father money I can never pay!"
To his amazement he saw a look of pain and scorn come into her
troubled eyes which he had never seen before. "This is a feeble
trick," she said bitterly; "it is unlike you--it is unworthy of
"Good God! You must believe me. Listen! it was all a mistake--a
printer's error. I read in the paper that the stock for the First
Extension mine had gone up, when it should have been the Second. I
had some old stock of the First, which I had kept for years, and
only thought of when I read the announcement in the paper this
morning. I swear to you--"
But it was unnecessary. There was no doubting the truth of that
voice--that manner. The scorn fled from Miss Kitty's eyes to give
place to a stare, and then suddenly changed to two bubbling blue
wells of laughter. She went to the window and laughed. She sat
down to the piano and laughed. She caught up the handkerchief, and
hiding half her rosy face in it, laughed. She finally collapsed
into an easy chair, and, burying her brown head in its cushions,
laughed long and confidentially until she brought up suddenly
against a sob. And then was still.
Barker was dreadfully alarmed. He had heard of hysterics before.
He felt he ought to do something. He moved toward her timidly, and
gently drew away her handkerchief. Alas! the blue wells were
running over now. He took her cold hands in his; he knelt beside
her and passed his arm around her waist. He drew her head upon his
shoulder. He was not sure that any of these things were effective
until she suddenly lifted her eyes to his with the last ray of
mirth in them vanishing in a big teardrop, put her arms round his
neck, and sobbed:
"Oh, George! You blessed innocent!"
An eloquent silence was broken by a remorseful start from Barker.
"But I must go and warn my poor partners, dearest; there yet may be
time; perhaps they have not yet taken possession of your father's
"Yes, George dear," said the young girl, with sparkling eyes; "and
tell them to do so AT ONCE!"
"What?" gasped Barker.
"At once--do you hear?--or it may be too late! Go quick."
"But your father--Oh, I see, dearest, you will tell him all
yourself, and spare me."
"I shall do nothing so foolish, Georgey. Nor shall you! Don't you
see the note isn't due for a month? Stop! Have you told anybody
but Paw and me?"
"Only the bank manager."
She ran out of the room and returned in a minute tying the most
enchanting of hats by a ribbon under her oval chin. "I'll run over
and fix him," she said.
"Fix him?" returned Barker, aghast.
"Yes, I'll say your wicked partners have been playing a practical
joke on you, and he mustn't give you away. He'll do anything for
"But my partners didn't! On the contrary--"
"Don't tell me, George," said Miss Kitty severely. "THEY ought
never to have let you come here with that stuff. But come! You
must go at once. You must not meet Paw; you'll blurt out
everything to him; I know you! I'll tell him you could not stay to
luncheon. Quick, now; go. What? Well--there!"
Whatever it represented, the exclamation was apparently so
protracted that Miss Kitty was obliged to push her lover to the
front landing before she could disappear by the back stairs. But
once in the street, Barker no longer lingered. It was a good three
miles back to the Gulch; he might still reach it by the time his
partners were taking their noonday rest, and he resolved that
although the messenger had preceded him, they would not enter upon
the new claim until the afternoon. For Barker, in spite of his
mistress's injunction, had no idea of taking what he couldn't pay
for; he would keep the claim intact until something could be
settled. For the rest, he walked on air! Kitty loved him! The
accursed wealth no longer stood between them. They were both poor
now--everything was possible.
The sun was beginning to send dwarf shadows toward the east when he
reached the Gulch. Here a new trepidation seized him. How would
his partners receive the news of his utter failure? HE was happy,
for he had gained Kitty through it. But they? For a moment it
seemed to him that he had purchased his happiness through their
loss. He stopped, took off his hat, and ran his fingers
remorsefully through his damp curls.
Another thing troubled him. He had reached the crest of the Gulch,
where their old working ground was spread before him like a map.
They were not there; neither were they lying under the four pines
on the ridge where they were wont to rest at midday. He turned
with some alarm to the new claim adjoining theirs, but there was no
sign of them there either. A sudden fear that they had, after
parting from him, given up the claim in a fit of disgust and
depression, and departed, now overcame him. He clapped his hand on
his head and ran in the direction of the cabin.
He had nearly reached it when the rough challenge of "Who's there?"
from the bushes halted him, and Demorest suddenly swung into the
trail. But the singular look of sternness and impatience which he
was wearing vanished as he saw Barker, and with a loud shout of
"All right, it's only Barker! Hooray!" he ran toward him. In an
instant he was joined by Stacy from the cabin, and the two men,
catching hold of their returning partner, waltzed him joyfully and
breathlessly into the cabin. But the quick-eyed Demorest suddenly
let go his hold and stared at Barker's face. "Why, Barker, old
boy, what's up?"
"Everything's up," gasped the breathless Barker. "It's all up
about these stocks. It's all a mistake; all an infernal lie of
that newspaper. I never had the right kind of shares. The ones I
have are worthless rags"; and the next instant he had blurted out
his whole interview with the bank manager.
The two partners looked at each other, and then, to Barker's
infinite perplexity, the same extraordinary convulsion that had
seized Miss Kitty fell upon them. They laughed, holding on each
other's shoulders; they laughed, clinging to Barker's struggling
figure; they went out and laughed with their backs against a tree.
They laughed separately and in different corners. And then they
came up to Barker with tears in their eyes, dropped their heads on
his shoulder, and murmured exhaustedly:
"You blessed ass!"
"But," said Stacy suddenly, "how did you manage to buy the claim?"
"Ah! that's the most awful thing, boys. I've NEVER PAID FOR IT,"
"But Carter sent us the bill of sale," persisted Demorest, "or we
shouldn't have taken it."
"I gave my promissory note at thirty days," said Barker
desperately, "and where's the money to come from now? But," he
added wildly, as the men glanced at each other--"you said 'taken
it.' Good heavens! you don't mean to say that I'm TOO late--that
you've--you've touched it?"
"I reckon that's pretty much what we HAVE been doing," drawled
"It looks uncommonly like it," drawled Stacy.
Barker glanced blankly from the one to the other. "Shall we pass
our young friend in to see the show?" said Demorest to Stacy.
"Yes, if he'll be perfectly quiet and not breathe on the glasses,"
They each gravely took one of Barker's hands and led him to the
corner of the cabin. There, on an old flour barrel, stood a large
tin prospecting pan, in which the partners also occasionally used
to knead their bread. A dirty towel covered it. Demorest whisked
it dexterously aside, and disclosed three large fragments of
decomposed gold and quartz. Barker started back.
"Heft it!" said Demorest grimly.
Barker could scarcely lift the pan!
"Four thousand dollars' weight if a penny!" said Stacy, in short
staccato sentences. "In a pocket! Brought it out the second
stroke of the pick! We'd been awfully blue after you left.
Awfully blue, too, when that bill of sale came, for we thought
you'd been wasting your money on US. Reckoned we oughtn't to take
it, but send it straight back to you. Messenger gone! Then
Demorest reckoned as it was done it couldn't be undone, and we
ought to make just one 'prospect' on the claim, and strike a single
stroke for you. And there it is. And there's more on the
"But it isn't MINE! It isn't YOURS! It's Carter's. I never had
the money to pay for it--and I haven't got it now."
"But you gave the note--and it is not due for thirty days."
A recollection flashed upon Barker. "Yes," he said with thoughtful
simplicity, "that's what Kitty said."
"Oh, Kitty said so," said both partners, gravely.
"Yes," stammered Barker, turning away with a heightened color, and,
as I didn't stay there to luncheon, I think I'd better be getting
it ready." He picked up the coffeepot and turned to the hearth as
his two partners stepped beyond the door.
"Wasn't it exactly like him?" said Demorest.
"Him all over," said Stacy.
"And his worry over that note?" said Demorest.
"And 'what Kitty said,'" said Stacy.
"Look here! I reckon that wasn't ALL that Kitty said."
"Of course not."
A YELLOW DOG
I never knew why in the Western States of America a yellow dog
should be proverbially considered the acme of canine degradation
and incompetency, nor why the possession of one should seriously
affect the social standing of its possessor. But the fact being
established, I think we accepted it at Rattlers Ridge without
question. The matter of ownership was more difficult to settle;
and although the dog I have in my mind at the present writing
attached himself impartially and equally to everyone in camp, no
one ventured to exclusively claim him; while, after the
perpetration of any canine atrocity, everybody repudiated him with
"Well, I can swear he hasn't been near our shanty for weeks," or
the retort, "He was last seen comin' out of YOUR cabin," expressed
the eagerness with which Rattlers Ridge washed its hands of any
responsibility. Yet he was by no means a common dog, nor even an
unhandsome dog; and it was a singular fact that his severest
critics vied with each other in narrating instances of his
sagacity, insight, and agility which they themselves had witnessed.
He had been seen crossing the "flume" that spanned Grizzly Canyon
at a height of nine hundred feet, on a plank six inches wide. He
had tumbled down the "shoot" to the South Fork, a thousand feet
below, and was found sitting on the riverbank "without a scratch,
'cept that he was lazily givin' himself with his off hind paw." He
had been forgotten in a snowdrift on a Sierran shelf, and had come
home in the early spring with the conceited complacency of an
Alpine traveler and a plumpness alleged to have been the result of
an exclusive diet of buried mail bags and their contents. He was
generally believed to read the advance election posters, and
disappear a day or two before the candidates and the brass band--
which he hated--came to the Ridge. He was suspected of having
overlooked Colonel Johnson's hand at poker, and of having conveyed
to the Colonel's adversary, by a succession of barks, the danger of
betting against four kings.
