Part 1 out of 4
This etext was prepared by Don Lainson
TALES OF THE ARGONAUTS
by Bret Harte
THE ROSE OF TUOLUMNE
A PASSAGE IN THE LIFE OF MR. JOHN OAKHURST
WAN LEE, THE PAGAN
HOW OLD MAN PLUNKETT WENT HOME
THE FOOL OF FIVE FORKS
AN EPISODE OF FIDDLETOWN
A JERSEY CENTENARIAN
THE ROSE OF TUOLUMNE
It was nearly two o'clock in the morning. The lights were out in
Robinson's Hall, where there had been dancing and revelry; and the
moon, riding high, painted the black windows with silver. The
cavalcade, that an hour ago had shocked the sedate pines with song
and laughter, were all dispersed. One enamoured swain had ridden
east, another west, another north, another south; and the object of
their adoration, left within her bower at Chemisal Ridge, was
calmly going to bed.
I regret that I am not able to indicate the exact stage of that
process. Two chairs were already filled with delicate inwrappings
and white confusion; and the young lady herself, half-hidden in the
silky threads of her yellow hair, had at one time borne a faint
resemblance to a partly-husked ear of Indian corn. But she was now
clothed in that one long, formless garment that makes all women
equal; and the round shoulders and neat waist, that an hour ago had
been so fatal to the peace of mind of Four Forks, had utterly
disappeared. The face above it was very pretty: the foot below,
albeit shapely, was not small. "The flowers, as a general thing,
don't raise their heads MUCH to look after me," she had said with
superb frankness to one of her lovers.
The expression of the "Rose" to-night was contentedly placid. She
walked slowly to the window, and, making the smallest possible
peephole through the curtain, looked out. The motionless figure of
a horseman still lingered on the road, with an excess of devotion
that only a coquette, or a woman very much in love, could tolerate.
The "Rose," at that moment, was neither, and, after a reasonable
pause, turned away, saying quite audibly that it was "too
ridiculous for any thing." As she came back to her dressing-table,
it was noticeable that she walked steadily and erect, without that
slight affectation of lameness common to people with whom bare feet
are only an episode. Indeed, it was only four years ago, that
without shoes or stockings, a long-limbed, colty girl, in a
waistless calico gown, she had leaped from the tailboard of her
father's emigrant-wagon when it first drew up at Chemisal Ridge.
Certain wild habits of the "Rose" had outlived transplanting and
A knock at the door surprised her. In another moment she had
leaped into bed, and with darkly-frowning eyes, from its secure
recesses demanded "Who's there?"
An apologetic murmur on the other side of the door was the response.
"Why, father!--is that you?"
There were further murmurs, affirmative, deprecatory, and
"Wait," said the "Rose." She got up, unlocked the door, leaped
nimbly into bed again, and said, "Come."
The door opened timidly. The broad, stooping shoulders, and
grizzled head, of a man past the middle age, appeared: after a
moment's hesitation, a pair of large, diffident feet, shod with
canvas slippers, concluded to follow. When the apparition was
complete, it closed the door softly, and stood there,--a very shy
ghost indeed,--with apparently more than the usual spiritual
indisposition to begin a conversation. The "Rose" resented this
impatiently, though, I fear, not altogether intelligibly.
"Do, father, I declare!"
"You was abed, Jinny," said Mr. McClosky slowly, glancing, with a
singular mixture of masculine awe and paternal pride, upon the two
chairs and their contents,--"you was abed and ondressed."
"Surely," said Mr. McClosky, seating himself on the extreme edge of
the bed, and painfully tucking his feet away under it,--"surely."
After a pause, he rubbed a short, thick, stumpy beard, that bore a
general resemblance to a badly-worn blacking-brush, with the palm
of his hand, and went on, "You had a good time, Jinny?"
"They was all there?"
"Yes, Rance and York and Ryder and Jack."
"And Jack!" Mr. McClosky endeavored to throw an expression of arch
inquiry into his small, tremulous eyes; but meeting the unabashed,
widely-opened lid of his daughter, he winked rapidly, and blushed
to the roots of his hair.
"Yes, Jack was there," said Jenny, without change of color, or the
least self-consciousness in her great gray eyes; "and he came home
with me." She paused a moment, locking her two hands under her
head, and assuming a more comfortable position on the pillow. "He
asked me that same question again, father, and I said, 'Yes.' It's
to be--soon. We're going to live at Four Forks, in his own house;
and next winter we're going to Sacramento. I suppose it's all
right, father, eh?" She emphasized the question with a slight kick
through the bed-clothes, as the parental McClosky had fallen into
an abstract revery.
"Yes, surely," said Mr. McClosky, recovering himself with some
confusion. After a pause, he looked down at the bed-clothes, and,
patting them tenderly, continued, "You couldn't have done better,
Jinny. They isn't a girl in Tuolumne ez could strike it ez rich as
you hev--even if they got the chance." He paused again, and then
"You'se in bed, and ondressed?"
"You couldn't," said Mr. McClosky, glancing hopelessly at the two
chairs, and slowly rubbing his chin,--"you couldn't dress yourself
again could yer?"
"Kinder get yourself into them things again?" he added hastily.
"Not all of 'em, you know, but some of 'em. Not if I helped you--
sorter stood by, and lent a hand now and then with a strap, or a
buckle, or a necktie, or a shoestring?" he continued, still looking
at the chairs, and evidently trying to boldly familiarize himself
with their contents.
"Are you crazy, father?" demanded Jenny suddenly sitting up with a
portentous switch of her yellow mane. Mr. McClosky rubbed one side
of his beard, which already had the appearance of having been quite
worn away by that process, and faintly dodged the question.
"Jinny," he said, tenderly stroking the bedclothes as he spoke,
"this yer's what's the matter. Thar is a stranger down stairs,--a
stranger to you, lovey, but a man ez I've knowed a long time. He's
been here about an hour; and he'll be here ontil fower o'clock,
when the up-stage passes. Now I wants ye, Jinny dear, to get up
and come down stairs, and kinder help me pass the time with him.
It's no use, Jinny," he went on, gently raising his hand to
deprecate any interruption, "it's no use! He won't go to bed; he
won't play keerds; whiskey don't take no effect on him. Ever since
I knowed him, he was the most onsatisfactory critter to hev round"--
"What do you have him round for, then?" interrupted Miss Jinny
Mr. McClosky's eyes fell. "Ef he hedn't kem out of his way to-
night to do me a good turn, I wouldn't ask ye, Jinny. I wouldn't,
so help me! But I thought, ez I couldn't do any thing with him,
you might come down, and sorter fetch him, Jinny, as you did the
Miss Jenny shrugged her pretty shoulders.
"Is he old, or young?"
"He's young enough, Jinny; but he knows a power of things."
"What does he do?"
"Not much, I reckon. He's got money in the mill at Four Forks. He
travels round a good deal. I've heard, Jinny that he's a poet--
writes them rhymes, you know." Mr. McClosky here appealed
submissively but directly to his daughter. He remembered that she
had frequently been in receipt of printed elegaic couplets known as
"mottoes," containing enclosures equally saccharine.
Miss Jenny slightly curled her pretty lip. She had that fine
contempt for the illusions of fancy which belongs to the perfectly
healthy young animal.
"Not," continued Mr. McClosky, rubbing his head reflectively, "not
ez I'd advise ye, Jinny, to say any thing to him about poetry. It
ain't twenty minutes ago ez I did. I set the whiskey afore him in
the parlor. I wound up the music-box, and set it goin'. Then I
sez to him, sociable-like and free, 'Jest consider yourself in your
own house, and repeat what you allow to be your finest production,'
and he raged. That man, Jinny, jest raged! Thar's no end of the
names he called me. You see, Jinny," continued Mr. McClosky
apologetically, "he's known me a long time."
But his daughter had already dismissed the question with her usual
directness. "I'll be down in a few moments, father," she said
after a pause, "but don't say any thing to him about it--don't say
I was abed."
Mr. McClosky's face beamed. "You was allers a good girl, Jinny,"
he said, dropping on one knee the better to imprint a respectful
kiss on her forehead. But Jenny caught him by the wrists, and for
a moment held him captive. "Father," said she, trying to fix his
shy eyes with the clear, steady glance of her own, "all the girls
that were there to-night had some one with them. Mame Robinson had
her aunt; Lucy Rance had her mother; Kate Pierson had her sister--
all, except me, had some other woman. Father dear," her lip
trembled just a little, "I wish mother hadn't died when I was so
small. I wish there was some other woman in the family besides me.
I ain't lonely with you, father dear; but if there was only some
one, you know, when the time comes for John and me"--
Her voice here suddenly gave out, but not her brave eyes, that were
still fixed earnestly upon his face. Mr. McClosky, apparently
tracing out a pattern on the bedquilt, essayed words of comfort.
"Thar ain't one of them gals ez you've named, Jinny, ez could do
what you've done with a whole Noah's ark of relations, at their
backs! Thar ain't 'one ez wouldn't sacrifice her nearest relation
to make the strike that you hev. Ez to mothers, maybe, my dear
you're doin' better without one." He rose suddenly, and walked
toward the door. When he reached it, he turned, and, in his old
deprecating manner, said, "Don't be long, Jinny," smiled, and
vanished from the head downward, his canvas slippers asserting
themselves resolutely to the last.
When Mr. McClosky reached his parlor again, his troublesome guest
was not there. The decanter stood on the table untouched; three or
four books lay upon the floor; a number of photographic views of
the Sierras were scattered over the sofa; two sofa-pillows, a
newspaper, and a Mexican blanket, lay on the carpet, as if the late
occupant of the room had tried to read in a recumbent position. A
French window opening upon a veranda, which never before in the
history of the house had been unfastened, now betrayed by its
waving lace curtain the way that the fugitive had escaped. Mr.
McClosky heaved a sigh of despair. He looked at the gorgeous
carpet purchased in Sacramento at a fabulous price, at the crimson
satin and rosewood furniture unparalleled in the history of
Tuolumne, at the massively-framed pictures on the walls, and looked
beyond it, through the open window, to the reckless man, who,
fleeing these sybaritic allurements, was smoking a cigar upon the
moonlit road. This room, which had so often awed the youth of
Tuolumne into filial respect, was evidently a failure. It remained
to be seen if the "Rose" herself had lost her fragrance. "I reckon
Jinny will fetch him yet," said Mr. McClosky with parental faith.
He stepped from the window upon the veranda; but he had scarcely
done this, before his figure was detected by the stranger, who at
once crossed the road. When within a few feet of McClosky, he
stopped. "You persistent old plantigrade!" he said in a low voice,
audible only to the person addressed, and a face full of affected
anxiety, "why don't you go to bed? Didn't I tell you to go and
leave me here alone? In the name of all that's idiotic and
imbecile, why do you continue to shuffle about here? Or are you
trying to drive me crazy with your presence, as you have with that
wretched music-box that I've just dropped under yonder tree? It's
an hour and a half yet before the stage passes: do you think, do
you imagine for a single moment, that I can tolerate you until
then, eh? Why don't you speak? Are you asleep? You don't mean to
say that you have the audacity to add somnambulism to your other
weaknesses? you're not low enough to repeat yourself under any such
weak pretext as that, eh?"