While these statements were supplied by wholly unsupported
witnesses, it was a very human weakness of Rattlers Ridge that the
responsibility of corroboration was passed to the dog himself, and
HE was looked upon as a consummate liar.
"Snoopin' round yere, and CALLIN' yourself a poker sharp, are ye!
Scoot, you yaller pizin!" was a common adjuration whenever the
unfortunate animal intruded upon a card party. "Ef thar was a
spark, an ATOM of truth in THAT DOG, I'd believe my own eyes that I
saw him sittin' up and trying to magnetize a jay bird off a tree.
But wot are ye goin' to do with a yaller equivocator like that?"
I have said that he was yellow--or, to use the ordinary expression,
"yaller." Indeed, I am inclined to believe that much of the
ignominy attached to the epithet lay in this favorite
pronunciation. Men who habitually spoke of a "YELLOW bird," a
"YELLOW-hammer," a "YELLOW leaf," always alluded to him as a
He certainly WAS yellow. After a bath--usually compulsory--he
presented a decided gamboge streak down his back, from the top of
his forehead to the stump of his tail, fading in his sides and
flank to a delicate straw color. His breast, legs, and feet--when
not reddened by "slumgullion," in which he was fond of wading--were
white. A few attempts at ornamental decoration from the India-ink
pot of the storekeeper failed, partly through the yellow dog's
excessive agility, which would never give the paint time to dry on
him, and partly through his success in transferring his markings to
the trousers and blankets of the camp.
The size and shape of his tail--which had been cut off before his
introduction to Rattlers Ridge--were favorite sources of
speculation to the miners, as determining both his breed and his
moral responsibility in coming into camp in that defective
condition. There was a general opinion that he couldn't have
looked worse with a tail, and its removal was therefore a
His best feature was his eyes, which were a lustrous Vandyke brown,
and sparkling with intelligence; but here again he suffered from
evolution through environment, and their original trustful openness
was marred by the experience of watching for flying stones, sods,
and passing kicks from the rear, so that the pupils were
continually reverting to the outer angle of the eyelid.
Nevertheless, none of these characteristics decided the vexed
question of his BREED. His speed and scent pointed to a "hound,"
and it is related that on one occasion he was laid on the trail of
a wildcat with such success that he followed it apparently out of
the State, returning at the end of two weeks footsore, but blandly
Attaching himself to a prospecting party, he was sent under the
same belief, "into the brush" to drive off a bear, who was supposed
to be haunting the campfire. He returned in a few minutes WITH the
bear, DRIVING IT INTO the unarmed circle and scattering the whole
party. After this the theory of his being a hunting dog was
abandoned. Yet it was said--on the usual uncorroborated evidence--
that he had "put up" a quail; and his qualities as a retriever were
for a long time accepted, until, during a shooting expedition for
wild ducks, it was discovered that the one he had brought back had
never been shot, and the party were obliged to compound damages
with an adjacent settler.
His fondness for paddling in the ditches and "slumgullion" at one
time suggested a water spaniel. He could swim, and would
occasionally bring out of the river sticks and pieces of bark that
had been thrown in; but as HE always had to be thrown in with them,
and was a good-sized dog, his aquatic reputation faded also. He
remained simply "a yaller dog." What more could be said? His
actual name was "Bones"--given to him, no doubt, through the
provincial custom of confounding the occupation of the individual
with his quality, for which it was pointed out precedent could be
found in some old English family names.
But if Bones generally exhibited no preference for any particular
individual in camp, he always made an exception in favor of
drunkards. Even an ordinary roistering bacchanalian party brought
him out from under a tree or a shed in the keenest satisfaction.
He would accompany them through the long straggling street of the
settlement, barking his delight at every step or misstep of the
revelers, and exhibiting none of that mistrust of eye which marked
his attendance upon the sane and the respectable. He accepted even
their uncouth play without a snarl or a yelp, hypocritically
pretending even to like it; and I conscientiously believe would
have allowed a tin can to be attached to his tail if the hand that
tied it on were only unsteady, and the voice that bade him "lie
still" were husky with liquor. He would "see" the party cheerfully
into a saloon, wait outside the door--his tongue fairly lolling
from his mouth in enjoyment--until they reappeared, permit them
even to tumble over him with pleasure, and then gambol away before
them, heedless of awkwardly projected stones and epithets. He
would afterward accompany them separately home, or lie with them at
crossroads until they were assisted to their cabins. Then he would
trot rakishly to his own haunt by the saloon stove, with the
slightly conscious air of having been a bad dog, yet of having had
a good time.
We never could satisfy ourselves whether his enjoyment arose from
some merely selfish conviction that he was more SECURE with the
physically and mentally incompetent, from some active sympathy with
active wickedness, or from a grim sense of his own mental
superiority at such moments. But the general belief leant toward
his kindred sympathy as a "yaller dog" with all that was
disreputable. And this was supported by another very singular
canine manifestation--the "sincere flattery" of simulation or
"Uncle Billy" Riley for a short time enjoyed the position of being
the camp drunkard, and at once became an object of Bones' greatest
solicitude. He not only accompanied him everywhere, curled at his
feet or head according to Uncle Billy's attitude at the moment,
but, it was noticed, began presently to undergo a singular
alteration in his own habits and appearance. From being an active,
tireless scout and forager, a bold and unovertakable marauder, he
became lazy and apathetic; allowed gophers to burrow under him
without endeavoring to undermine the settlement in his frantic
endeavors to dig them out, permitted squirrels to flash their tails
at him a hundred yards away, forgot his usual caches, and left his
favorite bones unburied and bleaching in the sun. His eyes grew
dull, his coat lusterless, in proportion as his companion became
blear-eyed and ragged; in running, his usual arrowlike directness
began to deviate, and it was not unusual to meet the pair together,
zigzagging up the hill. Indeed, Uncle Billy's condition could be
predetermined by Bones' appearance at times when his temporary
master was invisible. "The old man must have an awful jag on
today," was casually remarked when an extra fluffiness and
imbecility was noticeable in the passing Bones. At first it was
believed that he drank also, but when careful investigation proved
this hypothesis untenable, he was freely called a "derned time-
servin', yaller hypocrite." Not a few advanced the opinion that if
Bones did not actually lead Uncle Billy astray, he at least
"slavered him over and coddled him until the old man got conceited
in his wickedness." This undoubtedly led to a compulsory divorce
between them, and Uncle Billy was happily dispatched to a
neighboring town and a doctor.
Bones seemed to miss him greatly, ran away for two days, and was
supposed to have visited him, to have been shocked at his
convalescence, and to have been "cut" by Uncle Billy in his
reformed character; and he returned to his old active life again,
and buried his past with his forgotten bones. It was said that he
was afterward detected in trying to lead an intoxicated tramp into
camp after the methods employed by a blind man's dog, but was
discovered in time by the--of course--uncorroborated narrator.
I should be tempted to leave him thus in his original and
picturesque sin, but the same veracity which compelled me to
transcribe his faults and iniquities obliges me to describe his
ultimate and somewhat monotonous reformation, which came from no
fault of his own.
It was a joyous day at Rattlers Ridge that was equally the advent
of his change of heart and the first stagecoach that had been
induced to diverge from the highroad and stop regularly at our
settlement. Flags were flying from the post office and Polka
saloon, and Bones was flying before the brass band that he
detested, when the sweetest girl in the county--Pinkey Preston--
daughter of the county judge and hopelessly beloved by all Rattlers
Ridge, stepped from the coach which she had glorified by occupying
as an invited guest.
"What makes him run away?" she asked quickly, opening her lovely
eyes in a possibly innocent wonder that anything could be found to
run away from her.
"He don't like the brass band," we explained eagerly.
"How funny," murmured the girl; "is it as out of tune as all that?"
This irresistible witticism alone would have been enough to satisfy
us--we did nothing but repeat it to each other all the next day--
but we were positively transported when we saw her suddenly gather
her dainty skirts in one hand and trip off through the red dust
toward Bones, who, with his eyes over his yellow shoulder, had
halted in the road, and half-turned in mingled disgust and rage at
the spectacle of the descending trombone. We held our breath as
she approached him. Would Bones evade her as he did us at such
moments, or would he save our reputation, and consent, for the
moment, to accept her as a new kind of inebriate? She came nearer;
he saw her; he began to slowly quiver with excitement--his stump of
a tail vibrating with such rapidity that the loss of the missing
portion was scarcely noticeable. Suddenly she stopped before him,
took his yellow head between her little hands, lifted it, and
looked down in his handsome brown eyes with her two lovely blue
ones. What passed between them in that magnetic glance no one ever
knew. She returned with him; said to him casually: "We're not
afraid of brass bands, are we?" to which he apparently acquiesced,
at least stifling his disgust of them while he was near her--which
was nearly all the time.
During the speechmaking her gloved hand and his yellow head were
always near together, and at the crowning ceremony--her public
checking of Yuba Bill's "waybill" on behalf of the township, with a
gold pencil presented to her by the Stage Company--Bones' joy, far
from knowing no bounds, seemed to know nothing but them, and he
witnessed it apparently in the air. No one dared to interfere.
For the first time a local pride in Bones sprang up in our hearts--
and we lied to each other in his praises openly and shamelessly.
Then the time came for parting. We were standing by the door of
the coach, hats in hand, as Miss Pinkey was about to step into it;
Bones was waiting by her side, confidently looking into the
interior, and apparently selecting his own seat on the lap of Judge
Preston in the corner, when Miss Pinkey held up the sweetest of
admonitory fingers. Then, taking his head between her two hands,
she again looked into his brimming eyes, and said, simply, "GOOD
dog," with the gentlest of emphasis on the adjective, and popped
into the coach.