A fit of nervous coughing ended this extraordinary exordium; and
half sitting, half leaning against the veranda, Mr. McClosky's
guest turned his face, and part of a slight elegant figure, toward
his host. The lower portion of this upturned face wore an habitual
expression of fastidious discontent, with an occasional line of
physical suffering. But the brow above was frank and critical; and
a pair of dark, mirthful eyes, sat in playful judgment over the
super-sensitive mouth and its suggestion.
"I allowed to go to bed, Ridgeway," said Mr. McClosky meekly; "but
my girl Jinny's jist got back from a little tear up at Robinson's,
and ain't inclined to turn in yet. You know what girls is. So I
thought we three would jist have a social chat together to pass
away the time."
"You mendacious old hypocrite! She got back an hour ago," said
Ridgeway, "as that savage-looking escort of hers, who has been
haunting the house ever since, can testify. My belief is, that,
like an enterprising idiot as you are, you've dragged that girl out
of her bed, that we might mutually bore each other."
Mr. McClosky was too much stunned by this evidence of Ridgeway's
apparently superhuman penetration to reply. After enjoying his
host's confusion for a moment with his eyes, Ridgeway's mouth asked
"And who is this girl, anyway?"
"Yes. But look yar, Ridgeway," said McClosky, laying one hand
imploringly on Ridgeway's sleeve, "not a word about her to Jinny.
She thinks her mother's dead--died in Missouri. Eh!"
Ridgeway nearly rolled from the veranda in an excess of rage.
"Good God! Do you mean to say that you have been concealing from
her a fact that any day, any moment, may come to her ears? That
you've been letting her grow up in ignorance of something that by
this time she might have outgrown and forgotten? That you have
been, like a besotted old ass, all these years slowly forging a
thunderbolt that any one may crush her with? That"--but here
Ridgeway's cough took possession of his voice, and even put a
moisture into his dark eyes, as he looked at McClosky's aimless
hand feebly employed upon his beard.
"But," said McClosky, "look how she's done! She's held her head as
high as any of 'em. She's to be married in a month to the richest
man in the county; and," he added cunningly, "Jack Ashe ain't the
kind o' man to sit by and hear any thing said of his wife or her
relations, you bet! But hush--that's her foot on the stairs.
She came. I don't think the French window ever held a finer view
than when she put aside the curtains, and stepped out. She had
dressed herself simply and hurriedly, but with a woman's knowledge
of her best points; so that you got the long curves of her shapely
limbs, the shorter curves of her round waist and shoulders, the
long sweep of her yellow braids, the light of her gray eyes, and
even the delicate rose of her complexion, without knowing how it
was delivered to you.
The introduction by Mr. McClosky was brief. When Ridgeway had got
over the fact that it was two o'clock in the morning, and that the
cheek of this Tuolumne goddess nearest him was as dewy and fresh as
an infant's, that she looked like Marguerite, without, probably,
ever having heard of Goethe's heroine, he talked, I dare say, very
sensibly. When Miss Jenny--who from her childhood had been brought
up among the sons of Anak, and who was accustomed to have the
supremacy of our noble sex presented to her as a physical fact--
found herself in the presence of a new and strange power in the
slight and elegant figure beside her, she was at first frightened
and cold. But finding that this power, against which the weapons
of her own physical charms were of no avail, was a kindly one,
albeit general, she fell to worshipping it, after the fashion of
woman, and casting before it the fetishes and other idols of her
youth. She even confessed to it. So that, in half an hour,
Ridgeway was in possession of all the facts connected with her
life, and a great many, I fear, of her fancies--except one. When
Mr. McClosky found the young people thus amicably disposed, he
calmly went to sleep.
It was a pleasant time to each. To Miss Jenny it had the charm of
novelty; and she abandoned herself to it, for that reason, much
more freely and innocently than her companion, who knew something
more of the inevitable logic of the position. I do not think,
however, he had any intention of love-making. I do not think he
was at all conscious of being in the attitude. I am quite positive
he would have shrunk from the suggestion of disloyalty to the one
woman whom he admitted to himself he loved. But, like most poets,
he was much more true to an idea than a fact, and having a very
lofty conception of womanhood, with a very sanguine nature, he saw
in each new face the possibilities of a realization of his ideal.
It was, perhaps, an unfortunate thing for the women, particularly
as he brought to each trial a surprising freshness, which was very
deceptive, and quite distinct from the 'blase' familiarity of the
man of gallantry. It was this perennial virginity of the
affections that most endeared him to the best women, who were prone
to exercise toward him a chivalrous protection,--as of one likely
to go astray, unless looked after,--and indulged in the dangerous
combination of sentiment with the highest maternal instincts. It
was this quality which caused Jenny to recognize in him a certain
boyishness that required her womanly care, and even induced her to
offer to accompany him to the cross-roads when the time for his
departure arrived. With her superior knowledge of woodcraft and
the locality, she would have kept him from being lost. I wot not
but that she would have protected him from bears or wolves, but
chiefly, I think, from the feline fascinations of Mame Robinson and
Lucy Rance, who might be lying in wait for this tender young poet.
Nor did she cease to be thankful that Providence had, so to speak,
delivered him as a trust into her hands.
It was a lovely night. The moon swung low, and languished softly
on the snowy ridge beyond. There were quaint odors in the still
air; and a strange incense from the woods perfumed their young
blood, and seemed to swoon in their pulses. Small wonder that they
lingered on the white road, that their feet climbed, unwillingly
the little hill where they were to part, and that, when they at
last reached it, even the saving grace of speech seemed to have
For there they stood alone. There was no sound nor motion in
earth, or woods, or heaven. They might have been the one man and
woman for whom this goodly earth that lay at their feet, rimmed
with the deepest azure, was created. And, seeing this, they turned
toward each other with a sudden instinct, and their hands met, and
then their lips in one long kiss.
And then out of the mysterious distance came the sound of voices,
and the sharp clatter of hoofs and wheels, and Jenny slid away--a
white moonbeam--from the hill. For a moment she glimmered through
the trees, and then, reaching the house, passed her sleeping father
on the veranda, and, darting into her bedroom, locked the door,
threw open the window, and, falling on her knees beside it, leaned
her hot cheeks upon her hands, and listened. In a few moments she
was rewarded by the sharp clatter of hoofs on the stony road; but
it was only a horseman, whose dark figure was swiftly lost in the
shadows of the lower road. At another time she might have
recognized the man; but her eyes and ears were now all intent on
something else. It came presently with dancing lights, a musical
rattle of harness, a cadence of hoof-beats, that set her heart to
beating in unison--and was gone. A sudden sense of loneliness came
over her; and tears gathered in her sweet eyes.
She arose, and looked around her. There was the little bed, the
dressing-table, the roses that she had worn last night, still fresh
and blooming in the little vase. Every thing was there; but every
thing looked strange. The roses should have been withered, for the
party seemed so long ago. She could hardly remember when she had
worn this dress that lay upon the chair. So she came back to the
window, and sank down beside it, with her cheek a trifle paler,
leaning on her hand, and her long braids reaching to the floor.
The stars paled slowly, like her cheek; yet with eyes that saw not,
she still looked from her window for the coming dawn.
It came, with violet deepening into purple, with purple flushing
into rose, with rose shining into silver, and glowing into gold.
The straggling line of black picket-fence below, that had faded
away with the stars, came back with the sun. What was that object
moving by the fence? Jenny raised her head, and looked intently.
It was a man endeavoring to climb the pickets, and falling backward
with each attempt. Suddenly she started to her feet, as if the
rosy flushes of the dawn had crimsoned her from forehead to
shoulders; then she stood, white as the wall, with her hands
clasped upon her bosom; then, with a single bound, she reached the
door, and, with flying braids and fluttering skirt, sprang down the
stairs, and out to the garden walk. When within a few feet of the
fence, she uttered a cry, the first she had given,--the cry of a
mother over her stricken babe, of a tigress over her mangled cub;
and in another moment she had leaped the fence, and knelt beside
Ridgeway, with his fainting head upon her breast.
"My boy, my poor, poor boy! who has done this?"
Who, indeed? His clothes were covered with dust; his waistcoat was
torn open; and his handkerchief, wet with the blood it could not
stanch, fell from a cruel stab beneath his shoulder.
"Ridgeway, my poor boy! tell me what has happened."
Ridgeway slowly opened his heavy blue-veined lids, and gazed upon
her. Presently a gleam of mischief came into his dark eyes, a
smile stole over his lips as he whispered slowly,--
"It--was--your kiss--did it, Jenny dear. I had forgotten--how
high-priced the article was here. Never mind, Jenny!"--he feebly
raised her hand to his white lips,--"it was--worth it," and fainted
Jenny started to her feet, and looked wildly around her. Then,
with a sudden resolution, she stooped over the insensible man, and
with one strong effort lifted him in her arms as if he had been a
child. When her father, a moment later, rubbed his eyes, and awoke
from his sleep upon the veranda, it was to see a goddess, erect and
triumphant, striding toward the house with the helpless body of a
man lying across that breast where man had never lain before,--a
goddess, at whose imperious mandate he arose, and cast open the
doors before her. And then, when she had laid her unconscious
burden on the sofa, the goddess fled; and a woman, helpless and
trembling, stood before him,--a woman that cried out that she had
"killed him," that she was "wicked, wicked!" and that, even saying
so, staggered, and fell beside her late burden. And all that Mr.
McClosky could do was to feebly rub his beard, and say to himself
vaguely and incoherently, that "Jinny had fetched him."
Before noon the next day, it was generally believed throughout Four
Forks that Ridgeway Dent had been attacked and wounded at Chemisal
Ridge by a highwayman, who fled on the approach of the Wingdam
coach. It is to be presumed that this statement met with
Ridgeway's approval, as he did not contradict it, nor supplement it
with any details. His wound was severe, but not dangerous. After
the first excitement had subsided, there was, I think, a prevailing
impression common to the provincial mind, that his misfortune was
the result of the defective moral quality of his being a stranger,
and was, in a vague sort of a way, a warning to others, and a
lesson to him. "Did you hear how that San Francisco feller was
took down the other night?" was the average tone of introductory
remark. Indeed, there was a general suggestion that Ridgeway's
presence was one that no self-respecting, high-minded highwayman,
honorably conservative of the best interests of Tuolumne County,
could for a moment tolerate.
Except for the few words spoken on that eventful morning, Ridgeway
was reticent of the past. When Jenny strove to gather some details
of the affray that might offer a clew to his unknown assailant, a
subtle twinkle in his brown eyes was the only response. When Mr.
McClosky attempted the same process, the young gentleman threw
abusive epithets, and, eventually slippers, teaspoons, and other
lighter articles within the reach of an invalid, at the head of his
questioner. "I think he's coming round, Jinny," said Mr. McClosky:
"he laid for me this morning with a candlestick."