The six bay horses started as one, the gorgeous green and gold
vehicle bounded forward, the red dust rose behind, and the yellow
dog danced in and out of it to the very outskirts of the
settlement. And then he soberly returned.
A day or two later he was missed--but the fact was afterward known
that he was at Spring Valley, the county town where Miss Preston
lived, and he was forgiven. A week afterward he was missed again,
but this time for a longer period, and then a pathetic letter
arrived from Sacramento for the storekeeper's wife.
"Would you mind," wrote Miss Pinkey Preston, "asking some of your
boys to come over here to Sacramento and bring back Bones? I don't
mind having the dear dog walk out with me at Spring Valley, where
everyone knows me; but here he DOES make one so noticeable, on
account of HIS COLOR. I've got scarcely a frock that he agrees
with. He don't go with my pink muslin, and that lovely buff tint
he makes three shades lighter. You know yellow is SO trying."
A consultation was quickly held by the whole settlement, and a
deputation sent to Sacramento to relieve the unfortunate girl. We
were all quite indignant with Bones--but, oddly enough, I think it
was greatly tempered with our new pride in him. While he was with
us alone, his peculiarities had been scarcely appreciated, but the
recurrent phrase "that yellow dog that they keep at the Rattlers"
gave us a mysterious importance along the countryside, as if we had
secured a "mascot" in some zoological curiosity.
This was further indicated by a singular occurrence. A new church
had been built at the crossroads, and an eminent divine had come
from San Francisco to preach the opening sermon. After a careful
examination of the camp's wardrobe, and some felicitous exchange of
apparel, a few of us were deputed to represent "Rattlers" at the
Sunday service. In our white ducks, straw hats, and flannel
blouses, we were sufficiently picturesque and distinctive as
"honest miners" to be shown off in one of the front pews.
Seated near the prettiest girls, who offered us their hymn books--
in the cleanly odor of fresh pine shavings, and ironed muslin, and
blown over by the spices of our own woods through the open windows,
a deep sense of the abiding peace of Christian communion settled
upon us. At this supreme moment someone murmured in an awe-
"WILL you look at Bones?"
We looked. Bones had entered the church and gone up in the gallery
through a pardonable ignorance and modesty; but, perceiving his
mistake, was now calmly walking along the gallery rail before the
astounded worshipers. Reaching the end, he paused for a moment,
and carelessly looked down. It was about fifteen feet to the floor
below--the simplest jump in the world for the mountain-bred Bones.
Daintily, gingerly, lazily, and yet with a conceited airiness of
manner, as if, humanly speaking, he had one leg in his pocket and
were doing it on three, he cleared the distance, dropping just in
front of the chancel, without a sound, turned himself around three
times, and then lay comfortably down.
Three deacons were instantly in the aisle, coming up before the
eminent divine, who, we fancied, wore a restrained smile. We heard
the hurried whispers: "Belongs to them." "Quite a local
institution here, you know." "Don't like to offend sensibilities;"
and the minister's prompt "By no means," as he went on with his
A short month ago we would have repudiated Bones; today we sat
there in slightly supercilious attitudes, as if to indicate that
any affront offered to Bones would be an insult to ourselves, and
followed by our instantaneous withdrawal in a body.
All went well, however, until the minister, lifting the large Bible
from the communion table and holding it in both hands before him,
walked toward a reading stand by the altar rails. Bones uttered a
distinct growl. The minister stopped.
We, and we alone, comprehended in a flash the whole situation. The
Bible was nearly the size and shape of one of those soft clods of
sod which we were in the playful habit of launching at Bones when
he lay half-asleep in the sun, in order to see him cleverly evade
We held our breath. What was to be done? But the opportunity
belonged to our leader, Jeff Briggs--a confoundedly good-looking
fellow, with the golden mustache of a northern viking and the curls
of an Apollo. Secure in his beauty and bland in his self-conceit,
he rose from the pew, and stepped before the chancel rails.
"I would wait a moment, if I were you, sir," he said, respectfully,
"and you will see that he will go out quietly."
"What is wrong?" whispered the minister in some concern.
"He thinks you are going to heave that book at him, sir, without
giving him a fair show, as we do."
The minister looked perplexed, but remained motionless, with the
book in his hands. Bones arose, walked halfway down the aisle, and
vanished like a yellow flash!
With this justification of his reputation, Bones disappeared for a
week. At the end of that time we received a polite note from Judge
Preston, saying that the dog had become quite domiciled in their
house, and begged that the camp, without yielding up their valuable
PROPERTY in him, would allow him to remain at Spring Valley for an
indefinite time; that both the judge and his daughter--with whom
Bones was already an old friend--would be glad if the members of
the camp would visit their old favorite whenever they desired, to
assure themselves that he was well cared for.
I am afraid that the bait thus ingenuously thrown out had a good
deal to do with our ultimate yielding. However, the reports of
those who visited Bones were wonderful and marvelous. He was
residing there in state, lying on rugs in the drawing-room, coiled
up under the judicial desk in the judge's study, sleeping regularly
on the mat outside Miss Pinkey's bedroom door, or lazily snapping
at flies on the judge's lawn.
"He's as yaller as ever," said one of our informants, "but it don't
somehow seem to be the same back that we used to break clods over
in the old time, just to see him scoot out of the dust."
And now I must record a fact which I am aware all lovers of dogs
will indignantly deny, and which will be furiously bayed at by
every faithful hound since the days of Ulysses. Bones not only
FORGOT, but absolutely CUT US! Those who called upon the judge in
"store clothes" he would perhaps casually notice, but he would
sniff at them as if detecting and resenting them under their
superficial exterior. The rest he simply paid no attention to.
The more familiar term of "Bonesy"--formerly applied to him, as in
our rare moments of endearment--produced no response. This pained,
I think, some of the more youthful of us; but, through some strange
human weakness, it also increased the camp's respect for him.
Nevertheless, we spoke of him familiarly to strangers at the very
moment he ignored us. I am afraid that we also took some pains to
point out that he was getting fat and unwieldy, and losing his
elasticity, implying covertly that his choice was a mistake and his
life a failure.
A year after, he died, in the odor of sanctity and respectability,
being found one morning coiled up and stiff on the mat outside Miss
Pinkey's door. When the news was conveyed to us, we asked
permission, the camp being in a prosperous condition, to erect a
stone over his grave. But when it came to the inscription we could
only think of the two words murmured to him by Miss Pinkey, which
we always believe effected his conversion:
A MOTHER OF FIVE
She was a mother--and a rather exemplary one--of five children,
although her own age was barely nine. Two of these children were
twins, and she generally alluded to them as "Mr. Amplach's
children," referring to an exceedingly respectable gentleman in the
next settlement who, I have reason to believe, had never set eyes
on her or them. The twins were quite naturally alike--having been
in a previous state of existence two ninepins--and were still
somewhat vague and inchoate below their low shoulders in their long
clothes, but were also firm and globular about the head, and there
were not wanting those who professed to see in this an unmistakable
resemblance to their reputed father. The other children were dolls
of different ages, sex, and condition, but the twins may be said to
have been distinctly her own conception. Yet such was her
admirable and impartial maternity that she never made any
difference between them. "The Amplach's children" was a
description rather than a distinction.
She was herself the motherless child of Robert Foulkes, a
hardworking but somewhat improvident teamster on the Express Route
between Big Bend and Reno. His daily avocation, when she was not
actually with him in the wagon, led to an occasional dispersion of
herself and her progeny along the road and at wayside stations
between those places. But the family was generally collected
together by rough but kindly hands already familiar with the
handling of her children. I have a very vivid recollection of Jim
Carter trampling into a saloon, after a five-mile walk through a
snowdrift, with an Amplach twin in his pocket. "Suthin' ought to
be done," he growled, "to make Meary a little more careful o' them
Amplach children; I picked up one outer the snow a mile beyond Big
Bend." "God bless my soul!" said a casual passenger, looking up
hastily; "I didn't know Mr. Amplach was married." Jim winked
diabolically at us over his glass. "No more did I," he responded
gloomily, "but you can't tell anything about the ways o' them
respectable, psalm-singing jay birds." Having thus disposed of
Amplach's character, later on, when he was alone with Mary, or
"Meary," as she chose to pronounce it, the rascal worked upon her
feelings with an account of the infant Amplach's sufferings in the
snowdrift and its agonized whisperings for "Meary! Meary!" until
real tears stood in Mary's blue eyes. "Let this be a lesson to
you," he concluded, drawing the ninepin dexterously from his
pocket, "for it took nigh a quart of the best forty-rod whisky to
bring that child to." Not only did Mary firmly believe him, but
for weeks afterwards "Julian Amplach"--this unhappy twin--was kept
in a somnolent attitude in the cart, and was believed to have
contracted dissipated habits from the effects of his heroic
Her numerous family was achieved in only two years, and succeeded
her first child, which was brought from Sacramento at considerable
expense by a Mr. William Dodd, also a teamster, on her seventh
birthday. This, by one of those rare inventions known only to a
child's vocabulary, she at once called "Misery"--probably a
combination of "Missy," as she herself was formerly termed by
strangers, and "Missouri," her native State. It was an excessively
large doll at first--Mr. Dodd wishing to get the worth of his
money--but time, and perhaps an excess of maternal care, remedied
the defect, and it lost flesh and certain unemployed parts of its
limbs very rapidly. It was further reduced in bulk by falling
under the wagon and having the whole train pass over it, but
singularly enough its greatest attenuation was in the head and
shoulders--the complexion peeling off as a solid layer, followed by
the disappearance of distinct strata of its extraordinary
composition. This continued until the head and shoulders were much
too small for even its reduced frame, and all the devices of
childish millinery--a shawl secured with tacks and well hammered
in, and a hat which tilted backward and forward and never appeared
at the same angle--failed to restore symmetry. Until one dreadful
morning, after an imprudent bath, the whole upper structure
disappeared, leaving two hideous iron prongs standing erect from
the spinal column. Even an imaginative child like Mary could not
accept this sort of thing as a head. Later in the day Jack Roper,
the blacksmith at the "Crossing," was concerned at the plaintive
appearance before his forge of a little girl clad in a bright-blue
pinafore of the same color as her eyes, carrying her monstrous
offspring in her arms. Jack recognized her and instantly divined
the situation. "You haven't," he suggested kindly, "got another
head at home--suthin' left over," Mary shook her head sadly; even
her prolific maternity was not equal to the creation of children in
detail. "Nor anythin' like a head?" he persisted sympathetically.