It was about this time that Miss Jenny, having sworn her father to
secrecy regarding the manner in which Ridgeway had been carried
into the house, conceived the idea of addressing the young man as
"Mr. Dent," and of apologizing for intruding whenever she entered
the room in the discharge of her household duties. It was about
this time that she became more rigidly conscientious to those
duties, and less general in her attentions. It was at this time
that the quality of the invalid's diet improved, and that she
consulted him less frequently about it. It was about this time
that she began to see more company, that the house was greatly
frequented by her former admirers, with whom she rode, walked, and
danced. It was at about this time also, and when Ridgeway was able
to be brought out on the veranda in a chair, that, with great
archness of manner, she introduced to him Miss Lucy Ashe, the
sister of her betrothed, a flashing brunette, and terrible heart-
breaker of Four Forks. And, in the midst of this gayety, she
concluded that she would spend a week with the Robinsons, to whom
she owed a visit. She enjoyed herself greatly there, so much,
indeed, that she became quite hollow-eyed, the result, as she
explained to her father, of a too frequent indulgence in festivity.
"You see, father, I won't have many chances after John and I are
married: you know how queer he is, and I must make the most of my
time;" and she laughed an odd little laugh, which had lately become
habitual to her. "And how is Mr. Dent getting on?" Her father
replied that he was getting on very well indeed,--so well, in fact,
that he was able to leave for San Francisco two days ago. "He
wanted to be remembered to you, Jinny,--'remembered kindly,'--yes,
they is the very words he used," said Mr. McClosky, looking down,
and consulting one of his large shoes for corroboration. Miss
Jenny was glad to hear that he was so much better. Miss Jenny
could not imagine any thing that pleased her more than to know that
he was so strong as to be able to rejoin his friends again, who
must love him so much, and be so anxious about him. Her father
thought she would be pleased, and, now that he was gone, there was
really no necessity for her to hurry back. Miss Jenny, in a high
metallic voice, did not know that she had expressed any desire to
stay, still if her presence had become distasteful at home, if her
own father was desirous of getting rid of her, if, when she was so
soon to leave his roof forever, he still begrudged her those few
days remaining, if-- "My God, Jinny, so help me!" said Mr.
McClosky, clutching despairingly at his beard, "I didn't go for to
say any thing of the kind. I thought that you"-- "Never mind,
father," interrupted Jenny magnanimously, "you misunderstood me: of
course you did, you couldn't help it--you're a MAN!" Mr. McClosky,
sorely crushed, would have vaguely protested; but his daughter,
having relieved herself, after the manner of her sex, with a mental
personal application of an abstract statement, forgave him with a
Nevertheless, for two or three days after her return, Mr. McClosky
followed his daughter about the house with yearning eyes, and
occasionally with timid, diffident feet. Sometimes he came upon
her suddenly at her household tasks, with an excuse so palpably
false, and a careless manner so outrageously studied, that she was
fain to be embarrassed for him. Later, he took to rambling about
the house at night, and was often seen noiselessly passing and
repassing through the hall after she had retired. On one occasion,
he was surprised, first by sleep, and then by the early-rising
Jenny, as he lay on the rug outside her chamber-door. "You treat
me like a child, father," said Jenny. "I thought, Jinny," said the
father apologetically,--"I thought I heard sounds as if you was
takin' on inside, and, listenin' I fell asleep."--"You dear, old
simple-minded baby!" said Jenny, looking past her father's eyes,
and lifting his grizzled locks one by one with meditative fingers:
"what should I be takin' on for? Look how much taller I am than
you!" she said, suddenly lifting herself up to the extreme of her
superb figure. Then rubbing his head rapidly with both hands, as
if she were anointing his hair with some rare unguent, she patted
him on the back, and returned to her room. The result of this and
one or two other equally sympathetic interviews was to produce a
change in Mr. McClosky's manner, which was, if possible, still more
discomposing. He grew unjustifiably hilarious, cracked jokes with
the servants, and repeated to Jenny humorous stories, with the
attitude of facetiousness carefully preserved throughout the entire
narration, and the point utterly ignored and forgotten. Certain
incidents reminded him of funny things, which invariably turned out
to have not the slightest relevancy or application. He occasionally
brought home with him practical humorists, with a sanguine hope of
setting them going, like the music-box, for his daughter's
edification. He essayed the singing of melodies with great freedom
of style, and singular limitation of note. He sang "Come haste to
the Wedding, Ye Lasses and Maidens," of which he knew a single line,
and that incorrectly, as being peculiarly apt and appropriate. Yet
away from the house and his daughter's presence, he was silent and
distraught. His absence of mind was particularly noted by his
workmen at the Empire Quartz Mill. "Ef the old man don't look out
and wake up," said his foreman, "he'll hev them feet of his yet
under the stamps. When he ain't givin' his mind to 'em, they is
altogether too promiskuss."
A few nights later, Miss Jenny recognized her father's hand in a
timid tap at the door. She opened it, and he stood before her,
with a valise in his hand, equipped as for a journey. "I takes the
stage to-night, Jinny dear, from Four Forks to 'Frisco. Maybe I
may drop in on Jack afore I go. I'll be back in a week. Good-by."
"Good-by." He still held her hand. Presently he drew her back
into the room, closing the door carefully, and glancing around.
There was a look of profound cunning in his eye as he said slowly,--
"Bear up, and keep dark, Jinny dear, and trust to the old man.
Various men has various ways. Thar is ways as is common, and ways
as is uncommon; ways as is easy, and ways as is oneasy. Bear up,
and keep dark." With this Delphic utterance he put his finger to
his lips, and vanished.
It was ten o'clock when he reached Four Forks. A few minutes
later, he stood on the threshold of that dwelling described by the
Four Forks "Sentinel" as "the palatial residence of John Ashe," and
known to the local satirist as the "ash-box." "Hevin' to lay by
two hours, John," he said to his prospective son-in-law, as he took
his hand at the door, "a few words of social converse, not on
business, but strictly private, seems to be about as nat'ral a
thing as a man can do." This introduction, evidently the result of
some study, and plainly committed to memory, seemed so satisfactory
to Mr. McClosky, that he repeated it again, after John Ashe had led
him into his private office, where, depositing his valise in the
middle of the floor, and sitting down before it, he began carefully
to avoid the eye of his host. John Ashe, a tall, dark, handsome
Kentuckian, with whom even the trifles of life were evidently full
of serious import, waited with a kind of chivalrous respect the
further speech of his guest. Being utterly devoid of any sense of
the ridiculous, he always accepted Mr. McClosky as a grave fact,
singular only from his own want of experience of the class.
"Ores is running light now," said Mr. McClosky with easy
John Ashe returned that he had noticed the same fact in the
receipts of the mill at Four Forks.
Mr. McClosky rubbed his beard, and looked at his valise, as if for
sympathy and suggestion.
"You don't reckon on having any trouble with any of them chaps as
you cut out with Jinny?"
John Ashe, rather haughtily, had never thought of that. "I saw
Rance hanging round your house the other night, when I took your
daughter home; but he gave me a wide berth," he added carelessly.
"Surely," said Mr. McClosky, with a peculiar winking of the eye.
After a pause, he took a fresh departure from his valise.
"A few words, John, ez between man and man, ez between my
daughter's father and her husband who expects to be, is about the
thing, I take it, as is fair and square. I kem here to say them.
They're about Jinny, my gal."
Ashe's grave face brightened, to Mr. McClosky's evident discomposure.
"Maybe I should have said about her mother; but, the same bein' a
stranger to you, I says naterally, 'Jinny.'"
Ashe nodded courteously. Mr. McClosky, with his eyes on his
valise, went on,--
"It is sixteen year ago as I married Mrs. McClosky in the State of
Missouri. She let on, at the time, to be a widder,--a widder with
one child. When I say let on, I mean to imply that I subsekently
found out that she was not a widder, nor a wife; and the father of
the child was, so to speak, onbeknowst. Thet child was Jinny--my
With his eyes on his valise, and quietly ignoring the wholly-
crimsoned face and swiftly-darkening brow of his host, he
"Many little things sorter tended to make our home in Missouri
onpleasant. A disposition to smash furniture, and heave knives
around; an inclination to howl when drunk, and that frequent; a
habitooal use of vulgar language, and a tendency to cuss the
casooal visitor,--seemed to pint," added Mr. McClosky with
submissive hesitation "that--she--was--so to speak--quite onsuited
to the marriage relation in its holiest aspeck."
"Damnation! Why didn't"--burst out John Ashe, erect and furious.
"At the end of two year," continued Mr. McClosky, still intent on
the valise, "I allowed I'd get a diworce. Et about thet time,
however, Providence sends a circus into thet town, and a feller ez
rode three horses to onct. Hevin' allez a taste for athletic
sports, she left town with this feller, leavin' me and Jinny
behind. I sent word to her, thet, if she would give Jinny to me,
we'd call it quits. And she did."
"Tell me," gasped Ashe, "did you ask your daughter to keep this
from me? or did she do it of her own accord?"
"She doesn't know it," said Mr. McClosky. "She thinks I'm her
father, and that her mother's dead."
"Then, sir, this is your"--
"I don't know," said Mr. McClosky slowly, "ez I've asked any one to
marry my Jinny. I don't know ez I've persood that ez a biziness,
or even taken it up as a healthful recreation."
John Ashe paced the room furiously. Mr. McClosky's eyes left the
valise, and followed him curiously. "Where is this woman?"
demanded Ashe suddenly. McClosky's eyes sought the valise again.
"She went to Kansas; from Kansas she went into Texas; from Texas
she eventooally came to Californy. Being here, I've purvided her
with money, when her business was slack, through a friend."
John Ashe groaned. "She's gettin' rather old and shaky for hosses,
and now does the tight-rope business and flying trapeze. Never
hevin' seen her perform," continued Mr. McClosky with conscientious
caution, "I can't say how she gets on. On the bills she looks
well. Thar is a poster," said Mr. McClosky glancing at Ashe, and
opening his valise,--"thar is a poster givin' her performance at
Marysville next month." Mr. McClosky slowly unfolded a large
yellow-and-blue printed poster, profusely illustrated. "She calls
herself 'Mams'elle J. Miglawski, the great Russian Trapeziste.'"
John Ashe tore it from his hand. "Of course," he said, suddenly
facing Mr. McClosky, "you don't expect me to go on with this?"
Mr. McClosky took up the poster, carefully refolded it, and
returned it to his valise. "When you break off with Jinny," he
said quietly, "I don't want any thing said 'bout this. She doesn't
know it. She's a woman, and I reckon you're a white man."
"But what am I to say? How am I to go back of my word?"
"Write her a note. Say something hez come to your knowledge (don't
say what) that makes you break it off. You needn't be afeard
Jinny'll ever ask you what."