Mary's loving eyes filled with tears. "No, nuffen!" "You
couldn't," he continued thoughtfully, "use her the other side up?--
we might get a fine pair o' legs outer them irons," he added,
touching the two prongs with artistic suggestion. "Now look here"--
he was about to tilt the doll over when a small cry of feminine
distress and a swift movement of a matronly little arm arrested the
evident indiscretion. "I see," he said gravely. "Well, you come
here tomorrow, and we'll fix up suthin' to work her." Jack was
thoughtful the rest of the day, more than usually impatient with
certain stubborn mules to be shod, and even knocked off work an
hour earlier to walk to Big Bend and a rival shop. But the next
morning when the trustful and anxious mother appeared at the forge
she uttered a scream of delight. Jack had neatly joined a hollow
iron globe, taken from the newel post of some old iron staircase
railing, to the two prongs, and covered it with a coat of red
fireproof paint. It was true that its complexion was rather high,
that it was inclined to be top-heavy, and that in the long run the
other dolls suffered considerably by enforced association with this
unyielding and implacable head and shoulders, but this did not
diminish Mary's joy over her restored first-born. Even its utter
absence of features was no defect in a family where features were
as evanescent as in hers, and the most ordinary student of
evolution could see that the "Amplach" ninepins were in legitimate
succession to the globular-headed "Misery." For a time I think
that Mary even preferred her to the others. Howbeit it was a
pretty sight to see her on a summer afternoon sitting upon a
wayside stump, her other children dutifully ranged around her, and
the hard, unfeeling head of Misery pressed deep down into her
loving little heart as she swayed from side to side, crooning her
plaintive lullaby. Small wonder that the bees took up the song and
droned a slumberous accompaniment, or that high above her head the
enormous pines, stirred through their depths by the soft Sierran
air--or Heaven knows what--let slip flickering lights and shadows
to play over that cast-iron face, until the child, looking down
upon it with the quick, transforming power of love, thought that it
The two remaining members of the family were less distinctive.
"Gloriana"--pronounced as two words: "Glory Anna"--being the work
of her father, who also named it, was simply a cylindrical roll of
canvas wagon-covering, girt so as to define a neck and waist, with
a rudely inked face--altogether a weak, pitiable, manlike
invention; and "Johnny Dear," alleged to be the representative of
John Doremus, a young storekeeper who occasionally supplied Mary
with gratuitous sweets. Mary never admitted this, and as we were
all gentlemen along that road, we were blind to the suggestion.
"Johnny Dear" was originally a small plaster phrenological cast of
a head and bust, begged from some shop window in the county town,
with a body clearly constructed by Mary herself. It was an ominous
fact that it was always dressed as a BOY, and was distinctly the
most HUMAN-looking of all her progeny. Indeed, in spite of the
faculties that were legibly printed all over its smooth, white,
hairless head, it was appallingly lifelike. Left sometimes by Mary
astride of the branch of a wayside tree, horsemen had been known to
dismount hurriedly and examine it, returning with a mystified
smile, and it was on record that Yuba Bill had once pulled up the
Pioneer Coach at the request of curious and imploring passengers,
and then grimly installed "Johnny Dear" beside him on the box seat,
publicly delivering him to Mary at Big Bend, to her wide-eyed
confusion and the first blush we had ever seen on her round,
chubby, sunburnt cheeks. It may seem strange that with her great
popularity and her well-known maternal instincts, she had not been
kept fully supplied with proper and more conventional dolls; but it
was soon recognized that she did not care for them--left their
waxen faces, rolling eyes, and abundant hair in ditches, or
stripped them to help clothe the more extravagant creatures of her
fancy. So it came that "Johnny Dear's" strictly classical profile
looked out from under a girl's fashionable straw sailor hat, to the
utter obliteration of his prominent intellectual faculties; the
Amplach twins wore bonnets on their ninepins heads, and even an
attempt was made to fit a flaxen scalp on the iron-headed Misery.
But her dolls were always a creation of her own--her affection for
them increasing with the demand upon her imagination. This may
seem somewhat inconsistent with her habit of occasionally
abandoning them in the woods or in the ditches. But she had an
unbounded confidence in the kindly maternity of Nature, and trusted
her children to the breast of the Great Mother as freely as she did
herself in her own motherlessness. And this confidence was rarely
betrayed. Rats, mice, snails, wildcats, panther, and bear never
touched her lost waifs. Even the elements were kindly; an Amplach
twin buried under a snowdrift in high altitudes reappeared
smilingly in the spring in all its wooden and painted integrity.
We were all Pantheists then--and believed this implicitly. It was
only when exposed to the milder forces of civilization that Mary
had anything to fear. Yet even then, when Patsy O'Connor's
domestic goat had once tried to "sample" the lost Misery, he had
retreated with the loss of three front teeth, and Thompson's mule
came out of an encounter with that iron-headed prodigy with a
sprained hind leg and a cut and swollen pastern.
But these were the simple Arcadian days of the road between Big
Bend and Reno, and progress and prosperity, alas! brought changes
in their wake. It was already whispered that Mary ought to be
going to school, and Mr. Amplach--still happily oblivious of the
liberties taken with his name--as trustee of the public school at
Duckville, had intimated that Mary's bohemian wanderings were a
scandal to the county. She was growing up in ignorance, a dreadful
ignorance of everything but the chivalry, the deep tenderness, the
delicacy and unselfishness of the rude men around her, and
obliviousness of faith in anything but the immeasurable bounty of
Nature toward her and her children. Of course there was a fierce
discussion between "the boys" of the road and the few married
families of the settlement on this point, but, of course, progress
and "snivelization"--as the boys chose to call it--triumphed. The
projection of a railroad settled it; Robert Foulkes, promoted to a
foremanship of a division of the line, was made to understand that
his daughter must be educated. But the terrible question of Mary's
family remained. No school would open its doors to that
heterogeneous collection, and Mary's little heart would have broken
over the rude dispersal or heroic burning of her children. The
ingenuity of Jack Roper suggested a compromise. She was allowed to
select one to take to school with her; the others were ADOPTED by
certain of her friends, and she was to be permitted to visit them
every Saturday afternoon. The selection was a cruel trial, so
cruel that, knowing her undoubted preference for her firstborn,
Misery, we would not have interfered for worlds, but in her
unexpected choice of "Johnny Dear" the most unworldly of us knew
that it was the first glimmering of feminine tact--her first
submission to the world of propriety that she was now entering.
"Johnny Dear" was undoubtedly the most presentable; even more,
there was an educational suggestion in its prominent, mapped-out
phrenological organs. The adopted fathers were loyal to their
trust. Indeed, for years afterward the blacksmith kept the iron-
headed Misery on a rude shelf, like a shrine, near his bunk; nobody
but himself and Mary ever knew the secret, stolen, and thrilling
interviews that took place during the first days of their
separation. Certain facts, however, transpired concerning Mary's
equal faithfulness to another of her children. It is said that one
Saturday afternoon, when the road manager of the new line was
seated in his office at Reno in private business discussion with
two directors, a gentle tap was heard at the door. It was opened
to an eager little face, a pair of blue eyes, and a blue pinafore.
To the astonishment of the directors, a change came over the face
of the manager. Taking the child gently by the hand, he walked to
his desk, on which the papers of the new line were scattered, and
drew open a drawer from which he took a large ninepin
extraordinarily dressed as a doll. The astonishment of the two
gentlemen was increased at the following quaint colloquy between
the manager and the child.
"She's doing remarkably well in spite of the trying weather, but I
have had to keep her very quiet," said the manager, regarding the
"Ess," said Mary quickly, "It's just the same with Johnny Dear; his
cough is f'ightful at nights. But Misery's all right. I've just
been to see her."
"There's a good deal of scarlet fever around," continued the
manager with quiet concern, "and we can't be too careful. But I
shall take her for a little run down the line tomorrow."
The eyes of Mary sparkled and overflowed like blue water. Then
there was a kiss, a little laugh, a shy glance at the two curious
strangers, the blue pinafore fluttered away, and the colloquy
ended. She was equally attentive in her care of the others, but
the rag baby "Gloriana," who had found a home in Jim Carter's cabin
at the Ridge, living too far for daily visits, was brought down
regularly on Saturday afternoon to Mary's house by Jim, tucked in
asleep in his saddle bags or riding gallantly before him on the
horn of his saddle. On Sunday there was a dress parade of all the
dolls, which kept Mary in heart for the next week's desolation.
But there came one Saturday and Sunday when Mary did not appear,
and it was known along the road that she had been called to San
Francisco to meet an aunt who had just arrived from "the States."
It was a vacant Sunday to "the boys," a very hollow, unsanctified
Sunday, somehow, without that little figure. But the next, Sunday,
and the next, were still worse, and then it was known that the
dreadful aunt was making much of Mary, and was sending her to a
grand school--a convent at Santa Clara--where it was rumored girls
were turned out so accomplished that their own parents did not know
them. But WE knew that was impossible to our Mary; and a letter
which came from her at the end of the month, and before the convent
had closed upon the blue pinafore, satisfied us, and was balm to
our anxious hearts. It was characteristic of Mary; it was
addressed to nobody in particular, and would--but for the prudence
of the aunt--have been entrusted to the post office open and
undirected. It was a single sheet, handed to us without a word by
her father; but as we passed it from hand to hand, we understood it
as if we had heard our lost playfellow's voice.
"Ther's more houses in 'Frisco than you kin shake a stick at and
wimmens till you kant rest, but mules and jakasses ain't got no
sho, nor blacksmiffs shops, wich is not to be seen no wear. Rapits
and Skwirls also bares and panfers is on-noun and unforgotten on
account of the streets and Sunday skoles. Jim Roper you orter be
very good to Mizzery on a kount of my not bein' here, and not
harten your hart to her bekos she is top heavy--which is ontroo and
simply an imptient lie--like you allus make. I have a kinary bird
wot sings deliteful--but isn't a yellerhamer sutch as I know, as
you'd think. Dear Mister Montgommery, don't keep Gulan Amplak to
mutch shet up in office drors; it isn't good for his lungs and
chest. And don't you ink his head--nother! youre as bad as the
rest. Johnny Dear, you must be very kind to your attopted father,
and you, Glory Anna, must lov your kind Jimmy Carter verry mutch
for taking you hossback so offen. I has been buggy ridin' with an
orficer who has killed injuns real! I am comin' back soon with
grate affeckshun, so luke out and mind."
But it was three years before she returned, and this was her last
and only letter. The "adopted fathers" of her children were
faithful, however, and when the new line was opened, and it was
understood that she was to be present with her father at the
ceremony, they came, with a common understanding, to the station to
meet their old playmate. They were ranged along the platform--poor
Jack Roper a little overweighted with a bundle he was carrying on
his left arm. And then a young girl in the freshness of her teens
and the spotless purity of a muslin frock that although brief in
skirt was perfect in fit, faultlessly booted and gloved, tripped
from the train, and offered a delicate hand in turn to each of her
old friends. Nothing could be prettier than the smile on the
cheeks that were no longer sunburnt; nothing could be clearer than
the blue eyes lifted frankly to theirs. And yet, as she gracefully
turned away with her father, the faces of the four adopted parents
were found to be as red and embarrassed as her own on the day that
Yuba Bill drove up publicly with "Johnny Dear" on the box seat.
"You weren't such a fool," said Jack Montgomery to Roper, "as to
bring Misery here with you?"
"I was," said Roper with a constrained laugh--"and you?" He had
just caught sight of the head of a ninepin peeping from the
manager's pocket. The man laughed, and then the four turned
"Mary" had indeed come back to them; but not "The Mother of Five!"
We all remembered very distinctly Bulger's advent in Rattlesnake
Camp. It was during the rainy season--a season singularly inducive
to settled reflective impressions as we sat and smoked around the
stove in Mosby's grocery. Like older and more civilized
communities, we had our periodic waves of sentiment and opinion,
with the exception that they were more evanescent with us, and as
we had just passed through a fortnight of dissipation and
extravagance, owing to a visit from some gamblers and speculators,
we were now undergoing a severe moral revulsion, partly induced by
reduced finances and partly by the arrival of two families with
grownup daughters on the hill. It was raining, with occasional
warm breaths, through the open window, of the southwest trades,
redolent of the saturated spices of the woods and springing
grasses, which perhaps were slightly inconsistent with the hot
stove around which we had congregated. But the stove was only an
excuse for our listless, gregarious gathering; warmth and idleness
went well together, and it was currently accepted that we had
caught from the particular reptile which gave its name to our camp
much of its pathetic, lifelong search for warmth, and its habit of
indolently basking in it.
A few of us still went through the affectation of attempting to dry
our damp clothes by the stove, and sizzling our wet boots against
it; but as the same individuals calmly permitted the rain to drive
in upon them through the open window without moving, and seemed to
take infinite delight in the amount of steam they generated, even
that pretense dropped. Crotalus himself, with his tail in a muddy
ditch, and the sun striking cold fire from his slit eyes as he
basked his head on a warm stone beside it, could not have typified
Percy Briggs took his pipe from his mouth at last and said, with
"Well, gentlemen, if we can't get the wagon road over here, and if
we're going to be left out by the stagecoach company, we can at
least straighten up the camp, and not have it look like a cross
between a tenement alley and a broken-down circus. I declare, I
was just sick when these two Baker girls started to make a short
cut through the camp. Darned if they didn't turn round and take to
the woods and the rattlers again afore they got halfway. And that
benighted idiot, Tom Rollins, standin' there in the ditch,
spattered all over with slumgullion 'til he looked like a spotted
tarrypin, wavin' his fins and sashaying backwards and forrards and
sayin', 'This way, ladies; this way!'"
"I didn't," returned Tom Rollins, quite casually, without looking
up from his steaming boots; "I didn't start in night afore last to
dance 'The Green Corn Dance' outer 'Hiawatha,' with feathers in my
hair and a red blanket on my shoulders, round that family's new
potato patch, in order that it might 'increase and multiply.' I
didn't sing 'Sabbath Morning Bells' with an anvil accompaniment
until twelve o'clock at night over at the Crossing, so that they
might dream of their Happy Childhood's Home. It seems to me that
it wasn't me did it. I might be mistaken--it was late--but I have
the impression that it wasn't me."
From the silence that followed, this would seem to have been
clearly a recent performance of the previous speaker, who, however,
responded quite cheerfully:
"An evenin' o' simple, childish gaiety don't count. We've got to
start in again FAIR. What we want here is to clear up and
encourage decent immigration, and get rid o' gamblers and
blatherskites that are makin' this yer camp their happy hunting-
ground. We don't want any more permiskus shootin'. We don't want
any more paintin' the town red. We don't want any more swaggerin'
galoots ridin' up to this grocery and emptyin' their six-shooters
in the air afore they 'light. We want to put a stop to it
peacefully and without a row--and we kin. We ain't got no bullies
of our own to fight back, and they know it, so they know they won't
get no credit bullyin' us; they'll leave, if we're only firm. It's
all along of our cussed fool good-nature; they see it amuses us,
and they'll keep it up as long as the whisky's free. What we want
to do is, when the next man comes waltzin' along--"
A distant clatter from the rocky hillside here mingled with the
puff of damp air through the window.
"Looks as ef we might hev a show even now," said Tom Rollins,
removing his feet from the stove as we all instinctively faced
toward the window.
"I reckon you're in with us in this, Mosby?" said Briggs, turning
toward the proprietor of the grocery, who had been leaning
listlessly against the wall behind his bar.
"Arter the man's had a fair show," said Mosby, cautiously. He
deprecated the prevailing condition of things, but it was still an
open question whether the families would prove as valuable
customers as his present clients. "Everything in moderation,
The sound of galloping hoofs came nearer, now swishing in the soft
mud of the highway, until the unseen rider pulled up before the
door. There was no shouting, however, nor did he announce himself
with the usual salvo of firearms. But when, after a singularly
heavy tread and the jingle of spurs on the platform, the door flew
open to the newcomer, he seemed a realization of our worst
expectations. Tall, broad, and muscular, he carried in one hand a
shotgun, while from his hip dangled a heavy navy revolver. His
long hair, unkempt but oiled, swept a greasy circle around his
shoulders; his enormous mustache, dripping with wet, completely
concealed his mouth. His costume of fringed buckskin was wild and
outre even for our frontier camp. But what was more confirmative
of our suspicions was that he was evidently in the habit of making
an impression, and after a distinct pause at the doorway, with only
a side glance at us, he strode toward the bar.
"As there don't seem to be no hotel hereabouts, I reckon I kin put
up my mustang here and have a shakedown somewhere behind that
counter," he said. His voice seemed to have added to its natural
depth the hoarseness of frequent overstraining.
"Ye ain't got no bunk to spare, you boys, hev ye?" asked Mosby,
evasively, glancing at Percy Briggs without looking at the
stranger. We all looked at Briggs also; it was HIS affair after
all--HE had originated this opposition. To our surprise he said
The stranger leaned heavily on the counter.
"I was speaking to YOU," he said, with his eyes on Mosby, and
slightly accenting the pronoun with a tap of his revolver butt on
the bar. "Ye don't seem to catch on."
Mosby smiled feebly, and again cast an imploring glance at Briggs.
To our greater astonishment, Briggs said, quietly: "Why don't you
answer the stranger, Mosby?"
"Yes, yes," said Mosby, suavely, to the newcomer, while an angry
flush crossed his check as he recognized the position in which
Briggs had placed him. "Of course, you're welcome to what doings I
hev here, but I reckoned these gentlemen over there," with a
vicious glance at Briggs, "might fix ye up suthin' better; they're
so pow'ful kind to your sort."