John Ashe hesitated. He felt he had been cruelly wronged. No
gentleman, no Ashe, could go on further in this affair. It was
preposterous to think of it. But somehow he felt at the moment
very unlike a gentleman, or an Ashe, and was quite sure he should
break down under Jenny's steady eyes. But then--he could write to
"So ores is about as light here as on the Ridge. Well, I reckon
they'll come up before the rains. Good-night." Mr. McClosky took
the hand that his host mechanically extended, shook it gravely, and
When Mr. McClosky, a week later, stepped again upon his own
veranda, he saw through the French window the figure of a man in
his parlor. Under his hospitable roof, the sight was not unusual;
but, for an instant, a subtle sense of disappointment thrilled him.
When he saw it was not the face of Ashe turned toward him, he was
relieved; but when he saw the tawny beard, and quick, passionate
eyes of Henry Rance, he felt a new sense of apprehension, so that
he fell to rubbing his beard almost upon his very threshold.
Jenny ran into the hall, and seized her father with a little cry of
joy. "Father," said Jenny in a hurried whisper, "don't mind HIM,"
indicating Rance with a toss of her yellow braids: "he's going
soon. And I think, father, I've done him wrong. But it's all over
with John and me now. Read that note, and see how he's insulted
me." Her lip quivered; but she went on, "It's Ridgeway that he
means, father; and I believe it was HIS hand struck Ridgeway down,
or that he knows who did. But hush now! not a word."
She gave him a feverish kiss, and glided back into the parlor,
leaving Mr. McClosky, perplexed and irresolute, with the note in
his hand. He glanced at it hurriedly, and saw that it was couched
in almost the very words he had suggested. But a sudden,
apprehensive recollection came over him. He listened; and, with an
exclamation of dismay, he seized his hat, and ran out of the house,
but too late. At the same moment a quick, nervous footstep was
heard upon the veranda; the French window flew open, and, with a
light laugh of greeting, Ridgeway stepped into the room.
Jenny's finer ear first caught the step. Jenny's swifter feelings
had sounded the depths of hope, of joy, of despair, before he
entered the room. Jenny's pale face was the only one that met his,
self-possessed and self-reliant, when he stood before them. An
angry flush suffused even the pink roots of Rance's beard as he
rose to his feet. An ominous fire sprang into Ridgeway's eyes, and
a spasm of hate and scorn passed over the lower part of his face,
and left the mouth and jaw immobile and rigid.
Yet he was the first to speak. "I owe you an apology," he said to
Jenny, with a suave scorn that brought the indignant blood back to
her cheek, "for this intrusion; but I ask no pardon for withdrawing
from the only spot where that man dare confront me with safety."
With an exclamation of rage, Rance sprang toward him. But as
quickly Jenny stood between them, erect and menacing. "There must
be no quarrel here," she said to Rance. "While I protect your
right as my guest, don't oblige me to remind you of mine as your
hostess." She turned with a half-deprecatory air to Ridgeway; but
he was gone. So was her father. Only Rance remained with a look
of ill-concealed triumph on his face.
Without looking at him, she passed toward the door. When she
reached it, she turned. "You asked me a question an hour ago.
Come to me in the garden, at nine o'clock tonight, and I will
answer you. But promise me, first, to keep away from Mr. Dent.
Give me your word not to seek him--to avoid him, if he seeks you.
Do you promise? It is well."
He would have taken her hand; but she waved him away. In another
moment he heard the swift rustle of her dress in the hall, the
sound of her feet upon the stair, the sharp closing of her bedroom
door, and all was quiet.
And even thus quietly the day wore away; and the night rose slowly
from the valley, and overshadowed the mountains with purple wings
that fanned the still air into a breeze, until the moon followed
it, and lulled every thing to rest as with the laying-on of white
and benedictory hands. It was a lovely night; but Henry Rance,
waiting impatiently beneath a sycamore at the foot of the garden,
saw no beauty in earth or air or sky. A thousand suspicions common
to a jealous nature, a vague superstition of the spot, filled his
mind with distrust and doubt. "If this should be a trick to keep
my hands off that insolent pup!" he muttered. But, even as the
thought passed his tongue, a white figure slid from the shrubbery
near the house, glided along the line of picket-fence, and then
stopped, midway, motionless in the moonlight.
It was she. But he scarcely recognized her in the white drapery
that covered her head and shoulders and breast. He approached her
with a hurried whisper. "Let us withdraw from the moonlight.
Everybody can see us here."
"We have nothing to say that cannot be said in the moonlight, Henry
Rance," she replied, coldly receding from his proffered hand. She
trembled for a moment, as if with a chill, and then suddenly turned
upon him. "Hold up your head, and let me look at you! I've known
only what men are: let me see what a traitor looks like!"
He recoiled more from her wild face than her words. He saw from
the first that her hollow cheeks and hollow eyes were blazing with
fever. He was no coward; but he would have fled.
"You are ill, Jenny," he said: "you had best return to the house.
"Stop!" she cried hoarsely. "Move from this spot, and I'll call
for help! Attempt to leave me now, and I'll proclaim you the
assassin that you are!"
"It was a fair fight," he said doggedly.
"Was it a fair fight to creep behind an unarmed and unsuspecting
man? Was it a fair fight to try to throw suspicion on some one
else? Was it a fair fight to deceive me? Liar and coward that you
He made a stealthy step toward her with evil eyes, and a wickeder
hand that crept within his breast. She saw the motion; but it only
stung her to newer fury.
"Strike!" she said with blazing eyes, throwing her hands open
before him. "Strike! Are you afraid of the woman who dares you?
Or do you keep your knife for the backs of unsuspecting men?
Strike, I tell you! No? Look, then!" With a sudden movement, she
tore from her head and shoulders the thick lace shawl that had
concealed her figure, and stood before him. "Look!" she cried
passionately, pointing to the bosom and shoulders of her white
dress, darkly streaked with faded stains and ominous discoloration,--
"look! This is the dress I wore that morning when I found him lying
here,--HERE,--bleeding from your cowardly knife. Look! Do you see?
This is his blood,--my darling boy's blood!--one drop of which,
dead and faded as it is, is more precious to me than the whole
living pulse of any other man. Look! I come to you to-night,
christened with his blood, and dare you to strike,--dare you to
strike him again through me, and mingle my blood with his. Strike,
I implore you! Strike! if you have any pity on me, for God's sake!
Strike! if you are a man! Look! Here lay his head on my shoulder;
here I held him to my breast, where never--so help me my God!--
She reeled against the fence, and something that had flashed in
Rance's hand dropped at her feet; for another flash and report
rolled him over in the dust; and across his writhing body two men
strode, and caught her ere she fell.
"She has only fainted," said Mr. McClosky. "Jinny dear, my girl,
speak to me!"
"What is this on her dress?" said Ridgeway, kneeling beside her,
and lifting his set and colorless face. At the sound of his voice,
the color came faintly back to her cheek: she opened her eyes, and
"It's only your blood, dear boy," she said; "but look a little
deeper, and you'll find my own."
She put up her two yearning hands, and drew his face and lips down
to her own. When Ridgeway raised his head again, her eyes were
closed; but her mouth still smiled as with the memory of a kiss.
They bore her to the house, still breathing, but unconscious. That
night the road was filled with clattering horsemen; and the
summoned skill of the countryside for leagues away gathered at her
couch. The wound, they said, was not essentially dangerous; but
they had grave fears of the shock to a system that already seemed
suffering from some strange and unaccountable nervous exhaustion.
The best medical skill of Tuolumne happened to be young and
observing, and waited patiently an opportunity to account for it.
He was presently rewarded.
For toward morning she rallied, and looked feebly around. Then she
beckoned her father toward her, and whispered, "Where is he?"
"They took him away, Jinny dear, in a cart. He won't trouble you
agin." He stopped; for Miss Jenny had raised herself on her elbow,
and was levelling her black brows at him. But two kicks from the
young surgeon, and a significant motion towards the door, sent Mr.
McClosky away muttering. "How should I know that 'HE' meant
Ridgeway?" he said apologetically, as he went and returned with the
young gentleman. The surgeon, who was still holding her pulse,
smiled, and thought that--with a little care--and attention--the
stimulants--might be--diminished--and---he--might leave--the
patient for some hours with perfect safety. He would give further
directions to Mr. McClosky--down stairs.
It was with great archness of manner, that, half an hour later, Mr.
McClosky entered the room with a preparatory cough; and it was with
some disappointment that he found Ridgeway standing quietly by the
window, and his daughter apparently fallen into a light doze. He
was still more concerned, when, after Ridgeway had retired,
noticing a pleasant smile playing about her lips, he said softly:--
"You was thinking of some one, Jinny?"
"Yes, father," the gray eyes met his steadily,--"of poor John Ashe!"
Her recovery was swift. Nature, that had seemed to stand jealously
aloof from her in her mental anguish, was kind to the physical hurt
of her favorite child. The superb physique, which had been her
charm and her trial, now stood her in good stead. The healing
balsam of the pine, the balm of resinous gums, and the rare
medicaments of Sierran altitudes, touched her as it might have
touched the wounded doe; so that in two weeks she was able to walk
about. And when, at the end of the month, Ridgeway returned from a
flying visit to San Francisco, and jumped from the Wingdam coach at
four o'clock in the morning, the Rose of Tuolumne, with the dewy
petals of either cheek fresh as when first unfolded to his kiss,
confronted him on the road.
With a common instinct, their young feet both climbed the little
hill now sacred to their thought. When they reached its summit,
they were both, I think, a little disappointed. There is a
fragrance in the unfolding of a passion, that escapes the perfect
flower. Jenny thought the night was not as beautiful; Ridgeway,
that the long ride had blunted his perceptions. But they had the
frankness to confess it to each other, with the rare delight of
such a confession, and the comparison of details which they thought
each had forgotten. And with this, and an occasional pitying
reference to the blank period when they had not known each other,
hand in hand they reached the house.
Mr. McClosky was awaiting them impatiently upon the veranda. When
Miss Jenny had slipped up stairs to replace a collar that stood
somewhat suspiciously awry, Mr. McClosky drew Ridgeway solemnly
aside. He held a large theatre poster in one hand, and an open
newspaper in the other.
"I allus said," he remarked slowly, with the air of merely renewing
a suspended conversation,--"I allus said that riding three horses
to onct wasn't exactly in her line. It would seem that it ain't.
From remarks in this yer paper, it would appear that she tried it
on at Marysville last week, and broke her neck."
A PASSAGE IN THE LIFE OF MR. JOHN OAKHURST.
He always thought it must have been fate. Certainly nothing could
have been more inconsistent with his habits than to have been in
the Plaza at seven o'clock of that midsummer morning. The sight of
his colorless face in Sacramento was rare at that season, and,
indeed, at any season, anywhere publicly, before two o'clock in the
afternoon. Looking back upon it in after-years in the light of a
chanceful life, he determined, with the characteristic philosophy
of his profession, that it must have been fate.
Yet it is my duty, as a strict chronicler of facts, to state that
Mr. Oakhurst's presence there that morning was due to a very simple
cause. At exactly half-past six, the bank being then a winner to
the amount of twenty thousand dollars, he had risen from the faro-
table, relinquished his seat to an accomplished assistant, and
withdrawn quietly, without attracting a glance from the silent,
anxious faces bowed over the table. But when he entered his
luxurious sleeping-room, across the passage-way, he was a little
shocked at finding the sun streaming through an inadvertently opened
window. Something in the rare beauty of the morning, perhaps
something in the novelty of the idea, struck him as he was about to
close the blinds; and he hesitated. Then, taking his hat from the
table, he stepped down a private staircase into the street.
The people who were abroad at that early hour were of a class quite
unknown to Mr. Oakhurst. There were milkmen and hucksters
delivering their wares, small tradespeople opening their shops,
housemaids sweeping doorsteps, and occasionally a child. These Mr.
Oakhurst regarded with a certain cold curiosity, perhaps quite free
from the cynical disfavor with which he generally looked upon the
more pretentious of his race whom he was in the habit of meeting.
Indeed, I think he was not altogether displeased with the admiring
glances which these humble women threw after his handsome face and
figure, conspicuous even in a country of fine-looking men. While
it is very probable that this wicked vagabond, in the pride of his
social isolation, would have been coldly indifferent to the
advances of a fine lady, a little girl who ran admiringly by his
side in a ragged dress had the power to call a faint flush into his
colorless cheek. He dismissed her at last, but not until she had
found out--what, sooner or later, her large-hearted and
discriminating sex inevitably did--that he was exceedingly free and
open-handed with his money, and also--what, perhaps, none other of
her sex ever did--that the bold black eyes of this fine gentleman
were in reality of a brownish and even tender gray.
There was a small garden before a white cottage in a side-street,
that attracted Mr. Oakhurst's attention. It was filled with roses,
heliotrope, and verbena,--flowers familiar enough to him in the
expensive and more portable form of bouquets, but, as it seemed to
him then, never before so notably lovely. Perhaps it was because
the dew was yet fresh upon them; perhaps it was because they were
unplucked: but Mr. Oakhurst admired them--not as a possible future
tribute to the fascinating and accomplished Miss Ethelinda, then
performing at the Varieties, for Mr. Oakhurst's especial benefit,
as she had often assured him; nor yet as a douceur to the
inthralling Miss Montmorrissy, with whom Mr. Oakhurst expected to
sup that evening; but simply for himself, and, mayhap, for the
flowers' sake. Howbeit he passed on, and so out into the open
Plaza, where, finding a bench under a cottonwood-tree, he first
dusted the seat with his handkerchief, and then sat down.
It was a fine morning. The air was so still and calm, that a sigh
from the sycamores seemed like the deep-drawn breath of the just
awakening tree, and the faint rustle of its boughs as the
outstretching of cramped and reviving limbs. Far away the Sierras
stood out against a sky so remote as to be of no positive color,--
so remote, that even the sun despaired of ever reaching it, and so
expended its strength recklessly on the whole landscape, until it
fairly glittered in a white and vivid contrast. With a very rare
impulse, Mr. Oakhurst took off his hat, and half reclined on the
bench, with his face to the sky. Certain birds who had taken a
critical attitude on a spray above him, apparently began an
animated discussion regarding his possible malevolent intentions.
One or two, emboldened by the silence, hopped on the ground at his
feet, until the sound of wheels on the gravel-walk frightened them
Looking up, he saw a man coming slowly toward him, wheeling a
nondescript vehicle, in which a woman was partly sitting, partly
reclining. Without knowing why, Mr. Oakhurst instantly conceived
that the carriage was the invention and workmanship of the man,
partly from its oddity, partly from the strong, mechanical hand
that grasped it, and partly from a certain pride and visible
consciousness in the manner in which the man handled it. Then Mr.
Oakhurst saw something more: the man's face was familiar. With
that regal faculty of not forgetting a face that had ever given him
professional audience, he instantly classified it under the
following mental formula: "At 'Frisco, Polka Saloon. Lost his
week's wages. I reckon--seventy dollars--on red. Never came
again." There was, however, no trace of this in the calm eyes and
unmoved face that he turned upon the stranger, who, on the
contrary, blushed, looked embarrassed, hesitated and then stopped
with an involuntary motion that brought the carriage and its fair
occupant face to face with Mr. Oakhurst.
I should hardly do justice to the position she will occupy in this
veracious chronicle by describing the lady now, if, indeed, I am
able to do it at all. Certainly the popular estimate was
conflicting. The late Col. Starbottle--to whose large experience
of a charming sex I have before been indebted for many valuable
suggestions--had, I regret to say, depreciated her fascinations.
"A yellow-faced cripple, by dash! a sick woman, with mahogany eyes;
one of your blanked spiritual creatures--with no flesh on her
bones." On the other hand, however, she enjoyed later much
complimentary disparagement from her own sex. Miss Celestina
Howard, second leader in the ballet at the Varieties, had, with
great alliterative directness, in after-years, denominated her as
an "aquiline asp." Mlle. Brimborion remembered that she had always
warned "Mr. Jack" that this woman would "empoison" him. But Mr.
Oakhurst, whose impressions are perhaps the most important, only
saw a pale, thin, deep-eyed woman, raised above the level of her
companion by the refinement of long suffering and isolation, and a
certain shy virginity of manner. There was a suggestion of
physical purity in the folds of her fresh-looking robe, and a
certain picturesque tastefulness in the details, that, without
knowing why, made him think that the robe was her invention and
handiwork, even as the carriage she occupied was evidently the work
of her companion. Her own hand, a trifle too thin, but well-
shaped, subtle-fingered, and gentle-womanly, rested on the side of
the carriage, the counterpart of the strong mechanical grasp of her
There was some obstruction to the progress of the vehicle; and Mr.
Oakhurst stepped forward to assist. While the wheel was being
lifted over the curbstone, it was necessary that she should hold
his arm; and for a moment her thin hand rested there, light and
cold as a snowflake, and then, as it seemed to him, like a snow-
flake melted away. Then there was a pause, and then conversation,
the lady joining occasionally and shyly.
It appeared that they were man and wife; that for the past two
years she had been a great invalid, and had lost the use of her
lower limbs from rheumatism; that until lately she had been
confined to her bed, until her husband--who was a master-carpenter--
had bethought himself to make her this carriage. He took her out
regularly for an airing before going to work, because it was his
only time, and--they attracted less attention. They had tried many
doctors, but without avail. They had been advised to go to the
Sulphur Springs; but it was expensive. Mr. Decker, the husband,
had once saved eighty dollars for that purpose, but while in San
Francisco had his pocket picked--Mr Decker was so senseless! (The
intelligent reader need not be told that it is the lady who is
speaking.) They had never been able to make up the sum again, and
they had given up the idea. It was a dreadful thing to have one's
pocket picked. Did he not think so?
Her husband's face was crimson; but Mr. Oakhurst's countenance was
quite calm and unmoved, as he gravely agreed with her, and walked
by her side until they passed the little garden that he had
admired. Here Mr. Oakhurst commanded a halt, and, going to the
door, astounded the proprietor by a preposterously extravagant
offer for a choice of the flowers. Presently he returned to the
carriage with his arms full of roses, heliotrope, and verbena, and
cast them in the lap of the invalid. While she was bending over
them with childish delight, Mr. Oakhurst took the opportunity of
drawing her husband aside.
"Perhaps," he said in a low voice, and a manner quite free from any
personal annoyance,--"perhaps it's just as well that you lied to
her as you did. You can say now that the pick-pocket was arrested
the other day, and you got your money back." Mr. Oakhurst quietly
slipped four twenty-dollar gold-pieces into the broad hand of the
bewildered Mr. Decker. "Say that--or any thing you like--but the
truth. Promise me you won't say that."
The man promised. Mr. Oakhurst quietly returned to the front of
the little carriage. The sick woman was still eagerly occupied
with the flowers, and, as she raised her eyes to his, her faded
cheek seemed to have caught some color from the roses, and her eyes
some of their dewy freshness. But at that instant Mr. Oakhurst
lifted his hat, and before she could thank him was gone.
I grieve to say that Mr. Decker shamelessly broke his promise.
That night, in the very goodness of his heart and uxorious self-
abnegation, he, like all devoted husbands, not only offered
himself, but his friend and benefactor, as a sacrifice on the
family-altar. It is only fair, however, to add that he spoke with
great fervor of the generosity of Mr. Oakhurst, and dwelt with an
enthusiasm quite common with his class on the mysterious fame and
prodigal vices of the gambler.
"And now, Elsie dear, say that you'll forgive me," said Mr. Decker,
dropping on one knee beside his wife's couch. "I did it for the
best. It was for you, dearey, that I put that money on them cards
that night in 'Frisco. I thought to win a heap--enough to take you
away, and enough left to get you a new dress."
Mrs. Decker smiled, and pressed her husband's hand. "I do forgive
you, Joe dear," she said, still smiling, with eyes abstractedly
fixed on the ceiling; "and you ought to be whipped for deceiving me
so, you bad boy! and making me make such a speech. There, say no
more about it. If you'll be very good hereafter, and will just now
hand me that cluster of roses, I'll forgive you." She took the
branch in her angers, lifted the roses to her face, and presently
said, behind their leaves,--
"What is it, lovey?"
"Do you think that this Mr.--what do you call him?--Jack Oakhurst
would have given that money back to you, if I hadn't made that
"If he hadn't seen me at all?"
Mr. Decker looked up. His wife had managed in some way to cover up
her whole face with the roses, except her eyes, which were
"No! It was you, Elsie--it was all along of seeing you that made
him do it."
"A poor sick woman like me?"
"A sweet, little, lovely, pooty Elsie--Joe's own little wifey! how
could he help it?"
Mrs. Decker fondly cast one arm around her husband's neck, still
keeping the roses to her face with the other. From behind them she
began to murmur gently and idiotically, "Dear, ole square Joey.
Elsie's oney booful big bear." But, really, I do not see that my
duty as a chronicler of facts compels me to continue this little
lady's speech any further; and, out of respect to the unmarried
reader, I stop.
Nevertheless, the next morning Mrs. Decker betrayed some slight and
apparently uncalled for irritability on reaching the Plaza, and
presently desired her husband to wheel her back home. Moreover,
she was very much astonished at meeting Mr. Oakhurst just as they
were returning, and even doubted if it were he, and questioned her
husband as to his identity with the stranger of yesterday as he
approached. Her manner to Mr. Oakhurst, also, was quite in
contrast with her husband's frank welcome. Mr. Oakhurst instantly
detected it. "Her husband has told her all, and she dislikes me,"
he said to himself, with that fatal appreciation of the half-truths
of a woman's motives that causes the wisest masculine critic to
stumble. He lingered only long enough to take the business address
of the husband, and then lifting his hat gravely, without looking
at the lady, went his way. It struck the honest master-carpenter
as one of the charming anomalies of his wife's character, that,
although the meeting was evidently very much constrained and
unpleasant, instantly afterward his wife's spirits began to rise.
"You was hard on him, a leetle hard; wasn't you, Elsie?" said Mr.