The stranger threw down a gold piece on the counter and said: "Fork
out your whisky, then," waited until his glass was filled, took it
in his hand, and then, drawing an empty chair to the stove, sat
down beside Briggs. "Seein' as you're that kind," he said, placing
his heavy hand on Briggs's knee, "mebbe ye kin tell me ef thar's a
shanty or a cabin at Rattlesnake that I kin get for a couple o'
weeks. I saw an empty one at the head o' the hill. You see,
gennelmen," he added confidentially as he swept the drops of whisky
from his long mustache with his fingers and glanced around our
group, "I've got some business over at Bigwood," our nearest town,
"but ez a place to stay AT it ain't my style."
"What's the matter with Bigwood?" said Briggs, abruptly.
"It's too howlin', too festive, too rough; thar's too much yellin'
and shootin' goin' day and night. Thar's too many card sharps and
gay gamboliers cavortin' about the town to please me. Too much
permiskus soakin' at the bar and free jimjams. What I want is a
quiet place what a man kin give his mind and elbow a rest from
betwixt grippin' his shootin' irons and crookin' in his whisky. A
sort o' slow, quiet, easy place LIKE THIS."
We all stared at him, Percy Briggs as fixedly as any. But there
was not the slightest trace of irony, sarcasm, or peculiar
significance in his manner. He went on slowly:
"When I struck this yer camp a minit ago; when I seed that thar
ditch meanderin' peaceful like through the street, without a hotel
or free saloon or express office on either side; with the smoke
just a curlin' over the chimbley of that log shanty, and the bresh
just set fire to and a smolderin' in that potato patch with a kind
o' old-time stingin' in your eyes and nose, and a few women's duds
just a flutterin' on a line by the fence, I says to myself:
'Bulger--this is peace! This is wot you're lookin' for, Bulger--
this is wot you're wantin'--this is wot YOU'LL HEV!'"
"You say you've business over at Bigwood. What business?" said
"It's a peculiar business, young fellow," returned the stranger,
gravely. "Thar's different men ez has different opinions about it.
Some allows it's an easy business, some allows it's a rough
business; some says it's a sad business, others says it's gay and
festive. Some wonders ez how I've got into it, and others wonder
how I'll ever get out of it. It's a payin' business--it's a
peaceful sort o' business when left to itself. It's a peculiar
business--a business that sort o' b'longs to me, though I ain't got
no patent from Washington for it. It's MY OWN business." He
paused, rose, and saying, "Let's meander over and take a look at
that empty cabin, and ef she suits me, why, I'll plank down a slug
for her on the spot, and move in tomorrow," walked towards the
door. "I'll pick up suthin' in the way o' boxes and blankets from
the grocery," he added, looking at Mosby, "and ef thar's a corner
whar I kin stand my gun and a nail to hang up my revolver--why, I'm
By this time we were no longer astonished when Briggs rose also,
and not only accompanied the sinister-looking stranger to the empty
cabin, but assisted him in negotiating with its owner for a
fortnight's occupancy. Nevertheless, we eagerly assailed Briggs on
his return for some explanation of this singular change in his
attitude toward the stranger. He coolly reminded us, however, that
while his intention of excluding ruffianly adventurers from the
camp remained the same, he had no right to go back on the
stranger's sentiments, which were evidently in accord with our own,
and although Mr. Bulger's appearance was inconsistent with them,
that was only an additional reason why we should substitute a mild
firmness for that violence which we all deprecated, but which might
attend his abrupt dismissal. We were all satisfied except Mosby,
who had not yet recovered from Briggs's change of front, which he
was pleased to call "craw-fishing." "Seemed to me his account of
his business was extraordinary satisfactory! Sorter filled the
bill all round--no mistake thar," he suggested, with a malicious
irony. "I like a man that's outspoken."
"I understood him very well," said Briggs, quietly.
"In course you did. Only when you've settled in your MIND whether
he was describing horse-stealing or tract-distributing, mebbe
you'll let ME know."
It would seem, however, that Briggs did not interrogate the
stranger again regarding it, nor did we, who were quite content to
leave matters in Briggs's hands. Enough that Mr. Bulger moved into
the empty cabin the next day, and, with the aid of a few old boxes
from the grocery, which he quickly extemporized into tables and
chairs, and the purchase of some necessary cooking utensils, soon
made himself at home. The rest of the camp, now thoroughly
aroused, made a point of leaving their work in the ditches,
whenever they could, to stroll carelessly around Bulger's tenement
in the vague hope of satisfying a curiosity that had become
tormenting. But they could not find that he was doing anything of
a suspicious character--except, perhaps, from the fact that it was
not OUTWARDLY suspicious, which I grieve to say did not lull them
to security. He seemed to be either fixing up his cabin or smoking
in his doorway. On the second day he checked this itinerant
curiosity by taking the initiative himself, and quietly walking
from claim to claim and from cabin to cabin with a pacific but by
no means a satisfying interest. The shadow of his tall figure
carrying his inseparable gun, which had not yet apparently "stood
in the corner," falling upon an excavated bank beside the delving
miners, gave them a sense of uneasiness they could not explain; a
few characteristic yells of boisterous hilarity from their noontide
gathering under a cottonwood somehow ceased when Mr. Bulger was
seen gravely approaching, and his casual stopping before a poker
party in the gulch actually caused one of the most reckless
gamblers to weakly recede from "a bluff" and allow his adversary to
sweep the board. After this it was felt that matters were becoming
serious. There was no subsequent patrolling of the camp before the
stranger's cabin. Their curiosity was singularly abated. A
general feeling of repulsion, kept within bounds partly by the
absence of any overt act from Bulger, and partly by an inconsistent
over-consciousness of his shotgun, took its place. But an
unexpected occurrence revived it.
One evening, as the usual social circle were drawn around Mosby's
stove, the lazy silence was broken by the familiar sounds of pistol
shots and a series of more familiar shrieks and yells from the
rocky hill road. The circle quickly recognized the voices of their
old friends the roisterers and gamblers from Sawyer's Dam; they as
quickly recognized the returning shouts here and there from a few
companions who were welcoming them. I grieve to say that in spite
of their previous attitude of reformation a smile of gratified
expectancy lit up the faces of the younger members, and even the
older ones glanced dubiously at Briggs. Mosby made no attempt to
conceal a sigh of relief as he carefully laid out an extra supply
of glasses in his bar. Suddenly the oncoming yells ceased, the
wild gallop of hoofs slackened into a trot, and finally halted, and
even the responsive shouts of the camp stopped also. We all looked
vacantly at each other; Mosby leaped over his counter and went to
the door; Briggs followed with the rest of us. The night was dark,
and it was a few minutes before we could distinguish a straggling,
vague, but silent procession moving through the moist, heavy air on
the hill. But, to our surprise, it was moving away from us--
absolutely LEAVING the camp! We were still staring in expectancy
when out of the darkness slowly emerged a figure which we
recognized at once as Captain Jim, one of the most reckless members
of our camp. Pushing us back into the grocery he entered without a
word, closed the door behind him, and threw himself vacantly into a
chair. We at once pressed around him. He looked up at us dazedly,
drew a long breath, and said slowly:
"It's no use, gentlemen! Suthin's GOT to be done with that Bulger;
and mighty quick."
"What's the matter?" we asked eagerly.
"Matter!" he repeated, passing his hand across his forehead.
"Matter! Look yere! Ye all of you heard them boys from Sawyer's
Dam coming over the hill? Ye heard their music--mebbe ye heard US
join in the chorus? Well, on they came waltzing down the hill,
like old times, and we waitin' for 'em. Then, jest as they passed
the old cabin, who do you think they ran right into--shooting iron,
long hair and mustache, and all that--standing there plump in the
road? why, Bulger!"
"Well!--Whatever it was--don't ask ME--but, dern my skin, ef after
a word or two from HIM--them boys just stopped yellin', turned
round like lambs, and rode away, peaceful-like, along with him. We
ran after them a spell, still yellin', when that thar Bulger faced
around, said to us that he'd 'come down here for quiet,' and ef he
couldn't hev it he'd have to leave with those gentlemen WHO WANTED
IT too! And I'm gosh darned ef those GENTLEMEN--you know 'em all--
Patsey Carpenter, Snapshot Harry, and the others--ever said a
darned word, but kinder nodded 'So long' and went away!"
Our astonishment and mystification were complete; and I regret to
say, the indignation of Captain Jim and Mosby equally so. "If
we're going to be bossed by the first newcomer," said the former,
gloomily, "I reckon we might as well take our chances with the
Sawyer's Dam boys, whom we know."
"Ef we are going to hev the legitimate trade of Rattlesnake
interfered with by the cranks of some hidin' horse thief or retired
road agent," said Mosby, "we might as well invite the hull of
Joaquin Murietta's gang here at once! But I suppose this is part
o' Bulger's particular 'business,'" he added, with a withering
glance at Briggs.
"I understand it all," said Briggs, quietly. "You know I told you
that bullies couldn't live in the same camp together. That's human
nature--and that's how plain men like you and me manage to scud
along without getting plugged. You see, Bulger wasn't going to hev
any of his own kind jumpin' his claim here. And I reckon he was
pow'ful enough to back down Sawyer's Dam. Anyhow, the bluff told--
and here we are in peace and quietness."
"Until he lets us know what is his little game," sneered Mosby.
Nevertheless, such is the force of mysterious power that although
it was exercised against what we firmly believed was the
independence of the camp, it extorted a certain respect from us. A
few thought it was not a bad thing to have a professional bully,
and even took care to relate the discomfiture of the wicked youth
of Sawyer's Dam for the benefit of a certain adjacent and powerful
camp who had looked down upon us. He himself, returning the same
evening from his self-imposed escort, vouchsafed no other reason
than the one he had already given. Preposterous as it seemed, we
were obliged to accept it, and the still more preposterous
inference that he had sought Rattlesnake Camp solely for the
purpose of acquiring and securing its peace and quietness.