Decker deprecatingly. "I'm afraid he may think I've broke my
promise."--"Ah, indeed!" said the lady indifferently. Mr. Decker
instantly stepped round to the front of the vehicle. "You look
like an A 1 first-class lady riding down Broadway in her own
carriage, Elsie," said he. "I never seed you lookin' so peart and
A few days later, the proprietor of the San Isabel Sulphur Springs
received the following note in Mr. Oakhurst's well-known, dainty
"DEAR STEVE,--I've been thinking over your proposition to buy
Nichols's quarter-interest, and have concluded to go in. But I
don't see how the thing will pay until you have more accommodation
down there, and for the best class,--I mean MY customers. What we
want is an extension to the main building, and two or three
cottages put up. I send down a builder to take hold of the job at
once. He takes his sick wife with him; and you are to look after
them as you would for one of us.
"I may run down there myself after the races, just to look after
things; but I sha'n't set up any game this season.
It was only the last sentence of this letter that provoked
criticism. "I can understand," said Mr. Hamlin, a professional
brother, to whom Mr. Oakhurst's letter was shown,--"I can
understand why Jack goes in heavy and builds; for it's a sure spec,
and is bound to be a mighty soft thing in time, if he comes here
regularly. But why in blank he don't set up a bank this season,
and take the chance of getting some of the money back that he puts
into circulation in building, is what gets me. I wonder now," he
mused deeply, "what IS his little game."
The season had been a prosperous one to Mr Oakhurst, and
proportionally disastrous to several members of the legislature,
judges, colonels, and others who had enjoyed but briefly the
pleasure of Mr. Oakhurst's midnight society. And yet Sacramento had
become very dull to him. He had lately formed a habit of early
morning walks, so unusual and startling to his friends, both male
and female, as to occasion the intensest curiosity. Two or three of
the latter set spies upon his track; but the inquisition resulted
only in the discovery that Mr. Oakhurst walked to the Plaza, sat
down upon one particular bench for a few moments, and then returned
without seeing anybody; and the theory that there was a woman in the
case was abandoned. A few superstitious gentlemen of his own
profession believed that he did it for "luck." Some others, more
practical, declared that he went out to "study points."
After the races at Marysville, Mr. Oakhurst went to San Francisco;
from that place he returned to Marysville, but a few days after was
seen at San Jose, Santa Cruz, and Oakland. Those who met him
declared that his manner was restless and feverish, and quite
unlike his ordinary calmness and phlegm. Col. Starbottle pointed
out the fact, that at San Francisco, at the club, Jack had declined
to deal. "Hand shaky, sir; depend upon it. Don't stimulate
From San Jose he started to go to Oregon by land with a rather
expensive outfit of horses and camp equipage; but, on reaching
Stockton, he suddenly diverged, and four hours later found him with
a single horse entering the canyon of the San Isabel Warm Sulphur
It was a pretty triangular valley lying at the foot of three
sloping mountains, dark with pines, and fantastic with madrono and
manzanita. Nestling against the mountain-side, the straggling
buildings and long piazza of the hotel glittered through the
leaves, and here and there shone a white toy-like cottage. Mr.
Oakhurst was not an admirer of Nature; but he felt something of the
same novel satisfaction in the view, that he experienced in his
first morning walk in Sacramento. And now carriages began to pass
him on the road filled with gayly-dressed women; and the cold
California outlines of the landscape began to take upon themselves
somewhat of a human warmth and color. And then the long hotel
piazza came in view, efflorescent with the full-toiletted fair.
Mr. Oakhurst, a good rider after the California fashion, did not
check his speed as he approached his destination, but charged the
hotel at a gallop, threw his horse on his haunches within a foot of
the piazza, and then quietly emerged from the cloud of dust that
veiled his dismounting.
Whatever feverish excitement might have raged within, all his
habitual calm returned as he stepped upon the piazza. With the
instinct of long habit, he turned and faced the battery of eyes
with the same cold indifference with which he had for years
encountered the half-hidden sneers of men and the half-frightened
admiration of women. Only one person stepped forward to welcome
him. Oddly enough, it was Dick Hamilton, perhaps the only one
present, who by birth, education, and position, might have
satisfied the most fastidious social critic. Happily for Mr.
Oakhurst's reputation, he was also a very rich banker and social
leader. "Do you know who that is you spoke to?" asked young Parker
with an alarmed expression. "Yes," replied Hamilton with
characteristic effrontery. "The man you lost a thousand dollars to
last week. I only know him SOCIALLY." "But isn't he a gambler?"
queried the youngest Miss Smith. "He is," replied Hamilton; "but I
wish, my dear young lady, that we all played as open and honest a
game as our friend yonder, and were as willing as he is to abide by
But Mr. Oakhurst was happily out of hearing of this colloquy, and
was even then lounging listlessly yet watchfully along the upper
hall. Suddenly he heard a light footstep behind him, and then his
name called in a familiar voice that drew the blood quickly to his
heart. He turned, and she stood before him.
But how transformed! If I have hesitated to describe the hollow-
eyed cripple, the quaintly-dressed artisan's wife, a few pages ago,
what shall I do with this graceful, shapely, elegantly-attired
gentlewoman into whom she has been merged within these two months?
In good faith she was very pretty. You and I, my dear madam, would
have been quick to see that those charming dimples were misplaced
for true beauty, and too fixed in their quality for honest
mirthfulness; that the delicate lines around these aquiline
nostrils were cruel and selfish; that the sweet virginal surprise
of these lovely eyes were as apt to be opened on her plate as upon
the gallant speeches of her dinner partner; that her sympathetic
color came and went more with her own spirits than yours. But you
and I are not in love with her, dear madam, and Mr. Oakhurst is.
And, even in the folds of her Parisian gown, I am afraid this poor
fellow saw the same subtle strokes of purity that he had seen in
her homespun robe. And then there was the delightful revelation
that she could walk, and that she had dear little feet of her own
in the tiniest slippers of her French shoemaker, with such
preposterous blue bows, and Chappell's own stamp--Rue de something
or other, Paris--on the narrow sole.
He ran toward her with a heightened color and outstretched hands.
But she whipped her own behind her, glanced rapidly up and down the
long hall, and stood looking at him with a half-audacious, half-
mischievous admiration, in utter contrast to her old reserve.
"I've a great mind not to shake hands with you at all. You passed
me just now on the piazza without speaking; and I ran after you, as
I suppose many another poor woman has done."
Mr. Oakhurst stammered that she was so changed.
"The more reason why you should know me. Who changed me? You.
You have re-created me. You found a helpless, crippled, sick,
poverty-stricken woman, with one dress to her back, and that her
own make, and you gave her life, health, strength, and fortune.
You did; and you know it, sir. How do you like your work?" She
caught the side-seams of her gown in either hand, and dropped him a
playful courtesy. Then, with a sudden, relenting gesture, she gave
him both her hands.
Outrageous as this speech was, and unfeminine as I trust every fair
reader will deem it, I fear it pleased Mr. Oakhurst. Not but that
he was accustomed to a certain frank female admiration; but then it
was of the coulisse, and not of the cloister, with which he always
persisted in associating Mrs. Decker. To be addressed in this way
by an invalid Puritan, a sick saint with the austerity of suffering
still clothing her, a woman who had a Bible on the dressing-table,
who went to church three times a day, and was devoted to her
husband, completely bowled him over. He still held her hands as
she went on,--
"Why didn't you come before? What were you doing in Marysville, in
San Jose, in Oakland? You see I have followed you. I saw you as
you came down the canyon, and knew you at once. I saw your letter
to Joseph, and knew you were coming. Why didn't you write to me?
You will some time!--Good-evening, Mr. Hamilton."
She had withdrawn her hands, but not until Hamilton, ascending the
staircase, was nearly abreast of them. He raised his hat to her
with well-bred composure, nodded familiarly to Oakhurst, and passed
on. When he had gone, Mrs. Decker lifted her eyes to Mr. Oakhurst.
"Some day I shall ask a great favor of you."
Mr. Oakhurst begged that it should be now.
"No, not until you know me better. Then, some day, I shall want
you to--kill that man!"
She laughed such a pleasant little ringing laugh, such a display of
dimples,--albeit a little fixed in the corners of her mouth,--such
an innocent light in her brown eyes, and such a lovely color in her
cheeks, that Mr. Oakhurst (who seldom laughed) was fain to laugh
too. It was as if a lamb had proposed to a fox a foray into a
A few evenings after this, Mrs. Decker arose from a charmed circle
of her admirers on the hotel piazza, excused herself for a few
moments, laughingly declined an escort, and ran over to her little
cottage--one of her husband's creation--across the road. Perhaps
from the sudden and unwonted exercise in her still convalescent
state, she breathed hurriedly and feverishly as she entered her
boudoir, and once or twice placed her hand upon her breast. She
was startled on turning up the light to find her husband lying on
"You look hot and excited, Elsie love," said Mr. Decker. "You
ain't took worse, are you?"
Mrs Decker's face had paled, but now flushed again. "No," she
said; "only a little pain here," as she again placed her hand upon
"Can I do any thing for you?" said Mr. Decker, rising with
"Run over to the hotel and get me some brandy, quick!"
Mr. Decker ran. Mrs Decker closed and bolted the door, and then,
putting her hand to her bosom, drew out the pain. It was folded
foursquare, and was, I grieve to say, in Mr. Oakhurst's handwriting.
She devoured it with burning eyes and cheeks until there came a
step upon the porch; then she hurriedly replaced it in her bosom,
and unbolted the door. Her husband entered. She raised the
spirits to her lips, and declared herself better.
"Are you going over there again to-night?" asked Mr. Decker
"No," said Mrs. Decker, with her eyes fixed dreamily on the floor.
"I wouldn't if I was you," said Mr. Decker with a sigh of relief.
After a pause, he took a seat on the sofa, and, drawing his wife to
his side, said, "Do you know what I was thinking of when you came
in, Elsie?" Mrs. Decker ran her fingers through his stiff black
hair, and couldn't imagine.
"I was thinking of old times, Elsie: I was thinking of the days
when I built that kerridge for you, Elsie,--when I used to take you
out to ride, and was both hoss and driver. We was poor then, and
you was sick, Elsie; but we was happy. We've got money now, and a
house; and you're quite another woman. I may say, dear, that
you're a NEW woman. And that's where the trouble comes in. I
could build you a kerridge, Elsie; I could build you a house,
Elsie--but there I stopped. I couldn't build up YOU. You're
strong and pretty, Elsie, and fresh and new. But somehow, Elsie,
you ain't no work of mine!"
He paused. With one hand laid gently on his forehead, and the
other pressed upon her bosom, as if to feel certain of the presence
of her pain, she said sweetly and soothingly,--
"But it was your work, dear."
Mr. Decker shook his head sorrowfully. "No, Elsie, not mine. I
had the chance to do it once, and I let it go. It's done now--but
not by me."
Mrs. Decker raised her surprised, innocent eyes to his. He kissed
her tenderly, and then went on in a more cheerful voice,--
"That ain't all I was thinking of, Elsie. I was thinking that
maybe you give too much of your company to that Mr. Hamilton. Not
that there's any wrong in it, to you or him; but it might make
people talk. You're the only one here, Elsie," said the master-
carpenter, looking fondly at his wife, "who isn't talked about,
whose work ain't inspected or condemned."
Mrs. Decker was glad he had spoken about it. She had thought so
too. But she could not well be uncivil to Mr. Hamilton, who was a
fine gentleman, without making a powerful enemy. "And he's always
treated me as if I was a born lady in his own circle," added the
little woman, with a certain pride that made her husband fondly
smile. "But I have thought of a plan. He will not stay here if I
should go away. If, for instance, I went to San Francisco to visit
ma for a few days, he would be gone before I should return."
Mr. Decker was delighted. "By all means," he said, "go to-morrow.
Jack Oakhurst is going down; and I'll put you in his charge."
Mrs. Decker did not think it was prudent. "Mr. Oakhurst is our
friend, Joseph; but you know his reputation." In fact, she did not
know that she ought to go now, knowing that he was going the same
day; but, with a kiss, Mr. Decker overcame her scruples. She
yielded gracefully. Few women, in fact, knew how to give up a
point as charmingly as she.
She staid a week in San Francisco. When she returned, she was a
trifle thinner and paler than she had been. This she explained as
the result of perhaps too active exercise and excitement. "I was
out of doors nearly all the time, as ma will tell you," she said to
her husband, "and always alone. I am getting quite independent
now," she added gayly. "I don't want any escort. I believe, Joey
dear, I could get along even without you, I'm so brave!"
But her visit, apparently, had not been productive of her impelling
design. Mr. Hamilton had not gone, but had remained, and called
upon them that very evening. "I've thought of a plan, Joey dear,"
said Mrs. Decker, when he had departed. "Poor Mr. Oakhurst has a
miserable room at the hotel. Suppose you ask him, when he returns
from San Francisco, to stop with us. He can have our spare-room.
I don't think," she added archly, "that Mr. Hamilton will call
often." Her husband laughed, intimated that she was a little
coquette, pinched her cheek, and complied. "The queer thing about
a woman," he said afterward confidentially to Mr. Oakhurst, "is,
that, without having any plan of her own, she'll take anybody's,
and build a house on it entirely different to suit herself. And
dern my skin if you'll be able to say whether or not you didn't
give the scale and measurements yourself! That's what gets me!"
The next week Mr. Oakhurst was installed in the Deckers' cottage.
The business relations of her husband and himself were known to
all, and her own reputation was above suspicion. Indeed, few women
were more popular. She was domestic, she was prudent, she was
pious. In a country of great feminine freedom and latitude, she
never rode or walked with anybody but her husband. In an epoch of
slang and ambiguous expression, she was always precise and formal
in her speech. In the midst of a fashion of ostentatious
decoration, she never wore a diamond, nor a single valuable jewel.
She never permitted an indecorum in public. She never countenanced
the familiarities of California society. She declaimed against the
prevailing tone of infidelity and scepticism in religion. Few
people who were present will ever forget the dignified yet stately
manner with which she rebuked Mr. Hamilton in the public parlor for
entering upon the discussion of a work on materialism, lately
published; and some among them, also, will not forget the
expression of amused surprise on Mr. Hamilton's face, that
gradually changed to sardonic gravity, as he courteously waived his
point; certainly not Mr. Oakhurst, who, from that moment, began to
be uneasily impatient of his friend, and even--if such a term could
be applied to any moral quality in Mr. Oakhurst--to fear him.
For during this time Mr. Oakhurst had begun to show symptoms of a
change in his usual habits. He was seldom, if ever, seen in his
old haunts, in a bar-room, or with his old associates. Pink and
white notes, in distracted handwriting, accumulated on the
dressing-table in his rooms at Sacramento. It was given out in San
Francisco that he had some organic disease of the heart, for which
his physician had prescribed perfect rest. He read more; he took
long walks; he sold his fast horses; he went to church.
I have a very vivid recollection of his first appearance there. He
did not accompany the Deckers, nor did he go into their pew, but
came in as the service commenced, and took a seat quietly in one of
the back-pews. By some mysterious instinct, his presence became
presently known to the congregation, some of whom so far forgot
themselves, in their curiosity, as to face around, and apparently
address their responses to him. Before the service was over, it
was pretty well understood that "miserable sinners" meant Mr.
Oakhurst. Nor did this mysterious influence fail to affect the
officiating clergyman, who introduced an allusion to Mr. Oakhurst's
calling and habits in a sermon on the architecture of Solomon's
temple, and in a manner so pointed, and yet labored, as to cause
the youngest of us to flame with indignation. Happily, however, it
was lost upon Jack: I do not think he even heard it. His handsome,
colorless face, albeit a trifle worn and thoughtful, was inscrutable.
Only once, during the singing of a hymn, at a certain note in the
contralto's voice, there crept into his dark eyes a look of wistful
tenderness, so yearning and yet so hopeless, that those who were
watching him felt their own glisten. Yet I retain a very vivid
remembrance of his standing up to receive the benediction, with the
suggestion, in his manner and tightly-buttoned coat, of taking the
fire of his adversary at ten paces. After church, he disappeared as
quietly as he had entered, and fortunately escaped hearing the
comments on his rash act. His appearance was generally considered
as an impertinence, attributable only to some wanton fancy, or
possibly a bet. One or two thought that the sexton was exceedingly
remiss in not turning him out after discovering who he was; and a
prominent pew-holder remarked, that if he couldn't take his wife and
daughters to that church, without exposing them to such an influence,
he would try to find some church where he could. Another traced Mr.
Oakhurst's presence to certain Broad Church radical tendencies,
which he regretted to say he had lately noted in their pastor.
Deacon Sawyer, whose delicately-organized, sickly wife had already
borne him eleven children, and died in an ambitious attempt to
complete the dozen, avowed that the presence of a person of Mr.
Oakhurst's various and indiscriminate gallantries was an insult to
the memory of the deceased, that, as a man, he could not brook.
It was about this time that Mr. Oakhurst, contrasting himself with
a conventional world in which he had hitherto rarely mingled,
became aware that there was something in his face, figure, and
carriage quite unlike other men,--something, that, if it did not
betray his former career, at least showed an individuality and
originality that was suspicious. In this belief, he shaved off his
long, silken mustache, and religiously brushed out his clustering
curls every morning. He even went so far as to affect a negligence
of dress, and hid his small, slim, arched feet in the largest and
heaviest walking-shoes. There is a story told that he went to his
tailor in Sacramento, and asked him to make him a suit of clothes
like everybody else. The tailor, familiar with Mr. Oakhurst's
fastidiousness, did not know what he meant. "I mean," said Mr.
Oakhurst savagely, "something RESPECTABLE,--something that doesn't
exactly fit me, you know." But, however Mr. Oakhurst might hide
his shapely limbs in homespun and homemade garments, there was
something in his carriage, something in the pose of his beautiful
head, something in the strong and fine manliness of his presence,
something in the perfect and utter discipline and control of his
muscles, something in the high repose of his nature,--a repose not
so much a matter of intellectual ruling as of his very nature,--
that, go where he would, and with whom, he was always a notable man
in ten thousand. Perhaps this was never so clearly intimated to
Mr. Oakhurst, as when, emboldened by Mr. Hamilton's advice and
assistance, and his own predilections, he became a San Francisco
broker. Even before objection was made to his presence in the
Board,--the objection, I remember, was urged very eloquently by
Watt Sanders, who was supposed to be the inventor of the "freezing-
out" system of disposing of poor stockholders, and who also enjoyed
the reputation of having been the impelling cause of Briggs of
Tuolumne's ruin and suicide,--even before this formal protest of
respectability against lawlessness, the aquiline suggestions of Mr.
Oakhurst's mien and countenance, not only prematurely fluttered the
pigeons, but absolutely occasioned much uneasiness among the fish-
hawks who circled below him with their booty. "Dash me! but he's
as likely to go after us as anybody," said Joe Fielding.
It wanted but a few days before the close of the brief summer
season at San Isabel Warm Springs. Already there had been some
migration of the more fashionable; and there was an uncomfortable
suggestion of dregs and lees in the social life that remained. Mr.
Oakhurst was moody. It was hinted that even the secure reputation
of Mrs. Decker could no longer protect her from the gossip which
his presence excited. It is but fair to her to say, that, during
the last few weeks of this trying ordeal, she looked like a sweet,
pale martyr, and conducted herself toward her traducers with the
gentle, forgiving manner of one who relied not upon the idle homage
of the crowd, but upon the security of a principle that was dearer
than popular favor. "They talk about myself and Mr. Oakhurst, my
dear," she said to a friend; "but heaven and my husband can best
answer their calumny. It never shall be said that my husband ever
turned his back upon a friend in the moment of his adversity,
because the position was changed,--because his friend was poor, and
he was rich." This was the first intimation to the public that
Jack had lost money, although it was known generally that the
Deckers had lately bought some valuable property in San Francisco.
A few evenings after this, an incident occurred which seemed to
unpleasantly discord with the general social harmony that had
always existed at San Isabel. It was at dinner; and Mr. Oakhurst
and Mr. Hamilton, who sat together at a separate table, were
observed to rise in some agitation. When they reached the hall, by
a common instinct they stepped into a little breakfast-room which
was vacant, and closed the door. Then Mr. Hamilton turned with a
half-amused, half-serious smile toward his friend, and said,--
"If we are to quarrel, Jack Oakhurst,--you and I,--in the name of
all that is ridiculous, don't let it be about a"--
I do not know what was the epithet intended. It was either
unspoken or lost; for at that very instant Mr. Oakhurst raised a
wineglass, and dashed its contents into Hamilton's face.
As they faced each other, the men seemed to have changed natures.
Mr. Oakhurst was trembling with excitement, and the wineglass that
he returned to the table shivered between his fingers. Mr. Hamilton
stood there, grayish white, erect, and dripping. After a pause, he
"So be it. But remember, our quarrel commences here. If I fall by
your hand, you shall not use it to clear her character: if you fall
by mine, you shall not be called a martyr. I am sorry it has come
to this; but amen, the sooner now, the better."
He turned proudly, dropped his lids over cold steel-blue eyes, as
if sheathing a rapier bowed, and passed coldly out.
They met, twelve hours later, in a little hollow two miles from the
hotel, on the Stockton road. As Mr. Oakhurst received his pistol
from Col. Starbottle's hands, he said to him in a low voice,
"Whatever turns up or down, I shall not return to the hotel. You
will find some directions in my room. Go there"-- But his voice
suddenly faltered, and he turned his glistening eyes away, to his
second's intense astonishment. "I've been out a dozen times with
Jack Oakhurst," said Col. Starbottle afterward, "and I never saw
him anyways cut before. Blank me if I didn't think he was losing
his sand, till he walked to position."