Certainly he had no other occupation; the little work he did upon
the tailings of the abandoned claim which went with his little
cabin was scarcely a pretense. He rode over on certain days to
Bigwood on account of his business, but no one had ever seen him
there, nor could the description of his manner and appearance evoke
any information from the Bigwoodians. It remained a mystery.
It had also been feared that the advent of Bulger would intensify
that fear and dislike of riotous Rattlesnake which the two families
had shown, and which was the origin of Briggs's futile attempt at
reformation. But it was discovered that since his arrival the
young girls had shown less timidity in entering the camp, and had
even exchanged some polite conversation and good-humoured badinage
with its younger and more impressible members. Perhaps this tended
to make these youths more observant, for a few days later, when the
vexed question of Bulger's business was again under discussion, one
of them remarked, gloomily:
"I reckon there ain't no doubt WHAT he's here for!"
The youthful prophet was instantly sat upon after the fashion of
all elderly critics since Job's. Nevertheless, after a pause he
was permitted to explain.
"Only this morning, when Lance Forester and me were chirping with
them gals out on the hill, who should we see hanging around in the
bush but that cussed Bulger! We allowed at first that it might be
only a new style of his interferin', so we took no notice, except
to pass a few remarks about listeners and that sort o' thing, and
perhaps to bedevil the girls a little more than we'd hev done if
we'd been alone. Well, they laughed, and we laughed--and that was
the end of it. But this afternoon, as Lance and me were meandering
down by their cabin, we sorter turned into the woods to wait till
they'd come out. Then all of a suddent Lance stopped as rigid as a
pointer that's flushed somethin', and says, 'B'gosh!' And thar,
under a big redwood, sat that slimy hypocrite Bulger, twisting his
long mustaches and smiling like clockwork alongside o' little Meely
Baker--you know her, the pootiest of the two sisters--and she
smilin' back on him. Think of it! that unknown, unwashed,
longhaired tramp and bully, who must be forty if a day, and that
innocent gal of sixteen. It was simply disgustin'!"
I need not say that the older cynics and critics already alluded to
at once improved the occasion. 'What more could be expected?
Women, the world over, were noted for this sort of thing! This
long-haired, swaggering bully, with his air of mystery, had
captivated them, as he always had done since the days of Homer.
Simple merit, which sat lowly in barrooms, and conceived projects
for the public good around the humble, unostentatious stove, was
nowhere! Youth could not too soon learn this bitter lesson. And
in this case youth too, perhaps, was right in its conjectures, for
this WAS, no doubt, the little game of the perfidious Bulger. We
recalled the fact that his unhallowed appearance in camp was almost
coincident with the arrival of the two families. We glanced at
Briggs; to our amazement, for the first time he looked seriously
concerned. But Mosby in the meantime leaned his elbows lazily over
the counter and, in a slow voice, added fuel to the flame.
"I wouldn't hev spoken of it before," he said, with a sidelong
glance at Briggs, "for it might be all in the line o' Bulger's
'business,' but suthin' happened the other night that, for a minit,
got me! I was passin' the Bakers' shanty, and I heard one of them
gals a singing a camp-meeting hymn. I don't calkilate to run agin
you young fellers in any sparkin' or canoodlin' that's goin' on,
but her voice sounded so pow'ful soothin' and pretty thet I jest
stood there and listened. Then the old woman--old Mother Baker--
SHE joined in, and I listened too. And then--dern my skin!--but a
man's voice joined in--jest belching outer that cabin!--and I
sorter lifted myself up and kem away.
"That voice, gentlemen," said Mosby, lingering artistically as he
took up a glass and professionally eyed it before wiping it with
his towel, "that voice, cumf'bly fixed thar in thet cabin among
them wimen folks, was Bulger's!"
Briggs got up, with his eyes looking the darker for his flushed
face. "Gentlemen," he said huskily, "thar's only one thing to be
done. A lot of us have got to ride over to Sawyer's Dam tomorrow
morning and pick up as many square men as we can muster; there's a
big camp meeting goin' on there, and there won't be no difficulty
in that. When we've got a big enough crowd to show we mean
business, we must march back here and ride Bulger out of this camp!
I don't hanker arter Vigilance Committees, as a rule--it's a rough
remedy--it's like drinkin' a quart o' whisky agin rattlesnake
poison but it's got to be done! We don't mind being sold ourselves
but when it comes to our standin' by and seein' the only innocent
people in Rattlesnake given away--we kick! Bulger's got to be
fired outer this camp! And he will be!"
But he was not.
For when, the next morning, a determined and thoughtful procession
of the best and most characteristic citizens of Rattlesnake Camp
filed into Sawyer's Dam, they found that their mysterious friends
had disappeared, although they met with a fraternal but subdued
welcome from the general camp. But any approach to the subject of
their visit, however, was received with a chilling dissapproval.
Did they not know that lawlessness of any kind, even under the rude
mantle of frontier justice, was to be deprecated and scouted when a
"means of salvation, a power of regeneration," such as was now
sweeping over Sawyer's Dam, was at hand? Could they not induce
this man who was to be violently deported to accompany them
willingly to Sawyer's Dam and subject himself to the powerful
influence of the "revival" then in full swing?
The Rattlesnake boys laughed bitterly, and described the man of
whom they talked so lightly; but in vain. "It's no use,
gentlemen," said a more worldly bystander, in a lower voice, "the
camp meetin's got a strong grip here, and betwixt you and me there
ain't no wonder. For the man that runs it--the big preacher--has
got new ways and methods that fetches the boys every time. He
don't preach no cut-and-dried gospel; he don't carry around no
slop-shop robes and clap 'em on you whether they fit or not; but he
samples and measures the camp afore he wades into it. He scouts
and examines; he ain't no mere Sunday preacher with a comfortable
house and once-a-week church, but he gives up his days and nights
to it, and makes his family work with him, and even sends 'em
forward to explore the field. And he ain't no white-choker
shadbelly either, but fits himself, like his gospel, to the men he
works among. Ye ought to hear him afore you go. His tent is just
out your way. I'll go with you."
Too dejected to offer any opposition, and perhaps a little curious
to see this man who had unwittingly frustrated their design of
lynching Bulger, they halted at the outer fringe of worshipers who
packed the huge inclosure. They had not time to indulge their
cynicisms over this swaying mass of emotional, half-thinking, and
almost irresponsible beings, nor to detect any similarity between
THEIR extreme methods and the scheme of redemption they themselves
were seeking, for in a few moments, apparently lifted to his feet
on a wave of religious exultation, the famous preacher arose. The
men of Rattlesnake gasped for breath.
It was Bulger!
But Briggs quickly recovered himself. "By what name," said he,
turning passionately towards his guide, "does this man--this
impostor--call himself here?"
"Baker?" echoed the Rattlesnake contingent.
"Baker?" repeated Lance Forester, with a ghastly smile.
"Yes," returned their guide. "You oughter know it too! For he
sent his wife and daughters over, after his usual style, to sample
your camp, a week ago! Come, now, what are you givin' us?"
IN THE TULES
He had never seen a steamboat in his life. Born and reared in one
of the Western Territories, far from a navigable river, he had only
known the "dugout" or canoe as a means of conveyance across the
scant streams whose fordable waters made even those scarcely a
necessity. The long, narrow, hooded wagon, drawn by swaying oxen,
known familiarly as a "prairie schooner," in which he journeyed
across the plains to California in '53, did not help his conception
by that nautical figure. And when at last he dropped upon the land
of promise through one of the Southern mountain passes he halted
all unconsciously upon the low banks of a great yellow river amidst
a tangled brake of strange, reed-like grasses that were unknown to
him. The river, broadening as it debouched through many channels
into a lordly bay, seemed to him the ULTIMA THULE of his
journeyings. Unyoking his oxen on the edge of the luxuriant
meadows which blended with scarcely any line of demarcation into
the great stream itself, he found the prospect "good" according to
his lights and prairial experiences, and, converting his halted
wagon into a temporary cabin, he resolved to rest here and
There was little difficulty in so doing. The cultivated clearings
he had passed were few and far between; the land would be his by
discovery and occupation; his habits of loneliness and self-
reliance made him independent of neighbors. He took his first meal
in his new solitude under a spreading willow, but so near his
natural boundary that the waters gurgled and oozed in the reeds but
a few feet from him. The sun sank, deepening the gold of the river
until it might have been the stream of Pactolus itself. But Martin
Morse had no imagination; he was not even a gold-seeker; he had
simply obeyed the roving instincts of the frontiersman in coming
hither. The land was virgin and unoccupied; it was his; he was
alone. These questions settled, he smoked his pipe with less
concern over his three thousand miles' transference of habitation
than the man of cities who had moved into a next street. When the
sun sank, he rolled himself in his blankets in the wagon bed and
went quietly to sleep.