The two reports were almost simultaneous. Mr. Oakhurst's right arm
dropped suddenly to his side, and his pistol would have fallen from
his paralyzed fingers; but the discipline of trained nerve and
muscle prevailed, and he kept his grasp until he had shifted it to
the other hand, without changing his position. Then there was a
silence that seemed interminable, a gathering of two or three dark
figures where a smoke-curl still lazily floated, and then the
hurried, husky, panting voice of Col. Starbottle in his ear, "He's
hit hard--through the lungs you must run for it!"
Jack turned his dark, questioning eyes upon his second, but did not
seem to listen,--rather seemed to hear some other voice, remoter in
the distance. He hesitated, and then made a step forward in the
direction of the distant group. Then he paused again as the
figures separated, and the surgeon came hastily toward him.
"He would like to speak with you a moment," said the man. "You
have little time to lose, I know; but," he added in a lower voice,
"it is my duty to tell you he has still less."
A look of despair, so hopeless in its intensity, swept over Mr.
Oakhurst's usually impassive face, that the surgeon started. "You
are hit," he said, glancing at Jack's helpless arm.
"Nothing--a mere scratch," said Jack hastily. Then he added with a
bitter laugh, "I'm not in luck to-day. But come: we'll see what he
His long, feverish stride outstripped the surgeon's; and in another
moment he stood where the dying man lay,--like most dying men,--the
one calm, composed, central figure of an anxious group. Mr.
Oakhurst's face was less calm as he dropped on one knee beside him,
and took his hand. "I want to speak with this gentleman alone,"
said Hamilton, with something of his old imperious manner, as he
turned to those about him. When they drew back, he looked up in
"I've something to tell you, Jack."
His own face was white, but not so white as that which Mr. Oakhurst
bent over him,--a face so ghastly, with haunting doubts, and a
hopeless presentiment of coming evil,--a face so piteous in its
infinite weariness and envy of death, that the dying man was
touched, even in the languor of dissolution, with a pang of
compassion; and the cynical smile faded from his lips.
"Forgive me, Jack," he whispered more feebly, "for what I have to
say. I don't say it in anger, but only because it must be said. I
could not do my duty to you, I could not die contented, until you
knew it all. It's a miserable business at best, all around. But
it can't be helped now. Only I ought to have fallen by Decker's
pistol, and not yours."
A flush like fire came into Jack's cheek, and he would have risen;
but Hamilton held him fast.
"Listen! In my pocket you will find two letters. Take them--
there! You will know the handwriting. But promise you will not
read them until you are in a place of safety. Promise me."
Jack did not speak, but held the letters between his fingers as if
they had been burning coals.
"Promise me," said Hamilton faintly.
"Why?" asked Oakhurst, dropping his friend's hand coldly.
"Because," said the dying man with a bitter smile,--"because--when
you have read them--you--will--go back--to capture--and death!"
They were his last words. He pressed Jack's hand faintly. Then
his grasp relaxed, and he fell back a corpse.
It was nearly ten o'clock at night, and Mrs. Decker reclined
languidly upon the sofa with a novel in her hand, while her husband
discussed the politics of the country in the bar-room of the hotel.
It was a warm night; and the French window looking out upon a
little balcony was partly open. Suddenly she heard a foot upon the
balcony, and she raised her eyes from the book with a slight start.
The next moment the window was hurriedly thrust wide, and a man
Mrs. Decker rose to her feet with a little cry of alarm.
"For Heaven's sake, Jack, are you mad? He has only gone for a
little while--he may return at any moment. Come an hour later,
to-morrow, any time when I can get rid of him--but go, now, dear,
Mr. Oakhurst walked toward the door, bolted it, and then faced her
without a word. His face was haggard; his coat-sleeve hung loosely
over an arm that was bandaged and bloody.
Nevertheless her voice did not falter as she turned again toward
him. "What has happened, Jack. Why are you here?"
He opened his coat, and threw two letters in her lap.
"To return your lover's letters; to kill you--and then myself," he
said in a voice so low as to be almost inaudible.
Among the many virtues of this admirable woman was invincible
courage. She did not faint; she did not cry out; she sat quietly
down again, folded her hands in her lap, and said calmly,--
"And why should you not?"
Had she recoiled, had she shown any fear or contrition, had she
essayed an explanation or apology, Mr. Oakhurst would have looked
upon it as an evidence of guilt. But there is no quality that
courage recognizes so quickly as courage. There is no condition
that desperation bows before but desperation. And Mr. Oakhurst's
power of analysis was not so keen as to prevent him from
confounding her courage with a moral quality. Even in his fury, he
could not help admiring this dauntless invalid.
"Why should you not?" she repeated with a smile. "You gave me
life, health, and happiness, Jack. You gave me your love. Why
should you not take what you have given? Go on. I am ready."
She held out her hands with that same infinite grace of yielding
with which she had taken his own on the first day of their meeting
at the hotel. Jack raised his head, looked at her for one wild
moment, dropped upon his knees beside her, and raised the folds of
her dress to his feverish lips. But she was too clever not to
instantly see her victory: she was too much of a woman, with all
her cleverness, to refrain from pressing that victory home. At the
same moment, as with the impulse of an outraged and wounded woman,
she rose, and, with an imperious gesture, pointed to the window.
Mr. Oakhurst rose in his turn, cast one glance upon her, and
without another word passed out of her presence forever.
When he had gone, she closed the window and bolted it, and, going
to the chimney-piece, placed the letters, one by one, in the flame
of the candle until they were consumed. I would not have the
reader think, that, during this painful operation, she was unmoved.
Her hand trembled, and--not being a brute--for some minutes
(perhaps longer) she felt very badly, and the corners of her
sensitive mouth were depressed. When her husband arrived, it was
with a genuine joy that she ran to him, and nestled against his
broad breast with a feeling of security that thrilled the honest
fellow to the core.
"But I've heard dreadful news to-night, Elsie," said Mr. Decker,
after a few endearments were exchanged.
"Don't tell me any thing dreadful, dear: I'm not well to-night,"
she pleaded sweetly.
"But it's about Mr. Oakhurst and Hamilton."
"Please!" Mr. Decker could not resist the petitionary grace of
those white hands and that sensitive mouth, and took her to his
arms. Suddenly he said, "What's that?"
He was pointing to the bosom of her white dress. Where Mr.
Oakhurst had touched her, there was a spot of blood.
It was nothing: she had slightly cut her hand in closing the
window; it shut so hard! If Mr. Decker had remembered to close and
bolt the shutter before he went out, he might have saved her this.
There was such a genuine irritability and force in this remark,
that Mr. Decker was quite overcome by remorse. But Mrs. Decker
forgave him with that graciousness which I have before pointed out
in these pages. And with the halo of that forgiveness and marital
confidence still lingering above the pair, with the reader's
permission we will leave them, and return to Mr. Oakhurst.
But not for two weeks. At the end of that time, he walked into his
rooms in Sacramento, and in his old manner took his seat at the
"How's your arm, Jack?" asked an incautious player.
There was a smile followed the question, which, however, ceased as
Jack looked up quietly at the speaker.
"It bothers my dealing a little; but I can shoot as well with my
The game was continued in that decorous silence which usually
distinguished the table at which Mr. John Oakhurst presided.
WAN LEE, THE PAGAN
As I opened Hop Sing's letter, there fluttered to the ground a
square strip of yellow paper covered with hieroglyphics, which, at
first glance, I innocently took to be the label from a pack of
Chinese fire-crackers. But the same envelope also contained a
smaller strip of rice-paper, with two Chinese characters traced in
India ink, that I at once knew to be Hop Sing's visiting-card. The
whole, as afterwards literally translated, ran as follows:--
"To the stranger the gates of my house are not closed: the rice-jar
is on the left, and the sweetmeats on the right, as you enter.
Two sayings of the Master:--
Hospitality is the virtue of the son and the wisdom of the
The Superior man is light hearted after the crop-gathering: he
makes a festival.
When the stranger is in your melon-patch, observe him not too
closely: inattention is often the highest form of civility.
Happiness, Peace, and Prosperity.
Admirable, certainly, as was this morality and proverbial wisdom,
and although this last axiom was very characteristic of my friend
Hop Sing, who was that most sombre of all humorists, a Chinese
philosopher, I must confess, that, even after a very free
translation, I was at a loss to make any immediate application of
the message. Luckily I discovered a third enclosure in the shape
of a little note in English, and Hop Sing's own commercial hand.
It ran thus:--
"The pleasure of your company is requested at No. -- Sacramento
Street, on Friday evening at eight o'clock. A cup of tea at nine,--
This explained all. It meant a visit to Hop Sing's warehouse, the
opening and exhibition of some rare Chinese novelties and curios, a
chat in the back office, a cup of tea of a perfection unknown
beyond these sacred precincts, cigars, and a visit to the Chinese
theatre or temple. This was, in fact, the favorite programme of
Hop Sing when he exercised his functions of hospitality as the
chief factor or superintendent of the Ning Foo Company.
At eight o'clock on Friday evening, I entered the warehouse of Hop
Sing. There was that deliciously commingled mysterious foreign
odor that I had so often noticed; there was the old array of
uncouth-looking objects, the long procession of jars and crockery,
the same singular blending of the grotesque and the mathematically
neat and exact, the same endless suggestions of frivolity and
fragility, the same want of harmony in colors, that were each, in
themselves, beautiful and rare. Kites in the shape of enormous
dragons and gigantic butterflies; kites so ingeniously arranged as
to utter at intervals, when facing the wind, the cry of a hawk;
kites so large as to be beyond any boy's power of restraint,--so
large that you understood why kite-flying in China was an amusement
for adults; gods of china and bronze so gratuitously ugly as to be
beyond any human interest or sympathy from their very impossibility;
jars of sweetmeats covered all over with moral sentiments from
Confucius; hats that looked like baskets, and baskets that looked
like hats; silks so light that I hesitate to record the incredible
number of square yards that you might pass through the ring on your
little finger,--these, and a great many other indescribable objects,
were all familiar to me. I pushed my way through the dimly-lighted
warehouse, until I reached the back office, or parlor, where I found
Hop Sing waiting to receive me.
Before I describe him, I want the average reader to discharge from
his mind any idea of a Chinaman that he may have gathered from the
pantomime. He did not wear beautifully scalloped drawers fringed
with little bells (I never met a Chinaman who did); he did not
habitually carry his forefinger extended before him at right angles
with his body; nor did I ever hear him utter the mysterious
sentence, "Ching a ring a ring chaw;" nor dance under any
provocation. He was, on the whole, a rather grave, decorous,
handsome gentleman. His complexion, which extended all over his
head, except where his long pig-tail grew, was like a very nice
piece of glazed brown paper-muslin. His eyes were black and
bright, and his eyelids set at an angle of fifteen degrees; his
nose straight, and delicately formed; his mouth small; and his
teeth white and clean. He wore a dark blue silk blouse; and in the
streets, on cold days, a short jacket of astrachan fur. He wore,
also, a pair of drawers of blue brocade gathered tightly over his
calves and ankles, offering a general sort of suggestion, that he
had forgotten his trousers that morning, but that, so gentlemanly
were his manners, his friends had forborne to mention the fact to
him. His manner was urbane, although quite serious. He spoke