But he was presently awakened by something which at first he could
not determine to be a noise or an intangible sensation. It was a
deep throbbing through the silence of the night--a pulsation that
seemed even to be communicated to the rude bed whereon he lay. As
it came nearer it separated itself into a labored, monotonous
panting, continuous, but distinct from an equally monotonous but
fainter beating of the waters, as if the whole track of the river
were being coursed and trodden by a multitude of swiftly trampling
feet. A strange feeling took possession of him--half of fear, half
of curious expectation. It was coming nearer. He rose, leaped
hurriedly from the wagon, and ran to the bank. The night was dark;
at first he saw nothing before him but the steel-black sky pierced
with far-spaced, irregularly scattered stars. Then there seemed to
be approaching him, from the left, another and more symmetrical
constellation--a few red and blue stars high above the river, with
three compact lines of larger planetary lights flashing towards him
and apparently on his own level. It was almost upon him; he
involuntarily drew back as the strange phenomenon swept abreast of
where he stood, and resolved itself into a dark yet airy bulk,
whose vagueness, topped by enormous towers, was yet illuminated by
those open squares of light that he had taken for stars, but which
he saw now were brilliantly lit windows.
Their vivid rays shot through the reeds and sent broad bands across
the meadow, the stationary wagon, and the slumbering oxen. But all
this was nothing to the inner life they disclosed through lifted
curtains and open blinds, which was the crowning revelation of this
strange and wonderful spectacle. Elegantly dressed men and women
moved through brilliantly lit and elaborately gilt saloons; in one
a banquet seemed to be spread, served by white-jacketed servants;
in another were men playing cards around marble-topped tables; in
another the light flashed back again from the mirrors and
glistening glasses and decanters of a gorgeous refreshment saloon;
in smaller openings there was the shy disclosure of dainty white
curtains and velvet lounges of more intimate apartments.
Martin Morse stood enthralled and mystified. It was as if some
invisible Asmodeus had revealed to this simple frontiersman a world
of which he had never dreamed. It was THE world--a world of which
he knew nothing in his simple, rustic habits and profound Western
isolation--sweeping by him with the rush of an unknown planet. In
another moment it was gone; a shower of sparks shot up from one of
the towers and fell all around him, and then vanished, even as he
remembered the set piece of "Fourth of July" fireworks had vanished
in his own rural town when he was a boy. The darkness fell with it
too. But such was his utter absorption and breathless
preoccupation that only a cold chill recalled him to himself, and
he found he was standing mid-leg deep in the surge cast over the
low banks by this passage of the first steamboat he had ever seen!
He waited for it the next night, when it appeared a little later
from the opposite direction on its return trip. He watched it the
next night and the next. Hereafter he never missed it, coming or
going--whatever the hard and weary preoccupations of his new and
lonely life. He felt he could not have slept without seeing it go
by. Oddly enough, his interest and desire did not go further.
Even had he the time and money to spend in a passage on the boat,
and thus actively realize the great world of which he had only
these rare glimpses, a certain proud, rustic shyness kept him from
it. It was not HIS world; he could not affront the snubs that his
ignorance and inexperience would have provoked, and he was dimly
conscious, as so many of us are in our ignorance, that in mingling
with it he would simply lose the easy privileges of alien
criticism. For there was much that he did not understand, and some
things that grated upon his lonely independence.
One night, a lighter one than those previous, he lingered a little
longer in the moonlight to watch the phosphorescent wake of the
retreating boat. Suddenly it struck him that there was a certain
irregular splashing in the water, quite different from the regular,
diagonally crossing surges that the boat swept upon the bank.
Looking at it more intently, he saw a black object turning in the
water like a porpoise, and then the unmistakable uplifting of a
black arm in an unskillful swimmer's overhand stroke. It was a
struggling man. But it was quickly evident that the current was
too strong and the turbulence of the shallow water too great for
his efforts. Without a moment's hesitation, clad as he was in only
his shirt and trousers, Morse strode into the reeds, and the next
moment, with a call of warning, was swimming toward the now wildly
struggling figure. But, from some unknown reason, as Morse
approached him nearer the man uttered some incoherent protest and
desperately turned away, throwing off Morse's extended arm.
Attributing this only to the vague convulsions of a drowning man,
Morse, a skilled swimmer, managed to clutch his shoulder, and
propelled him at arm's length, still struggling, apparently with as
much reluctance as incapacity, toward the bank. As their feet
touched the reeds and slimy bottom the man's resistance ceased, and
he lapsed quite listlessly in Morse's arms. Half lifting, half
dragging his burden, he succeeded at last in gaining the strip of
meadow, and deposited the unconscious man beneath the willow tree.
Then he ran to his wagon for whisky.
But, to his surprise, on his return the man was already sitting up
and wringing the water from his clothes. He then saw for the first
time, by the clear moonlight, that the stranger was elegantly
dressed and of striking appearance, and was clearly a part of that
bright and fascinating world which Morse had been contemplating in
his solitude. He eagerly took the proffered tin cup and drank the
whisky. Then he rose to his feet, staggered a few steps forward,
and glanced curiously around him at the still motionless wagon, the
few felled trees and evidence of "clearing," and even at the rude
cabin of logs and canvas just beginning to rise from the ground a
few paces distant, and said, impatiently:
"Where the devil am I?"
Morse hesitated. He was unable to name the locality of his
dwelling-place. He answered briefly:
"On the right bank of the Sacramento."
The stranger turned upon him a look of suspicion not unmingled with
resentment. "Oh! " he said, with ironical gravity, "and I suppose
that this water you picked me out of was the Sacramento River.
Morse, with slow Western patience, explained that he had only
settled there three weeks ago, and the place had no name.
"What's your nearest town, then?"
"Thar ain't any. Thar's a blacksmith's shop and grocery at the
crossroads, twenty miles further on, but it's got no name as I've
The stranger's look of suspicion passed. "Well he said, in an
imperative fashion, which, however, seemed as much the result of
habit as the occasion, "I want a horse, and mighty quick, too."
"H'ain't got any."
"No horse? How did you get to this place?"
Morse pointed to the slumbering oxen.
The stranger again stared curiously at him. After a pause he said,
with a half-pitying, half-humorous smile: "Pike--aren't you?"
Whether Morse did or did not know that this current California
slang for a denizen of the bucolic West implied a certain contempt,
he replied simply:
"I'm from Pike County, Mizzouri."
"Well," said the stranger, resuming his impatient manner, "you must
beg or steal a horse from your neighbors."
"Thar ain't any neighbor nearer than fifteen miles."
"Then send fifteen miles! Stop." He opened his still clinging
shirt and drew out a belt pouch, which he threw to Morse. "There!
there's two hundred and fifty dollars in that. Now, I want a
"Thar ain't anyone to send," said Morse, quietly.
"Do you mean to say you are all alone here?"
"And you fished me out--all by yourself?"
The stranger again examined him curiously. Then he suddenly
stretched out his hand and grasped his companion's.
"All right; if you can't send, I reckon I can manage to walk over
"I was goin' on to say," said Morse, simply, "that if you'll lie by
tonight, I'll start over sunup, after puttin' out the cattle, and
fetch you back a horse afore noon."
"That's enough." He, however, remained looking curiously at Morse.
"Did you never hear," he said, with a singular smile, "that it was
about the meanest kind of luck that could happen to you to save a
"No," said Morse, simply. "I reckon it orter be the meanest if you
"That depends upon the man you save," said the stranger, with the
same ambiguous smile, "and whether the SAVING him is only putting
things off. Look here," he added, with an abrupt return to his
imperative style, "can't you give me some dry clothes?"
Morse brought him a pair of overalls and a "hickory shirt," well
worn, but smelling strongly of a recent wash with coarse soap. The
stranger put them on while his companion busied himself in
collecting a pile of sticks and dry leaves.
"What's that for?" said the stranger, suddenly.
"A fire to dry your clothes."
The stranger calmly kicked the pile aside.
"Not any fire tonight if I know it," he said, brusquely. Before
Morse could resent his quickly changing moods he continued, in
another tone, dropping to an easy reclining position beneath the
tree, "Now, tell me all about yourself, and what you are doing
Thus commanded, Morse patiently repeated his story from the time he
had left his backwoods cabin to his selection of the river bank for
a "location." He pointed out the rich quality of this alluvial
bottom and its adaptability for the raising of stock, which he
hoped soon to acquire. The stranger smiled grimly, raised himself
to a sitting position, and, taking a penknife from his damp
clothes, began to clean his nails in the bright moonlight--an
occupation which made the simple Morse wander vaguely in his
"And you don't know that this hole will give you chills and fever
till you'll shake yourself out of your boots?"
Morse had lived before in aguish districts, and had no fear.
"And you never heard that some night the whole river will rise up
and walk over you and your cabin and your stock?"
"No. For I reckon to move my shanty farther back."
The man shut up his penknife with a click and rose.
"If you've got to get up at sunrise, we'd better be turning in. I
suppose you can give me a pair of blankets?"
Morse pointed to the wagon. "Thar's a shakedown in the wagon bed;
you kin lie there." Nevertheless he hesitated, and, with the
inconsequence and abruptness of a shy man, continued the previous
"I shouldn't like to move far away, for them steamboats is pow'ful
kempany o' nights. I never seed one afore I kem here," and then,
with the inconsistency of a reserved man, and without a word of
further preliminary, he launched into a confidential disclosure of
his late experiences. The stranger listened with a singular
interest and a quietly searching eye.
"Then you were watching the boat very closely just now when you saw
me. What else did you see? Anything before that--before you saw
me in the water?"
"No--the boat had got well off before I saw you at all."
"Ah," said the stranger. "Well, I'm going to turn in." He walked
to the wagon, mounted it, and by the time that Morse had reached it
with his wet clothes he was already wrapped in the blankets. A
moment later he seemed to be in a profound slumber.
It was only then, when his guest was lying helplessly at his mercy,
that he began to realize his strange experiences. The domination
of this man had been so complete that Morse, although by nature
independent and self-reliant, had not permitted himself to question